This Time Around
Chapter Two - Not-So-Instant Replay

written by Rainne

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God." Buffy paced back and forth in her dorm room, eyeballing items that belonged to herself and to Willow, hands buried in her hair, trying very hard to think. She had rolled out of the bed and raced to the mirror, finding herself dressed in her yummy sushi pajamas but wearing the same body she'd had the day before – or whenever it was; the time difference was making her head spin. "Think, Summers, think," she said. "What happened? Vengeance demon. Giovanni's. Oh, my God. But what the hell kind of vengeance demon was that?"

It was the best question she could think of right now. The only two she'd ever had any contact with had been Anya – former patron saint of scorned women – and Halfrek, who had granted wishes to angry children. "That was more like a… a… second chance demon, or something," she murmured to herself. "Except…" She moved to the mirror again, examining her twenty-seven-year-old face once more. She sighed. She'd never gained back the weight she'd lost after coming back from the dead – she'd never regained her appetite – and in consequence she was still far too thin. Those yummy sushi pajamas that used to fit her now hung off her body. Her hair was a mess – the bun she'd worn it in the previous night, or whatever it had been, was scraggly from having been slept on; besides the fact that her dark roots were about half grown-out. Her skin was too pale, and her eyes had dark circles under them. She pinched herself. It hurt. "Oh, my God," she whispered. "It's real."

Giles. She needed Giles. She nearly reeled at the thought that Giles was actually accessible, and then she raced for the closet. The first pair of pants she put on proved to her that she actually had grown since college – at least an inch – but she'd lost several inches around her waist. She finally dug a pair of denim shorts out of a drawer and cinched them tight with a belt. She pulled a tee shirt on over her head and then pushed her feet into the new K-Swiss tennis shoes by her bed, then grabbed her keys off the desk. "Well, here goes nothing."

She had intended to run, but the moment she stepped out the front door of Stevenson Hall, she could do nothing but walk and gawk. The route to Giles's flat was as familiar to her as the back of her own hand, but she couldn't help it: she had to stare around her at all those things she'd never thought to see again. Just in case it really was a dream, she drank in the sight of Weatherly Park, Restfield Cemetery, the Espresso Pump, the storefront that would eventually become the Magic Box; she even spied a glimpse, as she turned onto Oakpark Street, of the burned-out shell of Sunnydale High School, up on the hill. Then she was passing his Citroen, which she paused to touch gently in remembrance, and then she was turning into the Spanish-tiled courtyard and walking up to the familiar green front door.

She took a deep breath and knocked on the door, then waited for him to answer. There was the sound of footsteps and then the doorknob turning – she felt her heart clench for the days when he had left his door unlocked for her. Then he was there, the Giles she remembered, the one who cared and who would never leave her no matter what. And he was staring at her in shock. "Buffy…?"

Her eyes welled up at the concern in his voice – concern which hadn't truly been there since Sunnydale went down in a huge sinkhole and her friends exiled her to Rome. "Oh, God, Giles," she whispered.

"Buffy, what on Earth has happened to you?" he asked her, stepping back to allow her entry. She slipped past him into the apartment and immediately began pacing.

"It's a spell or something," she said, trying to keep herself composed, "I think. Or maybe a vengeance demon. I'm not sure. I was in Giovanni's, in Rome, and you had just left, and this guy came over and sat down, and you know, it's weird, he kinda looked like Q. From Star Trek, not Bond. But anyway, he sat down, and he started talking to me… and he had an accent. Like… not like a Roman. Like maybe he was from Venice. Or maybe Florence. I'm not good with the accents. And he was talking to me, asking me if there was anything I could do to fix things, and I said I could only wish, and I know I'm not supposed to make wishes to strange people, but I didn't think that counted, honest I didn't!"

Giles was staring at her. Her dramatically-altered appearance had thrown him for such a loop that he could only seize on the one thing in her whole babble that he could rebut. "Buffy, you don't speak Italian."

"Yes, I do," she replied in Italian. "Fluently. Giles, that's not the point."

"Your accent is appalling," he replied, also in Italian, reaching for his glasses and polishing them briskly. "I'll make tea," he added, switching back to English.

"You do that," she replied wryly.

When the tea was made, they sat on the sofa together sipping it. Giles couldn't take his eyes off Buffy's changed appearance. He began quizzing her on her life as an excuse to continue studying her. Her hair was growing out, he saw, and he wondered why.

"Well, I've been in Rome for four years," she told him. "After we closed the Hellmouth, I kind of… retired."

"We?" he inquired, his eyes carefully taking in her thinner form. He imagined that if her shirt were off, he would be able to count her ribs easily.

She nodded. "Me, you, Xander, Willow, Faith, Sp… uh, some other people. Potential Slayers."

He raised an eyebrow. "Potentials? Really? A concentrated gathering?"

She nodded. "The First Evil was attacking. Remember the Harbingers from last Christmas? They were finding and killing all the Watchers and Potentials. So I found this scythe and Angel brought this amulet, and Willow did a spell that made all the Potentials become Slayers."

He gawked. "Willow?"

She nodded. "And that's after trying to end the world just the year before."

He sipped his tea for a long moment, considering this as well as the haunting, hunted look in her eyes that was poorly masked by the veil of humor she tried to cover with. "Well," he said lightly, "I imagine we'll need to research."

"Yeah, I wanna find out what that thing was," Buffy agreed. "I mean, that wasn't your average vengeance demon."

"Well, yes, of course," he replied, "as well as to find out how to reverse what was done and send you home." He was astonished when her hands began suddenly to shake so badly that she had to put her cup down before she spilled it. "Are you quite all right?" he asked her, even though it was fairly obvious that she wasn't. Her face had gone the color of spoiled milk and she was shaking her head rapidly.

"No. No. I won't go back. I won't go. Giles, please don't make me go. Please don't make me go back there." Her voice was pleading, almost desperate.

As he watched her in shock, tears began to fall down her face and she seemed almost to fold in on herself. It suddenly occurred to Giles that she was broken. Something, likely a series of things, had happened to her which had been so traumatic as to break Buffy's formidable spirit. Not really knowing what else to do, he pulled her awkwardly into his arms, soothing her with soft words as best he could. "There, there, Buffy, it's all right. Everything will be all right."

"No, it's not," she sobbed. "It's wrong, it all went wrong when Mom died and it just kept getting wronger the longer it went on."

"What happened, Buffy?" he asked softly, trying not to react to the shocking news of Joyce's impending death.

"Mom died," she repeated. "Mom died, and then I died. But they couldn't let me go and they brought me back. I was in Heaven and they brought me back and that's when everything started to go really bad."

"They brought you back?" Giles asked incredulously. "Who?"

"Will and Xand and Tara and Anya," she replied, sniffling but trying to get herself under control. "They did a spell with an Urn of Osiris and they brought me back. And I had the joy of digging myself out of my own grave. And then you came back, but you said I wasn't taking care of D… of things, so you left. And you didn't come back until Willow needed you."

He didn't have to be a genius to hear the bitterness in her voice, or to see that she was keeping things from him. But he had to trust her; she was his Slayer. If she was hiding things, there was a good reason for it. "What else happened?" he asked gently.

Buffy took a deep breath. "You took Willow away to Devon, to the coven there. Then she came back, but you didn't. Then you did, but you brought the Wannaslay Brigade with you. And we just… couldn't connect. You kept telling me to be a leader, but then you didn't approve of any of my decisions and you made sure that I and everybody else in the house knew it. And girls kept dying. And then it was over and Sunnydale was gone and you and Willow and Xander were going to London. Faith went off to the Cleveland Hellmouth. And… and… I wanted to go with you, and you wouldn't let me."

Her voice had gotten so small that Giles could barely hear her. "I wouldn't let you? Why?" He was stunned. Not allow his bonded Slayer to come with him wherever he went? Abandon her when she was directly out of the grave? Had he been possessed by something?

She bowed her head in shame. "It was my fault all those girls died and it was… best for all concerned for me to be in a neutral place, away from the day to day problems and bustle of running a Council that I undoubtedly had no interest in being a part of, what with the last seven years I spent fighting so hard against my destiny. So you bought me a little townhouse with Council money and you sent me a check every month and you called once a week to make sure I was still alive."

He must have been possessed by something, Giles decided. There was no other explanation for it. He desperately wanted to find his future self and kill the man for inflicting this kind of pain on Buffy. He reached out and took her hand. "You're here, now, Buffy," he said softly. "With me. We'll work it out somehow."

She looked up at him then, and he saw the faith in him shining in her eyes, faith that somehow, through it all, she had never quite lost. "You promise?"

He nodded. "I promise."

Read the next chapter: Laws Of Physics