Willow sat on her bed, facing her mirror as Cassie fiddled with her long red hair. Willow would have preferred not to have a birthday party but Jack had been insistent. Cassie had joined forces with him and that had been the end of the argument. It wasn’t going to be much… just a barbecue in the backyard with the rest of SG1, Cassie and Janet, but still. Cassie had come over early so that she and Willow could get ready together. Willow didn’t really see the point but she had known Buffy long enough to have gotten used to it, so she just sat and let Cassie fiddle with her hair.
Finally, Cassie gave a satisfied nod and stepped back. She gave a final spray of hair spray in order to make sure Willow’s hair stayed where it was and then put down the can.
“Alright, you’re done. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Cassie told Willow. Willow shrugged.
“I don’t know, it kind of was,” she said teasingly.
Cassie laughed. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs; I’m sure the others will be impressed.”
Willow shrugged and they headed downstairs together.
“Hey, Wills… looking good,” Xander said when he saw them. A year ago, the comment would have made Willow a blushing, stammering puddle of mush but now Willow just laughed, swatting at her best friend’s arm.
“Xander,” she pouted. “Cassie captured me… and then she tortured me.”
“Oh, God, a fate worse than death,” Xander teased before he dissolved into laughter.
“Very funny,” Cassie pouted playfully, swatting lightly at Xander’s arm with her hand.
“What are you guys going on about?” Jack asked from the kitchen doorway.
“Willow was complaining that I tortured her,” Cassie said sweetly but Jack could see the devious look in her eyes.
“Seriously… I haven’t gone through anything like that since last Halloween,” Willow added.
“Speaking of Halloween, have you guys got anything planned?” Jack asked. The holiday was the next week and he hadn’t heard anything about what Xander, Willow and Cassie had planned. The 31st fell on a Friday, so it wasn’t like they had to worry about school the next day.
Xander and Willow shrugged, neither of them relishing the thought of dressing up again. The memory of the events of the previous year with Ethan were just a little fresh in their minds.
“We so should go trick-or-treating and then all crash here and watch scary movies,” Cassie proposed.
Jack missed the worried look Willow and Xander exchanged at Cassie’s comment but the conversation was stopped when there was a knocking sound on the door.
“Wills, can you get that for me?’ he asked. Willow nodded and left Cassie and Xander, heading to the front door. She opened the heavy wooden door, expecting to see Sam, Daniel or Teal’c on the other side. (Janet wasn’t coming until later, due to her work commitments.) When she saw who was at the door, however, Willow felt her jaw drop open.
“Buffy!” she screamed in delight before launching herself into the waiting arms of the slight, blond-haired vampire Slayer that stood on the other side of the door.
Jack smiled to himself as he heard the knocking on the door and called for Willow to answer it. He knew what was waiting on the other side. Rupert Giles had called looking for Willow and Xander while the two had been out on a run and they’d started talking.
Jack poked his head out of the kitchen. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to see the look on Willow’s face from where he stood but he stood a good chance of seeing Xander’s reaction to the return of one of his best friends, which would be the next best thing. Jack couldn’t help but grin as he heard Willow open the door. There was a moment of stunned silence before her scream of joy and surprise broke the silence. Xander’s head whipped around towards the door, his eyes wide with excitement and barely retrained hope.
“No way,” Xander had croaked before bolting towards the door. Cassie and Jack exchanged a significant look before hurrying after Xander towards the doorway. They both dissolved into laughter when they saw Willow and Xander, madly hugging a slight blond-haired girl about the same age as the other teenagers. Willow was crying freely and Xander was saying something, although Jack couldn’t hear what was being said.
It was fair to say, Jack thought to himself, that the surprise had gone off without a hitch.
Xander had felt his heart leap up into his mouth when he heard Willow yell Buffy’s name. He had sprinted to the doorway, hope soaring through his body, exploding when he saw the blond slayer, already with her arms full of Willow. Xander had lunged at the two girls, wrapping his arms around them both and hugging them tightly.
“Buffy, you’re here! This is great, I’ve missed you,” Xander said happily.
“How long have you been back? Giles never said anything,” Willow added. Buffy just laughed and shifted so she was hugging both her friends.
“I’ll tell you later,” she told them. Xander and Willow nodded, knowing that the discussion would need to be held away from Jack, Cassie, and the rest of SG1. Even though Willow and Xander were aware of the secret the military team carried, they weren’t planning on letting the team in on their own secret.
“How did you get here?” Willow asked.
“Giles organized it. Oz and Cordelia wanted to come too but Cordy’s parents have got issues at the moment and Oz had a gig in L.A. this weekend that apparently could see them get picked up by a manager or something, so he couldn’t come… so it’s just me. I fly back to Sunnydale on Sunday.”
“How did Snyder react to you missing two days of school?” Xander asked. Buffy shrugged.
“I don’t know. School was closed today because the teachers were having a strike day, so I only miss one. Mom and Giles agreed that one day wouldn’t affect my results. You have no idea how hard it is to stay up-to-date these days without you helping me, Willow,” Buffy said. “And it’s been so boring in the library without you there, Xander. Oz goes and gets food sometimes but he doesn’t know what my favorites are and all Cordelia does is whine about things. Faith has settled in well, though.”
“Giles told us about her,” Xander commented, very aware that Jack and Cassie were watching them closely.
Buffy nodded. “She’s alright… but Sunnydale’s not the same without you guys.”
“Things haven’t been the same since you left either, Buffy,” Willow said. “Come on, I’m guessing you’re staying here with us?”
“Yeah, Giles said he’d arranged it with your dad,” Buffy replied, looking at Xander, who in turn looked over his shoulder at Jack.
“You knew?” he asked.
Jack shrugged. “Guilty as charged. Rupert Giles called me two weeks ago and told me what the plan was. Your friend is going to be sleeping in Willow’s room.”
“Great, come on, Buffy,” Willow said. Buffy picked up her bag (which she’d dropped when Willow had rushed to great her) and followed Willow and Xander into the house.
“Oh, Jack, this is our friend, Buffy Summers. Buffy, this is my dad, Jack O’Neill, and our friend, Cassie Frasier,” Xander introduced. Buffy grinned.
“It’s nice to meet you both. Giles told me about how much Xander and Willow like living here.” Buffy smiled. “Thanks for looking after them.”
“No problem,” Jack smiled in reply and Willow, Xander and Buffy went towards the stairs. Willow stopped at the bottom step, turning.
“Are you coming, Cass?” she asked. Cassie smiled and joined the group and all four went upstairs together. Jack smiled and walked back to the kitchen. He knew that having Buffy come up had been exactly the right thing to do for everyone involved.
Buffy, Willow and Xander walked through the park towards the seat that Willow and Xander often sat at to talk about things that they either couldn’t or didn’t want to talk about back at Jack’s house. The party the night before had gone well and all three teenagers had slept in, although they were all used to late nights. After a late breakfast, Xander had suggested they go for a walk. The girls had quickly agreed and so they had set off.
“So,” Xander began as they reached the bench and made themselves comfortable, “what’s the latest news from Sunnydale? Other than you coming back from… where were you anyway?”
Buffy let out a sad sigh, a haunted look crossing her face as she obviously thought about what had happened to her since she had last seen her best friends. .
“Angelus and I were fighting,” Buffy slowly began, “and then his eyes glowed and… and Angel was back. I knew it was him and not Angelus. He didn’t know what was going on at first… but then he remembered. Acathla’s portal had been activated and… and I had to use Angel’s blood to close it. I stabbed him but I couldn’t let go, he was himself again… the Angel that I fell in love with. I grabbed his hand to comfort him but then we were getting sucked into the portal and we couldn’t escape. Angel tried to pull himself away from me… to save me from being pulled through but I wouldn’t let go of him. We got sucked into the portal and there was a flash of light. We were sent to Acathla’s hell dimension. It was horrible for us both but Angel got the worse of it. I was left alone while he was tortured physically and emotionally, constantly. We were there for months, although it felt like years. I didn’t age, thank God, but Angel said he thought it felt like about three hundred years… It was horrible,” Buffy shuddered at the memory.
“How… how did you get back?” Willow asked. “Is… Is Angel back too?”
“Giles figured that there must be some sort of residue left at the mansion from the portal opening, so he went there and did a ritual. He explained the full process to me but I don’t remember the specifics. It opened another portal and Angel and I were sucked back through. Angel… we decided that it was best if he didn’t come with me… considering what happened to… to your parents. I’m so sorry, guys. If I knew that Angel’s soul might have been lost… if I’d known that you would lose your parents and Jenny and Giles would get hurt, I wouldn’t have slept with Angel, I swear,” Buffy said. Willow had her arms around Buffy in an instant.
“It wasn’t your fault, Buffy. It wasn’t anyone’s… not even Angel’s. He should have been told about the risk… Jenny should have told him,” Willow said consolingly. Xander let out a sigh. Despite his own opinion of Angel, nobody deserved 300 years being tortured in a hell dimension. He’d read in one of Giles’ books how horrible hell dimensions were supposed to be and Acathla’s was no exception. Angel had his soul back… and it was the souled version of the vampire that had gone through hell.
If Xander was honest with himself, Angelus had probably done him a favor by killing Tony Harris. While Xander genuinely mourned and missed his mother, he loved having Jack in his life and the Air Force colonel was a far better father than Tony Harris ever had been. As much as it pained Xander to think it, despite the whole ‘aliens are real and some of them would like to kills us all (or at least enslave the human race)’, he and Willow were safer in Colorado Springs than they were in Sunnydale. After seeing Willow in the coma… seeing her lying on the ground, motionless beneath the bookcase and thinking for a few terrifying hours that she was either dead or dying, Xander knew he wanted his best friend to be safe… even if it meant both of them leaving the slaying lifestyle behind.
At least, with Angel back and in possession of his soul, Xander knew there would be someone out there to watch Buffy’s back should anything go wrong in the slayage department. Sure, there was another Slayer in Sunnydale these days and Giles, Cordy and Oz were there, but Xander didn’t know the other Slayer… she could be some sort of psycho killer or something… and Giles, Cordy and Oz weren’t really a match for a demon or a master vampire like Spike, so Xander was forced to console himself with the fact that Angel would have Buffy’s back. It was at that precise moment that Xander realized that he no longer was in love with Buffy. He still loved her but it was a friend… kind of like the way he loved Willow and Xander wasn’t jealous of the vampire… not after hearing what Angel had gone through in hell, not after hearing about how Angel had tried to get Buffy to let go of him so she wouldn’t get sucked into the hell dimension with him.
“As much as I hate to say this, Willow is right. Angel… Angel’s never really done anything wrong except for brood too much. It was all Angelus’ fault. He was the one who killed all those people… both back when he first got turned and after he lost his soul. He didn’t know what could happen… about the clause in the curse. Of course… if Angelus comes back and Willow can’t shove the soul back down his throat, I will kill him… well, try to anyway.”
“If that happens, Xander, and the soul restoration doesn’t work,” Buffy replied, a deathly serious look on her face, “you will have to get in line.” A.N. Well, now you all know what happened to Buffy. I know a lot of you were hoping that Buffy would be found on another planet by SG1, but in my head this was how it was going to happen.
I know that many of you will also hate Xander's thoughts about Angel, but i like to think that loosing his parents and leaving Sunnydale has kind of made Xander mature a little as a person, and be more accepting of 'the grey area'. After all, one his best friends is an alien, and Xander knows Teal'c now too. If it bothers anyone I apologize. From now on Buffy and Angel won't be mentioned much, so it really makes no difference.
Anyway...I hope everyone has a good Easter break (if you do Easter) or that you have a nice weekend (if you don't). Big thank yous to everyone who has reviewed this story, and to my Beta reader Darkened Shadows.