Wendell was the first of those outside the school who were of the school to learn what happened to Lundy. How he found out is a story for another day, but when that story came to a close he passed the news along through the usual channels. A phone call for Shelly, who could usually be counted on to answer her phone but in this case required him to leave a message. An email and a letter for Zara, who processed information better when it could be seen and felt. A phone call, an email and a letter for Buffy, who could not be counted on to answer her phone or look at her email or have a stable address but would get the message at some point if he tried all three. Everyone else he was in contact with got an email if he didn’t know them that well or a phone call if he did. Slowly, the news spread through the community of former chosen ones and lost heroes and misplaced royalty. Lundy, one of the women who had helped them most in this world, was dead.
Buffy was in her office checking her messages after that year’s apocalypse. Most of them were months out of date and pertained to problems that had already been solved, so it was mindless, almost relaxing work. Play, listen, erase. Then she reached a message from Wendell. She played it once. Paused. Played it again. Abandoned her phone to check her email. Read the last email Wendell had sent her. When she finally picked up the phone to call him, she had to wait a moment to stop her hands from shaking.
“Tell me it’s not true,” Buffy said when Wendell answered.
Wendell sighed. “Buffy. You got my message.”
“Yes, I got your message. Tell me it’s not true.” Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. “Lundy can’t be dead. She’s got years left.”
“I saw her body,” Wendell said. There was an apologetic tone to his voice. He knew how many people Buffy had lost.
“Gods. Did I miss the funeral?” Buffy asked. She was pretty sure she had missed the funeral.
“Yeah. Don’t feel bad, she was buried as her own long-lost grandniece. It would have been weird if too many people showed up,” Wendell said.
Buffy didn’t feel bad. She hated funerals.
“Have you guys been busy?” Wendell asked. “I’ve been trying to call Shelly too and she hasn’t picked up once.”
Buffy laughed. Wendell had no idea of the emotional whiplash he’d bought himself.
“Shelly went home,” Buffy said.
Wendell was silent. The last of the blue and grey and green had disappeared from his hair years ago. He would never go home. He almost hated Shelly for having the chance. He couldn’t hate her for taking it.
“She led an army of plant people to stop the apocalypse this year,” Buffy said. “Then she went home and now I have to find another medieval combat instructor.”
“I can ask Jason for you,” Wendell offered. “He’ll get a kick out of it.”
“Please. I found a grey hair this morning, Wendell. A grey hair. I’m not even thirty yet.”
Wendell very wisely didn’t point out that Buffy was twenty-nine.
“How’s Eleanor?” Buffy asked. “Have you talked to her?”
“Yeah, I visited. She’s...not taking it well,” Wendell said.
Buffy grimaced. “How bad?”
“She almost looks her age and she’s using a cane.”
“Apocalypse season is over,” Buffy said. “I can take a few days off.”
“Eleanor always did like you,” Wendell said.
When Buffy Summers returned to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children for the first time, she carried with her a stake, a sword and a plastic grocery bag holding a bottle of orange soda and a box of cheese buns. The door was unlocked, as it always had been during the day when she was a student there. She entered without knocking. Zara’s chandelier hung above her in the entryway, glass bright and burning like the fire of a hearth.
The hallways were empty of students. Buffy could hear classes going on elsewhere in the building. She half smiled at the memories. The teachers at Eleanor’s never understood their students, they weren’t travellers and they didn’t know magic. Her class had had fun confusing them further. Eleanor hadn’t approved but she hadn’t stopped them either.
It didn’t take long for Buffy to reach Eleanor’s office. In a building this large that she hadn’t set foot in for fourteen years one might have expected her to get lost. She didn’t. Her feet knew these halls almost as well as those of the school she’d co-founded, even after all those years away. The door of Eleanor’s office was slightly ajar. This time Buffy knocked.
Eleanor opened the door. Her clothes were as colourful as ever. Her hair was a luminescent white. There were more lines on her face than Buffy remembered and she was leaning heavily on a cane. It took a moment before recognition lit up her eyes.
“My dear girl,” Eleanor said. “How wonderful to see you.”
Buffy smiled. “Hi, Eleanor.”
They drank orange soda from teacups and ate cheese buns straight from the box. Buffy told Eleanor about her school, Summers’ Academy for Gifted Children. They traded stories about their students, girls they were proud of and girls they missed and boys who were an oddity but no less welcome. Buffy learned about Eleanor’s nephew, a boy named Kade who had gone to a Fairyland and was poised to inherit the school and all Eleanor owned upon her death or, they all hoped, disappearance. Eleanor learned about Buffy’s sister Dawn and her friends Kit and Carlos, who had all saved the world but didn’t have to grow up as fast as Buffy and her friends did.
“Is Shelly still working with you?” Eleanor asked.
“She was,” Buffy said. “She went home last month.”
Eleanor smiled at the good news. Many students were lost to her after they left the school, disappearing without a word to their old teacher, but Buffy’s class had always been good about keeping in touch. Shelly was the third of that class to find their door home after their time at the school had ended. It gave Eleanor hope for her other students and for her own future. Their doors weren’t all closed and not all of them had a limit for when they could go home.
“And what about you?” Eleanor asked. “What have you been doing for yourself now that you’re not the only Slayer anymore?”
Buffy poured more orange soda into her cup. “Weirdly enough, I got a degree. I’m a certified child psychologist specializing in PTSD treatment.” She frowned. “Does it count as being for me if I’m using it for my students? I like psychology.”
Eleanor laughed. “Of course it counts.”
The sounds of students hurrying through the halls to scatter themselves all across the school and grounds until dinnertime were loud enough for both Buffy and Eleanor to hear. Classes were over for the day.
“Will you be staying for dinner?” Eleanor asked.
“If you’ll let me,” Buffy said.
“You know you’re always welcome.” Eleanor toasted Buffy with her teacup.
Dinner was another thing at Eleanor’s that hadn’t changed. The ballroom was filled with children and teenagers who grouped themselves by friendship or following. The long table at the side of the room was peppered with foods that wouldn’t have belonged at dinner anywhere else, like edible flowers and strawberry jam and thick slices of raw onion. Buffy entered with Eleanor and almost at once every eye in the room turned towards her.
“Good evening, everyone,” Eleanor said. “This is Buffy Summers, one of our alumni. She’ll be joining us for dinner tonight.”
Buffy gave a little wave. “Hi.”
That was enough for most students to turn back to their own conversations. A boy who was sitting by himself with a book kept watching Buffy for a little longer. He went back to reading when Buffy started filling her plate. A girl with black hair in pigtails and clothes as colourful as Eleanor’s waited for Buffy to sit down before she went over to their table and plopped down across from Buffy and Eleanor. Her plate was filled in a chaotic manner that had strawberry jam spilling into mashed potatoes that covered spaghetti that was tangled around a whole fish cooked with herbs and lemon slices that lay across everything else on the plate. Buffy suspected that she had travelled to a Nonsense world. That suspicion was solidified when the girl spoke.
“Buffy Summers, aren’t you Buffy the Vampire Slayer who didn’t go anywhere but Eleanor-Elly thought you did and brought you here but you turned out to be the hero anyway so it was all gingerbread?” the girl asked.
Buffy was out of practice when it came to understanding Nonsense travellers, but she knew enough to answer the question being asked. “That’s me.”
The girl nodded. “I thought my roommate was like you but she just went where the dead people go and it was quiet and still and boring and then she went home while I was dead and now I don’t have a roommate anymore.”
Buffy paused as she was reaching for her cutlery. “You were dead? Like, dead dead?”
“Dead and buried and handless, apparently. Jilly-Jill killed me because she wanted to go home and then her sister killed her and my friends brought me back.” The girl ate some mashed potatoes with strawberry jam.
Buffy looked at Eleanor out of the corner of her eye. That sounded a lot like how Wendell had told her Lundy died. He hadn’t mentioned that one of the students had been resurrected.
“Have you ever been dead?” the girl asked. “You look like you might have been dead.”
Buffy wasn’t even surprised. Eleanor’s students were strange and often very perceptive. Nonsense students were the worse culprits.
“I died twice,” Buffy said.
The girl grinned. “We should start a club. We’ll have snickerdoodles and pink lemonade at every meeting.”
Eleanor cleared her throat. “Sumi, while I do enjoy your company, I believe Christopher and Cora are waiting for you to complete your reconnaissance and tell them what you know.”
Buffy followed Eleanor’s line of sight to a table with two students who kept looking in their direction. The girl had hair the colour of a tropical ocean, not unlike Wendell’s hair when they’d been in school. The boy was carrying a long bone in his coat pocket, likely human. The girl blushed when her eyes met Buffy’s.
Sumi swallowed another mouthful of mashed potatoes and hopped to her feet. “Okay, Eleanor-Elly. I’ll see you in the group therapy I don’t want but probably need.” She picked up her plate and went to join Christopher and Cora.
“Are you doing Lundy’s therapy sessions?” Buffy asked Eleanor.
“Yes, I am,” Eleanor said. “As Lundy said, it’s amazing what degrees you can get over the internet.”
In that moment, Eleanor looked the oldest and most exhausted that Buffy had ever seen her.
“One of my Watchers got an online law degree so we could beat up some evil lawyers,” Buffy said. She told the funny in retrospect story with the intent to make Eleanor laugh and succeeded.
When Buffy left the school she had an idea percolating in the forefront of her mind. She needed to make some calls.