Giles tipped the driver as he stepped out of the cab. Standing in front of the cozy cottage before him, Giles once again cleaned his glasses. From what he could hear from where he stood, the house was full of activity. Shouts and girlish giggles floated from within. Obviously, the scoobies and their slayers had arrived already. The former Watcher took a deep breath and mounted the stairs, trying not to think of the butterflies that filled his stomach at the moment. Taking a deep breath, he pressed the doorbell.
“I got it!” a young voice called out. The door swung open to reveal a young black girl with braids reaching to her shoulders and a certain power in her warm brown gaze. Slayer power. She seemed to be nineteen years old. Years older then Buffy had been when she was first called. “Who are you?” She stared at him warily. Obviously, she knew better then to invite strange men in. Somehow, this fact made Giles feel proud of the work that he and the others were doing. They were training the girls to be alert at all times and sometimes a friendly face can be the most dangerous.
“Jada, who is….Giles!” Willow flew past the girl and into his arms. “You’re here!”
“Willow,” Giles greeted his voice tight with emotion. He had no idea that he had missed the children as much as he did. However, seeing them now made his heart burst with unsurpassed joy. This was what he had been missing in England...the feeling of coming home.
“G-man!” Xander joined the reunion, wrapping his arms around both Giles and Willow just as Buffy and Pike entered from the kitchen.
“Is this a private party or can anyone join in?” Buffy smiled, watching the tearful reunion. She could not help but to feel warm and secure with Giles arrival. He was closer to her then her own father and to have him here meant not only knowledge of what they were facing, but a sense of security as well.
Giles pulled away from Willow and Xander so he could finally set eyes on his slayer. He smiled. She was even more beautiful now then she was the last time he saw her. “Buffy.” His arms automatically opened to her, and she rushed in, holding on to him for dear life. Yes, the hell mouth had returned, but everything would be fine now. Giles was here and that meant that they were all going to come through this in one piece.
“I’ve missed you,” Buffy pulled away, basking in his fatherly presence.
Pike stepped up. He felt a bit uncomfortable and left out. All these new arrivals were kind of wigging him out. Buffy had a group now that he had no part of in the past years. How was he going to fit into her life now? “Buffy? Mind introducing me to your friend here?”
Buffy looked at Pike after releasing Giles and blushed. She had failed to tell Pike about her new watcher and the close relationship they shared. He had only known Merrick and there was not enough time to form a bond there. “This isn’t a friend. He’s family. Pike, meet my watcher, Giles. Giles, this is Pike. An old friend from LA.”
Giles just nodded in greeting, eyeing the young man’s appearance. Pike was not at all like the young people Buffy usually called friends in the past. However, of course, LA was a lot different then Sunnydale. Besides, who was he to judge? He remembered his sense of fashion back in his Ripper days.
“He was there when I was first called,” Buffy explained, feeling the need to explain Pike’s presence. “He kind of brought me back to my senses after Merrick died.”
“It’s good to meet you Spike…I mean Pike,” Giles face glowed red with embarrassment.
“Giles, it’s not hard to tell them apart,” Dawn giggled, as she came down the stairs. “Spike’s the good looking one.”
“Dawn!” Buffy yelled at her sister, a twinge of sadness mixed in with the annoyance in her voice as she glared at her sister.
“Sorry, but it’s true,” Dawn plopped down in her chair after greeting Giles with an affectionate hug.
Giles cleared his throat, still a bit embarrassed. It would seem that Dawn did not care for this Pike too much, and Giles had to admit, neither did he. There was something about the young man that rubbed him the wrong way. He just could not put his finger on it. One thing was for sure, he was going to keep a close eye on this Pike. If this young man were out to hurt Buffy somehow, Giles would be a stop to it. “Shall we begin discussing what to do about the hell mouth?” Giles turned the discussion back to the reason he had returned to the States in the first place.
“Buffy nodded, leading him to the couch, where they sat together. “I for one think we should investigate. We need to explore any possible explanation.”
“I’m on research duty!” Dawn raised her hand. “The library here has a great section on the Occult. I’m sure I can find something about the mystical openings of hellmouths.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to investigate if we went to Sunnydale itself? See if there’s been any change. Maybe the hell mouth’s still closed. Maybe the Power’s decided that there was no sense in getting rid of Sunnydale itself and returned it,” Trish Anne nervously suggested. “Besides…isn’t hands on research the best kind?”
“She has a point,” Faith chewed on her lip, going over the idea in her head.
“I’m for it,” Xander raised his hand. “It’d be nice to see the old stomping grounds again.”
“Well I say it’s a bad idea,” Dawn shook her head. “We don’t know what maybe going on in that town. The First Evil might be back. It’s best if we just stay away. Plus, Buffy and I have a life here. I for one don’t want to give it up. Besides, Buffy’s retired.”
“Dawn, we understand your not wanting to go back to Sunnydale. I don’t want to go back either, but there may be no other choice,” Willow looked over at Buffy, trying to read her thoughts, just by watching her body language. “There may be some things that require Buffy’s direct attention.”
“I’m afraid that Willow’s right,” Giles continued rubbing at his glasses, his unease growing. Damn it, he had thought it was all over and finally his Slayer could have the normal life she had craved for so long. But unfortunately, it looked as if that wasn’t going to happen.
“But…all we’ve worked for here…Buffy do you really want to give that up?”
Buffy sighed, feeling conflicted about the decision. No. She didn’t want to give it up. Finally, she had the normal life that she had always wanted. She was happy…or as happy as she can be without the man she loved. But Willow and Giles were right. Her attention may be needed. She may not have a choice. The best she could do is at least check it out. It wouldn’t mean anything if she just did that. “Dawnie, this doesn’t mean that I’m back into the slayer gig. This is just to investigate. I want to know why Sunnydale is back. I need to know what it means. Listen, if you don’t want to go, that’s fine. You can stay with Alice until I get back.”
Dawn sighed, certain about how she should answer. She didn’t want Buffy walking into danger all by her lonesome. She wanted to be by her side, as she always had. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to face Sunnydale again. She didn’t care why the town was back, just as long as it was nowhere near her. It was that fear that determined her answer. “Fine. I’m staying with Alice. But if you die, I’m telling.”
Reese frowned, confused by the statement. “Telling who?”
Amused, Buffy and Dawn looked at Reese and then back at each other before bursting into fits of laughter. Reese just frowned, not understanding what was so funny. She had just asked a simple question. What was so funny about that?
All laughter stopped there was a sudden when a gasp from Willow. Buffy rushed to her friend’s side when she saw the stricken expression on Willow’s face. Giles was already knelt in front of the young witch.
“What’s going on?” Buffy laid a comforting hand on Willow’s, who seemed to be trembling with fear.
“I haven’t the foggiest,” Giles shook his head, concern shining in his warm gaze. “She was doing a reading of Sunnydale, to see what we were up against.”
“Giles! That may have been too much for her!” Buffy’s hold on her friend tightened as she began looking for signs of dark Willow.
“She’s done it before and she was fine,” Giles was defensive, already feeling guilty for even suggesting to Willow that she try the spell.
“He’s so sad,” Willow’s voice was a mixture of loss and terror. “He needs you Buffy. You need to go to him.”
Buffy frowned. What was Willow talking about? “Who needs me?”
“Willow…what else did you sense?” Giles asked, not liking how she had paled a shade whiter. “Evil. Great evil. Sunnydale’s crawling with it.”
“Buffy,” fear seeped through Dawn’s voice as she got to her feet. Things were already sounding very bad. “Please don’t go.”
“Hey, don’t worry Dawnie. Buff will be fine. I’ll be watching her back,” Pike grinned, looking forward to the new adventure. This was his chance to show Buffy just how brave he still was. To make her see that he still had the fight in him and was worthy of her affections and more.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Dawn angrily glared at Pike. She hated Pike even more then she ever had before. She wanted the jerk away from her sister. But from the look of things, that wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
“I think Will needs to chill out somewhere, for a while,” Xander knelt down to his friend. “She’s exhausted.”
“No, no. I’m fine. There’s no need to cut this short because of me,” Willow protested.
“It’s OK, Will. This meeting is over with anyway. We’re going back to Sunnydale,” Buffy reassured her barely awake friend.
“Dawn…uh Pike…will you please show everyone to their rooms. I need to talk to Buffy for a few moments,” Giles got to his feet, motioning for Buffy to join him.
“I guess,” Dawn sighed, getting up from her chair. Everyone, follow me.”
Once the room was empty, Buffy stepped outside to find Giles pacing the length of the porch, mumbling under his breath. Something was worrying him. What that something was, she had no clue.
“What is this all about Giles?” She asked, crossing her arms as she watched his nervous movements. She got even more curious when a Gile’s jaw strengthened in a steely determination.
“Buffy…as you well know, I keep a journal documenting my life as your watcher and yours as a slayer. I have always kept details of a great defeat. I’ve been meaning to get with you about the subject…but it never seemed to be the right time.”
Buffy looked at him, still confused. What was this all about? He had only wanted details about Buffy’s conquests only once, and that was when she had sent Angel to hell. “Giles…what is this about?”
“I need to know what happened to Spike. How did he destroy the hell mouth?”
Buffy took a deep breath, looking away from her watcher. She knew that the subject of Spike was going to come up eventually. She just wasn’t ready for it to come up now. She turned away from him, gathering her strength to deal with the question at hand.
“Do you really need to know this?”
Giles nodded his eyes full of sympathy. He hated himself for forcing Buffy to relieve what must have been one of the most heartbreaking times in her young life. In order for his watcher diaries to be accurate, he had to know what had gone down in the last moments of the battle.
“I’m afraid so. Would you like to set down, or maybe a refreshment of some kind?”
Buffy shook her head. If she was going to discuss this, she had to be in total control and that meant tension and alertness. “I’m fine. So…where do you want me to start?”
“Faith said that something was happening with Spike. She said that it looked as if you two were having a…moment.”
Buffy sighed, rubbing her tense shoulders as she tried to relieve some of the building stress. “We were. Ok. Here’s what happened. Everyone was fighting. I had just sliced the heads off some Ubervamps when I heard Spike call out for me. Giles…you should have seen it. His soul…it was surrounding him. It was golden and warm…anyway, it had channeled the sun somehow and it killed all the Turok han. That’s when everything began to come down around us.
“I told him to leave…that he had done enough, but he said that he had to finish it and told me to leave. But I couldn’t…not yet. I took his hand and…” Tears began to escape her as her blank expression began to crumble with grief. “I told him that I loved him, but he didn’t believe me. He said ‘No you don’t. But thanks for saying it.’”
She was now in fully in tears, her sobs took over, preventing her from saying anymore. All Giles could do was wrap his arms around her and hold the sobbing slayer close.
“Shhh. I know that you’re hurting, but he saved us all and gave you the life you had always wanted,” The watcher tried to comfort her. “I do believe that he knew you felt deeply for him. He probably told you that so you would leave. Spike knew that you loved him. How could he not after all you have done in the past year. You took care of him after he had gotten the soul, saved him from the First Evil, and mine and Robin’s dastardly plans. How could he not know?”
Buffy pulled away from the comfort of Giles fatherly embrace. It was a comfort that she did not deserve. “Because of how I treated him in the past. I was horrible to him, Giles. He loved me with what all that had been left of him before the soul. What did I do? How did I return his love and kindness? With heaping spoonfuls of insults and abuse. I used him for my own purposes Giles! In the end, I destroyed him! He would never have been wearing that amulet if he hadn’t wanted my trust so badly. Now, I know that I had loved him all along, but it’s too late! He’s gone!”
“It wasn’t Spike who had no soul, Giles. It was me. It had always been me.”
“Buffy,” Giles once again tried to comfort her by squeezing her shoulder and spoke in a soothing tone. “It was a confusing time for you. Your mother’s death, your death and resurrection…Spike understood that. He understood and never turned away, even when the rest of us had. You were right about him after all. He was a good man and was deserving of your love and my respect. I’m just sorry that he was denied both until it was too late.”
“Giles…do you think that he forgave us in the end?”
The watcher could only smile sadly and nod, a bit choked up on his own emotions. “I like to think so, yes. Yes, he forgave us.”
A serene smile on her lips, Buffy at last found peace with Spikes death. Turning back into Giles’s embrace, she said her final good-bye to the vampire that had saved not only the world, but her soul as well.
Later that day, Buffy sat alone in the living room. The houseguests were all sleeping peacefully and Pike had gone home to pack for the trip. Dawn was out with friends, leaving Buffy alone to ponder this turn that her life had taken. She had thought that she was done with it all. That Sunnydale was gone for good and no longer needed a guardian. She should have known better. The town would never let her go without a fight. Well, if it was a fight the damn hell mouth wanted, it would be a fight the town would get. She was going to go and send it back to hell where it belonged.
Buffy stared at the telephone, an old friend on her mind. Angel. Did he know of Sunnydale’s return? Did he and his team want to go investigate themselves? There was only one way to find out. She picked up the phone and dialed the number he had given her the last time they were together. Looking back, it felt like a billion years since they spoke last. She had no idea what she was going to say to him. Should she apologize for not keeping in touch? Should she ask about Cordellia’s condition? Maybe she had woken up and they could catch up.
“Wolfram and Hart. How may we help you?” An all too familiar voice answered the line. It wasn’t Cordy, but a former Cordette that had answered instead.
“Harmony?” Buffy was in shock. It had been ages since she had seen the ditzy vampire that used to be a former schoolmate. She had honestly thought that Harmony would have been dust by now.
“Buffy,” Harmony’s voice was curt with a tinge of jealousy.
“What the…what are you doing in Angel’s office? Is he there?”
“No, he’s not. He’s out of town. By the way, make up your mind which one you want so the rest of us vamps have a chance,” Harmony hung up, not waiting for an answer from a very confused Buffy.
“Who was that on the phone?” Willow came down to find her friend staring at the receiver in her hand, looking rather bewildered.
“Harmony…I think,” Buffy looked at the redhead, still confused about why Harmony was in Angel’s office answering his phone. “Uh, Will…do you know if Angel still has his soul?”
Willow just shrugged. She hadn’t heard anything from Fred or Wesley after the last time Angelus had made an appearance. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation.”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy absently replied, placing the phone back on the handset. “I’m sure. But for now, let’s get ready for this trip. The sooner we have everything planned, the better.”
“Tell me why we’re doing this again,” Angel picked up his pace as he followed Spike down the familiar trail leading to Sunnydale High School. Angel hadn’t wanted to go, but Spike was determined. He said that this trip would answer many questions.
“I want to check the seal below the school and you didn’t want me to go alone,” Spike snorted, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
“I still don’t think we’ll find anything. Maybe if we search the vineyard…”
Spike turned and glared at Angel. The incessant whining was wearing on his last bloody nerve. If Mr. Brood-a-Lot did not want to come, he should have stayed behind and let him investigate the hell mouth in peace. “Why don’t we split up then? I take the school and you take the bloody vineyard since you’re so hot on the topic.”
“You know why.”
Spike sighed, rolling his eyes just as they came upon the high school. “Yes. The First and its band of merry harbingers.”
“Ready?” Angel asked, his own hands trembling as he remembered stalking Jenny Calendar through the halls of the old high school. Already he could feel the hell mouth pulling at his demon, urging it to come out and play.
“As ready as I’m ever going to be,” Spike also took a deep breath, pushing back his own demon and memories.
An ax and a crossbow at the ready, Angel and Spike entered the school and headed down to the basement. Spike sighed in relief as they reached the seal.
“I wonder what’s under there,” Angel grimaced, recalling Buffy’s description of the Ubervamps. The Master a hundred times worse.
“Believe me, you don’t want to know,” Spike shivered, remembering the billions upon billions of ubervamps, rushing forward to do battle.
“The First is still here. I can feel it,” Angel looked around. “It’s here and it’s mad.”
“When did it first appear to you?” Spike asked, suddenly curious. He knew that Angel had some experience with the evil entity and that it was Buffy who had saved him.
Angel was silent for a few minutes, not really wanting to talk about what he considered his weakest moment; but looking as Spike, he couldn’t not tell him. Maybe if they compared notes, they could find a way to destroy the First for the last time.
“It was right after I had been returned from hell. At first, I had thought that it was my soul tormenting me again. It would appear to me as different victims, taunting and urging me to hurt Buffy. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was beginning to cave. So I decided to stop myself from harming her, by killing myself.”
“And let me guess. Buffy found out and stopped you.”
Angel nodded, remembering his feelings of hopelessness as Buffy pleaded with him not to kill himself and how that hopelessness turned to awe as snow began to fall in a normally warm Sunnydale. “You can say that. How about you?”
“Torture and control. It had me killing again and I’d have no memory of it. Giles figured out the trigger and helped me through it. I’m still surprised that the slayer didn’t stake me.”
“So am I,” Angel snorted, still a bit shocked by his ex’s trust in her old nemesis.
“She stayed with to the end, you know…well almost to the end. She told me she loved me, but I couldn’t acknowledge it. If I had…she might not have left. Plus…I don’t think she meant it. I saw that kiss you two shared at the vineyard. It’s obvious that she’s still in love with you.”
Angel sighed, feeling sorry for all three of them. Buffy, Spike, and himself. All their emotions and feelings were so tied up in each other; they didn’t know what was true or anything else for that matter. “You’re in her heart.”
“You’re in her heart. That was what she said when I asked if you were her new boyfriend. So, yeah. I think she meant it when she said that she loved you,” Angel looked down at his shoes, pushing away the jealousy that threatened to overcome him once again.
“Well look at what we have here,” a familiar voice chuckled. Spike and Angel turned to find Buffy smiling at them, her hazel eyes sparkling with laughter. “Hello boys. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
Spike and Angel both stood there, not knowing what to say to the woman they both loved. Seeing her standing there was like a drink of water to a man stuck in the desert for two months. Spike and Angel both moved towards her, but Spike stopped and placed a restraining hand on Angel’s shoulder.
“Wait a minute, mate. That’s not Buffy,” Spike’s eyes narrowed as he stared opening at the smiling woman before him. Her eyes danced with amusement and something else that sent chills all through his body. “You. We killed you.”
Angel glared at the younger vampire. What was he playing at now? Was this some trick to make it seem that Angel had turned on Buffy? If that were so, Spike would wish he had stayed dead. “Spike, what’s wrong with you? That is Buffy and I ought to rip your…”
“Don’t be daft! Look at her! Really look at her! If you still think that’s Buffy…well then you never knew the slayer at all!”
Angel looked at Buffy, his expression softening. Of course it was Buffy. She was twice as beautiful then the last time he saw her. Same blond hair, same soft lips that seemed to soften as they curved into one of the most innocent smiles. Eyes bright with the strength he so admired as well. Angel couldn’t help but to smile in return…until he breathed in, expecting the scent of vanilla and rose, just to be hit with the familiar stench of hot sulfur and rot….a smell he had hoped never to breath in again. The Aroma of hell. Spike was right. This girl wasn’t Buffy. It was the force that he had come up against once before. The First Evil. He took a step back, vamping out as he did so.
“Now is that a way to treat a girl?” the First shook its head. “And I got all dressed up too.”
“We killed you. Sent you back to hell where you belong,” Spike growled, also in vamp face.
The First laughed her eyes full of evil glee. “You silly vampire. I’m incorporeal, remember? You can’t kill me.”
“No. Maybe not, but we ruined your plans didn’t we? Set you back another millennium I say,” Spike snorted, rather proud of his part in their victory. It was perhaps the first accomplishment he had to be proud of in his long life. That and the will to go gain a soul to do what was needed. Well…it was really to impress Buffy, but still, it was what had saved the world. That was something that not even Angel could say.
The First’s smiled turned into a scrawl, making the slayer’s face look harsh and twisted with dark hatred. “You’ll pay for that and your little slayer will too. You had better hope she stays away from here. It’ll be her funeral if she doesn’t,” the entity disappeared, leaving the vampires glowering at empty air.
“We should go see Wesley and Fred. See if any of Wes’s books say anything about the First Evil. The more we know, the better,” Angel forced back his demon, his human features returning. “This can’t be good.”
“No need to tell me twice, mate,” Spike turned and followed Angel back to the mansion, silently praying that Buffy had not heard about Sunnydale’s reappearance. He could tell that the First meant business. This time there would be no escape for any of them if Buffy did return with her band of merry slayers. This time, the fight was definitely for keeps.
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