Chapter 1: A Candle in the Darkness
Where 2002, the year of her death and resurrection had been painful, the following year had been troubled in its own way. Starting tense and under siege from the First Evil, the year had progressed through a hollow victory into a summer too long and hot, grief stricken and difficult. With everyone unsettled and displaced, refugees from a Hellmouth now firmly shut, there had been hard decisions to make and many partings, until the autumn started like a new beginning, locking the frantic battle of the Spring away into the amber of memory. For the survivors of Sunnydale, life had tilted on its axis, and some were sent spinning away in different directions like the seeds from a dandelion. They’d seen an era end, a whole town that had slipped away into the past and like the last day at school, they made their goodbyes and moved on into new stages of their lives.
Before all that, back in that tragic Spring, three days after the destruction of Sunnydale and when they’d all had a little time to settle down, treat their wounded and adjust to being homeless and dispossessed, they’d held a candlelit vigil at the craters edge for those they’d left behind. Lost lovers and friends, their deaths were marked only by a candle in the darkness and the shadow they cast across the lives of their survivors. There would be no headstones for their graves, no marker to show where they fell or to commemorate their heroism, all they would ever have would be a silent crater in the desert that would only whisper its secrets to the dust picked up and whisked round by the wind. Buffy had had a candle of her own to light that night, for a vampire whose big heart had saved the world, but as she watched the flame lick hungrily at the night air, she kept her emotions deep down inside where no one could see them or guess at their significance. Even as Xander wept openly for Anya, her grief was private, like her relationship with Spike had been, and it was not something she wanted to discuss with anyone else, or think about or remember, much. They hadn’t cared to see how he had changed or seen the good man inside that he allowed only a few he was close to, to see. He’d defied his own nature to love her, got himself a soul for her protection and happiness, and in the end she’d believed in him. In sacrifice, he’d presented her with a wonderful gift – a normal life – the very thing that she’d wanted for so long. But she was left with more questions than answers. What was she going to do with this new life? She had no idea how to deal with normality. The world felt wrong, topsy-turvy with uncertainties. She’d lost her anchor and was adrift. She knew she had to make good the opportunities his death had given her, she owed him that at least, but how could she do that when nothing felt right? They’d won again, hadn’t they? They’d scored their biggest victory; they’d bloodied the nose of evil itself and changed it all, altered the balance of good and evil, created a new, less-dangerous world. So why then did it feel like their biggest defeat? Why were Spike, Anya and some of the young slayers dead under the remains of Sunnydale, sacrificed so the rest of them could live free from the daily fight against the darkness? Buffy was at a loss for answers.
After their last goodbyes to their dead were done, and the danger was finally over, it was time to move on from Sunnydale. The larger part of the group had drifted away by midsummer. Their old lives were buried at the bottom of that hole and could never be recovered; there was nothing left for them, except the silent echo of memories. For some, like Willow, Xander and Dawn, their childhood lay buried at the bottom of the sandy pit, remnants of lifetimes measured in handfuls of grit. For others, reminders of their darker pasts were finally erased, except for what they still carried in their hearts. Faith had finally taken on the full responsibilities of the Slayer, all the duty, all the burdens; all keen to continue her redemption in service to Good. She had departed quite quickly, taking Robin Wood in tow, to start her fresh new life and keep the Cleveland Hellmouth covered. A city, bereft of a Slayer so long, at last would receive the protection it required. Her partnership with the former Principal appeared to be working well. Although he was not an official Watcher, he had proved to be more than adequate at the task. Having been raised by a Watcher came as a great advantage. It also appeared that their personal relationship was going from strength to strength. Buffy felt good about that, if a little jealous; at least someone was keeping a relationship formed on the bad ground of Sunnyhell good, even if she couldn’t. Some things didn’t change though; Buffy and Faith would forever be rivals, even if most of the old animosity had faded. Faith was welcome to Cleveland. Buffy had served her time on a Hellmouth that had stripped her and her friends of everything they’d held dear, and it was more than time to pass that task onto another.
The new slayers had had their lives changed just as much as the others. The temptation for them to cling to each other like the survivors of a storm had to be resisted. They would always share the trauma of the last battle Sunnydale saw, but it was time to return home. For many, that was back to the fold of their families. They’d left as young girls, normal teenagers scared to death by the brutal intrusion of the supernatural into their lives. They returned as warriors, forged in the fire of the Slayer, tested in battle, veterans amongst the newly empowered. They were the lucky ones. Others had lost their whole families to the First Evil. Bringers had cut remorselessly cut through their relations, attempting to execute the entire Slayer line, often while they could only watch, terrified and powerless. They were very different people now, motivated and super-strong, but they were still so young. These girls had nothing or no one left to return to; no people, no homes. They had little choice but to become wards of the Watcher’s Council.
Rupert Giles had had to return to England pretty swiftly after the battle and the memorial. The Watchers Council was still in disarray, reeling from the First’s campaign and the blast that had destroyed their Holborn Headquarters. With a good proportion of their previous staff dead in the explosion, they now desperately needed people like him to rebuild. Former Watchers, experienced researchers, serious occultists and academics, anyone they could get that who had the rare, genuine skills they could use, skills the Scooby Gang could supply. There were positions for everyone if they wanted to take them.
For Willow, the decision to move to England and join the Council was an easy one. She’d loved her life as a Scooby, regardless of the tragedy and heartache it brought with it, and she felt that she still had much to atone for. Deep in her heart, she had yet to forgive herself for the madness after Tara’s untimely death and there was blood on her hands that would never wash off. She wanted to count for something, use her magic to do enough good to matter to the world, to remove the taint of dark magic from her forever, however long it might take. She wanted to be nearer to the centre of the fight, so when the offer of a Research position with the Watchers Council came through, she seized the chance. She could use all her skills; it wouldn’t mean she would moulder away in some dusty library, not while she had magic strong enough to avert the end of days.
She had someone else to think of too. Where Willow went, so did Kennedy. The bossy young Slayer was enthused by her new powers, delighted by the massive additional strength, and she was prepared to take up the fight wherever it took her. Buffy had fervently hoped for Willow’s sake, if not Kennedy’s own, that the headstrong girl wouldn’t prove too enthusiastic in her rush to prove herself and get killed in the same way many others of the calling down the centuries had been, downed by a lucky demon having its one good day. It was best she was kept close and carefully watched near the hub of the Council, in case her own confidence proved to be her downfall.
Xander was less ready to move on from his old life. While being a Scooby had often been a painful millstone around his neck, it was all he’d had in his life for a long time. Even if he couldn’t look back on a childhood where he was happy at home, the fight had, despite its perils, given purpose to his existence for the first time. It had cost him dearly, a price almost too much to pay, an empty eye-socket and a dead former fiancé, but he had mattered. That toll had become his burden, he was weary of it all, but it was hard to finally let go. Still mourning Anya, he had followed his friends, reluctant to leave their fold just yet, and had taken a job on the re-fit of the Watchers Council’s new offices, making himself a tidy sum in the process. Sadly though, Buffy had known that he wouldn’t stay long, and sure enough, by mid-autumn he’d left, taking Andrew with him on the oft-delayed road trip he’d always wanted to take. She didn’t expect him to come back.
Buffy herself hadn’t really wanted to go to England either, even though Dawn had been keen to go. It didn’t matter that Quentin Travers and the rest were dead; she was still suspicious of the Council and its suspect methods and motives. The last thing she wanted was to turn into the stuffy type the Council seemed to employ. But as her friends prepared to leave and the thought of no job, no duty, and no home hit her, she reluctantly agreed to Giles’ request for her to come to train Slayers; there was nothing left for them in California and two of the most important men in her life had been born in England, it was about time she saw the land that made them. While she still had Giles, she had nothing at all left of Spike, not even the places that held her memories of him. She’d thought, perhaps being in England could bring him closer, a little piece of him still in her heart. But despite these ambitions and romantic notions, the reality had proved rather different.
At first living in London had been kind of fun. It felt like the old times when she’d first arrived in Sunnydale. A new town to find her way around, new people to get to know – they just talked a little differently. The gang shared a fine rented house in an ordinary North London street; typical in all it’s faded Victorian finery, even if Buffy found the house cramped. After the open house of the spring, she wanted her own space back, she was sick of sharing her home with countless others who came and went. But, as rental cost a small fortune she didn’t have, she had little choice but to stay there, which at least was paid for on the Council’s tab. Dawn had found the experience of moving aboard wonderfully exotic, a whole new adventure in a wonderful new place. They’d taken a few trips together, they couldn’t get over how old England felt, as if the whole of human history surrounded them; a country with an old soul. To them it was a wonder to realise that the very earth they stood on had run red with the blood of a thousand battles. All that history scattered about and no one seemed to take any notice of it as if there was too much to take in and the people were as much a part of it as it was a part of them. Buffy had even been stunned when she’d seen the new Watchers Council’s offices. It was far from being the central London Men’s Club she’d thought it would be, Stoke Park was a mansion straight out of her Pride and Prejudice daydreams. Elegant and Georgian, set in acres of lush parkland so green, she could just imagine Mr Darcy striding from the stable block to meet them. Then term began and Dawn started classes in a local college with some of the new Slayers, back to the rigors of education and Buffy had to other ways to occupy her spare time.
Most of the time, Giles would stay with them, returning only occasionally to his house in Westbury, and, to Buffy, it almost felt like having a father again, despite the strain their relationship had been under. She would always love him as the father figure he’d been to her, but she doubted they would ever regain their former closeness. She still trusted him when it came to saving the world; his motives were right, even if she no longer had such an implicit trust in his methods. However, in more personal matters, she put her faith firmly in her own judgement. She would never forget that Giles hadn’t opposed her friends when they’d thrown her out of Revello Drive and that he’d tried to dispose of Spike, a valued ally, in spite of her assurances that the soul kept him from harming anyone. That was the worst thing of all – he hadn’t trusted her judgement; even after all they’d been through over the years, all the lives they’d saved, all the apocalypses they’d averted. Spike though, had lived up to her belief in him; he’d come through for her and saved the world. He’d shown her that there was more to the world than the black and white judgements she’d made as the Slayer, everyone had a shade of grey if she looked. If only the Council could realise that.
Tragic though the circumstances had been, the Holborn disaster might well have been the best thing that had happened to the Council for centuries, clearing out some of the stuffy dead wood and thinning the ranks of the old boys. As they hadn’t planned for a disaster, they weren’t ready for this kind of tragedy and discussion behind the scenes in endless meetings, according to Giles, was heated. The newer, younger Watchers were demanding change and more modern practises, and they were up against what remained of the old guard, who stressed tradition above all else, resisting change. The explosion had cleared out a whole generation of Watchers and those who remained had been off sick, on holiday or on assignment. They had quickly found themselves deep in the midst of the turmoil of re-organisation, raising the phoenix from the ashes, and jostling for better positions within the Council, a seething pit of power mongers ripe for a coup.
One of the first to rise to the top had been Roger Wyndham-Price. He’d quickly seized control after the death of Travers, and he saw the management of the Council in much the same way. The Council had survived in the current arrangement for hundreds of years, a heritage that had refined their methods from the Shadow Men that had first created the Slayer to the current Council. He saw no reason to change the way they did things, despite the setback and the wave of new Slayers. For reformers like Giles, he was a dangerous obstacle, bull-headed and stuck in the past, but he was extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, he had a wealth of experience to draw on and as such was canny opposition, not to be under-estimated. He was a major player in the Council politics, and even if he was approaching retirement fast, his influence could sway the selection of the new Board to traditionalists. The pro-reform Watchers wanted to see a Council that reflected the times; slaying was now a global concern with all the new Slayers. The Council needed to be more flexible and responsive, more caring to the girls in its care. There was no point in remaining based in one place, limiting their global reach. They needed to set up district offices in centres of high population at least. Buffy had liked that idea and thought that maybe one day she could return home and set up a Californian office. But that was a dream for the future; such things were a long way off. First the reformers needed to control the Board and that would take awhile.
After a different type of Christmas, where hopes of a white Christmas morning were dashed early by cold lifeless skies, and a New Year that said goodbye to 2003 once and for all, life soon returned to the mundane and Buffy began to feel isolated. Dawn was back at college, Willow was busy, Xander was gone and Giles, now a large cog in the Watchers Council engine, was all but lost to her. The work that needed to be done was highly specialised and sometimes Buffy felt useless in all the upheaval. Willow was doing rather better. She had been given an office and had started work appraising and sorting through what was left of the Council’s material resources. Buffy didn’t envy her that job one bit, and it wasn’t just because she’d never been bookish. Buffy had taken one look at the boxes of records, charred books and personnel files that were stacked neatly around the room, waiting their turn to be looked over and stored away, and she felt Willow was welcome to it all. The task was monumental and the approach required was methodical, taking each box in turn, deciding what was salvageable and worth keeping, putting to one side anything that needed further work to conserve its secrets. Willow had to catalogue everything and she had big plans to expand the online resource she’d started, a tool help those new Slayers that didn’t have access to training or a fully stocked occult library, by providing them with an online Watcher replacement. It was slow going and even Buffy realised that it was all too much for one person. Although so much had been destroyed, Willow needed a whole department of people to complete the project. However, it was still early days in the Council’s restructuring and there was still so much to arrange. No one could be spared to assist her.
With Slayers and Watchers reporting in from all over the world, Buffy took her turn on the phones. She just wanted to get into her part of the deal, training the girls, but as it was no-ones priority to find them somewhere to train, she helped out where she could. It made her feel useful at least, if only for a while. By Christmas she hated the job and she tried to spend as little time as possible in the office. She knew that the Watchers talked about her behind her back. To her face she was the heroic Slayer who had brought down the First Evil and closed the Sunnydale Hellmouth, but in the veiled whispers that started as she passed people in corridors, she was the girl that had debased herself with vampires, cavorting with those she was committed to destroy. It didn’t matter that Angel and Spike were creatures with souls, that they had both fought for the side of light; they were vampires and as such were abominations. If anyone ever spoke of Spike at all, his selflessness in the Hellmouth was never recognised. The good man she’d known at the end would be forever tarnished by the sins of the soulless creature he had once been. So she scurried from room to room, head down, trying not to be noticed, trying not to show how upset their comments made her, trying not to hear their cruel words. It was these times when she missed Spike most, when all she wanted to do was slip away and take sanctuary in his company, be quiet with him, just taking pleasure in talking to him the way she used to, away from trying to please everyone else. But with him gone, there was nothing she could do and the days stretched on forever; bustling, unrelenting and lonely.
So she found what solace she could by doing her duty and what she did best, hunting for demons. The Sunnydale Hellmouth might be shut tight, but Buffy never forgot that the monsters remained. The Slayers were now enabled as an army against the bumps in the night, but she rarely went with them, preferring to patrol alone. The short brisk nights of summer patrolling became a slow trudge through the lengthening darkness, turning with the wheel of the year, and little action from the more elusive locals. Patrol was reduced to not much more than a quiet walk in the dark, often the most she met were groups of teenagers drinking cheap wine in darkened corners, the scent of cannabis, aloft in the moonlight. The youth of Sunnydale could have never have been so relaxed and bold, or they would have been dead before the sun rose, the new risers for the following nights. It was during these wanderings, that Buffy discovered how very different in character England’s demon population was to that of the Hellmouth. They were usually older; stronger demons, more interested in bloodlines, tradition and infighting than the next apocalypse. Hierarchy and power mattered more to them than mayhem. There was little risk of an apocalypse here. These demons had too much to lose to end the world for the sake of evil. When she’d asked him, Giles had told her that he suspected that a few sat in the House of Lords, speculating that one of them had been a Prime Minister, although no one had managed to get close enough to her to confirm it. Other, less intelligent demons were just less common without the siren call of the Hellmouth.
She also discovered there was rarely any of the freshly dead in the pretty churchyards, where the tombstones of cracked granite and rough stone had weathered with age to the point where the names were indistinct and forgotten behind the lichen. If she wanted to scratch her itch to fight and kill, these places proved a waste of time to patrol. There was better hunting to be found in the larger municipal cemeteries, where the smooth, cool marble markers were squeezed in tightly, like the shields of a Roman Army on the march, wave after wave of them, as space was in short supply. The dense rows meant fighting was close-quartered with little room for fancy moves. Chases were rare and awkward, risky in the narrow space between the graves. Fledgling vampires were therefore more vicious as they were forced to face and fight the Slayer rather than flee. Their first night undead was a fight for survival.
But on most nights, when a quiet walk was all she really wanted, Buffy preferred the old places; the thin bits of hallowed ground of false safety and faded glory under the Yews, where she could be comfortable with the dead. She could get lost in flights of fancy, relax her guard just a little and wonder if he’d risen one night from the ground in a place like this. She would have enjoyed his companionable presence on these walks. Good company was something he’d always been, especially when she’d been miserable. Maybe he could have told her more about England, flirted a bit in his crude way, then tell her some saucy tale from his past that she really didn’t want to know, before kissing her sweetly in a long moment that could have been minutes or hours, in the doorway of some pretty old church.
These were memories they would never make together.