Future Imperfect

by Rachel Lynn Brody

OPENING of Future Imperfect

"In every generation, there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."

--Watcher Handbook

"The child of night, cursed with a soul, shall find true happiness and lose all. Evil shall consume him until he is not himself. Love shall pursue hope beyond prudence, for the chance to regain the lost, until the dark flame is stolen from her hands at the moment of her greatest need. But should a champion step forth to bear the light, giving the sacrifice of years, the tapestry shall be rewoven."

--Translation, Pagamon Codex

Part Zero: In the Beginning...

        Place: Sunnydale Cemetery.
        Time: November 24th, 2002, Late Night.

She was shivering. The night was cold, and Buffy Summers was freezing. Her stakes were behind a gravestone a few feet away, and instead of them, she clutched a black candle tight in her hand. There was a zippo lighter with a broken heart on it in the other -- she'd seen it earlier in the week and been unable to resist the irony.

Four years, and they had been far too long. It had come time for there to be an end to things as they stood, and as Buffy's thin, small body shook in the cold, she reminded herself once more that she was ready to meet her destiny, whatever that was going to be. Four years were too long to have been living with a broken heart.

Angelus. She could feel him, coming closer by the second. He knew she was out here. She swallowed and pushed a strand of fine blonde hair away from her face, fighting back the sudden nausea that rose up inside her when she thought of him. The thing in her love's body, the thing that had kept them apart for so long. She'd kill it, tonight.

She took a breath, closing her eyes and concentrating on the feelings of everything around her. Energy was pulsing through this place, and if she tuned herself carefully enough, she could feel the thin connections between objects. Her Slayer's sense would be able to pick out exactly where he was, as soon as he came close.

She took a breath, sipping in the clear, cold air. Wondering how much longer it was going to be before Angelus arrived, wondering if she would forget the incantation at the last moment, wondering all manner of things as she waited.

Out of nowhere, she heard a hiss, and a large mass rammed her to the ground. The zippo and the candle flew from her hands and into the grass, and Buffy found herself staring up into Angelus' cold, cruel eyes, her wrists pinned to the ground above her head. When her mind registered the black leather pants and crimson silk shirt he was wearing, she realized her ages-old adversary had dressed up for an occasion. What that occasion was, however, she wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Buffy," Angelus snarled, a pseudo-sympathetic expression on his face, "I'm sorry, but I think this game of cat-and-mouse has gone on long enough." His lips twisted into a sort of grin. "I heard you were planning on cursing me again tonight." He shook his head. "Sorry, babe. Ain't gonna happen." Then his smile widened slightly. "However... I did think maybe I could give you something."

Struggling through his words, Buffy was trying to squirm loose. But in the years since he'd been re-possessed, Angelus' strength had increased-- and now she had to admit, she might be in over her head.

But all she needed was that candle, and the lighter...

Angelus took a moment to reposition her arms, his short, black hair not even mussed, and now he was holding them down with one hand. Buffy struggled harder, knowing something was wrong-- she should have been able to break this grip, and yet she could barely move.

He pulled a small cardboard figure out of the back pocket of his jeans, and it took Buffy a moment to realize it was wrapped in black ribbon. "See this?" he asked. "Know what it means?"

She glared up at him, trying to work her legs up to a point where she would have the leverage to force him off her and get back up.

"I've bound you," he said. "Cardboard cutout, a little picture of you--" He grinned. "My own drawing. Not too bad, if I do say so myself... which I do." His tone was almost an academic one. "I wrap it in black ribbon, so it can't see the world around it, and that means you can't fight me." He leaned in, his grin widening and the barest hints of his fangs showing. "You don't have a chance, lover. Isn't that lovely?"

She glared up. "Fucking beautiful," she snapped. "Liar."

He rolled his eyes. "Buffy, come on," he said. "Don't be ridiculous. You know as well as I do that you've broken out of grips like this. I could get up and we could fight again, if you want me to prove it to you." There was a smirk on his face as he said the words. "Major turn on, you know."

"Fine," she said, glaring. "So let me up, and we'll see."

He appeared to consider for a moment, then shook his head. "Nah. It'll be much more fun the way I've got things planned." Slipping the figure back into his pocket, he slid his free hand down her throat, pushing her head to one side.

To her horror, Buffy found she was powerless to stop him. There was a sharp laugh as Angelus saw comprehension dawning in her expression. Then he bent down and affixed his fangs to her throat. The moment his fangs penetrated her flesh, Buffy realized she was in trouble, and in it deep. His lips had locked against her, and she could feel him slowly draining her. After a few seconds, she began to feel lightheaded, and it was only then that Angelus pulled away from her, blood trickling from the corner of his lips. He smiled down on her, stroking her hair with one hand. "See, Buffy?" he asked. "We can be together now, you know."

"In your dreams," she hissed, but she could barely make her eyes focus on him.

"Every night," he chuckled. Then he let her hands go completely and, still sitting on her, pulled a knife from his jacket, making a swipe across his wrist. "Time for Buffy to have a little snack," he said.

Buffy tried to twist away, but succeeded only in getting her hand behind the gravestone where she had placed the stakes.

She swallowed hard as Angel reached down toward her, and shut her mouth tight. The vampire was too busy pinning her nose closed with the hand that was holding the knife to realize she had pulled one of the stakes out.

Had Buffy not been ready to faint from lack of both blood and oxygen, she probably wouldn't have done what she did. But she was, and she couldn't think clearly enough to stop herself.

If Angelus hadn't been so intent on turning her into a vampire, he would have seen the stake earlier.

As it was, neither realized what the Slayer was doing until the stake connected with Angelus' chest, driving through once-- and missing his heart. Buffy jerked it back out as she heard Angelus howl in pain. She felt something cold and hot slice through her throat, then drive itself into her belly, and the last thing she felt before the darkness took her was the stake finding its target and then falling onto her gut as the pressure there suddenly lightened and disappeared.

Part One: Future Imperfect

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.

-- James Taylor, "Fire and Rain"

        Place: Sunnydale Cemetery.
        Time: May 19, 2012.

The clear, cold air brushed his face as Xander Harris stepped up to a large marble headstone. The air tickled in the beard he had only recently begun to grow again, which as yet was barely longer than a five-o'clock shadow. He shut his eyes for a few seconds, wondering what had happened that he had been driven back here after so long. He had thought he'd put Sunnydale behind him.

His eyes fell to the grass, and he felt his chest constrict as he crouched and brushed the blades with one palm -- the other was holding a single yellow rose, which he'd bought on his way here. The grass was soft, tickling his flesh. He almost smiled.

Then his eyes returned to the grave marker, and he choked again. He pushed himself to his feet and stepped carefully over the grave so he was nearer to the headstone.

        Buffy Summers.
        Daughter and Friend.

The words, written in cold marble, seemed so inadequate, to describe the vibrant, charming, fierce, wonderful young woman Xander had known.

He had never meant to come back here. He'd thought it would be too painful, and he'd been right. His wife, an English professor at UCLA, had left with their two children for the summer -- and possibly a great deal longer, leaving him with nothing to do but sit and brood and finally accept Willow's invitation to visit.

Anna-Marie had run her fingers through his hair, told him he needed a haircut and he might want to consider dying his hair black again -- he was going gray around the edges at age thirty-two, just like his father had. Then Anna-Marie had said something about how she was getting tired of taking care of him, tired of hearing about Buffy Summers and wonderful Sunnydale, and if it was so amazingly incredible, then why hadn't he tried visiting the girl's grave for once in his life?

Then she had packed up and gone, on a trip to her mother's that was going to last the whole summer break. Taking Nina and Elliot with her.

"I can't help it," he'd called to her as her car had been pulling out of the driveway, her window rolled down just enough for him to speak. "That was a big part of my life."

"But it's over now, Alex," she'd replied, her tone a bitter one. "It's over and I want you to move on so you can be my husband again."

When Willow had called the next day, asking if he could come for a visit, what could he do but accept the invitation? She had been trying to convince him to come back to visit her for years, but he'd never accepted. She had been overjoyed when he'd finally accepted. She had wanted to take him to the grave herself, this morning, but he had told her he wanted to have time to be alone with their dead friend.

It was funny, he supposed, because he had never thought about how brief Buffy's life would most likely be when they had become friends. But it made sense, given the Slayer's lifestyle.

Even so.

He was still staring at the headstone an hour later, and he hadn't said a word. Finally, realizing it was coming near lunch and he had another visit to make, he took the rose from the damp paper towel he'd wrapped it in, and laid it across the head of Buffy's grave.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Sorry I waited so long. Sorry for so many things. Wherever you are now, I hope you know that."

There was no answer from beyond the grave, and Xander knew he hadn't sincerely expected, or hoped for one. Still, it was all he could do to keep from looking back as he walked to his car, then drove away from the cemetery.