I’ve elected not to actually show The Immortal in this story, something that I hope won’t disappoint anyone. I think the fact that no one ever actually describes him adds an air of fun mystery to the character -- or, I’m just being lazy.
Xander's Job, Chapter 8: Epithany, Part 2
Buffy Summers was a little surprised to find herself first to arrive home that night.
She glanced at her watch, and was more than a little surprised to find it was just past 1 a.m. She’d been quite a night owl these last few weeks -- well, these last few months, really -- even after her careful search of area cemeteries confirmed there was no vampire activity near Rome. Once again, The Immortal -- or Imm, as she had taken to calling him, to his great annoyance -- had made good on his promise.
Buffy tossed her black leather jacket on the couch, then flopped down herself. “Dawn? Andrew?” It was an exercise in futility, she knew -- she didn’t need slayer powers to tell the place was empty, even before stepping inside. Andrew had been squiring a succession of lovely ladies out on the town at all hours, sometimes two or three at a time. She didn’t get the attraction. Apparently in Italy, short and geeky was all the rage.
As for Dawn, she’d been on a nonstop celebration ever since graduating early from the magnet school Giles recommended. At what point had Buffy’s sister become a genius? Buffy sure never got the memo, but Dawn had tested so well that she’d been bumped straight into the advanced classes, and graduated a year ahead of anyone else her age. Thus the celebrating, which was supposed to have ended at midnight, sharp.
Sighing, Buffy propped her feet up, favoring a heel she’d bruised at some point during the latest dance marathon. Of course her sister wouldn’t be back -- Dawn would never have thought her sister would get home this early, and catch her still out. As for Andrew, he seemed to have forgotten that the Summers’ home was not supposed to be his -- his own apartment had been repaired from the fire, but the other tenants were mounting a fairly effective campaign to keep him from coming back. Andrew had never been forthcoming with the details, but apparently a college coed from France, a room loaded with candles, and a bathtub full of some flammable alcoholic beverage were involved.
Buffy smiled. She didn’t really mind having Andrew around, even after the rather traumatic revelation that he really wasn’t gay -- much. For one thing, Andrew cleaned up after himself, and for another, he could cook up a storm -- which apparently was part of his charm with women. She didn’t really mind Dawn still being out, either, since it had taken only a dozen or so spying missions to convince Buffy her sister wasn’t out trying to recreate the whole candle/booze/French coed experience. As all-night partiers went, Dawn was fairly tame, and wouldn’t even let a male sit at her table without taking their pulse first.
“Life is good,” Buffy murmured, with another contented sigh. Imm -- he hadn’t complained about the nickname since she threatened to call him “Ortal”, or “The” -- had seen to it that she hadn’t had a single creature of the night to tussle with since last fall. Dawn was doing great, Andrew made the most fantastic pasta, and the three of them -- well, four, including Imm -- were getting along like gangbusters. When she wasn’t partying, she was shopping, and when she wasn’t shopping she was swimming or sunbathing. The rest of the time, despite her denials, she immensely enjoyed seeing the historical sights of Europe, from Big Ben to the Greek Isles. The Coliseum was within walking distance, as were a gazillion art galleries. She wished she could tell her mother how much she had come to appreciate the very art she used to make fun of.
Best of all, Giles insisted on sending her these impossibly huge monthly checks, insisting that the Watcher Council took care of its retired slayers -- as if they’d ever had a chance to, before. Apparently the original Council made some really good investments back before they blew up.
“Yep. Life is good.” Buffy sat there a few minutes more, staring at a painting on the wall, something Imm had picked out on a trip to Venice. Then, to no one in particular, she declared:
“I am so bored.”
How could the Council just abandon her like this? Retired! She wasn’t even a quarter of a century old! Giles was still active, and he was ancient. Faith had probably run off to Mexico by now, but from what little she’d heard everyone else was as busy as ever.
Nobody seemed to need her. How could she have been replaced so easily? Hadn’t she led the potentials against The First, and then again in the fight against the Cheeseman and his army of dead slayers?
After that, she’d been shipped off to the Old Country and abandoned like a worn out pair of Reeboks. No one asked for her help, or advise -- no one called her at all, anymore. Her stress level was off the charts, The Imm I’m-so-Full-Of-Myself ortal was a big, egotistical jerk, Dawn was uncontrollable, and Andrew whined like a puppy in the basement. If she didn’t get some action pretty soon -- and not the kind Imm offered -- she was going to explode.
Suddenly Buffy leaped up, determined to go out on patrol, until she remembered the nearest graveyard The Immortal’s minions hadn’t cleaned out was a good hour’s drive away. Vacationing was all well and good, but she’d been vacationing for months, and now she needed to work. She needed to do something.
She needed to feel like someone needed her to do something. Or at least that she was remembered -- was a simple phone call too much to ask? “Ring!” she demanded of the telephone, then turned in disgust, determined to raid the box of chocolate mint ice cream in the freezer.
The phone rang.
She froze, the Twilight Zone theme thrumming through her head. Having long ago stopped believing in coincidence, Buffy picked up the phone with a great deal of trepidation. “Hello?”
“Buffy! It’s so good to hear your voice again!”
“Cordelia?” That was close to the last voice she’d expected, what with the whole coma thing.
“Yep. It’s been a long time! I hope you’re still blonde, and sticking with that fashionable yet battle ready look you practically trademarked.”
“Yes. Um ... yes to both. Cordelia, it’s great to hear from you, really it is. But the last I heard you were ... sick.”
“Yeah, in a coma. I couldn’t stay there -- the bed hair was mortifying. Thanks for the flowers, by the way. How’s Dawn?”
“Annoying.” Buffy sank back onto the couch, clutching the phone against her ear. Something was wrong.
“Same old Dawn, then. I tried to instill my incredible fashion sense into her, but last time we talked she still had the patterns of fuzzy animals on all her shirts.”
“She’s improved.” False memories, Buffy reminded herself. Did Cordelia ever find out Dawn was once a transdimensional key? No, she’d moved to L.A. before Dawn even came into existence. “How are you? I mean, awake, but -- otherwise?”
“I’m feeling great. I just wanted to get back in touch with everyone. You know, touch bases -- I saw Angel. Still very much the Very Much.”
“You’ve been to Wolfram and Hart?” Buffy listened carefully, still convinced something wasn’t right.
“Is that amazing? Angel’s somehow convinced he can change the place from within, but that’s one big scary within he’s dealing with. I only spent a little time there, and still had to save his life.”
“And Spike coming back from the dead -- again -- with his soul still intact, isn’t that something?”
Buffy dropped the phone.
Although her slayer hearing picked up Cordelia’s voice, calling her name, her brain didn’t process that information. Instead, it went over Cordy’s previous sentence, over and over again. Surely, when she said coming back from the dead again, she meant him getting his soul back, right? Had she found out about that? But she was already in a coma when that happened, wasn’t she? If only Buffy could get the timeline straight ... of course, maybe Angel simply told her, when she came out of her coma. She couldn’t possibly mean ...
But Buffy hadn’t gotten this far by not being able to sense what people meant. Very slowly, she picked up the phone. “Cordy.”
“Oh my God, Buffy, I’m so sorry -- I thought you knew.”
“I haven’t ... I didn’t ... what happened?”
“Something about his essence being in some locket that showed up at Wolfram and Hart ... I’m not clear on the whole story, and I’m not sure anyone else is, either. But he’s back, pretty much unchanged. Funny story, when he first saw me he thought I was evil, which isn’t really so funny because he --”
“He’s in L.A.?”
“He -- he and Angel were in Rome, once, actually. They stopped to see you, but you weren’t home.” Cordelia paused. “Buffy. Don’t go. Nothing good can come of it. Besides, you’re needed somewhere else.”
“Somewhere else.” Buffy heard the sarcasm in her voice, and didn’t care if Cordy did, too. “I’m needed nowhere else. I’m retired -- didn’t Angel tell you?”
“We didn’t really talk about you a lot, what with the whole monster in the basement trying to destroy everyone thing. But Buffy, you are needed -- they just aren’t telling you.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“For the same reason they didn’t tell you about Spike. They think you earned a nice, comfortable, no trauma inducing life, so they’re hiding all the troubles they’re having.”
“Troubles?” Buffy sat up straight.
“That Chicago place is a wreck. They don’t have enough room, and they don’t have enough adults. Giles has no experience in running a school, and that’s what it’s turned into -- they need teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, and probably witch doctors. Dana almost tore the place apart --”
“Crazy slayer, bad childhood, yada yada. Focus, Buffy. Evil forces are gathering in L.A., and nobody in slayer land’s even picked up on it yet. The slayers are all gathered in one place -- an easy target -- and Giles is too afraid of them getting hurt to turn them out into the world. Xander started drinking, Willow’s hiding from everything in a little podunk town, Robin and Faith fight each other more than bad guys, Angel’s as clueless as he is handsome, and did I mention the Buffybot is back?”
“Spike’s still questionable, too. They do need you, and they know it. But they’re so worried about you having a happy life that they’ve taken some kind of blood oath never to tell you anything, which is probably why nobody calls you anymore.”
“How did you find all this out? How long have you been out of that coma, anyway?”
“Oh, I’ve learned the art of eavesdropping -- it’s easy if you know where to listen. So, are you going to come back? Because you’ll be taking a trip back to the states anyway, and now’s the time to think about a permanent move.”
“A trip? What trip?”
“To a funeral.”
A knock came from the door.
“Buffy, my time is up. I’ve gotta go.”
“Time? Cordy, wait! What’s --”
“Just think about what I said. And -- go easy on them, especially Angel and Xander. You don’t know how hard it’s been for those two. Take care, Buffy. I’ll see you around.”
“What? See --” The phone went dead. A moment later, as the knock came again, the receiver fell out of Buffy’s numb fingers.
Buffy Summers could be naive at times, but in matters of the supernatural she usually figured things out pretty quickly. It took only a moment of thought before, slowly, she moved toward the door. Without a thought of danger, she opened it wide, and regarded the small group that stood before her. “Angel. Come right in.”
Angel, who had been hovering behind the other three, stepped forward, then stopped when he saw the expression on her face. “Buffy, I --”
“Wait. Hold that pose.” Then Buffy drew back and socked Angel right in the face.
He was still falling when she added, “Now, who else has been withholding information from me?”
Giles, Xander and Willow hastily competed to see who could step back the quickest.
“Never mind that,” Buffy told them, her determination growing as the pieces fit together in her mind. “Come in ... we need to talk.”