Cutting Ties
by M. Scott Eiland

Buffy sighed in relief--none of the wounded had died before they were able to get them to the nearest good-sized hospital in Oxnard. The word about Sunnydale had gotten out, so the story that they had been caught near the edge of it was more or less accepted by the hospital staff, though some of the specific injuries caused some raised eyebrows.

Buffy sank into an easy chair in the waiting room, then blinked. She still hadn't called Angel to let him know that the world wasn't coming to an end. She glanced at a wall clock: 10:30 AM. He'd probably be asleep--or dealing with massive sleep deprivation--by now, but she knew he'd want to know as soon as possible. She reached into a pocket and pulled out the phone number Angel had given her before heading over to the bank of payphones nearby.

Buffy slid her phone card through the scanner, punched in the number, and waited as the line buzzed on the other end. After a few seconds, a cool, female voice answered: "Wolfram & Hart, Los Angeles--how may I direct your call?"

What? Buffy was shocked into silence for a moment before coughing self-consciously and asking, "Excuse me--who am I talking to?"

"The front desk of the offices of Wolfram & Hart, Los Angeles--how may I direct your call?" The voice remained cool, but polite and with no sign of impatience.

Very funny, Angel--the world's about to end and you give me the wrong phone number to call She was about to hang up in a pique and call LA Information for the number for the Hyperion when a chill went down her spine. She swallowed hard, then asked quietly, "Is Mr. Angel there? This is Buffy Summers."

"Of course, Ms. Summers--Mr. Angel told me to put you through to him immediately when you called. One moment please." The line went silent, and Buffy closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, she was still in the phone booth, and there was no sign that this might be a particularly nasty Slayer dream. So much for that hope

The line clicked, and Angel's anxious voice crackled into Buffy's ear: "Are you all right? Will you need backup? We're ready to go whenever--"

"We won--you can relax." Buffy was amazed at how normal her voice sounded--it was as if she called every day and found out her ex's new phone number belonged to the most notoriously evil law firm in the world. It had helped that he sounded normal--ready to spring to her rescue. She smiled reflexively before commenting, "You didn't mention your forwarding address had changed, Angel."

Buffy heard Angel hesitate, and waited for his reply anxiously. She heard him swallow, then his voice--quiet and a bit bewildered: "It still seems strange to me, too. Let me tell you how it happened."

He spoke for twenty minutes--speaking of mystic pregnancies and strange goddesses and a mesmerized population--and her head was starting to spin before he recounted the surprising offer from Wolfram & Hart. She counted to twenty after he stopped speaking and managed to keep her voice completely calm as she asked: "They offered to give you their entire office in LA--and you accepted?"

"Buffy, I know it looks shady, but think of the resources it gives us to fight evil with! They have libraries. . .labs, all kinds of stuff that Wesley and Fred and Lorne can really use well with their talents. Gunn saw something that he liked, too--he was ready to sign on as soon as he came back from the tour." Angel sounded a little excited, but Buffy knew him well enough to catch the sound of exhaustion and bewilderment in his voice. She heard him sigh, and Angel concluded, "We all agreed to give it a try."

"I see--and what did they offer you, Angel?" Buffy asked quietly. He wouldn't have let himself be bought off, would he? Not at any price--

"It was the right thing to do, Buffy. I'm the leader of the organization--I have to do what's best for the group." Buffy felt a chill--Angel sounded emotionally shut down. There was a pause, and Angel seemed to cheer up as he said, "Enough about me--what's the situation?"

"We're in Oxnard, healing up. Giles is making some calls, getting the resources of the Council of Watchers together. The Hellmouth and Sunnydale are history, but Giles says that there's another Hellmouth in Cleveland--" Buffy replied mechanically, shivering at what she had just heard.

"I could have told you that--have you ever seen the nightlife in Cleveland?" Angel interrupted, snickering slightly at the end. Buffy laughed, and Angel waited for her to stop before adding, "Buffy- -we've got a lot of resources that could help you, too. Help to train you and Faith, give Giles and the others a place to stay. . .whatever you need, Buffy. Wolfram & Hart, Los Angeles is at your service for whatever you need."

Buffy had been about to open her mouth to tell Angel of all the newly activated Slayers, when his last sentence froze her to the bone. He thought of Willow's excited whisper about the new Slayers, and remembered her elaboration when Buffy had pressed her: "Hundreds. . .maybe thousands, Buffy--in every place on Earth where there's people. The airfare alone is going to cost a bundle."

Buffy thought of those Slayers--an unstoppable army if they could be gathered and dedicated to the forces of Good. She closed her eyes, and the image of those Slayers drenched in blood, and led by a monstrous demon under the banner of a wolf, a ram, and a hart--with Angelus sitting in the background cackling with glee--appeared before her. She shuddered and had to resist the temptation to throw the phone receiver away like a venomous creature, and she was silent for a moment before she remembered what Angel had just said to her.

I'm the leader of the organization--I have to do what's best for the group

"Buffy--are you all right?" Angel sounded anxious, and Buffy shook her head to clear it before Angel added, "Do you need me to send help now?"

Buffy felt a pang of guilt. It's Angel She gritted her teeth and shook her head in negation of her anguished thought, remembering four years of horror stories about the organization that Angel had joined forces with of his own free will. Hopefully, he'll come to his senses before-- She refused to let that thought form fully and cleared her throat before reassuring Angel, "We're fine--Giles can get money wired from England to cover expenses, and we'll take it from there. I'll give you a call if we need you."

Angel hesitated again, as if hearing something in her voice he didn't like, but he recovered quickly: "All right, then--you have the number. I'm always here for you, Buffy. Don't ever forget it."

Buffy swallowed hard and whispered, "I know. Talk to you soon." She replaced the receiver, and let the tears run silently down her cheeks until she felt a presence next to her. She turned--expecting to see someone impatiently waiting to use the phone--and was startled to see Giles and Faith standing there, watching her with concern and a little confusion. She managed a wan smile and said, "Hey--any new info on Robin?"

Faith shook her head. "He's fine--all settled in. Buffy, what--?"

"I'll tell you in a minute. Giles--" Buffy turned to her Watcher, who was looking at her attentively, clearly aware that something was very wrong, and said simply, "Call your contacts in England--we need to arrange enough money to get the whole group over there with visas, places to live. . .the whole nine yards. Once we're settled, we can make arrangements for some of us to come back here and search the US and the surrounding countries for Slayers."

"And what of the Hyperion, Buffy?" Giles knew that Buffy had planned to ask Angel if they could house the Slayers at the Hyperion while the new Watchers' Council was set up--he had agreed the plan had a certain elegance to it.

"The Hyperion isn't an option--LA isn't an option: at least not for now." Giles and Faith stared at her, and Buffy blinked once before concluding:

"We're on our own."

She burst out of the phone booth and strode away from them, heading towards the patient rooms. Faith and Giles shared a mutual look of confusion, then followed Buffy in silence.


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