TITLE: A Sense of Self-Preservation (9/?)
AUTHOR:
RATING: FRT (for some language)
SPOILERS: Right after "Normal Again," S6
SUMMARY: After the events of "Normal Again" Buffy and Giles are forced to deal with their own respective isolations.
DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Television, the WB Television Network, and whoever else may have a hold on them. I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.

NOTE: Single quotation marks (') denote thoughts. Also, all medical information in this piece has been researched, but if I am incorrect, please tell me so I can make changes.

NOTE: Wow, it's been four years since I worked on this fic. Way back when, I thought I was done with writing fic, but recently I was inspired to at least finish this piece. I felt like it was just unfair to leave it hanging. So yeah, I have a plan, it does not involve hummus, and I will finish this fic (although I'm not setting a timeline on it). Thanks to those who've stuck by me for no reason all these years. Thanks to crazymeltyland, my persistent friend and beta who nagged me into doing this. And thanks to the new readers who decided to give me a shot. Feedback is always appreciated.


Part 9

There were heavy curtains that covered the windows of the guest room, but the sun still found its way through, bestowing one malevolent shaft of light upon Buffy's face. Try as she might, Buffy could not completely close the curtains, and so awoke with the dawn, as she had for the past week.

"Rassafrassin' sunrise," Buffy grumbled to herself as she rolled out of bed, gasping as the chill morning air hit her bare skin. She groped half-blindly for the sweater lying on top of her suitcase, and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, stumbled out into the hallway.

The house was quiet as she crept down the stairs to the kitchen, the large halls silent except for the occasional creak of aged wood. Her teeth chattering, Buffy put the kettle on and quickly assembled a cup of tea for herself. The danger of the kettle's harsh whistle rousing the remaining sleeper in the house caused her to pause for a moment, but the need for warmth and caffeine overrode any sense of sympathy for her host.

Soon enough Buffy cradled the steaming cup in her hands, and walked to the lounge, a small room on the east side of the house which she had decided (after many mornings of investigation) provided the best view of the sunrise. A pale pink had just begun to line the horizon when she settled into the window seat.

As the gray dawn gave way to the lightening sky, Buffy sank into her musings. The sunrise had always held such special significance to her. For so long it had signified everything good – the end of another night of violence and darkness, of evil and a world that few could understand. Sunrise had been everything she wanted to define herself as, an escape from destiny to be just another student, another teenager who was more concerned about the prom than the possibility of hellhounds in attendance.

But for the past few months sunrise had meant only the next iteration of an endless cycle of play-acting, the coming of yet another day defined by numbness and a world crashing around her with noises and expectations. Despite her years of hating the darkness, Buffy had found herself clinging to it, finding solace in the muted colors of the night landscape, in the pure, uninhibited pleasures of brutality and rage she could let flow through her veins before the sun broke in and brought her slamming back to reality, responsibility, and a world that would not let her rest.

Buffy laid her hand against the cold glass of the window. Delicate beams of light were slipping over the hills beyond the estate. No, her life had not magically become raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens since coming to England. She could still feel a black pit in her chest, a wound with puckered edges that so much seemed to fall through. But she didn't fear the sunrise the way she had at home. There was something beautiful in this moment of transition, something safe and comforting in the in between. In these few moments of the dawn, she was neither Buffy the Slayer, nor Buffy Summers the sister/employee/friend. She was simply Buffy, singular, and shockingly, for this instance content to be so.

Without moving her eyes from the window, she felt his presence in the doorway. "Hey there, Mr. Stealthy."

"I didn't want to disturb you. You looked …"

Buffy turned to look back at him. "Catatonic?"

"At peace, I was going to say. It's been so long since I'd seen you … Ah. Well, never mind." Giles ran a hand through his hair. Buffy wasn't sure how long she'd been staring out the window – either she'd been lost in her thoughts for a while, or Giles was remarkably quick at getting set for the day. He was already dressed, in his customary dark sweater and slacks.

"Slayer, here, Giles. Kinda difficult to sneak up on. I've only been sans patrol for a week. Hell, I spent three months dead and came back a finely oiled vamp-dusting machine."

A pained expression flickered across Giles' face, before a smile slid over it.

"No doubt the result of years of excellent tutelage. I'll go put the kettle on. Tea?" Buffy lifted her cup in answer. Giles nodded, and turned to leave.

"Giles?"

"Yes, Buffy?" He turned back to her.

"Can you … could you tell me about last summer?" The same expression ran across his face again.

"Do you really want to know?"

"No one's told me much. I just – I came back and there were all these things to deal with, so many changes that I had to get used to, but no one ever told me the how. No one told me the story."

"Buffy, I, I don't know if I can." Giles stepped into the room, moving to inspect the bookcases lining the nearby wall, his hands drifting across the chestnut shelves.

"Would you try? Please, Giles?" She wasn't sure why she so desperately needed to know. Maybe because she knew that Giles wouldn't sugarcoat it. Or maybe because she needed to find a way into Giles' head, to understand how they had ended up at this point. Buffy could see his shoulders tense, then relax ever so slightly, as if he were only feigning calm.

Giles sighed. "Buffy, when you died, that summer … there are parts that are simply indescribable. In my lifetime I've had the misfortune to lose so many, acquaintances and loved ones alike. But I … it's hard for me to explain, to tell you…" He continued to face the wall, struggling to find the words.

"I felt so many things, the emotions were almost overwhelming. I was furious with you. At times, I loathed you for leaving us, for making what I at that point deemed an ultimately selfish sacrifice. And yet at the same time I blamed myself for putting you in that situation, for not doing enough, not finding another way. I mourned you, I hated you, and I couldn't figure out how to let it go, how to let you go. I became irresponsible, overly introspective, to the point of myopia. I spent hours training that … ludicrous doppelganger, hoping that if I simply talked to it enough, taught it enough, it would somehow replace what I had lost.

"And then one day, after another endless round of training, it asked me why I was still in Sunnydale. I had no answer, and so I left. I left Dawn in the care of Willow and Tara – two twenty-year olds with no income, no experience in the world! I didn't even see the degree to which they were hurting. I look back on that summer, and I see a black hole," Giles finally turned to face Buffy, "Ah yes, in the midst of my soul-baring would of course be a completely appropriate time to laugh."

Buffy had her hands clamped over her mouth, and was clearly desperately attempting to keep her composure. "I'm sorry!" She mumbled behind her hands. She leaned back against the window and blew out a breath. "Serious-face. This is mine." Giles' glare was unrelenting. "I really am sorry, that was misleading. I'm not laughing at your pain, I swear. It's funny because you were basically channeling Buffy in her-post Giles leaving phase."

"I see. Although that categorization is marginally false, if purely on the basis of a comparison of quantity of multisyllabic words."

"You know, Giles, if you think you can hide an insult in a heap of vocab, you're forgetting just how well a certain Slayer did on her SATs," Buffy said, then sobered. "Look, thank you for telling me. It's nice to know that all those emotions I felt after you left aren't age-specific. I'll be honest, Giles – there are times when I still get angry, thinking about it. But I do think I understand the why."

"And you had such a delightfully baffling metaphor to explain it." Giles crossed the room to sit beside Buffy on the window seat, a smug smile on his face.

"Excuse me, I thought we were avoiding humor in the face of soul-baring." Buffy leaned across to smack him on the shoulder, only to be thwarted when Giles grabbed her hand mid-flight. He kept his hold, the unusual physical intimacy catching Buffy off-guard.

"My apologies. Bare away."

"No, no need to rehash things…" Buffy's voice grew quiet. "Do you still hate me for jumping off that tower?"

Giles turned his head to catch Buffy's eye. "Buffy, I won't pretend that there isn't a part of me that's still mourning you. In truth, my leaving probably only made the situation worse. I haven't engaged with the problems that plagued me both after your death and your return." Buffy began to pull her hand back, but Giles maintained his grip, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "But I will tell you that your visit has been immensely helpful. It's nice to clear the air, even if it means exposing old wounds."

"Giles, it's time we talked about Spike." Buffy winced internally as she saw the cavalcade of emotions flash across his face.

"I'm not sure what good will come from this conversation." His tone was ambivalent, and Buffy could see he was distancing himself already. This time Buffy kept their hands entwined.

"Giles, I don't want to talk about this because I feel like I have to, or because I feel guilty about what you might think of me. I used to feel that way, but I realized that was because I wasn't giving you the full Amigo-de-Buffy package. I was treating you like you were my Watcher, but not like you were my friend. And that needs to change, because otherwise we just end up on different continents yelling at each other infrequently."

"I appreciate that more than you know." Giles replied, his voice still deliberately cool but his eyes betraying a hint of warmth.

"Well, good." Buffy said, extricating herself from his hand and standing. "But first I gotta level the playing field. You got to do your big sharefest fully clothed, and I'm not starting this convo in my pjs, even if they are of the yummy sushi variety."

Giles leaned back in mock defeat, his serious demeanor disappearing. "I see, so even with my new standing in your life, I still rank slightly below a tube top."

"Giles, if there's one thing I've learned in my many lifetimes of slaying, it's that vamps have no appreciation for the finer nuances of a well-coordinated outfit. I gotta get my kicks where I can. And ew, tube tops are totally trashy!" And with that, Buffy flounced out into the hall and up the stairs.

"This is the last defense against the forces of evil? Oh, dear lord." Giles chuckled to himself as he picked up Buffy's forgotten tea and went to brew himself a cup of his own. If Buffy truly wanted to discuss Spike, he would need it. At the very least.