Summary: Anne receives a visitor at the shelter, and is astonished to recognize her. Follow-up to "Role Model."

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

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: A few days after "All The Way." (spoiler warning!)

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.




CANDLE IN THE WINDOW


Anne opened her eyes, and was unsurprised to find that she had fallen asleep on the cot on her office once again. She frowned in annoyance, then yawned and got up. It was morning. . .time to start another day, as much as she would have liked to lie back down and sleep for, say, about three weeks.

The shelter was back to doing the same level of business that it had before the incident with the zombie cops, and the donation level had ticked up substantially, allowing her to funnel more of the funds that Angel had spirited to her last February into the shelter with little or no risk of detection. Little touches of the improved funding were visible in many places: more furniture, repaired and updated windows, and better carpets. Anne reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a large candle, which she carried over to one of the front windows, exchanging it for the depleted one there and resting it on its broad base before lighting it. She sighed: she had been doing this for four months, and the knowledge of why she was doing it still made a pang of sadness go through her. She shook her head, then did a walkthrough of the shelter: everyone who had stayed the night had cleared out without disturbing her rest, and had done a pretty good job of cleaning up after themselves, too. Maybe she could finish cleaning up in time to have a few moments to herself before the afternoon crowd came in--

A soft knock came from the door, and Anne turned and frowned in mild surprise: shelter residents didn't usually come by at this particular hour. She shrugged and walked over to the door, opening it and revealing the outer heavy screen.

A petite young woman was standing on the other side of the screen, wearing a hooded sweatsuit and looking down slightly; between the slight blockage caused by the screen and the lighting conditions outside, Anne could not see her face clearly. She smiled reassuringly and greeted her visitor: "Hello. . .do you need help, or a place to stay? We've got plenty of room right now, so if you'd-" The visitor raised her head, and intense green eyes stared into Anne's, causing her to feel an instant shock of recognition. Anne stared, then whispered, "Oh my God."

Buffy blinked, and replied, "It's been three years, Anne, but you're acting as if I'd come back from the. . .oh, crap. You heard. . .how did you hear? Who told you?"

Anne kept staring, but managed to whisper, "Angel. . .he came by, told me what had happened. . .he thought I'd want to know." Buffy looked puzzled, and Anne elaborated, "We've run into each other a couple of times in the last year. . .he recognized me from Sunnydale." She frowned and asked, "If Angel didn't tell you he had run into me, why are you here? I mean, I'm glad to see you and positively thrilled you're alive, but this is kind of out of the blue, Buffy."

Buffy smiled and replied, "A lot of things in my life are out of the blue lately. . .I was in the area visiting a friend, and I saw this building. I remembered something I had seen on the news about this place. . .a fundraiser that ended up getting robbed?"

Anne nodded, then elaborated, "Wolfram and Hart helped me set it up. . .they were planning on skimming most of the take, but Angel and some demon took off with it to screw them over. . .he set me up to distract them, and it worked like a charm." Her voice was harsh: even after everything that had happened since, she was still somewhat bitter about being set up. She looked over and saw the conflicted look on Buffy's face and sighed before replying, "Of course, he also fought that other demon to the death to get the money and stuff and bring it back here with blood all over it. . .I've been quietly using it to help keep the shelter afloat ever since." She shook her head and smiled at Buffy, asking, "Is it just me, or is it really annoying how he does stuff like that just when you're really pissed off at him and want to let him have it?"

Buffy shook her head and replied with a deadpan expression, "It isn't just you." The two women looked at each other for a moment before beginning to laugh, which lasted for a few seconds before Anne leaned forward and captured the smaller woman in a fierce hug. Buffy tensed, and began, "Anne-"

"Shhh." Anne wasn't about to accept an interruption, and held the hug for several more seconds before breaking it and looking at Buffy with tear-filled eyes. She took a deep breath, then asked softly, "Buffy. . .do you have any idea how good it feels to see you again after all this time. . .what it means to me?"

Buffy flushed, then shook her head slowly and whispered, "I knew you had landed on your feet, but it never occurred to me that you gave me more than an occasional thought, Anne. . .you had your own life to lead, and you've obviously been busy." The Slayer looked around the main room of the shelter, noting the recent improvements and general good condition of the place, then turned back to Anne and commented quietly, "Wow, Anne. . .help from my deeply annoying ex or not, it's amazing what you've done here. I'm not sure what to say, other than congratulations."

Anne chuckled, then replied, "Well, you could say, 'How about a guided tour?'. . .that would be a nice touch." Buffy smiled, and Anne took that as approval as she showed Buffy around the shelter. Buffy was attentive, and asked Anne about various details that made it clear to the older woman that whatever had happened to Buffy had deprived her of none of her keen observational powers.

They came back to the main room, and Buffy's eyes fell upon the candle that Anne had lit just before Buffy had arrived. The Slayer smiled and commented, "That's a nice touch. . .a candle burning in the window to let people know that this place is waiting for them."

Anne sighed, then responded, "It would have been good for that, but that's not why it's there, Buffy." She led Buffy over to a framed picture on the wall next to the front door: it was a group shot of about fifteen people, and Buffy immediately recognized Anne and Angel in the back row. Anne nodded at Buffy's look of recognition, then asked, "Do you remember meeting anyone else in this photo, Buffy?"

Buffy examined the photo, and after a few seconds her eyes widened and she whispered, "Yeah. . .was a little preoccupied at the time, but I do remember these faces." She looked down and added, "So Angel told you, and you told them."

Anne nodded, and elaborated, "Everyone you saved that night who is still alive, Buffy. . .they all came. We just sat and talked for hours about the difference you made in our lives. They're all fine, and they're all going on with their lives. . .lives that would have ended three years ago without a ripple or a memory if it weren't for you." She inclined her head at the candle and added, "The candle is to represent the light that penetrates the deepest darkness. . .the light that inspires people to climb out of whatever hell they find themselves in, or die trying." She looked back at Buffy and whispered, "The fact that the one the candle was meant to honor is still with us makes it all the more important, Buffy. . .and I'll be lighting it every day until this building crumbles to dust."

Buffy was silent for a long moment, and Anne watched her with concern until the Slayer visibly gathered herself, then turned to the older woman and whispered, "Thanks. . .you'll let the others know I'm all right, won't you?"

Anne nodded, and Buffy stood up, pulling the hood on the sweatsuit up again before smiling and commenting, "You really have done a great job here, Anne. . .I'm really happy for you." She paused, then added, "Anyway, I've got to get back: Sunnydale is still the fun place it always was, and things go wrong when I'm gone for too long."

Buffy turned to go, and Anne flinched to see the hesitant manner in which Buffy moved. She stayed where she was, but called out, "Buffy. . .if you need someone to talk to, or any other kind of help-"

Buffy stopped and turned around. Anne could see tears glittering in her eyes as the Slayer replied, "Some things you just have to do for yourself. . .but if I need you, I'll call, Anne. . .you can count on it." Buffy turned back and left the building without another word, and Anne stepped to the window to watch Buffy walk down the street, worried about her. After a moment, Buffy paused and turned back to look at the shelter. Anne was clearly visible in the window, and the single candle burned brightly next to her. A wistful smile broke out on the Slayer's face, and the wave she gave to Anne before turning away and heading towards the bus stop was visibly upbeat.

Anne watched until Buffy was out of sight, then turned away, heading for the phone and a long list of calls she would be making, with far more joyous news than the last time she had called the people on the list. She left the room, and behind her, the candle burned on, sending its silent message to the world without concern for its initiator or inspiration.



As before, comments are welcome and desired.