A/N:- Unfortunately, posting this does not mean I'm back to writing this story and there is unlikely to be more soon due to my current commitments in real life. This chapter has actually been written for a long time (like since I was last posting this) but I've never quite managed to get it feeling right. The end, particularly always felt a little disjointed but I'm not sure how to fix it (and like the sentiment behind it too much to remove it). Procrastination recently lead me to edit it (again, again, again) and I finally decided to give up on perfection and get it out there.
Thank you, as always, to those who reviewed the last chapter.
Through Dark Lenses
He was still here.
Methos wasn't entirely certain why, why things were influencing his decisions that hadn't done so in centuries. In the morning light he had tried to tell himself it was because she wasn't a threat, because she was an oddity, an enigma; both eons older than him and the oldest she had ever been.
That he had been prompted to do what Cassandra willed because she was interesting. It had nothing to do with any sense of obligation, that was too much like guilt and he was too old to feel such things.
How could he hope to help Buffy accept her past, her guilt if his had returned unexpected and unbidden.
It had been so easy that night to frame his reason as regret not guilt, to highlight the difference when in reality they were all the same. This persona, the current character he was playing was changing him in ways he hadn't imagined when it had been formed. It might be time to become someone new.
"So much has changed." She murmured, looking about the exhibition and immediately touching on the very thing he had brought her here to see. And yet it was still disconcerting how her words seemed to mirror his thoughts.
"The only constant is that everything changes."
Buffy nodded, still staring at the broken fragments of a life long past all cleaned up behind plate glass. It was as much a contradiction as anything in her life, and that in itself was what made it so true.
"We either learn to change with it or we die."
Would he be able to?
There are points in each immortal's life when the changes become too great. When they are forced to become something more than the generation into which they were born, which they had adopted, or end up dying without that ability. Could this resurgence of guilt be a sign of things to come.
Would she be able to?
Which changes would be too great for her, would finally defeat the urge, the ability to survive that she so resented. Could that even happen, would she manage to find a way to die when she reached that point. When one too many of the people she knew, loved, died and yet she had to keep on going.
He had brought her to the museum to make her see what most who could remember a fraction of as far back as her had already learnt the hard way. That nothing is permanent, that something which appears indestructible can fall, even those with lifetimes measured in centuries, not decades, will die. That the world could change so much that it seemed as if nothing you recognised remained, as if there was nothing worth surviving for, worth keeping.
This is why societies build monuments, carve something out of the world which seems permanent, something which will live on when we are gone. Because if we admit to their potential demise then we also consider the end of what they symbolise. That the way of the world we know and love will not endure, however sturdy the edifices which represented it.
The pyramids may still stand but the Egyptians who believed in what they stood for are long gone, the remaining scraps of their once insurmountable civilisation carted off about the world. Set on display for those who would never comprehend their true meaning.
"Look upon my works, and despair."
She had found it then. He was surprised, not so much that Buffy had recognised the statue, this was why they were here after all, but by the quote she had whispered. By how apt that poem was next to the dismembered remains of a once proud form. More even than she could realise. And that surprise meant that he was too late to prevent what inevitably came next.
"That's not right!"
He dragged her away from the plaque, from the other part of the change.
"Hey!" Buffy pulled her arm out of her grasp, intent on rereading the words that had so offended her, on correcting their inaccuracies.
"Stop." His voice wasn't loud but it was enough of a command to make her hesitate, containing lifetimes worth of experience as a leader.
"But it's not-" She broke off, seeing what he had hoped she might notice; the attention she was beginning to get.
"You can't say anything." He whispered harshly, his face calm as he led her through into another exhibit, away from the interest her exclamation had garnered.
"How did they get it so wrong?"
"History gets rewritten. It's rewritten each generation by those in power. Rewritten centuries later from whatever fragments remain." he smiled, the Watchers were writing his history, the history of Methos, with only what he allowed them to have.
Buffy pulled her arm out of his grasp and rounded on him, eyes flashing, "And you just let it happen? Let them spread these lies? Call her an usurper to the throne?"
"What are you going to do to change it? Stand up and say you were there? That you remember it from a past life?" the sneer in his tone emphasised just how silly that thought was.
"No, but..." There had to be some way to change what was written there, to remove the harsh light placed on someone who had lived in service to others.
"Historians can only use what they have. You see that statue and know what it means, what every part of the symbolism stands for because you were there, lived it. They try to read it in what context they find."
She looked about at the masses gathered to gaze upon the exhibit, to see these relics and marvel at the stories behind them. To them these were remains of a forgotten culture, of something that no longer existed. They could only piece together what little they found, attempt to build ancient history from breadcrumbs viewed through a modern lens. Imposing their world view upon it; that the gods couldn't be real, that there were no demons.
"The statue carries twin blades; it is a warrior, a fighter." He spoke in a low monotone, emphasising the clinical nature of the modern analysis. That these items now had no significance outside the link to history they held, "The cartouche is linked to Sakhmet, to the death of Turhotep, of most of his pr-aa; it is an assassin, a rebellion. It becomes evidence of deified rulers fighting for the throne, of a cult attempting to take power."
"He was a vampire! The city had turned into a blood farm." She could see it like it was yesterday, the sallow faces in every street, the talismans of gods which did them no good. How could their belief protect them when it was one of their gods, Ra's vassal on earth, who was causing their pain.
"That doesn't matter." he shrugged, "They will never be remembered as saviours, champions. The Pharaoh who followed used his connection with Turhotep to prove his right to rule and her efforts became a reason to fear her goddess, to placate Sakhmet after war else she keep killing even those she should protect."
**His heirs had been some of the first to die, to be turned so as to fulfil the god's will, to allow the pharaoh to become one of them, to rule for centuries as their long past predecessor had done. So they died too, dissolved into ash when she came to take back the city, reclaim it from the vampires, from the distorted shell of a man who had once been a kind ruler.
When it was over there was no one left to take power, so they fought between themselves while trying not to look to her for guidance. She was a warrior not a ruler, born of Sakhmet not Ra, not ordained to serve the king of the gods who sent his children to rule his people.
There were lionesses kept in the temple, representations of the goddess. What not all knew was that one of the creatures which lived there had claws forged from steel and did more than just represent the protection Sekhmet provided. She was the sword, the leader at times of war, the thirst for blood which could never be quenched.
The one who had to be held back, drowned in wine to end her rampage. Who drunk herself into an oblivion when her task was complete. Hoping that oblivion would help her to forget what she had done, the good men whose faces had become masks for the demons she had to destroy.
So they allowed her to retreat to her temple and erected a monument to her, to the god she personified, a depiction carved from stone which stood tall. A statue that conveyed everything she was; a protector, saviour. One who ensured justice was served.
An idol which the new Pharaoh respected even as much as he questioned, honouring her with gifts of wine, a gift which symbolised the belief that she needed to be pacified. That reminded her people why another should rule.**
"This is another lesson I take it." Buffy sighed, despite his insistence that he couldn't help, many of his actions over the last weeks, the stories he told, had messages hidden behind them.
"Yes. As much as things change so does our perception of it." He watched her intently, waiting for her to see, to understand that this didn't have to be an insult, something to be fought against, "So does their perception of it. Ancient monuments were once new and exciting, symbols of power, sacred spots, landmarks in a desert, stone supply, a link to roots, to a forgotten past. Only we get the chance to remember it as all of those things."
Buffy tried to remember what it had been like when she first began to understand that the items her mother dealt with were hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old. Tried to retrieve that awe she had once felt holding something made and used by people whose culture was so old, so long gone it seemed alien. She couldn't get that feeling back, was no longer able to see these things through modern eyes.
"Nothing beside remains." she whispered almost wistfully.
This time it didn't surprise him, that she had made the connection, that she had seen a new meaning behind those lines. Understood what she was here to learn. That stone survived longer than those who carved it, longer than the meaning behind it. That all we get is the broken remnants. Remnants which can take on a new meaning for new people, even when the only meaning found is the inevitability of demise.
"So this is where you two ran off to." Amanda appeared by Buffy's side, linking their arms.
"We didn't run."
"You were there, you were gone. It seemed like a pretty fast change to me."
"I had to pull Buffy away before she said something... indiscreet."
Amanda tsked under her breath, a taunting smile emerging, "You can't know more than historians, got to be careful what you say."
"Yes, I do realise that." Buffy grumbled, an exaggerated scowl on her face.
"Come on, I know something that will distract you."
"Amanda" Duncan broke in, having reached their side.
She adopted an innocent mien, "What?"
"No stealing from the museum." He blocked their path with his body, his face set with resolve.
"Just a little breaking and entering?" she wheedled. Amanda must have already attempted to convince him because she didn't even try, turning away from his disapproval and pulling Buffy along a different route, "It would be like old times."
"Then we were robbing vampires not state museums."
"What about that then? There must be some demons about with nice keepsakes." Amanda raised her eyebrow in challenge, "I know you've been itching for a good fight. I snatch the loot, you kick their ass, everyone's happy."
"Especially your bank balance?"
"I never said I wouldn't share the spoils..."
The girl was good. Methos thought as he stood next to Duncan watching the two women walk away, fitting together with ease.
Buffy could slip on a personality like a glove, something aided by the many lives she had intimately experienced. She became one of those facets of her psyche, took on a persona. She could pretend in so many ways, place joy in the cadence of her voice, enthusiasm in her gait.
But that was all she did, pretend, for each of these pasts she had a ready built personal history; knowledge of how an Ancient Egyptian might think, feel, their physical mannerisms. Without fleshing out that history, filling the empty years with an imagined past, these aliases were useless.
It would take time for her to truly be able to fit into either immortal or mortal circles. She needed to learn to build a new story, to shape a previous life into something which could be claimed as her first without raising suspicion from other Immortals. To take one of those thousands of lives and mould it into something more, into a person who could exist as a part and apart from mortals.
Even her recent identity was getting too old. Buffy Summers was quickly approaching her fortieth birthday and while she might be able to pass as a very well preserved thirty something, her lack of wrinkles would start to raise questions in a few years.
She really did have no markings on her face, he realised, watching her reflection in the polished glass of a display cabinet. Not anything on her to betray the passage of time. No smile or frown lines. Even those who first died in their youth usually had something, some indication of their predisposition to joy or sorrow, to kindness or cruelty. Her face was empty when she forgot to fill it, a blank slate but those eyes. They weren't just empty, they were chasms of nothing, pits to oblivion that showed an observer her monsters.
At Methos' insistence she had taken to hiding them whenever possible. To wearing sunglasses.
It wasn't that she needed to spare her eyes from being dazzled by the sun. The enhanced sight which allowed her to see clearly in limited light at night worked the other way just as well; clearing her line of vision regardless of the suns glare.
No, this wasn't something she did for herself. She did it to maintain the image, to keep a hold of her mask. The act, all the different faces which she slipped on and off like a pair of new clothes so easily hid her in the crowd until, until they met her eyes. Until they looked into the gaze of the bubbly persona she imitated and found her empty stare.
With glasses on she looked so young, hiding the only thing that betrayed her age.
She could go into a bar, order a drink with them obscured and get laughed off, her ID jokingly inspected for the quality of fake until she uncovered her shielded eyes and met their gaze. Then the smiles would shrivel away, flickering like a bulb before it finally cuts out.
In those orbs were centuries of experience that no one with her face should have.
Methos told her off the first time he saw that trick, witnessed her allowing the bartender to see an age which outstripped the one on her identification by so much more than her age on paper did her face. He spoke of other rules, the ones Duncan and Amanda had never entirely followed, of laying low. Of avoiding notice. Even if her license was only assumed to be fake it could be raised with authorities, draw attention to her.
There would always be this discrepancy warring within those who saw her, the denial that one so young could possibly be that old.
He, for once, had agreed with Duncan, and Amanda had been set to task helping her to create a new identity, one young enough not to raise questions but old enough to be independent. A new youngster for the ancient girl to hide within. Would Buffy be able to make Elizabeth Pandora more than that? Even the name she had chosen made him question if she would manage it, if she really wanted to.
She was Pandora, the first woman. The name was nod at him, teasing, taunting his repeated use of Adam, his claim to be first.
She was Pandora, the one who released evil into the world. The name was a constant reminder of the wrongs she claimed as her own.
She was Pandora, but could she keep a hold of hope?
~ To Be Continued... ~
A/N:- One of the reasons I delayed posting this is that I've often found stories where characters reference obscure facts/events/literature a little pretentious (like the writer just wants to show you how well read they are)... and I hope this didn't come off like that. I know this chapter is in part me indulging in my own enjoyment of history (and mythology), but each time I went back to read/edit and make a decision on keeping/deleting it felt like the things being discussed were an important thing for any immortal to learn (rather than me imposing my opinions/thoughts on the characters or unnecessarily bringing up my interests). Let me know if it seems otherwise.
While I am of the belief that there's something wrong with a story which requires notes to explain it... reading the Wikipedia on Sekhmet (I can't link here unfortunately) might help the flashback make more sense and the poem Buffy quotes from is Ozymandias by Percy Shelly:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Again Wikipedia may make the context of her references clearer. Hopefully Pandora is well enough known that more information isn't needed, but the the Wikipedia page gives a reasonable summary of the character from Greek mythology if you need it. Please do tell me if the scene was overly confusing without knowledge of the myths/poem I'm referring to. As mentioned... the story should be able to stand alone, so if this chapter can't I need to edit/remove it.
This story is still on hold. Further updates will probably not come until after I've completed my HP cross which I plan to do over the summer (though my plans, as always, are flexible and liable to change when inspiration strikes).