Autonomy

Summary: In an alternate version of "Graduation Day, Part 2", Buffy's plan to save Angel goes terribly wrong. . .

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for violence, intensity, and general themes.

Time Frame: GD2 (alternate time line)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Note: Most of the "what if" stories about GD2 seem to turn around what would have happened if Angel's draining of Buffy had incapacitated or killed her. I decided to take a different approach. . . For those who are familiar with my prior work. . .this one isn't pretty, folks. . .be warned.


AUTONOMY


"Then it's over." Angel stumbled blindly away from Buffy, out of the bedroom and into the living room of the mansion, stumbling up against the large wooden table and refusing to meet her eyes.

"It's never over!" Buffy's voice was anguished, yet implacable in its demands. "I won't let you die!"

Angel shook his head in the negative, too weak to say anything further. Buffy cringed inwardly, then hauled off and belted him in the chops. Angel reeled back, but managed to straighten up. After a moment, Buffy struck him again, harder; once again, Angel managed to straighten up, looking hurt behind the fevered haze of his eyes. Frustrated, Buffy hit him a third time, knocking him back into the table. The vampire straightened, and this time his face had turned demonic. Buffy smiled grimly and began, "Now we're talk-" only to be interrupted by a roundhouse right that knocked her halfway across the room.

Shocked beyond belief, Buffy got to her feet only to see Angel staggering towards her, his yellow eyes fixed on her with an emotion she was unable to read. He struck her again before she could move, sending her reeling into a nearby wall. The unpleasant shock of the impact focused her abruptly; apparently, her plan had backfired. Instead of getting him ready to eat, she had gotten him ready to kick her ass. *I should be able to take him still. . .he's weak and disoriented. . .but all he has to do is stall me long enough and he wins. . .not a chance, Angel *

Buffy recklessly charged at Angel, ducking under the punch that Angel threw at her and striking him hard in the gut, causing him to stumble back momentarily before he righted himself and launched himself at her with a roar. Buffy ducked and weaved, throwing punch after punch that rapidly wore down the already dangerously overextended vampire. Desperately, he threw an uppercut that missed badly, and Buffy delivered a leaping kick to the chest that propelled Angel back thirty feet into the wooden table, shattering it into shards. Angel was left in a semi-crouch, with his right hand behind his back and his left hand the only thing keeping him from falling, helpless to defend himself further.

Buffy felt an enormous sense of relief come over her. She called over to him, "Give up, Angel. . .I'm going to win on this one."

With great effort, Angel shook his head, a sad smile appearing on his face as he replied, "No, Buffy, you're not. . .not this time." His right hand, which had grasped a good sized piece of wood, moved in an arc towards his heart as Buffy cursed and sprinted forward. . .a split second too late. The makeshift stake struck home, and Buffy heard Angel say, "I love you," before his body dissipated into ashes.

Buffy stared in disbelief at what remained of her love, and her eyes brimmed with tears. After a few seconds she began screaming at the top of her lungs, and was still screaming when Willow and Oz, who had not yet had time to leave, came running into the room and found her. Willow dropped to her knees and shook Buffy gently, soothing, "Buffy, are you all right? What happened?"

Willow could see grief, bordering on madness, in her best friend's eyes, and was terrified on many levels before the Slayer blinked twice and looked at Willow with what seemed to be sanity. After a moment, she whispered, "A side effect they failed to mention, Will. . .apparently Killer of the Dead causes violent behavior at the end. . .I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. . .glad you guys didn't get the brunt of it. . .I had to stake him. . .Oh God, what have I done?"

Willow held her as Buffy started to cry, and both of them cried for several moments before Buffy pulled away and looked at Willow and Oz with a grim, determined look that both of them knew all too well. . .and that they never had wanted to see again. "Willow, we're done here. Call Giles and the others. . .including Wesley. . .and tell them to meet me at the library at 7 tomorrow morning. We've still got to deal with the Mayor, and I've come up with a plan that should work."

Willow and Oz both opened their mouths to object, only to shut them immediately when they saw the look in the Slayer's eyes. They left without another word, and Buffy was left alone. She looked at the spot where Angel had been and whispered, "I'm sorry," before leaving herself, leaving the mansion empty and quiet.


* * * * *


Giles watched the window worriedly as he heard the roars of the newly transformed Mayor and the screams of the frightened students. He was sitting behind a heavy stone wall one hundred feet from the back library window, which was ordinarily boarded up but which he had carefully cleared that very morning. The plan, which he and Buffy had carefully rehearsed, was quite simple: as soon as Giles saw Buffy at the window, he would throw the switch. Buffy would be travelling at full speed and should be able to reach cover before the brunt of the explosion hit her, and Giles himself would duck completely behind the wall for safety. They had practiced three times that morning, and Giles felt confident that Buffy would get clear with no problems. Now, if only Xander could rally the students well enough to limit the casualties. . .

Giles began to hear the sound of crashing, like a huge creature was crashing through the walls of Sunnydale High as if they were thin cardboard. His eyes never left the window: he ceased to blink.

He saw the flash of blonde silk at the window, and after an almost subliminal pause that he had been unable to train away, he threw the switch and began to duck. . .then froze in horror.

Time seemed to slow as he saw that Buffy was not continuing towards safety, but stood calmly at the window, as if she had just opened it to take in the pleasant afternoon. She was looking right at him, and as the bright light of the explosion blossomed behind her, he could see the look of sad apology in her eyes.

Giles only had time to scream, "NO!!" before the explosion tossed Buffy through the window with appalling force, throwing her against a brick wall about eighty feet from the window. Giles himself was knocked flat by the shock wave, and he lay stunned as flaming debris fell about him. With supreme effort, he shook off the disorientation and dodged through the flames to where Buffy lay.

Buffy was stirring, though Giles could see the grim extent of her injuries. Both legs and her right arm were clearly broken, and she was coughing up blood, indicating internal injuries. Her eyes remained clear, however, and they fixed on Giles as he sat down next to her and asked in anguish, "Why, Buffy? In God's name, why?!"

The Slayer blinked painfully, and rasped, "Left letter. . .on your bed. . .explains. . ." Her eyes closed, then fluttered open again as Giles choked back a sob. "Giles. . ." The voice was weaker, but there was still a hint of the Slayer's power in it as she forced out the words: "Willow, Xander, Oz. . .you. . .I love all of you. . .never doubt it. . .even now. . ." Her eyes slipped shut, and Giles knew total despair for a moment before realizing that she was still breathing. He began screaming, "I need help here! She's dying!", as he tried to deal with her exterior bleeding.

After a minute or two, Xander and Oz came sprinting up. Xander was already giving his report as he came up to the distraught Watcher: "Vamps are gone, but we took some heavy cas- Oh my God. . .Buffy." He turned to Oz and snapped, "Oz, van, NOW!", but Oz was already running back to get his van. He dropped to his knees and pulled out a field medic kit, commenting, "I knew this might come in handy. . .I just never thought that it would be Buffy who would need it." He turned to Giles while finishing the re-bandaging of Buffy's wounds and asked, "What happened?"

Giles looked at Xander, and lied without thinking about it. "She stumbled at the window. . .and I reflexively triggered the explosion when I saw her there. . .I'm sorry, Xander. . .it's all my fault."

Xander looked grimly at Giles, then replied, "Crap, Giles. . .it was just a bad break. You rehearsed that whole plan carefully. . .it's not your fault something went wrong. Blame the Mayor. . .or what's left of him. Right now, let's save her."

Oz pulled up in the van, and the three of them carefully lifted her onto the soft cushions inside. Giles and Xander climbed in to sit with her while Oz floored the accelerator, heading for Sunnydale General Hospital. Giles turned to Xander and asked, "You mentioned casualties?"

Xander nodded grimly and replied, "The students fought pretty well, considering most of them didn't have a hell of a lot of training. Larry, Snyder, and a couple of other students were killed by the Mayor, and we lost about fifteen students fighting hand to hand with the vamps. . .and Wesley. . .they got him, Giles. I saw them dragging him, Harmony, and a few others down with them to the sewers. . .my guess is that we'll see them again. . .or sort of." He sighed in frustration and commented, "I never thought I'd say this, but I wish Dead Boy had been there. . .he would have evened things out a lot."

Giles nodded sadly as he looked down at Buffy's pale, bruised face and whispered, "Yes. . .I know."


* * * * *

". . .we've replaced the blood loss and stopped the internal bleeding. . .not that there was that much of it, considering what happened to her. The broken bones have been set. . .we'll just have to see if any permanent damage has been done there. On the whole, I'd say that she would have an excellent prognosis for recovery, but-"

"But what, Doctor?" Joyce Summers struggled to stay calm as she absorbed the news. It had only been an hour since Giles had called her with the news of Buffy's injuries, and she had broken numerous speed limits driving back from Oxnard. She locked eyes with the doctor and asked bluntly, "What's the problem?"

The doctor looked baffled as he turned to the battered form in the hospital bed and replied simply, "She should be conscious. . .but she's not." He shook his head as he elaborated, "After we stabilized her, we tried to get her to wake up, but mild stimulants have proven useless, and the stronger ones will tax her system right now. . .perhaps we can try them later. The CAT scan and other diagnostics show no signs of brain damage. . .she should be awake. . .but she's not. It's almost as if she is simply refusing to wake up."

Joyce began crying softly, and Giles moved over to her and led her to the chair next to Buffy's bed. She complied mechanically, barely seeming to register his presence. Giles himself felt completely drained emotionally: he yearned for a soft bed and the release of sleep. . .but he remembered something he had to do. He leaned down to Joyce and whispered, "Mrs. Summers. . .I have some important business to attend to. . .I'll be back as soon as I can." He squeezed her shoulder, and Joyce nodded absently as Giles walked to the door of the room, where Xander, Willow, and Oz were standing and watching the scene grimly. Giles looked at all of them bleakly and tersely ordered, "Stay with her." He left, leaving the three friends looking after the visibly devastated Watcher.

Giles quietly let himself into his apartment and walked up to his bedroom, where he found a plain manila envelope lying on his pillow. He opened it, finding a handwritten letter and a smaller, sealed envelope. He opened the letter and began to read:

Dear Giles,

Not to be melodramatic or anything, but if you're reading this, I'm dead, really messed up, or I just got held up by some Hellmouthy annoyance that kept me from grabbing this letter before you found it. If it's the last one, whoops, my bad. . .if not, well, you probably want an explanation, and you, before anyone else, deserve that explanation.

Willow and Oz found out last night that the blood of a Slayer could cure Angel; naturally, I decided to get it from Faith, but my evil little sister threw herself off of a roof rather than let me win that round. So I came back to Angel. . .I tried to force him to drink from me. . .I hoped that he could stop in time, saving us both. He refused, and I tried hitting him. . .it didn't work. We fought, and when I beat him he staked himself to stop me from what I was trying to do. I wanted so badly to save him, Giles, and all I did was force him into suicide. . .I almost ended it right there, Giles. . .but there was a job left to do, and people depending on me. So, I set up the whole thing with the explosives. . .hope it worked OK. In a sense, Giles, I did to you what I was trying to do to Angel, and for that I hope that you can forgive me someday, and if there is blame to be assigned, let it all rest with me.

Giles, with what's happened to me and Faith, the odds are good that a new Slayer is going to be called very soon, if it hasn't happened already. The Council isn't up to it any more, Giles. . .the world has been depending on us for years now, and I just couldn't deal with it any more. . .I don't want the next Slayer to end up like me. I'm counting on you to find her, Giles. . .whoever she is. You have Willow, Xander and Oz to help you, and you're the best man I could ever want to be pulling for her, whoever she is.

On the other hand, you may decide that you've had enough, as I did. You did that once before, when Jenny died. . .you went to the Factory to die, Giles, and I thank God every day that I was able to get there in time to save you. If you decide you've had enough, that you want no more of Hellmouths and demons and all of it, then by all means quit. . .but try to find someone else to take over. . .someone you trust.

I left a general "in case of my death" letter in the smaller envelope. . .please make sure the others see it. . .Giles, if you haven't told them already about what happened, please don't. I don't want them to hate me. . .or to torture themselves with what they might have done differently. Our group the last few years. . .you are the best people I've ever known. . .and I'm proud to have had you as friends and as trusted allies. . .I love you more than I've ever loved anything or anyone. . .even him. Thank you for the last three years of my life. . .I would never have lived them without you.

Forgive me,

Buffy


Giles finished the letter and folded it neatly, placing it back into the envelope. He then took the other letter and was preparing to head back to the hospital when, abruptly, he broke down. He buried his face into his pillow and sobbed quietly for several moments until he heard a sound at the doorway. He turned and saw Willow and Xander watching him sadly. He took a deep breath, composing himself, then asked, "Why are you two here? Mrs. Summers shouldn't be left alone at a time like this."

Willow sat down on the bed next to him, while Xander pulled up a chair and looked at him for a long moment before replying quietly, "Giles. . .we know."

A chill went down Giles' spine, and his first response was evasive: "What, that I'm heartbroken about what happened to Buffy? Xander, I know that there is a stereotype about 'stiff upper lips' and all that, but I hardly think-"

"Giles." Willow's calm, sad interruption stopped Giles short, and he turned to her as she continued, "Giles. . .we know Buffy tried to kill herself."

Giles saw the implacable look in the eyes of his friends, and he sighed, bowing to the inevitable. Feeling like he was a thousand years old, he whispered, "How?"

Xander blinked, tears visible as he explained, "She was acting oddly the whole day, Giles. . .on the surface, she seemed shut down, but I noticed she was tying up various loose ends. . .spending a few minutes with the friends she had made other than us. . .then when you said she had tripped. . .Giles, you tried, but it wasn't very damned likely she had tripped and we both knew it. . .and you never would have screwed up and hit the button early. That left either someone grabbing her-which you would have no reason not to mention-or that she just stopped. My gut feeling said that last one was what went down. . .and you just confirmed it."

Willow nodded at Xander's explanation and elaborated, "Buffy lied to us about what happened with Angel. . .I knew the whole symptomology from the texts, and the victim simply gets weaker until he or she lapses into a coma, then death. . .if Angel got violent, he was provoked. . .presumably by Buffy." She looked bleakly at Giles and asked, "What happened?"

Giles removed Buffy's letter from the envelope and handed it to Willow, who read it quickly, then numbly handed it to Xander as tears began flowing freely from her eyes. Xander read for a few moments, then put the letter down and commented quietly, "I was wrong about him. . .he died rather than risk her life. . .and he would have done it last December if the snowstorm from nowhere hadn't come by. . .the only thing worse than feeling this badly about something. . .is knowing that part of it is your fault. . .and that it's too late to do anything about it."

"Who says it's too late?" Both men were taken aback by the snarl in Willow's voice as she snapped back at her best friend. "We've lost Angel, and that's horrible enough. . .but Buffy's not dead. . .she isn't even in a coma, for God's sake! She's just so damned determined to end it all that she's refusing to snap out of it. . .and I'll be damned if I'm going to let her get away with it!"

Giles took a deep breath, and gathered himself before he turned to Willow and softly replied, "Willow. . .Buffy has suffered greatly over the years from her Calling. . .perhaps now, it is time to honor her wishes as best we can. . .and let her rest for now."

Willow's eyes widened, and she stared at the beaten expressions on the faces of the two men in the room. She transfixed them both with a glare worthy of Buffy herself and whispered, "I can't believe you're ready to give up. . .damn it, think about what she's been through in the last few days. . .she had to fight Faith to the death, and she watched while the love of her life killed himself to keep her safe. . .do you really think she was playing with a full deck when she did what she did? We have to lose her because she couldn't take any time to deal with it? NO."

Xander seemed to be ready to say something else, but Willow silenced him by raising her hand, then continued, "I know it's what she wanted, but since when do any of us get what we want living in this damned place! I didn't ask to have Xander finally notice me just in time to almost wipe out the one and only real relationship I've ever had! Giles didn't ask to fall in love with a woman who ended up being killed by a demon wearing the face of one of our best friends! Cordelia didn't ask to almost die because Spike kidnapped Xander and me and she saw us kissing! Angel didn't ask to have to kill himself to save Buffy from her own damned self-sacrifice! Just once, I think we should get our way here. . .and I say Buffy lives. . .and to hell with what she wanted, what the damned books say, or what anyone else has to say on the matter!"

Giles and Xander visibly recoiled from the fury on Willow's face, and it was some time before Giles sighed and asked, "All right, Willow. . .but she won't wake up. What do you suggest we do about it?"

Sensing victory, Willow visibly calmed and replied, "We wait with her. . .we talk to her. . .let her know that we're not letting her leave without a fight. We'll research to see if there are any spells that will let us go in to talk to her directly, since she's hiding from us. Buffy's one of the most stubborn people I've ever met, but-" She smiled softly and looked at her friends proudly before continuing, "I think the three of us have her beat in that department hands down." She blinked, drained from her emotional outburst, then asked, "Are you with me?"

Xander nodded and responded, "Yeah, Willow, I'm with you." He squeezed her shoulder and excused himself to go to the restroom, while Willow turned to Giles, who still looked bleak. She frowned and asked, "Giles. . .you're with us on this, right?"

Giles was silent, but after a moment his head bobbed up and down twice, and Willow smiled sadly in relief. He turned to her and asked, "Willow. . .could you wait downstairs for me? I need to get some things before we go back to the hospital."

Willow nodded and departed. Giles straightened his clothing and retrieved the "in case of my death" letter that Buffy had left, and got up, heading for the stairs. At the last second, he turned back to where the letter Buffy had written to him lay discarded, and whispered three words as a tear trickled down his cheek:

"Forgive me, Buffy."

He turned away, wiping the tear from his cheek and heading down the stairs, unsure if he was betraying her or saving her.



As always, comments are welcomed and desired