fullcircle

Full Circle

Disclaimer: Characters and Premise are borrowed from the show "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."

Time was supposed to heal all wounds, Xander thought bitterly looking down at the darkly hansom vampire huddled against the headstone. The years might have healed Angel's body, but they hadn't done much for his sanity.

"Angel, it's time to go home," Xander said, gently he rested his hands on his old rival's shoulders.

"I don't want to go. I shouldn't leave her," Angel's voice was plaintive, childlike.

"Buffy wouldn't like this," Xander said quietly.

"No," Angel protested. "It's been so long. She didn't know it would be so long."

Sixteen years, Xander thought, since the world stopped making sense.

"Please," Angel begged, rising to his knees as he turned to Xander.

Xander stared over Angel's head at the headstone.

Elizabeth Anne Summers

1981-2004

"Today the sun rose, Buffy we thank you."

==============================================================

"Oz how is Willow doing?" Buffy asked, kicking her heels against the tombstone.

"The doc said she and the baby are doing great. Still after that scare, he wants her to stay in the hospital till the delivery," Oz replied. "Which grave is it?"

"That one," Buffy said pointing to a patch of unnaturally green grass. "So have you two picked a name?"

Oz carefully selected a seat at a safe distance from the fresh grave. "You know we won't let the doctors tell whether the baby will be a girl or a boy."

"So? You've still got to have been talking about it. What are the front runners?" Buffy asked.

"We wanted to meet the baby first, see what fit," Oz replied. "So what's on the schedule for tonight?"

"We take care of our friend down there, then a quick patrol, then we go home. Giles doesn't' expect anything big for awhile," Buffy said.

"Has Giles talked to Xander recently?" Oz asked.

"Yeah, the council doesn't like it but Xander's still coming home. There's no way a set of stuffed shirts like the Council are going to keep him from personally congratulating two of his closest friends on the birth of their first child."

The ground in front of Buffy erupted as the newly risen vampire clawed his way to the surface.

"Back to work," Buffy sighed, hopping from her perch.

As the vampire freed his upper body from the grave, Buffy leaned over and staked him. For a second the startled vamp just stared at her, then with a shriek it crumbled to dust.

"I think the council ought to pay me," Buffy said conversationally. "I mean this whole saving the world and holding down a job is just tedious."

"You over slept again?" Oz asked.

"Yep, and bosses don't understand saving the world from vampires anymore than teachers did."

"Bummer," Oz commented.

"Definitely, and since I can't quit the slaying gig, I think it should be a paid position. Do you think Giles will buy it?" Buffy asked.

Oz considered her question, "Well, it's not up to just him."

"And the council would consider it a change, and we all know how the council feels about change," Buffy finished. "So I guess I'll just have to be thankful for a quiet night every now and then, like tonight."

"Or not," Oz replied, directing Buffy's attention to a small grove of trees near the cemetery gates. And to the fiery hole in reality forming there.

"There goes the neighborhood," Buffy sighed.

The demon that came through the portal was predictably ugly and big too; about eight feet tall and covered with heavy gray-green scales.

"I think this looks like a knife type demon," Buffy commented.

Oz nodded digging into the duffel bag slung over his shoulder. "Trade?" he asked offering her an ornate knife about the size of a machete.

"Thanks," Buffy replied handing him her stake as she took the knife. "Okay appearance challenged guy," Buffy addressed the demon. "We have plenty of evil in Sunnydale without you. So why don't you just hop back through your nice little portal there or I'm going to have to hurt you."

The demon sneered, "Go home little girl, every Slayer who has ever dared stand against me has died."

"You talk big," Buffy replied. "But I'm not buying."

With that Buffy attacked. Several of her best kicks left the demon completely unmoved. In fact he was laughing.

Okay, Buffy thought, it's time to change tactics. This time she attacked with the knife. Her first cut bounced off the demon's scales. When she tried for a second the demon reached up and caught her hand. It twisted her wrist squeezing down like a vise.

Buffy dropped to her knees as the knife clattered to the pavement.

"Goodbye Slayer," the demon said, seconds before Oz's mass crashed into its knees throwing it off balance.

Startled the demon released Buffy.

"Run!" She yelled.

==============================================================

Xander walked through Willow and Oz's front entrance. The door itself was half off its hinges, standing wide open, a bad omen in any town, in Sunnydale it was a license to panic.

He'd stumbled across Angel's most recent suicide attempt pretty much by accident while patrolling the cemetery. It had never occurred to him that something might have happened to Willow or her family.

Angrily he glared at the vampire standing silently at his side. Willow gets attacked and he just wanders off. Xander thought. Xander shook his head slightly taking his anger out on Angel was stupid. True there'd been a time when Angel could have protected Willow from most anything Sunnydale tossed at them, but that had been before Buffy's death. Things were different now.

Other than the front door, the house was undamaged, still Willow Oz and their daughter Beth were gone.

Hopefully Xander dialed Willow's cell phone number. Two rings later Xander remembered to breathe as the phone was answered.

"Hello?" Willow's voice wavered.

"Will, thank God you're all right!" Xander exclaimed. "I saw your door and well you know how things are."

"Xander, it's Beth," Willow stammered. "We're at the hospital… My baby…the doctors won't say anything. Angel just…" Willow broke down sobbing.

Xander listened in shock slowly turning to face Angel, who was still standing where Xander had left him.

"She'll be all right, Will," Xander promised hanging up the phone.

==============================================================

"So what are we up against?" Angel asked as soon as Buffy and Giles met him at the Sunnydale bus depot.

"Big, strong, armored and ugly about sums it up," Buffy replied.

"Also I can't find anything about it in my books, Willow hasn't had any luck with the Internet." Giles added.

"How is Willow doing?" Angel asked seriously.

"She almost miscarried," Buffy answered. "The doctors are keeping her at the hospital until the baby's born. Still the doctors said that the baby might make it even if it were born now, but the longer they wait the better it's chances will be."

Angel nodded, relieved, he liked Willow, other than Buffy she was the only person he could really count as a friend. Xander and Cordelia would both prefer him dead; Giles and Oz simply tolerated him for Buffy's sake. Willow treated him like a person; she had invited him to her wedding and called him about the pregnancy just like she had done with the rest of her friends. She'd even had the wedding late enough that he'd actually been able to attend.

When Willow had called about the baby she'd been so happy and excited... Then Angel heard about the problems. He'd been horrified, in his time complicated pregnancies usually killed either the mother or the child, more often than not both died. Angel knew medicine had advance considerably in the centuries since his birth, still he had followed the progression of Willow's pregnancy with a quiet sense of dread.

"About the demon," Giles said. "We were hoping you would be able to identify it."

"And if you can't I'll probably need some heavy duty back-up when we try the guess and check method of slayage," Buffy added.

Angel smiled at her, "Thanks for calling me. I know it's hard for you to have me here, but if anything happened to you I'd die."

Buffy bit her lip looking very uncomfortable. "You've got your own life now, you'd deal." Buffy's statement wasn't an expression of hope or belief, it was a command.

Tactfully Angel dropped a subject he and Buffy would never agree on. Angel knew when Buffy died he would either already be dead himself or he would find whatever, whoever, killed her and destroy it, or die trying. After that he'd have no more reason to live. Until then he would continue trying to create a life Buffy would approve of.

"Let's go find our new friend," Angel said. "The less time he has to accomplish whatever he came to the Hellmouth to do the better."

Buffy grinned, relieved at the change of topic. "That's us, a pair of workaholics," she said, leading Angel back to her car.

==============================================================

"Sorry Buffy," Angel said. "I don't recognize it."

"Oh dang, I hate guess and check," Buffy replied.

"Before we rush into this let's talk to Giles." Angel said. "I mean rushing in blindly is always dangerous, at the very least we should be well armed."

"Oh yeah, heavy artillery," Buffy sighed.

"I've always been a firm believer in overkill," Angel replied. "Especially if it keeps you safer."

"Come on Angel you know the rules," Buffy said. "No being sweet or romantic, it's hard enough being around you without additional reminders of what we're not."

Angel grimaced, the last thing he had ever wanted to do was hurt Buffy, a fact which never seemed to stop him form doing exactly that.

==============================================================

Xander stared at Angel, all the hatred he'd ever felt toward the other man building in his mind.

He'd never liked Angel, never trusted him. For almost two decades Xander had put his personal feeling about Angel aside. It had seemed pretty pointless, pathetic even, to hold a grudge against someone as screwed up as Angel had become.

"Shows what I know," Xander muttered. "Everything would have been a lot better if Buffy had just staked you when we first found out you were a vampire."

Angel had to have heard Xander's comments, but he didn't respond he was lost in the past. Trying desperately to piece together the piece of the puzzle that his memories had become.

Xander continued his monologue, walking to the closet where Willow kept her weapons. "All you've ever done is screw up our lives and now you hurt Willow's daughter…"

He selected a heavy bat and a stake from the armory Willow and Oz maintained.

"I should have done this years ago," Xander continued.

In the split second before the bat connected with his skull Angel finally seemed to realize his situation. In a futile gesture Angel raised his hand to block Xander's blow.

He was much to late, a second blow and consciousness fled.

Leaning over his fallen adversary, Xander raised his stake.

==============================================================

Xander and Giles had been knocked out of the fight early on. Giles had taken a bad hit and Buffy had ordered Xander to get him out of the line of fire.

Xander hadn't wanted to leave, "Your just distracting us," Buffy had said. "Get out before you get us all killed."

Xander did what he was told. He took Giles to the hospital, but he couldn't stay away. Xander had to know how the battle had turned out.

Cautiously he crept into the High School. He knew the fight was over, the quiet told him that, he didn't know who had won.

The library was a disaster, but the first thing Xander saw was the big gray scaled demon, lying on the steps, one of Buffy's stakes protruding from it's eye.

Xander sighed in relief; Buffy and Angel had won once again. As he looked up his breath froze in his throat. In the center of the library Buffy and Angel lay together, a thick river of blood connected them to the demon.

Slowly, reluctantly Xander walked to Buffy's side. Sleepily she looked up at him. "I'm dying," she said calmly.

Xander had wanted to argue about that, but the volume of bright red human blood told him she was right.

Buffy looked back at Angel, reluctantly Xander's glaze followed her's. The way Angel's head rested on the floor was wrong. Xander didn't want to see why, but Buffy's hand was gently turning Angel's face toward hers, revealing the damaged right side of his skull.

Xander found himself wondering if the dull color of Angel's blood came from him being a vampire or if it were due to the brain matter mixed in. Xander glanced briefly at the heavy library table beside Buffy and Angel. The corner nearest them was covered in Angel's darker colored blood.

"Xander…" Buffy's voice wavered. Swallowing hard, Xander looked back at them. "Take care of him for me, okay?"

Buffy's eyes had remained locked on Xander's until he nodded. "I promise," Xander said kneeling beside them.

Once she had his word Buffy relaxed, seconds later she was dead.

Numbly Xander moved Angel to the school's boiler room, then he called the police

The police arrived with Principle Snyder. Xander watched them scurry around the library, carefully avoiding looking at the demon Buffy had killed and he had to suppress a sick urge to giggle. Sunnydale's finest would have been right at home in Hazard County. Except no one ever got murdered there, Xander thought, no one ever had to sacrifice themselves so that the forces of good could win there.

Xander looked to the center of the room where the medics where placing Buffy's body in a heavy black bag. It wasn't right Xander thought fiercely, Buffy was supposed to be invincible, she couldn't be dead.

"She always was a trouble maker," Snyder sneered. "I knew she'd come to a bad end."

"Shut up!" Xander yelled. "You and every other person in this god forsaken town owes her their lives a dozen times over."

He towered threateningly over the shorter man like a storm cloud. Nervously Snyder backed away from his enraged former student.

"Sir," one of the police officers said preventing Xander from following Snyder. "We need a statement from you."

Xander turned his pain and anger on the officer. "Why do you care, isn't it easier to cover up the truth if you never knew what happened in the first place?"

==============================================================

Xander had ended up spending that night in jail, he never would remember what they'd charged him with. In the end it didn't matter, the charges were dropped.

The days that followed Buffy's death passed in fog. Xander had provided Giles with emotional support when they went to tell Joyce Summers how her daughter had died. Joyce had screamed and cried, and blamed them. Giles had tried to comfort her, Joyce responded by ordering them out of her home. After she backed up her request with several thrown objects Giles and Xander left.

Hank Summers arrived in town the next morning. Talking to him was all but impossible for the Slayerettes, Hank had never learned his daughter's secret, was never any part of their group. He believed the police's theory that a transient had killed Buffy.

Oz and Willow dealt with their grief by caring for everyone around them. Willow's hospital room rapidly became the center of all activities for Buffy's friends and family.

Xander relocated Angel to the apartment he maintained in Sunnydale. Giles had stopped by to examine Angel, he wasn't certain that the vampire would ever regain consciousness, given the degree of brain damage he'd suffered. Xander tried to convince himself that he wasn't jealous of Angel, but he wasn't having much luck. Xander wished he had the option of never knowing Buffy had been killed.

In addition to jealousy, Xander was also fighting equally irrational surges of anger that Angel hadn't done a better job of protecting Buffy.

No matter his feelings about Angel it never occurred to Xander to abandon the injured vampire.

Willow's daughter was born two days before the funeral. Oz and Willow named her Elizabeth in memory of the woman who should have been her godmother.

Funerals were supposed to bring closure, but Buffy's couldn't do that. There were too many lies told there. Joyce stood by herself, too angry to allow Buffy's friends to offer comfort and completely unable to deal with Hank's ignorance.

The Slayerettes choose the inscription on Buffy's head stone. Hank didn't understand it, but the others had been insistent, they needed some recognition of what Buffy had accomplished in her life, even if it was only a cryptic inscription.

After the funeral everyone drifted apart. Cordelia returned to her modeling career in LA. Joyce moved out of Sunnydale. Oz and Willow were quickly absorbed by the demands of a new baby. Giles somehow recovered the body of the demon that had killed Buffy and began an exhaustive study of it.

When the Watcher's council questioned his motives Giles told them he wanted to learn more about it, so that if another Slayer encountered one of its species, she wouldn't be as defenseless as Buffy had been. Still when Giles pictured that future Slayer fighting the demon, she always bore Buffy's face. Giles couldn't quit imagining what might have happened had he been able to better prepare her for the battle.

Xander threw himself into caring for Angel and took up patrolling Sunnydale. He was supposed to return to England to continue his studies as a Watcher but he couldn't find the motivation.

For a few months the council left him alone.

==============================================================

"Mr. Harris," the annoyingly calm voice said over the phone.

"That's me," Xander replied abruptly, "What do you want?"

"You've used up you leave time, the council requires your presence, immediately."

Xander rolled his eyes; he should have recognized a council flunky by the stuffiness factor. "Screw the council," he almost smiled, knowing how the watcher's representative must be struggling to come up with an appropriate reply.

"Alexander," the other man said finally. "You knew this would happen someday. I know Buffy Summers was your friend, but Slayers die, inevitably they die young. It's unfortunate but it's the way things are.

"You've impressed many people with the dedication and energy you've brought to your studies. Alexander, you have a bright future with the Watchers. An opportunity to help another girl like Ms. Summers. Don't throw that away."

"You know what?" Xander replied slowly, as if he were just realizing what he was saying himself. "I never wanted to help another girl like Buffy. I just wanted to help Buffy herself. You know, when Giles got old and had to retire from the active helping category. I never pictured a future with Buffy dead, but not you guys. To you Buffy dying before her twenty-third birthday was just a statistic. Slayer's die young, but that's okay because there's always another one to replace them right?"

"Each Slayer's death is regretted, but necessary for the safety of the world."

"Buffy wasn't just the Slayer!" Xander exclaimed. "She was a person too. She didn't ask to be chosen she had her own plans for her life. Plans that would have gotten her killed when she should have been graduating from college!"

"Alexander, calm down!" The watcher said. "You know we don't control who is chosen. We prepare them, help them to deal with their destiny, but we don't make the choice."

"Their destiny, right, one born in each generation with the strength and skills to fight the vampires, what a load of crap! You've known about Angel for years now, why haven't you been trying to figure out how to make more vampires like him. They'd have the strength and skills, and they'd deserve that fate too.

Given what he's done Angel deserved to die trying to make amends! Buffy didn't.

Or better yet, why doesn't everyone on the council get off their butts and help? You know Giles and the rest of us were just normal people, well pretty much, but we've all bagged our fair share of monsters over the years, even Cordy. Is the whole watcher's organization comprised of cowards who have to hide behind a teenaged girl?"

"Mr. Harris, this conversation is accomplishing nothing. I'll call back when you can be more rational."

"Don't bother, I'm not interested in the job anymore." Xander hung up the phone and returned to collecting his slayage equipment for the night's hunt.

With Buffy gone and the new Slayer sent to some other Hellmouth, someone had to pick-up the slack, Xander thought, lovingly running his hand over his crossbow. It was a damn good thing he was a decent shot, Xander reflected. He just couldn't manage the up close and personal like Buffy had.

==============================================================

"Xander, Angel's getting a lot better," Willow said, balancing her two-year-old daughter on her knee.

"Yeah the hole in his head closed up real nice, now Deadboy looks just fine. He's still brain dead Will," Xander said without interest.

"I don't think he is," Willow replied.

"Don't Will, it's just wishful thinking," Xander said. "There's nothing separating him from a corpse anymore… Except he doesn't rot, thankfully."

"Xander I used a spell, Angel is in there somewhere," Willow stared intently into Xander's eyes. "I think he knows something happened to Buffy, when he's ready to face that he'll wake up. Angel isn't human, Xander."

"Big new flash there, Will," Xander snapped.

"Vampires heal, given enough time. Not just their muscles and bones, nerves tissue heals too. Physically there nothing wrong with Angel anymore," Willow insisted.

==============================================================

Xander smiled as he watched Beth pull herself into a standing position.

Willow and Oz were attending a retirement dinner at the college for one of Willow's professors. Giles was busy, so Xander had baby-sitting duties for the evening. He couldn't have been happier. Since Buffy's death he hadn't been able to let anyone new get close to him. At times he knew he even tried to shut Willow out, thankfully she'd never let him do that.

Still Xander wondered if it wouldn't be for the best if she did. He never wanted to hurt anyone the way Buffy's dying had hurt him. He wasn't even the Slayer, which never stopped him from going out hunting. Xander was careful, he knew he wasn't Buffy and he wasn't suicidal. Unfortunately the law of averages didn't give a damn about careful. Xander knew if he kept putting himself in danger he'd loose one day.

Maybe he hadn't realized it at first, but the scar bisecting his torso was a constant reminder of what could happen. He'd gotten lucky that night, several times. Lucky that he had managed to shoot all the vampires he'd been stalking before the one stalking him had pounced. Lucky that the vampire had dropped him near one of his spent crossbow bolts after ripping his stomach open. Luck the vampire had been careless, had assumed that Xander didn't have any fight left in him. Lucky that Mr. Cateran had come to visit his wife's grave that night and had called the ambulance. Xander knew, by all rights, he should have died that night. He's couldn't hope to be that lucky again.

He would die and the people that cared for him would pay for the choice he'd made the night he decided to try to fill Buffy's place. All Xander could do was try to make sure that he kept down the number of people he hurt.

It was a lonely way to live, but Willow wouldn't let him shut her out and no one could shut Beth out. The tiny red haired child was so certain of her welcome; it was impossible to let down her faith that everyone loved her.

"Xan," Beth demanded tugging at his pantleg.

Xander smiled, then leaned down and swept the tiny three-year-old up into his arms. "How's my favorite girl?" he asked.

"Hungry," Beth declared firmly.

Xander laughed softly as he asked, "Doesn't your mother feed you?"

Beth put on her most serious face. "No," she said plaintively.

Xander smiled Will would give him hell later, but a little junk food never hurt anyone. If it weren't for him Beth would probably have entered grade school without ever being introduced to the wonders of Hostess snack food.

==============================================================

"Xander?" Giles called hopefully, walking through Xander's front door.

When he realized Xander had taken over patrolling Giles had been adamant that he quit before he got hurt. Over time Giles had been forced to admit he couldn't stop Xander from going hunting, so he'd asked Xander to call him before and afterwards, so if he were injured or taken captive they would know to look for him that night.

Xander had agreed to the precaution, but sometimes he forgot. Giles prayed that that was what had happened tonight.

A quick examination of Xander's apartment convinced Giles otherwise. Xander's weapons were still missing from their customary spot.

Giles went to the phone and dialed Willow and Oz's number. "It's Giles," He said to their machine. "Xander didn't come back from a patrol, I'm going out to look for him now."

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