I remember heat and pain, someone gripping my hand as I begged him to run.
I remember his voice, promising to watch over someone, just before he let go.
I remember feeling myself burn.
And then I was here.
It's an office full of people, staring at me.
A man approaches, speaking softly, almost reverently. He puts a hand to my back and guides me to a couch.
He says my hand is burnt. I look down. I guess it is.
His soft tones are becoming progressively more frantic. He’s begging me to speak.
So I do.
“Who are you?”
The view from the apartment window is nice. Los Angeles. He said I should recognize it, because I grew up here.
He says his name is Angel, and that he and I mean a lot to each other. It's his apartment.
I know he’s a vampire. I know the green guy is a demon. I know I’m a slayer. I remember what all of that means.
But I don’t remember Angel. I don’t remember Wesley. They say I should.
I don’t remember Buffy. It’s such a strange name.
And none of the men I’ve met here have the right voice.
Every time I sleep, the dreams wake me up. Flashes of faces and voices. Scenes of violence and destruction. Disordered bits of information I can’t seem to sort out.
I can’t wait until the friends Angel has been trying to track down arrive. Maybe I’ll know their faces.
Maybe one of them will have the right voice.
Meanwhile, I’m going through a singed yearbook Angel gave me. It’s full of notes to someone called Cordelia. He says I knew her, and that we went to school together. He wants me to try to find familiar faces.
The librarian is familiar.
The first dream that becomes cohesive is horrifying.
I take the elevator to Angel’s office. “I died?!”
He bites his lip, like he’s trying not to say something. “Yes.”
“You were there. And there was another guy holding me when I came back. He’s shown up in other dreams.”
“That’s Xander. One of your best friends. He gave you CPR.”
“He didn’t have the right voice. And I think there’s something different about his face in some of the dreams. …Glasses, maybe? Like the librarian?”
“Yeah. Giles. …Giles… My watcher?”
Angel looks proud of my progress. “Yes, your watcher.”
With the yearbook, I can now put names to some of the faces in my dreams. Willow, Xander, Giles, Oz, Cordelia, Snyder.
I’ve taken some walks and rides around town with Wesley. Some things are vaguely familiar, but nothing really stands out.
Little pieces of my life come back in dreams. A woman telling me not to come back to her house. A teenaged girl telling me to leave our house. A school gym on fire. An entire school exploding.
Being staked by a vampire.
Finding my mother’s body.
That’s who threw me out.
I think my life was awful.
“You burned it down to save lives,” Wesley explains as we stand on the sidewalk, looking at the high school gym. “You’re a hero, Buffy. You have been since well before I met you.”
“And that other school? I blew that up, too?”
“To save even more lives.”
I shake my head. “It doesn’t sound like I’m much safer to have around than the vampires.”
While he tries to formulate a response, a memory comes to me, in that achingly familiar voice.
“You belong in the dark. With me.”
I think the man who burned my hand was a vampire.
I’m out clothes shopping with Lorne again when it strikes me that I should feel weird about it. He’s a demon. I’m a slayer.
He explains to me that part of my reputation is that I’ve worked with and been friendly with demons a lot over the years. Starting with Angel. So not feeling weird about it is normal for me.
It feels like there’s something he isn’t saying. But it’s not just him. I’m getting that feeling from a few people.
Angel spends a lot of time on the phone, calling connections all over the world. He seems frustrated.
Gunn took me out to a dive bar in a rough part of town, hoping we’d find something to slay. It was smoky, and boozy, and fun, but we didn’t do anything all night but knock back shots of whiskey.
I’ve spent the last two days sniffing at the leather jacket I wore that night.
Angel caught me once, and looked at me like I was crazy.
I told him it smelled familiar, and shoved the jacket under his nose.
He had a funny look on his face as he walked away.
He hasn’t said a word to me since.
There’s other stuff in the chaotic dreams of violence and destruction that seemed to be standard issue in my life. Stuff I don’t tell anyone as I try to sort scattered images into stories.
There’s sex and lust and longing tangled up in the violence.
And sometimes there’s love, that soft, glowy feeling of home that isn’t a place, exactly, but a person.
It’s the certainty of knowing you aren’t alone in the world.
The feeling ebbs away as I wake, because I am alone, in that way.
I couldn’t pick him out in a line-up, but I miss him.
She comes back to me in pieces, like everything else, but the memories are much stronger and clearer. She talks about Little Miss Muffet. My hand drives a knife into her gut. We make a bed together. She grabs my hand, and I’m suddenly looking into a mirror. I’m standing on a porch, telling her not to be afraid to lead.
“Look at you, all dressed up in big sister’s clothes.”
She knows something I don’t.
I’m with Fred when I finally make the connection.
She’s my other sister.
The teenager who threw me out, she’s blood family.
There are two kinds of memories for each kind of sister. Faith switches from friend to foe. Dawn is sometimes a real, living girl, and sometimes she’s… not.
The images of Dawn’s early years all feel like cardboard cutouts, flat and fake. They don’t quite fit with the more vibrant memories that supposedly exist alongside them.
No one here knows why I’m seeing her past that way, but they assure me it’s nothing to worry about. She’s my sister, and I love her.
That much I know. I see myself placing a kiss on her tear-streaked face almost every night.
“’Til the end of the world, even if that happens to be tonight.”
It’s the first time I’ve been able to connect the voice to the face, and I know I have it right. Those blue eyes belong to that voice. That’s who burned my hand.
And then I’m looking down at a distance. His body is on the ground. There’s a pulsing mass of bright blue light before me.
I kiss Dawn’s wet cheek.
And then I’m crawling out of my grave.
I wake up crying and gasping.
Angel comes in and holds me, murmuring promises that feel empty.
The burn on my hand is slowly fading into a scar, but the outline of Blue Eyes’ hand in mine is still clearly defined.
I wonder if his hand is burned, too. I wonder if he worries it will fade completely away because of supernatural healing.
I know I do. It’s the only tangible thing, and I feel like I’m losing it.
Lorne catches me studying it. “Do we need to go glove shopping, Shortcake?”
“No. I’m not ashamed of it. Even if I never see him again…”
“He’s still with you?”
“Something like that.”
For now. Stupid slayer healing.
Angel is bellowing into the phone again. He does that a lot lately. It usually means he’s talking to Giles or Willow.
“I know how powerful you are, and I don’t buy for a second that you can’t track them down. Same for Giles. With the resources at his disposal… It just sounds to me like you don’t want to find them. Like you’re an ungrateful piece of shit who--”
“Well, congratulations on starting your life over. Not everyone has that chance.” He pulls the phone away from his ear and adds “Bitch!” just before he slams down the receiver.
Wes finds me on the lobby stairs, watching the evil-doers in suits stroll by. “It’s a strange world we inhabit.”
“Especially when your supposed friends seem to want nothing to do with you.”
He sits beside me. “It’s not about you, Buffy. Angel has a history of being so consumed with guilt that he disconnects from reality. They think he’s imagining you. While we have learned more in recent times about the actual causes of his hallucinations…”
“They don’t think I’m really here. And they blame him for the amulet killing me.”
“I don’t. I remember making a choice.”
Harmony studies me over her margarita. “You know, I like you a lot more than I used to.”
“Because I don’t remember anything?”
“Probably. You used to be a bitch.”
“Angel seems to have given that title to Willow.”
She shrugs. “He’s just mad because she won’t tell him anything. They don’t trust him, because he took this job, and they think he’s gone crazy with guilt about the amulet. Which is stupid. Wes told them it would probably be lethal. I copied the file for him myself.”
I nearly choke on my drink. “What?!”
“You don’t remember the file?”
Wesley puts his copy of the file on the desk before me. “It was preliminary research. Very preliminary, as we didn’t know if we could trust our sources.” He flips through some pages about the First Evil until I’m looking at a page about the amulet.
I read his notes, and look up in confusion when I’m finished. “‘Ensouled, but stronger than a human.’ ‘Likely to incinerate the wearer.’ You thought Angel would…?”
“At the time, we thought there were three candidates: Angel or one of the slayers. We didn’t know there was a fourth until it was delivered.”
Something about hearing his name has opened the floodgates of my memories, and I’m pissed.
I slam Angel’s office door closed and march over to his desk. “Why didn’t you tell me who he was? You knew who burned my hand. You knew I was desperate to remember him.”
He stands to face me. “At first, I was trying to get him here. With your sister. I thought they could help.”
“Buffy, no one knows where they are. Or if they do, they aren’t telling me. I thought, maybe, ignorance is bliss.”
Fred comes to stand at the apartment window with me, looking out at the city. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I want to hit things. Lots of things. Starting with Angel.”
“Buffy, he was trying to protect you. He didn’t want you to be pining over someone who’s out of reach again, like the situation you guys had. And he didn’t want you to know your friends... um…”
“Were counting on me to use the amulet to kill my lover?”
“Yeah,” she whispers. “It kinda looks that way.”
“So they don’t think Angel’s feeling guilty. They’re feeling guilty.”
I remember most of my relationship with Angel, at this point. I think it’s because I see him every day. It wasn’t what I’d call a good relationship, but I think we both always wanted it to be, except when he was trying to kill me.
There’s a lot of overlap between my bad memories of Angel and my early memories of Spike. I remember the first time I invited Spike into my home. We talked about Angel and Spike’s girlfriend, Drusilla.
In later images, they’re both gone, and Spike’s still in my house. But I think their shadows lingered.
Every morning, my life makes a little more sense, as more and more images sort themselves into almost logical stories.
I understand why Dawn was artificial, why Xander looked different in some memories, why Faith wasn’t always my friend, and why Angel cast a shadow over my relationship with Spike.
He was evil, then he was trying not to be, and then the violence got out of control, so he used Angel as a guide for how to fix it.
And it nearly got him killed.
And I nearly let it happen.
But he still made a promise to me.
Lorne is sitting on the bed with an open suitcase when I step out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. He gestures to the suitcase. “Get dressed and fill her up, Shortcake. Our chariot awaits.”
“Field trip. You, me, and Angel. He finally got a line on the location of a seer with a personal connection, and wants to see if she’ll tell you where your people are. I’m tagging along to make her sing. Honesty check, you know?”
“Someone I know?”
“Drusilla… Wow. He’s really trying to help, isn’t he?”
“He loves you, Strudel. However imperfectly.”
I wake up as the pilot announces our descent. Sitting across from me, Lorne looks up from his magazine.
“You were talking in your sleep again. …Who’s Glory?”
“Just a hellgod who indirectly killed me.” I stretch. “Second time.”
“No Drusilla dreams to prepare you to translate?”
“Dru isn’t really that complicated. Spike once told me that everything she says makes sense, if you treat it like poetry.”
“I told you he was still with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re still getting help from him.”
I hope it’s mutual. I hope I’m helping him keep his promise.
She sidles up close, almost dancing. Beside me, Angel tenses.
“No, no, Daddy. Not tonight for Princess.”
Her fingertips slide down my cheek. “She doesn’t know. Remembers stories in jigsaws.”
It’s embarrassing to realize Drusilla probably has a better grasp on the world than I do.
“No blushes, Sunshine. It’s all remembered inside, safe as houses. Bright morning with dark shadows. By your invitation, and by his promise.”
My eyes widen with realization.
She puts a finger to my lips. “Shh! He’s not for Daddy. You kept my prince from fire, now keep him from crying out in the rain.”
Angel has been sitting in silence the entire time we’ve been over the Atlantic.
I sit down beside him. “Thanks for taking me to her.”
“She’s right, you know. I nearly got him killed. You saved him.”
“At the last minute. There’s an image… My hand pulling the amulet away from a smoldering black shirt. I think I almost let him burn.”
“But you chose. Your life for his.”
“I knew. I heard the lie in your voice when you were letting me down easy with that cookie dough analogy. I just wasn’t ready to face it.”
“So now what, Shortcake?” Lorne asks as we linger at the airport.
“Now I grab a commercial flight, hope I actually understood Dru’s poetry, and hope he forgives me.”
“I doubt that will be a problem.” Angel whispers in my ear as he hugs me, “I’m sorry. For all of this. Tell him I said so.”
I hug Lorne and walk away, feeling like I’ve lost something. Angel and his friends have helped me piece a lot of my life back together, helped me find myself again.
I’m not sure I love what I’ve found, but I’m hoping somebody does.
My thoughts escape in a whisper. “Why would they go into hiding?”
The driver glances at me. “What? Like Witness Protection?”
“Like cutting themselves off from friends and family, not telling anyone where they are.”
He shrugs. “It happens. Sometimes the people around you don’t change you in ways that you like. Sometimes you just gotta figure out who you are without them.”
“Yeah. I guess I get that.”
I changed him. Every day I was in his life. I hope he doesn’t regret it.
“Look over left. You’ll see the sinkhole that earthquake left in the middle of town.”
The new name on my mother’s mailbox is a surprise. The charms hanging from the corners of the windows shouldn’t be. They must have found a witch to mask them from Willow’s locator spells.
I have to give them credit for choosing a smart way to disappear from their old lives. No one will look for them in the place they supposedly left, with the least expected co-conspirator.
Dawn answers my knock, and screams at the sight of me.
One of the men who come running is wearing an eye patch.
The other has a faint burn on his hand.
They watch closely as I set down my suitcase on the porch, probably making sure I’m real and solid.
Then Dawn launches herself onto the porch, nearly tackling me in a hug. She’s trying to talk through her tears, and the effort is making her gasp. She pulls away for some air, leaving me open for another hug attack, this one from Xander.
He babbles in my ear, too, but not a word of it is sinking in. My focus is over his shoulder, on the vampire standing on the other side of the threshold, staring at me in disbelief.
A few months ago, his voice was all I knew. It was what drove me to learn everything else.
And now he’s finally in front of me, not saying a word.
Neither am I. I don’t know if there are words.
What do you say to someone you’ve rebuilt your life for, without them even knowing you were alive?
I don’t know. So I step inside and kiss him with everything I’ve got.
He’s wonderfully responsive, but when I pull away, he goes back to staring, along with Xander and Dawn.
They’re expecting me to speak.
“Hi, guys. Remember me?”