Chapter 16: Epilogue
*Sigh* It is finished. I'm a bit sad that the fun is over, but also quite happy with how things have turned out. What started out as a simple midnight writing revenge project after being frustrated by yet another Anita Blake book has turned into something I didn't quite expect.
Which is all thanks to you, the readers, for your support and suggestions. I had no idea that so many people felt as I did and once I realized that I really wanted to write this for all the disgruntled fans out there. I hope I did you proud.
For everyone that has reviewed—Thank you so much. The response was far greater than I expected and I am humbled by your interest.
As always, Greywizard is the ninja of all betas and I thank him for all his help.
SOMEWHERE IN LOUISIANA
3 MONTHS LATER:
As he felt his daylight death slowly seep away from his body, Asher took a deep breath and raised his coffin door. Gone was the utter wealth and comfort he had previously shared with Jean-Claude, and now he had to resort to sleeping in the basement of an old manor whose residents had conveniently realized they were overdue for a lengthy vacation. '
Of course,' he thought with a small smirk of satisfaction at his clearly evident superiority, 'their realization came as a result of me bending their impressionable minds.'
Considering everything else that had seemed to go wrong with his life, Asher was thankful that their escape had gone well enough.
He laughed scornfully at his idle thoughts as the bitterness rose within him. 'Oh yes, I have much to be thankful for,' he thought with an edge of sarcasm.
It seemed that everything he loved in this world had been taken away at one point or another. First, Juliana at the hands of a vengeful mob, so long ago, and now Jean-Claude, at the hands of that bitch, Buffy Summers.
Asher sighed as his despair seemed to manifest itself and cloak him in the depressive darkness. A part of him wished to meet the sun and end his apparently cursed existence, but he had a promise to keep to one of the his few surviving loved ones.
His mind flashed back to that devastating battle – had it really been only three months ago?
He still remembered the weighty taste in his mind of Anita's sorrow at losing her powers as she sobbed across the room from him. How badly he had wanted to tear that Slayer apart and comfort Anita! A part of his spirit had died a little at seeing her so broken- so different from the woman he knew she was.
As the two slayers and that ungrateful, backstabbing fiend, Spike, had audaciously argued who would be Jean-Claude's executioner, Asher's anger had flared in hatred. He desperately tried to break out of his bonds, but Jason had held him back.
And then, just as Asher was about to use his teeth to rip off Jason's hand, he had heard a voice in his head.
'Asher,' Jean-Claude's velvety smooth voice had whispered in his mind. 'Do not act foolishly.'
'Should I instead watch your execution as I sit and do nothing?' he had howled mentally in agonized response.
'The odds are not in our favor, my love. I accept that there is nothing we can do to save me.'
Asher had wanted to interrupt, but Jean-Claude had hushed him. 'Listen to me, there is not much time,' came his urgent voice, so strongly it felt that he was speaking right into Asher's ear. 'We must be pragmatic. There is a way for you to escape. Jason will release your bonds and you will use him as a hostage. Together, you two may leave.'
'I will never leave you!' Asher mentally had spat. 'I am no coward!'
An uncomfortable pause set in at Asher's implication- of the day so long ago when Juliana was murdered and Asher was tortured.
'Will you ever truly forgive me?' Jean-Claude had sighed, his regret clearly filling his 'voice.' 'You two must leave so that Anita may be rescued someday. Who knows what the human justice system will do to her. She will need you both.'
Asher had felt Jason loosening his chains. 'For you, for your 'Ma Petite',' he had reluctantly agreed in a defeated tone.
'For 'our' Petite,' Jean-Claude had corrected him before the Slayer spoke to him.
Before he was murdered without mercy.
Asher twitched at the sharp memory as he began ascending the basement stairs. "Jason?' he called.
"Asher! Come here! You've got to watch this!"
Picking up his pace, Asher arrived in the living room where Jason was wearing blood-red spandex workout pants while lounging on the couch watching the television.
"What is it?" he asked.
"CNN is reporting on Anita after this commercial break," Jason answered.
Asher settled into the couch and began watching with interest. For practical reasons, he and Jason had made the decision to lay low since the battle. Unfortunately, that meant that Anita was still in the clutches of the federal authorities.
The final commercial ended and a fair-skinned man with salt and pepper hair and a bright artificial smile appeared on screen. He was standing on the steps of a courthouse where dozens of other reporters were milling about.
"Reporting to you, live, from St. Louis Federal Courthouse, this is Anderson Blitzer. Just moments ago, the jury for the Anita Blake trial came back from their recess. For those of you viewers who have literally been without any access to media for the last three months, Anita Blake is the former Federal Marshall and Vampire Executioner who has been charged on a number of accounts, including: murder, conspiracy to commit murder, interference in police investigations, perjury, and more."
Now plastering a somber look on his face, the reporter continued. "This case has been pivotal in the new evidence that the Regional Preternatural Investigative Team here in St. Louis, along with the FBI, have uncovered about the dark truth about vampires. While the vast majority of the country's 'living impaired' citizens are still considered to be no threat to the general populace, many others have been charged, convicted and quickly executed by the Vampire Slayers and Federal Marshalls for murder, attempted murder, or conspiracy with the Vampire Council in Europe."
The reporter took a breath and held his fingers to his ear piece. "Excuse me, folks." His gray eyes caught the camera again. "The jury has returned to chambers and Judge Newberry has called for the verdict.
"Anita Blake has been found guilty on all accounts and will be sentenced to the Federal Prison here in St. Louis for the remainder of her life!" the network shill announced, a look of surprise quickly flashing across his face before being replaced by his usual bland expression.
Asher snarled with rage and hurled the plasma screen against the wall.
THAT SAME DAY :
Buffy self-consciously smoothed down her charcoal pencil skirt as she mustered up her courage behind the curtain in the White House Press Room.
Past the edge of the curtain, she could hear the dozens of reporters who were already milling into the room, chattering wildly. Next to her stood Giles, who gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder- He knew how much she disliked public speaking -- ever since Snyder's pure evilness at the Talent Show her sophomore year.
"Giles," she whined, "are you sure I have to be Speech Girl? You're *so* much more proper and British."
He sighed and began cleaning his glasses- undoubtedly as a result of having gone through this conversation several times previously.
"Buffy, as much as I dislike the change, you no longer have a secret identity."
The so-called 'Queen of Slayers' jutted out her lip in an attempt to look pitiful.
"I know!" she nodded. "I'll never be allowed back in the Secret Identity Heroes Club with Superman or Batman, anymore. There goes my membership card and my vacation to the annual Tahiti Conference."
Giles refrained the urge to roll his eyes. After all, they were surrounded by a dozen White House staffers, including an attractive older woman who served as the Press Secretary, and he didn't need to appear to be exasperated to the viewing public should he be caught in an unexpected candid shot.
"Yes, what a shame," he stated dryly as he rubbed his already spotless lenses. "Regardless, Buffy, your name, picture, and identity as the leader of the Vampire Slayers has been circulated for several years on flyers in the post office as a terrorist. Thus, with the President's announcement today, you must publicly accept the government's apologies and express the Council's gratitude for recognizing and correcting the fraud perpetuated by the Vampire Council."
"I know." Then she looked at him sharply. "How's my hair?"
Giles gave in to rolling his eyes. "The same as it was the last ten times you asked me."
Her retort was silenced by a staffer ushering them to the edge of the stage, where they waited for the President to begin speaking.
Buffy made sure to plaster a serious expression on her face as he began talking - Giles had, repeatedly, strongly emphasized that she not look like she was daydreaming or searching out all the 'hotties' in the room.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. I have spoken on this topic several times and as events have progressed, I wanted to speak to the American people on these developments," the President began.
"Three months ago, through superior investigative work by the St. Louis Regional Preternatural Investigative Team and the FBI, we learned that a conspiracy had been implemented against Humankind by the Vampire Council in Europe - the lawmaking body for all vampires. This conspiracy sought to gain control of world governments, including our own, in order to ensure vampiric superiority and control of this planet. Many of our preconceived notions have been shattered since then. We discovered that many vampires had used their mind control ability to influence lawmakers and suggest changes in laws, in order to legalize their status, they all fervently decried that they were law-abiding citizens with unfortunate health issues.
"While we acknowledge that some of the vampire population do fit into that category, there are a great many who do not. Recently, I have signed laws to regulate their presence in our country- including issuing mandated government ID and stricter regulations on property and possessions.
"After Executive Order 34986, where I declared that the Slayer Army and its parent group, the Watcher's Council, were extracted from the Terrorist List, we have seen an increase in safety around our country. These brave young women have suffered unduly at our hands, and the Vampire Council, and we thank them for their patriotic service. Today, I am proud to introduce Buffy Summers, Commander In-Chief of the Slayer Army."
The President beamed and ushered Buffy forward.
Clutching her note cards tightly, she shook his hand and stood at the podium as dozens of flashbulbs went off. She took a deep breath and began explaining her role and that of the Slayer Army in the coming days.
After the speech (which went much better than the Talent Show, thankfully), Buffy and Giles headed to a cocktail hour where the President introduced her to a great many people from the various departments that she would most likely eventually be dealing with, now that the Watcher's Council was an officially recognized entity in America.
It wasn't a bad time, all things considering. She was still freaked that her life was the complete opposite of Sunnydale -- people knew that the bad things really existed and they knew she killed them. But she most definitely preferred lounging about, sipping drinks at the request of the President, than illegally traveling under dorky aliases and hiding from the FBI.
As she stood next the wall, pondering these thoughts, a voice broke into her musings.
"Ms. Summers, is it?"
Buffy glanced up and found her lips curling into a smile at seeing two men who looked a lot closer to her age instead of all the fuddy-duddies that worked here. The one closest to her was about six-foot tall and was definitely someone that she knew Faith would refer to as 'caramel-y goodness'. He looked Native America and had waist-length hair tied back into a braid. His features were incredibly attractive and his well-tailored suit hinted at some serious muscle possibilities.
His friend that had spoken to her was also attractive, although quite the opposite in appearance. He was shorter, maybe about 5'8, blond, blue-eyed, with a brilliant smile that made her forget her name for a moment. He had a southern accent, although Buffy couldn't quite place it.
"Yes, it is. But you can just call me Buffy. And you two are?" Buffy made sure to keep her speech as un-Buffy-fied (as the Scoobies referred to it) as possible, as per yet another of Giles' rules.
The blond extended his hand. "Well, I'm Ted Forrester, Federal Marshal, and this is-"
"Bernardo Spotted-Horse, Federal Marshall" the other man interrupted with a cheeky smile as he grabbed her hand and kissed it. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Buffy."
"Likewise," she said with a grin as butterflies swarmed in her stomach. Jeez, she was spending way too much time with only women around, to get all excited about a kiss on the hand!
"Buffy, we wanted to introduce ourselves because we've been assigned to help your organization situate itself in St. Louis as everything begins changing," Edward informed her.
"Oh." Buffy was surprised to hear this -- it was news to her. Giles probably had probably forgotten to mention it to her with all the other stuff on his mind, she reflected.
Edward seemed to sense her discomfort. "Not to step on anyone's toes, I assure you. Just to make sure your organization has federal support as you carry out your duties. Plus, with your girls quickly taking over all the good vampire kills, you're starting to put us out of business," he joked with a wink.
"Oh, well… Okay, then," Buffy said slowly with a shrug.
She was hesitant and would definitely be talking to Giles. Something was twigging her Slayer senses about these two guys.
But in the meantime… What could it hurt to talk to a couple of hotties for a bit?
SEVERAL DAYS LATER:
Buffy grunted as she tried to open her front door while carrying several bags of luggage. Suuuuure- she could set them down, open the door, and then pick them up again, but that was an extra step that she didn't feel like taking -- plus she was stubborn and hella tired from her plane ride.
She smiled with satisfaction as she managed to jiggle the key and push the door open. Dropping all of her bags in the foyer of the cozy two-story home that she was currently sharing with Xander, Willow, and Dawn, she headed straight for the kitchen, hoping that Willow had had a chance to pick something up.
Buffy squeaked and quickly shut her eyes.
Yup, Willow had definitely picked something up- or rather a someone.
Willow heard a noise and immediately looked towards the doorway. "Oh! Buffy!" She pulled her hands away from her partner's curves and held them behind her back -- like a little kid caught stealing from the cookie jar. "Sorry! Just, um, I thought you were gone until tomorrow and since it's the day of the full moon, Xander's with his hyena people and I thought I was home alone, so I invited Sylvie over for dinner and then we had dinner, and now…" Willow trailed off with a sheepish shrug.
Sylvie pulled on her conservative teal polo shirt. "And then we decided to have some dessert," she added with a laugh. "And Buffy, you can open your eyes now."
"Oh. Okay. Good." Buffy's eyes blinked open and she smiled at Willow's red face and Sylvie's grin.
"Don't worry," she waved off as she proceeded to the freezer. "I just need to get some chocolate-y goodness, the frozen version with little peanut butter cups. And then I'll be out of your way."
"It's okay; I guess I should be getting going, anyway. Richard wanted to meet with me before we head to the Lupinar tonight," Sylvie said as she gave Willow a quick kiss and headed for the door. "See you later!"
"Bye," Willow said with a soft smile.
"Yes, see you later!" Buffy called with a salacious grin and she turned to Willow. "Sooooo?"
Willow blushed. "So, nothing. We're just hanging out."
"Which you do frequently," Buffy interjected.
"So how was your trip?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I see through you, what with the sudden changing of the topic and everything, missy. But fine. I'll leave it be, for now," she said with a smile.
"It was good, mostly," she noted as she considered everything she and Giles had been doing. "I didn't run off stage or drool on myself at the Press Conference, even though I had seriously been dreading it."
"Good!" Willow said encouragingly. "Plus, bright side -- you were a much better choice than the other senior slayer."
Buffy snorted with laughter as she imagined Faith leading an official government press conference. Very true. It's a good thing she's coordinating the hunting efforts in Cleveland while we center the new base of operations here."
She continued. "Yup, so we are now officially all good, just like Dolph promised.
"Although," she frowned, "we've got some Federal Marshalls assigned to us. Apparently, to help keep our organization connected to the government, so we don't have to deal with any 'inter-departmental troubles,' but personally, I'm kinda sketchy on them."
"Why?" Willow prodded.
She shrugged. "Well, I met two of them, -- definitely salty-goodness, by the way -- and I just got a vibe, like maybe they had a secret agenda."
"Probably they'll be used to keep tabs on us. I mean, I didn't really think the government would be like 'Boom! Okay, you're not terrorists anymore even though you have freaky strong special powers,' and then not play Big Brother on us," Willow rationalized.
Buffy bit her lip. "Yeah. That was probably it."
Buffy was back in the basement of the Circus of the Damned.
The room looked just as it had that night three months ago, blood-splattered, she realized as she glanced around. She shivered, feeling uneasy in the place, alone in the dim light.
"Man, did you kids do a number on this place," rang out a man's voice. "I heard it took the cleaning crews a week to completely get the blood out of the stone."
Buffy whirled and saw a familiar figure dressed in a trench coat and hat.
"Whistler," she growled irritably. "What the hell are you doing here? Am I dreaming? God, can't your Powers That Be Really *Really* Annoying leave me alone?"
He shrugged. "Hey kid, don't kill the messenger."
"Okay. No kill, but can I hurt you a lot?"
"Hey now, I have good news, today," the balance demon said as he held up his hands in front of him defensively. He had a very good idea of just how much damage the woman in front of him could do when she got annoyed, and he desperately wanted to stay on her good side.
"Okay, maybe it depends on your perspective," he admitted with a shrug. "Some of it you're definitely not going to like, but I may have some helpful info for ya."
Pursing her lips, she studied him for a moment. "Your messages don't really leave me with the warm fuzzies plus, hey, I'm very comfortable with life right now and I don't need any Powers craziness."
Whistler frowned, frustrated by her attitude. "You think you won, didn't you?" he said with a frown that Buffy decided she really didn't like. "'Cause now the vampires are on the run, and you and your girls aren't being hunted by the government."
"Hello? Been having to deal with all the political bullshit for the last five years. So yeah, epic win here."
Whistler shook his head. "But you can't find the Vampire Council members or any of the other big kahunas, can ya?"
Buffy shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. "Well, no, not yet."
"Things are gonna go down, Slayer. The Vampire Council members haven't lived for so long to be taken down so easily. They'll be gunning for ya, as will some other nasties."
"What? Who are the others?" she asked urgently.
"Can't talk about that right now," he said with a wave of his hand to silence her. "But you gotta remember that the scales aren't always going to weigh in your favor. What was done will be undone."
"Less cyptic-y, please?" she pleaded with the balance demon.
"What I *can* tell ya that one of your solutions lies with you, the Hyena Oba, and the Master of St. Louis, if you wanna beat this thing."
"Huh with the what-now?" she sputtered. "What's coming? What's gonna get undone? And what do Xander and Spike have to do with it?"
"You're a bright kid," he said with a grin. "Scary, but bright. You'll figure it out. Good luck, kid."
He vanished and Buffy shot up straight in her bed, her heart pounding from her dream.
She looked up to her ceiling and scowled.
"Look, I know I'm Chosen and all, but couldn't you have chosen me to marry Brad Pitt, adopt cute babies, and live happily ever after?" she called out in a frustrated voice.
*~*~*~THANK YOU FOR READING~*~*~*
After some encouragement and in the process of writing this chapter, I realized that there's a lot of story left in this universe. I have already started working on writing a sequel, (although with the storylines I've constructed there will likely be a total of 2 more fics to be written), that will address the plans Asher and Jason have to rescue Anita and get revenge, among other things. (First chapter of the new story will be posted this week so keep a look-out!)
I would love your input, because I live to entertain and want to incorporate the desires of the readers as much as possible.
Hence, if you have a moment please let me know:
1. WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS STORY NOW THAT IT'S FINISHED! :D (okay, I'm super excited to have finished my first multi-chapter story, yay!)
2. Anything you'd like to see happen in the sequel (pairings, what happens to characters, deaths, etc)
Regarding votes (that I did not mention in the last chapter):
Asher got SIX 'Kill' votes and (drumroll, please!): 18 'Redeem' Votes! I was ambivalent on Asher but clearly you all wanted him to live, so he got to live :)
Nathaniel got THREE 'Kill' votes and (drum roll please!): 7 'Redeem' Votes! He lost all of his hair but at least he got to stay alive ;)
Jason got ONE 'Kill' vote and (drum roll please!): 3 'Redeem' Votes! No one seemed to have anything against Jason, so yay for him, he gets to live.