Disclaimer: I can only Wish
Setting: This is a follow-up to this scene, set in the alternate Wish'verse that I constructed for my Older'verse.
Notes: Previously on
“She’s waking up.”
Eli’s quietly issued warning brought Buffy’s attention from Willow and Xander to the library’s cage, where Darla was puddled on the floor and just beginning to stir. One hand went to her hair, combing it out of her eyes, and then she lifted herself up to a sitting position and touched her mouth. Her fingers came away from it bloody, and her lips pulled back in an angry red sneer.
Buffy felt impassive, even when the vampire looked out through the bars and locked onto her with searing eyes. She knew she had been rough with the prisoner, probably rougher than she needed to be, but she was playing a high-stakes game and it was hard to look at Darla as anything but a pawn, especially when she had watched her turn to dust two years ago. She moved her chair from the table to a spot in front of the cage and sat down on it backwards, looking down at Darla. Was she in too much pain to stand up, Buffy wondered? She didn’t remember breaking any part of her legs, but she hadn’t been especially careful not to, either.
“So you finally made a move,” said Darla in that obnoxiously seductive voice of hers. “I’m sure Ripper will—“
“Ripper’s not why you’re here.” Buffy spat out the name as if it had been used to gag her, but she couldn’t concentrate on that now. Giles was either a loss that she could never repair, or he was just one part of a greater dilemna. There was no way to turn a vampire back into a human; she knew that now more than ever, but there might be a chance of erasing this nightmare altogether, so that was what she was investigating. “Forget about him. I need you to answer some questions for me.”
Darla laughed, the kind of laugh that someone makes when told something that isn’t funny but can’t be taken seriously either. “Why would I—“
“Because you want me to let you go.” Buffy had no patience for the series of threats and manipulations that this could easily turn into. She meant everything she was saying, and maybe if she was straightforward enough about it, Darla would believe her. “Tell me what I want to know, and you go back home to Ripper without losing anything, so I’d say it’s a pretty fair deal.”
Before the vampire answered, Buffy heard Willow and Xander gasp behind her, and Eli made a sound like a stifled curse. “Buffy, are you mad?” he said out loud. “It’s too late for that. If you won’t make use of her as a hostage, we need to kill her and be done with it.”
His frustration was obvious, but Buffy could only feel grimly satisfied about her decision to keep this plan from him and the others until now. This way Darla could observe their opposition to the arrangement, and it might convince her that she was being played straight.
And indeed, Darla straightened into a kneel and spoke with cold formality. “I accept,” she said, as if her own thoughts had been running parallel to Buffy’s all along. “Ask me whatever you want. Though I don’t know why you’re feeling so sure that I’m going to tell you the truth.”
“Honestly?” Buffy drummed her fingers against the back of the chair. “I can’t think of any reason you’d lie about this even if hurting me was the only thing you were trying for.”
Eli groaned, but didn’t verbalize any further objections. Willow and Xander were likewise silent, and Darla was watching them all with a brow arched over her calculating blue eyes. It was time to begin.
“Were you ever in Ireland? Galway?”
Darla hesitated, confused by the unexpected nature of the first question, and hopefully a little curious as well. “I’m four hundred years old, Slayer. I’ve been around the world more times than you’ve been around the mall. You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Buffy tried not to wince. She wasn’t sure how specific she could be, and it was entirely possible that an old vampire like Darla might not retain certain memories. “In the seventeen hundreds. Did you stay there long? Did you...sire a vampire there?”
“As a matter of fact I did.”
It was an inescapable misfortune that vampires had such keen hearing; Buffy didn’t want Darla to know how furiously her heart had started beating at that answer. She tried to cover it by continuing the interrogation: “Describe him.” After a few tense seconds, she added lamely, “Or her.”
“What do you want to know? He was young. Drunk. Stupid. Just like any other Irishman you might find in a tavern. I made him into something better, and he worshiped me for a century and then decided he wanted to live his unlife on his own. Like I said, stupid.”
None of this made any sense to Buffy, but she felt too crushed to work on a new theory, and she couldn’t help seeking more of the story. “Because he was cursed with a soul?” she asked.
Darla somehow managed to look down her nose despite sitting below Buffy’s eye level. “A soul? Where did you get that idea? Seamus left me because he thought he would make a good solo act. For all I know he’s still at it.”
“Seamus?” Buffy’s heart started racing again, but this time she didn’t care. “His name wasn’t Liam?”
“Well, it’s funny you should say that. I remember that in his human life he had a friend called Liam. His first kill, once he was remade.”
The admittedly flimsy façade of stoicism that Buffy had put on so far could take no more. She stood up so fast that the chair fell over in front of her, and then turned from the cage and walked away from Darla’s line of vision. Eli followed, then Willow and Xander, all three of them showing varying levels of puzzlement and concern. Knowing that even her two best friends weren’t really themselves gave her an irrational burst of resentment, but when Willow reached out to her with a tentative hand, she accepted the embrace and its good intention.
Communicating through gestures, the four of them moved toward Eli’s office to continue the conversation where Darla couldn’t hear it. To Buffy, it was still Giles’s office which Eli happened to be using in his absence, but she had already become practiced in holding her tongue about the differences of this world to her own. It didn’t look much like a place that Giles would inhabit, anyway. Eli had none of the typical Watcher’s aversion to modern technology, and everything in the office looked strangely new, aside from a row of well-worn science fiction paperbacks.
“Does this hold with your speculation about the wish?” he asked Buffy after closing the door behind them, his voice lowered for privacy in spite of it.
“Yeah, I think so.” Buffy ran her hands through her hair and paced back and forth in front of the desk, laying out her deductions. “I wished that Angel was human. Anya granted the wish because I guess that’s a thing she does, but instead of making him human in my time, she made it so he never got vamped in his. Darla must have nabbed his drinking buddy instead. I’m such an idiot. All I could think about was saving him from what he was, but this...I didn’t save anyone.”
Eli shook his head. “You saved Liam from turning into a murderer. You saved everyone he killed in your world.”
“And I doomed everyone Seamus killed in this one. And Giles. And everyone he killed. No go, Watcher-boy. Nothing’s going to make this alright with me.”
“It may not be alright with you, Buffy, but this is the world we live in, and taking the blame for it isn’t going to make it disappear.”
He was sounding angrier with each word, Buffy thought, and she was proportionately less sympathetic. If he was hoping for her to accept the reality of the downward spiral that she had created, he was sorely mistaken. “Just like wishing didn’t make it appear in the first place?” she challenged. “Don’t knock the guilt factor. It got me this far.”
“Oh? Where’s that? From my standpoint, it looks an awful lot like where we were before, except that now we have an angry vampire on our hands, another one out looking for her, and two more who—“
“Get over it! None of that is going to matter if I can just—“
“Say anything except that you’re going to make another wish! Just do not say it!”
Buffy took a breath deep enough to support the volume that she wanted to use for her retort, but before she coud release it, she became aware of Willow and Xander getting closer to her and making little gestures in the direction of the cage with Darla in it. She backed off from Eli, feeling less ashamed about losing her temper than she did about forgetting that her friends were also in the room. It was odd, though. She would have expected them to interrupt sooner—-and louder, for that matter.
In the few seconds of silence that followed, she looked at Xander, waiting for a word of objection or encouragement, but he merely returned her gaze with a resigned expression. Willow spoke first, saying, “Buffy?” with such anxiety that Buffy had to wonder about their alternate history. She had never known her friends to be so passive. Of course, here she hadn’t known them for very long. Angel’s nonexistence had so many indirect effects on her life that she couldn’t keep track anymore of how it all traced back to him.
“I’m not going to make another wish,” she said to Eli. “I don’t think it would work anyway. But if you can dig up something on Anya, maybe I can reverse what happened here. It’s worth a try, right?”
“Is it? Whatever it is, this magic is powerful. We might be able to return your consciousness to where it belongs, but even if we succeed, you’ve left us the problem of Darla. The Anointed One has been waiting for just such an opportunity.”
Buffy crossed her arms impatiently across her chest. “So I’ll kill the Anointed One before I go.”
“And then there’s Ripper...”
“So I’ll kill him too!” She was starting to raise her voice again—-he had picked an odd time to get sensitive about her connection to ‘Ripper’-—but something about his posture, braced wearily against the door frame, made her stop. “That’s really not what’s bothering you, is it?”
His mouth quirked in a mirthless smile. “It’s funny, isn’t it, how well you know me. No, there’s something else. But if I know you at all, this is going to be a bit...metaphysical for your taste.”
“Forget my taste and let’s hear it.”
Before he answered, Eli took a long look around the room, lingering at the computers, the books, and all the personal touches that made the place different from the office that Buffy had known. He spent an especially long moment looking over Willow and Xander, neither of whom spoke or seemed to comprehend his feelings. “Well, Slayer,” said Eli finally. “How do you really feel about everyone that you doomed in this world?"