The place is full of smoke. It chokes my lungs and I try
to breathe as little of it as possible in. Somewhere at the back of my mind the
voice of reason is telling me to get down on the floor, to crawl on my hands
and knees, because that's where the coolest air is. But panic is busy
overtaking me and all I can think of is 'where are they?'.
"Buffy!" I try to yell, but the cry turns into a coughing
fit as I inhale a mouthful of smoke. My chest aches and my eyes sting, and
still I stagger onwards, towards the flames rather than away from them. I don't
think I've ever been this frightened in my entire life, not when the mayor
turned into a giant snake at graduation and not even when I saw that look in
Oz's eyes and I knew that the next thing he was going to say was that he was
leaving me. Those times I was scared for myself, but now I've learned a much
deeper fear – that for the people you love.
"Tara," I gasp out in a strangled whisper. She is in here
somewhere and I can't find her. I'm not leaving without her – I can't just let
her die, she's my strength, my support, I don't think I could survive without
her in my life.
"Tara!" I call more
loudly this time, using reserves of strength and determination I never even
knew I had to do so. I tip my head to one side, listening, as I think I hear,
above the crackling and the spitting and the wild roaring of the fire, the
sound of my name being cried in return. A surge of relief floods through me,
its effects almost physical in the way it seems to cool the air around me and
pump new energy into my tired limbs. I stumble towards the sound, ignoring the
intense heat that reflects off my face and hands, burning my skin and singeing
my hair without the flames even needing to touch me.
"Tara!" I shout once again and this
time the answer comes more strongly. Willow, I'm here. It is strange, the words don't seem to reach
my ears and yet I feel them in my heart. I scan the room desperately, my eyes
finally locking with the familiar blue pair belonging to the woman whom I love.
We are separated by a solid wall of fire, fifteen foot deep, and panic rises in
me anew – how am I going to reach her, how can we possibly escape together?
Tara, however reaches her hand out to me and her expression implores me to do
the same. I stretch out my fingers, focusing intently on the one thought that
consumes my entire mind – bringing her back to me.
Suddenly, through some magic spell,
that I didn't even realise I was casting, the flames in front of me part. I
drop my arm in shock and the flames begin to edge back again. Tara wildly
gestures for me to return to my previous position and I do so, this time
focusing on creating a passageway through the fire. I close my eyes tightly,
concentrating with all my might as Tara begins to head towards me down the gap
we have created together. Seconds take hours to tick by and I am afraid to look
again, afraid that my magic is not enough, that I will see her swallowed by the
flames, writhing in pain, her final look accusing. Why wasn't your love strong enough to
Then I feel soft arms encircle me
and tender lips find mine. Her sweet, heady scent, of roses and spun sugar, is
unmistakeable, even amidst the thick, acrid smoke. Tara. She is here. We've
done it. Clinging tightly together we rush towards the door, using a
combination of magic and plain brute force to smash it open then toppling out
into the cool, fresh night air. Gripping her hand tightly I pull us both away
from the burning warehouse, colliding with Buffy on the way out, her expression
one of business-like concern.
Doggedly continuing forwards until I
can no longer feel the heat prickling my skin, I finally collapse into lush,
wet grass, dragging Tara down on top of me. I roll out from underneath her, so
that we lie side-by-side, my ragged breathing synchronising its rhythm with
hers as I re-infuse my lungs with badly needed oxygen. I gaze up at the huge,
open, endless sky above me, its vastness reminding me of my own insignificance,
and I thank the Powers That Be for letting me live. For saving not only my life
but also the reason I am living it.
It feels awful being in Giles' home without
him there, almost like we're trespassing, like we're sneaking around behind his
back. I keep expecting him to jump out and chastise me for going through his
things when he's not there. For touching his books and his weapons and
everything that speaks so clearly of his personality. But then I remember that
he won't suddenly appear, he can't – he's lying in a hospital bed in intensive
care – and I don't feel guilty anymore, just lonely.
"I should be with Xander," Anya
twitters. "He's in pain, he needs me. Good girlfriends always sit by the
bedside of their dying boyfriends. I've seen it on television."
"Xander's not dying!" I snap at her.
"He's suffering a few burns and some smoke inhalation. The doctors are just
keeping him in hospital a couple of days for observation. He's going to be
fine." I rub my temples tiredly where a headache is just starting to form.
Anya's expression twists into a
frown. "There's no need to shout. I don't have a hearing difficulty, you know."
"We know!" I bite back at her. "We
know all about you and Xander and the intimate details of your sex life. Now do
you think it's actually possible for you to shut up for once, so the rest of us
can at least hear ourselves think?"
Anya's face falls. She stares at me
for a long time, her hurt hidden by impassive eyes and yet clear nonetheless.
"Fine, I'll try to be less noisy in future. Now, if my presence is upsetting
you that much, I think I go and see Xander."
"Anya, wait!" I call after her,
feeling bad about my harsh comments. I didn't really mean them. It's true, I
guess, that I don't like Anya, but in some bizarre way she's good for Xander,
and so I want her to be part of the group for his sake. I'm just stressed and
upset and I seem to have lost the link between my brain and my mouth. "I'm
sorry." I shout as she walks out the door, but my apology is too little too
late and she is gone, further reducing the numbers of our little posse. I do a
head count. Five of us in the room. Five miss-matched individuals the only
people standing between the world and its total destruction. Why am I getting
the horrible feeling the odds aren't exactly on our side?
"Nice one, Slayer." Spike jeers.
"Way to inspire team morale."
"What are you still doing here,
anyway?" I ask harshly. I can't help myself; I'm so on edge. I keep remembering
Giles' ashen face as I pulled him out of the burning warehouse. He was
unconscious, a large cut on his forehead dripping blood. I couldn't wake him
up, I tried to, but I couldn't. And Xander was in heap on the floor, bright red
and gasping for air. I wanted to tell him to stop wheezing because I couldn't
hear whether Giles was breathing or not. Then the paramedics came with their
grave faces and their hushed expressions and I felt utterly helpless. I'd let
this happen to my friends and now there was nothing I could do to fix it. Plus,
it's Spike I'm talking to here, so verbal abuse is pretty much force of habit
"Well, I was going to hang around
and help out." He shrugs casually. "Do my bit for humanity and that sort of
thing. But if you don't want me here, then I'll leave you on your own to face
the big bad demons intent on ending the world."
I just glare at him as he moves to
leave and I can tell he's waiting for me to stop him, but I can't – I won't
give him the satisfaction.
"Spike," it is Willow who speaks up
in a slightly shaky voice. I'm worried about her; she hasn't let go of Tara's
hand since it happened. Her hair is an unruly mess, where some of its ends were
burnt in the fire, and there are dark black circles under her eyes. Though,
thinking about it, I probably look just as bad.
"Please will you stay," she asks and
if anything it makes me feel even worse about the situation. I have reduced my
friends, whom I ought to be protecting, to the level of begging a soulless
vampire (and one who used to be a mortal enemy at that) for help.
Spike looks uncertainly around the
room, his gaze finally fixing on me. "I want her to say it."
I look up sharply. "Forget it, Spike.
Never gonna happen."
"Then I walk," he replies
nonchalantly. "You want me to stay, then you're going to have to ask me to,
I feel Riley's body tense beside me,
as he jumps to my defence. He always has to play the hero and I stopped being able
to tell a while ago whether it is for my benefit or his own. "Just leave Buffy
alone will you," he demands, jumping to his feet in a show of macho posturing.
"She's been through enough recently."
"Yeah, like nearly getting all her
Something inside me crumbles at
Spike's words, at the voicing of my all internal guilt and fear. He was right;
I should have done more to protect them. I shouldn't have led them into danger
like that. I should have got them out of there sooner.
Riley hovers concernedly next to me
and he awkwardly reaches out to pat my shoulder, like you'd treat puppy someone
had just kicked. "It wasn't your fault," he implores, a note of desperation
tingeing his voice, as if he is trying to convince himself as well as me. Or
maybe that's just my imagination.
"It was a trap," I say in a voice
barely above a whisper. "I should have realised. It was just too easy." I
remember the previous evening, the certainty we had felt that we'd located the
demons' hideout. We had done this so many times before. Show up armed to the
teeth. Kill a few demons. Stop the ritual. Apocalypse averted. Easy as pie. We
even had a movie rented for the wind down session afterwards. Die Hard – it was Xander's choice
– how's that for irony?
We arrived at the warehouse full of
confidence. There weren't even any demons guarding its entrance, so we just
strode straight in. All of us. Willow, Tara and Giles to perform the magic to
stop the ritual to bring forth Armageddon. Me as the muscle and Riley and
Xander as my back-ups. We heard the sound of chanting coming from a back room
and after quickly formulating a plan I rushed in to confront the demons. And I
found… a tape recorder. It took me a while to realise what was going on, before
reality suddenly dawned. We had been set-up. These weren't your average
mindless demons, bent on causing destruction wherever they could. They were
clever, organised, they knew their enemies and how to take them out. I started
yelling at people to get out quick, that we were all in danger, then the
The whole warehouse burst into
flames. Suddenly there was fire and smoke and heat surrounding me. I smashed a
window and helped Riley out of it, going back in for Xander and then finally
Giles, as Will and Tara managed to escape of their own accord. We were left
broken and defeated, our wounds ranging from the superficial to the life
threatening and with the police even hinting at arresting us for arson. And to
make matters worse we still have the impending apocalypse hanging over our
heads, and now our team is two members down, with the rest of us suffering from
shock and exhaustion. I drop my head in my hands. I'm their leader now Giles is
in hospital. I have to call the shots, take responsibility for the future of
the whole earth and I'm, not sure if I can do it.
"I s'pose you weren't to know what
was gonna happen," Spike concedes, a look almost akin to guilt on his face, as
he sees how upset I am. I almost want to laugh at the sight, it is so incongruous.
"Just shut up and sit down," I tell
him tiredly. He seems to accept this as an invitation to stay and does as I
He leans back in the armchair and
folds his arms across his chest. "So, when are you going to call the sodding
I freeze and for a second it feels
like my whole body has stopped functioning. My heart skips a beat and my breath
catches in my throat. I even imagine that my cells stop their activities while
my brain tries to process Spike's suggestion. Call Angel. My heart starts
beating again and time continues to tick by and yet I still stare off into the
distance, imagining what it would be like to see Him again. Painful,
my mind interjects. Remember last time? Remember laughing with him in
the corridor, because if you didn't laugh you were going to cry. Remember
wishing he'd hit you again, so you could get mad, or yell, or lash out, or do
anything that didn't involve polite smiles and platitudes and your boyfriend
waiting the next room for you to come back to him. And remember your heart
breaking yet again as Angel walked away and you let him go.
But my pulse is already racing and
the weight on my shoulders seems lighter. No matter what our history, Angel is
a warrior. He can fight and he can help and he can share with me the burden of
protecting the world. I think that maybe now I need him more than I have ever
"Call who?" Riley asks and I wonder
how he can possibly be so slow on the uptake, whereas, judging by the wide blue
eyes that gaze at me in concern, even Tara caught the reference to Angel and
she has never even met him. But then I remember that Riley doesn't know about
Spike and Angel being family, I have been deliberately sketchy on the details,
whilst I'm sure Tara has heard the full story from Willow. Riley only knows
about Spike's presence in Sunnydale since Angel left, so would have no idea
that Spike could talk about Angel with such familiarity. After all, there are a
lot of vampires in this world and no reason to assume that they all know once
I don't answer Riley's question, as
I'm not sure how to. How do you say thanks for all your support honey, but now
I'm gonna phone my ex-boyfriend, the evil fiend whom you hate, to give me the
help you can't. I just sit there shifting uncomfortably and finally he gets it.
He recognises the awkward silence that falls over the room whenever anybody
mentions Angel and his face darkens.
"We don't need him here," Riley announces
in a strained voice. "We can sort this problem easily without him. I'll get
some of my army buddies to help out."
Spike gives a derisive snort. "What?
The same buddies who last year created a virtually unkillable
human/demon/machine hybrid that nearly destroyed the whole town? I think I'd
rather take my chances facing the apocalypse, thank you very much."
"Buffy," Riley turns to me, ignoring
Spike. "You don't actually want him to come do you? Not after all the trouble
he caused last time."
I refuse to look into Riley's
plaintive eyes, instead staring across the room to where Willow and Tara sit
snuggled together. They are so close to one another – best friends as well as
lovers. I miss that.
"I can't face this alone," I tell
He slips an arm around my shoulders
pulling me close to him in a hug that is supposed to be reassuring but comes
across as needy. "You're not alone. You have me."
I bite back the first words that
come to mind – you're not enough – instead standing up and pulling away from
him. "We need some serious help to deal with this, Riley. Now isn't exactly the
time to let personal feelings get in the way."
Willow looks up at me and I suddenly
realise how young she is, how young we all are. I need someone older to guide me,
to lean on when the going gets rough. I need someone to protect me, rather than
the other way round. With Giles gone the group feels unformed, leaderless. We
are just a bunch of kids, really, barely out of our teens, dealing with
responsibilities far too heavy for us to carry.
"Do you want someone else to call?"
She asks. Willow knows how difficult it is for me to see him and how especially
difficult it will be to ask for his help, especially after our words last year.
I told him I'd moved on to someone new, that he wasn't a part of my life
anymore. God, I even told him I never trusted him then was too pig-headed to
apologise for it afterwards. But now none of that matters, now my hand shakes
and I know the sound of his voice will steady it for me.
"It's okay Will," I shake my head.
"I can do it." I glance around at the expectant faces lining the room, then
decide I should do this in private. Excusing myself, I head upstairs, ignoring
the very bizarre feeling of sitting on Giles' bed, and pick up the phone
receiver from his bedside cabinet. The new number Giles gave to me a few weeks
ago springs easily to my mind and my fingers fly over the digits, even though I
have never dialled them in this order before. I hear ringing on the other end
of the line and hold my breath, waiting for him to answer…
The shrill ringing of the phone
shatters the quiet of the hotel and rudely jolts me out of my reverie. I can't
remember what I was thinking about, but that's hardly unusual. I often sink
deep inside myself, images from the past dancing through my subconscious. I
relive my time as Angelus and sometimes even my time as Liam, relishing the
pain these memories bring, because sometimes I think that pain is the only
emotion I have left to feel. I can spend hours just sitting – brooding Cordelia
calls it – because being a vampire, time is the one gift I have. Or maybe it's
a curse – I don't know anymore. In the years after my soul was first restored I
would spend whole decades like this, huge chunks of time I have no memory of,
because I spent them living in my own head.
After meeting Buffy I came out of
myself. I began to take notice of the present again, because now there were
things there I wanted to see. Once you've lived long enough, time becomes relative
to how you occupy it. One hundred years passed in a blur for me and yet the few
months I spent with Buffy seemed to last for an eternity. I forgot the past
then. I ignored it, pretended it didn't matter, and I paid for it. I am still
paying for it now, as memories rise up to claim me. The abstract nightmares
seem to take physical form, pulling at me with insistent hands, their immense
weight dragging me down into the darkness once more.
Today, I think my musings lead me
back to the eighteenth century, some time with Darla, anyway. I know this
because I can still sense her presence lingering in the air around me. I
imagine I catch the scent of the rose water she used to dab on her pulse points
– a ridiculous ritual since she had no pulse anyway. The phone is still
ringing, its harsh mechanical sound shocking to me in comparison to the
historical images my mind has been conjuring up. I don't think I will ever get
used to the modern world – its obsession with technology is something
completely unfathomable to me. I wonder why Cordelia isn't answering the phone,
then I remember she's not here today – none of them are, it's just me.
I feel suddenly and irrationally
vulnerable. What if it's a client, someone needing help? Demon killing I can handle.
I'm even getting good at the detective work – smash a few faces into walls, see
what answers fall out of them – pretty easy stuff, really. Then there's the
searching through musty tomes aspect of the job, and considering the musty
tomes in question are actually what I proudly refer to as my antique book
collection, I don't exactly mind this task either. But dealing with the clients
– the victims – soothing their hysteria and reassuring them everything is going
to be all right, well, that's not particularly what I excel at. To paraphrase
Cordelia, I suck at it. My people skills are seriously hampered by the fact I'm
not a person. But then isn't my humanity one of the areas I'm supposed to be
working on here?
I hurry across into the next room
and snatch up the receiver of the phone, raising it hesitantly to my face.
"Angel Investigations," I answer,
cringing even as I say the words. I wish Cordelia had thought up another title
for our business, preferably one that didn't feature my name in it. I like to
keep a low profile and calling a company after myself isn't the best way to
achieve that. In fact I hate the whole idea of it being a business at all. If
people are paying me to help them, then I'm hardly discharging my debt to
society am I? But that's an argument I could never win with Cordelia and I need
her too much to risk upsetting her. She is a vital part of the firm, not only
for her visions but also for her humanising influence.
I realise the person on the end of
the phone hasn't spoken yet. Then suddenly it hits me – I can feel her even down the phone line.
I strain my hearing to catch her shallow, regular breathing, its rhythm one I
would recognise anywhere. It is ridiculous to be this certain about something
when there is absolutely no evidence of it, but I can't help it. I know it's her; I sense it in
the dead space where my heart used to beat.
A small nervous giggle sounds in my
ear, followed by a whispered "Hi."
"Are you okay?" I ask, trying not to
let the concern that utterly fills me become too obvious in my voice. "Did
There is another long pause, during
which I practically have to bite my lip to stop myself jumping in with more
questions, more demands about her welfare. I know she has to tell me this in
her own time, though, so I wait for her to speak and finally she does.
"Yeah, something happened." She
takes a deep breath.
She interrupts her virtually
incoherent mumbling to choke out a stifled sob and I am filled with an
overwhelming urge to gather her in my arms and wipe away her tears, to protect
her from ever knowing pain or danger again. But clearly I can't, because she is
on the phone to me, from two hours away, and I never protected her from hurt,
anyway, I only brought more.
"Shush, Buffy," I murmur. "It's
okay, it's all right."
"Can you come?" She says in a small
voice and I realise how much it must be hurting her pride to be asking me for
help and how bad things must be there for her to need it.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." I
think maybe there is a sigh of relief on the other end of the line as I say the
words, but it's probably just my imagination, or my wishful thinking.
"Everything's going to be fine, Buffy," I reassure her. "You know that, right?"
"Thanks," she replies and I hear the
smile in her voice. It is followed by the telltale click of the receiver being
replaced, as Buffy hangs up. I stand there for a while, just listening to the
hum of the dialling tone, before putting down my own phone and moving into
End of Part One