Deus Vult

Note 1: Title and quoted passages from Mary Doria Russell's novel "The Sparrow." Deus Vult is a Latin expression meaning "God wills it to be so."

Note 2: I'm assuming everyone knows how to play the card game War, but just in case: Deal out the deck to two players, and flip over your cards one by one. Whoever's card is higher takes both. If both cards match, you each deal out three cards face-down, then one face-up. Again, owner of the highest card takes all. Mindless, really, but that's the point…


War was their game. They lounged on the floor with the cards in front of them, backs propped up, with varying amounts of pillows, against Buffy's bed. The slayer had given up her room for the day so they could have some privacy: this was War, after all, and Cordelia opened up a lot easier with the artifice of the game to distract her. And people don't make three-hour drives for the types of conversations you can have by phone…

He flipped up a three, watching her eyes for clues. They glimmered briefly as her seven took his card, then they flattened again. "This sucks," she said.

He took the first tentative step toward meaningful conversation. "What does?"

She narrowed her eyes. "You just gave me a three, Giles. Are you sure that now is the time to be starting the heavy stuff?"

He fidgeted, edging slightly away from her, flipping up a queen. She shoved her four at him brusquely, then reached for her diet Coke. She held the cool glass to her forehead and closed her eyes.

"Well, all right," she said. "More now, less later, is that how it works?"

He blinked. "What?"

"If we talk now…not that there's anything to talk about, per se, but IF we talk now…then later, I go out with Buffy and the gang and go dancing and get drunk and do absolutely nothing meaningful, and you don't say a word, are we clear?"

"That's hardly the best way to…"

"Looks like somebody's already not on board with the game."

Did it always have to be games with her? It was she who had come to him, after all, and not that he minded, necessarily. He was hardly mister- emotionally-stable himself right now, but better that she talk to him than to no one. Better, if she must get drunk, that she do it here, where there were people around to watch out for her. She would not ask him to hold her hand and calm her down when the tequila made her sick, and scared, and paranoid, but he would do it. She was a more depressing drunk than even he was, and damned if he would leave her in THAT mental place by herself…

He tiredly rubbed his eyes. "Whatever you want." He flipped up an ace, and watched as she turned over a joker.

"Funny," he said dully. "I thought we took those out."

She stared at the offending card, her expression inscrutable. "So what do we do?"

It had never occurred to him that there might be nuances to such a simple game. Did War have rules? He blinked, feeling suddenly dazed. "Damned if I know."

That, finally, broke her, and she threw her pack or cards at him with an angry whine. "Don't do this to me," she said. "God, even the game is getting metaphorical on me. Giles, I don't want…I don't want more omens. I just…"

"Want me to wave my magic wand and make the world simple? Cordelia, I wish I could."

She leaned back, snuggling into the pillows. "This is simple," she said quietly. "I am here, in this house, with a friend, and we are playing a game."

"We are."

"I like this moment. But you know what happens? It never lasts, Giles. The card game gets interrupted by the vision, cause that's my deal, then the vision gets interrupted by the apocalypse, cause that's your deal, then the world ends and we all die."

He thought carefully, not entirely sure what she needed. "Maybe," he said. "But we still had the moment."

"Did we? You're telling me it's not in the back of your mind right now, nice moment, now how is the world gonna wreck it for me?"

"We're alive," he said firmly. "They send you visions of people in danger, but in the end, you save them. They send me apocalypses, but in the end, we fight them through. World hasn't ended yet, has it?"

Her wry smile pinched in frustration. "You don't understand."

His voice was unbearably gentle. "So tell me."

"I can't. Because I don't understand it either. I managed, pretty well under the circumstances, for a long time, because I believed you. We're alive. We win. The bad guys hurt us, and hurt us big, but in the end, they are punished and we are rewarded. They die. We live. And the world may not be fair, but it is…balanced, somehow."

"And now?"

"Now we've got lawyers hijacking the magical visions for profit, and vampires with no souls sacrificing themselves to save babies who shouldn't exist, and former vengeance demons buying magical urns off e-bay to resurrect dead vampire slayers, and a centuries-old form of mystical energy at the mall using Angel's credit card to buy body glitter so we can have some privacy…don't you ever wonder where it's all gonna end?"

"I can't wonder," he said stiffly. "I just have to…have faith, I suppose, that somebody out there knows what they're doing. Otherwise…"

He stood, stretching the kinks in his knees, and absently picked up a small paperback off Buffy's bookcase.

"The Sparrow," he showed her. "Not the sort of book I usually choose…but you aren't the only one who has trouble sleeping sometimes, and I often grab whatever's handy…" He traced the cover thoughtfully. "That I should happen upon the story of a man who seeks the true nature of the universe and is crushed when he finally encounters it…" he laughed. "I suppose I shouldn't take it as a sign that I should find the book here."

He flipped the pages until he came to the passage he was looking for. "God…watches," he read. "He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering."

"But this…this isn't human life, Giles. This is…god's not observing me. He's messing with my head. He's making me crazy…"

"Or he's giving you an opportunity…by letting you in. Letting YOU observe the moral drama of human life. Which is painful, yes, but also transcendent."

He picked up the book again. "So," he read. "Things kept happening, just like god was really there, making it happen. And I heard myself saying 'deus vult' just like Marc, but it still seemed like some kind of huge joke. And then, one night, I let myself consider the possibility that this is what it seems to be. That something extraordinary is happening. That god has something in mind for me…'"

"Blind faith of my role in the higher plan? That's all you're gonna give me? Come on, Giles, I read the book too, and Emilio came back from his transcendent experience totally wrecked. Because blind faith is never enough."

She took the book from his hands, flipping pages. "That is my dilemma," she read. "Because if I was led by god…step by step as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, then the rest of it was god's will too, and that, gentlemen, is cause for bitterness. But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself…"

She went quiet, and slowly closed her eyes. A moment later, she was levitating.

"This is why I came to you," she said. "This is what I wanted you to see."

He kept his face unreadable, trying to mask his alarm. "That's very…interesting," he said flatly. "It's not a little dangerous?"

"It might be," she said. "If I were still human…"

His eyes widened. "You're…what?"

"Long story," she sighed, carefully lowering herself to the ground. "Do you understand it now? The Powers-That-Be…"

"They did this to you?"

"No, Giles. They made ME do it to myself, which is why this whole thing is so…confusing. You let something happen, and it starts this chain reaction…somehow, the visions snuck past them, and they made is seem like it was MY fault somehow---and they gave me a choice---give up my life, like this, or…or give it up completely."

He touched her face softly and brushed away the tear.

"They did this to you," he repeated, incredulous.

She shook her head. "Such a string of coincidences…that I went to this party one day, that I met Angel there, that Doyle…it just seems too impossible, when you spell it out like that…" She blew out a frustrated breath. "Which is why it's been so difficult. Any part of it alone, I could handle---Angel, Doyle, the visions, now this…but put it all together like that, and it kind of makes you wonder…where does it end?"

He sighed. "I thought we already answered that question."

"We did, Giles. We answered it the same way the man in that book answered it when he was faced with a transformative experience: deus vult. The gods willed it so. And where does that leave us? With no guarantee at all that they are finished with us. No guarantee that there are any absolutes…"

He gave her a bitter smile. "And if there were absolutes, it would take us down a better road? The world I grew into when I was your age was governed by absolutes. Watcher training. Magic training. Mix this herb with that incantation and summon this demon. Very precise. Very absolute. Very orderly. And number one, damn near drove me crazy. And number two---well, I'm sure your remember how far that approach took Wesley when he first arrived in Sunnydale."

She nodded. "He was fine with the book stuff, but not everything could fit into his little slots." She smiled fondly. "He's better now."

"I know he is. Cordelia, what I am trying to tell you is that sometimes, over-thinking things can be counterproductive. There ARE absolutes in life, but they aren't always the absolutes you need to know to solve your current problem. And some problems…can't be solved by absolutes anyway."

"So, we're back to square one," she said. "Where does that leave us?"

He heard noises from downstairs, and uttered a silent prayer of thanks that Buffy and Dawn had held out until Cordelia was settled some.

"Why, in the moment, of course," he said in reply to her question.

He picked up the deck of cards, shuffling them absently. "I'm not sure I'm in the mood for War anymore," he said. "Pinochle?"

She frowned. "No, too hard. Go Fish?"

"Too easy."



He dealt the cards expertly, bringing Dawn and Buffy into the game as they bounded up the stairs, alive with the energy of the day and the sun streaming through the windows. He gave Cordelia a final concerned glance as the girls settled in, and her smile delighted him.

The end