The Gift of Death, Part 4
“Where is Dagnir?” Boromir asked as he sharpened his sword. “I have not seen her in three days.”
Gimli laughed; Legolas frowned. “She and Haldir are… old friends, I believe,” Aragorn said haltingly. “I believe they are spending time together.”
Gimli laughed harder; Legolas frowned deeper. Aragorn flushed, the pink tinge very apparent now his cheeks were cleanly shaven.
Boromir just nodded wisely, comprehension settling on his face. “She is a strange woman,” he commented, scrutinizing the edge of his blade for nicks. “But sturdy. And a fine warrior. Glad I am to have another swordwielder in our number.”
“She’d make a fine dwarf,” Gimli agreed. “If only she had a beard…” he added thoughtfully, stroking his own as the others eyed each other, grimacing at the thought.
“She’s certainly short enough,” Aragorn murmured, grinning when Gimli shot a glare at him.
“Now, I know you’re not making fun of my height,” Dagnir said as she strode into their pavilion, hands on hips. They stared at her in amazement.
She was wearing, not the tunics and trousers and sturdy boots they were used to seeing her in, but a lovely gown in leaf-green whose full sleeves and skirt brushed the ground as she walked. Her hair was not in its customary plait, but hung, wavy and shining, almost to her knees, confined only by two tiny braids at her temples and fastened behind her head.
“You’re wearing a gown,” Boromir said stupidly.
“Yeah, women often do,” she said, grinning mockingly at him. “We’re actually known for it.” She sniffed the air. “I can tell that all of you took baths, and let me tell you, it’s made my day.” She sniffed again. “Not honeysuckle, but hey, any port in a storm, huh, Horny?”
“Do not call me that,” he growled, standing menacingly over her petite form.
But the infuriating woman just smiled, daring him to do his worst. “I can kick your butt whether I’m in a dress or not, you know,” she informed him.
“What have you been doing the past few days, Dagnir?” Aragorn asked, trying to defuse the situation.
Her smile turned dreamy. “I love elves. Did ya know that, Aragorn?” He quirked a brow, and noticed how Legolas seemed to perk up at her words. “Not just cause they’re so pretty, although, yum. But all those years of experience… and the stamina…” Her eyes glazed over a little. “Oh, the stamina.”
Gimli coughed a little, looking with great interest at a corner of the pavilion while the Men grinned at each other. Legolas just watched her with narrowed eyes.
“Hm,” she murmured at the noise, waking up from her daydream. “I wonder what Haldir’s doing right now?” she wondered aloud, more to herself than them. “Think I’ll go see…” And she turned to leave.
“Dagnir!” Aragorn halted her with a hand on her arm. She stopped and turned back to him, looking surprised to see him there. “Are you going to journey with us when we continue to Mordor?”
“Oh, yeah!” she said brightly. “Just not enough violence in Lorien for me, and you know, I always say that a day without an evisceration is like a day without sunshine.”
A lovely, musical sound, like a chorus of angelic, heavenly bells, filled the pavilion, and they all turned to see Legolas in his corner, laughing.
“I just love elves,” Dagnir said, grinning happily, and left to find Haldir.
Buffy hummed as she walked away from the pavilion. Contrary to the impression she’d given the others, she hadn’t actually spent the past three days in bed with Lorien’s march-warden, though the idea certainly had its merits. She sighed happily and looked around at the sunlight filtering through the mallorn leaves and dappling the ground, enjoying the peace she only felt in Caras Galadhon.
When she’d leapt through the portal to save Dawn seventeen years earlier, she had landed here, in the forest of Lorien. The first face she’d seen had been that of the Golden Lady herself, Galadriel. The second had been Haldir’s stern visage hovering behind the elf-witch— he’d been the one to find her, sprawled on her back in the deepest part of the woods, and had not been happy that a human woman had somehow been able to enter ‘his’ forest without detection. It was only Galadriel’s assurances that Buffy hadn’t merely ‘walked in’ that saved his perimeter forces from his severe displeasure.
It had taken the combined forces of Galadriel’s gentle persuasion, Celeborn’s earnest assurances, and Haldir’s sarcastic ridicule to convince her that she was indeed still alive, and that Lothlorien was not, in fact, ‘heaven’. The idea actually seemed to amuse the elves greatly.
“But I thought…” Buffy began, biting her lip. “I thought death was my gift. That’s what the First Slayer told me. That death was my gift.”
“And so it is,” Galadriel replied. “It is a gift that will be given to you, once the Valar feel you have earned it. Until that time, no matter how you offer your life for your duty, you will return.”
“The Valar? I will return?” Buffy frowned. “Not liking the cryptic, Lady. ‘Splainy for the new girl?”
Galadriel smiled. “The Valar are the holy ones, they who create all, and destroy all.”
“Oh, the Powers That Be. Got it.”
“As for the returning… perhaps that is an explanation for the Valar themselves,” the elf-witch said, and turned to lift an ewer of water. “Will you look into my mirror?” She filled a shallow stone basin, which Buffy had thought a bird bath, with the water.
Buffy leaned over it, seeing only water. “Patience,” Galadriel murmured from behind her. Buffy took a deep breath and relaxed, letting her eyes lose focus, and slowly an image began to form…
…of a demon. He was very tall, with horns, and an iron ring through his chin. And he was waving at her. “Hi, Buffy! I’m Skip.”
“Um, hi, Skip” she replied, bewildered. “Where’s Whistler?”
“Busy with another Slayer,” Skip replied. “I think you know here… Faith?” Buffy nodded dazedly. “Got lots of questions, I bet,” he continued cheerfully, smiling. She nodded again. “Well, let’s have them!”
She thought for a second. “Ok, why am I not dead? I thought death was my gift, and I gave it.”
Skip sighed. “Oh, you cut right to the heart of the matter, don’t you?” He heaved a sigh. “There are other things you need to know first. I prefer to follow a more structured route. If you don’t mind?” He motioned to an outcropping of rock behind him, and she nodded.
He sat and pulled one leg up, linking his hands around his knee. “Hm, where to begin? At the beginning, I’d suppose.” He drew a deep breath. “In the beginning, there were demons. They were beginning to overrun the earth, so the PTB infused the soul of one person—one girl in all the world—with the extra abilities to fight and defeat these forces of evil...” Seeing her impatience, he relented. “…blah blabbity blah.”
“But you knew all that. As the centuries went on, this infusion began to take on a life of its own, so to speak. It began to… alter… the personalities of the girls that acquired it once they were activated as the Slayer. It became its own being, a soul without a body to call its own.”
Buffy frowned. “Are you saying that Slayers were basically girls who were possessed?”
“Possessed?” Skip thought about that a moment, then nodded. “In a word, yes.” He saw her skepticism. “Before you were activated, did you like to fight?”
“No…” Buffy said slowly, not knowing where he was going with this.
“Did you like to hurt others? Ever entertain the notion of killing things, even bad things?”
“Ever have an interest in fighting techniques, war strategies, or other methods of violence?”
“And after you were activated… you loved to fight. Anticipated it, even. And the idea of killing? Didn’t phase you one bit, did it?”
Buffy was starting to look uncomfortable. “No, it didn’t bother me,” she admitted softly.
“Didn’t you say once that while normal girls dreamed of makeup and boys and clothes and dates, you dreamed of beheadings etc.?” She nodded. “There’s a reason for that, Buf—may I call you Buf?” He didn’t wait for her to agree. “The reason is that the Slayer soul overrode your own peaceable inclinations and turned you into a killing machine.”
He paused, seeing the resignation on her face, and knew she’d accepted what he’d told her. ”Great! On to the next, then.” He lowered his leg, and stood, stretching briefly. “The Slayer soul, after millennia of constant activity, began to weary of its duty. Even a formless entity of destruction gets work burn-out, after all.”
“It began to think of ways it could be free of the endless grind of demon-slayage, and finally realized a way. It was your bad luck that she got her bright idea on your watch.”
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked, her brow creased in confusion.
“I mean, the Slayer soul finally figured it out. There was never meant to be more than one. ‘One girl in all the world’ and all that—well, you know the drill.”
“That I do,” she replied dryly.
“The Slayer soul reasoned that if her host—you—could die, another Slayer would be activated, but then if you weren’t permanently dead, and came back, there would be two of you. And if there were two, then the next time you died, would be the last for her—the other Slayer, containing a new Slayer soul, would continue the line, and the original would fade from existence.”
“So I really was supposed to die back in sophomore year,” Buffy said wonderingly. “The Master really should have killed me, permanently.”
Skip nodded. “The Slayer soul refused to move on to Kendra, but stayed with you. This was a cataclysmic event for the Powers, as it had never happened before, and they really didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t force the Slayer soul to the next girl, but they couldn’t leave her without the Slayer essence, either. So, they created another one. And because they had to rush, it wasn’t as pure as the original. Not as well-put-together.”
“That’s why Kendra died so quickly,” Buffy whispered. “That’s why Faith…”
“Why Faith was so easily corrupted, yes,” Skip affirmed. He clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing in a rather Giles-like manner. “Now that there were two, all the Slayer soul in you had to do was get you killed, and it would be at peace.”
He turned and peered at Buffy, who squirmed a little under his intent gaze. “What it hadn’t counted on was your own soul’s fierce determination to live, fueled by the love and support of your family and friends. No other Slayer had ever had those things, you see.”
“In spite of Drusilla, Spike, Angelus, Faith, Spike, the Judge, Adam, Spike, Dracula, etc. etc. you just wouldn’t die. The Slayer soul was getting increasingly desperate, and it began to overpower your fortitude and sense of hope. This last year, with Dawn and your mother, was so much more difficult for you to handle not because you were weak, but because the Slayer soul was weak. Being a part of you for so long had made it identify with you, and your losses were its losses as well, and it simply couldn’t handle all the confusion and loss.”
He gazed affectionately at Buffy, who was weeping silently by this point. “The despair you have felt this last year was not just your own, but a combination of yours and the Slayer soul’s as well. Do you remember what Spike told you once? That all Slayers have a death wish?”
She nodded, brushing tears off her cheeks.
“He was right. Damned perceptive creature, that vamp,” Skip said with a laugh. “The Slayer soul craved oblivion, and when it and the host were both weary to the core, they allowed their opponent to have that one good day. That’s what happened to you—both you and it were tired of it all, and both of you decided to end it.”
“Now, your situation was different, as I said. You didn’t have to jump in that portal. It was not only unnecessary, it was wrong. Very wrong. You should not have jumped in that portal. That was Dawn’s destiny, not yours. It skewed everything, both in your world and many others.”
“The Slayer soul’s pursuit of final, total death went against the purest essence, the absolute reason for the existence of the Slayer itself— everlasting, continuous existence. The Slayer was created to be eternal, and figuring out a way to snuff itself out caused… mayhem.”
“That’s the only way I can think of to explain it,” Skip finished.
“Ok,” Buffy said determinedly. “You’ve given the low-down on the background of this whole mess. What’s happening now? Why am I here? With elves? This place is way weird, you know.”
Skip grinned at her. “You should see the dimension without shrimp. You’d never think those things would be so important…” Seeing her mutinous expression, he hurried to get past his digression. “The Powers could not allow the destruction of the original Slayer soul, but neither could they allow it to exist in the same dimension as the other one. Having two Slayers was part of the reason Faith went so wrong—your dimension simply couldn’t handle the stress of containing two such powerful entities.”
“So they brought me here?”
“ ‘Sent’ is more accurate, really… they arranged for the deities of this dimension, the Valar, to take you. The Valar have been concerned for some time about an evil rising in this world, and jumped at the chance to acquire a warrior for good. You’re under their purview now, rather than the Powers.”
“Why didn’t they just put the Slayer soul into someone else?” she asked grumpily. “I’m tired of being hijacked for Slayerly purposes.”
He sighed. “I know you are, and the Powers and Valar are sorry for it, but… after being merged for so long, it seems as if you and the Slayer soul are somewhat… inseparable.”
Now it was Buffy’s turn to sigh. “What if I die here? Will some poor girl in this dimension be saddled with the Slayer soul?”
Skip turned away, seeming uncomfortable. It made her suspicious. “Skip. Tell me.”
“No, no other girl will be saddled with the Slayer soul.”
“But you said the Powers won’t allow the destruction of the Slayer soul…” her voice trailed away as comprehension filled her with horror. “And if it can’t be separated from me, then I can’t die, can I?” Her hands clenched into fists and she longed to strike Skip, to hit and beat and thrash until he was in pieces on the floor. Instead, she gripped the sides of the stone basin. “I can’t die.”
He just looked at her, his leathery grey face filled with sorrow. “I’m sorry, Buffy. But no, you can’t die. No matter what you do, you will always come back.” Then he coughed. “Well, that’s not entirely true.”
Her head, which had been bent from the weight of the burden of her thoughts, snapped up. “What?”
“Here we get to the gift of death thing,” he said, and there was a twinkle in his gleaming red eyes. “When the first slayer told you your gift was death, she wasn’t lying. But you got it wrong.”
Buffy’s eyes were wide in amazement. “What? But I was so sure! It made perfect sense!”
“I can see how you’d think that,” Skip agreed. “But no, you were wrong. Death is your gift… a gift the Valar will give you, when they feel you deserve it.”
“When I deserve it?” Buffy shrieked. “What do I have to do to deserve some peace?” She looked skyward and shook her fist at where she supposed the Valar would be. “Who do I have to blow to get some down-time around here?”
Skip coughed delicately. “Uh, Buffy…”
Frowning, she lowered her arm and scowled at him.
“The Powers considered your quest for oblivion to be a sign of weakness, and definitely do not appreciate the Slayer soul’s scheming to replace itself with another. Not big on being manipulated, are the Powers. Frankly, they don’t have much of a sense of humour, either, and talk about cheapskate bosses…” He looked suddenly nervous. “Ahem. So, as I was saying, they are going to make you redeem yourself, and earn your oblivion.”
Buffy squinted at him. “So, what you’re saying is, until I satisfy their expectations, I’m immortal? I have to be the slayer forever until they decide I’m done, and then I can die? That’s how death is my gift?”
Skip nodded. “You got it, girly.”
“I don’t like this,” she said petulantly. “On a scale of one to ten for suckiness, this is like a 45. This sucks worse than a tornado.” Buffy heaved a huge sigh. “What do I do now?”
“You were brought to Lothlórien for a reason. These elves can help you. Let them. Galadriel can help you adjust to and accept what you’ve just learned. Celeborn can counsel you as to what path your life here can take. Haldir can assist you in weapons training—you’re still dropping your elbow, you know.”
“I know,” she grumbled. Giles was always telling her that. Giles… just the thought of her Watcher, her mentor, her friend, brought more tears to her eyes.
“There is much knowledge and wisdom to acquire here, Buffy,” Skip said gently. “Do not reject it.” He glanced into the distance. “Ah, I have to get going. I won’t be seeing you for a while. Take care, k?”
Buffy forced a smirk past her tears. “Like I have a choice.”
And then he was gone, and she was blinking at Galadriel in the glade. Wordlessly, the elf slipped her arms around Buffy and drew the girl’s head to her shoulder, letting her weep endlessly.