PartV

Epilogue

June 16, 1999: Graduation Day

Buffy sat in her seat, waiting for that evil little troll Snyder to finish his preliminaries so that the guest of honor could be heard from-Mayor Wilkins AKA the about to be nasty demon. Willow was still absent from the seat next to Buffy, but the Slayer was not worried, as Oz's empty seat suggested that the two of them were busy with a lot of last minute smooching. . .or something rather more involved, if Willow's behavior in the last few days meant anything.

She looked over in the shadows and saw Giles, Jenny and Angel waiting for the unscheduled eclipse to bring them back into the game. In the last sixteen months, they had all had a lot of adjusting to do. Jenny had quit as the computer teacher, causing the school administration to appoint Willow as the temporary replacement, which had been great for her resume and had completely thrilled her, particularly since Jenny had made a point of telling Willow what a wonderful job she was doing with the students. Jenny had taken a position with a computer company that paid twice what she made as a teacher, and required no face to face contact: she worked during the day at the apartment that she and Giles now shared, and worked with Giles at the library at night. As far as Buffy could tell, she was happy, and Buffy felt as close to her now as she did with almost all of her friends.

Giles had actually had an even easier time adjusting than Jenny had. He kept his job as the librarian and was simply rather careful about avoiding sunshine and daytime meetings. The major trauma that he had to deal with was his rather involved marriage proposal to Jenny, which he had delivered and she had tearfully accepted only last month. If they all made it through this, the wedding (nighttime, of course) would take place in August. Buffy smiled at the thought of their happiness. . .it had all seemed so hopeless that awful night last February.

Willow slipped into the seat beside her with a flushed face and a muttered apology just as the Mayor was to speak. Buffy smiled secretly at her friend's state as the Mayor began his speech. As the minutes went on, both the Slayer and her best friend came to horrified realizations, Buffy just a moment before Willow:

"My god. . .he's going to deliver the whole speech."
"Man, just ascend already."
"Evil."

****

The three vampires waited tensely for the mayor to finish and for the sun to disappear as all hell broke loose. They were intent on the figure one hundred yards away and completely failed to notice the young woman walking up to them carrying a stake. They were startled when she spoke.

"That bastard can sure drone on, can't he?" Faith commented, greeting her mentor and friends as she stared at their target. "I'm glad I won't have to be dealing with him after today." They all greeted her, and Giles watched his young charge stare at the Mayor with a calm focus that would have been inconceivable eight months ago when the frightened young Slayer arrived in Sunnydale.

Her very arrival had been something of a surprise. No one had known what would be the full consequences of Kendra's heroic death at the hands of the Sisterhood of Jhe during the Acathla incident. . .it was bad enough that Buffy had gone into a state of severe depression over the guilt of the one person who could totally understand what her life was like dying in order to save her life. She had continued to operate as the Slayer, but her performance was lackluster, and more than once she would have died had not one or more of her friends intervened. She had refused all help, even from Giles and Angel, until Xander had gone to her house in August. Buffy would not have admitted him, but Joyce-who had been informed of her daughter's profession in the aftermath of the return of Angel-had admitted him without a word. He had talked to her for long hours, and neither of them had ever revealed what was said. But Buffy's spirits had visibly improved after that, and she had recovered her full form by the time that Faith came to town with the powerful vampire Kikistos and his dangerous assistant Mr. Trick at her heels.

She hadn't let them in on that right away, of course. Giles had never met anyone with so many layers of mistrust built up as Faith had, and it had almost gotten her killed as their ignorance almost let Kikistos get his revenge. But Buffy and Faith had slain the ancient demon by excellent teamwork, and Giles had noticed that her guard had begun to drop just a little. He had gone to Joyce and asked her to take Faith in, letting her sleep in the spare room that Joyce had been using for storage: he had assured her that the Council would compensate her for the expense-Joyce had refused the money and welcomed Faith with open arms. Over time, Giles' patient instruction and the support of Buffy and all of her friends slowly brought Faith out of her defensive shell and diminished her reckless tendencies. . .then the inevitable happened.

Giles had successfully concealed his new vampiric state from the Council for quite some time, with the help of Buffy, but the approach of Buffy's scheduled Cruciamentum had created a crisis situation with the arrival of a number of representatives of the Watchers' Council, most notably Quentin Travers, a cold bastard that Giles had come into conflict with before. Giles had decided early on that there was no way in hell that Buffy was going to be subjected to the loss of her powers, much less in the dangerous test that had slain one out of three Slayers exposed to it. He had told Buffy, and once she got over her initial rage at the very concept, they had agreed on a plan to trick the Council. Things had gone perfectly until the vampire Kralick had escaped, turned one Watcher and killed the other. The kidnapping of Buffy's mother had followed, and Giles was faced with a choice: help Buffy and risk being fired by the Council, or not intervene and possibly forfeit Joyce's life, and risk Buffy's. The decision took but a moment, and Giles never regretted it. After again conferring with Buffy, he carefully refrained from interfering directly with Buffy's confrontation with Kralick, while skillfully destroying the vamped Watcher and rescuing Joyce. Unfortunately, Giles was unable to restrain himself from assuming his game face, and both Travers and Faith had seen it upon arriving on the scene. Upon a full investigation by a Watchers' Council investigatory committee, Travers was held accountable for the deaths of the two Watchers and fired. Giles almost suffered the same fate, but Buffy's impassioned testimony, together with the uncontradicted record of his extreme heroism in the fight against evil since his turning, had led to the Council narrowly deciding to retain him. . .with the proviso that he take Wesley Wyndham-Pryce as an assistant. That was annoying enough, but when the hearing was over, he had realized that he had other problems to deal with.

Faith's discovery that the man she had come to trust so thoroughly in the last few months was actually a vampire was shattering to her, and she had reverted to her old ways of reckless vampire hunting. Buffy had found her, and they had spent long hours talking together, with the older Slayer desperately working to overcome the lifetime of distrust that had been brought back to the surface with the revelation of Giles' state. Giles had finally broken the stalemate with an act of trust that Buffy remarked had reminded her of the way she and Angel had come to an understanding about his state: he handed her a stake while Buffy and Jenny stood by helplessly and told her to do what she felt best. She had raised the stake, then dropped it and looked intently at him before saying, "I guess I can handle it for now, G."

Things had improved between them since, and Giles had even convinced Faith to accept tutoring with the goal of Faith passing the GRE. The native intelligence that Giles had perceived there beneath the studied laziness was indeed present, and Faith had passed with flying colors. In recent days, he and Jenny had discussed tentatively the idea of adopting Faith: they would never be able to have children of their own, and both of the young Slayer's parents were dead. They would put it to the Council as a matter of practicality, but they would know-as would Faith-that different emotions were implicated, though truth be known, Giles already thought of himself as having one daughter.

Giles smiled with pride at his younger charge, then turned to continue watching the would be demon as he continued his seemingly endless speech.


****

The waiting was becoming physically painful, and Buffy pointedly looked up to see if the eclipse had started yet. . .no such luck. Desperately seeking relief, she looked behind her and locked eyes with Xander, who nodded at her and mouthed the words, "Love you", before turning to Cordelia and making some remark that made her laugh. These days, just looking at him made her feel warm as a summer morning inside. . .how weird was that? She still remembered the shattered look on his face when she had told him two years ago that she just saw him as a friend, and how she had watched in dismay as he turned to Cordelia for affection (though she had to admit that there turned out to be more to the former May Queen than she had ever imagined).

Then the nasty incident with the backfired love spell had happened, and she had been. . .well, if not shocked, impressed with his adamant insistence on resisting her spell-fueled advances on him. Immediately after, she had stood by in shock as he single-handedly prevented the group from dissolving into useless acrimony after the turning of Giles and Jenny. At that point, she had begun to turn an interested eye his way, but he was with Cordelia, and that was that, and that held true even after he had spent long hours with her last summer helping to restore her shattered psyche after the tragic death of Kendra.

But then there had been the unpleasant incident with Spike, who had kidnapped Willow and Xander in hopes of getting her to cast a love spell to reclaim the fickle Dru. Crisis had led to an ignition of the spark that had always been possible between the two old friends, and Oz and Cordelia had walked in at the worst possible moment. Oz had quickly forgiven Willow, but the old insecurities were inflamed in Cordelia, and she had left Xander without a look back. Again, Buffy turned in Xander's direction but she held back, fearing that his pain would somehow be worsened if she tried and screwed things up.

Then there had been the frantic night where the Sisterhood of Jhe had returned, seeking to end the world this time by reopening the Hellmouth. Xander had almost been killed in the initial confrontation, and the others had agreed with her that there was no good reason to risk his life again against the horribly dangerous demons. He had resented it and gone off on his own, and she was surprised that it was Xander who saved her from a nasty one on one confrontation with one of the Sisters. He had driven her back to her house, and they had talked for a while, her mother being out of town. Inexorably, the conversation had led to matters romantic, and before they knew it, they were in a tight embrace that led to what Xander charmingly called "doing the wacky." Being pressed for time, they showered and went off to their tasks: Xander foiling the bombing plot of the undead gang of Jack O'Toole, and Buffy, Angel, Giles, Jenny, Willow, and Faith had averted the apocalypse. The next morning, Xander had walked in on the discussion of the sealing of the Hellmouth when Cordelia had walked in and mocked Xander as being irrelevant to the group. Buffy had been about to yell at Cordelia when Xander turned and gave Buffy by far the best kiss she had ever had. . .the secret was out. She had a little fence-mending to do with Willow after that, and she had to look away from Angel for a while, not wanting to see his hurt at her moving on, but she wouldn't have changed things for the world.

She looked over at Angel and sighed, wondering if he could divine her thoughts. That horrible night last February had doomed their relationship as surely as the continued reign of Angelus would have. . .in spite of their salvaging of the situation, there was too much mutual guilt at the terrible price that Jenny and Giles had paid. She still loved him. . .there had been a couple of incidents that certainly showed that. She had refused to see him after Kendra's death because she feared that she would be too weak to stay away from him, and that nasty attempt by the First Evil to tempt him to kill her had led to his attempted suicide, thwarted only-in spite of her impassioned pleas-by an unprecedented miracle of snowfall in Sunnydale. He had handled the matter of her being with Xander with unparalleled grace, and he noted that Xander had become far more accepting of the vampire in recent days, as if they shared an understanding.
She sighed and wondered how everything would settle out. . .but first there was a demon to kill. She met eyes with Faith and nodded. Things would be coming to a head soon.

****

Buffy and Faith fled down the corridor at top speed, the huge serpentine head of the transformed former Mayor of Sunnydale but thirty feet behind them, smashing all in its path. They rapidly approached the library and, according to the carefully rehearsed plan, they touched hands briefly before splitting off down separate corridors heading left and right in front of the library.

The new demon saw the move and smiled inwardly, picturing the joyful task of hunting them down and killing them individually. He was preparing to slow down, perhaps trashing that annoying Giles' library before chasing down and killing the Slayers when he felt a sharp pain. Given his invulnerability for the last three months, he was preparing to show interest when he realized that he was hurtling out of control. He crashed through the doors of the library and tumbled, coming to rest precisely where the Hellmouth had opened twice. He opened his eyes and painfully managed to shift his position to look the way he came. He saw a vast serpentine body without a head, and two Slayers holding. . .a thin wire. He looked at the scene and said the first thing that came to mind, "Well, gosh," before losing consciousness forever.

Buffy and Faith watched as the body of the Wilkins demon rapidly reduced to ash. Buffy was relieved, as explaining this would have been a bitch. They had taunted the demon into following them by reminding him of their triumphs against him: the thwarting of the baby sacrifice in the unfortunate band candy incident, Faith's Slaying of Trick, and the interception of the Books of Ascension. They had both dreamed the night before, and the dream had told them that even as a demon, Wilkins would retain human weaknesses-they used that to their advantage. The two Slayers engaged in an uninhibited scream of triumph before heading into the library to hide the explosives that they had set as a backup, then headed back outside.

They walked out into a mob scene. The students, armed to the teeth, were in the process of driving off and slaying the mob of vampires that Wilkins had engaged for crowd control. Buffy saw that Larry was still on the ground, apparently dead, and sighed sadly. The two Slayers entered the fray with a vengeance, and before long, the rest of the vampires were dead or fleeing. Buffy looked up and shouted, "Giles, Jenny, Angel. . .inside, now! Everyone else, check the casualties for survivors!" For the first time in days, she allowed the tension to leave her body, and she sat down in total exhaustion, Faith giving her a supportive squeeze on the shoulder before heading off to evaluate the situation. She was still there when Xander walked over and sat next to her. "So, what are your thoughts on summer vacation, Buffy?"

She laughed out loud and hugged him tightly. She knew that it wouldn't be all easy from here on in; after all, they were still on a Hellmouth, and that had never been a good thing. But she rejoiced in her triumph for the moment, and she was eternally grateful that she had the friends that she did to share it with.

The End

Author's Note: I'm thinking of writing several more stories in this alternate timeline, which I am naming "the Straight Ahead universe", including the alternate versions of BTVS episodes mentioned above. If you see a fanfic by me referring to the Straight Ahead universe, you will know that I am writing based on the assumptions in this story. I hope you have found it enjoyable.




As always, comments are welcome and desired.