Disclaimers in Part One
I never asked him his name…
Buffy was up in the balcony at the magic shop, perched at the top of the steps and flicking through some of the dusty volumes that rarely got to see the light of day. Last night she’d walked home in something of a daze; she couldn’t really recall going to bed – but she could remember waking up this morning. For the first time in a long time she’d actually wanted to get up – and the smell of breakfast had only been vaguely nauseating. She’d even put maple syrup on her morning waffle. Machobean’s Alchemy, The Seriph’s Circle, Djinn in perspective …ahah!
Her hand closed around the book she’d been searching for and she drew it out, laying it on her knees and carefully turning the pages. Woodcuts of winged figures illustrated the text; the carefully draped medieval angels with their stiff wings and angled halos bore only a passing resemblance to the creature she had encountered the night before. Dominations, Thrones, Virtues, Principalities …
She’d never realised that the ranks and orders of Heaven were so complicated before. Ah – here we are …
The entry on Aeons was filled with references to other texts, quoting this and that, contradicting itself with regularity. She frowned and struggled though it, hoping for some glimpse of truth behind the confusing words.…placed as the ninth order, which for some is the lowest of the ranks, below which sit the ordinary angels …
Ordinary! She nearly laughed out loud at that. There was nothing ordinary about angels or demons, and her rescuer had been decidedly extraordinary
, in all senses of the word.…closest to the earth, guardians and guiding spirits …
That was more like it. A guardian angel. She’d certainly needed one last night.… certain mortal souls of renown have been elevated to their ranks …
What had he said? I got promoted.
Something like that. …those set over nations, or given to the guarding of gods and heroes, are sometimes known as Archons, or ‘greater angels’ …
There was more, but she didn’t need any. The truth was in the memories she carried, not the vague postulations of Caballistic scholars. She thoughtfully closed the book and put it back where it had come from. Maybe she could ask Giles ...
The shop bell rang, admitting a customer. She heard Anya welcome them, and then a man’s voice speak in response. A rather nice voice, actually. It asked something she couldn’t quite make out, and then Giles said, in that somewhat surprised and startled way he had: "Good Lord! That can’t possibly
Buffy climbed down the steps, stepping down into the shadows at the back of the shop. Spike was there, leaning against the shelves, being his usual nuisance, and he gave her a quick glance and a wry smile before returning his attention to the new arrival. Xander, Willow and Tara were busy staring at the customer. Dawn actually had her mouth open.
Buffy didn’t blame her.
The man was tall – as tall as, or taller than Giles, but with a body built like a professional athlete. Not a hulking linebacker, but with the sleek and powerful curves of a quarterback; he filled the soft lines of his sweatshirt to perfection. He had honey blond hair, which was cut short around a square, sculpted face, and a smile that, maybe a year ago, Buffy would have said was to die
for. She knew better now – but there was definitely something about him that inspired trust and suggested hidden strength. In fact – if she hadn’t spent part of the night in the company of a real live angel – she have said he looked decidedly divine.
"Isn’t he dreamy
," Dawn sighed, looking utterly smitten. Willow shushed her; Xander snorted.
"If you like men with all those muscles," he muttered. "Probably got them between his ears, too."
The man glanced up as he spoke, and smiled directly at the group in the corner; Xander immediately went a little red, and Spike smothered a laugh.
"Insult his mother while you’re at it – moron
," he said, out of the corner of his mouth. Xander glowered at him.
"No, no," Giles was saying, turning the artifact the customer had brought over in his hands with the kind of care he reserved for very
precious items. "The last of these
was destroyed – centuries ago."
"Uhuh," Anya agreed, tearing puppy dog eyes away from the man to poke at the metal band Giles was holding. "I haven’t seen one since the sixteenth century. But the one I saw looked just like that. Didn’t have that crystal in it though. It’s pretty."
"The crystal’s the most important part," the band’s owner smiled, reaching to take it back. "It’s useless without it."
"Ah – what is it, exactly?" Buffy moved out from the safety of the corner to take a better look at the stranger. He really was
as tall and statuesque as first impression suggested. And he had blue eyes. Steel blue.
"It’s a Hephaestian bracelet," Giles said, taking off his glasses and polishing them. "They were constructed by his priests in Ancient Greece, and they reputedly have the power to ward off predations by the keres
– the souls of the recently dead. Legend has it that they are a powerful protection against all
forms of the undead – not just vampires. Legend, of course," he added, slipping his glasses back on and pushing them firmly into place.
"That’s why they were all destroyed," Anya announced brightly. "Because they kept people safe. Anyone wearing one couldn’t have their soul stolen. Well, they couldn’t," she concluded, pouting a little at the skeptical look this comment had earned her from most of the Scooby gang.
," the stranger said with a smile, "they’re made by Hephaestus himself. They used to be given to the priestesses of Dionysis so that they could defend against Bachae that invaded their wine festivals. And, yes, their power is exactly that – it prevents the soul from being stolen against the wearer’s will. It’s a gift for the Slayer," he concluded warmly. "In case she runs into another soul-eater without help being at hand."In case …
Buffy’s mouth dropped open.
friend," she blurted out in astonishment.
He grinned at her.
"Always," he said.
"Ah, come on
," Spike protested, strolling out of the shadows and taking up a protective stance at Buffy’s shoulder. "A complete stranger strolls in off the street and says he has a gift for the Slayer? You’re not gonna take it, are you? Stupid looking thing, anyway." He reached for the metal band – and then pulled his hand back with a curse. "Bloody hell," he said. "That thing bit
The stranger gave him a puzzled look. Giles, a decidedly arch one.
"What’s a Bachae?" Dawn asked, ignoring the way Xander sniggered at the vampire’s reaction.
"I know," Tara interjected. "They’re Greek vampires, aren’t they? The followers of Bachus? They were all women."
"Bachus had taste," Willow said, smiling at her girlfriend. "And I
think the bracelet’s pretty. What do you think, Buffy?"
Buffy didn’t answer. She was staring at the stranger – at a man whose soul had been shattered by the loss of his friend, and for whose sake that friend had been willing to abandon the bliss of heaven. Let your heart decide where you belong …
What depth of love had this man inspired, that the heart of an angel would choose life
in order to be with him?
"Who are you?" she asked, softly, pitching it for his ears alone. He smiled, stepping closer to slip the bracelet neatly around her wrist. It fitted as if it had been made for her. She was beginning to suspect that it had.
"Call me Herc," he advised warmly. "He
does." He stepped back again, looking around him with a satisfied smile. "I gotta go. Things to do, places to be. It was nice meeting you all. I can see Sunnydale is in good hands. Take care, huh?" He nodded politely and turned to head for the door – just as it popped opened and a compact figure in leather and denim bounced into the shop.
"Hey Buffy," the angel cloaked in the semblance of a man waved. "Hope you like your present. Herc – we gotta go. You were right. That idiot archeologist is trying to open the seals on Crius’ casket, and you know what’ll happen if he
gets out again. I think Balberith may have put him up to it. He’s always trying to cause confusion and chaos."
"So what’s new?" his friend inquired wryly. "Crius, huh? I can deal with him. Think you can deal with Balberith?"
The smaller man grinned.
"Can angels fly?"
here," his friend laughed, half throwing him out of the shop. "Gods – some days I don’t know what to do with you. First
, that is," he added – a parting threat as the two of them vanished back into the street.
Somehow the shop seemed cold and empty once they’d gone.
"Balberith?" Anya said after a moment of stunned silence. "I’ve heard of him. I think."
"A fallen angel," Giles supplied abstractedly. He was staring at the shop door as if he’d never seen it before. "Master of ceremonies in the ranks of hell. Buffy – who was
Buffy had been studying the snug fit of her bracelet, admiring the way the crystal glittered and flared with inner fire. There was a spark, burning somewhere deep in her soul, that echoed its light. The light that she carried, and would never lose sight of again. She looked up at the question and found a wan smile.
"Do you know what an Archon is, Giles?"
He blinked at her. "An Archon
She nodded. "Mmhuh. You just met one. And his friend – who I think
might have been a demi-god."
"A- " Spike reacted with disbelief. "Oh, you gotta
She turned and gave him a look. One that reminded him of what he knew and where she’d been – and he went a little white. Well – a little paler than his usual colour.
"Maybe not," he concluded faintly. "Just keep that damn thing away from me, okay?"
"You all right, Buffy?" Willow asked, moving to join her. Buffy drew in a deep breath and glanced around the bemused faces of her friends.She risked so much to call me back.They all did.It hurts so much to be here – but how much were they hurting without me? And was that why I was able to come back? Because they needed me?
When she’d been offered another chance at oblivion, she had chosen to live. To endure the price, rather than walk away from it altogether. She knew she had a long road ahead of her still. But now she knew that road could be traveled. Could be faced. Could be conquered
.How does he live with it? Where does he find the strength?
What was it that he’d said?Put your faith in what you most believe in …
In love. In friends. In family.
She reached out and gave Willow an appreciative hug.
"You know," she said softly, "I think perhaps I am …"