Exaggeration and Blank Verse
An Unstable Noun
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

It's moving-out day, moving-on day, goodbye to the Hyperion day. She carries all of her boxes out to the truck without any help, even for the bulky cases of books and her own apocrypha.

A door sticks, she kicks it, it falls to splinters.

Blinking, she goes to Angel- is this some part of the Wolfram and Hart deal?

She has always known that he's a vampire, but this is different- when she steps into the room with him she knows he is undead, knows it in her bones and blood and womb. And from the way his nostrils flare at her scent and his eyes go wide, she knows that she's different too.
*-*-*
"What did you do?" are the first words out of his mouth when Faith and Willow step through the door. "This is impossible. She can't be- is Buffy-"

Willow starts to talk about spells and scythes and power sources beyond the reach of even the wisest men. Faith crosses the floor and takes Fred's cold, thin, trembling hands in her own solid, calloused ones. She stares deeply into her eyes.

"Welcome to the party, sister."
*-*-*
She hates the very word: Slayer. Taking a verb, a sturdy part of speech with a job- to slay- and making it a noun by forcibly grafting on a suffix. It’s an assault on the language, on the stable rigid form that holds things together.

Wes would tell her she’s being ridiculous, and she knows that; the very strength of English is its flexibility, the way you can turn nouns to verbs to adjectives and twist meaning around to reveal the flash of color on the underside.

But this word is shaking the walls of the world, tearing down what she knows, what is, and making it something else. Telling her she has a calling and can’t be who or what she is anymore.

The floor is falling away.
*-*-*
"But I want to stay here," she says again and again. "I can fight evil from here. That's our job too."

"It's not that simple," Willow says, all patience and beatific glow. There are streaks of white in her hair Fred doesn't remember being there before. "You need to learn about yourself, your power. You need training."

"Can't Wesley do that?" she asks, trying to catch his eye, but he's staring at the floor in pale, tense misery. "Doesn't he know all about training a-" She can't say the word. It isn't her. It can't be.

"Slayer," Willow supplies. "Things have...changed since he learned to be a Watcher. We're going to do things differently now. And besides, we want to get everyone together so we can figure out the scope of the-" She hesitated, her glow of certainty dimming. "-situation."

"But I signed a contract." Angel shakes his head almost imperceptibly, murmurs that he'll take care of it. His eyes beg her not to say anything else about Wolfram and Hart where it might get back to Buffy.

She wonders what pound of flesh they'll demand from him in exchange for setting her free.
*-*-*
It's a grand old country house, from the Jane Austen tradition, and it's gradually filling from cellar to garret with Slayers.

The others frighten Fred, confuse her, make her skin crawl. She falls well outside the standard deviation of their age range.

There's a handful of girls as young as six, and one snowy-haired grandmother whose tart tongue keeps them all skittering around the grounds. Faith casually mentions that they're pretty sure a few other elderly Potentials, well past their call-by dates, dropped dead of adrenaline shock in the wake of the spell.

There are two middle-aged women, who got pulled away from homes and children to come here and who instantly bond. A dozen prepubescent children. Fred. And the hormonal, power-charged, adolescent horde.

She's never gotten along with teenagers, not even when she was one. This aggressive, strong, willful crowd of them, as intent on having a good time as saving the world, overwhelms her.

A week of barracks-style living and cliques have formed, relentless teasing has begun. Being a Slayer is a primal and dangerous gig; they must root out the weak.

She finds a tiny, empty room, probably once a servant's, and sets about building herself another cave.
*-*-*
In his letters, Wesley theorizes on why she was called, when the rest of her age group seems to be gone.

"Even the Bringers might have found LA a bit hot to handle last year, Fred," he writes. "It was rather a strange time." British understatement. She gets enough of that here not to miss his.

Maybe the others haven't had a reason to notice their powers, having normal lives (parties and jobs and families) to distract them.

Or maybe they just haven't been found yet.

Or maybe they've been found by the wrong side.
*-*-*
Training, of course, straightaway to training.

She thanks the LA gang every night for being living textbooks- Wesley for sound fundamentals, Angel for elegance, Charles for dirty tricks. She wishes she'd paid a bit more attention to Cordelia, that she'd noticed how to streamline their blunt techniques for the female body.

She doesn't quite see why everything must be done with fists and medieval technology. Hollow-point expanding bullets, fired at a vampire's jugular, ought to accomplish the all-important "decap" (terminology courtesy of Faith) from a safe distance.

She learns quickly not to bring up ideas like that to steely-eyed Buffy Summers or their drill instructor, Mr. Wood. They're not in any mood for any more paradigm shifts just now.
*-*-*
She liked Willow, once, when first they met. Now she avoids her, hides in corners till she’s gone. She can’t look at the woman whose power took her life away.

She likes Mr. Giles, who's always so tired and absent-minded but never fails to spare her a smile. He makes her think of Wesley, of course, and she has to remind herself not to shadow him.

The dark-haired man with the eyepatch and the crooked smile, Xander, reminds her of Charles. His reasons for fighting, his quick wit, his gentle and real kindness of heart; they draw her into an orbit of regretful longing, and again it takes an act of will to hold herself away.

Buffy is so much like Angel, carrying the world’s weight on strong shoulders, that Fred finds it difficult to look at her at all. Poor champions, with their duty-bound souls and broken hearts.

Dawn often reminds her of Cordelia, never losing touch with the fizzy pop world and connecting it to their macabre one with deft exuberance.

And Andrew is Lorne, never failing to bring the brightly-colored and irrelevant back to them, cornering Fred at every turn to talk about Star Trek and theories of perpetual motion.

Ghosts of her friends, in new bodies. Her muscles grow stronger, and her heart aches. She must hold herself back from them. She has to.

Even now, even when they come by the dozens…a Slayer walks alone.
*-*-*
She and Faith go to Paris, for training in urban tactics and patrols. They stake and behead and burn, then tumble back into the Council’s flat just before sunrise.

It’s tradition that Slayers like to fuck after fighting, and Faith really hates to be told no.
*-*-*
Back to England and snowfall, just as Willow, Xander, Buffy and Dawn depart for well-deserved working vacations. She takes as much of Dawn’s role as training allows, cracking the books with Giles. His careworn serenity is soothing.

She naively expected Robin Wood to remind her of Charles, but he doesn’t, not at all. He seems to have come out of another world, one she can’t fathom, and the sharp-angled discipline of his training program makes her teeth grind.

But he’ll make a Slayer of her yet.
*-*-*
A call for help from Los Angeles- rogue Slayer found. It’s a flare thrown up from a world fading into memory’s mists by the day.

She begs to go, assures them she’s ready, is denied. Andrew goes.

When he returns, it takes hours of wheedling, a promise to proofread the physics in his half-written sci-fi epic, and finally the best weed she can find on short notice to get the story out of him.

She imagines Angel’s face as Andrew’s words sank in and the Slayers walked away. She think she understands, a little bit, now- people you thought you knew end up far, far away, and they change when you aren’t looking. Their circumstances mold them till you might not know them anymore. That train of thought makes her stomach hurt.

She wonders, petulantly, aloud, why these people insist on writing off her friends because their new jobs don’t fit into the “good” and “evil” boxes already drawn.

Giles offers to explain it to her, in private. He rolls up his sleeves and unbuttons his collar and tells her about temptation and contagion and dark sides.
*-*-*
In Los Angeles, Cordelia dies.

Miraculous, Fred receives permission to return.

When she steps off the airplane arm in black-clad arm with Rupert, and sees Wesley’s face as it falls, she realizes that a Slayer’s powers extend to breaking hearts.

She wishes she could explain. She wants to tell him not to worry, that it won’t last, that it can’t. It’s just stealing a last moment of comfort in the falling night, making one more contact before she sets off alone with her calling in the dark.
*-*-*
She hasn’t heard from Angel in months, so she eagerly lunges for the phone when Andrew offers it. Moments later she’s dropping it with a wail of anguish and a fall of tears.

Not Charles- Charles who loved her and made her laugh, Charles who was so proud of his new brain and new role that she couldn’t even bring herself to point out the probable wisdom of looking gift evil in the mouth- not him.

Angel’s voice, harsh and flat over an airplane phone. “He signed a form to get an artifact in the country- went to see what it was- dying-”

She gets to the airfield to meet him just before he goes home in defeat. Another man slips into the shadows in a swirl of leather as the Council car appears, but she only has eyes for Angel.

Angel, once called Champion.

“How?” she demands through her tears. “Why?”

He explains what he can, but he doesn’t have any answers. They grieve together in the rain.
*-*-*
Weeks and months. Swords and quarterstaffs. She finally gets Faith to let her experiment on patrol, to try out shotguns and expanding bullets. Works like a charm.

“Bringing Slayerhood into the twenty-first century,” she tells Rupert with a grin, and she laughs when he shudders.

She’s stronger. Thinner. Still would rather have a book in her hands than a blade.

But the more she teases from research about what might be going down in LA, the less she doubts that the latter is what she’ll need.
*-*-*
She leans her forehead against the bus window, closes her eyes, tries not to cry.

A phone call. Wesley’s weary voice. “It’s all gone mad- Angel’s trying for noble suicide- good for him, but I don’t want nor do I intend to die…”

Send backup.

When she and Faith together insist that the Slayers answer the call, even Buffy relents. The receipt of permission from Rome leads to ten hasty minutes of battle plans in England.

And now a busload of Slayers- all you need for an army- is hurtling through the night to the coven-grounds, where Willow is even now gathering enough power to defy reality and the physics Fred still loves to build a Gate.

Bringing the cavalry to Angel and Wes and the demon-god-king that lives in Gunn’s body. She remembers when she was the one who got rescued.

“You can’t always expect some handsome man to ride up and save you from the monsters,” Buffy had said in a lecture once, and nobody understood why that made Fred laugh.

She wonders how things might’ve been different if she had stayed, if she could’ve stopped them from falling so far, if her presence would have prevented all of this. No way to know, no point in dwelling. But with distance comes perspective, maybe even wisdom. Maybe not…

Suicide by apocalypse is unacceptable. She’s learned enough tricks from Buffy and Faith to explain that to Angel with physical force if necessary.

She isn’t going to let her champions just burn out, no matter how great the blaze of glory. Call her selfish, but she won’t give them up. She’ll save their silly asses and keep them around for a good long time, because even with her new role- Slayer, who walks alone- she loves them.

She opens her eyes and looks out at the sky, where the sunset light is just starting to fade away.

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