Disclaimer: Don’t own anything. Just borrowing.
Rating: PG-13, i guess, maybe just PG. If you can watch the show you can read this.
Notes: I have several. First, there are spoilers for the Angel episode ‘Birthday’, second, this is based on challenge #11 on Kelley Rowe’s site, ‘Welcome to Always’, third, the song is the Corrs’ “So Young” from the album “Talk on Corners,” fourth, my apologies to all those who can read Spanish for my grammar, I was working from a dictionary, and finally, if you want to e-mail me to compliment, complain, question, or harass, my address is scwlc.
“Come on Marianne! We’re not even going that far. It’s just a little car ride.” her boyfriend grinned like an adorable little boy as she reluctantly got into the car.
“I just think you ought to pay more attention to the road. You’ve already got like, twenty moving violations Jerry.”
*We are taking it easy Bright and breezy We are living it up Just fine and dandy, yeah*
Buffy didn’t even pause, just walked right past the demon, giving him a push as she went. She didn’t even notice when he went flying off to his death. “Here.” she said as she untied her baby sister.
Dawn sobbed from the pain, “Buffy, it hurts.” the blood dripped down to her feet from the two shallow slashes the demon had made.
*And it really doesn't matter if we don't eat And it really doesn't matter if we never sleep*
Buckled in, the youthful couple pulled away from the curb laughing. Supposed to be home hours ago, but it didn’t matter, because they were in university, and they didn’t have parents breathing down their necks. They could stay out all night, and that’s what they’d done. The radio played the Corrs as they drove into the morning light.
*It really doesn't matter, really doesn't matter at all*
Buffy finished freeing her sister, “I got it. Come here. You're gonna be okay.” A few drops of the younger girl's blood dripped over the edge of the tower. In midair they met something, and a small circle of light appeared. Buffy lead Dawn limping across the platform to the tower entrance.
*‘Cause we are so young now, we are so young, so young now And when tomorrow comes, we can do it all again*
Jerry smiled at his girlfriend. She was the best thing in his life. Everything that didn’t revolve around her was kinda hazy. Like she was the only real thing in his world. “Hey. You wanna head home now? We could try to catch some sleep before classes start.”
“I could really go for that.” she smiled back at him and he wondered again how he’d gotten so lucky. She was so full of life, potential and love.
*We are chasing the moon Just running wild and free*
“Go!” Buffy cried as she chivvied her younger sister off the platform. Dawn refused to go, staring behind the Slayer with a look Buffy wasn’t certain she wanted to recognize.
Dawn spoke. “Buffy, it's started,” she said almost calmly. Buffy slowly turned to face the portal as it grew, crackling and sending out lightning. Watched as a bolt of that lightning struck a low rise apartment building and turned it into a ruin filled with howling demons.
*We are following through Every dream, and every need*
The were at a stop light and paused to kiss. They didn’t surface until the cars behind them honked angrily at the two young people delaying them on their way to work. Somewhat dazed Jerry started out into the intersection.
*And it really doesn't matter if we don't eat And it really doesn't matter if we never sleep It really doesn't matter, really doesn't matter at all*
Beneath her, Buffy saw Anya push Xander out of the way of falling debris, heard him call out her name as it landed on her. Saw the 1120 year old ex-demon lying unmoving amongst the wreckage looking even younger than her physical age of 21.
*‘Cause we are so young now, we are so young, so young now And when tomorrow comes, we can do it all again*
Marianne saw the truck coming and tried to haul the wheel around even as the out of control truck driver slewed sideways and, instead of hitting the small car itself, the truckload slammed through the windshield and the young couple in the car couldn’t avoid the flying debris
*Yeah we are so young now, we are so young, so young now And when tomorrow comes, we’ll just do it all again*
Buffy turned back to the other girl as she stared into the portal, tearfully saying, “I'm sorry.”
“It doesn't matter.” Buffy replied. Dawn tried to run past but Buffy grabbed her, demanding “What are you doing?”
“I have to jump. The energy.” Dawn struggled to do what she knew had to be done. What they both knew had to be done.
Buffy stared at her sister, her earlier resolution clear in her mind. *I won’t kill my sister* “It'll kill you.”
“I know.” Dawn was suddenly calm, and Buffy knew where she knew that facial expression from. She had felt it on her own face when she went to fight the Master, when she sent Angel to Hell, when she’d tried to send Faith there, and when she had made Angel drink from her. “Buffy, I know about the ritual. I have to stop it.” Dawn had that look now. Someone too young to die, but with the assurance of knowing it was the right thing to do.
“No.” The tower shook beneath them, making them both stumble.
“I have to. Look at what's happening.” Dawn was right, this couldn’t go on.
“Jerry? Jerry please wake up. Please? I need you.” Marianne had never felt so faint. Not even when she’d dropped her family like a tube sock full of manure. Not when she’d been in the hospital with a 110 degree fever and thought she saw death coming for her. Not even when her cousin Xander had saved her from the vampire she, to this day, insisted was a really deranged mugger.
There was just so much blood, and Jerry was so still. She had to get him to wake up. He’d make everything better. He always did. He was so smart for such a young guy. It was why she fell in love with him.
*Yeah yeah yeah so young now, we are so young, so young now*
More lightning crackled, even greater than before. As Buffy stared up a huge dragon flew out of the portal and buzzed the tower, flying away while they watched. Dawn was crying again, “Buffy, you have to let me go. Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop.” She’d promised her mother she would be a good sister and protect Dawn. Dawn was too young for this.
“You know you have to let me. It has to have the blood.” Dawn was sobbing as she tried to make her sister understand. Buffy came to an understanding all her own.
*‘Cause it's always got to be blood.* Spike’s voiced lanced through her mind.
*It's Summers blood. It's just like mine.* That day in the hospital.
*She's me. The monks made her out of me.* Had it been only that morning?
*Death is your gift.* The First Slayer’s soft words penetrating Buffy’s hazy thoughts.
“Death...” Buffy whispered, understanding.
*And when tomorrow comes, we’ll just do it all again*
The ambulance workers had pulled Marianne out of the car wreck. All over blood, the couldn’t even tell how much was hers and how much was from her dead boyfriend, who had haemorrhaged to death within minutes of the crash, if he hadn’t been killed instantly from the broken neck he had. She was no longer conscious, and her heartbeat and lungs were failing.
*Yeah we are so young now, we are so young, so young now*
“Buffy ... no!” Dawn cried with sudden horror at the realisation.
Buffy looked compassionately at her sister knowing exactly how hard this was for her. “Dawnie, I have to.”
“No!” and now it was Dawn’s turn to deny the truth. To pretend it could go differently.
Buffy turned to her sister again and spoke, “Listen to me. Please, there's not a lot of time, listen.” She grasped Dawn by the upper arms as the girl began to cry. Lightning continuing to crackle behind them.
“Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will *always* love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles ... tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.” She stroked the side of Dawn's face, then kissed her on the cheek.
*And when tomorrow comes, we’ll just do it all again*
“We’re losing her!” shouted the paramedic as they rushed the young woman to the hospital. Not that it mattered, her heart and her breathing had stopped completely, “Come on!” he cried as he tried desperately to revive her.
*We are so young*
Buffy turned. Almost in slow-motion, she ran down the platform as Dawn stood there crying. She dove off the end of the platform and into the portal, her younger sister watching, sobbing. Buffy fell into the portal, hung there motionless, as the lightning whirled around her. She didn’t feel the landing.
*We are so young*
The young woman jerked and took in a breath as the CPR kicked in. The paramedic gave a deep heaving breath of relief that he’d saved the life of one Marianne Harris.
*We are so young*
The first thing Marianne noticed about the place was that it was so bright and warm. It was perfect. And Jerry was waiting for her.
There were voices telling her things, and scenes playing in her mind, which the Slayer immediately forgot as she settled into the soft blackness. Buffy wondered deep in her unconscious, why, if she was dead, there was so much pain.
*Let’s do it all again...*
Marianne woke slowly to the sound of many machines humming, beeping and whirring. For a moment she felt disoriented. Like she didn’t quite fit into her skin. She glanced at her hand wondering why she expected it to be the pale colour of a white person for a moment.
She frowned slightly wondering if maybe it was because she had some sort of amnesia. *My name is Marianne Harris, I’m 20 years old, the president is George W. Bush, and I’m a part Hispanic part white woman with dark brown eyes, black hair, and the only family I have is back in Sunnydale.* She thought over the information and decided that it was all correct.
*Then why does that sound so wrong?*
Before she could worry too much about why she felt way too tall, even lying down, a nurse came bustling in, “Oh good! You’re awake! How do you feel, dear?”
“A little disoriented, but other than that, really, really, painful.” Marianne responded with a wry chuckle.
The nurse frowned slightly as she looked at the chart at the bottom of her patient’s bed. “You have enough painkillers in you to knock out a horse. I can’t imagine why you would still be in pain,” she said.
“I think I just metabolise ‘em real fast,” Marianne replied, “Could I get the elephant dose?”
The nurse just clucked at the young woman, fussed around with a couple of the machines, and checked on the IV needle. Then she left with a cheery admonition to rest.
Left alone with her thoughts again, Marianne realised with a start that she had yet to be concerned about his state of wellbeing. In fact, she had yet to even think about Jerry. She could summon a general concern for him that she would have for any person who was quite possibly on the verge of dying, but there were no personal feelings involved. It was almost as though the man she’d fallen in love with (she remembered loving him) that she’d been in a state of sheer and utter terror over in the car wreck (she remembered thinking her life would be over without him) suddenly meant nothing more to her than any other random guy on the street.
The more Marianne thought about it the more she was certain that at the time of the car crash she had been in love with Jerry’s blonde hair, cheery disposition, and all-American boyish charms. Somehow, she had done the impossible. She had ceased to care in any way shape or form for a man she had been in love with.
The memories of the two of them in the sunshine, laughing, fighting, every memory Marianne had of him was coloured by an emotion she knew was love. True, deep, and mature love of two people finding their other half. This was love she had held for the man, but somehow, overnight it had been leeched away. The blonde hair and laughing eyes were attractive, but no more so than any other handsome man she would see on the street. The sunlight and the playfulness that characterised the relationship they had seemed almost wrong. Like there was supposed to be a completely different quality to their intimacy.
In the time she came to that realisation her mind decided she was too tired to handle any more and simply put her to sleep. And she dreamed.
There were people in the dream. A dark-skinned girl with a Jamaican accent, and another girl with a completely different attitude, pale skin and dark hair, who was a wild as the other was controlled. Somehow though, they were the same in some intangible way Marianne could only identify with instinctively. There were no words she could put to what made those girls the same.
There was also a man in that ethereal backdrop of gravestones and streets at night. Tall, strong,and handsome, she felt drawn to him with an intensity that surpassed even the love she had felt for Jerry. Or maybe that was the distance of memory already blurring the feelings she knew she had had for him.
“Custodio,” the word whispered through her mind. “Angel custodio”. A scent of freshly turned earth reached her nose. A scent so familiar she could even tell this was from a graveyard. Somehow. The voices whispered louder this time. “Tu angel custodio, Cazadora.” they murmured.
“Who are you? What do you mean?” she demanded of the wisps of fog floating in the dreamscape.
“Usted sabe la respuesta,” they breathed.
Then she woke up. *Angel custodio ... guardian angel? MY guardian angel?* she shook her head, baffled. *And why did they call me ‘Cazadora’? I’ve never hunted anything in my life.* Then she chuckled, “Usted sabe la repuesta...Ha! That’s a piece of pop psychobabble if I ever heard any!”
Angel paced beside Wesley while Cordelia, Gunn and Lorne watched the drama unfold. “Come on! There must be something in a book or scroll! Anything!” Angel snarled at the ex- watcher.
Wesley glared right back, “Angel, has it occurred to you that perhaps this dream of yours was nothing more than that? A dream?” He continued as Angel bridled at the words, “I know you want your soul to be bound, but I honestly do not see how you can leap to the conclusion that just because you had a dream that said so means that it IS so.”
“You know,” Cordelia began, but was interrupted by the two men.
“Be quiet Cordelia!”
Lorne leapt to her defence, “Just because the two of you are so busy being bullheaded about this is no reason to take it out on Cordelia,” he said, “If you’re that concerned why don’t you try asking the Powers for some answers?”
Angel glared at The Host for several seconds before collapsing into the nearest chair. “The Oracles are dead. Otherwise I’d be there right now.” He glanced at Wesley before saying defensively, “I’ve had enough abnormal dreams to tell those from the normal ones.”
Wesley paused for a moment then reached for a notebook. Motioning to Angel he said in tones of deep resignation, “All right. If you insist on this madcap belief that this dream meant something tell me, in detail, what happened.”
So Angel described the scenes from Sunnydale, seeing the three slayers, Kendra, Faith, and Buffy. The voices telling him he was Buffy’s guardian, “ And then they said, ‘Tu anima estas ligado.’ When I asked the voices what they wanted they said, ‘Usted sabe la repuesta,’ I don’t know Spanish that well, but I know enough to translate that. ‘Your soul is bound’ and ‘You know the answers’.” Angel looked at the others expectantly.
Gunn raised a hand hesitantly, “Angel, man, you sure this ain’t cause you’re feelin’ guilty about that Buffy chick dying?” He cocked his head to the side shooting the vampire a pointed look.
“It’s true sugar,” Lorne put in his two cents, “Your whole aura just screams massive emotional trauma. I wouldn’t put it past that psyche of yours to invent a dream to make yourself feel better.”
Angel was now floundering for some support for his dream being a message. He also crushed down his grief at Gunn’s irreverence toward his ex-girlfriend (wife, lover). He sent a pleading look around the room his gaze finally landing on Cordelia. “I suppose you think I’m being hopeful too, don’t you?” he asked her, also desperate for the distraction she could provide.
“Oh, now I’m allowed to speak!” she said, raising an elegant eyebrow sardonically.
“Alright, I’m sorry I told you to shut up before,” Angel conceded, “What were you going to say?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes, and proceeded to explain at great length, with many critiques of the characters of everyone but herself, that if there was one link to the PTB there had to be others. Perhaps even those that were not quite so snotty as the Oracles had been. “Why don’t you just look them up and then check?” she finished.
So the search began. While Angel manfully slipped away to his room to brood and weep in silence, Lorne begged off on the excuse that he had to start rebuilding Caritas, and the others entered into research mode. After hours of sifting through books, web sites, scrolls, and internet chats, an entry point down by the docks for a place called ‘The Conduit’ was discovered.
They drove down to the docks and the others watched as Angel performed the ritual to allow him to enter The Conduit. As he finished speaking the words a large hole appeared in front of him. They all stared at it for a moment before Angel stepped forward.
“Here goes nothing,” he said. Then he just stepped over the edge and vanished.
Marianne didn’t have many friends. In point of fact, all the friends she had made in New York had been through Jerry. As the day passed she found that being alone in a hospital can be one of the most boring and creepy experiences of your life. Especially when there was no one there to ease the boredom or distract you from the aura of illness and death that always pervades a hospital.
She finally got up the courage to ask what had happened to her boyfriend when the nurse had come in and simply clucked at the chart before leaving for the umpteenth time. The woman had reached the door when Marianne asked “Jerry, my boyfriend, how is ... I mean... did he...” she trailed off uncertain of what the right question was to ask.
“I’m so sorry!” the nurse cried. Beth, Marianne noticed her nametag said, “I thought... I mean, didn’t your friends tell you?” When she shook her head ‘no’, Beth seemed to steel herself then said softly, “He’s dead. I’m sorry.”
She froze as the other woman’s words and all their repercussions worked their way slowly through her mind. Beth made a strategic exit as Marianne tried to rebuild her world around those words. That really explained a lot of things. All of her friends were Jerry’s friends first. She would be secondary in their concerns. She’d always been ‘Jerry’s girlfriend’ to them. He’d been the only person around who had seen her as Marianne and not a long series of descriptives connecting her to one group or another.
Actually that wasn’t true. His parents had always disliked her for being Hispanic She still remembered with painful clarity the day that Jerry had renounced his parents’ fortune for her because his parents refused to speak of her as anything other than “a half-breed of a half -breed.” They’d probably convinced his friends that she was the devil incarnate the moment they received the news of his death.
Being suddenly so utterly alone wasn’t the only thing that was bothering her though. She was again struck by her singular lack of feeling toward his death. She was sorry he was dead, certainly, but for some bizarre reason the only feelings she could summon were those one would have at the death of an acquaintance. Someone you knew of, and had met personally, but nothing at all like the all consuming passion she’d had just three days before, on the day of the accident.
Then there were the burgeoning feelings for the man in her dream that she knew hated yogurt, listened to Barry Manilow, and practised T’ai Chi. That he had dark eyes, though she hadn’t been close enough in her dream to tell, and had a tattoo of a gryphon on his shoulder. The dream was quite baffling and Marianne was certain that it wasn’t normal to develop feelings for an imaginary person who liked Manilow (Then again she wasn’t certain liking Manilow was all that healthy either).
The last thing that had her confused was this feeling of certainty that she still had friends. She did have family, it was true. She was the bastard daughter of Rory Harris. That lot of rednecks had never liked her. They were why she’d left Sunnydale vowing to never return. She also remembered her cousin Alexander who had seemed to be the only decent one of the lot. Now that she thought of it, they had never gotten along because she had always found him to be a touch too careless and generally idiotic for her tastes.
The more she thought of him now, he seemed to be a really nice guy she’d never given half a chance. He had always been sweet to her, he had even given up his sleeping bag one Christmas when they were in the back yard avoiding the drunken melee that was a Harris Christmas, so she wouldn’t be cold.
It was on that note she fell asleep and dreamed again.
Angel dropped into a circular cavern with a small fire burning in the centre on a raised circular stone platform. He glanced around briefly, then shouted, ”Hello! I wish to speak with The Conduit!”
“We are The Conduit,” came the response, echoing around the small chamber. It was as though hundreds of voices, male, female, demonic, friendly, unfriendly, familiar, and unfamiliar spoke in unison, “What does it want?”
“I want answers about my dream!” Angel demanded. He paced around the cavern looking like nothing so much as a caged panther. His coat billowing behind him and a dark scowl on his face, Angel seemed to epitomise his image as the Dark Avenger.
“It does not understand. There can be no answers but those which are of itself.” This merely irritated Angel who disliked ambiguity in information.
“I want to know whether my soul is bound or not, and I want to know why.” He was so sick of cryptic messages from the PTB and cryptic messages from the Oracles, and cryptic messages from Lorne, and the goddamn cryptic messages from Whistler that had started the whole mess. The irony of a master of the cryptic message wanting to be told straight up what the issue was never occurred to him.
“Its guardianship is required and cannot be put at risk. The answers it seeks must be read from the soul itself. It has no purpose here. It will leave. Now.”
With those words Angel was ejected from the small cave and found himself back on the docks with the others. “Well?” asked Cordelia when he just stared dumbly at the spot where the opening had been.
“Not a single straight answer.” he replied. Then he kicked the wall next to him.
Marianne found herself in a badly cut horror movie. She would be in one scene then, just as she was understanding the action as it took place around her, the whole would switch. There were vampires, demons, giant bugs, and so much death. It didn’t make sense because she really hated horror movies, and moreover she didn’t think her imagination was up to the task of creating that many monsters.
There were some things she had figured out though. For one thing, her cousin Xander seemed to have one of the lead roles. His friend Willow, and their girlfriends had others. There was an older man she didn’t recognise who spoke with an English accent, and a young girl with long hair who didn’t seem quite real. There was another Brit in the dreams who was dressed like a punk rocker, a woman with curly hair that Marianne kept calling ‘Mom’, and a cast of others that appeared endless.
There was one figure that stood amidst the others. Every scene had something to do with him. He was there, they were talking about him, she was doing something for him, or something because of him. The voices from the last dream whispered again, “Angel custodio, Cazadora.”
“Why do you keep calling me Cazadora? I’m not a huntress,” she called out, “In point of fact, why do you keep speaking to me in Spanish? Do I have to ask in Spanish? Yo exijo las respuestas! I want answers!”
The voices overlaid the scenes of the handsome man Marianne had fallen in love with. They spoke of a guardian angel, and of the ‘Huntress’ they believed her to be. Finally Marianne gave in to the insistence that she already knew the answers, and asked, “How do I find the damned answers?!”
Four words they whispered to her, “Hoya de la sol.” Dale of the Sun. Sunnydale.
It took all of three hours for the Bat Pack to decipher The Conduit’s message to mean that Angel needed to have Lorne read his soul. It took another hour to convince Lorne to puncture his eardrums at that godforsaken hour of the morning. He whined, pleaded, threatened, and cajoled, but finally the Pylean gave in and suffered through the agony of hearing ‘Mandy’ sung by a tearful vampire.
When Angel finished singing Lorne shrugged and said, “You were right, we were wrong. Your soul is a permanent fixture in your body.”
Angel turned to the others triumphantly about to demand retractions when he remembered Buffy. Or rather, he remembered that her funeral was the day after. He visibly shrank into himself now that the focus he’d had the past couple of days vanished. He shivered slightly thinking of how this was a gift he had wanted to share with Buffy. It was a gift he had wanted for her, and it meant nothing without her. Now that he knew what the dreams had been saying he had no focus to ignore the pain welling up inside.
The others noticed his abrupt change of demeanour and started to talk. “Angel? What’s wrong?”
“Hey, y’all okay?”
“Honey, I think they’ll let ya get away with a little gloating-”
“Angel, you have to let yourself grieve for her.” That was Cordelia. He looked at her and saw a similar sadness in her eyes to his own. Lorne and Gunn had never met her, and Wesley had never known her. Cordelia however, knew Buffy, and while the two had never been friends in the classic sense they had shared a mutual understanding. Seeing that someone there could come anywhere close to comprehending his grief, Angel let Cordelia pull him against her and sobbed into her hair, letting her soothe him.
Marianne’s recovery from her injuries had been nothing short of miraculous. The fact that cuts and abrasions had healed on the way from the ambulance to the operating table had been odd enough. The overnight healing of hairline fractures had been bizarre. The four days it took for her to recover from massive blood loss, concussion, and all sorts of puncture wounds had Marianne beating off the medical profession with a stick.
She decided, after the latest doctor had all but accused her of killing her boyfriend and staging the accident so that she could fake stopping her heart and dying just for the attention, that she was going to hightail it back to Sunnydale. She figured that at the worst she’d be away from the hospital (visions of her cousin that had died in one -- She didn’t have a cousin that had died dammit!) and the poking doctors. At best she could get her dreams to go away.
So Marianne called the airport, packed as many bags as possible, and flew off to California to visit her cousin Alexander. She took a cab from the bus station in Sunnydale, and didn’t question how she knew the address and apartment number he lived at.
It happened while standing at the front door and plucking the extra emergency key. Bought in case any one of the Scooby gang needed to get into his and Anya’s apartment, the key was hidden in a hideous floral arrangement the ex-demon had bought because it reminded her of a pet Agghal plant she had owned in the tenth century. It had been a gift from D’Hoffryn and Xander had indulged her twisted taste.
Marianne looked at the flowers and chuckled at the memory of seeing the flowers and wondering who would want something that ugly their door. “Buffy,” Anya had said when questioned, “Are you saying I can’t be allowed to save the memories from when I could still put boils on a man’s penis just by looking at it? The penis, not the flowers. Besides it was very cheap and individualises our door, while saving Xander money so that he can buy me many things.”
*Buffy?* Marianne thought briefly, then remembered that her mother had named her that for the singer Buffy something. Only, her name was M ... M ... something. Something Anne. That was it! Buffy Anne. She was Buffy Anne Harris. Xander’s cousin.
Something wasn’t right there, but she couldn’t quite figure out what.
She shrugged off the nagging feeling that Anya being an ex-demon ought to conflict with her often stated lack of belief in the supernatural, and left her bags by the couch to go to the magic shop. She would ask Anya where Xander was. Maybe he could help her make sense of this feeling of displacement.
The Bat Pack was in Angel’s car. Wesley was driving because he was the only person Angel trusted would not ram his beloved classic convertible into a “Keep Left” sign. Either that or drive it straight off a bridge.
Of course, he wasn’t particularly concerned at the moment with such mundane concerns as the destruction of his classic ‘67 Plymouth. Angel was curled in the back seat, hidden underneath a tarp. His head was in Cordy’s lap as tears slid from his eyes.
Angel’s upbringing hadn’t instilled many of his father’s values. One of the few it had was to never demonstrate any so-called ‘womanly’ emotions. That had stayed through the centuries. Liam had never shown his father how much the man’s rejection had hurt. Now, after the initial breakdown at Caritas, he had hidden behind a mask of grim stoicism, letting no one know from his outward mask the pain that tore him up inside. Dimly, he could hear Wesley telling Gunn the bare bones of the tragic romance that had often been the only memory that kept Angel from crawling into a bottle of whiskey.
Buffy’s face and form danced across the back of his eyelids as he lay in the back seat next to Cordelia. It was all he could do to remain still so that they would assume he was asleep and not weeping into the leather seat.
*I have to be strong,* he thought, *I have to keep from showing anything to them that looks weak. I can’t look weak. Dear Lord, Father you were right. I’m a disappointment. I’m not a man. I’m a failure. I wasn’t there to save her. I wasn’t there when she needed me. I promised I wouldn’t leave.* Iron self-control kept him from repeating his thoughts aloud and asking for comfort. He couldn’t. Only in front of her had he ever felt safe enough to let the barriers down. Only in front of Buffy could he cry and still be a man. She was his strength, his faith, and his redemption. But more than that, she was the other half of his soul.
He had always thought he would know when she died. He had felt it the first time when she lay in that pool, and he couldn’t feel her. She had been gone. To this day he wondered how it was he hadn’t lost his soul when she came back. And yet, he hadn’t known this time until Willow told him. He supposed it was because their love had become so tainted their bond had been all but destroyed. Still, as they came closer to Sunnydale Angel fancied he could feel her presence drawing near. He finally surrendered to sleep as his senses insisted they were moving toward her. Buffy’s aura surrounded him, and he slept.
Buffy Anne Harris, (was that right?) walked into the magic shop to find the sight of her cousin Xander, Anya, Willow, Dawn, Giles, Tara, and Spike arguing over whether the music at her funeral should be the Rock favoured by Spike, the classical advocated by Giles and Tara, the church music suggested by Xander and supported by Anya because Xander had suggested it, or the Backstreet Boys CD that Buffy refused to admit was hers, even though the most maudlin ballads perfectly described her relationship with Angel.
Xander turned and stared at her for a moment then said, “Marianne? What are you doing here?”
“Why are you calling me Marianne?” she asked, “I mean, it’s not my name.”
Willow rolled her eyes at Xander and the two smirked slightly. Willow said, “So you’re embracing your heritage again Maria?”
Buffy stared at both of them. “Since when is my name Maria? Or Marianne, for that matter?” she asked baffled. “Willow, you know me. Buffy Summers? Your best friend?”
Dawn dropped the glass she was holding. The sound of it shattering was the only one for several seconds.
Xander’s eyes widened as he recalled something. “Wait a minute. You heard us talking just now, didn’t you?” Buffy blinked at the young man for a moment, frowned slightly, and opened her mouth to reply. She was about to ask what that had to do with anything when Xander continued, “You were just in that accident four days ago too. The one where your boyfriend was killed. I remember you always were more unpopular than me at school too!” He turned to the others, a look of pity on his face, saying, “Marianne was always really lonely. I think she heard about Buffy as she came in and she ... I don’t know how to put it, sort of went bonkers and decided she was gonna be Buffy.”
Xander had lowered his voice on the last part of his theorising, but Buffy heard anyway. She stared in disbelief at her friend for a moment before turning to the rest of the gang expecting to see someone believe her. However, on hearing the hypothesis the others instantly went from hostile and disbelieving to pitying and understanding. Not a one was willing to believe that this tall, dark skinned, dark haired young woman was the same person as short, blonde, Buffy.
Even as she protested, and muttered curses in both Spanish and English, the others pushed her into a chair and made plans to take ‘Marianne’ with them to the memorial service so they could keep an eye on her.
The memorial was to take place after sunset on behalf of the two vampires. It was just the Scooby Gang and Bat Pack. The large official one where literally hundreds of people had shown up to express condolences and say farewell to a town hero had happened already. This was for the family they had built with blood, sweat and tears. A phrase all too appropriate for this unusual group of people.
Angel, Cordy, Gunn and Wes were waiting in the graveyard for the others. The Scoobies were late due to Buffy’s protestations of who she really was. Protests that lacked weight because her memories were still mixed with Marianne’s. She would remember one set of things and not another. She also was living in focussed denial of the existence of the supernatural.
Angel was trying not to lean too hard on Cordy and Gunn, to seem strong for the others, when he felt her. She was there, and it was all Angel could do not to break down. *She must be here to say goodbye,* he thought, and pulled himself together so she would see he was able to protect her friends if need be. His assumption that Buffy’s spirit had returned to earth for a final farewell meant he was caught totally off guard when the tall Hispanic woman arrived, bracketed by Buffy’s friends.
As she rounded the mausoleum, Buffy’s memories came into focus with an almost audible snap. The half-remembered scenes aligning themselves when her gaze landed on Angel. Their eyes met, and electricity only the two could feel crackled between them.
They spoke in unison, the familiar greeting being like a confirmation of the other’s presence. Then Angel strode across the intervening space and pulled Buffy against him so he could kiss her. His slayer was alive.
The two groups of sidekicks were staring openmouthed at the sight of Angel kissing a woman who was not Buffy. Finally, Cordelia got her voice back and demanded, “What the hell is going on here?!”
“Damned good question,” added Giles.
Angel and Buffy gradually pulled apart, but instead of responding the baffled demands of their friends, they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes as Buffy answered Angel’s unspoken question.
“I couldn’t remember everything until now. I wasn’t supposed to jump, you see. It turns out the Powers are sick bastards who expect a girl to kill her sister,” Buffy’s mouth quirked slightly at the corner, and she chuckled ruefully before she continued, “The First Slayer wasn’t supposed to tell me that I could jump in Dawn’s place, because I’m supposed to be a leader in some huge armageddon thing. So, when Marianne died at the same moment as I did they just dropped my soul and slayerness into her body.”
Wesley and Giles spoke simultaneously, “Good Lord.”
Willow’s eyes narrowed in her direction, “If you’re really Buffy, then how come you know Spanish?”
“I got all of Marianne’s memories as well as my own. She grew up speaking Spanish, so it’s there like a ... a first and a half language.” Buffy raised her hands in mild chagrin and sighed.
Xander just shrugged and said, “I think they both cracked up.” He would have continued, but at that moment the vampires of Sunnydale, having decided that with the Slayer dead they could finish off her friends and take over the Hellmouth, came rushing at them from all directions.
With the combined forces of the Bat Pack and Scoobies short work was made of the demons. But not before Buffy had the opportunity to have a relaxing fistfight with a vampire, which was, after all, what she was built for. “Ummm ... Never mind,” said Xander when she and Angel raised eyebrows in his direction.
Angel tugged Buffy close again and kissed the top of her head. “Promise you won’t go away again.” he said.
“Only if you promise not to go either,” she said through happy tears. She knew his answer anyway.
He looked into her eyes, and smiled, “Forever. That’s the whole point.”
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