Part III

Buffy pretended to be paying attention to Dick Clark as he excitedly described the scene at Times Square, but she was completely focused on Xander and Cordelia's conversation. When Cordelia asked Xander about why he just didn't come back to Sunnydale when his car broke down, Buffy realized that she had secretly wondered that herself. . .and she didn't like the probable reason. When Xander commented that Parker looked a lot like him, Buffy had to restrain herself from smacking her forehead. * No wonder I fell for Parker's lines. . .he reminded me of someone that I trust with my life. . .and Xander's worried that I'll hold it against him. . .I've got to let him know it's so not a problem. . .when I was at my lowest point since Angel went to hell, he gave me the courage to go on. . .he has to know that I love-- * Buffy flinched at the unbidden thought that had arisen. Where in the hell had that come from? * It's not like that. . .it's like I told Faith, I love him, but I don't LOVE him. . . *

"I was wondering when you would notice that."

Buffy turned slowly and saw Angel watching her with a patient look on his face. She knew that he had heard what she had, and she retorted defensively, "What, that Xander has the hots for me? That's old news, Angel. Even Anya must be clued in on that by now. . .I hope I don't wake up some day with a nasty vengeance spell courtesy of Anya's jealousy."

Angel shook his head slowly, a look of resignation on his face. "No, Buffy, I meant that I was wondering when you would notice that you had feelings of your own in that area."

Buffy was stunned: she glared at Angel and grated out, "Xander is one of my best friends, and he's risked his life dozens of times to try to protect me. I love him. . .and you're reading into that that I want to be with him? That's a bit of a stretch, Angel."

Angel sighed, then looked intently at the woman he had loved for years as he replied, "Buffy, do you think I would have been jealous of him if I didn't sense that deep down you did find him attractive. . .that you could fall in love with him? I've been around for a long time: I know the signs by now."

Buffy frowned and retorted, "If that's true, then why didn't you ever bring it up again after that one time? You've been amazingly tolerant of Xander. . .he treated you like dirt even before you lost your soul, even after you saved his life more than once. Why put up with it?"

Angel's eyes clouded over for a moment, then he looked at her intently as he replied softly, "Because I owe him a debt that I can never repay, Buffy. The night you went after the Master, Xander came to give me the news, and in that moment I gave up all hope. . .I think I would have walked into the sun the next morning rather than face the world that the Master would rule. Xander convinced me that it was still worth trying. . .because we both loved you, then he willingly followed me into what could be expected to be the most dangerous place on earth and saved your life when I couldn't. Then, of course, there was the time when Angelus put you in the hospital, and Xander was the only thing standing between you and certain death. . .or worse. Xander couldn't have even slowed him down-he had to know that, and yet he stood there taunting him. . .he'd probably be rather unnerved to know just how close he came to dying that night." He sighed again, and continued, "He did test my gratitude at times. . .I have to admit that punching him out during the whole charade with Faith did give me a little satisfaction; however, he's always come through for you in the end. . .as a concerned ex, I have to admit that that scores him points with me as far as a potential love interest for you."

Buffy frowned and commented, "Damn it, Angel. . .don't you think that I would have been thrilled to fall for Xander?. . .it would have made my life so much simpler, particularly after Willow finally decided she didn't want to be with him. But there's always been something missing, and I can't put my finger on it."

She looked expectantly at Angel, only to see him smile and shake his head before commenting, "I can't read your mind, Buffy. I don't know what it is that's causing the problem. . .you're going to have to work that out on your own."

Buffy gave him a mock glare and commented, "You're a lot of help," just before she felt a chill down her spine and a vague feeling that something was happening in her old room. Angel saw the look on her face and asked, "What's wrong?" Buffy smiled and commented, "Nothing. . .I just have to get something out of my room." Angel glanced at her oddly, suspecting that she was being less than straight with him, but she just smiled and walked casually up the stairs, entering her room and switching on the light. Nothing seemed amiss, and she walked further into the room, glancing at the window and peeking into the closet. Abruptly, the door swung closed, and Buffy felt disoriented for a long moment.

When her perceptions cleared somewhat, she found herself in what appeared to be a dimly lit, very large room. The perspective seemed odd somehow, and she could not determine the actual dimensions of the room. . .and she could not get a good look at the cloaked and hooded figure that approached her. She tensed, expecting trouble, and intently stared at the figure as it came into close range. Buffy called out, "All right, that's close enough." Her voice sounded distorted, and she was not surprised when the reply that came back was also distorted to the point where the voice was unrecognizable:

"I am your most dangerous opponent, Buffy. Prepare to be defeated."


Cordelia smiled at Xander and laughed, "I'm glad to see you still have your priorities. . .well, where they were," as she nodded at the collection of snack food that Xander had accumulated. Xander might have taken it as a dig at one time, but now he just smiled and replied, "It wouldn't hurt you to dig in a little more, Cordelia. . .you can always diet until the next millenium day comes."

Cordelia smirked and replied, "Thanks, but I'll pass. Listen, you've been sweet, but I'm going to go out for a walk. . .you stay and enjoy the party." Ignoring Xander's protests, she reached out, squeezed his hand, and walked out of the open door. Xander turned around looking for support, and saw Angel already headed for the open door. He stopped long enough to nod at his old nemesis and earnestly say, "Thanks, Xander."

Xander nodded and replied, "Any time." Angel nodded again and glided out the door as Willow emerged from the kitchen and walked over to Xander, asking, "Where's Angel going?"

Xander turned to his best friend and replied, "More morale boosting for Cordelia. . .she's feeling better, but she's really shaken up by the whole 'I've got really important powers and I'm afraid of screwing things up' thing. It's up to him now. . .he's the one who spends the most time with her, and I hope he knows what to say, because I'm all tapped out." He looked at her with concern and asked, "Are you all right? You were in the kitchen for a long time."

Willow smiled faintly and replied, "I got a letter from Oz." She explained the contents of the letter to Xander, and he was moved to give her a hug, after which he stepped back and asked, "So is there someone else you'd like to be with, Will?"

She nodded and sighed, "Someone we both know. . .he told me that he had feelings for me, and I'm attracted to him, but I just don't know, Xander. Maybe I'm being too hasty in giving up on Oz. . .maybe he'll come up with the cure, and I'll have thrown our relationship away and risked my friendship with. . .the other man for no good reason. I just wish I could know if I'm doing the right thing."

Xander led her over to the couch, and he looked intently at her as he replied, "Willow, Oz sent you that letter because he had to know he'd probably be at this search for many months, if not years. Any info on the supernatural that neither Giles nor Angel have a bead on isn't going to be on the best seller list, you know?" Willow nodded sadly, and he continued, "Will, when I thought that Spike had killed Anya, all I could think about as I pounded on him was that I really cared about her and that I had never really showed her, or told her. We live in danger here, and at any moment one of us could be dead, or worse. If you have feelings for this guy, I think you should pursue it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and maybe Oz will come back reasonably soon with you knowing that you've tried all your options and have no regrets. Willow, present company aside, you've had pretty good taste in guys. . .whoever you choose is going to be all right."

Willow looked at him for a long moment, then whispered, "Thanks, Xander," then stood up and noted that the clock read one minute to midnight. After a few more moments of thought, Willow's face assumed a determined look as she began walking slowly across the room. Xander watched her as the second hand passed twenty seconds to midnight and he noticed where she was walking. He put two and two together with unaccustomed ease and was on the verge of a startled exclamation when a noise at the threshold caused him to turn around, and for a long moment he was speechless at what he saw.


Buffy parried a punch and delivered one of her own, only to have it effortlessly batted aside. They had been fighting for what felt like several minutes, but neither had delivered a solid blow yet. Buffy could tell that her opponent possessed fighting skills in her class, and the cloaked figure seemed to be testing her abilities too. Could it be Faith? No, Faith had never fought a defensive battle this well in her life: she would be attacking far more aggressively. Also, Faith wasn't this much of a chatterbox in combat: this one liked to taunt, and she apparently knew something about her opponent.

"So you're the great Slayer who's been wreaking havoc through the underworld these past years? Seems like you're a bit overrated to me. . .figures, given that you'd be dead for years if you didn't have all of those protectors following you around."

Buffy glared and delivered a spinning side kick that the figure sidestepped partially, causing a glancing blow that sent it staggering back without apparent harm. It recovered and executed a sweep that knocked Buffy to the ground, but she was on her feet instantly as she snapped back, "They're not my protectors. . .they're my friends, and they're not here now."

The figure laughed mockingly, and replied, "All the more trouble for you then. . .where would you be without Xander's having brought you back from the dead, or Willow casting a spell here, or finding some obscure data on the Internet there. Moldering in the ground, that's where you'd be. And as for your Watcher. . .do you think that most Slayers get a man in the prime of life who is a match for most vampires himself? Not likely. They get some doddering old fool who is good for little but a pat on the head and a little cryptic advice as he sends them off to die. I don't even need to go into Angel, do I? Any Slayer with that much help could have done what you've done, Buffy. . .all you've done is expose a lot of good people to danger because you don't have the guts to face your duty alone!"

Buffy's eyes narrowed: she knew that voice now. . .it had mocked her in her dreams and in her darkest moments ever since her early days in Sunnydale. . .and it was about goddamned time that she shut it up for good. She began a ferocious flurry of kicks and punches that had the figure retreating defensively, and it didn't stop her from snarling her reply at her foe: "I've believed that myself for way too long. . .I've tried to push them away when I thought it was too dangerous. . .I ran because I thought that I was useless, and that I'd only hurt them if I stayed. I was wrong. I've read the diaries. . .no Slayer has had to do as much as I have before, faced so many threats to the world, and I've done my best, but I've needed help, and I should have just admitted it once and for all and just accepted the fact that I'm the luckiest person in the world to have the friends that I do. I need them. . .I just don't need them to kick your bony little ass!" With that, she delivered a perfect uppercut, and the figure went flying into a wall, slumping into unconsciousness just as Ethan had the night before. Her face still distorted by fury, Buffy strode forward and ripped the hood away. . .and saw her own face. She snorted and commented, "I figured as much. Way too 'The Empire Strikes Back', guys." She whirled and saw the woman approaching her, stopping as the eerie surroundings coalesced into Buffy's room, and Jenny Calendar commented, "A little cliched, but I think it got the message across."

Buffy's glare intensified, and her voice was harsh as she snapped back, "Oh, great. Didn't you get the message when I messed up your plan last year. . .this is my town, and no all-powerful cosmic evil is going to mess with it!"

Jenny smiled gently and replied, "I should think not. . .but I'm playing for the home team, Buffy." She blinked a couple of times and continued softly, "It's good to see you."

Buffy blinked, and tried to disbelieve the sight of Jenny Calendar alive and well in her room, but she wasn't getting any of the vibes that the First Evil had given her, and her well-honed survival instincts were completely insufficient to restrain her from rushing forward and giving her lost friend a ferocious hug which lasted until Jenny commented, "Buffy, I'm not exactly alive anymore, but that is beginning to smart." Buffy withdrew and looked apologetic, then asked excitedly, "How can you be here. . .what is going on?"

Jenny smiled and replied, "After I died, the Powers that Be summoned my spirit and gave me a choice. . .you were destined to defeat Angelus, but I was given the option of deciding how that matter would be resolved by helping Willow cast the curse in time. . .or failing to do so and letting you kill Angelus. Either choice would have been tough on you. . .I hope I made the right one."

Not trusting herself to speak, Buffy nodded, and began hesitantly: "Jenny, I'm so sorry. . .if I hadn't been so stubborn-"

Jenny held up her hand, then smiled and replied, "Buffy, it was meant to be. . .you tried to fix things, as did I. . .we were just too late." She squeezed Buffy's shoulder, then continued, "In any event, the Powers were pleased at how I had chosen, and decided that I would make a good emissary for them. . .besides, between Drusilla and the First Evil impersonating me, I've got a lot of damage control to do." She looked at Buffy, and seemed to fall back into the teacher mode that Buffy remembered as she asked, "I assume you got the point of this little exercise?"

Buffy looked at her reproachfully and replied, "Yeah, I get it, I get it, Yoda. I need to stop pushing my friends away, because I need them." She looked at Jenny, and pain was clearly visible as she whispered, 'It's just so hard, Jenny. I can't stand the thought of losing any of them. . .I almost lost it after you died and Giles. . ." She couldn't go on, and Jenny moved forward and grasped her shoulders until Buffy looked up at her. "Buffy, every one of your friends is here because they want to be. . .because it is the best way in which they believe they can live their lives. . .even Cordelia is starting to think that way, Goddess help us all. You have to trust them. . .and trust yourself."

Buffy chuckled, and commented, "I suppose you think I should throw myself at Xander, too." Jenny smiled conspiratorially and replied, "Well, looking at things from a safe distance, he is awfully cute." Both women laughed, then Jenny continued in a more serious vein, "Buffy, that's a decision for you and you alone to make. . .but don't push him away just because you're afraid that you are cursed, and that anyone you love is doomed, or because you don't want to endanger him further on general principles. If you want to be with him, and he wants to be with you, don't let fear stand in the way. Rupert and I waited too long. . .you don't have to." She smiled at Buffy again, then whispered, "I have to go."

Buffy suppressed an urge to grab her, to keep her there, as she whispered, "Jenny, wait. . .Giles will want to see you."

Jenny smiled sadly and replied, "I know, but my mission here is done, and I can't stay. Do tell him I'm all right, though, and that I'm happy for him." At Buffy's raised eyebrow, Jenny grinned and elaborated, "You'll see when you go downstairs." She turned away, and faded out of sight as her last words echoed through the room:

"You'd better hurry, Buffy. It's almost midnight."

Buffy looked at the clock and saw that it was ten seconds to midnight. She whirled and dashed out of the room.


Giles and Joyce stood watching the huge lighted ball descend towards the "2000" sign on the TV and held their breath. As the clock indicated fifteen seconds left, Giles turned to Joyce with a rakish grin and asked, "Would you care to do the honors, Ms. Summers?"

Joyce smiled and nodded, replying, "It would be my pleasure." As the clock ticked down to five seconds, they leaned toward each other, eyes closed.

Giles felt a surprisingly strong set of feminine arms pull him around and pull his head down. His eyes opened and he only had a moment to register the presence of Willow before her lips met his-


Angel moved behind Cordelia and called out, "Hey." She turned to see him and commented softly, "Angel. . .I don't think I need a bodyguard. . . even the things that go bump in the night are probably partying right now."

Angel smiled, then replied, "I know. . .but I heard you and Xander talking. . .and aside from his insistence on calling me Dead Boy, I agree with everything he had to say. You can handle this thing, Cordelia. . .anyone who can bluff a homicidal vampire into flight and intimidate a ghost into backing off is someone to be reckoned with."

Cordelia smiled and sighed, then replied, "Maybe. . .but I just can't shake the feeling that I don't belong in this situation. . .I'm not a hero, Angel. . .I just-"

Without warning, Angel leaned down and kissed Cordelia on the lips.


Buffy moved over to the stairs, her thoughts racing. * I can get to Xander by midnight. . .we can do the whole millenium kiss thing, and I can see how he's feeling about the whole Anya situation. We can talk it out. . .maybe it can wor * As she moved down the stairs, she froze. Xander was standing in the front doorway, and Anya was with him. As the sound of Dick Clark announcing "Happy New Millenium!" echoed through the room, Xander embraced Anya and kissed her passionately. In spite of her shock, Buffy also registered the fact that Willow was kissing Giles in a similar manner as Joyce looked on with a look that was simultaneously startled and pleased. Buffy sighed and thought * No fruit for Buffy * as she moved down the stairs and towards Xander and Anya.


After a long moment, Willow broke the kiss and looked up at Giles, registering the startled but pleased look in his eyes as she smiled and whispered, "Happy New Millenium, Rupert."

He looked at her for a long moment, then simply asked, "Are you sure, Willow?"

She nodded solemnly and replied, "Oz told me to use my best judgment. . .and I've never been so sure of anything in my life." She looked at him for another moment, then flushed and turned to Joyce, commenting, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Summers, that was rude of me-"

Joyce smiled and replied, "It's completely all right, Willow. . .and I think that under the circumstances you should call me Joyce from now on." She smiled wickedly and suggested, "We should get together some time. . .compare notes." The two women giggled, while Giles flushed and wondered if he could possibly be more embarrassed. . .or, as he looked at the young woman who had chosen to share her life with him, more lucky.


After a moment, Angel broke the kiss and looked at Cordelia. She smiled at him, then frowned and commented, "That was sweet, Angel. . .but I've tried a lot. . .and I don't think I can get rid of the power that way. . .wish I'd known that before I kissed Barney."

Angel laughed, and explained, "No, Cordelia. . .it was for the New Millenium." He indicated the sounds of celebration coming from around them, and he continued softly, "I just wanted to show you how lucky I feel to have someone of your quality to work with in these times. . .I miss Doyle too, but I'm glad I have you to help me face things."

Cordelia was touched at the effort Angel was making, and chose to reward him by fixing him with a sardonic look and commenting, "You know, some bosses show that by increasing that little thing we employees like to call a paycheck." She smiled at Angel's briefly annoyed look, then breezily called out, "Come on, you big undead fashion plate, you. Let's get back to the party."

Angel sighed at his success: Cordelia was definitely back to normal. More than a little ambivalent, he followed her back in the direction of the Summers' house.


Buffy walked over to Xander and Anya, carefully concealing the substantial disappointment she was feeling as the two lovers straightened and noticed her presence. She smiled and commented, "Glad you could make it, Anya. Xander said you had other plans. . ."

Anya smiled self-consciously and replied, "Uh. . .I decided that I should be here, instead. . .that's not weird or anything, is it?"

Buffy shook her head slowly and replied, "No, Anya, it's not weird at all." She walked over and kissed Xander on the cheek as she said, "Happy New Millenium, Xander."

Xander smiled and returned the kiss on Buffy's cheek. "Happy New Millenium, Buffy." He saw the rather odd look on her face and asked, "Are you all right?"

Buffy nodded and replied, "All present and accounted for, sir." She glanced across the room and saw Giles and Willow talking as Joyce looked on. She turned to Xander, who was watching his two friends with an ambivalent look on his face, and whispered, "Excuse me. . .I think I need to have a conversation with a couple of friends." She moved over to Giles and Willow as Xander muttered, "Me too," before turning back to Anya and kissing her again.


It was a few minutes later, and everyone was standing in the living room, watching the continuing partying in New York and talking when Buffy called out, "May I have everyone's attention, please." The conversations stopped, and all eyes were on the Slayer.

Buffy smiled self-consciously, then began, "It's been an interesting night. We've seen new love given a chance-" she indicated Giles and Willow, who stood together arm and arm watching Buffy with a mild flush on their cheeks, "-a developing love taking a turn for the better-" looking at Xander and Anya looking at each other before turning back to Buffy, "-and old friends returning to visit the ones who care for them." She looked at Angel and Cordelia, who smiled in acknowledgement, but she also glanced briefly in the direction of her room before continuing, "With all of that, I can only think of one thing to say." She raised her champagne glass, and all of the others followed her gesture as she said, "To love, and friendship. May none of us ever forget how much we mean to each other. . .and may we share many more occasions like this one in the future."

All drank to the toast, and everyone smiled at Buffy before returning to their conversations. Giles and Willow moved over to Buffy, and Willow whispered to Buffy, "Giles told me about the prophecy. . .are you all right?"

The Slayer smiled, and she gave her best friend a hug before explaining briefly: "Willow, the prophecy was wrong. . .it wasn't about defeating my most dangerous enemy." She paused, then finished to the accompaniment of the laughter of those nearest and dearest to her:

"It was about remembering what my greatest assets are."

As always, comments are welcomed and desired