Who Am I? | Epilogue to Who Are You?
Buffy stood outside the house that had been her home for the last few years, and knew that she couldn't go inside. Not yet. Her own mother hadn't recognised that Faith had taken her body. It seemed inconceivable that someone who had borne you, who had raised you, and looked into your eyes a thousand times, could so easily forget, so easily accept someone else in your place
She shivered. She wasn't sure what she was going to do next. Staying with Riley hadn't been an option. The rock in the pit of her stomach attested to the fact that she hadn't begun to deal with that yet.
Neither did she want to go back to her dorm room, and Willow not yet. It was more than she wanted to deal with: Willow's new friend, who wasn't so new, who was important enough not to mention to her supposed best friend and who just happened to be a powerful witch as well
She pushed her hair behind her left ear and rubbed her face with the heels of both palms.
God What a mess. Without realising it, she'd started to tremble with reaction. With a last, longing look at the front door, she about-faced and started to head away, her legs barely functional now, as aftershock began to set in, in earnest.
Several cars passed in succession, then, after a short lull, a cab came towards her and slowed to a halt on the other side of the road. Buffy watched for a moment as a man with a briefcase emerged then she slipped across the road and caught the door before he closed it.
When the cab drew to a halt a second time, Buffy swallowed hard to fight down the rising nausea she'd felt for the entire journey, and paid the driver.
Once again she found herself standing on jello legs. It was twilight and she was suddenly seized again with indecision. A part of her wasn't sure she wanted to see anyone she knew, but equally, the rest of her desperately didn't want to be alone...
For several long moments she thought no one was home. Tears of despair and frustration already glittered in her eyes when the door finally opened.
"Buffy?" Giles frowned. Buffy never knocked. The only one worse at respecting boundaries was Xander. Then his gaze narrowed and he extended a hand. She was pale and he could actually see her trembling. "Come inside quickly. What's happened?" he demanded, supporting her by the elbow.
She remained silent as he seated her on the couch.
She didn't look at him.
He tried a half-smile. "I-I didn't expect to see you again for a few days. You weren't exactly best pleased with my efforts at identifying you, earlier."
She still didn't look at him.
"It was wrong," she whispered.
"Wrong?" Giles asked gently, worried even more by the fragility in her voice.
"Everything." The blue eyes finally found his. "All of it. Can you imagine what it was like, being trapped inside someone else's body?"
"It must have been a nightmare," he said softly, his ordeal as a Fyarl demon only too vivid in his memory.
Buffy shook her head very slowly. "Worse. Nobody should have to walk in Faith's shoes not even Faith."
Giles frowned. "What is it, Buffy?" he asked, very gently.
"My my own mother didn't know it wasn't me you didn't r-recognise me " She closed her eyes. "And Riley slept with her," she added, barely audibly.
It was Giles' turn to close his eyes, but only for a moment. "I rather think you have that the wrong way around," he pointed out, despite the sudden spike of rage he felt.
"Don't play semantics with me, Giles," she muttered and opened her eyes to glare at him. "Am I invisible? Nobody knows me anymore, except some friend of Willow's no one knows anything about. No one listens to me even you. Why?"
Giles cleared his throat. "It wasn't intentional, I assure you. Buffy, this year it has been difficult to say the least." He hesitated for a moment then decided it was time.
"While it appears that you have noticed all of our shortcomings, you seem to have yet to recognise that your own were a significant contributing factor."
At that Buffy coloured violently. "Who says?" she hissed, came to her feet and began to prowl the small room.
"I do," he said quietly. "I have been extraordinarily disappointed in you, of late. Something I never expected would ever happen."
She froze. "Disappointed in me?" She swung around. "How dare you! You dumped me as soon as I started college, no warning, no nothing, just Olivia wandering around in your shirt looking at me like I was about six or something and you being so so "
She turned away.
Giles frowned, mostly to hide his surprise. He had no inkling that she still harboured such strong feelings about that moment of stupidity. He'd wanted so badly for her to be safe, to be able to cope without in him her new environment, since he had no way of being there for her on the same basis as he had in previous years. And then Olivia had arrived
He halted his thoughts. Hell, that wasn't what was troubling her now. He swore silently at himself for being so easily distracted.
"Am I to pay over and over for one moment of poor judgement?" he asked calmly.
She turned back, colour still flaming, but silent, her eyes searching his. "Over and over?"
He sighed a long sigh. "Never mind."
"You think Olivia was poor judgement?" she persisted.
Giles rolled his eyes. "No, I think expecting you to think for yourself and to actually understand anything is poor judgement," he retorted irritably, his concern momentarily forgotten.
Buffy watched him stalk to the kitchen and wondered what she'd done wrong. A moment ago she was the one with the problem
She stopped and blinked as her mind re-ran his last statement. She looked to the stiff back bent over the sink filling the kettle if Olivia wasn't the mistake ?
And then suddenly a lot of things began to make sense. His sudden change of heart and Olivia's abrupt departure both times Willow's comments about him feeling out of the loopy how weird he was after the Word of Valios thing
Giles turned, milk in hand, surprised to find her so close. "What?" he growled.
The scowl turned to puzzlement. "What on earth for?"
"It's that bad, isn't it?" she sighed. "God, Giles, what happened to us?"
It was his turn to sigh. "You don't need me any more."
Her eyes widened. "That's a lie!" she cried before she could stop herself.
He blinked. "No it's not," he said quietly. "You've got Riley who seems to more than adequately replace me in all areas of training, patrolling and even and then there's Willow and her young friend who suddenly seem to have all the answers when it comes to the magicks and the research what the bloody hell do you need me for? Making tea?"
Buffy was surprised at the harshness in his voice, yet not. "You didn't tell me why you didn't recognise me," she said softly.
If Giles was phased by the apparent change of subject, he didn't show it, just continued the process of making his tea.
"How could I?" he asked quietly. "You were looking at me with Faith's eyes, talking to me with Faith's voice. The girl is a homicidal psychopath and fundamentally incapable of telling the truth."
Buffy shrugged. "Well, yeah I'll give you those but I recognised you when "
He put down the teaspoon, turned and folded his arms. "Tell me why you knew it was me?"
She blinked. "I told you it was your eyes."
"Yes my eyes in the body of a demon which you had just tried, without hesitation, to kill. Rather late to recognize me, if my demon heart had been in the same place as my own, wouldn't you say?"
Buffy looked away, her shoulders slumping. "I'm sorry about that. I was distracted."
When she didn't look back, Giles frowned and guided her chin back so that he could look into her now overbright eyes.
"I almost killed you. I thought you were dead that the demon that thing had killed you. I went numb. I couldn't think straight I could hardly think at all. And Ethan didn't help a-and then I looked down and you were looking up at me "
He nodded, moved. "And I looked at you and Faith was looking up at me. I couldn't know it was you at least not until you decided that being as insulting as possible was the best way to convince me."
"So you did know it was me before Willow arrived?"
He nodded again. "Do I really want to know why you asked me what a Stevedore was?"
She shook her head vigorously. "I'm sorry I was mad at you for not knowing it was me." Her expression became sheepish. "At least you didn't try to kill me before you worked it out."
"And I really am sorry I didn't recognise you," Giles said softly. "I was as disappointed as you were, once I realised my mistake. If there had been any way to prevent her from injuring you like this "
Buffy looked down at herself. "She didn't damage me," she said, puzzled, then looked up into the gentle green eyes and understood.
"Oh yeah well, I should really be getting used to it by now," she shrugged. "I mean, I know nobody cares, but she's racking up quite the list: let's frame Buffy for murder and turn her own Watcher against her; or hey, let's try to steal Buffy's boyfriend and then torture her for laughs oh wait, why don't we try to murder him instead, since we can't have it our own way ?" Buffy paused for a moment, breathing too quickly, and bit her lip. "And this time ? Take my body, my life, the most intimate parts of me, my home, my mother, everything that's mine " She shivered. "She slept with Riley why? To make it dirty, to destroy what she thought Riley and I had, because she couldn't have it?" Her voice began to rise. "And my mom what right did she have !"
"Shh, Buffy," Giles interrupted. "I care. And she could never have turned me against you."
"Didn't seem that way when the Mayor's assistant died," she said flatly. "You said you were pretending, to fool Faith, but you never did say anything about believing in me or trusting me. I-if you couldn't figure it out, then or now, with anything other than than logic where does that leave us?"
A look of great hurt passed over Giles' face. "Trust is earned. I don't think either of us made a very good show of that last year, do you?"
Buffy's cheeks flamed red. A thousand arguments, defences and rationalizations rose to her lips and died before she could speak them.
"No," she finally agreed. "We really, really didn't especially me but "
He nodded. "But it doesn't alter the fact that I would never allow anyone to " He paused for the briefest of moments. "Buffy, back then, when Faith came to me I knew it wasn't you but you hadn't you didn't trust me enough to come to me again."
She blinked at his hoarse tone. "You you were angry with me? You were angry," she confirmed her own question. "I guess you had a right to be. I did a lot of dumb stuff made a lot of bad choices after Angel came back."
"A significant number," he agreed dryly. "Had I really given you so much reason to lie to me?"
Buffy swallowed. "No," she finally whispered honestly. "It wasn't you. It was never you."
Surprise was followed by warmth in the green eyes.
"Are you going to be all right?" he asked her. "What you have been through is-"
Buffy held up a hand and smiled uncomfortably. "Preaching to the converted, here," she pointed out, then cast her eyes down again. "I've been better. I think maybe even hell was better " The blue gaze found his again, her hands trembling. "I don't know what I'm going to do about Riley. I don't I'm not comfortable in my own room, my own right now I can't even look in a mirror and everything my house, my things, Riley everything feels violated, dirty. I want to take my body off and put it through the full wash cycle about a hundred times."
Giles nodded. "I know but it will pass."
Buffy searched his face. "You know ?"
He stared back at her for a long moment before answering.
"After after Randall, I never summoned Eyghon again." His face twisted with remembered pain. "It It took me years " he whispered.
"That's not exactly helping," she retorted, trying to keep it light, but not completely suppressing the empathy in her tone.
Giles snapped out of wherever his thoughts had taken him. "Sorry. Not quite the same thing, I suppose."
Buffy thought about it for a moment. "True," she said finally. "You were possessed and I was more like dispossessed."
In spite of himself, Giles chuckled then sobered slowly. "You're strong, Buffy. You'll deal with this and move on. Fortunately her period of residence was brief."
"Not brief enough," Buffy growled, crossing her arms to hold her own biceps almost defensively. "But yeah, I think I will. Eventually."
The last word cracked as it was whispered.
"What is it?" he asked softly.
The blue eyes looked up at him almost reluctantly. "H-he didn't know it wasn't me." Her lip trembled. "Nobody knew "
Giles sighed. There was nothing he could say to the fact that virtually no one suspected that anything was wrong with her with Buffy's body with
"Oh hell," he muttered aloud, making Buffy's eyes widen in surprise. "Sorry," he added. "Bloody confusing trying to sort out who and what a-and who " he tried to explain and stopped, muddled again.
"Not worth trying," Buffy said despondently. "It's all over now, anyway. Makes a person realise how little they're really seen by others. Faith is nothing like me, but you all accepted her in my body, as me "
He frowned. "That's not entirely fair. She was at least trying to behave like you, and we had no reason to be suspicious, at least no more than any of your other behaviour of late."
Buffy looked taken aback. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He held her gaze squarely. "I think you know," he said quietly.
She looked away. "Things change."
"Yes, they do, but the rest of us can't always keep up with them, unless we're given the chance."
It was a strange statement, but Buffy understood, and bit her lip hard, trying to stop the rising tide of emotion.
"I-I didn't mean to let it happen. For a while I even thought it was what you wanted Walsh, the Initiative independent Buffy, really not bugging you, for once."
"Silly Girl," Giles said gently. "Of course it wasn't what I wanted. I never meant to drive you away."
"God, the things we do," she sighed. "I wish we could start the year over "
"If wishes were horses " he reminded her. "But we can learn from it."
"If wishes were horses, slayers would ride " she said softly, then looked up at him slowly. "I'm always going to be alone, aren't I?"
For a moment Giles looked down, pain etched into his features. Then he lifted his head with slow deliberation and found her troubled eyes.
"No," he said with quiet determination. "Never alone."
Buffy's lips parted and her eyes grew very bright.
Suddenly it didn't matter any more that he didn't have x-ray eyes when she was in Faith's body. It didn't matter that she would never quite fit in, anywhere, ever. Nor did it seem important any more that Riley had been so painfully blind.
"No I guess I'm not," she whispered, her voice very full and her eyes glistening.
Giles' face grew warm and tender as he returned her smile. "Good," he said briskly. "I'm glad we cleared that up. Would you like donuts, or shortbread with your tea, and are we watching The Fugitive, Oliver and Hardy or, perish the thought, Sylvester Stallone?"
Buffy rose before he could and put hand on his shoulder, so that he sat down again. "You know, the fact that you actually know what's on without looking, is really scary, Giles," she said dryly, affection in her voice.
Giles felt her fingers tighten on his shoulder at the same time. After a beat he covered them with his own and nodded, noting the colour in her cheeks and the small lines of tension still around her mouth. It would be some considerable time before she completely recovered from the shattering violation of her body, and her life, by Faith.
"I'll make the tea. You choose something," she told him.
He let his fingers tighten briefly and then let go. "Not exactly a stunning choice," he muttered gruffly.
Amusement gleaming in her eyes, Buffy patted his shoulder once.
"Okay, Harrison Ford, donuts and tea," she pronounced and moved toward the archway, "and maybe your couch later, if I ever even look like being able to sleep again this decade."
He chuckled. "I'll find you some bedding just in case. And I'll even tolerate that Ford fellow, but I insist on first dibs on the blackberry donut."
"There's only one?" she asked, turning at the entrance to the kitchen.
"Last in the store. There are plenty of others, though. I was feeling rather nostalgic when I bought them. They were supposed to be for everyone."
At that the smile faded from Buffy's face.
In ten minutes she was back with a tray.
"Movie starts in about fifteen minutes Giles told her, scowling at the infomercial on the screen. He flicked the channel to an old black and white film while he was talking, taking the time only to note that it was almost finished and that Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson seemed extraordinarily happy to be standing outside of their quaint sound-stage cottage, before turning back to Buffy and the tray.
His brows knitted. "Buffy, where's the blackberry?"
"Here," she said, revealing a small plate behind her back, with a musical Christmas candle she'd found in the cupboard stuck in the middle of his blackberry jelly donut. Xander had produced it, stuck in a blueberry Muffin the previous Christmas, very pleased with himself as it played its tinny little version of jingle bells while it burned. This time it was burning silently.
He wondered how she'd killed it.
"Should I know what this is about?" he asked.
Buffy shook her head. "It's a celebration, now that I know who I am again. It's for us."
He looked at it, one eyebrow rising above the other as he looked up at her again.
"We only need one," she replied as he set it down in front of him, blew out the rapidly disintegrating candle, and picked up his tea.
"Oh?" he asked, bemused.
She nodded and picked up her own cup, looked over it with eyes bright with emotion, found and held the now equally moved sea-green ones.
" Because there's only one us "