The wind blowing across the large lake created small waves that beat against the rocky shore. From the empty hillside parking lot Rory could see across to the other side where the ocean drained into Lake Sunnydale.
"Why aren’t you with her?" Paris demanded, her piercing voice cutting through the wind.
"She needs to do this alone," Rory said, holding her phone tightly to her ear.
"That’s not how we do things in this family," Paris said, her voice giving clear signs that she was about to launch into a blistering, take no prisoners rant. Something Rory hadn't heard in years, when Buffy had disappeared after an argument.
"It’s how she does thing," Rory said. "She’s not big with sharing her emotions."
"Rory Gilmore-Summers," Paris said, "she’s not an emotional cripple. You just need to communicate with her using the right words."
"I don’t speak Sunnydale," Rory said, stomping her feet to keep warm. "And that’s probably the only thing that’ll get through to her."
"It’s English," Paris said. "A bastardized version of nineties Vally speak, but still English. Pull up your big girl panties and go talk with her. Let her know we’re here for her."
"I’m here," Rory said, grumbling. "You’re in Boston."
"It was your decision," Paris said, reminding her of their recent argument. "Someone had to deal with Faith’s apartment and none of the so-called Scoobies were up to it."
"I’m going," Rory said. "And I’m sorry you got stuck with that. I know you weren’t her biggest fan."
"I don’t need to be a fan to make sure some respect is given to Faith’s possessions," Paris said. "She was a slayer. She knew how these things go. Unsentimental to the end."
"Faith did go out the way she always predicted," Rory said, rubbing her eyes. She wasn’t going to cry. Faith had been the black sheep of the family, someone who would always be there when needed but who didn’t make any effort to conform. She couldn’t imagine how it would have gone without her. "But you know Buffy."
"Little Miss 'It’s all my fault' doesn’t get to blame herself for this," Paris said. "Someone had to face them and Faith got there first. She held them off as long as she could, but it was too much, even for her. As simple as that."
"I read the same report you did," Rory said.
"Dawn certainly outdid herself on it," Paris said. "They’ll be using it as The Example of how to do after action reports. Now go. And call me back when you get to your hotel."
"Yes, Paris," Rory said, sighing. "Going now."
Pulling her phone away from her face, she disconnected the call. She wasn’t looking forward to the next few minutes, or hours. Buffy had been very quiet on the trip out. She hadn’t given any reason for the sudden trip following Faith’s funeral, so Rory had no idea what to say to help Buffy deal with Faith’s death. She suspected that of all of Buffy’s friends only Xander could reach through the thick wall of Buffy guilt but he’d gone missing more than a year ago tracking down a new slayer in the Amazon and, not even Willow had been able to find him, though she insisted he was still alive.
Rory followed the gravel path down to the lake. Glancing hopefully at the small historical marker for inspiration, she joined Buffy at the lake shore. Her mind blank, she stood at her side waiting for lightning to strike, certain that her mother would have had the perfect thing to say.
"Twenty years," Buffy said abruptly. "Feels just like yesterday."
"Twenty years?" Rory repeated, confused.
Buffy nodded, still looking out over the lake. "That’s when it all started. Not the slaying, but the Scoobies."
"That’s when you met Faith?" Rory asked.
"Faith? No, she stomped loudly into Sunnydale a couple years later," Buffy said. "I’ve known Willow, Xander, and Giles for twenty years. Met them all on the same day, my first day at Sunnydale High."
"Oh," Rory said.
"It was somewhere over there," Buffy said, waving towards the center of the lake. "Some good memories but some really bad ones."
"So, you were feeling nostalgic?" Rory asked.
"With a side order of where have the years gone," Buffy said, still facing towards the lake. "My mother and Tara are buried here. And so many others who never made it out."
"Sunnydale seems like the kind of place you’d want to forget," Rory said. "Not a lot of happy moments here for the gang."
"We were on the last bus out," Buffy said. "And so happy to leave it behind. I had no plans to ever return."
"Then why are you here now?" Rory said.
"Something told me to go back to the beginning," Buffy said. "Faith would have laughed at the idea. She left and never looked back."
"What do you want to do?" Rory asked.
"Just stand here for a little while," Buffy said. "This is it. I don’t think I’ll be back again either, and no sentimental nonsense when I finally die. If someone tosses my ashes into this lake I’m haunting them."
"Got it. No ashes thrown in," Rory said. "My mother will be disappointed. She’s always wanted to do that."
"Your mother… is unique," Buffy said, "but she’ll have to live with the disappointment. Besides, we have that memorial wall."
Rory frowned, not seeing the connection. Buffy already had a place of honor there. "I’d rather you stayed alive," she said. "That wall is creepy and not how I want to remember you."
"Paris already has orders," Buffy said. "She agreed with me. No memorial for the blonde from Sunnydale."
"She would," Rory said, holding back a snort. "That Paris, always a party pooper. She was like that in school."
"Paris and you must have been like Willow and Cordelia in school," Buffy said. "Enemies who became friends. Though Paris isn’t anything like Cordelia."
"I never met Cordelia," Rory said, "but from what I’ve heard I could see them getting along."
"Really?" Buffy said.
"Paris is one scary blonde, but I could take her," a loud voice said behind them. "No contest. I always come out on top."
Buffy continued staring across the lake, though Rory noticed that she’d turned pale. Cautiously turning, Rory found herself facing a washed out looking brunette. If she squinted, she thought she could see right through her.
"Come to gloat?" Buffy said, squatting down to pick up a rock. Throwing it out into the lake she turned around. "Looking a bit on the see through side there Cordy."
Cordelia grimaced. "Not really my place anymore," she said. "But someone said you needed a Cordy infusion so here I am. Slumming with the riffraff."
"You’re looking good," Buffy said. "The whole ascending thing looks good on you."
"I get by," Cordelia said. "Why are you and Squeeze Two here by yourselves?"
"Squeeze Two?" Rory said.
"Squeeze One is in Boston packing up slut-girl’s things," Cordelia said. "So, that makes you Squeeze One, Princess." She looked Rory up and down, eyeing her slowly, before turning to Buffy. "Wouldn’t have thought she was your type. If puppy dog eyes here gave you that Disney Princess look you’d probably do anything she asked."
"Rory and Paris aren’t part of this," Buffy said, stepping protectively next to Rory. "Whatever you have planned, leave them out of it."
"No plans," Cordelia said. "You can live your odd saphic life any way you want. If you think there’s enough of you to share, it’s okay by me. What I want to know is, why aren’t the others with you. Xander’s living it up with his jungle-girl slayer but Willow? She could have come with."
"Willow’s been hermiting since Xander did a runner," Buffy said. "She comes out for her coven meet ups, and classes she’s teaching, but nothing else. Had to get Dawn to fly down to drag her to Faith’s funeral."
"And concussion man?" Cordelia said. "Giles could make himself useful and be the supportive Watcher type."
Buffy shrugged. "No idea," she said, wrapping her arms around Rory. "Not my turn to watch him."
"Paris keeps an eye on him," Rory said defensively. "She recommended that he stay home. He hasn’t really recovered from last year’s apocalypse."
"Ah… not just sharp blonde’s argument partner," Cordelia said, "she’s your keeper."
"I’m not her keeper," Rory protested. "It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. For all three of us."
"I guess some people go for that blonde sandwich thing. Don’t see the attraction myself," Cordelia said. "And just between us girls, that whole married in Vegas thing is tacky even for the girl with the stake."
Buffy grimaced, tightening her grip on Rory. "If you wanted to insult us, you could have waited," she said.
"Nah, I was in the neighborhood," Cordelia said, winking. "Didn’t want to miss out."
Buffy shook her head. "Out with it," she said. "Who has you playing delivery girl?"
"I do it with class," Cordelia said, striking a pose. "Not like one of those balloon-gram bimbos."
"Apparently, Slutty Slayer earned herself a freebie with that last hat trick," Cordelia said. "Just thought I’d come by and make sure you knew there was no trick, it’s not a trap, and just take it for the gift it is." Cordelia frowned. "And I could have written better myself."
"And what is 'it'?" Buffy asked.
"You’ll see," Cordelia said. She looked around. "Surprised this hasn’t been turned into a hot spot for the rich and famous. Houses on the water on the coast are always big."
"Ghosts and other things," Rory said. At Cordelia’s raised eyebrow she added "Airplane magazine. The last time someone tried to develop the lake they disappeared."
"Sounds like a job for Scooby and the gang," Cordelia said. "And I’m outta here, before someone or something gets any ideas."
"Glad to see you to," Buffy said, nodding in her direction. "Next time let’s do it somewhere else."
"Whatever," Cordelia said, before fading away.
"That was new," Rory said, turning in Buffy’s arms. "Official visit?"
"That was just a Cordelia drive-by. She’s gotten nosier over the years," Buffy said. "She probably just heard something and decided to pass it along."
"Ready to go?" Rory asked, nodding. "We have reservations up the coast at a B&B Paris found."
"Is she joining us?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"She didn’t say," Rory said, slipping out of Buffy’s arms. "She wasn’t sure how long she needed to be in Boston."
"Faith traveled light," Buffy said softly. "But she lived every minute."
"Yup. Must have had every slayer in the east at her funeral," Rory said.
"Going to miss her," Buffy said. "And I’m not on some guilt trip like Paris thinks."
"Paris doesn’t think that," Rory said, protesting. "But she, we, were worried."
"Just need some time to process," Buffy said. "First slayer we’ve lost in years that I was that close to."
"Something you need to confess?" Rory said, stepping out of Buffy’s arms.
"Nothing," Buffy said. "You know I didn’t have a Faith thing."
"Not since Sunnydale," Rory said. "Dawn’s told me stories of your rebel ways."
"Nothing happened then either," Buffy said. "Dawn is wrong. Again. She needs to find a better hobby."
"Dawn runs the Council," Rory said. "She doesn’t need a hobby."
Buffy leaned forward and lightly kissed Rory. "When’s our flight?"
"Late afternoon," Rory said, smiling. "You’ve got a meeting with the Finns in DC. And then home."
"They can’t come to us?" Buffy asked, heading towards the car, pulling Rory along by her hand.
"You’d make them fly to Stars Hollow?" Rory said.
"If they want something from us, yes," Buffy said. She turned for a moment to look back at the lake. "And why Stars Hollow?"
"Because I promised my mother and grandmother we’d have dinner with them?"
"Ah, wouldn’t want to disappoint the Ladies Gilmore," Buffy said, opening the door.
"Definitely not," Rory said, sliding into the driver’s seat.