A/N: I realize this has been a long time coming. Sorry. Hope you hadn't given up on updates. Anyways, thanks for hanging in there and please leave a comment, feedback is food for the writer's soul! Thanks to everybody who's been sticking with this story over the years, though updates may sometimes be sparse I definitely intend to finish it.
CHAPTER 79: TRUE COLOURS
"Angel, pull yourself together," Giles commanded sternly, instinctively stepping in when he saw Buffy looking ready to fall apart. "This has to be another illusion of some sort." Despite being convinced that this must be the case; yes, he was almost completely sure, he told himself, he still felt his heart speed up under Angel's dark gaze, and he knew the vampire could sense it.
"Well if it is, then I like it," Angel laughed. "It's, what's the word… perfect."
"Man, have you thought about writing a book," Faith said, not knowing what to think. "I'm thinking, maybe… 100 Ways To Lose That Pesky Soul or… Soul Lossage for Dummies?"
"Listen to Giles," Buffy said, taking a few steps forward, trying hard to pull herself together. She could to do this. Faith could handle herself, but she had to protect Giles. If she could just knock him out they could restrain him and figure out what spell he was under.
It had to be a spell.
"It's not real, just an illusion. I know you're still in there."
"You always do, don't you? And see where it's gotten you! The only illusion is the soul to begin with," Angel shot back. "It's about time you realize that. If words can't convince you…" he moved his sword for emphasis. "I guess I'll have to find another way."
Buffy took another step, and yet another. She still had Angel's axe. Not that she had any plans to do anything to him that required an axe, but she wasn't stupid enough to surrender her weapon. She wasn't a big fan of the large and clumsy weaponry – maybe it had something do to with all of those years of sneaking and hiding and needing weapons to be inconspicuous; fitting in drawers, concealed in clothing, lockers, smallish bags – but she could make non-lethal use of this.
Eliminate the threat, that's all that matters. His words from just before repeated in her head and she suspected that in his right mind he would consider this just such a situation where that logic should be applied. But things were never as simple as that. He had also told her to trust her instincts and that was what she was doing right now. Something very strange was going on and she had to pull him out of it.
Completely focused on Angel she never noticed the small crackling of power just as she passed between the two gorgon statues. She stopped, as if she had just forgotten what she was doing.
Then her posture changed and she tossed the axe on the ground between her and Angel.
"You want me?" she asked, a seductive smirk tugging on her lips. "Come get me then."
Dumbstruck Faith stared at the scene in front of them, half fascinated, half grossed out by the vampires who were now attempting to eat each others faces. "Giles, what the hell is going on?"
"I have no idea," he admitted. "But I don't think we should follow them."
"So what, we just stand here while they really get into it and watch 'em…"
"Something," Giles interrupted firmly, desperately not wanting to hear the ending to that sentence, "something in this place must be doing this to them."
"Yeah, 'cause it's not like they could have really lost it, right? Right?"
"Lost what?" Faith jumped, because suddenly Buffy was all the way up in her face, grabbing her by the jacket. "The conscience, all those emotions bearing down… hanging off of me like rotting flesh? Got over that." Using her powers, now without restraint or hesitation Buffy easily threw Faith, landing her against the wall with a grunt. It took a moment for her to recover but when she got back up, she did so with a look in her eyes that Buffy hadn't seen for a long time. All that rage.
She liked it.
"That looked like fun," Angel said to Giles, indicating Faith. "This is probably the part where you should turn and run away." Giles' eyes were as grim as his voice.
"Surely you know I won't."
"Yeah, true, I do. Should we see if you land as well as the Slayer then?" He lunged forward and grabbed the Watcher by the neck, flipping him over his shoulder. Giles landed hard and remained still for a moment.
"Oh, Rupert," Angel sing-songed, pacing as Giles grunted and struggled to his feet. "I believe the two of us have unfinished business."
"That's Ripper for you, you berk," Giles sneered, moving smoothly now, the sword Angel had discarded in hand, pointed at Angel's throat as they circled each other, slowly, every step calculated.
"Yeah?" Angel chuckled. "Where was 'Ripper' when all those kids you had responsibility for got themselves picked off one by one? You remember them, don't you, old man? Tara, Anya, little Dawnie…" he stopped and made sure he really had Giles' attention before delivering the final blow, smiling as he did so. "Buffy."
At that Giles lunged, thrusting his sword, but Angel, ready for this, spun out of his way laughing, tripping him for good measure. When he was on the ground he put his foot on the hand that still gripped the sword and started putting weight on it.
"Now," he said darkly. "Let's try this finger thing again, shall we."
No more than a few yards away Faith and Buffy were circling each other in a similar manner, for the time being only exchanging insults but looking more and more ready to take things further.
"Faith, tell me. Do you think the girl they will call in your place will be as big of a loser as you are? Bet Mommy was a drunk already when she got knocked up with you. Or maybe she just started drinking to relive the pain of having such a worthless kid. Let's face it. People close to you tend to end up rather… suicidal."
"This coming from the prissy Slayer that keep the failures pile high? Couldn't save Mommy, little sis… even yourself? From your own boyfriend."
She sneered at Buffy's look as her words hit home and looked over at Angel. "The men in your life end up dead or run away. Or both. Riley's engine spun like a cat under me… and though it all he never even suspected that you weren't… you. Kinda makes you wonder how well he knew him after all, huh? Or maybe he knew, he just didn't care, because all you ever were to him was a convenient piece of cu…"
"Oh sorry, were you talking?" Buffy smiled as she withdrew her fist, lapping at the knuckles now stained with blood from Faith's split lip. "I got all distracted by the stench of your foul mouth flapping."
Getting back up and wiping the blood from her lip Faith was wearing a venomous look on her face. "Still a priss, huh? Face it B, all the guys ever saw in you was a nice, tight ass."
"If you're gonna piss me off you're gonna have to come up with something new," Buffy laughed. "The boyfriend thing? So last season. At least I'm not a slut."
"Your body got around some if I recall," Faith smirked. "Though admittedly, it isn't much of a body."
"Oh, Faithy. Your words sting me." She smiled, and then she morphed. "Not as much as these will sting you, though."
They fought as fiercely, as dirty as they ever had, trading blows at a speed that probably made them look like a blur to an outside onlooker. As evenly matched as ever; supernatural beings as they were the two of them could have been at it for ages without anyone gaining the upper hand, if it hadn't been for the fact that one party had a set of fangs and a newfound eagerness to use them. With Slayer powers and Vampire assets in syndication, she was hard to beat. Buffy drove Faith backwards up against the wall and when she had nowhere else to go, Buffy grabbed her by the hair and smacked the back of her head against the wall, relishing the sickening sound of her skull thudding against stone, kneed her in the stomach and wasted no time punning or gloating before plunging her fangs into the dazed Slayer's neck.
Somehow Giles got a hold of the axe with his left hand and had enough strength to swing it; just enough so that Angel had to jump back to avoid having his legs seriously downsized. He still held both weapons as he got up but his hold on the axe was poor and Angel wrung it from his fingers without difficulty.
"We're skipping straight to the final event then, well, I guess this isn't the time or the place to torture you to death." Giles was kicked to the ground again with ease. He was only human after all and without the advantages that had allowed him to bring Angel to his knees that one previous time. Angel swung the axe and brought it down, about to cleave Giles' skull in one swift motion…
And then he stopped.
"Giles?" he said, shaking his head in confusion. But Giles or rather 'Ripper' was already on his feet, charging Angel with his sword raised. In self-defence now, Angel slapped his palms together and caught the blade mid-air and wrung the weapon from his hands.
"Giles, snap out of it," he shouted but Giles was already readying himself for another attack, his rage unnatural – no, Angel realized, supernatural. He glanced at the gorgon statues; two at the entrance of this place and two at the exit, and started putting two and two together. Well, of course, it was only a theory, but it was the only one he had.
"Sorry," he murmured at he deflected Giles' blows and hit him in the head with just enough force that he would be passed out for a minute or two, he hoped. Who knew how much more trauma the old Watcher's head could take without suffering permanent damage.
Dragging the unconscious form of Giles past the statues at the exit he saw Faith and Buffy going at each other and realized that he had to do something there quickly. Buffy had Faith pinned firmly against the wall, drinking from her. And for every drop of Slayer blood she got in her system she would be that much more difficult to overthrow.
He didn't want to fight her. In this state odds were that one or both of them would be injured, and it was the last thing they needed. With his stab wound and her just having fed on a Slayer, he feared that a fight would be hard, vicious and that he would ultimately lose. All he had to do was to drag her 20 lousy feet past the statues.
Yes, that was all he had to do.
"Find your own!" Buffy hissed in outrage as he pulled her off of Faith, who looked rather pale by now and sank limply to the ground when Buffy released her grip. At least he wouldn't have to fight her as well. Her pulse was still strong, though, so he didn't think her life was in any real danger. Buffy had pinned her hard and probably put pressure on her windpipe as well. Hopefully she was just dazed.
"You're pathetic," Buffy spat, writhing in his grip, tossing her head back to head butt him, digging her fingers into his arm hard enough to bruise. "Always spoiling everybody's fun. I should kill you and make sure you never claw your way back again."
"Killing each other is so old," Angel retorted, dragging her closer, closer to the statues. She might be able to beat him in a straight up fight, but he had the advantage of a much greater weight. Keeping her elevated, feet not connecting with the ground, kept her from using her strength fully and turning his moves against him. Small as she was though her limbs might as well be made of iron and he nearly lost his grip on her when she sent a sharp elbow into his chest and the wound that was there.
"Painful, huh? You wear your open chest wounds so well," she practically hissed at him.
The last few yards he pushed her hard, tossed her really, and she stumbled to her knees. She remained still there for a moment and as he knew that she wouldn't be harmed from such a fall, it must be the spell wearing off. He went to get Faith as well before she had regained enough strength to get up.
When all four of them were safely outside of the area Angel sank down, sitting on a rock. Feeling drained, he looked at the others, deciding that they must be feeling pretty much the same. Buffy was still slumped on the ground, saying nothing. He could see the shame on her face and it broke his heart to see her feel so badly again, just because of a stupid enchantment. He knew exactly what she felt. It didn't matter that some outside influence had made her act that way and say those things – it was still her hands that were stained with someone else's blood, still her voice that said the words, and the memory of it wouldn't fade in a long, long time.
Faith pressed her palm to the side of her neck and it came back bloody. She winced and wiped the blood off on her pant leg. She hadn't actually lost that much blood, she didn't think, but it still stung. Not that she would admit it, of course.
"So," she breathed. "I'm thinking this might be what they meant by 'strength of the mind'." Her gaze travelled across the sombre faces of Angel, Buffy and Giles and they all looked like someone had killed their puppy. Buffy's bloody hands were trembling and she never took her eyes off them. Giles' face was set, his mouth thin and the lines in his face seemed deeper than an hour ago. Angel sat a distance away from him, turned away, looking down.
Goody, Faith thought, depression time. Just what they needed.
"It's no trauma," Faith went on, feeling like someone needed to say something, anything to relieve the tension, though it felt out of place that the person with the open neck wound had to act as the most positive thinker in the bunch. "It's not like pretty much all of us haven't tried to kill each other before."
Buffy stared at her hands and the blood that that stained them. Some had gotten caught under her fingernails. Dark red crescents, frowning up at her, marking her as the killer she was. She had tried to tear Faith's throat out with her bear hands. She had wanted to, badly. She had bit into her, felt the tender flesh of her neck tearing, felt the warmth of her blood spilling out, taking in the fragrance of it and drunk it down deeply… she was deeply disgusted with herself and yet, looking at her bloody fingers the only thing she could think about was how much she wanted to stick them in her mouth and suck them just to get a little bit more of the taste in her mouth.
"I… I need to go," she murmured hastily and took off into the darkness. She heard Giles voice somewhere behind her, gently calling her back, but she ignored it. He had seen her for what she was now. A demon, just as vile as any of the beasts they had slain in the past five years. Soul or no soul, it didn't matter. It was in her, and she hated that he had seen it.
"Stay with Giles," Angel hastily instructed Faith before taking off after Buffy.
The solid darkness around her felt like a comforting blanket as she half ran – fled – down the tunnel. She was a creature of the night, alright. Lurking in the shadows and liking it there. Lurking in the shadows, drinking blood and relishing the kill. Disgusting. Monster. The soul was supposed to be the big difference but she had just proven that it was meaningless.
'The only illusion is the soul to begin with.' Words meant to hurt, to frighten, she knew, but still, right now they rang eerily true.
"Buffy, wait," she heard Angel's voice calling her. She didn't, though, not until she felt a firm hand on her shoulder. She stopped hesitantly and let herself be turned around to face him.
"Look, I get the need for space, to get away… believe me," he said gently. "But this isn't the time or the place. We need to stay together if we want to get out of her as quickly as possible."
"I can't be around them… people," she said, exasperated. "You say you're not safe, but what am I? At least you had enough control to turn yourself around. Another minute and I would have killed Faith if you hadn't pulled me out of it."
"Maybe you should ask Giles before praising my control," Angel said with a wry smile. "I don't even know how I snapped out of it. Maybe the spell simply wore off after a certain time, I was under longest. Or maybe a hundred years of controlling the demon is starting to pay off."
"Maybe I don't have that control, then," Buffy said, shaking her head. "The way I felt back there… it scares me to even think about being around people I care about with all that lurking under the surface.
"I know. We all have inner demons," Angel said. "Us, more literal than most. It's not your fault, this place, it just… brought it out." Buffy glanced at him, looking defeated.
"Which is to say that all of this, the rage, the bloodlust, the wanting to…." She stopped herself before going into too much detail. "It's not something that was created; it's always in there… waiting for control to be lost… defences lowered."
"Yes," Angel said honestly. He couldn't lie to her about this, he had damned her to this fate, and he at least owed her that honesty. "But it's in everybody, to some degree. Even Giles. Not because he's a demon, but the exact opposite, because he's human. And without a dark side, he wouldn't be."
"I've heard the everybody's got demons talk before. I get it. But most people's dark sides don't have capacity for mass murder and bringing about the end of the world." She quirked an eyebrow. "You can relate."
"You know I can. But you also know as well as I do that those abilities can be used for good, too. But you can't run and hide. You have to get out there and make it happen." He reached his hand out to cup her face, bringing her head up so that their eyes met. "Remember who taught me that?"
She managed a small smile, not because the situation was okay or the events that had occurred since they entered this cave had been forgotten, but because she needed him to know that she remembered that they had gotten through worse in the past – and that they would again in the near future. And for that she needed to keep herself together. Push through.
"An irritating little blonde?"
Angel draped an arm over her shoulders and pulled her close.
"You're not irritating, Buffy," Angel murmured, his chin resting on the top of her head, adding teasingly, and though she couldn't see his face she could feel him smiling. "On my Most Annoying Blonde's list, you don't even make it to top five. Well, usually not. Are you ready to go back to the others?"
She sighed, pulling away from him just far enough that she could look at him. "I'm not sure I'll ever be." She saw compassion and understanding in his eyes as he nodded.
"I know the feeling."
Side by side they headed back, in silence for a little while before Buffy spoke again.
"So... when have I made it onto that list, anyway?"