by indie
Chapter 16

"My Heart"

And there I saw a young baby
A beautiful daughter was she
A face from a painting
Red cheeks and teeth aching
Her eyes like a wild Irish sea
-S. O'Connor "A Perfect Indian"

Buffy sat in the holding cell in Council Headquarters, staring at the blank white wall.  She thought it would have been much more poetic if they would have thrown her in a dungeon, complete with rough stone walls and rusty manacles, but that would come soon enough.  Council Headquarters was posh and modern, even their holding cells.  The room was small, about ten feet square, all white walls, tiled floor.  The heavy metal door had no handle on the inside and no window.  Her chair and another like it were bolted to the floor.

Raising her hand, Buffy wiped the glob of spittle off her cheek and rubbed it on her worn and dirty cargo pants.  A fervent young Watcher in training had decided to show Buffy just what she thought of the "vampire's whore".  Buffy couldn't blame her.  A year ago, she might have had the same reaction, though she liked to think she wouldn't have actually spat at someone.

There was a loud buzzing noise followed by a metallic thunk and the door to the cell swung outward to reveal Giles.  Buffy remained seated while Council soldiers ushered the Watcher into the room and then closed the door behind him.  He took the empty seat next to Buffy.

Buffy turned and looked at him, unsure of whether she wanted to laugh or cry.  The latter won out and as a tear slipped from her eye, Giles gathered her in his arms.  She collapsed against him and buried her face in his chest, breathing in the familiar, comforting scent that seemed inherent to him.  He held her and rocked her, gently shushing her with nonsense words as if she were a child.

Eventually she pulled back, self-consciously wiping her tears away with the backs of her hands.  "Sorry about that," she hiccupped, as he handed her a handkerchief.

Giles smiled sadly at her, tears glistening in his own eyes as he felt his heart breaking.  "I assure you that it was not a problem," he said, his voice hoarse with emotion.

Buffy took a deep breath and collected her resolve.   "So," she asked, "what happens now?"

Clasping his hands nervously, Giles cleared his throat.  "I'm afraid from here it is standard procedure," he said.  "You will be taken to Nihil Prison.  The ... execution ... will be carried out during the Witching Hour."

Buffy nodded in silence.  The Witching Hour.  A little over twenty-four hours away.  Midnight on the night of the full moon.  Supposedly it was when Slayers were at the height of their power.  Buffy always questioned the wisdom of executing someone when they were at their strongest, but she wasn't in the mood to question it now.  Slayers were supernatural beings and as such, tied to the lunar cycles.  She never personally noticed any appreciable difference in her abilities during the Witching Hour, but it was tradition.  The theory was if you executed a Slayer during the Witching Hour that the next Slayer called would be even stronger. It was the Council's way of ensuring that even a traitor's death served a purpose.

But Buffy didn't want to die.  She was old enough to remember Justine's execution.  She remembered the smell of burning flesh.  Her stomach roiled at the memory and she gagged, coughing harshly.

"Buffy," Giles groaned, his voice pure anguish.  He reached out, laying a supportive hand on her arm.  She turned and looked at him.  "We'll find a way," he said with conviction.  "We'll get you out of this."

Buffy shook her head vehemently, blinking back tears.  "Please don't," she pled, her voice a mere whisper.  "Please stay out of this.  It would destroy me if I knew that you and Holtz compromised yourselves because of me.  Promise me you won't let him try to use his influence to save me."

"Buffy ... "

"Promise me," she begged.

Giles looked at the young woman before him, so sad and so fragile yet so strong.  He nodded.  "I will do my best to keep Holtz out of it," he said.

"And you too," she added hastily.  "I won't let you to get into trouble because of me."

Giles smiled sadly and raised his hand, cupping her cheek with his roughened hand.  "That I cannot promise you," he said.

Tears glistened in Buffy's eyes once again and her bottom lip quivered.  "You have to," she said, her voice barely a whisper.

He shook his head and a tear slipped out of the corner of his eye.  "When they took you from me the first time, Buffy, I thought I would die.  It destroyed your mother.  I lost her.  I can't lose you, not again, not if there is anything I can possibly do to prevent it."

Buffy's brow furrowed as she looked at him, uncomprehending what he had said.  Slowly, Giles released her cheek and reached into the breast pocket of his dependable tweed jacket.  He pulled out a worn photograph and handed it to Buffy.  The picture was of a much younger Giles.  He was standing with a pretty young blonde woman and she was holding a tiny little baby wrapped in a soft pink blanket.

Giles cleared his throat.  "That is the day we brought you home from the hospital," he said with a smile.

Buffy looked at the picture and started crying again.  She reached out and Giles hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair as he cried too.  Long minutes later, they broke away and Buffy looked at the picture again.

"What was her name?" she asked, lightly tracing her mother's picture with her fingertip.

"Joyce," Giles said.

"Joyce," Buffy repeated quietly.

"You are so much like her," Giles said, reaching out to tuck a lock of Buffy's hair behind her ear.  "She loved you so much."

The door buzzed again loudly and a Council soldier pulled it open.  "Time's up," he said gruffly.

Riley was cleaning his sidearm when Forrest entered the small room, his face somber.  "Hey, Ri, man I know you're probably upset, but if it's any consolation, I think you did the right thing."

Slowly, Riley looked up and met his friend's gaze.  "About what?" he asked.

Forrest looked at his friend in bewilderment for a moment.  "I thought you knew," he said.  "I thought you were the one that narced on the bitch."

Riley frowned at his friend's reference to Buffy.  He knew that Forrest had never condoned Riley's fascination with the Slayer.  "I told Travers about her and the DHST," Riley said harshly.

Forrest nodded.  "They're executing her," he said.

"What?" Riley exclaimed, bolting out of his chair.

Forrest took a step back.  He had no intention of allowing Riley to shoot the messenger.  Holding his hands up in front of himself, he said, "I thought you knew. She refused to put the beast down.  The Council found her guilty of treason.  They're burning her, man."

Riley's world spun.  He hated Angel and felt no remorse about his role in whatever the DHST's punishment would be.  But Buffy ... Gods, no, not Buffy.  He never even entertained the possibility that she would refuse her responsibilities.  She admitted to loving that monsters.  He couldn't believe it.

Sitting down heavily in his chair, he cradled his head in his hands.  This couldn't happen.  Regardless of how disgusted he was by Buffy's behavior, he still cared for her deeply.  "We have to do something," he said quietly.

Forrest's jaw tightened.  As much as he knew Buffy's death would pain Riley, he had been glad for it.  Riley would never get over the girl as long as she was still around, but now Forrest was afraid his friend was going to try something stupid.  He wouldn't let Riley throw his life and his career away on some vampire's whore.  He wouldn't.

Nihil prison was located in the oldest section of The City, close to the Hellmouth.  While the rest of The City prided itself on being lush and green, teeming with life, this district, known as The Void, lived up to its name.  The ground was stark and barren.  The founders salted the earth around the Hellmouth so thoroughly that nothing could grow near it for miles.  The Void's bleak appearance fit Buffy's mood well.

Nihil prison was the first thing the founders built and it hadn't been improved upon much in the intervening centuries.  It was a large stone structure, ominous and foreboding.  It was in dire need of repairs that were never made.  Why bother?  The prisoners housed at Nihil had no rights, no voice.  People came to Nihil to die and for no other reason.

Buffy didn't fight as the half dozen Council soldiers escorted her out of the van and into the horrific structure.  There would have been no point.  Even if she wasn't shackled, the poisons the techs injected before she was removed from Council Headquarters were doing their job.  She couldn't have bested one of the soldiers in a fair fight at the moment, much less all of them.

She stumbled as they crossed the threshold and one of the soldiers caught and steadied her.  Buffy looked up.  The letters over his left breast pocket declared him to be Agent Graham Miller.  Agent Miller looked like he was having a dilemma.  Slowly, he released her arm and stepped back, his expression stony.  He was trying to be a big bad soldier.  Buffy smiled at him and it was a genuine, gentle expression.  She knew it couldn't be easy for Agent Miller.  He probably didn't approve of the fact that her boyfriend was a vampire, but how many guys really wanted to watch a girl their own age burn to death?  How many of them were willing to chain her to the stake and light the fire themselves?  She almost felt bad for the fact that her death was going to permanently scar something inside of Agent Miller.

There was no paperwork at Nihil, no bureaucratic hoops through which to jump.  Buffy was simply marched down a set of foul smelling stairs and into an empty cell.  Bare stone walls, iron bars, drafty and dank; it fit more with her idea of a prison.  Somehow she wasn't comforted.  One of the soldiers gave her another dose of the Cruciamentum "drugs" before the entire group departed, leaving her utterly alone.

Buffy rubbed the inside of her arm.  Cruciamentum drugs were holdovers from when the Council used to "test" their Slayers, more than a millennium before.  They weren't drugs.  Drugs implied some useful purpose or at the very least an enjoyable high.  The Cruciamentum drugs were poison.  In the short run, they diminished her preternatural strength to human standards.  Prolonged exposure would lead inevitably to death.  Of course, given that she would be executed the next night, she would not be dying from the poison.

There was a small bunk attached to the stone wall that looked surprisingly clean.  Maybe this cell was reserved for Slayers.  Buffy sat down and idly fingered the neatly folded blanket and pillow.  She could hear agonized screams of the other prisoners, but they sounded very far away.  Buffy surmised that she was being kept a good distance from Nihil's general population.

She leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands.  Unbidden, tears streamed from her eyes but she did nothing to staunch the flow.  Where was Angel?  Were they hurting him?  She laughed mirthlessly to herself.  The Council was going to kill him, why not torture him first?  Giles and Holtz had been right.  Her death would grant him no leniency, no mercy.  If anything the guards would be even more ruthless in their treatment of him because of her confession.  They would punish Angel for daring to rise above his station.  They would make him a lesson to vampires who dared to touch humanity.

But the point of her confession had not been to save him.  It had been to let the world know that she loved him and that she had every right to love him.  Angel was a person.  He had a soul, a beautiful, strong, gallant soul that spoke to something deep inside of her.  She could not deny what he meant to her for any cost.


Lifting her head, Buffy looked up and found Holtz standing behind the barred wall of her cell.  The hall was very dim, illuminated only by several torches burning in the hallway.  Idly, she wondered how long she had been sobbing.  Night had obviously fallen.  She tried to smile at him and failed miserably.

"Oh, child," he said, his voice hoarse, as he blinked back tears.

She rose and walked over to the bars.  Holtz embraced her through the cold metal and tear tracks lined his cheeks.  Absently, she reached up and wiped one away from his grizzled cheek.  "Don't cry," she said, her bottom lip sticking out in a pout as she fought to do the same.

Holtz sighed raggedly, his frayed nerves showing through.  "I am so sorry, Buffy," he said, his voice low and harsh.  "You deserved so much more from me, from the entire family."

Buffy shrugged and stepped back a few inches, wrapping her arms around her middle.  "I know why you did it," she said, "and I don't blame you."

He shook his head sadly.  "You should," he said.  "You should."

"I can't," she said.  "I've never known any different."

Holtz groaned harshly and cursed himself, the Council and the entirety of human society for their short sightedness.  Buffy was a Slayer, but it was not who she was.  She was a human.  She deserved love and affection, tenderness, a family.  She never had any of those things.  And now she never would.  Another tear coursed down his cheek at the realization that he was as much to blame for that fact as anyone.

"What did the Council decide about the DHSTs?" she asked, changing the subject.

Holtz took a deep breath and let it out harshly.  "Termination," he said.  "Despite Wyndam-Price's obvious passion, Travers managed to convince them that it was too great a security risk.  He argued that once the DHSTs were compromised that they would always present a security hazard."

Buffy stared blankly.  "They're going to kill them all?" she asked, her voice tiny.

Holtz smiled and it had a hard edge.  "If they can find them," he said.

A frown creased Buffy's brow.

"They seem to have disappeared," Holtz said, his amusement obvious.  "And when the Council sent soldiers to retrieve Mr. Wyndam-Price, he was gone as well."

Buffy smiled in spite of her foul mood.  She should have known that Wesley wouldn't count on the Council's benevolence.  He was a smart man.

Gruffly, Holtz cleared his throat.  "I didn't come alone," he said.

Buffy stared at him, but didn't say anything.  She wasn't sure she wanted to see her adopted sisters.  They had never been close and it would just be awkward.  "Do you think that's a good idea?" she asked.

Holtz smiled wryly.  "Probably not," he said, "but I am not in a position to do anything to change your fate.  This one small comfort I can give you ..."

[End Chapter 16]

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