Unexpected Paths 2.0 Second Chances
Unexpected Paths 2.0; Second Chance
**** Disclaimer: I own none of the characters. No copyright infringement intended.
Colonel Robert Makepeace glared at his hands and willed them to stop shaking. His hands, hell, his whole body ignored the command. In the back of his mind, Robert knew that the adrenaline was wearing off and shock was setting in, but still, as a Marine he should have better control.
Robert looked up at the blond. Spike, the souled, British vampire in love with a Slayer. His hands shook harder. Spike, a vampire, who was currently offering Robert a cigarette. Robert looked longingly at the smoke. Finally he turned his head away. “I shouldn’t.”
“I’d offer you some booze, but it’s cut with blood and I don’t think you’d appreciate it.”
Robert shook his head to refuse but then found that he could not stop. “N-n-no, t-thanks for the offer.”
Spike shoved Robert off the gravestone he had collapsed on. Robert glared at the vampire, willing to feel anger over anything else at the moment.
The vampire was immune to death glares. “Mate, either take the fag or punch me. You’re no use to us in the state you’re in.”
Robert coiled his body. He wanted to strike and kill something-anything and declare that ‘this was a lie.’ His world had been turned upside down. In the last twenty-six hours, he had been a prisoner on his way to be executed, freed, and just now fighting demons for the sake of the Earth.
This could not be his Earth. This graveyard had not revealed the Truth. The Truth did not involve demons. Demons were stories made up by the fanatical religious and children. Demons and vampires did not try to take over the world and destroy everything they touch. Demons did not need to be stopped. He did not just help save the world.
Except that they did and he did. In a rather minor role he, Colonel Robert Makepeace, had helped save the world, Earth. And saving Earth had not involved aliens or advance technology or weapons. Still the good guys, well, mostly gals, prevailed.
After a couple heartbeats, common sense prevailed as well. Robert’s body relaxed. Attacking an undead vampire with the intent of killing was plain stupid. Spike would beat him to a bloody pulp if one of the Slayers did not interfere.
Spike was still watching him warily. “Fag or fight?”
Robert had finally gained control over his limbs. He shook his head no. “I can’t. If I’m going to keep up, I’ve got to be in peak physical shape.”
“You’ll never outrun a Slayer.” Spike offered Robert a hand to his feet. Robert accepted with a self-depreciating grin. He leaned against the gravestone Spike had pushed him off of. His legs still were not strong enough to support his entire weight.
“I don’t need to outrun a Slayer. But Xander and Dawn and I need every other advantage so that we are not a liability.” Robert looked for the young people of the discussion amongst the clean-up crews. Xander was finishing helping Oz bury a demon but Dawn was no where in sight. He would have to ask Buffy if he could start training them with some hard-core self-defense. Maybe weapons as well, Robert had been told that guns often did not kill, but maybe the bullets could distract or maim the demons enough to give a Slayer a bit of an advantage. Dawn and Xander and even Oz needed some training and Robert needed to be needed. Suck it up Marine; adapt, improvise, overcome.
‘Adapt and Overcome’ had taken new meaning in Robert’s personal motto.
“You’ll always be a liability to The Slayer.”
Robert knew Spike was referring to Buffy. Buffy was The Slayer in Spike’s mind. Faith was just one of the Slayers ‘born to fight the spread of evil.’ All this had been explained to him on the way to the most recent battle of good vs evil. Not that Robert had believed one word then. Really, vampires and demons are the fodder of horror movies and nightmares. But disbelief had never stopped the Truth before. The Scoobies, as this young group of heroes referred to themselves, had given him orders and he watched from the sidelines with a crossbow as thirteen nightmare monsters came to life. Then those same monsters died a quick and painful death, mostly due to one of the females. Robert needed to spend some time target practicing with a crossbow; his aim sucked and his reload time was abysmal.
Robert winced. Such a statement, even left unsaid, seemed ludicrous. Robert’s worldview had been put into a blender and shredded. This was much worse than learning about the Stargate program. Everyone speculated about aliens, but those same open-minded people ignored all the evidence for demons. That was why these kids, these heroes, broke Faith out of jail. They needed her muscle and she needed a second chance to follow her destiny. Robert just happened to be along for the ride.
Robert was still just along for the ride.
Giles and Buffy walked toward the men. “Hey guys,” Buffy called, “we’re off to party at a club downtown. You comin’?”
Robert looked at veteran heroes askance. “Party?”
Buffy nodded, “Scooby Tradition; Post Save-the-World Party. We deserve it, doncha think?”
“You definitely deserve it,” Robert agreed. He looked to Giles from his place on the gravestone. “I suppose getting roaring drunk would be a bad example for the kids.”
Buffy shrugged, “We’ve all done it at one time or another.”
Robert was shocked. “Even Dawn?”
Buffy speculatively eyed the RV where her sister now slept. “She had better not have.”
“What’s the matter, luv?” Spike started teasing. “You’re allowed to get right pissed, but your sister’s not?”
With a superior smirk, Buffy tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Of course. I had a very good reason for getting drunk.”
All of the people within hearing range held their breath. Robert recognized dangerous ground, but since no one was going to ask the question, he figured that he was Marine enough to do it. “What reason was that?”
“I had just come Back.”
“Huh?” Robert was confused.
Everyone else just ignored the comment. Surprisingly, Spike was the one who diffused the situation. “As I remember, you were a charming drunk.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “As I remember, I kicked your butt.”
Spike grinned. “Like I said Slayer, you’re at your most charming sloshed.”
The two walked off to join the rest of the young people at the RV, bickering cheerfully. Robert watched for a couple of moments. Then he turned to Rupert Giles. “What just happened?”
Giles took off his glasses and started cleaning them. He glanced at the path the Slayer and the Vampire had taken and then looked at Robert. “Buffy died. She was buried for four months. Her friends thought she was in a hell dimension. Willow and the others brought her back.”
Robert waited a moment. “What’s the punch line?”
Giles offered a sardonic grimace. “Are you referring to her memories of Heaven, where she really was, or the part where she had to dig herself out of her grave.”
Robert was suddenly glad he was still sitting. “That’s . . . Bad.” Bad? Robert couldn’t believe his word choice. A stream of alternative descriptions, most learned in boot camp, flowed through his head. SNAFU topped the list.
But Giles agreed with what he had said. “It was very bad. With things as they were, she did not have a chance to work through the emotional upheaval. She had to go back to saving the world. She barely managed to cope, let alone recover. We didn’t help matters. We were so happy to have her back with us that we couldn’t comprehend why she was not as thrilled. We didn’t realize the long-term effects.”
Robert tried to say something, anything. He said nothing.
Giles understood. “Exactly. It’s been a couple years. She’s adjusted and coping well. But some days are quite hard.”
Robert had a million questions; most he knew he could never ask the Slayer. Robert could not resist the universal query. “Has she said what Heaven was like?”
Giles nodded. “It came out, at that time we didn’t even know she had been in Heaven, let alone that she remembered it. She said it was warm and safe and she knew her friends were safe. She had been happy, she had been content. Heaven is perfection that we can’t even begin to fathom. It was so perfect, that in effect, Buffy’s friends unwittingly yanked Buffy into Hell.”
“And she’s still in Hell.”
“In a way, yes. It’s all about comparisons. Earth is Heaven to those who’ve been to Hell, but Earth is Hell to those who’ve been to Heaven. Staying sane in such circumstances is . . . most trying.”
Robert attempted to wrap his mind around the whole concept, when he heard Faith yelling his name. Neither of the men answered, so Faith tried again. “Hey Old Guys!” Both men turned to glare at the Dark Slayer. “Move, already! We’ve got places to go, pizza to eat and men to screw.”
Giles and Robert started down the path toward Faith and the cemetery entrance. Robert glanced over his shoulder at the now peaceful graveyard. “So, this is normal for you guys?” He asked.
Giles shook his head. “Actually this was rather quiet for an Apocalyptic Scenario, I’m sorry to say. We only used two Slayers and Willow, and some might consider that overkill.”
“Nah,” Faith appeared beside the pair, “no such thing as Demon overkill.” She took a couple steps ahead of the men, then turned around with her hands on her hips. “Will you two kick it into high gear? I’m so horny, I’m thinking about jumping Xander.” Her grin turned sly. “Even Bert’s starting to look sexy.”
The comment earned its desired response. Robert was startled. He and Giles hurried to the RV. Once Robert thought they were out of Faith’s hearing range, he commented. “I thought she was joking about the ‘men to screw’ line.”
Resigned, Giles shook his head and climbed into the driver’s seat. Robert stepped up to the living area and sat next to Xander on the bench in the way back. He checked the bed above Xander to see Willow, the hard-working witch, and Dawn, the Slayer’s little sister, sound asleep. His life was strange.
Xander grinned at him. “You look Faith-shocked.”
Robert nodded. “She’s worse than some Marines I’ve worked with.”
Faith hopped aboard and plopped down between the two front seats. “Giles, we’re five by five and ready to party.” Giles started the vehicle and drove into town.
“Xander,” Robert whispered. “You guys say that there’s over a hundred Slayers now; why did you break out Faith instead of bringing one of the others? Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate it but why?”
Xander shrugged. “Faith paid her dues; she did her time. She has the most experience next to Buffy, and at some pretty extreme times, she’s been more reliable than Buffy. She’s one of us now . . .”
“And no one gets left behind.” Robert understood the sentiment all too well. He firmly believed in the SGC motto. He was glad to have fallen into a company of people who upheld the same values.
Xander nodded. “And since we knew we were going to break Faith out, we didn’t want to get any of the New Slayers involved incase something went screwy and we got caught. It’s also giving the New Slayers a chance to deal with a couple minor apocalypses on their own.”
Robert winced at the causal mention of a minor apocalypse as opposed to the thought a major apocalypse. The end of the world still ended the world, in Robert’s opinion. It did not matter if one demon planned it or fifty.
“What about Dawn?”
Xander hemmed and hawed enough for Robert to realize that Xander was about to lie. He was about to offer a bad lie at that.
Robert generously offered Xander an out. “You could always say it’s classified. I do know what that means.”
“Thanks.” Xander said gratefully. “Dawn is classified then.”
“Hey,” a sleepy voice in the bed above them muttered, “I heard that.”
“That’s right Dawnie,” Xander teased, “you’ve now been upgraded to ‘classified.’”
Dawn yawned. “You guys done cleaning up?”
“Yup, we’re on our way to a club to Party.” Xander did a little dance in his seat. “You and Wills should start waking up now so you don’t have bed head in public.”
Dawn eeped. She shook Willow awake, slid off the bed and hurried to the bathroom mirror to check the damage.
The bed shifted and squeaked. “That was mean.” Willow chided.
Xander chuckled. “Just because you have both guys and girls falling all over themselves to get your attention without any effort on your part, doesn’t mean the rest of us can be slackers in our appearance.”
That comment distracted Buffy from her spat with Spike. “Does that mean you’ll dance with someone other than us tonight?” She asked.
Xander sobered. “Nah, I don’t think so.”
“Xander,” Buffy was obviously rehashing an old argument. “Anya would not have want you to be alone and sad. It’s been almost two years.”
“What Anya would have wanted,” eyes sparkling, Faith drew their attention, “would be for Xander not to miss out on all the orgasms.”
Watery chuckles filled the RV.
Giles steered the large vehicle into a double parking spot in the back of the club parking lot. “We are here.” Cheers greeted the pronouncement.
Robert sat with Giles in the back of the club and watched the kids head-bang to the band on stage. They danced with the excitement of youth and the jubilation of survival. They energized the dance floor.
“They’re amazing.” Robert murmured.
Giles smiled. “You have no idea.”
Robert tore his eyes from the dance floor and looked at Rupert Giles. “How do you? Well, how do they? Manage?”
Giles took off his glasses and wiped them down. “We lose some, we win more and we fight for Earth.”
“It’s still here.”
Robert looked down at his glass of whiskey and felt incredibly selfish. He was not one for self-contemplation but spending a couple years in jail changed that. Any thoughts were promptly disrupted as the kids, he still could not think of them as anything other than kids, tumbled around the table.
“I’d like to propose a toast.” They all quieted and looked to Oz in surprise. “A toast to second chances at true love.” He bestowed a smile on a blushing Willow.
The rest of the table chuckled. “To true love.” They clinked shot glasses and pop cans.
Then Buffy called their attention. “I’ve got one. To second chances at life.” A much more sober group toasted life. But across the table, forgiveness was offered and accepted. The group mended just a bit more.
Xander waved his glass. “My turn. To second chances at laughter.” Snickers were shared.
Spike stood and raised his flask. “To death.”
Willow stood, pulled Oz up next to her and waved her drink Buffy and Xander’s way. “To Best Friends.”
“To redemption.” Faith added her two cents.
Dawn raised her pop can. “To living.”
Giles stood and looked around the circle with obvious affection. “To my children, and my second chance at being with them.”
Robert stood and closed in the circle. “Here’s to second chances and all the possibilities. May we get it right this time.”
“To second chances.”