Buffy’s fifteen and coming to terms with the fact that she’s no longer a girl of sunshine and light, but something that has to hunt in the darkness.
She wants to go back to being that girl. But when her parents divorce (it’s your fault, Buffy, if you’d just been normal they’d still be together) and her mom moves the three of them out to Sunnydale, Buffy has to adjust to no longer being an LA girl, either.
She thinks she could like Sunnydale, maybe. She was a big fish in a big pond at Hemery, and she’s sure that she could rule Sunnydale with an iron fist, though thank God she’d stopped being the megabitch she’d been back at Hemery before everything happened.
Buffy settles in before school starts, and she turns out to be right. She likes Sunnydale. She likes how quiet it is. She likes not having to carry stakes with her at all times. She likes not having to sneak out of the house and listen to lectures about how she’s supposed to be a good role model for Dawnie.
She likes being normal.
She thinks that she misses LA, but then she realizes that she misses what LA used to represent. Normalcy, when the worst thing Buffy had to worry about was landing a complicated cheer trick.
She feels guilty for not missing LA more than she does.
She should. She had friends there from kindergarten, but her closest friend is dead and her Watcher is dead and Buffy feels the loss like a hole in her side that’s never going to heal up. It’s raw and it’s aching and Buffy doesn’t even want to care about Merrick, she hadn’t even liked him most of the time and he hadn’t trusted her to do what had needed to be done, but he’d died trying to protect her and that meant something to her. The worst part was that Buffy couldn’t even explain why she cared, because no one knew about Merrick.
Buffy doesn’t miss LA, she misses her old life. She misses who she used to be — though she’s glad she’s grown — and she misses people (she always was a Daddy’s Girl, but she knows that her mom was surprised that Buffy chose to go with her instead of fighting to stay in LA with her life and her dad), but she doesn’t miss either of those things as much as she thought she would.
And then, of course, everything goes to hell because this nice little normal town? not so nice and normal. The creepy librarian lists off all the things that Sunnydale’s dealt with and Buffy wants to scream because this isn’t her job anymore, she retired because she can’t fail again, she can’t deal with her mom being mad at her for sneaking out or coming home bloody, she can’t deal with Dawn’s nosiness and trying to figure out what’s going on, she’s not that girl anymore and she won’t be, she won’t.
Buffy’s fifteen years old and she knows that being a Slayer means that she has a shortened lifespan, and she’s just not ready to die yet.
But it turns out that you can say you won’t be a Slayer anymore but actually following through on that? much less likely to happen, especially when you actually care about people. Buffy rescued Willow, but Jesse …
Buffy tried apologizing for Jesse, for not getting there in time, and Willow and Xander wouldn’t let her. Buffy decided to not push it, but the failure weighed heavily on her, and that’s how she found herself with a tea cup in her hand, as she frowns down at the murky liquid. “I don’t get it.”
Giles prepares his own tea with swift, sure movements and honestly? Buffy doesn’t get it herself, but she can understand Willow’s crush on the guy. “What don’t you get?”
“Tea. I don’t get it. What’s the point of it? If you want something hot or with a kick of caffeine, why not go for coffee?” Buffy shakes her hand a little, sending the tea dancing along the sides of the cup.
“Tea is about comfort more than anything else,” Giles explains, sipping on his own tea. “There’s a ritual to it, and that can make it … soothing. You do the same actions and you get the anticipated results.”
Buffy tries hers and makes a face at it. “Is it supposed to be a comfort for me or for you?” She drinks some more, making another face at the taste.
Giles gives her an almost sad look. “I had meant it to be for you.”
“Then it is,” Buffy assures him, though she’d still prefer a coffee, and takes a long drink of her icky tea. They have a rocky relationship, but he’s trying, and Buffy doesn’t dislike him, she just… really hates the responsibility that comes with being a Slayer. She doesn’t want it but she can’t run from it, and Giles represents that sometimes. But he’s trying, and she’s trying in return.
She doesn’t really know what else to say, so she drinks her tea in silence, trying really hard to not hate it. But she’s pretty sure that tea is never going to grow on her.
Buffy is fifteen and has her whole life ahead of her — for however long it lasts.
Buffy is twenty and tired of death. She has to ... she has to be strong. She doesn't want to be strong, but she's the Slayer, and her job, other than killing things, is to do the heavy lifting. This is the heaviest thing she's ever had to lift.
She has to lift it. Dawnie needs her, needs her to be strong and needs Buffy to keep things together. But Buffy is so tired of being strong, is tired of holding up the people around her, and she just can’t do it anymore. The weight on her shoulders is just too much, and no one seems to notice. Atlas had the world on his shoulders, and this should be so much easier than that, but it's not, because it might not be the entire world, but it's Buffy's world.
She should be spending time with Dawnie, make sure she’s handling their mom’s death, but Willow and Tara are looking after Dawn and Buffy knows that Tara will do a better job of it than Buffy would. Buffy would say the wrong thing and start a fight and both of them would be too raw and they would just hurt each other. It’s better to leave Dawn to the gentle blonde that reminds Buffy of her mom in all the best ways, and Buffy pushes back the guilt at doing so.
She should go on patrol if she’s not at home, but instead she finds herself at Joyce’s gallery. She uses the key to slip inside and keys hers and Dawnie’s birthdays into the security alarm. She’ll need to pack everything up, sell what she can and put in storage what she can’t, but she just can’t bring herself to do that yet. It would be saying goodbye and Buffy's not ready for that, not yet. Buffy wants to pretend that Joyce is going to walk in the door any minute, that she’ll want to use Buffy’s muscles to open up a difficult crate, but Buffy knows that she can’t let herself pretend like that because it’ll just make it hurt too much later.
She shouldn’t have come, not when it’s still a raw, aching hole in her chest that’s worse than any other she’s had to deal with. Buffy’s had a life of losses, it seems like, but even Celia doesn’t compare to this.
Buffy sits on a desk and looks around, and hears the door behind her opening. She’s whirled around before the door even finishes the swing, and relaxes when she sees that it’s Giles.
“I saw you come in,” he explains, and Buffy wants to ask him how he even saw that but lets it slide; their relationship is no longer rocky and he’s the most dependable person in her life now. She needs him like she needs the earth underneath her feet, and she’s not going to get mad at him if he’s keeping a closer eye on her than usual. “Would you like some tea? I know where Joyce keeps-” He cuts himself off, swallowing hard, and corrects himself quickly, “- kept it.”
Buffy still prefers coffee to tea, but she knows what tea represents to him, that it’s a way for him to take care of her, so she nods, giving him the barest of smiles. “Tea would be good.”
He prepares it with practiced movements, and Buffy watches his hands as he goes through the motions. After it’s steeped, they drink it in silence, not needing to say anything.
Buffy’s twenty, and feels as though death is all around her … but at least she has Giles.
She’s pretty sure she can get through anything so long as he’s in her corner.
Buffy is not yet twenty-one now, but she’s dead. She’s dead, her friends buried her, but they didn’t know how to let her stay dead, so they brought her back. But what they don’t understand is that Buffy is worse than any vampire, because at least the vampire somewhat resembles the person they were before, warped though it may be, but Buffy’s just an animated corpse that’s going through the motions of pretending to be alive.
Buffy’s dead and she wants to go back to being dead but she doesn’t know how. Buffy is a role that she plays, and she’s never been a gifted actress. She wears a Buffy mask and says Buffy words in a Buffy voice, but she’s less Buffy than even the Buffybot.
Every breath she draws is poison, every move she makes is a mockery of how she used to be, everything she does is an obscenity that shouldn't be allowed, but she’s pretending for the sake of her friends.
Giles notices, though. Giles notices and tries to help her and makes her tea. Buffy has lost count of how many cups of tea he has made her, and that would make her cry if a corpse were capable of tears. He tries to talk to her while they drink, and she tries to give him Buffy-type answers like she's supposed to, but she knows, she knows that he sees through it, because Giles has always been the one to see through her bullshit.
She’s a walking corpse, but she thinks that maybe he can help her come back to life where her friends’ spell couldn’t succeed. She's walking and drawing breath and talking but she's not alive, but she might be able to be, if he can just help her.
But then he tells her that he’s moving back to England and she grips the teacup so hard it shatters in her hand, the last vestige of hope as dead as she is.
Buffy is nearly twenty-one, and she’s dead, and she’s fairly sure she’s just going to stay dead, even if she is walking around and breathing.
Buffy is thirty and she thinks she’s finally gotten to where she's okay.
But she knows that Giles isn’t. They’ve all had deaths that hit them hard, Jenny, her mom, Tara. They grieved and they rebuilt their lives from the shambles, and the pain got a little less each day. But, as much as he’d loved Jenny, as impossible to explain as the relationship he and Joyce had, he’s never lost a wife before, and he’s like a ghost of himself with new lines of grief around his eyes (when did Giles start looking so old?) that get deeper each day.
Buffy doesn’t know how to help. She always felt better when she was fighting, but Giles has never been as physically geared as she was.
So instead, she breaks into his flat — she’s picked up Britishisms over the years — and starts making some tea. She’s still not allowed to cook ever (melt one pot to the stove and people never let you hear the end of it), but she knows how to boil water, and that’s most of what making tea is, after all. She’s watched him enough over the past fifteen years to know how he likes it, and when he comes out to investigate the banging around in his cupboard, she has the tea poured with the right amount of milk added to it for him.
He doesn’t even have to ask. All he does is tilt his head at her and Buffy understands what he’s asking without words, so she shrugs in response. “Someone told me once that tea isn’t about the taste but about comfort more than anything else.”
Giles gives her a wan smile and parrots her words back to her from that first time he made her tea. “Is it supposed to be a comfort for me or for you?”
Buffy smiles softly back at him, passing him the cookies. “For you. Always for you.”
Tea’s grown on her, mostly from living in England the last few years, so she no longer makes a face when she drinks it. They sip their tea quietly, reminiscing when they want, and sitting in comfortable silence when they don’t want to talk. They’ve been friends for fifteen years now and there’s a comfort in that.
Buffy’s thirty and she thinks she’s okay. She’s determined to get Giles to that point, too