Part 3

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. Somebody went and summoned a demon. But they weren’t satisfied with that. No, they had to go and join my soul with the thing,” said Buffy.

Giles absently attempted to impose some order to the mountain of books and parchments he had piled up on Willow’s kitchen table. It was mid-morning, but it didn’t look to Buffy as if either he or Willow had slept at all the night before. Rather ironic that of the three, the one most rested had spent the night in a graveyard, she thought.

“Yes, as far as I can tell, that about covers it,” he said.

“Except for the part about it looking exactly like you,” said Willow from behind her computer. She was collecting news stories about Lillith Prophet from the Internet.

“Why should I be surprised? Why on Earth should I be surprised to find out that evil once again wants a piece of Buffy Summers?” asked Buffy of no one in particular.

“Unfortunately, the joined soul aspect of this particular manifestation imposes considerable complications on the situation. It is likely that the longer the joining remains in force, the more of your soul this demon will lay claim to, until there’s nothing left for Buffy Summers,” said Giles.

“Losing my soul would really get in the way of listening to old James Brown albums,” said Buffy, but the friendly sarcasm was lost on Giles, who was deep into his books.

“I believe I’ve been able to identify the entity we are dealing with,” he said.

“It’s not Casper, I’m pretty sure,” said Buffy.

“No, not quite. It’s rather worse than that. Much worse, as a matter of fact. It seems we are not dealing with just your average demon, here. This one is apparently an Elder Power, a prophesied herald of the Apocalypse.”

Buffy arched a quizzical eyebrow. “An Elder Power? What’s that?”

Willow had stopped what she was doing and was looking at Giles, her complexion quite pale.

“It’s a demon, of sorts,” said Giles. “But not like any demon you’ve faced before. Elder Powers are some of the oldest and most powerful metaphysical entities in the universe. They predate mankind by tens of thousands, perhaps millions of years. If it’s possible to destroy one, I’m not aware of it. They are, for all intents and purposes, eternal.”

Buffy threw her hands up. “Oh, that’s just terrific. A demon I can’t kill, who has a lien on my soul, and who is about to destroy the world. What am I supposed to do, insult it into going away?”

“I don’t expect that would be particularly effective, no,” said Giles.

“You wouldn’t have to kill it,” said Willow. “Just defeat it. Cast it back to where it came from.”

Giles shook his head. “I’m afraid that as long as Prophet shares Buffy’s soul, she will be far too powerful to defeat in this world. However, some of my past research suggests that a creature of the demonic planes can be severed from a soul it has bonded with in one of two ways: the traditional exorcism, or by slaying the demon’s astral form on the demonic plane.”

“I vote traditional exorcism. If it worked for Linda Blair, it should work here, right?” said Buffy.

“Well, that would be preferable for a minor demon. But I very much doubt we could ever capture and contain Prophet long enough to perform the ritual, and even if we could it is an uncertain affair. Those rites were designed for rather straightforward instances of possession, and this case is far from straightforward. I think killing it is our best option at the moment,” said Giles.

“I thought you just said I couldn’t kill it,” said Buffy.

“Well, not the entity itself. But you can kill its physical manifestation, force it back into a noncorporeal state. That would release its hold on your soul. It’s all rather complicated,” said Giles.

“Wait a minute. Prophet is here in our world and in the demonic plane at the same time? I don’t get it,” said Buffy.

“You have to realize that Elder Powers are far beyond the type of demon you are used to seeing. They’re not bound by conventional laws of physicality. Multiple manifestations in multiple planes are not impossible for them. In fact, in this case it is intrinsically necessary if Prophet is to maintain the link to your soul,” said Giles.

Buffy gave him her puzzled look. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“Wouldn’t killing the astral form endanger Buffy’s soul?” asked Willow.

“No, at least, that’s not my understanding. Killing the astral form will greatly diminish Prophet’s power in this world, but everything in my research indicates that no harm should come to Buffy’s soul in the process.”

“So, you’re saying that one of us is going to Hell. Namely me,” said Buffy.

“To put it crudely, yes,” said Giles.

“Can that be done?” asked Willow. “Opening a portal to the other side, isn’t that supposed to be one of the most difficult magics to perform successfully?”

Giles nodded. “For humans, yes. Demons seem to be able to manage it with a fair amount of aplomb, unless they are warded. But it is much harder for living creatures to make the transition successfully. You’re quite right, the spells involved are extraordinarily complex, and I very much doubt if there is even anyone alive today who could do it.”

“So, we’re up the creek, plan or no plan,” said Buffy.

“Not necessarily, no,” said Giles. “There is an alternative. An artifact I’m aware of. It will allow us to open a portal into the demonic plane and reopen one back here. But only once, and for only one person each way. I’m afraid, Buffy, that if you go through with this, you’ll be very much on your own. It would be extremely dangerous.”

Buffy smirked. “Danger is my business. I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure you’re up to it?” asked Willow. “Not that you’re not really, really good at what you do or anything, but you haven’t done what you do in sort of a long time.”

“That’s where Giles, comes in,” said Buffy. She looked at the Watcher. “Can you get me back into fighting trim in time?”

“That’s largely up to you, but I’ll do what I can,” said Giles.

*                              *                              *

“We have a problem, Lady Prophet,” said Sinclair.

Lillith swiveled her large, black leather office chair to face him.

“Problems are not acceptable.” She toyed idly with a letter opener while she spoke.

“I realize that. I would have handled it independently, but it’s the Slayer. She’s apparently returned to Sunnydale. I think she may be attempting to resume her duties as Slayer.”

Lillith laid the letter opener neatly down on the desk and said, “Is that it? You act like this was unexpected.”

Sinclair hesitated.

“I thought she was out of circulation for good. She hasn’t done much of anything in ten years,” he said.

“You must understand that she is as much a part of the drama as I. It was naïve to think she wouldn’t play her assigned role. She will be dealt with in due time.”

“There’s more. Our intelligence indicates that the Watchers have instituted a terminal sanction on her. She is to be eliminated in the belief that she is the prophesied agent of the Apocalypse.”

Lillith laughed. “Wonderful. Poetic justice. The Watchers destroying the only thing in this world that could save them. It’s terrific irony, is it not?”

“I suppose so,” said Sinclair. “But if she’s killed, how will that affect you?”

“I get full possession of her soul. Granted, I’ll miss out on the fun of letting our little morality play work toward a more symbolic conclusion, soul-sister battling soul-sister, but what the heck. A win’s a win. If it turns out to be a boring blowout for our side, so be it.”

“So I am not to interfere in any way?”

“No. It’s always a great deal of fun to watch your enemies destroy one another. Let’s just see what happens.”

“As you wish, your Ladyship,” said Sinclair.

*                              *                              *

Giles fiddled with the sliding weights on the scale until they balanced perfectly. He frowned.

“What?” asked Buffy.

“You’re six pounds over your ideal fighting weight.”

“Wow, call out the food police. You really know how to charm a girl, you know that, Giles?”

“No insult was intended, I assure you. But you will need a rigorous regimen of physical training if you are going to go after Prophet. We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill vampire here. The Prophet is one of the Elder Powers, a herald of the Apocalypse. She will be by far the most difficult opponent you’ve ever faced. And remember that you are part of her. She’ll be prepared for you,” said Giles.

“I’ve faced myself before, Giles. I can do it again. I hope.”

Giles was contemplative, then asked, “Yes, you’ve faced yourself before. But who won?”

“I think it was a draw, actually.”

“Is that was what committing yourself was about? Confronting yourself, your inner demons?”

Buffy laughed, but there was very little humor in it.

“Is that why you think I checked myself into a nuthouse?”

“I thought it was probably something similar. It is of course very hard to get a psychiatric institution to reveal the diagnosis of a patient, but I was led to believe you were suffering from acute post traumatic stress disorder.”

“They didn’t tell you about the visions, then.”

“Well, yes, delusions and hallucinations were alluded to. I simply assumed that what they considered to be delusional was your belief in the paranormal and that it was your destiny to fight cosmic evil. You must admit, it has all the trappings of paranoid schizophrenia.”

“I never told them about my being the Slayer.”

“I never expected you would, at least consciously. But some of the psychoactive drugs are quite potent. There was no telling what you might have said.”

“And it didn’t bother you that I might have been spilling the beans on the whole Slayer Good-Versus-Evil thing?”

“It bothered me very much. But if you were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, then you probably did require at least some counseling. A psychologically troubled Slayer is worse than no Slayer at all in many respects, and I didn’t want the Board having any more reason to kill you than they had already. Remember, you placed yourself there on your own volition. I trusted your decision. I knew it wasn’t something you would ever do lightly.”

“No, not lightly at all. I suppose there was more than a little Slayer burn-out involved, but it was a lot more than that. You see, I was convinced I was going completely, dangerously insane. I committed myself as much to protect others as to help myself.”

“I don’t understand,” said Giles.

“You know I’ve always had prophetic dreams, ever since I became of age to be the Slayer.”

Giles nodded. “Yes, of course. They are one of the marks of a Slayer.”

“Well, two years ago, the whole vision angle of my life changed in a very scary way. We’re talking Frank Black, Millennium-level stuff, here. I started seeing people turning into demons in the produce section of the supermarket. I almost beat a pizza-delivery guy to death because I was convinced he had transformed into a rakshasa right on my front doorstep. I got arrested for that one, by the way. I would go for a stroll in the park, and one moment I’d be looking at a woman walking her dog, and the next I’d see her dying on a cross while being consumed by flames. And those are just the PG-13 visions, Giles.”

Giles was silent for a few long moments, then asked, “Were you experiencing anything else during this period of time? I mean, such as a strong sense of precognition or déjà vu when entering a room? Or perhaps you would be thinking about a location and suddenly feel that you were actually there for an instant?”

Buffy nodded slowly. “Yes. Now that I think about it. With everything else, I didn’t pay those little things very much thought. You know what this is, don’t you?”

“I’m not completely certain. It does fit a pattern, however.”

“Okay, give. What pattern?”

“You occupy a very special place in history,” said Giles. “After all, you are the oldest living Slayer on record.”

“Thanks, Giles. I’ll have to remember to send in my dues to the AARP,” said Buffy.

“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re old. It’s just that the other Slayers tended to die very young. Unfortunately, that seems to be the nature of the business. I’ve never come across anything as remotely as extreme as your case, but nevertheless, there is some anecdotal evidence related to some of the older Slayers that certain … transformations, can be expected to occur.”

“Transformations? Please tell me we’re not talking The Fly, here,” said Buffy.

“No. Nothing quite so dramatic, I assure you. Rather, it is expected that you may begin to manifest certain parapsychological abilities in addition to your already exceptional physical skills,” said Giles.

“Parapsychological abilities. Like, Use the Force, Luke? The Psychic Friends Network? What?”

“More the former than the latter, actually. Whether you realize it or not, you are much more attuned to the other planes of existence than the rest of us. That’s how you’re able to sense the presence of evil. It’s more than simple training and reflexes. It’s something innate, a gift. It’s what makes you a Slayer. But you are more than just a Slayer. You are a Millennial Slayer. The thousand-year mark is, of course, an arbitrary measure instituted by human beings. It has no meaning other that that which we as a race impose on it. But humans attach so much symbolic and religious import to a millennium change that it tends to create a significant spike in mystical phenomena in general.”

“Like the Hell Mouth here in Sunnydale.”

“Like the Hell Mouth. Exactly.”

“So, where does this get back to me becoming a poster child for full frontal lobotomies?”

“Ah, well, the potential of a Slayer is very much connected with the level of paranormal activity she is born into. Times of relative paranormal calm give rise to average Slayers of no particular distinction. But you were born into the most intense period of mystical activity in a thousand years. You are not only a Slayer, but one of the three or four most powerful Slayers who ever existed in the entire history of the human race. And now you may be the oldest, as well. The combination is … well, it’s more than a little frightening, actually.”

“Tell me about it. You’re not the one seeing giant cockroaches having coffee at the donut shop.”

“I suspect the visions are a byproduct of whatever changes you my be experiencing in your abilities. We will, of course, have to work on controlling them if they recur.”

“Well, that can wait until after this little trip to Hell.”

“Yes, there is that, isn’t there?” said Giles, looking suddenly very introspective.

Buffy knew him well enough to see that something was troubling him. “What is it, Giles?”

“Oh, nothing. Just the musings of an aging Watcher, I’m afraid. Sentimentality is apparently one of the unfortunate byproducts of age.”

“It’s more than that, I think. You can tell me. Heck, if you can’t talk to me, who can you talk to, huh?”

He took a deep breath. “I suppose you’re right, of course. You have a knack for getting to the truth of things. I tend to clutter it up with all manner of philosophical ramblings.”

“Like right now, for instance,” said Buffy.

“It’s just that I’ve never been particularly good with talking about feelings. Never had much reason to,” he said.

“I’ve got news for you. None of us are any good talking about feelings.”

Giles nodded. “I’m just terribly worried about you. Far more worried than a Watcher should be. I’ve never been fortunate enough to have children, Buffy. In my profession a family is something of a … a luxury I could never afford. And frankly, after Jenny’s death, I never found … never wanted to find anyone I’d wish to have a family with. What I’m trying to say is, I fear I’ve come to look on you more as the daughter I never had than as the Slayer. It is a failure, on my part. A betrayal of my oaths as your Watcher. But I don’t regret that, Buffy. I could never regret placing more value on your life than on ancient prophecies or moldering books.”

Buffy exhaled slowly. “I had no idea. I … why did you let me leave, if you felt that way? I thought when you didn’t try to stop me and when you didn’t come after me that you didn’t care, and I resented you for it.”

Giles absently rubbed at his glasses with a cloth, and said, “I let you go because I knew that to force you to stay would have only resulted, ultimately, in your death. And I couldn’t bring myself to face the knowledge that I was the one who directed you to that end. Better to let you go. Better to let you think the worst of me than for me to live with that sort of guilt.”

“I should have realized. You were always there for me. To think you wouldn’t care … I’m so stupid.”

He looked at her, an uncommon tenderness in his eyes. It was the kind of feeling she had always wished to see in her father’s eyes, but never had.

“No, never stupid,” he said. “Warm and alive and complicated and stubborn and a hundred other things, but never stupid.”

She moved over to him and hugged him close, blinking back the tears that had come unbidden. “Thank you. For everything.”

“I’m just so afraid that, despite everything, this time I will lose you. Every path, every portent, every sign points to that end in one form or another, and I don’t know how to change it this time,” said Giles.

She pulled back and said, “Whatever happens, it’s not your fault. You didn’t make me the Slayer. I was the Slayer from the day I was born. You just gave me the support and the skills I needed to survive, and there’s nothing I can ever do to repay you for that. For awhile, I thought I could somehow be something else. But I was wrong. I’m the Slayer, and always will be. Neither one of us can change that destiny. I’m ready to do what I have to, what I was born to do.”

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