Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
perpetual

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Smoke Damage (Part 1 of 2)

Surprise! I finished that IWRY fic that I was originally working on, and now I'm all bonus day and such. And also I had too much caffeine last night and can't sleep, so what better time to get it posted here too. Two parts makes the most sense; it's wicked long.

Title: Smoke Damage
Author: Kairos
Rating: PG-13
Setting: Post-NFA. Ties into my other stories Infinity Questions and the Spike and Faith series, but it isn't necessary to read those first.
Wordcount: This part, 7024
Disclaimer: You-know-who owns you-know-what.
Notes: In retrospect I'm glad that this wasn't my primary entry. For a B/A story, it's got a lot of attention focused on other characters and their own little problems, and if it makes you too impatient to finish, I don't blame you. If you have any thoughts on other ways I might approached this idea, spill!


She had left California half-dazed, believing it would take years to find herself again. Everyone who cared enough to inquire heard the same explanation: she was putting the past behind her. In reality, the clearest of her convictions was that she would need to change ruthlessly in order to forge a new life, and it would be harder than anything she had endured so far.

And it turned out she was exactly right. A revelation like the existence of a demonic underworld was a hard shake; taking part in battle against it was harder yet. The truth was that it would always be with her, even if she never saw a vampire again. But she had survived on her own and grown in ways she never would have predicted, and nothing about her past in Los Angeles could hurt her now. She was a new Kate.

The new Kate was better equipped to deal with certain breaking news than most of her neighbors in this remote Arizona town. There had been screams audible from nearby houses when the footage of live giants and monsters had appeared on the television, while Kate simply sat down to watch, feeling grateful that she lived alone. On the other hand, most of those neighbors had never even been to LA, and if the sight of its smoldering remains gave them a shock, it was because they had to struggle with the idea that vital pieces of America could be ripped away so easily.

Kate’s shock was of a different nature. It was brutally personal, and it was the first occurrence in three years that had even tempted her to look up plane fares.

Fares didn’t matter in the end, because the airport was too close to the dead zone and had shut down until further notice. She had to drive. On the road there she reflected that it was probably better that way, as she would rather have her car with her and avoid looking up old acquaintances to ask for rides. Why should she be in a hurry to get there, anyway? The damage had been done.

And had it ever. It wasn’t just that Los Angeles was in the past, Kate realized as soon as she was close enough to see the ruins. Los Angeles was past.

*

Dear Buffy,
You will never know that I called your house today. It wasn’t for the first time; I’d reached your answering machine twice before and hung up before the beep. Even that was probably a little overboard, but it was a new message, one with your voice instead of your mother’s, and I couldn’t resist listening.

But today your mother picked up the phone. I was thinking about the voicemail message and unprepared, so I asked for you, and then there was a silence.

“She’s not here,” she said. “Is this Angel?”

She didn’t even sound angry. She’s still the only thing left in Sunnydale that I’m afraid of. I confessed my identity and offered her the same flimsy excuse that I had given myself: that I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay.

She said, “Buffy is fine.”

She said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to talk to her.”

She said, “You did the right thing, moving away. I know it was hard for you, but I’m sure things will get better before you know it. What’s important now is for both of you to live your own lives.”

And what did I say? I can hardly recall. Short words of agreement. Stammered apologies. Darla used to tell me that I had a tongue of pure silver. You’d never know it from the way I sound now.

I know that you’ll never hear about this from her because she told me. “I’m not going to tell her you called, okay, Angel? And I hope you won’t keep trying to talk to her. If there’s some kind of demon emergency, I’m sure you can reach Mr. Giles.”

She meant it, of course. She wanted none of me in her life or yours. Yet her voice never lost its sympathetic tone, and she wished me luck before we hung up. It’s good that she’s your mother, Buffy. It’s good to have a brave and practical woman who loves you. I left you, but I didn’t leave you alone.

But I have no mother, and I’ve forgotten how to be alone. The only people I meet here are the ones I kill. I go for days without speaking a word. Nobody tells me about her day at school or asks me if there’s time for a stroll on the beach before the sun comes up.

I can’t call you anymore, but I can’t just quit the habit of talking to you. This book will be hidden. Nobody will know of its existence, and if need be, I can always destroy it. If you’re ever in danger, I’ll be there, but anything else I want to say to you can stay in these pages.
I love you. I miss you.


*

“Thank you. That looks wonderful.” Kate admired the tray openly as it was set before her, bearing an ornate ceramic teapot, a single cup, and a bowl of fresh blossoms. Each item was placed meticulously and appeared to be handcrafted, and the old man who had brought the arrangement was dressed in equally aesthetic and traditional robes. He smiled and bowed in response, and before he had straightened Kate took the opportunity to add, “How about my other request?”

The lapse in his tranquil expression only lasted for a second, and then he pressed his palms together and said, “I am a simple proprietor, and I am afraid I do not know of such things.”

Kate sighed, inhaling the hot tea’s aroma. “I’m Kate Lockley and I’m afraid you do.” She twitched when she said her own name; even now, even while seated cross-legged on a cushion amid glass lanterns and tinkling music, she still sometimes had to fight the impulse to flash her nonexistent badge.

“Kate Lockley, is it?” The man’s posture relaxed a little, but his eyes were grave as he stroked his silver beard. “Have the gods of the desert driven you out, then?”

“No. I came here myself, to see.” She gestured at the cushion across from her. “Will you sit?”

“I will not. Please tell me what service you require from me, and remember that this is a teahouse and I am its simple proprietor.”

It was a discouraging beginning. He had seemed so affable over the phone last year. Kate tried to sound unassuming, but his refusal to come down to her level made it hard to speak as equals. “I want to know what happened to the city. I want to hear it from someone who knew what was happening all along. Someone who doesn’t read newspapers.”

“What happened?” His eyes narrowed marginally. “Death. Flame. Awakenings. Greater evil than you could ever unearth in your desert.”

“Was it Angel?” Kate was almost surprised that her tongue didn’t trip on the word. The last time she had used it as a name was before she had left this state; since then, she hadn’t even spoken to anyone who might know who Angel was. Of course he had been on her mind for days now. One of her first thoughts after hearing the news had been the understanding that Angel had some part in it and was almost certainly dead, and that fact had settled its icy edges into her chest cavity and stayed there. It wasn’t unbearable, though, and she did want to hear the truth.

“Ho!” laughed the old man, with more surprise than amusement. “Perhaps it was, indeed. Shall I bring you the bill?”

Kate shook her head and tried to look serious enough to hold his attention. “You helped me last year, Master Song. Without the information you sent me, I never would have been able to stop that ritual and the cult would have raised their Sahkris demon. You may have saved a whole lot of lives, mine included, and nothing can take away my gratitude for that.” She paused, but briefly, seeing that he had some modest acknowledgment ready on his tongue. “But I helped you too. Remember that artifact? A little stone man with a ruby in his forehead? You never even told me what it was called. And I never even asked what you needed it for.”

It was all too clear that he remembered. He held his pose, standing straight and balanced in front of her, but instead of responding he simply listened, waiting.

“I used to be a detective,” she told him. “Do you know what kind of self-restraint it takes for me to send a talisman to a sorcerer and not ask him why he needs it?”

Slowly, Song opened his hands from where they had been clasped in front of him, and for a moment she thought he was finally going to sit down with her. Instead he remained standing and spoke in a solemn tone. “You did help me, Desert Lady. You were the answer to my prayer. And you are correct in your assumption that I do not read the newspapers.” He smiled sadly. “Yet even so, there is a great deal I do not understand. It has been midnight in the city for days. Why? Why did the vampire with a soul bring this upon us now? Who are the warriors still moving through that darkness? I do not know. The signs say there is no more of this to come, and I am not sure that I wish to know anything more.”

Kate studied the bright reflections in his quiescent eyes, noting that she didn’t even really know if he was fully human. “You’re saying it’s not your battle?” she asked quietly.

He nodded. “And yet I too have lost friends to its appetite. If this is its end, I am grateful, and I need not know how it is the end came about.”

“I understand.” Kate lifted her teacup with both hands, turning it so that the symbol it bore faced away from her, as she had once learned to do. “Thank you, Master Song. I won’t bother you again.”

“Ah, you do not bother me,” said the old man with a good-natured smile. “You seek knowledge; that is good and natural. But this is not where you will find it.” He bowed to her again, and then turned to go, adding one last remark that she found slightly cryptic: “I have never been a detective, you see.”

*

Sweet Buffy, my one great love, my beautiful doom,

It’s easier to say I lost control, but if I did, why do I remember it so clearly? The shape of your body under mine as I pressed you into the floor. Your lungs trying so hard to take in enough air. Your blood. Very clear. There’s very little point in trying to think of anything but you, no matter how I try to remove all traces of you from my life here, such as it is.

I wish I could show you my car. I’m sure you’d like it.

Tonight I laughed for the first time since I got here. It was your fault, of course. The vampire I was fighting tried to taunt me, so I taunted him back, and before I knew it we were trading quips. You never guessed I would turn into your protégée, did you? Of course I laughed.

Thirty seconds later I was standing over a pile of ashes, and suddenly it didn’t seem funny anymore.
Do you ever think of me when you make a kill, or is it too easy to forget that I’m one of them, made of the same dead material, destined for the same austere end? It’s not something I can forget. Every vampire is my mirror. It’s me at the end of every stake.

And I see already how it’s better you don’t see what I write to you. I love you. I miss you.


*

One day later there was a knock at the door of her hotel room, and she opened it to find some more of the past, standing there with a smile on his face.

“Heath,” said Kate, thereby using up the full extent of words she had at her disposal. How had he found her? Why had he found her? Was this a social call, or was he here to arrest her for something? She hadn’t committed any crime that she was aware of, but on the other hand, her involvement with the occult meant that she had, out of necessity, been operating beneath the law for some time now. On the other hand, all of that had taken place in Arizona, unless buying tea from a shaman was getting too close to the LA underworld. On the other hand, the rules might have changed altogether from those she had known.

“Lockley,” said Heath. “Can I come in?”

It all came together soon enough. He had been sent here by Song, of course, who had noticed the connection of their careers and acted on it to get both of them out of his hair. She shouldn’t have been so quick to assume that the entire LAPD had remained blind; here was one more life that had changed before the world did.

Kate realized quickly that she had missed the man. He had been one of very few of her fellow officers who had made the effort to maintain a friendship with her following her dismissal, and had never shown her any less respect for it. Granted, it helped that he himself had first-hand experience with some of the events leading up to that disaster, but his reaction to it set him apart as well. Every officer in the division had seen reality twist during their ‘sensitivity training’; only Heath had chosen not to pretend that it never happened.

He also hadn’t directly approached her for answers about the incident, though, which in a way she appreciated even more. Apparently their internal struggles over the past few years had been much the same, although Kate had been dealt significantly more of them. She wished she had taken the initiative at the time and filled him in on what she knew. Now it seemed too late to matter.

Regardless of his feelings about her disgrace in the field and subsequent disappearance, Heath showed no regrets over their reunion. He took it in stride when she admitted that she knew almost nothing about the fate of LA, and after some general conversation he soon revealed that he had a surprise of his own. “You remember that bombed apartment building back in two-thousand? Case went cold real fast?”

The reference to the events of that time was more direct than either of them had made so far, and therefore more chilling , but she kept her composure as she replied. “I remember a hell of a lot of cases going cold that year, but I’m relieved to say that an enormous mysterious explosion still makes an impression, yes.”

“Well, it stayed cold, so don’t get excited. But I know you had a friend who lived there. Mr. Angel, right?”

Kate nodded slowly and didn’t bother to correct his use of the name. Obviously, Heath didn’t know the truth about Angel, and she didn’t want to divulge it or say anything that would lead to questions about it. Now that he was dead, keeping his secrets probably made no difference, but somehow it was more important to her than it had been during his life. Accepting his nature and keeping quiet about it had been the only way she could show him her respect, and now she respected him more than ever.

“Well,” said Heath, “a lot of stuff was pulled from the site and never claimed. I always wanted to see if you could make anything of it, so I did what I could to keep it wrapped up in red tape so nobody would want to bother with it.” He laughed—-the arbitrary rules about officially useless evidence had been an old joke in the division. “So now, with all these new priorities coming in, they finally decided it’s not evidence anymore and they don’t want it taking up storage space. Care to rescue any of it before it gets trashed?”

“Yes.” Kate could only guess at how wide her eyes were right then. “I...yes. What’s in there? Yes.”

Heath grinned, clearly pleased by her enthusiasm. “Well, a lot of it really is trash, but there’s some interesting swag—-guy must have been a weapons collector, and there’s some art without too much smoke damage. Lots of books. You can take the whole shebang, if you want. Only catch is that you have to tell me what it is and what you want it for.”

Master Song’s little talisman immediately came to mind, and Kate smiled ruefully. “I’ll do my best,” she said. “But I’ll tell you right now, anything that man laid his hands on is probably a complete mystery.”

*

My dearest Buffy,

You’ve probably heard by now that your friend Cordelia is working for me, and I’d have liked to see how you reacted to that news. You’ll understand why I allowed it, I’m sure, and I even think you would have done the same. Even so, if we were actually speaking I’m sure you’d be calling me crazy. Maybe I am. She’s a handful. Things around here are going to change, and I don’t think I’m really ready for it.

She fills up silences, though. She is impossible to ignore. She isn’t afraid of me.

My other new employee is a half-demon carrying instructions from on high. When I met him I only thought that the last thing I wanted in my life was another Whistler, but now I wonder if he isn’t a lot more like me. Doyle is reluctant, as Whistler never was, and he wears a ring like the one that was burned from my finger and I cannot replace. He won’t be driving my car anymore if I have anything to say about it, though.

I love you. I miss you.


*

Kate’s desire to avoid the LAPD and anything connected made her reluctant to accompany Heath to the storage room, so he kindly agreed to haul it all out of there himself, and she met him at his apartment so they could go through it together.

She had expected an onslaught of memories and maybe some deep emotions to arise, but the first thing she felt was overwhelmed. Right away she began sorting it into piles and giving Heath instructions on what to do with them, and didn’t realize that she had fallen back into former habits of seizing control until she heard him chuckling softly each time he obeyed.

Kate was soon chuckling too, but for her it was because of the strong sense of déjà vu the process was giving her-—it was not at all unlike cleaning out her closet as a child, right down to the constant urge to fiddle with every object and read every book rather than properly putting it away. She indulged some of her curiosity, rationalizing it with the need to know if the books were legible, but opening some of them led to questions she couldn’t begin to satisfy until she was back at home with the time and resources to delve.

One in particular blew the rest out of the water when she opened it to a page near the middle and saw that it was not only written by hand, but in a script that had to be Angel’s own. Disjointed patches of writing fought for space among gesture sketches, all of them portraying a nude young woman in repose. Kate’s throat constricted and her eyes stung with sudden tears, a reaction that not even the televised Apocalypse had given her, and she slammed the book shut, too late to avoid seeing the words “I’ll never forget.”

Heath was on the other side of the room, fishing through a box of weapons. It was easy to conceal her wave of grief.

When they had successfully categorized every piece of Angel’s belongings that wasn’t trash, ethics became the primary issue. “Some of this is valuable,” she said uncertainly. “I don’t feel right about keeping it.”

Valuable was an understatement, she thought as she examined the blade in her hands: a flexible steel bastard sword, made for combat and kept sharp, worth thousands on the basis of its craftsmanship alone. She wasn’t about to draw attention to the possibility that it was also enchanted. It was bothersome that she had immediately known where it could fetch the highest price.

“So you want to give it all back?” replied Heath.

The irony in his voice was obvious, but she shook her head anyway. “No. They’ll just auction it off, and I’d rather we know where the money is going.” Not to mention that the city’s handling would make it all too easy for these items to end up in the wrong hands. “I’ll sell them myself,” she decided out loud, “and the profits can go towards the disaster relief fundraising. I think he would have appreciated that.” Then she remembered who had made this possible at all, and added, “Unless you want to split it and keep your half.”

He didn’t, which she had expected. He was a good man, and she regretted how little she had noticed that when they worked together.

In fact, he was good enough to help her load the weapons and books and potentially magical trinkets into her car, good enough to see her off with a few hearty jokes about how lucky she was to not be trying to get her new luggage onto a plane, and good enough to accept without confirmation her promise to write from Arizona and tell him what she had learned.

*

Dear Buffy,

I had my day in the sunlight, and it had its cost. I’m sorry to say that Spike got away and will no doubt be back to bother you again, but there is no longer any Gem of Amarra for him to steal, so at least you won’t have to see
him in the sunlight.

Honestly, my misgivings about destroying the ring have been very few. It’s nice to know that others want my life to be easier, but in the end, I’m the only one who knows what I’m like when life is easy, and it isn’t pretty.

But the ring was a gift from you, and so I’m sorry that I had to discard it. I hope you won’t take it the wrong way. I don’t look that great in direct light.

Not much else to say about the whole thing. I’d better go try to fix the shambles Spike made of my apartment.


...The little bastard stole a picture of you I drew. I can’t believe this. It had to be him, I know I left it in the drawer in my bedroom. What was he thinking? Son of a bitch. I should have staked him the moment Dru brought him home.

And he’s probably just going to throw it away, unless he’s building creepy shrines to you in his creepy little crypt or wherever he’s living. I really hope you’re going to kill him soon. I could almost justify calling you over this just to tell you he’s got something of yours and you should get it back.

Son of a
bitch.

*

Kate read the diary from cover to cover, while the rest of Angel’s former possessions waited in unopened boxes for her attention. She wasn’t ashamed.

...She was a little ashamed. It was clear from the first glimpse that this book was meant to be wholly private, and if he had ever wanted anyone to see it, she knew she wasn’t the one. But on the practical side, she still knew very little of what had happened to him, and one never knew what kind of information might be the key to finding a way to help someone. These days she had plenty of connections, and her expertise at piecing together evidence to find where action was needed had only grown.

On the personal side, he was dead. There was no remaining chance at further reconciliation, so remembering him was the best she could do, and she was willing to use any tool at her disposal to do it.

On the realistic side, after seeing those desperate sketches he had made in here, she didn’t think her curiosity was going to give her a choice.

During that first day after she came back from her journey, she hardly moved from the couch except to answer the door for the Chinese delivery man. He wrinkled his nose when she paid him and she was embarrassed to realize that she had left all of the boxes of salvage by the door, and that they stank. Most of the books had been soaked by fire hoses and carelessly left to dry in storage, and none had escaped smoke damage. For that matter, the diary she was reading smelled, too-—or it would have if she hadn’t so soon become accustomed to it.

She had yet to get accustomed to anything else about the journal. Angel had been in love. Angel had built his agency on a half-demon’s visions and a loud-mouthed schoolgirl’s ambitions. Angel had come to Los Angeles—-from Sunnydale, of all places—-only after losing and regaining his life. She had never guessed. What a fool she had been, talking to Heath as if she had known who Angel was or what he would have wanted.

By the time she reached the third page she had already found the first of several detailed accounts of the vampire losing himself in bloodlust and tearing into the neck of his beloved. When she saw a teardrop fall onto the anguished apology that followed it, she hastily set the book aside until she had gathered herself together. The pages were already brittle and grey; it wouldn’t do to damage them further. It was hardly a minute, though, before she lost her patience and started reading again. Only then did she realize that she had been rubbing hard at a certain spot on her own neck.

*

Dear Buffy,

A girl came to the office yesterday selling cookies, so I bought three boxes. Cordelia spent the morning complaining that she would ‘have to’ eat them, and the rest of the day fuming at Doyle for taking them all home with him. I hope that kid met her quota. There really isn’t a simple way to do a good deed, is there?

Angel Investigations—-the name wasn’t my idea, I swear-—seems to be on its feet. We’re even making some money. More importantly, Cordy found an apartment of her own. More importantly, we got the ghost out. The hostile one, anyway.

It turns out Doyle was married. I met his wife—-now ex-—through a strange series of events that I’m not going to relate here, but for some reason the idea of a failed romance in his past makes my heart ache. Does nobody get a chance at lasting happiness with another person? Or do we all have the same chance, and destroy it in our own ways?

May you make the most of the next chance given to you, Buffy. I love you, I miss you, and I hope to live to see you get all that you deserve.


*

The journal was bound in a brown leather cover, and it looked even older than it smelled. It had many pages, unlined, but Kate could tell without looking that the last quarter or so hadn’t been filled in. Of those that were, many were adorned with sketches, but Angel’s handwriting was neat and compact enough to take advantage of what space it had available.

Kate was fascinated by the artwork, almost more than the autobiography. The illustrations, when they appeared, usually took up no more than a corner of the page, but they were either rendered with loving detail or completed with no more than a few quick strokes, the work of a master. He should have been in galleries. The LAPD would have killed for a sketch artist like him. Faces were the most common theme, especially the face belonging to the female nude of the “I’ll never forget” pages, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that this was the Buffy to whom the letters were addressed.

After that, Kate’s revelations came in a rush, merged with shameful memories of the part she herself had played in Angel’s life that year. Why it took three close-up sketches of Buffy’s face to finally make the connection, she didn’t know, but when she paired that face with an angry young voice calling her a murderer, there could be no further doubt. From that point on, her mind supplied visuals whenever the diary did not.

The first time she saw her own name in an entry, she flinched, irrationally unprepared for a personal twist to enter the story. The mention was brief, though, and so were the few that followed it. Nothing she wouldn’t have expected. His feelings toward her had been more generous than she deserved, in fact.

Long before she had reached the end of the diary or even thought about appraising the equipment in her smelly boxes, she knew what her next step had to be.

*

Buffy I don’t know if I can take it. Buffy I’ve lost you forever.

You felt my heart beat. It happened. It didn’t happen.

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and this is when I step outside and find you in the sunlight. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you’ve gone back to Sunnydale and I can’t go outside because I’m a vampire.

I’ll never forget.

There was nothing for you to forget.

The sun has gone down. We watched it together. You’re sitting at my table drinking tea, and we won’t make it to the bedroom the first time. You’ll be full of laughter when the table breaks beneath you and when I ask if you’re okay you’ll only laugh harder.

We didn’t make it to the bedroom because we didn’t even make it downstairs. You said your piece and left my office. Forever.

It’s midnight and your legs are wrapped around me. You scream when you climax, and roll me over to lie on top of me after I do, and I’m panting harder than you are. Your skin tastes different than it ever has before. It’s midnight and I’m in this bed alone.

It wasn’t enough time.

I’ll never forget.


*

It was easy to find occult information on the internet, but nearly impossible to discern which websites were legitimate. Kate’s business required certainty, as well as a name with a reputation, so she refused to buy or sell from anyone who couldn’t offer her a phone number.

She found circumstances much the same when she searched for “Buffy.” It was a start, though—now she knew she was looking for Buffy Summers, Senior Slayer. If that wasn’t an official title, well, it was close enough for her purposes. Now she just needed a number where she could reasonably expect to reach Senior Slayer.

The bookstore had what she wanted, though she was a little embarrassed when she brought her selection of magazines to the checkout: Teen Vogue, Cosmo Girl, Seventeen, and three other titles geared toward a younger age group than they pretended to be. The employee at the counter didn’t give her a second glance, though, and she rushed her purchases home, trying not to get too hung up on what kind of message these publications were giving America’s youth.

She had cringed her way through two of them before finally finding an inconspicuous ad near the back of Cosmo Girl. The first words to catch her eye were ‘DON’T PANIC!’ The rest of it was similarly casual and succinct: “Do you suddenly feel stronger and tougher than you ever thought you could? Are you having dreams about other girls like you? Don’t know who to talk to? You may have been called as a Slayer. We can help you find your destiny—-just pick up your phone and dial the toll-free number below.”

The image beneath the number held Kate’s attention even as she punched the number into her phone. It looked at first like nothing but a stylized design, but once she noticed the shape of an axe blade, she was sure it was a rendition of a weapon, and the incongruity of this advertisement in the middle of a magazine about makeup and boys made her stomach turn. When her call was picked up, she was startled by a perky young male voice.

“Center for Vampyr Slayage, Neo-Watcher Training, Paranormal Research and Defense, Doomsday Aversion, Pursuit of Truth and Justice, Dungeon-Crawling, and Chilling with Frosty Beverages, this is Andrew, how may I direct your call?”

Kate took a full three seconds to try to make sense of that before slipping into character and letting intuition guide her. “Hi,” she squeaked in her best approximation of a girl fifteen years her junior. “I, um, something happened to me, and I’m kind of scared. Like, I had this dream? And I think I might be, um, a Slayer?”

Instantly the boy was full of compassion. “Fear not, my newly awakened heroic friend! Tell me all about yourself and your alarming but intriguing dream, and I’ll tell you if there’s a place for you
at our School for Gifted Youngsters.”

This wasn’t going quite in the direction that Kate had planned. “Um, I kind of just wanted to talk to Buffy Summers about it. Is she there?”

“Oh, I’m afraid Miss Summers is a very busy lady who likes it when the phone work stays with the guy who volunteered for it, but don’t worry, if we verify your Slayerhood and you decide to join us, you’ll totally get to meet her.”

“Oh.” It wasn’t just Kate’s projected youthful voice that was dejected. Was she going to have to trace this number to find where the office was located? “How do I get verified?” she asked.

“We’ll send someone out to you—“

Kate winced and quickly interrupted. “No. I wanna go see Buffy myself.”

“That is such a great sentiment!” Andrew’s voice was full of such sincerity that she didn’t know if she should trust him more or less because of it. “Only, wormholes are apparently not a viable mode of transportation—-yet—- and it’ll be hard to get yourself to New York without one, so—“

“Where in New York?”

There was a very brief pause, and then the chipper tone came back with a skeptical edge. “Queens. Three-fifty-five 138th Street. Our office is on the top floor.”

Kate scribbled down the address swiftly. “Thanks,” she said in her real voice, and hung up.

*

Beloved Slayer,

I have been sitting here for far too long, trying to find the words to honor a fallen hero. This isn’t the place to put them. His eulogy should be public, and there should be scores of friends and strangers focusing all their concentration lest they miss a word of it. His tale should provoke awe. His remains should be placed reverently into the ground, wrapped in silk and promises:
We understand what you did, and you are loved.

Instead he’ll be missed very deeply by very few. His sacrifice will live on for generations in a grateful family of demons, and in my memory, which may last even longer. Is that what immortality asks of me, Buffy? To let some remnant of my friends continue along through the years, locked in my heart when everyone else who knew them is dead?

This shouldn’t have happened. There should have been a way to prevent it. Saying this means nothing, but it’s true.

Here’s a secret for you, Buffy, one part of this ululu that must never be public: Cordy and Doyle could have loved each other for a lifetime. She has no idea of what she’s lost. Just like the world that never knew him.

And I am still without the words I need. Allen Francis Doyle is dead. God rest him.


*

The top floor of 355 138th St. was merely the sixth story, but it had no elevator, so six stories up was plenty. Each floor seemed to hold only one office, and from what Kate could see from the stairwell, they weren’t very big ones. She was having doubts about whether Andrew had sent her to the wrong address—-it could be the wrong country, for all she knew—-until she reached the door and found there a small brass sign that said simply, “Slayers’ Council”.

She entered without knocking and walked through the first room, a nondescript and unoccupied lobby, following the sounds coming from the next one: talk radio, some constructive banging, and someone singing disjointedly to himself.

He was facing away from her, hunched over and surrounded by tools, tearing away at a board that seemed to be the remains of something that was once nailed to the floor. As Kate approached she could hear that what she had mistaken for singing was actually a phrase that he had been jovially repeating in a fake Spanish accent: “’Allo. My name eez Ahlexanderr ‘Arris. You treeped my Slayer. Prrepare to die.”

Kate smiled, suddenly feeling more at ease than she had since boarding her plane, and discreetly cleared her throat.

The man jumped, immediately dropping his hammer and slipping awkwardly out of his crouch to land on the floor before scrambling to his feet. He was young, Kate saw, though not as young as she would have placed Andrew’s voice, but what surprised her more was that he was sporting an eye patch, pirate-style, with his otherwise normal attire. “Hi,” he said, sidestepping around her to switch off the radio on the desk in the middle of the room. “Hello. Uh. My name’s—“

“Alexander Harris?” Kate suggested.

“Xander, please.” He held out his hand, and Kate shook it readily. “Can I help you? We weren’t really expecting anyone today, so I was just...” He waved descriptively at the repairs he had just been completing.

She shrugged. “My fault; I didn’t make an appointment. Sorry to interrupt you.”

“No prob,” said Xander. “As soon as I finish, something else will break anyway. It would probably be a lot more efficient to spend my time finding us the dream office we couldn’t afford until now, and moving us the hell out of shack-o-rama. So! Visualize me in a suit and let’s start pretending I’m an official office-y guy.”

Kate nodded, wondering whether he was especially talkative or she had just grown unaccustomed to people being open with her. “I guess I’m here to see your Slayer, as you put it.”

“Aha, well, she’s not my Slayer in the romantic sense or the Watcher sense or the you-should-ever-mention-I-said-that sense, but it is Buffy we’re talking about, nay?”

“That’s right.” Kate looked around. There were three other rooms adjoining this one, but they were behind closed doors, unlike the entrance that connected it to the lobby. “Is she here?”

Xander’s one eye controlled a gaze that was piercing without seeming suspicious. “At the moment she’s at an undisclosed not here. Care to pass the time by telling me how you found this place?”

It was actually nice to be asked that outright--obviously the action that happened in this office was disproportionate to the attention that the Slayers had generated from the masses, and Kate wasn’t interested in pussyfooting around the issue. “I talked with a kid named Andrew. He gave me the address.”

“Did he now.” Xander still didn’t sound confrontational, but he put his chin in his hand and let the pause drag on.

The impasse lasted until a voice--female, young but a few years older now, practiced in giving orders--drifted out from behind one of the closed doors. “Xander, if that’s a Potential, just send her in.”

*

Buffy, my love,

Is there anyone else leaving Sunnydale that I should know about? I can’t just keep hiring all of them.

On the other hand, Cordy has been surprisingly deserving of her paycheck, and maybe Wesley will be too. They say that half of what Watchers learn in their training can’t be learned anywhere else, and obscure knowledge is exactly the kind of knowledge I might need.

I wonder if you’re still angry at him. You never had much patience for cowardice. After we defeated Balthazar you spent an hour or more pacing around the mansion complaining about how your new Watcher was going to get us all killed, remember that? You jumped down my throat when I asked you to be patient with him. For the rest of the year I got that “I told you so” look from you whenever Wesley said or did anything you didn’t like.

He’s changed--or he’s changing. Both, I think. I hope it will be enough. He’s clumsy in the field, and his arrogance has been partially replaced with obsequious attempts at proving himself. I don’t know why I like him anyway, except that he is the loneliest person I have ever met.

...I didn’t mean to say you weren’t fair about him. You had a right to be angry. I miss that look. I miss seeing you pace around the mansion. I miss your warm body and the taste of your lips and that breathy moan you make...

Sorry. We dealt with an erotically charged female demon the other day, and my hormones are still skewed. I may need to rip this page out and burn it later.



Proceed to Part 2
Tags: character: angel, character: buffy, character: ensemble, character: kate, character: willow, character: xander, fanfiction, fic: btvs/ats, iwry, pairing: buffy/angel
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