Chapter One

All the Things She Doesn't Miss

The hot California sun beat down on Buffy's already bronzed skin, baking it closer to the ever-elusive perfect golden-brown tan. She sighed as the soothing warmth soaked through her, stretching out a little more on her beach towel. This is the life! she thought, smiling a little under her closed eyes, as she listened to Dawn's happy squeals coming from a few hundred yards down the beach, where she was playing in the surf with Xander and Anya.

She realized with contentment that the little nagging worry-voice that had plagued her ever since she had discovered her calling was blessedly silent. After all, she pointed out to herself. What would I have to worry about?

In the past year since Riley had left to go join the Initiative Version 2.0, in their new location, wherever it was, the crime rate in Sunnydale had gone steadily down, specifically the unexplained murders and missing persons reports. On patrols, the number of vamps and monsters Buffy ran into had steadily decreased until she rarely ran into anything. She still did a quick patrol--most evenings—but never turned up anything. She would have worried that the vampires were simply getting wise to her routines, except for the steadily dropping number of deaths and disappearances.

She remembered the argument she and Riley had had when he had told her he was going back to the Initiative. She had insisted that he was making a stupid mistake, that even under new leadership, the Initiative was going to follow the same path it had before, and surely end in at best failure, at worst another attempted apocalypse. Riley had believed that this was a new start for him and those among his comrades who had joined the Initiative for good reasons, and still wanted to make a difference in the fight against evil. He had argued that this time around, it was going to be different. It was going to work.

Guess he was right about something after all, she mused.

Willow and Tara had been taking a leisurely stroll along the beach, hand in hand. They reached her and sat down on their own towels near hers.

"How goes the sunbathing, Buffy?" Willow asked in an exceptionally cheerful voice.

Buffy lifted her sunglasses just long enough to give her a pointed look from under her raised brows. "Wonderful," she replied, drawing out the word to express just how "wonderful" it was. "How goes the…strolling?"

Willow blushed…or it might have been sunburn…instant sunburn?...no, definitely a blush. "Also wonderful," she admitted with a shy smile, and a quick glance at Tara.

Buffy smiled. It had taken her a little while to get used to the idea of Willow and Tara as a couple, but now it seemed so natural to her. And they were so happy. "Happy" seemed to be the word of the moment. Xander and Anya seemed to be getting more and more serious every day, Willow and Tara were still in the "honeymoon" phase, although they had been officially dating for almost a year now, and Buffy could honestly say she was happy being single, having a little Buffy-time, no boyfriend to have to worry about keeping happy, no vampires to slay...

She was happy. Really.

She enjoyed having free time to just spend with her friends for once. Wasn't this what she had always wanted? To be able to just be a "normal" girl? Of course, she was still the Slayer, but lately the title seemed to mean less and less. After all, what's a Slayer with nothing to slay? And shouldn't she be happy about that? she wondered.

She was. She was happy about that!

But deep down, she had to admit, although she never missed it, there was a certain pleasure to be found in slaying. The thrill of the hunt, the sense of power and excitement she got when she felt that slight tingle at the back of her neck that told her that her appointed prey was near; the satisfaction of actually making the kill, and knowing that she had a calling, a destiny, that transcended every other part of her life…

A destiny that had been handily taken over by a group of military types and their high-tech weapons for monster-hunting.

Ok. Maybe she missed the slaying. A little.

The admission to herself made her suddenly feel a little depressed. Standing up and wrapping her cover-up around her waist, she began folding up her towel.

"Leaving, Buffy?" Willow asked with a small frown that was almost-concerned. Only almost, because Tara had just taken her hand, and the frown was warring with an uncontrollable beaming smile.

"Yeah, I'm kinda tired, Will. I think I've over-baked myself," she winced slightly as the towel brushed against her dry over-exposed skin, which was beginning to show just a tinge of pink over the golden brown.

"Ok. We still on for the Bronze tonight?" Willow asked.

"Of course." Buffy's smile covered the hint of sadness she was feeling well, she thought. After all, there wasn't that much to cover up. Just a little sadness.

Loading up her towel, sunscreen and various assorted snacks and other small items into her beach bag, Buffy headed up the beach to the parking lot.

There's another perk of not having so much slaying to do, she reminded herself eagerly. That shiny little red a style'text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 3px double;' href"http/ onmouseover"window.status'Search for: sports car'; self.qlskeyphrase'sports20car'; if(window.event) self.qlseventwindow.event.srcElement; self.qltimeout setTimeout('qldoMouseOver(1)', 1000); self.qlisOverLinktrue; return true;" onclick"if(self.qltimeout) clearTimeout(self.qltimeout); self.qlisOverTip false; qlcloseiframe(); self.qlskeyphrase'sports20car'; window.status'Search for: sports car';return true;" onmouseout"window.status''; if(self.qltimeout) clearTimeout(self.qltimeout); self.qlisOverTip false; setTimeout('qlcloseiframe()', 1500); " sports car /a in the parking lot that belongs to you, which you have a legal license to drive!

Driving had never been Buffy's "thing" before, but since the slaying responsibilities had dropped off, she had had the time to really practice and actually get pretty good at driving, and when she had passed her test, her mother had bought her a brand new, shiny red convertible.

See, she continued to point out to herself as she turned the key and pulled out of the parking lot. You wouldn't have this to enjoy if you were still spending all your free time in cemeteries.

Cemeteries…crypts…DON'T GO THERE!

Buffy turned on the radio to try and head off her thoughts and the scary direction they were trying to take.

She reached her house, let herself in, and went straight to the bathroom, where she dropped her beach bag, stripped out of her a style'text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 3px double;' href"http/ onmouseover"window.status'Search for: swim suit'; self.qlskeyphrase'swim20suit'; if(window.event) self.qlseventwindow.event.srcElement; self.qltimeout setTimeout('qldoMouseOver(1)', 1000); self.qlisOverLinktrue; return true;" onclick"if(self.qltimeout) clearTimeout(self.qltimeout); self.qlisOverTip false; qlcloseiframe(); self.qlskeyphrase'swim20suit'; window.status'Search for: swim suit';return true;" onmouseout"window.status''; if(self.qltimeout) clearTimeout(self.qltimeout); self.qlisOverTip false; setTimeout('qlcloseiframe()', 1500); " swim suit /a and stepped straight into the shower. The steaming hot water stung a bit on her slightly sunburned skin, but it still felt good, and she took her time getting out. Wrapping herself in a towel, she headed for her room. Her mom was still at the gallery, and Dawn was with her friends at the beach, so the house was empty.

She opened her closet and began running hangers along the rod, searching for something soft and comfortable to wear. She reached the back of the closet without finding anything, but was not really thinking about it anymore. There in the back of her closet was an unpleasantly familiar item.

A long, black leather duster, worn in places from years of use into buttery softness, though torn and ragged in other places from the incredible amount of violence it had been through.

She thought back to the day she had put it here. The day Riley had left, she had found herself, unexplainably, walking through the cemetery where she knew he was staying. Without knowing why, she found herself at his door…and found it wide open.

Feeling uncomfortable, knowing that was just wrong, and at the same time wondering why she even cared, she had entered the crypt. There had been no sign of its inhabitant. However, there was a mug of dried blood sitting by his chair; she had grimaced in disgust, while still noting what that meant. It had sat there for days, untouched. Even more disturbing to her—and why disturbing, she wondered—was the black leather duster, lying in a heap on the floor.

At that point, she had not seen him since he had fled after helping them defeat Adam and his vile creations in the old Initiative building. Of course, he had also helped Adam, and played a significant part in giving them a need to fight at all. Hence the fleeing. In fact, that was her first thought on seeing the deserted state of the crypt. Perhaps he had finally left town, once and for all, fearing retribution from the Slayer and her friends for his betrayal. It seemed like a reasonable explanation.

Until she saw the coat.

There was no way in the world that he would have left the coat there if he was leaving town. Which left only one explanation: he had not left of his own free will.

Over the next few weeks as the new and improved Initiative began to show its worth, its efficiency in dealing with Sunnydale's undead menace, Buffy had come to the conclusion that he had probably been re-captured by them. Which was no less than he deserved, after what he had done to them. What he had done to her.

Then why did she feel so bereft, when she realized that he was not coming back? Why did she take the coat with her and hang it in her closet when she left the crypt that day?

Suddenly irritated with herself, Buffy quickly swept her clothes back in front of the coat, blocking it from her view again.

No, she decided. She didn't miss the slaying all that much.

And she certainly, definitely did not miss him.

A/N: Not too much action this chapter, basically set up for the rest of the story; keep reading, it'll get better :) lol