somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
your slightest look easily will unclose me
or if your wish be to close me, i and
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
--E. E. Cummings
Neitzche once wrote that when you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. While Iím not one to take advice from someone who inspired Adolf Hitler, I can say that he was right on the money with that observation. I have stared into my own abyss many times. Hell, my hometown was built on an abyss. And only now can I tell others about it. And I have to tell the world. It needs to know the truth about her. About Buffy.
Yeah, I remember when it all started. When we fought the greatest battle of our lives, against the monster Adam. The battle that had cost the world its protector, its Slayer.
The one whom I loved more than anyone else in the world, Buffy Summers.
It was over a year ago, and only now do I have the courage to write about her. Who she was, what it was like to lose her, and what I had to go through to find her again.
Before I get bogged down in angsty thoughts, let me just say that my story does have an upbeat ending. Well, not really an ending, per se, since itís not over yet, and I hope it wonít be for a long time. I went through Hell, both literally and figuratively, to get to where I am right now, Iím not going to lose what I have now.
Geez, even when I write I babble.
I guess that the reason Iím telling you that there is a happy ending is because I donít want to lose your interest right away. This is an important story Iím writing, even if it will never see publication in my lifetime. Itís about the most important person, IMHO("in my humble opinion" for those who donít know cyberspeak), of the twentieth century. Her name is Buffy Summers, and you who are reading this story owe her your life. She has literally saved you, not to mention the rest of humanity, from the most terrible evils imaginable. And in the immortal words of Han Solo, "I can imagine quite a bit!"
Reading that last paragraph, it looks like Iím overstating Buffyís life just a tad. Iím not. Buffy Summers has quite literally saved the world at least six times that I know of. If youíre alive today, itís because she has busted her butt to protect the world from the things that go Ďbumpí in the night.
And I of all people can say that. My name is Willow Rosenberg, and Iíve been there beside Buffy from shortly after Day One. Sheís been my friend, my confidante, my sparring partner, my college roommate, and finally my lover.
How does Giles put it? "In every generation there is the Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." That was Buffyís destiny; the Slayer. Yes, virtually every myth, every creature of your nightmares, they all exist, or existed at one time. And my hometown of Sunnydale was Ground Zero for these beasties. Sunnydale was built over a Hellmouth, a portal to Hell which brought forth all manner of nasties. Really bad zoning, right? Apparently these vampires and other demons existed for as long as humanity, if not longer. And as long as humanity existed, a select handful of young women have had the capability to fight off the forces of Hell. And Buffy, I figure, was the best.
How do I know this? Personal experience. Iíve seen her execute moves that would make Michele Yeoh envious, turning whole platoons of vamps into piles of ash with a well placed spike or a volley of crossbow bolts. I could tell you stories about the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins and the Ascension, Belial and Adam, that would freeze your blood. No one had ever faced evils like them before. But Buffy did. She not only faced them, but at the end, she was the only one who walked away from any of them.
Except Adam. She didnít walk away from that one. But thatís getting ahead of myself.
Goddess, it seems like a lifetime ago. Cordelia and her follower Harmony had been giving me grief about my wardrobe again ("the softer side of Sears", my pagan ass!), when a blond woman about my height shows up and tells Cordy and Harmony off! Then she asks me for some help with her homework. That was how I met Buffy. That was about six years ago. The day that my world, or at least my understanding of the world, changed forever.
Soon, I found myself hip-deep in horror-movie extras, watching this same blond girl make like the Terminator, dusting them right and left. Not long after that, I, along with my childhood friend Xander, my werewolf boyfriend Oz, and Xanderís girlfriend Cordelia (yes, the same Cordy, go figure), fought the good fight alongside her. I saw and learned so much then; I met the cursed Angel, Buffyís first love, a vampire with a soul. I faced down the demonic Anya, the rogue slayer Faith, and my own vampiric double. I learned from Gilesí girlfriend, Jenny Calendar(may God give her peace) about my own innate talent for magic, and began the long journey to becoming a true witch. All because a woman named Buffy Summers became my best friend.
Things changed again when we attended college together. Xander didnít have the grades to make it into college then, so he drifted from job to job. Oz and I had drifted apart, he met up with a female werewolf, and even after she died, he decided to leave me. Losing him devastated me briefly, but Buffy was always there. Always ready to give me a shoulder to cry on, even when I was giving off weapons-grade bitchiness. She loved me like no one else, and before long I realized that I loved her. We just were so used to being best friends that it hadnít occurred to us that we were more. But we were. It was during the Belial fiasco that we were able to confide our love for each other, and once the Belial threat was eliminated, Buffy and I began our real relationship. She and I made love for the first time that night, reveling in the new sensations, new pleasures, new emotions we were no longer ashamed to show. We were thick as thieves since then. Inseparable. We made plans during spring quarter to pool our resources to rent an apartment together. To live together.
As usual, however, the Hellmouth had other ideas.
When did it start to go downhill? When Buffy started to investigate the Initiative, a shadow-ops organization that apparently was funded by the government to fight supernatural evils, kind of a vampire X-Files? When Maggie Walsh, the Initiativeís senior commander, set up Buffy to be taken by an army of zombies? When her creation Adam, a cross between a demon and Locutus of Borg, broke free and killed her, then started recruiting all the vampires and demons in Sunnydale to help him destroy humanity?
I think that the blackness really started when Oz returned. He claimed that he had gained control of his werewolf side, and he wanted me back. By this time, Buffy and I were apartment hunting together, so I told him that what we had was long gone, and that I loved Buffy. He smiled, said simply that he understood, wished the two of us luck, and left. I remember Buffy looking at Oz as he left, and the expression on her face was one of supreme doubt. Iíve seen that look before, when what she called her spider-sense started going off. Something was wrong with Oz.
Then came that one day. One very bad day.
Buffy had gotten a hot tip from a mysterious demon named Whistler that Adam was planning something big at the rim of the Hellmouth, just outside of Sunnydale. Naturally the Scooby Gang was with her when she investigated, and Oz was with us. For a little while, it was just like old times; Xander, Oz, Buffy and me. Along with Tara, a good friend of mine, who had helped me gain control and confidence in my wiccan powers. Tara and I had just discovered a spell that would allow us to seal the Hellmouth forever, so Buffyís plan was to push Cyber-creep into the Hellmouth and close it behind him.
Adam, apart from looking like he was cobbled together from a morgueís spare parts, possessed a computer-like mind, complete with a disc-drive on his chest. He absorbed information by downloading discs. I had used my computer hacking skills to encode a special computer virus onto a disc, which Buffy would plant into Adamís drive. The virus would then play havoc with his memory, his motor skills, you name it, giving Buffy the opportunity to send him through the Hellmouth.
Sure enough, there was the Frankenstein monsterís uglier brother using some kind of spell to drain off power from the Hellmouth, power that would make him invincible. We tried to stop him, but an army of demons stood between us and Adam. We had tough going at first, but we managed to thin out the demon horde (we of course meaning Buffy mainly, but the rest of us got our licks in). Finally Buffy confronted Adam, and they traded blows.
Adam fought savagely, intent on the kill, while Buffy took a defensive stance, pacing herself, waiting for Adam to do something stupid. He obliged us by letting his anger get the better of him. He lunged repeatedly at Buffy, telegraphing his attacks enough for Buffy to evade them. Finally, she had enough of this dodge-and-duck game, so she dove low toward Adam, who tried to block her path. She got under him, then with lightning speed she body-checked him with her right shoulder. As he tumbled to the ground, she whipped out the virus disc, and popped it into his drive.
The effect was not unlike microwaving a tin can. He spasmed and jerked around, trying to stand, but Buffy kept kicking him, each blow sending him backward, toward the Hellmouth aperture he had erected. I clearly remember seeing her smile and hearing her quip, "Tell the Master Buffy says Ďhií," before delivering the final blow, the one that sent Adam back to Hell.
Once Adam was swallowed by the Hellmouth, Tara and I recited the spell. The spell was working, the aperture was collapsing, and the Hellmouth was closing, when it happened.
Oz, who had been fighting off demons with Xander, suddenly assumed a transitional form, between human and wolf, and jumped Buffy. "You shouldnít have taken what wasnít yours, Buff," he growled. "Donít worry, little girl, Iíll take good care of Willow!"
I stood there, thunderstruck, disbelieving what I was seeing. Oz, the sweetest, kindest, most gentle man I had ever known, had gone all Hannibal Lechter on the woman I loved. "Oz!" I pleaded with him. "What are you doing?"
"Adam and I cut a deal, Wills," he snarled evilly at me, grabbing Buffy by the throat. "I betray Buffy, heíd give you to me as a gift. It seems that Adam lost, so Plan B. Youíre mine, Willow, and this dyke whore wonít take you away from me!"
Xander charged at Oz, but the werewolf brushed him aside easily, clawing him hard on the side. Xander landed on the ground with all the grace of a wounded hippopotamus, rolling in pain. Seeing Buffy struggling against Ozís grip, Xander wounded by Oz, and the look of madness in his eyes, finally triggered me to act. With a scream of rage, I ran at Oz, intent on clawing his eyes out. His laughter was like the baying of a mad dog at the moon. He knocked me aside with his free arm, and as I landed on my butt, he lifted Buffy off the ground and hurled her into the closing Hellmouth. I ran to the aperture, desperate to grab Buffy, to somehow pull her out, but the aperture closed behind her. And Oz just stood there, proud of his betrayal.
He turned toward me, and grinned wickedly, his teeth sharp and glistening with his saliva. "You belong to me, Willow," he barked, stalking closer to me. His eyes glowed with unearthly power, with lust, with evil. The Oz I knew and once loved didnít live in that beast anymore. Laying on the ground where I had landed, I grasped around me, looking for a weapon, anything to put down this mad dog. There was nothing, not even a small stake. I tried to crawl away from him, but he pinned me with his knees, and began to leer at me. In terror, I held on to the only thing I had left of Buffy, my half of the Mizpah coin we shared, the piece of silver jewelry that signified our bond, our love for each other. The bond that had been severed by Ozís treachery.
A piece of silver.
I yanked it off of my neck, and used the edge of the coin to slash at Ozís face. He reeled in pain, jumping back away from me. "You slut!" he screamed, "Iíll kill you for that!"
"You already killed me!" I shouted, wielding the coin like a knife in front of me. "You took Buffy away from me! The Oz I knew wouldnít do that!"
"The Oz you know is dead," he growled, charging at me again.
"Well, why donít you join him?" I cried, throwing myself into a flying tackle. I pounded him back, into the ground, then before he had the time to get back up, I dug into his neck with the coin. I slashed deeply, hitting the carotid artery, and his lifeblood gushed out like a torrent. Within seconds, he had died.
I was only vaguely aware of events after that. I knew that Tara was tending to Xanderís wounds, while Giles had pulled me away from the werewolfís corpse. They had taken me back to Gilesí house, tended to my scratches and tried to feed me. I remembered to bathe, to clean myself, to pee when I had to, that was it. For two days, I existed in a hazy half-life state. Finally, the enormity of what had happened hit me; Oz, the first person I truly loved, had betrayed us, only to die at my hands.
And Buffy Summers, the one I loved more than anyone else, was gone forever.
I was aware of Giles holding me as I cried. His support, his caring, were the only things keeping me from falling into the abyss. Xander had been standing there beside him, offering what little support he could, as was Tara. I just wept bitterly, not knowing what would happen tomorrow, and not wanting to know. Sure, we had saved the world, once again, allowed humanity to sleep peacefully as another demonic threat was eliminated.
None of it mattered.
All I knew was that I had lost the love of my life. I had lost Buffy.
To my knowledge, no one attended the burial of Daniel ĎOzí Ozbourne. I had visited his grave once, since then, to spit on it.
Buffyís parents were together for her memorial service. It was the first time that I had met her father. He wouldnít even look at me. I donít know if he simply disapproved of Buffy and I being lovers, or whether he blamed me for her death. He didnít need to, I was blaming myself for it plenty. I donít think that Joyce had said ten words to the man during the whole time he was here.
Giles delivered a eulogy for the fallen Slayer, and I could see the tear tracks on his face. He hadnít been this distraught since Angelus killed his girlfriend Jenny. When I took the podium to speak of my beloved, I recited a poem, ĎFuneral Bluesí, by W. H. Auden, with some slight pronoun changes for gender;
"Turn off the clocks and disconnect the phone.
Let airplanes circle mournfully overhead,
She was my north, my south, my east, my west,
The stars are not needed, shut off every one.
Joyce Summers led me off the podium as I wept again. She invited me to stay with her if I needed to, but I declined. I just wanted to be alone, and I couldnít take her sympathy, not when it was my fault that she had lost her daughter.
I had convinced Buffy that Oz was okay, that he was still one of us. I had no idea that he would turn against us, that he would sell us out to claim me. He was obsessed with me, and had used our old relationship to get close enough to Buffy to stab her in the back. I may as well have taken a gun to her temple and pulled the trigger. I was as responsible for Buffyís death as anyone. And all I could do was blame myself.
I had continued to blame myself for months after that, making myself more miserable with each passing day. Eventually the numbness wore off, and I had managed to go on with some semblance of a life. I returned to college, continuing my criminology major, but I dropped the wicca practice. I had given up on the idea of using my witchcraft to help others, I knew that I was no good at it. All the magic in the world couldnít save Buffy, could it?
It wasnít until nearly a year after Buffyís final battle that my battle had really begun. And what I thought was the end, was just the beginning.
"Cause itís a Bittersweet Symphony, this life;
I wonít change that, never change that, canít change, I canít change,
I had just moved in to the new place. I had decorated it myself; earth tones mostly, dark greens and browns, warm and friendly colors, a mountain of paisley throw pillows on the couch, Coca-Cola ad art in the kitchen, my computer in the bedroom, all the comforts of home. All in all, I thought, the place was shaping up nicely.
There was just one element that was missing. One element that would always be missing. Buffy.
Just after the funeral, Joyce (it still feels weird calling her Joyce, after all these years.) gave me a box containing some of Buffyís things, things she thought that Buffy would want me to have. Her CD collection, some old books and movie videos, the sweater I had given her for her 19th birthday(the only one we got to celebrate before Adam), and Mr. Gordo, her stuffed pig. I had taken to sleeping with Mr. Gordo in my arms. A poor surrogate for his former owner, but he was all I had of her.
I hadnít actively sought companionship after losing Buffy, and I knew that I wouldnít. Buffy was the one true love of my life, I realized that as I lost her. No one would ever touch my heart, my soul, as deeply as she did. So I threw myself into college, into my work. I had taken an at-home job with a small software company called Cybermancers Media, a company that specialized in applications software and fantasy-themed computer games. I made a little bit as one of their regular beta-testers, helping to work out the bugs in their new products. I also created a role-playing game based on the movie "Buckaroo Bansai" (a guilty pleasure of my childhood), which, surprisingly enough, became the companyís biggest seller. I was paid handsomely for the game, and used the money to purchase the townhouse where I now lived. I figured Iíd better cover my nut, and living rent-free has its advantages. Beta-testing doesnít pay a whole hell of a lot, but itís better than most Ďjoe jobsí. Plus Cybermancers wanted me to design more software for them.
I had just placed a neon-blue lava lamp(Xanderís housewarming gift)on a shelf in the living room, when the doorbell chimed(a Westminster chime, came with the house). I answered the door, and was greeted by a hug from Tara. "Beware of Wiccans bearing gifts," she announced cheerily, her voice like a sleigh bell. She shoved a large gift box into my arms, saying, "Good to see you, friend."
"Tara," I said, pleased at her appearance. "Howíve you been?"
"Not bad, Willow," she answered. "So you gonna open the box or what?"
"Oh, yeah," I suddenly remembered the package. I tore off the bright wrapping paper and lifted the lid off the box. Nestled within the Styrofoam peanuts was a clay statue of the Earth Goddess, a rotund figure with huge round breasts. Glazed in a smooth chocolate brown with beige highlights. "A good luck totem," Tara explained, "to bless this house."
"Itís beautiful," I answered, touched by her thoughtfulness. "Here, let me find a suitable place for it," I added, clearing away part of the coffee table, displaying the Goddess prominently in the center of the living room. "Howís that?"
"Perfect," Tara announced. "Even matches your color scheme. So, when do I get the fifty-cent tour?"
"Sure," I answered, taking her by the hand, and leading her through the house. I showed her my bedroom, the computer station, the kitchen, all the basic stuff. I had told her about my job as a beta-tester, about my college courses, my family. She told me about her folks, her studies, the major events of her life.
"Iíve missed you, Willow," she said as we faced each other on the sofa while munching on a vegetarian pizza. "Missed hanging out, doing spells with you. Hey, thereís a new coven opening up on campus, why donít you join?"
I turned away from her as she made her offer. "Iím not into the magic scene these days. I kinda gave it up after Buffy..."
"Hey, Willow," Tara placed her hand on mine. "Buffy wouldnít want you to mourn forever. Youíve got to move on."
"I have, Tara," I said, semi-convincingly. "Iím still going to school, Iíve got a good job, Iím happy with my life."
I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Willow, look at me," she whispered. "Iím your friend, I know you. Youíve seen so much in your life, such evil, such terror. But youíve overcome it all, and kept that special something that still makes you who you are. But Iím worried about you. Youíve been growing apart from the rest of us. Whenís the last time you saw Giles? Or Xander? Theyíre your friends, donít shut them out now."
"I havenít shut them out!" I replied, maybe a little too loudly. I saw Tara flinch as I shouted, so I lowered my voice. "I still see them. I just saw Xander two weeks ago. He said he was fine, that he was doing well in community college. Hey, he just called yesterday, and he wants me to meet him at the Bronze today."
"Any reason given?" Tara asked.
"No, heís gone all Ďitís a surpriseí on me."
"Well," Tara asked, "are you going?"
I stalled, not sure what to say. "I dunno, Tara," I finally admitted. "I havenít been there in months."
"I understand," she answered. I felt her hand gently massaging my shoulder, and sensed her lips closer to mine. "But you should get out of your shell sometime. It isnít healthy to lock yourself away from the world. Please, Willow, let me help you."
Moved by her genuine concern, I leaned forward into a friendly hug. "Iím glad youíre my friend, Tara," I whispered. She didnít say anything to me, she just held me, the way I needed to be held. She leaned her head toward mine, and I could just barely feel her lips pressing against my neck. I found myself leaning toward her face, and before I knew it, her mouth was on mine.
I had never touched anyone since losing Buffy. I found that I missed that contact. And it would have been so easy to surrender to Taraís ministrations. She was clearly eager to continue. I had been aware of her attraction to me from the first time we met. And once I even entertained returning her affection. But she knew, and I knew that my heart belonged to Buffy.
I guess it still did, even one year later.
Before the kiss could increase in intensity, I backed off. "I canít," I said feebly, as I got off the couch. "It wouldnít be fair, not to you."
"Willow," she argued, "all we did was kiss."
"Yeah, all we did," I answered. "But if we had gone from there...I..." I stopped my train of thought, before I could start babbling incoherently (always one of my greatest faults, although Buffy had told me more than once that she found it endearing), and started over; "Look, Tara, youíre my friend, and yes, youíre as sexy as all get out, but I canít and wonít use you as a substitute Buffy. Please, Iím sorry, just donít...just donít."
Tara said nothing for a few seconds, and I was afraid that I had hurt her. Finally, she just smiled sadly at me and said, "I understand, Willow. And Iím glad that you think that Iím sexy. The truth is that I have always been attracted to you. I would love nothing more than for you to carry me off to your bedroom and have your way with me. But youíre right. I wouldnít take advantage of you that way. But maybe someday, when the hurt is less," she added, with just a hint of pleading in her eyes, "youíll consider giving me a try?"
I looked at her, considering her offer. "Maybe," I sighed, "but I wouldnít get your hopes up."
"Hey," she half-laughed. "What are hopes for if not to be raised?" She patted me on the back, just a friendly kind of touch, and said, "Címon, Willow, Iím taking you to the Bronze, even if I gotta hog-tie you to get you there. And before you say anything, no, Iím not into bondage!"
"Yeah right, ĎTara, Mistress of Painí? I donít see it." I laughed at her comment, and was grateful to be able to laugh. "Okay, let me get my jacket."
It had been over six months since I had last stepped into the Bronze, and nearly fifteen minutes after I walked in, I was ready to get out. Six months ago, I had tried to put up a brave front and go on with my life. As soon as I had entered the Bronze then, I noticed the band playing. The former members of Ozís old band the Dingoes had regrouped under a new lead singer and a new name, Evil Petting Zoo. Watching Ozís old friends brought Oz back to my mind, and I wanted to vomit. To think that I had let him touch me, kiss me, make love to me. To remember how he hurt me when he left, and then how he betrayed us all by killing Buffy. I had to run from the Bronze immediately, and I couldnít set foot in it since.
I finally screwed my courage to the sticking-place, and entered the Bronze. At first it wasnít bad. A deejay was handling the music that night, and the dance floor was packed with young people, singles, couples and groups, all having fun. I tried to dance myself, and found that I liked it. "Smooth", Santanaís duet with Rob Thomas was playing, and I was starting to feel no pain. That was the ticket, I thought, just shake and shimmy it off. For a few minutes, hearing Matchbox 20 and Lauren Hill, life was good again.
Then they had to play that damn Pearl Jam song. Their cover of Wilson Frankís "Last Kiss". The refrain stabbed at me like a knife to the heart;
"Oh where, oh where, can my baby be?
It had occurred to me then that I didnít even have that option. Buffy wouldnít be waiting for me in Heaven, thanks to Oz. She was in Hell, because of his actions. I could only hope that she had a good view of his suffering in Hell as well. Maybe if I became evil--oh Goddess, what was I thinking?
Tara noticed my face when the Pearl Jam song played. She took my arm and led me to a table, saying, "Oh no you donít, Wills. Youíre not bailing out now. Weíll wait for Xander here." She sat me down on a pile of cushions, and signaled for a waiter. "Two spring waters, please," she ordered, and the waiter left.
Trying to ignore the song, I glanced around the room, taking in the time-honored occupation of people-watching. Several couples hit the floor, most hetero, one consisting of two girls. I remembered fondly how Buffy and I would burn up the dance floor together, not caring what people thought of us. We occasionally had to deal with some mean-spirited homophobe or pervert who wanted to make it a threesome, but never any threats of violence or truly hateful gestures. I smiled as I saw the two girls gyrated on the floor, oblivious to all but each other. Me and Buffy, we were like that. So in tune with each otherís moods, each otherís thoughts, each otherís bodies. When we danced together, when we held each other, when we made love, it was like a symphony. Each movement orchestrated, yet we were always able to ad-lib, to improvise, and to pick up from each otherís improvisations. It was like unto a work of art.
The memory of her love would still sustain me. It had to. It was all I had left.
"Hey, Willow, look," Tara pointed excitedly. "Giles." I followed the path of her finger, and sure enough, there was our favorite Watcher (that is to say, the only member of the Watcherís Council that we Scoobs didnít despise!), looking quite out of place amid the younger, and more casually dressed, clientele. He still had his genetic disposition for tweed, his old jacket with the leather patches at the elbows must have been hot under the bright lights of the Bronze. He looked around nervously, found us, and moved toward our seats.
"Giles?" I asked, amazed to see him here.
"Yes, I received a message from Xander to meet him here," he admitted, sliding his finger under the collar of his shirt. "So," he added, looking around. "This is the Bronze? So named, no doubt, because you could smelt bronze in this heat."
"Hey," Tara teased him, "you see anyone else wearing tweed?"
"Take the jacket off," I suggested, "youíll be a lot more comfortable."
"Iíll take the jacket off," Giles said, "but I donít think Iíll be any more comfortable." He removed his jacket, placed it on the back of a chair, and sat down. "Believe me, this doesnít change my opinion of your generationís approach to music," he added, having to raise his voice to be heard, even out of the way of the amplifiers as we were.
"Is it not the duty of each generation to annoy the previous generation with their style of music, dress and other tastes?" someone asked behind us. Tara and I turned toward the familiar voice, and thatís when we saw him.
Xander, wearing a pale blue short-sleeved shirt.
And a badge.
And an empty gun holster.
Gilesí jaw was hanging freely from his face, while Taraís eyes were bugging out of their sockets. "Oh my goddess," she whispered. She stood up, appraised Xanderís uniform, and smiled gleefully. "Xander! You joined the Village People!" She laughed loudly, and started waving her hands above her head, singing; "Itís fun to stay at the Y---M, C, A!"
"Funny, Tara," Xander answered, smiling. "Seriously, people, as of today, I am Officer Alexander Harris of the Sunnydale PD!"
"You serious?" I asked. "Youíre not pulling our legs?"
"Not even a slight tug," Xander answered. "Iím now a cop. I entered the police academy six months ago, just after I passed my high school equivalency tests. Whaddya think?"
Tara, Giles and I just glanced at each other, appraising each otherís looks. Giles then stood up, and grasped Xanderís hand firmly. "Congratulations, boy," he announced. "I want you to know that I am inordinately proud of you."
"Yeah, so am I," I added, my mouth finally catching up with my brain. Tara also shook his hand, saying, "Youíll make a fine officer, Xander."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Tara," Xander said, smiling. I could see it in his eyes, his stance, his posture. He hadnít just decided two weeks ago that he was going to be a cop, this was something that he was determined to make happen, and it did. Ever since his demon-girlfriend Anya disappeared after the final battle with Adam (ĎGood Riddanceí I thought), I was afraid that Xander would be even more directionless than I was. But instead, apparently, he used her departure as the impetus to finally change his life. I had been aware that he was attending the community college to achieve his GURs (General Undergraduate Requirements), but I had no idea that he was attending the police academy as well. I guess if you get kicked in the butt enough times, you start to get moving.
"Iím not on duty now, so I left my service revolver in a safe at home. I just kept the uniform on to show you guys. Yeah, Iím walking the beat at nights right now," Xander explained as we sat down and talked further. "No glamour, but after dealing with vampires on a regular basis, itís the proverbial walk in the park. Besides, now that the Hellmouthís closed for good, I needed to feel useful again. And wearing this uniform somehow does that for me. Itís hard to explain, really. Itís like I finally feel like I belong on this planet, like Iím not just visiting. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah," I answered ruefully. Ever since losing Buffy, I thought much the same thing about myself. When was I going to finally feel like my being here was justified?
A crash of glass from the skylight shattered my latest go-round of self pity, as a figure plunged down from the roof onto the dance floor. The figure stood up, glared at the dancers, and morphed into its game face. A vampire. Even though the Hellmouth was no longer a going concern, there were still a few odd vampires around. I knew that Giles was taking care of most of them, mostly inexperienced newbies, or weakened by lack of blood. This one, however, looked like a veteran. Obviously one who knew its business. It grabbed at one of the girls on the floor, and held her in a hammerlock. "Nobody moves, nobody dies!" it shouted. "Iím just gonna take my girlfriend out for a walk, nobody follows me. Got it?"
The girl, a young (I guessed 18) Asian featured young woman, smiled at her assailant, and said, "Got it!" She then threw the beast over her, and into the wall. She then withdrew a wooden stake and easily impaled the monster. The vampire was quickly reduced to ash, and the crowd looked aghast at what they had seen.
The young woman turned toward us, and smiled at us. Walking toward our seats, she nodded, saying, "You must be the Scooby Gang. My watcherís told me so much about you. Oh, Iím Sandra Ogawa. The new Slayer. My watcher should be around here somewhere, she wanted to observe me in action."
"Indeed," a rich, chocolate voice rang out behind Sandra. Emerging from the crowd was a svelte black woman, mid-thirties I guessed. Her voice was lightly accented in British, and her walk was confident. She regarded us with a look of amusement, and then turned toward Giles. "Hello, Ripper," she greeted the surprised ex-Watcher.
Giles blinked as he recognized the new Watcher. "Denise! My word, itís good to see you."
"Surprisingly enough, Rupert," she smiled sweetly, "the feelingís mutual."
We all stood around, looking at the two Watchers, until finally Xander, in his unique style, said, "Iím going out on a limb here; you two know each other."
"Indeed we do," Giles answered, slightly flustered as he realized that we were in the room with him. He started to introduce us; "Willow, Tara, Xander, this formidable woman is Denise Parkinson, the youngest person ever named to the Watcherís Council."
"And," she added, "the first to leave it voluntarily. But by no means the last." This revelation surprised Giles even further. "Oh yes, Giles. The Watcherís Council is in disarray. Thatís one of the reasons I came here. But perhaps we could talk somewhere where the decibel level is below that of a jet engine at full throttle."
"A capital idea," he answered. "Let us adjourn to my townhouse."
"...So the Watcherís Council renounced Quentinís actions in the Belial Incident, as they called it," Denise explained. "They told the rest of the Watchers and Slayers in training that Quentin acted independently of the Council, and that they would never condone one of their own making a pact with a demon." We all shivered at the thought; Xander, Giles and myself were present when Quentin and the demon Belial hammered out the contract that would have given Sunnydale over to the Hellmouth. If it werenít for a time-traveling Buffy from the future, Belial would have unleashed the forces of the Hellmouth on the world.
"You believe them?" Giles asked, his voice tinged with skepticism.
"I wouldnít believe them if they said that water was wet," Denise barked. "Increasingly, Iíve been finding evidence that the Council has been more interested in controlling their Slayers, not aiding them. Take the case of Sandra here. A year and a half ago, they tried to force me to inject her with muscle relaxant, to weaken her for some rite of passage. The muscle relaxant would probably have killed her. Thatís when I decided to leave the council, and take Sandra with me. Too many lies, half-truths, cover-ups. And judging from what Iíve heard, Iím not the only one who feels that way. Indeed many Watchers have defected, to strike out on their own. I have no wish for the Council to undermine Sandraís efforts. Sandra has proven to be an effective Slayer, one of whom I am quite proud..."
"Please, Ms. Parkinson," Sandra blushed. "Not in front of the Scooby Gang."
Denise snickered at Sandraís embarrassment. "Anyway, one of the reasons that I came here was to speak with you, Rupert. I wish to discuss rebuilding the Watcherís Council. You are one of the few senior watchers I can respect, even if you no longer hold that title personally. The Council needs to be reorganized."
Giles seemed genuinely moved by her entreaty. "I appreciate your thinking of me in that regard," Giles stated. "I have no desire to return to England, however..."
"Who said the Council has to be located in England?" Denise asked. "Itís that blind devotion to tradition and ritual that has kept the Council grounded in the Dark Ages. With modern communications, with the Internet, there wouldnít be the need for the senior Watchers to be away from the action, so to speak."
"Watch it, Parkinson," Xander quipped. "Youíre talking to the last of the red hot Luddites over here."
"Yes, his hatred of modern technology has become the stuff of legends," Denise joked. I started to like her immediately, which surprised me, considering my opinions about the Watcherís Council in general.
"Actually," she continued, "Giles has become something of a legend among the rank and file himself, him and Buffy. The senior Watchers may have had little use for you, but you are much admired among your peers. Thatís why I hope that youíll consider my proposal. If you were to be instrumental in reconstructing the Council, many of the other Watchers would follow your lead."
Giles pursed his lips and hummed thoughtfully. "An intriguing offer, Denise. I will have to consider it."
"Thatís all I ask, Rupert."
"So, how about you, Sandra?" Tara asked, leaning in closer. "When did you become a slayer?"
"About two years ago," Sandra answered. She hadnít spoken much before now. A bit of a quiet one, she was. "All I knew was that some--thing was attacking my mother, then Iím making like Keanu Reeves from ĎThe Matrixí."
"Okay," Xander figured it out. "She must have become the next slayer when Buffy sent Faith into a coma." Giles nodded in agreement, recalling Buffyís battle with the psycho- slayer.
"Do you enjoy being a slayer?" Tara asked. I could sense that she was starting to like this new slayer.
"Iíll admit, itís not the life I signed on for," Sandra said. "But once I got started, I began to feel a responsibility. And from what Denise has told me, reading me the reports on Buffy Summers, Iíve kind of taken to her as a role model. I was sorry to hear of her passing, but I can only hope that I can follow in her footsteps."
"Just remember to brush up on your jokes," Xander offered. "It ainít enough to slay vampires, you gotta humiliate Ďem."
"And donít forget to name your favorite stake," Tara offered. "Buffy called hers Mr. Pointy." I sat there silently, watching as my friends slipped effortlessly into their old roles. Like they hadnít gotten out of high school.
"And you, Mr. Giles," Sandra asked, "what would you advise?"
"Me? Well," Giles pondered the question. "Listen to your Watcher. But first, listen to your instincts. Buffy was never afraid to let me know when she thought that I was wrong. Trust your instincts. Theyíre youíre greatest asset as a Slayer. Theyíll never let you down."
"Thank you Mr. Giles," Sandra then turned to me. "And you, Willow? I understand that you were closer to Buffy than anyone else. Would you have any advice for me?"
I looked at her, amazed that she would ask me, the one who got Buffy killed in the first place, for advice. I just kept looking at her, until I started to chuckle. My chuckle quickly turned into a maniacal laugh, as everything Iíve kept bottled up for the last year just spilled over like bad yeast.
"You want my advice?" I said, my voice rising with every word. "Iíll give you some advice. Go home. Go back to where you came from. Get the hell out of Dodge. Forget you ever met us, forget you ever heard of Watchers, or Slayers, or vampires or any of that crap because all itíll get you is an early grave! It doesnít matter, none of it does! Youíll get killed by some random vamp or werewolf or something, then another slayer will show up, and it all starts over again! IT DOESNíT MATTER!"
It wasnít until I noticed Tara removing her hands from her ears that I realized that I was shouting at the top of my lungs. I looked around at the others, seeing shock, hurt, concern and pity in their eyes. I couldnít take it, not the pity. I had to get out. Not saying a word, I grabbed my coat, and rushed out the door. I didnít know where I was going, nor did I care.
I just had to get away.