This story is the first in a series
Defenders of the Night;
In Every Generation
One thousand years ago�
990 AD, Scotland,
He walked the parapets of Castle Wyvern, his home and protectorate. The humans had built their homes and stone castles among the rookeries of his clan, and they lived in peace. The humans agreed to protect him and his clan by day when they were vulnerable, and the clan returned the favor, defending the humans from the invading armies of the Norsemen by night. It was the way of things.
Goliath was pleased that the Norse invaders had been scarce of late. Their raids had proven most destructive in the past, and were it not for the efforts of his clan, no doubt that they would have long ago conquered Castle Wyvern.
And he was especially pleased that none of the Third Race had chosen to bedevil either his own or those whom he was sworn to protect. Oberon�s children were notorious for their mischief, and the less he dealt with them, especially the trickster Puck, the happier that made him.
Still in all, it was a peaceful night over the castle. The town below slept, resting for the labors of the morrow. And Goliath and his clan were wide awake, ready to defend them.
A sudden shriek stabbed the night, galvanizing the seasoned warrior to action. Goliath climbed over the parapet, resting his haunches on the castle wall, and testing the winds around him. Yes, he thought, just right for flying.
He spread wide his wings to catch the air around him, and leapt from the wall.
His seven-foot tall, five-hundred pound frame was too heavy and bulky for his wings to provide independent flight, but with a sufficient wind, his clan could glide and coast along air currents for as long as was required to travel. He darted through the air swiftly, his keen ears attuned for any other cries of distress. He heard scuffling from an alleyway beneath him, and directed his attention there. Like an arrow he shot past the rooftops of the village, toward the sounds of conflict. He wondered who or what could be responsible for disturbing the night, but he was certain he could deal with any interlopers.
He alighted to the street, just outside the alleyway, and folded his wings around him. The dark hue of his wings served as a camouflage, allowing Goliath to slip into the shadows of the alleyway. He stood there, silent as stone, listening, sniffing the air around him, waiting for any sign of danger.
An unholy smell wafted through his nostrils. A smell of decay, mixed with darkest magic. And a more natural scent, of a woman in fear. They were here, he realized. The woman who shrieked, and something, some unearthly creature who had chased her away from here.
He carefully moved from his secret vantage point, tracing the scent past the alley, and into a maze of streets and causeways. Yes, he thought, a perfect place for something evil to hide and prey on the unsuspecting. Perfect, that is, if not for Goliath discovering the hunting ground. There would be no more hunting of human prey here, not while the Gargoyle warrior had anything to say about it.
He followed the scent of his quarry into the blackest of alleys, hanging back as the dank wet passage wound down into the bowels of the village. It was there when he heard the distinctive sounds of battle. The clang of swords, the impact of a fist against flesh, the grunts and battle cries. The veteran warrior followed the sounds of the altercation into a dimly lit street. That�s where he witnessed the strange battle.
He must have been well over six feet tall, with stringy greasy hair and an evil glow in his eyes. His brow was ridged, giving his face a demonic cast. Goliath had no idea what manner of monster this was, but he was certainly powerful, and savage beyond all reason. The young woman should not have been able to fend off such a terrifying creature, but she was clearly in command of the situation. She thrust forward with her sword, fending off the monster�s every attack. Finally, she let fly with a swift sword-stroke, lopping off the head of her opponent.
The vanquished demon had burst into a cloud of ash and dust, leaving almost no remains. Goliath stood thunderstruck at the display, as the young female warrior sheathed her sword, regarding her departed enemy with a grim satisfaction. Suddenly, she stopped and glanced around. "Who are ye?" she called out to the night. "Show yourself!"
Goliath ventured from the shadows as quietly as he could manage. "Peace, milady," he greeted the young woman. "I mean you no harm."
"Stand fast, demon!" she shouted at him, loosing her sword. "I mean thee plenty harm if ye step closer! Clear off, demon, else ye die like your compatriot!" Goliath held back, wishing to explain himself, to assure the woman that he was not her enemy. Before he could offer any assurances, the strange woman backed away, fading into the darkness of a nearby alleyway.
Goliath made ready to follow her, but a hand rested on his shoulder, restraining him. "Let it go, lad," a familiar gravelly voice spoke to him. Goliath turned around to see his mentor and commander standing behind him. The old one-eyed gargoyle gave a half-smile as he spoke to his young student. "That one�ll never trust ye, my son. She�s of a special breed."
"You know of her?" Goliath asked.
"Of her kind, aye," the older warrior nodded. "She�s called the Slayer. There�s only one like her every generation. They�re called to fight unholy magicks, demons and vampires. Their lives are all too brief and violent."
"How is this possible?" Goliath felt his heart go out to the scared young woman. "How can the fates be so cruel to lay such responsibility on such slight shoulders?"
"In a way, lad," his mentor answered, "she�s like us. We gargoyles can no more stop defending our castle than we can stop breathing. The same goes for the Slayers. They feel the call and whether they desire it or no, they must defend innocents against the dark. �Tis a lonely life, sure, but what choice do they have?" Shaking his tired wings, the older gargoyle said, "Now, laddie, we�d best be getting home. If we start now, we may enjoy some ale before the sun rises."
Goliath followed his commander as they scaled a nearby wall, hanging on by their claws. Once they reached the roof, they spread their wings to catch the evening wind, and glided aloft. As they winged their way back to Castle Wyvern, Goliath looked over his shoulder, wondering about the fate of that unfortunate woman. How few days did she have left in her cruel life? Would some demon take her life before another fortnight had passed?
That night, before entering the stone sleep at sunrise, Goliath made a silent vow; should he ever encounter this Slayer, or any other Slayer in the future, he would do all he could to aid her in her cause. No one should have to shoulder such a burden alone.
And as long as there was breath in Goliath�s body, the Slayer never would.
"Lights out, Spencer," the guard grunted as he passed her cell.
Faith grumbled a curse to the guard, and switched off the overhead light in her cell. She had no desire to argue with the guard, or anyone else for that matter. She lay on her bed contemplating her future. She only had a few more months before her parole hearing, and she didn�t want to jinx it. She had been on her best behavior since her conviction, never instigating any fights, never complaining about her punishment. She knew she had deserved far worse than she got, and was prepared to do what she could to atone for her past misdeeds.
She�d get that opportunity soon enough, she figured. The last time Angel had visited her, she learned the terrible news. Buffy Summers, her rival, her opponent, and her ally, had died. She sacrificed her own life to save her friends and her sister, to seal an inter-dimensional breach that would have destroyed all reality. For the first time since her incarceration, Faith cried. She had lost her final chance to atone to B personally, to beg forgiveness from the one person who could truly forgive her.
She had it planned. Once she was paroled, she would move back to Sunnydale, and set up shop as the resident Slayer. She would train harder, fight harder, and do everything she could to fill the void left by B. If Red needed a sympathetic ear, she�d be there. If Dawnie needed a �big sister� figure in her life, she�d be that for her. She had no delusions of replacing B in their lives, but she would gladly dedicate the remainder of her life to her memory. B deserved no less.
"Lights out, Spencer," a voice called out to her.
"Hey Shemp, I already turned out the lights," she growled, until she lifted her head and saw the figure who spoke to her. A Hastor demon, horned and tusked, his cloven hoof scraping sparks off the concrete floor of her cell.
"I said lights out, Faith," the demon hissed. "Your lights out, to be exact." He stepped forward, and Faith saw the murder in his eyes. "Think of this as a severance package from Wolfram and Hart." She cowered back in her cell. There was no room to fight, and she had no weapons at any rate. She was tired, angry, and unable to fight against the monster that W&H had sent to finish her off. She closed her eyes, and prepared herself for her death.
A sudden flash of light erupted between Faith and the demon, blinding the monster and sending him staggering. "Come, Faith, trip away!" a strangely merry voice entreated her. Faith shook her head, struggling to clear her vision, when she observed the far wall of her cell disappear. Beyond the wall lay a sandy stretch of beach, with pristine blue waves lapping at the shore. Now she knew that her sight was failing her. She was hallucinating, that was the only explanation.
"Quickly child, make no stay!" the voice called to her again, and she stirred from her bed and followed the strange voice. When she found herself stepping through the unseen wall, into the strange setting beyond, she knew that her sanity had finally deserted her. She didn�t seem all that troubled by it, however; after all she had gone through in her unhappy life, a little madness might be welcome.
"Well and good, my errant child," the voice remonstrated her. "You think your mind is much beguiled?"
"Hey," she called out to the unseen voice. "What the hell�s going on here? Where am I?"
"Where are you child? I�ll make it plain. You�re far away from that place of pain." The speaker emerged from nowhere, capering before Faith with merry abandon. He was thin and lithe, possessed of a nimble grace. He had pale skin, a thin face that terminated in a strongly chiseled chin, pointed ears and long stringy white hair. His lips were upturned in a smile that was equal parts innocent amusement and sinister intellect.
The fairy jester continued to taunt Faith; "You�re where few mortals have trod before, on blessed Avalon�s vasty shore. And I have the unearned luck, to be that merry wanderer, the Puck." The trickster bowed theatrically before Faith, as though expecting applause for his rhymes.
He didn�t get any. "Right. So what the Puck�s going on here, Ears? And quit with the rhyme scheme, already!"
"Fair enough, my child," Puck stood before Faith, seemingly chastised, but still with that air of mischief about him. "But I cannot provide a full explanation for your presence here. My lord and lady come forward," he pointed to a gold chariot heading their way, "and they�ll be glad to explain your presence and purpose on Avalon." And he started dancing toward the coming chariot.
"What...what are you?" Faith questioned. "An elf?"
His dancing stopped. "Elf. Did you just call me...an Elf?" His voice, despite its earlier merry tone, was now slow�and deadly.
"Er�" Faith deferred.
"It�s the pointy ears isn�t it?" He suddenly changed his tone with a sigh. "I tell him and tell him that pointy ears are just not the way to go. But does he listen...Noooo. It�s always �We really like them, or �We think they suit our royal self well.� Next thing you know people will be walking up to me and saying �Live long and prosper.� Sheesh."
"Puck," a cold, authoritative voice called out as the chariot stopped before Faith and the elf. The chariot�s driver, a regal looking figure, was clearly a man accustomed to being obeyed, and despite his chaotic streak, Puck was now compliant before him. "You have done well in bringing the Slayer here, but do not antagonize her. Remember that you are tolerated on Avalon only at my sufferance, and must soon return to your mortal lord."
"Aye, Lord Oberon," Puck answered.
"Be not so harsh on the Puck, my lord and husband" a fairie woman of unearthly beauty and majesty laughed as she approached Lord Oberon. "He has performed as you have required of him in this matter. He is as aware of the consequences of failure as we are."
"Indeed, fair Titania," Oberon bowed to his queen. Turning to Faith, Oberon declared, "Mortal, we have brought you here for a vital purpose, one that will affect all that lives, in your world and in ours."
Faith regarded Oberon with a cynical eye, but ultimately decided he was being level with him. Besides, she sensed that he was far more powerful than anyone she had ever seen before, even the evil Mayor Wilkins. "Okay, O," Faith started, until she received a disapproving look from the Fairy king. His eyes narrowed just a touch, and though a small gesture, Faith somehow knew it was very much akin to a thunderhead sweeping across the sky. Here was someone far more powerful than Mayor Wilkins, or even the worst monsters of the Hellmouth. Less a living person, and more a force of nature. This was a person you simply didn�t disrespect. "Uh, right, Lord Oberon. Why�d you go and bust up my parole? You know the prison�s gonna report my absence. They�ll think I�ve escaped and there goes my early release."
"Be at peace," Lady Titania answered. Her voice, while carrying the command of Oberon�s, was strangely calming, almost motherly. "All records of your incarceration have been dealt with. Even the minds of those who sent you to prison have been erased of your memory. Only those whom you left behind in Sunnydale will know you."
"Well, ain�t that convenient?" Faith asked acidly. "So, what�s the up? Why all the secrecy in bringing me here?"
"Faith Spencer," Titania explained, "there is a great evil afoot in your world. Beyond anything you ever faced, even from the Hellmouth. This evil stems from Avalon itself, and therefore are my Lord and I bound to aid in its defeat. However, we require human agents, those who are familiar with the evils of your world. You, my Slayer, are one such person. We have located two others and will soon bring them here. You, my child, have borne a terrible weight on your shoulders. You feel unworthy of forgiveness, and in your mind and heart must atone for your past crimes. We offer you a chance to sponge the record clean, and to allow you to fully atone. It will not be easy, and there is every possibility that you shall not survive the ordeal, but we do need you in this battle. What say you?"
Faith regarded the Lord and Lady of Avalon, and smiled. "I say, I�m five-by-five with it. Let�s do it." She accepted Lady Titania�s hand, and the bargain was struck.
The offices of Wolfram and Hart, Los Angeles;
"Miss Morgan," his secretary buzzed her. "A Miss Destine is here to see you, sir."
"Show her in, Tiffany," Lilah Morgan answered, "and hold all my calls." As she shut off her pager, a tall, statuesque figure entered his office and immediately took command of it. Her striking figure was framed in the most impeccably tailored blue business suit imaginable, highlighted by her darkly shaded features and perfectly coifed brunette hair. "Dominique Destine," Lilah greeted her cordially. "It�s always a pleasure to do business with you."
"And it�s a pleasure to see you as well," Dominique lied as she shook Lilah�s hand. She felt no pleasure in touching any human, but for her purposes it was necessary. "How�s the business these days?"
"Progressing smoothly," Lilah answered. "And you, Dominique? How are things in New York?"
"Just fine, Lilah," she answered amiably. "We�re about to introduce our winter fashions at the next major show. Evangelista�s agreed to model for us."
"Delightful," Lilah answered as she sat down behind her desk, and Dominique eased her way into a waiting chair. "Now then, Dominique, I doubt you�re here to chat me up, so shall we get down to business?"
"Always to the point," Dominique commented. "I like that about you, Mr. Manners. Now then, as you know, I�m something of a collector of�" she pursed her lips as she considered the proper words. "�rare and esoteric objects. And I understand that Wolfram and Hart are in a position to acquire such objects."
"And you thought to pick my vaults," Lilah guessed, "in order to find out what treasures we may possess."
"I assure you, you shall be well compensated," Dominique answered. "And as it happens, there is one specific object that I require for my purposes."
Lilah regarded Dominique like a chess player. She was aware that Dominique Destine was far more formidable than she let on, and there were rumors that she was involved in dark magic and other esoterica. Lilah paid close attention to her, hoping to understand what she required. Not for the first time, she wished that she had Dominique working for Wolfram and Hart.
"What I�m looking for," Dominique answered casually, "is a ferula gemina."
This surprised Lilah greatly. Only a few people dared use such a dangerous piece of magical equipment. "Miss Destine," Lilah spoke in measured tones, "you are aware of the purpose of a ferula gemina. It�s a potentially dangerous artifact."
"I am fully aware of its purpose," Dominique answered, her calm demeanor suddenly replaced by steely resolve. "And be assured that I will practice all due precautions in its use."
"Very well," Lilah shrugged her shoulders. "Let me see," she mused as she tapped at the computer keyboard. "F�e�r�u�l�a�G�e�m�i�n�a�Hmm." She waited for a few moments, reading the results of her computer search. "No, we don�t seem to have a ferula gemina in our vaults. Let�s broaden that search�" She tapped out a few more keys, and her face brightened. "Ah, here we are. It seems that the last sighting of a ferula gemina was a situation in Sunnydale California, just a two-hours drive north of here. It seems that a demon had planned to use the device against the Slayer, but his plan backfired."
"Just can�t trust those demons to do anything right," Dominique quipped conversationally.
"Never send a demon to do a human�s job," Lilah joked. "Anyway, according to our intell from Sunnydale, the Slayer was presumed dead in recent months, but judging from the latest reports from our sources there, she�s very much alive and well. You may want to proceed with caution."
"I always do."
"No doubt. A good place to begin your search is an establishment called the Magic Box. The shop is operated by the Slayer�s mentor, one Rupert Giles."
"You seem to know a great deal about Sunnydale," Dominique commented.
"There�s a Hellmouth present there," Lilah explained. "With such a potential source of power, we have to keep tabs on it. Anyway, we have reason to suspect that he keeps a store of mystical artifacts at his place of business, and I have no doubt that he has the ferula gemina there for safekeeping. You may wish to deal with him for the device."
Or simply take it from him, over his corpse,Dominique mused to herself. "Well, thanks for your help, Miss Morgan," Dominique replied crisply as she rose from her seat. "It has been a productive afternoon."
"I hope that you will grace us with your presence again," Lilah replied, shaking Dominique�s hand civilly. As the businesswoman left his office, Lilah Morgan felt a strange chill over her soul. The feeling of someone walking over her grave.
Dominique Destine left the office building quickly, striding away with purpose. She unlocked her car, slid into the driver�s seat, and sped back to her hotel. She barely managed to arrive at her hotel room before the sun faded over the horizon. As she unlocked the door, she felt the uncomfortable twinges at the small of her back. It was starting.
She hurriedly rushed inside her room before anyone could see her, see the change. She managed to make it under the bell, before the real changes began.
It was always painful, but that was the price she paid for her tampering in dark magic, not to mention dealing with that damnable Puck. First came the agony in the shoulder blades, as her wings materialized, bursting through her back. Then the searing pain in her legs as they reformed, sinews and muscle toughening from her frail human form to her true nature. The arms were always next, as claws broke free of her fingers. Then the discoloration, the changing from Caucasian flesh tones to the deeper violet skin. Finally the face, as fangs grew and her brow reformed.
Finally the change was complete. Dominique Destine was no more, and in her place stood her true self, who men only knew as Demona.
She opened the window overlooking the Los Angeles skyline, stepped out to the sill and jumped. Her wings bore her on currents of air, and she soared high over the towers of LA. She despised these nests of human habitation, these constant reminders that the traitor race was strong in this world. But soon, her plans would reach fruition. This Hellmouth, yes, the Hellmouth would be key.
Soon, her final plan would be complete. She would achieve her ultimate goal.
Soon, the accursed species homo sapiens would be extinct.
The thought made her smile cruelly.
The Aerie Building, New York City;
It had been a busy week for David Xanatos.
Not that he wasn�t used to busy weeks before. The fact was that in amassing his vast fortune and holdings, Xanatos found himself swamped in his work for weeks on end without a break.
Of course, he didn�t complain about that fact of his life. He hated being idle, especially when his more unusual concerns were involved.
This past week was a prime example.
Three days ago, he had succeeded in saving the life of a young woman he had never met before, a woman who only knew him through his picture and name in the media. A woman named Buffy Summers.
Of course, he knew about the Slayers, and the Council of Watchers. After all, weren�t both he and senior Watcher Quentin Travers both lower functionaries of the Illuminati? Fortunately for Xanatos, and for Miss Summers, Quentin was an even lower functionary than he was.
David Xanatos had said before that he found membership in the Illuminati distasteful, but at times it did prove useful. He had heard through his Illuminati connections that Mr. Travers was preparing to have Buffy Summers hunted down and executed, by Council�s orders, in order for a new Slayer to be called. Quentin had declared that Miss Summers was tainted by dark magic, and not truly human. Xanatos had to stop himself from laughing out loud over the phone; were the Council that superstitious?
It was simplicity itself for Xanatos to �pull rank� on Quentin, to imply that the Illuminati had plans for the Slayer. The fact was that the Illuminati, while aware of the Slayer, weren�t remotely interested; they generally avoided anything that smacked of the supernatural. So much the better for Miss Summers, David mused. David had succeeded the desired result, and Quentin agreed to steer the Council away from Miss Summers. David gave Quentin a cordial farewell and hung up, a satisfied smile on his face. It was good to be in charge.
His interest in the Slayer didn�t stop there, however. No, not if the information he received from his contacts in California was any indication. The sightings were too clear to ignore; a dark-skinned she-demon with glowing yellow eyes, bright red hair and huge leathery wings. And a very reliable source had her sighted near the offices of that damn Wolfram and Hart law-firm. Only one person could match that description.
He had plans to make, and fortunately they coincided with his planned his business strategy; he had been considering expanding his business concerns into California. He made a quick phone call, contacting a friend of his in the construction business, who suggested a company in Sunnydale. He then made preparations for his private plane to fly to California. Everything was ready in two hours. He left his office, and made his way to the Castle.
The Aerie Building was one of the most bizarre fixtures on the New York skyline; an enormous tower of glass, steel and concrete, topped by the Castle. David Xanatos was a man of unusual tastes, and the money to indulge them. Years ago, he purchased the ancient Castle Wyvern, and arranged to have the entire castle airlifted, along with the rock upon which it was built, and placed on the top of this corporate tower.
Castle Wyvern was now home to Xanatos, his wife Fox and their kindergarten-age son Alexander. And, despite some initial antagonism between them, he now welcomed some of the castle�s original tenants to live here, in their original home.
It was one of those inhabitants he wished to speak with. He found his ally on the parapet, watching over the city. "Goliath," he greeted him. "You know what�s happening in California?"
The Gargoyle warrior nodded. "I know you diverted the plans of the Watchers Council, and saved the Slayer�s life."
"That I did. But we have to move quickly. She�s out there now."
Goliath didn�t need to ask who �she� was. He knew. "Demona." He reigned in the anger and contempt that always edged his voice whenever he contemplated his former love and bitter enemy. "I shall join you, David," he stated candidly.
"I thought you might," Xanatos answered. "So I made arrangements. There�s room for you on my plane, old friend."
"Thank you, David. I shall be ready soon." Goliath climbed onto the ledge of the castle, and spread his wings. "First, I have someone to see." He leapt from the castle, and caught the air in his wings, soaring gracefully over the towers of New York.
"That�s a sight I�ll never get tired of," David mused.
She sat on the park bench, contemplating the mosaic in front of her. Grey and white stones formed a sundial-like circle, the radiating lines converging on a smaller circle within, which bore a single word; "Imagine".
Strawberry Fields was her favorite area in New York�s Central Park. This was where the late John Lennon often walked, with Yoko and Sean at his side. Just within sight of her bench was the Dakota Apartment, where John lived for the last years of his life. The very steps where he was killed.
Elisa Masa shook her head, disrupting the morbid turn her thoughts were taking. She was certainly not in a position to feel maudlin. She was a capable detective for the NYPD, she had her family�s love and support, and more importantly she had the love of the most noble and loving soul she had ever known. It was here, in Strawberry Fields, where they shared vows in a commitment ceremony last year. The New York courts were still uncertain where the rights of non-humans were concerned, but no one would argue with the love that she and Goliath had demonstrated that summer night. Especially when one of the wealthiest men in the world was footing the bill for the ceremony.
A faint rustle of wings behind her brought her concentration back to the real world. She recognized that familiar leathery scent in a heartbeat. "Hello, Goliath," she greeted her husband.
"Elisa," he replied, in a tone of voice that converted a simple first name into the most cherished of endearments. He gently stepped behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist. "It is good to hold you again."
"I�ll bet you say that to all the female cops you know," she teased her beloved as she reached behind her to caress her face. She turned around in his arms to see him better. His face was as strong and as warm as ever, but there was no mistaking the concern and resolve etched in his horned brows. "So," Elisa guessed, "you�ll be leaving for California tomorrow?"
"I must," Goliath answered. "If Demona is near the Hellmouth, we all have much to fear."
"I know," Elisa admitted reluctantly. Ever since she first heard about this Hellmouth in California, she feared that the Gargoyles� ancient enemy would seek its power for herself. With that power fueling her hatred, humanity�s days could be counted on the fingers of one hand. "I just don�t want you to go. I�ve kinda gotten used to having you around, Big Guy," she smiled as she tousled his hair. "I miss you when you�re gone, y�know."
"And I you, my beloved," he answered. "Never doubt that you are my life�s breath. Which is why I must leave. Whatever Demona is planning near the Hellmouth, David and I must be there to stop her."
Elisa flinched a little when she heard the name �David�. After all this time, she still didn�t fully trust David Xanatos. His past dealings with Goliath and his clan have always been to the clan�s detriment. But even she had to admit that he had proven his worth to them in recent years. Ever since he and Fox became parents, he seemed to have softened, to have abandoned his quests for more power, for immortality. He once told Elisa that through Alexander he achieved the only true immortality a man may know. Still, she remembered how Xanatos turned Goliath�s brother Coldstone into a cyborg, and her own brother into a mutation. She didn�t quite understand how Goliath could trust him so readily, after all he had done to him in the past.
Still, if there was one person in the world she could trust, it was Goliath. When he held her in his arms, gliding high over the towers of Manhattan, his strength and tenderness calmed her fears every time. She trusted him with her heart, her life and her soul. If he chose to trust Xanatos, she would trust his judgment.
"You call me the moment you get there, Goliath," she insisted.
"Once I awake from stone sleep," Goliath smiled, "you may count on it. And I�ve arranged for Hudson and Brooklyn to look in on you while I�m gone."
"You know I can take care of myself," she protested, not unkindly.
"Yes, but it would put my mind at ease." That was another of Goliath�s endearing features, his almost courtly manners. Elisa never met a man so polite and considerate of her before. And it thrilled her no end.
"You have to do this, I understand. Just don�t take too long."
"Believe me, Elisa," Goliath assured his wife with a gentle chuckle. "I have no intention of missing Angela�s joining ceremony with Broadway."
"I�m glad to hear that. I love you, Goliath." She tilted her head upward and offered her lips to be kissed, an offer that Goliath gladly accepted. The contact, as always was war and gentle, with the promise of passion.
"So," she asked gently as they disengaged the kiss, "do we still have some time before you have to go?"
"A few hours, yes," Goliath answered.
"In that case," she grabbed his hand in hers and led her down the path from the John Lennon memorial, "I don�t wanna waste a second!"
Goliath smiled broadly, thanking the living Lord for this miracle of love that had been given to him. Tomorrow morning, he would be loaded onto Xanatos�s private jet, as a statue, to be flown to Sunnydale, California, where eventually he would have to face his most bitter enemy.
Until then, he simply allowed himself to love, and to be loved.
For now, that was enough blessing.
"Hey, Buffy," Dawn smiled as her sister pulled up in front of the school in the Jeep that their mother once owned. Buffy opened the passenger door and Dawn filed in. "How was school, munchkin?" Buffy asked her sister.
"Okay," Dawn answered. "We were discussing European history in my Geography class. We were assigned a five-page essay about the history of a famous European landmark, so I�ll be going over the encyclopedias to find one I like. Unfortunately Frankie Meyer called dibs on Stonehenge."
"Them�s the brakes," Buffy quipped as she pulled onto the street and started for home.
"I wanted to do something with a history, something spooky. Y�know?"
"You�ve been hanging around Willow and Tara too long," Buffy joked.
"Maybe," she answered. "Oh, and I already did my algebra homework during study hall. I�ll ask Willow to check them for me later."
Not for the first time, Buffy Summers had to wonder how she got to this position in her life. This time last year, she had a family, a boyfriend, her college classes and a clear line to her future. Then her boyfriend jetted on her. Her mother died. She was forced to quit college to look after her sister. And finally, to save her sister from the machinations of Glory, she had to sacrifice her own life.
And now, she was alive again. She still needed a job, and her future was less clear than before, but she still had a future. And she had a responsibility for her sister. She found herself glancing at Dawn, her sister, her family, knowing that what ever happened from now on, they would face it together. That was worth it all.
"So," Dawn asked as the Jeep pulled into the driveway. "You know what you�re making for dinner?"
Buffy pursed her lips in thought. "Probably a grocery run," she admitted. "Hopefully I�ll still have enough money left in my dresser�" She glanced suddenly at Dawn, who threw her an innocent expression. "It is still in my dresser, right?"
"Yes, Buffy," Dawn answered. "All one-hundred-twenty-five dollars and seventy-two cents."
"Thank you," she nodded. They got out of the Jeep and walked up the front steps. Buffy opened the door for her sister, then closed it behind her.
The second she entered the house, however, Buffy and Dawn were hit by pungent cooking aromas. Before they could ask, Willow poked her head out of the kitchen door, and smiled. "Hey, Summers girls! Welcome home."
"Willow?" Buffy asked. "What�s up?"
"Well," Willow announced casually, "I�ve got a pot roast on the stove, au gratin potatoes in the oven, and a chocolate cheesecake in the fridge. Oh, and I did a grocery run while you were picking up Dawn."
Buffy�s eyes snapped wide open. She entered the kitchen and opened a cupboard door. True to Willow�s word, the shelves were stocked with assorted groceries; pastas, canned goods, rice, sugar, flour, and other staples. The fridge was likewise stocked with produce, meat, milk and eggs. "I didn�t know what you usually do for groceries, so I made a few guesses. Plus there was a sale on kosher hot dogs. Sort of my way of celebrating my first day as a tenant in the Summers boarding house."
"Willow," Buffy looked at her best friend with a renewed awe and surprise. "You didn�t have to do this for us."
"I did if I wanted to eat tonight," Willow smiled. "Look, I�m working for Giles at the Magic Box now, so I can afford to pitch in on the food bill, no problem."
"Yeah," Buffy said, "but all this, plus insisting on paying me rent?"
"No big, Buff," Willow leaned toward the pot roast, sticking a thermometer into the tender meat, checking for doneness. "Hey, it�s only two hundred dollars a month. That�s half what a cheap apartment in California would cost me, plus I�d still have to spring for food, right? Hey, anything I can do while you job hunt, it�s not a hardship."
"Wow," Buffy was still amazed at Willow�s generosity and easy humor. "Okay, if you say so. But I want you to save all your receipts, so I can repay you once I get a job."
Willow started to laugh gently. "Will you listen to yourself? We�re best friends, Buffy. We don�t have to keep score."
"But it�s not fair to you," Buffy protested. "You�ve done all this, plus hacking into my personal files, looking after Dawnie for me while I�m on patrol, cooking, buying groceries�"
"While all you�ve ever done," Willow dimpled merrily, "is give your life to save the world on a regular basis. Not to mention saving my life more often than I�ve eaten hot dinners. Oh, yeah, I�m way ahead on points."
Buffy shook her head, knowing she was not going to win this argument. "Uh, Buffy," Dawn suggested, "maybe you�d better give up now, before she pulls out the ol� R. F."
Buffy rolled her eyes again. Resolve Face. The most potent weapon in Willow�s arsenal. "Okay, you win, I give up," she announced. Then under her breath, she added, "but I still want that receipt."
Willow and Dawn laughed at Buffy�s embarrassment. "Fair enough," Willow admitted. "Now, scoot, while I finish work on dinner."
Later, the three girls enjoyed an excellent repast, and were now savoring their slivers of cheesecake. "Thanks again, Willow," Buffy said, smacking her lips happily. "You�re a damn fine cook."
"Thank you," Willow accepted the compliments from both Summers sisters. "It wasn�t any trouble, really."
"Yeah," Dawn quipped, "except that when Buffy tries to cook, the result never looks that good."
"Dawnie," Buffy glared, "don�t you have a report to study for?"
"G�night, Willow," Dawn stood up and kissed the redhead�s cheek, then turned to kiss her sister good night. "You�ll be up to check in on me later, right?"
"Right, so you better not be spending that time playing Killer Instinct."
"Hey," Dawn defended herself. "I only play that when Spike�s here. He�s more fun to beat than the PlayStation. But he always plays Fulgore. G�night, Buffy." Dawn rushed back to her bedroom, leaving the two best friends alone in the living room.
Buffy looked around the room, which hadn�t changed all that much in the last year. The African tribal masks her mother collected were still on the walls. Buffy didn�t want to take them down after her mother died; they reminded her of Joyce�s warm smile and gentle voice.
"You okay, Buffy?" Willow asked.
"Yeah," Buffy answered, an edge of melancholy in her voice. "I was just remembering. When I was a kid, Mom used to tell me stories about the masks she collected. There was one mask, the thin mahogany one by my bedroom, she once told me was a guardian spirit. Like a good luck charm, she told me. She said it kept nightmares away."
"And you believed her?" Willow asked, her soft voice assuring her friend.
"Hey, it worked," she answered. "At least, until I first found out I was the Slayer. Then nothing could stop the nightmares. But the masks still comfort me, y�know?"
"I know, Buffy. And I like them too. Makes it seem homey, lived in."
"Yeah. I considered taking them down, but I couldn�t. The place just doesn�t seem right without them." She sat in a brief silence, her memories both cheering and saddening her.
Shaking the downward spiral of her thoughts, Buffy asked Willow, "So, you hear from Tara recently?"
"Only every day," Willow smiled. "She called me twice yesterday, and emails me every night. Usually writes something hot and sexy, just to get me in the mood for when I visit her, or she visits me. Oh, that reminds me, she�ll be over this weekend, so if you and Dawn could arrange to be elsewhere for a few hours on Friday night�"
"Say no more," Buffy laughed heartily, "I�ll finally get to take Dawn to see Spy Kids."
"Thanks," Willow smiled, her mind already sketching out her evening with Tara.
"Hey, it�s no problem," Buffy said. "What�s family for?"
"Family?" Willow mused. "Hmm�I think I like that."
"It�s true," Buffy nodded soberly. "You, Tara, Xander, Anya, Giles�you�re the only real family Dawn and I have now."
"Hey, we feel that way about you, y�know," Willow answered. She knew that to be true, especially now after the night she �came out� to her parents. One week later, Willow was passing by her old house, only to find a �For Sale� sign in the front yard. She later learned that her parents had moved, and she didn�t know where they were. Nor did she care; whatever connection existed between them was gone. It hurt Willow to think that, but it was the truth.
"Yeah, but sometimes I don�t know if I deserve it," Buffy answered sadly.
Willow got out of her seat and joined Buffy on the sofa. She could see the trace of a tear running down her cheek. "You okay, Buffy?"
"Okay?" Buffy whispered. "Yeah, now. But just before that night� I wasn�t okay. I just wanted to die. Everything that ever mattered to me was being stripped away from me. Riley was gone, Mom was dead, Dawn was in Glory�s hands. Nothing seemed to matter to me anymore."
"Buffy," Willow said soothingly, as she took Buffy�s hand. "It didn�t happen that way. Dawn�s okay, and we�re still here for you. And Riley was a poophead anyway."
"Yeah," Buffy chuckled mirthlessly. "Oh, I got a letter from Graham the other day. He said that Riley�s pretty much a vegetable now, and likely to remain so for the rest of his life, thanks to Glory�s brain-drain."
"Let�s think about that for a while," Willow said darkly. Buffy glanced at Willow for a second and found herself supremely grateful that she wasn�t her enemy.
"Anyway, after all that happened to me before I was on that tower with Dawn�" She choked back a brief sob that threatened to overtake her voice. "I found myself wondering yesterday, if Riley and I were able to work it out, if Mom had survived, if I hadn�t lost so much before that time, would I have been so quick to jump off the tower?"
Willow regarded Buffy with a patient expression. "You weren�t suicidal, were you?"
"Suicidal?" Buffy asked herself. "No, not suicidal, just fatalistic. But I may always wonder, did I see my �noble sacrifice� as an easy out? I�ll never know for sure."
Willow nodded sadly as her friend shared the burden of her soul. She then turned Buffy�s face to her own with a gentle hand. "Okay, Buffy, I have one for you. Suppose that everything had happened the way it did; Riley wussed out, your mom died, all that. Now, suppose that Spike had managed to stop Doc, and that you were able to save Dawn before she was cut. The portal never opened, and Glory was destroyed. Now, would you have tried to kill yourself then?"
Buffy looked sharply at Willow. "No, of course not! Dawn needs me, I couldn�t do that to her, I�" She looked at Willow, who�s face bore a mildly triumphant smile. "You�re right, Willow. I wouldn�t kill myself. I mean, I know that my life expectancy is less than most others, but I wouldn�t try to do myself in." She gave Willow a watery gaze. "Thank you." She took Willow into her arms, and the two friends held each other, just grateful for that precious contact.
For the first time in a long time, Buffy found herself looking forward for the next day. Whatever happened to her next, she knew that her friends, her Willow, would always be there.
And for now, all was right in Sunnydale.