Chapter 1: Prologue-Homecoming 2001
Buffy grew a little misty-eyed as the car neared Sunnydale, bringing her home for the first time in nearly three years.
“Giles, we’re almost there!” She almost bounced in her seat, eager to see what had changed and what still looked the same.
Willow squeaked excitedly from the rear seat of the vehicle. “Buffy, do you think the gang will be there when we get home? Will everyone come over and hang out like we use to? Or is everything going to be different?”
Reuniting with the neighborhood group they had grown up with had been a favorite topic of conversation for the girls as they had flown back across the Atlantic and then across the U.S. Buffy and Willow were excited to see them again, even though they both knew on some level that things wouldn’t be the same. They had changed quite a bit in their three years away from Sunnydale, and knew their friends had as well.
Giles smiled at the excitement of the two women he considered his daughters, in fact, if not in name, as he too felt a twinge of apprehension as they neared home. He’d enjoyed the travel and his book tour had been an immense success, as had his guest lecture post at Oxford. But he’d missed Sunnydale and his position as an instructor at the University there. He’d missed the house on Revello Drive with Buffy safely tucked in her corner bedroom, his friends and his neighbors, especially Jenny. His leave of absence was over and it had been time to come home. He knew it was time for Buffy and Willow as well. They had been teens when they’d left and now they were young women ready to choose their paths in life.
As he exited off the interstate, he remembered back to another day he’d returned to Sunnydale nearly seven years before…
Buffy got out of the car in front of the white house with the long front porch, and slowly started up the steps. Her knees almost buckled as she staggered along, stiffly clutching a tissue in her hand. Giles dropped the bags and hurried after her.
“Buffy,” Giles called, “wait a minute, dear.”
He took her arm gently and led her up the steps to the front door and opened it. “Home sweet home,” he announced.
She entered and sat down on the sofa in the living room heavily, a fresh batch of tears welling in her eyes. He dropped to his knees in front of her, grabbing the tissue he’d found he’d needed to keep handy since they’d returned from the funeral.
“Uncle Giles, why did they have to die and leave me?” Her lower lip trembled and the threatened drops spilled as she burst into tears again. He pulled her to him and gently rocked the sobbing girl.
“My dear, I don’t know why. They’re gone and you must make do with me now. I know I’m a poor substitute for a mother and a father, but I love you, Buffy, and I’ll make sure you have a good home here. Just let it out.”
He was ill at ease with how to comfort his young niece. He knew so little about adolescent girls, and though he’d always been fond of his niece, he’d visited in their home infrequently, mainly because of the frequent troubles of his half-sister and her husband.
Joyce and he had not been that close, as their shared father had left Rupert’s mother in England for Joyce’s mother in America when Rupert was still a young child. He’d then managed to leave her and find a third and fourth wife before finally dying of a heart attack. Strangely, his exes had bonded at the funeral and his only two offspring had kept in contact over the years. He had been pleased at the prospect of a niece when he’d learned Joyce was expecting with her husband Hank, who was some type of software developer.
The marriage had been a troubled one though, not aided by the sudden wealth they’d amassed after one of Hank’s designs had been used as the basis for a major operating system. The sudden fortune had fractured the already troubled marriage, and Giles was sure that Buffy must have been aware of it. She’d quickly become one of those poor little rich girls, heavily surrounded by servants, nannies, and tutors, but not allowed to interact with anyone her own age. Her father’s infidelities and her mother’s drinking had grown and the fights became epidemic.
Giles remembered the previous Thanksgiving. Hank and Joyce had patched things up once again and he’d received and accepted their invitation for the holiday, extended during one of the more peaceful stretches in their relationship since Giles had accepted a position on the faculty of UC-Sunnydale nearly three years before. But when he’d arrived, it was clear things had fallen apart again, as he’d accidently walked in on Hank in flagrante with one of the maids and found Joyce drinking heavily. Poor Buffy hadn’t come down from her room until the official dinner and he’d tried to talk to the quiet 12 year old who’d seemed withdrawn from most of the world. She’d responded quickly to his queries and he figured that with her parents’ problems, she was likely just starved for affection and attention.
He’d tried to drop her e-mails regularly after that and she’d always written back eagerly, showing a quick mind and wit. He’d grown quite proud of his little niece and when Joyce had called about changing their wills, he’d consented to be named as Buffy’s guardian. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time, since he was older than Joyce and Buffy would be of age in a few years.
And then, two weeks ago, he’d gotten the call. There’d been an accident in L.A. and he needed to come. It had turned out the accident wasn’t really that. It was a combination of Hank and Joyce’s vices. She’d found out about one of his many affairs, and had burst him in on him and his mistress. She was already well over the legal limit and had apparently continued drinking from the bottle she’d carried with her as they’d fought. The police weren’t even sure how she’d ever made it to the hotel. There had been a fight, a very ugly scene, and then Joyce had tried to leave. Hank had jumped in the car as she drove away and they’d continued to fight until she lost control of the car. Both were killed in the accident.
Giles first thought had been for Buffy, all alone in the big mansion. He’d gone straight to the house and had been admitted though the swarm of reporters to find her crying, curled in her room. He’d stayed there for the next two weeks, as arrangements for a quiet and discreet funeral were made, media attention was deflected from the very wealthy couple’s untimely deaths and the lawyers began the process of sorting through the estate.
Giles realized he was now Buffy’s guardian, but he hadn’t expected that he’d also be named the trustee of her inheritance. Hank had good lawyers, and they had set up a trust that would support Buffy very comfortably until she turned 23, then she would have full access to the principle. There were various terms and conditions with the trust, but Giles had a fair amount of discretion. He was given a stipend for managing the trust, along with a bank in L.A. that would handle the actual investing.
He realized that he had to take care of a very wealthy little girl and he worried about what would happen once people found out. He saw what kind of life Buffy had in L.A., and he’d resolved that he would make her life in Sunnydale as normal as possible. The fact that she was wealthy was something no one needed to know for now.
He was jolted from his review of all he’d recently had to absorb as he continued to sit on the couch letting Buffy cry, when he heard he heard a soft knock at the door.
“Giles, are you back?” He heard Jenny call out softly and he gently disengaged from Buffy to go answer the door.
“I’ll be right back, dear,” he told the still weeping Buffy and hurried from the room.
He opened the front door to find Jenny, his next-door neighbor, and her nephew William standing in front of him.
“Rupert, is everything OK? Can I help?” He looked so tired standing in front of her, Jenny knew the last two weeks had been hard on him.
She’d seen him usher the little girl into the house and had rushed over, hoping to help. She owed Rupert a debt of gratitude. He’d been a tremendous help to her with William, who’d been with her for three years now.
The similarities with what Giles and Buffy were now facing were striking. Her brother had fallen in love with a woman in England while studying abroad in college. They’d had a whirlwind courtship, married and were together long enough to conceive a son. Before his child was born however, her brother had been killed in a commuter plane accident. Jane, William’s mother, hadn’t remarried but had continued to live in London with their son. Jenny was his only living relative, so when Jane died from an aneurysm, she’d taken the moody 11 year old she’d only met twice, who’d proceeded to give her hell.
William had hated America. He missed his friends, missed England, missed his mother who Jenny could never substitute for. She’d thought she would never be able to bridge the gap between her and the angry little boy who glared at her with his mother’s eyes and father’s mouth.
And then her new neighbor, Giles, had noticed her frustration as she returned home from picking up William from school for fighting once again. They’d been friendly in the few months he’d lived there, exchanging small talk, but Jenny had been so preoccupied with William she hadn’t had a chance to get to know the distinguished new professor.
He’d knocked on her door that night and offered to help with William. She’d been taken aback by the offer at first. Why would this stranger want to help her? And then she’d noticed the sadness in his eyes and he’d explained about his own fatherless childhood and misspent youth. She’d agreed to let him be a big brother of sorts and it had been the key to breaking thought to William. Giles had taken William out to games at the University, tutored him for school, reminisced with him about the mother country and commiserated about the crazy Yanks. Most importantly, he’d been a neutral ear that William could talk to about his mother’s death. Gradually, William had warmed up and worked through his grief and had become a relatively typical American teen, other than the fact he seemed quite unwilling to lose his accent.
Jenny knew if there was anyway she could do for this little girl what Giles had done for William, she would. She’d talked with him on the phone before he’d returned from L.A. and he’d confided in her the sordid truth behind the deaths of Buffy’s parents. She hadn’t told William everything, but enough that he understood what the girl was going though.
William tried to peer past Jenny and Giles to see this little girl whose sobs he could hear. He still remembered the day he’d found his mom laying on the sofa in their London flat, almost as though she were asleep. He’d been so horrified and alone. He knew the pain she was feeling and resolved to help her if he could.
Giles had opened the door and let Jenny and William in, then they’d all proceeded to comfort Buffy as best they could.
Buffy shifted in her seat as she stared out the window. She remembered that first day she’d come to Revello Drive and the weeks following. She’d been comforted by these two strangers who’d arrived at Giles’ house almost immediately after they’d gotten there. The woman Jenny and the boy William.
As Jenny and William entered the living room, she’d struggled to get her emotions under control and not be a sobbing mess on front of these strangers. If there was one thing she’d learned from her parents, it was that appearance mattered. They’d talked with her, soft greetings and condolences, and gradually she’d gotten control of her emotions. She was a little surprised by William. He wasn’t very tall, barely the height of his aunt, with sandy blond curls and glasses hiding his blue eyes. He was somewhere in that boy-man stage where he was somehow awkward and yet adult. He’d stayed beside her on the couch and introduced himself gravely. She returned the introduction, surprised by his accent, but she’d liked it, it had reminded her of Giles’ comforting tones a little. He’d promised to introduce her around the neighborhood the next day and she’d agreed.
After they’d left, Giles had told her what had happened to William’s parents and she’d understood a little more about why he’d been kind to her. She wasn’t that used to teenage boys, but she suspected that most weren’t that sensitive.
He’d kept his promise. The next morning, about nine, he’d knocked on the door, grinning at her pigtails she still wore. He’d tugged on one and told her she looked like Golidlocks, and she smiled back at his teasing. They’d started down the walk, as he gave her the brief lowdown on the small street. There were six houses total, and each had children near their age, he’d told her as they neared the first house. Giles had warned her and William that it would be easier if people just knew her parents had passed away in an auto accident, but not the details. She’d agreed and so William planned to introduce her as Giles’ niece who’d come to live with him when her parents died. He warned her that most of the neighborhood was expecting her, since news of any kind traveled fast among the group.
The Rosenberg’s house was to the left of Giles, while Jenny’s was to the right, so they’d started there. The bright red hair had been the first thing Buffy had noticed when the door opened. Then there was the squeal, “You must be Buffy!” Her enthusiasm was catching and Buffy had been instantly cheered. As soon as green eyes met hazel, she knew she’d had found a life-long friend. Willow had instantly joined their rounds, joking with William about something from their movie night the previous week, obviously a regular tradition,
The next stop had been directly across the street at the Chase house. Cordelia turned out to be a little more snobby than Willow, but William dutifully introduced her. Cordelia was tall and slim, and clearly more cool than Buffy, but she’d welcomed her and insisted she’d be over soon to help Buffy with fashion advice for the new school year. In fact she’d suggested a makeover, a comment which earned an eyeroll from William and Willow, she’d noticed. But she couldn’t help but be a little excited at the thought of girly sleepovers and fashion accessorizing that she’d never had the chance to do.
The third house was the O’Connors. William had mentioned that Angel lived there, so she was a little surprised when the door had opened to a guy. And what a guy. Her little 13 year old heart had tripped a beat at the sight of the studly Angel. He and William were in the same grade and were both 15, just about to start high school, but he looked older to her. He was tall, with dark hair and deep chocolate brown eyes that had caused her to melt, and she knew a major crush had started. She’d tried to hide her swooning and William had let loose with another eyeroll as he’d noted her reaction but he’d let it slide without comment.
Angel had been nice, welcoming her to the neighborhood and inviting her to the next movie night, which was apparently being held at his house, before turning to ask William about some touch football game they were supposed to play later. William had finalized the arrangements and then led the slightly dazed Buffy away to the final stop.
As they walked towards the Harris home, Xander had been out the door before they could reach the steps. He was also cute, Buffy realized, but quickly noted Willow’s reaction to the brunette. Xander had goosed Willow, joking with her and she’s turned beet red, an odd combo with her flame hair. Buffy had deduced the crush rather quickly, but noticed that much like William and Angel, there was very much a big brother vibe from Xander towards Willow and Cordelia, and she suspected towards her now as well. She’d been pleased in a way. As an only child, with no close friends, the though of an almost ready-made family that seemed accepting of her seemed like a fresh start. She’d felt the pain and aloneness that had been squeezing her heart since she learned of her parents’ death begin to ease.
And so Buffy remembered how she’d become a part of that Revello Drive gang. It was a nice address, a pretty decent part of town. Not the richest, not the poorest. The Chases’ had aspirations, Willow had explained to her, but most of the others were content. Somehow, this suburban neighborhood had become paradise to Buffy after her previously less than normal existence and she’d felt like she had come home.
Over the years, as she, Willow and Cordelia had finished junior high and started high school, the group dynamic had shifted some. Cordelia had gotten more into the cool clique in high school but still hung with them on the weekends. Willow and Buffy had remained best friends, constantly at one another’s home. Xander, William and Angel still hung out, their various interests had diverged. Angel had become a football player, and Buffy’s secret crush had grown deeper as she’d watched while he’d scored the big touchdown his senior year. But the three guys continued to treat the girls as their younger siblings, looking out for them in school.
She and William had remained especially close over the years, even as time passed, their bond of parental loss, the closeness of Giles and Jenny, and their next-door neighbor status forming a connection that growing up hadn’t severed. As Buffy had gone through braces and graduated from training bras, somehow William was always around, teasing her, giving her advice, being the big brother she would never have.
He’d been her protector throughout high school. She suspected he’d been a little overprotective at times, not many guys were willing to approach her and she knew he had warned them away. But she was ok with that. It was nice having someone to watch out for her, and she was so wrapped up in her crush on Angel that she didn’t mind the lack of dates.
She’d made the JV cheerleading squad after William had helped her practice and critiqued her tryout cheer for hours, though he’d groaned about the “bloody short skirts” her uniform has consisted of, insisting it was indecent and looking only slightly abashed when she’d pointed out his rapt attention to the varsity cheerleaders at football games.
She’d been his personal cheering section as well, going to all of his swim meets as he made it all the way to the state finals his senior year. Somewhere along the way, the changes in William from the slightly geeky 14 year old had started to register. But she was so firmly convinced, after years of adulation, that Angel was her soul-mate, despite the fact he showed her only passing attention when the gang hung out, that she hadn’t actively notice.
She distinctly remembered the first time it had hit her. She’d been sitting with Willow, Xander, Cordelia and Angel in the stands at the final swim of the year. William had already swam his first heat and was poised to begin the next race. She’d blinked as she stared at his body, glistening with drops of water, taller, leaner, more well-muscled than the boy she’d first met. He was hot. He was very, very hot. She’d felt herself flush and scolded herself for those thoughts. She felt weird noticing William’s body, it was like ogling Giles, he was family. Briefly, she’d wondered if he had ever noticed that she’d grown up to. But she’d dismissed those lustful thoughts into the back of her mind, knowing that she was just his little sis, his Goldilocks.
Not long after that meet, as her junior year had drawn to a close, and Xander, William and Angel had graduated from Sunnydale High and prepared to start college at UC-Sunnydale, Giles had sat her down to tell her about her parent’s will.
She’d known her parents had a lot of money, but she’d never really questioned where it had gone when she’d moved to Sunnydale with Giles. They were comfortable here, she had a decent allowance, but she’d had to work as a babysitter when she’d wanted extra stuff. She enjoyed being just a normal girl, with no one treating her differently. She hadn’t realized that she was the heir to a fortune and Giles was pleased she hadn’t made the connection, that he had succeeded in giving her a normal adolescence.
She remembered the serious look on her face as he’d talked with her that day, knowing he was going to change her world forever.
“Buffy, I need to tell you about your parents’ will. You know that your father was a very wealthy man and you will one day be entitled to a great deal of money. However, there were very specific instructions in the will regarding part of your education which we must fulfill for you to come into your inheritance.”
He’d paused, then continued.
“Apparently it was your mother’s wish that you complete your education in England, at a boarding school, so you know more about where your grandfather was from.”
She’d immediately begun to protest, the though of leaving her home, her friends, the man she viewed as her father and being all alone again gripping her in a near panic.
Giles has calmed her, then continued with his solution.
“I hesitate to do this Buffy, but it is one of the conditions of your inheritance. However, I have investigated the funds set aside for your maintenance and schooling and I think that it’s possible that we could pay for Willow to go with you, if you want and her parents agree.”
The Rosenbergs had been thrilled at the chance for their daughter to attend a fine English boarding school and so Buffy and Willow had left together, after tearful goodbyes with the gang and their families, not realizing how long it would be before they came back.
Willow had blossomed in the more academically challenging school they had attended, attracting quite a bit of attention with her academic powress and had been accepted at Oxford for university. She’d decided to start college there, but Buffy had been undecided about what to do. She’d acquitted herself well academically, but she missed home.
Late in her senior year, Giles had called her with the news that the book he’d been working on was done and he was going to be doing a book and lecture tour throughout Europe. Her parents’ will had required her to do a European tour as well and so they’d combined the two, with Buffy accompanying Giles on his tour. Willow had joined them whenever she’d had a break in her schedule.
The final year abroad had been spent back in England. Giles had offered a visiting professorship at Oxford and UC Sunnydale had agreed to extend his leave for another year to accept this post. So Buffy had started at Oxford a year behind Willow. She found herself still missing California though and she hadn’t gotten close with many of her peers. She and Willow remained roommates and she knew the redhead missed home as well. So as Giles finished his year commitment, they all made plans to return home.
The car pulled into the drive of the house. Giles had rented it out while they was gone to another visiting professor, but it now stood empty and ready for their return.