Title: Hands Against the Dark
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Prompt: tth100 #67, Immortal
Summary: BtVS, Van Helsing. The Left Hand of God and the Hand of Sineya face new challenges together. 3400 words.
Spoilers: BtVS and AtS post-series finales; "Van Helsing" (2004)
Notes: Though I enjoyed much of Angel Season 5, I was disappointed by most of the references they made to the fates of the Buffy characters. A dash of depression and a pinch of wishful thinking somehow turned into this. Standalone as-is, but will probably evolve into a series (much) later.
Buffy leaned back in one of the comfy chairs in Giles' office, sipping from a double-shot low-calorie mint latte and blinking tiredly at her erstwhile Watcher. Her skirt and blouse were wrinkled and her make-up a little worse for the wear after several hours of travel on top of a busy night of Slayage, but after the urgency she'd heard in Giles' voice over the phone, she'd been too worried to stop anywhere to freshen up.
"Okay, I'm here. I couldn't find a babysitter for Lyri on such short notice, but she should be okay in the training room for awhile. So what's the what? What's going on that you couldn't tell me over the phone?"
"Yes, well," Giles began defensively, the corners of his mouth drawn tight with the weight of whatever news he had to share. "Given the, the nature of this news, I rather thought..." He trailed off a little, tugging a handkerchief out of his pocket, then paused, an alarmed frown clouding his expression. "Illyria? Do you mean to tell me you are still housing that-- that monstrosity? And you brought her here? Buffy, whatever else that woman might once have been, she is now an Old One, and I do not think it appropriate..."
Buffy's lips thinned. "Giles, focus. You didn't call me here because I inherited a Smurfette when Angel died. Did you? Because if that's where you want to go with this..."
She hated being at odds with Giles, she always had, but something had broken between them her senior year of high school that had never quite healed. They'd kept up a working relationship over the next few years, and they certainly still cared about each other, but the understanding and trust of their early years as Watcher and Slayer had begun to dissolve. By the time Sunnydale had collapsed enough straws had been added to flatten the sturdiest of camels, and the news Illyria had brought out of L.A. last summer had burnt the last bridges between them. For years, she had loved him almost as a replacement for the father that had abandoned her when she was a teenager; now that he had more-or-less followed in Hank's disappointing footsteps, she felt that Giles had more than earned her resentment as well.
His expression soured. "Be that as it may," he said, looking away, "perhaps it's just as well that you will have a companion of her... peculiar nature to keep you company in the future. Provided that she continues to look to you for moral guidance, of course."
A cold weight settled in Buffy's stomach at that remark, and all her Slayer senses suddenly sharpened at the implication of danger. There was no good reason she could think of that Giles would be acting all vague and broody about her future, after all the months he'd spent carefully pulling his nose out of her business as far as he could. "What do you mean? What's going on?"
Giles glanced at her again, and this time their gazes caught and held; his expression softened a little, and she caught a glimpse of subdued grief under his prickly exterior before the walls went up again. "You recall the research project I've had Willow working on these last few months?"
Buffy blinked, startled. She'd been expecting something more along the lines of an apocalypse or a prophecy. "The Slayer-ness tests?" she asked.
"Technically they're called..." He shook his head. "Well, it doesn't matter. Those are indeed the tests I was referring to."
Ever since Andrew had come back from L.A. with a Slayer in a straightjacket, Giles had been obsessed with figuring out what exactly made Slayers different from other girls and whether they (meaning Willow) could selectively revoke the new Slayers' abilities. It was more than just guilt over letting loose a flood of newly super-powered girls who might-- intentionally or not-- misuse their gifts; Giles' continued control of the Watcher's Council was also at stake. There were enough survivors and retirees still alive to unseat him and reinstitute the death penalty if they really tried, and they'd threatened to do just that if he didn't find a new way to deal with crazed Slayers like Dana or criminal ones like Faith used to be.
Buffy couldn't blame Giles for wanting to find a solution. Anything was better than the old way. At the same time, though, she hadn't forgotten the lesson of her Cruciamentum. A Slayer with her gifts in place always had options, but one without, unused to managing with a normal girl's strength and reflexes, was very nearly helpless. If they started disempowering first and asking questions later-- or routinely doing it to 18-year-old girls to keep their fighting force young and obedient-- who would stop them? Giles wouldn't live forever.
She fidgeted in her chair, shifting to a more comfortable position. "I take it the results weren't good?" she said grimly.
"I'm not sure how best to put this," Giles replied, hesitantly. "It seems... well, you are aware that I took blood samples from yourself, your sister, and Faith for comparison purposes?"
Buffy nodded. Faith, they'd wanted for a control factor, for normally Called versus those they'd magically activated. Dawn, they'd wanted for genetic research; they had no idea how much of Buffy's DNA the monks had used in her make-up, and whether that had had anything to do with her not being a Potential Slayer. And last but not least they'd tested Buffy herself, probably hoping to discover whether her resurrection had had any detectable effect on the Slayer empowerment. Not that Giles had said as much, but after all this time she'd gotten pretty skilled at reading between his lines.
"I'd heard of Tara's tests after your... return to us, and her report of your so-called cellular tan. Without being able to discuss it with her, or run those specific tests again, I cannot say for certain, but I believe that the residue of Willow's spell in your body was akin to a key fitted into a lock. Your experience in the Hellmouth two years later, bathed in the light of that amulet at close range for several seconds, was akin to turning that key. Both experiences left a magical imprint behind, and when combined together..." Giles trailed off again, then cleared his throat and removed his glasses, polishing them absently with the handkerchief still clutched in his hand.
"I'm not human anymore, am I?" she asked rhetorically, steeling herself for his answer. It was nothing she hadn't expected, really; despite Tara's reassurances, she'd always feared that the failure of Spike's chip against her meant she no longer fit the definition of the species.
Giles winced. "Ah... not entirely. Not any longer. I think it very likely that unless you are killed in some instantaneous fashion-- beheading, for example-- you will outlive us all. By centuries, if not millennia."
Buffy's left hand drifted to her abdomen, to the place where the 'itchy mortal wound' the First had mocked her for had long since been filled in by healthy flesh. She had noticed a steep increase in her healing speed lately, but it hadn't seemed worth worrying about; it wasn't the first time her abilities had gotten stronger without any concrete explanation.
"So... what you're telling me is I'm immortal now? By accident?" she said disbelievingly. "How is that even possible?"
"Not immortal, exactly... just unable to die of old age, or any wound not instantly fatal," Giles explained, still polishing his glasses. "Between the restorative effects of Willow's spell and the cleansing power of the amulet, your healing factor has been amplified to the point where the tiny, unhealed cellular injuries that build up to cause old age in a normal body will be erased almost before they occur. You will appear to be the same age you are now for the rest of your life, however long that might prove to be."
Like Gabriel, Buffy thought, staring at him in shock. Centuries' worth of memories and millennia more that show up only in his nightmares, but he's still as hot as the day...
Her mind froze. The day he... the day... the day he'd left...
I'll never see Heaven again, she thought numbly, as the nearly empty coffee cup slipped from the suddenly nerveless fingers of her right hand.
"Buffy? Buffy, are you all right?"
Giles' voice sounded terribly distant, almost drowned out by the roaring in her ears. She blinked, looking down at the splash of dark liquid that had escaped onto the pale carpeting of Giles' office, and struggled to find something to say. She opened her mouth once or twice, but nothing came out; the near-mortal wounding of spirit caused by her resurrection had scarred over but never healed entirely, and having it all brought to the surface again had momentarily stolen her breath away.
There was a rustling sound, as of clothes in motion. Buffy looked up to find Giles standing before her chair, his glasses back on, looking concerned. He placed a warm hand on one of her shoulders; startled, she pulled back and shook her head.
"I just never expected..." she said, then swallowed and took refuge in a quip. "Well I guess it's true what they say; nobody likes an Indian giver."
Giles frowned, apparently taken aback by her levity, and she hastened to explain. "Death was my gift," she said, then chuckled a little, on the verge of tears.
"My dear girl." Giles sighed. "My dear girl..."
Buffy shook her head and schooled her features again, wiping away the few drops of moisture that had escaped between her lashes. She couldn't afford to break down now, and especially not here. What would the baby Slayers think, if they saw her in the halls with reddened eyes? Never mind that it was their sacrifice, their empowerment, that had removed enough weight from her shoulders to allow her to live without fear of imminent demise... or any demise at all, apparently, now. Tears threatened again as her thoughts drifted to Dawn, the closest thing to a daughter she was probably ever going to get. Would Buffy still be young and blonde when Her Keyness was old and grey? It didn't seem fair.
She blinked to clear her eyes, determined not to break down, then smiled a watery smile at her old Watcher. "I'll be okay. Don't worry, I'm not going to go jump off a bridge or something to test it."
"That's... that's good to hear." Giles tucked his hands awkwardly into his pockets, looking very unsure of himself. "But Buffy..."
She shook her head again, discouragingly. "Was there anything else you needed to talk to me about?" she asked. She really wasn't in the mood for any more touchy-feeliness with him right now.
"Not... not particularly," Giles dissembled, speaking hesitantly. "Although I think, perhaps, that it might be best were you to... fail to mention this information to your... to the Immortal, for the time being."
Buffy stiffened, straightening in her chair. She'd almost let herself forget why it was she never came here, why it was she didn't confide in Giles anymore-- he meant well, but half the time his idea of what was in her best interests was seriously reality-adjacent. "Did any of you bother asking Dawn what his actual name is?" she asked crisply, a little of the Slayer edge creeping into her tone.
Giles' brow furrowed. "She, ah, I thought, that is..." He trailed off, looking a little confused. "I recall that she was quite amused you had secured yet another boyfriend so much your elder, though she hastened to reassure me he was not evil..." He paused again to shake his head. "I do not believe she mentioned his name, but the identity of the Immortal is well known to the Watcher's Council, Buffy. As well as the fact that he prefers to be addressed as such-- and that he is something of a moral opportunist."
"Giles, this is Rome we're talking about," she said tersely. "Do you really think Marco's the only immortal living there? He's like the Dracula I met-- he has a really good PR department-- but hello to the sleaze-factor." She wrinkled up her nose. She'd run into Marco enough times during her year in Italy to get the impression he was what Parker would be like, with a thousand more years of wooing women and accumulating power under his belt. Not the most appealing personality ever, even laying aside the question of how exactly he'd come by that lifespan.
Giles' frown deepened as he considered that statement, and the irritation crawling up Buffy's spine grew claws and teeth, morphing into full-blown anger. No, Giles wasn't stupid, despite his occasional blindness to dissenting points of view. The complete lack of surprise in his expression suggested he'd already known about the other immortals she'd just mentioned-- and that apparently, after running through what the Council knew about them, he'd still decided she must have chosen Marco.
"You're not suggesting..." he said slowly, consideringly. "But the rumors, the club sightings..." He shook his head.
Buffy gritted her teeth. "It's called patrolling, Giles," she told him, her tone full of 'Duh'. "Can I help it that Marco owns half the demon-friendly bars in Rome?"
Giles absorbed that for a second. "I can think of only one other immortal in Rome gifted enough in his own right to keep up with you," he said grimly, a world of dread in his eyes. "The Vatican's pet murderer."
That was enough; Buffy bolted up out of her chair. "I know he's rubbed the Council the wrong way in the past. But he does the same job I do, Giles. He senses the evil, and they send him out to stop it."
He looked away, avoiding the challenge in her eyes. "I... I apologize for that... hasty description. Of course the Council's files on the subject may be inaccurate. But he does kill humans, Buffy. Our records on Gabriel Van Helsing do not begin until the late eighteen hundreds, but there are rumors of his existence under other names going back centuries, always coupled with reports of dark deeds and terrible situations."
"People have been known to say the same thing about me," she pointed out, quietly.
"Buffy," he said plaintively, looking up again. "You have been-- you are like a daughter to me. You deserve all the happiness in the world..."
"But you think I'm going about it all the wrong way," she said gently. She put a small hand on his arm, and felt tears welling up beneath the anger. Damn him for making her still care. "The thing is, you wanted me to start making decisions for myself, and now you have to let me make them."
"Don't," she said, shaking her head, then pulled away and gathered up her purse and jacket.
A knock came at the door as she reached for the knob. Giles made a frustrated noise behind her, then reached for the intercom button his desk and mashed it down. "I'm in a meeting, Lucilla," he announced, forbiddingly.
"Not any more, you aren't." The voice on the other side of the door wasn't the secretary's; Buffy's heart leapt at the gravelly, protective tone of the man's voice, and pulled the door open with a vast sense of relief.
Gabriel must have just finished up whatever case he was working, as he was still wearing his usual hunting garb of antique-y black trousers, turtleneck, and vest under a long, flowing, leather coat with lots of interesting buckles. She'd asked him about it, once, remembering the history behind Spike's trenchcoat; Gabriel's turned out to have been a gift from an Italian leatherworker he'd rescued more than a century ago, and he'd repeatedly gone back to the small shop since to have replacements made from the same pattern. The gloves and boots he habitually wore usually conformed more to modern styles, but they were also heavy and black, completing the deadly, brooding look. He wasn't carrying any visible weapons today, but the forbidding expression on his face more than made up for it.
"Gabriel," she said, reaching for him with her unencumbered arm.
He dropped his gaze to Buffy's face, expression melting into a tender smile. The frown didn't quite clear from between his eyebrows, but the sense of menace that had been building in the air was gone. He raised a gloved hand to cup her cheek, then pulled her close. "I came as soon as I heard," he said, voice rumbling pleasantly under her ear. "Are you all right?"
"Peachier than keen," she said brightly into the smooth fabric of his vest. Now that he was here, it wasn't even a lie. "I thought we agreed to leave England to me, though? Not that I'm complaining."
"You agreed. I didn't say anything," he replied, chuckling a little.
Buffy pulled back a little and favored him with a tremulous smile. "We'll talk about that later," she said. "As long as you're here, though-- Gabriel, this is Rupert Giles." She gestured toward the desk where her former Watcher stood, gone quiet and a little pale. "Giles, this is Gabriel Van Helsing."
"Mr. Giles," Gabriel said, stiffly.
"Mr. Van Helsing," Giles nodded back, a glint of watchful Ripper looking out of his eyes.
"Sorry to be abrupt," Gabriel added dismissively, "but I think we'd better save the in-depth introductions for later. Buffy, I left the driver waiting out front, are you finished here?"
"What? Why?" Buffy stared up into his concerned, handsome face, and suddenly realized all he'd said was that he'd come as soon as he heard. What had he heard? That Buffy was visiting the Council? Or had something else happened, and he'd detoured here afterward? Was something wrong with Dawn?
"You haven't heard?" His eyebrows rose. "Then why are you in England?"
Something in England? Not Dawn then, Buffy, thought, relieved and baffled. "Giles had news for me," she said. "In person type stuff. What's going on?"
"Personal type stuff," Gabriel repeated, grimly. "Drusilla."
Cold settled in the pit of Buffy's stomach. "Then we'd better get going," she said, mind already gearing into Slayer mode. Drusilla was crazy, but she was psychic, and she was also Spike's other ex. Chances were she already knew they were coming for her-- which meant whatever purpose she had in attracting their attention was unlikely to be pleasant. "Dawn's in school, and Andrew's around to keep her company, so she should be fine while we go after Dru."
He nodded thoughtfully, probably already planning everything out in his head. Buffy was the undisputed champion of in-the-moment action, but Gabriel was much better at the tactical end of things. "I take it you brought Illyria with you?" he asked.
"Yep," she agreed. "After the incident in Dawn's history class she isn't allowed on campus anymore, even as Fred, and I didn't want to leave her loose in Rome by herself. She's in the training room, wiping the mat with baby Slayers."
"Good. She might be useful; Drusilla's hypnosis won't work on her," he said, then glanced over her head in Giles' direction. "If you'll excuse us?"
Giles studied both of them for a moment, then nodded, slowly. "I take it you don't need any assistance from the Council?"
Buffy shook her head. "I'll call you later, Giles, okay?"
"Please do," he said softly, every year of his age visible in the tired creases around his eyes and mouth.
Damn the PTBs anyway, Buffy thought, as she and Gabriel headed for the training room. She'd just settled into a family again-- if you could apply that word to a group made up of an ancient demon, an exiled archangel, the eldest living Slayer and a dimensional Key-- and they had to throw another wrench in the works. The idea of living forever-- it was terrifying, too big to wrap her mind around properly. It was going to change everything, and she didn't even know if Gabriel would still want her if he knew he might, maybe, possibly, be stuck with her for centuries.
There would be time to worry about everything later, though. For now, there was Drusilla to face, and a strong hand clasping hers.
It would have to be enough.