Home Again - Part 1
What if ... Buffy didn't make it out of Hell at the end of Season 3's "Anne"? An alternate history of S3 BtVS.Feedback:
Yes, please, may I have some more?Author's Note:
Giles stammers. I loathe and despise typing (and reading) a stammer. Add whatever level of stuttering you feel appropriate when you read his dialogue, and I'll let you know when it's worse than usual.Disclaimer 1:
Joss Whedon & co. own the characters and world of the Buffy-verse. Compared to that, I own squat. I take that back. I own a cat, two ferrets and two Macs. I have an embarrassment of riches, now that I think about it.Disclaimer 2:
I started this story back in March 2003, but didn't start posting it anywhere until last month — whereupon I found out that Shelley Barnard had also started a story based on the same premise. Neither of us is reading the other's work while the writing is in progress, and I'm told by readers of both that our stories are quite different once you get past the surface similarities. If you're interested in reading Shelley's take on this "what if" scenario, it's posted at Fanfiction.net, story ID 1569586.
Home Again - Part 1
It was late. Midnight was only moments away, but he neither noticed nor cared about the time as he sat in his office in the school library. He was too caught up in determining where to search next. He'd been to San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and points in between, but there had been no sign of her. All summer long, he'd either flown or driven to towns far and near on the off-chance that a lead might pan out.
None of them had.
If he'd been a less determined sort of person, he might have given up by now, but one didn't become a Watcher if one was going to lose heart at the slightest setback. He wished he could make Willow, Xander and the others understand that simple reality, but they looked at him uncertainly these days, convinced that he had slipped over the edge into obsession. It didn't escape his notice that they were too cowed by him even to suggest that he was going too far.
As he absently rolled his head to loosen the muscles in his neck, the clock ticked over to midnight. A few seconds later, a crackle of energy started to build in the library. Had Giles been watching it build, he would have realized the energy build-up was directly over the Hellmouth. As it happened, it was several minutes before the disruptive forces put out enough power to make all of his hair stand on end.
Grabbing a sword, he bolted out of his office to find a portal opening. When he spotted figures grappling within the energy, he went to the counter, exchanging his sword for the tranquilizer gun. He moved from behind the counter, taking his time to choose the best location to wait for his visitors to appear. He could hear screaming and shouting, and he wondered just what kind of battle was about to erupt in his abused library. He was briefly distracted from the show in front of him as he worried over how he was going to explain this latest damage to Commandant Snyder and the school board.
The light and sound coming from the portal were horribly distorted as two figures and then a third stumbled through. The first two — one male, one female — were still fighting when he heard the female yell, "Now, Annie! Start it now!"
Giles looked at the third figure as she started reciting a spell, then took another, shocked look. "Buffy?"
She didn't respond, and as he listened to her and recognized parts of the incantation, he could understand why. It was clear that she was attempting to seal the Hellmouth, and judging from what he heard, it wasn't a spell that would react well to interruptions. 'When did she learn spellcraft? And from whom?' His thoughts scattered in the face of the vicious brawl taking place in front of him.
He kept an eye on the two combatants, absently noting that the woman — apparently human — was toying with the male — most definitely a demon. She was distracting him from the portal, keeping him off balance and letting him think he was getting the upper hand. She was allowing him to land blows, but none of them landed particularly well or in vital areas. She wanted him to remain interested in the fight and the hope that he might actually defeat her.
It would never happen. Giles could tell the woman would win, just by the way she was manipulating the fight. She was too fast, and her movements were too well coordinated to be anything but planned. Cliched as it was, there was no way to describe her skill as anything other than poetry in motion. It was clear to Giles that she knew both her opponent and her fighting arena, facts which disturbed him at a level too deep to break his concentration on the fight. As he continued to watch, it occurred to him that the woman's fighting style reminded him of Buffy's.
He glanced back at the girl — 'God, she looks like Buffy!' — and saw that she was still completely focused on her task. He could tell that the spell and the fight were reaching a climax. The woman suddenly stopped playing with the male, and in a complicated set of moves, she ended the fight abruptly, forcing him to kneel before the portal with his head pulled back and her knife at his throat. At the start of the last stanza of the spell, the woman slit his throat, aiming the geyser of blood from his jugular at the portal. As soon as the blood met the energy, the portal started to collapse in on itself, and the woman threw the demon into it headfirst.
The energy disappeared abruptly, and Giles jerked somewhat at the sudden silence and absence of magic. The girl collapsed, her knees giving out suddenly, and the woman staggered over to her, gasping, "Annie? Sweetie? Y'okay?"
She collapsed next to the girl, and both struggled to catch their breath. Neither had noticed him as yet, and he decided that now might be a good time for introductions. He cleared his throat, then said, "Who the bloody hell are you, and what have you done to my library?"
The woman jumped to her feet, clearly ready to fight again, and Giles got his first good look at her. She was wearing a leather vest and leather pants. Her hair, long, brown and in dreadlocks, was tied back by what looked to be a leather strap. Her eyes were outlined in black kohl, and there were several scars on her right cheek that formed individual patterns. The scarification was familiar, and he made a mental note to look up the designs. Her arms were likewise covered in ritual scars. When he looked back to her face, he saw amusement and the beginning of a very familiar smile.
It couldn't be, though. She was a fully adult woman close to his age, not a child of seventeen. He shook his head, even as he thought back to the fight and realized that he knew the fighting style well enough to be able to predict her moves and her eventual victory. Suddenly nerveless fingers lost their grip on the rifle, and it fell with a clatter. He blinked once, then twice. Finally, he stammered, "Buffy?"
Her smile blossomed, and said, "Hey, Watcher-mine," just before she fell flat on her face. Her collapse broke through Giles' shock, and he rushed forward with a muttered curse. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the girl trying to reach them, but she was as exhausted as Buffy and could barely move. Giles checked Buffy's pulse and noted that it was strong and steady, despite her sudden collapse. There were no obvious injuries, but it was clear that she — and the girl — had pushed themselves too hard for too long.
He glanced up at the girl and then away again, his mind shying away from the fact that she could be Buffy's twin. That particular question would have to wait until they were all more rested. 'And fed,' he thought to himself, as he ran his hands down Buffy's ribs, checking for damage and noting how terribly thin she was.
His cursory check done with, he looked at the girl again. There were differences. Her eyes were a deep brown, almost black, and her face wasn't shaped quite the same as Buffy's. Still, there was a definite link between the two. Taking them to Joyce was out of the question, especially given the way she'd received him the last time he visited. His home would have to do, but neither woman could walk at the moment, so he would have to carry them to his car.
After a long moment, he said gently, "My name is Rupert Giles. What's yours?"
Her eyes grew large, and she said, "Annie."
"Do you know who I am?" He winced slightly at the question, suddenly afraid to hear the answer.
She nodded and said, "You're my mom's Watcher."
'So much for leaving that question until later,' he thought, staring at her. "I need to take you both to my home, Annie," he said in the same gentle voice. There was no telling what she'd been through, and whether she knew of him or not, there was every likelihood he would frighten her unintentionally, especially if he tried to presume too much too soon. "I'm going to carry Buffy out to my car, then I'll come back for you."
"I can walk," she said as she tried to stand and failed completely.
"You're having a hard time just sitting up. I think it's best if you wait. I won't be long. Just rest here until I return, alright?" He tried to keep the worry and strain out of his voice, but he didn't know how successful he'd been.
At her unhappy nod, he rolled Buffy over onto her back then lifted her up. He walked out quickly, not wanting to leave Annie alone any longer than necessary. He kept a neutral expression, but he was dismayed at how underweight Buffy was. He doubted she weighed more than ninety pounds, even dripping wet. When he got to his car, she didn't stir as he propped her up to open the door. He eased her into the passenger seat, then got in to drive it around to the back of the school. It would be easier to take Annie out through the library's outside exit.
When he went back inside, he found her where he left her. She was still awake, just barely, and she tried again to tell him she could walk. He ignored her and picked her up as easily as he lifted Buffy earlier. He took her outside and put her in the back of the Citroen.
He paused for a moment before getting into the car himself. The night had, for obvious reasons, taken on a surreal quality. It would be all too easy to call a dream reality and call reality a dream. He took a deep breath and assured himself that he was, indeed, awake. Then he bent down to look at his passengers. Both were still there — Buffy, unconscious or asleep, and Annie not far behind.
Reality, then. Not a dream.
Smell was the first of her senses to revive itself. She absently identified Giles' scent on the cloth just below her nose. Funny how scent memory was the strongest. The next odor to intrude was her daughter's. Annie had a spicy sweet smell, and the happier she was, the more pronounced it became. Her girl was definitely in happyland. The last scent to be identified was one that made her stomach sit up and beg. Food. Without a doubt, someone nearby was cooking food. She wondered where they'd found it.
Her sleepy brain kept bouncing around the fact of the three scents, trying to make sense of them. The only smell that truly belonged near her was Annie's. The other two — Giles and food — just didn't compute, Will Robinson. For one thing, Giles had never met Annie. For another, food had been in seriously short supply over the last few months.
As she continued to worry at that information, other senses woke up. She was warm and surrounded by softness. Warm didn't make sense. There was blistering heat or sub-zero chill, and anything in between was the result of delusion. Nor did softness compute. Annie was soft, but Buffy was clear on the fact that she was not
surrounded by her daughter.
She couldn't tie all the loose ends together. They danced in her mind, evading a logical explanation. And there was yet another loose end — safety. Everything she was, everything she knew told her she was absolutely and completely safe right where she was. That, more than any of the other puzzles, was enough to make her sit up, suddenly and completely awake.
She blinked in the dim light, trying to figure out where she was and how she got there. As soon as she saw the railing, memory flooded back. They'd done it. She and Annie had done it. They'd escaped Hell and made it home. She allowed herself a soft snort, thinking, 'Home to the Hellmouth. Oh, happy day.' She looked down to her side, watching Annie sleep peacefully for the first time in pretty much ever. With any luck, she'd be out for the next ten or twelve hours.
Buffy wanted her to stay asleep, and she would have snuggled right back next to her for a few more hours herself if the smell of food hadn't been just a bit too overwhelming. She didn't want to leave Annie alone in a strange place, even if she was only going downstairs. But if Annie woke up alone in a strange place and her mother was gone, she might go into overdrive panic. There was no help for it. She'd have to wake her long enough to let her know she was within shouting distance.
She shook her shoulder gently and said, "Annie?"
"Mmn-frh," was the response.
"Annie. It's Mom. C'mon, sweetie. You in there?" Her voice held a fine tremor of amusement as she tried to break through Annie's dreams.
Buffy leaned down further, her mouth next to Annie's ear, and tried again with, "Punkin, I'm going downstairs. Come down when you wake up, okay?"
Annie made another unintelligible noise and rolled away from her mother's unreasonable prodding and chatting. Buffy bit back a small chuckle and crawled out of bed. She was halfway to the stairs when she realized she was wearing a man's t-shirt and nothing else. 'Would've sworn you didn't have it in you, Giles,' she thought as she went down to see just what was on the stove and whether or not he had made enough to feed the army that was she.
It was obvious he hadn't heard her moving around, and she would have been surprised if he had. She'd learned how to use all the gifts of a Slayer to keep herself and her daughter alive over the years, and stealth was just one of the abilities she'd perfected during her sojourn in Hell.
She stopped next to his desk and watched as he moved around his tiny kitchen. Intellectually, she knew that only a few months had passed in this world since she ran, but emotionally, it was jarring to see that he hadn't aged twenty years. He looked exactly the same as she remembered him. He was perhaps a bit more careworn, but that was to be expected. Between Angelus playing with him and her running away, he'd had a tough time of it.
He glanced up at that moment and let out a small shout as he tossed his salad a bit more than he planned to. When he glared at her, she couldn't stop the laughter bubbling up. And god, did it feel good.
"You know, for someone who's called a Watcher, you might give some thought to looking around every so often," she said between giggles.
"Ah — yes. Well," he said, trying to calm his nerves and his stammer long enough to say something that made sense. Instead, he found himself looking at her yet again. They'd been asleep for a bit more than nineteen hours. Throughout the day, he'd gone upstairs just to check on the two of them and to make sure he hadn't dreamt up the whole thing.
He had studied Buffy very carefully, taking time to sketch the patterns that had been cut into her skin. He wondered what had been used to create the hypertrophic scars. Some irritant must have been rubbed into the open wounds, else they wouldn't have been raised the way they were. He supposed they could have been some form of punishment, but the longer he stared at them, the less inclined he was to believe that. He thought the designs were too intricate and carefully done to have been made without her cooperation. Indeed, some even seemed to enhance her natural beauty by emphasizing a line of muscle or her facial structure. He hadn't had any luck identifying any of the designs yet, but many of the books he needed were at the library. They could wait.
It wasn't just her scars that drew him upstairs time after time. It was the character etched into her face by experience — hard and bitter experience, unless he missed his guess. Even in sleep, Buffy had fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, and they didn't look like laugh lines — they were closer to worry lines and frown lines. Based on her wrinkles and Annie's apparent age, Buffy had lived at least fifteen years elsewhere.
She said, "Giles? I know it's only been a few months for you, but it's been quite a bit longer for me. Any chance of getting a hug here? Please?"
She gave him her best approximation of the pout she used to be so good at. She only hoped it hadn't turned into something that would make him run screaming into the night.
"Of course," he said, coming out of the kitchen and moving quickly to catch her up in his arms.
'Safe. What a concept,' she thought as she hugged him close so she could bury her face in his sweater.
"Buffy?" His voice was a bit strangled.
"Breathing — becoming — difficult — "
"Dammit!" She released him with a rueful look and said, "Sorry. Everything kind of caught up to me. It's been a while since I could feel all snuggled and protected."
"I shouldn't wonder, considering what you were fighting," he said, captivated by the look of her. She wasn't as animated as she'd been as a girl, but he could tell she was trying to be that girl again.
"Yeah. Delvok. The bastard," she said as she grimaced in disgust.
'No love lost there,' he thought. Unsure if she said a title or the demon's name, he said, "I can't wait to hear all about it."
"You're gonna have to. Especially if that food I smell is destined for my stomach. And even if it isn't, I have to tell you that I'm confiscating it anyway."
"Oh yes. It's for you. And Annie, when she comes down. I was beginning to wonder if either of you would wake up."
"How long was I out?"
"You went down for the count just after midnight. It's now 7:30 in the evening."
"Same day, right?"
He nodded and said, "Same day."
"That would explain why my bladder is jumping up and down and screaming for my attention. Give me a few minutes, and I'll be back to inhale whatever you have on the fire," she said dryly, already walking down the hall.
He went back into the kitchen to ladle chicken broth into a bowl. Much though he wanted to stuff everything he could think of down her throat, she would need to start slowly. The salad was for him. If she was as malnourished as he thought she was, her system wouldn't be able to handle the roughage. He doubted she would be happy with the broth.
He set the bowl on the table just as she came back. "Broth?"
"Broth," he confirmed.
"And I'm getting broth because I was a bad little Slayer?" She was fast losing the fantasy of mounds of food.
"Because I doubt you've had much to eat lately. Broth will settle your stomach and allow you to get used to regular meals again," he said, as he pushed her gently into a chair. "And if you're very, very good, I might just be talked into letting you have a poached egg in a little while."
"You're abusing your sarcasm privileges," she said as she picked up the spoon. "And how the hell did you figure out that food's been on my most-wanted list lately? I was kind of hoping to slip that one past you."
"When I was checking for injuries, I very nearly cut myself on your ribs," he answered dryly.
"Ha, very ha. This broth is good. Make it yourself?" Maybe if she sucked up a little, she could get a bit more than a liquid diet.
"No. A very good friend of mine, Swanson, cooked it. I merely heated it up," he said, taking a seat at the table so he could look at her and know her face again.
She sipped at her broth steadily, but not quickly. It was clear she'd been through a famine-feast cycle before, from the way she was controlling her intake. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, and he didn't know where to start.
"Any chance I could cadge a couple of soda crackers from you?"
"Two. No more," he said, stifling a laugh at her transparent efforts.
"Two is good," she said as he went into the kitchen. Under her breath, she muttered, "For now."
He sat down again when he handed them to her, and said, "I want to know everything, but I don't know where to start, and I don't know what to ask."
"How 'bout the easy one — like why did I run away in the first place?" She surprised herself at how calm she was when she said it. Every time she imagined this reunion, she'd thought she would be emotional when it came to talking about it. She never thought she would be able to talk about the decision to skewer Angel the way she might talk about a decision to buy Nikes instead of Reeboks.
"I didn't think that would be the easy question," he said, a frown settling into place.
"Trust me. It's definitely one of the easy ones," she said after she took a small bit of one of the crackers. "But honestly, I didn't realize it would be until just now."
"Alright, then. Why did you run away?"
"Mom and I got into a screaming match when I headed out to rescue you and save the world. She told me not to come back if I left the house — and yeah, it took me a while, but I figured out she didn't mean it that way. She was just pissed and let her mouth run away with her again. After I stopped back here to shake more information out of Whistler —"
"Er, Whistler?" He'd never heard the name before and didn't know what she was talking about.
"PTB rep, as far as I could tell," she said, not realizing he was even more confused by her explanation. "Anyway, I headed out toward the mansion, and Xander showed up to tell me that Willow said to kick Angelus' ass. The mood I was in, it sounded like a good plan. The two of us went in. Xander got you, Spike turned traitor and got Drusilla out, and me and Angelus started Vampire Slapdown '98. I was just about to run him through when he got his soul back."
She paused then, to take a few more sips of the broth and another nibble of the cracker. 'Nope. Still no pain. So much for feeling bad about killing my soulmate.'
Giles said nothing as he imagined the pain she must have felt at that moment. She said, "The timing sucked big time. He'd already removed the sword from Acathla, and Stoneface was getting ready to start its own suckfest. I spoke to him one last time. Gave him a kiss and told him I loved him right before I shoved the sword through his chest and into Acathla."
"My god, Buffy. What you must have — " He couldn't go on. He was too horrified on her behalf.
"Not a damn thing compared to what you went through," she said, refusing his compassion. "Don't forget that I studied Angelus pretty thoroughly after he showed up. I knew just what he was capable of, and you have no idea how glad I was to see that you had all of your pieces when Xander took you out." A thought flickered through her mind, and she said, "Oh, god — you do, don't you? Have all
your bits and pieces?"
"What?" A blush moved slowly up his neck and face as he understood what she was asking. "Er, yes. Everything is still intact, if a bit twisted in spots. It was a near thing, though. He was ready to take a chainsaw to me, but Spike stopped him. I never did understand why."
"We made a deal. He said he'd help take down Angelus if he could take Dru and get the hell out of Dodge. It was only good if you were still alive when I got there."
Giles was shocked. Of all the possible explanations, that was not one he could have or would have imagined. "You teamed up with Spike?"
She reached out and took one of his hands, saying, "Dealing with the devil was a small price to pay to get you out of there alive. I'd make the same deal again in a heartbeat."
He squeezed her hand, then said, "And that's why you ran away?"
"Well, that. And it was clear I wouldn't get a lot of sympathy over having to kill Angel after he got his soul back," she said with a hint of bitterness in her voice
"Buffy, I would have —" he leaned toward her in his earnest desire to show his support.
"Not you. Willow and Xander. If I'd thought they could have dealt with my pain without resorting to telling me on a regular basis what an evil bastard Angel was, I think I would have come here instead of running to L.A. I knew I could count on you, but you wouldn't have been enough to protect me from them. Pretty stupid, huh?" She looked at him, unexpectedly feeling like she was seventeen again and had just screwed up royally.
"No. Not stupid. Just very young," he told her kindly, turning his hand so he could return her grip.
"I guess. But it's not all bad. I've just spent twenty-one years in Hell, so at least I'm over that whole youthful indiscretion phase." She tried to lighten things up a bit, but she could tell the joke fell flat when his eyes started to tear up.
He drew breath to respond, but was interrupted by a very loud, "MOM!"