If you haven't read my "Season 8", STOP! You should not be reading this yet! There's really no point skipping ahead. Doing so would spoil pretty much everything that happened in "Season 8", and you'd be missing a year of the story. That would just be confusing and frustrating, so save yourself the trouble and simply read the previous season first. This will still be waiting here for you when you are done.
Now then, moving on. It's finally here! For that, I have to thank "Season 8" reviewers BloomingViolets, NancyLaj, Calenlily, Geeky13, wheeeliegirl, David Fishwick, Forever Chosen, and Nick. Before you started asking for "Season 9", it had never even occurred to me to write one. It never would have happened without you. You guys are amazing. But don't let your awesome powers of inspiration go to your heads, because this is it. I'm not going to write a season ten, so please do not ask me to.
Okay, little bit of background info before we get going here, since it's been around two months now since "Season 8" ended. This episode could basically be the second part of "Pulse", the finale episode of last season. It begins pretty much exactly where that one left off with Buffy and Angel kissing in the sunlight. (Yes, I realize that the scene I just described was not the actual final scene of "Pulse". That scene involved Drusilla talking to herself, the moon, and Miss Edith about how she was going to get her Spike back. This episode mostly takes place between the sunlight kiss scene and that final scene with Dru.)
Also, none of these characters are mine and the only compensation I get for doing this comes in the form of your reviews.
Now, without further ado...
Episode 1: Aftermath
Guest Starring (sort of): Angel Coulby as Renée Blackwood
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
The caverns were silent, the air stale, dank, and motionless. The dimly flickering torchlight was reflected in the metal of the cracked and corroded Seal in the middle of the floor. Under the reddish glow, it looked rather sinister. In the chamber beyond the unlit tunnel leading away from it lay the broken, defeated corpses of the twenty enormous necromancers. The remains of the Slayers of generations past were strewn peacefully over the ground, free at last of the black magic that had stolen them from their graves and used them for evil. Here and there beside them lay the bodies of young Slayers from the army that had opposed them, Slayers who had given their lives to save the world from the First Evil and ensure that their predecessors could continue their rest undisturbed. Rona and Kat were among them, and they might have been sleeping but for the mortal wounds that marked them as otherwise. The field of battle lay quiet and calm, undisturbed by the roiling movement of the city above it. That city would never even know of its existence, though its people owed the battle's outcome their lives.
The silence was suddenly rent by the approaching sound of footsteps. The disturbance echoed menacingly through the cavern and the torches seemed to sputter in response. The noise grew louder and louder until the intruders finally burst from the mouth of the tunnel and spilled into the cave.
"CHARGE!" shouted an enthusiastic, crossbow-wielding young man to the people behind him.
The group made it about five paces before someone else swore loudly and yelled for them to come to a halt. "Andrew, you idiot! There's nothing to fight!" said Kennedy, incensed. Quite a few of the other girls turned reproachful gazes on him at this.
"But…but that's not how epic battles work!" protested Andrew with the air of a child whose favorite Christmas present had been stolen by an older sibling. "The good guys come in, start fighting, and then the desperate music plays because the hero is seconds away from ugly death, and that's when Han Solo comes in with the Millennium Falcon and scatters the TIE Fighters and—OW! Hey! How many times do I have to tell you? No hitting the Watcher!" Kennedy had interrupted his indignant speech by smacking him impatiently on the back of the head.
Some of the girls began to giggle, but Kennedy, who was not amused in the slightest, turned her back firmly on Andrew and spoke in a commanding voice. "Okay, looks like our Watcher," so pronounced was her derision that it had come out as more of a hiss than a word, "was a little off in his calculations. We'll do some recon to see whether that means we're early or late, and then we'll drop by headquarters."
Andrew glared resentfully at her, still gingerly rubbing the spot where her hand had connected with his skull.
"Hey, where'd he go?" Buffy asked as she and Angel walked back into the hotel.
"Who?" said Angel absentmindedly. He had yet to completely process his newfound humanity, and the last several minutes spent kissing Buffy very thoroughly and in the sunlight hadn't done much to promote coherent thought.
"Dawn's boyfriend, Connor," she replied, frowning and looking around. "He tracked you here by scent. I wanted to ask him about that."
"Connor?" asked Angel. "He was here? He's Dawn's boyfriend?"
"And she never stops talking about him. He seems nice, though. But, yeah, wanting to ask about the night vision and super smelling. How do you two know each other, anyway?" She faltered. "What?" She had looked at Angel expectantly, only to find him gaping at her in complete shock. It was so comical that she had to suppress a giggle.
"Do you know where he went?" he spluttered.
She raised her eyebrows. "I was asking you that, remember? He probably went back to the hospital to see Dawn, though, now I think about it. They had some major puppy-dog eyes going on earlier."
"Oh," he said eloquently. The realization hit him then that he had never told Buffy about his son. For some unfathomable reason, it had never occurred to him before. He was rather distracted by the revelation that Connor was dating Buffy's little sister, who he had not seen since the night after Buffy's funeral.
He felt a pair of arms wrap around his middle and a pressure against his chest, where Buffy was now leaning her head. She gave a contented sigh. "It's a good sound. Thump-thump. Thump-thump."
"It feels pretty amazing," he replied automatically. He couldn't help thinking back to the first time they'd had that exchange, and suddenly, he knew what he needed to do first. "Let's go."
"Huh? Where?" she asked.
"You'll see. I want to show you something." He took her hand and led her to the door.
Now that the street was bathed in sunlight, the damage done by the battle was glaringly obvious. Buffy grimaced. "Gee, think anyone'll notice?"
"Could turn a few heads," said Angel dryly. He frowned. He didn't recall the battle taking place beyond the alley north of the hotel, and yet numerous demon corpses littered the entire street, along with a considerable amount of rubble from where chunks had been taken out of various buildings.
"Pity those guys don't go poof," said Buffy. In spite of her near decade of slaying experience, she was still somewhat revolted by the gruesome scene. In the distance, they could see that the road had been blocked off with pylons and "Road Closed" signs. The same was true in the opposite direction. "Well, doesn't that just reek of government involvement," she muttered. Having dealt with the Initiative, it didn't exactly surprise her, but it still made her rather uneasy. After exchanging a glance with Angel that told her he had similar misgivings, she followed him around to the alley, where he retrieved his bloodstained broadsword from where he had left it: embedded to the hilt between the front legs of the dragon.
"What's that for?" she asked.
"So, should we do something about the cave?" asked Willow. She was still considerably worn out from battling the First in astral form, but for the first time since she had been held prisoner by it in the cave in January, she was able to fully relax. Despite her exhaustion, she felt completely at ease, snuggled next to Oz, with his fingers idly stroking her hair.
"It poses no threat, now that the First has been destroyed," said Giles, regarding Willow with affectionate pride; she had done the impossible in vanquishing the First Evil, and had come away from the encounter whole, healthy, and completely herself. "I imagine it would be unwise to let our guard drop completely, but this Hellmouth is already long dead."
"Okay, that's of the good, a lot, but…what about the girls who died there?"
"We shouldn't leave them," said Xander.
"Agreed," said Oz.
"No, indeed. They're entitled to a proper burial," said Giles. "That place should not be their tomb."
"We could get them out this afternoon?" suggested Renée, unconsciously touching her fingers to the cut that ran diagonally across her face, a souvenir of the battle.
"I believe everyone will have recuperated well enough by then, yes," said Giles. "Victorious or not, it was a rather, ah, harrowing experience, to say the least."
"Aye," said Renée, "most of the other girls are still asleep."
"Sounds like fun," said Willow, yawning and blinking slowly. At the sound of footsteps approaching, the group looked around. Faith and Wood were walking nonchalantly towards them, their hands clasped loosely together.
"Heard anything from B yet?" asked Faith.
"Willow and I spoke to her a couple of hours ago," said Giles. "She was on her way to see Dawn at the hospital. There was some kind of battle, but it must've already been over when she got there."
"Busy night all around, then," said Wood.
"Battle, huh?" said Faith. "I wonder what mess Angel got himself into this time."
"Well, whatever it was, I don't think Buffy would have sounded so normal on the phone if he didn't make it out of it okay," said Willow through another yawn.
"Nice to see you two back among the living," said Angel with a slight smirk.
"We might say the same of both of you," replied the female Oracle, "though we have not had the pleasure of her company before."
Buffy raised her eyebrows.
"What gift have you brought?" asked the male Oracle, who seemed impatient with the pleasantries.
"The sword that slew the dragon," said Angel, laying the blade flat across his hands and holding it out.
The man took it and examined it with what seemed to be reluctant appreciation. "Very well."
"What is your errand this time?" said the woman. "I hope your intent is not what it was on your second visit, for I must warn you that we shall not be so accommodating this time." Her gaze was turned to Buffy, who looked back at her curiously.
"No," said Angel. "It isn't."
"What was your intent on the second visit?" asked Buffy.
For the first time since deciding to do this, Angel hesitated. He looked at her uncertain expression, however, and the moment of indecision passed. If he really wanted a future with her, particularly a mortal one, then he couldn't keep the past (rewritten or not) hidden from her. "You're about to find out," he said. Buffy's uncertainty increased, but Angel clasped her hand in his and gave her a reassuring smile, which helped. "I'm here to request that you give her the memories of the day you swallowed," he said with determination, his eyes back on the Oracles.
Buffy immediately shot Angel a sharp, questioning look. What was going on? Some of her memories were missing? What day was swallowed? He squeezed her hand slightly and she relaxed, more at the warmth of his fingers than anything else.
"Are you certain?" asked the man.
"You realize that to do what you ask, we would not simply be restoring something that was taken or hidden from her," he said, fixing Angel with his piercing and somewhat condescending gaze. "The day of which you speak never happened, so she, like all other beings in your world, never had those memories to begin with. You are asking us to retrieve something from an abandoned timeline."
"If you did it for me, you can do it for her. She deserves that much."
The man opened his mouth, clearly about to offer a further objection, but his sister forestalled him. "It is not too much to ask, Brother," she said. Then she beckoned to Buffy. "Come forward, Slayer."
Buffy didn't move, her gaze still on Angel.
"Trust me," he said, releasing her hand. She stared into his eyes for another few seconds before turning back to face the Oracles and warily approaching them. The woman stepped closer and raised her hands towards Buffy, who did not flinch when the gold fingertips touched her temples. Much more damaging to her equilibrium was the cascade of vivid mental images this triggered.
Giles frowned. He closed the reference book and again firmly instructed it to become The Encyclopedia of Necromancy, sixteenth edition, English translation. When he opened it, the pages remained resolutely blank. Until now, the only books which the chameleon tome had failed to imitate were the Watcher diaries. A knock at the door interrupted his frustrated attempts, and he replaced the book on the coffee table to go answer it.
Five minutes later, roughly fifty Slayers from the United States and Central America had been added to the already overabundant population of headquarters, led by an upset and sheepish Andrew and a seething Kennedy. Both of them followed Giles up to where the Scoobies were still gathered in a secluded corner of the second floor.
"It seems we have rather a lot of company," Giles informed them. "Again."
Kennedy's jaw clenched when she saw that Oz had his arm around a sleeping Willow and was trailing his fingers through her hair. I knew it, she thought bitterly. Her mood was not helped when the werewolf met her eyes. Though one of his eyebrows lifted a fraction, he appeared utterly unthreatened by her presence.
"We came to help with the battle," Andrew mumbled.
"Uh, thanks…," said Faith.
"You missed it by about twelve hours," said Wood.
"How did you guys even know about it?" asked Xander.
"I planted bugs all over the building," said Andrew proudly. He faltered, having realized his mistake, and attempted to backpedal over it. "For, you know, in case something happened and you couldn't contact us."
"How thoughtful," said Giles. "Get rid of them."
"We'll supervise," said Xander, and he and Renée followed Andrew away from the others.
"So, how's the roundup been going?" Faith asked Kennedy.
"It would probably go much better if I didn't have to babysit Mr. Spock," she replied, rolling her eyes. "But the training is going well. It's like being a real drill sergeant." She brightened a little at this. "And we've found so many Slayers already. The ones we brought with us aren't even a third of the ones we're training. What about you? You hit Europe, right?" She was determined to remain casual and avoid looking at the laconic piece of crap who had stolen her girlfriend.
"That's right," said Wood. "We made it through all of western Europe and were about to head to Russia before we came back. About half of the girls we trained came with us."
"These things have been transmitting everything to you since you left?" asked Renée. She wasn't sure whether to be offended or impressed. Her rather strong nerdy streak made it a difficult choice.
"Yes they have," said Andrew with poorly executed smoothness after he removed one of the small recording devices from its hiding place behind the vent at the bottom of the fridge. "And who might this lovely lady be, Xander?"
"That would be my girlfriend."
Renée glowed; it was the first time he had actually referred to her as such.
"I see," said Andrew, placing a hand to his chin and narrowing his eyes in an attempt to appear contemplative, "then let us test her valor. I shall ask you three questions, fair maiden."
Renée stared blankly at him.
"Humor him," said Xander, smirking. "He out-geeks both of us combined. There's no stopping it."
"Very well," said Renée, who was feeling rather competitive at Xander's words. "Ask me the questions, bridge keeper. I am not afraid."
Andrew nodded approvingly. "What…is your name?"
"Renée Blackwood of the land of Scots," she answered stoutly, making her normal accent much thicker than usual.
Xander snickered, but quickly tried to pass it off as a cough, not wanting to ruin the moment.
"What…is your quest?"
"To slay vampires and demons."
Andrew nodded again and considered for a few seconds. A triumphant gleam danced in his eyes as the perfect question came to him. "What…is the name of the best Bond actor?"
"Sean Connery," said Renée without hesitation. A fellow Scotsman was, after all, the obvious choice.
Andrew's face instantly reddened. "WHAT?" he demanded in outrage, his voice jumping up at least half an octave. "How can you say that? That's it, into the Gorge of Eternal Peril with you!"
"It is done," said the female Oracle as Buffy stepped back from her, stumbling slightly in disorientation. Angel watched her, feeling more than a little nervous about her reaction.
Buffy was reeling, her mind struggling to incorporate the new information that had just been added to it. Angel had been human before, and they had been together, but he had given it up? The anguished conversation of the last few moments of that perfect day came to the forefront of the swirling mass of memory, and with it, his reason for going back. It seemed odd; the memories were so fresh, but she still had the benefit of years of hindsight. He had been right, and she had known it even then. It hurt, but of the two of them, he wasn't the only one who'd had to give up the one he loved in the interest of the world—nor was he the only one who'd had to give up his own life to save another, so she really couldn't hold it against him. In fact, it was probably part of what made them so suited to each other; they had both been able to put the safety of others first no matter the cost to themselves.
Still, that wasn't exactly the issue here. "Why didn't you tell me before?" she asked, her tone surprisingly even.
"I didn't want to hurt you with the memory of something we couldn't have."
"But you got to remember it?" She couldn't stop a note of accusation from entering her voice.
"I had to, or we would have just done the same thing over again," he said imploringly, taking a step closer to her. "Turning back time wasn't my idea, it was theirs. All I wanted was to give back my life so you could keep yours."
"Oh," she said numbly.
"Do you really think those memories would have done you any good if you'd had them all along? Being what I was...it was never more difficult than it was in the months after that day, because as far as I knew, I wasn't ever going to have that again. You were free to move on and find it with someone else." He paused. "If you had remembered, would you have wanted to?"
"I didn't want to anyway, but being alone was hardly the fun alternative. Why do you think I let you back in most of the times I saw you over the past five years? I never moved on, not really, so why couldn't I keep that day?"
Angel considered her for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was very gentle, as was his expression. He suddenly looked remarkably vulnerable. "I've never been torn out of heaven. Never really even thought I'd end up there to begin with. Two hundred and seventy-seven years on this earth and another hundred in hell, and that day was the closest thing to heaven I've ever had."
Buffy gasped at the comparison. Though the events of the day so far were enough evidence to prove that his feelings for her had not waned any more than hers for him, the idea that she was the equivalent of heaven to him was still slightly overwhelming, especially as she had been there. "I didn't want the pain of giving it up to be yours too," he went on. His eyes lit up eagerly. "But now that we can have it back, there was no reason to protect you from it anymore." Before she could entirely recover, his hand came up to caress the side of her face. She shifted awkwardly, not keen on idea of an audience, but when she looked around, she was startled to discover that they were not only alone, but back in the access chamber beneath the post office. When had that happened?
Seeing her confusion, Angel smirked and withdrew his hand. "Yeah, they do that."
She nodded blankly, but mentally she had already resumed perusing her new memories. They definitely didn't feel four and a half years old. An impish grin tugged at the corners of her mouth even as her cheeks reddened slightly. The latter may have had something to do with her having spent the last two years in celibacy. Catching Angel's amused expression, she cleared her throat.
"Uh, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who wants to take this in the same direction as things were going that day," she said, then hurriedly amended, "before you went all noble on me, I mean."
Her heart fluttered rapidly. She was glad he couldn't hear it anymore, as that particular skill had tended to make all her attempts at appearing collected around him go to crap. "Okay, well." She fought the urge to break eye contact and twist her hands together. It was difficult, but she managed it. "Apart from the few other times we've seen each other in the last five years and everything that's happened today, we've each got these kind of huge gaping chunks of our lives that the other wasn't around for, so…." Her gaze wandered vaguely, as if searching for the end of her sentence, but Angel found it for her.
"You want to do the dating thing first?"
"Yeah," she said, relieved that he didn't seem disappointed. "It just might be a bad idea picking up right where we left off without getting to know each other again first. But not starting completely over, though. Cold turkey restraint hasn't exactly been our forte."
"It really hasn't," he agreed, his eyes twinkling.
"Besides," the impish grin returned (but with no accompanying blush this time), and she closed the distance between them, "I've never minded when we skipped to this part." She rocked forward on the toes of her boots and met his lips with hers as their arms went around each other.
Though this was hardly the first time they'd kissed that day, Angel was still getting used to doing it as a human. His skin was now the same temperature as hers and he could no longer hear her heart hammering wildly; the thumping sound in his ears was that of his own pulse, but the most incredible change of all was the complete lack of obstacles. This wasn't forbidden anymore, and he was discovering that the thrill of rebellion (which guilt had largely overridden for him anyway) was nothing to the joy of actual freedom. They broke apart, both smiling, and he took her hand again.
"Where are we going now?" she asked with playful curiosity.
"I want you to meet someone."
But Angel's plan to properly introduce Buffy to his son was delayed slightly when he realized how hungry he was. He was already nervous enough at the prospect of telling her about Connor without his stomach growling loudly every other minute. Just as keen to help him readjust to humanity as she had been on the erased day, Buffy took him to Fritella's, a tiny but excellent Italian café where her father used to take her to lunch back when she would visit him on weekends. They both ordered lasagna, which was so scaldingly hot when served that it effectively prevented Angel from wolfing it down like a ten-year-old. Not that he hadn't tried at first.
While at the café, Buffy also discovered, to her great amusement, that Angel had a tendency to jump in alarm whenever he caught sight of his reflection. Of course, after two and a half centuries of its absence, she could hardly blame him. It became slightly less funny when, after recovering from the initial shock of seeing his reflection, he asked her repeatedly if she thought his hair looked weird. In the end, she practically had to threaten him with bodily harm to convince him that she liked it the way it was and under no circumstances was he to change it. He didn't bring it up again.
Full to bursting with delicious lasagna and the chocolate and raspberry gelato they'd had for dessert, they then went to the hospital to see Dawn. Or, at least, that was why Buffy thought they were going there.
"Hands feeling any better?" said Connor.
Dawn flexed her heavily bandaged fingers and winced slightly. "A little bit," she said. "So where was Angel?"
"At the hotel."
Dawn snorted, but Connor didn't seem to notice. He was staring at the wall in an unfocused sort of way. "What is it?" she asked.
"He's human," said Connor in an awed voice.
Dawn gaped at him. "Angel's human? As in living, breathing, and out in the sunlight?"
"Wow…that's…wow." She blinked out of her amazement and smirked wickedly. "Have he and Buffy been all over each other yet?"
"It was the happily ever after kiss from every chick flick ever made," he confirmed dispassionately. "Which makes me glad I don't watch them if I can help it."
Dawn snorted, inwardly plotting how best to trick him into watching one with her in the near future. She might even play up her injuries to rope him into it.
There was a knock on the door, and a nurse poked her head in to announce that Dawn had more visitors. She left, and Buffy and Angel walked in. The former, whose eyes went straight to her sister, failed to notice that Connor had gotten to his feet and was grinning broadly at her companion.
"Hi, Dawn," said Buffy, smiling.
"Hi, Buffy. Hi, Angel," said Dawn.
Angel looked at her. She certainly had grown up since the last time he'd seen her. The idea of Connor dating her made much more sense in his head now. "Hey, Dawn," he said, smiling.
She did not smile back. Instead, she glared rather pointedly at him, jerking her head first in Connor's direction, then Buffy's. He looked at his son, pretending he hadn't noticed. "I guess you didn't go home like I told you to," he said, raising an eyebrow.
Buffy frowned and looked away from Dawn to stare back and forth between the other two.
"Nope," said Connor unrepentantly. "Looks like now we know where I got my stubborn streak."
"You could have been killed," said Angel. That thought alone made it hard for him to breathe, which was rather more problematic for him now that it was actually a necessary habit.
"So could you, which is why I had to be there." All traces of the grin had left Connor's face.
"Okay, what's going on?" asked Buffy.
Dawn stared at Angel with wide eyes. If he didn't tell her sister about Connor in the next five seconds, he would find himself covered in her uneaten jell-o. But it wasn't necessary. Angel had torn his gaze away from Connor to look at Buffy, his serious expression matching the one that Connor now wore.
"Buffy, I'd like to introduce you to Connor. My son."
After Buffy had gaped, open-mouthed, at Connor for at least thirty seconds, she had tugged Angel back out of the room and into the hall.
"Okay, I don't actually know your sister all that well," said Connor. "How likely do you think it is that she's going to take his head off?"
"I guess it's a good thing we're in a hospital," said Dawn.
"So. That time when you told me you couldn't have kids. What was that? And what about when you left me so I could have them with someone else?"
"I couldn't. I mean—vampires can't have kids. Connor wasn't supposed to be possible. Darla and I were both dead."
"And I thought Darla was a lot deader than that. I watched her turn to dust. You staked her when she was about to shoot me."
"Wolfram and Hart brought her back. As a human. But then she was dying of the same thing she would have died from the first time around. I tried to save her. Went through the Trials, but it didn't work. And then Drusilla turned her right in front of me."
Buffy could see the pain and horror in his eyes as he relived it in his mind, and her own mostly hostile emotions were disrupted by an involuntary stab of pity. But she wasn't done. "Okay, but how do you get from there to Connor?"
"I'm glad you never had to see me those few months, Buffy. When I went to Darla, I was trying to lose my soul. But instead, I found another one, even if I didn't know it yet. Connor's. A soul so bright and pure that Darla sacrificed herself to let him come into the world. He's the life I earned in the Trials."
"But you didn't tell me." The emotion that got through her stiff tone that time was hurt.
"I'm sorry. I should have. But Buffy, I…I can't be sorry that Connor exists, or that I'm his father."
Looking at him, she felt her anger and resentment begin to melt away. "Hey, um, I'll be right back," she said.
He watched her dart back into Dawn's room, slightly bewildered.
"Is he still alive?" asked Dawn nervously.
"What?" said Buffy, frowning. "Of course he is. He's just outside."
Both teenagers looked intensely relieved, though Connor was still thoroughly apprehensive. Buffy smiled at him. "I was thinking that with the battle being over and everything…"
"Yeah?" he asked uncertainly.
"Well, it's a nice day, and there are a lot of perfectly good weapons lying around on the street by the hotel. I thought you could come with us," she gestured at the door, through which Angel still waited, "and help, uh, loot the demon corpses."
"Really?" asked Connor, his expression clearing.
"Yeah," said Buffy.
He turned to her sister. "You gonna be okay here for a while, Dawn?"
"Yeah. Thought I might get some actual sleep, since being unconscious before didn't really help much," she said, shrugging and repressing a wince, since the action had jarred her arrow wound.
"Okay. I'll see you in a couple of hours." He bent down and kissed her briefly.
"Bye," she said, "Have fun with the…looting."
The three of them made their way back to the street by the hotel, and Angel couldn't have been happier. The two people he cared about most were walking beside him, and it hadn't taken long before their tentative stabs at conversation with each other had become easy and relaxed.
The battlefield lay unchanged from when they had last seen it, except that they noticed several rather official looking vehicles pulling away in the distance.
"Looks like we just missed the feds," said Buffy uncertainly.
"They'll probably be back," said Angel.
They spread out slightly and began picking through the numerous dead demons to find things they could salvage. Connor told Angel what had happened in the street with the part of the battle he'd been fighting. When he told him how so many of the people he'd helped over the years had been there to return the favor, Angel came very close to tears. He never would have imagined that they would be there.
After dumping one more armload of weaponry off at the hotel, Connor made to return to the hospital. Before he could go, Angel seized the opportunity to hug him tightly, conveying through the embrace all of the relief he felt that his son was okay after fighting in the battle, as well as the gratitude that he'd been there fighting for him. Buffy surprised them both by hugging him too, and he departed.
"Ooh, greatsword," said Buffy sometime later, hefting a magnificent blade, which was quite as long as she was tall, as if it only weighed a few pounds.
"Trade you for the lochaber axe," said Angel, holding up the weapon in question.
Buffy eyed it critically. "Nah. I've been using an axe for almost a year. I might try swords until I get it back." She frowned. She missed the way the Scythe felt when she wielded it. This sword she had taken from its fallen demon owner felt foreign and lifeless in her hands.
"Well, now's your chance to break it in," said Angel, his eyes widening.
"Behind you!" Evidently a few of the corpses were not quite as dead as they had thought. Two large, muscular demons with black veins bulging out all over their dark green skin had jumped back up, raising the twin battle axes of which Buffy and Angel had not yet relieved them. Buffy ducked just in time to avoid having her head lobbed off by the first demon's axe.
"Oh, good," she grunted as she kicked out viciously at the leg of the demon closer to her. "Now I get to make up for not being in the battle!" Her foot connected solidly with her opponent's shin, and the crack of breaking bone rang out like gunfire. The demon let out a roar of pain and its axe clattered to the pavement.
Its fellow was about to lunge when it jerked back, a crossbow bolt embedded in its jugular. It too bellowed in fury and agony, but was still coming back for more. Yards away, Angel dropped the crossbow back into his pile of weapons and caught up a mace in one hand and a scimitar in the other.
Buffy rolled to avoid the second demon's swishing axe blade and the pummeling fists of the one whose leg she had snapped. She jumped back to her feet and swung the greatsword around in a wide arc, and the first demon's head fell to the ground as its body collapsed. She barely had time to turn and see the second demon bearing down on her when she heard a sickening crack. Angel had brought the mace down with all his strength on the top of the demon's skull, and it dropped like a stone. Not wanting any more surprises, he wasted no time beheading it with the scimitar.
"You okay?" he asked, panting slightly more heavily than she was.
She nodded and eyed him appreciatively. "Looks like someone won't be spending the rest of the season on the bench after all."
"Yeah," he said, grinning and swinging the scimitar experimentally. "Good to know." He rolled his shoulders and grimaced slightly. "I think I almost dislocated my shoulder doing that."
Buffy chuckled. "I'll just go drop these off," she said, collecting the axes from the two demons, her greatsword, and the few other weapons she had amassed since the last time she'd unloaded at the hotel.
Angel watched her go, his smile returning. He walked back to his own pile of weapons and started looking for more to add to it, when he heard a familiar voice hailing him. "Ah, Angel, we meet again!"
It was the Groosalugg. His hair was long again and he was dressed in standard garb of Pylean warriors. His face split with an enormous grin as he drew nearer, and before Angel had quite realized what was happening, he was being pulled into a hug.
"Yeah, Groo, it's great to see you again," he grunted.
Groo stepped back and held him at arm's length. "I had hoped for the chance to speak to you before I returned to my world. I saw you in combat with those two vile beasts. You and your companion fought very well, though I expected no less."
"Thanks." Angel was rather relieved when he finally released him.
"And the battle! We are victorious, my friend!" Groo cried triumphantly.
"So we are," said Angel, smiling. "It's been a good day."
A shadow crossed Groo's expression, and the next words came out after an apparent struggle, though they were spoken with no less sincerity. "You should find your princess, so that she might join you in your triumph." Angel's throat tightened and he found it difficult to meet the warrior's eyes. "What troubles you?" Groo asked with genuine concern.
"Cordelia died. Two months ago," Angel told the pavement between them in a cracked voice. "But she was never my princess." He eventually managed to bring his gaze back up. Groo appeared to be struggling to hide the fact that he was utterly distraught by this news. The joy of victory was completely gone from his countenance.
"Did you not care for her?" he asked, still losing the battle to maintain his composure.
"She was one of the only true friends I've had in centuries. I loved her for that. We never got to see if it would lead anywhere before it all went to hell. When I thought she'd finally come back, it was really only to say goodbye," said Angel. His vision blurred with unshed tears.
"That was not my wish," said Groo solemnly, his head bowed.
Angel remembered what Kathy, his sister (and evidently his guardian angel), had told him before granting his humanity, and smiled softly. "Doyle used to call her princess too. Maybe they found each other again."
"And did this Doyle love her?" Groo's tone was urgent, though not from jealousy.
"Yeah," said Angel, chuckling slightly as fond memories of the Irish half-demon flickered across his mind. "He did."
Buffy, who had already dumped the weapons and returned, had heard most of the conversation, and as Angel and the earnest warrior began instead to swap stories of what had happened on their respective sides of the battle, she gazed intently at the former vampire. When they were together in Sunnydale, he had only begun to tap into his potential. Even having glimpsed a few snapshots of his journey, she was awestruck by the man he had become. A champion to the core.
Despite it all, she doubted he had seen those differences in himself. The only reason she could see them was that she had seen so little of him for five years. Five years in which, among other things, he had become a father and developed feelings for Cordelia. Buffy felt a flicker of fear. They had both grown and changed. Had they gotten so far apart that they wouldn't be able to bridge that chasm? Was it too late to mend the broken promise the forgotten day had offered? It seemed ironic; with circumstance finally in their favor, they themselves might not be anymore. At that point, Angel turned and noticed her, still frozen in place twenty feet away. The look on his face when he saw her banished all of her fears. It was clear as day that he still loved her. They could figure out the rest together in the coming months.
While Groo was there, they left the task of gathering weapons and instead spent the next couple of hours laying the bodies of their fallen allies to rest.
The Groosalugg wasn't the only veteran of the battle they ran into, either, though Buffy still thought he was the most entertaining. After Angel introduced her to him, she gladly joined them with the story swapping. When Buffy and Angel described the Mayor together, Groo looked from one to the other and back with an odd expression before starting to talk about "kyrumption" and "moira". This made no sense whatsoever to Buffy and sent Angel straight into brood mode, but before an explanation could be had, a few more not-quite-dead demons rose, and after helping Buffy and Angel kill them, Groo departed.
Though the sun set long before they had finished, there was still no word from Spike. Buffy had no desire to leave things with him in the same unpleasant place where they ended up that morning, with him storming from the hotel. She really had no idea what she was supposed to say to make it right, since the only guaranteed way to do that would be to change her mind and choose him over Angel, and that wasn't going to happen. Still, she had to at least try. Angel, who couldn't help feeling rather sorry for him, knowing how he'd feel had their situations been reversed, took Buffy to Spike's apartment. The place was a complete wreck, and its occupant was nowhere to be found. They stopped by the hospital where Illyria continued to stand sentinel over a post-surgery but still unconscious Gunn, but Spike hadn't been there either.
Strike three came at Dawn's hospital. In addition to the constant presence of Connor, Dawn now had a roommate whose arms were bandaged much like her own. The girl was asleep and snoring rather loudly, but Dawn introduced her as Kaida Griffith, her pyrokinetic classmate who had used her ability to great effect—and unintentional self-injury—in the battle alongside them. Eventually, Buffy and Angel returned to the hotel, agreeing that if Spike wanted to be found, he'd turn up, but all things considered, that might not happen right away.
Around nine in the evening, while Angel was still upstairs seeing what he could do about getting his old room and the one Buffy had picked out for herself free of dust bunnies—or dust dragons, as was probably a more accurate description at this point—, Buffy picked up the phone and called headquarters.
"Buffy, how are you?" came the familiar accented voice of Giles after three rings.
She pondered her answer briefly. "I'm…doing really well, actually."
"Wonderful. I found the message on the answering machine. I trust that would account for your rushing across the country?"
"Yeah. Sorry I didn't fill you in."
"That's quite all right. What exactly happened in L.A.?"
"Pretty much what Angel's message said. He picked a pretty massive fight, and with a lot more help than he thought he was going to get, he won. And judging by what was on the news in waiting rooms of both of the hospitals we went to today, it all caused some chain reaction thing that made all of the offices of Wolfram and Hart worldwide simultaneously collapse. They've been having fun trying to come up with a rational excuse for that one, and the battle aftermath is attracting government people. Who, thankfully, we've managed to avoid, since nobody's paying attention to the abandoned hotel next door."
"Well, if Wolfram and Hart is no more, at least as far as this dimension is concerned, that might explain why the book stopped working," Giles mused.
"The template Wesley gave me before we came to Cleveland. I tried to use it to read up on our dispatched necromancer chappies, with no success."
"Why? There aren't more of them, are there?" asked Buffy in mild trepidation.
"Not that we know of, no," Giles reassured her, "I just wanted to be thorough."
"Of course," said Buffy, smirking. Giles cleared his throat and she changed the subject. "What did you guys do today?"
"We went back to the cave and retrieved the remains of the Slayers who died there last night. Or before then, I suppose, in the case of the ones the First was using as its army."
"That's good," she said somberly. Every victory seemed to have come at a price. "We did that here, too."
"Right. Now then, we've also been discussing our plans for the coming months."
"Oh, good," said Buffy, "because that's sorta what I called about."
"No, it's okay, tell me the plan first."
"Very well. This training routine we've employed for the past ten months has been quite effective. The new Slayers have been able to benefit enormously from your expertise and the opportunity of sparring with each other at any time."
"I'm sensing a however."
Giles sighed and shook his head in amusement. "Well done. However, now that the threat of the First and its army is gone, and knowing that the Hellmouth here is dead, the others and I thought it might be time to change tact."
"We'd maintain the headquarters for training, but after the girls reach a certain level, they might, er, graduate, if you will, and fulfill their callings elsewhere."
"Like their hometowns," said Buffy, smiling in understanding, "so they can be back with their families and friends."
"Precisely. But that's where the other part of the plan comes in. If these Slayers are to be working alone, I'd rather like to be able to provide them with Watchers."
"So, headquarters gets to double as Watcher and Slayer academy now?"
"Well, yes. Though, as I'm sure you noticed, there's really not room for such an operation in this building alone, magnificent as it is. Particularly as we still have the girls from Europe here, and we received a rather ill-timed visit from Andrew and four dozen new Slayers since our last conversation."
Buffy snorted, before looking thoughtfully around at her rather large and unused current setting. Hours of scouring the battlefield for useable weapons had left the cabinet in the lobby full-to-bursting, and there were at least as many as that piled high next to it. Most would require serious cleaning before they could be used again, but that could be a task for the next day. It was an arsenal just as impressive as the one in Cleveland, and there were rooms enough here to house the people who could use them.
"I might have a solution to the space problem," she said, "which brings me back to the reason I called."
"I'm staying in L.A."
"I thought that might be it, what with imminent threats being rather scarce in the wake of the battle. Or, well, battles, I should say."
In spite of his unnerving perceptiveness, she still wanted to explain. "I want to be closer to Dawn. We made phone calls work for ten months, but I've missed her, and I owe it to both of us for this not to be just a short visit." Giles waited patiently when she paused. Even after the many shocking revelations the day had brought, she found nothing in her that rejected the other reason for staying, so she took a deep breath and finally voiced it.
Angel looked around the familiar room, which was now devoid of dust. Even though he hadn't set foot there in almost a year, returning to the Hyperion did not feel like taking a step backward. His gaze swept the room one more time before he turned the light off, closed the door, and made his way downstairs.
By the time he was halfway down, Buffy's voice began drifting up to him as she used the phone in the lobby, and he felt slightly anxious. Less than twenty-four hours ago, she had pulled his bruised and broken form from the alley, cleaned him up, healed him by force-feeding him a rather generous amount of her own blood, and fallen asleep curled up against him. Since then, the Shanshu Prophecy had been fulfilled despite his belief that he was barred from it forever, he had kissed Buffy in the sunlight, gotten the Oracles to give her the memories of their perfect day together, and told her about Connor. On top of all that, he was fairly sure she had overheard the first part of his conversation with Groo.
Despite the fact that she had been the one to suggest that they get reacquainted before getting too serious again, he wondered if he would have been better off waiting a while to fill in those particular blanks. The more he thought about this, the lower his heart sank. He'd probably blown it by expecting her to process it all at once. Now she'd just spend time with Dawn and head back to Cleveland and out of his life. Well, he supposed dully, it was her turn to do the leaving.
He froze when he reached the bottom of the stairs and heard his name. His head jerked up to find the object of his resigned thoughts staring back at him from across the lobby. She was still speaking into the receiver, but her softened expression and the way her eyes did not waver from his face told him that her words were as much for him as for the person on the other end.
"Angel's human. A lot of major life-altering stuff has happened to both of us since we were together, and I got a pretty big taste of that today, but nothing has changed the way I feel about him, so I'm not going to let this pass us by if I can help it. I'm going to stay here with him."
And so the fun begins! Holy crap, there was a lot of meaningful dialogue in this one. And it's not easy to re-integrate a character who has been leading his own show for five seasons. I'm trying very hard to make sure I don't diminish Angel back to his humble beginnings as merely Buffy's love interest, because that would be deeply lame, and he deserves better. I had lots of fun writing him experiencing being human again. Particularly the part when he jumps at his reflection and then gets really paranoid about how his hair looks. By the way, I'm picturing him as he was when he first arrived in "Welcome to the Hellmouth", because he technically wasn't supposed to age at all for the entire run of both shows. Until now, of course, but even though he's human and subject to aging now, he'll still be looking twenty-six or twenty-seven for the entirety of "Season 9". Also, I will have none of this rubbish about human Angel being unable to fight. Gunn, Wood, Wesley, Giles, and (sometimes) Xander have all proven that mortal men are quite capable of holding their own without any kind of super strength. Angel, who has considerably more experience than all of them put together, would be just as proficient, if not more so, than any of them. Having Buffy and Angel use the specific technical names of weapons in casual conversation made me giggle. I'm so happy I found a way to bring Andrew back! Used sparingly, there's nothing more fun than writing his silly geek antics. I would hug him if I could. I actually feel bad for subjecting Kennedy to him, and considering how much I despise Kennedy, that's saying something. I loved using their antagonistic dynamic for the opening scene, particularly after making it seem like something sinister was happening in the cave with the Hellmouth. Haha. Got in some Willow/Oz, Faith/Wood, and Xander/Renée there, if briefly. Will be doing more justice to them in future. More on Buffy and Angel. It would be rather low of him to jump into a relationship with her without first telling her about the day that wasn't, Connor, and his feelings for Cordelia. So, instead, I had him almost screw it all up by telling her about all three in a matter of hours. It would have undoubtedly been an incredibly surreal sort of day for him, so those actions seem logical. All through "Season 8", I was leading Buffy towards becoming cookies, and she's known for months how much she missed Angel and wanted to be with him (though she never thought she'd actually get to, since he also never told her about the Shanshu prophecy). Still, it's been five years since they were together, so unlike in "I Will Remember You", they're not just going to jump each other in under five minutes. The hotel. I love the hotel. It will be a very important setting this season. And...I think that's everything.