What you do Afterwards
Willow gazed down at the world spread out beneath her. So here she was, a higher being - this was her life now, or afterlife … whatever. It came as a bit of a surprise, though maybe it shouldn't. Her progress hadn't exactly been linear - but it had been explosive: science nerd, computer hacker, pencil floating wannabe wicca, uberwitch, ultimate evil … demi goddess. But somehow, despite the sudden turn her day had taken, it felt right. She had all that power, could bend the universe to her will, it made sense to make it official - recognise that she had grown beyond the mortal plane. There was a lot she could do up here.
She sought out each of her friends. Xander was in Africa, he was doing OK. He would be the hardest hit when word got out that Willow was missing, but he would be OK - she would see to it. She looked at Giles down in London, training the new slayers in his school, and then at Buffy and Dawn in Rome. Buffy was already grieving, her boyfriend had been killed, mysteriously - Dawn was helping her through. The loss of Willow would come as another hard blow.
But from up here, Willow could finally understand - really feel - why Buffy had suffered so much when she returned from the dead. Because from up here, she could see it all - the beginning and the end and everything that came in the middle. It made a kind of sense, finally. She felt at peace. And she knew everything would be all right, the people she loved would be all right. She just knew. No matter what the battles, no matter how final an ending, the world would keep on turning and the humans down there would heal and grow and get better.
But speaking of battles - speaking of endings - the world was burning, down in L.A. One ragtag bundle of warriors facing down the wrath of the darker powers. They were doing a good job - fighting and standing. The blood ran from their wounds, washing away in the pouring rain. But still they stood and still they fought. The other side was throwing everything it had and the kitchen sink at Angel and his friends … but she was there watching, helping, balancing the scales… she had that kind of power now. They would survive the night, she would see to it.
She smiled to herself and scanned the world again, it was all so busy down there - all so hectic, everything hurt. From up here, it was all so clear. She caught sight of an airplane, crossing the Atlantic and, for something so ordinary, it had a bright aura of destiny shining around it, making it extraordinary in its ordinaryness. She focused on it, wondering … and then caught sight of the young married couple, The Promised One and the slayer, flying off to their future. Good for them, she thought - their future looked bright and rosy - and wide open.
In the dim cabin, Connor stirred - finally waking up. He was uncomfortable and he missed his daddy, his ears hurt and, wherever he was, it smelled funny.
'He's waking up,' he heard his Aunty Cordy say.
Doyle pulled the little boy over onto his own knee, so he was sitting up instead of lying across them both. 'Hey, Connor - you awake, bud?'
The little boy mumbled something incoherent and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
'We don't want him to wake up yet,' Cordy said, 'there's hours before we land. We need to get him back down.'
'Maybe we should give him a snack,' he jigged the toddler up and down on his knee, 'you hungry?'
Carefully, Cordelia got to her feet, opened the overhead lockers and took out the hand luggage Angel had packed for his son. There were some carrot sticks in there, and apple juice in a sippy cup. She handed them across to Doyle, who put his tray down and let Connor help himself.
Cordelia got back into her seat and rested her head against Doyle's shoulder.
'You OK?' he asked her.
'I'm just … frightened.'
'For the others?'
'Yeah … and for us. I've never been to Ireland - what if I hate it?'
He chuckled. 'Well - it's gonna take a lot of acclimatising, for both of us. Dublin is … not like L.A. At all. But if we're not happy, we don't have to stay there - we can move on. London … Paris … we talked about living overseas once we were married, remember?'
'Yeah - I just … didn't think it would happen so quickly. And with a baby in tow.'
'Hey! Connor's not a baby!' He switched his attention to the little boy, 'are you, buddy? He's a big boy! He'll take care of us.' They both smiled down at where the toddler was calmly eating his snack.
Once he was done, they cleared it all away and resettled down. Connor was still on Doyle's knee, but the Irishman now had one arm slung around Cordelia's shoulders, her head resting against his chest. It was a tight squeeze, but it was cosy and warm and felt … like everything Doyle had ever imagined having a family of his own would feel like.
But Connor was grizzling, not yet ready to sleep. 'You should sing to him,' Cordelia said.
'I have a terrible singing voice.'
He chuckled. 'That you do, Princess, that you do.' He stroked her hair, absently, with one hand, and held Connor tight with the other and leaned his head back against the seat, as he raked his mind for a lullaby he knew all the words to. 'Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mists in a land called Honilee…'
He felt them both go quiet and snuggle down closer to him as he started to sing. 'Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal puff…'
They were both still, their breathing becoming regular, 'and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff…'
His eyes started to glaze over, and grow blurry - something flickered in front of him, distant and out of focus. 'Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail, Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail…'
The flickering shapes grew bigger and clearer - and he realised they were people. And then he recognised Angel - and Gunn - and Fred … they were fighting - great big monsters, hundreds of them. His stomach lurched. He realised he was having a vision. They were different to the way they had always been, there was no pain - because he had reached atonement, he was no longer being punished - and they weren't images trapped in his head anymore, but it was like he was watching it go on around him in 3d. He could see the darkened cabin and the shapes of the slumbering passengers, and at the same time, he could see his family - retreated to the familiar lobby of the Hyperion - fighting their war. He tried not to let on that anything was amiss to Cordy and Connor, something the pain would have made impossible before his redemption.
'Noble Kings and princes would bow when'er they came. Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name,' he sang, as he watched Angel behead a demon that looked like a warthog and then take a step back and use the beacon again.
'A dragon lives forever but not so little boys. Painted wings and giant's rings make way for other toys.' A giant demon smashed through the lobby windows, and Doyle watched as it took down Lindsey, dropping the lawyer to the floor. Immediately, Fred was there, she used the power of Illyria's crystal to send a timewave, slowing the demon down and then she launched herself at it - and Spike joined in - pushing the demon back and slashing at it with his blade. Lindsey fell to the floor at a glacial pace, being trapped inside the timewave - and Lorne was able to catch him before he smashed down on the hard marble. He knelt down, holding the fallen man, holding his hand so he knew he was not dying alone, and watched the battle raging on around him.
'One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more. And Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.' Angel and Gunn were battling away with an ogre… Gunn swung his axe and buried it deep in the monster's chest.
'His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain. Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.' The only person he couldn't see - the only soldier missing - was Wesley. Doyle's heart hurt as he understood what that must mean. He glanced down at Cordelia's head, resting on his shoulder. She was peaceful and quiet. He wouldn't tell her yet. If any of the other's survived, they would ring with the news. But if Cordelia was expecting her friends to die anyway, there was no need to hurt her by telling her one of their number had already fallen.
'Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave. So Puff that magic dragon sadly slipped into his cave.'
The images shimmered and vanished, the vision dispelled as suddenly as it had arrived. But he had seen his friends - most of them anyway - one last time. And he knew, somehow and without understanding why, that they would be OK. Perhaps it was knowledge that came courtesy of his very brief stint as a higher power, perhaps it was the proof he had that the powers were really there, really watching, really balancing the scales, but he knew they would survive this battle. They would live to fight another day.
'Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea…' Cordelia's head felt heavy on his shoulder now, she had begun to snore gently. He smiled down at her fondly. Connor, likewise had gone still, his little face smooshed against Doyle's chest, his mouth open. 'And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land called Honilee.'
His song came to an end, and he looked down at his family. He seemed to have done the job. They were slumped against him and completely still, their eyes closed and their chests rising and falling with regular breaths. He had got them to sleep before the song was even finished. Not bad for his first night as both a husband and a father. It looked like there was no need to keep on singing.
'Is that it?' Doyle murmured to himself, wondering that it had been so easy. He planted a kiss first on Cordelia's slumbering head and then on Connor's. He smiled down at them, realising there was nothing more he needed to do for his family before he could settle down to rest, himself. He closed his eyes and felt a sense of peace and contentment wash over him. 'Am I done?'