Best Laid Plans: Hollywood or Bust
: Be forewarned! There are some Xangely moments in this chapter. They won't amount to anything, but they're there.* * * * *
Cordelia stared at him for a long moment, cursing the infernal Powers for being so sadistic, even while a tiny part of her mind questioned if this could be real, if he could really be standing before her, close enough to touch. And then she got pissed.
“What the hell is this?,” she shrieked. “Doyle! What the fuck
is going on here?”
He grinned. “Ach, I love it when you swear, Princess."
She curled a lip, no closer to gauging if she was truly seeing him, or if this was an elaborate ploy by fickle Powers, or merely a cruel hoax perpetrated by her own imagination; she defensively crossed her arms over her chest and glared. Whatever the case, she wasn’t wasting this precious opportunity to give him a piece of her mind.
“You ruined my life!”
His green eyes reflected both resignation and pain. “I know,” he whispered, breaking away from him companions, who vanished, and stepping closer to her, surprised yet pleased when she didn’t back away, “and I’m sorry. I truly am, Princess, but there was no other way. There was no one else.”
Her brow furrowed. “Well, how about Angel, huh? What, you didn’t want to lock lips with him?”
“What makes you think we never did?”
She groaned and put a hand to her forehead. “In my incredibly unique filing system, that goes under ‘S’, for ‘Should Have Been Hot, But Not’.” She shook her head. “Doyle! What is this? What the hell is going on? Why are you here? Why am I
here? Where are
“In a world between worlds.” He shrugged. “The easiest way to describe it is another dimension. Or the astral plane, if you prefer.”
“I don’t, thanks,” she sharply retorted, “and that answers only one of my questions. Why are you here?” She tossed her hair, her eyes widening with rage. “Do you really expect me to believe that you’re
one of the Powers That Be?” She shook her head. “Because if you are, I’m going to beat the Bailey’s out of you for all you’ve put me through,” she growled. “And what the heck was all that crap about Xander? What does he have to do with any of this?”
He took another step forward, his gaze searing and locked with her own. “Your young Alexander is at this moment seeking a way to help you.” He trained his eyes upon the floor. “You’re in a coma, Cordy.” He raised his gaze. “You remember you listed him as your next-of-kin? Well, he’s in Los Angeles right now. Your apartment, in fact, fighting with Buffy and quite possibly Angel.”
She grimaced. “Figures her Fake Blondeness would weasel her way into this.” She frowned and held up a hand. “Wait. What the hell am I saying? What is Xander doing?”
“Finding you an out. Or, at least a way to help you cope.”
She sharply inhaled. “Has he?”
Doyle cautiously nodded. “He has, but it won’t be easy, and it will be a tremendous strain on him. He’s enlisted a powerful witch and a former vengeance demon for aid, and their plan is working.”
She nodded dully, realizing he was probably talking about Willow the Red Menace and the Evil Fairy, Anya. “And the cost?,” she asked, because she knew there would be one; there always was. “To him?”
He resisted the urge to smile; for all her bluster, the heart of his Princess was as wide as the sea. “He will have to keep many secrets,” he warned, “and he will have to guard them carefully to protect both you and himself.” He shook his head. “The Slayer doesn’t want him involved, and Angel is wary, but respectful of your wishes. He knows Xander would do nothing to hurt you, and that he would stop at nothing to help.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” she snapped, her annoyance with him and her worry for Xander growing with every syllable. “What is he doing, and how will it affect me?”
“He’s making plans to send you away to get the help you need and, unbeknownst to him, to help another who needs you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Away? He thinks he’s going to send me away?” She chuckled darkly and shook her head. “No, no, I don’t think so. I’ve managed for months with these stupid visions, and I’m not giving them up without a fight.” She squared her shoulders. “Angel needs me. Those people out there, the ones we help, they
need me. I’m not throwing all of that away because Xander thinks he might
be able to help with the pain.”
“Then you will die,” Doyle stated, “and with your death, Angel will become unhinged and reckless.”
She considered his answer for only a second. “Oh, but he’ll be just dandy if I take off to god knows where on Xander’s say-so?" She snorted. "Yeah, okay."
“At least you’ll be alive!,” he barked. “It will be far easier for Angel to mourn your absence than your passing.” He shook his head and growled in frustration. “Don’t you get it yet, Princess? You’re his
She felt the heat rise in her cheeks and angrily looked away. Well, sure, she knew that, sort of, and she knew it would devastate Angel were he to lose her, just as it would kill Buffy if anything ever happened to Xander. And losing the pain of the visions while keeping the visions themselves was a nifty idea. But leave? She had left Sunnydale with nothing; no money, no family, and no friends. She had started over in L.A., and even though the creepy stuff had followed, it had been okay, because she had Angel and Doyle, and then Wesley, and now Gunn.
“How could you do that?,” she demanded. “How could you just leave me?”
“Because it was my time,” he whispered, undeterred by the change of subject. “Because it was the only way. And because you are needed for more than I ever was.”
“That’s not true!”
He grinned. “But it is, and you know it, and I’m okay with it now. I need you to be, too.” His face became serious. “Princess, haven’t you realized that it was planned? You were always meant to replace me, even if I didn’t know it at the time.”
“No one can replace you!”
Startled, his mouth fell open. Those were the words which for so long he had been desperate to hear.
“I’m not saying it,” she stubbornly barked.
“Then I will. I love you, too, Cordelia.”
She burst into tears.
“Ach! None of that,” he begged, awkwardly patting her shoulder. “You and I, we weren’t meant for each other. It wouldn’t have worked it out.” He paused. “No matter how much I wish it would have,” he muttered under his breath. “I had my destiny, and it was fulfilled. You have yours,” he smiled sadly at her, “and you have miles to go before you sleep, Princess.”
Cold comfort, she thought. “Are you one of the Powers?”
He shook his head. “No, but I am one of their representatives. My one selfless act got me a major promotion, you see,” he puffed, “and it was quite a coup. They needed someone who understood what it meant to be both human and demon, one who understands the struggles of each.” He paused. “I am so sorry for what I’ve done to you,” he whispered. “I never knew what would happen, of the damage the visions would cause. All I knew was that they had to go on, and I trusted you more than any other.”
“Because you not only see truth, you live it. You demand nothing less from those around you. You see it in others and make them confront it.” He fell silent for a moment. “It’s a powerful gift, one often taken for granted or discounted by most, but always, always
They were pretty words, but did little to assuage her terror and doubt. “So I’m supposed to, what? Wake up and ship out to wherever Xander sends me? And what about Angel? How’s he supposed to deal without my visions? What the hell good is a rudderless Champion?”
Ah, there was the rub, and Doyle knew this next part would not go over so well. “Well, you see, your Xander has a plan for that, too. It involves a pretty young lass currently serving twenty-five to life.”
Cordelia exploded.* * * * *
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’m totally serious,” Xander calmly said. “Cordy is going to get better. I have to believe that, and so do you, but she won’t be able to do it here. She needs to be with people who understand what she’s going through, who have access to things we don’t.”
“What has this to do with Faith?,” the vampire growled.
Xander startled somewhat at the menacing tone, no longer used to dealing with Angel on a regular basis and, he admitted now, if only to himself, that he had been lulled into a false sense of security with Spike because of the vampire’s inability to cause harm.
Now, he was locked in Cordelia’s bedroom with Angel, which was uncomfortable for both of them. Tara had again silenced the room to ensure the privacy of what he would impart to Angel, and while Xander had wanted that when he had rowed with Buffy, he was decidedly uncomfortable about being trapped in a room with Angel and being unable to call for help. He was angry and resentful, believing he had grown out of the inferiority complex which Angel’s presence in Sunnydale had exacerbated.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Angel quietly said.
The boy fidgeted. “I know.” He sighed. “Look, this isn’t about us.”
“Us? There’s an us now?”
“What? No!,” Xander spluttered before glaring at the amusement dancing in Angel’s eyes. “I meant that this isn’t about you and me arguing over a girl again. I know you love Cordy; you know I do, too. We both want what’s best for her.”
Angel hesitated and then nodded. “Okay, but I still don’t know where Faith comes in.”
What a moron! “Because you can’t do this on your own!”
The vampire’s eyes widened.
Xander began pacing. “I...I don’t know how to say this other than just to say it.”
“Okay.” Really, he was used to it by now. In fact, he was coming to find he had rather missed it.
“As much as I don’t like to admit it, you...you save the world a lot. You’re a good...vampire.”
Angel opened his mouth to respond, but Xander barreled ahead.
“And Cordy is a large part of that. You need someone who can see through you the way Buffy never could. You need someone who knows who you are and isn’t afraid to confront you when get all morose and stupid.”
“I’m really not trying to be mean, okay?,” an exasperated Xander countered, running a hand through his hair, causing it to stand on end.
Angel could see the boy’s weariness etched on his face, and the terror hiding just behind his eyes.
“You’re needed, Angel. So many people depend on you, and they don’t even know your name.” He pursed his lips. “But you
depend on Cordy. She sees through your bullshit. She knows when you need the help for which you’ll never ask.”
“Like Buffy depends on you.”
Xander hesitated and then nodded once. “I don’t think she always realizes that I have a role beyond being her friend, and when she does get a glimpse of it, she resents me for it.” He paused. “Do you resent Cordy?”
“No. I’m grateful.” He was rather surprised as a wistful, longing look overtook Xander’s face, before just as instantly disappearing.
“You need help. I don’t know Gunn, but he’s too new. Wes has changed, and even I can see it, but he doesn’t really comprehend what this life entails. How lonely it can be, how much rests on your shoulders,” he sighed and gave Angel a sad smile, “and how tempting it can be to throw it all away.”
Angel swallowed heavily and wondered how he been able to dismiss for so long the toll this life took not only on he and Buffy, but on those who chose to stand beside them. Cordelia had been preying on his thoughts ever since the beginning of the coma, and too late he had realized that he had been remiss in checking up on her, had been too complacent by just hoping and wishing that she would be all right, despite sensing that there were problems but being too afraid to address them, as if doing so would somehow cause them to come to fruition.
Xander’s words furthered his resolve to make sure his dereliction with Cordelia would not be repeated with Wesley or Gunn, but also reminded him that Xander, Willow, Tara, and the others in Sunnydale were paying just as heavy a price. How had he managed to be so blind to Xander, to all of them, for so long? The boy bringing Buffy back to life those years ago should have taught him never to count Xander out or disregard his contributions. Perhaps the only benefit to Cordelia’s condition was that it had forced him to examine those around him with new-found eyes. He wouldn’t again repeat his past mistakes.
“Faith understands that,” Xander continued. “She’s fought her way through it and fought her way back from it. She’ll be able to help you, and you can keep helping her.”
Angel ran his tongue over his teeth. “I understand what you’re saying, Xander, but don’t you think that’s dangerous?,” he whispered, sitting down on the bed. “Like forcing two addicts together and hoping they’ll keep each other sober?”
The boy shook his head and sat down next to the vampire. “No, because Faith doesn’t want to see you fall, and you want to do the same for her. You bring out the best in each other. No one but you could have helped her, Angel.” He paused. “Well, you’re really the only one who tried. Buffy and Willow just wanted her back in the coma, and I knew after the last time I tried to help that I wasn’t who she needed.”
“You’re who Cordelia needs. You understand her like I do Faith.” Angel said the words slowly as if testing them out, the weight of them not fully realized until they had been uttered.
“I hope so.”
Angel turned and critically examined him, startled when he saw Xander furiously blinking.
“What if I’m wrong?,” the boy whispered. “What if I’m making a mistake? Again? What if I hurt her more than she’s been hurt? Worse than I hurt her before?”
Angel wondered when it was that he had convinced himself that he had cornered the market on pain and regret. He wrapped an arm around Xander, hoping the boy wouldn’t pull away, which, shockingly, he didn’t.
“Do you believe this plan of yours is her best option?”
Xander sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I think so. It’s the only one we could come up with. I just want to keep her alive.”
Typical response. Xander wouldn’t accept credit for the idea, but was more than willing to assume all of the responsibility if it failed. It was endlessly frustrating, and Angel was afforded new insight into how his own team perhaps regarded him. The bottom line was that Cordelia began improving as soon as Xander had stormed through the hospital doors, and wasn’t that all that mattered?
He had brought with him an attitude, a powerful witch, and a glimmer of hope, and those were a damn sight more than Angel himself had been able to muster. He thought again of his words to Tara in the living room. He did
trust Xander, and with more than just Cordelia’s health; he trusted the boy to do what was right even when it wasn’t easy and had every possible change of backfiring.
No, it was no mystery why Buffy kept Xander at her side; in fact, Angel was beginning to realize that perhaps Xander was the hero Buffy wished herself to be.
He was humbled, and drew Xander against him. “Then that’s all that matters.”
Xander laid his head on Angel’s shoulder. “Thanks.”
After several moments, Angel cleared his throat. “This is weird.”
“Want to stop?”
He wrapped his arms around the vampire’s torso. “Not just yet, okay?”
Angel smiled and said nothing.* * * * *
Cordelia gazed wide-eyed into the scrying pool of the oracular temple before snorting with disbelief.
“Are they having a Moment
“Aye,” Doyle chuckled. “You’ve managed to accomplish what the Slayer never could.”
She took a minute to revel in that knowledge, endlessly pleased with herself, but it soon passed. “How?”
He shrugged. “Buffy unconsciously spurred their rivalry by being with Angel but always keeping Xander dangling on a string.”
“Got that right,” Cordelia complained. She then frowned. “So what did I do differently?”
“You were their friend first,” he replied. “Buffy and Angel loved each other deeply, and probably always will, but they were never friends. You saw how they acted when she turned up in L.A., and you heard what happened when he went back to Sunnydale last year.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “Were Xander to have turned up in L.A. before all this happened, would you have been happy to see him?”
“Very,” she whispered. She started, surprised by the immediacy of her answer.
Truthfully, she hadn’t given Xander much thought since she had left Sunnydale. Not because she didn’t miss him, miss his jokes and his weird clothes and the hero which every so often emerged like a supernova. His lips.
She shook her head.
She missed her friend. Xander had been her first best friend, and it was that dissolution which had hurt her more than the demise of their romantic relationship. Angel was now her best friend, of course, and she treasured him, but there was a still a vacancy in her heart which only Xander could fill; now she realized that one existed for her within him, as well, and she was warmed. She also suddenly much better understood his relationship with Buffy and Willow.
She sighed. “So what happens now?”
Doyle frowned. “I honestly don’t know. As the Oracle told you, Xander is a Champion, one of only five in the world.”
His arms hung loosely at his sides, as if he was trying to will from his body the stress his forthcoming words would inspire.
“As you know, the Powers are loath to interfere directly, but they are worried about what your loss would mean to Angel. Xander has also thought of this, as you have seen, which is why he’s planned to replace one champion with another.”
Her brow furrowed. “You mean Faith.”
“Yeah. The girl’s still got a lot of issues, but she now understands that what she did was wrong – and not just because people tell her it’s so – and she’s taken responsibility for her actions. She’s not doing any good sitting in jail.”
Cordelia sighed again, considering his words, which were true, she knew. There was all kinds of nasty stuff in Los Angeles which needed killing, far more than what Angel could handle.
She wondered about that now, about why demons seemed so much more...blatant in L.A. than in Sunnydale, which was, after all, the Hellmouth. Of course, the Hellmouth had magic or whatnot to disguise itself, whereas L.A. was just a big city. A light dawned for her. A big city with a lot more people to serve as potential meals, and if one or five went missing here or there, who would be the wiser? No, it would be dismissed as drugs or domestic violence or poverty or homophobia, or any number of human frailties in which Evil could blanket itself and remain undetected.
It was so simple, so innocuous, and it was only when she admitted that, that she realized its elegance.
And then there was the fact that Buffy’s team was a lot better trained. Not as well as they could be – as they should have been – but they had a Slayer in Buffy, and Xander had killed more demons than Willow, Oz, Giles, and Cordelia herself combined. Giles knew a lot more about the wonky stuff than Wesley, simply because he had trained longer with the Council. Gunn had managed well, but he was lucky to still be alive; Alonna hadn’t been as fortunate. And Cordelia well knew that Buffy could take Angel in a fight if pressed.
She didn’t think herself incapable; she knew she was extraordinary by any measure. She had changed a lot since her high school days, and for the better, she thought. Still, she wasn’t so self-involved that she didn’t realize she had a long way to go. Los Angeles was almost twenty times the size of Sunnydale, which lied only two hours to the south, and relying on only one Champion now seemed kind of stupid. It made logistical sense for Faith to join Angel’s team and help right some of the wrongs she had done; it was probably the best parole ever.
She thought some more about what Doyle had said, what he hadn’t said, and then tried to get into Xander’s head and discover what the hell was going on up there.
If she did die, if the visions did kill her, what would become of Angel? Could her demise really affect him as drastically as Doyle was implying? Wasn’t that the crux of the whole situation? Wesley and Gunn simply didn’t understand Angel as she did, and they wouldn’t be able to help him if something happened to her.
Xander was right, and she kind of hated him for that, for thinking of these things when she herself had never considered them. She was also touched that even though she had left Sunnydale behind, that she was gone from his life, she still remained in his heart.
Wait. Replace a Champion with another? What? And Doyle had said five Champions. Five? She counted with her fingers. Buffy, Angel, Xander, and Faith.
“Who’s the fifth?”
He smirked. “Who do you think?”
She briefly stared at him, her denial demanding an audience. “Oh, for god’s sake! Are you kidding me?”
She spun on her heel and paced restlessly about the sanctuary, cursing whatever names crossed her mind, including those of Angel, Buffy, Xander, Doyle, most of the agents at William Morris and, for some reason, Santa Claus. Finally, she swallowed heavily and turned back to Doyle.
“I choose Xander.”
He nodded, a smug look on his face.
She rolled her eyes. “So, you said there was someone I’m supposed to help? Who are they, and what’s their damage?”
Never let it be said that she didn’t live up to her own Calling.
“Come with me.”* * * * *
“What are they doing in there?,” Buffy angrily demanded of no one.
“Probably making out,” replied an anused Gunn.
Tara burst into giggles.
“Did Angel say something to you about Xander?,” Buffy barked at Gunn.
“Yeah. He said that the kid and you were like husband and wife, but without the fun parts.”
Tara laughed harder as the other girl turned beet red and muttered something under her breath. “Buffy?,” she asked. “Did you tell anyone you were coming here? Besides Giles, I mean?”
The Slayer frowned and then flushed more deeply.
“Well,” she hesitated, fidgeting, “I didn’t exactly tell
Giles. I left a note for Willow, and I assume she showed it to Giles, who called Angel.”
“What about Joyce?”
“Oh, shit.”* * * * *
Riley rang the bell at Joyce’s house, hoping to find Buffy visiting her mother, as she wasn’t picking up her cell phone, no one was at the dorm, and he couldn’t get a hold of Willow.
He was pretty sure that, combined, all of that meant something was wrong. He thought about dropping by the Magic Box, but that often entailed being drafted into the latest research project; not that he didn’t like research per se – unlike Buffy and Xander, he actually enjoyed it, depending on the subject. He always thought it strange that Maggie had never compiled dossiers on what they were supposed to be fighting; of course, he had never realized her goal was to collect as many demon body parts as possible.
He grimaced as he thought of Forrest. It was still painful to remember him, but it was no longer haunting, and he wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Right, so there was no time for research at the moment. He thought something was wrong, and his inability to find both Buffy and Willow was worrying.
“Hello, Riley,” Joyce smiled, opening the door.
He took a brief moment once again to appraise her. Wow, she really was a beautiful lady. He could imagine Buffy growing to look more and more like her as she grew older; at least, he hoped Buffy would look like her mother. He had still never seen even a picture of her father. She didn’t like to talk about Hank at all. As far as Buffy was concerned, Giles was her father, and Riley could appreciate that.
“Hi,” he grinned. “I was hoping I might find Buffy here?” His brow furrowed as he watched her smile dim noticeably, though it was apparent she was trying to maintain a good front. He sighed. “What’s going on, Joyce?”
Her eyes looked pained, but she moved aside and gestured for him to come in. Even though the sun outside was blazing, she was taking no chances, which Riley respected. He crossed the threshold, and then stood in the entryway, looking at her patiently and wondering what he was supposed to do next.
“Let’s sit,” she advised, putting a hand on his shoulder and guiding him to the sofa.
“Is Buffy okay?,” he asked, dread now settling in his stomach.
“Well,” she began, “that depends on how angry Xander is with her.”
The knot in his gut began dissolving as cold anger began swirling within him. “She went to Los Angeles?”
“She’s with Angel.”
“Aren’t you worried?,” he demanded.
“Worried that Xander might decapitate her? Yes.”
“She went to check up on him.”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Oh, shit.”
“Right.”* * * * *
“I want to know right now what’s going on,” Dawn huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, cocking a hip, and glaring at Giles, knowing the look would have no effect on Anya.
He sighed and returned the gaze, eerily reminded of how Cordelia would storm into the old library and immediately start demanding answers, browbeating all and sundry until she was satisfied, which almost never occurred. Even last night, after learning of her precarious health, it was only at this moment that he was overwhelmed by how much he missed her.
His glance flitted over to Anya and he was warmed. No, she wasn’t Cordelia, as much as Willow and Buffy would have claimed otherwise, but she was here and she was honest and she was brave when the situation called. He truly liked her, though of course he would never tell her. There was no reason to ruin his fun.
Anya had decided that Giles’s continuing silence indicated that he didn’t know how to answer Dawn’s question, so she charged forward.
“You already know that Cordelia has visions sent to her by the Powers That Be. She’s Angel’s Seer, but human physiology is simply unable to contain the power of such mystical energy constantly bombarding the senses. Cordelia is now in a coma, but her doctors believe she will eventually come out of it. What she’ll be like when that happens is anyone’s guess. She named Xander as her guardian, so he asked Tara to go with him to L.A. because Willow and Buffy were being evil bitches about Cordelia.”
She briefly paused. “Well, not really. There were upset and worried for her; much more so than I, Xander, or Giles would have expected, so perhaps they’re not completely heartless. Xander and I came up with a plan to help Cordelia, but I will not tell you what it is, so your whining is ineffective. Spare us both the headache.”
Dawn stared wide-eyed at the ex-demon, completely blown away by how much information Anya was able to deliver in the space of two breaths. How did she do that? How could Dawn herself learn? Was there a helpful book? A class? Finally, she shrugged.
She then sat down and began flipping through a musty old tome which promised naked boy etchings.
Giles blinked. “That’s it?” His bulging eyes traveled back and forth between Anya and Dawn.
Dawn shrugged again. “Anya explained everything. Xander’s taking care of Cordy. I trust him to do it.” She then continued to peruse the text.
Damn it, where were the naked boy etchings?! The book had lied
The stunned Watcher turned back to Anya, who was busily tallying up the receipts and making notes in the ledger. “I don’t understand.”
“Understand what?,” she chirped. “That Dawn is an intelligent girl perfectly capable of rational thought when she’s given an answer to a relevant question?” She clucked. “You’ve been hanging around Buffy too long.”
Giles stared a bit longer and then wandered away, shaking his head.
Anya and Dawn winked at each other.* * * * *
“Where the hell are we?,” Cordelia asked, looking around in bewildered awe.
She was standing in the middle of what she perceived to be an underground chamber which, despite is voluminous and apparently endless confines, inspired within her a sense of foreboding and claustrophobia, and she now understood what was meant by deafening silence.
The complete absence of sound was both compelling and unnerving, and she spent a moment trying in vain to attune her ears. There was nothing; not a whisper, not a rustle, not even a click from her heels as she walked across the granite floor of the yawning expanse. She shuddered and fought to stave off a chill. Spooky.
She concentrated more closely, and realized she could not even hear herself breathing. She quickly held up a hand in front of her mouth to ensure that respiration hadn’t ceased, before laying the hand above her heart. It was beating, so she guessed that was something. But did that really mean anything since she was in a coma and currently visiting the Outer Limits?
Marginally satisfied and all but totally dismayed, she opened up her other senses.
Frankly, the room stunk: a curious mixture of several scents which, separately, would not have been bothersome, but when combined, produced a pervasive queasiness. Upturned earth, decaying organic material, and a lingering trace of ash assaulted her. As she began feeling more and more boxed in, she fought her body’s desire to hyperventilate. Unfortunately, the deep gasping breaths which she took only served to ingrain in her further that cloying smell. Her clothes, her hair, even her skin began to reek. Her eyes frantically searched the worn stone walls for an exit, but the doorway which had admitted them had disappeared.
Her eyes narrowed, adjusting to the darkness, and she could see that the tomb – she could think of no more appropriate word – was lined with shallow shelves; sitting atop them were hordes of small vials which contained a silvery, luminescent substance. Every few seconds, one of the bottles would flash, though there was no discernable pattern to their pulses. Several times a pulse would synchronize with her breath or heartbeat. Instead of reassuring her that she was still in the land of the living, however, these instances only served to terrify her further.
“This is the beginning and end of all things,” Doyle whispered. “In this room are stored the memories of every being, both human and demon, which has walked this earth.”
She gave him an incredulous look and set her jaw.
Okay, she had been a pretty good sport about all of this. She was obviously having some out-of-body experience, since she was technically in a coma. She had reunited with her dead friend, they had hashed out some of the problems which had arisen since his death, and she was feeling better about things. Xander was looking for a way to help her, and she had chosen to believe that he would succeed. She had accepted that she was a Champion for the Powers That Be, even though she didn’t really want to be one, because she thought the Powers were idiots. She was now supposed to leave Los Angeles and hook up with someone who needed her help. Fine! But did Doyle really expect her to buy his latest line?
She complied as he tugged her further into the chamber, where she immediately noticed a large – well, she didn’t know what it was. It kind of looked like a bowl, and then a fountain, and then a tabernacle. Her mind just couldn’t decide. It was pretty impressive, though, since it was made of gold and was encrusted with all kinds of funky jewels. Damn, just one of those could put her in the black for the next fifty years. But what the hell was it?
“A Pensieve,” he answered. “The first. Created millennia ago by the Shadowmen who imbued a young African girl with a demon, transforming her into the First Slayer.”
“Buffy’s a demon
?!,” she screeched.
She clapped her hands over her ears as her words echoed throughout the room and were reflected back at her like ricocheting bullets.
“You should use your inside voice,” he chided.
Cordelia glared at him before punching him in the gut, which made her feel a lot better.
As he wheezed, she considered his words. The First Slayer was made from a demon? Well, she had never really thought about it before, but she supposed it made sense. After all, where else would all that power come from? How was it strong enough to survive generation after generation? The Slayer Line must have some sense of intelligence, or sentience, if it could guide itself to its next host without fail.
She acknowledged that she was also experiencing a crushing disappointment. She had naively convinced herself that it had been the Powers themselves who had created the Slayer Line, in order to help humanity battle the demons which plagued the world. And while humans had multiplied in number and geography, forcing most of the demons underground, save for the Hellmouth and larger metropolitan areas in which they could operate unnoticed, Cordelia now understood that the Powers were uninterested in the plight of humanity.
“It’s all about balance,” she angrily muttered.
“Aye,” Doyle said sadly, in a low voice. “Humans needed a warrior, a Champion with the strength to drive back the demons before they could lay waste to the earth.”
“How long has there been a Slayer?”
Instead of answering, he walked over to a shelf and plucked from it one of the mysterious vials.
“This,” he began, “contains all of her memories. Of the girl she had been before her family sacrificed her to the Shadowmen; of her terror as she was chained and forced to bear the assault of the demon which became one with her; of the countless battles with species which no longer exist in your world; and the final one which claimed her life.”
Cordelia stared at the swirling liquid in the glass vial, but words had fled. She watched as Doyle gently put it back in place. “Do I have one?”
“Aye. As do I, and Angel, and Xander, and all of those we have loved and lost.”
“Jenny and Kendra, too?”
The multitude of what he was imparting to her finally swelled and crashed over her body. She looked around again, overwhelmed by even the suggestion that the room in which she was standing was a virtual library of lives. It was more than she could deal with, so she forced herself to focus.
“What’s the point? Why am I here?”
“Because if you are to help the sixth Champion, you need to understand him. You need to experience life from his point of view so that you do not repeat the mistakes of others who were to have helped him.”
“Him? Wait, there are six Champions now?”
“A boy,” Doyle nodded. “He’s about to turn sixteen.”
“So young,” she whispered.
“You’re not much older,” he gently snickered, before quickly sobering, “and he has never been allowed to be young. Just as you were not, as Buffy was not, as Faith never was. It is even worse for this lad; his childhood died while he was still a babe.”
“What’s his name?”
“Harry Potter.”* * * * *
“Thank you for calling the Magic Box! We value your patronage and accept all currency!”
She ignored the tiredness is his voice. “Is Buffy dead?”
“It was touch and go for a while, I’m not gonna lie.”
“So what happened?” She hoped she hadn’t sounded too eager.
“Well, Tara got bored so she spelled us so that we couldn’t move or speak.”
She cackled. “Yeah, I know that much. Tell her when this is all over, I’m treating her to few rounds at the Bronze. It’s worth the small infringement upon my growing assets.”
“Don’t I get drinks?”
“You get something even better,” she purred.
He squeaked. “Okay!"
“So what’s up?”
“Can you ditch the shop and get up here?”
“Already? You convinced her?”
“Once she actually agreed to listen, she was very supportive.”
“I’m shocked.” And she truly was.
“Look,” he sighed, “she went about it all wrong, but her intentions were true. She was worried about Angel and about me, and even about Cordy. She doesn’t always think before she acts but, well, neither do I. Most of us don’t.”
“That’s true,” she grudgingly admitted. “So she’s going to help?”
“So. Any thoughts about how we’re going to do this?”
“A few. Let me gather what I need, make my excuses, and I’ll be on my way. I can get there in about three hours.” She paused. “This is not going to go over well with Willow.”
“If you think she can handle it, bring her.”
“I don’t want to have to talk to her.”
“An, you need to stop this. You know how much Buff and Will mean to me, and that’s not going to change. I’m not asking you to be their best friend. I’m not even asking you to like them. What I’m asking is that you respect that they’re my
“Even though they frequently forget that fact when it comes to you?”
“And that’s my problem, and I’ll deal with it. I appreciate how much you love me and want to defend me, but I can’t question their judgment if I don’t allow them to do the same with mine.”
“When did you start making sense?”
“When I was fortunate enough to have an extremely smart, incredibly sexy, and very kind ex-demon ask me to the Prom.”
“I hate when you do that.”
“Do what? Pay you compliments?”
“Of course not! You should do that all the time!” She sighed. “I just hate being reminded that losing that damn necklace was the best thing to have happened to me in over a thousand years.”* * * * *
“Are you sure telling Anya to bring Will was a good idea?,” Buffy fretted.
She was also truly touched by how Xander had just gone to bat for her and Willow with Anya. She wondered how many times he had done that. She wondered how many times she and Willow had hurt him with their constant disparagement of the woman he so obviously loved.
Xander shrugged. “More witchiness couldn’t hurt. Sure, she’ll probably be angry.”
She glared at him.
“Okay, she’ll be furious, but we can’t leave her out of this. It’s going to affect all of us, and we need to deal. Look, whether Willow likes it or not, Faith is back. And, frankly, if you and I can handle it after all Faith did to us, then Willow needs to suck it up and get on board.”
Buffy chewed her lips while stewing on his words. He was right, she knew, but that wasn’t going to make it any easier. It was one thing for all of them to try and help Cordelia, but helping Faith in the process? Willow would probably go nuts, and that was understandable. After all, Faith had hurt her, too. Granted, not to the extent to which she had hurt Xander and Buffy herself, but trespasses against her friends infuriated Willow far more than slights against herself. She looked again at Xander and could tell similar thoughts were swirling around in his head.
“You just leave Willow to me,” Tara said.* * * * *
“What’s going on?,” Willow demanded as she threw open Anya’s car door and scampered inside. “Since when did you start getting all cryptic?”
“Buckle up, shut up, and settle in for a nice drive,” Anya glared. “We’re picking up Riley and heading to L.A.”