“Flooded,” by Doug Petrie
“Flooded” begins with what looks (momentarily) like a vamp hunt. It’s another misdirect—Buffy ends up, instead, in a classic comedy situation. Her prey is nothing more than a leaky pipe in the basement. She tries to tighten the bolt to stop the drip, is rewarded for her efforts with a big wet explosion.
By the time the credits have rolled, Xander has used his tradesman-summoning powers to bring in Tito the Plumber to save them all, at a discount that isn’t nearly big enough. Buffy’s barely paying attention, having been mesmerized by the swirly swirly action of water running through her kitchen sink. As the gang freaks out, quietly, about this, she discovers that Tito’s bill, and his proposed repiping of the whole house, is financially problematic. Joyce’s life insurance has been hoovered up by her medical bills, you see.
Anya brightly proposes that Buffy start charging for vampire slaying. Everyone’s appalled but me. Okay, granted, she can’t save random citizens from death and then march them over to the nearest bank machine to facilitate a payout. But I still feel Buffy should either be on the Sunnydale city payroll—with medical benefits and possibly a driver—or supported by the Watcher’s Council. We’ve discussed this before, I know, and you’ve pointed out that it makes good metaphorical sense that slaying, like other woman’s work, should be unpaid and largely thankless. True. But I’m a pragmatist. It seems obvious that Buffy should at least try sending a note to Quentin Travers in England, saying “I’m back from the dead and in need of a salary.”
While I’m thinking all this, Dawn, Anya and Xander are having a little wrangle over whether Spiderman gets paid. “Action is his reward,” rules Xander—and this leads to a bigger conflict between XandAnya about how he’s still balking over telling the others they’re engaged.
(She’s right, Xander. Stop waffling!)
Buffy’s first attempt to solve her total lack of income is to hit up the local bank for a loan. This goes badly even before a demon shows up and attacks the bank manager, all in the service of facilitating a robbery by unseen someones. Buffy runs the demon off, but doesn’t kill it. Even this doesn’t get her a line of credit.
Afterward, she takes out her feelings on the punching bag while Willow rants about the financial system on her behalf. Willow becomes momentarily excited when she realizes Buffy is angry, and promptly sticks her foot in her mouth about Buffy having been shut down emotionally since her return.
Shut down she may be, but our Slayer does a good job of being annoyed, a scene or so later, when Dawn is the one who finds their perp, an entity called M’Fashnik, in the demon books.
As the gang is pondering M’Fashnik’s mmmotives in mmmaking off with a whole bunch of mmmmoney, Giles returns. Buffy is so very happy to see him. (I think Sarah Michelle Gellar does a great job of showing how much less mixed her feelings are about Dawn and Giles, who didn’t have a hand in hauling her back to Earth.) Giles is happy too, naturally enough, as well as bewildered and presumably jet-lagged. He can see she’s not in good shape. On the research upside, he happens to know that M’Fashniks (M’Fashnikind?) are mercenaries, which means the rampage in the bank was likely a paid job. Gosh, who could have hired this one?
Oh, look, it’s the Trio and all their ill-gotten gains from the bank robbery!
Jonathan, Andrew and Warren are nerdy and wicked and extremely pleased with themselves. I wouldn’t say they’re truly evil yet. Jonathan and Andrew even have a certain dweeby innocence, despite their crime-oriented schemes. It’s already apparent that Warren is made of nastier stuff.
All three of them are just learning that hiring a M’Fashnik is easier than making it happy. Cookie, as he will henceforth be known, doesn’t appreciate having been pitted against the Slayer, and now he wants Buffy’s head. Warren’s on board with that, but Andrew and Jonathan have consciences, and aren’t ready to make the leap from stealing money to murdering heroic young women. Jonathan even mentions that he owes Buffy his life.
Though he’s outvoted, Warren nevertheless gives the angry demon Buffy’s contact info. He tells him that if he wants her dead, all he has to do is head across town and slay her himself.
Cookie, strangely, sees this as a valid and reasonable attempt at logic. Clearly he thinks the fight in the bank was a tie.
Giles is now coping with a great tragedy: he no longer has a cool apartment in California. He has been settled in on the (we hope) comfy couch at Chez Summers. His concerns about Buffy loom ever larger as he talks with her about her nightmares and her debts. Later, he gives Willow a stern talking-to about how irresponsible it was to resurrect her in the first place. It is a thoroughly riveting scene. Willow tries light humor, heavy conflict avoiding and, when that doesn’t placate him, resorts to making threats.
She isn’t anywhere near her full-on Dark Willow self just yet, but we all know where this is going.
Poor Buffy overhears this charming clash just as Spike’s showing up for his nightly stalk-by. The two of them share a little moment of connection out on the back porch. And then, just as it’s looking as though some or at least one of the Scoobies—well, Tara, really—might settle down for a healthy night’s sleep, Cookie Fashnik turns up. He scares Dawn, knocks Giles unconscious, and busts up the house. Then he and Spuffy fight it out. The end result is one of the more ignominious demon deaths in the BtVS run, I’d say: Buffy beats him to death in the flooded basement, with one of the house’s failing, obsolete pipes.
This works out well for the Trio. They happily gloat about their successful first outing as a criminal unit.
Next day, Buffy is just about to start grappling with the wreckage and the debt when Angel calls. She walks out on all of it—only temporarily, but so abruptly and completely that Giles and Dawn are left gaping and concerned.
Me, I’d consider being glad. Guys, she still drops everything the second Angel picks up the phone! She hasn’t changed that much after all! Weren’t you worried about brain damage?
“Flooded” is in many ways the point where the slogging for Buffy goes from really tough to cosmically unfair. Willow may indeed have been misguided in bringing her back, but all of us can understand that impulse to recover a dead loved one. What’s more, though the rationalization about Buffy being in a Hellverse might have been self-serving, Angel’s example showed that it wasn’t impossible.
A week earlier, in “After Life,” the gang is ready and willing to shelter Buffy as she eases back into the land of the living—they even offer to take care of the unknown thing haunting them without her assistance. And why not? They’re more than capable—they’re combat-seasoned and, collectively, very powerful.
(Heck, they should’ve asked the Council for a bit of support, too. They could have opened a Training Camp for future Watchers. Something like space camp, but with higher insurance rates.)
Now, in “Flooded,” they’ve stepped back and left Buffy to assume leadership of the team, and when she takes up the leading, they pile on what looks like total responsibility for Dawn, the house that four of them are living in, the money situation and stopping whatever the Hellmouth chooses to toss their way.
Most of this abandonment, if it can be called that, can be laid at Willow’s door. She was the one who made it possible for them to run the Buffybot all summer, and between maintaining the gadget, being the team’s witchy big gun in battle, and parenting a teenager, it had to have been an enormous load.
If I had carried Slayer-level responsibilities for a few months, I’d be more than ready to hand it all back and get on with my life. But Buffy’s clearly unready to start shouldering burdens. The only ones who seem to get this are the Brits, dead and undead, who love her.
Willow has always been an awesome support to Buffy—one of her biggest fears, we see repeatedly, is failing at being the perfect BFF. Why does she fail so badly in her burden of care to her here? Has magic already warped her so much? The threat to Giles hints that her balance of mind is already deeply disturbed.
As for how disturbed... well, Willow has been taking baby steps toward her confrontation with Warren in “Villains” for some time. When does she reach the point of no return? Is it with Buffy’s resurrection? Before that? Re-souling Angel, it seems to me, is what really got her started. But at that point she might still have turned away... or so it seems to me.
Did Willow raise Buffy, in part, because she knew that at some point she’d need a Slayer to hold her back?
We can never know, any more than we could with a real person, but it sure is fun to speculate.
Next: Taking Care of Business
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)