Word count: 2220
Thanks ever so much to Jo for her expertise, advice, and help. The brilliant prompt is one of Jo’s from over at http://ba-rosebuds.livejournal.com/
Summary: Pyramids, sphinxes, and vampires all have something in common.
The pyramids of Egypt are ancient. Rising skywards, they puncture the skyline with their imposing shapes, testament to Man’s drive to achieve immortality. The Sphinx stands guard as it has done for millennia, sentry to the Kings and Queens of bygone empires. Time wears a thing down. Stone crumbles into decline. And yet these magnificent structures, worn and faded, remind Man that anything is possible if one puts one’s mind to it.
Time moves slowly for those who have eternity, like the Sphinx sentinel who hasn’t moved for ever such a long time. Did it ever? Man assumes, presumes, even has science to back up the theory, that the Sphinx is man-made. It’s a beautiful creature, made of stone and not a threat to anyone. The demon world might beg to differ. The original demons, the huge and impossible like Illyria, turn to stone at the end of their existence. It would make Man nervous if he knew that fact. Only a few in the know have any clue to the origin of the Great Sphinx of Egypt. And then there are the Greek sphinxes: marble creatures, female, sitting on tombstones and guarding temples. Smaller demons, perhaps gone to death in glorious stone?
And yet the opposite can also be said of time. To an immortal, sometimes the lives of ordinary folk move so quickly it appears as if they’ve gone in a blink of an eye. Mortals rush headlong to the grave, filling their short lives with procreation, mortgages, and accumulating objects. An immortal might discover themselves thinking time has slipped by with such speed they have difficulty remembering which century they find themselves in.
When one has eternity, there is a lack of urgency in what one does. Thinking of moving? Take a decade or two to decide a new location. A problem needs solving? One will get round to it eventually.
Vampires have eternity, if they’re careful. Avoiding the stake of a slayer is easy. Staying beneath a slayer’s radar means limiting kills, burying the evidence, and moving on before someone notices people have gone missing. The trouble is most vampires aren’t smart. They’re stupid. They live to feed. They let bloodlust rule their existence. And because they spend their nights killing to satisfy their thirst, time rolls on by, leaving the demons stuck in a time warp, thinking they are still in the era they were turned. That makes Buffy’s job easier. Jo Vamp dressed in Eighties clothes? Pretty hard to not to miss.
Time ravages all things great and small. People grow older and they get slower and let’s face it, uglier. Sure, wrinkles are the roadmap of a person’s life and sometimes those roadmaps are a thing of beauty. Buffy still shudders at the thought of The Master, an ancient vampire she had killed back in the day. It was as ugly as sin. Its face was the reality of the demon, the folds of its skin sculptured into a terrifying visage. Time hadn’t slowed The Master down. The demon had been as quick as lightning. Still, Buffy remembers the pleasure she had had in pulverizing its bones. The Master hadn’t been fast enough to escape her fury.
And then she recalls Kakistos, a very old vampire. Faith’s nemesis. Kakistos had been so ancient it had cloven feet. Now that had been one ugly vampire, Buffy thinks. It hadn’t been that quick on its hooves, but it had relied on its imposing strength. It had taken two slayers to put that one down.
Buffy’s thoughts turn to Angel as they always do. Time hasn’t ravaged him. He is as beautiful as ever. She hopes he won’t become what other vampires have before him. Is there a way to prevent the cloven feet and fruit-punch mouth? She dearly hopes so. She wants Angel to live forever. She wants his beauty to last till the end of time. She knows in her heart that it’s an impossible dream. Immortality doesn’t always mean eternity in the living. What she wants is for him to outlive her. She doesn’t want to relive the grief she had felt at losing him to Acathla. There is one thing she knows for certain. Time hasn’t slowed Angel down one bit.
He is cutting a swathe through a dozen demons, his sword hacking through limbs and bodies as he goes. His shirt and trousers are ribbons of material. Despite the black on black, Buffy knows his clothes are soaking red
“Wait!” she yells, as she follows him into the breach. “Leave some for me,” she insists, her sword slashing away as she runs behind him, her booted feet quickly eating up the gap between them.
“There’s enough for the two of us,” he says cheerfully, ignoring what must be an agony of wounds.
Buffy hears the note of glee in his voice. Angel is in his element in battle.
“An unfair fight, then,” she grins, laughing with exhilaration. She has to admit, her battle lust is up.
Green ichor sprays everywhere, coating Buffy and Angel as they hack and slash at monsters. The demons are insect-like, about Buffy’s stature. They are terrifying all the same, with multi-faceted eyes, mandibles that move like tentacles and make a clicking sound, with limbs and thorax covered in chitinous armour. The demons’ weapons are their claws. They are razor sharp. Angel’s shirt sleeves and jeans are testimony to the fact. Buffy’s clothes fare a little better. Angel makes sure of it. He takes the brunt of the battle, knowing that he can take more punishment than she.
The creatures lived underground, the dark a haven for their kind, until excavations for a new power utility had disturbed their existence. People had started disappearing from the surrounding area, and Buffy and Angel had come to investigate. The grisly remains of what had once been human beings had greeted them. Buffy had seen teeth marks on bones. The victims had been eaten, their flesh chewed and swallowed, filling the stomachs of monsters.
Buffy grits her teeth, her lips pulled back in a grimace. The light she has strapped to her head shines bright, its beam blinding the multiple eyes of her foe. The slayer’s sword bites through cartilage as the demon flinches away from the light. Its scream is a sibilant hiss.
“What? No parting repartee? I’m disappointed,” she says as she cleaves through its oddly disjointed knees with her blade. The demon falls back disabled and in a great deal of pain.
Angel’s head, and his light, turns her way. “We’ve got to push them back to the opening in the wall.”
Buffy’s light bobs her agreement. They are below the excavations and inside a small cavern. A tunnel leads downwards, towards what they think is the demons’ nest.
The vampire and the slayer harry and push the demons back, the trail they leave behind them littered with demon carcasses. Eventually, the only creatures attacking them are the ones exiting the tunnel’s entrance. There is room for only one at a time. Angel steps back from the fray, leaving Buffy fighting off one of the demons.
“You hold them back. I’ll go get my pack.” And he’s gone, vanishing in a blink of an eye with vampiric speed.
“Don’t hurry on my account,” she quips, stabbing her enemy through its eyes. She kicks it away from her, back into the tunnel where it impedes its brethren’s advance.
One of the many things Buffy loves about Angel is that he doesn’t mollycoddle her. They have a job to do, and even if it means Buffy is left holding the baby, so to speak, Angel lets her do her job. Sure, he is protective of her and does all he can to keep her safe, but when the need arises, like now, then he allows that Buffy knows her craft and knows it well. She has her strengths and he has his.
As her sword takes the life of another monster, Angel is back, his backpack in his hand.
“Just a couple more minutes,” he says, and he begins to pull out the pack’s contents.
“You brought gifts,” Buffy says with a laugh. “You shouldn’t have.”
Angel sets about laying down the explosives he has brought with him. If Buffy knew how to handle explosives he would have her do it. She doesn’t. Buffy gets sentry duty. She keeps the creatures at bay while he works.
When all is ready, he sweeps up his sword, grabs Buffy’s arm, and they make a dash for it, Angel tossing something over his shoulder. They are halfway to safety when the blast pulls the ground out from beneath them. Walls crumble, stones and boulders crash down around them. They ride out the explosion’s storm on the ground, Angel prone on top of Buffy, sheltering her with his body. Ears ringing and unable to hear, Buffy squirms beneath Angel’s weight. She is worried about her boyfriend.
“You better be alive, mister, or else I’m gonna kill you.”
His lips find her ear and nibble. Buffy giggles.
“Okay then. Lucky for you.”
Above ground and safe and sitting on a large rock, Buffy is drinking from her bottle of water. Angel is tending her wounds.
“I’ve been thinking about The Master.”
Using a cloth to wipe away blood from a cut on Buffy’s cheek, Angel says, “What about him?”
“Are there other vampires out there as ancient as he was? How many centuries old was he? Ten? Twenty?”
Angel stops his ministrations and peers at her. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason. I just wondered if you had come across any in your travels. From…you know…before.”
Ah. Angel understands what she isn’t saying.
“You want to know if I will become the creature he was.”
“No. Um…maybe.” Buffy looks away from him, feeling stupid and embarrassed for bringing it up. Her and her big mouth.
His hand gently turns her back to look at him.
“Not all vampires turn out like The Master. He wore his demon face with pride. He refused to wear his human mask and it took its toll on him. Perhaps that’s why he looked the way he did.”
“What about Kakistos?”
Angel raises his eyebrows. Buffy can almost see them beneath the coating of blood and ichor.
In a rush, she says, “He had cloven feet.”
Angel’s teeth gleam white at her. “I won’t get cloven feet, I promise.” He waggles his booted foot at her to make a point.
“So it’s an oddity then?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. People are different. Demons are too. I don’t have an answer for you, Buffy, but what I will say is don’t worry about it. What will be will be, and if that’s what may happen, it’s a long way in the future.”
She subsides, worried but unwilling to press further. She doesn’t want Angel to brood on what she has said. He has enough on his guilt plate without her heap of worry. Looking at his face, she knows that it is too late.
Angel goes back to cleaning her face. Tenderly, he wipes away the gore and blood marring her pretty features. He pays particular attention to her frown and before long it is smoothed away. While he works, Angel’s thoughts find their way back to the Day That Never Happened. The Day the Oracles took back.
Buffy’s fear has stirred his memories. He had been human for a day. He and Buffy had been deliriously happy for that wonderful moment in time. Those short hours of bliss aren’t enough to keep his heart warm in the centuries ahead. He wants more. Buffy wants more. Until they find a way to circumvent the clause in his curse it can never be.
Had his twenty four hours of humanity granted him brief parole from a fate of transformation that had found The Master and Kakistos? He doesn’t know. He expects not to live that long. The life he and Buffy lead doesn’t allow for white picket fences and a retirement by the sea. Instead, he savours the time he has now. The time he spends in Buffy’s company is everything to him.
Angel has to live in the present. He can’t think about what the future may hold for him. He could live forever. But does he want to? He doesn’t think he could. What would life be like in a century from now, a millennium? Would he be as content as he is now? Buffy would be long gone, dust to dust, heaven sent. Would it matter if he survived for eternity? An ancient relic of bygone days, shuffling away from humanity and into the dark, time eroding him as it does all things? He hopes to leave something of himself behind that means more than ‘Here be a monster’. A monument, a testament that he has been more than a demon rests in Connor and his descendents. He hopes that his son thrives and flourishes and leaves behind many children.
But for now he is content to be at Buffy’s side, doing what they do best.
Love, slay, and help the helpless.
Something wet brushes against his eyelids, his cheeks, his hair. He looks up. It’s snowing. It’s gone midnight and it’s Christmas, a tradition that has endured the centuries. It’s a reminder that there is such a thing as forgiveness.
Buffy kisses him, then, and all is right with the world.