Heart Compelling Method
A/N: Please don't tell me I messed up on any spells in this chapter. The Buffyverse magic system doesn't splice well with Exalted's, so I had to take some liberties with stuff, including a few Celestial Charms. Bear with me, please.
To Space, who reviewed anonymously on FF.net: I'm delighted you're enjoying the story, but if you have questions, please leave me an email address where I can answer you. It's much more convenient for me to be able to respond quickly and personally, rather than devote an entire author's note to a single question, especially since I usually forget to add them. As to your question, the story is up to date now, it's just that the chapters I added to FF.net when you read them had been finished and posted on other sites several days prior to me placing them on FF.net.
Giles paced back and forth in front of the table in the center of the library, a thunderous expression on his face.
“No, absolutely not!” he snapped, “I don't care for your reasoning, I don't care what madness has befallen you, you will not be doing this, am I understood?! I give you a great deal of lenience due to your youth, but you are a Solar Exalted! I will not allow you to lower yourself through association with this-this cult!”
Buffy looked at him with an adorably puzzled expression ('ignore her, Giles, your will is the stronger,) on her face, and looked down at the colorful uniform she was wearing.
“Do you not like the outfit?” she asked curiously, an expression of hurt on her face. Giles nearly smiled at her talents for positive manipulation, and likely would have, had his disgust not ran so deep.
“Do you just tune me out, Buffy?” he asked instead, exasperation clear in his tone, “Am I just white noise in the background, a mild nuisance to be expunged at will?”
“Sometimes,” Buffy answered honestly, an innocent expression on her face, and this time the corners of Giles' mouth twitched up in amusement.
'Damn charismatic Solar Exalted,', he thought to himself, before shaking his head clear of her influence, before turning around and pushing his cart of books back towards the shelves. Buffy effortless skipped the several meter distance between her and the front of the cart in a moment, a reproachful look on her face. She really was good at this...
“I did tell you I was going to try out for the Cheerleading Squad,” she reminded him, a subtle admonishment in her tone. Inwardly, Giles marveled at her natural talents for persuasion. She wasn't using even a single mote of Essence, yet she was overcoming his enhanced defenses with subtle ease. It was all in the tone of her voice, her posture, the opened eyes. Simply astounding.
With a spark of irritation, he overruled the sympathy building within him, the urge to allow her her childish games and fancies. He was a Chosen of Secrets, he was supposed to be made of sterner stuff!
“You are the chosen warrior of the Unconquered Sun,” Giles stated firmly, betraying no evidence of his inner struggle, “A Dawn Caste Solar Exalted. You have a sacred duty to hold the world together, to destroy all Creatures of Darkness, to spread the rule of law. You do not have a sacred duty to wave...pompoms at people! As your Watcher, as a Celestial Exalted in a superior place of power, and as the dominant male presence in your life, I forbid you from doing this, three times over!”
Giles' triumphant smile faded swiftly at the look on Buffy's face.
“And you're going to stop me...how?” she asked with an adorably cute evil smile that made Giles want to chuckle and indulge the lovely girl in front of him.
“Well,” he responded with a raised eyebrow, all irritation gone, but with a vague sense of unease nagging at the back of his mind, “I suppose I'll just have to appeal to your common sense, and hope that you listen to reason.”
“Common sense, schmommon sense,” Buffy dismissed him with an airy wave of her hand, “I just wanna do something fun, and I miss being a Cheerleader.”
Giles shook his head with a sigh.
“Well then, I suppose I can't stop you,” he admitted, “Just...don't demean yourself too much, please?”
“I won't,” Buffy promised with a happy smile, gave him a quick hug, and ran off, leaving Giles with a contented, happy feeling in his stomach, even as his unease faded to nothing.
A dark room, filled with smoke and shadows, effigies of the living and remnants of the dead are strewn across the room. A pentagram, drawn in blood, covers the entirety of the floor, as a dark figure, cloaked in shadow, stares at something only it can see, and casts its spell.
Buffy walked through the doors to the gym with a bright, cheery smile on her face as she observed the competition. Willow and Xander followed behind her, Xander paying particular attention to the girls doing their cartwheels.
“So, Giles didn't approve, huh?” Willow was saying as they walked.
“He came around,” Buffy shrugged, an odd little smile on her face. Xander returned to the conversation with a supportive pat on Buffy's shoulder.
“We're behind you, Buffy,” he assured her, “Nowadays, people all scoff at school spirit, but not us! I mean, just look at these girls, giving it their all! Ooh, stretchy!”
His gaze went to a pretty, dark-haired girl doing her stretches, and Buffy felt a twinge of annoyance and something else, (anger, maybe?) at the other girl.
“Anyways, where was I?” Xander asked, turning back to Buffy and Willow.
“Pretending that seeing scantily-clad girls in revealing poses was a spiritual experience,” Willow said pointedly.
“Who says I'm pretending?” Xander asked cheekily, and another surge of annoyance, this time at him, shot through her. She felt the sudden desire to show off a bit.
“Oh, hey, that reminds me-” Xander started, reaching into his pocket and turning to Buffy, “I got you something. Just a little good luck gift.”
He tossed her the object, and her hand shot out and caught it effortlessly. A pretty faux-gold bracelet lay in her palm, the words 'Yours Always' written on them. Even if it wasn't real gold, the bracelet was ornate enough to have cost a good thirty or forty dollars.
“Oh, how sweet!” she thanked him with a smile as Willow examined the bracelet.
“'Yours Always'?” she read out-loud, looking at Xander questioningly. He blushed.
“It came that was, th-they all said that, really! All the bracelets, I mean, not people, or...Buffy?” but she had stopped listening to his stammered explanation as she walked over to the middle of the gym, and suddenly, every eye was upon her.
“Hi,” she greeted with a smile, “I'm Buffy Summers. I'm looking to become a cheerleader, and this is my routine.”
And with that, it began. Buffy slipped into a perfect cartwheel, rolling once, twice, three times and bouncing out of the roll into a six-revolution handspring that zig-zagged across the floor. As she landed on the last spring she moved into a twirl, which turned into a fast spin, completely with complex leaps, and a pirouette which could have shamed a professional ballerina. As Buffy's routine continued, the entire room watched, unable to turn away, save two in the back.
“Hey, good to see you again, Amy,” Willow said quietly as she stood next to the red-headed teen. Amy smiled in return, but the look seemed forced.
“Same to you,” she nodded, before turning her gaze back towards the floor, and Buffy's increasingly complex routine, and Willow followed her lead, not noticing as an expression not unlike hatred clouded Amy's face.
“So, do you know Buffy?” Willow whispered, eyes redrawn to Buffy, not noticing as Amy clenched her nails into her palms so hard they drew blood.
“How I hate this, let me count the ways,” Amy whispered irritably, drawing a questioning look from Willow.
Suddenly, a shout of panic echoed through the gym as something seemed to yank Buffy's foot out from under her, causing her to slam her chin into the floor with a loud crack. Only Willow also saw the gash open across the back of Buffy's skull, as though something had struck her with an edged instrument.
“Buffy!” Xander cried, and rushed forward, and Willow snapped out of her motionlessness and ran forward as well
A terrible curse echoes throughout the room as the dark figure kicks over one of the effigies.
“She should be dead!”
Seven. Long. Hours. Buffy had been counting. That's how long she'd been at the hospital. She'd woken up in the ambulance, her head hurting but otherwise fine, only to be rushed to the emergency room, where doctor after doctor simply refused to believe that someone could be as badly hurt as she had been, and then simply recover. Buffy had convinced several of them to leave her alone, until her mother caught on several of the most annoyingly disbelieving doctor's gave her a clean bill of health, only to be yelled at by another, newer doctor for overlooking possible brain damage.
Of course, it probably hadn't helped when that one surgeon came in to tell Buffy's mom that new shoes could help greatly with balance. In retrospect, she probably had gone a bit far with that one...
And now, after several CAT scans, an X-Ray, and much confusion, Buffy was finally being allowed to leave. Of course, before that could happen, the doctors had to give her mother lots and lots of pamphlets on dealing with head injuries. Buffy's only consolation was that, before leaving, she'd made sure that the doctor who'd delivered the pamphlets would be spending the next few days compulsively destroying all pamphlets in the hospital that he found.
Of course, this didn't help her at all with her current predicament, so she was determined to be as grumpy and teenager-like as possible. Her resolution to appreciate her mother's mothering only extended so far, and she'd really wanted to be a cheerleader again...
“For the last time: I. Am. Fine.” Buffy said, her eyes closed as she sat in her cheap hospital gown, in a wheelchair, being pushed by her mother.
“Buffy, the doctor said it looked like someone had hit you in the back of the head with an axe!” Joyce said sternly, “You're not walking anywhere until further notice.”
“Mom, I am capable of making my entire body considerably harder than steel. I can stop bleeding by willing it. I can walk on my own!” she complained, but Joyce's stern look silenced her.
“No. Walking.” Joyce stated firmly. Buffy huffed and rolled her eyes.
“You should be glad I'm alright, not inventing ways I'm sick,” Buffy muttered, and Joyce frowned. That was actually a really good point...
Wait, what was she thinking?!
“Buffy, I'm not inventing anything,” Joyce said, “I'm doing my job as a mother of not letting my daughter with a severe head injury run around willy-nilly.”
“I want ice-cream,” Buffy grumped in return, crossing her arms in petulance.
“I already bought chocolate and vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, bananas, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries,” Joyce said smugly, “But, if you still want to walk, I suppose I can just return them...”
“No, I hate walking, legs are useless!” Buffy assured her in a rush, “I want sundaes, not walking!”
“That's what I thought.”
In the shadows of the gym, moonbeams the only source of light, a solitary figure stood before the bleachers, golden eyes watching for signs that only he could see. A frown crossed his face as he observed the golden remnants of several Solar Charms.
“Buffy...” he muttered, and blocked out the leftovers of her Essence. Yes, he could feel...something. He closed his eyes and sought out with his inner senses.
A familiar sense of weight fell over his shoulders, an infinite power beyond life and death, potent beyond imagining. Angel smiled. Well, beyond human imagining, anyway.
“So, you are an Exalt, then,” he murmured out loud, not bothering to turn around. This mysterious Exalted wasn't his enemy, not yet. If he wanted anonymity, Angel would allow him that.
“Yes,” came the Voice after a moment, “as are you. Is that an issue?”
“No,” Angel said, “It's just somewhat surprising. There aren't many Exalts around anymore, and I haven't exactly endeared myself to the ones who are. The Sidereals despise me for being Lunar, the Dragon-Blooded do whatever the Sidereals do, the Infernals are still pissed that I killed the Slayer Caste back in 'Nam, the Abyssals have hated me ever since I liberated Auschwitz, and as far as I know, there's only one Solar. That doesn't exactly leave a lot for you to be.”
“I have my reasons,” came the flat answer, “And I'd rather not discuss them at this juncture.”
“Fair enough,” Angel shrugged, “So, can you help me out with this? Some Sorcerer tried to take Buffy's head off this morning, and I'd like to return the favor.
“The Lover is on the move.”
“What?!” Angel shrieked, spinning around, and seeing nothing. But that was beyond unimportant now.
“The Lover Clad In Raiment Of Tears received a missive from the First and Forsaken Lion this morning. The stalemate in the Underworld in broken, and the Neverborn are stirring. Both Dusk and Day are moving, along with a large host of vampires each, and no, I don't have exact numbers.”
“Damn,” Angel cursed, “What about the Mask of Winters? What's he doing?”
“As far as I know, he's still on Atlantis,” the Voice replied, “And is claiming to be neutral in the coming power struggle, but if he believes that, he is naïve.”
“And the Mask is anything but naïve,” Angel sighed, “Look, where do the Bodhisattva and the Bishop stand on this? The last I heard, they were the ones pushing for a mass withdrawal of vampires from Creation.”
“The First and Forsaken Lion tore the Bishop's head off, and the Bodhisattva withdrew his complaints,” the voice stated dryly, “The Bishop will turn up at his estate eventually, of course, but it'll likely be a few weeks, and by then the First and Forsaken Lion will have all the support he needs to move forward unopposed.”
“Shit,” Angel swore again, “What's the avenue of attack? And the target, for that matter?”
“The Lover believes that she has found a Jade Prison, and the First and Forsaken Lion agrees.” the Voice said, and Angel started involuntarily.
“Is it for real?” Angel demanded, mixed eagerness and panic in his voice. A Jade Prison...the greatest treasure imaginable. And the Deathlords had found one.
“Yes,” the Voice confirmed, “I already knew of this one-”
“And you just let it sit there-!?” Angel began to scream, his temper flaring.
“It is beyond my reach, and yours as well!” the Voice snapped irritably, “And I really didn't feel like involving the Bronze Faction in this, as I'm sure you can well understand!”
“Fine, fine, I'm sorry,” Angel placated, “But where is it?”
“Where else?” the Voice asked, irritation replaced by resignation, “But the Sunnydale Hellmouth?”
Angel opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He closed it, then opened it again, and still couldn't find words to express just how bad things were.
“Quite,” the Voice agreed dryly.
“How?” Angel asked finally, his voice a slightly higher pitch than normal, “I mean, the Hellmouth is basically just a Manse that opens into Cecelyne-”
“It also connects to both the Wyld and the Underworld,” the Voice elaborated, “As well as Elsewhere. Seven decades ago, the First and Forsaken Lion discovered that the heartstone that kept the Sunnydale Hellmouth closed had been stolen and replaced with a massively powerful energy source. He investigated, and after losing both the previous Dusk Caste and the Midnight to the Behemoth that guarded the inner depths, the Ancient Vampire sent with them reported back that the heavily enchanted heartstone was a small, black orb of purest jade. The First and Forsaken Lion knew instantly what it must be, and sent the Vampire back to seize it. The Vampire promptly tried to shatter the spells through brute force, and triggered a safeguard the cast the Jade Prison deep into the heart of the Wyld, and himself into a rather...interesting Hell Dimension.”
“It was the Master, wasn't it.” Angel stated, completely unsurprised. It was just so like the Master to do something so unbelievably arrogant-
“Right in one,” the Voice said with vindictive amusement, “the wrinkled bastard got to spend the last sixty years submerged in boiling blood. That Hell Dimension is ruled by a Third Circle Soul of Malfeas with a rather...sadistic sense of irony.”
“Wait, 'got to'?” Angel asked, eyes closing in annoyance, “Let me guess: that surge of Essence the week, the one I dismissed as Buffy fighting Luke, that was him, wasn't it? And you knew, so, naturally, you assumed that I knew. Am I right?”
There was an awkward pause.
“I'll just assume that you don't know anything from now on, then, shall I?”
“Thank you,” Angel exclaimed in exasperation, “Now, what else are you sure I know?”
“Hmm...” the Voice mused, “You know that Buffy is your Solar Mate, right?”
“Yes, I'm dealing with that as best I can right now.”
“You know that your ex, Darla, is working with the Master, as well?”
“Fuck-fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck, no, I didn't!” Angel glared into the shadows.
“You know that the Slayer is-”
“Yes, I know who the whiny little bitch is, don't remind me,” Angel grumbled.
“Let's see...” the Voice pondered, “I think that you're up to date, then.”
“Good,” Angel sighed, relieved.
“I have to go now,” the Voice said suddenly, “But I'll contact you as soon as I have more news. Oh, and the Sorceress is a Ghost-Blooded woman somewhere in town, I'd offer more, but I've been too busy with the Deathlord situation to find the address or name.”
“Really?” Angel asked, a slight smile on his face, “That's...actually really convenient. I was thinking it was a real threat.”
Silence was the only response, and Angel sighed, and began running through a mental list of his resources, and wondering how the hell he was going to deal with two Abyssal Exalted and an army of vampires.
It was the end of the school-day, and Willow was carefully placing her unneeded textbooks in her locker, arranging them chronologically by class period. It was much neater than by title or author, and more convenient for her. Convenience, though, wasn't the main thing on her mind. Buffy hadn't come back to class yet, and it had been four days already. She'd seen the head injury, and it had been really bad (she shuddered as she remembered seeing bits of Buffy's skull shattered in the awful wound) but Buffy was a Solar. Surely she could just shrug that stuff off, right?
“Hey, Will!” came a voice behind her, making Willow jump a foot in the air. She spun around, and saw Xander grinning at her.
“Guess what day it is?” he asked, “Go on, guess!”
“Friday?” Willow asked without enthusiasm, really not in the mood for Xander's silliness.
“Yes, indeed, you are right in one! Today is Friday, that most holiest of days when school gets out and the whole weekend is ahead of you!”
Xander frowned at Willow's half-hearted shrug, and a concerned look appeared on his face.
“Hey, what's with with the rainclouds, Eeyore?” Xander tried to joke, “You're harshing my buzz, what's eatin' ya?”
“Buffy!” Willow shouted, suddenly angry at Xander for his lightheartedness while their friend was injured, “She's still absent from school, she might be in surgery, or-or in a coma, and how the heck is that so funny?!”
Xander stopped chuckling, shaking his head.
“Willow, I'm not laughing about that, well I am, but not for why you think,” Xander explained, “Buffy's fine, I thought you knew!”
“Wait, what?” Willow asked, bewildered, “How do you know?”
“Because she's been calling me three times a day since she got out of the hospital, complaining/bragging about how even though she's fine, her mom won't let her out of bed, and is force feeding her ice cream sundaes. She begged me to come over and rescue her from Dawn, who thinks the entire situation is hilarious! She told me to invite you, because she doesn't have your number, and I...totally dropped the ball on that one, sorry,” Xander finished with an apologetic grin.
“It's alright, I'm just happy she isn't hurt,” Willow said, a confused frown on her face, “But what's so funny about eating ice cream in bed?”
Willow had to bite her tongue to stop from laughing, as she stood in Buffy's bedroom, Xander beside her, and Buffy sitting in her bed across from the door. A t.v. was mounted on a stand at the end of the bed, and some animated movie was playing loudly. The room itself was pink. Really pink. The walls were hot pink, as were the fuzzy carpets. A pink pig was tucked into the crook of Buffy's arm, and there was a pink dresser against one wall, and the closet on the other side of Buffy's bed had pink-painted doors. Numerous stuffed animals were seated on white shelves set up on the wall. This, however, wasn't what was funny.
No, what Willow was desperately trying not to laugh at was Buffy, sitting with the most adorably grumpy expression she'd ever seen, arms crossed over under her breasts, with a completely bald head.
“They cut off my hair,” Buffy said with quiet, almost disbelieving rage, “They. Cut. Off. My. Hair. And the first person to giggle will get kicked in the balls, Xander.”
“I didn't say anything,” Xander managed to say, trying desperately to wipe the smile off of his face.
“Wh-why did they cut it off?” Willow asked, carefully not giggling at all. She didn't have balls to be kicked in, but that didn't mean a groin kick didn't hurt like bejeezus.
“That's what-” Xander started to say with a grin, before Buffy's expression of utter fury silenced him with a gulp.
“They wanted to examine how my scar was healing,” Buffy stated, her voice trembling, her right eye twitching, “So I kicked one of them in the balls. So they drugged me. And while I was asleep, they cut off my hair, and were so very surprised and delighted to discovered that there was no freaking scar. Because I didn't want there to be a scar. I am a Solar Exalted. I am Perfection made flesh. If I don't want to have a scar, there will be no scar.”
“So...” Willow started to say, beginning to really see what Buffy was getting at.
“My mother didn't bother to ask Mr. Giles what to do, because 'he's a perfectly pleasant man, but he isn't a doctor,'. So Giles, concerned that my mom had forgotten about him, again, came over shortly before I woke up. He told my mother not to worry, because Solar Exalted can recover from any wound that doesn't directly kill them. Perfectly. Like everything else we do. So, upon waking up, I discovered that my mom, for no legitimate reason, allowed a bunch of doctors to shave my head. She has been notified, through written correspondence, that I will not be speaking to her until my hair finishes growing back on Sunday, but this does not in any way imply that I do not want more ice cream. You two are free to talk to her as you wish.”
“So, you can grow hair back, then?” Xander asked, and Willow turned to stare at him. It never failed to amaze her how completely Xander could miss the point of something.
“Xander,” Buffy sighed, eyes closed, “If I really wanted to, I could, with relative ease, learn to grow your hair back.”
“Can you grow other things-” he started, but was cut off.
“Xander, if you finish that sentence like I think you're going to, I swear, I will kick you so hard your theoretical sons that you will never have after I'm through with you will clutch themselves in pain and explode.”
“She's not kidding, you know” came a new voice, and this time both Xander and Willow jumped up.
“Um, who the hell are you?” Xander asked, frowning at the newcomer as he took a step back. In the doorway of Buffy's room stood a large, muscular man, easily six foot two, dressed in an impeccable silk suit and shoes that Xander was certain cost more than his father's car. Golden eyes looked out from a face that might as well have been chiseled from marble by Michelangelo himself. Perfectly gelled dark hair straight out of an ad for rich, successful business men gave him a youthful, sophisticated look, and Xander felt suddenly self-conscious about his own hastily combed mess he called hair. A winning smile that showed off the man's perfect, shiny white teeth was directed at the bed, where Buffy suddenly broke out into a smile.
“Angel!” she exclaimed happily, before suddenly paling in horror and ducking under her covers.
“Go away!” she yelled out in panic, her voice muffled by her comforters, “Don't look at me!”
“But if I go away, I can't give you your get-well present,” the man, Angel, apparently, protested playfully, ignoring Xander's query, to the teen's irritation.
“Present?” came a hesitant question from beneath the fluffy pink comforter.
“Yeah, I went all the way to L.A. to pick it up for you. They just have good jewelers in Sunnydale, but if you don't want it...” he trailed off with a shrug, and turned to leave.
“No, gimme!” Buffy popped out from under the covers, and Angel smiled, and Xander was impressed at how casual he was being about the whole 'no hair' thing. No, not even casual, like he didn't even notice.
“Catch,” Angel said, and lightly tossed a small black-felt box over to Buffy, who's hand shot out in a blur and caught it faster than Xander could perceive.
“Present!” Buffy said happily, as she opened the box, and her mouth dropped, all childish greed gone.
“I-I don't-I-” she stammered, and Willow walked over to see what was in the box.
“Holy cow!” Willow exclaimed, “Is that real?”
“Yep,” Angel said with a grin, and Xander walked over to see what was in the box.
It was a small ring, made of pure, shining gold, with a bunch of little gems, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, dotting the outer part of the ring, arranged in a patter that spelled 'BUFFY'.
“Wow,” Xander managed to say, through the stunned haze that was his mind. Absently, he realized how inadequate this made his bracelet look.
“Angel, you shouldn't have-” Buffy began, looking wide-eyed at the older man, but he cut her off.
“Buffy, it's enchanted,” Angel said with a pointed look, “It'll make your hair grow back by tomorrow morning, among other things.”
“In that case, you'll get this ring back when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers,” Buffy said instantly, without changing her shocked, grateful tone.
“Yeah, I kinda figured that,” he said dryly.
“So,” Xander interrupted suddenly, drawing a glare from Willow, “not to sound like a broken record, but who the hell are you?”
“Xander, are you blind?!” Willow demanded, uncharacteristically abrupt, “That's Angel!”
“Yeah, I heard the name-holy shit you're Angel,” he exclaimed as recognition hit him, “You have a Saturday Morning Cartoon! I still have your action figures! And you know Buffy!”
Angel gave him an odd look.
“Yeah, moving on,” the older man turned to Buffy, “Didn't you tell them about me?”
“Um, if by 'tell them' you mean totally forgot to mention you at all, to anyone, then, yes, I told them,” she said, wincing.
“I'm Buffy's...other half, I suppose you could say,” Angel began, but he was once more cut off by Xander.
“You two are dating?!” he asked, turning to stare at Buffy, then back to Angel, “Aren't you a bit...old, for her?”
“He's a Lunar Exalted,” came Buffy's slightly annoyed voice behind him, “the counterpart to my Solar Exaltation, actually.”
Xander processed this.
“So, you aren't dating,” he clarified, looking at Angel, who just shook his head.
“Sorry, kid, but you really aren't my type” Angel said without missing a beat, “No offense.”
Buffy and Willow both burst out laughing at that as Xander sputtered some half-formed denials, and Angel grinned cheekily at him and slapped him on the back, making him stagger forward.
“Relax, I'm kidding,” he reassured, and Xander gave him a dirty look.
“Yeah, funny,” he muttered.
“Oh, cheer up, Xander,” Buffy said with a smile, “He was just teasing.”
Despite himself, Xander found his annoyance draining away, to be replaced by a deep sense of well-being.
“Yeah, you're right,” he agreed, and turned to Angel, sticking out his hand, “and it was a pretty funny joke. You already heard, but I'm Xander, and it's an honor to meet you, Mr. Angel.”
The Exalt looked at him for a moment, before smiling back and taking Xander's hand in a firm grip.
“Any friend of Buffy's is a friend of mine,” Angel said amiably, “And please, just call me Angel. The Mr. makes me feel old.”
“How old are you, anyway?” Willow asked curiously as Xander released Angel's hand.
“Ninety-two,” he admitted, and Willow's eyes widened as Xander whistled admireingly, “Which I why I don't like being called Mr.”
And with that, the ice was broken, and the group chatted in easy comradely until dinner was called some few hours later, and Angel was grateful for the excuse to put off telling Buffy the bad news for a little while longer.
“Bone of father, blood of mother, with this spell, your fate I smother,”
A splash, a hiss of evaporating matter.
“God of laughter, god of tears, drown my enemy in her fears,”
Shadows begin to gather, and fell whispers beckon from the lightless depths of nothingness. She ignores them. Hungry ghosts were nothing before her power.
“God of Darkened, Lightless Depths, send Buffy Summers to her death.”
A flash of pure unlight overwhelms her senses, and as she falls into unconsciousness, she smiles, because she heard the response from her patron.
–Xander, the next day–
“It's just, I don't want to seem too pushy, you know?” he said, pacing back and forth in front of Willow, who was sitting with her back against a tree, pretending to be reading her book while also pretending to be only half-listening to Xander.
“I mean, she said to give it time, see if we click, ya know? But we do, I think,” her turned to quickly face Willow, “We click, right?”
“Me and you? Or you and her?” Willow asked, suddenly hopeful.
“Her, me and her, sorry,” Xander said, going back to pacing, and Willow's face fell again. She wondered if she should take Buffy's advice about just going for it. She liked Buffy as much as the next person, but she liked Xander more, and she was pretty sure she was stab herself with a pencil soon if he didn't stop asking her for dating advice. Or maybe she'd stab him. Yeah, that made more sense.
“It's just, she said maybe, in the future, and it's the future now, and she still hasn't said anything. We've been hanging out a lot, too, and she kissed me the other day-”
“She what?!” Willow exclaimed loudly.
“Cheek kiss, I was being cheer-up friend while she had a headache, nothing serious,” Xander elaborated, and Willow sighed in relief. She really, really, really didn't want to compete with Buffy over Xander. She was losing as it was, when Buffy wasn't even playing. Or was she? Was that why Buffy was winning?
“Anyways, like I was saying, sometimes she seems into me, but then Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, not to mention immortal, comes into the picture and gives her a golden ring with diamonds that spell out her name-”
“Orichalcum,” Willow corrected automatically, even as Xander was talking, and he looked at her in confusion.
“Ori what now?” he asked, and Willow looked at him in disbelief.
“Orichalcum,” she clarified, “You know, super-gold? Ultra-gold? Can-only-be-made-via-mirrors-and-volcanoes-gold?”
“Oh dear God, I actually know what that is, and he bought her a ring with it!?” his voice rose in pitch as he realized the implications, “I thought the military declared all of it national property for space lasers, or something?”
“Most of it, yeah,” Willow nodded, “But a bit of it's still in the private markets, and it's ridiculously expensive, I looked it up last night, and a ring like that would cost at least eighty-five thousand-”
“Lalalalalala!” Xander sang, plugging his ears with his fingers, “I don't wanna know! It just makes me feel even more inadequate!”
“You're not-” Willow tried, but Xander wasn't listening.
“I mean, have you ever liked someone, really liked someone, but there's suddenly this person who's way better than you in every way, and you feel sorta guilty about even trying, because it feels like you're trying to cheat them of their happiness?”
“Yeah, gonna stab you now,” Willow muttered irritably.
“I mean, did you see his hair?! How does he get it to do that?!”
“Yep, one more second, then stab!”
“You say something, Willow?”
“I said hair gel, but probably just a dab!”
“Yeah, dab! More like a pound! And another thing-”
Willow sighed, and nodded, putting on her best 'sympathetic friend' face, and despising herself for being such a coward. She wished she could just switch places with Buffy right now. Life would be so much easier with ultimate divine powers...
Cold. That's what she feels, first of anything. And hard. She pushes down, and picks herself up off the ground, and looks at her surroundings. A flat, desolate plain stretches in all directions. She looks up, and sees no light, or stars, and briefly wonders what is giving off light, then. Something was off.
“Well, there you are!” a voice exclaims, and she spins around, eyes wide with shock. A tall, slightly pudgy brown-haired man in his mid-to-late thirties was walking towards her.
“Dad?” she asked, dumbfounded. She hadn't seen her father since before her Exaltation. Why was he here now?
“It's me, sweetie,” Hank Summers said, looking confused, and a little hurt, “Don't you recognize your father?”
Buffy felt tears welling up in her eyes.
“Where the hell have you been?!” she demanded, “You can't just leave for two and a half God-damned years and then just show up from nowhere, and act surprised that-”
“Oh, that's all?” he laughed, and Buffy clenched her fists in anger, “That's easy: I've been far away from you.”
Buffy felt like someone had dunked her head in ice water.
“Wh-what?” she asked, her voice suddenly vulnerable.
“Yep,” her father said cheerfully, “I left because I couldn't keep dealing with your melodramatic bullshit day-in and day-out. I'd have kept in touch for Dawn's sake, but then I'd be forced to chat with you every week, and well, I didn't think I could deal with that.”
“How could you say-” Buffy began, her nails digging into her palms, feeling her mind beginning to fracture, like an overwhelming force was pressing against it, but her father interrupted her.
“Quite easily,” he grinned, “And boy, did I ever dodge a bullet! I mean, a Solar? For a daughter? Like you weren't enough of an air-headed arrogant little twit before!”
“Shut-up,” Buffy ordered coldly, feeling her nails piercing her skin and digging deep into the meat of her palms, “Just shut-up.”
“Aww, what's the matter?” her father asked in a mocking baby-voice, “Can you not take the fact that you're basically unlovable?”
“No,” Buffy hissed, her entire body trembling with fury, “What I can't take is the fact that some rogue god or demon or whatever the hell you are has the sheer fucking balls to use my father to strike at my self-esteem!”
In a flash of speed she was in front of the apparition and punching it with all of her enhanced strength. The blow caught her faux-father in the cheek and knocked it down into the dirt. Her Anima flared as she stared at the suddenly fearful figure.
“Did you think I was some helpless little girl?” she asked softly as it tried to scurry away from her. She continued her slow walk forward.
“Did you think that it didn't matter if I was a Solar, because you could strike at my mind?” she queried, and her hand shot out and grabbed the specter by the throat, hoisting it up into the air.
“I am the Chosen of The Unconquered Sun you fuckwad!” she snarled in its face, “It takes more than some mean little ghost to break my mind! And now, you're going to fucking die!”
She dropped the thing onto the ground in front of her and, before it could move, punched it in the chest as hard as she could. Her hands punched through what felt like flesh and muscle and bone until she reached its heart. She clutched the beating organ in her hand and squeezed. The thing howled in pain and faded into nothingness. Buffy stood alone in the field, breathing heavily, until a woman's warm, throaty chuckle reached her ears. She spun around, gathering her Essence around her, and faltered as she was faced with perhaps the most exotic beauty she'd ever seen.
Standing before her was a woman, slightly shorter than Buffy, dressed in a gown of flowing emerald. Long, flowing white hair cascaded down her back, and a delighted smile graced that youthful face. Green orbs stared out from her eye sockets, and Buffy felt a great and terrible power radiating from the woman.
“That was quite a performance, Ms. Summers,” the woman complimented, her voice echoing everywhere and nowhere at once, “Very entertaining. I knew you wouldn't let me down.”
“Who are you?!” Buffy demanded angrily, “Why did you bring me here?!”
“I brought you here because a somewhat valuable servant of mine desired your torment and destruction. The spell she used was beyond her ability, so she requested my aid. I thought it might be amusing to watch, so I helped. And I was right.”
“So, what?” Buffy asked, eyes narrowed, “You're going to kill me?”
The woman laughed that beautiful laugh again.
“Oh, no, Ms. Summers. No, I don't wish to kill you. After all, you show far more potential than the petty sorceress who sought my aid. And I never waste a potential source of fun. No, once we're done talking, you'll wake up in your bed, safe and sound. And, since you killed the sorceress,” the woman pointed to where Buffy's father had stood, “Two birds, one stone.”
“Okay, so that answers the why, I guess,” Buffy said hesitantly, “But not the who.”
“I have long since discarded my true name, Ms. Summers,” the woman smiled, “All that is important is that I like you. However, if you truly need a name, you may call me The Green Lady. Everyone does.”
“No, no more questions, Ms. Summers. It's time for you to go home. But before you do, I have a little present for you, you can get it on your way out. And keep this little conversation between us, okay? I could get in trouble for helping you like this, so I probably won't be able to do it again. Don't worry, though, Solars have good instincts. Just follow your gut, and you'll be fine. Bye now!”
And then, the world exploded.
Flashes of light, a terrible dragon roaring its rage as arrows of holy light pierced its hide.
Pain, her body wracked with it, a dark-haired woman calling her name, as fiery waters submerged her and a twisted, barbed tentacle wrapped around her torso.
-Lunar mate for each of you
Love, a sense of belonging, and more power flowing through her than she would have believed possible.
A spear, plunged deep into her heart, tearful eyes staring at her, an overwhelming sense of sorrow and betrayal
And then she woke up, and knew what she had to do.
Angel was awakened from his sleep by a quiet, hesitant knocking on the door. He glanced at the alarm clock by his bed, and saw that it was 2:30 in the morning. He silently got out of his bed, reaching for the quicksilver reaper daiklave, a long, slender double-edged silver sword with a slight hook at the tip, the better for horrific wounds/disarming enemies. Picking it up, he reached instinctively over his shoulder for his short-daiklave, before remembering that the scabbard was still hidden in his shirt, which was on his floor somewhere. He dismissed the weapon as his mind caught up with the situation, and he realized that assassins don't generally knock timidly. He put the weapon down and headed for the door, reaching out with his senses to determine who was knocking.
Solar. Partner. Mate.
Angel moved quickly to open the door, before his thoughts even finished, and looked out into the dimly lit hall, where the most beautiful girl in the world stood, in her fuzzy pink pajamas, looking shaken.
“Buffy, what's wrong?” he asked, suddenly worried.
“Can I come in?”she asked quietly, and he nodded and stepped aside, allowing her into the room. He flipped on the light-switch as they walked into his rather empty apartment, and she paused, unsure of something.
“Buffy,” he pressed, “Did something happen? Come on, you're scaring me.”
She looked at him, eyes filled with uncertainty, and his heart called out for him to help her. He gently lead her over to his couch and sat down with her, and she automatically leaned into him, resting her head against his chest, right over his heart, wrapping her arms around his torso, and a sense of rightness came over him that he hadn't felt since-
“I had a nightmare,” she said quietly, and Angel remained quiet, waiting for her to go on, but a thrill of fear ran through him. A nightmare that could shake a Solar-
“I...I think I died.”
His heart stopped.
“I...I was fighting someone, and I got stabbed. I saw a woman, with long, dark hair standing over me, crying, calling my name, and I know that someone I cared about had betrayed me, killed me, but not why. And...I remember...things.”
Angel felt her shudder, and he wanted to scream, to cry, to find a spell that would let him tear the dark memories from her mind. But he didn't. He couldn't remove the memories, and getting upset couldn't help anyone. So he was quiet, and inwardly he vowed to kill those damned Viziers-
“I dreampt about the witch,” and Angel twitched in surprise, but the tiny girl resting against him didn't seem to notice.
“She sent some spirit to kill me, in the guise of my dad. It used some spell on me, but I broke free, and killed it. Then, this women, dressed in green-
A freezing hand clutched his heart. If this was what he thought-
“She had long, white hair, and pure green eyes. She called herself 'the Green Lady,' and said that I'd killed the witch. She told me that I was more fun, so she was going to help me. That's when-that's when I died. She told me I'd get a present, but all I saw was a horrible dragon, and a giant monster pulling me into a lake of fire, and a terrible voice talking about Lunar Mates...”
She trailed off for a moment, and then resumed.
“After I died, I saw you, and I felt this...this urge to come see you. I couldn't fight it, I didn't want to, and I don't even know you, but I think about you all the time,” Buffy's voice took on a panicked tone, and he felt her begin to hyperventilate, “And I dream about you, and I'm always so happy when you're with me, and I feel like a part of me is missing when you aren't, and now I'm sleepwalking and dreaming of dieing and going to hell, and here I am, in your apartment, in my pajamas, and you aren't wearing a shirt, and am I going crazy, Angel?”
Her last word was said with such fear and desperation that it broke his heart.
“No,” he said softly, “This is natural. Horrible, crappy, and no fun at all, but it happens.”
“What does?” she asked, “Do you know what this is?”
Angel smiled bitterly.
“Oh, yes, I got to go through it myself. Buffy, those dreams you had were of your past life, they were memories of the Solar who used to have your shard. I used to get them all the time, the first few years after I Exalted,” here he sighed, and went on, “Eventually, you'll stop having them, and you'll be able to remember your old life like your current one. Until then, you'll dream about the memories until they sink in properly. It's just something you've got to deal with.”
“What about the dreams of you, though-” Buffy tried, but Angel shushed her.
“I'm getting to that,” he assured her, “It has to do with the Lunar Mate mentioned in your dream.”
Buffy's eyes were fixed on him as she looked up at his face. He took a deep breath and went on.
“Every Solar Shard has a Lunar Mate, a soul-mate, in a very real sense. The bond differs between Exalts, but all have some mystical connection to their partner. It's usually a romantic one, a kind of apology from the gods for sending us to die for them in the Primordial War,” Angel smiled in fond remembrance, “They felt bad that they were sending us to die, so they gave us soul-mates, people that dying for wasn't such a bad thing. Sometimes it'd be in the form of a best friend, someone who you could call brother or sister in a far more real sense than mere blood relations. Occasionally, it'd be a friendly rivalry, someone who is your match in all things, who makes you always strive to be better, and who you can never really beat, but that's the whole point of them. Mostly, though, they sent us a romantic partner, our perfect lover, in a very mystical, spiritual sense. Someone who could be all of those things: Lover, best friend, rival, the best of everything.”
He felt Buffy sag in sudden relieved understanding.
“That's why you said all those things when we met, and why you looked so hurt-” she whispered.
Angel chuckled at that.
“Yeah, I thought your Shard would react like mine did, that you already would have the memories. I didn't realize it could take so long to activate.” Angel deliberately avoided voicing his theory: That Buffy's wasn't supposed to have activated. Next time he saw that green-eyes, two-timing bitch-
“I...I feel better,” Buffy said softly, in wonder, “Like an ache inside me was just healed, like my mom hugged me when I had a nightmare, like I'm...like I'm safe, and loved, and accepted no matter what. Is that what you feel?”
“Yeah,” Angel said quietly, “But, Buffy listen: I don't want you to feel obligated to do anything. I've got a lot more life experience than you, and I won't hold it against you if you want to hold off on-”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
And warm lips captured his, and a sense of bliss that he hadn't known in millenia flowed through him, and for the first time in this life, Angel was truly, perfectly happy.
And that was alright.
So, questions, comments, concerns?
The One Girl in All The World, empowered by the sheer might of the Dawn
A Shattered Soul, offered one last chance for redemption...
A Star Chosen Mentor, whose hidden secrets can only be guessed at...
This is their Tale.
Ascendant Sun, Burning Moon: A Buffy/Exalted Crossover.