Reaction | Epilogue to Consequences

"Mom, it's going to be okay," Buffy said for the third time, moving toward the stairs. "They came straight here because of my record. Wouldn't you if you were them? I didn't do anything. I've gotta get some sleep."

Joyce looked up at her and blinked. "Yes, all right. It's been a long day. We'll talk in the morning, Buffy."

Buffy closed her eyes. Moving on wasn't one of her mother's best things. "Okay, tomorrow…"

She slid between the sheets wearily, but somehow bed wasn't the comfortable, secure place it normally was. The more she tried to relax, to clear her mind of everything except sleep, the more it raced, the more miserable her thoughts, the more terrified she was about Faith, and the more the nightmare came back to haunt her…

The lake edge was strewn with debris, rocks, fallen logs, jagged spikes, chains…Buffy tripped several times in her headlong flight. Her lungs were screaming, but she couldn't stop. She had no strength, no power to fight. Couldn't stop, running, leaping, dodging, Faith right behind her, the police right behind her.

Then she tripped on a broken tree stump, caught her side on it and fell. Faith leaped over her, straddling her, stake raised above her head as she lay on the ground, her side torn and bleeding.

She screamed.

Faith laughed. And laughed. Then she brought the stake down.

"M-o-m!" Buffy screamed in terror, waiting for her death…

"Buffy!"

She opened her eyes. She was alive…and her mother was coming…

At that moment Faith swore and swung around viciously.

"No-o-o!" Buffy screamed as the stake drove into Joyce's heart and she fell backwards into the mud, blood all over her white blouse, her eyes terrified, face contorted in agony. "No-o-o!"

Faith laughed again, insanely, and the police were laughing with her…

Buffy scrambled to her feet. She wanted to go to her mother, but Faith, and now Trick, were coming for her again. She ran, weeping, dodging jagged stumps, rocks, bodies, bones, on and on around the lake's edge, anguished, terrified, Faith and Trick close on her heels.

"Help! Oh, God help!" she screamed, but no one answered. Then she leaped a small creek feeding into the lake, and suddenly remembered. Why hadn't she remembered before? Faith and Trick cleared the creek and were almost upon her.

She closed her eyes as she ran. "Giles!" she screamed. "Giles, I need you! Help me!"

And rang smack, bang into his waistcoat. "You came!" she cried, and threw her arms around him. "Help me, they're going to kill me. Mom is dead! Please, you've got to help me."

And felt herself lifted roughly off the ground. She looked around frantically. The others were laughing.

She looked up. Giles was laughing too. A big, side-shaking laugh, his eyes devoid of anything resembling feeling…anything resembling Giles. Her terror re-doubled.

"Giles? It's me. Giles, what are you doing? Why are you…no, please, Giles…you cant! No!"

He lifted her high, swung around and threw her, with the strength of a vampire, into the lake.

She screamed as she hit the ice-cold water her body almost paralysed with cold within seconds, leaving her barely able to struggle.

She called and called to him as he watched her from the bank, but all he did was stand and grin, the grin getting wider and wider as she slowly exhausted herself trying to stay afloat.

"Please, God…Giles don't leave me! Don't leave me like this…!" she whimpered and felt herself sucked under, the ice-cold, oily waters closing over head, shutting out the light, the life.

Buffy sat up, nearly frantic, choking and barely able to breathe. And sobbed...and sobbed. It was several minutes before she was able to collect herself enough to think straight. The pain, the loss was so terrible it felt like her room was closing in around her…like her life was closing around her, like a garotte.

She sobbed again and slid out of bed, crept down the hall and opened her mother's door very quietly. Her mother was sleeping safely…peacefully, too peacefully to be disturbed. Buffy exhaled silently with relief, closed the door and went back to her room. She dressed slowly, dragging on the grey sweat suit and trainers without even seeing them. She had no idea what she was going to do, or where she was going to go, only that she had to do something…or risk slipping back into that nightmare world again...

The streets were quiet, almost deserted. It was cold, but still, and most people would have been in, either sleeping or just staying warm. Buffy didn't care. She felt numb. All she could see was the look of terror, of disbelief on Finch's face as he died…and the same on her mother's.

And all she could hear was Giles laughing…and laughing.

Tears ran down her face as she walked, and she made no effort to stem them. The depression that gripped her left her hollow, empty inside. She sobbed again and looked up. She was across the street from his apartment complex.

It was past late, and she didn't really know why she was there, or even quite how she'd got there. She shivered and turned for home, had gone several paces when a car pulled up behind her.

She wheeled, terrified for some reason, and stopped, squinting at the Citroen's headlights. Giles was out in seconds.

"Buffy? I thought it was you. What are you doing…?" He stopped, stepped forward, concerned, his eyes widening as she backed away. "What is it? What's happened? Faith?"

She shook her head silently and looked away. "I…I can't…I don't…"

"Look, come in, and we'll talk," he said, turning off the car's headlights and locking the doors. "I can put this away later. I ran out of milk," he added, holding up his small sack of groceries.

They walked across the road together, Giles very aware of the distance Buffy was keeping between them. He let her into the apartment, hung his coat on the rack and went to put away the milk and other items he'd slipped out for, then came back to the living room to find her sitting hunched up in the corner of the sofa.

He came around quietly, hunkered down next to her. "Buffy, whatever it is, let me
help. Talking about a problem is the only way to—"

"A…aren't you going to make tea?" she said flatly, and sniffed again.

He sighed. "Y—yes of course." It had to be Faith, of course. She would talk in her own time, and in her own way. He went to make a tray, wishing he wasn't such a fumbling dolt when it came to such things. When he returned she was still staring into space, her face blotched and pale, her eyes haggard.

He put the tray down on the table and took a deep breath. "I thought…earlier today, you seemed to be coping…Look, I promise you I'll help you do whatever is necessary to try and save Faith from herself, but ultimately she can only be helped if she wants to be—"

Buffy was shaking her head. "You…you didn't…" she began, and closed her eyes again, a tear trickling down her cheek.

"Buffy what is it?" he said gently, touching her arm. She jerked violently, pulling it away. He swallowed, bewildered and worried.

Then she was looking up at him with haunted eyes. "You pretended to believe Faith," she said, almost accusingly.

His eyes widened in surprise. That had been a singularly painful exercise and one he'd been trying not to think about all day. "Yes, pretended," he said quickly. "And that's all it was. A ruse, to keep her from running away. I'm sorry if…"

"But…but you never said…after…when she was gone…you never once said you believed in me."

"Of course I—"

Buffy raised her hand, grimacing against the tears that wouldn't be held back. "No, you said Faith was a bad liar." She got up and paced toward the fireplace. "Not 'I knew you couldn't have done it, Buffy'. Not 'I know you, Buffy. I trust you Buffy,'" she said angrily. "Just: She may be good at a lot of things. Fortunately lying isn't one of them…Fortunately?" she shouted.

Giles tried to go to her but she side-stepped and went around his desk.

"Fortunately?" she repeated. "Why, because if she was a good liar you would have believed her? You would have taken her side over mine? You would really have bought the idea that I could do something like that… and that I'd lie to you about it?"

She went down to her knees, curled up like a small child. "I—we killed a man…and he had blood…no wires this time for Buffy…And you laughed…I can't believe you laughed."

Giles was bewildered, and frustrated. He didn't know what to do, or to what tortured place her mind had suddenly drifted.

…But she was right. A part of him had been both hurt and angry when he realised in the midst of Faith's lies that she had again chosen not to come to him. He knew now that some of that anger must have spilled over when she did arrive, at the worst moment, to confide in him. Which, combined with the difficulty of maintaining that ruse for Faith's benefit…

He looked down at her, sitting on the floor, arms around her knees, like a small child, his eyes growing very bright. Why did he always have to be so damned tunnel visioned? Why did so often fail to see what was right in front of him…?

He hunkered down in front of her. "Buffy, I'm sorry," he said softly. "Truly sorry."

She didn't look up, or answer. He reached out and put two fingers under her chin, guided it very gently upward until her eyes met his.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, a tremor in his voice. "I was very angry after Faith's…visit. I'd hoped you'd have more trust in me than that. I…I thought it was…I thought you were still having doubts after all, after your birthday…what I did." He looked away. "Of course I believed in you. I've always believed in you…it's just, I need you to—"

"To believe in you? But…I do," she whispered. "I…I always have."

He turned back to her, searched the blue eyes. "But…"

Buffy turned her face a little against the fingers under her chin, leaned her cheek against them, closed her eyes. Surprised, and moved, Giles opened his mouth to continue, but Buffy spoke first.

"I know," she whispered. "I wanted to come to you then, too. I was too scared. It was too much…you were too…involved…all of you. I didn't know what to do…but I did this time…"

"And I let you down," he sighed. "I seem to be making a habit of it lately."

She shuddered. She was so tired, and the nightmare images had returned to torment her. She opened her eyes suddenly, real terror in them.

"What is it?"

"N…nothing." She got to her feet, moved away a little.

He rose and turned in her direction. "Buffy…I really do want to help," he said helplessly, his voice hoarse with the strength of his feelings. "I know I'm not good at these things, and I know how you must feel…"

"Do you?" she whispered, her voice hardening. "Do you really? I was so scared…I needed you today…and you…you totally weren't there…"

He looked up at the ceiling then. Truth be told he was never there. Not when she needed him the most. Not when she was so terrified of dying at the Master's hand, not when Angelus hurt her so badly, not even when she was helpless and terrified, begging him to help her, when she thought her world was falling apart…when it was he who'd brought it crashing down.

When he didn't answer Buffy looked up, searching his profile, and drew a sharp breath. Giles was always so controlled with his emotions, and now his face was a picture of wretchedness, his eyes glittering like moist diamonds in the incandescent light.

"There was a nightmare," she said softly.

He looked around. "A nightmare?" he asked, profound gentleness in his voice, and chanced a step toward her. "Another one?"

"You were in it."

"Tell me," he said softly.

It still hurt. Tears rose again and spilled over. She recounted the first nightmare, then the new one, in slow, precise detail.

"I needed you," she whispered.

He closed his eyes.

"And then you were there…I thought I was safe," she sobbed. "But you laughed. You hurt me…And you didn't care…"

He opened them again and stepped to within inches of her before he could stop himself.

"I care," he said vehemently. "If you believe nothing else, believe that. I'm not…I don't always know what…or how to…" he trailed off awkwardly. "But I do care, more than you will probably ever know."

She was staring back at him, her blue-grey eyes filled with misery, weariness, doubt.

"People keep telling me that," she said brokenly. "Xander, Willow…even that bastard Travers…"

He half turned away, running a nervous hand through his hair. "He was right," he said softly.

Buffy frowned. "Who? Who was right?"

Giles closed his eyes. "Travers," he managed.

Her eyes widened. "Giles?" she prompted, very gently, when he didn't continue.

He cleared his throat, but didn't open his eyes. "There…there have been damned few people in my life…a—as you know, and even fewer that I've cared deeply about." He grimaced, and finally opened his eyes again, turned and faced her squarely, looking very much like he was facing a firing squad. "And only two that I have ever truly…loved."

Buffy's lips parted and her eyes grew very bright. She stepped towards him, without her gaze leaving his.

"P…Promise you won't laugh?"

He'd never seen her look so fragile. With a muffled sound of pain he opened his arms and she flew into them, burying her face in the dark knitted sweater he was wearing and putting her arms around him, sighing contentedly as he wrapped his own arms tightly around her, and held her.

He felt her embrace tightening, and closed his eyes again. He'd done it for her, and yet now he was almost undone by the comfort, the simplicity of it…and by the knowledge that he should have done it a long time ago...

A little while later he felt her yawn into his shirt and released her very gently. "I'll take you home," he said tenderly. "You need to get some sleep."

She looked up at him sleepily and smiled. "You can't help yourself, can you?" she teased.

His brow furrowed, perplexed. "Can't…? What?"

"You have to be practical, twenty-four hours a day. You just can't help that watcher thing…it's in your blood."

"Yes but…Buffy you're almost out on your feet…we must get you home…"

"Of course I'm almost out on my feet, Giles. I've barely slept for two days," she pointed out. "My life is in the toilet…in fact, Faith pretty much put everyone's life in the toilet…" She frowned, and her eyes became bleak again, moisture threatening to slip over the dark lashes again. "Willow was probably right…"

"Quite possibly," he said gently, "But there's no way to know that without at least trying to help her first. I meant what I said about helping you, but understand that under no circumstances will I let her hurt you again."

The tears did spill over then. He lay his hand tenderly against her cheek and brushed the moisture away with his thumb. Then he bent his head a little to look directly into her eyes.

"We'll get through this just as we always have…together."

Buffy made a noise in her throat and nodded silently, then lay her head against his breast again.

Giles looked down for a moment, then lowered his head to kiss the top of her head, before enfolding her again with infinite gentleness.

For once it was all that mattered: being who she wanted him to be, what she needed him to be…

And…he admitted to himself for the first time, drawing her closer, feeling the tension almost completely leave her as she nestled in the folds of his sweater. All I want to be


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