The road to Sunnydale is paved with good intentions.
And, good intentions or ill, it was not a road I had traveled in nearly four years.
And the road less traveled...
Being a history and English lit major really colours your thinking sometimes.
I had often wondered what it would take to get me to return to Sunnydale. After all, I had left it as soon as the ink was dry on my college diploma. Had taken it and the first plane headed to Cambridge where the only insanity was from a bunch of inbred nobility. Not the fact that there was a gateway to the demon worlds under main street. Not the fact that vampires, demons and inter-dimensional beings had green cards. Not the fact that your best friend bore the curse of being a weirdness magnet.
No, Cambridge merely had people who looked like horses, had the brains of horses and thought they were potted plants. It was a refreshing change.
When I had left Sunnydale I had told everyone that it was temporary; just finishing up my education and then I'd be back. But deep down I hadn't believed it. And deep down neither had she. I had in my mind rationalized my lie. After all I hadn't said when I'd return. But people I'd grown up with had married, had children and died and I had simply sent gifts with little charms of protection hidden in them. But I hadn't returned myself.
I'd often wondered what it would take to get me to return to Sunnydale. And I had found out last night when I'd pressed the play button on my answering machine and heard a barely recognized voice say four words.
"Will, I need you."
Dilapidated. After much thought 'dilapidated' was the only word that described Giles old flat. The once green courtyard was home to weeds and scraggly bushes while the paint on the doors and windows was faded and peeling. I used the keys Giles had given me and a small divination spell on the alarm system to let myself in.
The apartment looked much the same as when Giles had lived here. Upon a moment's reflection I realized that it looked exactly the same; the same wallpaper and carpet, the same furniture, the same generic pictures in tasteful frames and the same gray rectangles were the pictures that Giles had taken with him had once hung. Only the dust was hers.
I dropped my overnight bag and laptop case by the stairs and settled into a chair, pushing aside six months of newspapers, and gave up the battle with fatigue, allowing the jetlag take me into a light, dreamless sleep.
The sound of a key woke me.
The room was dark still, turning everything into shadows but I could clearly see her. She was walking slowly, almost as if she were on autopilot, pealing off her leather jacket and dropping it by the door. I shifted in the chair which squeaked and omitted a small puff of dust.
This was the point, just a few micro seconds before she shot me, that I realized that surprising the Slayer was not the brightest of moves.
The first projectile struck me between the eyes. The second I caught in a spell, clapping my hands and holding them together. Fortunately it was a pencil. A silver tipped pencil but a pencil none the less. And I have a lot of experience with pencils.
"Hey, Buffy," I said. I had practiced this for the first three hours of the plane flight. Mind you, I hadn't envisioned this exact scenario. I mean, the holy water running down my nose was totally unforeseeable.
"How long can you hold that?" she asked, more curious than actually worried as she set two pistols down onto Giles old desk.
"Pretty good. A little rough over the Rockies but that's to be expected."
" 'Kay, just give me a sec," Buffy said, obviously not following my mental script in the least as she grabbed a thick, hardcovered book from the desk and placed it in front of the hovering pencil. Which, I noticed in an academic way, was just now beginning to wobble which indicated that it was about to break free of my control.
"More challenging than American schools. And getting use to the different accents was harder than I thought. I mean, Giles has an accent...
"Hey, Willow," she said, examining the pencil impaled in Giles copy of the 1996 Who's Who of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Nations.
At least now we're on the same page was my last conscious thought.
I dreamt that killer bunnies were attacking me, incapacitating me with sneezing fits. I sneezed and woke up.
She was sleeping beside me, stretched out on a mattress with one hand tucked under her cheek and the other grasping Mr. Pointy. Usually when you watch someone sleep they look younger. I know they do in the stories. Buffy didn't. She looked older than her 25 years, her face still tense as if she couldn't even relax in sleep. Which, I suppose, she couldn't.
I glanced at my watch which was a singularly useless gesture as I couldn't remember if I had reset it to Pacific time and with the only window in the room boarded up couldn't even tell if it was AM or PM. I sighed, looking away from the watch face to Buffy's. Who was looking back.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey. How was the flight?"
"Pretty good. A little rough over the Rockies but that's to be expected."
"More challenging than American schools. And getting use to the different accents was harder than I thought. I mean, Giles has an accent but there are so many different ones. Anyway, its over now. Been over for three weeks."
"I know. How are mom and Giles?"
Now the script that I had rehearsed was moving into uncharted territory.
"They're okay. Giles is always complaining about the," I deepened my voice and took on an English accent, "bloody old fogies more interested in their books than the people they're trying to protect." I smiled on the outside but frowned on the inside at her lack of answering smile. Usually Buffy is a lot more supportive of my lame humour attempts.
And I wondered what right I had to expect that support anymore.
"Joyce, your mom, is fine. She likes it there. She looks a lot younger without..." I trailed off as I saw Buffy's eyes go from neutral to shuttered.
"Without living here watching me do the slay thing," she finished. I nodded mutely.
"I have to go to work soon. It's nearly six. You want to hang with me? They won't mind."
I nodded and we just looked at each other for a few moments.
"I'm glad you're here, Will."
"You asked," I said simply.
"I did," and I could tell that asking wasn't something she had done lightly. "And I'll explain later. Promise."
Knowing something is different from *knowing* something. I mean there is knowing something intellectually (like vampires die when staked through the heart) and knowing something emotionally (like watching a vampire get ashed).
Like knowing Buffy is a cop.
"You know, this isn't much different from high school," I commented.
"On patrol!" she answered, wriggling two finger in a bad Tick impersonation. "Do you know how many career evaluations I took? Do you know how many said law enforcement."
"All of them?" I asked, answering the second because the first had a rhetorical feel to it.
"Well, the second last test suggested neurosurgery but yeah."
We walked in silence for a block.
"I thought Sunnydale cops had partners?"
She grimaced. "*They* do; I don't. In my first year I had seven partners."
"Should I ask?"
"Four of them retired. That's pretty good numbers for me," she said with about equal measures of bitterness and sadness. "So they examined my strengths, sweet innocent looks, and my weakness, death to partners, and the boss gave me this solo night patrol. It includes the cemeteries and parks so I get some human slime and not a few vamps as well. Speaking of which..."
There were only three of them so I just backed against a tree holding a handmade cross (rowan and ash) and a few pencil sized stakes. Stake-lite, Buffy called them, ashes right; less filling.
Slayer humour, gotta love it.
Vampire C went fairly quickly falling for Buffy's patented "step back and let the first two collide so you can concentrate on taking down the third one" move. Then Vampire B got a busted nose on the backswing as Buffy drew out Mr. Pointy from the rapidly expanding cloud of dust formerly known as Vampire C while Vampire A got a side kick to the forehead that made my thigh muscles groan in sympathy. A bloody knife went flying from his hand and they both stepped back to fall into those Steven Segal poses which really look silly.
I then saw why Buffy was using Mr. Pointy left-handed, and not in some Inigo Montayo I-am-not-left-handed-either macho thing, as she shot Vamps A and B square between the eyes with the paint ball gun. Now, having been on the receiving end of that just the day before I knew how much that stung.
It also left them totally blinded, screaming and easy staking.
Buffy blew the non existent smoke from the paint ball gun, twirled it around on her finger and stuffed it back into her belt.
She took a step back, holding up her hands to keep me back. "Nah, just cut the shirt. Didn't feel a thing."
"But the knife. I saw blood..."
"Hey, Will. You know vamps and housekeeping. Never a clean glass let alone the cutlery," she smiled and shook her head slightly. "I'm okay. Honest."
I nodded, still doubtful but if she wanted to be all tough that was okay.
"That reminds me," I said, tossing the cross to her. "This is for you. Your very own Wicca Special..."
She caught it instinctively, not even really looking at what I was tossing. And it was like she had caught an anvil as the light wooden cross twirled her around. She screamed in pain and turned back to me, face angular and contorted around the teeth suddenly to large for her mouth. It lasted just a second. She looked down at her hand and when she looked up again the hair fell aside to show her real face. Buffy's face. Staring at me.
I'd often thought that the bravest thing I had ever done was stand up to Faith when she had me captured in the Mayor's office. I blew that move out of the water.
I hugged her tight. "It's okay. We'll fix it," I promised. Not knowing how; only that I had to.
"It happened the night I called you. I don't know what happened, there was this huge fight; a running battle with more vamps then I ever remember seeing before. Next thing I know is I'm waking up in some warehouse and they're gone. So I dragged my butt home and didn't realize anything was different until I tried to get the Saturday paper from the walk. That's when I called."
"So you don't know why they didn't kill you. I mean, of course they killed you. That's how it works. But why they killed you and turned you into a v..."
"No," she said, sparing me the need to babble on.
"Or why you're not" air quotes "evil?"
"Or what I'm supposed to do?"
"Okay then. Glad we have that settled. This is a good thing."
"Complete ignorance is good... how?"
"We can't help but learn stuff. And that's a positive thing. We're forced to be successful."
"Willow logic at work. I missed that," she said, rather wistfully. "I'm glad you came."
Giles had left most of his books here when he had returned to England for three reasons. One, anything here was at the Councils library. Two, Buffy might need them for research. Three, shipping costs. Even the Council has to watch the pennies.
"What are we looking for?"
"Legends or references to Slayers being turned before. This would be easier if you'd let me call Giles."
"Right. Hey Giles, do you know anything about Slayers turning into Vamps? Why? No, no reason. He'd be on a plane here so fast."
I frowned. She had been quite adamant about not contacting Giles or the Council. At first I thought it was pride but now I could see something else in her eyes.
"You think they'd just come and kill you. Not try to find a cure. Even Giles."
She nodded. "I keep expecting the new slayer to show. Challenge me or something very old west-ish. As soon as the next one activates the Council will know something's wrong with me. Being dead is pretty 'wrong', don't you think?"
I nodded. Glancing down at the book and skimming over the page. Eureka!
"Eureka!" I shouted. "In 1457 in Stuttgart a Slayer was, and I quote, turned by a loathsome creature into that which she hated most. Her soul fought the demon spirit for four days until it prevailed and... ummm... yada yada yada. Unquote."
"Yada what? Which prevailed? What happened?"
I considered lying but I find it very hard to lie, especially to Buffy. "She fully converted into a Vampire and was slain by the next Slayer."
"Peachy. Four days?"
"No, two more days," I corrected. I put the book down and headed for my laptop. "But don't worry, there's a spell."
"There is?" she asked and I took full advantage of the fact that she couldn't see my face.
"Sure," I lied. Just as soon as I make it.
"Okay, you do know that you're not human, right?"
Buffy looked decidedly uncomfortable with that before nodding.
"Because you're not human the demon can't take you over. Not to get too religious or even accurate but it's like the demon and your soul are fighting. Until the demon wins you're still alive. That's why you eat and sleep and why you don't crave..." It was hard to say the B word.
"Vine," she said in her absolute corniest Bela Lugosa accent. I smiled thanks back.
"Right. The sun light and the cross were hurting the demon, not 'you'." I think. "You are still alive." I think. "So what we have to do is either weaken the demon or strengthen your soul." I think.
"The spell you used on Angel?" she asked. She seemed very confident in my theory.
"No, that called his soul back from beyond and bound it to his body. The demon was still there; Angel was still a vampire. If this works you'll be cured."
"Would that work on Angel?"
When tall, dark and brooding popped back into the conversation he tended to stay awhile.
"No," I said without bothering to explain. She nodded acceptance and let the topic drop...
...for all of three seconds. I was quickly becoming tired of the Angel subject.
"It just won't. We have to stay focused on you. You have less than two days. He's been perfectly happy for eight years and is bloody immortal so we'll worry about that another day."
She regarded me as she always did when I got aggressively stubborn. Sort of a proud amused look. Then she scowled.
"But he's not perfectly happy. I mean, the curse... happiness not."
I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut with an audible click.
"What? she asked suspiciously.
"Nothing," I said.
See what I mean. I weighed everything and settled on a half truth.
"That part of the curse wasn't in the second spell."
"Ms Calander didn't put the 'know no happiness' clause in the second spell. It was string free 'feel the guilt of all your evil' curse. I guess she felt she owed it to him or something," I said, turning back to the computer and hoping that she wasn't going to ask me the obvious next question. I could feel her behind me, the tension of the unspoken question and then I heard her turn and head into the kitchen. I breathed a small sigh of relief.
So, why hadn't I told them that when it happened?
As is usually the case the hardest part of the whole thing was moving the furniture.
"You stand there," I directed, pointing to the center of the circle. "Don't walk on the chalk. Don't move, no matter what happens to me."
She paused with one foot in the air. "No matter what happens to you? What are you talking about?"
"Figure of speech?" I suggested hopefully. She just stared. "Okay, how much energy does it take you to write with a pencil?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Not much."
"Right, not much. That's how much energy I channel through me to move a pencil through the air. Now, how much energy does it take you to battle a pretty big vampire?"
Of all the graduating students at Sunnydale High she had the second lowest grades. But she wasn't stupid.
"Will, if this is going to hurt you..."
"Figure of speech," I reasserted firmly. "I've handled this much energy lots of times." Twice is lots.
She looked doubtful but I turned away to light the last of the candles. I then stood at the Prime and raised my arms. I offered up a couple of prayers to the god of my fathers and anyone else willing to listen.
When I first started I relied a lot on verbals. Now, the focus is on the design and ingredients of the circle. This was a rather impressive circle, if a bit gaudy. Chalk outlined several intersecting geometrical shapes and I had coloured some of the resulting "tiles" with powdered plants and sands. It looked rather like a stained glass window with Buffy standing in the middle. I smiled my reassuring 'everything will be fine, honest' smile.
"Love you, Will," she said, smiling back.
Twenty-six, I thought.
And then it began.
Someone once convinced me to go bungy jumping and that's exactly what casting a powerful spell is like. Your body becomes weightless. I don't mean you float; it's just you can't feel the weight of it. I could feel my hair lift from an invisible wind. My skin tingled with static electricity and I could almost see the bands of energy that connected me and the circle and Buffy.
Then the bungy cord hit and my body went tense as the power took over. I could see Buffy's eyes widening and I realized that she hadn't been there the first two times. And that I'd forgot to warn her.
The energy struck her next, nearly driving her to her knees. Her arms wrapped around her stomach and I could see her face morphing like some demented CGI. And then it was over and she was standing up and the world went dizzy and the lights went out.
I woke up to an incredible sense of deja vu.
She was sleeping beside me, stretched out on a mattress with one hand tucked under her cheek and the other grasping Mr. Pointy. Usually when you watch someone sleep they look younger and Buffy is no exception. She looked younger than her 25 years although her face still held a tension as if she couldn't even relax in sleep. Which, I suppose, she couldn't.
I glanced at my watch which was a singularly useless gesture as I still couldn't remember if I had reset it to Pacific time and with the only window in the room boarded up couldn't even tell if it was AM or PM. I sighed, looking away from the watch face to Buffy's. Who was looking back.
"Hey," she said.
"I suppose you'll be heading back soon?"
I thought of all the reasons that I had fled Sunnydale. All the loss. All the death. All the stillborn opportunities. I had no reason to stay here.
"Nah, I think I'll stick around a bit."