Summary: Buffy tries to deal with the harsh reality of being the one to lead the Potentials in the war against the First, and quickly finds out that no general can do it on their own. Set somewhere in the end of season seven.

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: None

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, though at times I wish...please, Joss, I beg you!

Author: E. Quackenbush aka NephilimEQ

Author's Notes: This story came from a writing assignment in my creative writing class. It was originally only the first seven sections (count each small paragraph) at the beginning, but then it spiraled into its' own entire story from there. Hope that you enjoy it!

Accompanying Song to Listen to While Reading: "Come Undone" by Duran Duran (put this on repeat throughout the entire story; that's how I wrote it)

aftermath (n.) - the consequences of an event or series of events

She stared at her chosen warriors all around her, all in various stages of distress and degrees of pain. All young girls with their futures ripped away from them in order to fight in a way that would, inevitably, kill them. The sun finally rose, but instead of the reassurance of a new day, all it brought was more vicious light to the blood soaked bandages and the stained and broken weapons that lay scattered across the floor and over various surfaces.

The coppery metallic smell of it filled her senses and seemed to blame her for what she'd done.

The sun that streamed in through the hastily boarded up windows seemed to scream at her... Look! Look at what you've done! You're no're only a misguided shepherd leading lambs to the slaughter... The implied unspoken words echoed in her ears like the killing stroke of a blade, taunting her for her misguided efforts in a war that she now saw was hopeless for her to win.

Every drop of blood spilt was blood that was wasted and carelessly shed.

She knew that she'd made a mistake, but to admit it aloud would be a fatal error. These girls needed to know that she was their leader and she couldn't let any form of doubt be instilled into their young minds.

Those young, impressionable minds.

She'd been them once. She'd been helpless and scared, unsure of what her future years would bring, but now she stood in a blood-filled retreat that left her feeling empty. Instead of an unwavering confidence that came from years of experience, in its' place was a black hole of fear that gnawed at her insides, leaving her with an inner ache that could not be soothed.

The young, petite blonde wrapped her arms around herself, trying to shake off the dread that had somehow wrapped itself around her heart in its' vice-like grip. But it didn't let go.

Instead, it seemed to tighten even further with every breath that she took, practically smothering her.

She let her arms drop to her sides, and then glanced once more around the room. She watched as her friends wrapped up the young girls in clean bandages that were soon stained as deeply as the weapons that had inflicted the wounds in the first place. She dropped her eyes, unable to take in the sight.

They did not deserve this.

It wasn't their least, not yet. For now, she was the one with the weight of the world on her shoulders. They did not yet have the strength yet to deal with what that meant.

At this thought, she was drawn even further into her shell, and she couldn't take it anymore. She quickly left the room, moving briskly up the stairs to the one place that she had that was still her own and untouched by anyone. Her room. That was the one place that no one else was allowed to be. It was still hers.

As she closed the door behind her, she leaned against the wood as if trying to draw strength from its' solidity...something that she longed to have at that moment.

She moved to her bed, pulling a pillow into her arms, enveloping it tightly within her firm grasp.

She was mere seconds from crying. She had been feeling it build behind her eyes, steadily, ever since she'd seen the girls sprawled throughout her living room, injured and desperately seeking relief.

As she felt a single tear finally break through, a soft knock came at her door.

She said nothing, but then she heard the voice behind it. "Buffy?" It was Giles. She hesitated before answering, not sure if she should let him in. She knew that if she did, he would see her, get that soft look on his face, and then touch her shoulder oh-so-gently...and she would breakdown. There was no question about it.

She made the decision, though with some reservations. "Come in..."

At her words, the door slowly opened to reveal a haggard looking Rupert Giles. His hair was tousled, his glasses were put away revealing bloodshot eyes, and he hadn't shaved.

He softly closed the door behind him, and then their' eyes connected. He didn't say a word, merely came over and, very tentatively, sat down on the end of the bed, only inches away from her.

She dropped her eyes, but she still felt his eyes on her. After years of working with him, she knew when he was worried about her. She felt the slight shift of weight as he moved, but why was he...? There it was. His hand touched her shoulder in a familiar gesture, one that she had gotten accustomed to throughout the years, and she forgot herself for a moment and lifted her eyes.

Wrong move.

As she saw the gentle look of concern in his eyes, she could feel the tears wanting to break loose, and she tried to hold them in.

But then he lifted a finger to her face and carefully drew it along the pale line of moisture that still lay on her cheek from the single tear that had escaped.

"You've been crying..."

That was all he said, but it was enough. She broke down into tears and she felt him do something that he'd never done before. He gently pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her, supporting her as she broke down, and moved them to the headboard, where he could lean back.

At that moment she was forever grateful that he had closed the door behind him. If anyone else saw her like this, it would do nothing to raise their confidence for the upcoming battle. Seeing one's leader breakdown was something that never boosted a soldier's morale right after a near massacre of their comrades.

Giles held her tightly even as her soft cries turned into wrenching sobs that shook her small frame.

She tried to speak through the tears, and it came out disjointed.

"I just, it's just...t-too m-much. I-I can't...I j-just can't...oh, girls. W-What am I g-going...t-to do?" He held her a little tighter to his body, trying to reassure her without words, but soon found himself speaking as well.

He sighed as he began to speak. "'re doing the best that you can. If you make some mistakes, well...well, that's w-what being a leader is all about. Learning from those mistakes is what makes you stronger. You have all of my faith, but you must b-believe in yourself, as well."

He continued to hold her and she finally quieted down. She shifted in his arms into a more comfortable position, not willing to let go of her Watcher's arms so soon. He seemed to carry the strength that she seemed to lack, and she needed it.

Giles soon found his Slayer sitting between his legs, her back against his chest, his arms wrapped around her, her head resting against his shoulder.

Being in his arms in this way was something that she'd never expected to happen. It was weird, but at the same time it seemed to give her the one place where she could say her true innermost thoughts, and not have to worry about judgment. She knew that he would never do that to her, never try to judge her for who she was.

That alone was enough to give her the courage to speak.

She finally managed to put her thoughts into some kind of order, and began to talk once more, this time in a more coherent manner.

"''s just too much. Seeing these girls get hurt...they shouldn't be. They don't deserve to have the burden of the Slayer thrust upon them when they aren't even Slayers themselves...they don't deserve to have my burden on their shoulders. They should be going to parties, worrying about boys, learning to break curfew, and braiding each others hair...not preparing for battles, worrying about dying, learning how to kill, and sharpening each others' weapons."

She pulled away slightly to look up at him without straining her neck. "They're losing themselves, Giles. They're losing who they really are..."

He dropped his eyes, not wanting to agree with her, but inside he knew that she was right.

She reached out a hand and gently placed it on his own, where it lay on his leg. He was surprised at her forwardness. They weren't usually so open with physical affection. It had sort of been an unspoken rule between them.

However, tonight, that line seemed to be gone. He had broken that initial barrier when he had reached out to her and held her.

She spoke once more, but this time her voice was so low that he almost didn't even catch her words, though she was only scant inches away from him. "Giles...I'm the one that's getting these girls killed. They're fighting what should be my battle. They shouldn't be the ones nearly sacrificing themselves. That should be me...and me alone."

At her words, she felt his entire body tighten for a brief moment, and then relax. It felt as though he was trying to control himself...keep himself from saying something. What it was, she didn't know.

He took in a deep breath, and then he spoke.

"Buffy...there is something that you need to understand..." As he spoke, he drew in a leg towards his body and maneuvered her so that she was looking at him.

His face was serious as he continued. "I have been taught that the Slayer works alone, and that's how its' always been. However...there is one thing that I've realized throughout my years of working with you and..." He paused. "...being your friend. No Slayer should have to do it alone. I feel that being alone just might have been the cause of the early deaths of all the other previous Slayers throughout the years..."

She stared at him, her hazel eyes practically searing him with their almost desperate look.

He continued. "This might sound a bit out of turn, but...but in the Bible it says that no person should ever be alone, because alone is where we are weakest. I...I feel that this is true for everyone. No matter what their abilities may be."

Giles paused, looking at his Slayer, trying to see if she understood what he was trying to say, but her face told him nothing.

He reached out a hand, holding her own in his, and then continued.

"'re trying to do the impossible. You're trying to hold everything on your shoulders by yourself, but the truth is that no person can do it alone. No one can. Not even the Slayer. Yes, it's true that world relies on you from time to time, but you have friends to help share that burden and that is what's made you stronger. These girls choose to be here. And for one reason. Because they know, deep down, that no one person can do this on their own..."

His voice faded, and he waited in expectant silence, hoping that she'd say something. Anything.

Buffy looked down at where her hand was being held in his. She absently ran her thumb across the back of his hand, drawing comfort from it. She lifted her eyes.

Her hazel eyes caught his own, and it hit her all at once.

She never had been alone. He had always been there. Memories hit her all at once, everything from the times the world nearly ended to things as trivial as prom, and she got it. He had been there. Every time.

Oh had she not seen it? He'd been there. In the beginning, he had merely been her Watcher, and sometimes father-figure, but as time had gone on his role had changed. He had been fired, and at that moment he became a comrade, not quite a friend, but that soon changed when college had started. She had wanted to get away, and she'd hurt him...but then they were stronger than ever when she'd finally fixed things between them and asked him to be her Watcher again.

But that was when he'd become more than just a Watcher...he'd become her equal, her friend. One of the people she enjoyed spending time with outside of her slaying.

Then she'd died. And he'd suffered.

When she had come back, he was the only face that she'd wanted to see. Because even though her friends had been there, she had felt so alone, thrust into her calling yet again, and feeling so alone. Then he was there...and she needed him so badly, it scared her. God, it had scared her to the bone.

Then he had left...and she was alone. Spike had come along, and she'd taken it without thinking, not realizing that she was trying to replace the irreplaceable.

Yes, she'd had sex with Spike, but there were no heartfelt talks or him having any other interest in her than taking what he wanted.

She'd been seeking that closeness in the only way that she knew how to...Giles was the only one that she'd ever been able to break down her walls around. He held no expectations, had nothing he wanted from her.

Buffy stared intently at her Watcher's hand, trying to process the thoughts that were racing through her head at a million miles an hour. How had she not seen it? Her and Giles were practically lovers in every since of the word...except they'd never...she couldn't even think it. No, it wasn't possible. But at the same time, the thought seemed to pull at something in her heart and created an ache...oh god, she wanted it.

She wanted him in every since of the word. She gasped out loud at the thought, and Giles looked up at her.

There was a palpable silence in the room as she reached her other hand forward towards his face, and suddenly the mood changed drastically. There they were, sitting on her bed...alone.

He could barely believe it as she leaned in, her breath across his lips.


That was all that she needed to say, and he was gone.

He leaned in at the same moment she did, and their lips met. Oh god, it was better than he'd hoped. Her lips were soft and pliant under his own, and she tasted of nothing but herself. Buffy sighed as his slips slid across hers, and she gave herself over to the feeling of his control. She wanted nothing more than to be lost in him at that moment.

She parted her lips, and he eagerly accepted her invitation. His tongue slid between her lips and began to wreak havoc on her nervous system.

Her tongue slid against his in an erotic play, and he groaned. His right hand slid to her thigh and he ran his thumb across her inner thigh, and he felt her spread her legs at the light pressure.

They lost themselves in each other for a while, tasting and taking, enjoying the moment.

Giles wanted nothing more than to lower her to the bed and take his time with her, make achingly sweet love to her all night, but his common sense kicked in and he reluctantly pulled away. She mewled at the loss of his lips, but he silenced her with a finger.

"Buffy...I would love nothing more than to continue this, but-" She nipped at his finger, halting his speech and his train of thought. He pulled his hand away and regrouped. "But...we can't. Not now, not like this. You deserve so much better, and I want to give you what you truly deserve."

At those words, she melted. God, how perfect could this man be?

Buffy finally nodded her head. "I understand. It's did we not see it? I just seems so obvious now."

He nodded in reply. "I know it does. I will admit, I had hoped...but I believed that the Buffy I knew was gone. But I see her now."

With that he placed gentle fingers on her chin, tilting it up. Their eyes held each other, and for a while they merely drank in the others' presence, not wanting to leave the moment as it seemed too perfect to last. Her hand was still on his other hand, and she lightly squeezed it, and he gently returned the unspoken affection.

He stood up, slowly letting go of her hand but she held fast.

"Stay with me," was all that she said.

He looked into her eyes...and then he smiled. "Of course."

As she lay down on the covers, he positioned his body behind hers, and smiled as she pulled his arm around her waist. They said nothing more as they drifted into sleep in each other's arms. Everything was where it need to be.

This was the true aftermath. Two people finding each other after years of being right next to each and never seeing. Fighting side by side on a daily and nightly basis, always Watcher and Slayer, always comrades in arms, always the chosen ones...never lovers, never touching each other in the way that sated their true emotions.

Those years were their' battle to find each other.

There was no fighting, no blood, no despair...only aftermath.

aftermath (n.) - the consequences of an event or series of events