Written for: Matthew
Disclaimer: All familiar characters and locations remain the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy and anyone else who has a stake in them.
Spoilers: Post 'Chosen' (BtVS) & 'Not Fade Away' (Angel)
The slip of paper seemed to stare up at him accusingly. He should call, he knew that, it had been almost a week since he’d made his decision but he still had done nothing about it. Giles took his glasses off and gently massaged the bridge of his nose. Time to stop putting it of; he really had to make the calls now. Almost as soon as he acknowledged that, the phone in the other room began to ring. Putting his glasses back on, Giles opened the door of his study and stepped through.
Dawn wasn’t home. Again. And she hadn’t left a note. Again. Buffy sighed; the whole point in her staying in Rome was so that she could be near her sister. How was that going to ever work if her sister was never around? She glanced around in case there was a note left in an odd place and spotted her own notepad where she’d left it on the coffee table. She knew she should have made the calls straight away. Sighing heavily, she decided this time she really had to make the calls so she picked up the phone and began dialling the first number on her list before she could back out again.
As she listened to the connection being made she realised how dry her mouth was. Patting herself on the back for buying a cordless phone, she opened the kitchen door and stepped through.
Xander dropped onto the over-stuffed sofa gratefully. It had been a hectic week, everything that possibly could have gone wrong had, and of course no one but he could cope with it all. Or at least that’s what he’d kept telling himself when the choice came between facing another minor crisis at work and heading home to the empty apartment. Somehow, staying at the office always won out. Xander Harris with a work ethic? Whoddathunkit?
A flash of yellow caught his eye. A post-it note, lying dead centre in the middle of the floor. It must have landed there when it came unstuck from the side of his computer screen. He frowned for a second before remembering what it was – the numbers. The calls he still hadn’t made. One more thing he should never put off, one more thing he had to do. Hauling himself to his feet, he grabbed the sticky piece of paper, opened the door into the hallway and stepped through.
Finally she managed to grab five minutes alone. After the disastrous elemental practice last week, none of her trainees had been willing to attempt the most minor of castings unsupervised. In truth she was glad of that, she of all people knew the dangers involved in pushing ahead too far too fast. No, it was better to err on the side of caution. She just wished that for once she wasn’t president of the side of caution.
Today has gone better than most, Casey had managed a tiny bit of levitation without going into a fit of hysterics. Hopefully everyone else would remember that it really was okay to try a little without her constantly holding their hands. Willow leaned against the door, it was probably a vain hope but she was determined to hang onto it, even if was only for five minutes.
She slid her hands into her pockets and frowned when she encountered a slip of paper in one of them. It had been nearly a week since she’d worn these jeans, what could she have left in the pockets without noticing its absence for so long?
How could she have forgotten to make the calls? Yeah, so she’d been a little busy literally putting out fires, but this was important and she hadn’t even thought about it. It was almost like something was trying to stop her, or someone. Well, she’d just have to see about that then.
She put her resolve face on and flung open the door. “What the...?!”
Each threshold was crossed at exactly the same moment with a flash of blinding light marking the event. A maelstrom of swirling colours filled the air and wind began to whip round the four figures who were standing frozen to the spot. The doors through which they had so recently stepped remained freestanding at their backs. Attached to no walls, they floated free in mid-air and were the only tangible link to the ‘real’ world. All four wore an identical expression of shock on their faces and all four fixed their stares on a pulsing spot of light marking the centre of the square they formed.
The pulse picked up intensity and the whipping wind became more violent until finally, in a blinding explosion of light and sound, everything stopped.
Two dark figures began to emerge from the centre and gradually they began to hear voices.
“Always with the melodrama, why is it you always go for the big effects? Seriously, kinda gets a guy down sometimes.”
”Come on, you’ve got to put on a bit of a show.”
“Man! You spent too long in LA, all this showy flashy crap? It’s for amateurs like Spielberg and Lucas. Folks want a little bit of subtlety sometimes, finesse.”
“I think it works well.”
”Yeah, and next you’ll be telling me you liked Jar Jar Binks.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh puh-lease! Tell me you did not just say that?”
The four witnesses to the argument exchanged bemused glances. Finally Buffy stepped forward.
“Angel? Aren’t you dead?”
“Technically the term is ‘undead American’.”
”Ha!” the shorter man at his side laughed, “American? Well, I suppose it’s better than claiming you’re Irish, ‘cause seriously? Where did that accent actually come from? No one in Ireland talks like that.”
Angel glared at his fedora-wearing companion and Buffy’s eyes widened in recognition.
“Whistler? That’s you, right? What, is there some upcoming world endage and you felt you had to show your slimy little face again?”
“Buffy.” Giles’ tone had a warning quality to it. “There may be more going on here than you realise. Angel was most assuredly killed in the struggle with the legions of the Black Thorn; Charles witnessed it first hand. I hate to say it, but we’ve only encountered one foe who could apparently resurrect the dead. Well, other than standard vampirism and the followers of Ovu Mobani that is.”
“Wait. You think I’m the First Evil? Me?” Angel looked incredulous.
“To be frank, yes.” Giles confirmed, pointedly ignoring the stage whispers and giggles coming from Xander and Willow (“Frank? And I thought Rupert was bad enough!”)
“I’m not the First Evil! Why is it every time I see any of you, the first thing you assume is that I’m somehow evil?”
The four newcomers looked at each other and as one replied, “Track record.”
Whistler smirked and added, “Yeah, you have to admit you really don’t have the best history pal.” He turned to the once Scoobies, “He’s not evil, first or otherwise. I’m not evil; you’re not evil. Nobody here is evil. Okay?” He walked forward and punched Giles on the arm. “See? Corporeal and everything.”
“Ow! Well, all right so perhaps you aren’t the First Mr… Whistler was it? But what of everyone else? Should we go around attacking each other to confirm we’re not incorporeal?” Giles winced inwardly at the double negative.
“Oooo! Dibs on beating Angel up!” Xander’s hand was waving frantically in the air like a schoolboy anxious to prove his worth.
“No! There will be no hitting of Angel!” Angel snapped, glaring at Xander with barely concealed hostility. The other broke into a wide grin.
”Jeez, you always were an easy target man! How ya been?”
“Dead.” The response came automatically, as did the answering smile.
“See?” Buffy exclaimed. “I told you! You meant deader than normal right? I mean, like fitting inside a dust buster dead?”
Angel sighed. “Yes, that final fight killed me, but the Powers that Be weren’t done with me yet.”
“The Powers?” Willow asked wide-eyed, this could confirm her theories on dimensional planes. “Did you meet these ‘powers’?”
Angel shook his head. “No. And to be honest, I’m starting to have my doubts that they really exist.”
”Oh.” Willow could barely hide her disappointment. “So, if you died – again – how come you aren’t still, y’know, dead?”
“It’s a long story –“ he began.
“Which, sorry kids, we really don’t have time for right now.” Whistler interrupted, “Are we all agreed that there’s nothing evil here?”
Almost as soon as the words left his mouth there was an incessant pattering noise, the kind of noise hundreds of pairs of feet running towards them would make. As one, they all turned toward the source of the sound, ready for anything. No hordes of stampeding demons, however; instead there was simply a rather old battered non-descript wooden travelling trunk. They watched it curiously, in case something was about to emerge from it.
"Is it just me, or is that thing looking down its nose at us?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Xander. How can a trunk look down its nose at anyone? It's a trunk, an inanimate object. And besides, "Giles continued sotto voce, "it doesn’t have a nose."
“What is it? Is it evil?” Buffy asked, straight to the point as always.
“I don’t think so, it doesn’t have the vibe.” Willow volunteered.
“The vibe? You can tell if something’s got an evil vibe?” Xander raised an eyebrow as he asked. “Cool!”
“Yeah, mostly. Doesn’t always work though, ‘cause sometimes people will, like, think evil thoughts or whatever and it throws the whole scale out of whack. They’re not evil, they’re just thinking evil, and that sends everything screwy. Things are easier than people, y’know? ‘Cause things don’t tend to think all that much which means I can get a better read of it. Okay, I so need to get someone to stop me when I start babbling like that!”
“But it’s so much fun to watch.” Xander replied with a huge grin.
“Yup,” Buffy nodded in agreement. “If you didn’t babble, how are we supposed to know you’re really you. You could be like an evil twin, or a clone!”
“Or a robot!” Xander added, continuing the joke. “’Cause y’know, you could probably build your own since you’re all genius-like and everything.”
Willow looked from one to the other in mock frustration before she finally broke down into a fit of giggles.
“I missed you guys!” She held her arms out wide and drew the other two into a hug. Immediately there was an almost deafening roll of thunder and lightening forked down, barely missing the trio.
“Gah!” The three of them sprang apart instantly and looked at each other with shocked expressions.
“What the hell was that?” Buffy demanded as she spun to face those she could immediately identify as potential enemies.
Angel held up his hands in horror, “Hey! Nothing to do with me! And you know? I’m beginning to object to everyone automatically assuming whenever something bad happens that I’m the one to blame. It’s not always about me!”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that. They must be installing that ice rink in hell round about now.” Xander smirked at him.
“Perhaps we should look to the newest addition to the group for the explanation?” Giles suggested.
“Huh?” Buffy had on her best quizzical face.
“The trunk?” Giles took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose and sighing as he saw Buffy high-five Xander.
“See? Knew I’d still be the first to get him to do the glasses thing!”
“You are the master. I bow before your powers of annoyance.” Xander replied in mock seriousness while Willow giggled beside them.
Giles finally allowed himself a small smile, it was almost like old times again, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from their shoulders.
“The trunk?” He prompted again.
“Oh yeah, right. Good idea.” Buffy nodded and looked around in confusion. “Hey, where is it?”
”It’s right there – oh.” Willow stopped with a puzzled expression on her face, “Hey! Where’d it go?”
There was no sign of the trunk, and as the group looked at each other in puzzlement there came the faint echo of hundreds of feet running off into the distance.
“Well, that’s something you don’t see every day.” Angel commented.
“Where have you been? That’s actually quite tame for what we see every day.” Giles commented, not able to resist the chance to needle the vampire who tried to glare at him. The Watcher stood his ground and met the stare with a deadly serious one of his own, the tension between them as formidable as ever. Finally Angel looked away and Giles smirked a little at the petty victory.
“That thing wasn’t the cause anyway.” Whistler commented, trying to get everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. It worked, a little too well really since suddenly he found himself unable to breath again with another hand closing his windpipe. It was Buffy this time, but somehow that really didn’t make it any better.
“It’s you isn’t it?” Whistler had never actually heard a human being snarl before, Buffy’s tone came close.
He tried to shake his head but her grip was too strong, funny how he could actually feel his eyes begin to pop out of his head. It was a strange feeling.
“Buffy, put him down! He’s not to blame either!” Angel tried to come to his rescue, but Whistler didn’t hold out a lot of hope for that endeavour – track record really wasn’t on Angel’s side here.
“Um, Buffy? I don’t think it’s him.” Willow offered and Whistler felt a huge wave of gratitude towards the witch.
“Are you sure?” The blonde asked her friend.
“Well, maybe not 100% sure, but pretty sure – maybe like 95%? I can kind of read his intentions a little, and he’s not so big with the trying to kill us thing.” Whistler wished for a second that the witch wasn’t gay because he really wanted to show her how grateful he was when Buffy relaxed her grip.
“Hey! I caught that mister!” Willow remarked and Whistler turned scarlet.
“So if he’s not causing it, who is?” Buffy asked the group at large.
“And how come Hat-Boy here knows about it?”
“’Hat-Boy’? You’re slipping Xander.” Giles remarked.
“Yeah, not one of my finest I agree. In my defence though, I’m out of practice.”
“Be that as it may, I still think you could have come up with something that didn’t sound as if Willow had thought of it.”
“Hey!” The offended party exclaimed while Xander laughed at her.
“Willow my dear,” Giles replied with a gentle smile. “Whilst you are extremely talented in a great many things, nomenclature is not one of them.”
“Guys!” Buffy cried out in exasperation. Once she was sure she had their attention she turned back to Whistler. “Well Hat-Boy? What do you know about all this? Why are we here? Why did we almost get fried a minute ago? Why’s Angel not dead? Where exactly are we and most importantly, do you seriously think that hat looks good?”
He looked at her with what almost looked like pity on his face. “You are causing it.”
Whistler was sitting cross-legged on, for wont of a better word, the ground and doing his best to explain the situation. He hadn’t signed up for this – these four had already given up so much of themselves that this was just asking too much of them. But he wasn’t allowed to think like that, was he? He’d not signed up for any of it, but still it had to be done.
“It’s all about balance. Good can’t exist without evil and vice versa, you know this by now and if you don’t then where the hell have you been? The two have to exist in balance with each other – neither side can ever win. Sad fact kids but it’s the truth.” He took a breath and looked around at his unwilling audience. “Every now and then something happens that throws off the balance, one side will get stronger and gain the upper hand. That’s when guys like us have to step in.” His gesture encompassed Angel and himself. “We get told what’s caused the shift in balance and that it has to be fixed."
“Wait a minute,” Buffy interrupted. “What do you mean guys like you?”
“Oh. But you said Angel as well – he’s not a Balance Demon.”
“Yeah, about that.” Angel said, “Well… I am now.”
“I told you that the Powers weren’t finished with me, right? Well, being here, monitoring the balance, is what I still have to do.”
Buffy looked up him, her eyes getting a little misty as she realised that she wasn’t the only one who’d been royally screwed over by fate. Every single one of them had.
“Not to be insensitive, but can we get to the crux of the matter?” Giles asked gently.
“Yeah, right. So seven years ago Evil got the upper hand for a short time and you managed to avert the apocalypse by activating the latent Slayer line.”
Whistler looked around for confirmation and saw them nod in proud agreement. Why did he have to do this to them? It just wasn’t right.
“You beat the bad guy – congrats on that by the way – and that should have been that, right? Wrong. Now the balance has shifted the other way and the good guys have the upper hand. No one in Evilville has the strength left to challenge that and if the scales stay tilted the way they are…” He pantomimed a set of scales with his hands for a second before dropping his left hand to the floor.
“Kaboom?” Willow asked in an eerily calm voice.
“End of the world.” Whistler confirmed.
“So how do we fix it?” Buffy demanded.
“Power of the Slayer and all who wield it. Last to ancient first, we invoke thee. Make us mind and heart and spirit and hand join.” Willow closed her eyes briefly, she couldn’t believe she was doing this, she was taking away the power she had granted. It felt so wrong. No. It had to be done, there was no other way. She opened her eyes again and lit the candle before her. “Spiritus.” She passed the lighted taper to Xander, “Animus.” He said lighting his own candle before passing it to Giles.
Buffy looked at the flickering flame, all she had to do was light the candle, say the word and the world would be saved. But if she went through with it she would once again be the Slayer. The Chosen One. She sighed. So be it.
“Manus” she whispered and lit the candle.
The room seemed to spin around them, growing ever faster. Instinctively they all reached out at the same moment and grasped the hand of the person sitting next to them. As soon as the connection was complete, lightening again forked down, landing in the centre of the square they formed. It arced out and hit each of them dead centre.
Angel tried to rush forward but Whistler held him back, he was surprisingly strong for someone so short. They watched as the lightening flickered round the four seated figures until eventually a dark cloud seemed to be drawn from each of them and coalesced in the air over their heads.
Eventually with one final crack of lightening, the cloud disappeared. The four figures slumped to the ground and lay motionless as Angel finally broke free of Whistler’s restraint. As he knelt at Buffy’s side he saw to his relief that she was breathing, and also that there was not a mark on her from the repeated lightening strikes. He glanced around quickly at the others and confirmed that they too were in a similarly unhurt condition. As he watched, they began to stir and after what seemed like an eternity Buffy’s eyes fluttered open.
“Wow.” She said quietly.
The other three made similar comments and Giles asked “So is that it? Is this balance of yours restored?”
Angel looked over his shoulder and saw Whistler nod in confirmation. “Yes,” he replied. “It’s done, the Slayer line is now back in one body. The way it has to be.”
“Those poor girls, will they be alright?” Willow asked a little tearfully.
Whistler stepped up, “Yeah, they’ll just go back to living a normal life. Except they’ll know a little more about the nastier side of things than they did before.”
“Were any of them hurt when the power left them?” Xander asked. “I mean, were any of them in the middle of a fight?”
Buffy gasped, she hadn’t thought about that possibility. Suppose her choice had just killed some girl somewhere? How could she live with that?
Whistler shook his head. “No, an armistice was agreed upon. No confrontations were made in the time this meeting took place. What happens next however, well that’s up to the Slayer.”
His statement was met with a frown from each of them.
“So we can go now?” Buffy asked. “How do we get out of here?”
“You can leave any time you want. All you have to do is go back through the doors.”
Sure enough, the four doors were still hanging in mid air. Smiling a little Buffy turned to the others and said “As soon as I get home I’m booking a flight to London, that’s okay with you Giles isn’t it? We need to talk some more.”
Giles nodded, “Of course, all of you are welcome any time.”
“Then I’m coming too.” Xander said.
“Me too.” Added Willow. “We can do the whole festive thing, tis the season after all!”
The four grinned at each other knowing that the arrangements were not the usual casual ones given to save hurt feelings; these were promises that would not be broken. Eventually they broke apart and headed for their own doorways. One by one they stepped through until only Buffy was left. As she opened the door to her lounge, she turned to Whistler. “Why did you say it was up to the Slayer? Why didn’t you say it was up to me?”
He smiled a little sadly as the magick that held this reality began to fade and she was drawn away. “’Cause it’s not up to you, kid.”
A black cloud was suffocating her, she tried to scream but all that did was allow it to enter her mouth. The horror she felt drained away as something changed within her. Something that had been incomplete was now whole. She was the Slayer.
Faith’s eyes sparkled, “Wicked cool!”