Sarah: The Buffy to my Giles, without whom I would be lost. She teaches me more through her actions and her heart than I could ever teach her with words. May she never lose her love, her boundless energy, or her sense of humor.
Dana: My brother in spirit, unconditional friend, and source of movie and Doritos money. Without his constant support and guidance, both emotionally and physically, I would be unable to cope with the world around me. What more could I ask for in a friend?
Tharp: Who deals with the reality of loss and pain that these fictional characters only scratch the surface of. Every day he comes to work to teach his students, he is a testimony to the fact that life goes on, even in the shadow of incredible loss.
This story is, more than anything else, dedicated to him and to people like him, who have faced the pain and grief of losing a loved one, and still wake up in the mornings willing to give life another shot. This is to the people who still light up the world around them, even when the light of their life is gone.
Those Loved and Lost
"Tears form behind my eyes,
But I do not cry.
Counting the days that pass me by…"
This hotel was much better than the last one. Tastefully decorated rooms, working cable, and a semi-clean pool out in the fenced-off back lawn all combined to make an if not ritzy, then certainly attractive atmosphere. But then, Buffy reflected as she trod lightly down the thickly carpeted, beige-colored hall, pretty much anything looked better than an old stained school bus full of restless, super-strong teenage girls. Still, the green wallpaper in that last motel…ick.
After another five feet or so, the hall opened out into a smallish, neatly decorated lobby. Buffy headed across the room towards the entrance to the buffet-boasting meal room, bypassing the small cluster of checker-outers at the main desk. She was hoping that she'd miss the morning rush of breakfasters at the buffet. She'd purposely planned her entrance to coincide with the few precious minutes in between the early risers' liquid breakfast binge and the sleepy latecomers' brunch. As she made her way towards her morning munchies, she couldn't help but notice her reflection in the mirror next to the door leading into the tabled area. She craned her neck to scout out the area—no sign of a crowd yet, and she indulged herself with a good look in the mirror; something, she realized with a shock, that she hadn't allowed herself since the collapse of Sunnydale.
The weary blonde that gazed back at her from the mirror didn't look any more excited about that memory than she herself did. Buffy squinted slightly, turning her head this way and that as she looked herself over critically. Her hair was longer, she knew, but since it was up in her standard-issue ponytail all the time anyway, it didn't matter much. There were some more lines around her eyes and mouth that shouldn't have appeared for another thirty years. She didn't think much about those either. Every other person in their little traveling band had the exact same problem, so it wasn't like she seemed out of place, looking and feeling far older than she really was. She had a new scar, as well. It ran across the right side of her forehead, barely visible. She hadn't even noticed it until Giles had pointed it out a few days ago, and it occurred to her that she had no idea where it had come from. But it was the eyes, more than anything, that really made her ponder just how much had changed.
Her first impression was that they were bluer than she remembered. She stepped closer to the mirror, now completely lost in this new self-analysis. Her second stare confirmed her musings: her eyes were most definitely less gray then when last she looked at them. Her face clouded over at the memory, the image of a blonde haired, ice blue-eyed man taking the place of hers in the mirror for just a moment. She shook her head and the image faded, to be replaced by her own reflection once more. She looked at her eyes again, glistening with contained moisture, and she realized that the gray tone had made a prompt appearance. Suddenly she understood why they'd looked so much darker last time she'd seen them. That time, they'd been stormy with tears as well. Later, she would blame her water-blurred vision for the fact that Giles snuck up on her and tapped her on the shoulder before she even noticed he was there.
"Gah!" She spun around, grabbing his arm and glaring good-naturedly up at him. "What, did some vamp turn you while I wasn't looking? Why the heck didn't I see you coming?" She gestured towards the mirror, then dragged him in front of it to prove to herself that her ex-watcher still had a reflection. Sure enough, the image of an amused, slightly sleepy British man gazed back at her from next to her own much shorter reflection. He raised an eyebrow at her, not losing eye contact with her in the mirror.
She grinned, loosening her grip around his forearm and leading the way over to a table. "Not until I've had some serious breakfast. Chasing after all these girls, all the time…Xander wasn't wrong yesterday when he said the four of us hadn't gotten a decent meal in forever."
Giles hummed his agreement as he followed her over to the buffet, grabbing a plate and moving down the line next to her. "Speaking of, where'd the rest of us get off to this morning?"
Buffy gave a one-shouldered shrug, spooning hash browns onto her plate. "Last I checked, Will and Kennedy were sound asleep, and Xand's sharing with Andrew this time, so they were probably up until God-knows-when swapping Star Wars trivia."
Giles chuckled and held his plate out as Buffy forked several pieces of bacon onto it. He offered her a waffle with a raised eyebrow, and she accepted, rearranging her food carefully as he stacked several onto her plate. "And Dawn?"
Buffy poured syrup over his waffles, then her own, and headed back towards their table as she answered. "She's bunked up with Rona for the night. They were swapping makeup horror stories over Saturday morning cartoons when I checked in earlier."
They headed over to the juice bar; Giles selecting orange juice while Buffy poured herself some hot chocolate. Giles took an experimental sip of juice before continuing the conversation. "I don't envy Rona. Last time I ended up with Dawn she kept me up 'till one watching Bugs Bunny."
They headed back to the table, drinks in hand. Buffy eased herself into the chair across from Giles and started in on her waffles. A slight frown marred her features as she spoke around the food in her mouth. "Yeah, she did the same thing to me last week. What's with all the cartooning?"
Giles made a "one moment" gesture with his hand as he finished chewing, then swallowed and responded. "I imagine we're all allowed some frivolous slapstick after all we've been through, particularly us veterans." He gave Buffy a meaningful look with this last statement. She rolled her eyes and pointedly shoved another bite of waffle into her mouth to avoid commenting. Giles sighed and finished off his juice, gazing at her over the rim of his glass. "Really, Buffy, you should take the day off, enjoy yourself. God knows you deserve it."
Finally, Buffy swallowed and wiped her mouth with a napkin. She took several moments to respond to her ex-watcher's concern, and when she did her voice was quieter, more thoughtful than before. "I dunno, Giles. I mean, the girls still need babysitting pretty much twenty-four seven, and Robin is trying to figure out what he's going to do, and hey, we don't even know what we're gonna do with the rest of our lives…" she trailed off at his affectionate, but thoroughly exasperated look.
He knew she was avoiding the real issue. He prompted her to continue with a gentle, "But that's not all that's bothering you, is it."
She smiled sadly at him. "Seven years and I still can't fool you, can I."
He grinned back. "Oh, you've certainly had your moments." He sobered slightly. "Now what's wrong?"
She sighed, pushing the remains of her food around her plate. "I dunno, really. I think that I think that if I slow down, I'll start…ya know, thinking about…stuff."
He didn't care that they hadn't really talked in over a year. He wasn't going to let her drop this any time soon. "Stuff?"
Buffy sighed again and finished off her last bite of waffle, pushing her plate aside. "It's just…I mean, everyone's all post-traumatic shocky and recovering, and we only have so much money for hotels, and we have no idea what we're gonna do with any of these girls, or any of the other Slayers that just popped up all around the world, and there's no more Sunnydale. I mean, it wasn't my favorite place on earth, because, hello, Hellmouth, but still, it was…" she trailed off, silently pleading with Giles to finish her sentence.
He smiled softly at her, understanding. "Home," he provided in a far-off voice.
She smiled back. "Yeah. Home. And then, then I'm not the Slayer anymore! I mean yeah, OK I still am, and before this there was Kendra and Faith, but…" she couldn't find the words again. And again, Giles filled in the blanks.
"It's not the same." The warm sympathy in his voice soothed her. She leaned back in her chair, rocking it up onto its back legs.
"Exactly." She paused, almost unwilling to continue. She knew that this next subject, the one really troubling her, was something that Giles wouldn't relish discussing. He read her intentions in her eyes and spoke before she could back out. "Go on, Buffy."
She gave in, her emotions spilling out faster and faster as she talked, unstoppable now after being bottled up for over two weeks. "It's just…he's gone." Giles didn't ask whom she was referring to. They both knew, though neither had yet worked up the courage to speak his name aloud. Buffy took a deep, shaky breath. "He's dead. I can't think about it too long…and when I do I don't really believe it. I mean I keep waiting for him to waltz through the door with some smart-aleck comment…" she looked around the brightly lit lobby and amended her statement. "OK, well maybe not here, because, ya know, sunlight and everything." She gestured vaguely towards the east-facing windows, which were letting in the golden rays of early morning sunlight. As she paused to collect herself, Giles moved into the chair next to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. Buffy looked up at him, realizing it was the most contact they'd had since…she racked her memory. Since the day she'd come back from the dead, the second time.
She took a moment to really look at Giles, her oldest friend and confidant, and she realized with a startle that he'd barely changed from that man who ran into the Magic Box two years ago. No, she silently corrected herself, that wasn't quite right. He had changed. As she swept her gaze across his familiar, careworn face, she spotted a few new worry lines that hadn't been there before. His eyes were different, too. Just as green as always, but more…tired. And, strangely, more at peace than Buffy could remember ever seeing them before. She finally noticed his bemused expression, and it was so comforting, so familiar, that she finally broke down. Her tears began to fall in earnest, and she silently thanked whatever deity was listening that the room was otherwise devoid of people.
The complete lack of audience was probably what compelled Giles to instigate the most physical contact they'd experienced in their entire personal history. Without a word, he pulled his chair closer, until they were knee to knee. The hand on her shoulder moved to the small of her back, urging her out of her seat and into his embrace. She collapsed into his lap, her head against his chest as she let the shuddering sobs take their course through her small frame.
The embrace was far from romantic, but it certainly wasn't paternal, either. It was comforting and healing at the same time: a renewal of an old trust too long neglected. Buffy knew they had to look ridiculous, squished into one chair, soaked with tears, but she didn't care. All she cared about was sharing this burden that was too heavy to bear alone, relieving even just a portion of this pain that tore through her heart.
After a few minutes (during which the room continued to remain completely empty besides the two of them), Buffy continued to sob, and Giles continued to hold her. It never occurred to either of them that at any other time in their history, this much contact would have been not only inappropriate, but also downright awkward.
Finally, Buffy pulled back, needing to tell him, tell anyone the secret she'd kept since the day Sunnydale bit the dust. Her voice, forced through her tear-clogged throat, was quiet, sorrow-laden, and more than a little shaky. "I-I…" Giles shushed her softly, but she shook her head and tried again. Determined, desperate to finally get this out. "I told him I loved him. Spike, before he…d-died. I-I told him I loved him, and he didn't believe me."
It was the first time since Sunnydale that anyone had spoken his name, at least in Buffy's presence. Just the action of forming the sounds was therapeutic to Buffy. She could feel a physical weight lift from her shoulders, as much from hearing Spike's name aloud as from the actual confession.
Buffy didn't look up for several moments, so she missed the emotions that danced across Giles' expressive eyes. Shock, resignation, and a brief flare of anger followed each other in quick succession. His face clouded with grief on behalf of his Slayer, and for once he didn't check his emotions. When Buffy finally made eye contact with him, the only things she saw were sorrow on her behalf, and the same unwavering support he'd always given her. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. "I'm truly sorry, Buffy…for both of you."
Buffy moved back into her chair, looking at him in undisguised disbelief. "Really?"
He winced at the look on her face. He knew that he had never been Spike's biggest advocate…or even his most mild one. He'd never trusted the vampire, and he had voiced his disapproval in no uncertain terms. But now, as he gazed at the one person he cared about more than any other as she grieved for the man she lost, his anger and spite towards Spike's memory faded.
Memories flashed past his mind's eye too quickly to follow: Spike chained up in his bathtub, yelling to be allowed to watch "Passions"…Spike giving them all a lecture about conquering nations, only to turn around and yell an apology at the rampaging war chief…Spike talking Angelus out of killing him…Spike standing in the kitchen, oblivious to the potential Slayers and others in the room as he railed at Giles, furious on behalf of Buffy. The fights, the petty insults, the sniping, and the fury all blurred together in Giles' mind until everything was just a swirl of color and noise and memory.
Suddenly, the whirlwind of thought stopped. Giles' impressive mind was coming to a conclusion that had eluded him for over five years. Through the filter of his experiences, the ex-Watcher watched in amazement as the one piece of the puzzle he had missed for all this time fell into place.
Love. For Buffy.
The one thing that Giles had been sure the vampire had never really possessed. The one thing that had irked Giles so badly, when he was confronted with Spike's feelings for his Slayer. The one thing that bound the two of them together, as Watcher and vampire, day and night, good and evil…alive and dead. Giles stared at Buffy, and understood. And for the first time, he could give her an honest reply when it came to Spike.
"Yes, Buffy. I really am."
Author's Note: I don't own any of the characters (too bad, really. They all would have been much happier at the end of the show and Spike would've been toast half way through year three. Ah well.) I also don't own the lyrics at the beginning of the chapter. (Michelle Branch does. Which is good because I'm a horrible singer.)
Yeah, I know, it was pretty angsty. The next chapter will be too, but I think that it's necessary. After the sudden end in "Chosen", we needed the emotional wrap-up of a lot of things. The storyline starts moving next chapter. Bear with me, and please review! Flames are welcome, as long as they're intelligent. It's cold in Colorado, I'll use them to light my fire place. Cheers!