Out Of Africa - Chapter 6
written by Pythia
The ICU was quiet, a place of muted activity and anxious
expectations. Its purposeful, attentive atmosphere was a long way from the hustle
and panic of the emergency room, but somehow it retained that sense of tension,
that feel of impending crisis. Subtle noises whispered at the bare edge of perception,
the rhythmic wheezes of life sustaining machinery, the pulsing note
of heart monitors, the soft ache of someone weeping. It was a place wreathed
in despair and hope, a home for looming death and the defiant declaration of
life, an affirmation of the sheer stubbornness
of the human spirit.
Angel didn’t quite know what to make of it all.
Buffy led him through the maze; past darkened cubicles where old men clung
to their mortality with the help of heart and lung machines; past islands of
activity where doctors and nurses swarmed like disturbed ants to counter momentary
crisis; and past empty, expectant beds, waiting for occupancy, waiting to support
the desperate balance between life and death, waiting to cradle the dying and
give them back the promise of life. At the end of the corridor was yet another
of the glass fronted, curtained cubicles.
In that was the empty shell of a man.
The vampire could sense it as soon as he stepped through the door, as soon
as his perceptions adjusted to the impact of this technological womb. He was
greeted by the murmur of active monitors and the brief stir of Xander’s alarm
as he woke from semi-slumber. He could measure the young man’s pounding heart
beat and - counter-pointing it - the slow steady pulse from the figure on the
bed. While Xander’s anxious, embarrassed presence was bright and unmistakable,
he could catch no hint, not even a whisper, of the soul that was uniquely Rupert
"How is he?" Buffy asked, getting hesitant,
reluctant words in return. Angel moved to stand at the foot of the bed, looking
down at its occupant with a puzzled frown. The man’s body was at rest, functioning
with comfortable efficiency; his heart was beating with a slow and steady cadence,
sending blood flowing through veins and arteries alike; and his chest
rose and fell with equally steady confidence, drawing in air and expelling warm
breath. But no-one was home. Even a vampire, a dead thing with no soul, had
more presence than this.
"The doctors don’t know what to make of it," Xander said worriedly.
"They got him - all hooked up to - to these monitory things." His
hands waved vaguely at the bank of equipment behind the bed. It included a rank
of monitors displaying patterns of light and colour, fed by innumerable wires
which snaked down to wreath the sleeper in a tangled web. "They’re saying
all the convulsy, short circuitage has stopped, but – they don’t know if that’s
a good thing or not. It might just be the medication – and apparently they’ve
got to cut back on that. The stuff they’ve been using? It’s – um – dangerous
or something. Over the long term? I - I didn’t really get all the medical techno-babble,
but I got the problem. Too many drugs," he glanced over at the silent figure
on the bed and winced, "brain dead Giles. They want him to wake up."
Buffy stepped closer, to look down as Angel was doing,
to study the slack, pale face against the pillows. "So do I," she
said, three little words filled with quiet pain.
The vampire shivered, knowing how hard this was for her. How much harder was
he about to make it? "It may already be too late," he said, soft words,
reluctantly spoken. Buffy’s head jerked in his direction, her eyes filled with
"No," she breathed, denying the possibility, challenging
him to justify his claim. Angel felt her fear go through him like a knife.
"He’s not here, Buffy." He tried to make his words gentle
– but they couldn’t be, couldn’t possibly be, given what he had to say. "There’s
nothing here. Just an empty shell."
"What?" Buffy frowned at him, not understanding what he meant. Not
wanting to understand. Xander’s expression was equally bemused.
"Hello," the young man said, waving at the shimmer of the monitor
screens. "We got heartbeat, we got autonomic response thingys, we even
got brain activity. Not a lot of brain activity," he admitted,
frowning at the relevant monitor. "But he’s in this – deep sleep thing
… A fug they called it – or – or something like that."
"Fugue," Angel corrected distractedly. It was possible, possible
that the man had sunk so deep that nothing of himself remained to be perceived
on the surface. If that was the case, then retrieving him would be nothing
short of a miracle - but if it wasn’t - The vampire didn’t know what
to think. Didn’t know what sort of sorcery could wreak such damage, or if there
were any way to counter its effect. "I can see why they’d think that. Xander
– his body is functioning, but – as far as I can tell - there’s no-one in it.
He’s just – gone."
"You’re wrong," Buffy concluded, her voice contained but
tight with anger. "It’s just a spell. That’s all it is. She did
this. He’s in there. Somewhere. Fighting to be free of her. Fighting to get
"Back from where, exactly?" Xander had this anxious, ‘I really don’t
want to think about this’ look on his face. Buffy wasn’t the only one who’d
be devastated by losing the Watcher. He’d become a supportive figure to all
of the Scooby gang – and was that such a surprise, given their own, dysfunctional
families? Buffy only had her mother; Xander’s home life was one of drunken disputes
and bitter sniping; Willow’s parents ignored her most of the time; and Angel
wasn’t even sure if Oz had parents. Compare all that to the constant,
certain presence of one man, who, committed to his cause and only too aware
of the risks they all took, was still prepared to support them and listen
to them. True, he had a tendency to fuss and fret, and might sometimes express
impatience with their youth or frustration at his own failure to understand
them, but he did all that because he cared,
because he had come to love them – and they loved him back, each in their own
way, each accepting his place in their lives with confident, comfortable familiarity.
"I don’t know," Buffy admitted, sinking into the chair that Xander
had abandoned and reaching to wrap her hand around limp, unresponsive fingers.
"But I’m not giving up on him. Because I know – wherever he is – he’s still
…" The end of the sentence was swallowed with a gulp, her heart clinging
to hope while the evidence shredded it into desperate tatters. She glanced up,
seeking Angel’s anxious eyes with a look of haunted intensity. "Find her,"
she ordered tightly. "Tear this town apart if you have to, but find
her. And – Angel?" she asked as he turned to leave.
"Be careful. I don’t want to lose you too …"
* * * * *
Something had died.
He could smell it. Taste it. There was the sickly sweet odour
of burgeoning decay in his nostrils and the ugly flavour of death in his mouth.
The combination was foul; he wanted to gag, to scramble away from the scent
and the sourness – but while his perceptions appeared to have regained some
of their expected clarity, nothing else obeyed him. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t
stir so much as a single muscle.
Oddly enough – as far he could tell – he didn’t seem to be breathing
Did I die? he wondered with sudden horror, fighting against a surge
of panic. The thought of being trapped – aware and helpless – in his own corpse
was a terrifying one. Then there was the other possibility; that he had succumbed
to the vampire’s bite and was – even now – undergoing the demonic transformation
that would resurrect his flesh if not his soul. He found that thought equally
terrifying, although the fact that he did probably meant that he wasn’t
– unless, of course, all the vampire lore he’d ever studied was wrong, and the
soul remained, bound to the dead body, an unwitting, unwilling passenger on
its journey to damnation …
Stop that, Giles told himself firmly, trying to focus on what he could
judge about his situation, rather than speculation and conjecture. If his Watcher’s
training had taught him anything, it was the danger of making assumptions based
on too little information. The more you observed, the more knowledge you accumulated,
and that allowed you to both analyse and theorise. He took a mental step back
and started with the basics. His eyes appeared to be shut and no amount of effort
would make them open. He was lying down – flat on his back on what seemed to
be a hard surface, the textures of rough stone and something else under his
hands. Straw, he postulated, although that didn’t make any sense at all. His
last focused memory was of lying on linen sheets. If he had died, then
surely his support should be satin padding – or perhaps the cold metal of a
morgue tray, the bitter chill of a marble slab.
And there was that smell. Sweet, nauseating and tainted with decay. Wherever
it came from, it had to be close, since he clearly wasn’t drawing air
into his lungs.
Something rustled and rattled close by. Muffled sounds of movement were followed
by sudden and unexpected contact as the something – no, someone – touched
him. Fingers stroked his cheek and then slid down the line of his throat,
butterfly fingers, bestowing a gentle caress. They briefly lifted,
then resettled something that sat in the centre of his chest, before returning
in an upward sweep until they cupped his chin and turned his head this way and
that, as if her were being studied with care.
He tried to speak, to alert his unknown company to his conscious state – but
nothing responded. Nothing even stirred at his mental demand.
"There you are," a deep, sultry – and somewhat muted - voice
announced with amusement and no little satisfaction. Giles’ non-existent heart
skipped a non-existent beat. The voice was unmistakable.
It was the vampire from the cemetery. The one who’d practically ripped his
throat out …
"You took your time. Such a hard struggle – all to no avail."
Fingertips pressed against his eyelids with uncomfortable force, and he felt
something crack, something that pulled at his skin and then fell away in pieces.
It was an unpleasant sensation, not unlike having plugs of hard wax peeled from
his eye sockets.
Exactly like, in fact. Fingernails scraped matching seals from his ears, and
sound rushed back with startling clarity. A moment later he felt pressure against
his mouth as she applied a forceful kiss that cracked the wax seal and forced
his lips open. There was no warmth in the contact – and only the barest flutter
of breath, her breath, the subtle lie of the vampire clinging to the
pretences of life.
"There," she murmured, a soft whisper of sound against his skin.
"Now – open your eyes and look at me. Look at me." The last
was an order, a tight command that brooked no disobedience. Giles had no way
to obey – but his eyes opened anyway, seemingly subservient to her will, if
not his own.
Light flooded his perceptions – a dim light in reality, but briefly dazzling
after being in the dark for so long. A shape and a shadow moved within it –
one that slowly resolved itself into a sensuous face seemingly sculpted from
gleaming ebony. A pair of tawny eyes, gold flecked and predatory, were smiling
down at him.
"Perfect," the vampire murmured, reaching down to caress his cheek
and sweep the last of the wax from his lips with her thumb. There was no tenderness
in her touch; it was an arrogant, possessive gesture, as if he were a favourite
pet – or a favoured slave. "Just perfect …"
Oh dear lord …
Terror is not a rational emotion. Nor is it something that rational men choose
to experience. It simply happens; a response to a situation - a reaction to event
or the result of circumstances. It can creep up slowly, or strike instantly, without
warning; it tears the heart out of a man and it rips through his soul.
And no matter how wise or sensible its victim might be, when it hits, it can
Which is why – in a sudden instant of comprehension, in the understanding of
just how much trouble he was in - Rupert Giles succumbed to a moment of total
and utter panic.
Had he any control over the body in which his essence lay trapped, he
would have been trying to scramble away from his abductor, voicing a cry of
horror and dismay – but he couldn’t move, couldn’t even close his eyes or express
the scream that would otherwise have choked his throat. His mind went into overdrive,
struggling with a reckless mental frenzy to free himself, to tear loose, to
escape. Like a fox caught in a trap, or a cat cornered by a ferocious
dog, he fought with frantic reaction, desperate for release, exhausting his
spirit as he threw himself at the restraints of her spell.
All to no avail. The magic held him, imprisoned him with relentless certainty.
He was bound, helpless and hopeless, in a body not his own – in something dead
and decaying, in someone else’s corpse.
"Are you done?" the vampire asked with amusement, her eyes gleaming
in the dark. She’d moved her hand to rest it on his chest – no, on the corpse’s
chest – and her fingers swirled through a complex pattern there, idly tracing
glyphs he vaguely recognised. "Don’t waste your strength. This spell is
as old as I am – and you have no way of breaking it. Not now. How does
it feel?" She slid forward in a sensual movement, her face halting barely
inches away as she studied him with disconcerting intentness. "To be a
dead thing, clinging to life. Or is that a life – clinging to a dead thing?"
She laughed softly, a sound that sent a shiver through him. "Embrace it,"
she whispered, leaning closer still, pressing herself against him and murmuring
into his ear. "I did. But not so soon," she advised, arching
back and giving herself a little shake. "I need you as you are. What
you are. Just for a little while. And when we are done? Ah …" Her smile
was predatory. "If you serve me well, if you please me – I can reward
you in ways you cannot begin to imagine."
Since Giles knew perfectly well what she was, even if not who exactly,
he didn’t need to imagine what she meant. Especially since she was licking her
lips with anticipation. His mind skittered across the exquisite agony of her
bite, and he shivered. Mentally, at least. Even knowing what he knew
– the true nature of the demon she was and the horror of her unlife – there
was a hint of temptation in the memory, a whisper of unbearable pleasure that
lured like a siren’s song. He could understand now why desperate souls might
pay for the consummation offered in a vampire’s kiss – why deluded ones
might try and protect the givers of such a dark gift.
A hint of temptation – and one he denied with determined ease. Dancing
with Eyghon had offered him far more exotic intoxication – and that
was an addiction he’d learnt to master a long time ago.
"Lilithu can be generous – when she gets what she wants." Her fingers
had gone back to their careful tracings, sketching intricate designs on a dead
man’s skin. "And what will you want, once I rule your world? The girl,
perhaps." She paused to think about that, her lips curving back into one
of those sensual smiles. "Yes. That would be fitting, don’t you
think? You will give me your heart – and I will you give you the blood of your
own, sweet, Slayer …" She finished the thought with a deep throated laugh,
throwing her head back with anticipatory delight.
Giles simply stared at her in horror.
There was nothing else he could do.
Read: Chapter 7