by cn winters
Fandom: Buffy fanfiction; Willow fanfiction; Buffy slash fanfiction
Disclaimers: Don’t own ‘em. Just borrowing them from Joss and the folks at various companies.
Author note: This story is a prelude to Watchers, a virtual season we’re premiering this fall at https://www.thewatcherscouncil.net.
Feedback: Well yeah! Please post it here if you would or if you like you can email me privately at email@example.com
Rating: PG-13 (just to be safe)
Pairing: Canon pairings
Setting: This story takes place right after ‘Chosen’ and offers a little insight into the virtual season Watchers
Angel and his crew heard the door open at his hotel and they turned around. Buffy walked in and looked at the wreckage around them.
“Don’t tell me,” she quipped, “Another hellmouth?”
Angel raced over and pulled her into a tight embrace. Relief at seeing her alive was an understatement. When the Slayer winced, Angel pulled back quickly and saw the wound that was hidden under her coat. “God, I’m sorry. Are you-?”
“Healing as we speak, but still tender.”
“So no second front?”
“No second front.”
Angel sighed and pulled Buffy back into his arms again, but this time he made sure to hold her gently. From over her shoulder, he saw the others begin to make their way in. Faith and Giles, who helped Wood inside, appeared first and once more Angel sighed in relief. The rest of Angel’s gang gathered around and began helping people inside. Angel couldn’t wait to see who else survived. He had to know.
He pulled back to look in Buffy’s eyes. “The Scoobies and Dawn?”
“Will, Xander and Dawn, yes. But we lost Anya. Xander’s alive, but in shock, I think…We lost about two thirds of the girls and… Spike too.”
At first, Angel wasn’t sure what to say. “Well… The amulet? Did it work?”
Buffy nodded. “Like a charm. It harnessed sunlight and brought it right to the ubervamps. Blasted them all along with the Hellmouth. Spike was wearing it and he… he started to combust, but… he saw it through. Right to the end. Even you might have been proud.”
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Angel said sincerely.
“Note the sarcasm I’m about to use: Oh really?”
Angel nodded. “You said he was a part of your heart. I know you’ve lost lots of ‘parts’ over the years. So boyfriend or not, I’m sorry it happened and I do mean that.”
Buffy gave a dismal grin. “Thanks…It’s just…I don’t think Xander’s the only one shocked here. Everyone is…”
“It’s understandable,” Angel told her. “We been cleaning here – getting things in order. We heard the reports of an earthquake in Sunnydale on the radio…I’ve been worrying for the past two hours.”
“I tried to call, but we must have had some electrical disruption or something when the Hellmouth fell in. And that’s a literal ‘fell in’ – no more Sunnydale. Anyway, the cell phone wouldn’t work. Phone booths don’t take dollar bills and no one had a calling card. Nearly everything was at the house… well… what used to be the house.”
“I’d offer you the chance to stay here, but as you see…these aren’t the best living conditions. But I can put you up anywhere you like.”
“I think it might be hard to explain the walking wounded to the check in clerk at the Ritz Carlton.” Buffy grinned.
Lorne who was helping Vi tend to Rona overheard them and turned around.
“I can make a few calls,” he told the pair. “Find someplace quiet, private. The troops could rest up there.”
“Thanks Lorne. That’d be great,” Angel told him.
“Yes, thank you,” Buffy added.
“I’m on it.” The green skinned demon darted away quickly with a nod.
After he was gone, Buffy looked around again. “Where’s Cordilia?”
“Long story,” Angel told her.
“And the state of the hotel?”
“An even longer story. But we’ve got all night…Let’s sit down. Slayer healing or not you need to relax. Come on.”
Too far away to hear Buffy and Angel’s conversation, Fred stood by the door and waited. Slayers and Scoobies started to file inside but no sign of Willow. When a few moments went by and no one else entered, she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Fred had to find out if Willow survived and she walked outside. She looked at the bus, seeing if anyone else was still aboard but no one was behind the windows.
“Oh Willow,” she sighed softly with a feeling of dread.
That’s when she saw the witch and a dark-haired woman exit down the steps, carrying a host of duffle bags and backpacks. Willow put what she was carrying on the sidewalk and turned back to the woman to take the bags she held.
“Thank you Gaia,” Fred whispered with a smile as she raced over.
Willow was talking to Kennedy and didn’t notice the petite woman racing toward her. At the sound of rushing footsteps, Willow turned around just in time to get locked in a bear hug. The impact pushed her back a foot or two and the witch started to giggle.
“It’s good to see you too.” Willow smiled.
“Oh thank God,” Fred sighed. “I waited and waited. Then everyone came in and then I thought ‘No Willow. Oh no’ and then I looked at the bus and-.”
Willow put her finger over Fred’s lips. “You’re yammering,” she said with a grin.
“Sorry,” Fred muttered.
“That’s okay,” Willow assured her. “Think you can give us a hand with the supplies?” Willow turned back to the bus and saw Kennedy examining them with a questioning look. “Oh I’m sorry. Kennedy this is Fred. Fred, Kennedy.”
“Hi there,” Fred said cheerfully. “Are you a potential?”
Kennedy thought for a moment and a small grin came to her face. “No…I’m a Slayer,” Kennedy answered with a far amount of pride. “And Will’s girlfriend,” she added for good measure. So this is Fred eh? Kinda scrawny.
Nervously, Fred took a step away from Willow but something else registered with what Kennedy said. “But Buffy and Faith are still alive,” she replied. She then turned to Willow. “How can she-.”
“Short version. Did a spell. Made all the potentials active. Kennedy was one of about 30 girls in our group.”
“Oh,” Fred replied. “I’m not sure what to say. Is congratulations proper?”
“That’ll do,” Kennedy nodded and tossed the bag she was holding to Fred. The weight of it shook the smaller woman as she caught it. “Why don’t you give us a hand and start taking these in? That’s medical supplies the crew’ll need right away.”
“Oh absolutely,” Fred answered, juggling the bag. “I’ll take this and come back for the others.”
“Thanks Fred,” Willow said sincerely.
When the small woman was out of earshot, Willow turned back to Kennedy. “What’s with the butch?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Kennedy grinned.
“I’m a Slayer. And Will’s girlfriend,” Willow mimicked in a deep, manly voice.
“I did not say it that way,” Kennedy countered with a laugh. “I just wanted to let her know…what’s what…Besides, you said she came on to you.”
“No. No. No. I did NOT say that,” Willow answered with a grin, pointing her finger. “I said and I quote ‘She took an interest in me’.”
“Interest. Come on. Same diff.”
“Oh jeez, why not just brand me while you’re at it? Property of Kennedy.”
“I could,” Kennedy smirked. “But you’d probably like it too much. I bet there a bit of kink under there that’s aching to get out.”
They exchanged a brief smile before Willow began to pick up a couple of bags at her feet. “Come on. This stuff isn’t gonna move itself.”
Kennedy followed suit and they began to make their way to the hotel. “Faith was right,” she told Willow as they walked along.
“Slaying – I’m starving and I’m very…lusty.”
“Lusty huh?” Willow felt a bashful grin come to her face but not able to look over at Kennedy.
“Very lusty,” Kennedy corrected. Her hand snaked down to Willow’s backside and she grabbed a cheek. “Have I told you you’ve got a great ass?”
“Very lusty indeed,” Willow chuckled.
“I can’t help it. It’s like my whole body is humming right now and it won’t go away.”
“Well, let’s get everyone situated and then we’ll call it a night. Angel has spare bedrooms on the second level that…” Willow trailed off when she walked in and saw the damage, “I’m guessing are totally destroyed.” She looked around taking it all in. “My goddess what happened here?”
“You want the long version or the short?” Gunn asked coming up behind her. “How ya doing Will?”
“I’m here. That’s all I really know.”
“I can relate.”
“No doubt. Look at this place.”
He noticed the bags they were carrying. “Got more?” he asked.
Willow nodded before dropping what she had. “Andrew?” she called out making the young man turn and walk over. “Start giving everyone their bags, okay? The ones that…don’t have owners – put in the corner over there.”
“No problem Willow,” he said, looking starting to look at the tags. “Uh Willow?” he asked sparing a look to Xander who was sitting in the corner alone with a blank expression. Andrew picked up the bag at his feet and asked, “What should I do with Anya’s bag?”
Willow sighed and looked to Xander for a brief moment. She knew he wasn’t ready to deal with it. Hell, a large part of her wasn’t ready either but as Giles said there was work to do – and not all of it pleasant. “I’ll take care of it,” she told him. “See to the others.”
He gave a nod as Willow took it and slung it on her shoulder.
“Come on,” Gunn said motioning the women to the door. “We’ll unload and I’ll tell you our story if you tell me yours.”
Willow mustered a grin. “Deal.”
“Hey B,” Faith came over to Buffy and Angel. “Robin’s bleeding stopped but…he lost a lot of blood. We’ve gotta get him somewhere.”
“I already called a medical team,” Angel answered. “They should be here any minute but let me call again.”
Faith nodded and headed back over to Robin as Angel went to the phone.
She felt a smile tugging on her lips as he smiled up to her. She began to clean his stomach wound again, making sure that the bleeding really had stopped.
“I’m not a doctor but you’re gonna be fine. Angel’s guys are coming to fix you up,” Faith grinned down at Robin.
“To think all that blood I gave away at various drives…could sure use it now huh?” Robin joked.
“Yep you sure could but Angel’s gonna set you up with some more. One of the perks of having a powerful vamp friend I guess.”
“You’re pretty good at that – bedside manner stuff.”
“What can I say? I’ve got experience.”
“A nurse huh?”
“No just months of being in a hospital,” she grinned. “Gotta finish college for that nurse gig…well finishing high school would help too I’m sure.”
“You never finished?”
“No…Does that mean your not gonna surprise me now?”
“Not at all,” Robin smiled. “You’re a pretty amazing woman Faith.”
She finished and covered the gauze with a large latex bandage. “Sorry it doesn’t match. The box did say ‘flesh’ color,” she quipped with a knowing grin.
Robin smiled down at the tan bandage that graced his dark skin and tried to suppress a chuckle.
“Don’t make me laugh just yet. Stomach’s not ready for that.” Faith grinned and ran a hand over his face. Robin watched concern take hold over her features. “One way or another…” he told her in all seriousness. “I’m gonna keep my promise. I’m gonna surprise you Faith.”
She mustered a grin and gave his arm a pat. “You better. You don’t wanna piss me off.” She stood up and picked up the supplies she knew other people there might need. “Gotta get this to Will. I’ll be back.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be here. Not running any marathons just yet,” he said with a smile. Faith smiled too before walking back over to the table, handing the items to Willow.
“You okay?” Willow asked.
“I’ll be better when the damn doctors get here.”
“He’s gonna be okay,” Willow said optimistically. “I think he’s too stubborn to give up yet,” she grinned.
“Hope you’re right Will…He owes me.”
“Finally!” Lorne said hanging up the phone. “Gotta guy in the Valley,” he added walking over to Angel and Buffy with a piece of paper in his hand. “He’s a big shot independent producer. He’s on location in New York so the place is yours. He knows the situation and gives his blessing to use whatever you need. A friend of his should be here within the hour to bring you the key.”
“Thanks Lorne. You’re a god,” Buffy grinned.
“Now let’s not be too hasty Sweetcheeks. A demi-god…maybe.” He grinned and handed her the paper.
Buffy reached up and stroked his face. “Well a sweetie for sure,” she said with a grin.
“No wonder you fell for her,” Lorne winked to Angel. “I’m gonna see if Willow and Dawn need any help organizing the…unclaimed bags.” Lorne paused trying to find the right wording for the deceased belongings.
Before they boarded the bus to go to Sunnydale High, Buffy told everyone to pack one bag each. Anything that was important they should take with them as well as next of kin contacts on the inside and outside of the bag…just in case.
Right now, Willow and Dawn went through the bags that went unchecked. Willow was making a list from the luggage tags Dawn had already pulled from the bags, compiling names, address and numbers. They had some difficult calls to make. When Dawn hadn’t returned after a few moments of delivering the last tag, Willow looked over and saw her staring at one bag in particular.
“Dawnie,” Willow called over. “You okay?”
Dawn cut the hangtag from the bag and brought it to Willow. The witch looked at the name – Amanda Matthews. Willow pursed her lips and looked up to Dawn. She could tell the teenager was trying to hold it together, her eyes glossy with unshed tears.
“It’s okay to let it out Dawn.”
That was all Willow had to say and a cascade of tears fell down her face. The noise turned a few heads in their direction but Dawn was unable to control it any longer.
“I really thought she’d make it,” Dawn sobbed. “She was my friend. Lots of ‘em were but she…”
Dawn couldn’t speak anymore. All she could do was cry.
Vi sat next to Rona who lay on the sofa behind them with 35 stitches that Angel’s medical team had given her. They looked at each other and silently grasped hands. They felt Dawn’s loss too but they were grateful that they were two who made it out. They looked at each other with a mix of silent camaraderie and quiet mourning.
Willow stood up and pulled the shaking girl into her arms as she kissed her temple. “I know. I understand,” Willow said as she continued to hold her close and stroke her hair. Dawn quickly pulled herself together again and wiped her eyes. That’s when she saw Lorne lingering behind them, not sure if he should finish his approach or go away.
“Hey Lorne,” Dawn said after clearing her throat.
Willow turned to see him standing uncomfortably behind them. “I’m sorry to intrude,” he said sympathetically. “But I thought maybe I could lend a hand.”
“Actually that’s not a bad idea,” Willow said before turning back to Dawn. “Could you get me something to drink Dawnie? A-and Lorne and I can finish up here?.”
“Sure thing Willow,” she nodded.
After Dawn left Lorne approached closer. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean-.”
“Tensions are high all around tonight. Lots of loss, ya know?” Lorne nodded sadly before Willow continued. “But it’s gonna be okay …She insisted on helping but…maybe it’s better that an outsider helps with this job. You know? Someone who wasn’t on a first name basis with the girls? I could use the help.”
“Well then. Enough said,” Lorne said solemnly, picking up where Dawn left off.
“Cleveland you say?” Wesley asked the older Watcher. Giles just nodded.
The group still continued in a holding pattern as they waited for the arrival of their guide to lead them to the safe haven. Many of the girls were now asleep in different areas of the lobby.
“You’re welcome to come,” Giles offered. “We could use all the Watchers we can get.”
Wesley stroked the stubble on his chin. “I would but…”
“You have prior commitments,” Giles grinned. “I understand.”
Wesley felt a sense of guilt for not being able to be a part of Giles plan. “But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t help if you need it,” he offered. “Any resources or information you require…I’m just a phone call away. As I explained to Faith, the situation that Angel has with Wolfram and Hart could prove to be quite useful.”
“Thank you Wesley. That’s good to know.”
“So…Any idea where you might start? You mentioned Cleveland but as far as how you’ll rebuild the council-.”
“With no funds and a limited library across the ocean that will take weeks to get here? Not a clue,” Giles smiled before turning serious. “But there’s work that needs done. Slayers to oversee – many, many slayers from what Willow has sensed so far. Not to mention the Watchers themselves who require schooling,” Giles gave a sigh. “It will be an uphill battle at best but we’ll get there…We’ve seen worse.”
Wesley smiled. “If anyone can do it…it’s Rupert Giles.”
At that moment a man walked into the hotel and Lorne smiled, making his way over. “Are you Daniel?” he asked.
“Yeah, Michael called said you needed his key…If you don’t mind me saying, I can see why you need a place.”
“It’s not for Angel Investigations. It’s for these girls.”
“Well I’m ready when you are,” he said.
“Mind giving us a few minutes? Well lots of minutes actually?” Willow asked. “We’ve got a few more things to organize.”
“Sure, take your time. I’ve got no where special to be tonight,” the stranger grinned.
“Damn,” Rona sighed as Vi helped her walk into the foyer of their makeshift home. “Think this guy would be willing to adopt me?”
“Only if he takes me too,” Vi added with a grin.
A gigantic chandelier hung from the large vaulted ceiling. Off to the right sat a grand room and to their left was a wide staircase.
Daniel, their ‘tour guide,’ filtered everyone to the grand room. “Okay I’ll keep this brief since I know you’ve had a long day. You’re standing in the east wing of the house. Straight through the back is the kitchen and dining area. Off that way,” he pointed further down, “is the west wing of the house. There’re other living areas and game rooms inside. There’s four baths in various areas. Downstairs has one by the kitchen. Upstairs one is adjoined to the master suite. There is another in the hallway up there and one by the game room to the west. You’ve got 6 bedrooms upstairs.
“Michael said use whatever you need. His staff’s been informed of your arrival and when they get here tomorrow at 8 am they’ll await Buffy’s instruction on meals and such. If you require anything from the store they’ll take care of it. Just make your requests with Buffy…any questions?”
“Yeah,” Willow said and then turned to Kennedy. “Was your house this big?”
Kennedy shrugged casually. “Mine was a little bigger…But this is nice, don’t get me wrong.”
“Yes, way nice and very much appreciated,” Buffy told Daniel.
“Any other questions?” Daniel asked. When no one spoke up he walked over and handed the keys to Buffy along with a piece of paper. “I don’t think you’ll need a security code after the story Lorne told me – this place will be guarded better than Ft. Knox with you gals here. But if you do, here’s the code.”
“Thanks Daniel and if you get the chance, thank Michael too.”
“Not a problem. You guys rest up. If you need me, my numbers there at the bottom.”
“Thanks again,” Buffy replied.
“You folks take care,” he nodded to the group.
Buffy walked him to the door and once more thanked him for his time and trouble.
“I call dibs on the master bedroom,” Kennedy announced.
“Sorry Brat. You’ll have to rough it in one of the other five spacious rooms,” Faith told her.
“I need a bathroom nearby for Robin. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Rona to stay with us too. That way I can keep tabs on both of them during the night.”
“Agreed,” Buffy answered. “You’ll need water access and this way they don’t have to walk far to the bathroom.”
“I’ll be okay,” Rona told them. “I’m feeling better already. Slayer healing remember?”
“Yeah but that spell might not hold up.” Faith told her. “If that happens you might be in for a world of hurt so let’s play it safe for tonight, okay?” She added in afterthought, “No offense Will. You did great but-.”
“None taken,” she replied and looked to Rona. “Faith’s right. Better safe than sorry.”
Buffy looked over and saw Xander leaning against the door frame staring – just staring without looking at anything in particular.
“Xander will room with me tonight,” she told the group. “Giles? You and Andrew will stay together. And Vi, go upstairs and check to see what kind of beds we’ve got. If they’re kings we’ll try to fit three Slayers into the two remaining beds. Draw straws if you like. Anyone that gets the shortest straws will have to bunk on the furniture.”
Vi gave a quick nod and headed upstairs.
Everyone filtered into the bedrooms ready to call it a night. Buffy, even despite Slayer stamina, felt exhausted and was ready for a little sleep if only a few hours. She looked into the grand room and found Xander sitting on the sofa with two duffle bags at his feet. She took a deep breath and walked inside.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Why don’t you come up with me? Catch a few winks?”
He mustered a grin for her, “I don’t think I can sleep.”
“You could try,” Buffy answered.
“Nah, but thanks anyway.”
She took a seat beside him and took his hand. “I said you were my strength Xander and I meant it…Just remember, I can be your strength too if you let me.”
Xander squeezed her hand but couldn’t look at her. He knew if he did he might lose the reserve he’d been holding since his shock began to merge into denial. “That’s good to know but really…Go on up to bed. I’ll get there eventually.”
Buffy knew that Xander needed time and moved to her feet. “I love you Xander. If you need me…”
“I know where to find you,” he said finally looking at her again. She nodded and began her journey up the stairs.
From inside the third bedroom, Kennedy watched from the bed as Willow slipped out of her pants and into a pair of boxers she brought.
“Alone at last,” Kennedy said, wiggling her eyebrows for emphasis. “I don’t think you need to put those on just yet.”
“Yeah,” Willow answered, devoid of emotion, and unable to move to the bed.
“Yes. No. Absolutely. Absolutely not…I just…I’m not a Slayer so I don’t have the slayer hormones at the moment. That’s all.”
Kennedy got off the bed and came over and ran her fingers through her hair. “What’s the matter Sweetie?”
“Everything. Nothing,” she sighed, shaking her head.
“I sense a mass of contradictions here.”
“Well that would be accurate,” Willow replied. “I just…I feel guilty. I’ve got a beautiful woman who wants to take me to bed and ravish me.”
“Well that’s true but why the guilt?”
“Buffy and Xander. Or more like Anya and Spike…They lost so much,” Willow sighed. “But I…”
“You didn’t. You’re alive and I’m alive. Is that it?”
“Kinda. Sorta…I’m grateful – beyond grateful actually but…”
Kennedy kissed Willow softly on the lips. “Go on,” she said nodding toward the door. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“No I shouldn’t. You’ve been waiting all night to be alone and I need -.”
“You need to speak to them,” Kennedy interrupted.
“Are you sure? I mean you’ve got the ‘humming’ thing going on and I’d like to help you take away the hum but-.”
“Willow,” Kennedy said making her stop. “I’ll be here,” she grinned. “I’m not gonna push you if your heart’s not in it. Go on and check on them.”
Willow smiled before nuzzling into Kennedy’s neck. “You’re pretty understanding for a brat,” she told her.
“I have my moments,” she said with a grin that went unseen by Willow. The redhead felt so soft and so firm. And the smell of the recent shampoo and body lotion began to assault Kennedy’s senses. “Okay, you better go now before I blow my understanding all to Hell. I’ve got Slayer strength now and it’s telling me to throw you on the bed.”
Willow chuckled and pulled away. “Point taken,” she said holding Kennedy’s hands. “I’ll be back soon. Okay?”
“Take your time.”
Kennedy nodded to the door again and she watched Willow slip quietly from their room.
Buffy had on her yummy sushi pajamas and was about to climb into bed when she heard a knock.
“It’s me. Can I come in?”
“Me who?” Buffy answered with a grin, recognizing the voice.
Willow opened the door, grinning since she was sure Buffy knew it was her on the other side. “I just wanted to check on you and Xander but I see our Xander shaped friend is missing.”
“He’s downstairs. I tried to get him to come up and get some rest but…”
“Not an inch.”
“Well what about you? How are you taking it all?”
“I knew we’d have losses. Heavy losses but…” Buffy sighed and took a seat on the bed and Willow joined soon after.
“I feel bad.”
“Is it? Because on the other hand, I don’t feel bad. You know what I mean?”
“You’re sad we lost them but you’re happy you’re still here?”
“Yeah, I think that’s it. Plus I’m not the only one anymore – the Chosen One. It’s freeing and I have you to thank.”
“Awww, just doin’ my part is all,” Willow told her with a grin.
“Well I’m not an outcast. I belong to a ‘family’ or I don’t know ‘a race’ maybe? I know that doesn’t make sense. All I know is I don’t feel so freakish anymore.”
“But it does,” Willow said sympathetically. “And I feel it too…Well not the Slayer thing but the loss/happy part. Kennedy’s got those come and get me eyes but…I keep seeing Xander’s face after we got back on the bus.”
“Your girlfriend’s hoping to woo you and you think of Xander? Something you’re not telling me?” she teased.
“Not like that,” Willow answered, grinning. “I mean, I know how he feels and there’s no pain in the world like it. Things were getting good again for him and Anya. It’s like he finally won her back and then…Let’s just say I can relate.”
“You should talk to him Will.”
“I plan to but I came to check on you too…I realize that you and Spike broke things off but still…it’s gotta hurt.”
“Yeah…but I’ll be okay.”
“That’s not just tough Slayer talk is it? Because I know how you get all stoic-y.”
Buffy grinned and took Willow’s hand. “You know why I’ll be okay? And no stoic slayerness involved…He died achieving the redemption he wanted…I told him I loved him before I left. He said I didn’t but thanks for saying it…And he was right. I mean I do-did…love him but it’s not the love he had for me. I told Angel when he came to Sunnydale that I’m not the me I should be yet. I’ve got more growing to do as a person…I think Spike recognized that. And in some twisted way he knew me better than anyone – even better than myself at times…So that I’ll miss but mourning the way he died…I can’t do it. He went out the way he should have, with a big, glowy finish.”
Buffy grinned but it wasn’t wholehearted. Willow nodded and rose to her feet. “Well I’m gonna try to get Xander up here to get some sleep. So with any luck, we’ll be back shortly.”
“Thanks. I’m gonna need it.”
Willow made her way from the bedroom and down the stairs. Xander heard the noise and looked over.
“Hey you,” Willow said making her way over. “Is this seat taken?”
“Not you too,” Xander answered shaking his head.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Willow said sitting down. An uncomfortable silence passed between them until Willow spoke again. “You realize…this is one of those rare moments when someone can tritely say ‘I know how you feel’ but actually mean it.”
Xander didn’t say anything. Instead, he reached beside him and handed Willow a photo. She turned it over to find a picture of her, him, Tara and Anya.
“It was in with her bag o’ most precious things…That, her favorite shirt and pants, some business cards for the Magic Box and a package of Twinkies,” Xander chuckled although he sounded like he was on the verge of tears. “That’s all she had in the world that was important.”
“Well Anya always did have simple needs. Of course she loved money which is rather odd if you consider it,” Willow said trying to grin.
“Yeah but here’s the thing…that favorite outfit was my favorite outfit – she didn’t care for it and as for the Twinkies she hated them. She packed ‘em for me…And I’ve been sitting here, looking at that picture and asking why half the people in it are gone now. And are they really gone? Because a part of me keeps saying if I sit here long enough she’s gonna walk through that door and apologize for being late as usual…Is that crazy or what?”
Xander began to cry quietly and at that point Willow pursed her lips to try to stop herself from doing the same but it was useless. She started to cry too. She’d looked at her bedroom door many times expecting the same with Tara. She took Xander in her arms. Instead of pulling away, which she thought might happen, he tightened his hold and cried into her shoulder.
“Did it hurt like this?” he asked with a sob.
It was all she could say. Beside, she didn’t need to add more. Sadly they both knew how it felt. After a few moments he cleared his throat and wiped his eyes.
“Then what I said on the bluff was true. I really couldn’t imagine what you were going through.” He began to tear up again and Willow wiped her eyes. “The way this feels, it’s…unbearable…and I’m sorry you lost Tara – truly sorry you had to feel this way too.”
“Oh Xander,” Willow told him pulling him into another hug and stroked the back of his head. “For what it’s worth, I’m gonna miss Anya…but don’t you dare tell anyone I said that…I’ve got a reputation to uphold after all.”
She pulled back and looked at him with a grin even though the tears still stained her face. He smiled too at the comment.
“I know. And she liked you too Willow. She told me once and I quote ‘Against my better judgment yes I like Willow. There. I said it. Are you happy now?’” Xander began to chuckle lightly at the memory. “But that was Anya.”
Willow began to chuckle a bit harder as if she remembered something and Xander’s expression begged for an explanation.
“Remember that Halloween, the night Dawn went missing and you dressed up like a pirate?”
“Yeah,” he grinned.
“Tara told me while we were out searching for Dawn that Anya came up and asked her if she ever played ‘shiver me timbers’ because that’s what you two were gonna play that night,” Willow explained.
“Oh you’re kidding? She didn’t.”
“Of course she did.”
“And Tara’s response?”
“Something along the lines of not needing any timber or something like that,” Willow answered. “But like you said, that was Anya. She was never afraid to say what she felt.”
Willow watched the smile begin to leave Xander’s face and she spoke up. “And even though it doesn’t seem like it now…There’s gonna come a day when you think about her, remember her…and you can smile without turning on the water works.”
“Promise?” Xander asked with a sigh.
Willow nodded. Then she stood up and reached out her hand. “Come on. You’re gonna come up stairs and go to bed. You don’t have to sleep – just promise me you’ll lay down for awhile with your eyes closed.”
“Ah, I see. You’re gonna trick me into getting rest?”
“Well if I told you it wouldn’t be a trick, now would it?” she replied with a smile. “Come on,” she nodded.
Xander took her hand and stood up but she wouldn’t let go. She walked hand in hand with him and led him into Buffy’s room.
The Slayer was laying in the bed with a box of Cheez-Nips and the remote control for the TV, watching a 1950’s B-movie horror flick. She patted the bed. “Have a lay. Lots of room.”
Xander grinned and climbed on the king size bed and took the box from Buffy. “Hey! Those are mine,” she teased.
“Share share alike,” he told her.
“Fine. Come on in Will. There’s lots of space.”
“I would but…” She knew Kennedy was waiting for her but she knew this was important. She climbed into bed too, stealing the box from Xander. “Oh what the Hell.”
“What are we watching?” Xander asked, popping a few snacks in his mouth.
“‘The Curse of something or other’ I’m sure. All these ‘classics’ start with the phrase ‘The Curse of’. I think the movie is more cheesier than the crackers.”
The three of them smiled at each other and although not a single one mentioned it, it felt like home. It was like the old days when Buffy would pop in a movie and the three of them would snack on the goodies that Joyce brought to her bedroom. Laying there and doing nothing but making snide, sarcastic comments about the film and junk fooding themselves into oblivion, the trio was happy. Yes they had terrible losses…but they still had each other.
Willow woke up and looked around. An infomercial was on TV and the clock read 4 am. Oh jeez, she thought as she untangled herself from Xander’s hold. Once she was free he rolled over and decided to snuggle into Buffy. She grinned as she watched them. We managed to get him to sleep – yay us! Tiptoeing out, as not to wake them she headed back to her bedroom.
She crept inside to find Kennedy asleep, naked, in the mix of sheets and pillows. Guess she started without me, Willow grinned. She too disrobed and slipped under the covers snuggling next to her lover. True, they lost loved ones but they still had each other. They were both alive. They were going to be okay. And Willow felt the need and desire to fulfill her promise.
She began to kiss Kennedy’s neck and the raven-haired woman stirred slightly before opening her eyes.
“MmHm,” Willow murmured against Kennedy’s earlobe. The sensation woke the Slayer up even more and that’s when she looked down.
“And you’re naked.”
“That I am,” Willow responded.
The next sensation the witch felt was herself being rolled over and her lover on top of her.
“Now you’re mine,” Kennedy said with a lecherous grin.
“I am,” Willow told her sincerely. “So show me.”
“Show you what Sweetie?”
“Show me how great it is to be alive.”
Kennedy grinned and planted a soft kiss on Willow’s lips before pulling back to look in her eyes. “Anything you wish.”
Giles opened his eyes but didn’t roll over.
“Andrew? Why on earth are you shaking the bed…On second thought, maybe I don’t want to know.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll stop,” Andrew whispered.
Giles could hear the sadness in the young man’s voice. He turned on the nightstand light and reached for his glasses. “Are you alright?”
The Watcher heard him sniff before exhaling a deep sigh. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“What?” Giles asked when Andrew didn’t continue on his own. Quietly the young man sat up too and Giles could tell he’d been crying.
“Why am I alive? I’ve been asking myself all night. I should be dead. Anya…She was marvelous Mr. Giles. She took down three in one swing. Just like Xena. You know, she could even do the battle cry too better than anyone I ever heard. Of course that might have just been the acoustics in the hospital that day. Plus Anya was shorter and blonde too which would actually make her more like Gabrielle than Xena now that I think about but…” Andrew shook his head to get back on topic. “Anyway, you get the point. She went out fighting – brave and noble. And I meant what I told Xander. He would have been proud of her.”
“Well she did have many skills,” Giles said with a small, knowing grin. A look of realization washed over Andrew’s face at the catch phrase the Watcher used to describe Anya and the ‘Warrior Princess’ in the same breath. “Tell no one,” Giles whispered conspiratorially. “If any of the others knew I watched that campy television series I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Your secret is safe with me…” Andrew said with a brief grin. “Anyway, it doesn’t seem right. I battled one guy and the only reason he died is because he tripped and fell into another bringer’s sword… I took that single goof to stab the other one and he fell on top of me… and that’s when I saw it. I looked up for just a second…I tried to move…to get to her…” Andrew continued as Giles listened to not only his words but also the strain in his voice. “I saw him. The one coming up behind her…but I just couldn’t get there in time and he cut her – nearly in half. It was like…she froze. And it wasn’t like in the movies where someone has a huge dramatic death. I don’t know how to explain it. But she didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She just…stopped. And then she fell over – dead.”
“What happened to the bringer?” Giles asked.
“He just kept running like the other two that were still upright. I don’t think they realized I was alive…well that or they just wanted to get out. I managed to pull the dead bringer off of me when someone reached down and told me we had to get out.”
“You’ve been through quite a lot Andrew.”
“Yeah,” he replied with a nod. “But not like Xander. I mean, I keep remembering that tape I made and the conversation I recorded between them. He really loved her and she loved him. And now she’s dead…and it’s my fault.”
Giles watched as Andrew quickly wiped his eyes. “How do you figure?” the Watcher asked.
“I was her partner. Her back up. The Spock to her Kirk. The Riker to her Picard. The-”
“I get the point,” Giles said holding up his hand.
“…The thing is I let her down,” Andrew muttered. “I let Xander down. I let everyone down.”
“You did what you could. We all did. You think that I don’t feel some sense of guilt over the fact my partner was sliced? That if I had reacted a split second sooner Robin would be walking around fine tonight instead of being monitored by Faith? I do feel that guilt…but I also know that I did the best I could. That’s all any of us can do.”
“If you don’t mind me asking Mr. Giles. How did you survive? I mean…you’re a Watcher not a fighter.”
“You think a Watcher can’t be a fighter?” Giles answered with a grin. “It’s our duty to train fighters so we should know something about it wouldn’t you say?”
“Guess that makes sense.”
“Now keep in mind,” Giles continued, “we don’t have Slayer skills b-but in some Watcher’s case, such as myself, we study the warrior arts. Some study crossbow, martial arts…I was a fencer years ago – a rather good one I should add. A-And it’s a skill like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget.”
Andrew gave a slight grin. “That’s pretty cool…Seems like you have a real purpose. That’s great.”
“But you don’t. Is that what I’m hearing?”
“Maybe when I get over the fact that I should be dead I’ll figure it out.”
Giles paused a moment. He wasn’t sure what to add but he could see that Andrew, despite his shortcomings did have a good heart. Didn’t he himself have reckless moments in his youth? Didn’t his trusted ally and friend, Willow, try to destroy the world a year ago? People change but deep down they always remain what they are – what they were intended to be. Some people like himself, Willow and even Faith find their calling while some do not. Giles knew the events that happened hours before profoundly affected the young man.
“Look Andrew…You don’t have to answer now but I’m going to be starting a Watcher’s Council in Cleveland. You’re welcome to come along if you like.”
“You mean that? I could be like…a Watcher.”
“No,” Giles said with a grin and watched as Andrew’s face fell. “However we do need help in other areas. Someone to make sure things run smoothly for us.”
“Like your minion, you mean? A gofer?”
Yes that’s exactly what I mean, Giles considered silently. But he wanted to be sure to put it in a better light.
“Well, we’ll be busy setting things up s-so we’ll need an individual who can get things done for us that are important but perhaps not directly related t-to the act of Watching or Slaying. As I said, think it over-.”
“I’ll do it.”
Giles chuckled lightly at his enthusiasm. “Well, first order of business. Don’t tell anyone. I haven’t approached the others yet. Do you think you can handle that?”
“Absolutely. Mum’s the word,” he said with a sincere grin.
“Well, you’re infuriating at times and bloody hell annoying at others but…I think your heart is in the right place. You had many chances to run from this fight and you didn’t. I admire that Andrew. I truly do.”
“Thank you Mr. Giles. That means a lot.”
“Well, let’s try to get some rest then. What do you say?”
Andrew nodded and began to lay back down as Giles took off his glasses and turned off the light before settling in himself.
Andrew cleared his throat. “I hope I don’t let you down Mr. Giles.”
“You haven’t so far Andrew. Goodnight.”
“Morning,” Dawn said to the breakfast table, everyone was present except for her sister. “Hey, where’s Buffy?”
“She already ate. She’s out back,” Faith told her as she pointed.
Dawn poured two cups of orange juice and headed outside. She found Buffy lying in the sun on a chaise as she walked over. “Sister bearing sun kissed refreshments,” she announced.
Buffy turned and smiled. “Hmm, yummy,” she said taking the glass as Dawn took a seat beside her.
“So how’d it go last night?” she asked. “With Xander? Figured you guys would need your space.” Buffy chuckled at her sister’s comment. “What’s so funny?” she asked.
“You really are growing up aren’t you?” Buffy said with a proud grin.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the teenager asked.
“Well last year you’d probably be complaining because I put you in a room with two other Slayers or you’d be asking why you couldn’t be ‘part of the gang’.”
“No, it’s totally cool. I knew you guys needed some privacy last night.”
“Yep,” Buffy said with a nod, holding her grin in place. “Growing up alright.”
“Never thought you’d see the day huh?” Dawn chuckled.
“Had my doubts and some days I still do.”
“Hey!” Dawn said swatting her arm.
Buffy just grinned and continued, “But really…it looks good on you Dawn. And to answer your question it was Will that got Xander to bed. I think losing Tara helped – oh boy did that come out all wrong.”
“No I get it – misery loves company. And we certainly have our company here don’t we?”
“Yeah, sadly we do.”
A small silence passed between them as they both thought about people they cared for and lost – Jenny, Joyce, Tara, Anya, Amanda. Even the short-lived friendship Dawn had with Cassie came to mind. But there was one in particular that was at the forefront in the mind of the Slayer’s sister.
“I’m gonna miss Spike,” Dawn said quietly. “No matter how old I got I always envisioned he’d call me lil bit. But now, no one ever will again.”
“I could,” Buffy offered. “But I know it’s not the same.”
Dawn paused a moment to give her sister a serious examination. “Are you okay with it Buffy? Well maybe not okay but more hurt than you’re letting show?”
“Are you Willow now?” Buffy answered.
“Well,” Dawn began in a teasing, sing-song voice, “there was this cute girl in gym class I fancied before the apocalypse broke out and-.”
“Very funny,” Buffy said with a gentle smile. “And yes I’m okay. I’m not great but I’m not…well…I’m not Xanderish about it…But yeah, I’m gonna miss him and at some point I think it’s gonna hit me harder. I’ll cry. I’ll mourn. But I’ll think about how proud he looked when I last saw him. He was doing the right thing Dawn.”
Another small silence passed between them as they sipped their juice.
“So what exactly did the scoobies do last night?” Dawn asked.
“Watched bad 50’s horror flicks until we passed out. I think we all fell asleep together but when I woke up Will was gone.”
“Well, by the grin on Kennedy’s face this morning, I think it’s safe to assume Willow made it back to her room at some point.”
Buffy just chuckled.
After a few sips of orange juice Dawn continued, “So what are we going to do now? Sunnydale’s gone now. Along with the house. All of our stuff that wasn’t in a duffle bag…So any idea where we go from here?”
“I’m not sure. I’m just gonna enjoy my first day of retirement,” she told her sister. “But I promise after I’ve had a chance to put it all together I’ll give you an answer this week…I mean I know I’d like to travel but we need to find you a steady home, a school that is hopefully demon free and a chance for us to…I don’t know…get to know each other…I told you it was a big world and I wanted to show you things – teach you, train you in how to be strong,” Buffy added with a grin. “I wanna keep my promise Dawn but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that as a Slayer. I want that to be my focus right now if that’s okay with you.”
“I’m totally okay with that,” Dawn grinned.
“Good. Because I want to know who my sister is and I want her to have as much of a normal life as possible.”
“But not too normal because, you know, that would just get boring.”
“Stable but exciting and fun filled. Think I can manage that,” Buffy said with a smile.
“Kennedy,” Giles asked coming over to the sofa where Kennedy was lying with her head in Willow’s lap. “Do you mind if I have a word with Willow alone?”
Kennedy looked back and forth between the Watcher and her lover as she rose. “Sure,” she answered, giving Willow access to leave.
Giles motioned Willow to follow him, which the redhead did, without comment. He took her outside to the front of the house and once they had their privacy the witch spoke.
“Okay, did someone else die? What’s the-.”
“No one’s dead. Everything is fine…I just have a proposition for you that I didn’t want to mention in front of Kennedy.”
“This isn’t one of the indecent variety is it? Because that would just be creepy.”
“No,” Giles said as he chuckled. “I’m going to Cleveland Willow. And I’m rebuilding the Watcher’s Council there. And I’d like you to come with me but I don’t know if you and Kennedy have made any future plans yet and I didn’t want to put either one of you on the spot for an answer. I thought I’d speak to you first to see if it’s something that both of you might be interested in.”
“Aside from what we’d like for dinner? We’re not thinking that far ahead at the moment. Still kinda worn out, ya know?”
“Certainly,” Giles agreed. “But I’ve been considering it. I wanted to ask you in private; t-to test the waters. She, of course, is welcome too but…my history is with you. I thought I should ask you first.”
“Well that depends. I mean…what would you have me do?”
“I need someone I trust to help me run the council. In addition, the coven is still in England but I’d like to form one here in the states. And I’d like you to run it.”
Giles simply nodded.
“I don’t know what to say,” Willow answered, as her grin grew larger by the second.
“I’m hoping you’ll say yes,” Giles told her. “It’s the perfect opportunity to put your Wicca skills and knowledge to use. You could give guidance and training to many young men and women. I think you have knowledge that would be wonderful to impart.”
“Did you ask the others – Buffy and Xander, I mean?”
“No,” Giles replied. “Not yet.”
“So I’m the first one,” Willow beamed. Giles didn’t say anything but Willow could recognize that look of guilt anywhere. “Okay so I’m not the first one?” she asked.
“I…sort of…asked Andrew…first.”
Willow’s jaw dropped. “You asked Andrew first? Boy, do I feel extra special.”
“You don’t understand. You weren’t there. He was crying a-and-.”
“Crying? That’s what it takes to be tops in your book?”
Giles gave up at that point. “Are you quite finished?”
“No, not yet. Andrew? Really?”
Giles sighed. “He’s trying to find his place and you know as well as I do he had many opportunities to flee if he wanted to. All of us did and like all of us he stood his ground.”
Willow had to give Giles that. It was true. Andrew might have been scared but he wasn’t a coward. “Andrew,” she mumbled.
“I need someone to run the day to day activities for what I have in mind and I think it would suit him well.”
“And you want me to start a coven?” Willow asked to clarify her role.
“Yes. But I also need your research skills and intellect. I’ve met some highly intelligent people in my years but I must say you are one of the brightest I’ve come across.” Willow blushed slightly and broke eye contact until Giles continued. “This won’t be an easy venture but I need you. And if you feel you can’t do it I understand. I’ll have no ill feelings. But with this-this new council as it were, I have the chance to keep the Watchers alive for all these active Slayers. I can ‘re-write’ and update the council creed and bring it up to the 21st century.”
“Gee, Giles, to do that would mean computers too and I know how allergic you are.”
Giles grinned. “Yes, as much as I hate to admit it – that’s part of it. Doesn’t mean I have to like it you know? But it is what one might call a necessary evil.”
“Computers are not evil.”
“You have your opinion I have mine,” he said with a grin. “Let’s agree to disagree shall we?”
“So how are we gonna do all this?”
“We?” Giles asked.
“Well I mean you,” Willow corrected herself. Giles tried to hold back his grin. He was close to getting a confirmation. He could feel it. “I can’t say I’m on board until I talk things over with Kennedy. But I’m interested – no doubt there,” Willow added.
“To be honest I’m not sure. I need money. I have some but I’m not sure if it’s enough to get started.”
“What about the council?” Willow asked.
“What about them?”
“I mean…with the council gone kaboom, what happened to all their money? Not like they’d leave that under a mattress some place, right?”
“I’m not sure. It’s probably sitting in a Swiss Bank account somewhere,” Giles shrugged.
“Where no one is using it or claiming it?”
Another slight grin came to the Watcher’s face. “Just what are you suggesting?”
“There’s money to be had. Probably lots and lots of money that’s doing nothing but earning a return for a bank out there…To the victor go the spoils Giles.”
“No, it’s too dangerous.” he told her.
“Oh come on. A little hack here, a little hack there. Here a hack; there a hack. Everywhere a hack hack.”
“You can’t help me run the council from a jail cell,” he said firmly.
“Cell, schmell,” Willow brushed him off with a wave of her hand. “I just find a few accounts, change a few names. Where’s the harm?”
“Oh I don’t know. Bank forgery? Embezzlement? Grand Larceny?” Giles quipped.
“Well yeah when you put it that way,” Willow said with a sarcastic snort. “But think about it Giles. That money is sitting there doing nothing. It was used to fight evil in the world. You’re taking up that fight now – you are the rightful heir.”
“Nice spin you put on it,” Giles admitted.
“It’s not spin. It’s fact…And don’t let this go to your head but there isn’t anyone else out there as qualified as you. You’ve been in the trenches for 7 years now and not tucked behind some ivy clung palace. You know what this battle is all about. The council was so far removed from what it takes to-.”
“I understand,” Giles interrupted. “I do. And you are right. No one has contacted me except for Robson and he has had no contact from anyone either.”
“So what’s the problem then?” Willow pressed.
“I’m not sure how…ethical…it is.”
“This from a man that broke into the council to claim the only known books on the First to avoid bureaucracy?”
“Well that was different.” Willow didn’t reply she just cocked her head and raised her eyebrows in disbelieve. “Okay so it’s no different but still…I don’t want to endanger you,” the Watcher added.
“Giles I’ve been endangering myself since sophomore year. Ya think I’m gonna stop now? Especially with something this important?”
“I couldn’t ask you to do it,” Giles told her sincerely.
“You’re not asking. And at this point I’m not offering either. I’m gonna do it Giles. You need it. It’s not an overstatement to say the world needs it. A-And you know me well enough that you’re gonna get the money regardless of what you say. I’ve made up my mind.”
“Sounds like a bit of a commitment on your part. Sure you don’t want to speak with Kennedy first as you planned?” Giles smirked.
“I’m her way. Where I go, she goes. Or so she told me…Guess I find out how true that is because it looks like I’m going to Cleveland,” Willow concluded with a grin.
Willow snaked her arm through Giles and they walked back into the house.
Kennedy looked over at the sound of the door opening and watched as Willow and Giles entered with their arms linked. They grinned and spoke to each other. Giles said something and Willow gave a nod.
Next the Watcher kissed the Wiccan on the cheek and made his way toward the kitchen. Unsure of just what the touching exchange meant, Kennedy rose from the sofa and closed the distance between her and Willow.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“You like football, right? The 49ers?”
“49ers…?” Kennedy looked confused at first but found her voice. “Well, yeah. But what’s that got to do with-.”
“Ever consider becoming a Browns fan instead?” Willow asked with a smile as she led Kennedy by the hand upstairs.
Giles passed Dawn as she re-entered the house carrying two empty juice glasses. “Is Buffy still outside?” he asked as he walked.
“Yeah, over by the pool,” Dawn pointed and continued on her way.
Giles walked outside to find Buffy in a bikini, soaking up the sun.
“Whatever you want,” Buffy muttered with her eyes closed. “The answer is no.”
“Not even a consideration?” Giles teased.
“Oh hey Giles!” Buffy said sitting up. “I thought it was Dawn asking me to take her someplace.”
“Someplace?” he asked taking a seat on the chaise next to her.
“Yeah. She wanted to go to the mall today but I told her I’m not going anywhere for the next 24 hours. She did, however, manage to talk me into a movie studio tour before the end of the week, which prompts me to ask…how did you do it?”
“Do what?” he asked obviously confused.
“Manage a head strong 16-year-old girl.”
Giles simply grinned. “If you remember correctly I didn’t succeed most of the time. And I must admit,” he said sparing a glance toward the house. “You certainly have your hands full now.”
“This is the Watchers curse isn’t it? Giving me an incorrigible sister to look after. I thank you muchly.”
“Twas nothing,” he nodded with a small grin. “And lest we forget she has Summers blood.”
Buffy settled back as if she was reflecting for a moment. “Was I really that bad? Not that Dawn is bad. She’s got her moments – like last night, giving the Scoobies and me space but…then again she’s…well she’s got her moments! Like not taking no for an answer and whittling me down until I cave into what she wanted to do.” Buffy paused a moment. “You know, now that I said that out loud…Don’t bother answering that question. I remember. I was that bad.”
“You, like Dawn, always did the proper thing when it mattered most,” he offered anyway. “Even at 16,” he added in afterthought. He looked as if he was about to speak again but stopped and Buffy noticed the shift in mood.
“Do you have bad news? Did someone just die because-? ” Buffy asked motioning toward the house.
“Wha-No,” he answered with slight annoyance. “Why is everyone asking me this?”
“Well for starters you’ve got Giles face,” she answered.
“There is no such thing,” he replied.
“There sure is,” Buffy countered. “Your lips purse, your eyes get squinty and if you didn’t have those new, hip contact lens you’ve been wearing you’d be cleaning your glasses right about now. So what gives?”
He chuckled, pinching the bridge of his nose as he gave up pretending.
“Yes, you’re correct. I do have ‘Giles face’ as you say…I needed to ask you something.”
“Spill it,” Buffy told him.
Giles paused a moment to organize his thoughts. “I’m forming a Watchers Council in Cleveland and I’d like to know if you’d come aboard.”
“Really? A new council huh?”
He nodded. “I’m trying to talk to everyone, individually so they don’t feel they have to join us and I’d like-.”
“Who’s us?” Buffy asked.
“Well at this point Willow has agreed to come which I’m assuming means Kennedy as well,” he told her. In a smaller voice he added, “And Andrew.”
“Andrew? You asked Andrew before you asked me? I mean Willow sure – she’s the brainy-ac. I could see why you’d ask her but-.”
“Are you all going to do this to me?” Giles asked.
Buffy paused a moment, considering his choice of words. “Wait a second. All?…You mean you asked Andrew before you asked Willow?”
“Look, it doesn’t matter who I asked first,” Giles replied trying to get back on topic.
“Was Willow offended?”
“Buffy,” he sighed.
“Well was she?”
“Of course she was but I didn’t have a choice. He was crying last night a-and I felt-.”
“You big push over,” Buffy teased. “Damn. If I’d know that crying was the key to getting my way think of all the clashes with you I could have avoided all these years.”
“Buffy,” he sighed again.
“Sorry,” she said with a grin. “A new Watchers Council with you and Willow at the helm I’m assuming?”
“Yes,” he replied. “And I need people to oversee the Slayers we’ll be bringing into the group. You were the chosen one Buffy. I’d like you to be a part of it as well.”
“Emphasis on the word ‘were’ – I’m not anymore.”
“Does that mean you won’t do it?” Giles asked. “As I told Willow I would have no hard feelings if you don’t feel that you can join but…y-you’re presence and experience would be put to good use I assure you.” Buffy looked at Giles briefly, the corners of her lips turned downward before she began playing with her fingernails. When she didn’t say anything Giles added, “You’ve got Buffy face.”
She gave a forced grin. “I think it’s a noble idea Giles. I think you’d do a damn better job than Travers ever did, that’s for sure.”
“But…” Buffy said with a sigh. “I have to make Dawn my priority now. And I don’t think I can do that as a Slayer Giles. I tried but the Slayer duties sidetracked me. I don’t think I can do both. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he answered immediately.
“Why? It’s pretty selfish to bail isn’t it?”
Giles gave her a warm grin before he spoke.
“I’m not holding anything against anyone that wishes to walk away, least of all you…I-It’s true that we all helped the Slayer but you were the Slayer Buffy. That meant that everything fell to your shoulders in the end. After nearly a decade of sustaining that weight I can see your need to take a step back. And I don’t think your refusal is rooted in selfishness. You’re doing it for Dawn as well. And that’s what I find to be a noble idea.”
“Do you really mean that Giles?” Buffy asked on the verge of tears.
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it…Take your respite Buffy. You’ve more than earned it.”
Buffy leaned over and pulled Giles into a hug. “Thank you,” she said softly.
He could hear a light sob in her voice and his arms found their way around her, tightened the hold. “You’ll visit, won’t you? Stop by to see us?”
“Count on it,” Buffy said as she pulled back and wiped her eyes of the unshed tears that hung there. “And if things get really nasty and you find yourself in a pinch, I’m a phone call away…Of course I’m not quite sure where my phone will be at this point but I’ll look into getting a phone and a house that’s not buried under a town someplace,” she joked. “Point is, you can still always count on me when it really matters.”
Giles smiled warmly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Cleveland huh?” Kennedy asked.
Willow sat on the bed and watched Kennedy pacing in front of her.
“Yeah, that’s where I’m heading. We hadn’t discussed what would happen after everything because you know, there might not have been an after part a-and outta sight outta mind was better we said but-.”
“Do you want me to go?” Kennedy asked.
“Absolutely. You’ve been war tested and you shoot a pretty mean crossbow a-and-.”
“No Willow,” Kennedy stopped her. “Do YOU want me there? I mean I don’t see any double bride commitment ceremonies this soon, well actually I’d be more the tux type, but you get the point. It’s a pretty big step.”
“Is it one you don’t wanna take?” Willow asked.
“Well if I do go, it’s not just for you. I mean yeah it’s for you too. I want more Willow,” Kennedy added with a grin. “But this sounds important and I’d like to help Giles. Plus maybe I can show the new girls that come a thing or two. And if I can keep you in my life then yeah…it sounds like a good idea to me but like I said, only if you want me there.”
“I want you,” Willow replied, smiling.
“Oh really?” Kennedy teased before pausing and falling to her knees in front of Willow. “How much?” The dark haired woman’s fingers began to make trails up the outside of the witch’s denim covered thighs.
Willow gave a bashful grin and stroked Kennedy’s face. “More than you realize I think.”
“I can imagine quite a bit if last night was any indication,” she retorted with a sly smile.
Willow gave a contented sigh. “I’d love to show you but at the moment I-I promised Giles I’d speak with Xander.”
“Duty calls huh?” Kennedy said moving away and coming up to sit beside her lover.
“I’m sorry,” Willow said sincerely.
“No, it’s okay. I get it. I’ve been around the Scoobies enough to know how this all works.”
“Later?” Willow asked hopefully.
Kennedy ran her fingertips over Willow’s cheek before pulling her closer by the chin. Her lips lightly teased the witch. “Count on it,” she answered in a husky voice.
Willow took an unsteady breath and gave Kennedy’s thigh a tender squeeze. “Okay I gotta get outta here now,” she replied with a chuckle before standing up.
“Hurry back,” Kennedy teased as she jumped on the bed and gave it a little pat.
Willow just smiled and shook her head before she left. “You drive me wild, girl,” she muttered under her breath.
“Good to know,” she heard Kennedy announce after she had left the room.
Willow still had her grin when she walked down to Xander and Buffy’s room and knocked on the door. “Xander? You in there?”
“Come on in Will,” she heard him call out.
“Hiya,” Willow waved as she entered and closed the door behind her. Xander was lying on the bed watching television. She walked over and picked up the remote, turning it off. “I wanted to talk to you. Well, actually Giles wanted me to talk to you to be more accurate but I did too.”
“What’s up?” he asked with slight hesitation.
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“The beginning is usually a good place,” he told her.
“The beginning huh? Okay, well, remember when we met Buffy and found out she was a Slayer and Giles was her Watcher?”
“Do we have to go back THAT FAR Will?”
“Probably not,” she reconsidered. “Okay, cutting to the chase now. Giles is gonna start a new Watchers Council in Cleveland. Kennedy and I are going and he wanted me to ask if you’d like to join us. A-and like he told me – no pressure. We’re just checking with everyone to see what they think.”
“You’re moving to Cleveland?” Xander asked. “Where? When?”
“We’re not sure yet. But that’s where we’re heading after I get a few details squared away.” She grinned before adding; “You know, transferring a few Old Council’s funds to us and such.”
“You can do that?” Xander asked.
“Well I don’t know how much the cops would like it but yeah. It’ll take me a few weeks I’m sure but eventually I’ll find their accounts…So what do you say? Wanna join us?”
Xander paused and took a deep breath. “Another Hellmouth?”
“Yeah there’s more than one on earth. A-and we could use you there.”
“What? For those late night coffee and donut runs?”
“No,” Willow answered immediately.
“Maybe a few repair jobs after the baddies trash the place or hey, maybe I can be the resident pirate? Think Giles would spring for a parrot?”
Willow wasn’t sure how to respond – there was an acidity in his voice that made her uncomfortable. “Xander, what’s wrong?”
“Do you really have to ask that question Will?”
“Yeah I think I do,” she replied.
“I lived on a Hellmouth my entire life. I’ve watched friends and lovers die. I’ve lost partial sight and everything I owned and worked for, except for a duffle bag, is now buried under a pile of rubble…Don’t get me wrong Will. I was happy to help. And if you and Giles and the rest of the gang want to keep up the fight you can but…I just don’t have any more fight left in me. I’m sorry.”
“So you’re not gonna come?” Willow asked. “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know. No job, no apartment, no…Anya…But one thing I do know is no more fighting evil. I can’t. This last one – this battle – short of my own life Will, it cost me everything. I just don’t think I can do it anymore.”
“Well you still got us Xander,” Willow told him. “You haven’t lost everything.”
“Yeah but how long will that last Will? How many more battle, if I live through them, will I watch people I love die? It’s a good fight Willow and you and Giles will do a great job. But I need to get out of it. I need to figure out just what I want in this world. I hope you can understand that.”
Willow pursed her lips and took a deep breath.
“Hey, I spent a summer in England trying to figure out what I wanted in life so I can relate,” she told him, trying her best to sound optimistic. “Doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed you won’t come. A-and saying I’ll miss you is an epic understatement.”
“I’ll miss you too Will but…I just can’t do the Scoobies scene. Not now and maybe not ever. Everything is just so…”
“Bleak, black and despairy?”
“To name a few.”
“Well,” Willow began. “A-And this is not any pressure at all to join us but…if you change your mind Xander you’re always welcome. You know that right?”
Xander gave her a sad grin. “Yeah I do. Thanks for the offer but I gotta pass. I’m sorry.”
“Aww, don’t be sorry Xander. Take some time to figure things out. Get back on your feet again. Maybe that will change and you’ll wanna come back but again,” she added quickly. “No pressure. Okay?”
“I’ll try,” he told her.
Realizing it was pointless to talk about it further Willow figured she’d check in with Giles and give him the bad news. Quietly she slipped from the room and made her way downstairs.
Rona, Vi and a few of the other girls were at the kitchenette table playing cards. “Anyone seen Giles?” she asked.
“He was looking for Faith so he’s probably upstairs,” Vi told her.
“Thanks,” she replied before heading up.
She knocked on the door and heard Giles voice. “Come in.”
“So how’s the big guy doing?” Willow asked walking over to the bed where Robinwas sitting up against the headboard.
“As long as Faith here keeps the morphine coming? I can’t complain,” he smiled.
“I’m turning him into a stoner,” Faith quipped. “Heard you’re making the big trip out to Cleveland,” she added.
“Yeah I am and so is Kennedy too,” Willow answered, nodding toward Giles with the news.
“Cool,” she nodded. “I’ve gotta second in command to run things with me then. That’ll work.”
“Run things? Does that mean you’re coming?” Willow said with a hopeful grin.
“Well it was either another Hellmouth or another prison. Talk about your worst of two evils huh?” Faith told her with a smile.
“You threatened her with jail!” Willow asked turning to Giles.
“I did no such thing. I made the offer and she took it.”
“Nah,” Faith admitted. “Giles here asked and I was going to do one of two things – turn myself in or get a Slayer gig somewhere. His plan fit. So I signed on.”
“As did I,” Robin added. “And if I said no then Faith would stop the drugs and I’d be in serious pain right now.”
“That is so not true Dude,” she chuckled and slapped his arm. “You gotta get used to his warped sense of humor Will. It takes time.”
“How did it go with Xander?” Giles asked.
Willow gave a defeated sigh.
“Not well I take it?” Giles prompted.
“I’m worried about him Giles. He’s not taking things well and he doesn’t think he can be a part of it. He’s gotta point though. He’s lost a lot.”
“Well B’s comin’ right?” Faith asked.
“Well, no actually,” Giles told them.
“No?” Faith and Willow both echoed in disbelief.
“She wants to look after Dawn. Try to give her a stable home. I can understand that.”
“Well I can’t,” Faith told him. “Let her find a damn stable home in Cleveland. She was the Chosen One for how long? It’s her duty.”
“It WAS her duty. It doesn’t have to be now,” Giles retorted.
“You’re okay with this Giles?” Willow asked.
“Yes I am,” he answered honestly. “I can’t make Buffy join us anymore than you can get Xander to come along. Everyone that’s with us needs to be WITH us – absolutely, totally. If they’re not committed to it t-then in all honestly they’re of little use to us.”
“That’s true,” Willow answered.
“No. It’s not,” Faith challenged. “It’s BS. You all got into this fight to help THE Slayer and she’s what? Just gonna quit while we carry on the fight? It’s wrong.”
“Why does this bother you so much?” Giles asked.
“Buffy could offer so much to these young girls we bring into the academy before we chuck them and their Watchers out into the world.”
“You can be an effective leader too Faith, without Buffy,” Giles pointed out.
“That’s not the point Giles,” the dark Slayer answered. “B’s got a duty, a responsibility – a birthright! Yeah I did too and I screwed it up royally and ended up in jail. But I’m gonna set things right. I’m not walking away from the fight. And she shouldn’t either.”
“Perhaps you should speak with her t-to clear the air?” Giles offered.
“Or clean her clock,” Faith answered. “What’s with her?”
“She wants to care for Dawn,” the Watcher explained. “She’s tried before but she wasn’t able to do both.”
“Okay so she wants to take care of her sis. I get that,” Faith answered. “But still Giles…to have her walk away. Aren’t you the least bit bitter?”
“No,” Giles replied truthfully. “Because I’ve seen her grow from an impetuous girl to a responsible woman. I’ve watched her battle countless demons; fight major apocalypses; sacrifice her life. She needs this time to think, to gain her perspective. She spent so much time saving the world I think it’s time she had the chance to see more of it.”
“I can’t believe she’s not coming,” Willow answered. “Xander, yeah, as much as I hate to admit it. I mean I can see why he needs to take a step back from the Hellmouth. I did too after everything with Tara…But Buffy…It’s just gonna feel odd. The group’s splitting up Giles and I never thought I’d see that happen,” Willow added, moving to a chair in the opposite corner. “I need to sit down.”
“These people will always be a part of our life Willow,” the watcher stressed. “We’re not going to go to Cleveland and vanish forever.”
“Well it is a Hellmouth. That could happen.” Faith snorted.
Giles gave a frustrated nod. “You have a point,” he told her before turning to face Willow. “…but all things being equal that’s not going to happen. We’re not going to forget about them and they won’t forget about us. We’ll still always be there for each other. We’ll do the right thing no matter how difficult or risky it might seem. We will continue to make sacrifices for each other when it really counts. That will never change.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Willow conceded.
“I know I’m right. Buffy and Xander are both just a phone call away. Just the same as we are for them I should add,” Giles told her.
“Okay,” Faith nodded. “So when the demons of Cleveland are kicking our ass who’s gonna be on phone duty? And while we’re at it, do you think Buffy can catch a flight soon enough before we’re all dead or the world ends?”
“Faith,” Giles sighed. Before he could continue Robin reached out and took Faith’s hand.
“Baby settle down, please,” he said softly.
Something happened that Willow and Giles didn’t expect. Faith took a deep breath and sat down slowly on the bed next to her lover.
“It just upsets me,” she answered in a calmer voice.
“I know,” Robin said tightening his hold on her hand. “The entire room can feel it but…I’m talking from experience here. If Buffy wants to give up the Slayer life – if she doesn’t have to the Chosen One anymore – let her. My mom’s watcher told me how my mother wanted out to raise her son. Buffy’s got the chance my mom never had. I think we should give her that.”
“Yeah well your opinion is biased,” Faith countered with a grin. “I’m sorry but that’s true.”
“It’s absolutely biased. I won’t argue that.” He grinned back at her. “But that doesn’t make my opinion less valid or wrong.”
Faith took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.
“Okay, fine.” She nodded. “I see you folks are all in agreement and in keeping with the new and improved Faith I’ll let majority rule. Doesn’t mean I can’t have some quiet resentment. Just means I’ll drop it.”
“Well thank you for the artificial understanding,” Giles replied with a slight grin.
“Yo, you’re lucky you got that,” Faith told him pointing a finger.
“So moving onto other things,” Robin said, trying to stir things away from another potential argument. “…what about the other girls? Have you asked them?”
“We’ll have a meeting tonight to discuss our plans; find out who else might like to join us.”
“Well give me plenty of notice,” Robin advised, “I’d like to be present and it takes me awhile to get around.”
“I could always carry you,” Faith offered, flexing her arm muscle.
“Slayer or no slayer, my male ego would never let me live it down. No girlfriend of mine is gonna carry my battered body around. Sorry.”
“Girlfriend huh?” Faith answered.
“Hey, I don’t make promises to just anyone,” he said with a smile. “I want something outta this deal too you know?”
“Oh and just what did you have in mind?” Faith added with a teasing grin.
“I wanna know that the beautiful, ass kicking gal on my arm wants to be mine. You gotta problem with that?” he countered playfully.
“I can adjust,” Faith replied with a smile. “And you know any other guy that just gave that speech would end up with a punch to the gut.”
“No gut punches,” Robin said placing his hand over his bandage. “Give me a few months until I’m fully recovered. Then you can try to open fire.”
“Boy if that doesn’t sound like true love,” Willow quipped.
“Perhaps Faith has met her match,” Giles said joining in the fun.
Faith paused a moment and looked at Robin before turning back to Giles. “Maybe I have,” she confessed with a grin.
“We’ve called you all here for a reason,” Giles began. The entire household was gathered around the living room as the Watcher addressed them. “Many of you have asked about our plans at this point. A few of you want to return to your homes and the lives you knew. After we tell you what we have in mind, take the next few days to decide.”
Kennedy sat next to Willow on the sofa with her legs tucked underneath her and her arms curled around the redhead’s arm; her chin resting comfortably on Willow’s shoulder. Faith was seated next to Robin with her arm protectively yet comfortable around him, the limb resting on the back of the oversized stuffed chair.
“Now many rumors might be floating around so we’re going to settle a few things. First, it is true that Willow Rosenberg and myself will be heading to Cleveland to begin rebuilding the Watchers Council. And yes, there is another Hellmouth located in Cleveland. At this time, Andrew, Faith, Mr. Wood and Kennedy will be joining us. You’re all invited-.”
“What about Buffy and Dawn?” Rona called out.
“And Xander?” Vi added.
“They’ve been invited as well but they have…”
“Had enough?” Rona quipped.
“I was going to say prior commitments,” Giles added.
“Hey!” Dawn said standing up, waving a finger at Rona before Giles could continue. “I’ve watched my sister fight for 7 years not 7 months. When you start saving the world on an annual basis and saving numerous lives each night you can have an opinion.”
“All I’m saying-.”
Rona didn’t have the chance to finish.
“You’ve been ‘saying’ ever since you arrived,” Dawn countered sarcastically.
“Dawn,” Buffy said, reaching up, trying to make her stop.
It did no good. Dawn just shrugged her arm away and continued.
“You’ve bitched and whined since the first day you got here. You’ve never added anything of use to the group and every comment you make is almost as caustic as hers,” Dawn said now pitching a thumb back toward Kennedy.
“Hey!” the brunette shouted, moving away from Willow and rising to her feet.
“But at least Kennedy has redeeming qualities,” Dawn added in after thought.
Rona stood up, her stomach and arm both healed now thanks to Slayer strength. “Like what? Boinking the sidekick?”
Willow shot a quick glance to Kennedy and noticed a vein in her neck pulsating. She tried to reach up to her but Kennedy was already in motion. Dawn walked over confidently, coming toe to toe with Rona as Kennedy following behind her. Keeping a tab on things Faith rose to her feet as well but stayed by the sofa.
“Kennedy’s a smart ass too,” Dawn told Rona. “but at least she backs up what she says. She’s not afraid to fight and she doesn’t whine about her responsibilities.”
“Look, everyone just calm down,” Giles said trying to gain control over the group.
A small quiet filled the room until Rona, Dawn and Kennedy began arguing all at once, their words getting buried under each other’s comments. After a few seconds, Willow was finished listening and darted to her feet.
“Enough!” she yelled over the debate.
Everything in the room stopped. When she had everyone’s full attention Willow turned to the two young women who stood side by side facing off against Rona.
“Kennedy. Dawnie. Please sit down.”
Kennedy paused in front of Rona a moment but walked back without question. Dawn, however, put her hands on her hips and turned to Willow. Before the first syllable left Dawn’s lips Willow cut her short with a firm voice.
“Now!” Willow ordered, pointing to a chair beside Buffy. Dawn closed her mouth and quickly darted toward her sister, taking her seat again. After she was seated her eyes didn’t leave Willow for an instant.
Rona and Kennedy silently squared off from across the room as a smirk crossed Rona’s face. “You sure are whipped,” she taunted. “Or maybe just well trained like a lap dog?”
Kennedy was on the verge of charging across the room but she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked back to see Faith now standing behind her shaking her head. “She just wants to provoke you, Ken. Don’t let her.”
Faith’s crooked smiled cooled Kennedy’s temper and she watched silently as Willow closed the distance between herself and Rona. The redhead got about three feet away from Rona and stopped. At first she said nothing. She just looked at Rona until the young woman broke eye contact first. Only then did she speak.
“You’ve wanted out from the beginning,” Willow stated in a flat, matter of fact way. “…But the fight’s over. You’re safe for now. And there’s the door,” the redhead said with a nod.
Rona didn’t say anything. She just glanced down at her feet with a look of embarrassment.
“But know this,” Willow told her, forcing her eyes up with the wave of her hand. Willow’s fingertips never touched the young woman but it was obvious that an unseen force had hoisted Rona’s chin so Willow could meet her eyes.
“Darth Rosenberg,” Andrew whispered unheard to anyone else around him.
“…that power you have, that strength,” Willow continued, “I gave it to you. And with it comes responsibility so use it wisely. You’re entitled to your opinions about anything in life, including my relationship with Kennedy. But lucky for you, I know there are things more important, things worth fighting for, than taking payback on someone shooting off flippant comments. If insulting others makes you feel better about yourself, go for it. I can’t help you there. The responsibility I speak of goes much deeper than the need to feel superior. It’s about making moral decisions – using your gifts and talents to help others and not yourself. I speak from experience and major mistakes. You should also know I’ve battled a Slayer, THE Slayer in fact. I went round for round, toe to toe. So you SLAYERETTE?” Willow harrumphed, pointing at Rona. “Don’t think I can’t take you out in a heartbeat for the ‘right’ reasons if need be. Is that understood?”
Rona nodded quickly, with fear in her eyes. The unseen force that had gripped Rona slipped away and she was finally able to move her head down again. She let out a sigh of relief as Willow turned her back to casually stroll around the room.
“All of you girls who just received your powers need leadership and training. Don’t think for a moment that this one battle, this fight in the hellmouth is the end. It’s not… True, some of you might live the rest of your lives and never see another vampire or demon again. Some of you might see them on a nightly basis. But all of you need training in how to deal with it all. That’s what we’re offering.”
Giles held back a grin as he listened but Buffy smiled openly. She looked over and could tell her Watcher was restraining himself. Giles sat to her right and she motioned him closer.
“I see why you asked her first,” she commended.
The comment broke his reserve and he simply smiled and listened as Willow continued.
“Now Giles and I are taking on a monumental task,” Willow admitted to the room, “and we don’t have time for this kind of petty crap. What we need are people who will be with us 110 percent so if you can’t give that, I suggest you leave.” Willow stopped and looked directly at Rona before her eyes moved on again. “If you wanna go it on your own, maybe see where life leads you, well, best of luck. You’re gonna need it.”
Willow stopped in front of Vi and made eye contact with her. “But if you want to take these powers you’ve been given, use them for the good of mankind as they were intended, then come with us.” Willow paused a moment and began to walk around the room again. “If you do then you’ve got to give us everything you have. We have no room for slackers. We have no need for people who want to half-ass their way through life. And we certainly don’t need people who feel the fight is drained from them.”
Willow stood behind Xander who was seated next to Dawn and she put both hands on his shoulders.
“Now Xander, Buffy and Dawn aren’t just dear friends to us – they’re family. And we’ll miss them,” Willow felt herself tear up but she took a deep breath and pushed it aside. She gave Xander a gentle squeeze before she began walking again. “But they can’t give what we’re asking. And that’s fine. They’ve already given the world so much. Much more than most of you know or even realize,” Willow told the group. “As I said, one fight doesn’t make you the be all end all in demon fighting so get that silly notion out of your heads. And if you want to learn more, train more and contribute something to the world then come with us and we’ll help. You’ve got the strength girls but now you need the true power. And knowledge is power. That’s what we’re offering, the knowledge of what it means to be a Slayer. So with that said, I apologize to Giles. I believe he had the floor.”
Without another comment Willow returned and took a seat next to Kennedy who simply beamed and took up her prior position on Willow’s arm. Faith leaned in between them.
“Damn, Red. Warn me if I ever get you angry,” she whispered while giving her a pat on the back.
Giles rose to his feet. “Well as my colleague, Ms. Rosenberg put it that’s why we’ve assembled you all here. And to be honest I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I would like to add that everyone – yes even you Rona – is welcome to join us. Willow isn’t the type to hold grudges so don’t let that stop you.”
Andrew harrumphed and rolled his eyes while Willow reflexively slapped his arm.
“Ouch!” The group turned around to see the commotion and Andrew felt all eyes on him. “Sorry, please continue Mr. Giles.”
Giles looked at the two of them for a moment. “Well not usually,” he added. He shook his head to return to his thought process and faced the room. “Point is…we need Slayers. We need you…You will be the beginning of a long line of young woman who will defend the human race, an army for humanity you could say. All of you have stood shoulder-to-shoulder and faced unspeakable evil and won. You’re all to be commended. But these are just the first few steps in a very long journey. Buffy, and even Faith, haven’t survived as long as they have by sheer power or luck alone. Both will acknowledge that they had help along the way. We’re offering that help,” Giles added as he pointed over to his ‘team’ that now sat on sofa.
“So think it over,” he continued. “Let myself or Willow know of your intentions and we’ll see that all who decide to come aboard have a place. Thank you for letting us bend your ear and if you have any questions as you consider it please let us know,” he told them with a grin and a brief nod before walking toward Willow.
Buffy rose to her feet. “Okay! Blockbuster night!” she told them, motioning toward Andrew with a wave of her hands. “I believe we’ve got something prepared if anyone is interested?”
“Oh yes!” he said rising up addressing the gathering. “You are all cordially invited to the video room tonight were we’ll be showing the 1960 Stanley Kubrick classic Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas and Sir Laurence Olivier…well, before he was a “sir” that is…It’s the epic tale of a small yet brave group of men who led a revolt against the evil, oppressive and decadent Roman Empire. You’re all invited for popcorn, Rasinettes and, at Willow’s request, Snowcaps, which will be served free of charge…Thank you. That is all,” he added nervously as he realized everyone was still watching him and not moving. Quickly he headed off to the kitchen to prepare and the room began to break up, moving around the grand room.
Wordlessly, Giles nodded Willow aside. She rose and walked into the next room with him. Before he could speak, she started.
“I’m sorry Giles. I didn’t mean to get all good cop/bad cop. I just-”
“Are you kidding?” Giles said trying to hide his joy so the others wouldn’t overhear. “It was bloody brilliant! This is exactly what I need – – what the Council needs! Don’t think for an instant that what you did in there requires reprimand. Those girls need to know that you are the Watcher and they are the Slayer.”
“Whoa, hold up! I’m the Wiccan leader, the computer engineer and the research lackey, okay? I’m far from the Watcher type.”
“Yes I know the role you wish to fill but I think you’re wrong Willow. You’re understanding and accommodating when it’s appropriate but in moments like this, when a firm hand is needed, you always rise to the occasion. You always have.”
“Yeah well my firm hand almost killed Andrew once upon a time. A-and it did kill Warren…”
Giles paused a moment and looked at her intently. “Remember when we were in England and I asked what you wanted? You said you wanted to be Willow?”
Willow nodded. “I remember. A-and I’ve been trying to get back to that.”
Giles smiled fondly. “Don’t you see? It never left. You’ve always been Willow. Through all of it.”
“That’s not very comforting Giles. I don’t want ‘Willow’ to be a murderer,” she told him.
“Yes you’ve had lapses in judgment but you never stopped being the person you are – a good person; a just person. I’m not condoning your actions against Warren or his friends. But in the blindness of your rage you were doing what you’ve always done, seeing that justice was served. And as I said, your anger clouded that to the point that you couldn’t see any other way but exacting that justice yourself.”
“Well, what if it happens again?” Willow asked with a slight sob, straining to get the words out. “I don’t think I’m as strong as you see me.”
“And I know you’re not as weak as you perceive.”
“Says you,” she sighed.
“Willow, we never know our limits until we test them. You know what you’re capable of now – both positive and negative. You’ve seen it. Experienced it. And I’m certain that should the situation arise again you have the foresight to make the right decisions. Most people learn from their triumphs but fewer learn from their mistakes. But I know you. You’re highly intelligent and perceptive. You’ve always been a quick study at everything you attempt. This is no different. And you are one of the few who has learned from her shortcomings. I know demons but I also know people,” he quipped with a gentle grin.
“I just get scared sometimes Giles. You don’t know what it’s like to play God and have the power to hurt people.”
Giles just arched his eyebrows.
“Okay,” she conceded with a roll of her shoulders, “you told me some Ripper tales and yes, you understand perfectly which defeats my whole entire argument now so I’ll just shut up.”
“I was in that room,” Giles continued, pointing out to the grand hall that was nearly vacant now. “I saw what happened. You have enormous power and you could have done anything you wished to Rona but you refrained and dealt with her in a straightforward manner. You were firm. You were fair. And instead of using your power for revenge you used it to show that this organization we’re building is one built on strength and intelligence. I meant it when I told them I couldn’t have said it better myself…You’re what I need Willow and I’m thankful that you’ve decided to come aboard. Don’t doubt that for a moment. And should the need ever arise for you to take the reins don’t shrug your off your abilities because of fear.”
“I’ll try,” Willow told him.
Giles simply gave a knowing grin and nodded.
“What?” Willow asked.
“You say you’ll try. But I know the truth.”
“If the time comes, you won’t try. You will do it – just as you’ve always done. It’s that simple.”
“You’re awfully certain.”
“Your resolve face is still there,” he said teasing her and getting a slight smile. “I just saw it not more than 10 minutes ago. You’ll do a splendid job – better than splendid, superb. So doubt all you like Willow but I know the truth.”
Giles didn’t add anything more. He simply walked from the room with his grin firmly in place.
Slowly a grin crept to Willow’s face. “Sometimes I hate it when he’s right,” she sighed.
Andrew was handing out popcorn to the crowd that had gathered around the large screen television when Willow felt her lover tense beside her. She looked first to Kennedy and then across the room to see Rona approaching them.
“Hey,” Rona sighed. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. To both of you,” she began. “What I said was outta line and what you said made a lot of sense. I would like to come aboard if you’d have me.”
Kennedy didn’t look impressed and although Willow couldn’t see her expression she could still feel the tenseness in Kennedy’s grip on her knee. Willow reached over and patted Kennedy’s hand. She felt the dark-haired Slayer eased up slightly and Willow took the opportunity to thread their fingers together.
“Are you sure you don’t want to think it over?” Willow asked. “I’m not saying we don’t want you but I know you wanted to leave for awhile.”
“No I’m in. I…You gotta understand. I came to Sunnydale without much to begin with and Vi said she’s going to Cleveland so…well, she and I got close.” Both Willow and Kennedy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and Rona chuckled. “Well not as close as you two. And not that the ‘close’ you two have is bad or anything but…Damn, I’m not saying this right,” she said with a frustrated sigh.
“Why don’t you start over?” Willow offered with a grin that became a wince yet went unnoticed. She looked down briefly at the hand that Kennedy held as Rona continued.
“Vi explained why she’s gonna do it. And the truth is, after all that’s happened, well, I feel the same way. I don’t think it ends here and I wanna learn more like she does and having a ‘study buddy’ will make it easier so I’m in if that’s okay with you two. And I’m hoping there’s no hard feelings.”
Willow grinned. “It’s been pretty stressful on everyone lately so no, no hard feelings on my side.” Willow looked over to prompt Kennedy.
Kennedy paused a moment and looked Rona up and down. “It’s cool,” Kennedy finally told her with a nod.
“Good, I’ll let Giles know later when Vi goes to speak to him.”
“Thanks Rona. For what it’s worth…it’s not every Slayer who could have fought with one arm tied behind her back. With two functional arms you’ll do great I’m sure. But remember,” Willow added with a warm smile. “I can still take ya if I have to.”
Rona chuckled and nodded in understanding. “I won’t let it come to that. Promise.”
She walked away and quickly Willow turned to Kennedy. “Sweetie?”
“My hand really hurts,” she whimpered.
Kennedy looked down to see Willow’s fingers turning white. “Oh Jeeze. Sorry. I forgot. Slayer strength now. I just…”
“Was holding back from decking Rona? I know,” Willow answered with a stained voice as she began to rub her released hand, trying to get the circulation going again.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah it’s tingly again,” Willow said shaking her hand up and down. “So that’s a good sign, right? Means the blood’s flowing.”
Kennedy made a sympathetic sound and took the hand, lightly kissed each knuckle. “I’m sorry Baby. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Kennedy felt Willow tense all over again and Kennedy found herself releasing Willow’s hand quickly. “Did I do it again? You just-.”
“No, it’s-it’s not that. It’s…kinda stupid. I’m okay.”
Kennedy watched Willow try to force a reassuring grin. “Hey, I just did something to upset you so tell me.”
“Baby.” It was all Willow said.
“Yeah?” Kennedy asked, thinking she was trying to get her attention.
“No, it’s the word – Baby,” Willow paused trying to find a way to explain what she was feeling. “It’s what Tara and I called each other most of the time and…I told you it’s stupid.”
Willow sighed and looked down at her hand, trying to avoid looking at Kennedy. The dark-haired Slayer stroked Willow’s cheek to get her attention.
“You don’t like me saying it? Is that it?”
“No, it’s okay,” Willow said reluctantly, finally meet her lover’s eyes again.
“Why am I not convinced?”
“Cause I’m a terrible liar,” Willow replied with a shrug and a nervous grin.
Kennedy gave a half chuckle. “I’m not laughing at you. You’re just so damn adorable some times and…would you look at this – you turn me into a mushball. You know that?”
“Sorry,” Willow answered sincerely.
“Don’t be and since it upsets you I won’t say it but I would like to know…”
“What?” the Wiccan answered nervously.
“Is there any other pet names that are off limits?”
Willow finally gave her a genuine grin. “No, I think we’re safe.”
“So I can call you Sweetie or Honey or Cutie or Gorgeous or…” Kennedy leaned closer and whispered something in Willow’s ear before giving it a light nibble. “All of those okay?” she asked as she pulled back.
“Oh yeah,” Willow sighed, letting her fingers trace Kennedy’s lips. “B-But that last one. Might not want to use it in mixed company,” she told her.
“For your lickable ears only then. I promise,” Kennedy told her with a sly smile.
“How long is this movie?” Willow asked.
“Too long I’m sure.”
“Call it an early night then?”
“Well Andrew did get Snowcaps just for you. We should stay,” Kennedy told her.
“The first act,” Willow told her. “Then we’re gone.”
“Can we bring the Snowcaps?” Kenned asked wiggling her eyebrows.
“Count on it.”
It was the last morning of their stay. Giles and Willow already had their notes and were charting out ideas using the information of who was coming and who was going. Only two girls had decided to leave. Willow had already begun to start searching overseas accounts to get Giles the funds they needed for Cleveland. The night before, thinking she was compiling a spreadsheet, he looked over her shoulder and asked what she was doing. The simple reply of ‘You don’t wanna be an accessory’ prompted Giles to cover his eyes and leave the room shaking his head.
But on this morning the sun was shining and the group was assembled in the back yard. Buffy stood before all of them not sure what to say. None of them were ‘formally’ dressed for the occasion but in the end Willow surmised that it didn’t really matter as long as they were there.
Buffy cleared her throat and the small chatter of the group stopped.
“I’ve given lots of speeches as many of you know. And to be honest I didn’t think this was one I was going to live to make. But I’m here. You’re all here. But some of us have crossed over. And that’s why we’re all gathered her today – to say goodbye. Many of you have made sacrifices in this latest fight. The following people,” Buffy said holding up a list, “paid the ultimate price and won’t be forgotten.”
She cleared her throat again. “As I say the name that you’ve been given please come forward and place your roses to the front,” she told the assembly.
Buffy ran down the list and Slayer after Slayer brought forth the roses in their hands. Dawn wanted to be sure to place Amanda’s rose. Kennedy was given Molly’s and Annabelle’s. Name after name. Slayer after Slayer they all came forward.
Buffy read on, trying not to break the stream of fallen warriors for fear that she might not continue. By the time she was toward the bottom of the list she could barely see and had to wipe her tear-filled eyes. She quietly read the name ‘William’ and as she took a step forward and laid the flower in her own hand with the others. After, she took a step back they all waited for her to finish the last name.
Buffy opened her mouth to speak but not a single sound came out. The only one left holding a rose was Xander.
Buffy looked up to see him patiently waiting. Willow was tucked under his arm and her arm was wrapped around his waist, holding his hip. Both of them had tears running down their faces but neither said a word or made a sound. The sight was Buffy’s undoing and she sobbed the last name.
Xander stepped out of Willow’s embrace and made his way forward and gave the rose a light toss and hand in hand he and Buffy walked back to Willow’s side where they all came to stand linking their hands to each other. Giles moved to the front and began to speak.
“From Corinthians 15:51 to 55 and 57…Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Giles finished he nodded to Willow and she stepped up pulling a piece of paper from her pocket. She cleared her throat and began to speak. “Although it’s difficult to represent all the faiths of all the fallen young women I’d like to begin with a Buddist saying…’Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present. What the caterpillar perceives is the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well’.”
Willow quietly turned the paper over and began to read.
“The mourner’s kaddish in translation.” She paused again and cleared her throat before going on. “Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.”
Willow paused and the group muttered, “Amen.”
“May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.”
Once more the group echoed back to her.
“May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”
Again they repeated the word.
“He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”
In one final voice the mourners said ‘Amen’.
Putting the paper back into her pocket Willow moved to stand in front of the roses before kneeling before them. “Hades I praise thee. I implore thee to guide these souls to a land of promise for they have fought brave and noble. Osiris, in your divine wisdom, we ask that you bring these spirits rest. As a flame to the body allows release we ask that the flames of this offering guide our fallen comrades and family to the realm of the Summerland. We ask of this in faith and in love and in devotion…Ignis incende.”
The roses instantly combusted and began to burn. Buffy and Xander looked at each other briefly before both of them turned to the sky, expecting a rainstorm. After a few moments when the rain didn’t arrive they both looked at each other again and grinned.
“This concludes our service,” Giles told everyone. “Inside Andrew has prepared a Wake for all of us this morning. Thank you.”
Kennedy took a few steps closer to Willow who stood at the end of the ‘ human chain’ the scoobies had created.
“Are you okay?” Kennedy asked as she pulled her girlfriend into a hug, letting her hands run over Willow’s back.
The redhead tightened her hold for a moment but pulled back giving the dark-haired Slayer an assuring grin. “I’ll be fine,” she told her. “I’ll be inside in a few.”
Kennedy just nodded and walked over to Wood, Faith and Dawn who were talking to each other and she motioned them inside. Giles, Buffy, Willow and Xander watched as Faith put her arm around Dawn’s shoulder and said something that made the teenager grin and nod.
“Well here we are again,” Buffy said turning back to the group.
“You did very well Buffy,” Giles told her. “I know you were concerned but you did a wonderful job given the circumstances.”
Buffy just nodded and took a deep breath. “So Cleveland huh? You gonna be able to handle winter, Will?”
“I’ll manage,” she answered with a grin.
Yet again another silence passed between them. Suddenly Buffy put her hands on her hips. “Okay, I’m just gonna say it. Do you two hate us?” she asked motioning to her and Xander.
“What?” Willow asked while Giles issued an “Excuse me?” at the same time.
“Do you hate us?” Buffy repeated. “Because we’re not going to Cleveland?”
“Buffy-,” Willow tried to start but got cut off.
“I just don’t want you to resent me or Xander,” Buffy said quickly in explanation. “You guys are the only family we’ve got left and if you-.”
“No,” Giles cut her off. “As I said, we understand. Now Faith is another matter but Faith is…well she’s Faith,” he added with grinned.
“Yeah I sensed a bit of hostility,” Buffy confessed.
“I think she misses the old times and hoped to get back to that again,” Willow offered. “The patrolling and gossiping and partying – happier times before, you know, she went all homicidal and crazy.” Willow paused a moment. “And that’s not the pot calling the kettle just so you know,” she added quickly. “She just…I think she missed you Buffy.”
“Maybe,” Buffy sighed. “But you guys are okay, right? I mean you could say no hard feelings and then leave with hard feelings and you wouldn’t talk to us and-.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Giles assured Buffy as he spared a glance to Xander. “Neither of you will be ‘cut off’ I can assure you.”
“I’m not sure how I’m gonna handle not seeing you guys everyday,” Buffy confessed.
“We’re a phone call away,” Willow offered. “A-and we’ll take a break now and then to visit you as well. Mí casa es su casa – always.”
“Well now that that’s settled you wanna head back in?” Xander asked.
Willow watched him closely and could see the depression creeping back. He had moments of happiness however they seemed fleeting at best. She walked over and put her arm around him and Buffy, leading them back into the house.
“This is so exciting!” Andrew said as two taxi vans came up to the house and he grabbed his bag.
“Yo, Cleveland isn’t all that dude,” Faith told him. “Just chill out.”
“Well it’s not Cleveland exactly. It’s everything. A new move. A new start. Helping fight the evil of the world.”
“Only thing you’re gonna be fighting is dishpan hands,” Faith told him.
Willow stood next to Kennedy at the bottom of the stairs and called up, “Giles? Taxi’s here.”
“Coming now,” he yelled back down as he peeked his head out of the bedroom.
“So this is it huh?” Buffy asked.
“You can always change your mind Buffy. You and Xander both,” he told her.
“You could always change your mind too,” she offered. “Stay in California; play the role of rakish uncle?” Giles simply grinned at her with a slight cock of his head. “No,” Buffy admitted with a nod. “You gotta go. I know. It’s who you are. And I understand.”
“And I understand that being a Slayer is what you did. It wasn’t always who you were.” Buffy’s shoulders slumped and she couldn’t look at Giles. Quietly, he walked over and pulled her into a hug. “Remember what Willow said, we’re a phone call away. So take the time, take the funds that Willow’s set aside for you and go see the world Buffy. You’ve earned it, dear. If it leads you back to us someday that’s wonderful. And if it doesn’t that’s quite alright too – as long as you’re happy.”
Buffy chuckled through the tears that had formed in her eyes after Giles speech. “Oh yeah! You’re gonna be so much better than Travers ever was,” she quipped, pulling away and giving him a pat on the arm.
Giles and Buffy both turned to the door at the sound of Willow’s annoyed voice that had floated upstairs again.
“She’s beginning to bellow,” Giles sighed. “That’s my cue to go.”
He picked up his bag and Buffy followed him on his journey downstairs. “All loaded up?” he asked Willow as he reached the landing.
“I’ll take my things out then,” he told her leaving the two women alone.
“Where are Xander and Dawn?” Willow asked.
“Kitchen I think. That’s where Giles saw them last,” Buffy told her.
Willow gave a nod and she wasn’t sure what more to say. Instead of saying anything she just pulled Buffy into a hug and stood still for a moment as they tightened their hold on each other.
“I’m not gonna say good-bye,” Willow finally spoke. “That’s not what this is. I’ll just say see ya later, okay?”
Buffy pulled back and wiped her eyes. All she could do was nod.
“About ready?” Kennedy asked her lover from the open door. “We’re all loaded up.”
“Yeah I’ll be right out. Gotta say see ya to Xander and Dawn.”
Willow caressed Buffy’s arm as she walked past her and began her journey toward the kitchen. Kennedy waited and gave Buffy a grin and a nod before the blonde Slayer closed the distance between them.
“Take care of yourself,” Buffy told her sincerely.
“You too,” Kennedy said with a nod.
“And as for Willow,” Buffy told her. “If you hurt her I will hunt you down and kill you. Do you understand?”
“Where the Hell did that come from?” Kennedy asked.
“As Willow herself likes to say,” Buffy told her with a grin. “A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend. That woman has been through Hell and back. Don’t drag her through another one. That’s all I’m saying.”
“I won’t Buffy. I promise,” Kennedy answered.
“Well then,” Buffy said as she pulled Kennedy into a hug. “Look after each other, okay?”
“We will,” Kennedy replied.
Buffy didn’t add more. She simply walked back upstairs and Kennedy watched every step.
“Hey,” Willow said poking her head inside. “Train’s leaving,” she told them.
Dawn walked over and started crying and pulled Willow into a fierce hug. Willow closed her eyes against doing the same as she spoke, “We’re not gonna be gone forever Dawnie and you can come visit whenever you like, okay?”
“I’m gonna miss you guys so much,” she sobbed.
“Yeah well just mind Big Sister Buffy or else I might have to come back out here a-and I promise I won’t be in the best of moods if I do. I want my visits to be friendly so keep your nose clean, okay?” Dawn nodded and Willow motioned toward the doorway. “Why don’t you start by checking on her?”
“Okay. Take care and write me whenever you can. You’ve got the email right?”
Willow smiled and nodded. “I sure do and I promise. Cross my heart.”
Dawn gave a nod and exited the kitchen leaving Willow and Xander alone. He walked over slowly.
“Remember,” she began. “It’s never too late to change your mind.”
“A big part of me wants to go because of…well you. I love you Will. I’m not sure what it’s gonna be like not talking to you everyday.”
“You still can Xander.”
“Yeah but it’s not the same,” he told her. “Before I could just hop in my car and come on over.”
“Well now you just hop on a plane. Not all that different,” she said trying to sound optimistic. “Any ideas what you’re going to do now?”
“Well I’m gonna take my share of the ‘spoils’ and see the country. The nomad life sounds appealing. I think I could use some isolation right now. Quiet reflection and all that.”
“Well like I said, if you change your mind, you’ve got a home. As long as Giles and Buffy and I are around you’ll always have a home. Don’t forget that,” Willow told him.
She pulled him into a hug and he wrapped his arms around her kissing the crown of her head.
“Don’t let Ken boss you around too much,” he said teasing her.
“Oh, I think we know the one who’s really whipped,” she retorted.
Xander gave a half-chuckle. “Yeah, you got that whip appeal going on,” he admitted before looking serious again. “Take care, Will.”
“You too, Xan.”
Willow reached up and pinched his cheek before pulling away. Once she was turned around she walked out not looking back. She couldn’t look back. She had to keep moving forward and her bottom lip quivered as she walked.
The only person Willow found downstairs was Kennedy who was waiting at the door. As she arrived, Kennedy put her arm around Willow’s waist and joined at the hip the two walked silently to the taxi.
As they settled in next to each other the cabbie asked, “All set?”
Giles sat on Willow’s opposite side and put his hand around her shoulder. “To Cleveland?” he asked her.