Buffy walked slowly down the stairs of her home at Revello Drive, her hand trailing along the banister. “Hello, who's in here now?” she called out as she reached the bottom.
“Is that you, dear? Come into the kitchen, I’m making cookies.” Her mother’s voice was bright and cheerful and suddenly Buffy was eight again.
Buffy nearly skipped into through the hall and into the kitchen. She took a deep breath and grinned happily. “Chocolate chip oatmeal raisin with extra walnuts, right? Wow, so much packed into one cookie, it’s just got to be good for me!”
“Well, don’t forget the special ingredient,” Joyce laughed as she walked towards Buffy.
“Made with extra special sprinkles and wrinkles of love,” they both shouted together and then hugged fiercely.
Buffy closed her eyes and buried herself in her mother’s arms. She began to cry and for a long moment, Joyce just rocked her and stroked her hair.
Finally, Joyce pushed her away, forcing her to stand on her own. She cupped 23 year-old Buffy’s chin. “You’re a grown woman now, Buffy. You’ll always be my little girl, but it's time for you to bake your own cookies.”
“But how will I know what to put into them?” Though Buffy’s body remained the same, her voice was that of a scared child. “I’ll never get all the ingredients right. I'll end up with a horrible mess like Adam, some guy who's a mix of all sorts of human mistakes and demons.”
“Now, now, dear. You'll figure it out. The secret to cooking is to use everything we've learned in the past.” Joyce lifted up a large wooden spoon. “Do you want to stir it up?”
Two square slices of bright orange processed cheese were waved merrily between the two women. “Don’t forget the cheese!”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Like I don’t have enough trouble already. I didn’t understand you before and I don’t want you here now. And I’m not putting cheese into my cookies.”
“Well, I want the ‘sprinkles and wrinkles of love,’ Buffy dearest,” Angelus mocked as he came up from behind and he sunk his teeth into the Cheeseman’s throat. He sucked noisily for a moment while the women stood in shock. “Oh wait, I’m a vampire, I don’t wrinkle!” He grinned and licked his lips. “Hmmm… surprisingly cheddary. Hello Buffy, remember me?”
She grabbed the spoon from her mother, plunging it into the vampire’s heart. He looked down at the protruding wood before laughing at her. “Sorry, you can’t exorcise this demon that easily. You’re going to have to deal with me.” He pulled the spoon out and tossed it casually to the floor. “Come on, Buffy, it’s past time that we talked.”
Giles stood on a hill in the desert. “Buffy?” he called out tentatively. He looked around the empty earth, stepped forward and stumbled. Catching himself, he knelt down and picked up the gourd that had tripped him. Studying it carefully, he shook it gently and heard the seeds rattle. He looked around and whispered, “Buffy, where are you?”
“Bye, Joyce. Good to see you again.” With a merry wave, Angelus turned and pulled Buffy towards the back door. They walked out of the kitchen and into the old mansion. Buffy gasped seeing Giles tied to the chair, shirt pulled down off his shoulders to his waist. His head hung down and she could see the fresh cuts and bruises across his cheeks, his forehead and down his side. She tried to run forward, but Angelus held her back.
“No, no lover, this is about you and me right now. Well, that, and me and him. No, wait, that’s not right either. It’s about the three of us. About you and me and him, I think.” He grinned at her, making sure she saw his fangs. “But however you count it, you have to deal with me before you can go to him.”
“Let him go!” Buffy struggled to pull free, but Angelus held her tight. “What are you doing to him?” She twisted to take a swing at the vampire but he easily dodged the blow. “Why?! Why are you doing this?”
“I’m not doing this Buffy, you are. Or someone is… I get all those prophecies and star-crossed destinies all mixed up. It is so hard to keep track of everything and who is going to live and die and live to love and kill again.” He shrugged. “Never mind that. For now, just stay put and watch. I mean it, don’t move.” Angelus released her and Buffy tried immediately to follow, but she found herself rooted to the floor. Frozen and helpless, she could only watch as he strode over to Giles and walked casually around him.
“Hello, Rupert, old buddy. Miss me?” Angelus crouched down beside the bound Watcher. He cocked a finger under Giles’ chin, forcing him to look up. “You impress me, but I think I know a way to finally break you.” Giles glared wordlessly as Angelus patted him casually on the cheek before allowing his head to drop again. The vampire turned to Buffy. “You know,” he said conversationally, “I didn’t break him. I tried, but he took it all. Pretty impressive. But I think I’ve got him this time.”
“Leave. Him. Alone.”
“Sorry, no can do.” Angelus turned back and spoke to Giles. “So, did you ever tell her what I did to you? Did she even ask?” He turned Giles’ head to face him again. “She always loved me more, you know. I came back and she took me right back into her life. Why are you protecting her?”
“It's my duty.”
“Oh, and that's the only reason?” Angelus laughed. “Come on, Rupert. We're all friends here. Tell us the truth. Why are you here?”
“I love her.” The words were a hoarse whisper.
“Ah yes, and you always did, didn’t you?” Angelus poked him when he didn’t answer. “Come on, Rupert! Don’t make me get out the chainsaw! You always did, didn’t you?”
“Yes, damn you.”
“Already damned, so don’t worry about that,” Angelus answered cheerfully. “So you loved her and she…? She, what?” He stood and turned to Buffy. “You what? Come on, Buffy, help the guy out. You did what?”
Buffy tried to turn away but still couldn’t move. Angelus stalked back towards her and pushed himself directly into her face. She cringed as he pressed up against her left ear to whisper, “Tell him, Buffy. Tell him or you’ll be frozen here forever and I’ll go fetch my chainsaw.”
“I waited for you, Buffy, but you didn’t come.” Giles looked up at her accusingly. Angelus moved forward and grinned, poking at the bound Watcher as Giles whispered, “Tell me, ‘you did what?’ What did you do? Did you even think of me?”
“I killed him for you.”
“And when he came back you hid him from me.”
“I didn’t, I…,” Buffy stopped as Angelus reached out to take Giles’ right hand in his own. He stroked the fingers gently before snapping one. Giles grimaced and groaned, biting his lip. His eyes closed and his head dropped to his chest.
Angel looked up at Buffy and smiled lovingly. “I loved you, Buffy, you know that. And you killed me. You stuck a sword in my chest and sent me to Hell.”
“I had to save the world,” Buffy whispered tearfully.
Angelus laughed again. He patted Giles on his head. “Well, Watcher, you know where you rank now, don't you?”
“But you didn’t have to save me, Buffy?” Giles' eyes remained closed, but his voice echoed from all around her. “He killed Jenny. Was part of you happy about that? Deep down, were you glad?”
“NO!” The cry was torn out of her.
“Are you sure? Not just a little bit jealous?” Ethan laughed as he walked over to Giles. “I am certain you have a, what did your charming sister call it, ah yes, a wiggins, when you think of us together.”
“Ethan, what have you done to me?” Buffy whimpered.
“I've done nothing, dearest, except ask a few questions.” Ethan gave Giles a quick kiss on the cheek. “I just find it fascinating that you keep pushing for a 'normal' life, but you won't let him have one.”
“I know she was jealous of me.” Olivia strolled over and knelt in front of Giles. She reached up and stroked his cheek as Ethan nodded. “I’m sorry, Rupert, that it didn’t work out.” She looked around distastefully. “But I just can’t accept this sort of mess in my life.” She winced as Angelus casually stubbed a cigarette out on Giles’ shoulder.
Giles cried out and dropped the gourd. He stumbled in the sand, falling to his knees and curling in on himself. He clutched at his once broken fingers, whimpering.
“God, what's happening?” Breathing hard, he slowly sat up and stared at his hand. Flexing it slowly into a fist, he shook his head looking puzzled. He started to stand up and then cried out again in pain.
“Damn! What the..?” He grabbed at his shoulder and grimaced. “What's going on here?” Taking a deep breath, he slowly undid the top buttons of his shirt. He slid the cloth to the side to stare at his scarred shoulder. The puckered circles looked normal. He reached up and touched them, at first gently and then with greater firmness, frowning thoughtfully.
Shrugging the shirt back in place, he began to button it, looking around the sandy dunes. “Buffy, where are you?” he wondered. “And more importantly, what's happening to you?”
Buffy felt a tap on her shoulder and whirled around to see the First Slayer crouched on the desert dunes, staring up at her. She stumbled backwards and fell onto the sand. “What do you want, damn you!?” Buffy screamed. “What do you all want of me?!”
“He's here,” she hissed. “He's come for you. You should fight.”
Buffy glared at her and then closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I'm going to count to ten and when I finish, I'm going to wake up in my own bed and all of you are going to leave me alone, okay? One. Two. Three…”
“You fought them before. Fight him now.”
Buffy opened her eyes. “Fight who? Who's here?”
“The one who made you.”
“That's just so helpful.” Buffy laid down on the sand and stared up at the sky. “Can you please just give me a straight answer for once? I don't know what the hell is going on around here or what I'm supposed to do.”
“I was alone. I lived in the blood. I lived in the death.” The First Slayer snarled.
“Yes, I know,” Buffy sighed, “and let me tell you, you really needed to wash it out sometimes.”
“I came from them. You came from me.” She crouched low and stared intently down at Buffy. “And they all came from you.”
“You know,” said the cultured British voice from behind her, “this is far more amusing than 'Masterpiece Theater.' Although,” Travers continued thoughtfully, “it's somewhat lacking in set design.”
Buffy jumped to her feet and looked back and forth between the First Slayer and Travers. Finally she pointed. “I'm supposed to fight him?” She grinned. “This may just turn out to be a good day after all.”
“Oh don't be silly, Miss Summers. Once again you are showing a shocking lack of respect and understanding for our various roles here.” Travers turned and walked up the hill. “If you will both follow me please.”
Buffy watched for a minute and then shrugged. “Okay, but no more tests or games, Quentin.”
They started up the hill, moving slowly in the sand. The First Slayer watched for a moment and then trailed after them. Travers entered a cave entrance and Buffy followed.
“Try to find a seat. There may be some space at the front.” Travers gestured at the row of school chairs and stepped up to the chalkboard in the front of the classroom. The room was filled with young women and Buffy walked hesitantly down the aisle, the First Slayer following warily behind her.
“Yo! Sineya! How's it going, girlfriend?” Faith waved at the First Slayer from a seat at the front of the room. “That a new skin you got on?”
“Faith? What's going on? Do you understand what's happening?” Buffy shouted eagerly.
“Hey B! This is your gig, I'm just along for the ride. Ain't that always been the case?” She laughed, slouching casually in her chair. “It's always been you and your gig. The rest of us, we're just secondary Slayers. It's always been all about you.”
“Settle down, please! Ladies, if I may have your attention?” Travers called out from the front of the room.
“Travers, will you tell me what's going on?”
“Please! We should be respectful to our Watchers.” Kendra gestured to an empty seat next to here. “Sit here. You have much to learn.”
Sineya moved to sit next to Faith while Buffy shook her head in confusion and sat down next to Kendra. She slumped in her seat. “I hate this. I hate everything about this.”
“Miss Summers, if you please? Now that you're on the other side of things, you need to set an example for the other girls. After all, you decided that they should become Slayers, isn't that right?” Travers frowned at her. “Once again, you stepped completely outside Council protocols.”
“It's not my fault! Hey, I didn't ask for it, did I?” Buffy stood up, pointing at Travers. “You guys did this to me!”
“Yes,” hissed Sineya beside her. “Fight them. It is time we fight them.”
“Shut up!” yelled Buffy. “I don't want to fight them, I just want to go home.”
Faith stood up across the room. “Look, B, like it or not, you're it. You're the leader. I tried, it didn't work. The Wild Woman can't talk straight, our Island friend won't question authority, Squirt over there,” she said, gesturing at Kennedy slouching sullenly in a far seat, “sure as hell ain't one, and no one else knows a damn thing about what happened. So what are we going to do? What are we here for?” The room fell silent and everyone stared at Buffy.
Buffy stared back helplessly. “I, I, I don't know.” She walked towards the front of the room.
Travers handed her a piece of red chalk and pushed her towards the chalkboard. “Yes, Miss Summers, if you would, please explain to these women just why they are here.”
“I don't know.” Her hand reached up tentatively to write on the board and passed through the surface. Buffy gasped and stepped back.
Travers shook his finger in her face. “Well, if you don't listen to us, you'll never know.”
The women began whispering softly in the background. Scattered phrases came out of the dull rumble. “Killer.” “Death is your gift.” “They put the demon in us, made us killers.” “She made us killers.” “She let me die.” Buffy turned around and saw the women standing up and approaching her. She backed up to the chalkboard and stepped through.
The classroom disappeared and she heard Travers' voice echo as everything went black. “Best come back, Miss Summers. You'll miss the guest lecturer! And you'll never pass the pop quiz!”
Buffy turned and began to run through the darkness.
Giles stopped at the sounds of yelling. He looked up and seeing a cave entrance slightly above him, went scrambling up the hill. He ran inside, entering an empty classroom. He looked around in confusion.
“Buffy?” He called out softly and then yelled with more force. “Buffy! Where are you?”
“It's not just about her anymore, Rupert.”
Giles spun around. “Quentin! What are you doing here?”
“This has gone beyond you and Buffy, Rupert. You and that damn Slayer of yours have once again managed to upset all the forces of nature. Work it out, will you please?” Travers turned his back on Giles and started up the steps.
“Quentin, wait! Where's Buffy?” Giles spoke desperately. “Please, where can I find her?”
“Hmmm. One would almost think she didn't want you to find her. Well, I want you to find her. She went that way.” Quentin pointed at the chalkboard. “Better hurry though. I think the girls were a little rough on her.”
Travers faded out, leaving Giles staring in confusion. Finally he turned and walked to the chalkboard. “Buffy?” he asked before slowly, he raised his hand, reaching out to touch it. When his fingertips passed through the wall effortlessly, he shrugged and stepped forward into the darkness. He screamed as he fell into an open grave and the ground swallowed him up.
Buffy saw a light in the distance and ran towards it. Her footsteps echoed metallically in the darkness. The air around her grew light and she saw she was running on a metal grate. She looked up and tried to stop, fighting for balance at the top of the tower ramp. Beneath her, a purple vortex crackled and swirled.
She stood, gasping for breath, staring down at the violent energies. Lightening flashed and she whimpered softly to herself.
“Every Slayer has a death wish.”
“You fight it, death I mean, every day. You battle with it. You battle with dead things and rage against the night. And you start to become it and long for it.” Spike stepped out of the darkness and looked down into the swirling vortex. He blew out a long thin trail of cigarette smoke and continued casually. “You get this weird relationship going with death, you slayers do. Death is your art, your talent, your job. In fact, one might even say, it's your gift. And you're just a little bit in love with it, aren't you?”
“Spike.” Buffy's voice was tired. “Do you know what's going on here?”
Spike walked up beside her. “Well, Pet, seems to me you have a few issues with the world.”
“Who doesn't? But…”
She was interrupted. “Wear the Cheese.” The Cheeseman took two slices of bright orange cheese and draped them over her shoulder. “It's a brilliant accessory to any crisis.”
“Will you please go away?” Buffy pushed him off the tower and watched him plummet through the purple light. She turned back to Spike and found that they were suddenly beneath the tower. He collapsed to the ground, clutching his bleeding head. Staring past Buffy, he slowly began to cry. She turned and saw Willow helping Tara across the wrecked construction site and Xander carrying Anya. In the front of the group, his back to her, she saw Giles stop moving. She walked forward and turned to face him. “Giles?” She gasped at the raw pain on his face. “Oh god, Giles.”
He stared right through her, his gaze focused on something in the ground in front of him. She reached up to touch his anguished face. “Giles, it's okay, I'm here now.”
“Buffy?!” Buffy turned at the sound of Giles' shout from somewhere behind her. She turned again and again, but didn't see him. “Buffy!” came the shout from above her. She looked up on the tower and saw Giles standing on the edge.
“Giles! Don't!” she cried as she watched him step forward and swan dive off the tower. The purple light crackled around him as he fell slowly through the vortex. His body landed with a heavy thud that made her scream. She tried to run forward to him, but her legs wouldn't move. She watched as his body and the surroundings seemed to melt and merge into a sunny day in a small glade surrounded by woods. A headstone came slowly into view and seemed to move forward to where she was frozen in position. As it approached, she could just make out the words.
He Watched A Lot.'
The First Slayer whispered sadly from behind her. “You must fight. He is coming.”
“Fight who?!” Buffy screamed in frustration. “Who the hell made this tombstone?! Giles wasn't any of these things!”
“That's very sweet of you to say, Buffy.” Giles smiled as he approached her with the bright blue crystal. “Now, I'd like to ask you to concentrate. You need to find the flaw in my center.” He reached out a tweed-clad arm and placed the crystal on top of the tombstone. “Can you see the flaw?”
“Fight him,” hissed Sineya.
“Giles, please don't.” Buffy whimpered.
Giles smiled and tapped a syringe, jostling the pale yellow-brown liquid. “I'm sorry, Buffy, but I know that if anyone in the world understands the pressures of duty, it's you.” He reached out for her arm and began to push up her sleeve. “Now, this shouldn't hurt a bit.” He frowned. “Actually, I think this may probably hurt you quite a bit. Can you forgive me?”
“Watch out for the snake in the grass!” Willow ran up to the headstone and knocked the crystal off, shattering it. Willow collapsed on the grave and began gasping. A large boa emerged from her throat and slithered off between Buffy's feet. Willow coughed once more and sat up. In a conversational tone she asked, “I'm sorry, were we talking about betrayal here?”
“Willow, what have you done?” Buffy stared beyond Willow, horrified, as a hand thrust itself out of the ground and twisted in the air. She could see the black stone flash on the pinkie ring.
Travers leaned in from behind her. He looked at the flailing arms with clinical detachment. “He had a father's love for you, you know,” he whispered in her ear. “You passed. He failed. And you do everything wrong.”
Giles pushed up against the dirt. His hand reached open air and he grabbed at the sod holding him down. He tore at the grass and pulled himself forward and out of the grave. Gasping he crawled out onto the ground.
Confused, he looked up to see Willow sitting next to him. She was calmly chewing on a piece of grass and fiddling with some blue crystal shards. “Not bad for a rank arrogant amateur, wouldn't you say?” she asked cheerfully.
He shook his head and brushed some of the dirt off. “Willow, what are you...?” he broke off as he looked up and saw Buffy staring down at him. Quentin Travers stood to her left and a wild-looking African woman to her right.
“Fight him,” hissed the woman.
“Submit to him,” said Travers.
Willow laughed. “Oh, just love him, Buffy. Never mind the dirt on him.”
Buffy turned and ran.
“Buffy!” Giles yelled. “Please, wait!” He struggled to his feet and started after her.
The woman snarled as he went past her. Travers shook his head disapprovingly before transforming into Percy who shouted after him, “Bring her back, Rupert! She needs us!” He shook his head sadly as he faded away. “And we all need her.”
Buffy raced into the library at full speed, crashing through the double doors with a bang. Giles stood up surprised. “Buffy, are you alright? Did something happen on patrol?”
Buffy stared at him as she stood, hands on her hips, breathing hard, and finally shook her head. “No, no, Giles, don't worry about it.” She straightened. “ Look, I'm sure you've got something terrible to show me or tell me or do to me, or maybe you're going to die some horrible death, so just go ahead and do it, okay? I'm getting really tired of this nightmare and really just want to wake up.”
He frowned. “I'm sorry, Buffy, but I don't have anything to report. I've been researching everything at my disposal and you're still going to die. It's your destiny and you just have to accept it.”
The library doors crashed opened behind them and Buffy whirled around in a defensive position.
Giles rushed into the library, dirt and bits of grass still clinging to his clothes. “Buffy, are you alright?” Giles rushed forward and pulled her into a desperate hug. “Please tell me you're okay.” She stiffened and he pulled back to frantically search her face.
Buffy twisted away and stepped back. “Stop it, will you? I don't want to play this game any more.” She gestured behind her. “You just told me that I'm going to die and I really can't take any more.”
Giles looked behind her. “Buffy, there's no one there.”
She glanced over her shoulder and turned back to him with a frown. “You were there a minute ago, all tweedy and booky again.” She shook her head. “But it doesn't matter. You've been all sorts of things today. I don't know who you're being now, but I just want my Giles.”
“I am your Giles.” He held out a hand beseechingly. “I know this is confusing, but I'm me, I'm the real Rupert Giles. I love you and I'm here to take you home.”
Buffy glared at him suspiciously. “Yeah, right. How do I know you're real? It's all been really real.” She backed up and leaned against the library table. “I'll believe you and then you'll melt away or die or hurt me or turn into Ethan or I don't know what.” She choked back a sob. “I don't think I can take any more of this.”
“Buffy, that's it, it was Ethan. Do you remember? Ethan kidnapped you and he put a spell on you. It's acting like a drug in your system.” Giles took a wary step forward. “You're actually in your bed in the house. I'm there with you.”
“Right… Ethan made me have mystical hallucinations so I'm missing out on us finally getting to bed together?” Buffy snorted. “My life sucks.”
“Admittedly, we're not having one of our better weeks.”
Buffy looked him up and down. “If I'm hallucinating, then you're just a dream as well too, right? I'm just making you up.”
“No, Buffy, it's really me. Willow and I did another spell so I could try to help guide you out of here.”
“You mean like when I went all catatonic before and Willow came in and got me?”
“A little bit like that, yes.” Giles took another cautious step closer. He reached out slowly towards Buffy. “Can I explain it to you later? After we get out of here?”
Buffy looked up wide-eyed at him. “Giles?” she whispered softly. “Is this really you-you? Please, I don't think I can take it if you disappear on me or die on me or turn into an African witch doctor or anything like that again. Please… is it really you?”
Giles stepped forward and pulled her into a tight embrace. “It's really me, Buffy. I promise.”
“Oh,” Buffy said quietly. Her arms went around him and she rested her head against him. “That's good.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and held her tightly. “Yes. It's good.” He took a deep breath and cupped her chin upwards so he could smile down at her. “Now, are you okay?”
“Sure. I'm fine, Giles.” Buffy stared up at him and then burst into tears. Burying her face into his chest she began to cry. “Well, maybe not so great. I don't understand what's going on here. It's all mixed up. You were Merrick, and Mom was watching us have sex, and Travers was here, and Maggie wanted to dissect me, and the Master became Ethan and,” she hiccupped, “the First Slayer and Faith are friends and…”
“Shhhh, Buffy it's okay, shhhh, it's okay.” Giles rubbed her back reassuringly and kissed her head gently. “It's okay, we'll figure everything out and get out of here.”
“That raises a good question,” Buffy sniffed. “If we're in bed together, and we're both really us, then why are we in the library? Why aren't we home?” She started to look angry. “Just where the hell are Ethan's little hallucinations taking me?”
“That's a little hard to say with any accuracy, but basically we are in your mind, Buffy.”
“Giles! No way is my mind this messed up! And all these guys living here? Uh uhn, this isn't my head.”
“I'm sorry, but it's your mysterious mind that's providing the fuel for this spell.” Giles smiled and stroked her hair softly before tapping her lightly on the side of her head. “This imagery and material is coming from you. Although I fear there is a little bit of Ethan and myself mixed in now.”
“Then what's with the First Slayer and Travers and all the junior me's yelling that I killed them? Where the hell is that coming from?”
“I'm not sure. The spell is related to you being a Slayer so perhaps, since you are no longer the only slayer, they were pulled in somehow as well. Or maybe you have issues with them.”
“I don't want to have issues, I just want to go home. How do we get out of here, Giles?”
He sighed. “As I didn’t start the spell, it is therefore difficult for me to end it. It would be dangerous for me to force closure. The spell has its own goal and is designed to end when that goal is reached.”
“What prize does it want? Can I tell it it won?”
Giles looked uncomfortable. “I think we should just ride the currents, let it take us where it wants. We shouldn't force it.”
“What does it want?”
He looked down at her with sympathy in his eyes. “I'm afraid that it wants to deal with your issues.”
“Oh crap. Ethan stuck me into some giant Freudian mind game, is that it? I have to say I love my father or that I think cigars are sexy or something like that? Why can't he just let me repress everything? It's worked perfectly well for me for a long time now.”
“I'm sorry, Buffy.” Giles looked around and then back down at her. “But the spell wants acceptance.”
“I think this spell really needs to learn to deal with rejection.” Buffy pointed behind Giles and he turned to see Hellmouth monster breaking through the stacks, its multiple heads thrashing in the air. “Because I have no intention of accepting that!”