No Sad Songs | Epilogue to Graduation Day

Rupert Giles flexed his back. It had been a very long day and an even longer evening at the hospital with Wesley. He frowned and his head dropped a little. Going to see Faith hadn't helped. He fished for his key and started to unlock his front door, but it wasn't locked.

He bent and pulled a baseball bat from the large bag of weapons and explosive materials on the porch next to him.

But there were no demons or vampires waiting, no battles to be fought.

There was only the small figure curled up, asleep, on his couch. He took off his glasses and stood for a very long time looking down at her, watching her sleep. She looked so exhausted, so vulnerable…and so alone.

He went away after a time and came back with a spare quilt. The day had never lived up to the promise of summer, between the eclipse and a change missed by the weather forecasters and it was more than cool in the apartment. He thought he was succeeding in not disturbing her but she opened her eyes sleepily while he was still at her level, tucking.

He smiled. "Hello," he said softly.

"Hi." Her eyes returned the tenderness but there was no smile, only a lost, wounded look he found hard to bear. "Big day."

"Very big day," he agreed.

"How's Wesley?"

"Wimpering. They'll throw him out in the morning. Cordelia is on it."

Buffy chuckled briefly, then her face dropped. "They're probably still partying."

Giles expression grew very gentle. "Too pooped to party?"

"I'm slay girl, not party girl," she replied, but there was more bitterness than humour in the words. "I was so tired."

Giles nodded. "To be expected after—" He stopped suddenly, too late. A tear tracked down one of Buffy's cheeks, and then another. "Buffy, I'm sorry," he whispered.

She was staring at a point over his shoulder. "He's gone," she said tonelessly. "It's over."

"I know. I spoke to him about an hour ago."

Buffy's eyes widened, more moisture spilling out of them. "He talked to you?"

Giles nodded. "He asked me to watch out for you in his absence. He…he doesn't want you to be alone."

"Oh, that was smart," she muttered and shifted her gaze to his tie-less throat. "Since when have you not watched out for me?"

He smiled again, moved. "Never," he confirmed and brushed the wisps of her fringe out of her eyes with his fingertips, something he'd often wanted to do in the past. "Perhaps I'm just too subtle for most people…"

Buffy looked up at him, much as she had after Quentin Travers had fired him and he'd bathed her face. A searching look, which unnerved him then as it did now.

"I know…" she began softly, as though she'd discovered something. "…I know I take you for granted—I've always taken you for granted. "It was just…easier that way."

Giles' brow furrowed. He shifted from his haunches to sitting on the floor beside the sofa. "E—Easier?" he asked uncertainly, looking at the sore knees he'd drawn up to ease them.

"Easier than being scared twenty-four hours a day instead of just twelve, or fourteen, or eighteen…"

He turned and looked at her then.

She shrugged. "I just couldn't do it. I couldn't be scared of who I was, what I was doing, or for the others, for Angel, and contemplate losing you too…I just decided it was never going to happen—that you were invincible—until…" Her blue eyes looked up and focussed on the green depths of his. "You scared me so much…more than I've ever been scared before. I thought I was going to lose you…"

"I was half mad," he whispered. "I didn't know what I was doing. I only knew that I had to do it. I'm sorry you had to go through—"

She reached out a hand from under the quilt and touched her fingers to his lips.

"Don't. It was just…after that I kind of shut off. I haven't been, to steal a phrase from Xander, 'the mostest best friend to you' since then." She drew herself up on one elbow. "As a matter of fact sometimes I don't even know why you still talk to me."

Giles took the fingers from his lips, held them in a warm hand and looked up at her. "Don't you? Even after all this time?"

Moisture flooded into her eyes and her lip trembled. She nodded, unable to frame the words.

"You shouldn't," she managed eventually. "I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted any of it to happen, but it did and I have, over and over…"

Giles frowned, and got to his feet without releasing her hand, sat on the sofa in front of her. "What is it?" he asked. "Why are you doing this to yourself?"

She sat up and shrugged. "Who me? I'm fine. I'm slay girl, remember? I kill everything. I even kill real people now…but then I should know what that feels like…Technically I killed Kendra and Jenny Calendar…didn't I?" Her face hardened. "And then there was Angel…that was a blast…even if he wasn't technically alive—"

"Faith is not dead," Giles said softly.

"Yes she is," she said flatly. "Worse than dead. And I killed her. Giles, I didn't—I don't want to be her."

He extended a hand, as though to reach out, then withdrew it again self-consciously. "You will never," he said vehemently, "be like Faith. Never."

She watched the play of emotions in his eyes, saw what he didn't want her to see.

"I scared you, didn't I?"

"Terrified me," he admitted. "You see I have been frightened…constantly…for the last three years," he whispered. "But never more than in the last few weeks, and especially these last few days."

Buffy caught her breath at the desolate look that washed over his face.

"I went to see Faith tonight." He looked away. "And all I could see was you lying there."

Pain lanced across her face as she watched him stand up, move away from the sofa.

"Why didn't you ask me to dance at the Prom?" she asked suddenly, seemingly apropos of nothing.

"I was going to," he said softly. "But at least something was salvaged from all this mess. You looked beautiful, Buffy."

She smiled damply at the large back. "You looked pretty damned good yourself."

He turned then, half smiling, but his eyes were still troubled. "You're not Faith, Buffy. You will never be her," he whispered. "You have something she never had—"

"Yeah. Mother, father, school, friends, a life…sanity," she retorted, annoyed suddenly, then met his gaze, relented a little. "…You."

He looked away again and shook his head. "Heart," he said quietly. "You will always choose with your heart, always make the hard choices…"

"And that's a good thing? I mean, here we are three years down the track and my choices have killed my friends—the woman you loved, got you tortured…cost me the only man I've ever loved…twice…and made me a murderer."

"No!" he said vehemently, turning. "Don't ever say that again. She would have killed you in a heartbeat…for pleasure. It took the life of your lover to drive you to hurt her."

Buffy slid off the sofa. "It really did slide in like butter," she said bitterly, her voice trembling. "It felt…good. I wanted so much to hurt her, to make her stop…" She sniffed, swallowed, stopped. "Until I did. V—Vengeance is way over-rated."

"It always has been," he said softly, remembering. "I wish I could make it easier for you, take away the pain. But all I ever seem to be able to do is hand you the next weapon—or bomb, as the case may be…or make tea," he observed, his voice deepened by the strength of his feelings. Then as though he realised he'd said too much, he turned toward the kitchen. "W—would you like tea, by the way…?"

She smiled, tears sliding over her lashes and streaking her face, and shook her head. "Not going to do it this time," she said wryly, trying to ignore the aching emptiness inside, the future she didn't want to think about. "But there is one other thing you could try."

He turned again. "Anything," he said gently.

"Hold me."

Giles' eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise. Then he came to her slowly, cupped her face with a large hand and drew her head against his chest, his other arm drawing protectively around her.

"Forever, if you want me to," he told her softly and closed his eyes when he felt her arms close around him.

"Forever would be good," she sighed and leaned against him, letting his warmth and his strength cocoon her, unprepared for the overwhelmingly soothing comfort of the contact.

It was some time later that Giles realised she was all but asleep in his arms, smiled tenderly, lifted her easily and carried her upstairs.

She didn't rouse until he laid her gently on the pillow and drew the quilt around her.
"Forever," she reminded him sleepily, and closed her eyes again.

Giles half-smiled, a bittersweet flash soon gone. "I'm still here and I not going anywhere," he told her and touched a pale cheek.

She smiled and pressed the cheek against his hand. "No sad songs, no more good-byes…?" she murmured.

He ran a thumb across her temple then lifted the hand and brushed the backs of his fingers across her brow as she drifted into a peaceful slumber.

"No sad songs," he whispered, his eyes bright with all the things he had never let her see.

"And only people who leave you say good-bye…"

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