Summary: Five people Buffy loved.
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers for Buffy: Season Eight, and Angel: After the Fall
Original Story: Five Loves, by confusedkayt
Notes: Thanks for the beta, Outlaw.
From one, learn all
Eros, or was it phillia
Another day, another demon. All the details were being neatly wrapped up: a cover story was being spun, by someone who liked spinning stories; the physical evidence was being cleaned up, by someone who liked playing CSI; the very ruffled feathers of the local occult community were being smoothed, by someone who excelled at shmoozing. Buffy herself was contemplating a shopping trip.
In the old days, the pre-Slayer Army days, they'd gone in, saved the world (or the mall, or Innocent Bystander Number Four, or whatever they were saving that day), and gotten out, leaving the chips to fall as they may. Buffy had a secret identity, which remained secret, for at least the first few years; by the time they'd left high school for other, not necessarily greener pastures, it was an open secret at best. Sitting on a Hellmouth, Sunnydale was forgiving of strangeness. Buffy didn't have to do more than put on a pair of glasses and call herself Clark Kent, for people to nod and smile, and agree that she was an ordinary (albeit strange) girl. But she didn't know that until after she was out there, in the big bad real world, where the evil was of a decidedly human character, more often than not, and a Hail Mary, miracle save made people suspicious, rather than grateful.
In Sunnydale, people knew how to accept a gift horse. In LA they looked the gift horse in the mouth, took it out back, shot it, and dissected it. Possibly when they were done with that, they turned the remains into horse burgers and started up a chain of horse-burger restaurants. The horse would be optioned for atv movie and action figures with kung-fu-hoof grip.
LA was his territory, now more than ever, though it still wasn't his kind of town. Nothing about him fit in here. She'd hesitated about sending a team to help out with the latest apocalypse; hesitated more about coming herself. Eventually, Xander and Giles both started to throw around terms like 'mission critical', and she decided that it was. It had been Slayer business, in the sense that it involved Slayers: that was one of the deciding factors. Should she hesitate about coming into his town? She shouldn't tie herself into knots over that kind of question, that much she knew, but she was who she was, and therefore she did; tied herself into the kind of knots that even Alexander would puzzle over. (Yes thank you, she knew who Alexander the Great was, even if it had been a terrible movie).
Another long night, another apocalypse averted, and across town in the convention center and its parking lot, people were cleaning up after her and the team. Mission accomplished, time for the support staff to do their thing. Buffy had support staff. Angel didn't, not anymore. He had allies and a variety of demonic frienemies to call up for the big game, but since Wolfram & Hart crawled back into whatever hole it had crawled out of, Buffy was the only one of them who headed a shadowy, para-military, para-various-things organization with little to no respect for the law.
Unlike Angel, when he'd run the law firm (literally) from hell, she didn't sign the checks, take meetings, or mind the balance of power between demon factions. Understand, she didn't have to. Buffy was the head of an army, one that she'd gotten cleanly, through a fantastic reboot of the whole Slayer concept, and one she funded without the help of any Powers That Were; one she funded through, admit it, (and she sometimes did), less than clean means. She wasn't Bruce Wayne, and she didn't feel all that much guilt about Robin Hooding her way into systematically fighting evil, for maybe the first time, without having to compromise with it. So she was lucky to be able to do what she did; to have so many partners in crime, so many other Slayers to fight alongside; to have her shadowy evil-fighting organization without the stuffy suits, and her shopping trips too.
Even if she did have 'people'; enough of them that she was close to losing track of them. She made sure to know their names, to greet as many of them as she could, and to be just one of the girls, as best she could. One day out of seven she could fool herself that she was succeeding in that.
The slightest scuff of boot against gravel. He moved up behind her, silent as ever, then hunkered down beside her. She sat on the roof of her hotel, with her legs swinging over the edge. It was in a closely packed neighborhood of older buildings, with few of the security floodlights, or glittering glass and steel mini-towers that marked so much of LA. Probably no one would see them up here. Probably that was why she'd chosen this hotel, of the three on the list. Buffy could admit that, sort of, because there was no reason she shouldn't want to be alone with her ex boyfriend. No reason except for the other ex boyfriend who lived in this city.
"Hey," she said back.
They'd already been through the usual. Thanks for the assist. Welcome to LA, the city formerly known as Hell, currently known as hell, (man made, one of several). This would be the part where she said something ridiculous. Cookie doughredux : this time there's cake. The thing was, there was just something so damn familiar about it. He wasn't careful to make the kind of noise that a normal girl would need to notice him; just padded up behind her, after watching her, for however long he needed. Plain greeting, because they didn't need eloquent speeches, and even on a good day, neither of them was that. The same whisper that said he was watching her, the same anticipation, the same understanding, and the same awkwardness.
So many years, so many miles, so much death and heartbreak, and joy too, for both of them. Still, she saw him clearly, how Angel was Angel, and he didn't fit into LA, just like she didn't fit into Scotland, except for how those were the places they needed to be right now; the places they were protecting, and fighting, and being forged by. Buffy was a work in progress. Some days she didn't recognize herself in the mirror. (The light changed, gradations of light and dark, and she changed with it). Angel too, despite being a vampire and frozen in time, was different. But he was still Angel, still a part of her soul.
So they sat on the roof of her hotel, that was maybe a little bit too much like the one he used to live in, and he told her, in his words, and not the clinical ones of a report, or the halting Willow-and-Giles speak that she'd originally heard it in, about his second trip to hell. An ugly part of herself that she didn't acknowledge was grateful that this time she wasn't involved. It hadn't been her decision. It wasn't her fault.
When Buffy met Angel: she was a teenager and he was over two hundred years old. She was a Slayer (the Slayer, the only one back then), and he was a vampire with a soul (again the, the only one until there was another). Despite all the complications, crossed wires, adventures good, bad and other, there was something so easy about it, so wonderfully easy. The way his eyes lit up when he saw her (and hers did too, but naturally she didn't have cause to know it, and it wasn't something he would tell her). The way they always had at least two conversations going at once; one where she told him about school, and shopping and afternoons at the beach, and he tried to picture it, how she would look in the warm afternoon sunlight, by the ocean. And the one where they said other things, some prettier, and utterly profound, and some too ugly to give real voice. She could imagine they were in The Princess Bride, and he was Westley, and every time he looked at her, his eyes were wide open, and saying 'As you wish'.
It was love at first sight. He was living with, and living off of the rats, when Whistler found him and told him: you have a purpose, you are needed, by her. It had been a long time since he'd been in love. It had been longer since he'd done more than exist. (Had he ever?) That was love.
It definitely wasn't love at first sight for her. It was like at first sight, obviously, but love came later. For him too: he learned to love the whole of her, not just the outline. There were vampires to kill, a world to save (once, from him), and very few opportunities for things like hand holding, and sweet easy kisses. She killed him; he left her. That was love too.
Between Angel and Riley, after one too many dates, with way, way too many losers, she found herself wondering, "Is that it?" You find your true love in high school and spend the rest of your life dating idiots, surprise monsters, and surprise monsters who (not so surprisingly) were idiots?
"Where's Spike?" Buffy asked.
"Ah," Angel paused. Looked down. He didn't scuff the toe of his shoe against the ground, but looked almost as though he wanted to. He continued sheepishly. "Around."
Angel shrugged. "He said he had places to be." Which meant there was alcohol to be consumed, cigarettes to be smoked, and monsters to be fought. Maybe women to be slept with.
Buffy, Angel and Spike made a surprisingly good team. Putting aside the jealousy, that is. They discovered this in the middle of yet another epic battle against the forces of evilyada yada. It had been them, two squads of Slayers, Angel's crew, and Spike's, with Xander running communications from their temporary headquarters, vs. a whole lot of angry leprechauns. If Buffy had ever dreamed about being able to fight alongside both of her vampire ex-boyfriends, that was not how she'd envisioned it.
"Leprechauns in LA?" she'd asked Giles.
"They're drawn to wealth, and to greed."
Xander held up his hands. "Wait, since when do leprechauns exist?"
"Since the 6th millennium BC, apparently." Giles frowned at the book they'd filched from the Library of Congress (which was a story in itself: both the how of the filching, and the why of the book being there in the first place). "What I don't understand is how they've stayed hidden for so long. They don't appear in any of the lore, human or demon."
"They're tricksy little buggers."
"So it seems."
Buffy had tuned out the discussion of LA leprechauns, until days later it suddenly became 'mission critical' for her and the girls to be there. Then it was her job to take them down. Hers, and Angel's, and Spike's.
They kept an eye on LA at all times. It was a hotbed of supernatural activity at the best of times, and Angel was there, still a magnet for world-ending bad guys and all forms of demonic tomfoolery. Spike too. And while he got much less attention from the Powers That Be, demons of all stripes held grudges, and Spike was uncommonly good at inspiring them. Their eye on LA meant that they knew early on that something was wrong; not as early as the city's residents, but in time to be able to do something about it. Their eye (magical not literal) also meant that Buffy could, theoretically, if she wanted to, check in on them. If not them specifically, the city.
"Spike really came through today." Angel said it tentatively, and maybe with some disbelief. Usually he was as easy to read as a picture book, but things were more complicated when it came to Spike.
"Yeah," she said. "He did."
Angel turned around and sat on the edge beside her, so that she looked out on the city, and he looked at the air conditioning unit on the roof behind them. He was close enough that she would be able to feel his heat, if he were human. Instead, he was like a cold spot; the absence of heat more than something actually cold. Buffy had never been able to describe it.
"Are you two getting along?"
"You're asking me if I'm playing nice with Spike?"
"Well, I..." She looked down, smiled. An embarrassed smile; one that acknowledged the ridiculousness of the situation. "This is awkward."
"You think?" he asked. She couldn't help but laugh. "What?"
"It's just, you sound so LA." He still didn't look it, thank god.
"Oh, what? Are you saying I've changed?" He frowned at her. His cute frown, not his real one. "Well you might as well get on back to Scotland. I'll have my people call your people."
"You don't have people anymore."
"I have people," he said, not sounding entirely convinced. "They just... don't work for me. But I have people. They're around." She laughed again. "What? Is it my hair?" He was already raising a hand to check on it.
"No, your hair is fine. But you kinda have to take my word for it, don't you? The downside of vampirism."
"The only downside," he said, utterly deadpan. Angel had one of the best poker faces that Buffy had ever seen, and she had played poker with demons. Some of whom had very limited facial mobility.
"So what is it?"
"I was just." She smiled. "I was just picturing you in a flashy suit, screaming into your cellphone about craft services ."
"... craft services?"
Buffy shrugged. "Xander watches a lot of Entourage." Angel's forehead crinkled, in a confused human, rather than hungry vampire, way. "Never mind. Seriously."
Buffy found Spike the next night. She had an early flight in the morning. Xander reminded her. Three of the girls reminded her. Giles reminded her, on an intercontinental goodnight call. He'd needed to 'go over a few things with her,' which really meant that he was checking up on her. With Xander it go either way: he might have been checking up on her, or on the other hand, he might have been trying to prevent cranky in-flight Buffy from making an appearance. She was never a pretty sight. The girls definitely weren't checking up her. They had to reason to think that checking up was necessary, and in their case, she was pretty confident that an aversion to mid-air crankiness was their only motive.
Buffy didn't want to be cranky Buffy, but for tonight at least, she had places to be. People to see.
Places turned out to be a typically dark alley, behind a typically abandoned, ramshackle warehouse, deep in a likewise abandoned and ramshackle neighborhood. People turned out to be four vampires, only one of them Spike.
"Need a hand?"
"Don't trouble yourself." He paused, to punch one of them. He was aiming for the face, but the vamp sidestepped and Spiked ended up hitting him, almost uselessly, in the shoulder. "I'm fine."
"Yeah, you look it." Not exactly. He was fighting three vampires, all of them big, fast, and not stupid. Most vampires were stupid. Masters needed servants, not competition. These ones might have been guards, before they went out for themselves. They were trained and they were giving Spike a harder time than she liked.
Two of them had him up against the wall, and the third was closing on him. Spike said he didn't need help, but obviously he did, and Buffy knew better than to listen to him.
Spike was not Angel, and neither was he Angelus. The differences were obvious right away, and kept on appearing, day after day, so many that they weren't worth mentioning; not nearly so much as the ways in which they were the same.
When Buffy met Spike: Buffy was a teenager and Spike was much older, though that wasn't always obvious. He started out as William the Bloody, and quickly devolved into the vampire in a wheelchair, and then the vampire in Xander's basement apartment. He was funny, pathetic, sometimes legitimately scary, and other times legitimately helpful. There were long stretches of days when the strongest feeling she had for him was disgust; where his cute face, cuter accent, and charm that wasn't, said nothing to her but monster. That changed, but it also didn't, and there was nothing of love in it.
He wasn't like Angel (and he was tired of the comparison). He didn't love the people that he killed; he just loved killing them. There was something special about killing a Slayer though, and he was happy to admit that. What demon wouldn't? So the first sight of her filled him with joy, of a kind that was like love; like looking on something that was crucial to your happiness. Like watching Drusilla sleep, or talk to her dolls. The first sight of her, the new model girl-child with super-powers, made him happy, because he could already imagine the taste her blood. And later, when the sight of her made him happy for other reasons, how much of that was still working, under the surface?
When he died for her, was that love? He saved the world, but had he learned to love it? He knew his feelings, but there were some he couldn't face up to.
Buffy raced down the alley, toward them. Spike was struggling. The vampire moving in on him had his fangs bared. That couldn't be good. Although really, she couldn't help but ask herself, what was he going to do? Make him even more of a vampire? Too far away, but she caught his eye. Understanding.
When she was closer she threw herself into a flying kick that would do Van Damme proud. The vamp hit the ground hard, on his side. She, on the other hand, landed softly, dropping into a crouch beside him, stake already out. He was dust before he could try to sit up.
Spike had shaken off the other two, was back on his feet. Two on one was still not the kind of odds she liked to see. She should have a quip prepared. She didn't. She sighed, and pouted a little for good measure. Hands on her hips? No, that would be too much.
"You know what? It's been a long day, and I have an early flight. Let's just get this over with." It got their attention. Spike's too. He grinned at her, toothily (not fang-ily though).
The vamps looked at each other, puzzled. Spike took the opportunity to move on the one closest to him, sweeping his feet out from under him, and then finishing him with a stake that came from somewhere in his coat. It wasn't the same coat. That one had burned up, along with Spike. But it looked remarkably similar. Shopaholic to the bone, she was analyzing the coat that replaced the one that Spike had taken off of a Slayer he'd killed, even while she traded blows with the last vamp.
But then, Spike wasn't one of the new girls. Not even like Satsu, who was a brilliant fighter. He wasn't trained, and his style was little more than throwing himself into anything that stood in his way with everything he had, but she was used to him. She knew him, where he would be, before he got there. And he was very good.
It was the easiest thing in the world to drive the vamp back into Spike, who grabbed him from behind, and held him, while Buffy drove her stake through his heart. That left them standing too close together, a cloud of dust falling to wet concrete, and not quite meeting each others' eyes.
Spike stepped away first, shrugging his coat back into place. "Thanks for the team up." Of course, he hadn't needed it. Not Spike. "Not like I needed it."
"Thanks for your help."
He frowned, not at her, but at the wall where the vamps had held him. It was directed at her all the same. "You don't need to thank me."
"You were... you were good, Spike. We couldn't have won without you."
"No thank yous, love. Not for that."
"This is my town," he said, suddenly angry; explosive. His body was one long line of tension, muscles tense, and arms up. It could be threatening. She didn't take it that way, though he loomed over her, was suddenly too close again. That was Spike.
It was his town, as much as it was Angel's. They both lived there, both protected it as best they could. Spike had a network of contacts, just as Angel did: people he'd saved, and people he'd refrained from killing, that he could call on for favours. And yet.
"No, I-" He dropped his eyes. The anger drained out of him; his posture shifted. Next he would cant his hips, and try to look smoldering while he flirted with her. He would pretend not care about her reaction, one way or the other, but he would care. He would care so much. That was Spike.
Buffy had started out hating Spike. One day she turned around and found that he was the only one who could hear her, and see her. Why him, in whom she found only the worst parts of herself?
They settled into something. Not a relationship, but not nothing, either. He stole her shirts and looked good in them; embarrassed and shamed her, like it was a game between them. He watched her back; he guarded Dawn, cared for her; and somehow, she found that she could trust him. He was funny, and terrible, and inhuman. Undeserving.
After she threw herself into the rift, he cried for her. Tara told her. None of the others mentioned it. He found his soul. He sacrificed himself. For her? Was that love?
He was, undeniably, a champion. The long arc of their relationship, from his planning her murder, to being the person she could trust most in a fight, was still strange to her. Whether it was done out of affection for her, or for the world itself, he threw himself into the kind of end that vampires feared most: light and fire and then ashes.
And did he, at the end of it, reflect only the worst parts of herself? His devotion to Dawn, his gentleness, and his stubborn affection for her, no matter how many games she played with him, push-pulled his heart, and made demands that no sane man or vampire could meet. Her inability to return his love the way he wanted and needed, and even perhaps deserved: was that, in the end, the thing she couldn't stand most? Her own guilt?
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." She didn't look down, and instead held his gaze.
She grabbed one of his hands. It was cold like Angel's were cold; an absence. He looked up at her, and it was the same, familiar vulnerability. Everything in his eyes. As usual, too much of him, all his contradictory feelings, obvious behind the bravado. He was beautiful. Human, whatever that meant. If they'd worked by the old script, she should have kissed him then. She didn't.
"We should talk."
"I don't like the sound of that." He said it with a smirk, that made it clear he wasn't worried. He absolutely wasn't concerned. Knowing Spike as she did, it meant the opposite. Still, it was easy to fall into old patterns, and she couldn't not tease him.
"What, are you scared?"
"Never." That earned her a smile, a little ironic.
Storge, or something like it
When Buffy was little, she often dreamed about growing up to be a princess. Perhaps an ice princess, or an imprisoned princess, trapped in a high tower, waiting for her prince to rescue her. Sometimes she rescued herself, but not always. She was her father's princess, and this was perfect. When he went away on business trips, he never failed to bring her home a wand, a tiara, or the latest princess dolls.
When she was older she started skating lessons, and gymnastics, to which he drove her, when he was in town. From July to the following June they watched skating competitions together. Business trips didn't get in the way. He called her from his hotel room, to listen to her enthuse about the costumes, and to make bad jokes about the Russian and German skaters' names. They watched gymnastics too, but competitions didn't warrant too-long, expensive phone calls. Skaters had better costumes; on that they agreed.
Her dad wasn't a great skater, but he was passable. He gave Buffy her first lesson. Her mom, who was a disaster on ice, decided to sit things out after her third fall. Buffy could have fallen fifty times that day, (she doesn't remember), but she kept getting back up, because he asked her to, and told her that she was going to glide over the ice like Katarina Witt. She was Katarina Vitt, in dadspeak, and quickly, in Buffyspeak. Vitt was theirs: skater, noun, verb and nickname for Buffy herself, when she finally learned how to stop.
Depending on the set of memories, she either remained daddy's little girl, until vampires moved into her town, or when she was still little, she got a younger sister who changed things. The responsibility of a baby sister with an incredible facility for getting into trouble, made Buffy harder, but not by much. There was still skating and gymnastics, and makeup parties with her friends, some of whom were chauffeured to school. Her mother took up shopping, as both a necessary self-defense and a hobby, and her daughters followed in her footsteps. The only violence in their lives was social, and Buffy wasn't one to be bullied; she ensured the same for Dawn.
When Buffy started dating, the only thorn in her side was Dawn, who was nosy to a fault. Her parents knew her boyfriend's name, and what his parent's did for a living, but not much else. They trusted her judgment, they said, on the way out to yet another party. Her father kissed her forehead, and told her to have a good night, princess. Don't let Dawn stay up too let. And no ice cream. Buffy's only worries were her grade in algebra (terrible), and what she would wear to the spring formal (something yellow, possibly canary).
In both sets of memories Buffy lost her father when she burned down her school's gym.
After the divorce and the move to Sunnydale, she visited her father a handful of times. Being jealous of your younger sister was pathetic, she knew, but Dawn was invited more often; was more welcome than she was. Buffy had always been her father's favourite, and then suddenly she wasn't. It wasn't something her parents talked about. Any of it really. Her dad never sat her down and said, princess, I love you best, but she was dad's and Dawn was mom's. That was just understood. After the gym, she was no one's.
"Buffy!" Dawn yelled. It sounded like she was on the stairs and moving closer. "Dad wants to know if you're done packing."
"Almost." She flipped closed the false bottom of her suitcase. All her Slayer paraphernalia safely hidden, she started stuffing her clothes in on top. It was her last bag. She had three, which was as much as her mother would let her bring for a week's visit, no matter how much she complained.
"What?" Dawn asked, now in the doorway.
"I said almost."
"Ok." She turned, but didn't leave. "Dad! Buffy's almost done."
"Thanks, pumpkin." Hank Summers had a way of raising his voice, without sounding like he was doing it. He never sounded ruffled, always conversational, until things got bad. It made him good at his job, and good at dealing with excited teenage girls. So long as they were normal teenage girls.
"Can we get ice cream before we go to the airport?" They'd had ice cream every day for the last week. Dawn remained unsatisfied.
"Do you have to yell?" Buffy asked, not even bothering to conceal her irritation. Dawn had no sense of boundaries, personal or otherwise. Buffy's things were Dawn's for the borrowing. Buffy's room was for visiting, and her doorway was for yelling.
"Duh," Dawn said. "It's not like he could hear me if I didn't."
"Well, why don't you go downstairs and talk to him."
"No." Dawn smirked. "I like it right here."
"I don't. Go away."
"Excuuuse me. Since when do you need privacy to pack?"
"Since now," Buffy said, getting up from the bed. She stalked to the doorway where Dawn was still lurking obnoxiously. Buffy pushed her sister out, with the smallest amount of force possible to woman-handle a squirming teenage girl, and closed the door behind her.
"Hey! I'm not going anywhere." Dawn kicked the door, lightly.
"Yes you are."
"You can't make me. I'm going to sit here until you come out." She kicked the door again, and then again, turning it into a rhythm. So that was how it was going to be. Eventually she'd get bored and go back downstairs. Buffy could out-patience her. Probably. At thirteen, Dawn wasn't exactly the most mature and supportive of sisters. But then, the same could be said for Buffy, who was years older.
She sighed. Finish packing. Right.
It wasn't the bedroom she'd grown up in. Right after the divorce, her dad had moved into a cramped condo, which she'd visited only once. Buffy and Dawn had been forced to share a room, and that was patently intolerable for everyone. Then came what could only be called his swinging bachelor pad. It lasted only a year. Happily, he moved before she could get around to burning it to the ground. Then came the house. This house, where she and Dawn each had a room, and there were two more bedrooms to spare.
Like every other move, the first visit meant unpacking, because her father never did it for them. Dawn would make excuses, like maybe he wanted to let them figure out where everything went. Buffy did too, at first. She was less and less able, with each visit.
The room had white walls, with nothing on them, and Ikea furniture. A blue bedspread, with matching curtains, and white blinds behind them. Like in the rest of the house, the floor was bare hardwood, new and pretty. Over the bed were three floating shelves, with stuffed animals jostling for space on two of them. The last had framed pictures.Xander , Willow and Buffy. Buffy, Dawn and her mother. Buffy and her father, when she was little. Buffy in her favourite skating outfit, palest purple and glitter.
She got up on her toes, and braced herself with one hand on the wall, so that she could reach it.
Buffy sat down on the bed, crossed her legs and settled the picture in her lap. Her father had taken it. She remembered they'd gone skating, just the two of them, while Dawn and her mother stayed home and watched a movie. Buffy had showed off everything she'd been learning in class. Her father cheered while she did toe loops. Later they'd gone for cider.
Dawn's kicking was getting louder. She was frustrated. Good, she thought. That meant she was going to give up soon. She should finish. Buffy stuffed the last of her things into her suitcase. Underwear, bras, socks, a pair of jeans and a set of pajamas that hadn't fit in the bag that held most of her clothes.
She put the picture back on the shelf, and adjusted it so that all four were facing the same direction, tilted slightly towards the door. The picture of her and her friends was new.
Everything else, the plush toys, photos and other scattered keepsakes were from her old bedroom. There was a box in the closet, of some things she never bothered to unpack, but her father kept bringing along, from apartment, to apartment, to house. Pictures of her old friends, who she hadn't talked to in years. Ribbons from school fairs and activity days. A scrapbook she'd forgotten, when they moved toSunnydale that she'd once missed, but no longer thought of.
She couldn't help but wonder if the picture, the only sign that things were different now, would be in the boxes when it came time to unpack again.
"Dad's starting the car!" Dawn said, then finally, mercifully, thumped down the stairs.
Buffy slung the two bags over her shoulder, and took up the suitcase in her other hand. She didn't take a last look; it wasn't her room.
In the driveway, her father looked up from packing the trunk. He frowned, and met her halfway. "Let me get those, princess." She let him take the bags, though the weight was easier for her.
Dawn came running out of the house. "Shotgun!"
Her father closed the trunk, and patted it, liked he'd done for as long as Buffy could remember. Thunk, thunk. "All set?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. "I guess we should get going."
"We're going to stop for ice cream though, right?"
"Of course, pumpkin."
Buffy sat in the back, listening to Dawn chatter away at their father.
Buffy had this fantasy. It was modest, as fantasies go. Her and her father in a coffee shop, having a conversation. They hadn't talked in years.
During the long wait for the First to make its next move, she hadn't had time for fantasies, or much of anything besides planning, and preparing the girls, but one night, she'd told Spike about it. Then, and even later, she didn't quite understand how the subject came up.
Spike was hitting the punching bag, with his usual excessive force. Buffy was sitting on the floor, with her back to the wall and her knees up. He hit the bag one last time, then caught it on its swing back, and held it in his bare hands. Spike never used gloves. Why would he? He looked at her, from behind the bag. She couldn't read him.
"Your father. Haven't talked to him in years, have you?"
"No. I guess we just... drifted apart."
Spike nodded, but not in agreement.
Buffy wrapped her arms around her knees. "I spent the summer with him, a few years ago. Just the two of us."
Spike let go of the bag and sat beside her, leaving a couple of feet of wall between them. "Gave normal its last hurrah?"
She snorted. "I think... I think we both tried to pretend that things were the same as when I was a kid."
"Daddy's little girl and all that?" She frowned up at him; more a question than anything else. "Recognized the type."
"I'm a type?"
"No, love. There's no one else like you."
"I met his secretary that summer. The one he moved to Spain with." Buffy wanted to hate her, but she couldn't manage anything more than vague dislike. It would have been easier if the woman had anything like a personality. At least she had an unhealthy obsession with cheap designer knockoff. It gave her and Dawn something to trash talk. When she got back toSunnydale , she'd mentioned the new secretary; casually dropped her into a description of her dad's new office. Her mother never seemed to care.
"I think he was already sleeping with her then." For a long time, the divorce seemed to Buffy, just another part of her new problem child-ness. Girls who burned down their school gym, snuck out at night, and lied to their mothers, didn't come from two-parent households with more garages than they had cars. Slayers didn't. They weren't supposed to have people who loved them, just Watchers.
"Why am I even telling you this?" Spike looked conflicted, caught between saying something mocking and something serious. He stayed silent for a moment that got longer and longer. Finally Buffy pushed herself to her feet.
"Fathers. Who needs 'em," Spike said suddenly. "I never knew mine."
"Oh." She didn't know what else to say. She offered him a hand up that he didn't need.
The girls poured off the chopper as soon as it landed, racing towards the kitchen. The flight being eleven hours, they'd had lunch and dinner in the air, but most of them were still growing, and all of them were Slayers, with more than healthy appetites.
Xander and Buffy hung back, taking their time. "Are we getting old?" he asked. "Is this it? A slow decline into argyle sweaters and glasses from here?"
"How am I going to fight demons when I have a cane?"
"Cane sword," he said firmly.
Giles met them at the edge of the landing pad. "How did it go?"
"Leprechaun apocalypse successfully averted."
"And how. Booya." Xander held out his fist for Buffy to tap. She hit it once, lightly. He frowned. "You know, we need a secret handshake."
"Get on it, Professor Langdon." She turned to Giles, who was waiting patiently. "Ok, here's something for the lore: leprechauns? Kinda smelly."
Xander nodded. "Sort of cross between wet dog, raw sewage and baby powder."
"Oh believe me, it was. I could hardly tear myself away."
"I still miss it."
"Don't cry, Buff." Xander patted her back. She gave him her best puppy eyes.
"Right, well. Good work." Giles waved them off the tarmac, and toward the castle that was now home to Buffy, her friends and her army. They went in through the kitchen door, which meant walking through what had once been a vegetable garden, but under Slayer management, was a wasteland of weeds. They should get someone on that.
The sentries, up on the wall waved to them. She waved back. Nodded to Tanya, the girl at the door. Tanya smiled shyly. Another thing to work on.
In the kitchen, the two squads of Slayers they'd taken to LA were fighting over lunch meat and an enormous block of cheese. Renee, who'd stayed in Scotland on another assignment, was trying to mediate. She smiled shyly as they passed, but not at Buffy. Beside her,Xander blushed. Buffy made a mental note of it, and scheduled the ritual mockery for tomorrow, mid-afternoon, when she'd had some sleep, and was at what passed for her best.
"When you were in LA-" Giles started, and then stopped, visibly considering his words.
"You have that look," she said.
"The 'dear me, I'm too English to swear, so I'm doing it on the inside,' look."
"And commence glasses polishing," Xander said. Giles just barely restrained himself from reaching for his glasses. His hands twitched. He looked momentarily confused.
Buffy clapped once. Loud. Tried to look tough. "Bring it on." When Giles looked skeptical, she added, "I need a new challenge. But not a smelly one. Tell me it's new and exciting."
It was. The three of them moved to one of the less frequented rooms of the castle, (the library), and spent the next few hours planning to lay siege to an ancient fortress in Russia. It was outside their usual zone of operation, but it required Buffy's special touch.
Buffy had not known Giles when he was younger, obviously. He told her once that he'd been a foolish young man, and that was true. He and Buffy would not have been friends. Perhaps they would not even have been allies. Though she sometimes shied from her duty, or ran from it outright, she never indulged herself as thoroughly as he did; never fell in with the dark. He had cause to be grateful for growing up in England, where there was no Hellmouth , and supernatural activity was pushed to the furthest margins, in the face of so much population; so much unbelieving, orderly, and ordinarily evil humanity. Giles didn't like to think of himself growing up with the same pressures and temptations as Buffy had: he didn't like the odds.
Buffy's first impression of Giles was an overwhelming sense of must and tweed. If fabric could be an aura, it was so for Giles, who seemed tweedy in everything from cotton, to actual tweed. He had gone into the British Museum young, bitter and so guilty, and emerged older in spirit than in years, with the age and wear of the books and artifacts he studied pulled around him like protective coloration. Years of study, regular working hours, endless tea times, and dreadful holidays, had dulled everything but his mind, which was far sharper than it had been when he was younger, and at his most arrogant. When he was reassigned to Sunnydale, that all had to change; he had to change. And he did.
Ostensibly he was the school librarian, and spent his days handling students, some of whom were even more foolish than he had been. His second job, which paid very little, had inconvenient and irregular hours, and more danger than he had ever imagined, when he'd first joined the watchers. Far more responsibility too.
Buffy knew all this. She also knew that in Sunnydale, he flourished. She knew that he pushed himself to research and learn, even harder than he pushed her to train. He tried always to keep a step ahead of what was coming. He wasn't uniformly successful, but more often than not he found the solution to their latest crisis, just in time.
He asked her about her dates, and scrutinized boyfriend after boyfriend. Even when he said nothing, she knew he had something to say; something carefully considered and based on copious observation and research. He asked about her classes, though he could just check her record and skip the conversation entirely. When her grades were bad, he made disapproving noises, and invariably agreed with her mother about the importance of algebra, except as it interfered with Slayer business. Somehow, it rarely did.
He didn't give her nicknames, or hugs and kisses. He didn't offer up his credit card for shopping trips. He never could have afforded it, and even if could, it wasn't something he would do.
He gave her endless cups of tea, though she hated tea. He gave her books of lore, though she hated to read anything non-recreational. He gave her things she couldn't accept: all the darkest, and fiercest aspects of his character. Things done in shadow, some of which she didn't, and never would know about. He spoke with the absolute pragmatism that she knew and recognized, (and had known since people first started dying around her), but hated.
He left her, to give her room to grow up, he said.
When he was needed most, he came back.
Her face was pressed into fabric. Her neck hurt. Half her body was chilled, while the other half was too hot.
Buffy rubbed her knuckles against her eyes, and when they were clear of sleep, opened them. The slowly dying fire in the hearth was too bright in the otherwise dark room. Giles leaned over the chair she'd fallen asleep on. "Mrrgh."
"Quite." He moved to the table that had hosted their latest research session and tidied up the books, and papers, and empty teacups.
"He went to bed. You should do the same."
"You are wise. What about my-"
"Your bags are already in your room, and there's a fire in the hearth."
Buffy pushed herself to her feet, which was more of a challenge than she was used to it being. Leprechaun apocalypse. Eleven hour flight. She forgave herself.
"Giles?" He looked up, in time to be startled, but not to do anything about it. She leaned into him, and up, enough to kiss him on the cheek and force him into a hug at the same time. "Thanks," she said into his shoulder. He patted her hair, awkwardly, but hugged her tight regardless.
Depending on the set of memories, Dawn was dropped into Buffy's life one day without warning, or she was Buffy's long-anticipated baby sister. In both sets of memories, Dawn surprised her, and Buffy surprised herself. Buffy's job had always, and would always be to protect her.
In the beginning that had meant keeping her from scraping up her knees too badly, and on one occasion, beating up Chris Taylor. It was an exceptionally good thing that Chris had been three years younger than Buffy, because while she'd been plenty mad, in those days she didn't know anything about fighting. She just pushed him into a hedge and yelled at him until he cried, and Dawn stopped crying. The next fight she got in was with a vampire.
Later, it meant keeping her away from all the things that went bump in the night, as much as she was able. Even later, it meant keeping up with her grades, paying the bills, trying to provide balanced meals (not just leftovers from the Double Meat Palace), and finding time to just hang out.
It meant putting herself in harm's way. It meant dying for her, and also living.
But it was funny how it worked. The older Buffy got, the harder it was for her to accept that Dawn was getting older too. It was hard to see her start dating; to make mistakes that Buffy couldn't stop her from making. But finally, one of the most important things that Giles taught her: Buffy had to let her grow up; to let Dawn figure out for herself, the person she would be.
All of them, even Cordelia, went through what Xander liked to call Basic. Buffy would never expect them to go out hunting by themselves. She would never want that. But this was Sunnydale, and it paid to be prepared. Basic meant learning how to make and wield a stake, which was harder than it looked. There was a technique to it. It also meant learning how to fall, and to roll with punches, because there would be a lot of both. There was lore to read, and best practices of demon recognition to learn. Simple things like when to run, and when to stand your ground and fight. The answer was almost always run, for people who weren't Slayers, and who weren't in the company of a mob. Basic focused on distance weapons, like holy water and crossbows, and even Cordy, who out of all of them, was least interested in learning, picked up most of it.
They weren't a demon fighting army, but they were capable.
After Basic there was every day life in Sunnydale, to fill the gaps. By necessity they picked up research skills that they otherwise would have procrastinated themselves out of learning. They learned bits and pieces of alien languages, and all of them knew more Latin and Greek than they were really aware of. They learned how to stay quiet, and how to swallow down their pain; how to push through it and keep functioning while injured. It was stopgap and not really any kind of training program. They could whine about it, complain ceaselessly about it, but they did it. It was just how they lived.
It was nothing she wanted to Dawn to learn. But she did; she had to, and Dawn started learning before Buffy was ready to teach her. Like any other resident, Dawn knew there was something rotten in the town of Sunnydale. Like the others, she didn't know exactly what, until it was trying to kill her, and Buffy was there, saving her life. Dawn liked have a superhero for a sister. Buffy hated it. She hated that her sister knew; that she had to know, for her to be safe. She hated that there was need to protect Dawn at all. She tried to keep Dawn out of it, as much as possible, but Sunnydale was Sunnydale, and too often, bad had more luck than good.
"This is a pistol crossbow."
"That's not like the one you use."
"This one is easier to start with."
"Target practice, Dawn. Just get used to handling it, and aiming it."
Dawn rolled her eyes but took the bow. It looked like the misshapen offspring of a pistol and a bow. It was definitely easier to handle than a compound or recurve bow. Dawn wasn't ready for those. She didn't have the muscle yet, to draw them over and over, and she needed to get used to the idea of shooting something, before she actually had to do it.
Buffy had set up a target in the back of the Magic Box, the way Giles used to do for her, and she now did for herself. He didn't need to push her into it anymore. She didn't always enjoy training (most of the time she hated it, except for sparring), but she saw the need of it. Now it was time for Dawn to learn a few things.
"Ok, you will probably never need to use this."
"I know, I know. I'm not the Slayer. I get it. Can we just get on with this?"
"Buffy, come on." Dawn gave her a hard look, and for a moment, didn't seem much like Buffy's baby sister.
"Ok." She nodded. "Ok. Move up to the line." Dawn did. It was taped on floor, on the opposite end of the empty storeroom turned training salle . It was a tighter fit than was optimal for target practice, but it wasn't something she wanted to do in the open. Why do you have so very many crossbows, Ms. Summers? Thank you, no. She would take a pass on that one.
"Feet apart. A little more." Buffy tapped Dawn's leg with her foot. "Perfect. Now turn your-" Dawn was already moving her upper body into position. "Good." Buffy watched Dawn raise it, bolt ready a and in place, without saying anything. They'd been over it enough times for Dawn to have the instructions memorized. Buffy still watched her closely.
"A pistol bow shoots like a gun, but obviously the mechanics are the same as we talked about." Dawn nodded. Stared at the target silently, like it might move. She wasn't tense though, which was good. "This one has fifty pounds less draw than the one I use. You can still take out a vampire, if your aim is good." Buffy had killed vampires with pencils. These bolts were meant for small animals, but they were more than good enough.
"Two hands," she said. Repeating the steps like a mantra. "Elbows up. Are you ready for the recoil?"
"Yeah," she said, unconsciously leaning into it.
"Dawn," was all that Buffy had to say for her to correct her stance. "Don't worry, this one has hardly any."
"I'm ready." It had taken Buffy a long time to get it, but she did. Dawn was right: she was ready.
Buffy stepped away from Dawn to give her room. She took a last look at her form. "Ok, Dawn. Fi-" Dawn pulled the trigger. The bolt flew across the room and slammed into the padding on the wall, fully two feet away from the target. "-re." Dawn's eyes went wide. "Not bad for a first try."
"Yeah, it's a lot to-"
"This is so cool." Dawn all but bounced in place, and turned to Buffy with a smile that was miles wide. "Can I shoot it again?"
Instinct wanted her to tear the bow out of her sister's hands and lock her in her bedroom, but she resisted the impulse. There was Dawn, standing tall and confident, with a bow in her hands. She was growing up.
"That's what we're here for."
"Cool. This time I'm loading it." This time she did bounce - over the the table that had more bolts, and other supplies. Buffy trailed after her, watching her sister get it ready. Dawn was careful, and more mindful than Buffy had been at her age. Even now Buffy wasn't exactly weapons safety girl, because she didn't need to take as much care with herself as normal people did. Dawn was doing things by the book.
Dawn stepped up the line again and raised the bow. She looked to Buffy for confirmation. A nod from her sister had Dawn smiling again. She turned back to the target, and adjusted her aim.
"Buffy, just let me do this."
"Go for it."
Dawn fired. The bolt with a soft thunk. The pistol bow was quiet, and it was small. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad weapon for Dawn after all. This time the bolt hit the target. The furthest edge of it. Still, she was making progress.
"This is so great," Dawn said, and got ready to fire again.
It was late, when Buffy came down for breakfast. For once, the kitchen was quiet. Willow sat by the window, nursing a cup of tea, and reading a novel. There were dishes piled in the sink, again, and no fresh fruit in sight. She headed for the cupboards.
"Witchy woman is back."
While Xander and Buffy were saving the world in LA, Willow had been off fighting evil on another front. Buffy didn't know if she'd ever completely adjust to that particular change. Now they were part of a massive organization of Slayers, former Watchers, (the ones they could trust), and assorted supernatural support staffers, but before all of that they'd been a unit. They didn't - couldn't - always work together now. Resources had to be used where they would do the most good, and in this new, big picture fight, they were all resources.
Willow smiled. "How were the leprechauns?"
"Disgusting." She sighed and sat down across from Willow, with a bowl of cereal and less than half a glass of orange juice. The rest of it had no doubt been pilfered by assorted Slayers. They needed someone better on provisions. She'd get Xander to look into it.
"Really?" Willow's face scrunched up. "I thought they'd be cute."
"They smell like your worst nightmare. Your worst, smelly nightmare."
"I guess that's why the hiding."
"The shame." Buffy nodded. "If only they'd known about deoderant. Ok, scratch that. They were tricksy, and clever and kind of perverted. So all in all, they can keep on hiding in shame."
Both of Willow's eyebrows went up. "You were almost beaten by leprechauns?"
"I wouldn't say almost beaten. We totally routed their Irish tushies."
"Did you bring back any gold?"
"We were going to." Willow looked at her expectantly. "Then it melted."
"Seriously. Leprechaun apocalypse was a disappointment from start to finish."
"That's good. I mean, you're all safe."
She nodded. "A sub-par apocalypse is nothing to sneeze at."
"And Dawn will be happy she didn't miss out on anything."
"Where is Dawn?"
"Out on the moors?"
"No, I think she's ok with it. A giant girl wouldn't exactly go unnoticed in LA."
"The paparazzi would love her."
"Attack of the thirty foot teenager."
"Thank god she doesn't wear skirts." Buffy pushed her bowl away. "Okay! Time for some sister-sister bonding."
"Go easy on her Buffy. She's going through a rough time."
"I know. Enjoy your book."
"Trying. But people keep interrupting me," Willow said.
When wasn't Dawn going through a hard time, she thought, then decided that no, that was uncharitable. Being turned into a giant was a legitimately hard time. So were a lot of things that, at the time she'd just found frustrating. It was easier to be Dawn's sister, when she didn't also have to be her mother, her father and her general. It was easier when she reminded herself that through all the bad, Dawn had been there with her, only Dawn didn't have super powers to protect herself.
"Dawnie!" she called. How could a giant girl be so hard to find? Buffy jogged off the property, and in the direction of Dawn's favourite hiding spot.
Dawn was sitting in a valley, a few miles from the castle. Watching sheep graze. When they'd first moved to Scotland, the sheep, and all of the local fauna had been terrified of her, but now they were comfortable enough with the giant in their midst to eat beside her, and sometimes even sleep beside her. Some of the flock was even giant-esticated enough to sit in her lap. Buffy jogged down the slope, and stopped beside Dawn's huge legs.
"You're back. How were the leprechauns?"
"Unthrilling. I give them two and a half out of five."
"Did you talk to Angel and Spike?"
"They helped out with the leprechaun-pocalypse. And they send their love."
Dawn sighed. "That's nice."
"Listen, Dawn, there's this new thing brewing in Russia."
"You're going away again? You just got back!"
"Evil is inconvenient like that."
Dawn shifted, and the flock responded, moving away like a wave of wool and bawwing. "I guess. I just... I just thought we could spend some time together, before the next emergency. I feel like I'm trapped here Buffy."
"I know." She patted Dawn's leg and hoped that she could feel it. "But this Russian guy is pretty high on the evil scale. Massive - almost as tall as you. Ancient. Silly fortress. Army of the dead. The works-"
"-which is why I want you to come along."
"We could use your special touch on this one."
"You want me to punch the hell out of his fortress."
"So you're in?"
"Definitely." Dawn smiled. "I wish I could hug you."
"Well you could." Dawn picked her up, careful not to smother her.
There had been times when Buffy had been jealous of her sister. Dawn wasn't the problem child. She didn't have to keep secrets from her parents, or kill things, or die. Dawn didn't have to watch and do nothing, while her father pulled away from her, bit by bit, because he was scared. But that wasn't fair, because Dawn was there through all of it, and the more that Buffy tried to protect her, the more she hurt her. Dawn was with her, always, because she was brave, and she was smart. Smarter than Buffy would ever be. She didn't have Buffy's physical strength, or any of her Slayer gifts, but she had other gifts; she didn't need powers.
Buffy wasn't an eloquent speaker, or a deep thinker. She would never have the right words for it. Dawn was her sister and she loved her.
Another day, another demon. This time an ancient, castle-dwelling Russian, with a taste for babies.
"Send me in coach." Dawn's whisper was too loud for stealth. Her giant vocal cords weren't capable of subtlety, but that was just fine by Buffy. Everyone was in position.Xander was running comm again, and Willow was flying, out of sight. The Russian squad was on track to infiltrate the castle, and Buffy's girls were spread out in the forest behind them. This was the part of the plan where they threw subtlety out the window, and went all out.
Buffy nodded. "Be safe."
Dawn grinned in response, and stood up. Her head more than cleared the treeline. Her first step had the ground shaking. She took a deep breath and yelled. "Charge!"
Buffy and the others got up, and followed Dawn, who broke into a run. Straight for the castle's front door.