So little cause for carollings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Thomas Hardy, (1840-1928)
English Novelist & Poet; The Darkling Thrush (1902).
"Let me give you the tour," Buffy began uncertainly. She walked the short space from the kitchen area into the main room which made up the rest of the apartment. Slowly she turned to face Lily. "This concludes our tour."
Lily leant against one of the four walls. "It's really nice," she commented nervously.
Buffy heard the nerves and tried to assure them. "All the rent's paid up for the next three weeks," she commented. Slowly she turned round, opened one of the dresser drawers, and took out her uniform. "I spoke to Mitch at the diner. He said you can start on Thursday. He's, uh... he's kind of... repulsive, but he won't give you a hard time." She laid the dress on the bed and watched as Lily sat down and fingered the item of clothing. "I'll call and check up on you," she added.
"I'm not... great at taking care of myself," Lily confessed.
"Gets easier," Buffy remarked, trying to hide the lie in her tone. "Takes practice," she added.
"Its the emotional trauma that can kill you," Lily added feelingly.
Buffy smiled wryly. "Gets you every time."
"Would you mind........" Lily trailed off and shyly indicated the name tag. "Can I be 'Anne?'"
"Sure," Buffy replied, producing the first full smile she had received from Lily since they had crawled out of that alternate dimension. The expression made her bold. "Listen, I have another proposal, instead of the diner job, if you're interested."
Lily, or rather Anne looked up. "What sort of proposal?" She asked.
"Well, its just an idea at present. Its to do with what we did today. If you're interested in helping me like you did, again."
"I could be," Anne said, making Buffy smile. "When does this 'idea' start?"
"In a few days. I need to talk with some people. See if its feasible. And if they'll allow me to do it."
Anne nodded. "I'll see you in a few days then."
"You too," Buffy replied. She grabbed her bag from the bed, then impulsively hugged her friend.
Anne returned the gesture, much to her relief. Buffy then turned and exited the apartment building.
She had been concerned about her reception. But then, as she stood at the door, facing the person who stood beside it, she realised all the concern had been needless.
"Welcome home, Buffy," Giles could not keep his emotions from the surface of his face. He was even more pleased when she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. Tears of relief glistened in his eyes as he hugged her back, and he blinked them away, not wanting her to see this vulnerability. He knew it had taken a lot for her to return, and that above all right now, she needed him to be strong.
To treat her how he always did.
"Come in, sit down," he uttered, when she withdrew her arms from his neck. With a hand on her back he guided her to the living area and gestured to the sofa. "Would you like some tea?" He asked.
"Yeah, thanks," Buffy replied, knowing instinctively that he had asked as much for himself as for her. She sank into the comfortable sofa and watched him prepare the kettle and china cups.
When he had switched the kettle to boil, Giles looked up to meet her gaze. Reading her expression, he returned to the living area and sat down across from her.
"Have you seen your mother?" He asked.
"No, not yet," Buffy replied, surprising him. "That reunion's gonna be hard enough without support. And I wanted to see you first."
"Buffy, as much as you are the slayer, you're also you," Giles said, not entirely comprehending her meaning. "I understand that your mother takes priority over me."
"No she doesn't," Buffy revealed, surprising him. "I know it sound cruel and unfeeling of me, but you've been far more of a parent to me than she has recently. And not just because of her lack of knowledge on the slayer front. She tries to mould me into being the daughter she always wanted. You just accept me for who I am."
"Buffy......." Giles murmured, touched and concerned at the same. True, there had always been a bond between then, but this level of honesty was something they had rarely touched upon. He wanted to say more, but the kettle boiled, forcing him to rise and finish the tea making.
Buffy watched him go and finish the drinks, then bring them in, along with a couple of pairs of sandwiches which she had somehow missed him preparing. As he placed one of them before her, she unconsciously smiled, touched by how he knew without even being told her favourite sandwich, and how he had known she would need something to eat. "Thank you," she remarked before taking a bite.
"My pleasure," Giles replied softly, before sitting down and taking a sip of tea. He leant back into the confines of the sofa, letting the calming taste of Earl Grey do its work. Silently he watched her eat her sandwich and take a sips of tea. There was something different about her. A part of her was missing still, but he had seen that go with the lifting of Angel's curse, and he didn't expect it to return anytime soon, particularly after her long absence from the hellmouth.
Yet she seemed a little more herself than when he had last seen her. Giles knew something had happened during the fight with Angelus and Acathla, something dreadful, which had made her distance herself from them. He had a theory which would need confirming, but he was reluctant to prompt her into it. He also had a feeling that this return of hers was by no means as permanent as he and everyone else had hoped.
"I was wondering," Buffy began when she had finished her sandwich, during her movement of taking the tea in her hand and leaning back into the sofa cushions, "if I need to be in close proximity to the hellmouth in order to protect it."
It was an odd beginning, but then Giles was used to that. "Depends on what you mean by distance," he replied, his concerning growing.
Buffy sipped her tea. "About two hours, give or take traffic levels," she said, with her eyes on him, waiting nervously for his reaction.
Giles did the math, then set down his empty cup. "Los Angeles," he sought to confirm, then, seeing her nod, continued. "What is it that you have in mind?"
"I can't stay here," Buffy revealed, her voice hollow with barely held back grief. "Snyder expelled me from school. Mom told me if I left the house to never come back. I bailed out on you and my friends for three months and all because I needed to deal with having to......" a sob escaped her, "kill Angel to save the world."
"Oh god, Buffy," Giles uttered as he rose up and walked round the coffee table to sit beside her. Without another word he took her into his arms. "I had no idea the spell had even worked," he added, stroking her back to comfort her.
"At least you knew," Buffy replied, her voice racked with sobs. "The only warning I had was 'kick his ass.' Why Willow sent Xander with his feelings for Angel I'll never know."
"You mean he never told you......" Giles trailed off as he received more tears from Buffy in reply. "I should have realised he wouldn't too." He rubbed her back again, then withdrew a little to look at her face. "Buffy, whatever anyone says on the subject, I want you to know that you'll never hear a word of reproach from me. I'm just glad you're back."
"Thank you," Buffy sniffed, and smiled as he handed her his crisp, white handkerchief. She wiped her tears away and smiled at him a little. "You do realise though that that won't convince me to stay."
"I know," Giles replied. "But I hope I have more ammunition than that."
"Well I have a pretty big gun on my side too, I'm afraid," Buffy revealed. She sat back so she could see him properly. "Angelus opened Acathla before I could I prevent him. Then, just as I was about to..... deal the final blow, he changed. He was Angel again. And he didn't remember anything. Nothing that had happened since my birthday.
"We hugged, and told each other how we still felt. But I saw that Acathla was awake...... so I kissed him, and stabbed him through the stomach, sending him to hell." She drew in a deep breath. "The look he gave me as he realised what was happening........" she trailed off, unable to finish the thought.
"I'm sure, when he does remember, that he won't blame you," Giles offered.
"If he's still alive," Buffy said sadly. "I know of no way to get him back."
"I'll do some research, see if I can find one. I don't know if its' possible, but I'll try."
Buffy looked at him, shocked and touched. "But,....... he tortured you. Killed Jenny. How can you be willing to help him?"
"Angelus tortured me. Angelus killed Jenny," Giles replied. "They're two different people. I know, I saw how much Angel cared for you. He helped us, saved our lives so many times. He deserves a better hand than what the demon dealt him. And I'm not just doing it for him. I'm doing it for you. Without him you're...... incomplete. Trust me, I know."
"Thank you," Buffy uttered again, words failing her. She was too touched by the depth of emotion that he felt for her to find them. "Anyway, after that, well, I couldn't stay. I couldn't deal with telling anyone, even you. I was too caught up in it. It was still raw. So I went to my house, packed what I could, and took the next bus to L.A. There I rented an apartment, well, what one would laughingly call an apartment, worked at a diner, and tried to survive. I knew my no communication was almost like I had died, but I wasn't ready to talk. I doubted if I ever could be ready. And as the days continued, the notion got even harder."
She finished her tea. "And then I ran into an old friend. You remember when we had to deal with Billy Fordham, my friend from Hemery? Well, one of the vampire wannabees to survive, was a girl called Chantarelle. She saw me at work, and then later, to ask me for her help." Slowly Buffy told him what had happened to her the day before. Giles listened quietly, offering no questions or comments, waiting for her to finish, his mind whirling at what she had in mind to do in the city of Angels.
"So, after I had saved them, I realised that I can't escape who I am. My destiny. I am the slayer, and the world needs saving. Boy, does it saving. Those homeless kids most of all. Giles, you should have seen them. It was horrifying to see what the world can do to you without demons and vampires coming into the mix. I want to help them. They need rescuing, and I have the skills to do it. And I want to start now."
"What did you have in mind?" Giles asked her curiously.
"An organisation of some sorts. Like a cross between a halfway house and a private investigative agency. I provide them with some place to sleep, the means to cope on their own, and I help save them from whatever they need saving from. I can slay on the side, and any other hellmouth trouble, well I'd be only two hours away." She stopped and looked at him nervously. "What do you think?"
Giles said nothing at first. He just stared at her. One brief glance made him realise that she was determined, and nothing was going to stop her. "I think its a marvellous idea," he remarked, making her smile.
"You do? Really?" She sought to confirm. "I was so worried you were gonna be too angry with me."
"Never, Buffy. I could never be angry with you. Certainly not at an idea like this. It could help so many people."
"But there are difficulties. I have almost no money, no base of operations, and only one possible employee. I don't even know where to begin."
"Well, I can help you with that, if you'll let me."
"Let? More than let. Beg even." Buffy smiled. "But I guess I have to finish my education first, huh?"
"Not necessarily," Giles remarked, making it her turn to be surprised. "I agree that your education is important, but there's no reason why you can't do correspondence courses while you set up this organisation. And I know you'll need some money, but I think you could apply to the bank for loans, or to the city council. And I have some savings I could give you to get you started."
"Giles, I can't ask you to give me money!" Buffy protested.
"You're not asking, I'm offering. This is a worthy cause, and I think you should definitely do it. You could even take psychology as a college course, which would help you in this even more."
"So I have your support in this?"
"Completely. Even though that means I won't see you every day."
"Giles......" Buffy sighed. "Its just too hard. Staying here, everyday being reminded of him. And I'm not sure what reception I'll get with my friends or my mother."
"Well, Willow and Xander were the most...... affected by your absence," Giles replied.
"You can say hurt. I don't mind."
"Angry might be a more apt description in Xander's case. Willow isn't there yet, I think. But your mother......" Giles trailed off, unsure if he should tell her what Joyce had said to him.
"What?" Buffy asked, looking at him. "Giles, what has she said to you?"
"She blames me," Giles confessed. "For being such a force on your life."
"Well, its unjustifiable. You have been there for me. She hasn't. I know she didn't know who I was, but that's still no excuse for some of her actions. And I know I didn't give her any time to adjust to my being a slayer, but I didn't have the time. I also know that's no excuse. But I think that she should have seen how serious I was, and told me that she could wait until I had the time to sit down and explain. She shouldn't have told me to leave and never come back."
"Is that what she told you?" Giles asked, surprised.
"I believe her exact words were 'you walk out of this house, don't even think about coming back.' I left her a note, but it didn't even explain half of it. She has a right to be angry, I know, but I also know what else will happen. She'll put me in another school, one as far away from Sunnydale High as possible, and she try to move me from everything she believes is a bad influence in my life.
"She wants the daughter I was before I was called. And all that has happened to me over these past two years tells me that she can't escape my destiny either. I'm willing to explain things to her, to tell her what my life is like, but I'm not going back."
"I understand," Giles replied. "I'd help you explain to her, if you want, but I'm not sure if she'll accept me there."
"No, its something I have to do alone. But your help with the organisation will be very welcome."
"What are you going to tell Willow, Cordelia, Xander, and Oz?"
"What happened to Angelus. That I'm not coming back. Then, providing they don't yell at me, my plans."
"Well, if you need me, or need a neutral base for that, just drop by. I'm not going anywhere. And I have a spare room, if you need a few days here."
"Thank you, Giles. I might take you up on that." Buffy smiled at him, then glanced at her wristwatch. "I suppose I ought to go and have that conversation with my mother."
She rose up from the sofa, making Giles follow suit. Impulsively, she hugged him once, and he just had time to return it before she pulled away and headed for the door.
He saw her to it, wished her good luck, then watched as she exited the apartment complex. He was relieved she was back, saddened that she would soon be going again, concerned for her well-being during the talk with her friends and her mother, but above all he was proud. Of who she was, what she had become. What she planned to do.
He just hoped her friends and her mother wouldn't destroy it all.
Buffy stood outside the front door of what was once her home, silently waiting for her mother to answer, mentally preparing herself for all possible scenarios. She knew how this meeting would end, no matter how it began, so she had to be ready for a fight.
The door opened, and her mother stared at her in shock. Buffy met her gaze, and waited. Suddenly Joyce stepped forward and took her into her arms.
Buffy hugged her mother back, keeping herself in check. Now was not the time to relish the welcome, especially as what she was going to say to her mother would soon change this touch-feely moment.
Joyce stepped back, and let her inside. Buffy advanced cautiously into the living room. She glanced at her mother, waiting.
Mrs Summers was surprised. Not only by her daughter's return, but by her whole behaviour. This was not the reunion she had imagined. She had pictured them hugging, crying, and then somehow the talking that needed to be done would follow more easily. This silence however, this calm demeanour of her daughter, was disconcerting.
"Buffy," she began, finding herself forced into speech, "I'm glad you're back. I was worried about you."
"I'm not back for good, Mom," Buffy replied, forcing away her flinch as she saw her mother's expression become one of disappointment. "I just came here to see you, to stop your worry. And to tell you all about my slaying, so you can understand it. But I'm not coming back home. I can't."
Her mother was incredulous. "What is this? Is this some sort of a joke? Buffy, you can't just up and leave any time you feel like it! You have responsibilities here!"
"Do I?" Buffy queried, her temper rising just a little. "Mom, you have no idea what my responsibilities are here!"
"I think I do! You are my daughter. You have a responsibility to me!"
"No I don't. You have one to me as my mother. And you failed when you threw me out." Buffy knew her argument had not meant to begin like this, but she couldn't stop.
"I threw you out? I was angry, and how did you expect me to react to your news?"
"With acceptance. With understanding. But no. You found out who I really was, and you couldn't deal. Don't you remember?"
"Buffy, you didn't give me time. You just dumped this thing on me and you expected me to get it. Well, guess what? Mom's not perfect, okay? I handled it badly. But that doesn't give you the right to punish me by running away."
"Punish you?" Buffy echoed incredulously. "I didn't do this to punish you!" She paused, and took a deep breath, calming herself. Seeing her mother was about to speak, she rapidly continued. "I ran away because I couldn't face this place without the one person in my freaky world who made sense to me. Because I had to send him to hell in order to save the world.
there was nothing left for me here. I needed some time to grieve. To recover
from what I done. To realise that I was still the slayer. And I couldn't do
that here. Because you needed explanations. Because my friends would want to
know what happened. So I ran away." She paused to gather breath, noticing
that her mother had begun to listen.
"Remember that night I came back late from seeing Tyler, Mom? That night two years ago in L.A.? That was my first patrol. My first day as a vampire slayer. When, as I was sitting outside my school, waiting for a boy, I was accosted by a man called Merrick. My first watcher. He told me that I had to stop them. That I was the only one. In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."
Buffy inwardly smiled as her voice acquired the tone of how Giles would say the words. "Those words were to become my mantra over the next two years. They were why I lost all my friends at Hemery. Why my grades suffered. Why I set fire to the gym. Why we had to come here. Not just because Sunnydale was the only school brave enough to accept me, but because this town sits on the hellmouth. A portal, out of which hell beasts could rise, and which attracts all sorts of evil to this town. Vampires, Demons, Zombies, you name it, it probably exists.
"So don't blame Giles, Mom, because he wasn't my first Watcher. This has been in me since I was born. If you need to blame anyone, blame the Powers That Be for deciding that there must be someone strong enough to defeat the vampires and demons that live in this world. Blame the vampire who killed the girl before me, the slayer whom I was called to take over from. But don't blame Giles. He has saved my life, your life, and the life of my friends more times than I can count. Without a Watcher's knowledge, the slayer is nothing."
She had run out of words, and fortunately, so had her mother. Joyce sank down on to the nearest sofa, overwhelmed by her daughter's passionate speech, that sounded so much older than her teenage years. She looked up at Buffy, and realised that before her was a young woman, not a immature girl who had no idea of the real world. Instead she had more idea than she, her mother, ever knew.
"I still want an explanation for why you ran away," Joyce eventually said, but in a much calmer tone than before. "But I understand some of it now, if not all."
Buffy sat down opposite her. "I have time now, Mom. Time to answer any questions you wish. But you have to promise me that you won't shout, or lose your temper. I don't mean to sound patronising or anything else, but this stuff is complicated, and it needs clear heads."
"Okay," Joyce replied with a small smile. "Why did you run away?"
Buffy inwardly breathed a sigh of relief and began to explain.
Dusk had settled over Sunnydale by the time Joyce had asked all the questions she needed to ask, and Buffy had answered them. The slayer could guess which ones had given her mother cause for concern, and had tried her best to resolve that emotion as much as was possible.
Now the slayer glanced around, and noticing the time of day, rose up from the sofa in search of a phone. "Mind if I call Giles, Mom? Only I promised I would check in with him if I was staying more than one day."
"Sure," Joyce replied, her concerns suddenly focused on her daughter's choice of words. She had forgotten what Buffy had said at the beginning of this talk. Silently she watched her on the phone, laughing and smiling with Giles, a mixture of emotions and thoughts swirling in her mind. Foremost was a sense of loss. Even though Buffy had yet to say a word, Joyce instinctively knew that she would soon lose her daughter. Just as she had finally begun to understand her.
Buffy finished the call and walked back to the sofa. Sitting down, she read her mother's look and next question. "No, I don't plan on staying. While I was rescuing those people from that alternate dimension, I realised how many need help in this world. And an idea came to me on how I could help them. I told Giles about it, and he helped me realise that I could do it and finish my education at the same time. Now I need to tell you about it." She paused and told her of the organisation she was hoping to begin.
Joyce was impressed. She had known that her daughter was clever, that she had potential for great things, just like every other parent who loved their children. But she had never imagined what those things would turn out to be. "Buffy, that sounds really good. If I can help, I would like to. But are you sure you can't do it in Sunnydale?"
"I'm sure. There's just not enough people here, and the hellmouth would take up most of my time. I need some distance from it, so I can do this. And L.A. is big enough. Plus, UCLA offers a great Psychology course, or so Giles tells me." She paused, before adding in a different, softer tone. "I also can't stay here. Too many things remind me of Angel. And I'm not ready to face them without him just yet." Privately she doubted if she would ever be ready, but she had to give her mother hope.
"Okay," Joyce replied, silently sad. "I understand that."
"Mom, you won't lose me," Buffy said, astutely guessing her mother's feelings. "You never will. I promise to telephone whenever possible, even visit whenever you want. I just need to do this now, before anything else comes along to try and stop me."
Joyce nodded, the comforting words managing to keep her emotions in check. "And Giles is okay with you being two hours away from the Hellmouth?" She asked, her mouth having a little difficulty with what was to her, a whole new word.
"He's not entirely pleased that I haven't given a thought to driving lessons when I came up with this, but other than that he's okay. Besides, if I'm lucky, another slayer will be on her way."
"Another?" Joyce frowned. "I thought you said that there could only be one?"
"Ah," Buffy smiled sheepishly at her mother. "I forgot to mention the little issue of my death, didn't I?"
"Little? I hardly call it little." Her mother looked at her, relief that she was still alive conquering any anger she felt.
"Cliff Notes version; I had to face a very old vampire when we first came here, during the time of the Spring Fling thing. He killed me, by drowning me in a lake. Fortunately, Xander and Angel followed me and saved my life. But I was dead for about five minutes, causing for another slayer to be called. Kendra."
"Kendra? That girl you were accused of killing?"
"Yeah, only Druscilla killed her. Anyway, now she's dead, perhaps another will be called, and that'll save me a world of trouble with the hellmouth."
"But it won't stop you from being the slayer," Joyce murmured.
Buffy shook her head. "'fraid not." She paused and looked at her. "So, are you angry?"
"Far from it," her mother smiled. "I'm proud of you." She stood up. "My daughter, the vampire slayer. The super hero."
For the second time Buffy found herself on the receiving end of another hug which she had never expected to happen. And she relished the moment, returning it, as she felt for the first time, that everything in her world was going to eventually make some sense.
In the end, Buffy spent the night in her old bedroom. Her dreams as usual were filled with the strange images of her and Angel- or was it Angelus? she still couldn't work it out -making her waking somewhat disorientating.
Her mother greeted her as soon as she entered the kitchen, with every kind of breakfast deli available.
"Mom, are you feeding the five thousand?" Buffy commented as she took a sip of welcome coffee.
"I just thought you might be hungry," Joyce replied, smiling.
"Fancy doing the catering for my organisation?" Buffy asked her.
"No, I couldn't do this everyday." Joyce looked at her carefully. "Are you okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah. Just didn't sleep well last night." Buffy took another sip of her coffee. "I told I get prophetic dreams, right? Well lately I keep dreaming about Angel. Or Angelus, I'm not really sure which. His words confuse me. Everything about them confuses me, actually."
"Such as?" Joyce asked curiously.
Buffy carefully described her first dream of him by the beach, followed by the one last night, at Sunnydale High. When she had finished there was a moment of comfortable silence as her mother attempted to ponder the meaning.
"It could be your own insecurity about him, you know," she eventually answered.
"My insecurity?" Buffy echoed.
"You blame yourself for sending him to hell, don't you?" Joyce sought to confirm.
"I do," Buffy agreed, surprised her mother could see that.
"Buffy, you're not to blame for that. Nor is he. The two of you were in love. You were acting on feelings which neither of you knew could lead to his soul being lost. If you had known, you would have stopped, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," Buffy replied.
"There you go, then. If anyone is responsible, its the gypsies for including such a clause in the first place. Don't worry about it. Now, what are doing about your friends?"
"I'm not sure," Buffy replied thoughtfully. "I was thinking calling them all and gathering them someplace. Preferably with controlled exits."
"Well, you can do it here, if you want."
"That might be better than Giles'. Here I know the weapons are locked away." Buffy smiled and went to make the phone calls.
Once more into the breach, she thought to herself.
As soon as she opened the door and took in the expressions of at least one person in the group, Buffy realised that breach was a purely inadequate word.
Saying nothing, she stepped back and aside, gesturing silently that they could come in and sit down. She waited for them to go into the living room, then glanced back at her support duo; Giles and her Mom, who had both volunteered to be within hearing distance if she needed them. Sending a grateful glance, she took a deep breath and followed her once best friends.
"Hey guy, I'm back," she uttered, sensing that they were waiting for her speak. "Sorry I didn't call or anything, but I needed some space."
"Is that all you can say?" Xander queried, his voice close to shouting. "You've been gone for three months, Buff! Three months without a word to anyone, including your Mom. Do you have any idea of the hell you put her through?"
"Her hell?" Buffy echoed, her calmness stung by his words. "What about my hell? Don't you have any idea why I took off?"
"'Cause your boyfriend was a monster and you had to kill him? So what? I saw that coming long before you did. Can't blame me if I say I told you so."
"Angelus was the monster, Xander," Buffy countered. "Not Angel. But that was always your problem, wasn't it? You could never make that distinction."
"May be he couldn't, Buffy, but that doesn't justify your leaving." Willow had finally decided to speak.
Buffy took a deep breath. Their words were hurting more than she had thought they would. "You have no idea how much I missed you. Everyone. I wanted to call every day."
"That doesn't matter," Willow uttered. "It doesn't make it okay that you didn't."
"You know, maybe you don't want to hear it," Xander butted in again, "but taking off like you did was incredibly selfish and stupid."
"Selfish and stupid?" Buffy echoed. "You didn't think that maybe I had my reasons for leaving? That I didn't feel guilt and grief over Kendra's death, or your injuries, or Giles being kidnapped, or my being expelled? You have no idea what happened to me or what I was feeling!"
"Did you even try talking to anybody?" Xander countered, unfazed.
"There was nothing that anybody could do. I just had to deal with this on my own."
"Yeah, and you see how well that one worked out," Xander's voice was jeering as well as sarcastic. "You can't just bury stuff, Buffy. It'll come right back up to get you."
"As if I even could've gone to you, Xander," Buffy uttered harshly, all care for what they were feeling gone in the face of their constant verbal attacks. "You made your feelings about Angel and I perfectly clear."
"Look. I'm sorry that your honey was a demon, but most girls don't hop a Greyhound over boy troubles."
"Time out, Xander," his girlfriend remarked, surprising Buffy. "Put yourself in Buffy's shoes for just a minute. Okay? I'm Buffy, freak of nature, right? Naturally I pick a freak for a boyfriend, and then he turns into Mr. Killing Spree, which is pretty much my fault..."
"Cordy!" Buffy interrupted. "Get outta my shoes!"
"I'm just trying to help, Buffy," Cordelia replied.
"I know," Buffy uttered, smiling at her. "And I'm grateful for it, but this is something we need to get through. And with regards to your last comment, Xand, most girls don't have a souled vampire for a boyfriend. As far as I know, he's one of a kind. And with that Soul," she emphasised the word, "the demon is contained. Nobody however, bothered to inform us that his curse had a clause."
"Buffy, you never..."
"Willow, please," Buffy began. "Let me......."
Xander cut her off. "Let her finish! You at least owe her that."
"God, Xander! Do you think you could at least stick to annoying me on your own behalf?"
"Fine! You stop acting like an idiot, I'll stop annoying you!"
That was it. Buffy had had it. She stepped up to him. "Oh, you wanna talk acting like an idiot? Why don't we let Willow ask you where the following came from? 'Kick his ass.'" She glanced at her best friend. "Sound familiar to you, Will? 'Cause Xander said that was your message regarding Angel."
Willow gasped, while Xander looked away, down at the floor. "You didn't tell her?" She sought to confirm.
Buffy answered for him. "No, Will, he didn't tell me that you were gonna try the spell again. Believe me, if I'd had warning, things might have been different. But I didn't. Instead I had to kill the only guy I've loved in order to save the world."
She turned to Xander, who still couldn't look at her, or anyone. "That was really selfish of me, wasn't it? You have no idea, as I stood there, staring at the spot where Acathla was standing, whole, crying harder than I ever have in my life, how easy it would have been to grab the sword he had been fighting with and kill myself. So easy to let another slayer take my place.
"And do you know what stopped me? And this you'll make you laugh. You guys. I figured you couldn't cope with losing someone else so soon after Miss Calendar. So I did the only thing I could do. I left. And I meant to get in touch, I really did. But I was still grieving. Still trying to find out how I could live in this world, without him by my side.
"So the days dragged by. And each time I thought about calling you, I imagined this very scene." Buffy sniffed away her tears, a motion all of them could use with doing, but they were too stunned by her words to notice their own. "And I realised, that until I had found a way to start living in this world, I couldn't defend myself before you. That your anger and grief at my going would break me even further."
Silence settled over as Buffy finished her speech. Watching them, she took out Giles' handkerchief which she had kept from the day before, and carefully dabbed away the rest of her tears.
Willow cautiously stepped forward. "Could I borrow that?" She asked.
Buffy nodded and then the motion of transferring the white cloth caused a hug instead. Slayer and witch clutched at each other, bonds repaired.
Steadily, Oz, then Cordelia melded themselves into the hug as well, and Buffy clung to them, grateful they were willing to understand and forgive.
Eventually, they parted, causing her to glance around and realise someone was missing. Just then Giles and Joyce came into the room.
The former saw her concern and answered her unspoken question. "He's all right, Buffy. He's out back. I think he needed some time."
"I know," Buffy replied. "How much did you two hear?"
"Almost all," Joyce replied. "Giles had to stop me from rushing in here several times." She smiled at her daughter. "I keep forgetting you can take care of yourself."
"You can still help," Buffy offered, "just wait for my call." She turned to the others, who had noticed the new arrivals. "Yeah, I kind of sorted things with them first. Figured you guys would be the hardest. Can we get drinks, snacks, or anything?"
The trio nodded and rattled off some choices. Joyce went to get the food while Giles and Buffy sat down.
"So," Willow began nervously, "what are your plans?"
"I'm not staying," Buffy replied, seeing her best friend's face fall. "I wish I could, Willow, really. But its still too hard. Even if I hadn't lost Angel the way I did, I'm still expelled. And you know Snyder. There is no way he would take me back. Anyway, I have a thing. An idea of what I want to do with my life. And Sunnydale isn't big enough for it." She told them then, about her organisation, about what had happened to her in L.A.
And they understood, just like friends should.
The man turned round, surprised that it was his girlfriend who had come to get him. "What is it, Cor? Come to rail at me more for yelling at Buffy?"
"No, though I should warn you, I'm not done yet." Cordelia touched his shoulder comfortingly. "You ought to come inside, you know. Buffy's had this amazing idea. Its about helping people, and not just rescuing them from vampires or demons, but from other things as well." She smiled at him. "It's a really great idea, and you should listen to her."
"Is she still angry with me?" Xander asked.
Cordelia looked at him, hard. "Do you think she should be?"
"Then why don't you come inside and find out for yourself?" She remarked, before showing him the way.
Willow was in the middle of asking a question when he entered, leaving the slayer to welcome him with only a smile as she waited for time to reply.
"So, have you come up with a name?"
"Yeah," Buffy replied. "Hope."
"Why 'Hope?'" Joyce asked.
"'That I could think there trembled through, his happy good-night air,'" Buffy softly quoted, "'some blessed Hope, whereof he knew, and I was unaware.' It from a favourite poem of mine. As I watched some of the happiness I saw in L.A. the line came to me, and it made me realise that I could give that hope to those that are hopeless. I could restore their faith in their beliefs and trust in others." She smiled. "So, what, do you think?"
"It sounds wonderful, Buff," Xander replied softly, making her look to him, and smile. She then directed her glance to the window behind him, and abruptly stood up. "Sorry, guys, but I'd better patrol. I didn't realise it was so late."
"Are you sure you don't want to rest?" Willow asked. "I mean, we've been doing patrols, and we're getting quite good."
"Six out of ten vamps staked," Oz informed Buffy.
"That's better than half," Willow uttered.
"Its great, Will, really," Buffy assured her. "But let me take over for a bit, okay? Give you guys a break. I'll just do a quick patrol and come back, okay?"
She rose up from the table and left the room.
"Buffy," Xander called, making her stop halfway down the drive, and turn to face him, standing just by the front door. "I'm so sorry," he began.
"I know," Buffy replied. "And I don't blame you, Xand. Not any more."
"You'd be completely right to still do so," Xander said. "I wish there was something I could do to restore him to you."
"May be there's a way," Buffy remarked. "But I don't know. Giles is the one to go to for that information. But I know that time, it passes differently in hell dimensions. One day here can seem like a lifetime there. And he'll have been tortured...... " she trailed off, physically shivering at the thought of what the hell might do to him. "It would take someone of extraordinary will and character to survive that and retain any semblance of self."
"If any one could survive that, Buffy, its Angel," Xander remarked, "I know he would never give up on you. So I don't think you should either."
"I haven't," Buffy replied. "Not yet."
It was partly, true, what she had said to Xander. She hadn't given up on Angel. But three months of nights spent dreaming about him, their relationship, sending him to hell, plus the unusual ones which she had told her mother about this morning, had made her decide something, as soon as she got a moment to herself.
The something led her patrol in the direction of Crawford Street. In to the mansion where they had fought, to the empty living room, otherwise know as the Acathla battlefield.
Buffy stood there, letting her mind remember one last time. Then silently her right hand went to left, and removed the one ring that was on her third finger. She held the claddagh for a moment, smiling as she remembered when he had given it to her, then carefully knelt and placed it on the floor.
She had chosen the spot where he had stood, before she had ran the sword through his stomach and sent him to hell. Part of her had no idea why she had felt compelled to do this, to place this momento mori here. She still had the first piece of jewellery he had given her, the silver cross which currently hung around her neck, and she wanted to keep this one too, as a sigh of her fidelity to him. Yet the compulsion was powerful, and had overwhelmed her, until she could not resist.
She would come and get it back tomorrow, she decided. Taking one more glance of the room, she uttered softly, one word.
Then she turned round and left building, to finish her patrol.
If she had chosen to look back, chosen to stay just one moment more, she would have witnessed something that would give her all the hope she planned to give those hopeless people in Los Angeles. She would have seen the ring glow as if made of gold not silver. She would have seen the ground shake beneath it, caused by momentous happenings above. She would have seen a portal open in the ceiling, a gateway to hell. She would have seen that her gesture of goodbye had acquired an entirely different meaning.
She would have seen him fall to the floor.
Instead, it was another who stood witness to these events, who had been forewarned to expect his arrival, and his appearance. He stood just before the fallen body, which was covered in healing scars, wounds of torture, and one hand clasped around the iconic symbol; the little band of silver which had brought him back.
The witness' reaction was also entirely different to hers, had she been there. She would have cried, at seeing the state her beloved was in. The other however, merely looked at the crumpled body at his feet and recited a phrase of Latin.
"Deus ex machina, redivivus. Vulneratus non victus, seipse curatus.1" Whistler intoned, casting his hands over the space his old friend occupied.
The body stilled as the scars clustered upon him abruptly healed. Then he raised his head, opened his eyes, and looked up at his saviour. "Whistler?"
"So you remember me then?" The demon returned rhetorically before producing a pair of trousers and handing them to the vampire. "Get dressed, we have a lot to discuss."
A little bewildered, Angel slipped on the black pants then carefully rose to his full height before sitting down the sofas which he didn't remember being there the last time he was in the Mansion on Crawford Street. "Who brought these?" He asked.
"Me," Whistler replied. "I thought you were taking minimalism a touch too far. Anyway, I'm not here to talk to you about your demon's idea of interior design." He chuckled. "Your slayer's so unpredictable."
"Buffy?" Angel sought to confirm.
"Who else? The Powers That Be, they had this whole plan worked out. After her summer vacation in L.A, She would return to her Mom, her home, her school, her hellmouth and save Sunnydale from the next big evil. But no, your girl had other ideas on that front. She chooses instead to take on your mission a year early."
Angel glanced around the room while his mind worked out the math. "Have I been gone longer than three months? 'Cause none of this is making sense."
"Forgive me, mate, I'm having to wing it here," Whistler paused and began again. "Your slayer was supposed to graduate from Sunnydale High and defeat the evil which is to come. But instead, during her running away, she came up with an idea, one which has gotten a lot of people up there," he gestured with his head to the heavens, "excited. And, let me tell you, it takes a lot to get them excited. So they sent me down here to accelerate matters concerning your..... evolution."
"My evolution?" Angel echoed.
"Yes. You were meant to return from hell, thanks to that ring you're holding there, thanks to her. She was meant to find you and help you back to health, although admittedly, that sequence of events might have been rougher on the both of you than this lot will turn out to be. Then you and she were meant to fight together and defeat the next big evil of this town, before parting, she to remain here as guardian of the hellmouth, you to Los Angeles to become a helper for the helpless."
"But she's changed all this?" Angel asked.
"Precisely. She's going to the city of Angels, and setting up an organisation. I'll let her tell you the details, because its a beautiful idea, really is. But it also entails us coming up with a whole bunch of new plans for everyone else, including you."
"Can I see her?" Angel asked him.
"In a while, I'm not done yet. Besides, she sent you to hell, remember?"
"She had to," Angel returned, fiercely. "To save the world. She had no choice." He looked away from his old mentor and down at the concrete floor. "If anyone's to blame for what happened, its me."
"Crap," Whistler replied, startling him. "If anyone's to blame, its whoever invented that curse. I mean, honestly, if you're gonna give a vampire eternal torment, you shouldn't include a get out clause. As I told her, Acathla was supposed to be your fight, not hers. That little moment of happiness thing really messed up matters. And no blame can be put on you two, except for the fact that neither of you were supposed to fall in love."
"Neither of us knew that," Angel pointed out. "And besides, can you blame us?"
"No," Whistler replied with a smile. He sat back and a comfortable silence settled over the room.
But only for a moment.
Angel was the first to break it. "She blames herself, doesn't she?"
"Yes, she does. And you need to see her. In fact, you too need to have a conversation. But first, so do we." He leaned forward, clasped his hands together, and began to explain.
To Be Continued In
Note: Latin phrases for spell: All taken from Nil Desperandum
by Eugene Ehrlich.
Deus ex machina: a god out of a machine; meaning an unlikely and providential intervention, rescuing someone from an apparently hopeless predicament. The stuff bad fiction or drama is made of without relying on improbable coincidence. Redivivus: brought back to life. Vulneratus non victus: wounded but not conquered. Seipse curatus: He is cured. Lastly, Thomas Hardy's poem The Darkling Thrush was something I studied as unprepared prep for my English Lit exams, and its actually about the prospect of the Industrial world overtaking the countryside, as well as the author's fear of this new technology, but I thought the lines were quite appropriate.