Lost and Found | Epilogue to The Harsh Light of Day

Buffy watched Willow walk away and turned into the cool of the evening, a sick, empty feeling in her stomach and her eyes pricking with unshed tears.

She walked for a long time, not hunting, not patrolling, not really even noticing where she was going, as long as it was away from the campus. The sick feeling had transmuted into a kind of ache, in her throat, her chest, the pit of her stomach.

It passed through her mind to go home, that it might not hurt so much there. She immediately tensed at the idea of trying to explain why she felt so lost, so empty. Her mother would try, but she would never understand…not why it happened so quickly, what she wanted or why it meant so much…why it hurt so much…

A sob wrenched itself from her throat and she stopped for a moment and wrapped her arms around herself. College, she decided, sucked almost more than being the Slayer.

Why did things have to change…? Why did Ang…did people…have to leave?

She crossed the road and walked through the park, unsurprised a few minutes later when a vampire emerged and confronted her. It was male and young, dark-haired and buff, a newbie, dressed in the current fashions and full of itself. She shrugged of her coat and pulled out her stake.

"Lunch," he smirked. "Pretty lunch," he added, and ran his tongue over his lips. "I always did like playing with my food."

Buffy stared at him blankly. He was going to die again and he didn't even know it…

And then he lunged. He was several inches taller and about fifty pounds heavier. He ripped her blouse during his pawing, fanning the anger already smouldering in the pit of her stomach. The fight was rougher and more physical than she anticipated. She threw him easily at first, his lecherous intentions making him careless, but by the time he'd regained his feet the games were over.

"I'm gonna suck you dry, bitch," he hissed.

"Oh, way hip, Dopey," she jeered. "Big Rap collection? Or way little…oh forget it." She jumped aside as he lunged for her again but he managed to hook an arm around her waist, dragging her against him and trying to cover her mouth with his own.

Buffy's face flushed with rage and she head-butted him in the face, mistiming a little and giving herself a monumental headache in the process. He let go and roared, blood streaming from his nose, before lunging again.

She took several extremely heavy blows to the face and head before finally beginning to land punches and kicks of her own. There were several opportunities to stake him once she was in control, but she continued to smash her fists almost blindly into the cold flesh of his face, his midriff, without thought or feeling.

And when he started to sink to the ground, she sank her foot into his crotch and drove the stake into the centre of his back, turning even before he shattered into dust.

After just a couple of steps she stopped, adrenaline subsiding and reaction setting in.

She raised a trembling hand to push the hair off her bruised and gashed face and started at the amount of blood on her hands. She turned instinctively back to where the vamp fell. He was dust. Of course there wouldn't be any blood…

Buffy frowned. There was, however, a ring lying in the ashes. She picked it up and put in it her pocket. Giles would want to see it, just in case.

Giles…

He was doing his accounts when his front door rattled and opened. He frowned and slid his desk chair back. It was late, even for Buffy, particularly on a week-night. Then he drew a sharp breath and shot out of the chair.

"Buffy! For God's sake, what happened?" he demanded, shocked by the battered, bleeding face, the destruction of her blouse and the blood-stained sleeves and hands.

She handed him the ring, dropped her coat and continued to the kitchen, where she opened his refrigerator.

Giles studied the small piece. It was a fraternity ring. His stomach turned over and the colour drained from his face.

"Buffy?"

She looked up from the soda she was opening, her eyes empty and emotionless, her face pale and battered.

"The ring?" she managed, hoarsely.

"Fraternity ring," Giles said softly. "D…do you want to tell me about it? Or would you…do you want to speak to the police?"

Buffy frowned, and winced, the pain bringing tears to her eyes. "What are you talking about?" she asked dazedly.

He extended a not quite steady hand toward her blouse.

Buffy looked down at the ravaged garment. The vamp had torn it almost through to the waist, leaving one side of her cotton sport bra exposed. Then she looked up at his face, drew a sharp breath when she saw the pain, the worry in his eyes.

"Giles?"

"What happened?" he whispered.

She shrugged, wincing almost simultaneously. "I staked a vamp. He was a pig, but he left that ring." She put down the soda and, after a beat, spoke without looking up. "Giles, you're a guy. Am I…am I not…is there something wrong with me? Am I a freak?"

For a moment Giles was nonplussed at the apparent change of subject, then he swallowed. He hadn't heard her sound so lost, so vulnerable since...God, since her seventeenth birthday…

His tone was gentle. "Why do you ask?"

The blue eyes looked up and searched his. "There has to be something wrong with me. There is…isn't there…? Or you would have said: don't be silly, Buffy…or of course not, in that stuffy British voice you use when you're being…stuffy."

"Buffy, there's nothing wrong with you. You're a healthy, bright young woman," he told her, still unsure what she really wanted from him.

He eyes grew very bright and her lip trembled. "Yeah, that's me. Bursting with health…" she agreed flatly, her eyes sliding away again. "I guess that means health hasn't been 'in' for like about five years or so…Have you heard from Olivia?"

Giles frowned again, struggling to translate Buffy's ramblings. Then he remembered her opening statement.

"Does this have something to do with your new young man?"

She laughed. Not a pretty laugh, more a strangled cackle. "He's not my young man," she said tremulously.

Giles exhaled noisily. "Come and sit down. We need to get you cleaned up." He shepherded her out of the kitchen and over to the sofa then disappeared for a few seconds, taking the stairs in threes, and returning just as swiftly.

"This should do to get you home. It's not Gucci, but it's adequate to the task."

Buffy tugged at her blouse so that it tore right through, slid out of it, took the white T-shirt and pulled it slowly over her head. It smelled faintly of sunshine, lemon detergent and Giles' cologne and was several sizes too big, but he was right. It did the job.

"There," he nodded. "I'll get something for your face."

Buffy didn't bother to object. He obviously didn't want to be around her either…

It was a small while before he returned with a bowl of water smelling strongly of antiseptic, a cloth and a towel.

She eyed it warily. "Déjà vu," she muttered irritably.

He looked up, apparently startled, but Buffy saw the hurt in his eyes. She blinked when it vanished seconds later and he went back to immersing the cloth in the bowl.

He cleaned her knuckles silently, scrubbed the dried blood from her fingers and handed her the small towel.

Then he was lifting her chin with a finger and starting to bathe her wounds, his touch still infinitely gentle, despite the unsteadiness of his hand.

She watched him as he concentrated on cleaning the dried blood and dirt from the gashes, even more gentle as he worked around the deepening bruises. She studied the familiar lines of his face, the cut of his mouth, grim as he worked, and the jaw she'd seen set hard so many times in moments of crisis, arguments, and sheer frustration with her antics.

He started on the worst cut and she winced. His worried eyes flicked to hers for a moment, and she drew a sharp, silent breath at the depth of compassion, of concern she saw in them, before they slid back to the bloodied, jagged gash.

Tears, like tiny glass beads, rose in her lashes until one succumbed to gravity and slid down a pale cheek.

Giles paused, cloth poised in mid air. "Buffy? What is it?" He put the cloth down. "Are…are you sure there isn't anything you want to tell me? Whoever did this to you must be made to—"

Comprehension finally dawned in Buffy's eyes. "No…" she said softly and touched the clenched jaw. "You don't understand. Nobody attacked me."

The green eyes searched hers for a moment, then closed with relief. "Thank God," he whispered.

"It was me. I did a Faith…a real psycho trip," she explained as two more tears slid down the sides of her face. "The vamp didn't know what hit him in the end."

"But…why?" he asked, opening his eyes and searching her face again.

"He picked the wrong time to tick me off," she replied flatly. Then her mouth trembled. "Giles, what am I doing wrong?"

"Wrong?"

She looked away, wiping moisture from her cheeks, heedless of the fact that she was replacing it fast than her fingers could rub it off.

"Parker…" she whispered, and closed her eyes. "Y'know… Saturday night…He doesn't…it didn't mean anything to him…and Angel…Is…is there something wrong with me?" She made a noise in her throat. "I mean, there was even Scott…God, even my dad doesn't want to be around m—"

But Giles' hands were on her arms, turning her. She looked up warily into the green eyes.

"There is nothing wrong with you," he said gently, but categorically. "I am…as you said, a guy, and I can assure you that you are a perfectly normal, very attractive young woman. It is unfortunate that this boy you've developed feelings for should have turned out to be such a dolt…but you know in your heart that your father does love you…that what happened with your mother wasn't your fault, and Angel…" He sighed. "If anything he left because he loved you too much."

Buffy searched his face. "You still hate him, don't you?"

Giles' eyes dropped. "I hate what he represents—" He paused for a moment, as though considering his next words, then continued. "—What the memory of his face, the sound of his voice, can still do to me…and I can never forgive that."

The blue grey eyes widened and filled with tears again as another, more important truth suddenly dawned in them. "Why didn't you go back to England?" she asked tremulously.

He looked up, surprised by the question, and again, by her tears.

"I couldn't leave you," he said simply.

Buffy's face crumpled. And then her arms were around his neck, her embrace warm and emotional.

Surprised, Giles sat very still for a moment. There had been times…far worse times…when he'd have given anything to have had the right to hold and comfort her. She was not, however, a child any more…

But she was both fragile and vulnerable.

Then, as if she sensed his quandry, she pulled back a little, leaving her arms in a loose circle on his shoulders. Her face was red and blotchy and damp but her eyes were, if anything, more beautiful, for the sheen of moisture glistening in them.

"It's okay," she said softly. "It's just…I never realised before how much I love you."

She giggled when his eyes dilated alarmingly. "Not like that," she admonished in a watery voice. "You're old, and it would be gross," she pointed out in the little girl voice he knew meant that she was teasing.

"Ancient," he agreed dryly," his voice deepened by emotion, the alarm replaced by warmth and tenderness. "I shall soon have to start looking into retirement homes."

Buffy giggled again. "Very soon," she agreed, and hugged him again, closing her eyes against the surge of emotion that followed when Giles immediately closed his arms around her and hugged her back with just as much feeling.
.
"God, Giles, I love you so much…" she repeated, resting her head on his shoulder. "And I've never told you once. I don't know why you keep putting up with me. If I were you I'd have gone back to England and scones and kayaking and peace of mind a long time ago. All I've ever done was get you hurt, made you worry and driven you crazy."

He drew her even closer if it were possible. "All so very true…and all completely irrelevent," he replied against her hair.

"But why?" she asked. "Dad, Angel, Scott…Parker…I never hurt any of them the way I've hurt you."

"Nor, I suspect, have you risked your life repeatedly for them, saved them from themselves on occasion, or accepted the darker side of their nature so willingly and with as much forgiveness as you have mine," he pointed out. "I don't suppose it might have occurred to you that I might, in fact, despite my declining years, love you too…very much?" he added, his tone light, despite the weight of his words.

Their eyes held for a moment, then Buffy turned, sat down so that they were both comfortable, and rested her head in the hollow of his shoulder, absorbing the impact of his words silently before she answered.

Of course she knew. She could hear Travers' creepy voice as if he were next to her…

"Not since that asshole said it after the Cruciamentum. I didn't want to remember anything he said," she told him bluntly.

Giles sighed again. "Nice to see your education coming along. Such a colourful word: arsehole. And so appropriate," he observed whimsically, "but essentially the prat was right. I was too close, and I did love you too much to go through with any of their bullshit."

Buffy lifted her head. "Giles!" she chided. "I'm shocked."

He chuckled. "What did you want me to say? Rubbish? Or a very American 'crap'? "Not nearly as satisfying."

She shook her head. He was so different, lately. "What happened to you? You've changed so much since…" The smiled faded as she answered her own question with unbidden memories.

"Never mind," she said, sat up once more and faced him. "We're back to where we started. I still don't know why you put up with me. None of the others did. Dad and Angel even loved me…but they still went away."

Giles looked down at her. "Does it really matter?" he asked gently.

Buffy searched the green eyes, found her answer, and more, then shook her head.

"No," she said, and smiled, her face transformed by the warmth and affection in it.

He regarded her for a moment. There was still an inherent fragility in her eyes; a bruising of spirit that would take more to heal than the little comfort he could offer, but it meant a lot to see her smile like that.

"Giles, are you okay?"

He roused from his thoughts.

She was watching him, an amused gleam in her eyes.

It was a beginning… He nodded. "And you?" he asked softly, his meaning clear.

She smiled back at him, warmth making her eyes glow, bringing colour to her cheeks.
"I'm good," she told him, her voice trembling with the strength of her feelings, and nestled her head once again in the crook of his shoulder. "I'm good here."

"And this Parker idiot?" he continued, instinctively drawing his arm comfortingly around her.

Buffy closed her eyes, her world suddenly, briefly, a warm, safe, secure corner impervious to self-doubt, loneliness or hurt.

Giles' arm tightened protectively as she curled even more snugly into his side.

She drew a jagged breath and sighed before allowing herself a tiny, tired, half-smile.

"Parker who…?" she said softly, already half asleep.



* * *