by Adam Windsor
Disclaimer: All characters are (c) Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy and probably a whole mess of other people. No infringement of copyright intended.
Finally, some well-earned and long overdue thanks to the following:
Giles is dead.
We're standing in one of Sunnydale's cemeteries, looking at his plain stone marker. They put him next to Jenny Calendar. I never met her, but B once said that she had been Giles' girl. I always knew the old man had more to him than he let on.
I'm crying. Can you believe it? Hard-ass Faith, standing by the grave of a man I barely even liked, and I can't stop the tears from squeezing out.
But I guess one of us ought to cry, and B's eyes are dry. Have been ever since she lost it at her Mom's. That was two weeks ago. I don't even know if she's really aware of where we are. She's closed herself off completely. The only time she seems to be alive is when we patrol. And then, she scares even me.
Eventually, the silence gets to me, and I gently lead B away. She won’t come to life until it gets dark again. At the gates of the cemetery, something makes me turn and look back. A guy in a tweed jacket is standing beside Giles’ grave, watching us.
Looks like the Council is back in town.
Night falls, and we hunt.
I only feel alive at night, now. At night I don’t have to think. I just have to slay.
I know that Faith is freaking about the way I’m acting, but I can’t find it in me to do anything about it. Giles says I ought to, but I can’t.
Yeah, I know Giles is dead.
But he still talks to me.
It takes me three days to find the Council guys. *Three days*. Sunnydale ain't that big. It should have taken three hours.
They're backing a truck into a warehouse when I drop in on them. Still setting up, it seems. Good for me, bad for them. I make my move in the daylight. That means I have to work alone, but I couldn't risk coming at night: B might kill one of 'em, and I don't want to think about what might happen then.
Me, I break one guy's arm and rough the others up a bit. They offer a pretty fair scrap, I have to say. But in the end, I'm the slayer and they're not. There are three of them, all special operations hardcases. No sign of tweed guy. When they're all conscious again, I give them a warning,
"This is 'Slayerdale', now. I catch sight of any of your sorry Watcher asses again and there'll be hell to pay." I give them the full psycho treatment, determined to make as much of an impact as I can. "You don't like the way B and I work, tough. You keep your noses out of our business. Until there are new slayers, you lot are on welfare. Got it?"
Until there are new slayers.
To be honest, I don't think they'll have to wait very long.
Mom comes in to see me early in the afternoon.
I'm lying in bed, one of Giles' books in my arms. Neither of us says anything. She just sits beside me and strokes my hair. She used to do that when I was young.
I haven't felt young in a long time.
The night after the Council guys take off to lick their wounds, and B and I are on the docks, dealing with the latest lot of illegal immigrants. Just like the border patrols, only we get to deal with the Mexican *vampires*.
B and I dust the last two at almost the same moment; that's her fifth for the night, my second. Moments later, there's a soft noise to our left, and B vanishes into the darkness, on the hunt again. I curse, and follow more cautiously.
The noise comes again, this time from close behind me, and I spin, stake ready.
It's Xander Harris.
He's about fifteen feet away, just behind a waist high crate. He's looking fit; lots of lean, hard muscle. He's also looking older. There are lines on his face now, and dark smudges under his eyes. The boy has become a man.
A man who's pointing a revolver at me.
I see the threat and leap forward, a stake ready.
"B! No!" Faith's words, shouted yet distant. I twist my hand at the last minute, catching him with my knuckles instead of the stake. He goes down.
For a moment, I stand above him, shaking with rage. I can see myself plunging the stake into him, again and again.
But I don't because Faith's arms are around me and I can hear her soft voice in my ear, calming me, leading me away. I look back, and it seems to me that I know the boy on the ground, but I can't think of his name.
"Xander." Giles tells me.
I smile at Faith, because I want to let her know that Giles forgives me, but my legs go weak and I start to fall as the world goes black.
B gave me the strangest look just before she fainted. It was the kind of light-up-the-world smile I thought she'd forgotten how to give.
I hold on to the memory of it as I lift her onto my shoulder. By now, Xander's girl; Anna?; has appeared and is cradling his head.
"No thanks to you." She snaps, her eyes going to the fallen revolver.
"Bad idea, sister." I say quietly, but with conviction, "You can't carry him out alone, and if you leave him here he'll be vampire food. You need me alive." I don't bother to mention that she'd never get a shot off. We both already know that.
"Okay." She grumbles, "Truce."
I put Xander's dead weight on my other shoulder. It's not a good balance; he must outweigh B by a good sixty pounds; but it's the best I can do.
"Let's get out of here."
Faith is there when I wake up. She's got one of my hands held in her own, and I can tell she's worried. Her palms always sweat when she's worried.
"Hey." She sees I'm awake and she smiles. She hasn't smiled very often since we got here.
"Hey, yourself." I mumble back, giving her hand a squeeze. My voice sounds rough, like a car that hasn't run in a while. Which is a pretty good way to think of it.
"Are you okay?" she asks, her smile widening. The question runs deep. Much deeper than just my recent collapse.
"I am now." I sit up slowly, feeling a little weak. "How long was I out?"
"Two days." Faith hugs me suddenly, and I can feel tears on her cheek as it touches mine. Slowly, I hug her back. I realise suddenly how much she loves me, and it almost breaks my heart. I've let her down so much, since we came back here.
"How is Xander?" I ask, softly.
"Okay." She mumbles into my neck, not letting go of me. "He and Anya have been staying here until you recovered."
Softly, I kiss her on the cheek, then her eyelids, then her mouth, tasting the dark lipstick she still prefers to wear. And I tell her the one thing that brought me back.
"I love you."
B's back. The real B. The girl I fell in love with from the moment I met her.
It's about an hour after she woke and we're sitting on the couch in her Mom's living room. There are cartoons on the TV, but the sound is turned down. B's head is on my shoulder. She's still a bit weak after her collapse. But *damn* it's good to have her back.
Xander is standing near the window, looking out at the street. We haven't said more than a dozen words to each other since the docks, but I know he blames me for everything that's gone wrong. Still, if I hadn't called out to B he would be dead. After spending two years hating my guts, owing me his life must be pretty tough. Hell, seeing his high school crush in a clinch with me must be bad enough.
"So what's the deal, now?" he asks, "are you two back in Sunnydale for good? Because you gotta know the cops and the Council will be looking for you."
I glance at B, because when you get down to it, this is her call. Partly because she gave up everything for me when she came to Ontario, and I have to be willing to do the same. But mainly because I've belonged to her ever since that night in St Louis.
"We're here to stay." She nods, "Are you?"
Xander turns to face us, and I realise suddenly that I actually want him here, and not just for B's sake. This isn't the boy I jumped at the motel; it's the man who had to stake Giles' body, just to be sure he wouldn't rise. He sighs, not looking at me,
"Yeah, we are."
For the first time, it feels good to be home, again. Things aren't the way they were, and I know that they never can be. There have been too many mistakes, too many differences of opinion. But we manage find a way to work together. Even Faith and Xander.
Giles says it isn't over, though. There's still one more thing to do.
And so I've been staring at the phone for most of the morning, wondering how I'm going to do this. Wondering if it *can* be done. Eventually, just after midday, Faith wraps her arms around me and kisses me on top of the head,
"Just phone, already." She whispers, popping a grape into my mouth. I chew it slowly, glad that Mom buys the seedless kind and thinking about how I'm only thinking that to delay making the call.
So I pick up the phone and I dial from memory. It's a long string of numbers but I've been thinking about them all morning and I couldn't forget them now if I wanted.
On the third ring she answers. God help her, she's already picking up the accent over there.
"Hi, Willow. It's me."
Rosenberg came back.
I can never get over the way people will do anything for B. Brooding vampires, wannabe wicca, certifiable slayers. In the end, we all cave under her winning smile, or her pleading eyes, or her loving touch.
Red's all starch and stiff back with me, of course. I'm cool with it. Willow and I were never friends, and not even B can change that. But we maintain a cease-fire whenever she's around. And Red's girl is actually a pretty okay chick, so things could be a lot worse.
The one Red has the most trouble dealing with is Xander. She still remembers her goofy high school pal, and that ain't him anymore. It makes things between them pretty strained. Not that he and I are best buds, either. In fact, about the only thing the two of them still have in common is that they blame me for B leaving.
Still, Xander hasn't pulled a gun on me since that first night. I guess that's progress.
It takes Willow and Tara two days to fully recover from the jet lag of their trip. By the time they have, I'm ready to take the final step.
Mom's been great throughout this whole deal, putting everybody up and somehow finding enough food for us all. The house is practically bursting at the seams by now.
But we're still one short.
So I called off the patrol tonight. Because explaining this could be a little bit tricky.
We're all sitting in the living room; it's become the our new meeting place; and the others are all looking at me expectantly. Even Faith, whose lap I'm currently sitting in.
"So what's the go, B?" she puts into words what everyone is thinking. So I take a deep breath, and I tell them.
"You know that Sunnydale is on the hellmouth, which makes it a centre of supernatural events." That gets some laughter. After all, how could they *not* know? "Which means that some pretty strange things can happen here. Vampires … demons … ghosts."
I stop, looking past them and into the next room. He smiles at me, and I press on.
"Normally, the things that happen here can be grouped in the category of 'bad'. But not always. Sometimes the vampires have souls. Sometimes the demons learn to love ..." Anya gives me a nod. "… and sometimes the ghosts are old friends."
And then they see him. Thank god, they *see* him. Thank god, I'm not crazy.
For a moment, there is a stunned but joyful silence, and then a flood of questions; from Willow's practical "How?" to Faith's flippant, "So, did ya see Elvis?".
Giles raises his hands, and for once, we quiet down. He looks surprised, then smiles.
"Ghosts occur when someone with dies with important, unfinished business." He explains, falling into what we always called 'lecture' mode, "There is nothing more important, or unfinished, than what we have to do."
"Was it you at the cemetery?" Faith asks suddenly, her eyes wide with realisation.
"Yes." Giles nodded. "Your visit was what caused my spirit to return."
And I can see Faith is itching to say it, so I let her. Hey, I know her like I know myself, and she's just *got* to have the last word. She grins,
"Looks like the whole gang is back in action."