Aurelia sighed and knocked on the front door of her mother's house. It took a long moment, since it was so late, before Joyce answered the door. Her eyes widened in shock, then quickly teared up at the sight of her daughter. A quiet sob came out of her mouth before she pulled Aurelia to her.
"Oh, Buffy. I was so worried." Joyce cried.
"I'm fine, mom." Aurelia said, hugging her mother back. "Everything's going to be ok." She led her mother into the living room and sat her down on the couch.
"Mr. Giles said that you weren't actually my daughter, the Buffy I raised…."
"No! No, mom! I am your daughter…. I am Buffy! I just…. It's…. You know how some people can remember a past life?" Joyce nodded. "Well, I remember all of mine."
Joyce was suddenly very angry. "Where have you been! Do you know how worried I was about you? Slayer or not, you are still a seventeen year old girl! You cannot just run off like that and not let me know where you were!"
Aurelia nodded. "You don't understand."
"You should've stayed and made me understand! You just dumped this thing on me and you expected me to get it. You can't imagine months of not knowing. Not knowing whether you're lying dead in a ditch somewhere or, I don't know, living it up…."
"I'm sorry I made you worry and scared, but I had to leave. There was nothing that anybody could do. It was the best way for everyone."
"Why? Why would leaving your friends and your mother behind and make them worry so much about you be the best for everyone?"
"I thought you all would be safer with me gone."
"When will you understand that I don't care about my safety as long as my little girl is safe?"
"Probably never considering I am, technically, older than you."
"How…." Joyce sighed and considered not asking the question. She asked it anyway. "How old?"
Aurelia shrugged. "I don't really know. My first lifetime that started this whole reincarnation thing was sometime in the height of the Roman Empire. I don't remember the exact date." Joyce's eyes widened. "I was the youngest daughter of the Emperor at that time." Joyce's eyes widened even further. "Oddly enough, I looked exactly like I do now."
"Yes. It's how Cassius…." Aurelia stopped talking. She didn't really want her mother to know about Cassius.
Aurelia sighed. "That's a long story, mom. Let's just go to bed and I'll tell you about it in the morning."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, Buffy!" Joyce hugged her tightly. "I was so worried about you."
"We'll have to call and try to get you back into school. Those charges against you were dropped, so that Principal Snyder can't keep you out of that school."
"We'll talk about that later, mom. Come on, let's go to bed."
After Aurelia got her mom tucked back into bed, she went into her room and looked around. Nothing had changed. The clothes she'd dropped on the floor by the bed after she'd changed were still there. The claddagh ring she'd left on the vanity was still sitting there, glaring at her. Reminding her of what she'd lost and might not get back. She quickly turned away and placed her bag on the floor by the night stand. She picked up the clothes and tossed them in the empty hamper before going to her dresser and pulling out a pair of shorts and a tank top to sleep in.
After she'd curled up in her bed, the tears started to come. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed the life she'd left behind. She'd missed her friends terribly. She'd missed her mother even more. Her mother and her had a lot to work through, especially since Joyce knew Aurelia wasn't exactly Buffy anymore and she was also a Slayer. She also mourned the nights that Cassius as Angel had snuck in to her room and curled up with her or sat by the window to watch over her. She mourned the one night of reunion they'd had before Angelus had returned. She couldn't bring herself to think of the second brief reunion they'd had. That memory was too painful and her mind shut down at the mere thought of it.
After checking with Giles on if he'd found anything and talking with her mother for a little bit, Aurelia met Willow for coffee at the Espresso Pump. They were sitting in silence poking at their drinks with their straws. It was a little awkward, but Aurelia was glad that Willow had suggested meeting. Finally, Aurelia couldn't take the silence.
"I was just trying to make things easier." She said quietly.
"For who?" Willow asked.
"For everyone but me. But it looked like you all were doing fine without me."
"We were doing the best we could. It's not like we had a lot of choice in the matter."
"I'm sorry that I had to leave, but…. There's no way you could know what I was going through."
"Well, I'd like to."
"I don't think you would understand."
"Well, maybe I don't need to understand. Maybe I…. I just need you to talk to me. This isn't easy, Aurelia! I know you're going through stuff, but…. so am I."
"I know that you were worried about me, but…."
"No! I don't just mean that. I mean, my life! You know? I, um…. I'm having all sorts of…. I'm dating, I'm having serious dating with a werewolf, a-and I'm studying witchcraft and killing vampires, and I didn't have anyone to talk to about all this scary life stuff. And you were my best friend."
"You have no idea how much I missed you. Everyone. I wanted to call every day."
"That doesn't matter, Aurelia. It doesn't make it ok that you didn't."
"I know." Aurelia started to cry and Willow automatically put her arms around her. "I had to send him to hell. The look in his eyes when I did it…. But I did it for my friends. For my mother. I couldn't let you all go to hell…. And I couldn't face you all afterwards either. I'd ignored what Angelus was doing to everyone else so I could finally kill him and after he was gone and I'd sent…. I couldn't face you all. I knew he'd done horrible things to you and I knew there was no way I could get him back and you all would be ok with that, so I had to leave. I had to. I wanted you all to be safe because what if I did get him back and it was just a…. a fluke and he was Angelus…. I could face that alone. I couldn't face that with you guys in danger."
Willow hugged Aurelia and wiped at her own tears. "I'm sorry you had to go through with that, and yes, it would've been hard to see Angel again, but we would've handled it together. You're my best friend, Aurelia. I need you here. I'm really dealing with all this crazy stuff and there's no one who understands it better than you!"
Aurelia hugged Willow back. "I'm so sorry. I really am."
"It's ok. I'm sorry too."
"For not being a better friend. I don't think you would've run if I'd have been a better friend."
"Please don't ever think that! You're the best friend anyone could ask for. I just wanted you to be safe and I thought if I wasn't around, that would happen, but you all seem to have gotten a system up and running."
"Yeah. It's pretty scary. Not to be ungrateful, but I'm really hoping you'll take it back up."
"Oh, yes. I'd planned on it. So, tell me about your summer and your learning to be a witch."
"Well, I'm not a full-fledged witch. That takes years. I just did a couple pagan blessings and…. a teeny glamour to hide a zit."
"Does it scare you?"
"It has. I tried to communicate with the spirit world, and I so wasn't ready for that. It's like being pulled apart inside. Plus I blew the power for a whole block. Big scare."
"Oh, I wish I could've been there with you."
"Me, too. I really freaked out."
"I am sorry."
"It's ok. I understand you having to bail. I can forgive that. I have to make allowances for what you're going through a-and be a grownup about it."
"You're very good at this moral superiority thing, aren't you?"
"It's like a drug!" Aurelia laughed. "So, are you coming back to school?"
"My mom wants me to, but…."
"Awe, Aurelia, you have to! It's not the same without you there. Principal Snyder can't keep you out. He doesn't have any good reason to keep you out."
"You can't get to Giles during school hours. If you're an expelled student, you're not allowed on school property and that's where Giles works. He's going to be the one to figure this whole prophecy thing out and you have to be there when he does cause it's about you."
Aurelia smiled and sighed. "I suppose you're right. My mom made an appointment with that little troll for this afternoon. We'll see how it goes. He really hates me for no reason."
"Yeah. Oh! I could turn him into a little troll for you."
Aurelia laughed. "As appealing as that sounds, I'm going to have to decline on your behalf. I believe that would count as personal gain and I don't want it falling on either of us."
"Ok, Buffy." Joyce said. "Best behavior."
"Of course." Aurelia said. "Nothing but." They were headed into the Principal's office at Sunnydale.
Snyder sat behind his desk and glared at them. They didn't even get to say anything as they sat down. Snyder cut them off. "Absolutely not. Under no circumstances."
"But you can't keep her out of school. You don't have the right." Joyce said.
"I have not only the right, but also a nearly physical sensation of pleasure at the thought of keeping her out of school. I'd describe myself as tingly."
"Buffy was cleared of all those charges."
"Yes. And while she may live up to the not-a-murderer requirement for enrollment, she is a troublemaker, destructive to school property, and the occasional student. And her grade point average is enough to…." His eyes glazed over for an instant. "I'm sorry. Another tingle moment."
"I'll have you know that my grade point average has nothing to do with how smart I am." Aurelia said. "I am ten thousand times smarter than you will ever be."
"I don't see how you can be so cavalier about a young girl's entire future!" Joyce said.
"I'm quite sure that a girl with the talents and abilities of Buffy will land on her feet." Snyder said. "In fact, I noticed as I came in this morning that Hot Dog on a Stick is hiring. You will look so cute in that hat."
Aurelia laughed. "I just quit a job at Wolfram and Hart to come talk to you, you sniveling little dunce. You have no right to speak to me this way." Aurelia let out a string of curses towards the principal in Latin and then French and then Spanish before saying, "Let's go, mom." She got up and walked toward the door.
Her mother stood up and faced Snyder with a proud smile on her face. "This isn't over. If I have to, I'll go all the way to the Mayor."
Aurelia walked downstairs into the kitchen after taking a shower and found her mother cooking dinner. She stared into the refrigerator for something to drink. Joyce stopped poking at the yellow squash in the frying pan and looked at Aurelia. "I've been on the phone with the, uh, Superintendent of Schools. At least he seems more reasonable than that nasty little horrid, bigoted rodent-man."
"Mom…." Aurelia started.
"Anyway, um, I'm going in to speak with him tomorrow morning. Uh, as for private schools, uh, Miss Porter's accepts late admissions. I, uh, I wrote the information down for you."
"A girls' school?" Aurelia looked at the slip of paper on the island. "Jackets, kilts, and no boys? Hmm, would you care to throw in a foot-binding with it?"
Joyce set down her spatula and stepped over to her daughter. "Buffy, you made some bad choices. You just might have to live with some consequences. Nothing's settled yet. I just wish you didn't have to be so secretive about things. I mean, it's not your fault you have a special circumstance. They should make allowances for you." She picked her spatula back up and checked the sautéed chicken. "Couldn't you just tell a few people, like Principal Snyder and maybe the police? I mean, I would think they would be happy to have a…. a superhero. Is that the right term? I mean, it's not offensive, is it?"
Aurelia shook her head. "Mom, no one can know.""Your friends know. Mr. Giles knows."
"Yes, Giles knows because he's my Watcher and my friends know because I had to save them from the things I'm sworn to kill. And you know because of that very same reason. And that is one too many people as it is."
Joyce sighed. "Fine. So, are you going to tell me who Cassius is?" Aurelia sighed. "You don't have to if you don't want to."
"I don't know if you're going to like it."
"Try me." Joyce smiled at her daughter.
The table was cleared and Joyce and Aurelia were working on getting the dishes put in the dishwasher. "So, Cassius is actually Angel?"
"Angel is actually Cassius." Aurelia corrected. "He just told me that name because I didn't know I was Aurelia yet."
"And you got your memories back on your seventeenth birthday instead of your thirteenth?"
"Yes. Though no one can quite figure out why I got them back."
"Because you loved him."
"Love. Present and future tense as well as past. Personally, I think it's also because I was ready to give myself to him fully, body and soul, and the moment I did, it cleared the way for my memories to return."
"Why did it take so long to get your memories back?"
"Because my grandmother when I was Mya of the Kalderash Gypsies found a prophecy that scared her and she made sure that when I was reincarnated, I wouldn't remember who I was."
"Why would she be scared of you?"
"Not me. The prophecy. It says that Cassius as a vampire and me as a Slayer cannot exist together until the Eternal Circle is restored."
"What's the Eternal Circle?"
"Something that Giles is hopefully working on this very minute. We don't know exactly what it is."
"Do you want Cassius to come back…. After everything he put you through."
"It wasn't him. It was the demon that had taken over Liam's body. I don't blame Cassius for anything that happened with Angelus. They're not the same person."
Joyce nodded. "It's strange."
"Besides all of it?" Joyce and Aurelia laughed. "You're my little girl, but you're so much more. It's hard to wrap my mind around it."
"Don't worry, mom. I'll always be your little girl…. No matter what happens." Aurelia hugged her mom tightly, trying not to think about what the future might hold.