Preludio by pfeifferpack

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Preludio

The drive to the airport had been silent, each passenger lost in his or her own thoughts, own dilemmas. Both women were learning how to live all over again in a lonely world more harsh than hopeful. The man, hopelessly incapable of delving into the maelstrom of emotions that surrounded him, spent the drive checking and rechecking the packet of travel documents. The car had the appearance of containing the living dead, rather than warriors who had spent years battling the real thing.

Willow sat with her head bowed in sorrow. There was a gulf of her own making between herself and her companions. Two of the three most important people left in her world in the car with her and not a syllable was uttered to start building a bridge over the void. Willow might never get over losing Tara and then, after flaying Warren alive, losing any illusions of being a 'good person'. How could anyone else ever forgive her when she might never forgive herself?

Buffy was still stinging from the many hateful things that had poured from the mouth of her best friend. There was no time to hash things out now. The first thing that needed to be done was to save Willow from further self-destruction and rid her of her dependence on magic to cure all perceived ills, to bend the world and all its inhabitants to her own will. Later, Buffy would have to face Willow's words and the damage that they caused.

Buffy had never known that Willow resented her and her position as Slayer. 'She called me superbitch. Why on earth did Willow insist on pulling me from heaven if she felt that way? She said she spent six years as my sidekick and wanted to be the Slayer, the Power. Why bring me back if that's what she wanted?' Buffy wondered.

Buffy had heard enough about that lost summer to know that Willow had assumed the leadership of those left behind. Even Giles followed the witch's directions while on patrol. Willow had moved into Buffy's home and taken her place in all but name. 'Except for paying all the bills that were stacking up,' Buffy thought bitterly.

Now Giles was leaving again. Buffy remembered how he had laughed, great belly laughs, at the mess she had made of things in his absence. Even though she had laughed right along with him, it hurt to see how comical he seemed to find the disaster they had all created out of the grand drama of their young lives.

Xander had emotionally gutted Anya badly enough to turn her back into a vengeance demon. Willow had spiraled out of control trying to make everything and everyone what she thought they should be and do. It had taken Willow nearly destroying the entire world to get Giles to return to Sunnydale.

Giles had said that Buffy needed to be "the responsible one". That was why he said he had to leave. 'I'd just clawed my way out of the ground after being at peace for the first time I can ever remember! Suddenly I'm back, not just with full Slayer fun on the Hellmouth, but with all my mom's bills, duties and responsibilities on top of it. So Giles jumped ship right after he found out just how bad it all was and then had the nerve to laugh because I screwed it all up?' Buffy choked back a sob of self-pity. 'Now he's leaving again to take care of Willow,' she brooded. 'I need him too! What do I have to do to get him to not leave me? Even finding out about Spike wasn't enough. Maybe if Itried to end the world….'

In the end, they left anyway. Once again Buffy stood and watched the backs of those she loved as they moved on and away from her. True, Xander and Dawn were still there. But things were tense between all of them, so they might as well be gone too. And Spike? Buffy had no idea where Spike was. He'd left, like they all did. All that angst trying to keep her loved ones close, seeking their approval and ultimately Buffy, like the cheese in the old child's song, stood alone.

The trip back to Revello Drive was a quiet one. Buffy went over the same emotional territory over and over again. Seeing a shattered Willow board the flight to England had been difficult, even if Buffy knew it was for the best. It was doubly hard seeing the back of her Watcher as well. In one fell swoop, she was losing her best friend and her father figure. Buffy studiously ignored the soft voice that added 'and my love is gone too'. No, not love! That wasn't her love life! Spike was many things, but never her love life!

Buffy was looking forward to a long soak in the tub and an early night in dreamland. With any luck, she'd just sleep the sleep of exhaustion and not dream at all.

Buffy brushed her hair and gazed at the pinched face in the mirror. When had she gotten so old, so tired-looking? She felt fifty instead of twenty. No wonder Slayers died young. "It's not the years; it's the odometer," she muttered.

She slipped on a loose-fitting t-shirt and cotton panties and crawled under the comforter. "Great name, 'comforter'. Hope it does what it says."

She thought back to the day she had spent invisible. She'd actually had fun and felt free, nearly happy. Part of her brain kept bringing up the interesting choices she had made when no one could see her. Aside from a bit of righteous revenge and damage control, she had spent a lovely afternoon in Spike's crypt. For once it had been playful and slow, instead of hard and rough and filled with angst.

Buffy started to push her hair back and was struck again by how short it now was. It had been a few years since she had hair this short. It did look adorable, as everyone had said, but she hadn't really planned on a haircut.

She had cut it to spite Spike. His obvious love of her long tresses and his calling her Goldilocks had made her feel soft and warm towards the vampire and she couldn't allow that. No, the hair and the emotions Spike made her feel had to go…so go they did.

Buffy sighed and rolled over on her side, snuggling into her pillow and hoping the heartbreak and tension of the day would prove tiring enough to lead to quick sleep.