This Time Around
Chapter One - Be Careful What You Wish For

written by Rainne

Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Everything is fair game.
Summary: Buffy gets a second chance with a little twist.
Feedback Author: Rainne
Author's Website: Rainne's World

Giovanni Rosario gave a small frown when the door of his little Roman bistro opened and the blonde woman entered. It wasn't that she was a bad customer. She always paid her bill and tipped generously; was quiet and well-mannered, unlike most Americans who came into his place; never misbehaved or caused a fuss. The problem was that she drank. Not like an Italian, oh no, or even like a Frenchman. The blonde woman drank like she had just crawled across ten miles of desert and the bottles contained not potent red wine but sweet fresh water. She would occupy the table in the darkest back corner of Giovanni's little establishment, order a tiny pasta dish and barely touch it, and drink a bottle or two of his best strong red wine, then sway out the door at the end of the night and vanish into the bowels of Rome. He worried about her.

Tonight, though, was different from the two or three hundred previous in Giovanni's memory over the last three years. Tonight, aside from being dressed to kill, she chose a table in the center of the room, in the light, and ordered a bottle of white wine and two glasses. She poured a glass for herself and sipped it contemplatively, her eyes fastened to the door. Giovanni watched her for about an hour before his curiosity got the better of him and he approached her. "Signorina," he said softly, "how do you do this evening?"

She smiled at him - another rare thing. She had a beautiful smile which she rarely used. Then she spoke to him in her fluent but American-accented Italian. "I'm good," she said. "Really good. He's coming tonight. He said he would."

Giovanni raised an eyebrow. "He?"

She nodded. "He's in Rome. He came for my sister, to see her graduate from John Cabot, but he said he'd come here and see me, too. He promised."

Giovanni took in her face and realized that she was actually radiating excitement. He had never seen her so before. Then her eyes shifted to something behind him. Giovanni turned. In the doorway stood a tall, broad-shouldered man in a brown suit with glasses and dark, silver-shot hair. This man looked nervous and uncomfortable.

The young signorina raised a tentative hand in greeting and the man walked toward her, standing near the table until Giovanni moved away. Then he spoke in English. "Hello, Buffy," he said softly.

"Hey, Giles," she responded. "Um… long time no see."

"Indeed." There was an awkward moment of silence and then she invited him to sit. Giovanni watched from behind the counter as the excitement drained from her face along with the color, to be replaced by a pale, ill sort of expression. Whatever was happening between them, he could tell, was not good.

She poured him a glass of wine, which he did not touch, and asked after his health quietly. He told her he'd been well. "Quite well," he clarified. "And yourself?"

She shrugged. "Surviving. How's everyone?"

"They're all well," he responded, seeming to hear the hollowness in his own echo as he spoke. "Xander's marrying soon. Lovely girl from Brighton. Willow's single again and enjoying her freedom quite a lot."

Buffy nodded, tried to force a smile and failed. "The, um… Council project still going good?"

"Oh, yes, very well," he responded, seeming to seize on the topic. "We've an academy begun for the new girls. It helps, especially with the younger ones. Things are going quite smoothly."

"Good." She nodded again, feeling absurdly like a bobblehead doll. She swallowed hard and then whispered, "I miss you. All of you. And… and especially you."

He looked down at his untouched glass of wine. "It's been… difficult, Buffy," he said after a very long silence. "For all of us. But… I think things are best as they are. For now, at least."

She swallowed hard, her eyes glistening in the candlelight, and looked down at her clasped hands. "Okay," she whispered, almost inaudibly.

There was another very long silence and then he spoke again. "I really should go," he said, not unkindly. "I've an early flight back to London tomorrow."

She nodded. "I… I'm sorry, Giles," she said finally, in a voice that trembled badly. "Please… tell them?"

"I will," he assured her. Then he stood. "Take care, Buffy. I'll call soon."

"Okay." She looked up long enough to watch him walk out of the bistro, and then her head bowed again. Giovanni could see the tears on her cheeks glittering in the flickering candlelight. He started to walk over to make sure that she was all right but was forestalled when a young man did the same thing. Giovanni's brow furrowed for a moment, wondering where exactly the young man had come from, but then he forgot to wonder as the young man began to speak earnestly as he slid into the chair that the man had so recently vacated. "Ma belle," he said to her in a Venetian accent, "Why do you weep?"

"Because they hate me. Because this stupid exile is never gonna end. They're never going to forgive me. God, I hate this," she sniffled in Italian.

"Surely they don't hate you," the man said smoothly. "They should only see that you are truly contrite, yes? Then they would welcome you back with open arms, forget the anger and remember only the love, no?"

She shook her head miserably. "It's not that simple."

"Ah, ma belle," he said softly, reaching out to cover her hand with his. "What would you do, if you could, to repair this damage?"

"Anything," she said sadly. "Why do you think I let them send me here?"

He leaned forward now, and something about him made Giovanni suddenly very nervous. "Ah, but ma belle, what if there were a way to change all this?" he asked with a sweep of his hand. "What if there were a way to return you to the bosom of your friends and loved ones, to perhaps go back before it all went so wrong and undo all of it?"

She gave a bitter half-laugh. "I could only wish."

The man gave a low, throaty chuckle then, and Buffy looked up at him, then gasped in horror. "No!" she exclaimed. "No, don't!"

Giovanni looked over at the man and gasped in horror. His face had gone terrifying – veiny and horrible. In a grating, evil voice the man intoned, "Wish granted."

Giovanni reeled with a moment of vertigo and clutched at the counter. His son, who had just ducked in out of the bright Roman afternoon, hurried across the floor to him. "Papa, are you all right?"

"Yes, yes, Tonio, I'm fine." He smiled at his son. "And you have an appointment with young Carmelita, do you not?"

Tonio grinned widely. "So I do, Papa. I just stopped in to say hello. I'll be back tonight." He shook his father's hand and stepped back out again. Giovanni went on cleaning in preparation for the coming evening's business.

Halfway around the world, Buffy Summers woke up, disoriented and alone, in an eerily familiar place. She sat up and looked around at the room she was in. "What the hell…?"

Read the next chapter: Not-So-Instant Replay