Title: One Clear Shot

Author: Queen Boadicea

Email: queenboadiceaoftheiceni@yahoo.com

Spoiler Warning: BtVS various episodes and season seven episode "Empty Places"

Disclaimer: This belongs to the great and powerful Joss and the usual gang of idi…uh, geniuses. Xena, Hercules and Harry Potter don't belong to me either. Just ask Rob Tapert and J.K. Rowling.

Feedback: Do your worst—it can't compare to my worst ;)

Notes: Extended passages in italics are journal entries. The lyrics in chapter five are from Billy Joel's song "You May Be Right" from his album Glass Houses (1998)

[thoughts]

The voices were incessant now, pounding in her brain, threatening to strip away her sanity. She shook her head in an attempt to escape but it was useless. They tumbled meaninglessly inside her, one melding into another, the scream of other people's thoughts battering at her defenses.

Her mother stood beyond her bedroom door, terrified and helpless to stop what was happening to her baby girl. She thought the distance kept Buffy from hearing her thoughts but it didn't. They were too close; they were all too close.

Buffy clapped her hands tightly over her skull; her eyes squeezed shut as she attempted to barricade herself inside her own head. She plunged into her mind as a shield against the mental invasion brought on by the demon's blood.

Her own inner voice opened in a howl as she sank into the darkness…

Buffy opened her eyes warily. The voices were gone and she could have wept with relief. She sagged against the hard floor, relaxing in the blessed silence. The next moment she looked around in puzzlement.

She was lying in a hallway, surrounded by shattered glass, and she winced as one carelessly placed hand landed on a shard. Sitting up, she pulled the offending sliver from her palm and then tried to survey her surroundings.

Where was she? By all appearances, she was inside the school. But it looked slightly different somehow. She didn't recognize the hallway she was in. The corridor colors were brighter as if recently painted. The whole place had a feeling of newness. And yet, she could see signs of destruction everywhere she looked.

Every clean surface had been scrawled on with childish graffiti interspersed with what looked like mystic symbols. There was broken furniture strewn about, doors pulled off their hinges and, of course, the glass that looked like it came from one of the windows opposite her.

What had happened? Where was everybody? And what was she doing here?

She stood up and brushed the glass gingerly from her clothes. She looked down at what she was wearing and frowned. The jacket, top and pants were completely unfamiliar to her. They were also totally not her style. It seemed the school wasn't the only thing that had changed. What was going on?

Giles—she'd go to him. He'd have an answer for all this. The last thing she remembered was that he'd been at her house with her mother waiting for Angel to come bring her the demon heart to drink.

Buffy walked through an eerily quiet Sunnydale. The streets appeared to be completely deserted and she was becoming more terrified by the minute. Had the mayor put his plans into action? What was it Faith had said? He'd built the entire town to feed on and, come graduation day, he was getting paid.

Was that what all this meant? The empty streets, the destruction at the school? How long had she been out? What about her friends, Angel, Giles…?

"Mom," Buffy whispered. Seized with dread, she began running as fast as she could towards her house on Revello Drive. She tore into the house and stared at the living room. The low table was gone and other pieces of furniture shifted as if some major redecorating had been going on.

"Buffy?" She whirled around and smiled giddily when she saw a familiar face staring at her. She stepped towards Giles and the words of greeting died on her lips.

Giles was wearing a turtleneck. Her Watcher did not wear turtlenecks. As far back as she could remember, he'd never sported anything but his customary tweed. He also looked old. Well, he'd always looked old but now there were drawn, weary lines about his forehead and eyes that she could have sworn weren't there this morning. "Giles? I-is that you?"

Giles frowned at the sight of his former protégé. There had been such a joyous look in her eyes, something he couldn't remember seeing for ages. She'd actually appeared glad to see him without the looks of suspicion and near-hatred that had become habitual with her since he'd tried to have Spike killed.

"Yes, of course it's me." The next moment she flew into his arms and hugged him tight. He stiffened in shock and then relaxed. Ah, she must have feared that he was the First creating an illusion; the touching was just her way of confirming his identity. When the hug was prolonged past the point where it was necessary or even usual, he frowned again and gently disengaged himself, searching her face for clues to her suddenly altered behavior. "Buffy, are you all right? Is something wrong?"

She wanly smiled into those questioning green eyes. "I'm okay. But something weird's going on. The streets are, like, totally empty as if there was an air raid or national emergency declared. Has Mayor Wilkins done something?"

"Mayor Wilkins? Buffy, what on earth are you talking about?" Giles was baffled by the strange turn of the conversation. Why would she mention the Mayor? She was also limping and he could see cuts and bruises about her face and neck. "Are you hurt?"

"Yeah. Another spike on the Buffy weird-o-meter. I was upstairs getting mental zings from everybody in a ten-mile circle and then, the next thing I know, I'm waking up on school grounds covered in glass. Care to explain that to me, Watcher mine?"

Watcher mine? She hadn't called him that in ages and he experienced a welcome rush of gladness at the return of the old nickname. He pushed aside the feeling to pursue the mystery of her odd question. "I-I'm not sure I understand. You said you were upstairs? I was under the impression you went to the school to clean out your desk."

"Clean out—but it's not graduation day yet! I'm still in school. Unless…Giles, just how long was I unconscious? I mean, what day is this?"

"It's April 29, 2003. You don't know what day…?" His words trailed off as he saw all the blood drain out of her face leaving it stark white. She swayed and he darted towards her in alarm, worried that she was about to faint.

She held up one hand to fend him off and then staggered blindly to the couch. "This is a joke, right? Some kind of wacky Watcher humor I just don't get. I mean, that can't be right. It was September 1999 when I went to bed. Unless I've been in a coma all this time from the demon blood." A panicky expression appeared on her face and she looked up at Giles. "That's it, isn't it? I woke up from a coma—inside the school decorated with spangly glass bits like a fallen Christmas tree… No, that doesn't make any sense either."

Her eyes darted around the room and she noticed the eerie stillness in the house. She jumped up and ran to the stairs. "Mom! Mom, where are you?"

He stood and ran after her, trying to forestall her efforts. "Buffy, wait!" He came up the stairs, albeit more slowly, and saw her standing motionless as she stared into what used to be her mother's room.

He noted her rigid posture as she stepped slowly into the space, her eyes taking in all the changes in her mother's bedroom. She swung around and glared at Giles. "What is all this? Whose stuff is this, Giles? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?"

He adopted an air of calm detachment as his traditional defense against his Slayer's temper. "I think something very odd has happened, Buffy, only it's happened to you not us. You need to sit down." He gestured at the bed behind her.

Buffy picked her way carefully over the scattered pieces of clothing. Girl's clothing, she noted, and none of it hers. Who was in her mother's room and why did she need so much stuff? She was kinda sloppy, too, by the looks of it. Various tops, skirts, pants and shoes lay tossed every which way. The clothes all seemed to be in different styles as if this girl had one for every mood. She swept aside the rumpled coverings and waited mutely for Giles to speak.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and she noted again how tired he looked. She hadn't seen him this worn and stressed since Jenny Calendar was murdered. [Oh no, is that it? Did someone die?]

"Buffy, before I continue, I need to know what is the last thing you remember. I mean, the very last thing."

"That's an easy one. One of those mouthless demons I fought infected me with its blood and I was going crazy from all the thoughts I could hear in other people's heads. Xander thinking about sex all the time, Cordelia thinking the same stupid dribble that comes out of her mouth. You were getting Angel to help me. Did that work? I mean, it must have since I can't hear your thoughts any longer."

"Good Lord," Giles muttered quietly. He tried to marshal his thoughts. She was waiting for an answer and he wasn't sure what to tell her. Apparently Buffy had lost all her memories of a little over four years and it couldn't have happened at a worse possible time. It must have something to do with whatever incident took place in the school. "Were you alone when you woke up?"

"Alone is an understatement. There was nobody in the school and the streets are as quiet as the Bronze on a Monday night. I've barely seen anybody. What's happened here, Giles? Where is Mom?"

"Buffy, I think—judging from your memory loss and the state of your skin and clothing—that you were attacked in the school. Someone or something has robbed you of your memory. Why you were given amnesia instead of merely killed is beyond me. Does your head hurt?"

"Well, yeah, it does, now you mention it." She reached behind her head and winced as her fingers encountered a sizeable lump.

"Then perhaps the amnesia is a result of a head trauma rather than a supernatural assault. It still poses a problem, however."

"You're darn right it does! And you're ducking my question, Giles. Where's my Mom? She was here taking care of me and trying to drown me with pillows and extra blankets and now there are obviously strangers living in her room…either that, or we're housing a girl band. Are you gonna tell me what's the what here?"

Giles took a deep breath and began. There were numerous interruptions although they became less frequent as his tale progressed. Buffy became ominously silent as he told her everything he knew: her recovery from the demon's venomous blood, Faith's attempt to kill Angel, their subsequent defeat of the Mayor and the bare highlights of the subsequent years. He steeled himself for the inevitable barrage of questions.

"M-mom's dead? Of an aneurysm? H-how could that happen? Why didn't anybody—why didn't I notice anything?"

"The doctors explained this to us. Aneurysms are like minefields lying hidden in the brain. You can't predict where they'll be, if they exist or who might have them. The doctors had assured everyone that she was fine after the operation but I guess they missed this. Your mother's death was a complete shock to us all. But she didn't suffer, Buffy, I assure you."

"And Angel left me after graduation? He wasn't here for any of it?" This was the hardest to bear. The relationship between her and Angel had been rocky since he'd come back from hell and his playacting with Faith had been really tough on her. But she'd just been reassured of his love and now she was told that he'd abandoned her. She averted her head from her Watcher and swallowed hard, blinking furiously to banish the tears.

Giles watched her, torn by his helplessness to ease her emotional distress. He'd once told her that he was loath to cause her pain. But here he was digging up old wounds that had long healed—or so he'd hoped. For him, these events had taken place almost four years ago. But she had no recollection of them and the anguish must be all the harsher since it had none of the softening of distance or time.

The next moment he saw her straighten her shoulders. She turned back to him and he saw the resolute expression on her face. He knew that look: Buffy had made up her mind to face her troubles, no matter how bleak or overwhelming. It was that core of inner strength in her that never failed to move him. His Slayer would handle this as she had handled so many other trials life had thrown her way.

"That's not the worst of it, is it? You say we defeated the Mayor. So why are the streets so quiet?"

"We're up against the First Evil. You might remember it…"

"No need to remind me. It came, it picked on Angel and then it disappeared. I remember it as being kinda chatty and given to wearing other people's clothes. You telling me it's back?"

He couldn't believe her blasé attitude. Had Buffy really been that flippant back then? He replied in stern tones, "It is the supreme evil, Buffy. It never truly goes away. But at this point in time it has become openly aggressive. Apparently it means to destroy Sunnydale and then the world. It is non-corporeal so it has recruited human agents to do its dirty work. Somehow they infiltrated the Watchers Council and demolished it with several well-placed explosives."

"The Watchers Council is gone? That's…" She cut herself short as she noted the grave look on his face. "Terrible. Just awful. Wow, no more Council of Watchers looking out for Slayers. Travers must be mundo upset."

"Actually, Travers was caught in the blast along with most of the other Watchers, those not in the field at any rate."

Buffy didn't know what to say about this. On the one hand, she hated Travers with a passion that she normally only reserved for her enemies. But she realized what a loss this must be for Giles. Still she knew she couldn't express any kind of sympathy that would sound convincing so she wisely held her tongue.

"I can see you're really devastated about this," Giles remarked. She grinned feebly at his wry tone; guess she hadn't fooled him after all.

"Nope, not really. Travers was never on my list of favorite people in the world; you know that. But this must be a real blow for you."

"Yes, it's quite a setback for all of us. We're low on information and resources and your house is full of potential Slayers in training who are up against a truly formidable force. Given their recent disastrous sortie against the enemy, it's clear they're not up to the task."

"Slayers in training? In my house? So that's who all these clothes belong to!" Buffy grimaced at the idea of her house filled with anonymous girls.

Giles quickly sketched in the remaining details including the horror of her friends' disintegration after she'd been brought back from the dead, Spike's involvement with the group, Faith's reformation and assistance. It took a considerable amount of persuasion from Giles to convince her he wasn't joking about the newly ensouled vampire and the rogue Slayer.

She heaved a sigh and attempted to get things straight in her head. "Let me see if I'm all caught up here." She held up her fingers and ticked off what she knew. "After Angel left, I took up with Parker Abrams. I can't think why I'd do that. Everybody knows Parker is the biggest male slut in the school! Then I go out with this Riley guy who's got some covert military dealie called the Initiative. But I guess being with him was a good thing since we learned about that Frankenstein monster freak."

"Ah. I never saw of it in that light." At the time, he'd been more than a little irked at Buffy's blind obsession with her muscle-bound boyfriend. Professor Walsh and her psychoanalytic bollocks hadn't helped to dispel his irritation either. But in retrospect he saw how her romantic entanglement with Riley had been useful in enabling them to penetrate the Initiative before it was too late to stop Adam's plans.

[Everything happens for a reason.] Shaking himself from his introspective musings, he focused on Buffy's continuing recitation of the past few years.

"I've got a sister made of mystical energy who I died to protect. Willow's a lesbian, which I so didn't see coming." She stopped and recalled Willow's gay vampire double she met because of a botched spell between Anya and the redheaded wicca. "Okay, maybe I did. Xander was involved with that Anya woman even though she wanted to get her amulet back and go back to butchering human males. Boy, Xander really knows how to pick 'em. Here I thought Cordelia Chase was the bottom of the barrel and Xander Harris decides to go scraping under it."

Giles' answering smile was faint but definitely there. "Well, Anya has changed a great deal in the ensuing years. S-she's dedicated herself to helping us even if she and Xander are no longer together."

"She sounds like a real trooper. Makes me wonder why…" She cut herself off and he guessed what she was thinking. Anya stayed even if her romance was over. She probably wondered why Angel hadn't done the same.

Buffy began pacing in the room, heedlessly kicking aside the scattered clothing. With a visible change of subject, she said, "Speaking of devotion, how could you just run away like that? You must have seen how badly things were going—how badly I was doing. How could you take off and leave us high and dry? Did your Watcher's license run out with my second death?"

He closed his eyes in pain, distressed by the ugly reminder. Her death fighting Glory lacked any kind of emotional resonance for her. She certainly hadn't seen the grief her friends and he had suffered during those wretched summer months.

He removed his glasses and took refuge in the soothing act of cleaning them. "You were relying too much on me. You were depending on me to settle disputes with Dawn and take care of your financial problems. That's not what a Watcher is for and certainly not duties I was ever meant to handle. I thought, if I left, you would learn to stand on your own two feet. Judging by the chaos I found when I returned, it would appear that I was mistaken."

She snorted. "Well, that's a huge understatement with a side order of 'duh!' Giles, I don't know what coming back from Heaven must have been like but I'm betting I didn't just roll over and say 'Hey! It's good to be alive!' Besides, I'm a Slayer. Where does it say that a Slayer is supposed to handle money woes and raise younger sisters? I must have been close to crazy from taking on that load. Willow was probably showing signs of magic overuse way before then and anybody with half a brain could have told you that Xander's role in 'I Married a Demon Man-Hater' was a sure recipe for disaster. And you thought that chucking it all up would make things easier?"

The bitter, sarcastic rant seemed to take its toll on her already overtaxed emotions. She sat down hard on the bed and then flinched. Aches and pains from whatever had used her for a punching bag were waking up and demanding to be heard. But she ignored them and tried to concentrate on what her Watcher was telling her.

"Buffy, I believed that leaving you to solve things on your own was for the best. Besides, I'd taught you everything you needed to know. You had exceeded all of my fondest wishes and hopes; no Watcher could ask for a finer Slayer."

"So that's all I ever was to you—a Slayer?" The hurt in her voice was very evident. "You were more than a Watcher to me. Well, you got to be more. I thought we were friends, too."

"About that…a lot has happened in the ensuing years. You've pushed us aside—not just myself but Xander, Willow, Anya and Dawn as well. Y-you've recently taken to favoring another over the lot of us and we've all seen it."

Another? "You mean Spike. You said Spike—of all the creatures—is in love with me. That's why he's helping us."

"Quite."

"And last year…he and I…we…" She gulped and couldn't bring herself to finish.

"From what I understood from Dawn and the others, the relationship between the two of you was not a happy one. Apparently, it was a deeply distressing time for you and being with Spike was a way of, of, stemming your feelings of depression and anger."

"Yeah, recovering from being pulled out of the Great Big Slayer Field in the Sky had to be a big adjustment." She stood up and began pacing again. "I just can't believe it. Spike and I hate each other. He killed two Slayers! Why on earth would he fall for me? Is it because of Angel? I'm betting that's it. Angel took his girlfriend; this was just his way of getting back at him."

Giles wished it could be that simple. But he had to let Buffy know everything if she was going to cope with it all. "That may have been part of it. But no one can fathom Spike's motivations. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd warrant that it was partially transference. With that chip implanted in his head by the government, he could no longer bite or kill you so somewhere along the line his feelings turned from hatred to love. It's often a thin line between the two."

"And after I sent him packing, he took off and got himself a soul. What, was he trying to be like Angel? Did he honestly think I'd love him because of that?"

"Although he constantly states, very loudly to anyone who'll hear, that he intends to be good and the soul is proof of that, I'm certain this is exactly his plan."

"Well, it's probably failing like all his other stupid plans." Buffy plopped back down on the bed and witnessed the silence with which her Watcher greeted this statement. "Uh, Giles. You're supposed to back me up here."

"Buffy, certain recent…events have shown that your allegiance to your friends is no longer as strong as it once was."

"What recent events?" Seeing his set, heavy expression, Buffy began to panic. "Giles, c'mon, share. What am I doing? I-I'm not having sex with Spike again, am I?"

"No. At least I don't think so. But you show a marked bias towards him over those tried-and-true friends who have stood by you since your first arrival in Sunnydale. You have frequently put his welfare above those of your own companions."

"Examples being?"

TBC