Yay! The next to the last part.
I actually wrote this 15 months ago. It was the second part I wrote. The first part I wrote is actually the very end of the story. The amazing thing is, both Part 69 and Part 70 remained almost wholly intact from when they were first written (only Willow's part had to be completely nuked and re-written), aside from the occasional tweak to make sure it stayed in line with the rest of the story.
The whole point of Living History is really right here in this part.
In celebration, I'm using YouSendIt Dot Com to give everyone at least seven-day access to the soundtrack I used to write story. I'll post the second half of the soundtrack tommorrow.
Let me know if there are problems with any of the MP3 links.Instructions to Get the Music
- Click on the song title just like you would any other link.
- Click on the link that will download the file.
- A dialog box will come up. Follow the instructions there.
- Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles (Opening Theme)
- Wild Wild Life (Future Scoobs' Theme) by theTalking Heads
- The Unchosen One (Live) by Vertical Horizon (Scoobs' Opening Theme)
- Boss of Me by They Might Be Giants (Xander's and Robin's 'Love Theme')
- I Don't Make Promises (That I Can't Break) by Shannon Curfman (Tikri's Theme)
- Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter From Camp) by Allan Sherman (New Slayers' Theme)
- All Soul's Night by Lorenna McKennit (J'Nal's Theme)
- Walkin' in Memphis by Lonestar (Charlie's Theme)
- Tribute by Tenacious D (Andrew's Theme)
- Used to Be by Patty Larkin (Buffy's Theme)
- Oh the Thinks You Can Think by the Cast of Suessical the Musical (Ruda's Theme)
- Most Precarious by Blues Traveler (Robin's Theme)
- Who I Am by Jessica Andrews (Vi's Theme)
- Troubled Times by Fountains of Wayne (Catherine's and Faith's Theme)
- Powerless (Say What You Want) by Nelly Furtado (Dawn's Theme)
- Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something (Faith's and Robin's Theme)
- Fred Meyers by Glen Phillips (Willow's and Xander's Theme)
You know the drill:
Up to Part 66 is here. (Because FanFiction Dot Net decided today to take down its Document Manager for updates...of course.)
Part 67 is here.
Part 68 (previous part) is here.
From ‘Living History,’ by Rona Goodkind-Alvarez, copyright 2072; published 2154. Reprinted with the permission of the Goodkind-Alvarez Foundation for Extraordinary Women, Cleveland, Ohio:
I am the last.
I never thought I would be, but I am. I suppose someone had to be last. Someone needs to stand up and bear witness to all that was, to tell people where they’re from so they’ll know who they are and figure out where they’re going.
I am a poor representative of those Sunnydale survivors, and I’m not sure I can get it quite right. And even if I do, I’m not sure you’d even understand.
Let me tell you a secret: history isn’t what you think.
What we read in books, journals, newspapers, magazines, any media at all is not history. Not really. It is just the end result of something that is written in the tiniest moments of life. History, real history, is when you spot someone across the room and fall in love. It’s when a familiar face is caught in the light in an unfamiliar way. It’s when Providence lifts you up on angel’s wings. It’s the blessing of grace, a brush of mercy, a grasp at hope, and faith that tomorrow can only get better if we but try.
History lies in the split-second decision, the stray thought, the caught breath, and the blink of an eye.
History is rooted in that greatest mystery of all: the beat of a human heart.
There is no all-seeing eye, no wisdom to understand, and no technology that can capture these fleeting moments that are forgotten by the human mind almost before they’ve registered. Yet the effect they have on us as those who lived them and the effect they have on everyone around us cannot be calculated.
What they tell you about history is nothing more than wish fulfillment; the human desire to weave a spellbinding story that imposes meaning on all those moments that got us this far. It’s our attempt to find our place in the universe.
And here’s another secret: everyone has a moment, the very moment where everything changes.
So many people—too many really—point to the day when Sunnydale died and the One became Legion as the moment when everything changed, when the history of our modern times began.
What happened in Sunnydale was the end result of a million little moments. Who knows where they began and when they happened, but that is the truth. Just as what happened in Sunnydale was the beginning of a whole host of new moments that ended with people doing great, wonderful things as they faced great, terrible dangers.
If I had to pick a moment, the moment where everything really changed, it would have to be a week after we moved to Cleveland into the old headquarters. Everyone was bustling around, unpacking our few belongings, dealing with the logistics of starting a new life. The world was balanced in that grey twilight where everyone still hugged tight to who they were even as who they were going to be tapped them on the shoulder.
Violet and I were sitting on our bunk, teasing Alexander that we wanted our room painted pink with purple polka dots. He ranted in mock horror at the very idea, wondering aloud if embracing our Slayerness meant we’d lost all sense of taste. Next, he was quite certain, we’d be wearing red shirts and purple skirts and little white boots with six-inch heels. We giggled into our insistence that we most certainly wanted that color scheme for our room.
What actually made it funny was that we knew that if we really wanted it, he would’ve done it, making sure that every dot was placed just so.
Maybe you had to be there.
I don’t rightly remember anyone else talking, just Alexander’s voice rising and falling as he pled his case for sanity and our laughing, breathless voices adding ever-more details to the horrendous paint job we said we wanted.
Yet, I’m almost certain other people spoke. They had to. Robin was running around with clipboard in hand assigning rooms. Faith was sauntering through the rooms in that peculiar rolling gait she had. Buffy drifted through the crowd, her eyes not missing much even if she said very little. Dawn was working out the new neighborhood and her new school. Willow was setting up her new laptop. Giles had a phone glued to his ear as he followed up with his network about fixing Faith’s paperwork in California and with banks on shaking loose the old Council’s funds. Andrew was in the kitchen trying a new recipe that he promised would be more home-cooked and less institutional.
I’m certain we must’ve heard voices shouting, yelling, murmuring, sighing, giggling, saying all those things that people settling into a new life say, yet to this day I can’t tell you what any of them said. What I can tell you is that the seeds of who they’d be were still dormant. Not the who they tell you they were in the official record, but the who they are in my still-beating heart.
This is who they really were:
Giles asking both Alexander and Robin to be Watchers, knowing that they didn’t get along, but trusting them both enough to fight for what was best for Slayers and Watchers alike, whatever their differences.
Robin finding his true heart in Ondrea Stewart the moment she stepped into Cleveland to take up the position of Watcher; his sureness evaporating every time she looked at him with her brown eyes until the day he won her over.
Alexander, covered in blood and barely standing, charging a demon four times his size with sword drawn, determined to win because Faith’s and Violet’s lives depended on it, and the injuries he sustained to make that victory real.
A week later Faith begging Willow to tell her that she managed to find the antidote to the demon’s poison that sent Alexander spiraling into violent fevered dreams. How Violet and I caught her when her knees gave out as Willow said yes and promised that he would live.
Buffy holding up her primary education teaching degree with a fierce, joyful light in her eyes while the rest of us hooted and applauded in the stands loud enough to shake the sky.
Andrew in his high-end, velvet-rope, L.A. restaurant wearing only the best clothes to greet his guests.
Willow finding a single slim volume while on vacation in Kenya that gave her insight into African legend and magic.
Dawn dancing through the house with her letter saying that she’d been accepted into the Cleveland Clinic’s residency program.
And Violet, dear sweet Vi, hugging me close in those Cleveland sewers, on the verge of tears, whispering to me to stay safe and stay alive, even though she knew she was going to die.
These stray memories change everything about that one day with Violet and me and Alexander arguing about home décor. I know it didn’t happen, but I can almost imagine Dawn checking our medicine cabinets to make sure we had everything we needed; Buffy riffling through a catalog of college courses; Giles keeping the peace with infinite grace and patience; Faith and Alexander trading good-humored barbs about their respective roommates, not quite daring to step from friendly banter to something more meaningful; Robin worrying about the need for more Watchers to lend a hand; Andrew theorizing about the perfect restaurant; Willow exclaiming over a forgotten book that had been packed in a box marked for the trash.
I know these things didn’t happen, but I’d like to think that they did. And if I told you they did happen, you’d take me at my word because who are you to say they didn’t?
Yes, I am the last and when I die a piece of the world will die with me. Living history will become just history, another story in a collection of stories about the human race.
But let me tell you another secret, maybe the greatest secret of all: the end of the story is never the end. It’s only the beginning. The story goes on whether it’s remembered or not.
So long as a single human heart beats, history is never about the past.
History, true history, is all about the future.
Xander woke up in an insanely cheerful mood. Andrew’s nonstop chatter didn’t shake him out of it, nor did the fact he had to wait to get a bathroom and shower. Hell, even the fact that his dirty laundry basket was holding all his most comfy clothes hostage until he got his ass in gear to do some washing didn’t dampen his spirits.
He grabbed some clothes and changed while Andrew eeeeked himself out of the room, leaving him to bask in general happy solitude.
It was when he gave himself final look in the new mirror to make sure he didn’t look like a guy whose blind mother dressed him in the dark that it hit him:
It’s going to be okay.
He slapped a hand over his mouth to smother the laugh bubbling up his throat. He didn’t want to jinx it.
No, it really will be okay.
True, he didn’t know all that much about him and what he did know? Best not to think about it. Stick it in a box for now and deal when the time comes, assuming it ever does.
The point was that they’d all managed to pull it together. They’d probably stumble, they’d probably make mistakes, and they’d probably manage to completely blow it on more than one occasion. But at the end of the day, they all managed to make it work. Correction. They will make it work.
Because they had to.
Because there was no one else who could.
There may be a few things about the future he didn’t like, say a split Council or certain Slayer religious beliefs. And the shimmy-shakes? Yeesh. But J’Nal said the future, well, their future anyway, wasn’t written in stone. Once they got Willow on the case, he had no doubt they’d find a way out of it. If there was anything he was going to work like hell to change, this was that thing.
Despite the bad, there was an awful lot of good to find, like the fact that the general population knew what Slayers were and they were okay with that, or that people in the know weren’t always fighting alone in the dark, or that everyone—Potentials and normal humans alike—could choose what they wanted to be.
That’s a world worth fighting and dying for, which means that maybe this world was worth it, too.
After all, the future had to start somewhere, right? Might as well start today.
As for him? It really wasn’t that important. He’d find out eventually he supposed. That’s what’s called life, isn’t it?
He stepped out of his room to the strains of music. At a guess, it was Vertical Horizon, which meant either Lisa or Susan were cranking it up somewhere in the house.
I’m all right, by the way
Everyone saves the day
Sometimes I feel it
He let a small laugh escape, not bothering to dim his smile. As Giles was wont to say: how very appropriate. He shook his head and bopped down the hall to the repeated refrain.
Send it up
Ah, send it up now
Send it up
Send it up to me
And all was right with the world, even if only for the moment.
He resisted the urge to jump up, click his heels, and go on his merry way.
Faith was bibbity-bobbity-booing around her bedroom. Literally.
“Salacaboo and mishagaboo and bibbity-bobbity-boo. Put ’em together and what have you got? Bibbity-boobity-boo…” Hell she was pretty damn sure the words were beyond wrong, not that she really cared.
And while Faith would never, ever admit to digging classic animated Disney, in her heart of hearts she felt like she just scored one big-ass glass slipper. She was pretty sure the feeling wouldn’t last, but it was a good thing to feel for the moment.
Even before she got stuck with the Slayer gig, the one thing she could always bet on was that most days were not going to be Cinderella at the ball. Although if she were truthful, once upon a time she never pictured herself as anything even resembling Cinderella. She didn’t believe in Prince Charming for a start.
But now she got it. She finally understood. Okay, she was sorely lacking a few crucial details such as, well, anything about her life-and-times as a legend in the making or whether she was anything resembling happy or was merely grimly brooding her way to redemption. And she still wasn’t all that sure how she felt about squatting out kids, plural. And she definitely wasn’t sure how Xander could possibly fit into that picture.
As for the shimmy-shakes? They’ll beat it. She knew it right down to her toes. All the braniacs were going to get in on the act, and when that happened there was gonna be no stopping them. It might take time, but they’d get there.
But the upshot at the end of the day is that she did good. Correction, she will do good. All she had to do was believe she could even when life dumped her into the suck.
Just accept that some days were going to be Snow White eating the poison apple or Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a spinning wheel.
Some days you’re not going to win no matter what.
But some days—say a day like today—you win even when you don’t deserve it.
And if someone like Catherine was standing at the other side of the rainbow, well, that’s a kind of happy ever freakin’ after, right? Or one she would be more than pleased to accept at any rate.
She swung open the door and poked her head out of her room to behold a vision of Xander’s back as he dorked his way down the hall to some pop tune. She grinned and folded her arms as she watched him halt, get his bearings, and begin down the stairs.
Oh yeah, I can’t see it any more than you do, hun. But I bet it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun finding out if we ever get from here to there.
Buffy sat on her bed, for once not feeling oppressed by the sounds of people moving beyond her door.
In fact if she were being entirely honest, right at this very moment those sounds of life were…comforting.
Except for one thing.
This —senning thing, which it involved her, Faith, Xander, god knows who else…it had to stop. Ruda was a lost cause, a case of things going to far. Plus, she was going back to wherever she came from later today so there was no way to make it right.
But the girls in this house? They’re not a lost cause.
This was one secret she was bound and determined to take to her grave because the last thing she wanted was to give anyone any ideas. No. She was going to do something else: she was going to make an Effort. She was going out there and she was going to get to know all those girls in the house and all the others out there in the world besides.
Besides, J’Nal said their lives were still theirs. All they had to do was grab the future with both hands and make it theirs.
Maybe if she were better about connecting faces to names, maybe if she knew something about all those Slayers, maybe they’d stop being just another crowd. Maybe they’d become people, fixed in her mind as individuals, the way they should’ve been right from the beginning. If she did that, she’d stop this —senning thing dead in it’s tracks.
She’s pretty sure Xander’ll help.
As for Robin? She picked at her bedspread. She’ll really have to make an effort there, too. Maybe she didn’t always listen to Giles, Xander, and Willow, especially if they said something she didn’t want to hear, but she knew she’d always automatically give them more credit for what they did because they were family.
Robin was someone new, an enigma and a riddle. She didn’t agree with him all the time, which meant it would be good practice for her to actually listen to what he said. It was time for her to start doing that, and learning to do it with someone she didn’t particularly like was a good start.
Yes, it was time to crawl out from out of the shadow of Sunnydale and walk with her friends and allies—her family—into the sunlight.
Faith was right: she’d been tragedy girl for far too long. Giving the old stink eye at being the Slayer as the cause for all her problems was her taking the easy way out.
Enough with hating life.
It was high time she started living it.
Robin was in the library and taking it easy just as the doctor ordered. Although a book was open in front of him, at this very moment he wasn’t reading. There were too many thoughts in his head.
He hated waking up in his solitary bed in a room that had to be evacuated of Slayers so he could have a place to sleep. He felt bad that there were now two rooms housing three Slayers, but the girls seemed okay with it. Giles and Xander were already scouting the neighborhood for available properties to relieve the overcrowding. As luck would have it, the owner of one of the neighboring buildings seemed willing to negotiate a sale price, but even if the stars aligned just right the purchase would take months.
Part of his current problem was he got too close to Faith. Her loss gave him a deep ache that thrummed every time he saw her. Although he’d caught her several times looking in his direction, she didn’t show any signs that the loss of what they had hurt her as much as it hurt him.
Then again, he wasn’t letting her know that he was aching. No matter how often he told himself it was for the best, some part of him actually agreed with Xander. He made a mistake and he should go crawling back and beg forgiveness.
But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He knew that if things had gone on the way they had he was going to run up against a crisis point. He would hesitate for fear of risking Faith and that would result in a body count that could include Faith, other Slayers, or innocent bystanders. The price for his own happiness was just too high.
In some small way, he envied Buffy’s willingness to buckle down and risk the people she cared about when circumstances called for it. Lord knows she proved she could in Sunnydale.
He knew himself well enough that he was too weak to do the same if he was ever put in her shoes. That’s why she’s a Slayer and you’re a Watcher, which is the way it should be, Robin thought.
Giles was trying to track down magical books in Europe to help stock the library and having limited success. They needed someone to conduct transactions and investigate possibilities in person. The idea of volunteering appealed to him, if only because it would get him away from Cleveland for a minimum of six months. He hoped it would be enough time for him to move on from Faith and get right with his decision.
He knew he was doing the right thing. He knew it wasn’t a mistake.
He just wished that right at this moment he really believed it.
Dawn swiped the bathroom mirror clear and studied her face.
Normal girl, going to a normal school, living a normal life.
It was a nice face, a public face, but not a true face. Even she had to admit that.
If nothing else, this little misadventure taught her one thing: she’d never be able to walk completely away. Not really. Someone had to remind all those Slayers what they were fighting for and Xander was no longer qualified. She saw that look Willow gave J’Nal and she smelled a rat of epic proportions.
She was tempted to call Willow on it, but the look on Xander’s face when he heard that his life was his—even if it was a whopper of a lie like she suspected—was enough to kill the urge. Maybe not kill it, but put a significant damper on it at any rate.
She leaned forward, pressing her nose against the reflective surface. Truth to tell, she probably wasn’t qualified on the normal front either, but she was as close to run-of-the-mill normal as anyone in Slayer World was ever going to get.
So, she can’t walk away. She can’t stay put.
But there’s always a third way, isn’t there?
“Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief,” she sing-songed.
God knows Slayers probably could use good lawyers since she was pretty sure sooner or later they’d be crossing the local law, but it lacked…something. It didn’t sit right in the pit of her stomach.
But a doctor, well, that idea had possibilities, didn’t it?
They also have a medic. I don’t know about you, but the fact that they’ve got someone actually trained to take care of the ouchies? Puts them one up on us. We’ve never had a doctor in our pocket, which is really stupid because it’s a really good idea.
“Yeah,” Dawn nodded at the mirror agreeing with the Voice of Xander in her head. “That has definite possibilities.”
She drew herself up, gave her reflection a serious look, and practiced, “Good morning, Ms. Smith. I’m Dr. Dawn Summers. Let’s see what we can do to cure your cancer because I’ve discovered the secret to all healing in my research lab. You’ll be dancing at your son’s wedding yet, Ms. Smith. Just you wait and see.”
Unable to hold her imitation of an ER-type doctor face, she collapsed into giggles.
She tied her hair back, still laughing at her backslide into fantasies that only an 8-year-old kid can have when the world is an open book and the last chapter hasn’t yet been written.
Yet, the moment didn’t pass, remaining stuck in her mind as she gave herself a final check in the bathroom mirror.
“Heh. Make way for Dr. Dawn Summers,” she good-naturedly grumbled to herself, as she opened the bathroom door. A blast of music from some male singer telling her that everyone saves the day brushed past her hearing.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “But first I have to pass chemistry and that class sucks.”
Vi bit at her nails and allowed herself second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts.
But Rona’s email was pretty clear. They had to get to him before anyone else did. She had to seize the moment.
She spotted Xander bopping down the stairs and quickly got to her feet. “H-h-h-ey!”
Xander gave a tiny, surprised jump as his feet hit the ground floor. The end result was him smacking against a wall while he clutched his chest. “You scared the hell out of me!”
Vi started giggling. “Sorry. Ummmm, you got a sec?”
Vi indicated the sofa and Xander complied. “S’up?” he asked as he sat down.
Vi took her seat. “I, unh, heard from Rona.”
“How’s she doing?” He’s at attention now, concern creasing his features.
“Good, I mean, good as can be. Actually, she said she’ll be back in a couple of days since, you know, her parents were there too, and they kinda all talked. Her parents are still getting used to the idea that both she and Michael are heroes an’ all. Although Rona said she and her brother don’t feel like they’re heroes, no matter what their parents say.”
“Well, they are. Both of them,” Xander said quietly.
Vi could feel herself blush, especially since she was pretty sure Xander’d say the same thing about her. “Well, you know how it is because, ummm, it’s more about doing the right thing than being a hero, which is kinda what I learned from Ruda and it’s kinda what Rona learned from Michael, although she totally credits her parents, too.”
Xander leaned back against the armrest looking genuinely happy that she and Rona came up with their own reasons for why they’ll be fighting. “Rona shouldn’t feel like she needs to come back right away.”
“She wants to,” Vi assured him. “She had time with her family and they all got to sit down and talk, I mean really talk, about Michael going overseas and Rona being a Slayer. She feels really good about everything and…well…I guess she’s just ready to come back.”
Xander nodded. “Well, tell Rona to let us know about her flight so we can pick her up.” He hesitated a moment and in a lowered tone, added, “Tell Rona not to worry. It’ll work out okay.”
Vi’s eyes narrowed and Xander…
He honestly winked.
He did know something.
Michael was going to come home. She knew it in her bones. Thank you Xander!
As he began hauling himself off the couch, Vi remembered why she needed to talk to him in the first place. “Wait, wait! Before I forget! Rona and me, we, ummmm, wanted to ask you something?”
He dropped back into his seat, but she noticed he was a little more guarded. “What is it?”
“Well, ummm…” Vi took a deep breath and somehow got out, “Ronaandmeweweretalkingandwe’dlikeyoutob
Whatever Xander was expecting, he obviously wasn’t expecting that. “I, unh, but…I mean…” There was definite blushing to go with the stammering. “Are you sure? I mean, don’t you think someone else…”
“We both want you.” Vi was surer than ever that this was the right thing.
Xander squirmed. Maybe he didn’t want to be their Watcher. “Vi, look, I’m game if you are, but I’m not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to work. I think one gets assigned and last I checked the deal is was one Watcher per Slayer.”
“But right now there really aren’t any Watchers, ’cept Giles and you and Robin.” Vi was relieved. Xander was being logic man, not trying to say no thanks in a polite way. “So until we get more it’s probably going to be one Watcher to however many Slayers in the house who want that person, right?”
“I guess,” Xander agreed hesitantly. “But I’m pretty sure that you don’t get to chose your Watcher.”
“Why not?” Vi was curious. “It’s not like we have a whole lot of people to choose from, and even if we did we both think that you’re the best one for us. Just because it was like that before doesn’t mean it has to be like that now. Plus, Ruda told us that it’s the Watchers who are Called by the First Slayer to go into the field. The Slayers, I mean Potentials, get the choice. So, since we don’t have a direct line to the First Slayer, why can’t Rona and me pick you?”
Xander blinked at her as a smile fought to break free. Then he did the oddest thing. He looked up at the ceiling and addressed someone unseen, “You’re really not letting me get out of this, are you?” He shook his head with a chuckle and looked at Vi, his expression radiating amusement. “I know when I’m beat. Fine. You win. But,” he held up a finger, “we talk to Giles first, see what he says. If he agrees, you’ve got yourself one Watcher. Deal?”
“Deal.” Vi fought the urge to do a little victory dance.
“One more thing. I think I should team up with one of our resident don’t-really-need-a-Watcher-unless-it’s-o
“Faith,” Vi blurted out.
“Faith?” Xander looked like the wind had been taken right out of his sails, “Why…”
“Well, it’s nothing against Buffy. Sort of. But it’s just as much me as anything else,” Vi admitted. “It’s just that I know Buffy isn’t…well…she’s not like she was in Sunnydale and all, but…see, the thing is I know every time Buffy’d tell me to do something I’d kind of resent it and I might do something stupid just to prove her wrong. Next thing you know, I’m out drinking, smoking, carousing with strange men in bars, and getting tattoos just because Buffy said I shouldn’t.”
Xander blinked at her. “So you honestly believe going with the Slayer who actually drinks, smokes, has been known to carouse with strange men, and has tattoos is a way to avoid that?”
“Well, yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you put it that way,” Vi admitted. “But the thing is, I never wanted to staple Faith’s mouth shut just because sounds were coming out of it.”
Xander rubbed his head like he had a monster headache. “Faith? As my official partner in crime? Faith?”
“I’ll try to do better and get to know Buffy,” Vi promised. “But I’d rather work with Faith for now.”
“Faith.” He sounded almost resigned. This time when he looked back up at the ceiling he said to the unseen someone, “You realize I’m going to fight you every step of the way on this one, right? And just for the record, this time I’m going to win.”
“If you really don’t want to do it…”
Xander sighed and looked back at her. “No. No. It’s okay. I’ll deal. I don’t have to love your reasons, but even I have to admit they’re good ones. Fine. We’ll bring Faith in on it, but if she says no that’s the end of it.”
“Fair enough,” Vi nodded.
Xander stood and brushed off his jeans. “Well, looks like we have a sendoff to get ready for. You coming?”
Vi saluted and hopped off the couch. This conversation went way better than she could’ve ever imagined. Rona will be psyched.
As the walked across the living room, Xander reached out and touched her shoulder. Vi turned around and looked up at him.
“Vi?” He shifted a little. “Thanks.”
He shrugged with a smile. “Just thanks.”
Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean really looked at your hand and noticed that it was so hand-y?
Clichés are clichés because they’re true, Willow reflected as she considered her not-at-all-blood-covered hand. It’s one thing to watch some bad sitcom where all the characters ate the spiked brownies. You laugh in anticipation because you just know someone’s going to be talking about the hand.
But she remembered her and Amy at Rack’s expanding their minds using magics from a darker place. With the universe laid out in swirling patterns of color, what did they focus on? The tiny things. With borrowed power flowing through them, Willow remembered having that stupid hand conversation.
What was I? Bad enough.
Who am I? She thought she was okay. Not a saint, true, but she wanted to believe that she turned out okay, all things considering.
But as to who she will be? That question still seemed open for debate. Waaaay, too open for comfort, if she wanted to be honest.
Consider the hand and its tangle of lines. They’re just tangle-y and line-y. Perfect for…
…capturing and holding the blood until it burned your skin like a scarlet letter.
She’s walking a fine line here. She let J’Nal believe she knew more than she did, but she knew more than she ever wanted to about herself, the people she loved, and the future.
Her memories were all feelings and knotted thoughts punctuated with moments of clarity; swirls and colors that freeze for just a moment in crystal clear visions.
Like a blood-covered hand…
…a moment of loss…
…and Faith’s pale face hanging over her as the Slayer said, “I remember this.”
The true moment of clarity happened in that instant when the Faith’s clean hands clutched her dirty one, when Faith’s voice swore that it would be all right.
There are other pinpoints of clarity. A moment of rage with dark power flowing through her that felt something like hate and an awful lot like vengeance. A moment of pleasure with hands, lips, and tongues playing over her body. A moment of pure joy in seeing faces she’d never thought she’d see again. A moment of sadness as she clutched the most beautiful sword she’d ever seen in shaky, frail hands.
What it all meant, she had no idea. At least she told J’Nal that much of the truth: without the before and after, she’s clueless. These moments of clarity are nothing more than points in some crazy connect-the-dots with no pattern and, very important, no numbers to tell her which point came first.
As for the rest? It was all a barely-remembered dream.
God, poor Xander. She understood—maybe even better than he did if only because she saw more—the real horror of knowing just enough without understanding any of it.
As she stared at the backyard, she saw Vi and Xander leaving the house. They were easily talking back and forth. They already had the kind of rapport that only the best Slayer-Watcher teams can hope to have.
Oh, god. She just remembered something else.
Willow clutched the windowsill tight and swallowed hard. She could shout a warning. All she had to do was open the window and scream it: Vi, don’t go!
The problem was this: she wasn’t sure where Vi wasn’t supposed to go or what Vi wasn’t supposed do. All she knew was that when the Slayer did it, she’d be dead. It was going to happen too soon, even if she didn’t know the exact when.
Willow clenched her jaw and closed her eyes against the sunlight. She wasn’t surprised to feel tears streaming down her face.
Back in England, the Coven taught her that the key to all magic was to live in the moment; to be aware and appreciate the now; to understand that whatever you did right at this crossroads could ripple out and have repercussions that you could never anticipate and might never see.
The first time she heard it she thought it was ‘neat.’ Neat. That’s so dumb. That’s what Willow-then thought.
Willow-now understood it. She wished she didn’t. She wished she never had to really understand it.
Willow opened her eyes in time to see Faith lining up some of the younger Slayers in the backyard for a little tai chi action. She focused on that image, mentally hugging it as close as possible to herself as she could. I will remember this. It’ll be all right.
All any of them really have is just this moment. Once it goes, it’ll never come back.
Just take a breath, she ordered herself, then take the next. And then take another…
Giles basked in the morning sun and mused about the future. Not some far-distant time, but the future of a more immediate sort. Although their visitors were certainly a factor, especially since their cultural, and in one case familial, roots lead directly to this house.
He couldn’t bring himself to even begin considering the shimmy-shakes. He didn’t recall ever reading anything that sounded like it. Not for the first time, he cursed the sheer stupidity of the Council keeping all its precious records in one place. There was no back-up archive for him to consult and none of the old-timers were close at hand so he could ask.
Until they found something, all he could do was concentrate on one thing: the Council, or rather, the New Reformed Council. Or maybe he should call it Councils, plural.
He was dead certain that if his departed or scattered colleagues could read his thoughts at this very moment, they’d have him strung up faster than you could say, “Guy Fawkes.”
Because no matter which way he looked at it, he couldn’t help but think a split Council—correction, two different Councils with two different approaches—would ultimately prove beneficial for Slayers. Two competing Councils meant two adaptable Councils that put the welfare of Slayers first. The Slayers could ultimately choose not just their fate, but whom they wanted to train them, work with them, and ultimately serve as their allies.
He had long ago concluded that the Council’s insistence on there being only one way to do things and its blanket condemnation of any method that didn’t fit in was precisely the wrong approach. He was a convert, you might say, after being thoroughly proselytized by three very unique individuals for years. It helped immensely that the past year demonstrated quite clearly what happens when one individual decided that they knew best and what happened if one set of shoulders was forced to carry the weight of the world.
One Council or one person, it didn’t matter. One way is not best way and no one had a lock on righteousness.
They were lucky in Sunnydale. He knew that. Next time? They might not be.
Therefore it behooved him as one of the last survivors of the Old Way to think of a New Way, or to put a finer point on it, New Ways. Specifically, two New Ways.
Curious how Robin and Xander were at opposite extremes. Giles sipped at his tea deep in thought. On the surface, they would seem to be natural allies. In many ways they thought alike, agreed more often than not, and were normal men fighting in a world where women were the superior supernatural warriors. Yet, it was how they approached problems and the way they resolved them that made all the difference.
Did nature or nurture make them different? And does it really matter in the end?
Robin could see the big picture and plan for it. He understood the sweep of history, and destiny as it related to…how did he put it? Ah, yes. The mission. Very effective if you wanted to build an army capable of fighting over the long haul with eyes on the prize.
Xander, Giles suspected, would never be able to get beyond individuals. He would always worry about…how did he put it? The little people caught in the middle. Further, he suspected that Xander in many ways put Slayers, Watchers, and innocent bystanders in the “little people” column when it came to the threat of being crushed by history and destiny. A very effective approach, if you wanted to inspire loyalty and encourage people to live up to and beyond their potential.
Before Sunnydale passed into history, Giles knew which approach he would’ve seen as the one true way. Since Robin’s approach was the devil he knew, although his own personal conduct mirrored Xander’s more closely, he also knew with whom he would’ve sided.
Now he could see that it wasn’t an either/or proposition. Both approaches worked, if one was to judge by the tantalizing hints, and both worked quite well. It just so happens that they got a sample of the Watchers Honoria. He dearly wished he could learn more about that other Council. What did Charlie call it? Watchers Educationary?
Choices, Giles had finally realized, are the ultimate good in this sorry old world. True, choices could lead one down the wrong path, but without choices you couldn’t ever strive for something better. Take Faith and Willow, as two cases in point. On second thought, the issue applies equally to all of humanity and, perhaps, a few vampires and assorted demons.
He spoke to Robin about formalizing the Council, New Reformed, although he must admit he was quite uncomfortable with Robin’s immediate answer in the affirmative. He would’ve been happier to accept if Robin at least made a show of thinking about it. But Robin was who he was, a supremely confident and accomplished man, and for him to act any different would be disingenuous of him.
He gave Xander the same choice, although he was being quite honest in his conversation the young man. He truly did believe that Xander would make a fine Watcher, once he learned to temper some aspects of his personality. Certainly the new Slayers were already treating Xander as such. And he most certainly had faith that Xander would ultimately say yes. Frankly, Giles highly doubted that it was in Xander to say no.
He also suspected that both Xander and Robin were going to fight like hell—even if it meant they fought each other—to make sure the Council stayed unified as long as either one of them drew breath. But after? There was the rub, wasn’t it? All infant movements have a habit of splintering along ideological lines. He had the sweep of history on his side to prove that point.
Yes, Giles thought, the sweep of history and destiny was most certainly going to bite Xander more than a few times in his life and would ultimately define him after his death.
No doubt Robin and his spiritual descendants will be equally stung by individuals who insist against all reason that all it takes is one person to defy expectations and change everything.
He did his part and started the ball rolling for history, as it were. Now it was time to let it go.
Camlin Tikri stared at the MemePad in her hands and remembered the words an old perspectivist had told her when she was still a young witnesser. At the time she thought what he said sounded poetic and vaguely romantic, if somewhat typical for a man who’d seen it all through his long infor career.
Late in the game she could finally see it wasn’t just fancy talk over bahris after a deadline. It was a hardcore truth wrapped up in pretty words.
And all it took was a trip back through 834 years to once upon a time for the scales to fall from her eyes.
She’ll never be able to look at people the same way again. What that ultimately meant for her, she had no idea. But she wasn’t afraid to admit to herself that this strange realization frightened her.
“Get everything you needed?”
Tikri looked up and saw Catherine standing in the doorway. Her hair was tied back and every article of clothing was just so. Her identifying pin, the one that told people her family and her Council affiliation, gleamed in the sunlight. The Watcher Honoria was slipping back into that self-assured, competent, intelligent woman that Tikri had met when she was first contacted about this mad time-travel scheme, replacing the good-natured, sometimes in-over-her-head person that lead them through this mission.
She was honestly sorry to see that everyone was going to go back to their normal roles. It seemed wrong somehow.
“Yes,” Tikri finally said.
“I’m only asking because you look like you forgot something.”
Tikri placed the MemePad on the bed. “I did. But I think I remember now.”
There was movement and Catherine was standing next to her, also looking down at the MemePad. “Not that I’m even suggesting we’re remotely friends, but should I ask?”
“When a man speaks, all his ghosts speak with him.”
“Something an old boss once told me.”
“That’s…unh, not to be dense, but what does that mean?”
Tikri looked at Catherine and answered, “He was trying to say that whenever you ask someone a question, their answers are colored by their experience. Although it wouldn’t shock me if he were talking about literal ghosts, too.”
“Ghosts aren’t that uncommon,” Catherine pointed out, “Although possession is rare.”
Tikri laughed at that. She forgot what she was talking to. Yank the supernatural into a conversation and Watchers will take it at face value instead of hyperbole. Hazards of the job she supposed.
“Look at it, Catherine,” Tikri waved at the MemePad, “take a good long look. All our ghosts made flesh. Yours, Ruda’s, J’Nal’s, Charlie’s, hada, even mine. We have color image. We have sound. We have full-motion vid. We have the written word. All it needs is some TouchInfor links and some editing by a perspectivist to fact check—not that I have any clue how anyone can even futching begin to fact check this—and it’s show time.”
Understanding clicked. “You’re worried people will be angry and shoot the messenger.”
Tikri responded with half-a-shrug. “Some people will thank us. Some people will hate us. Means I did my job if they’re split down the middle. Nah. There’s always someone who wants to shoot the messenger. That’s not it.”
“Do all witnessers get like this at the end of a story?”
“When they finish stories that change their lives, oh futch yah.”
Catherine let out a low throaty chuckle at that. “Well, even I can see that as far as infor goes, this story will be hard to beat.”
“For you, too.”
“I’m not a witnesser.”
“No, but you are a witness,” Tikri countered. “All of us are witnesses. No matter what any of us do from here on out people will remember that. We’ll be rewarded for it and punished for it in equal measure.”
Catherine went silent as she studied Tikri with her dark eyes. For a brief moment Tikri wondered if the rumors about her family was true: they were all blessed—some might say cursed—with the ability to see the behind public mask and find the person behind it.
Tikri shook her head. She was just full of the poetic, romantic world-weariness today. “Don’t you get it?” she asked the silent Watcher Honoria. “For everything we now know about the people right here in this house, as real as they might seem to everyone and to us, at the end of the day they’re still ghosts because we don’t know who their ghosts are when they talk to us.”
Catherine hesitated. “So you think you’re missing the real story?”
“What I’m saying is that I don’t think we’ll ever understand the whole story. The scary part is I’m starting to think that’s the way it should be. Maybe we’re not really meant to know.”
“Who are you and what have done with Camlin Tikri?”
“I’m just worried that someone is going to look at my infor and your team’s reports and think they finally see the big picture. I’m just not that sure it’s there to find.”
Catherine’s eyebrows drew tight. “Are you sure you’re not possessed? Or under a spell? Because this isn’t…”
“Maybe it’s because I feel like a ghost myself,” Tikri interrupted.
“You look pretty real to me.”
Tikri looked down at the MemePad again. “You can’t see it, but I can. We’re part of the myth and the legend now. We’re the ones who were here right at the beginning. We talked with them. Walked with them. Worked with them. We may have even made them into the people they will be. Someday they just might talk about us the way we talk about them.”
Catherine’s expression broke into a broad smile. “Wow. We’re not in the least bit full of ourselves.”
Tikri grabbed Catherine’s arm. She had no idea why it was so important to make Catherine understand, but it was. “Don’t you get it? We all become someone’s ghost eventually. A stray word is all it takes sometimes. We did the impossible. We’ve made the ghosts seem real, and that means we’ve affected everyone, even people like me who aren’t involved with what you do and have never been involved.”
“Looks to me you’re involved up to your neck.” Catherine said kindly.
“Now,” Tikri agreed. “The hada of it is people have short memories and busy lives. Other things will move to the front burner. The Great Darkness. Politics. The consumer report. Whatever. But what we bring back will change a lot of things. After this MemePad and your team’s reports are put in the archives, historians will study them but they’ll still be ghosts and we’ll become ghosts. Why? Because people who look at the record weren’t here and they won’t understand. And even if we’re still alive and able to answer questions, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to make them understand the truth.”
Catherine tensed. “And what truth is that?”
“That everyone here in this house so much less than any of us expected and that just makes them so much more than legend can even hope to express.”
Catherine relaxed and her grin was back in place. “Welcome to my world.”
“Sorry it’s just…I have to wonder why.”
Tikri picked up the MemePad and tapped on its surface. “Their future is our past. Did it ever occur to you that our future is someone’s past, too? So while we look at everyone here and ask, ‘What happened? Why these people? Out of everyone in the universe, why were these people at just the right time and place for things to happen the way they did?’ Think about this: someone in the future will look at us and ask the same questions.”
Catherine’s fingers reached out and touched Tikri under the chin, gently forcing the witnersser to look the Watcher Honoria directly in the eyes. Catherine’s expression was so intense, that for a crazy heartbeat Tikri was almost certain that the other woman was going to kiss her.
Then in the space of a moment, she saw it.
Standing behind Catherine was 834 years’ worth of ghosts, all men and women who fought and died in the dark so people like herself could leave Tara for the stars and walk under the suns of countless worlds.
“Why us, Camlin?” Tikri barely registered that Catherine had used her informal name. “The answer is simple. Because we’re the ones who see.”
Catherine dropped her hand and headed for the door.
“I don’t want to,” Tikri said to Catherine’s back.
The Watcher Honoria turned around. Her head was tilted as if she were really seeing Tikri for the first time. “I wish there was a choice, but there isn’t. Once you see you can’t unsee.” Catherine slightly smiled. “It’s not so bad, you know, as far as powers go. Seeing. Knowing.”
“So I should get myself a cape now?”
Catherine nodded. “A cape sounds good.” Her eyes went to the MemePad. “Don’t forget to pack it.”
“The MemePad or the cape?”
Catherine simply said, “Both.”