The remaining vampire was an easy target, but Buffy felt herself frozen, unable to find the Slayer’s moral certainty to carry her through the kill. One of her old rules, more like a habit at this point, was to never think about what kind of person a vampire might have formerly been. Now she was doing exactly that. This was once a girl her own age, starry-eyed and golden-haired, blindly devoted to whoever would offer her any kindness...and here she was, soulless and broken, and she was going to die.
“Just kill me,” she sobbed. “I can’t live without him.”
Dead Man's Party
Willow hadn’t reached the bottom stair to Xander’s basement when she saw him, stopped in her tracks, and exclaimed, “You’re thinking about Cordelia!”
Xander jumped up from his chair as if stung. “No I’m not! I’m...figuring out how to help Buffy!”
“You have total Cordelia face! Xan, you have to get over her. She’s a country-length away, probably getting comfy in some stupid sorority, surrounded by ultra-suave Duke boys...”
“...Who all look exactly like Wesley...I mean, if someone was imagining Cordelia they might imagine...”
Willow sat down beside him. “What do you think Duke is like?”
“Honestly? A gilded palace.”
Faith, Hope, and Trick
“Yo, B.!” Faith waved, then ran to catch up before Buffy reached the Admissions office. “What’s this?” she continued in a badly faked British accent. “Furthering your education?”
“You met Wesley,” Buffy surmised.
“Sorry to say. You take orders from that guy?”
“About one in five. I guess you could say we’ve come to an understanding.”
“Yeah?” Faith grinned broadly. “Y’know, I kinda expected you’d be covered in gold stars and spouting garbage about duty and destiny. Glad I was wrong.”
Having no response to that, Buffy kept walking toward the office, wondering when duty and destiny had become garbage.
Beauty and the Beasts
They met up later, as planned, to talk about it—-which was a load of crap, because they both knew what would happen once they were alone together. “I thought I was chasing that wolf into nowhere,” chuckled Forrest. “Instead I get to be the guy who discovers the Slayer.”
“Mmm,” Faith agreed as she walked her fingers up his arm. “Looks like you struck gold. Wanna see what Slayers can do?”
He stopped her hand from caressing his throat, and she allowed him the illusion of superior strength. “Just one question. Are we keeping this secret?”
“Works for me.”
Mayor Wilkins opened a folder containing the latest listing of notable vampires calling Sunnydale their home. Angelus seemed to be gone for good, William the Bloody and Drusilla had moved away, Mr. Trick was a promising new arrival…all under control, but who was that pesky Initiative collecting now? Demonic relations hadn’t been this complicated since the Gold Rush. Cataloguing them was just darned confusing.
His hand hovered over Maggie Walsh’s name before he made a note that said ‘kill.’ Then he frowned, crossed it out, and changed it to ‘schedule meeting.’ Learning a little about her research first couldn’t hurt.
“You’re not going to believe this one,” said Buffy as she walked into the mansion, keeping her voice at the low pitch she had become accustomed to using there. “Ethan Rayne was back in town, and he brought this cursed candy, no joke, that had every adult I know reliving their golden years by...Angel?”
There was no answer. All at once she realized that furniture was tipped over, and items that had been whole at her last visit were now broken. Heart in her throat, she threw down everything she was holding and began a thorough, dizzying search for ashes.
“Yeah, he does the spooky yellow eyes thing. Amazingly enough, ‘Agent’, I knew about that.” She knew. She knew how the spooky yellow could look like sparkling gold in the dim light of a closed skating rink. She knew how to find emotions written in a brow that seemed at first glance to be locked into monstrous rage. She knew how his pointed fangs could draw blood from her mouth if he wasn’t careful, but he always was, and his tongue would slide beneath hers and guide it away from sharp edges and deeper into the softness of his kiss...
“Last year was...a nightmare. Buffy tried to shield you from it, but...”
“But you lost more than Willow’s goldfish. I understand.”
“Yes. Clearly matters have changed, but the mere sight of him, alive again, is still a shock.”
“You think I should say no.”
“It isn’t my decision, Joyce.”
“And I’m not asking you to make it. I’m asking your professional opinion on whether this is safe.”
“Well. I believe that in his current state he poses no threat to you.”
“Buffy’s danger is as it has always been. Angel won’t hurt her; her feelings for him will.”
Eli peered into the library’s cage at the unconscious vampire and shook his head. “This is insane, Buffy.”
“Yuh huh. You just can’t believe I won. Did you find anything on Aurelius?”
“That she’s the oldest surviving member, that the word means ‘Golden,’ and oh yes, that this is insane.”
Buffy ignored the Watcher’s angry tone and picked up one of his books. “Then she’s the only one who has the answers. Are you afraid of the truth?”
He took off his glasses, an achingly familiar gesture. “If your theory proves correct, I think I have every right to be.”
As lousy as Christmas Day could get at his house, Xander had always had one way to escape, one haven of heart-of-gold friendship and Jewish disregard for Santa Claus. Now that haven was closed to him, Buffy was celebrating with family, the Bronze was closed, school was closed, and Xander had to resort to a solo walk through the inexplicable, beautiful, soggy snow.
He stopped outside the motel. If she wasn’t there, she’d never know he knocked. If she was, that meant they were in the same boat.
He knocked. Faith opened and immediately grinned. “She returned to Oz, huh?”
Riley and Forrest came dressed in civvies, hoping their informality would make everyone more comfortable. It was to some degree a lost cause, but Riley’s respect for Mrs. Summers along with his feelings for her daughter necessitated the extra effort.
She welcomed them in, offered snacks, and then finally asked what needed to be done.
“Just a basic calibration procedure,” Riley promised. “If he’s been okay here so far, then we’re golden.”
“Oh, he’s been an—-very polite. It’s actually nice having someone around, keeps me from getting too ‘empty nest.’ Did you know he’s an artist?”
Riley blinked. “An...artist?”