Disclaimer: Usual stuff…
Written for the IWRY Fic Marathon, 2007. Thanks for hosting this, Chrislee, and for letting me play.
Rating: If you're old enough to watch the show, you're old enough to read this. If you're on a diet, though, beware.
Setting: Remembrance Day 2007
Summary: Lest we forget
She lays the book down with a sigh. It's some silly, trashy romance where the woman gives up everything, her family, her lifestyle – damn it, her whole life – for the sake of her lover.
Stupid and so old-fashioned, Buffy thinks to herself, as she angrily tugs at the duvet. The last book she'd read hadn't been any better. True love had conquered all, in that one. It never did, of course, even when you actually found it, and who knew that better than she did? She and…
She almost thinks his name. She probably had thought his name, but with the benefit of years of hard practice, she slams a mental door on it before it's too late. She tugs at the duvet again, trying to straighten it so that it covers her completely on this chilly November night. It's a British duvet, which is probably why it's so stubborn. She's marginally surprised that it doesn't come in tweed.
She looks again at the book that she's been reading, laid open and face down, the paper spine creased and worn. Giving everything up for love… It only works in a book, she thinks. Why do I read this stuff, when it's so unreal? Some small part of her, a splinter of herself that she thinks must stand waiting in hope at that locked mental door, hears the question, though, and gives her an answer. Someone had done that for her. Given everything up and embarked on a new life for himself. Okay, so it wasn't quite real life, since he'd been an undead creature of the night. But he'd given it up for her. He'd given a lot of things up for her, and only now that he's gone has she begun to understand the enormity of his sacrifice, and of his dreams.
Love hadn't worked, though, for either of them.
She can't hold back the remembrance of their last meeting. Cookie dough. What the hell had she been thinking, talking about cookie dough? She's no more idea now of where that little speech came from than she'd had on that last night, as she turned him away and watched him go. Still, maybe that small hopeful part of her, at least, might have baked into something more becoming, if she's learned to understand his dreams better.
It's a shame that none of it seems worthwhile now, without him.
Dissatisfied, she burrows down into the small, cosy hollow that she has fashioned, and as she settles into sleep, she tries not to think about him, about his name or his deeds, or the warmth in which he always wrapped her. As on so many nights before, she isn't successful. Her mind is as full of him as her heart is, when sleep claims her.
Fingertips trace a gentle path down her cheek. Her eyes are open but wherever she is, it has the darkness of the tomb, and she can see nothing. It doesn't matter. She knows whose fingers these are. She'd know his touch anywhere. Pressure against her side tells her where his body is, and she reaches out to him, to return his touch. There's only air, cool on her questing hand.
Her heart thumps in panic, and she's sure that he must hear it, so acutely is he attuned to the frailties of that organ.
His voice is as gentle as his touch has been, soothing her, calming her. She feels his fingers once more, brushing tendrils of hair back from her face. She reaches out again. Why can't she touch him?
She almost says it, but he forestalls her.
"Don't. Don't say it."
His voice is a whisper, barely audible.
"Please…" Hers is no louder, but is more urgent. Pleading.
"Don't say anything."
His fingers brush against her lips, and stay for a moment, before tracing a path down her throat and onto her breast. He isn't warm – he's never been warm – but he isn't cold either. He just is. Just like he's always been. Just like he'd been that one glorious, terrible night when they'd truly made love.
Now his lips graze her skin as he kisses the side of her neck. The scar he'd left there is long gone, but suddenly the place it had been burns like fire, responding to his touch. Teeth scrape gently downwards, gone almost before she knows what he has done, but she has no time to wonder whether it has been deliberate. The fire blazes through her, scorching her future to ashes. The scar might be gone, but it is written into her blood, her flesh, and she welcomes it.
Now his lips move downwards, caressing each new place, each new spot of skin in their path, thrilling as quicksilver. Her hands reach for his hair, the memory of it tingling against each finger, each sensitive nerve in her palms. That's all she finds. Memory.
Now his mouth has surely reached what he desires, and she arches up towards him, because it's what she desires, too. It seems that he still can't trust himself inside her.
His lips are on her, and his hands, sure and certain as she yearns towards him. He has the hands of an artist in so many ways, with long, sensitive knowing fingers that brush over her flesh to create his portrait of desire, and then his lips are moving over her, but not as she wants him to, as she tries to press against him, to urge him on.
"Forget about me," he murmurs against her skin, so that she feels the words rather than hears them. His voice seems to fade, and then strengthen. "Forget me. I'm damned."
His lips, his hands, his body, all are gone, leaving her wanting and unsatisfied. Leaving her needy, in body and in spirit, as she has been ever since that night.
And for a moment, there is light in this starless darkness, a small light, weak and wavering. In its centre, a man lies, huddled and chained, his skin a tapestry of alabaster and blood.
She reaches for him, and almost calls his name, but knows that she mustn't. She doesn't remember why, but she just must not say it. Must not let anyone know that she is here, especially the man in chains.
Still, she cries out, wordlessly, and then she is awake.
She sips her morning coffee, alone in the kitchen, her mind turning the dream over and over, to find its meaning. It was a Slayer dream. She knows that. She doesn't really do Slayer work any more. She has a more normal life than she could ever have imagined. There's not so much evil around these days, and there are the younger slayers to deal with it if it comes. She's still The Slayer, though, and she knows a Slayer dream when she gets one.
She hasn't worked this one out yet, but she will. Just give her time.
Giles comes down, looking rumpled. She doesn't think he's slept well, but she doesn't know what's going on in his life right now. He sits at the other side of the table and pours out what's left in the cafetière, and she thinks of the Librarian mug that he used to have. It got tainted and then broken, like the rest of them.
There's not enough to fill this new mug – he obviously only makes coffee for one – and she silently takes the cafetière from him and washes it out before refilling it.
He doesn't say anything either. She doesn't know whether he's waiting for her to speak – and if he wants her to tell him why she's here, then that will be a long pregnant pause indeed, because even she doesn't know – or whether he's respecting her privacy.
Coffee newly made, she settles back into her seat, and Giles picks up the milk jug. That's empty, too.
"Would you mind reaching the milk for me, Buffy?"
He says it with a smile, and she doesn't mind at all. At least he's not asking why she's here. And so she pads over to the refrigerator behind her, and opens the door. There are bottles of milk, real glass bottles, but it isn't those that hold her attention. On a shelf, next to a half-used jar of mayonnaise and a shiny, mummy-wrapped slab of some crumbly cheese, sits a package of Pilsbury cookie dough.
And she's back to that night, the night when she sent him away. The night after which she never saw him again.
'I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking. I'm not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I'm going to turn out to be. I make it through this and the next thing and the next thing and maybe one day I turn around and realize I'm ready. I'm cookies. … That'll be then. When I'm done.'
She can hear it, as though she's back in that cemetery, that and all the other nonsense that was talked that night. All the words said to cover words that couldn't be said. She remembers the careful distance between them after that one careless moment of basking.
It's as though no time has passed for her, as if she has come here straight from that cemetery, and all the time between has been excised. Her thoughts are the same ones that pounded though her. Angel and cookie dough.
There. She's thought it.
She understands why he would be in her mind, because he's written into every part of her body, but she doesn't understand the cookie dough. On that night, the thought of it overwhelmed everything else. She had to say it. She had to use the words. She's regretted them ever since. Except… they needed to be said, and she doesn't know why.
She doesn't know how long she's been standing here, or how long Giles has been calling her name. She turns round to look at him.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. I was… I was just surprised to find cookie dough in here, that's all."
He looks sheepish.
"I got a taste for American cookies, during my time with you. They're hard to get here. I… I keep some in…"
She snags an open bottle of milk, and closes the refrigerator door.
"It'll just be our secret," she tells him, as she pours milk into the jug.
She doesn't want to think about A…., about him just now, but she can't help reflecting that cookie dough is really good when eaten unbaked. Maybe she should have left it at that.
Giles takes her out for lunch. He still hasn't asked her why she turned up on his doorstep the previous day. She's sure now that he's waiting for her to speak first, that he understands she might not have the answers straightened out in her mind. Nevertheless, he will ask her, sooner or later.
They stroll through the little market town, and the day is kind to them. The sun is shining down on the hustle and bustle, and the fragrances of new bread and freshly cooked meat pies drift down the street towards them.
"Friday is market day," Giles tells her, as though she can't see for herself the rows of stalls up both sides of the cobbled High Street, each one covered in brightly coloured sheeting.
There are stalls selling clothes, ironmongery, haberdashery, vegetables, meat, fruit, confectionery… They stretch for as far as the eye can see, and each one seems to offer something different, something English. Or something reminiscent of England's old Empire, she thinks, as she looks at the next stall, with its racks of embroidered skirts and tops in Indian silks and cottons. If she wanted something to distract her thoughts, this is just the place.
She can't help thinking, though, as she looks around her at the children of Empire, that, like Empire, all things pass, given time. She's suddenly chilly, in the warm November sun.
"There's another market tomorrow," Giles says, and she looks up at him gratefully. Never has an interruption been more welcome. "A continental market, with all sorts of things from Europe. We get them a couple of times a year. It's normally held on a Sunday, but this Sunday is Remembrance Day, well, Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday combined because this year they fall on the same day, so they decided to have the market tomorrow, instead. We can come, if you like."
She nods, unsure of whether he means come to the market or come to Remembrance Day, and then he takes her elbow and steers her into what looks like a bakers.
There's a flight of stairs, and he ushers her up to the next floor. As she climbs the last few steps, she hears the clink of china, and rich aromas titillate her taste buds. She's suddenly hungry.
She opts for a ratatouille on a trencher of something called Sally Lunn. She knows about ratatouille, and the Sally Lunn turns out to be a rich variety of bread. It comes topped with Cheddar cheese, and with aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and onions sprawled across it, in a tasty basil sauce. She knows that a trencher is a plate made of bread, and she's relieved that it all comes on an actual china plate, a plain white one.
She's asked for a side salad, instead of the fresh vegetables that the menu includes, and that adds its own autumn colours, greens and reds and bronzes. It all looks delicious, and she tucks into the first real food she's had for almost a week, between sips of something black and very slightly fizzy, called dandelion and burdock. Giles tells her it's an old-fashioned drink, and she tells him that it tastes a little bit like sarsaparilla, but not much.
They talk of little things. The things that they saw in the market. The weather. What movies are showing. Harmless things. The elephants of Sunnydale and vampires and him don't get so much as a mention, standing weighty but invisible in the room.
When they leave, he stops at the counter downstairs to buy a couple of sweet Sally Lunns – to have for afternoon tea, he tells her – and she looks around the cramped and overcrowded space as he queues for his purchase. There are preserves, and biscuits, and tins to keep the biscuits in, and all manner of other things to tempt the appetite and to make a little more money for the shop. She's almost tempted by the idea of comfort food.
At last, he's ready, and he has a brown paper carrier that seems to contain more than a couple of Sally Lunns, but she doesn't ask, she simply follows him back to the market, and then to the car.
Later that night, as she says her goodnight to Giles, he hands her a small box, heavy for its size.
"I thought you might like this, Buffy."
She glances down at the confectionery, and smiles her thanks. Only when she gets up into her room and puts the box down next to the wretched book does she really look at what he has given her.
Fudge. Clotted cream fudge. The box declares it to be a locally made speciality.
She can taste it on her tongue, even though she hasn't opened the box, yet. She can feel the smooth sweetness, filling her mouth, melting as she swallows. The familiarity of it isn't recent. It's years since she had fudge of any kind, and the memory of it is just out of reach.
It can't be important, the memory of when she last tasted fudge, but she tries to pin it down. Immediately, some image fleets across her brain, half seen, unrecognised, smears of colour that might mean something, if only she could stretch time out and make it stay longer. The back of her head, the area of her brain that recognises patterns, almost hurts with the effort of trying to process what she can't quite see, without success.
She doesn't open the box of fudge, not yet. It's a message from Giles. It's small and inexpensive, and won't embarrass her, but it's a welcoming gift. He won't tell her that she's welcome to stay as long as she needs. The gift says that for him. But it doesn't say that he won't ask why she's here, and she still has no answer to that.
She picks up the book and starts to read, and she's read six pages before she realises that she's read nothing at all. She puts the book back on the table, beside the fudge, and settles down to sleep.
He's there once more, waiting for her, in the absolute darkness.
His fingertips caress her cheek, her lips, her throat, her breasts. Yet she still cannot touch him, cannot feel him except through the sensations that he gives to her. She tries to reach to him, and he makes familiar sounds to soothe and calm her.
"A…." She's almost said his name again, and he stops her, exactly as he stopped her before.
"Don't. Don't say it," he whispers, in a ghost of a voice.
Now his lips caress her neck, and once more his fire blazes through her, released by the gentle scrape of teeth on skin. She doesn't resist, allowing it simply to flow, to consume her, to brand her very soul, as if it weren't branded already.
Once more, his mouth moves against her, travelling down her soft steel flesh, tantalising and tormenting until she wants to take his head in her hands, to feel his hair against her palms, to press him ever downwards, urgent now. Until at last she arches up to receive him.
And once more, he murmurs against her skin.
"Forget about me. Forget me. I'm damned."
And then he's gone. She reaches out for the comfort of his embrace and finds only the chill of this nothingness. And again, she's granted just an eyeblink of light. The chained man is still there, a study in alabaster and blood. This time, she sees that the pattern of blood has changed. There's more old blood and less new. She thinks that perhaps he's running out of blood for them to spill.
She cries out to him, wordlessly, as she did last night. She doesn't say his name. There can be no names, no names in this terrible place, no clue that she is here and that he has been seen, although she doesn't know why. And then she's awake.
Another Slayer dream. That's what it was. She knows that, as surely as she knows her own name. But what is she supposed to understand from it? What is its lesson? Or is she mistaken, and it's simply her mind, punishing her? She doesn't know.
She's abstracted over breakfast, but she notices that Giles keeps up a light conversation. No, not a conversation. A monologue. Observations that require no answers. When it's time to go to the Continental market, he simply hands her her coat in silence.
The town is even busier than it was the day before, the stalls thronged with those come to look and those come to buy. There are the same gaudy-sheeted stalls, but the people tending them are different. There are men in Napoleon hats and jackets, others with French tricolours in their hatbands, or German flags. Women wearing curly white Dutch bonnets. If she listens, perhaps she'll hear the sound of clogs on cobbles… or the sound of his voice.
She turns her attention back to the crowd surrounding her. Giles has her hand tucked firmly into his arm, so that they won't be separated, and a worried expression on his face. When he sees that she is looking at him, he smoothes the creases of concern away, but only with an effort.
"They're making crêpes," he says. "Would you like one?"
She wants to shake her head, but she nods, instead, to please him. The crêpe, hot in her hand, is light and sweet and tastes of oranges. She loves it, and it lifts her mood. They stand to one side to eat them, making way for others to form a good-natured queue.
The next stall is selling French charcuterie, and beyond that a warming fragrance tells her there is hot French bread.
Their snack finished, they walk between the rows of handbags from Paris, baklava from Greece, Parma hams and jars of olives, cheeses from foreign mountains and valleys that are the produce of every sort of milk-bearing farm animal imaginable. Halfway down the street, Giles stops and buys a tartiflette, still warm, its golden cheese the colour of a California tan.
"For tonight," he says. "For dinner."
There are Dutch bulbs, Belgian rugs, Dijon mustard and French honey. Lavender soaps from Provence. Belgian chocolates. Swedish cider.
She can understand the Polish jewellery. After all, Europe has suddenly become a larger continent, now. She's confused, though, by the dark, wooden Nigerian art, the gleaming brassware from Tunisia, and the Persian nuts and dried fruit. Confused, that is, until she decides that no one seems to have said exactly which Continent would be represented here. Everything adds to the mix, and is something with which to occupy her thoughts.
She doesn't want to buy anything, but she's enjoying browsing.
At the top of the High Street, there is a small cluster of fiercely British stalls. Union flags are draped everywhere. Each delicacy carries a white label of identification, in case any untutored Continentals should drop by, and even the labels have small red white and blue flags printed on them. Giles surveys them, amusement crinkling his eyes.
"Do you think they're competing with Johnny Foreigner," he asks her, "or are they trying to show that we're part of continental Europe?"
She's not been able to answer a lot of questions recently, and she doesn't know the answer to that, either, but Giles doesn't seem to need a reply, as they stroll along the frontages. She sees Melton Mowbray pork pies, spirals of Cumberland sausage, English mustard, Oxford marmalade in stone jars, and sloe jelly, gleaming as darkly red as a vampire's heart.
She has to ask about the sloe jelly. For her, jelly comes in a pot and is spread on bread, possibly with peanut butter, but she's learned that the Brits call that jam. Their jelly comes in dishes, often with fruit and cream, and is her Jell-O. But this jelly is in a pot. Giles explains that sometimes jams are called jellies, when they are made to serve with meat, and don't have any bits in them. It's a bit like cranberry sauce, but from fruits like redcurrants. Or sloes. But then Giles frowns, and admits to bramble jelly, which is spread on breakfast toast, and so she gives up.
They pass piles of crisp-crusted Eccles cakes, the dark juices glistening on the white tray, and wheels of crumbly white Stilton cheese. And haggis. She eyes the round skin-covered puddings dubiously.
"I thought they were supposed to be running round hillsides," she observes, with a mischievous smile.
"Looks like they've chopped their legs off," Giles replies, trying to maintain his gravity, but it's too much. He wants to see her laugh, this fragile Slayer. In the end, they laugh together.
On the final stall, there's clotted cream from Devon, and bonfire toffee and butter fudge. She pauses, and frowns at that, as a taste floods through her mouth, a mixture of delicacies. But it's gone as soon as it came. Just like last night, though, as she held Giles' gift, that fleeting taste definitely includes fudge. Strangely, she finds that it also includes cookie dough, or perhaps that's her guilt talking.
And there are Pontefract cakes, which seem to be rounds of soft black liquorice stamped with the image of a castle. And Kendal mint cake.
Like the Pontefract cakes, the mint cake clearly hasn't benefited from flour or eggs. It's stacked in thin slabs, as white as ice, and just as brittle. It looks like broken pieces of a glacier, and small flakes of frosty sweet stuff have spalled away from the rough edges. These mint chips lie around the cakes, a glittering sugary necklace on the silver tray.
Mint chips. Saliva floods her mouth again, a sweet and minty coolness, and she can feel the glassiness on her tongue. An image flashes past her consciousness again, too quickly to see any detail, just smudges of colour, a bruise in her brain, and then she's back in the market with Giles.
She thinks she might be as pale as the mint cake, and allows Giles to lead her back down the hill. He talks of Pontefract Castle, and liquorice, and the town of Kendal, with its mint cakes that have accompanied climbers up Everest, none of which he expects her to listen to, and takes her back to the house that has fudge by her bed and cookie dough in the refrigerator.
They have thick slices of grilled gammon that night, with a green salad and the tartiflette that Giles has heated up in the microwave. Afterwards, he gives her vanilla ice cream. Her heart spasms, and she wants to throw it at him, but she doesn't know why, and so she nods her thanks, and she eats it, and that simple act makes her feel happy, even though the flavour is the wrong one, is incomplete. She doesn't know why that should be, and she doesn't know what the right flavour is, either.
That night, in bed, she doesn't even pick up her book. Instead, she thinks about what has happened that day, and her brain seems to fizz inside the bony cage of her skull as she tries to understand what is happening. To understand why confectionery is becoming a thing with her. It's a long time before she falls asleep, and as she does so, she finds space to question once again why the idea of cookie dough has sunk such deep claws into her psyche.
She's back in that absolute darkness. His lips are already moving down her belly, and she thinks that he must have a new sense of urgency. But he kisses her skin as slowly and sensually as ever. There is to be no liquid fire through her veins tonight, though. He doesn't come back to visit her neck.
As his mouth moves ever downwards, round her navel and over her abdomen, she tries to pull him back up. She needs to touch him, to bring him back to what she thinks of as the beginning of this dream, his lips on her cheek. But her fingers close on empty air.
He almost, almost reaches that most sensitive part of her, the folds of flesh that are swelling in anticipation, and then his mouth moves against her skin, and she feels his words as well as hears them.
She wants to scream in frustration.
"Forget about me. Forget me. I'm damned."
Now she understands something. Tonight, she has lain awake too long, trying to puzzle out what is happening to her, but her tardiness has served a purpose in giving her new knowledge. He is in her dream and she is in his, but their dreams are not the same.
For her, each of these dreams has been a separate experience. He has done the same things, but she has not; she has remembered each one, and she has lived them one after the other.
It's different for him. Now, she believes that within her Slayer dream, he is living his own dream over and over again, perhaps never knowing what came before. He is reliving this one night, as though he's caught in a loop of time, condemned to love her and leave her night after night after night. She was late tonight, and when she joined him, his dream was almost over. Her dream-self didn't have the power to change that.
Is her dream the epitome of their relationship, Buffy and Angel in microcosm? He wants her. He loves her. He dreams of her. Yet, he pushes her away for her own safety, and for his own punishment.
Is this what she is meant to understand, and that this is only a way of bringing closure? That doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel enough.
She blinks, and there is that moment of illumination, stronger than before, but as brief as a lightning flash in a summer storm. The chained man occupies the centre ground of the snapshot. She has not enough time to look for visual context, for clues to where he might be. But as the image fades, she is certain that blood isn't the only thing that is being drained from him.
And then she is awake. She is clutching the box of fudge in both hands.
Over a breakfast of poached egg on a toasted crumpet, Giles says that he would like to go to the town's Remembrance Day Service. He asks whether she would like to come with him.
She doesn't answer immediately, looking down at her plate instead of looking at him, hunched in on herself. She hears the slight clink as he puts his teacup down into the china saucer.
"Buffy," he starts, slowly. "I haven't asked why you've come here, and I'm not going to, not yet. We'll have to talk about it sometime, but not now. What I have to say to you, though, is that we all have to mourn our dead. And we all have to remember them."
Images come again, multiple images, but still faster than an eyeblink, and she cannot distinguish what they portray. She has only an impression of colours seen only by her brain, and it infuriates her. But yes. She should remember her dead. Most of them have died in war, saving the world, even if their sacrifice has gone unrecognised by the rest of humanity.
When they get there, the War Memorial is on the crest of the hill that is the High Street, in a clear green space at the entrance to a pretty park. It's been a kind autumn, and although some of the trees in the park have been stripped of foliage, many of them still carry leaves in fiery reds and rich golds, in warm bronzes and ambers, and clear butter yellow, rising around their skeletal fellows like flames. The lost leaves, the fallen ones, lie in bone-dry, crackling russet carpets around her feet.
She's seen the shops of the High Street before, of course, but then they were hiding behind the stripy shrouds of the market stalls. Today, the stalls are gone, and she's standing in front of a florist's shop. It's open, even though this is Sunday. On the counter is a collecting tin and a tray of blood-red poppies. She puts money into the tin and takes two of the silk creations. Everyone who has gathered in the street has one on their lapel. She and Giles should do likewise. And then she buys what she came in for.
When she gets back to her companion, she holds out a poppy to Giles. He smiles at her as he takes it, and he pins it in place. Then he does the same for her with the other, because her hands are full. She has two bunches of red roses, and she gives one to him.
"We've all got people to remember," she reminds him.
The roses have had their thorns stripped away, and she thinks that it might have been better if they hadn't. Somehow, she'd have preferred to feel the thorns cut into her flesh, to spill a little blood, here, in this place that marks the spilling of so much.
"There are a lot of people here," she remarks, and there are, all of them dressed in dark shades that are painfully at odds with the flamboyance of the landscape around her. She wonders whether the dead might not prefer a little more colour in their memory.
"This town has always taken its patriotic duty seriously," he tells her. "Whole generations of men have been lost. No family here is untouched by death in war. In fact, some family names only continue to exist because the surviving women refused to give them up when they married."
He falls silent, and she can see that he is lost in memories that she's sure he's never shared with anyone in Sunnydale.
A clock tower stands over a broad archway through the façade of the shops on the other side of the street, and it tells her that it's almost half past ten. Today is the eleventh of November, and so for Giles it's Remembrance Day as well as Remembrance Sunday. It's Veteran's Day for her, of course, when all those who serve their country are celebrated, but she can see that this is a much more sombre day here, where it is only the dead who are honoured. Nevertheless, she looks around for serving members of the armed forces who might not be in the parade, but who might be here, in the crowd. There are no uniforms, and so she asks Giles.
A look of distaste clouds his face, but only for a second or two.
"It was the IRA," he explains. "Service personnel who wore their uniforms off duty became targets for the IRA terrorists, who would shoot them down, or bomb them and their families. For their own safety, they were instructed never to wear uniform off-base, except when they were on duty. I don't think it's been rescinded yet. And so the public isn't used to seeing soldiers and sailors and airmen, hasn't been for perhaps two generations. They're generally forgotten. Unrecognised for the service they give to us all. Invisible."
She thinks that he's going to add, "Just like slayers… and their friends," but he doesn't. It's in his eyes, though.
She looks back at the clock, and feels that fizzing in her brain, again. Time. If she could have her time over again, would she do things differently?
Giles sees where she is looking, but misinterprets her expression.
"There's an arcade of shops through there, but that building was an old coaching inn," he tells her. "The archway was for the coaches to enter. I believe it was very busy, back in the day."
Back in the day. The day. Yes.
Yes, but yes what? What does she mean by 'the day'? She doesn't know.
Just then she hears something from down the High Street, around a corner, so that she can't see what made the sounds. Her hearing is sharper than the average, and it's a few moments before anyone else notices it, but when Giles does, he pulls her forward to the edge of the kerb, so that she can see everything.
A parade of dark-clad people comes around the bend at the bottom of the hill, led by a solitary piper. She'd never realised that bagpipes could be so mournful, so unearthly. Behind the piper comes a young girl in a dark blue uniform, carrying a Union Flag on a pole that's taller than she is.
"She's a Girl Guide," Giles murmurs.
Behind the Girl Guide walk three men and one woman in a row.
"Rabbi, Methodist minister, Roman Catholic priest and Church of England vicar." Buffy smiles at Giles' running commentary.
Behind those four come the town officials, and then uniforms that she doesn't recognise, although Giles tells her, as each group passes.
St John Ambulance, with their flowing cloaks. Salvation Army. Boy Scouts, in khaki and green. Girl Guides. Sea Scouts. Boys' Brigade. Air Cadets. Fire Cadets.
She watches them pass, some larger groups, some smaller, all in their neat and trim uniforms.
Behind them come the survivors, the veterans, arranged, it seems, by oldness. None of these groups is large, but the younger men and women come first, people who have survived modern wars, then the middle aged, and then the old and infirm. Even the most ancient of them march proudly, when they can march at all, proudly if slowly and with the aid of a cane, wearing blazers and berets, their regimental cap badges gleaming.
An old, old man at the back, alone in his rank, is in a wheelchair, pushed by a young Boy Scout.
"He comes every year," Giles tells her. "First World War. He's a hundred and six. That's his great-great-grandson. Every year, we think it will be his last, but he keeps coming back."
Buffy has a wild vision of Angel, marching even further back, but closes the mental door with a clang of iron.
On either side of the procession, close to the edges of the pavements, walk uniformed police officers. They aren't there to keep the peace – there's no one here, in this silent crowd, who would break it. Giles tells her they shouldn't really participate. They should stand aloof from any parade, even this one, but this is their way of showing respect while obeying the rules. They, too, have lost comrades or family, in both war and peace.
Right at the back is a thin blue line of uniformed fire and rescue personnel. They are another invisible service, Giles tells her. No one ever remembers how many firefighters gave their lives during the bombings of the last world war, or continue to do so now.
Buffy watches them all pass, and remembers the people that she has lost, human and demon. She knows that Giles is doing the same. She hears the service conducted by the men and women of the cloth, and she sees people in the crowd wiping away tears. It's all remote from her, though, because she is buried in her own memories, and because there's that fizzing at the back of her brain again, and she can't describe it, not even to herself.
The service is over now, the red and green wreaths laid, and a girl in Air Force blue stands next to the War Memorial. She has a paper in her hand, and she reads from it, reading on behalf of all those names inscribed on the stone beside her. She is their voice.
It is her words that bring Buffy back to this street, to this time. It is her words, hers and Rupert Brooke's, which also bring the Slayer's first tears for that day. The girl's voice is unwavering and clear as she reads.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
that is forever England. There shall be
in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
a body of England's breathing English air,
washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less
gives back somewhere the thoughts by England given;
her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
and laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
in hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Buffy thinks that while her dead may not have been from England, the poem could be for men and women of all lands. In the end, we're all on this earth together, shaped by the lands of our birth, and whether we know it or not, the good fight is against that which speaks to the monster in us. In her world, that could be a very literal thing, and if anyone deserves to be a man, and a man remembered for his sacrifice and his heart, it's Angel. This is Angel, surely, a richer dust, a pulse in the eternal mind… all evil shed away?
Her heart contracts, a sharp pang of the mind. It's a minute to eleven. A minute. It's not enough time…
A young man steps forward, in a khaki uniform, and raises a bugle to his lips. He plays the mournful, descending notes of the Last Post, and then he stands to attention, solemn and silent. Giles silently tucks her hand into his arm, and she's grateful.
A church, unseen behind the High Street buildings, begins to toll its bell eleven times, counting out the hour. On the final stroke, everyone stands, with head bowed, remembering. Now, she allows herself to truly think of Angel. She opens her mental door, and allows the memories, good and bad, to parade through her consciousness. He deserves that much.
I will remember you, she thinks. I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget. I'll never forget.
The fleeting image that has haunted her for these last three days, always just beyond her reach, returns now. This time it stays, but only for a breath of time. It's Angel.
He's lying naked beneath her. There's warmth, there's love, and she is all smiles. So is he, and his breath tickles her cheek as she bends forward to him. She licks his chest, and taste floods her mouth. It's Angel, salt sweat and something that's uniquely Angel, and it's all wrapped around with cookie dough fudge mint chip ice cream.
She staggers a little, and there's movement out of the corner of her eye. A dark figure in a long, black coat steps out of the shadows of the archway across the street, ducking his head even though this archway has plenty of space, and then he's out into the light. And he's gone, unseen except by her. There's only the remembering crowd.
There may be no one there, but warm lips are on hers, and she's leaning now into his embrace as his heart thumps against hers.
She hears a whisper, a plea.
"Shh, please. Please…"
A scalding drop falls onto her cheek, of blood, or tears, there doesn't seem to be any difference. And then that, too, is gone, as if it never happened.
It did, she thinks. It did. I know it did. And then she doesn't know what she means by that. She just knows that it's true.
The bugler is sounding the Reveille, now, and there is a rustle of movement in the crowd. She realises that Giles has his arm around her, supporting her, and she is pressed against his side. Her throat is burning with the effort of holding back the tears, and she can barely speak.
"What's wrong?" His face shows his concern.
"Nothing, Giles. Nothing… I…" She doesn't know what to say. It isn't that she wants to hold things back from him, but she can't make sense of it. And yet she can.
"There's tea laid on in the Town Hall…"
"No. No thank you. I'd… I'd like to go home." She doesn't mean Sunnydale, and he understands that.
They lay their roses with the poppy wreaths, at the foot of the memorial pillar, and make their way through the straggling crowd, her arm in his, to the car, to drive back to his house. She says not a word on the journey back, and Giles gives her quick, covert glances of deep concern.
She's decided to lie down for a while. Her body needs to, as though she's just come in from a night's slaying, and her mind is a battlefield. Sleep, or something like it, comes soon.
She's back in absolute darkness. This time, there is no touch of fingertips or lips, no press of his body, no sense that he is with her. It's the wrong time. She goes with her instincts, and she closes her eyes.
A shaft of light illuminates the chained man, just as a shaft of remembrance illuminates her mind, from that fractured night of cookie dough back to the day that never was. It's Remembrance Day, after all, and now she remembers. Her mind has made sense of it at last. There was a bright November day when he was human. And he gave it back. She'd vowed to remember, and she hadn't. Not until now.
She wonders whether she will remember when she wakens, and knows that she will. This is a Slayer dream, and she always remembers those. But why now? Why has she remembered now?
She wants to go to the chained man – to Angel – but the movement is beyond her. She thinks that, if she could, and if she reached out to touch him, he would be as ephemeral as he has been for the last three nights. They're in different dreams. Her dream-self demands an explanation.
And he's there, a few feet away from her, more beautiful than ever, alabaster and shadow. And yet... The chained man is still where she saw him, immobile, scarlet and ivory and iron. She looks up into the eyes of the Angel standing next to her, and sees what she needs to see. It's Angelus.
She feels calm, which surprises her. He is the one enemy who has ever truly filled her with fear and doubt and dread: fear that she would never be strong enough to defeat him, doubt that she would ever truly wish to, and dread that he might seduce the darkness in her.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice is steady, and she's glad about that.
"You called me." His voice is Angel's voice. There's no mockery, yet.
"No. I didn't." He's trying to trick her, she's sure.
He gives a knowing half-smile. "You, or the dark part of you. It's all the same."
It probably is, she thinks. Her strength is demonic. Why would that part of her not cry out to Angelus?
"It's not like you to jump to attention when someone calls. Why are you here?"
His gaze rakes her up and down, and the sensation is physical. "You have questions that you need answered. Since he's not available, it was thought that I was the best person to help you find the answers."
He just shrugs.
Buffy doesn't believe in good fairies any more, in supernatural beings who wish her well. That leaves the malevolent sort, and those she knows only too intimately. The being standing an arm's length away is a case in point.
She thinks back on her dreams. They don't feel malevolent. There may be malice, but if there is, it belongs to some unidentified powers that mustn't know about her presence. Angel has been insistent on that.
There is another possibility.
She gazes at the scene around her, disjointed images set in primordial night. And then she opens her eyes. She can see nothing, and she is sure that she is alone. Almost sure.
"You could stake me now," she says. There is no reply, and she didn't expect one.
She takes a few moments to think about it. Maybe… When she opens her dream-eyes, maybe she is simply inside her dream, as she sleeps in Giles' guest room. And maybe, when she closes them, she is seeing things with her mind's eye. She does so now, slowly, as if to catch the transition point, and the chained man and the leather-clad Angelus come swiftly back into view. She's right about that one thing, anyway. And if she is seeing them with her mind's eye, perhaps the conversation she is having with him is a product of her mind's mind, and there is no other good fairy than that.
There is logic to it. She's never quite known where the Slayer dreams come from. If they come from herself, then she's happy with that.
"Why am I dreaming about this?" she asks.
"Because it's time."
"It just is, that's all I know."
"Time for what?"
"This time, that's for you to decide."
She examines her new memories. He persuaded the Oracles to take back the day, to interfere with time. Is she expected to do the same? It's been a hell of a long time since the showdown in Los Angeles that was the end of him, and even longer since the day that he took from her. She looks up at Angelus, and he seems to understand her thoughts. He should do. He's one of them, after all. She hopes.
"It's too late for tinkering with the clock," he says.
He shoves his hands into his pockets. "You have to know what to see." She feels her throat close up as she remembers the last dream in which Angel said that to her. She fights back the tears.
"Tell me what I'm seeing."
"You know what happened in Los Angeles."
It's a statement, not a question, but he waits for her to speak.
"Some of it. He and his friends fought evil, they beat it back, and they died."
"Succinct." Angelus stares down at his shoes. "He knew that the Senior Partners would rain their full wrath down on him. They did."
"This is a result of that?"
"It isn't Hell?"
"You mean the afterlife of the soul, antithesis of Heaven, devils with pitchforks and things?"
"You got the drift."
"It's no more that Hell than the other one was, that you pitched him into before. I still owe you for that. I haven't forgotten."
Buffy only pays attention to his griping with half her mind. She's too busy analysing what he's just told her.
"So, is he dead, or is he alive?" She tries to sound nonchalant, but his smirk tells her that she hasn't fooled him.
"Would it matter? The dead don't seem to stay dead very long in your world, let alone the undead…" He trails off.
"I need to know where he is."
He shrugs again. "Don't look at me. How should I know where he is? He tried to find the Home Office before, but they fooled him and made him think that it was on Earth."
That was a start. Even knowing a negative was better than knowing nothing.
Angelus stares down at the chained man, and then glances sidelong back at her. "You're currently rooming with a hell of a researcher."
That's true enough. Perhaps Angelus has told her all he can. If not, she's sure that she'll come back to him. This dream is almost over, but there's still something she has to know.
"When… when he gave back his humanity, why did he do it?"
Angelus almost snarls at her. "You're forgetting I wasn't there. He'd killed me a few hours earlier, remember?"
"You were back in his mind afterwards. You know his thoughts. Did he ever regret doing it? Giving it back? Us?"
The smirk is back in place. "I can answer that, and much comfort may you get from it. He regretted it every single day."
She'll have to live with the pain of that knowledge. But, it will be something else she has in common with Angel.
"Is he… is he human now?"
"You think because I'm here, I'm not there? I'm locked up with him, too. I might forget about you sending me to Acathla's Hell if you can get us out of this one."
That doesn't really answer her question, but she hadn't expected him to.
He takes his hands out of his pockets, and leans on something she can't see, his hands wrapped around the unseen thing, his arms braced.
"You know," he says, conversationally, "the spell's broken now."
"Yes. Well. Sort of. Now that you've remembered, things can be different. There have been prophecies…"
She knows all about prophecies. She's good at prophecies. She beats them every time.
"In the world where you didn't remember, the prophecies were taken away from him. Like he did for you, he gave them away for the greater good. He was always an idiot."
She's surprised that Angelus would tell her this, but then, this isn't the real Angelus. Or probably not. She waits for him to say more, but he doesn't. It doesn't matter. If the prophecies are important, then she'll make damned sure she's as good at breaking the loss of them as she is at breaking prophecies themselves.
"Thank you," she says, and means it.
Angelus raises a hand in farewell, and she sees a familiar glint of silver on his finger. She nods in acknowledgement, takes one last look at the man in chains, and then she opens her eyes. And then she opens her other eyes, and she's awake.
Giles is wondering whether to cook dinner for one or for two when Buffy comes running down the stairs. She hasn't even taken time to comb her hair. But, she's animated, excited, purposeful, and his heart skips. This is more like his Slayer.
"Giles, you've got books here, right?"
"Yes," he replies, cautiously, not sure what sort of books she means.
"And if they aren't enough, you can find other books?"
"I expect so." Still cautious. "What do you want books for?"
"There's some really serious research to do."
He looks at her shrewdly. "Buffy, does this have anything to do with why you came here?"
She grips the back of a kitchen chair, and Giles hopes that the chair can take the strain of her whitened knuckles.
"Giles, I didn't know why I needed to come here, but now I do. I needed to come here to remember…"
When she's finished explaining, he knows what's been happening. There may be a few details that she forgot to mention, but he knows enough.
"You think he's still alive?" Giles polishes his glasses as he asks, and she knows that he's already thinking hard.
"I don't know, but when did we allow that to stop us?" She pauses. "Giles, someone's hurting Angel." There's another silence, but Giles doesn't break it. He waits quietly for her to continue. "I know I've said this before, but maybe I need to say it again. Nobody messes with my boyfriend."
She smiles a feral smile. "Are you in?"
"Buffy," he says, gently, because he doesn't want to harm this new, reincarnated Buffy, but he doesn't know how to put it, and so he plunges in head first. "Angel's moved beyond being just the Slayer's boyfriend."
This smile has fangs in it. "I know," she replies, "but when you're setting off into unknown territory, it's best to start from a place that you know."
"You've been listening to me too much," he tells her.
"You wish," she says. "Besides, I have it on good authority that we're stronger together, Angel and me."
"The Earth is doomed." But he's wearing a grin as he says it.
"Are you in?" she asks again.
Ripper smiles back. Ripper's got amends to make, too. "Just try and stop me. Any idea what we might be facing?"
"No," she tells him, but I think they'll rain their full wrath down when they know we're after him."
"Ah," he says. "One of those." His eyes take on the blankness that she knows means his mind is shuffling ideas very quickly.
Yes, she thinks. Bring it on. Just try and stop us. The more you show yourself, the more of a trail you'll leave back to your lair, and then…
She dreams again that night. It's a good dream, and she remembers it.