E-MAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org
SPOILER WARNING: The whole first season esp. Prophecy Girl
RATING: R, eventually - (Buffy/Giles)
DISCLAIMER: Everything Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Warner Brothers. I'm borrowing them for some illicit fun that they'll never have on the show, and then returning them without a scratch, with their memories wiped clean. Now, who could object to that?
SUMMARY: Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander cope with the events of the Spring Fling and a not-so-happy birthday
FEEDBACK IS WELCOME AND APPRECIATED!
The Edge of the Abyss
Willow Rosenberg stared down at her biology textbook as she attempted to review the assignment for the day, but the words and pictures blurred and jumped in front of her eyes. She rubbed her forehead tiredly and sighed, leaning back against the hard stone bench in front of the west side entrance to the high school. She was exhausted, in spite of the fact that she'd managed a full eight hours of sleep the previous night, sans vampires and other hideous apparitions. Unfortunately, ever since the night of the Spring Fling Horrorfest, no amount of sleep could burn the exhaustion from deep within her bones, dogged as her subconscious was by screaming nightmares. An unwelcome realization flashed across her mind - *Sometimes I wish I'd never met Buffy Summers*. That thought made her swallow guiltily past the lump in her throat. She shook her head angrily and looked out across the grassy front lawn.
She saw two people standing underneath an oak tree on the far side of campus, next to the boundary fence. The taller figure shifted his stance and a beam of sunlight glanced off of a pair of spectacles. [Giles,] she thought as an argyle vest swung into view...which made the smaller shape next to him the slight figure of one of her two best friends in all the world. [Buffy...] Willow ducked her head, mixed feelings of guilt and anger making her wish to avoid being seen by either of them.
The two figures walked toward the front entrance of the school, their steps oddly in sync for people of such disparate heights. As they came closer, Willow could discern the intently concerned expression on Giles' face as he gazed down upon his young charge, and she felt another flash of guilt. Buffy's face bore evidence of the same exhaustion that Willow herself felt, and Willow knew that her friend's burdens were much heavier than her own. Buffy didn't have a choice when it came to the battle that was her life; she could never walk away. And deep down Willow knew that she herself *did* have a choice. Her guilt intensified as she realized how close she was to abandoning her friend to fight that battle alone.
[Or not quite alone,] Willow thought, her gaze narrowing. She watched as Buffy looked up at Giles, her expression brightening momentarily as she responded to something he said. Giles' reply was accompanied by a wry quirked lip, and as the pair passed within twenty feet of Willow, she could hear the bell-like sound of Buffy's laugh. They disappeared inside the school, oblivious to Willow's presence...and everyone else's. [It's like they're in their own little world, just the two of them,] Willow mused. [But I suppose that makes sense...] She frowned as she stared at the momentarily empty doorway. [Doesn't it?]
"So she gave me a can of mace," Buffy continued as Giles pushed open the doors to the library. "For my *birthday*, can you believe it? And I'm like, 'Mom, we're not in LA anymore.' And she says, 'I know, but I don't know if you've noticed that some *strange* things have happened in this town since we moved here.'" Buffy rolled her eyes and Giles stifled a laugh.
"What did you say?"
Buffy dropped her books on one of the wooden tables with a loud *bang*. "What could I say? I told her I hadn't noticed any strange things happening...except for my principal being eaten and my science teacher turning up headless, of course..." Giles felt a stab of remorse as he saw shadows darken her eyes at the mention of one of the few teachers in the school who'd been willing to give her a fair chance. The familiar, perpetually-stifled anger that burned in his chest at the injustices Buffy was forced to endure arose again to choke him. He blinked back his frustration and concentrated on her words.
"So she said she thought it would be a good idea for me to have some way to protect myself," Buffy continued ironically. He stifled another laugh at the chagrin on her face, and wondered for the millionth time if perhaps it would be better to enlighten Mrs. Summers about just how remarkable her young daughter was. So incredibly remarkable...
Abruptly he shook his head to clear it. "So what did you say?"
"What could I say? I said 'Thanks, Mom, I'm sure it'll come in handy'." She flopped down in her chair with a sigh.
Giles sat down next to her. "Surely that isn't all you received for your birthday - a can of mace?"
Buffy leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands. "No. Willow and Xander got me this really cool leather bag I wanted, and Mom bought me some clothes and a way technical calculator. And the party at the Bronze was nice..." Her voice trailed off on a sigh.
"It might be none of my business," he began tentatively, "but you don't seem very happy about turning seventeen."
She closed her eyes and tilted her head forward until her forehead touched the polished wood. Her hair fell around her bare shoulders in sun-kissed waves. "I'm not," she replied, her voice muffled. He could see her back muscles tense through the thin material of her cotton halter.
She sighed and turned her head to peek up at him through a streaming curtain of hair. Her eyes were suspiciously bright, ringed by dark smudges that offered mute testimony of too many late nights and incipient insomnia. "I don't feel seventeen, Giles. I feel like I'm a million years old. I feel like I've been pancaked by a semi, and it takes all the energy I have just to get out of bed in the morning..." A single tear escaped to roll down one smooth cheek. "Sometimes I think I left a part of me back there in hell when I died...and all that's left is someone cold and hollow, lost somewhere between dead and alive..."
He flinched at the mention of the horrible fate he hadn't been able to avert, mute testimony to his failure as a Watcher. The thought of Buffy dead was a pain he never cared to revisit; the very idea nearly tore the breath from him. "It's quite natural for you to feel some lingering effects from that experience," he said, hating his own proper, emotionless tone. He wanted desperately to draw her into his arms, to offer what comfort he could...[but that way lies madness...]
"Effects?" Buffy retorted, her face coloring with anger as she sat up in her chair and flung her hair back over her shoulders. "That *experience*? Geez, Giles, you make it sound like I had a bad day at the dentist. I *died*, for God's sake! Doesn't that matter to you at all?"
Giles reached for her hand in an attempt at a soothing gesture. Buffy pulled away from his touch as if stung by an electrical charge. She pushed back from the table, overturning her chair in her haste and fury. Neither of them noticed.
"Of course it matters Buffy. You are extremely important..." [To me,] his mind continued...but he couldn't say the words.
"To the fate of the world," she finished, swiping back miserable, furious tears. "I know, Giles, I've heard it all before. I have a duty to save all mankind." Her lower lip trembled, but she drew herself up with dignity and squared her shoulders defiantly. "I'd really hate to put you through all the irritation and inconvenience of finding another Slayer to drive absolutely bat-crazy. Don't worry, Giles," she finished bitterly. "I know *exactly* how important I am to you." She grabbed her books, slung her leather bag over her shoulder and fled the room in a flash of tanned legs and flying hair. Her departure sucked all life from the room, leaving the stillness of utter misery.
Giles remained seated, staring down at the polished tabletop, her wounded voice ringing in his ears, mingling with her fading footsteps as she retreated down the tiled hallway. He closed his eyes, pained beyond words. [Why is it I never know quite what to say to you?] he wondered miserably. Slowly he pulled his hand from his pocket to reveal a small, gaily-wrapped package. "Happy Birthday, Buffy," he whispered.
Buffy's headlong flight came to an halt outside of the door that led to first-period biology, but she couldn't bring herself to reach for the doorknob. The sounds of teenaged voices drifted through the crack underneath the door - excited whispers concerning weekend plans, who was dating whom, who *wasn't* dating whom... She closed her eyes as the light shining through the windows in the hallway reverberated in her tired eyes and intensified the pounding headache at her temples. She couldn't face that bright classroom and the young, optimistic faces with their petty problems and insignificant concerns. [Who cares about biology?] she wanted to scream...and she wanted to scream it at Giles, she realized suddenly. [He acts like it doesn't matter at all that I died. He doesn't even care!] Deep down, she realized that she'd mentioned her birthday celebration to him to gauge his reaction. She'd been hoping for flustered guilt at his forgetfulness, and perhaps a belated card or a nice dinner at the Bronze. [I'm not even *that* important to him!] she concluded bitterly.
Buffy glared at the closed classroom door. "To hell with this," she muttered, turning toward the exit that led outside, but the bright sunlight didn't look inviting. It loomed overhead like an oppressive white-hot blanket just waiting to smother her. Idly, she wondered if some vestige of vampirism had affected her in the Master's lair, just enough to make daylight an anathema, without the accompanying bloodlust. But whatever the cause, she wanted shadows, quiet, and solitude, she realized, longing for the library. The irony inherent in that longing - considering her scholastic record - wasn't lost on her, but she knew it wasn't the books, the darkness or the silence that drew her...it was Giles. Unfortunately, there was no way she could face him after her emotional outburst. [Not that he didn't deserve it!] she thought mutinously.
She stood in the hallway, paralyzed by indecision, until a familiar figure rounded the corner at the far end of the hallway. It was Xander, running full-tilt to avoid another tardy for first period. Suddenly she couldn't bear to talk to him, to see the puppy-like quest for approval and affection in his eyes. Usually she could sympathize with his unrequited feelings, but today her emotions were too raw and explosive, and she feared saying something rash that she could never take back. If he so much as looked at her funny, she would either burst into tears or stake him through the heart, and neither outcome was particularly appealing. [I've got to get out of here!] She turned and fled through the outer doors into the suffocating sunlight.
"Buffy?" Xander called uncertainly as he glimpsed her fleeing form. Shrugging, he wrenched the door to biology open, noting without surprise the empty stool where Buffy usually sat. [Must be some vampire thing,] he concluded, sliding in next to Willow. She offered him a distracted smile as the lesson began.
It was a springtime tradition for those in the vampire-know to take their lunch together on brown-bag days, either outside in front of the school or inside the library on rare inclement days. As hot-dog surprise had again made an appearance on the cafeteria menu, they'd automatically decided the night before to bag it. Willow and Xander waited outside on their regular bench for ten minutes before they realized Buffy wasn't coming. "Were we supposed to meet in the dark cave of useless knowledge?" Xander asked lightly.
Willow shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe Buffy's not back from slaying...whatever it is she left to slay this morning."
Xander stood up and grabbed what was left of his lunch. "Let's go see Giles - he should know the date, time, and ghoul-of-the-day. Maybe he can tell us when she'll be back."
Willow sighed, nodded, and gathered up her lunch.
Giles scanned the frontispiece of the book he was holding for the fourth time, the words penetrating his consciousness no more thoroughly than they had the first three times. His mind was a whirling mass of jumbled thoughts and confused emotions, framed by the ever-present image of Buffy's face, streaked with miserable, angry tears. The combined resources of his Watcher training, the chronicles of previous Watchers, and all his life experience offered him no solution to the problem that was uniquely Buffy. He simply didn't know what to do for her. [Thank God she has others to turn to. It seems I'm next to useless to her...]
"Giles? Yo, Giles, you in there somewhere?" Fingers snapped impatiently in front of his face.
"What-? Oh, Xander, Willow, what are you doing here?"
Xander held up his brown bag. "Um, Lunch? That oh-so-delicious meal the cafeteria serves in the middle of the day, usually consisting of various mystery meats that are better off remaining a mystery. You know, it's that thing us Americans do instead of high tea..."
Giles sighed. "*We* Americans, Xander."
"It's *We* Americans."
Xander frowned. "Hey, I might not know much, but I *know* that accent screams Masterpiece Theatre - not to mention your fashion sense."
Giles shook his head in exasperation. "Never mind. What are you doing *here* in the *library*?"
Xander and Willow sat down at a polished oak reading table. "We figured this is where Buffy would come when she got done snuffing whatever she went to snuff this morning."
Giles felt a frisson of alarm travel up his spine. "What are you talking about? Buffy left school this morning?"
Xander and Willow exchanged a look. "Yeah, right before first period. We figured she had someone undead to slay. You didn't know?"
Giles slowly shook his head again. "No. I had assumed she was in class." He turned away from them. "She was upset," he murmured under his breath, pinching the bridge of his nose underneath his glasses. "I do hope she doesn't do anything rash..."
"Hey," Xander interjected, disturbed and trying to hide it. "This is *Buffy* we're talking about. You know, the *Slayer*. She can take care of herself, guys."
Willow stared up at Giles, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Why was Buffy upset?"
"We had a...a disagreement of sorts earlier."
Willow tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "You seemed pretty in sync to me when I saw you before first period."
Giles glanced at her sharply; she regarded him with a steady inquiring gaze. His conscience fought a quick war between a wish to keep Buffy's confidences and a desire to obtain the help she might need from her friends. His concern for her won the battle. "Buffy is...disturbed...by what happened in the Master's lair. One does not simply shake off the experience of dying all that easily."
Xander's expression darkened with memory. "No kidding," he murmured softly.
"I'm not quite sure what to do for her," Giles admitted helplessly. "This is quite beyond the realm of my experience."
"Or anyone else's," Willow pointed out.
"Quite right," Giles concluded, disheartened by the realization that they had no more idea of what to do for Buffy than he did.
Willow glanced down at her watch. "We have to get back to class. Let us know if you hear anything. If she's not back by the time school is over, we can check out all the usual places."
Giles nodded as Willow tugged on a reluctant Xander's arm. He bowed his head when the library doors clicked shut behind them. [Dear God, let her be all right.] His hands clenched into fists of helpless fury.