After it was over, and he was sleeping, Buffy walked. She wanted to run, but she had earlier, and now her shins ached. It was a new sensation, so normal and common. Shin splints were not a part of her vocabulary, nor were backaches or sinus pressure or menstrual cramps or any of the physical annoyances that had plagued her mom or her friends. She was a superhero, but now, a retired one.
The dragon had nearly killed them all. She watched it tear Spike’s head right from his shoulders. Of all the deaths she’d seen in her years, she could not shake that sight. It was beyond gruesome and beyond final. Angel had come to her, like an idiot, to shield her from what she’d already seen and could not defeat, and 10, maybe 12, seconds later, only his hand was left on her shoulder, for one unfathomable moment before it, too, turned to dust. The dragon had devoured the rest of him.
She had no idea what to do. Illyria had taken over then, a blue whirl in front of her, taking charge away from General Buffy herself. She didn’t know how the dragon had been defeated. She only knew that she stood alone in the rain, in an alley, where Spike and Angel had been torn to pieces defending the world. She didn’t know what happened to Gunn, she knew Wesley was dead too, and she wanted to join them. She was done.
Faith proved to be a fit companion for a while. They hungered. They hunted. They held to and helped each other. Wood was there, sympathetic for a time, but pugnaciously waiting to get Faith back. Buffy took the hint. She went exploring on her own.
It surprised her when it started...the fading, which was how she thought of it. She was hunting in Brazil, and chased a werewolf through the rainforest. The most normal thing happened: she tripped on a branch. Her ankle twisted. She couldn’t stand. She was able to beat the wolf, but it spent her, and with its neck broken, it had collapsed on top of her, trapping her for nearly an hour while her foot throbbed and no one heard her cries of panic. It wasn’t the pain or the even the helplessness that scared her: it was the truth, the deep knowledge of what was changing. When she finally pushed the wolf off, she half-hopped and half-crawled to shelter, and waited through a whole night before she could walk. It was a sprained ankle, a normal, common injury, but one she’d shrugged off dozens of times in a matter of minutes. This time, she required a bandage and swelled and limped for a week. She had watched her friends nurse torn ligaments and severe contusions and gaping wounds and much worse. She’d never had to wait, and had always been free from prolonged physical suffering. She decided she didn’t mind it. It was better than all the other kinds of suffering from which she could not escape.
She should have gone to Giles first, but thoughts of him brought their own fears, their own anguish. In the tentative weeks after they’d left Sunnydale, they had tried to be a Watcher and a Slayer to each other, and when they found the roles no longer fit, they didn’t know what else to be. They were polite and formal and guarded, and she longed to find some sort of solace with him, but she didn’t know how to ask for it, and she was afraid he would reject any she tried to give. He was easy with Dawn and Willow and Xander, and they decided without much ado to go to England and rebuild the Watchers’ council and train the new Slayers. Just like that, they all had a plan and a purpose.
Of course, Giles wanted her to be in charge of something. They all cheered her on and made her sound so much better than who she thought she was. She stayed long enough to get Dawn settled before jetting off to explore, then heading to L.A. It wasn’t about Angel so much as about the fight. She waited in the wings until she needed, but it was already too late.
She felt like everything had already passed her by. Giles had put the Council together and then left it, nobly, quietly, connections in tact. A few times in the weeks she’d been staying with him, he went into London, but never for full days. He only checked emails in the morning and after lunch. He read novels. He slept well. He had left the adventures behind him, and she wanted to try.
“I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”
The murmur didn’t startle her. She knew he’d come looking, but it was barely sunrise, and she felt bad for making him.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said simply.
He sat beside her beneath the old poplar, even though the ground was wet. The intimacy of the previous night felt strained, and when she leaned into him it was with caution. She sighed in relief as he wrapped his arm around her.
“Buffy, I am glad you came here.”
It seemed like an odd thing to say. She hadn’t asked. She didn’t think she was expressing any particular insecurities. Maybe it should be weird after years of effort and tension and unresolved disagreements and nary a trace of intimacy, that she had shown up on his doorstep, but it wasn’t.
So she didn’t know what to say.
“Are you hungry?”
“What are we doing?”
He spent a moment stretching his legs out in front of him. There was enough mud to soak into his pants and cake his shoes. Buffy almost laughed.
“I think we are working on a new life. Maybe?”
“But...what kind of life? Harvesting three kinds of tomatoes? Re-reading Game of Thrones? Deciding whether to use jasmine or vanilla bubble bath? What are we doing?”
Giles didn’t hold back his giggle. “Darling Buffy… I thought the pace of this, respite, the simplicity, was what you needed right now. I thought that was why you came. But really, it is all up to you. What kind of life do you want?”
She wriggled from his grasp so she could look at him. “You ask that like it’s an easy question, Giles.” This would have come as an accusation in their former life together. Now it came as a matter-of-fact, and a bit of a plea.
He reached over to brush a stray hair away from her face. “I know what it means, Buffy. I know what all of it means.”
Buffy was torn between the new, gentle way he was touching her and the heaviness of his words. Together, they made a place that felt safe for her, even in the light of day, to answer.
“I don’t know how not to be a Slayer. I don’t know what else to do. And I don’t know if I can love you the way you love me… the…the way I want to…”
It was the most honest thing she’d ever said to him. His fingers intertwined with hers, and that was his only reply.
Part 3 - Conclusion