Author’s Notes: The first part of the Magpie Series. The title comes from the rhyme (about magpies, of course)
One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret, never to be told.
Chapter 1: Burned, Broken, and Bruised
It’s pain like I’ve never experienced. This demon really knows his stuff. The trials were designed to take every bit of resistance I had, and grind me to dust. Literally. There isn’t a part of my body I wouldn’t gladly wave goodbye to right now. It feels like there isn’t a bone unbroken, or a patch of skin left whole. But, the good news is, I survived. I’m still here. And, here he comes. With my reward.
A soul. It’s what I asked for. It’s the one thing that will let me fulfil my promise without the risk of hurting her again. Once I realised that, the decision was easy. And now the time has come. The demon’s hand/paw/claw? Moves towards my chest, delving inside. There’s an explosion of light to match the explosion of pain. Just when I thought there wasn’t any way I could hurt worse than I already did, he proves me wrong.
This pain is different. Yes, it’s a physical pain. You try having a hand shoved into your chest and tell me you don’t feel it. But, it’s more than that. With it comes the pain of knowing how I’ve hurt countless people over more years than I care to remember.
I’m no stranger to regret or guilt. I’ve had both in spades since that night in the bathroom. I hated myself for hurting her, and through her, for hurting Dawn. But that was because I love them both. This guilt is different, because it’s for people I hated, people I disliked, people I never knew, and people I never met. It’s for all those I’ve killed, and for those left behind. I feel a mother’s pain on finding her child dead. I feel a husband’s anguish on finding his wife crumpled on the ground. I feel a child’s mounting terror as it begs a parent to wake up. I feel it all.
And this sensation keeps building. The rate of increase is accelerating, and I’m completely lost in it. I can no longer feel my purely physical pain. It’s insignificant compared to the rest of it. The level rises, higher and higher, faster and faster and then ..
Nothing. I feel nothing. I wonder at that. Why is there nothing? I open my eyes, or at least, that is what I try to do. I see .. Dust. I know, I don’t know how I know, but I know that is my mortal remains. The pain has caused my body to turn to dust. I didn’t know pain alone could do that. I thought there had to be fire, or wood, or something sharp to separate my head from my body.
So, shouldn’t I be in hell? I mean, that’s where vampires go, isn’t it? I look around. I haven’t got eyes any more, but I can see. I’m still in the cave. I see the dust on the cave floor. I recognise the drawings on the walls. I’m here, where I achieved my prize, and lost my life.
The initial shock is past, and I’m starting to remember more. The guilt and the pain of those who have suffered because of me, it’s all back. It’s still with me, but, somehow, it’s not so debilitating. I can feel it, but without a physical body, it’s not the all-encompassing agony it was. I make an effort to steady myself, not to give in to the feelings that are threatening to swamp me. I would take a deep breath if I had lungs. Funny, I haven’t needed to breathe for over a century, and the impulse is still there. Take a breath to steady yourself. I do, sort of. I still feel like I have control of a body. I can still sense where my limbs are, still know instinctively how to move them.
My thoughts slow. The deep breathing has helped. My thoughts leave my current predicament, and go to .. Where else? Buffy.
I close my eyes and berate myself for my predictability. Well, you know, not really close my eyes, but . When I ‘open’ them again, I see her. She’s at work. She’s wearing that ridiculous uniform. Her smile is plastered to her face. She listens to the complaints of the customer she is serving, and the plastic smile never wavers – even when he gets personal. He’s telling her she’s a stupid, dumb blonde, and that he gave her a fifty, and Buffy’s calmly showing him there are no fifties in the drawer. She’s explaining it’s just been emptied, and there’s nothing bigger than a twenty. He won’t listen, and he’s inching closer to her. He’s bigger than she is, over six feet, and he thinks he’ll intimidate her. She looks so tiny, her size belies her strength. I can see how angry she is. It’s not on her face, it’s in her shoulders and neck. In some ways, it’s comforting to know someone else can do that to her. In other ways, I’m almost jealous.
I can stand it no longer. The things he’s calling her, and she’s just taking it. I move between them, intending to hit him. I remember at the last minute, I haven’t got an arm, or a hand, or anything to hit him with. But it’s too late, I’ve already launched the attack.
He flinches as my ‘fist’ contacts with his nose. Not the effect I was aiming for, of course. If I still had my body, he’d be flat on the floor nursing a bloody and broken proboscis. As it is, he looks at Buffy, mystified for a moment, before backing down. He’s apologising to her and backing away, telling her to keep the change. She looks confused. She doesn’t understand the man’s sudden change of heart, and it’s that look of confusion that removes the plastic smile. She’s still standing there, apparently riveted to the spot, when someone taps her on the shoulder, and reminds her it’s time to go home. Her shift’s over.
She relaxes visibly at these words, her smile now real. She heads for the lockers, pulling off the uniform and pushing it into the laundry basket which is already filled with similar items. She pulls her purse from the locker, and heads out.
As she tends to these mundane matters, I wonder how I got here. I no sooner thought of her, than I was here, with her. It reminds me of something. Dawn told me about a film she watched one time. What was it called? I remember. ‘City of Angels’. I said she’d never catch me watching something like that. Anyway, in it, Nicholas Cage is an angel. And he says something about ‘travelling at the speed of thought’. That’s how it was. I thought, and there I was.
But I’m certainly not an angel. The thought makes me laugh. Funny, silent laughter. Except I can hear it. When I look again, she’s gone, so I think of her, and I’m outside, following her as she walks home. My thoughts immediately move to Dawn. Instantly, I see her. She’s at home, lying on her bed, some awful music playing on her stereo.
She’s different. I didn’t notice a difference with Buffy – but then it would be difficult to see anything under the veneer of artificiality engendered by the uniform and the permanent smile.
Dawn seems older. Not just a few weeks older, but much older. She looks like she’s seen the worst the world has to offer, and yet, she’ not broken. There’s still hope in her blue eyes, but it’s hope tinged with sadness.
I wonder what happened to the other occupants of the house. I wander into the witches’ room. Now, that’s a surprise. There’s nothing left. It’s been cleared out. No sign of occupation. Definite signs of decoration. I wonder who’s doing it, when I spot a pile of chocolate wrappers next to the paint brushes. Xander. So, where are the witches?
I’m still pondering that, when I hear Buffy coming in. She’s excited about something, and calling to Dawn. Dawn joins her sister downstairs, and grabs the letter Buffy’s waving around. She reads it, and both sisters hug and do this silly sort of dance, jumping round in circles. Whatever’s in the letter, it’s good news. It’s crumpled in Dawn’s hand, so I can’t read it.
At last the dancing stops, and Dawn speaks.
“You did it! You’ve got the job at school! That means you can go back to college in the evenings, and go to school with me. No more Doublemeat Palace. No more smelly Buffy!”
As if reminded of her current state of smelliness, Buffy pulls back, a wry smile on her face.
“Guess I should go shower,” she apologises.
“I didn’t mean,.”
“I know, Dawnie, I know. But, even smelly demons cringe from the Doublemeat scent experience.”
She goes upstairs, into her room. I was going to follow, but decide against it. Somehow, it doesn’t seem right. That from someone who stalked her for months. Someone who took every opportunity to see her in any state of undress possible. I shake my non-existent head at my new-found propriety.
I start to wonder what’s going on. I’ve been so caught up in seeing her again, being a part of her life even if she doesn’t see I’m there, that I’ve been side-tracked from working out what in hell is going on. As my thoughts turn to the unanswered questions in my head, I find I’m back in the cave. Lurky is there too. I don’t know if he’s got the answers, but I don’t know where else to start. Too late, I wonder if he’ll even recognise my presence.
“Ok, mate, want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Oh, you’re back. I thought you might be back. I knew you were different, just didn’t know how different.”
Funny how the mystique’s gone now I’ve been through the trial, I think.
“Well, what happened? I passed the test, didn’t I? I got my soul? So, where’s the body to go with it?”
“Yeah, bit embarrassing that, really, but how was I supposed to know? It seems the trials took everything you had. You survived, but you had nothing left, so when you felt the pain of having your soul back, you’re body just gave up, spontaneously dusted.”
“So, why am I still here? What am I?”
“Well, believe me, I wanted to know that too. I mean, I offer a service, I like to know the possible outcomes. Normally it’s simple. Death. Most of the time. Maybe one in five thousand, they get the soul. They leave, and go off to deal with being a demon with a soul. Doesn’t often end too well either. Most end up killing themselves within a year. Never known one like yours. You got your soul, and your awareness and memories latched onto it. Then your body went ‘poof’ and there you are. A soul, complete with your memories, left to roam the earth.”
“So, what can I do about it?”
“Damned if I know!”
I want to hit something. I want to do something, anything. I’m no good to her like this. How can I keep Dawn safe without a body? I feel a rage start within me, and it’s a rage to rival anything I experienced as a demon. I have to do something, but what?