"The eye is not satisfied with seeing"
-- Old Testament
Spike was wrong. Buffy didn't fall on her face after three feet.
It was five.
Between one step and the next her legs suddenly buckled and she found herself pitching forward to land face down in the cemetery's mud -- for the second time in twenty-four hours. Swearing vehemently, Buffy spat out a mouthful of dirt then clawed her way back to her feet. She wasn't going to do this. She wasn't going to pass out, she wasn't going to go crawling back to Spike's crypt...and she wasn't going to give up. No, she had made it this far, and she would finish what she had started -- even if it killed her.
OK. Poor choice of words there.
With a deep breath that sent the world spinning dizzily around her once again, the Slayer tried to force her battered body back into motion. Everything hurt, she found, and she had passed exhausted about an hour ago. Exhausted would actually be an improvement right now. All she really wanted to do was fall into a bed -- any bed -- and forget that this night had ever happened. In fact, she wanted to forget the entire week. Just let her get home so life could return to normal...school, her friends and family; trying to protect the sister who wasn't really her sister from a psychotic blonde force of evil; a little slayage; saving the world in her spare time... Yup. Totally normal.
Trying not to whimper too loudly, Buffy slowly began to make her way towards the graveyard's exit...and home.
* * *
Getting there was merely a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping, Buffy discovered. Not so hard, really, not put in those terms -- even though her arm kept throbbing unmercifully, a killer headache was raging behind her temples, and everything else just plain hurt. A lot. But she refused to give into the self-pity that kept threatening to engulf her. No. After all -- life was pretty good. She was still alive. Her injuries would heal. And the sunrise was beautiful. But most of all -- she could actually see it.
'When the sun comes up I'm still not going to be able to see it, no matter what you say or do, Spike...'
Had she really said that, just a few hours ago? And -- had she really been that desperate? That...suicidal? A shudder ran down her spine and, for an instant, Buffy felt cold, despite the sun's warmth.
But...she hadn't been herself. The Buffy who had gone out to face the demon and get herself killed...that hadn't been her. She had been -- OK, let's just say it -- completely out of her mind. A prime candidate for the loony bin. Three fries short of a happy meal...
Or -- maybe that was the real Buffy. Someone who gave up when things got bad, who...
No. She wasn't a quitter. She wasn't. She had proved that over and over. And she was the one who had killed the demon. She had saved Spike. She hadn't quit, she had just...
...just been too quick to give up. Too impatient to take what she had thought was her only way out. One week. One week was all she had given herself, and it would have been even less if she could have gotten away sooner. She certainly hadn't taken the time to explore all her options, to look for another way out. It had taken Spike -- Spike -- to give her back the choices she had thought were lost...
No. Don't dwell on it. The past was just that -- past. She couldn't change what she had done and brooding about it wouldn't make anything better. If there was one thing she had learned over the past few years -- it was that she had to live with her mistakes.
But a tiny thread of self-doubt continued to linger, even as she slowly trudged the rest of the way home.
* * *
There was a red sports car outside her mom's house. Giles'.
Buffy hesitated, a tremor going through her. She wasn't up to this. She barely had the strength to remain standing, let alone deal with all the questions, the explanations. The whys and whens and wherefores...when all she really wanted to do was fall over in a heap and not talk to anyone, not even see anyone for at least a week...
But she didn't have that choice. Buffy could almost see the old, familiar burdens beginning to gather around her as she stood there, staring at the door. The need to appear strong and in control, to be what they needed her to be, to... For a moment her spirit quailed and she almost found herself wishing that she was back in Spike's crypt, back where she could let down all her defences and just be herself.
But not quite. With a deep, steadying breath, Buffy reached out...and opened the door.
* * *
Dawn was the first to see her. The teenager was crossing the hallway, still in her pyjamas, a worried expression on her face. When Buffy opened the door their eyes met...and Dawn let out a shriek, flying forward to wrap her arms tightly around her sister. And then Buffy's mother was suddenly there too and the Slayer was enfolded by both of them, both talking at once.
Buffy almost went down under the dual impact, barely managing to keep her footing. 'Great,' she thought distantly, 'I survive the demon and the Trial and it's my family that finally finishes me off...'
And then Giles appeared, his clothes looking as though they had been thrown on hastily, an anguished expression on his face. He saw her...and froze.
As if sensing his arrival, both Joyce and Dawn pulled back at the same time, releasing their holds on Buffy and stepping back, just a little. Buffy stared back at the three of them, gratefully drinking in all the details she had already begun to forget, even in the space of just a week. Several seconds ticked by in silence. Finally though, the Slayer managed to swallow around the lump that had formed in her throat.
"I can see," she said simply.
"Oh." Joyce put her hand to her mouth, reaching her other hand out, as if she might fall. But Dawn moved quickly to support her, even as she was staring back open-mouthed at her sister. Giles, meanwhile, began to sink to a sitting position on the stairs, as if his legs could no longer hold him.
'I know the feeling,' Buffy thought, staring blankly down at her Watcher. If she didn't sit down soon she was going to fall down...
Something of what she was thinking must have been reflected on her face, because the next minute Giles was back on his feet and Buffy found herself being steered towards the place on the stairs that he had just vacated. She sank down gratefully, wondering as she did how she was ever going to get back up again -- and then Joyce was on her knees before her, both arms going tightly around her daughter.
"Oh Buffy," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "I thought we had lost you."
The Slayer hugged her mother back, one-handed. "I know. I'm sorry." There were tears in her eyes now, threatening to spill down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Mom."
Joyce pulled back a little to look at her, both of her hands going to Buffy's upper arms. "Don't you ever do that to me again, do you understand? You scared me." Her fingers tightened.
"Uh, Mom? Sore arm..."
"Oh." Hastily Joyce released her, then gave her a crooked smile. "Sorry honey. I'm just...I..." Her voice trailed away as pain flitted across her face, and she put one hand up to her forehead.
"Mom?" Buffy reached out a hand to her mother, worry lancing through her.
Giles cleared his throat. He had stepped back, giving the two of them some space while Dawn stood awkwardly nearby, but now he moved forward again. "Dawn -- why don't you help your mother back to bed? Don't worry," he said reassuringly to Joyce. "I'll look after her."
Buffy could see indecision on her mother's face, warring with the pain, but finally the pain won out. She nodded slowly then stood, reaching an unsteady hand for the banister. "Thank you. I...we'll talk later, Buffy. OK?"
Buffy swallowed. "Sure Mom. Just...get some rest. And don't worry. I'm fine. Really."
Dawn moved past the Slayer, one arm going around Joyce to help her mother up the stairs. "I'm glad you're not dead," she said to Buffy over her shoulder. "But does this mean I don't get your room now?"
"Yeah. Hands off." Buffy smiled at her faintly, craning her neck to watch as the two of them moved away. It seemed to take her mother a long time to climb the stairs, but finally they both disappeared from sight. And Buffy's smile immediately vanished, her shoulders sagging as anxiety poured through her, the pain of her own injuries momentarily forgotten. Just how long did it take for CAT scan results to come back anyway? Or...or maybe they had found out something, but they hadn't told her while she was blind. Or...
The Slayer blinked then looked back up. Giles was standing in front of her, his expression unreadable. As she watched he slowly reached inside one pocket and removed something small, holding it up in one hand. Not saying a word.
A cassette tape.
Buffy bit her lip, dropping her gaze, no longer able to meet her Watcher's eyes. "I...I wanted to get back before you found that," she said shakily.
She swallowed. "Giles, I..."
And then he too was on his knees before her, pulling her into a warm hug, his arms going tightly around her. "I thought you were dead." His voice was muffled.
It was all too much. Too much emotion, too many things said and left unsaid...Buffy closed her eyes as her right arm slid around her Watcher and a lone tear spilled over her lashes and onto his shirt.
"I know. I'm so sorry." More tears were gathering in her eyes and there was a scratchy feeling in the back of her throat. And even more embarrassing -- she was starting to sniffle.
Hearing her, Giles gently released the Slayer, fishing inside his jacket for a handkerchief -- 'colour me so not surprised that Giles uses handkerchiefs,' Buffy thought randomly -- which he handed to her. Her own hand shaking, she took it and wiped away the tears and blew her nose one-handed. At last, she looked back up and gave him a watery smile, crumpling the handkerchief in her right hand.
"Don't mention it." An awkward silence fell. "Right then," Giles said as he climbed back to his feet. "Let's get you cleaned up."
Continued in Part 17