It was then that it happened. As the small gold cross passed from hand to hand, we each saw something different. It wasn't until later when we compared notes that I fully realized what my ghosts were trying to tell me. As the cross slipped from Xander's hand into Cordelia's outstretched palm, she started sobbing, and somehow it seemed again like only minutes after Giles gave us the horrible news so many years ago. I guess Cordelia can tell better what she saw:
"It was so weird when I looked up from that little cross, and I saw Buffy and Giles standing there. She was just like I remember, and it took me a minute to compose myself. Then she spoke to me.
'Geez, Cordelia, get a grip! I never thought you cried this much. I thought that was Willow,' she grinned.
'Buffy, I'm making up for lost time,' I stammered. I wanted to wipe the tears out of my face but I couldn't find my tissues. So for the first time in I don't know how long, I wiped my eyes on my sleeve like Xander used to.
'You can't cry when you're a politician,' I said trying to stand up straight and regain some sense of dignity.
'Yeah, must be a rough business.' She smiled at me, and her green eyes . . .well that almost started the whole crying thing all over again. I ended up floundering in my purse still looking for tissues. Like an idiot, all I could say was 'Yeah.'
I just didn't know what to say to her after that. It was then I realized how young and beautiful she had been. Finally I blurted out the only thing that came to my mind.
'Buffy, I'm sorry . . . I'm so sorry I was such a bitch to you.'
'You were a bitch!?' She almost laughed. "I think we spent half our time together clawing each others' eyes out! Builds character! Made you tough, right?'
'Yeah,' I almost couldn't continue talking. 'Hey, Giles.'
'Tell your Slayer to shut up before she makes me start crying again!'
Giles never took his eyes off me. I always remember him as tired and frazzled but not today. His eyes sparkled, and I suddenly realized he wasn't wearing glasses anymore.
'You know it's not just what happened to us.'
I finally said something I had been thinking of for years.
'Giles, I know that. But you guys were where it all began. When Buffy died and then Xander left me, I was never certain of anything after that. So I had to be strong. I swore I'd never be hurt like that again.'
Suddenly Buffy came up right beside me.
'And you've done great,' she said softly, 'I can't believe it. Look at you! A US Senator!' I dropped my head as she put her hand on my shoulder.
'But it's been 20 years, Cordie. It's time, now. . . Open your heart a little bit again . . . do it for me . . . one bitch to another! . . . Then I think I could sleep better.'
Suddenly Buffy and Giles were gone. And I can't remember when I cried that hard except maybe once a long time ago on a sunny morning."
Cordelia held Buffy's cross for what seemed like only few moments. But in that short period of time she gripped it so tight in her hands and cradled it so fiercely up against her breast, I thought she was protecting something more valuable than life itself. Then, as quickly as she had received the cross, she suddenly looked directly at Xander. With her hands clasped together and her palms open, like she was holding something sacred, she offered the little cross to Xander. I've never seen her mascara such a mess.
Each movement we made seemed in slow motion like I sometimes experience in a dream. Xander gently plucked the cross out of Cordelia's outstretched hands, lifting it by the delicate chain. He gently rubbed the tiny links between his fingers then drew the gold cross in and caressed it with his hands. He never said a word but stared intensely at this solitary physical presence of our old friend. Later, Xander tried to describe what he saw.
"The minute that chain hit may hand, she was right in front of me. Giles, too. Of course, like a dork, I just stood there with my mouth open. She smiled, . . . God, that smile. Then she spoke.
'Xander? . . . Yoo hoo? . . ."
I didn't say anything, just stared. Then I took a deep breath.
'Buffy, are you . . . real?'
'You can see me, can't you?'
'Yeah, but that doesn't mean you're real.'
What happened next, well . . . Buffy reached out and took one of my hands in hers, and she just sort of gently rubbed it. And I remember thinking, gosh this is strange cause her hands used to have calluses from working out, but now they were so smooth and soft.
'Xander,' she said, 'You can see me. You can feel me. For you then, I am real.'
And I did something even crazier. I took my hand away from her, reached up . . . and gently stroked the side of her face. Then, with the same hand I kissed my fingertips and touched her forehead with them. Oh God, then she smiled again! It was like twenty years had never passed!
'Don't smack me, Buff, I'm not trying to be fresh.'
'I know. That was so sweet. You have a big heart, Xander Harris. And I got a bone to pick with you about that. We don't have a lot of time, and you have to do something for me.'
Imagine it! Buffy Summers needed me to do something for her! My ego went through the roof. Whatever she wanted! I would have even charged out and mooned the Master right then and there!
'Xander? Why did you have to go break Cordy's heart?'
I never saw that one coming!
'You guys were so good together. What happened?'
'Buffy . . . please . . .'
'Xander, tell me . . .'
And then I said things I wanted to say for twenty years, but the only person I should have told them to I'd run away from. So I told them to a ghost instead.
'Buffy, when you died, inside me something died, I think in all of us. We tried to go on but . . . everything fell apart. It hit Cordy especially bad. So I kept her as close to me as I could. I showered her with gifts, love, . . . we took off over spring break alone to a cabin up north. Our parents didn't like that one at all. But she really wanted to be alone with me. And then . . . I proposed to her. Her parents flipped! But it was all worth it cause you should have seen the look on her face when I gave her the ring. It was just a shitty little thing, but you'd have believed she thought it was the Hope Diamond.'
'I know, Xander. I was watching you guys that day.'
'Then you know nothing was healing. Everyday around here it got worse and worse. I'd sit in my room at night and cry. Cry, Buffy! Blubbering! It wasn't just because of what happened to you. It was for everything we'd lost. And more we were losing every day. By the end of senior year, I hated the sight of Sunnydale, even California. I had to get out of here. I even thought about taking Cordy with me. I figured we'd elope and start out completely fresh someplace else. As far away as possible.'
'But then I realized, something about Cordy. She doesn't follow. She has to lead. That's who she is. If we had gotten married and then left for Boston, it would have destroyed her. I mean, look at her now! Do you think she'd be in the Senate if she were married to me. She'd have always resented me holding her back, and we'd probably have ended up in divorce court in three years. Either that or stuck it out hating each other . . . even though we loved each other. I couldn't go through with it, Buff. I figured it was better to hurt her once, rather than break her heart year after year.'
Then Buffy stared me straight in the eyes.
'Xander, did you ever tell Cordy this?'
'Well, no.' I had to look away. Buffy reached out with her hand again and turned my head back to look at her.
'Then that's what I want you to do for me.'
'Can't I just go stake a vampire? Maybe somebody's harvested Snyder by now.'
'I realize this is a heck of a lot harder. That's why I want you to do it. Deal?'
Bowing my head, I nodded in agreement. Then she leaned up and kissed me on the cheek. Something in me snapped. I saw Giles standing behind her, and I lashed out at him.
'Damn it, Giles! Why the hell didn't you let us help? We all would have done anything for her! Willow, Oz, me, Cordie, we'd have all thrown everything away! Everything!'
I turned back to Buffy and could feel the wetness on my cheeks.
'Everything, Buffy . . . to protect you . . . '
'I know, Xander,' she replied and she hugged me as I couldn't stop the tears from running down my face.
'And I didn't want that,' she said quietly.
For the first time, Giles spoke. His voice was calm. Every word he said was soothing. There was none of the pain and sorrow Willow had described from his letter.
'I know you would have,' he said. 'And I wrestled with the idea for hours that night. But the reality of the situation was the Darkness now knew the Slayer was crippled, and all the forces of the Hellmouth were about to sweep down sensing her weakness. All of you would have fallen defending Buffy. I was already going to be responsible for the destruction of someone very dear to me. I would not let a worse fate befall four others she loved very much.'
I hung my head, ashamed of my outburst. It was then that Buffy took my hand again.
'I gotta scoot, Xander. I'm always around, though, if you need to talk. I'm a great listener now. And remember . . . talk to Cordy, okay?'
'I will,' I said, 'And Buff, . . . I may want to shoot the breeze sometime, if that's all right. Some of the kids I counsel now, well, I don't know what to do for them sometimes, and you had a great way of cutting through the bull crap.' She smiled.
'I'll be there when you need me.' And then they were gone. The next thing I knew I was handing Buffy's cross to you, Willow."
And my hand was stretched out to Xander to receive this tiny gold fragment of a life that had meant so much to me. Like a drop of water scattering rainbow brilliance, falling though the darkness, Buffy's cross slipped out of his hand and, as in a frozen moment in time, dropped silently into mine. And then she was looking at me.
"Hey, Buffy." That's all I could say. I wasn't frightened, but more in awe than anything else. For a moment more we stared at each other in silence.
"We're here, Buffy," I finally blurted out. " Me, Xander and Cordelia. We couldn't help you and Giles before but we're here now. And I'm keeping my promise. We're not leaving until we make things right for you and Giles. You guys are not going to deal with this alone any more."
She was so happy to see me. Usually I'm the one with the big grin but this time . . . those sparkling green eyes . . . I couldn't help but grin right back at her in spite of my misgivings.
"That's better, Will," she said. But something wasn't right. She seemed at peace, not the high strung Buffy I remembered. And then I saw Giles and he was just like Xander and Cordelia would later describe him, very calm, unperturbed, nothing like the distraught image I remember from my sleepless nights.
"Buffy?" I couldn't formulate my question because I really didn't know what to ask.
"Willow, . . . Giles and I, we called you guys here."
"But I don't understand, Buffy."
I looked uncertainly at Giles.
"Giles? Your letter, . . . I thought . . ."
Giles then spoke to me. His voice was soothing with none of the pompous uncertainty that we used to laugh at. In fact, I don't even remember an accent.
"Willow," he said, "That suffering was while I was still alive. It was part of the penance I had to serve as a Watcher. But that's all gone now."
Buffy joined in.
"What Giles didn't realize was I forgave him twenty years ago." As she continued, it was then that I saw the first touch of sadness on her face.
"But what we couldn't foresee was how it would tear you guys apart. So Giles and I, we called you here."
I was stunned. I could only think of all the nights I had lain awake, even before receiving Giles' letter, weeping over the unknown fate that had befallen my two best friends. Of the days in computer class where I had inexplicably started crying in the middle of a lesson. How could I have been so stupid. We weren't here for them. Once again, Buffy and Giles were coming through for us.
"Willow, it's all right," she said. "You can make your peace with it now and keep the good memories."
And then I began to whimper. I felt so ashamed and foolish.
"But Buffy, I still feel like I could have done something for you . . . and if not that, then at least helped Giles! Giles, all those years you were alone . . ."
Giles interrupted me.
"There is something you can do, Willow. And it's very important."
"Willow, you still have your diaries?"
"Yes," I said as I tried to stop sniffling.
"Then I want you to write the story."
Now I was puzzled.
"I want you to chronicle those two and half years," he continued, "and send it to other Watchers and Slayers as a guide and a witness to all of our struggles together."
Buffy then put her hand on my shoulder. "That way, Willow, others can benefit from what we did right . . . and learn from our screw ups."
"Then, Willow," Giles said, "I want you to publish it . . . as fiction of course. That way, everyone who reads our adventures, although they disbelieve the events in their minds, will know in their hearts the truth of what we did and sense the strength of what we felt for each other . . . And that way, Buffy and I won't just live on in your heart alone, we'll all live on . . . forever. Vox audita perit, littera scripta manet. . . . 'The spoken word passes away. That which is written down lives forever.'"
It was such a strange but exhilarating feeling; the thought of doing what Giles asked unleashed a surge of optimism and joy. Then Giles and Buffy became blurry, maybe it was the tears in my eyes. By the time I wiped them with the back of my hand, my dear friends were gone. And I was left standing, holding a little gold cross in my shaking hands.
I turned to pass this precious symbol of all Buffy had just done for us back to Xander. Although he had no idea what I had seen, he smiled and shook his head.
"You keep it, Will," he said. "I think for whatever it is Buffy and Giles want you to do, it'll be important."
In those few moments, all our roaming spirits were put to rest. The next morning Cordelia and I saw Xander off on the plane to Boston. As I waved goodbye from the observation deck, I wondered about what had happened the previous day. It was clear I had completely misunderstood my ghosts. Xander, Cordelia and I thought we were returning to Sunnydale to bring peace to two troubled spirits. In reality, Buffy and Giles called us back to lay to rest demons that had haunted us for twenty years.
Why Buffy chose this moment in time, I'll never know. I guess it was Giles' letter and his passing, the years of torment he must have endured. I just marvel at the spirit of my dearest friend whose strength could span time and, as my mind saw it, whose love could reach from beyond the grave and make broken spirits whole once again.
Cordelia and I drove back to Sunnydale and had a late lunch that afternoon. As we sat sipping our glasses of Chardonnay I couldn't help but ask her about Xander. For the first time I can remember, Cordelia's smile seemed really relaxed.
"Yeah, we talked for awhile last night after you left. I'm glad we did. We both feel a lot better about it. Now Willow, you have to bring out those photos you've been dying to show but are too modest to mention."
I looked at her, puzzled that she would be so perceptive as to guess the one thing that gave me my greatest joy, my family. As I drew out a small group picture from my purse, Cordelia virtually snatched it out of my hand.
"Oh, they are so beautiful! They have your gorgeous hair!" And I sensed a touch of sadness in her admiration for the picture.
"Willow! You didn't tell me you married a hunk!"
I beamed with pride.
"Jonathan is really great. He's kind, loves the kids and is a total slave!" I laughed. Cordelia didn't want to give the picture up. She stared at the bent photograph for a few moments longer in silence. Finally smiling again, she passed it back to me.
By now, the second glass of wine had made me bold (and a little flushed, too!) so I screwed up my nerve and asked the question that had been on my mind all during lunch.
"Cordy? Is there someone in your life, some one who adores you?"
I thought I knew her answer, but, when it came, it was the tone that surprised me. I never thought she would respond with such self confident candor.
"Me? Naah!" For a second there she sounded like Buffy. "Will, I've got so much going on right now but . . . who knows . . . there's always the future and I'm a little more open to the idea." And then Cordelia stared out the window by our table and spoke as if it were not me with her but someone else.
"Trouble is, my standards are too high. I can't help it. I was spoiled. It's been so long since I've met somebody who measured up to the first guy."
As I fumbled through my purse for a tissue, my hands brushed across the gold cross again. It was then that a strange thought crossed my mind.
"You know, Cordy, I was wondering. Maybe we ought to take a drive down by where the factory used to be. I know it's gone and all but maybe just to say goodbye to Buffy one last time."
It was then that Cordelia gave me a look she used to reserve for Xander when he did something dumb but she loved him nonetheless for it.
"Willow, dear Willow, what would we ever want to do something like that for?" Cordelia sipped her wine waiting for me to explain myself.
"Well, I just thought . . ." Cordelia interrupted me. Her smile was radiant and uncritical.
"Willow, why would we go back to the old factory? Buffy's not there." Then she took her hand and placed it gently over her heart.
"She's right here. And I, for one, have no intention ever of saying goodbye!"
Cordelia was right. I'm back home now, writing as fast as I can. And the feeling is exhilarating!