14. End of the World As We Know It
TWO MONTHS LATER
"Well, what do you think?" Willow asked as her eyebrows scrunched together. She looked from Buffy, who sat on one of the many headstones in the main Sunnydale cemetery over to Xander. He busied himself with toying with his crossbow but stopped when Willow spoke.
"I don't know, Willow. Are you ready for it? You think you can handle something of that magnitude?" he asked.
Willow shrugged. "I guess so. I'm just not sure if it's right for me." She sighed heavily and stared at the paper in her hands. "What do you think, Buffy?"
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "If you want to take a drama class, that's your decision."
Willow bit her lower lip then placed a mark by the course in pen. "I'll see how I feel about it in the morning."
Xander yawned loudly. "Man, I'm tired." He checked his watch. "These Rohna demons better show up soon. I have to be at the construction site at 6 am."
Buffy drummed her fingers on the headstone while she kept an eye on a nearby crypt. Three demons that were supposed to bring about the Apocalypse with their arrival were due some time soon. If they weren't destroyed as quickly as possible after they entered the earth realm, they would annihilate the world.
"You don't have to stay, Xander," she said. "Willow and I can handle it - if these guys show up when they're supposed to." She glanced at Willow. Since they'd been without Giles, the others relied on Willow more than ever for research into demons and prophecies. Willow did the best she could but she definitely showed the strain lately.
"No, it's okay. I don't want to leave you hanging," he replied. He rested the crossbow on his shoulder. "That's what we're all about, isn't it? Fighting evil. Besides, I feel kinda cool with this."
"The crossbow?" asked Willow, eyebrows rose.
He gave her a look. "No, I don't mean the crossbow. The new me. I don't know about you two but I came out of that Middle-earth deal far better than I went into it. I can kick these piddly vampires' asses with no problem. These losers got nothin' on Orcs."
Willow nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I guess you did," she quietly said. Her head lowered. She wished she could say the same for herself. Even two months later, she still had nightmares about that freaky Eye. It was like it continued to chase her all of these eons later. As a result of the dreams, though, she kept her magick in serious check.
"We all changed for the better," Xander went on. He glanced from Willow to Buffy. "Look at us. We're still alive. That's got to count for something."
Buffy swallowed as a lump formed in her throat. "Not all of us," she whispered. Even thought it felt like they'd seen Giles a couple of weeks ago, in reality the man had been dead for ages. That was a difficult concept for them to deal with, for Buffy more than the others.
Before Willow or Xander could say anything, a bright flash of light nearly blinded them as a portal roared to life about fifty feet to their right. Then three six foot tall, well armed and armored, snarling gray skinned demons appeared in the cemetery.
"Destroy!" yelled the one in the middle as he raised up his weapon.
As Buffy jumped off the headstone, Xander muttered, "You think these are the guys?"
"Unless there are three other demons who want to destroy the world that are scheduled to make an appearance tonight then I'll have to go with 'yes'," the Slayer answered. She drew her stake and her features hardened. "Time to save the universe ... again."
"Well, that was kind of anti-climatic," Xander commented as he and Buffy strolled down her street towards her house. He rested the crossbow on his shoulder and gave the Slayer a side-glance. "I expected more, you know? Maybe some bolts of lightning, an earth tremor or fire. Something."
She shrugged. "If that's the worst demon we get for the rest of this summer, I'm fine with it," she told him. "At least it's over and we can stop stressing over it."
"Stressing? Who was stressing?" He saw Buffy arch an eyebrow then he sighed. "Okay. So we all were. Our first Big Bad without Giles around. We know we can do this without him. To an extent," he quickly added for Buffy's sake.
"It's okay, Xander," she assured him as they made their way up her walk. "I'm dealing with it the best I can and you're right. We CAN do this without him. We just have to work harder now, that's all." She stopped at her door and turned around to him. She pressed her lips together briefly then averted her gaze for a moment. "Um ... I was wondering ..."
"Yeah? What were you wondering?" Xander asked as he let the crossbow drop from his shoulder. He noticed how uncomfortable Buffy had suddenly become. He arched an eyebrow when she finally looked at him again. "You were wondering ... ?"
"Are you ... did you ... " She paused, glancing away as she tried to figure out how to say what she wanted to say. She sighed, rolling her eyes then met his gaze. [Don't be so silly, it's just Xander.] "You're not going to be busy tomorrow night, are you?"
Xander slowly shook his head. "No," he carefully replied, a hint of suspicion in his voice. He narrowed his gaze on her, slightly. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought we could - well, I thought ... " She gestured with her hand from herself to him then nodded a bit to bring her point home. "You know. But, like, just as a friend-type kind of thing. See how I ... how I feel about everything now. Is that ... okay?"
Once it registered with him what Buffy was talking about, he blinked. "Oh! W-well, yeah, sure," he answered, not even trying to hide the surprise. He offered her a small smile as his face flushed a light shade of red. "That would be more than okay. That would be excellent. And I totally understand what you mean. Me -" He jerked a thumb at himself. "Very much cool with it."
Buffy relaxed. A quiet sigh of relief slipped out of her, too. It was a big step for her, she knew. To try to be normal again and see where things went where Xander was concerned. She cleared her throat, licked her lips in a nervous manner then said, "Good. I'm glad you're cool with it. So ... I guess I'll see you tomorrow night then?"
"Of course. Whenever you want to see me. Anytime is good." [Calm down, Harris. Don't be such a dork; she might change her mind.]
She nodded. "All right. Around 7:30?"
"Good. 7:30. You got it."
Buffy managed a weak smile. "I'll see you tomorrow, Xander," she said as she opened her front door. Once she was inside, she closed the door and leaned back against it. All of the weapons she'd carried with her dropped to the floor as she rested her head on the door, gazing up the stairs.
[I hope I'm doing the right thing.]
With a tired sigh, she trudged up the staircase to go to bed.
Buffy groaned lightly when she heard a voice say her name. "Hmmm?" she murmured.
"Buffy, open your eyes," said the voice in a firmer tone.
Slowly, her eyes opened as the voice commanded. Blinking a few times, she shielded her eyes from the bright light that seemed to surround her. "Who's there?" she asked. [What's all this light?] "Whoever it is, you have exactly five seconds to show yourself, or I'll come and find you. You don't want that."
The light dimmed a little and Buffy was able to focus on the only form present. She squinted then her hand dropped when she made out the features of -
"Giles!" she cried out. She hopped up from the floor and rushed towards him, enveloping her Watcher and friend in a hug. "Giles! Oh my God! You came back! I knew you would. I just knew it."
Giles returned the hug, smiling softly down on the Slayer who refused to let go. "Well, that isn't one hundred percent correct," he gently replied. His smile faded when she pulled back, looking up at him with a puzzled gaze. "I'm not in the real world. And neither are you. We're in your dreams, Buffy. Surely you'd recognize one of those by now."
She glanced around. Nothing but a field of endless white surrounded them. A walless room, it seemed. "This ... this is inside of my head?" she asked as she looked back to him. He nodded. "But if I'm dreaming ... and you're here ... how is that possible?"
"It's a long story, but you have Pallando and Galadriel to thank for it," he answered. He gestured to the necklace Buffy wore, the parting gift from the Lady of the Golden Wood. "The only bit of magick from these days to survive in our own. It links you to the past. And I can follow that link back - to you. In the dream world, of course, but all the same."
Buffy's fingers wrapped around the pendant attached to the necklace. She'd forgotten all about the gift until that very moment. "So ... you're alive, right? And talking to me. This isn't some kind of Ghost thing, is it?"
"No, I'm alive. I'm with you, Xander and Willow at this moment - you're all asleep, however." He shook his head. "But the mechanics of it are rather tedious to explain. I'm here now, that's what matters. I wanted to see how you are faring without me."
Buffy stepped back. "Wait a second, you've waited two months to try this thing out? Why?" Anger renewed itself within her.
"You had to adjust, Buffy. I wanted you to do so before I attempted to contact you." He reached out, placing a hand on her shoulder before she could back away again. "It was for your benefit and your benefit only. My time is limited, Buffy, so we must use it wisely."
Buffy's features softened and the anger faded. She couldn't fault his logic - she did have to learn how to get along without him. And that's what they'd been doing for two months already. "So you're going to be able to talk to me? In my dreams?"
"Whenever I'm able to, yes. Unlike your time - in the future, that is, several years have gone by here. Darker days are upon Middle-earth, much more so than the time when the three of you were awake." His brow furrowed. And it was in that moment that Buffy noticed how much older Giles appeared. Yes, he'd aged. But something in his eyes - something else had changed within him. "I'm afraid it will be some time before I can speak to you like this again. A war is brewing here -"
"With that Lord of Mordor Sauron guy?" Buffy interrupted. Upon hearing all of this new information, she was no longer mad at Giles. She feared for his life. It was surreal at the same time. In the present, whatever fate had befallen him had done so long ago but she spoke to him now. He was alive.
"You don't think we're in any danger, do you?" she asked, gesturing to herself, but also meaning Xander and Willow. Giles didn't respond immediately. He had that look Buffy knew all too well on his face. "Giles, we're not in any danger here, are we?" she asked again, a bit more forceful.
"I'm not quite certain yet, Buffy," he carefully replied.
"Why would we be in danger? Why? I mean, what threat do we pose here in the future?" A measured panic descended upon Buffy now. She gripped Giles's upper arms with her hands, afraid to let go of him more than ever. "Whatever's happens has happened. We can't change that."
"As I said, I'm not certain, Buffy -" He stopped, turned a bit and looked over his shoulder.
"What? What is it?" Buffy shook him. "Giles, talk to me!"
"Buffy, I have to go," he said as he turned back to her. He placed a hand on her left cheek, his expression changing - almost a look of guilt on his face - then he let go of her. "I'll see you again as soon as I'm able."
"Giles!" Buffy cried out as he retreated into the growing bright light behind him. She reached out her hands and followed but he faded faster than she could move towards him. "Giles! Wait! Come back! Don't leave me here! What's going to happen to us?"
"I don't know ... " his voice echoed.
Buffy's eyes opened and she sat up in her bed. She scanned her darkened room, a distinct feeling of dread loomed over her now. Something so very evil was near, more wicked than anything than Buffy could recall. Heaviness like she'd never known settled itself upon her mind, body and soul. So thick, it was. It hadn't been there when she'd come home earlier in the evening.
She could feel it.
Something was going to happen.
She threw back her covers, slipped out of bed and headed over to her window almost as though she were in a hypnotic state. Pushing back her curtains, she gazed out upon her street. Almost immediately, a rumble shook the house. And it grew. Slowly, a glowing "rip" - identical to the one in front of Sunnydale High School - began to sear itself in midair above the Slayer's front yard.
Her eyes widened.
"Oh no ... "
To Be Continued ... in the next story!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.