For Yani, Ragna, and Sandra…
Sometimes we have to ask the tough questions to discover the truth.
And sometimes we only get to the answers by looking out of the corner of our eye.
“Uncle Giles, did Mom love my dad?”
The question is simple, and it’s one I’ve asked in the past, but the man I call uncle looks distinctly uncomfortable. We’re sitting in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart, waiting to go to dinner with our friends and family. I’m graduating from college this weekend, so Uncle Giles is in town for the big event. I never see him except when he comes to visit from England, and of everyone, I know he will tell me the truth. . . with nothing held back.
So, I have to corner him when I can. Phone calls to England are a big no-no. Don’t ask. It’s a long story.
Uncle Giles sweeps a hand through his gray hair and pauses halfway as if tempted to remove his glasses. Aunt Willow always tells me to watch for glasses cleaning because it means that he is trying to avoid something.
In the end, he doesn’t take them off and decides to say, “Your mom loved Angel very much. You should ask him about it.”
Without hesitation, I call him on the cop out, “No! Not Dad. . . my *real* dad. . . Daddy.”
Sometimes if I’m really quiet and center myself, I can smell my father’s scent when he lifted me up and tickled my belly with his nose. In my mind’s eye, I catch a glimpse of a wide grin and fathomless blue eyes. . . eyes that match my own. . . . His eyes always held a bit of sadness. . . sadness I was always able to chase away when I lifted my arms to him.
When I re-focus on the present, Uncle Giles is looking at me. . . really looking at me as if trying to detect something. “So, is this what a degree in psychology has done to you?”
He’s teasing, and I offer up a grin. “Uh huh. I ask tough questions at all the wrong times now. . . at least, according to all the polls, I do.”
“And what makes you ask this now?”
“Ah hah! You’re not getting out of my question,” I insist, moving from my chair to sit beside him on the sofa. I lean my head on his shoulder. He can’t resist that.
“You didn’t answer mine,” he returns.
“The one about why you’re asking.” His eyes sparkle at me, and I hug his arm, placing my hand in his. The touch isn’t strange; after all, he changed my diapers and played dolls with me for hours when I was little.
“Because big events always make me think about them. . .”
He leans his head atop mine, and a rush of love shoots through me. “Your parents?”
“Yeah. I wish they could see me. . . you know? And I wonder if they’d be proud of me.”
Uncle Giles doesn’t hesitate, “I have no doubt that they would be very proud of you.”
We sit in relative quiet for a moment, watching men and women in business suits exiting the building with relief on their faces. Another workday is over, and it’s Friday. It doesn’t mean I’ll let my questions go unanswered.
“So,” I repeat, “did Mommy love Daddy?” There’s a reason I’ve phrased the question this way.
He sighs. “Their relationship was definitely. . . unique. And your father loved your mother very much.”
I release his hand and lean back and away, so I can confront him. “What kind of answer is that?”
“A very accurate one.” He is amused, and his amusement pisses me off.
“That’s not very helpful,” I huff, crossing my arms. “You didn’t even answer the question I asked.”
“And you’re just like both of them,” he concludes.
“Can’t you give me anything more than that?”
“Why don’t you ask your dad.” He nods to Angel who is striding our way.
I stick out my tongue at Uncle Giles and give him a new name: “Chicken.”
* * *
Wesley has a gift for me.
We’re back at Wolfram and Hart after my celebratory dinner, and he’s trying to find it for me. It’s obviously not going to be a vial of my favorite perfume that Fred always makes me, or a gift certificate to my clothing store of choice.
Nope, Wesley is digging something out of the large mystical maze of files and objects that only he can sift through.
He often gets lost in the bowels of the law firm and loses track of time. This one time, he literally did forget how much time had passed and came out weeks later, gaunt and dirty with a scraggly beard that made me run and hide. To this day, he still teases me about how loud I screamed.
Hey, I was only four-years-old at the time.
“Almost found it.” He gives a grunt like he’s pulling something loose.
My patience is draining away, and I shift from one foot to the other, trying not to
peer too hard into the shadows. Things I don’t want to know about lurk in the darkness in this place, or they used to. “What could you possibly be giving me from Wolfram and Hart’s evil library from hell?”
Wesley chuckles as he reappears from the stacks. Dust is coating his salt-and-pepper hair, making him look older than he really is. He slips the bifocals from the end of his nose so that they catch on the chain he wears around his neck. “You know very well that the law firm’s not evil anymore. Now, there’s an introduction to this.”
“There is?” I’m skeptical as I regard the slim, tattered volumes he holds with such reverence.
“Yes. Don’t look so doubtful and impatient.” He shakes his head, but his eyes are sparkling. “You’re just like your parents; I mean, Buffy and. . . Spike.” His voice hesitates over Spike’s name, but it’s familiar, so I don’t tend to question it.
“I am?” I am delighted to hear such news and more than a bit surprised. My parents have often been the topic of stage whispers and surreptitious glances. Wesley knew them both, but he’s never mentioned them except in a passing story or two.
“You are. They were always raring to go, jumping into a fight without regard for planning. You’re just like them.”
I think back over some of the choices I made in college. . . things I wouldn’t want my dad. . .Angel. . . to find out. “Everyone says that. Makes sense.” Then, I change the subject before Wesley can ask what I mean, “You know, Fred has told me a number of times that you weren’t always the most Mr. Guy-Who-Plans-Everything-Out-Precisely.”
He clears his throat and averts his eyes. “She did?”
Mentioning Fred always flusters Wesley. Something happened between them a long time ago, and I don’t have a clue what it is. Nowadays, they avoid each other like the plague. It’s pretty easy to do in a law firm the size of Wolfram and Hart.
“Uh huh. When I had nightmares as a kid, she would tell me about adventures you guys had before I was born.” I smile at the memory of Fred’s long, dark hair encircling me like a waterfall as she leaned over me, smiling and weaving stories to distract me from the literal or figurative monsters in my room or in my head. I grew up with a lot of demons, and despite her small frame and sweet, airy nature, I always felt safe when Fred was around.
A bit jumpy, Wesley blows the dust off the files, and we both cough in the resulting cloud. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
“It’s okay.” I rub my stinging eyes. “What’s my gift now?”
“Well, I spoke with Giles at dinner, and he suggested to me that you’re ready.”
“Ready for what?” Does this have something to do with my parents?
“Ready to read. . .” Wesley opens the cover of the top file with flourish, and I catch a glimpse of what looks like Uncle Giles’s precise, neat handwriting. “. . . the Watcher’s Diary of a Slayer by the name of Buffy Summers and. . .”
Even though I’m 21-years-old and technically an adult, I shriek with joy and throw my arms around Wesley who accepts my enthusiastic embrace with a grin.
“Now, remember, these contain some pretty serious stuff. . . stuff we didn’t feel you were ready to know about your mother. . . Angel. . . and your dad. If you have any questions, Giles and I will be here to answer them. After all, as Watchers for your mother, we can interpret some of the things that would be. . .”
I raise my hand to stop him. “I understand,” I say with solemnity. “I will bear what you say in mind.”
“You deserve to know the truth of how things played out.”
“How did you get them? I mean, wasn’t a lot of stuff destroyed?” I don’t know all the details, but I’ve pieced together vague events from hearing people talk over the years.
“Evil law firms apparently have everything of importance on file. . . even the ‘good guys”. . . stuff. And we inherited it.”
“Wow.” Not caring that my new blouse is getting dirty, I clasp the worn books to my chest. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re quite welcome.” He puts an arm around me as we head out of the immense storage area. “Now, what’s this I hear about some sort of graduation pre-party with cake?”
“And pointy hats? And more presents?” I ask.
He jabs a finger into the air and winks at me. “*That’s* the one. Let’s go.”
* * *
Auntie Willow runs her slender hands through my long, honey-blond hair, letting the slightly split ends linger on the edges of her fingers.
“What are you thinking about, little one?” Her wide green-brown eyes are ringed by wrinkles from smiling and laughing. I’ve always admired her for them. Now I know laughter wasn’t always at the forefront of her emotional repertoire. Somehow knowing the truth about her doesn’t make me think less of her, especially after the way I’ve grown up. . . surrounded by bizarre creatures and unnatural events. If anything, I respect her more for her perseverance, and if not for her difficulties with magicks, I wouldn’t even be here, being that my parents shared their first kiss under her spell.
I blink. “Nothing.”
Willow sprays my hair down with a bottle of water. “Now, for some reason, I don’t believe that.”
Sometimes I think that Willow is psychic, but then again, maybe she’s just extremely sensitive to vibes people give off. “I’m just nervous about this evening.”
She hoists the dryer and peers at me with a look that’s penetrating even in the mirror’s reflection. “It’s more than that.” She purses her lips to let me know that I’m not changing her mind.
But in keeping with her nature, she doesn’t press. She begins blow-drying my hair, and I relax against the back of the chair, relishing the luxury.
Auntie Willow used to style my hair when I was little, and I always associate her with the smell of her special herbal shampoo and the whir of the hairdryer. When I was ten, she moved to England to study her craft, and I missed her ministrations. This morning, she’s fixing my hair for my evening graduation.
And I’m trying to figure out a way to ask her about my parents. After all, she can probably tell me more than any old documentation of the facts.
I spent most of the night reading the records Uncle Giles left about my mother. I grew up knowing about the existence of vampires and demons, so the behavior of my biological father and my adoptive father didn’t shock me.
However, my mother’s reactions to the two vampires in her life surprised me, and part of me wondered how much Uncle Giles’s writings were colored by his own feelings regarding my mother’s choices. Angel was portrayed in a black-and-white manner that I know is inaccurate while my real father came across as more of an enigma. . . a dangerous *creature* whose actions Uncle Giles couldn’t explain.
Very little was included about the opinions of Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara, and Dawn, and there was nothing after my father’s death in the hellmouth.
All in all, the writings left me with more questions than answers.
For one, what happened to my father after he burned to a cinder? How did he come back? How was I even conceived? Was my father even human? How did my mother go from despising him to being close enough to him to have a child?
Admittedly, these are questions I’ve had before, but I’ve never persisted in my pursuit of the answers. An orphaned girl has too many distractions when raised by a vampire and a hodgepodge of unrelated relatives plagued with their own supernatural struggles.
The tiny machine goes silent, and Willow fluffs my hair. “You read Giles’s journals, right?”
I study her expression, which remains decidedly neutral. “Uh huh.”
She plugs in the curling iron. “You have questions.” She’s not asking me.
“I have an observation,” I reply.
Willow parts my hair, dividing it into sections and layers. “What’s that?”
Waiting until I have her full attention, I say, “Everyone made mistakes, but in the end, love and forgiveness always won out. Does that sound too trite?”
Willow’s eyes light with something I can’t label, and her hand brushes back the hair hanging over my right shoulder. “You got that from Giles’s writing?”
I play with the hem of my skirt. “Well, no. He reported the facts and his feelings about things but not many details about how the rest of you felt about what was happening.”
“Then?” She’s holding her breath, and I realize how much she cares about what I think of her. I file that awareness away for later consideration.
“I know because I read about all the horrible things you guys did to one another, and I still love you. A-and I only hope I can handle the challenges in my life the way you did.”
Tears fill her eyes, and she catches them with her fingertips before they can spill down her cheeks. She hugs me and kisses the top of my head. “You are precious.” Picking up my brush, she lets out a small laugh. “Okay. How do you want your hair?”
After I tell her the style I want and she begins, I launch into the subject I most want to address, “What happened after Sunnydale was destroyed?”
Paying close attention to her reaction, I notice that Willow focuses hard on the lock of hair she’s holding. “You want more than the facts, right?”
“Yes.” My heart skips, and I hold my breath. Finally, I’ll have some straight answers.
“And you know the facts.”
I nod, and she straightens my head to continue her work. “From what Dad. . . Angel told me.”
“That we came here to L.A. first and that your real father. . .Spike. . . came back.”
“Uh huh. But no one’s ever told me how he came back.” These details are usually glossed over whenever I ask about my parents.
Willow offers up a smile. “That’s because no one really knows how he came back. . . not even Spike could tell us how he came back.”
“What do you mean?”
She confirms what I’ve been told, “He showed up at Wolfram and Hart three weeks after we arrived. A day later, and we would’ve been gone. We had plans to travel the world and round up all the new Slayers we could find. . . those that hadn’t had the guidance of Watchers and those. . .”
“Whose Watchers were killed but you guys didn’t find before the final battle at the hellmouth,” I finish for her.
“And when he showed up with his soul intact and a spanking new heartbeat, we couldn’t just leave. . . although some of us wanted to.” Willow let a curl spring from the curling iron.
I take an opening when I see one. “How come you couldn’t leave?”
“He was a bit delirious with a fever, and Buffy. . .your mom. . . she insisted that she take care of him until he got better.”
I think I know what Willow’s response will be to my next question, but I ask it anyway, “Was someone against it?”
Willow laughs. “Yeah. A whole lot of. . . people. . .” She raises her eyebrows at the light of fury in my eyes. “And it doesn’t matter who. What matters is that we stayed. And Spike got better.”
“What happened between my parents?”
“You were born a year and a half later,” Willow supplies almost too quickly. She fluffs my hair so that ringlets frame my face. “There. How’s that?”
For once, I’m satisfied with my appearance. “Great! Thanks!” I frown. Is she dodging the subject of my parents once again?
“And you have another surprise.” Auntie Willow tucks a strand of her still vibrant red hair behind her ear, and one corner of her mouth rises. She plunks a small, wrapped package in my lap.
Taken aback and pleased by the gesture, I ask, “What’s this? You already gave me a present.” To remind her, I finger the silver locket she gave me to wear around my neck and attempt to return the new gift.
Pressing the unopened present further into my outstretched hand, she leans near my ear and whispers, “Don’t tell anyone I gave you that, and open it this afternoon when you’re alone.”
* * *
After lunch, I curl up on my bed with my journal and contemplate the package on my nightstand. Chewing on the end of a pen, I close the leather-bound book and pick up the parcel. Peeling away the layer of wrapping paper, I reveal a small box.
Tugging off the lid that’s a little too snug, I view a piece of paper and a vial of liquid that’s been wedged in the cardboard container. Unrolling the tiny parchment, I read the words aloud,
Willow’s remembered my favorite children’s book.
Uncorking the tube, I only think once about the possible consequences of another of Auntie Willow’s potions. I shrug. I grew up around adventure; what’s another to me?
I down the fluid in one gulp.
“Alice down the rabbit hole,” I mutter to myself as a low tingle starts at my toes and rushes up my body in a tidal wave of electricity. Swallowing the urge to scream, I close my eyes as the energy presses up against my skull and overcomes my mind.