Section 5: The Battle

Part Ten

Kendra regarded Buffy with barely disguised scorn as the quartet left the vicinity of the church. Cordelia drove off to the hospital to fill Xander in on what had happened.

“See,” she said. “It is as I told you. Emotional ties can only harm and not help a Slayer. You should teach her this when she recovers.”

Giles helped Buffy into his car. He turned to Kendra as she entered and said. “No. Sam Zabuto has taught you Slaying and research, but he forgot to tell you how to be a human being. The crisis is over. Drusilla is dead. Get out of my sight.”

“I have not —” the other Slayer began.

Giles walked over and stared into Kendra’s eyes. “Get. Out. If there is another crisis, come back and tell us. Until then, stay out of Sunnydale.”

Kendra’s eyes flared but she refused to get rattled. She inclined her head. “As you wish, Watcher.” Slowly she walked off into the darkness.

Giles looked at Buffy, curled up on the back seat in silence. Twice he called his charge’s name and she didn’t respond at all. He dared not touch her for fear of her reaction.

What to do? The girl had suffered horrible emotional strain over the last six months, reaching all the way back to Willow’s death. Now to have Angel perish in her arms on top of all of it … she still wasn’t moving. Damn.

He drove off to the library. Unresistingly she allowed herself to be led into Giles office, wheres he sat down. Buffy’s eyes widened when she saw THE book, which Giles had been studying through earlier. He dashed across the office and covered it up. Then he sat down and faced Buffy.

As usual, his own feelings had to wait until Buffy’s were taken care of. It was a tremendous mistake for them to assume that he ENJOYED repressing his emotions as much as he did. In fact, it had been part of the Watcher training — to avoid getting too emotionally involved with your charges. That this also crippled the Watchers’ personal emotional lives was considered a small price to pay.

And one that Rupert Giles had slowly been learning to ignore, with the help of Buffy and Jenny Calendar. Unfortunately, neither were able to help him — and circumstances over the last few months had dictated that he repress his emotions. Be strong for Buffy. And that may very well have cost him Ms. Calendar’s affections, when this “strength” allowed Xander to beat Ethan Rayne savagely.

But, he could not deny it, even now he was only sorry he’d done it because of the effect it had had on Jenny.

It wasn’t just those emotions he was suppressing, though; he was in considerable shock over Angel’s death. Despite the vampire’s recent lapses he had been a formidable ally — and cared for Buffy as much as he did. That his death had been so hollow — so meaningless and empty — was even greater a tragedy. And not merely because it seemed to have driven Buffy into catatonia, though that was a large part of it. He’d known — he’d KNOWN — that, with the amount of stress Buffy was under, it was only a matter of time before she cracked. And that insufferable, coldhearted Slayer Kendra was NO help whatsoever. He would have to call Sam Zabuto again and take him to task for his failings. But that, of course, had to wait.

He looked over at Buffy. She was still conscious and breathing, but otherwise not reacting at all to her surroundings. So he decided not to try to provoke a reaction. There had to be something to do here — but he didn’t know what it was. And while Mrs. Summers might be able to get through to Buffy, Giles could not for the life of him conceive of a way to explain Buffy’s condition to her short of the truth. So there was only one person he could call to help. He prayed that she would be in, and further, willing.

Wearily, he picked up the phone.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia got there as visiting hours were due to expire. By pleading, begging, and finally reminding them exactly WHOSE father was the head of obstetrics at Sunnydale Hospital (not hers, but they didn’t need to know that), she got in to see Xander. He was awake and flipping through the TV channels. He shut the TV off when he saw her enter, with a look of surprise at her appearance.

“Cordy!” He said and tried to sit up. “What the HELL happened to you? You look like you’ve been through hell.”

She sat down on the chair. “Pretty close.”

“What happened? Do I want to know what happened?”

“Well, Buffy and Giles are okay physically. So’s miss wandering-accent, who can’t get back to Jamaica or Scotland or wherever the hell she calls home fast enough for me. The mission —”

“Whoa, whoa. Okay physically? Not okay mentally? Which one, and how not okay mentally are we talking?”

“Buffy.” A look of fear crossed Xander’s face. “And she is WAY not okay.” He regarded her quizzically. “We couldn’t stop the ritual in time. Drusilla was completely restored — but Buffy Slayed her a minute later.” He didn’t get the implications. “That’s right, you weren’t there. For Drusilla to be healthy, the vampire that created her had to die.”

Xander finally added it up. “Angel. It was Angel.”

Cordelia sighed. “He died in Buffy’s arms.” She carefully watched Xander’s reaction. For the longest time he said absolutely nothing.

Finally, he reacted. “Damn. Damn, damn, damn. I can’t — I CAN’T — say I’m sorry he’s dead. Because I’m not. And it wouldn’t have wigged Buffy out this badly if — if —” His arm, in the air, flopped down onto the bed.

She could sense where he was going. “Unless she still loved him. I thought of that, too.”

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. “If she loved him — after all that, if she still loved Angel — then she couldn’t have loved me.”

What could she say to him? She loved him — far more than Buffy ever had, she was sure — but what could she say? The truth? But she didn’t know what that was. And Buffy obviously cared for Xander. Love? She didn’t think so. Not in the way she did.

Her heart was walking a tightrope here. Finally, Xander trusted her implicitly. The next thing she said could drive him away from Buffy — or, possibly, convince him he was wrong and that the Slayer DID love Xander. Or just confuse the hell out of him.

“You don’t know that,” she finally decided on. “You can’t until you talk to her.” After a pause, “And you can’t do that now anyway because of both of your conditions.”

“I’m still not sorry he’s dead. I will NEVER be sorry he’s dead.” Cordelia started to speak and he interrupted. “But if Buffy is so wigged out by Angel’s death that she’s not mentally all there, then I’m sorry for that.”

“If you love someone, set them free …?”

“Or something like that.”

Cordelia reached down to hug him. Then, impulsively, she kissed him on the forehead and straightened up. She flushed for a second. “I’ve gotta go check on Buffy. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

He said, “Thanks for coming, Cordy. You’re all right.”

She laughed. “And WHAT do you think I’ve been telling you all these months?”

*                              *                              *

Jenny Calendar was grading some homework when she got the phone call. “Hello?” She said. She tensed when she heard the voice on the other end. Dealing with Rupert Giles was something she wasn’t ready for.

“Ms. Calendar,” he said hurriedly. “Don’t hang up. This is quite urgent. I-it’s about Buffy.”

Alarmed, she answered, “What’s wrong? Is she hurt?”

“Yes and no. Physically, there’s not a scratch on her. But she’s not responding to anything I say. She’s breathing, and as near as I can tell she’s conscious, but otherwise —”

“What brought this on?” Buffy had been under tremendous pressure. Being the Slayer was mentally tiring at the best of times, and these were far from those. “I heard about Xander being shot — something about a misfiring weapon?”

“No, it was a member of the Order of Taraka. But that’s not what did it. Angel — died tonight.”

“Oh —” Angelus dead? It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon! The torture should have lasted longer.

Well, that shot down HER ethical dilemma. She’d liked Angel, and felt guilty about hiding that she was there to spy on him and make certain of his essential unhappiness. There was damn little chance he’d be happy now, she thought. She said a brief, silent prayer to whatever God — or goddess — was in charge of Angelus’ soul to be merciful. The Calderash might think otherwise, but she knew. He’d suffered enough. At the next opportunity, she’d have to let her Uncle Enyos know — on the chance he didn’t know it already. After that … well, watching Angelus had been the greatest part of her life. Which now, after 32 years, was finally her own again. What was she going to do?

“Jenny?” Rupert’s voice came through the phone. “Are you all right?” He sounded concerned. He probably WAS concerned.

“Y-yes, Sorry. What happened?” Jenny had been completely out of touch with whatever prophecies Rupert had been hunting down. But when she heard the story … she wasn’t surprised that Buffy had cracked. Anyone else probably would have buckled a long time ago. Once Rupert was done, she said, “Oh, I am so sorry for everyone … but what can I do?”

“Presuming that magic would be a bad way to bring her out of it …”

“It would,” she said sharply. “Like using caffeine to wake yourself up. Eventually, it’d wear off and leave you feeling worse.”

“I suspected as much,” he said tiredly. Goddess, he sounded exhausted! It had obviously been almost as much strain on him as on Buffy. “Still, I would appreciate any help you can give me.”

“I’ll be over as soon as I can.” She shut off and unplugged her computer and wheeled out to her specially contructed van, chairlifting herself into the back, locking it in place and maneuvering into the front seat. Then she used the hand controls and drove to the school.

From the parking lot it was just five minutes into the library. Rupert was sitting in his office, looking at Buffy in despair. She was seated on the couch and staring dully forward. He looked up when he heard her wheelchair’s motor and his face brightened briefly. “Jenny! Thank God you’re here. I haven’t been able to get through to her yet. I’ve tried talking quietly, I’ve tried telling her that demons were ravaging Sunnydale, and nothing has worked. I have yet to provoke a reaction beyond breathing.”

“Oh my …” she couldn’t believe this wounded, filthy girl was Buffy Summers. She turned to Rupert accusingly. “Why didn’t you at least wash her off and treat her wounds?”

“Be-because I didn’t want to chance touching her more than I had to.” Oh. That actually made sense. “Look !” he said amazedly.

“What?” She looked at Buffy. “I don’t see —” and then she did. Wherever Buffy was, hearing Jenny’s voice seemed to be bringing her back. She tilted her head and seemed to be listening. Rupert started to speak and Jenny said, “Shhh. Don’t say a word. Buffy! Buffy, can you hear me?”

“I hear you,” she said in a monotone. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the library. Do you know who you are? Do you know who I am?”

“I’m Buffy Summers. You’re Jenny Calendar.”

Jenny pointed at Rupert. “Do you know who that is?”

Buffy’s eyes widened and she raised her voice. “No! Angel, no!” The outer doors of the library opened and silently Rupert went to confront the intruder, as Jenny said, “It’s okay, Buffy. If you don’t know, you don’t know.” More likely, now, was that she didn’t WANT to know who Rupert was. The Watcher walked in, followed by Cordelia. The young woman’s face fell when she saw her friend, but she said nothing. To confirm her suspicions, Jenny asked Buffy, “Who just walked in?” The Slayer hunched up and said nothing.

She sighed. “She doesn’t seem to WANT to recognize you. She probably wouldn’t recognize Xander either — or Kendra.” Buffy said nothing to either name. This next move would be VERY hard for Rupert, but to save Buffy — “I’m going to have to take her home. It’s likely she’d respond to her mother.”

Rupert looked up in alarm. “B-but what would we tell her mother? I doubt any of the usual excuses would work here. How would we explain it short of telling Mrs. Summers the truth?” They couldn’t. Jenny prepared to tell him when Cordelia quietly interrupted.

“You may not need to at the moment. Mrs. Summers is away for the week and won’t be back for a few days.”

Well, perhaps they COULD dodge that bullet. It depended what condition Buffy was in when her mother returned. But still — “I’m going to take Buffy to my apartment for a couple of days. I can get someone to cover my classes until then. Maybe — and I stress MAYBE — she’ll be functional by then. I don’t know.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Yes,” she said curtly. “Stay away. I’ll call you — all of you — when there’s been a change.” She softened a bit. “And I WILL call. I know how much you care about her.” Looking at Buffy, she told the Slayer, “Buffy! Would you push me out to my car?”

Minimally nodding, Buffy answered, “Of course,” in the same dull monotone as before. Leaving a concerned Rupert Giles and Cordelia Chase behind, she went out to the car and motioned Buffy to get in. She did so. Then Jenny Calendar drove home.

The battle for the soul of Buffy Summers had begun.

Part Eleven

The next few days went past in a kind of spurious routine. Buffy stumbled through them listlessly, speaking only in a monotone. Only when Jenny brought up Xander, Rupert or Cordelia did Buffy react — and it was with fear, as though she were a cornered animal.

Otherwise, Buffy would eat whatever was placed before her, would watch TV or listen to the radio or whatever Jenny set up for her entertainment that involved minimal interaction. But she wouldn’t read and wouldn’t touch Jenny’s computer, no matter WHAT the pagan put on the screen.

Only one other time did Buffy show emotions — when Jenny turned on her television and the movie “Once Bitten” was playing. The girl whimpered until Jenny wheeled over and flipped the channel.

She called Rupert twice — he’d thought to go by and inform Xander of the depths of Buffy’s problem — and Cordelia once. Wisely, no one dropped by.

Also, she called Uncle Enyos. He seemed pleased to learn that Angelus’ death had been one of slow, agonizing torture. When Jenny had expressed sympathy — and admitted that she’d prayed for his soul, now that he was fully and completely dead — he had reacted in a towering fury.

“No! Even now, we do not forgive. Everlasting torture in Hell is no less than he deserves!”

“So, you’re setting yourself up as God now, Uncle?’

“What do you mean, Jana?” He asked sharply.

“Only the Christian God sets himself up as the arbiter of who deserves eternal punishment. So you are essentially claiming to be that God.”

“Jana!” he said, “Such sentiments are unworthy of a child of the Calderash.”

“You’re right, Uncle, they are,” she told him. “Well, I’ve done my duty as a good Rom. And you know what?”


“I’ve decided that if that is what my family is like, then I do not wish to be a member of this family any longer. Good day, Uncle.” She hung up the phone and immediately, using her phone line instead of her ISDN connection, went on-line.

She didn’t know if her uncle had tried to call her back, and truth be told she didn’t care. Goddess save her from those obsessed with revenge!

And what was the difference between the Calderash and the Slayer and her companions when they worked Ethan Rayne over so severely? She disapproved of BOTH actions.

Maybe it’s because the latter group didn’t seem so consumed by their desire for revenge. It was there, but it was not the be-all and end-all of existence for them. They had other lives which were of equal — or greater — significance.

By Saturday morning she was starting to worry. She knew — from Cordelia, who’d thought to go by and take messages — that Buffy’s mother was due home early tomorrow. Actually, Cordelia had covered rather nicely, being in the house when Ms. Summers called and saying that Buffy was in the shower. Still — 24 hours were 24 hours. That’s all she had.

She wasn’t going to be cruel to Buffy; she deserved as little pain as possible, which would be none, if Jenny could only manage that. Despite what she’d told Rupert, she had even done some research into spells designed to let her share another’s mind. And they all required so much skill that they were WAY above anything she felt competent to try. They’d be as likely to turn Buffy into a vegetable as cure her, and more likely would be utterly useless.

So Jenny Calendar was reduced to more prosaic methods. She’d been hoping that the routine alone would do it, but obviously had had no luck. She went up to Buffy — sitting on the couch in one of Jenny’s shirts and a pair of sweatpants, really the only things she had that fit the smaller girl — and said, “Buffy? Buffy?”

“Oh. Hi, Ms. Calendar.” She said. “Is it time to eat again?”

“No, Buffy.” The girl turned back to watch the television and Jenny took the remote and clicked it off.

“Oh. No more television? Okay. Is it bedtime?”

“No, Buffy,” Jenny said patiently. “We need to talk.”

“About what?”

“About Xander.” Buffy winced. “And Giles.” She shrunk back further and muttered Angel’s name. “And Cordelia.” She curled up onto the sofa and began to whine. She hated this. Two more names to say. Two more. She could get through this once and once only.

“Buffy!” she said firmly. “We need to talk about Angel.” She would NOT let the tears form as she mentioned the next name. “And Willow. We need to talk about Willow.”

“No!” Buffy screamed. Well, a scream wasn’t retreat. “Don’t you see? Angel is love! Willow is innocence!” She cried. “Willow is …”

Hating herself, she said it again. “Willow, Buffy. Willow.”

“No! Shut up! It’s not my fault! None of it’s my fault!” She shoved Jenny’s wheelchair aiside with her Slayer strength, toppling it. Jenny avoided injury, but could only hear where Buffy went, not see. She knew exactly what to do if this happened; she flexed her body and rolled clear of the upended chair, then righted it and flexed herself onto the sofa. From there she sat back in the wheelchair and rolled over to the bathroom door, where she could hear Buffy crying. The door was locked and she wasn’t interested in trying to break it down, so she sat there and waited for it to open.

It wasn’t as long a wait as she’d feared. About fifteen minutes later the door creaked and she looked up. Buffy was standing there. “Hi, Ms. Calendar!” She chirped. Jenny blinked. It couldn’t have been that easy. The Slayer continued, “Sorry I’ve been such a drag the last few days. Just had a lot on my mind, that’s all. But I’m back now!”

After five minutes of questions Buffy seemed perfectly normal. After fifteen minutes Jenny’s fears had been confirmed.

It HADN’T been that easy.

*                              *                              *

Xander practically ripped out his stitches getting dressed when Ms. Calendar called him, then realized his parents would get MIGHTY suspicious of that and calmly dressed himself.

He needed to do some fast talking to explain to his parents why he needed to go out, when he was supposed to be taking the weekend easy. Mentioning Buffy got him the release. His parents had noticed that their son’s girlfriend — formerly so devoted — hadn’t dropped by even once. Xander had attributed that to the horrendous fight they’d had the day before it happened. Honestly, he wasn’t so sure it HADN’T been a factor. Even given that they still thought Buffy’s actions somewhat heartless, they let him go visit — provided that they drove him. That he begged off by saying that Cordelia would be happy to do it, and they acquiesced.

Carefully avoiding any strain on his still-tender shoulder, he waited impatiently for Cordelia to pick him up. Right now, he’d’ve almost preferred her to be the reckless, wipe-out-a-string-of-parked-cars Cordelia of old to the safe, careful driver of today.

Ms. Calendar had warned him that, while Buffy was substantially better than she used to be, she still wasn’t QUITE herself. When Xander had pressed for more details (Buffy’s back! Buffy’s back!), she’d only said they’d all have to see for themselves.

Their relationship? That was on the back burner at the moment. It was more important to be sure she was his old pal Buff again first. He loved her, no matter who she was.

FINALLY Cordy pulled up in her car. He dashed across his front lawn and dove into her front seat, prompting an annoyed, “Hey, Xander, why don’t I just whack your shoulder with a hammer?” from Cordy in the driver’s seat. He snorted, but inside was glad for the concern. Cordy really was proving to be a good and loyal friend.

“Go, go, go!” he said as he buckled up.

As they drove off she said, “Impatient much?” out of the side of her mouth and he vigorously nodded. “Me, too. But let’s relax a bit, okay? We both know something’s up, we both know she’s not quite back to normal yet. So let’s not go tearing in there …”

“Like everything is both hunky and dory. Gotcha. I’m not stupid, Cordy.”

She raised an eyebrow and laughed. “Xander, please! Handing me an opening like that?”

They spent the rest of the brief drive in a comfortable silence. When they got there Ms. Calendar stopped them at her front door and said, “Wait here for Rupert. He should be along … shortly …” They all turned around to see Giles and his Citröen tearing down the street at about 75 miles an hour, then slamming on the brakes and making a graceless and and undignified exit from the drivers’ side door.

Xander opened his mouth to say something when Giles turned to him and said, “Not. A. Word.” What, him?

Ms. Calendar took a deep breath and said, “Now, quickly. She’s getting a tad impatient with being held here. The last few days — ever since … Angel — are a bit of a blur to her. She thinks she was just upset, not catatonic. Also —”

“Are they there?” Buffy said from behind her. “Are they there?”

“We’re here, Buffy!” Xander called in. God! She sounded so happy and cheery.

“I said, stay back there, Buffy,” Ms. Calendar said. “If I hear you again I’ll flunk you.”

“I’m not TAKING your class this year,” came Buffy’s voice impatiently.

“Then I’ll flunk Cordelia.” The look of outrage on Cordy’s face was priceless.

“Can’t have that …” Buffy said perkily. Then silence.

Giles seemed puzzled. “I don’t see what’s wrong. She sounds fine to me.”

Xander knew. “That’s the problem there, Giles. She’s TOO happy.”

Grimly, Ms. Calendar nodded. “Exactly. In order for Buffy Summers to come out of that shell, she had to repress certain things.”

“And those are …” Giles said.

“Rupert … she doesn’t remember that she’s the Slayer.”

*                              *                              *

Rupert Giles couldn’t believe his ears. “What?”

“I mean it,” Jenny Calendar said. “It seems that in order to function effectively again as a human being — to stop blaming herself for Willow’s and Angel’s deaths, to take that pressure off — she has entirely blocked out being Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer.”

“So she’s what? Buffy Summers, typical teenager, now?” Xander said. Cordelia went in to keep Buffy company, them feeling that Xander would carry a bit too much emotional baggage.

“More or less. All those lies you and others have made up to cover the Slaying activities, she now believes. Gangs on LSD, etcetera. Willow and Angel were both killed by members of the gang, and since there’s NOTHING she could have done to stop them, she isn’t blaming herself.”

Since Drusilla was dead and Spike likely so, it was possible Sunnydale wouldn’t suffer too heavily from vampire depredations. Still, he hoped Buffy’s condition didn’t last too long. While SHE could likely survive by repressing — and thank HEAVEN for that, at least — Sunnydale might not be so lucky. The world needed a Slayer. One, preferably, with more people skills than Kendra. What would Sunnydale do … “How long …”

“I have no idea, Rupert; I’m not a mental health professional. I think I got VERY lucky here, actually, in bringing her this far back. Now you won’t have to tell her mother, at least. She may NEVER be Buffy the Vampire Slayer again. Or something might trigger it tomorrow, I have no idea.”

“So what does she think happened with Angel and Xander’s injury?”

“Not entirely sure. Part of involves that she ticked off Spike — a gang leader — and he sent the fake cop after her, and kidnapped her tutor. She charged after him and Angel got killed. We’ve already had the funeral. As for you, Xander —” the boy looked up. “She thinks you had a huge fight because you were jealous of her friendship with Angel. I don’t know where your relationship is at the moment. When you talk, step lightly. Go where she wants to go.” The boy swallowed, a little sadly, and nodded. He’d make the sacrifice, as they all would. Giles would patrol for a while; certainly Cordelia would help, and Xander, once his shoulder was fully healed. But if it took that long —

“Now,” Jenny continued, “Come on in and say hi to your old friend Buffy Summers, typical teenager.” They walked in tentatively to greet Buffy.

Across town a man named Ted Buchanan went over his schedule for the following week. On it was a notation: Tuesday, 11 AM, Joyce Summers, Sunnydale Art Gallery.

And the battle for the soul of Buffy Summers continued.

Part Twelve

A few weeks later — Buffy still in full denial mode — the three friends walked back from the movies one night. Buffy had apologized profusely to Xander for her comments — which she misremembered — but had that said no matter how cruel the words and the timing were, they were true. She really didn’t love him. He’d just been the safe alternative to the older, spookier Angel. And she’d felt so, so protective of him after Willow, that she’d mistaken those feelings for love.

Xander knew that the words were true, even if Buffy’s reasoning was off. He felt very betrayed. To have her pursue him — CATCH him — and then in a moment of crisis say, oops, it was all a mistake — had been something of a devastating blow to him, and his ego. But he couldn’t really protest too loudly, given Buffy’s determination that EVERYTHING was going to be okay. She went multi-freakoid when things didn’t go smoothly.

It had been odd — she now BELIEVED in the existence of a crime club, so Xander, Giles and Cordelia had to fake one up. Fortunately there was no shortage of bizarre crimes in the Sunnydale area — an understatement the size of Wisconsin — so that wasn’t a problem. It was stressful as all hell, but they’d do it as long as Buffy needed it. There also really HADN’T been much Slaying activity, with Drusilla dead and Spike presumed dead. Five vampires in three weeks; Giles killed three and Xander and Cordelia one each.

Cordelia. She’d been such a good friend to him. It was amazing, but in a sense she really had replaced Willow. He and Cordy never quite seemed to click quite as well, and there were so many more differences than similarities since she’d stopped actually trying to imitate his best friend, but there was a genuine bond there.

He never analyzed the nature of the bond. Possibly he didn’t WANT to know.

Anyway, he and Cordy bickered as they approached Buffy’s house. Oddly, the front door was open. Buffy told them, “You guys wait here a second,” and walked in. A second later they heard Mrs. Summers yell, “No!” and a glass break. Concerned, they ran in and found … Buffy staring in horror at her mother … in the arms of a somewhat goofy-looking man.

“Oh!” She said. “Xander, Cordelia … this is Ted.”

Buffy was still staring in shock. Oh, shit, Xander thought. This was NOT going to be good. An hour or so later, ready to start dinner, he knew he’d been right. Buffy was having a LOT of difficulty with this. She hadn’t spoken in more than monosyllables all night. He grabbed Cordelia and pulled her off to one side. Cordy’d been handling the bulk of the conversation, actually, everything from computers to fashion. Ted seemed equally knowledgeable at both.

“Cordy,” he whispered, “we need to get Buffy out of here. Her mom and another guy just doesn’t fit her little happy mindset.”

She nodded. “I was thinking that, too. This would wig Buffy out if she were sane. Determined to be Little Miss Sunshine, it’s not going to do her any good at all.”

“Follow my lead.” They both went into the kitchen, where Buffy was sitting dispiritedly at the kitchen table. Mrs. Summers was starting to get annoyed, and Xander couldn’t really blame her. At times Buffy was lucky her mom was the president of the Sunnydale club for the terminally clueless. This wasn’t one of those times.

“Buffy Summers,” Mrs. Summers said. “Please pay attention when I’m talking to you. Now, Ted’s made two kinds of pizza —”

“Mrs. Summers,” Xander interrupted jovially, “I’m so sorry. I think I know what’s bothering Buffy. This is a night we were all going to do something to surprise Mr. Giles in the library, and Buffy just didn’t want to tell you this.” Buffy looked up in surprise but didn’t say anything.

She frowned. “Does it have to be tonight?”

“Well, Mrs. Summers,” Cordy lied smoothly, “This is his birthday, and he’s been such a BIG help to all of us recently … well, we just found out today and haven’t had much lead time.”

She said, “I’m still not …”

Jovially, Ted said, “Joyce! We’ve already done what you wanted. I’ve met your lovely daughter and her charming friends. So they can’t share the dinner because they’re planning a party for a teacher. I think it’s sweet, actually. You don’t SEE good relationships like that anymore. Not like in the old days.” On Joyce’s hesitation, he said, “Now, now, Joycey — Ted has spoken.”

Mrs. Summers relented at this joking display of domineering, but Buffy got furious and Cordelia steered her into the living room.

“Thank you much, Mrs. Summers,” Xander said as he left. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Buchanan.”

“Nice to meet you, Xander!” he said expansively. “You just be sure your birthday surprise goes off like clockwork.”

“Will do,” he said as he left. Then the three of them hopped into Cordelia’s car — Buffy had insisted on WALKING to the movies — and drove off to the library.

*                              *                              *

They’d been lucky for the last three weeks, Cordy reflected as they walked into the library. Nothing more serious than grief from Principal Snyder had gotten in Buffy’s way, and she’d had no problem with that. It wasn’t even like Buffy was forcing herself to be happy and cheerful, like Cordy’d been doing herself at the beginning of the year. She WAS happy.

But now something was interfering with that cheerfulness. Something named Ted. Xander’s pulling Buffy away had been a bit of a stopgap. If Ted and Mrs. Summers were as serious as they seemed … hell, even if they WEREN’T, it would be a problem. They couldn’t keep Buffy’s mom dateless forever.

She ran ahead to warn Giles about what was going on and fill him in on their cover story. She burst in on him and Ms. Calendar in the middle of a serious discussion of their relationship. With Xander only about a minute or so behind them, she didn’t have time to be too polite. “Sorry about this. Xander’s bringing Buffy in — she saw her mom with a date and was SERIOUSLY not happy. We got her out before she did something stupid by claiming it was your birthday.”

“Did, did you consider that this might have been just the shock she needed?” Giles told her.

“No, not really — but she wasn’t thinking Slayer violence, she was becoming Little Miss Cucumber again. We didn’t think it was good to keep her there and risk her becoming a permanent garden salad.”

“Probably for the best, Rupert,” Ms. Calendar said, “but it’s not going to do much good just to drag her off. She’ll have to go back sometime.”

“I know. I was thinking … what if we looked him up on the computer? So we could PROVE to Buffy that he’s okay for her mom to date. Find a clean record and we might calm her down.”

“Okay. Might actually work …” Xander and Buffy walked in. Cordy walked over to them. “Um, Ms. Calendar and I have a little computer work to do. So the three of you are on your own for a while.” Giles had time for one I’ll-get-you-later look before the computer teacher joined her in the hallway.

As she maneuvered onto the chairlift, Ms. Calendar said to Cordelia, “I hope you weren’t going to ask me to do anything illegal, Cordelia. You know I don’t like to work that way.”

“Of COURSE not,” Cordelia said as she mentally crossed her fingers. “No, two heads? Better than one? And you’re twenty times better at this than I am …” No, Ms. Calendar didn’t need to do any hacking. By now, Cordelia was fairly confident she could handle THAT herself.

And against typical security, she would have been right. But this was TED …

*                              *                              *

Buffy got ready to crawl in the window on Saturday night. She didn’t know why she’d felt the urge to go out, she just … had. Thinking. She’d had to think. Ted had really bothered her, even though her friends hadn’t been able to dig up ANY dirt on the guy. But, yesterday — she’d decided to take more direct action. Look up the guy where he worked. A coworker had mentioned Ted’s plans for MARRIAGE and a picture on Ted’s desk had had Buffy’s picture folded over. Then, today during her, her mother and Ted’s miniature golf trip — Xander and Cordy, being supportive of Buffy, had quietly declined the invitation in favor of a movie — he’d damn near torn her head off.

As an aside, Buffy noticed how much time those two were spending together. She felt a little sad inside — but thought Cordelia would be a much better fit for Xander than she was. WHY that was, she didn’t really know. She just seemed — more of an equal. Now, as usual, Xander needed to take those blinders off …

And then Ted had really laid into Buffy over a way tiny bit of cheating. Called them a family and said he didn’t put up with such behavior in HIS household. And since when was it his?

So she’d gone out to think and walk in the park. Hadn’t come to any conclusions about what to do about Ted. She had to protect her mother. But how? What could Buffy Summers possibly do?

She climbed up to her window like she’d done it a million times before, which was odd, because she could only remember doing it a couple of times before. Crawling through, she found … Ted? She demanded, “What are you doing in here?”

Ted answered harshly, “Your mother told you to go to your room, Buffy. You and I both know she didn’t mean climb out a window and go gallivanting about town.”

He was reading her diary! SHE never read her diary anymore. “What are you doing going through my things?”

“Well,” he said with a tone of steel in his voice, “You get your friends to go snooping through my computer files and you pay a visit to my office, all I figured was that fair was fair. By the way, what IS a Vampire Slayer?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” she said. What was Ted talking about? If he wanted to rattle her he could do better than that. “That’s not the issue, though.”

“Beg to differ, little lady. You didn’t trust me, so I didn’t trust you. And that will NEVER do. Trust is one of the mainstays of the family, Buffy.”

“Okay, chill. You’re way overdoing it here. And we’re NOT a family.”

“Oh, we’re going to be. The three of us, and NOTHING’S going to stand in my way.” He walked forward and grabbed her wrist. “And you’re going to cooperate, or —” He squeezed harder. “Do we understand each other? Do we?” Ted twisted her wrist and forced her down to the floor. “DO we?” Something boiled up inside her and she lashed out with her free hand — knocking him across the room into the door. They both got up and he punched her in the face and she shrank back in fear. No! No! Too much like —

She screamed and hit him in the head as hard as she could. He stumbled backwards and his head smashed into the end of her bed. His neck twisted —

Mom came into the room and saw what happened. “My God, Buffy,” she said. “What have you done?” She knelt by his side and checked for a pulse. “Buffy, you killed him!”

*                              *                              *

Buffy felt some guilt, but KNEW that it had been an accident — and in self-defense, at that. She hadn’t wanted him dead, but still —

There were occasional unexplained pangs of TREMENDOUS shame. Like she should have known better. But how? She’d never been in situations that stressful. How could SHE have known how strong she was? Not like she went around getting into fights or anything.

The police had questioned Buffy anyway based on her history — but noted the fading marks on Buffy’s wrists and agreed that it was all in self-defense. Her mother wasn’t as forgiving. The FIRST guy she’d dated in a long time and Buffy was so peeved off she’d killed him during an argument.

Buffy didn’t blame her mother for being angry, a little, but was really upset she wasn’t even trying to see her side. Oh, Ted was sweet and funny and kind, Ted was perfect.

Why couldn’t Mom see that everything was back the way it was supposed to be? Change was bad. Seemed every time things changed, something bad happened. Willow, Angel, Ted … No. No changes as long as she could help it.

And when she ran across Giles and Ms. Calendar talking in the library, it was good. Things were going back like they should. She wasn’t too clear on WHY they’d grown distant — but some recent crisis had thrown them back together, and they were trying to restart a relationship. THAT was a load off her mind. A prime case of opposites attract, but really they were perfect for each other.

Eventually she had to go home. Mom was nowhere in sight. She went upstairs and entered her room — and then felt a blow to the back of the head. Then, nothing for quite a while …

What the hell hit her? She thought as she awoke. Then she panicked. Whoever it was — Mom! She got up and staggered downstairs. As she got to the stairs she heard …

Ted? What the hell? He was saying, “Let’s go!” to Mom, like he wasn’t used to being disobeyed. Slowly she crept down the stairs.

Mom said, “Ted, let go, please! Get off me!” Was he hurting Mom? She crept further down the stairs and heard a thump. She ran down and saw Ted leaning over her mother’s body.

Angrily, she said, “Get AWAY from her.”

Ted turned and laughed. “Or what? You startled me last time, Missy. No way you can stop me this time.”

“How are you even still alive?” she said, backing towards the phone. With inhuman speed he rushed towards her and ripped the phone cord from the wall. Then he turned and slapped her down.

“Me to know, and you —” hitting her again “— to NEVER find out.” She kicked him in the knee, and he flinched and grabbed the leg, throwing it down on the floor. “Told you I was ready this time, Buffy.” He punched her in the face and she shrank down. She’d hit him before. How, how? “Your mother and I will be VERY happy together.” Change was bad! He hit her again and she cowered even further, trying to protect her head. What could she do? She couldn’t save Willow, she couldn’t save Angel, she wasn’t going to be able to save her mother, innocence was dead, love was dead, she couldn’t save them, she couldn’t stop innocence and love from being lost … what good was it being the Slayer if you couldn’t save those you loved? What good was  it? Ted was hitting her … wait.

She was the Slayer.

She was the Goddamned Slayer.

She couldn’t save innocence or love, but she COULD save Mom. Using her SLAYER strength, she punched Ted’s stomach and knocked him backwards. She stood up and using SLAYER speed threw him against the wall. Picking up a pan and using her SLAYER skills, she whacked him across the head, tearing the flesh off his face …

He was a robot. He spoke, but she was so furious she wasn’t paying attention. Whack! She hit him with the pan again and again, and eventually he stopped moving. She kept pounding, pounding, until his head was scrap metal. Then she ripped off the head and hid both parts in the backyard.

Reentering the house, she found her mother coming to against the wall. She groggily said, “Buffy? Oh, God, Ted! I thought he’d —” Buffy knelt down and cradled her mother’s head against her shoulder.

Buffy cried and rocked her mother. “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry …” Over and over.

And the battle for the soul of Buffy Summers was over.

Whether the right side won was still to be determined.

Part Thirteen

Giles got back from patrolling that night — one vampire, easily killed with the crossbow (really the only weapon he was practiced at using) and found Buffy sitting in the library, holding a large bag. She seemed very upset.

When he entered the room she got up and dumped the bag’s contents onto the floor. Giles paled in utter shock before he realized that what he saw was not quite the corpse it appeared, but rather a bizarre robot of some sort.

Buffy said bitterly, “This is what was dating my mother, Giles. An android or robot or something. Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me I was the Slayer? Maybe I could have stopped him from … from …”

Giles mind raced with possibilities. He said, “What happened?” quietly.

“This THING nearly killed Mom and me. Mom’s in the hospital right now with a sprained neck and a concussion. If I hadn’t remembered who I was in time, who knows what would have happened?” She tossed the bag on top of Ted’s distorted mechanical figure and got up. “We can talk about the rest of it later. Right now I need to get to the hospital and check up on my mother, and talk to the cops. They think that he attacked us and I drove him off.”

“And, what would you like me to do with this?” Giles said as she walked past him.

“Burn it, break it, shove it in the furnace, I really don’t care as long as he’s gone.” She noticed the crossbow. “Any tonight?”

It took him a second to catch the shift in tone. “One. In the graveyard. No problem.”

She nodded. “Good.” Then she walked towards the doors.

“Buffy,” he called after her, “whatever you remember of the last few weeks — we thought it was in your best interest.”

“Most of it’s a blur, Giles. But I do remember that I was happy.”

The doors closed behind her and Giles looked down once again at the robot in parts in front of him. Struggling, he carried it into his office and shoved it out of sight, covering it as best he could with the bag.

Then he made a few phone calls. The Slayer was back and she did not seem happy about it. Not only did he need help with that, of course, he’d need assistance disposing of the damned robot …

*                              *                              *

Xander and Cordelia broke landspeed records getting to the Library from the Bronze when Giles paged them. Buffy’s bizaaro amnesia-denial thing was over! She knew she was the Slayer again. Oddly, though, the G-Man didn’t seem overly happy. Probably the shock. Oh, he had his own issues to work through with her — their not-quite-broken-up relationship, for instance, had been hanging fire since she became the Stepford Buffy — but that was less important than her being back to her old Slaying self, and reasonably sane.

They parked and sprinted into the building. Cordy outdistanced him — a little harsh for his male ego, but then that hadn’t exactly been a big thing for him recently. Besides, it gave him a great view of her legs.

Since when had he been interested in Cordy’s legs?

Ms. Calendar was already in the library … leaning down over a body! Xander shuddered, but couldn’t turn away from looking … Holy —! “She KILLED him?” he asked in disbelief.

Giles gave him a disgusted look. “As usual, Xander, you get most of your exercise in vigorous jumping to conclusions. Kindly examine the body more closely.” Reluctantly, he did so, and was stunned to see not blood — but machinery.

“He was a robot?”

Ms. Calendar looked up and nodded. “Apparently so, Xander. And a pretty damn sophisticated one at that. I doubt the major industries have anything one tenth this well-designed.” Giles was giving her an odd look, to which she said firmly, “Which doesn’t mean I disagree with Buffy.”

“What happened?” Cordelia interjected. “He’s a robot. So why is he in pieces all over the library floor?

Bluntly, Giles answered, “Because he tried to kidnap Buffy’s mother and kill Buffy. That’s how she regained her memory, apparently, by seeing her mother in danger. I can’t really tell how it’s affected her yet, but she appears to at least be functional.” His voice softened. “I understand your concern, but right now we have a more practical difficulty. We need to have this body dismantled, and quickly. Jenny was kind enough to bring over an array of tools, so I suggest we get to it.”

Upon hearing that Ted had ATTACKED Buffy and her mother, Xander couldn’t have been happier. With a grim joy he and Cordelia set to giving Giles a hand. Half an hour afterwards there wasn’t a piece of Ted left larger than a candy bar. Giles walked out with a small armful of the parts, saying he intended them for the school furnace. Taking the cue, Xander dumped another load into a bag and Cordy gathered up some more. Ms. Calendar tucked some into a pouch on her wheelchair, and lacking anywhere else to put them, Xander stuck the rest in Giles’ office in some of the desk drawers.

Okay, in ALL of the desk drawers. But it was better than leaving twenty pounds of scrap metal lying around the library. Who knew what King Troll Snyder would make of that?

The outside door opened. “Okay, Giles,” Xander said as he walked out of the office, “What do we …” but it wasn’t Giles. “Buffy!” He shouted. She looked up and down the group and smiled briefly. “How’s your mom? And how are you?”

“I’m a bit bruised, but I’m fine. Mom’ll be okay, too. She’ll just be in the hospital overnight for observation.”

“And … how are you feeling?” Cordy asked.

Buffy ignored it. “The cops are heading over to Ted’s now with a search warrant. Don’t know what they’ll find, but if it’s anything like what he had at the office — anyway, I’m clear now. I didn’t kill a man, I destroyed a robot, and WHY THE HELL DIDN’T ANY OF YOU TELL ME I WAS THE SLAYER?” She pounded a fist on the checkout counter.

Xander and Cordelia jumped back at the scream, and even Ms. Calendar flinched. Recovering, she said, “Because you blocked it out for a reason. How much do you remember of the last few weeks?”

Giles walked in and stopped. “Buffy!” He seemed ready to say more but Ms. Calendar held up a hand.

“Bits and pieces,” she said wearily. “Last thing I remember clearly is setting Spike on fire. Then walking out of Ms. Calendar’s bathroom — and a few other things here and there. Mostly, I remember being happy.”

“You were catatonic for days, Buffy,” Ms. Calendar said. “You lived with me for three days. You couldn’t stand Giles, Xander and Cordelia, and I couldn’t even mention Willow’s or Angel’s name without you whimpering and going fetal. Then when you came out of my bathroom all cheery and perky and convinced that you were normal —”

“What’d you want us to do, Buffy?” Cordy asked. “Drag you kicking and screaming back to the real world? Hello! You weren’t ready for it yet. You nearly went all psycho girl when Ted first showed up.”

Giles added, “Cordelia is being blunt, but she’s basically right. Ted’s mere existence caused you grave distress. It was not up to us to force you to recall your Slayer identity. It could have caused even greater damage. You needed to recover on your own.”

Buffy looked up tiredly. “I think I understand. I just wish — I just wish I’d been able to come back at my own pace. You know? Like my lost memories were a glass wall I didn’t want to look behind and Ted shoved me through.”

Xander went over and put an arm on Buffy’s shoulders. “Well, however it happened, we’re glad you’re back.” She squeezed his shoulders in return.

“Well, I AM glad you all are happy. I really am. But honestly? I think I preferred being Miss Lost Memory.” She sighed. “Nothing to do about that now. Guess it’s time to go back and be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She hesitated for a second. “One thing I CAN do, though, is make sure none of you gets hurt ever again. So from now on — I Slay alone. No field help from any of you. No staking, no demon-hunting, no tracking down. I can’t afford to lose anyone else. Got it?” Everyone looked at each other. “GOT it?” She stressed.

Xander nodded reluctantly and everyone else soon agreed, though just as reluctantly. Buffy smiled again weakly and went around the room hugging everyone. “Thanks, guys. THAT’S a real load off.” She got to Xander again. “And don’t worry, research boy, you can still be my support crew. God knows what I’d do without all of you hitting the books.” Shifting tone, she went on, “What’d you all do with robotman?”

“I burned some in the furnace,” Giles said while wiping sweat from his forehead. “As for the rest …” he noted the filled bags and pouches around the room, “it will be destroyed or buried in other places. Ted will not trouble you or your mother again.”

Curtly nodding, she said, “Good.” Then she rose to leave — Xander noticed she was moving like someone who was so tired they weren’t tired anymore. “I need to go back to the hospital and see how Mom’s doing.”

Ms. Calendar rolled after her. “I’ll give you a ride, Buffy.” The Slayer shrugged okay and they left.

The three people remaining in the room looked at each other. “Well,” Cordy said, “For better or worse, the Slayer’s back.”

Giles agreed, saying. “Yes. I just wish I knew which one it was …”

*                              *                              *

Jenny needed to make sure that Buffy was okay. While the girl SEEMED reasonably sane, she also seemed very tired, like she was walking around post-adrenaline-rush. So as they talked on the way to the hospital she tried to sound her out, seeing how she felt at the mention of Willow and Angel — and how she felt about Slaying.

As they pulled into the hospital entrance Buffy turned to her and laughed. “Thanks for checking my sanity, Ms. C.” Jenny didn’t think she was being quite that obvious. Face growing mildly annoyed, Buffy said, “Don’t be quite so surprised. I’m not stupid, you know.” Then she thought for a second and added, “How long will it be before you all quit treating me like I’m a china doll?” There was no real hostility in the question, just irritation, so Jenny smiled in return.

“A couple of weeks at least. Buffy, you were catatonic for three days and a partial amnesiac for three weeks. Forgive us for our concern.”

“What are you going to tell them?” the Slayer asked.

“The truth. That you seem basically okay — but that we should keep an eye on you. Make sure there aren’t any other problems.” She shifted gears. “One question, just to satisfy my curiosity. While staying with me you screamed several times, ‘Angel is love! Willow is innocence!’ What did you —” She stopped as the girl abruptly unbuckled the seat belt and opened the van door.

Exiting the van, she silently shut the door. Jenny waited. Finally Buffy turned around and said, “Xander is protection. Cordelia is change. Giles is wisdom. You are care.” Then she walked into the hospital’s entryway. It didn’t look like she was going to come back anytime soon.

Buffy’s attitude could best be described as resigned, even depressed, but nothing about it really seemed like something a good night’s sleep wouldn’t cure. It was the last part Jenny was more concerned with.

Were they both really dead to her?

*                              *                              *

The next couple of weeks proceeded reasonably smoothly. Xander and Cordelia found it actually somewhat of a relief not to have to try any Slaying duties — though Xander still worried about Buffy’s safety.

They’d never REALLY ended their relationship, but they both proceeded with the assumption that it was over. It wasn’t something they talked about so much as something they just lived with. While they were still friends, it gave them a bit more emotional distance than they’d had before, from both ends. Xander didn’t want to let his feelings resurface, and Buffy just seemed to think it had all been a sad, unfortunate mistake. Well, maybe it had been on both their parts.

The nicknames had also gone away. She wasn’t the Dark Knight, he wasn’t the Boy Wonder.

Xander noticed other changes, too, all tiny but all definite. Buffy didn’t laugh as much as she used to, and she seemed to be drained all the time — physically and emotionally. Giles — who Buffy HAD to let come along every once in a while, him being the Watcher and all — said it didn’t seem to affect her Slaying either, but she seemed to want to get it over with faster. No panache, no one-liners, just “thrust and move on, thrust and move on.” Oddly, he didn’t sound as thrilled as Xander would have expected.

The other change was between him and Cordelia. He’d actually been finding her more and more attractive over the course of the past month, but due to Buffy concern hadn’t been eager to do anything about it. But with the Slayer seeming, well, more or less okay, they’d quietly begun officially dating as of New Year’s Eve. Nervous about Buffy’s reaction, Xander was shocked when the two told her and her response was a solid, “Yes! It’s about damn time!”

And so everything proceeded normally in Sunnydale.

For about a week.

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