The Gift of Death, Part 23
When Buffy awoke again, it was not on the battlefield, nor in Minas Tirith, nor any other place she had ever been. It was a large, empty plane with only the odd boulder here and there, quite colourless and vacant. The air was cool and moist, and while there didn’t seem to be any sunlight per se, the entire area was suffused with a soft, grey glow. It looked a little familiar… where had she seen it before?
Then the memory of the last few moments of her life came crashing over her and she fell to her knees in the resultant weakness. “Legolas,” she whispered in despair, tears wetting her hands as she cried into them.
“Yes?” he replied from behind her, and she made an ungainly leap to her feet and spun around to face him. There he stood, hair only slightly dishevelled as he frowned down at his wound, fingering the ragged edges of the bloody rent in his tunic while she gaped at him.
“You’re not dead?” she whispered, eyes roaming over him greedily. It was all she could do to keep from launching herself from him, touching his skin to feel its living warmth, lay her head against his chest to hear his heartbeat.
“I have never been dead before, so I cannot be sure,” he said thoughtfully. “We elves are supposed to go to the Halls of Mandos.” Legolas looked around him with great doubt. “This place does not appear to be them.” He frowned deeper. “At least, I hope it is not.”
“Hey, it’s not much but it’s home,” came a cheerful voice, and they both turned to see Skip approaching, smiling widely. Legolas stepped in front of her, to protect her with his body.
Buffy groaned. “Whenever you show up, something big is about to happen.” She looked up at Legolas, still in shock after her last sight of him had been his still, cooling body on the ground. “It’s ok, he won’t hurt us.” The elf only nodded down at her, but did not relax his stance.
“What can I say?” Skip asked, spreading his hands wide. “When the Valar care enough to send the very best.”
“Argh,” was her response, and she rolled her eyes as she stepped from behind Legolas. “What’s going on? Why am I here? Why is Legolas here and not in the Halls of Mandy? Weird, naming it after a Barry Manilow song.”
Skip sighed. “Good thing you’re not as blonde as you pretend to be, Slayer,” he told her severely. “Chaos would have reigned eons ago.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she grumbled. “So, give. What’s the what? Where are we? Are we dead?”
“Pretty much, yes,” Skip replied. “This is The Vestibule.” Buffy could almost hear Legolas’ eyebrow lift. “Most people—and elves—when they die, get sent directly on to their final destinations. But there are certain of you—beings of great light or darkness—who get the special business. They are given… opportunities, choices they can make that will effect not only their eternity, but everyone else’s. Both of you are to have these same choices put to you.”
“Was Angel one of these?” Buffy asked in a whisper, wrapping her arms tightly around her waist, and Legolas turned his head sharply to look at her.
“Don’t be jealous, boy. The vampire was a Champion. It’s a logical question to ask.” Skip told the elf kindly before turning to Buffy. “Yes, he was.”
“Boy?” Legolas asked, nose lifting a fraction into the air.
Skip grinned. “Compared to me, you are a boy,” he said. “Do you know what a kalpa is?” Legolas shook his head ‘no’. “It’s a Hindu thing. A kalpa is 4,320,000 years old, and I,” he continued proudly, “am almost four kalpa old.”
Even ancient Celeborn would have to blink at that, so Legolas felt no shame when he realized he was gaping. “My apologies,” he said at last.
Skip nodded briskly and turned back to Buffy. “Yes, Angel came here. His choice… ah, looks like the man himself is here to tell you about it.”
Her eyes bugged out, and she spun once more to find yet another person had appeared in their vicinity. Angel stood there, still dressed in “King of Pain” mode—head-to-toe black, knee-length leather coat, hair tousled in that way Spike had always dearly loved to mock.
“Buffy,” he said, and held out his hand to her. She took a few halting steps forward and placed her hand in his, gasping to feel it was warm, not cool. He nodded at her expression. “Yes, I’m human again.”
“What’s going on?” she demanded, her voice low. “I’m all confused, and worried, and I don’t like it.”
Angel took her other hand as well, and tugged her closer to him until he could press her palms flat against his chest. There was a noise from behind her that Buffy could have sworn was a growl, if elves were indeed capable of that sound. “When I died, I was given a boon.”
“A boon?” Funny word, she thought dazedly. This was uber-strange, and the way he was looking at her was making her nervous.
Angel nodded. “I was able to ask one favour, and it would be granted to me. Anything I wanted, within reason.” His dark eyes were glowing with a soft light, and Buffy realized that the demon she was used to seeing lurk in the recesses of him was gone—he was all Angel, with no Angelus at all.
“What did you ask for?” she asked breathlessly, staring up at him in wonder.
“You,” he replied simply. “I asked to be able to be with you, forever.” He looked down at her with a gentle smile, knowing she would be touched and delighted by his revelation.
Buffy surprised him a lot, then, when she pulled back and slapped him with a solid whump on his chest, ignoring his startled ‘ouch!’ of pain. “Back in the Paths of the Dead, you said that was it! That we’d never see each other again!”
“They met on the Paths of the Dead?” Legolas inquired of Skip, who’d seated himself comfortably on a boulder and sat back to watch the festivities.
“Yeah, while she was passed out for that day… it was a whole thing,” Skip explained out of the corner of his mouth, not wanting to interrupt Buffy’s momentum, as she seemed on quite a roll.
“You’re mad at me because I’m not gone forever?” Angel demanded, disbelieving. He was watching her with a wounded expression and the slightest bit of a pout. Twenty years ago, both would have melted her swiftly, but now…
I’m almost forty years old, she thought angrily. I’m not going to let him manipulate me like he used to. Fury filled her until she felt she would explode from it. “I’m mad because you lied to me, and what’s this about making another decision that affects me?” She punctuated this question with another smack, this time to his shoulder.
“She is ever a violent woman,” Legolas murmured fondly, folding his arms across his chest and surveying the two. Angel was holding up his hands in surrender and trying without success to apologize, but Buffy wasn’t letting him get away with it.
“I’m sick of this, Angel!” she ranted, arms waving in agitation. “I’m sick of men thinking they know what’s best for me!” Here she turned the force of her glare at Legolas, and he had the grace to look a little sheepish. “And don’t think you’re getting off lightly, either!” she yelled toward Skip, who flinched, and then upward where she imagined the Valar to be. “No more messing with Buffy’s fate! This ends here!”
She pulled away from Angel and strode to an empty spot between two big stones. “I wanna know all the secrets concerning me, all of them. Or I swear to… you, I will never kill another bad buy again!”
Skip stared at her in disbelief and alarm. “You would stand by while Middle-Earth sinks into wrack and ruin?”
“C’mon, Buffy,” Angel cajoled. “You know you couldn’t do that.”
But she just levelled a look upon them that was, to Legolas at least, hauntingly reminiscent of Haldir at his snootiest. She was serious. “She means it,” he said softly. “And I do not blame her. She has been a pawn for far too long.”
“Darn tootin’,” she agreed, looking at each in turn, but her eyes lingered on him just a fraction longer. “Spill it, Skip.”
The demon sighed. “Fine,” he agreed sulkily, looking greatly put out. “Angel here has requested that you two be together forever. Your gift is death, as it always has been. But you can decide what form it will take.”
“And that means what, exactly?”
“Did you know what, in the right hands, life is a currency?” Skip asked, tilting his head to the side. “You tried to buy Dawn’s life with your own, but that didn’t work. Wasn’t the right situation, didn’t have the proper authority.”
“And are you the proper authority?” she drawled, not looking at all impressed with him.
“As a matter of fact, I am.” He smirked. “You can buy Legolas’ life, if you want. But that will mean no more waking-from-death for you; if you take this choice, this will be the last death you will wake from.” He paused. “In fact, you don’t have to wake from it if you don’t want to. You can just walk off with Angel here, if you want.”
Buffy turned to face the former vampire, reading on his face all his anguish, his longing, his love. “And the alternative?” she asked quietly, flinching at the hurt that crossed Angel’s features.
“The alternative is you wake up, Legolas doesn’t, and you continue as you have for the past seventeen years.”
Buffy stared down at her feet, thinking hard. The first choice meant leaving behind Legolas, her friends, and Dawn to be with Angel; the second meant deserting Angel to return to those back on Middle-Earth, and Legolas would still be dead. “I need to think about this,” she said unsteadily. “And I need to talk to Skip about it. Alone.”
Angel and Legolas walked away, going in different directions but still eying each other suspiciously as Buffy turned to Skip, her face anxious. “I don’t know what to do,” she said, her tone pleading. “What do I do?”
“I can’t tell you, Buffy,” Skip said sadly. “Wish I could.”
“Isn’t there some sort of middle ground?” Buffy asked. “Some way Legolas could live, and I could go back?”
Skip goggled at her. “You don’t want to be with Angel?”
She studied her clasped hands, head bent in sorrow. “No,” she whispered. “I still love him—I will always love him—but that’s over. It was over when he left me, twenty years ago.” She looked up, her eyes settling gently on Legolas. As if he felt her gaze on him, the elf looked up as well, and they merely stared at each other for a long moment. “So much has happened since then. I’m not who I used to be. I don’t want to die anymore. ”
“It doesn’t help that Angel hasn’t changed at all, either. Still trying to ‘cute’ his way out of trouble, still making my choices for me. He’s always treated me more as a protégée than an equal, because of his age and experience. Walking around like some wise master, and I’m just an impressionable student of his” She snorted. “But you know what? Legolas is way older than him, and he’s never made me feel stupid, or young, or foolish just because he’s been around a few thousand years more.”
She heaved a sigh. “I don’t know if I can ever be with him—he’s shown alarming tendencies to made decisions for me, just like Angel does, but…” she dragged her attention from Legolas back to Skip. “But I can’t let it end here. I can’t just walk away. Ten years ago, even one year ago—yeah, I would have taken my Gift and run with it. But not any more.”
Buffy straightened her shoulders. “Here’s the deal. Legolas gets to live, and so do I. I also get to choose when I die—meaning, I’ll live as long as I damn well please, and not a moment less.”
Skip looked doubtful. “The Valar don’t like to make bargains,” he began, but she placed her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“That’s the deal,” she repeated stubbornly. “I think I’ve done enough for them, I deserve this. Legolas comes back to life, and I live no matter my illness or injury until I decide otherwise. Tell the Valar to put that in their pipes and smoke it.”
Skip looked toward Legolas, and red eyes met blue for a long moment before the demon shrugged in resignation. “Fine, fine, fine,” he grumbled finally, tugging on his chin-ring in agitation. “But they’re not happy.”
“Cry me a river,” she retorted, supremely unconcerned that she’d earned the displeasure of the gods.
“No,” Legolas interrupted, striding toward them. “You will not leave it like that, demon,” he informed Skip. “You will not let her think she has succeeded in her demands, when she has not.”
Buffy frowned. “What in the blue hell are you talking about?” she demanded of Skip, who was studying a boulder in the distance with rather more care than really was warranted.
“Kalpas be damned,” Legolas said, lip curling in disgust. “You are a coward.” He turned to Buffy. “He has not told you of my boon, Dagnir.”
“Dagnir?” Angel snorted from a bit away, bitterness plain on his face. It was clear he knew how this was going to end. They ignored him.
“What is your boon, Legolas?” she asked softly.
He reached out then, and caressed her cheek with his hand before lightly grasping the wrist-thick braid that hung over her shoulder. “I asked only that you be given free will, tithen maethonamin, instead of settling for what others wish for you. That is why the Valar agreed to your bargain, because I wished for you to have whatever you wanted.”
She was struck speechless, and stared up into Legolas’ face, helpless to tear her eyes from him. “You gave up your boon so I could make my own choices? Are you insane?”
Legolas laughed. “It has been said so in the past,” he admitted, and tugged on her braid. “But I consider it a sacrifice well-spent. There are no words to express my sorrow for hurting you, Buffy.” Blue, blue eyes glowed at her, warm and soft with devotion. “I can only plead fear and stupidity on my part.”
She gazed at him for long seconds more before turning to Skip once more. “So?” she demanded abruptly, tapping her foot impatiently. “You gonna send us back, or what?”
“I thought you’d want to say goodbye to Angel,” the demon replied stiffly.
She turned to look at Angel, studied the familiar slouch of his shoulders, the line of his profile. “No,” she replied softly. “We’ve already said goodbye.” The ache at the sight of him was back, but much dulled. It felt more like a fading bruise than the gaping wound it had been for decades, and Buffy knew she truly was getting over him.
Legolas, however… the pain, confusion, and anger she felt in regard to him was still fresh, but still there was an undercurrent of excitement threaded throughout it all. “I can’t wait to see what’s gonna happen,” she murmured, and then there was a flash of light, and she fell unconscious once more.
tithen maethonamin = my tiny warrior