Morghane tried to huddle up closer to the wall but she couldn't. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself. Trembling had given way to shaking. A convulsion once in a while.
Goddess, it was so cold.
Her teeth clattered violently. The movement spread through all the muscles in her body. She opened her eyes. It didn't change anything. It was still as dark. She closed them again.
She had gotten a couple hours of sleep after the first torture session. Well, sleep was a large concept. The cell was so small she couldn't lie down.
She listened for the rattle of heavy, thick-soled boots down the hall.
They would come back. Laurel and Hardy. They would open the door and drag her into the light to torture her until she lost consciousness - all without making a sound, without uttering a word. That's why she had nicknamed the two vampires Laurel and Hardy... stars of a silent, sadistic film.
They knew how to hurt her without inflicting any serious injury - and that didn't make any sense to her. She expected them to beat her to an inch of her life. Hasten the spell, speed up the process. But no. A few contusions, but no blood, no broken bones, no internal hemorrhage. Just pain.
Morghane turned her face against the icy cement wall and struggled not to throw up.
She didn't flinch when the door opened.
She didn't say a thing when Hardy dragged her out of the cell to another room, an arm around her waist. She didn't have enough breath left to speak. He let go of her and she fell on her knees.
She wrapped her arms around her middle and waited.
The bite of the leather took her by surprise and she moaned. Unbalanced, she put her weight on her hands.
The rhythm of the hits was slow. No hurry. First her lower back, then her shoulders. She felt each burning laceration - until the pain melded in some indistinct, feverish wave. Each blow forced her towards the floor, and soon her torso rested on her thighs, her arms abandoned in front of her.
And when she thought that she could finally entrust her fate to the welcoming darkness of unconsciousness, a foot digging between her ribs forced her on her back.
She bit her lip deeply and choked on a whimper.
She vaguely saw Laurel's imposing shape looming above her.
He stepped back and she turned her face away, disinterested.
She just wanted to feel sheltered again. To leave the cold behind. To sleep, finally. Sleep, sleep. A black eternity where Oz was safe, where they were all safe. Where Hardy's hands couldn't find her; where there was no leather snake, in fact detached from the grip of her tormentor, a demon with its own will, like in a dream, giving its owner an illusion of control, yet more than a simple leather strap - a vicious creature, living, breathing, feeding off the blood of its victim, always knowing where to find her.
But the snake would be powerless to follow her in the private haven of this dark infinity where her mother, her sister - long-dead relatives - and Angel - her newfound family - always waited for her. The quiet, still territory of her own mind - where she waited for the sweet numbness of death.
The leather lacerated the fragile skin of her stomach. She winced but did not cry out.
A few minutes later the whip came down across her breasts - and she passed out.
Oz was pushed forward yet he did not stumble, and the door closed behind him.
She did not react to his entrance. She was huddled in a tight ball in a corner of the room. Angel's ragged shirt couldn't protect her from the cold and the humidity. Even unconscious, she shivered desperately.
He sat down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She moaned, pressing herself closer to the wall, as if she could blend with it if she wished it strongly enough.
She was a mage, so maybe she could.
He wrapped around her the cloak he had been given and drew her against himself. She tried to push him away but she was weaker than a child and he easily quelled her feeble resistance. He was really careful not to aggravate the wounds on her back and her shoulders. They had finally stopped bleeding.
After a while, the warmth soaked all the way to her bones and she began to relax.
"Morghane, it's Oz. Hey, try to drink this."
Careful, he pressed a small cup against her mouth.
"Go ahead. It's just cognac. I tried it first. It'll warm you up."
Her dry lips parted on instinct and Oz helped her drink. When the liquid trickled down her throat she coughed, hard.
Oz waited for Morghane to get her breath back before he gave her some more.
Morghane suddenly felt like she could fly without the help of any device known to man. Alcohol on an empty stomach. Added to the pain and an unexpected sensation of warmth - she was ready to weep.
Whoever or whatever held her in their arms, she pressed herself a little bit closer to them. It could have been Laurel, she wouldn't have been any less grateful.
Eventually, she recognized the voice murmuring softly against her temple.
"Hold on, Morghane. Hold on."
She shuddered but did not cry.
Throughout her long life, she had always allowed herself the simple comfort of healing, cleansing tears. Over a millennia ago, she'd acknowledged that expression did not equal weakness, but humanity. And now there were no tears. Just lethargy.
And she understood that, Sepulcher or not, it was time to let go.
"Why... why are you here?" she asked with a spasm, exhausted.
A hand caressed her cheek, her damp hair.
"Lisandra let me come to take care of you. She gave me the coat and the liquor."
She let her forehead drop to the smooth slope of the werewolf's shoulder.
"Are you... did they hurt you?"
"No. If think they... need me. To control you."
She took a deep breath and her ribs howled in agony.
"Yes." It was almost a sob.
Oz offered her more cognac. Some of the fiery liquid spilled over her lips, down her chin, and he wiped it off gently with a corner of his shirt.
"If you get the chance to escape, go, Oz. Don't look... don't look back."
He held her tighter.
"I can't... protect you," murmured Morghane. "And Giles must be warned... about Lisandra."
"Any chance you can... contact the others some way?"
"I..." Gasp. "Yes. Angel, through the link, maybe. I could... lead him here." She gripped Oz' hand. "But I won't. I'm sorry. I can't allow them to take that risk."
Morghane smiled, mournful. "They would try to save me and fail. I must die, Oz. Soon. I don't really... care. I hoped for a quick, painless death - but it doesn't look like it's on the menu. I'm just sorry... sorry to take you with me." She shook her head slowly. "Willow is never going to forgive me."
Oz had nothing to say to that.
"You need... to help me."
"Help me die?"
Oz sat very still behind her. "When you put it that way..."
"If I kill myself they won't have any more use for you. I understand that and I'm... sorry. That's why you have to escape. I can't allow the spell to come to completion." She was panting. "Lisandra has been marked. I don't know if an undead Guardian can channel Guardian magick. It's an extraordinary circumstance... as you can imagine."
Morghane breathed laboriously.
"But... demons are no strangers to magick. The dark crafts that still subsist today come from the age of their reign, before mankind drove them out... Corrupted magick, but magick nonetheless. That's why Guardians were created in the first place. To fight them. If there is any chance at all that Lisandra can..."
She gasped in pain.
"We're fucked, Oz. That's all there is to it. Lisandra must be destroyed... and I just can't do it. I'm not strong enough."
She swallowed. She could sense Oz' resolve to fight, feel his deep love for Willow, his even deeper fear for her, for their friends. Fucking empathy. She didn't want to share all this. She was comfortable with her own current lack of emotional response.
"If I died but my soul was spared... it would link to Lisandra's on the ethereal plane. That's what happens when a Guardian shares accumulated knowledge with their successor. That's why they want to make sure the spell runs his course. Together... our souls might be able to regain control of her body. It would... give Angel... and the others, a fighting chance..."
Unhurried, high-healed, feminine steps echoed in the hall outside the cell and they both tensed.
Without a word, Oz slipped out slowly from behind Morghane and leaned her gently against the wall.
He stood between the Guardian and the door. His head took on a determined tilt.
Morghane raised a hand. "Oz, don't."
The knob turned and Lisandra walked in unescorted. She didn't consider them a threat.
The Guardian looked down at herself.
< With good reason. >
A deep shiver raked her body.
Lisandra ignored her, addressing Oz. "Time's up, Oz. Now let's go."
Lisandra grinned, delighted. "Really?"
Morghane dragged herself up, holding onto the wall for dear life. The cognac rushed to her brain and she swayed - but remained standing.
"Oz. Please. I... I need you to be okay."
The vampiress nodded earnestly. "Oh, right. I forgot the magic word. Please, Oz. Do come out."
Morghane's jaw was clenched so tight it was painful. It wasn't anger, it was frustration. Anger left you weak - and she had precious little strength left.
"Why the games, Lisandra? Why not finish it?" Her voice broke under fathomless sorrow. "Who did this to you?"
Lisandra batted her lashes at her. "I'm having fun while we're waiting for an acquaintance of mine... and some friends of yours."
"You'll never get them, Lisandra."
The vampiress laughed insanely. "They are coming."
She raised her hand.
Laurel and Hardy appeared in the doorway.
"But in the meantime..." Lisandra turned around to face her underlings. "Now people, be brutal." She scowled. "But no blood games." She wrapped her tongue around her long, perfectly manicured fingers, licking her chops with a smirk. "That comes later."