I leave my friends, all coupled up, sitting at one of the tables near the coffee bar and weave my way through the dense crowd, not paying much attention to my surrounding, not tonight. I finally emerge onto the dance floor, finding a spot to claim I start to sway back and forth to the mellow music that seems to match my mood perfectly. After a while I can feel Angel watching me from somewhere near where I'd left my friends sitting, normally that would make my heart flutter and send butterflies through my stomach, but I don't give it much more than a seconds worth of contemplation before I let my mind go blank again. Tonight isn't about him, tonight, I am going to finally let myself mourn, starting with this, dancing mindlessly until I can make myself stop thinking, I'm not sure what I'm going to do next, but I'll figure it out when it happens.
Unfortunately for me, my friends have other ideas for my night; I'm only dancing for probably a half an hour before they decide to disrupt me. I can feel them finding their way to where I've taken refuge on the dance floor, Angel following behind them. Willow and Xander are the first to my side. "We were thinking we should go back to your house and watch some movies." I stop my slow sway and finally open my eyes to look at them. I can't tell if its concern I see in their eyes or simply boredom, either way, I don't feel up to dealing with them, not on my night.
I slowly shake my head at them before I answer. "No thanks guys, I think I'm just gonna do a quick sweep and head home." I turn to leave, barely responding to Angel hovering behind them, and weave my way back out of the now even more crowded club. I can tell that they're following me, but I don't bother to stop. As I hit the sidewalk outside I pick up my pace.
"Buff!" Xander yells at me, jogging to try and catch up. I stop across the deserted street from him and turn to gaze at him where he stops on the other side. "What's up, you haven't been yourself all night."
I sigh deeply and close my tired eyes for a brief second before I look at him again. This time I can see that it is concern in his eyes at the exhaustion he undoubtedly sees in mine. "It's nothing Xand," I answer. "I'll be right as rain in no time."
He tilts his head to the side and moves to take a step towards me but is stopped as a motorcycle roars to a stop in front of me. "Damsel." The man bows his helmeted head at me.
"Dark Knight." I offer him a small smile and bow my head at him as well before I climb on the back of the bike and wrap my arms around his familiar waist. A sense of safety and relief I haven't felt in year's washes over me as we leave my friends and Angel standing confused on the sidewalk, heading somewhere unknown to me. I close my eyes, enjoying the feel of the wind against my face, my hair whipping all around me. The feel of having absolutely no control and knowing I was the safest I would ever be. For once not worrying about whether or not I would live through the night. With this man, I knew without a doubt that he would never let anything bad happen to me, this man would protect me with every last ounce of strength in his body, he would fight for me until his last breath. While I know my friends would do the same for me, I also know that they would never be able to handle the things he would. They could never be able to cut a bloody path through an army of the undead to assure themselves that I was still standing, still kicking ass. Angel has the strength to do it, but he would never have the will power to accomplish the things that this man has. So here, with him, I know I am completely and utterly safe.
I don't know how long we've been driving when I finally open my eyes enough to see that we were on the freeway, heading away from Sunnydale. It's then when I realized what he has planned and I take in a sudden surprised breath. And promptly swallow a bug. He laughs as I cough, trying to either get the bug up or down. When I finally managed to swallow the horrid thing, I smack the back of his helmet and chuckle to myself as he swerves slightly to the left causing the car next to us to honk.
"Watch it super strength." He yells back at me over the wind. "Or you'll get us both killed."
"You would never let that happen." I yell at him, smiling to myself. He simply nods and goes back to driving silently. I return my head to rest on the back of his worn cargo jacket and close my eyes, again just enjoying the sound of the wind in my ears and nothing else.
We're silent the rest of the trip and after about forty five minutes, he pulls off the freeway and begins navigating through darkened back streets. His movements are smooth and known, as though his bike already knows and doesn't need him to lead the way. When he finally pulls to a stop and kills the engine, we've stopped in one of L.A.'s numerous cemeteries. One that I've avoided for four years, one that I admittedly refused to patrol but one that I knew would never be disturbed. He lifts his leg over the bike to stand next to me as I look down at the seat he's just occupied. His hand appears in my line of vision and I reluctantly look up at him. He's taken the helmet off and his dark hair is longer than I remember it ever being. Last I'd seen him, he'd practically buzzed it all off, now it fell in front of his face and almost hid his blue eyes. "Come on Damsel." He tells me. "Let's go face some demons." He wraps my small hand in his larger warm hand and helps me off the bike. He puts his arm around my shoulder and starts leading me to a part of the cemetery that I'd never been to before. We come to a stop in front of a fairly plain looking headstone, and I realize that there are tears falling down my face. I pull away from him and drop to my knees in front of the headstone, brushing my fingers lightly over the cold marble surface; I slowly trace his name and then his date of birth and death.
June 12 1940-Feburary 2 1996
Here he was my first watcher. The man that forever changed my life, the man that made me a better person. The man that taught me to care about the world and the people in it, no matter what brand of clothing they wore. I owe everything I am and everything I have to this man. This man that I undoubtedly got murdered. If I'd been a little bit stronger or faster. If I'd trained just a little harder or paid just that much more attention. He would still be alive today. He would still be my stuffy watcher with a rusty sense of humor that I loved unconditionally. I collapse forward, my head resting on the grass. It isn't until he sits next to me and pulls me onto his lap that I realize I'm babbling unintelligently. He starts rocking me back and forth, not bothering to whisper false reassurances in my ear, he simply shh's me, calming me enough that I at last stop sobbing and muttering incoherently to myself, I simply stare down at the ground.
"He would never have blamed you, Buffy." Pike tells me, breaking the long silence. "He told you himself, it was his destiny to die in your place." I sit up, pulling myself off of his lap to sit in the grass and lean against him. He wraps his arm around me and pulls me flush against his side, resting his cheek on top of my head. "He loved you like the daughter he never had. There's nothing you could have done differently that night. It was either going to be you or him and he made the decision for you."
I sniffle slightly and try in vain to wipe the still falling tears from my eyes. "I know." My voice is hoarse from crying. "Doesn't make me miss him any less though. Every day I wake up knowing he won't be there when I get out of school. He'll never again offer me a cup of his horrible tea or his disgusting biscuits."
"He may never be able to do those things with you again." Pike tells me, gently stroking my hair. "But he'll always be with you. He'll always be critiquing your training. And even though you might not hear his snarky comments about you constantly dropping your left shoulder, which I'm sure you still do, in the back of your mind you will always know what he would have been saying. I know he's left a void in your heart that no one will ever fill, but he also left an impression on your life. Some day you will be able to look back and feel grateful for the time you two did have instead of resentful of the time that was taken away from you."
I tilt my head to look up at him. "When did you get so smart?" I tease him lightly. "Last I knew you could barely tell the sharp end of the stake from the dull end."
He pushes me gently, smiling down at me. "I'll have you know I can now tell which end goes in the heart." He puffs up his chest proudly and wiggles his eyebrows at me, causing me to giggle.
"I've missed you Pike."
"I've missed you too."
"So," I start, looking back at the headstone in front of us. "How did you manage to happen by just as I needed you?"
"I had a feeling you would need me?" He suggests unconvincingly. I just grin at him and shake my head no. he sighs, deflating a little bit. "Alright, I'll tell ya the truth. I've come to town this time every year since you moved. I kind of stalk you for a couple of days before and after his anniversary. I knew eventually you would let yourself grieve and I also knew you would need me there to take care of you."
I can't help but gasp at his small confession. Even though I hadn't seen him in three years, he was still making sure I'm okay. "You always did like to rescue me when I played the damsel in distress."
"What can I say?" He grins at me and shrugs. "I've got a dark knight complex."
We're silent for a couple of minutes, just sitting there staring at the gravesite. "Thank you." I tell him quietly.
He looks down at me and kisses the top of my head. "I'll always be there when you need me Buff."
I look up at him; his eyes are sincere and honest. Always open with me, never once has he lied to protect me or kept information for my own good. For all that he took care of me, he always knew better than to try and shield me from things that could hurt me. "I know." I smile at him, my hand reaching up to caress his cheek. His stubble is rough against my palm, but he always looked better after a day or two without shaving. "Can we stay here tonight?" I ask him softly, dropping my hand and returning my gaze to Merrick.
"Anything for you, my lady." I giggle at him and burrow deeper into his side.