Title: Persistence of Memory
Pairings: Giles/Willow, eventual Spike/Buffy
Summary: A year after the closing of the Hellmouth, a new threat faces the New Council in London.
Author's Notes: This is a work in progress. I hope to be posting a chapter every few days, but we'll see how it goes. Many thanks to the talented and tactful debxena for beta reading.
Disclaimer: All characters, settings and incidents from the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. This work is posted for entertainment purposes only. No money is being made here, I'm just having fun, please don't sue me.
Chapter Two: A Slayer's Instinct
Andrew had booked her a red-eye, with a stopover in Lisbon. Willow had hoped to sleep on the flight, but every time she closed her eyes, the same scene played out, an endless rerun of a movie she hadn't wanted to see the first time.
“Hey, K, I'm back! You here?” Willow called as she set down her suitcases and closed the door behind her. It was good to be home. Well, not home, since this was the third apartment she and Kennedy had shared since they'd come to Brazil, but it had been a good six months since their last move. She could hear the other woman moving around in the bedroom.
Kennedy was packing. Packing? Drawers were open, clothes were scattered on the bed, and she was sitting cross-legged in the center of the piles, methodically sorting her underpants. She looked up, suprised. “Oh… Will.”
Willow's smile froze, then melted. “Not the enthusiastic welcome home I was hoping for.” She shifted a stack of tee-shirts to the top of their shared dresser, and sat down, putting her arms around Kennedy, who returned the hug, burying her face in Willow's neck. “Okay, something's up here. What's wrong, and why all the packing? Did Giles call? Is there some mystical crisis we have to go deal with?”
“No, nothing mystical.” Kennedy untangled herself and sat up straight, pulling in a deep breath like she was about to begin a workout or a sparring session. “It's me. Willow, I…have to go.”
“Go where?” The tension was building in Willow's stomach. “Why, and why now, I just got back, and whatever happened to ‘Hi Willow, missed you, how was Bahia?' ”
Kennedy got up and stood on the other side of the bed, giving her that direct stare that so unnerved vamps in the moment before they became dust. “Hi Willow. I missed you. How was Bahia?”
“Never mind that. Where are you going?” Willow thought she knew, and she wanted badly to be wrong. It wasn't like she hadn't felt the tension building between them lately, but nothing she did seemed to lessen it.
“I'm moving out. Father Miguel's renting me a room. I'm sorry, but I can't do this any more. One of us has to be honest, Willow.” Kennedy had unconsciously moved into fighting stance, her body tensed. Bad sign.
“Look, is this about Carnival? Because I know you were upset, so if we're going to be honest, now might be a good time to tell me exactly what I did wrong.” Willow's nervous system was on high alert, bells ringing and sirens going off. “I was dancing! People dance at Carnival!”
Kennedy sat down heavily on the bed, as if deflating. “Willow, you were dancing with that guy, and you wanted him. I could tell. You're not gay, you're bi.”
“But…I came home with you.” A small voice. “Doesn't that count? Maybe I was a little turned on, okay, but I came home with you.”
The response was tender. “I know you did. Will, you're a good person. It's not Carnival, it's not even the bi thing, although you really need to deal with that, but, side issue. Look, don't make this harder, please? I'm not blaming you….” She lifted an orange tank top, unfolded it, refolded it, smoothing its folds carefully as she spoke.
“Look, when we got together, in Sunnydale? You had all this power, and it turned me on, and I went for it. I figured….I figured there were two possibilities, okay? Either some of us were going to die, or all of us were. And I wanted to be with you for whatever little bit of time we had left. I didn't think we had a long term to worry about.”
Willow began to speak, but Kennedy held up a hand, forestalling her. “I'm a slayer. Part of the slayer package is this intuition. Like in fights, knowing where to move without having to think about it. I follow my instincts. I knew then that you were still hung up on somebody else, that if we got together, I would be rebound girl. But at the time, I decided not to care. And now…”
“Now you care.” Willow couldn't look at her lover. She walked over to the screened doors that led to the balcony, and stared out over the rooftops, but the afternoon sunlight streaming in didn't warm her.
Kennedy sighed. “Look, I know I'm a competitive bitch. I don't know if it's a slayer thing or it's just me, but you know it's true. You're not in love with me like you were with her. I don't know why. But what we have….it's been great. But it isn't enough for me.”
“I'm sorry. I'll try harder. I'll…” Willow's words were barely a whisper, but Kennedy's hearing was sharp. She stood, moving behind the smaller woman, stroking Willow's shoulders, feeling the softness of her skin, and suddenly the steel was back in her voice. It didn't match the tears that were starting to make their slow way down her cheeks.
“Don't make this harder. Don't argue with me when you know I'm right. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. I've been thinking and thinking and thinking, and you know that's not my strong point. I'd rather just hit something, that's what I know how to do. But there's no bad guy to hit. There's just you, and me, and I have to go.”
Willow turned to her, this woman whose arms were a safe haven, whose every contour and muscle she knew, whose injuries she'd tended, watching the scars fade and disappear. “You have to go.” She repeated the words, wishing they could mean something different.
“I have to go.”
Willow shifted, feeling the jet engines' rumble, and tried again to position the small pillow in a way that didn't make her neck ache. Maybe if she slept she could have a good, distracting Hellmouthy, nightmare. Something with vampires might be comforting. At least it would remind her of home.
Chapter Three: Starting Again
Although the Brazilian sun had tanned her skin and brightened her hair to the shade of a polished penny, Willow looked thin and tired to Giles. He held out his arms as she crossed the security barrier, and she hugged him tightly. “Welcome to England,” he said.
“Hey, Giles. Thanks for coming out to meet me.” They said little more as they navigated the airport and collected her bags. His offer to buy her luncheon was met with a weary smile.
“Jet lagged now. Got to thank Andrew for the business class upgrade, but still, can we just go someplace where I can sleep for a couple of days?” Willow suddenly realized that she had made no plans beyond her flight, trusting Giles to take care of her once she reached London. “Um…I didn't make a reservation anyplace, is there a hotel somewhere?” She sounded pathetic and childish to herself, but Giles was briskly reassuring.
“Nonsense. I've a perfectly good guest room waiting for you.”
Giles' apartment was totally in character, Willow thought: dark wood, a deep red Persian carpet, bookshelves lining the walls. She slept for eighteen hours, and awakened the morning after her arrival to find a basket of muffins in the galley kitchen, and a note promising his return by teatime. She spent the intervening hours wandering through the rooms, pleased to find artifacts and furnishings she recalled from his place in Sunnydale. She had missed him when he packed up his belongings and returned to England, but at least these familiar things had survived the destruction. Her possessions had all been lost that day. She spent a long time studying the framed photograph he kept on the mantelpiece: herself, Buffy, Xander, Tara, Anya and Giles in front of the Magic Box, under a banner proclaiming “Opening Day!”
Teatime, as it turned out, was late afternoon. Soon they were settled on the overstuffed sofa that faced the fireplace, dining on take-away Chinese food. Giles watched Willow carefully. He had noticed that the photo had been replaced in a slightly different spot, but while the young woman seemed sad and thoughtful as she described the breakup with her lover, she no longer looked as if she were about to fall apart.
“The sad thing is,” Willow said, “Kennedy was right. I knew everything she said before she said it. But she was the one who was brave enough to actually say it. I was being all avoidy-girl, but she just faces things.”
Giles smeared hot mustard on an egg roll. “Courage is a necessary aspect of being a Slayer. I've sometimes wondered if bravery is one of the Slayer powers they receive, or if having that power makes them courageous.”
“Kind of a chicken and egg problem. I suppose being the thing that vampires are afraid of would make you feel braver.” Willow scooped more chicken with cashews onto her plate. “Suddenly I'm starving. I really didn't feel like eating for a while, but this is great.” She stopped. “Um, you didn't want any more of this, did you?”
“No, no, I'm fine.” Giles smiled. It was a relief to see Willow's personality reasserting itself, once the teary part of the conversation had ended. Now for a change of subject. “Have you considered what you'd do next?”
“Not really. I didn't think much past coming home. I mean, to London, home being a honking big crater in the ground these days. I just thought ‘Giles!' and I came here and now….” She trailed off uncertainly.
Giles outlined the role he'd been imagining for her over the past few days, helping him to develop the magical aspects of the new Watchers' curriculum, training them to both detect and use magic. She jumped eagerly into a discussion of changes to be made, ways in which the Watchers' Academy could help the new Slayers, and how the existence of multiple Slayers changed the odds in the battle between good and evil. Soon he was jotting notes on a soy-stained legal pad, while she had her laptop open to sketch out plans and outline next steps. He was reminded of their long-ago discussions in the Sunnydale High School library, when he had served her proper English tea and helped her with homework, and she had helped him research demons. A mere six or seven years ago, and yet continents, deaths and resurrections separated the woman beside him from that girl.
Chapter Four: A Working Relationship
There was much to be done, and Giles was grateful to have Willow beside him. Some of the surviving Watchers had contributed their private libraries to the rebuilding, but a large number of irreplaceable documents had been lost forever. Giles' years in the field, his rank as Watcher to the longest-surviving Slayer in history, and his fierce will had made him the acknowledged head of the New Council, and he had rented several floors in a brand-new office tower as a signal that the Council's traditional ways were also gone forever.
The arrival of the witch who had empowered all the potential Slayers further consolidated his standing. Nonetheless, Willow found it awkward at first. She was respected, feared, and whispered about as she settled into a new office next to Giles. But as the weeks passed and her colleagues got to know her, their intimidation faded in the face of her informal style and sometimes confusing American idioms, which were quickly dubbed “Willowisms” by one of the younger Watchers. Even as their comfort level grew, their respect increased, as it quickly became clear that she was Rupert Giles' second-in-command.
She threw herself into the work of creating a new system for educating Watchers, new ways for Slayers and Watchers to work together. While she was rarely seen using magic at the Council offices, she met with the coven in Devon weekly, using astral projection to save travel time. In addition to helping her assess how magic could be better used against demonic activity, the coven was actively working to identify newly empowered Slayers worldwide, and providing Willow with more advanced training, at her request.
The hours were long, but she didn't mind. There was little time to miss Kennedy or dwell on the past. Giles' workload shrank as she took on various projects, and the ongoing sensation of stress and exhaustion, which he had begun to consider normal, diminished as well.
Their evenings were usually spent together. She mentioned looking for a place of her own, but Giles' flat was both roomy and convenient to the Council offices. The third time she brought up apartment-hunting, he told her that if she was uncomfortable as his roommate she should certainly move, but he was content with the current arrangement. She insisted on paying half the rent and expenses from her salary, and he acquiesced.
The truth was, Giles had hated living alone. Memories and regrets had crowded too close in the quiet of empty rooms, and he had found himself resorting to a drink or three more often than he thought healthy. Willow expected him to leave the office and eat dinner before midnight, and forced him to watch ridiculous American movies with her; in return, he was doing his best to educate her musical taste, introducing her to classic rock-and-roll. They fell into an easy companionship, talking mostly about work and their vision for future Slayers.
Andrew had gone to Brazil. Surprisingly, both Kennedy and Willow had liked the idea. Privately, Giles was certain Kennedy simply didn't want a Watcher who would try to boss her around, and that she was sure of her ability to dominate Andrew. Willow felt that only someone who had been through the last days of Sunnydale, the final battle and the Hellmouth's closing, could relate to Kennedy's odd mix of confidence and anxiety. She hoped Andrew would help her lover heal in ways that she hadn't.
Tara is standing in front of her, a sorrowful look on her face. She holds up a small sprig. Lethe's bramble. “Sweetie, you don't need this,” she says. Squinting, the way she always does when performing a difficult spell, she passes her other hand over the sprig and it transforms into a yellow crayon. Tara snaps the crayon in two and offers half of it to Willow, but when she reaches out for it, her hand is covered in black veins.
Willow awakens, reaching for Kennedy, who is not there. Right, London. Giles' flat. No Kennedy.
No need to pretend she does not remember who or what she was dreaming about.
Chapter Five: Correspondence
July 1, 2004
Dear Mr. Giles,
My father, Angel, asked me to send you the enclosed letter, if I hadn't heard from him by now. I haven't, which means he's dead. For good this time.
If you see Willow, tell her I said hello, and thanks again.
Giles turned the letter over in his hands, looking at it but past it, remembering a phone call a few months back.
“Are you still at Wolfram & Hart?” His tone had been curt.
“Yeah, I'm still at Wolfram & Hart. What does that have to do with anything?” Angel had sounded angry and desperate. Giles hadn't much cared.
“I am not sending Willow into that pit of vipers. Until you can provide a plausible answer as to why they placed you in charge of their Los Angeles branch, I cannot see my way to trusting you.”
“Yeah. I understand.”
Giles had begun to say something about being sorry, but was cut off by a crashing sound. He guessed that the phone had been hung up with extreme prejudice. Not that it mattered, since his apology had been less than sincere. He'd been forced to work with Angel, but that little incident of torture in their past made it difficult for him. Soul or no soul, Angel was dangerous. He'd had angry words with Willow before she left for Los Angeles to re-ensoul Angelus, and while she'd been successful, he had hated to see her take such a risk, especially when things were so dire in Sunnydale. Not again, he swore.
And now Angel was dust. He'd heard about Connor and his inexplicable parentage from Willow, but where had the name Reilly come from? Not that it mattered. There was a phone number scrawled under the signature, like an afterthought. He pulled a second, sealed letter from the manila envelope. “Rupert Giles” was written on the outside, in a graceful, old-fashioned script. He slit it carefully open, and spread the single page on his desk.
May 19, 2004
I know you neither like nor trust me, but if you're reading this, I'm beyond caring. I just wanted you to know the truth about our takeover of Wolfram & Hart. I made a deal to save my son. Connor had been mentally destroyed by what the Powers put him through last year; he was about to kill himself and Cordelia along with a number of innocent people when I was offered a deal. Connor was given a false set of memories that included a happy childhood and a family; his existence was erased from the memories of everyone who knew him. I got the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart. I knew they were trying to manipulate us, co-opt me and turn me evil again, or at least prevent me from doing good, but my choices were limited. I had failed my son once and I couldn't do it again. Just another sin to add to my long list. I've tried to do some good here, but I've reached the end of the line.
Fred Burkle, by the way, is gone. I was trying to save her when I called you a few months ago and asked for Willow's help. One of the Old Ones, Illyria, devoured her and took her body in order to be reborn. She's a wild card. We think she'll fight with us, but can't be sure. If any of us survives this, it'll be her. Cordelia Chase is dead too. She was in a mystical coma for some time, and never recovered.
I'm asking you to be the one to tell Buffy. It will be easier for her to hear it from you. Also, please tell Faith and Willow, and thank them again for all their help last year. Without them, a number of battles would never have been fought, including the one we're facing now.
If all goes well, the Circle of the Black Thorn will be destroyed tonight. I don't know if the Watchers' Council has information on the Black Thorn, but they're the top echelon in this dimension, doing the work of the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart. They've been working to bring about the apocalypse, but we're going to prevent it if we can. We being myself, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Charles Gunn, and Spike.
I do not expect any of us to survive.
I'm sure Andrew told you that Spike is back, but I don't know if Buffy knows. Please tell her for me that he died a champion. Again.
Giles wondered for a moment what was dripping on the letter, smearing the elegant handwriting.