So, Thanksgiving didn't allow as much time as I thought and I didn't get to update this story too, but I hope Christmas will be different. Please don't be too mad! I do what I can, I promise! Anyway, in thanks for waiting so long for this update this chapter begins to move the plot along more, and reveals a few things. I hope you'll enjoy it, and please do review if you're still around and let me know what you think! Thanks so much and Merry Christmas!
NOTE: I do not own Lucy Hanover. That would be Christopher Golden.
Buffy and Willow sat curled against the headboard of Buffy's bed. They'd gotten ready for bed early and watched TV, and eaten junk food because a tired Joyce Summers had gotten ready for bed early as well, but actually gone to sleep. She'd apologized more than once before she was off for not having something fixed for dinner, but the girls waved her off and sent her to bed.
Now they sat in silence. The idea had been to talk, but not much had been said. The sitting was all right though; they had been friends long enough that the silence was okay.
"So..." Willow finally trailed.
Buffy glanced up at her, and then shrugged and looked away. "My first instinct is still to run to Angel when it hits the fan like this...when anything happens..." she began. "And I still can't. His body isn't being controlled by a psychotic, bloodthirsty demon this time, but he's gone just the same. It hurts so much, but I felt better knowing that I still had Giles—that he would always be here if I needed help, or...anything." She shrugged helplessly and tightened her arms around herself, her hands balling into fists at her sides. "I felt safe knowing that at least he wouldn't leave me."
Her friend swallowed. "What are you gonna do when...I-I mean...how will you train?"
"Alone," she answered simply. "I won't have another Watcher."
Willow nodded slowly. "Right...I kinda thought that."
"He'll teach me everything he can," Buffy said. It was hard to say it. It killed her to be having this conversation at all, but there it was.
"I know. I mean, of course he would."
They both fell silent for a moment or two, and then Buffy picked up the bowl of chips to set it between them again, and reached for the remote to her television. "I think there's a halfway decent movie coming on in a few minutes."
"Movie? Oh. Yes," Willow agreed. "I like movies. Movies are good."
As much as she hated (not really) to do it, Buffy left Ethan waiting in the park before she could explain herself. It suddenly occurred to her that her friends would have been waiting outside the apartment for half an hour or more now, if they hadn't just given up and gone home. She suspected they had by now, but she had to check. She didn't really expect to find anyone there, but when she ran into the courtyard Willow and Xander were there.
They were sitting at the same table they had all been sitting at months ago, that first afternoon together after the day they'd realized they really couldn't save Giles.
"Hey, guys..." Buffy trailed as she approached the table.
They both looked up, but didn't move.
"Hey," Xander said.
"We were gettin' kinda worried," Willow added.
Buffy sat down across from them. "I'm sorry; something came up. I actually kind of have to get going again, but I didn't want to leave you guys sitting around here forever."
"What is it?" Willow asked.
"It's...nothing. It's hard to explain."
"Is everything okay?" She meant relatively. Everything was not okay, and they all knew that, but she meant everything else.
"It's nothing you two need to worry about. It's kind of a me thing. It's just that it means I can't be here today." Buffy glanced toward the door of the apartment. "Do you want me to go ahead and let you in, or do you just, you know...wanna take break?"
Willow and Xander looked at each other, and then looked back to her.
"Uhm...break sounds fine," Xander agreed for them.
Willow was nodding. "I mean, we have plenty of time and all." The rent was paid up for the next couple of months. Giles had tried to do as much as he could beforehand...but even after that, he'd still thought it necessary to be absolutely certain they wouldn't feel rushed trying to get everything out of the apartment.
"Okay...yeah. Good. I uhm..." Buffy trailed off for a moment. "Actually, do you think maybe we could wait a few days on this? There are a few things I have to do."
They both looked at her strangely, but after the past few months they all knew by now not to question each other. They had all dealt with things differently, and dealing with it wasn't over. It was easier just to let things go and be there for each other, and leave it at that. She knew if she did anything to really worry them they would be all over her, and she wouldn't want anything less.
"Sure, I guess..." Willow began.
"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Maybe we do just need a break."
Buffy sighed. "Thank you. Look, I'm sorry to be so lacking of details, but..."
Willow reached out and touched her arm. "It's okay, Buffy. Just call us."
She swallowed and nodded. "I will. Thanks." When she stood up her friends stood too, and Xander smiled a little.
"Damnit; now I can't rag on Anya for bailing when you didn't show."
Buffy let out a small breath of laughter, and moved to hug them both. Then her friends went, and she was left in the courtyard alone. She looked at Giles's apartment door for a long moment before she could turn around and head back to the cemetery to find Ethan.
The summer fell into an easy rhythm—or one that would have been easy under more normal circumstances. It was the first summer since Giles had arrived in Sunnydale that his Slayer had remained at home, and often it was easier to pretend that it wouldn't be the last summer he would see. He was under no illusions, and neither were Buffy and her friends, but it made it easier to enjoy the time that was there.
Usually most of the Scooby Gang was at his apartment more days out of the week than they weren't. Rupert knew that in the past it would have been bothersome after a while, but not now. Often enough they did have the courtesy to leave early enough that he could have some time to himself, and that was all he needed anymore.
He had been alone long enough. Now he was disappointed if one or more them happened not to come by on any given day—not that he said anything, of course. Buffy though...
Buffy never failed him. Every day she came, and he had no reason to doubt that she would continue to come. There had not been a day since she'd learned of his condition that he had not seen her, and without her needing to say anything he understood now that she planned to keep it that way. He would see her every day from now on...however long that happened to last.
That was why Giles was concerned one evening, two weeks after the last day he and the children had spent at the storage unit. He finally had everything squared away concerning the trip to England, and he'd planned to tell Buffy so whenever she arrived, but it was dark now and she had yet to appear. In fact, none of the Scoobies had come today. He'd gotten a call from Willow, and the young redhead had told him that she and Oz were going somewhere for the day, but Xander and Buffy were unaccounted for.
He called their homes, but no one answered at Buffy's and he only got a brief response from Xander's father about the boy being 'out, I think.' Rupert let Mr. Harrison know the particulars of the trip that he finally had, and quickly hung up. He didn't particularly enjoy speaking to the man any more than he imagined poor Xander must like having him for a father.
No one had answered at the Summers home, but it was certainly late enough for at least Joyce to be home unless she had chosen to work late. He knew that because he roughly knew, now, what time Buffy's mother usually left work. He knew that because Joyce stopped by on occasion—usually just late enough that Buffy had left for patrol and the others had gone their separate ways as well, but not late enough that it was strange. It was becoming easier and easier to talk to her, and Giles had to admit that he welcomed the company. As much as he appreciated having Buffy and others near so often, it was good to have someone else.
It made it easier to pretend that he hadn't been alone for so long.
No one had answered at the Summers home. It was probably nothing, but...
He grabbed his coat and keys anyway.
Xander had to admit that this was one of the weirder nights of his life. For one thing, he was on patrol with Buffy. For another thing, she was one who had asked him to come with her.
His suspicion was that today had been one of the bad ones. There didn't have to be any particular reason for it—he knew it just happened, sometimes. Almost a month since they'd found out about Giles, almost two weeks since they realized they weren't going to be able to save the day this time...even in that time, he already knew how it was. Some days you were okay and living with it, or ignoring it, or at least pretending you were ignoring it, or pretending you were okay with it, or something like that. Some days you were less than okay. Some days you just weren't okay at all.
It was happening to all of them, and they weren't even the ones who were sick. Xander didn't even want to imagine what kind of hellish roller-coaster ride Giles himself was going through. He just knew he wanted to help any way he could—on the days he didn't want to pretend it was all a dream, anyway.
But back to Buffy, he was pretty sure this must have just been one of those bad days for her. It hadn't been such a great day for him, either, so he could sympathize. He hadn't been to Giles's place today, and he felt a little guilty about that like he usually did when he didn't go, but he didn't think Buffy had been either.
As far as he knew, that hadn't happened yet since this whole thing started, and that couldn't mean anything good. Then there was the fact that she'd felt crappy enough to want someone on patrol with her, maybe just someone to give a little bit of comfort simply in their presence. He knew she usually would have asked Willow, seeing as the budding witch could at least somewhat protect herself, but Willow was unavailable and Buffy had been desperate enough to ask him if he wanted to come along. Not that she'd let any of the desperate show, of course, but he knew her.
According to Buffy, it was a moderate night for slaying—leaning toward the boring aside. She was two for two with the vamps, and at the moment they hadn't seen any for more than an hour. There had been a few awkward attempts at conversation earlier, but all was silent now save the crickets.
They were at the edge of what was probably the last cemetery, and sure enough Buffy slowed once they'd finished the second round of the place. Her stake went into a loop at her belt, and her arms crossed over her chest as she made her way to a stone bench and sank onto it. Xander followed quietly, and he sat beside her. The silence remained unbroken until he spoke.
"It's hard going over there every day, isn't it?" he asked gently.
Buffy jerked a bit, almost imperceptibly—perhaps surprised that he'd read her so easily, but she really shouldn't have been surprised.
She let out a breath and nodded.
"You're the only one of us brave enough to do it."
She grimaced. "I'm not brave. I just...I feel like it's something I have to do."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I just feel like I'd be letting him down if I didn't. He needs us right now, and I guess I just want him to know I care." She glanced at him quickly. "Not that I think you guys don't for not being there every day, or anything. I mean, you do what you can and I know that, and I know he doesn't make anything of it. I'm just talking about me here—"
Xander smiled at her gently. "Easy, tiger. It's okay; I get it."
"Good. I'm sorry. Today was just—"
She hesitated, looking at him for a long moment. "Yeah...I don't know where the hell it came from, either. I just woke up and it...it was just bad." Her eyes closed for a moment and she took a deep breath. "Don't get me wrong, Xander; I'm glad I'm over there every day, but yeah...sometimes it's just really hard, and I know it's just beginning, and sometimes I just can't—I mean...god, I'm so tired of sounding pathetic. Already."
"You're not pathetic," he answered quietly. "I'm attempt-at-macho guy here and I get it."
Buffy's eyes opened and she looked at him thankfully before she looked away. "I'm going over there tonight—before it gets too late. I haven't been today," she admitted, as if he hadn't figured that out already.
Xander just nodded and put an arm around her shoulders, and for a while she let her head rest on one of his.
"Ah, yes. Hello, Joyce, I um...I'm sorry. I tried to call earlier and no one answered. I-I'm afraid in my line of work that isn't always as innocuous as it sounds, and I simply-simply—anyhow..."
"It's all right. Why don't you come in?" Giles accepted the invitation to step into the house, and Buffy's mother shut the door. "You've missed Buffy, if you were looking for her. I'm sure you were. She's been out for an hour or so. I'm sorry I didn't answer the phone; sometimes I end up entirely too absorbed in my cooking," Joyce apologized. She chuckled a bit, sheepishly.
"I see. Well, it's quite all right. I wanted to let you know the dates of our trip, at any rate. I would have relayed it through Buffy, but I haven't seen her today." He gave her the details, which were simple enough. The trip would last two weeks for the rest of them, but Joyce's return ticket was booked for just one week after their departure because it was all the time she could spare from the gallery. There was approximately a week or so before they were to leave.
"It all sounds reasonable to me; I suppose I can let Buffy know when she comes in," Joyce nodded. She paused then, and glanced back in the direction of the kitchen.
Rupert remembered that she had mentioned cooking earlier, and realized that perhaps she had been about to eat dinner before he'd knocked. "Thank you. I should be going then—"
"No, no, I..." She paused. "Have you eaten yet?"
She didn't wait for him to decide what he should answer to that.
"I was just about to. There's more than enough, if you'd like to stay and eat something."
"I don't want to impose—"
"Not at all. With just me and Buffy here it always takes forever to get through leftovers
and I know Buffy hates it. I'm sure she'd appreciate the help."
Giles chuckled now. "I suppose when you put it that way I have no choice."
Giles wasn't at home when she and Xander got there, and Buffy supposed he must have been on one of his recent late-night excursions to the Expresso Pump. It turned out that the night all of this had started wasn't the first time he had been there, and it hadn't been the last. Her Watcher had confided in her in that he liked to be there late, to think or read—to be alone without being quite alone. Apparently when she finally left for the day to head out on patrol that was often where he went.
She wondered briefly if that had anything to do with the guitar that had taken up residence in the dark corner by the front door, but immediately dismissed the idea as ridiculous.
Buffy and Xander parted company, and she went home dejected. She knew she had never said anything aloud of her plans not to miss a single day, but she felt as if she'd broken a promise just the same. It didn't feel good. However, she was cheered a bit by the aroma of a relatively fresh meal when she came in the back door, and she was in the process of getting a plate down to serve herself when she heard movement and laughing from the dining room.
"Mom?" The sounds came closer, and her mother rounded the corner with her companion close behind. "Giles?" What the hell was going on?
"Oh, Buffy, there you are," Joyce said. "We were waiting for you to come in but it was starting to get late."
Giles followed his hostess to the kitchen sink, where they both placed their dishes. "I'm sorry if we've startled you; this was rather unplanned."
"Rupert came by to let us know about the details for the trip he'd gotten hammered out; I guess I I didn't hear the phone when he tried to call."
Buffy blinked. "Oh. Ok." She was still a little thrown-off.
"I suppose it could have waited, but I hadn't heard from you today, and I uhm, well..."
"I know. That's why I finished up patrol early and went to see you, but you weren't home."
Giles sighed. "I'm sorry, I—"
"No, it's ok. I just wanted you to know." She looked at him for a moment, and when he smiled it seemed he understood what she meant. She hadn't forgotten about him, and now he knew that. There was no broken promise anymore.
Joyce, oblivious, added, "If anyone should be blamed for any mix-up it's me; I'm the one who asked him to stay for dinner when he dropped by."
"It's fine, Mom; that's great." She shrugged. "I guess you two had a good time then?"
"Your mother is quite the cook," Giles commented.
Buffy grinned a little now. "Don't I know it." Then there wasn't anything else to say, really. She'd picked up the fact that her mother had been by Giles's place more than once in the past couple of weeks, and as much as she'd said she was ok with it this whole new friendly thing between the two of them was still taking some getting used to. "So uhm...what were those details?"
He told her as Joyce moved to start washing the dishes. "The others all know by now as well, so I suppose we're set, as it were."
It was late, so it was then time for the Summers women to show their guest to the door. It was different than the last time all three of them had been at a door like this. There was still some awkwardness, but this time it was because Buffy was there—not because Joyce was there. Buffy had the distinct feeling that if she had not returned home when she did this parting would have gone differently. This time Giles hugged both of them briefly, and though there was hesitation when he and Joyce embraced Buffy could tell that it might not have been that way if she weren't there.
A lot had happened in two weeks. They were much closer now than the last time she had seen them together, and she wasn't sure what to make of that. When Giles was gone and the door was closed Buffy looked at her mother for a long moment, but she couldn't decide what to say.
Finally Joyce took notice of her daughter's stare, and looked at her quizzically. "What?"
Buffy shook her head, snapping herself out if it. "Nothing. I don't know. It's just..." She stole a glance at the locked front door. "That was..."
"That was nothing," her mother assured her. "He was here, there was food, and he hadn't eaten dinner. Is there anything else you'd like to know, detective?"
Buffy let out a breath and smiled in amusement. "No...no. Sorry. Ignore me."
"You have nothing to worry about; now go get something to eat yourself."
She went, telling herself to listen to her mother. There was nothing to worry about. After all, Joyce and Giles were adults. They were smart; they knew how to keep things in perspective. They knew what was going on, and...well, they just did. Right?
Buffy glanced back, and her mother was staring wistfully out the front windows.
There were candles on the small table between them, though Buffy had no idea as to the meaning of their layout. She knew what needed to be done, and it was Ethan who had set up the summoning ritual. Of all the times Willow had done such things she still wouldn't have known where to begin. Needless to say, she hated having to admit to being grateful for his help.
Ethan finished lighting the candles, and sat opposite her. The table was in his motel room in the bad side of town—which, true to Cordelia's words, was not far from the good side of town.
"Now what was the name of this girl?" he asked.
"We're trying to contact Lucy Hanover; a guide on the Ghost Roads. She was a Slayer during the Civil War, and she's helped us a lot in the past. If anyone can find Giles, she can. She might even be able to help us find a way to fix this."
"Then let's find out, shall we?" He reached across the table around the candles, offering his hands. Buffy just stared at him. "If you've done this before you know there must be a circle, love, and there are only two of us. Come on."
He wasn't lying. She remembered the hand-holding part, at least, from the last time the Scoobies had summoned Lucy. Buffy huffed and took his hands, and Ethan began the incantation.
He had barely finished before the candles sparked and the desired spirit took form above them.
Now that she could, Buffy quickly let go of Ethan's hands. "Lucy, thank god! I didn't know if you'd come with him here, but I didn't really have a choice; I needed help..."
The spirit held up a hand for silence. "Under other circumstances that might have been the case, but I too had little choice. If you had not summoned me I would have contacted you myself before much more time had passed. Something is very wrong."
Buffy swallowed. "I know."
"A soul is here that should not be—has passed on before its time."
She nodded. "I know that too. What I don't know is what made it happen or why. I was kind of hoping you might be able to help with that."
Lucy shook her head slowly, her nearly translucent blueish locks shimmering about her head. "If you know that something is wrong, then you know nearly as much as I. However, there is another here that may know more."
"Who?" Buffy asked impatiently.
"There will be time for that. There is someone else I am certain you would want to speak with first. He found me quickly after his arrival, and I have kept him safe since." As she spoke another form took shape beside her, and she smiled a bit. "I will be nearby." Then she faded out of sight.
Buffy stood up slowly. "Giles," she gulped.
Her Watcher smiled down at her, and he was no longer the tired shell she remembered from recent weeks, before he'd left them. He appeared healthy and vibrant again, only lacking the usual colors thanks to the being-a-ghost part. "Hello, Buffy."
Giles spun on Ethan and glowered. "What are 'you' doing here?"
"Just lending a hand. Good god man, look at the mess you've gotten yourself into. I've got to give you credit, Slayer—you're apparently not mad."
"Oh, do shut up."
"Please do," Buffy agreed. "Thanks for the help, but could you give us a minute?"
"This is my motel room!"
"Take a walk!" Slayer and Watcher shot back immediately. Ethan snorted, but surprisingly enough he got up and he went. It wasn't until the door was shut again and he was out of sight that Buffy sank back into her chair and let out a sob.
"I'm so sorry," she cried. "All of this is my fault. I—"
"It is not your fault."
"But..." She frowned. "Wait, do you even know what I'm talking about?"
Giles nodded. "I'm afraid I do. Somehow being on the other side has...given me access to the other memories—from the original timeline. Just as you seem to be the only one among the living, as far as I know I am the only one on this side to be directly aware of the mix-up and in possession of such mixed memories. But I do remember everything both ways. It's quite strange, actually."
Buffy stared at him, and it took a while to process that this wasn't only the Giles she had lost in this timeline, but the one she had left behind in the old one.
"Oh my god. I thought I was going to have to explain it all...but you know?"
It was both a relief and a blow at the same time. "Oh my god," she repeated. Somehow it only made her cry harder. "Then...then you know what happened. Y-you know how it was. You know what I did. Mom died. It wasn't supposed to be you. It wasn't supposed to be you..." She couldn't look at him anymore, and her hands gripped the edges of the chair as she sobbed.
"Buffy, listen to me." She sensed something near her, and when she looked up Giles had leaned down to eye level. "Listen. You did not know what would happen, and this is not your fault. Do I look angry?"
"You look like a ghost," she whispered. "But you should be alive right now."
Giles winced. "Yes, well...about that..."
The third voice startled them both, and when they looked up a new spirit manifested itself over the circle of candles on the table.
"Look, I really wanted to give you two a minute, I promise, but if this goes on I know what'll happen." The ghost was girl of no more than sixteen or seventeen, sporting longish wavy hair and modern clothing, and now she pointed at Giles. "You'll try to tell her that's it's better this way because she has her mother. She'll protest. You'll keep on with it, and in the end, after a lot of really touching yelling at each other, in true Lifetime movie fashion you'll convince her to drop it all and let you go, because it's what's 'best for her' or something like that. You leave, life goes on, and we're all screwed. I'm sorry, but I can't let that happen."
"I beg your pardon?" Giles gaped.
Buffy glared at the newcomer. "Who in the hell are you?"
The girl looked at her, expression softening. "Autumn. I'm the Slayer who succeeded you."
"That's not possible."
"Of course it is. Time travel is actually much easier through the Ghost Roads."
"But getting onto the Ghost Roads when one is not dead is another thing entirely."
Autumn grimaced. "I am dead, thank you very much."
Both Buffy and Giles were silent for a moment.
"I'm terribly sorry," Giles said finally.
Buffy let out a breath. "Okay...so you're the Slayer who came after me." She resisted the urge to ask how long she'd lasted. It wasn't something she needed to know. "Then why are you here?"
"It was me Lucy was talking about. I'm here because I know what did this. The first time around no one told you, and you never found out." She nodded at Giles. "You listened to him, and you didn't do anything about it. Life went on from here, and one knew what had orchestrated the switch until three years before I was killed. That was when you died, Buffy, and it's when I was called.
"How old are you?" Giles asked.
She glanced at him. "I was seventeen when I died. I was only fourteen when I was called."
"Good Lord—why so young?" he mussed to himself.
"There weren't many potentials to choose from. They'd been killing us off slowly, quietly, for more than a decade, and it had been all-out war for years. That's how screwed-up my future is; it's why I'm here to fix it."
"Who was killing off potentials?" Buffy asked. "I don't get it."
"Whose army?" But she had a horrible feeling that she knew the answer already, and from the look on Giles's face he was feeling the same thing.
Autumn looked at her for a moment before answering. Then she sighed. "It wasn't a demon who tricked you, Buffy. It wasn't a demon who caused all of this. It was Glory."