Who Am I Now
Feedback: Please. Constructive criticism is always welcomed and appreciated.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything associated with BtVS and AtS. Characters, plots, and dialogue from the shows are borrowed with no infringement intent whatsoever.
Distribution: Please ask and let me know where it's going.
Summary: How many times will Buffy have to give up her life and how many times will she have to lose the love of her life before she can live, or die, in peace? Why are there always others who want to make those decisions for her? Story looks at different times in the slayer's life and the change in direction each caused.
A/N1: BtVS happened up to the end of 'After Life' in season 6. AtS happened up through 'That Old Gang of Mine' in season 3. The story goes AU after that.
A/N2: Thoughts are in single quotes (' ')
Chapter 1 – So Much Pain
Willow really didn't want to call Angel for help and Xander was outspoken as usual about not wanting the vampire back in Sunnydale, but she had pretty much run out of ideas regarding Buffy. Since they 'rescued' the slayer was from what they assumed was hell, she was withdrawn and not willing to accept any support they tried to give her. She stayed in her room alone most of the time and avoided speaking to anyone whenever possible.
Without letting anyone know she was doing it, Willow had tried several spells on the slayer to help her forget where she had been in hope that she would snap out of the mood that she was in; nothing had worked and Giles was no help at all. He just kept saying that they had to give Buffy more time. At first he seemed happy to have his slayer back, but as time went on, it seemed that all he could think about was returning to his home in London. At this point it looked like Angel might be their last hope.
Willow checked the clock on the wall in the kitchen of the Summers house on Revello Drive where most of them were living. It was past sunset; Angel would be up by now. She felt that she should make the call before Xander arrived, so she quickly dialed the number for Angel Investigations and listened as the phone rang several times before Cordelia's cheerful voice came over the line.
"Angel Investigations, we help the helpless; how can we help you?"
Willow was not so cheerful and she did not have time for idle chit-chat; she got right to the reason for her call. "Hi, Cordelia, it's Willow. May I speak to Angel please?"
"Willow? Hi, how are you?" Cordelia was so happy to hear from her old friend that she did not notice the urgency in Willow's voice.
"I'm fine. Is Angel there?"
This time noticing Willow's response, Cordelia knew right away that something was wrong. "Sure. Just a minute." She muted the phone and called Angel who was just coming out of Wesley's office. "Angel, it's Willow, she … "
Before she could finish the sentence, Angel was across the room and reaching for the phone. He had been having the most vivid dreams about Buffy recently and he just knew that a call from Willow meant that something was not right in Sunnydale.
Cordelia released the mute button and passed the receiver to him. Although she could only hear Angel's side of the conversation, she could tell by the look on his face that what she feared, after recognizing the urgency in Willow's voice, was correct - something was seriously wrong. Angel hung up the phone and spoke to everyone in an urgent voice.
"I'm going to Sunnydale. If you want to come with me, be ready to go in fifteen minutes." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and headed up the stairs to retrieve the special items he thought he might need and the travel bag that he kept packed for emergencies.
Everyone scrambled to be ready when Angel came back downstairs. When he returned twelve minutes later, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn and Fred were waiting for him. They locked up the Hyperion Hotel, piled into Angel's car and headed north for the highway leading to Sunnydale.
"Angel, what did Willow say? Is something wrong in Sunnydale?" Wesley, Buffy's former watcher, wanted to know.
"She didn't say much, just that they had brought Buffy back and something was wrong with her, they didn't know what else to do, Giles wasn't any help and I was their last hope."
"They can't even let the slayer rest in peace."
These and other words of surprise, sympathy and concern were heard in the car, but no one had any idea how they were going to help when they got to Sunnydale.
In the meantime in Sunnydale Willow turned away from the kitchen phone just as Xander and Anya entered. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an on-coming car.
"Xander! I didn't hear you come in."
"Will, what did you do?"
"You know what she did, Xander," Anya told him; "she called Angel to come and help Buffy."
Willow looked at Xander expecting him to be upset because she went behind his back to call Angel.
Instead Xander said, "Good. That's good."
Willow was confused. "Good? I thought you would be upset."
"Will, I want Buffy to get better and I'm for anything and anybody that can help that happen, even if it's Angel."
Buffy knew when Angel entered Sunnydale; her internal "Angel Alert" went off and she sat straight up in her bed. There was no way she could continue trying to rest knowing he was near. She walked over to the mirror on her dresser, looked at herself and thought ruefully, 'I hope he doesn't run when he sees me.' She said a quick prayer as she prepared herself to exit her bedroom. 'Please help me to get through this.' She didn't know whether or not anyone was listening, she certainly hoped so. Just before she opened the door, she heard, Kendra's voice.
"Don't worry, Buffy; we're with you."
She looked up and saw her friends in the higher realms – Kendra, Jenny, Alonna, her cousin, Celia and her mother, Joyce and the sight of them gave her courage.
"Thanks, you guys; I knew that I could count on you."
She opened the door and headed for the stairs that lead down to her living room.
Outside Angel pulled his car up in front of the Summers house, got out and headed for the door, leaving the rest of his AI team to follow.
He entered the house just as Buffy came down the stairs. Upon seeing her his automatic response was to approach her, to take her into his arms and hold her, but she threw her arms up across her body in a defensive posture and backed away from him.
"Don't, please, don't touch me, I can't stand it."
"See," Willow told Angel; "she's like that with everybody. She's been like that for days, ever since we brought her back from hell and no matter what I try, it doesn't help."
Angel looked at the slayer; he couldn't see her eyes because her head was down so he reached out to her with his vampire senses. This was Buffy all right, but she did not have the smell of death and hell covering her. She smelled like … 'Oh gods, it can't be true; please don't let it be true.'
"Willow, how did you know where to find Buffy? Why did you think she was in hell?"
All eyes turned to the witch; no one in Sunnydale had even considered that Buffy might not've been in hell, after all, Willow knew what she was doing.
"What? She jumped into that portal to Glori's dimension; where else would she have gone?"
At this point Cordelia spoke up and said, "In other words you assumed; you made an assumption and acted on it without checking first."
Wesley was appalled. "Why would the soul of a slayer be sent to hell, especially one who had fulfilled her duty for six years and who died to save others? The Powers wouldn't do that."
By now Willow wasn't so sure that her reasoning had been as sound as she first thought, but she was not willing to admit that she had made such a gross error in judgment. "I was trying to save her from being tormented in some hell dimension; I couldn't just leave her there when I had the power to get her out."
In a round about way it was Anya who came to Willow's defense. "We should never have done that spell. I told you we shouldn't have helped her. She couldn't have done the spell by herself, so we are all to blame. We were so anxious to have Buffy back, we just accepted that Willow was right."
"I was right; I know that she was in hell just like Angel was. You'd think she'd be grateful to be back, but she acts as though we've done her some great dis-service. Angel, since you know what it's like to spend time in hell, we thought maybe you could help her."
Buffy couldn't take it any longer. "Stop. Please stop. You don't know what you're talking about. I didn't go to hell or to a hell dimension or to anything like that. I went to heaven itself. Compared to heaven, this … earth … is the worst kind of hell."
The others in the room were shocked silent at her words.
"So don't stand there and tell me I should be grateful to be back. I'm not. Just getting through the next minute, the next second, is torture."
Buffy was trembling. She interlaced her fingers and brought her hands up to her chest as she bent her head to rest her chin on her hands.
"Uhmm..." Closing her eyes she moaned as severe pain coursed through her entire body; it was as though every fiber of her being was on fire. She took long slow breaths trying to force herself to be calm, hoping it would ease the pain. She opened her eyes again and spoke softly.
"I'm sorry. It's just that ... feeling ... these clothes, … hearing … your voices, is torture to me, and all I can do is hope that I can go back to where I was. Don't you see? There is no way for me to be grateful for what you all did, regardless of your intentions."
She turned to Willow specifically. "Please don't try using your magic on me again; it won't work, … and I don't like it."
"You know that I've used magic on you?"
"Several times. I didn't know what it was at first; … it felt like something was scratching at my skin, at my mind, … trying to get inside. When I realized what it was, I just turned it off."
"You turned it off?" Willow was offended. "What do you mean you turned it off?"
"I blocked it, so at least that doesn't hurt me anymore. Now it's just an annoyance. I hope that eventually I'll be able to turn everything else off so that things don't hurt me any more, but for right now all sounds – noises, voices, even the softest music – hurt me so much I can barely stand it. Clothes, bedding, human touch all feel worse than sandpaper scraping against my skin."
Willow could feel the power of her magic within herself and tiny sparks sizzled from her fingertips as she tried to control her emotions. "An annoyance? What the hell do you mean an annoyance?"
"Willow, back off," Tara said with some urgency.
"She can't just turn off my magic. Are you saying that you're on her side?"
"This isn't about sides, Will; this is about what's right and what's not. Anya's right; we should never have done that spell. Can't you see what she is? She has some kind of glamour on herself so that we won't be hurt by the sight of her."
Buffy showed a faint hint of a smile at Tara, the first any of them had seen from her since her return. She walked over to Tara and gently touched her index finger to Tara's cheek. Tara felt a warm glow spread throughout her body; she nodded at Buffy and returned her smile, but she didn't say anything.
Anya approached Buffy and looked at her closely. The coins she was holding dropped from her hand and Buffy caught them before they hit the floor as Anya continued to stare at her. Buffy returned the coins to her and Anya took a deep breath.
"We really are hurting you, aren't we? I'm sorry; I should've recognized it before. I'll leave."
"What? Wait. What do you mean you'll leave?" Xander asked Anya and then turned to Buffy. "Why does Anya have to leave?"
Without answering him, Buffy spoke to Anya, "Open your hand."
Anya did so revealing the coins that were just returned to her. Buffy briefly touched one of the coins and a soft light spread from them and through Anya's whole body. A bright smile lit Anya's face and she said, "Thank you," as she stepped away from the slayer.
"What did she do to you," Xander asked Anya.
"I could always feel remnants of the vengeance demon within me, even though I didn't have any of its power; she removed that. Now, for the first time, I feel completely human. I understand things so much better. I can see why you kept correcting me and why people found me so annoying."
Anya's happiness showed by the smile on her face.
Buffy then addressed the group gathered in her living room. "I have tried to reserve my strength over the past few days because there is something that I need to say to each of you before I leave."
"Leave? Buffy, don't go; please don't leave me again." Dawn couldn't control the tears.
She touched Dawn's hand with her right index finger before she spoke. "The key's energy has been returned to its source. You have a choice, stay here or join the rest of your family."
Dawn suddenly remembered her real family, her parents and her baby brother. She squealed with joy. "I want to join my family."
Buffy touched her again and she disappeared.
Xander asked, "Where did Dawn go?"
"To join her family – her real family. When the monks created her, they simply reached for a human soul, they didn't care whose. Since she had just died, her soul was easiest to reach."
"Who is Dawn," Willow wanted to know.
Xander thought for a moment and replied, "I don't know who Dawn is. I don't know why I asked that."
With Dawn's disappearance, the remembrance of her in the minds of most of the people who knew her also disappeared. Only Buffy remembered her.
Since she was standing closest to her, Buffy addressed Cordelia first. "You must pursue the right goals, Cordy; then, and only then, will you be successful and happy."
"Thank you Buffy. I have to decide what those goals are, don't I?"
"Yes. You do."
She then spoke to Gunn: "Continue your fight, Charles Gunn. Alonna asked me to tell you that she is very proud of you. She and your parents sent you a little gift." She touched his hand quickly.
Gunn felt as if he had been physically and mentally super charged. "Whoa!" He smiled but didn't let the others know what had happened to him. "Tell them I said thanks and they'd better be good up there."
Buffy looked up and gave a little smile. "I'm not telling him that."
"1 can just imagine what they said," Gunn told Buffy who smiled again.
Wesley was next. "You are on the right course, Wesley. Stay there; your contribution does not go unnoticed."
Wesley was almost speechless. Had the Powers noticed him? "Thank you, Buffy. I will continue to do my best."
She stared at Fred for long moments, then spoke to her in her mind. "You have a decision to make. Choose wisely. If you choose poorly, you will hurt all three of you in the long run."
Fred knew what she was talking about, she was just torn regarding the decision she had to make. She loved Gunn and Wesley; how could she choose between them?
Willow knew when it was her turn. She felt uneasy about hearing the advice that Buffy had for her because she had a good idea what it would be and she was not sure she could take Buffy's recommendations. She did not want her magic restricted. She had come so far in a short period of time. Buffy's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Willow, you must learn to control the power of the magic within you or it will destroy you. Go to Giles. He can help you, but you must make the effort to ask for help and you must be willing to accept it; he cannot do it for you."
Willow nodded her head briefly then spoke. "Okay. I'm sorry, Buffy; I thought I was doing the right thing."
"I know, Will. It's just so difficult being back here, knowing what I've lost."
Moving on, Buffy spoke to Xander next. "You don't have to worry, Xander, you will never be like him."
Xander looked at her questioningly at first and then it dawned on him what she meant. He had always worried that he would turn out like his father; Buffy had just assured him that he would not. He almost took a step toward her to give her a thank you hug, but realized what he was doing and stepped back. He merely said, "Thanks, Buff."
She smiled at him briefly, nodded and turned to face her watcher.
"You and Merrick were the best watchers a slayer could have. You are still a watcher; your slayer will be here in a few days. You two need to give each other a second chance."
"Faith?" Giles asked feeling that he already knew the answer.
Buffy confirmed his suspicions with a nod of her head.
Before she could say anything else, Angel spoke up and asked, "What of me, Buffy?"
"I have a message for you too, Angel; the message is this -
"I love you. I am waiting for you; we are waiting for you."
She hesitated for a few moments before speaking again, waiting for him to realize who sent the message. She could tell when he did; he stood a little taller and his eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"S-She has forgiven me? Kathy has forgiven me?"
"They never blamed you; they are proud of you. Make your own decisions, Angel; let your mind and your heart guide you and do not allow others to make decisions for you. You were on the right path for a while, but you've taken some detours. I'm sure that you know what those are. Your work here is not done. Follow your heart and make the decisions that are right for you."
"You are my heart, Buffy."
She lightly touched his chest over his heart. Angel could feel the difference in his body; he knew that his soul was now bound to his body so that he could never lose it. He looked at her.
"This means nothing to me without you."
"If we are meant to be together, then we will find each other again."
"I love you, Buffy"
"I love you, Angel"
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know. I have to learn to live in this world again. I'm not a slayer anymore; I haven't been a slayer since I was drowned by Ness. I just have to figure out how to live with what I am now."
Still chafing from what Buffy said about her magic being an annoyance, Willow did not want to believe what she was saying about not being a slayer.
"What do you mean you haven't been a slayer since you were drowned by Ness? You were as strong as you ever were after Xander revived you."
"No, Willow, after Ness drowned me, I was stronger than before. I had been dead just long enough to receive a small amount of the power that I would eventually receive if I had stayed dead, the power that would help me transition."
She turned to look at the rest of them, ending with Giles as she spoke.
"Didn't any of you wonder why I didn't need any recovery time after being dead for at least a few minutes, why I was on my feet and ready to go instantly? Well that's what I found out this time around."
"So you're saying that you have angel powers now?" Xander asked incredulously.
Without answering him, Buffy said, "Look guys, I don't want to hurt any of you, so I have to go. I really can't stay here."
Angel's heart was breaking. The thought of not seeing Buffy again was still fresh in his mind even after spending months at a monastery in Tibet. Now to learn that she was back and to get his hopes up only to lose her all over again was almost more than he could bear.
"Buffy, is there anything that I, that any of us, can do for you before you leave?"
"No," she said regretfully; "I'm just in so much pain right now, I-I have to get away from here."
"But where will you go, Buffy?" Willow asked. "There're people everywhere you go."
"I know of a place; I just have to get there...umh"
It wasn't until that moment, when she moaned, that the others realized just how much pain she was in.
Angel couldn't stand it.
"I'll take you, wherever you need to go, let me take you ... "
"No. thank you, I-I'll be fine." She looked into his eyes, trying to convey her love and her regret.
Buffy walked shakily to the door, then turned to face her friends.
"Take c-care of yourselves; I-I hope that we s-see each other again. Goodbye."
She walked out and closed the door behind her.
Cordelia's concern showed in her words. "She's in so much pain; I've never seen Buffy like this before."
"She didn't take any weapons or anything and it's nighttime. We'd better …" Gunn started to say but was cut off by Angel.
"It's okay, Gunn; she's already gone."
End of Chapter 1