Giles opened the door to the training room and stumbled inside, blindly feeling the wall to switch on the light. As he tried to zip up his jacket front, he dropped the bottle of alcohol he held. With a scowl, he slid down the wall and reached for the thankfully unbroken bottle, spilling even more of it onto the floor.
"Oops. You know, a month or so ago that would have really upset me. Spilling Scotch all over the woodwork in this room after all the effort that went into making it nice for you. But I don't suppose it really matters anymore now does it? You're gone. You're gone and now it's just the room and me. Both of us alone and empty, waiting for you to come back and knowing that you never will.
"I ought to tear the whole bloody thing down. Pull the weight bag from the ceiling, rip the mats up off the floors. Anya told me I should turn the place into storage if it was going to keep making me so upset. I don't even think I've ever yelled at Ethan as harshly as I did at her when she said that. I made her cry. I felt like such a miserable bastard. I actually had to hold her in my arms and soothe her as though she were a child. If you hadn't left, you would have kicked my ass all over this very room for it. Of course, if you hadn't left it never wou... hmm maybe I shouldn't have any more tonight. You know, I had managed not to start drinking again since you'd gone... until that night.
"You'd gone. You'd left. It all sounds so innocuous doesn't it? As if you're off visiting somewhere. But you're not, are you? You're dead. Your body broken by falling off a constructed monstrosity and landing on jagged debris. You're dead and buried. And we even had to bury you somewhere secret. None of us allowed to mourn your loss in public. No one can know.
"Intellectually of course, I have to agree with Willow's decision to reactivate the robot. There are practical reasons for it; the town's safety and Dawn's stability here. But it sickens me the way that every once in awhile, one of us will fall into an easy rapport with that thing. As though you've never left us. But you did leave us. You're gone and that overglorified sex toy that wears your face will never fill the hole that has been ripped in our lives. But even feeling that way, how many times have I wanted to just pull that thing into this room, and hold it in my arms, and whisper into its synthetic hair all the things I always wanted to tell you I felt but was so afraid to admit out loud.
"I don't know what to do Buffy. I can't stay here, and I don't think I can leave. Sunnydale wraps me in a blanket of you. There doesn't seem to be an inch of this town I can't conjure a memory of your life into. Everything here is you. How can I live here surrounded by you, yet without you actually here? Then again, it's all I have left of you. It's all I will ever have of you. How can I leave that behind?
"I feel as though I'm falling. Falling endlessly off that damn construction tower. The life I knew before you hangs over my head and you're somewhere at the bottom. But I can't see you. And I don't think I'll ever reach you. And I can't do anything in between but just keep falling.
"Are you with your Mum? I hope so. I hope you were allowed at least that peace. Part of me hopes you can hear me rambling at you, if for no other reason than to leave me with the illusion that I still have a way to contact you, and that I'm not simply speaking into an empty room watching what I have left of my sanity ebb away with every word. But part of me hopes that you can't hear me, can't see what I've become without you. You'd be so mad at me Buffy. You'd be furious and I know it. I just don't know any other way I can be. Not now. Not after losing you.
"It's strange. All these secrets I guarded from you with every ounce of strength I had. And now, I imagine that where you are, you know them all. You can see through all of them. And I always thought that if you knew them my whole world would end. But things like that don't end one's world. They might make them uncomfortable, embarrassed, make things unpleasant for awhile. If losing you didn't end my world, then you knowing exactly how much I loved you wasn't going to either. I know that now. And I wish I'd risked it when it would have mattered. After all, it wasn't as if you not returning how I felt was going to crush me. It's exactly what I expected.
"Although, I suppose my cowardice on this now leaves me in a slightly enviable position. Because I never dared find out how you would react to my confession, I can imagine the scenario any way I want. And you know, I'm not sure what possessed you to choose me to declare I love you to, just to prove that you couldn't make it sound as though you could love anymore. You probably don't even remember it, do you? Just before I took you to the desert and you had your vision? Let me tell you, I can still hear you saying it over and over again. "Giles, I love you. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Giles, it feels strange." If you don't think that has helped my mind paint a wonderful response to telling you I loved you, you'd be wrong.
"I'm glad you know Buffy. I'm glad for you to know just what you meant to me, finally. And if there was the faintest chance you could have felt the same for me, I apologize for never telling you. I will always regret any time together my silence cost us. Willow assures me that in a couple of more years, you would have been throwing yourself at me. That Riley was, in your subconscious, a young, more socially acceptable version of me. And that eventually you would have been brave enough to seek out the real thing. You should have seen the look she gave me when I told her that I thought she'd better switch her major away from Psychology. I actually think she bruised my arm slapping at it that way.
"Are you smiling? Please, I hope you are. I know that when I do something stupid, I can see you very angry, or sometimes with tears in your eyes. But most of the time, I try to picture you smiling. There was never anything put on this earth as beautiful as your smile Buffy. It's a good thing you shared so many of them with us when you were here.
"Listen to me. Sounding as though we're all going to be all right. As though I'm ever going to be all right without you. It's all such a lie Buffy. A pretty package of lies that I can look at and pretend that I'm not still falling. Always falling. Always falling after you. And I'll never reach you.
"I killed Ben. You must know that now. You wouldn't. You couldn't. You couldn't take a human life even to save the entire world. I could. I did. And I did it only to protect one. To protect you. Worked out really well don't you think? That you'd be laying dead moments later, only yards from my victim. Punishment for my crime? I'm not enough of an ego maniac to presume that your fate was solely to teach me some kind of a lesson. But the symbolism was staggering.
"And Dawn told me. She told me that other than herself, I was the only one you left a message for. I was so afraid I'd resent her. But I don't. How can I? This girl you gave your life for. This girl who's existence was formed from your own. She's more your daughter than your sister, though I can never tell her that. It was hard enough for her to lose her sister after Joyce. I don't think she could handle the idea of losing two mothers. Somehow I've come to think of her as mine too. My daughter. Our daughter? If only.
"I don't actually drink so much any more. I just slip every once in awhile. For example, tonight. I'm sorry. Dawn goes through phases with the robot. Some days, she doesn't want to see the sight of it. Other days, she practically clings to it. I've even gone up to her room at night and found her sleeping, curled around it. And it blinks at me with your eyes, silently questioning why.
"And today, I guess I was being sullen, distant. I try not to. It upsets Dawn. But sometimes I just do it and don't notice. Apparently, the robot asked why I was staying so far away. According to Willow, Dawn told it that sometimes she thinks when I most need affection, I pull away because I don't feel the right to impose my needs on others. Insightful little imp don't you think? Our daughter indeed.
"Willow took Dawn to school then. And the robot being what she is took things literally. Before I knew what was happening, this vision of you walked into the room, pushed me down into a chair, climbed onto my lap and kissed me until my breath left my body. When it stopped, it kept me hugged close. I managed to choke out a feeble "Why" before the tears fell down my cheeks.
""Because it's what Buffy would have done," it said.
"So, I started out the day with barely tolerable imported beer and have gradually moved up into the more potent end of the Scotch family. And I came here to just be with you. Perhaps if I get drunk enough one day, I'll actually be able to see you again. Don't worry. Dawn is staying the night with Xander and Anya. I'll make sure I'm completely sober by the time I pick her up from school. Tonight I just wanted to be with you. Just for a few hours. Just the two of us, here in the room we built for you. Your room. Just us.
"I'm tired. Will I dream of you? I hope so. Sometimes, I catch you, you know? Sometimes you fall from that tower right into my arms, and you hold onto me so tightly that I never want to wake up. But I always do. I always wake up and start falling all over again.. Falling. Falling. Fall..."
The creak of the door opening brought Giles' first awareness that he had even fallen asleep. He supposed he must have, because the noise had now woken him up. He also assumed that he must have been that way awhile because he actually did manage to feel a bit rested, his neck was stiff from sleeping against the wall, and the night sky outside was starting to lighten just a little. The female figure in the doorway took unsteady steps toward him, walking into the light until it shone off of her long blonde hair.
Giles blinked his eyes attempting to wake up faster. She looked dirty and disheveled. "Are you all right? Are you hur..." He shook his head. "Are you malfunctioning? Have you been damaged?"
She tilted her head but not in the awkward way that the Buffybot had acquired. This movement was smooth. Giles gulped. "Buffy?"
"G-i-les?" Slowly uttered syllables from her mouth, as though she were unsure of her own voice.
Suddenly, he found himself completely awake. He was now certain it was Buffy. He only didn't know what she had become. She ambled unevenly forward, toward him. He mentally ticked off the list. Vampire? No. Wrong cause of death. Zombie? Not without signs of decay for as long as she had been buried. Ghost? No, she was solid enough.
"Giles," she said more confidently, standing nearly over him now. Her knees seemed to give way and she dropped. Giving no thought to it, he reached up and took her into his arms, pulling her across his lap.
"Buffy?" Her bright blue eyes blinked up at him. He slowly began to brush away the dirt on her cheeks. "Are... are you all right? What do you remember?"
"I... was with Dawnie. And then I was f-falling. Falling through a warm bright light. Falling for forever. And then... then Mom was there. We got to talk for a long long time. It was really nice. I remember though that I could hear you. You seemed like you missed me very badly. Then you got quiet, and I could hear Willow and Tara. And I woke up. I was cold and I couldn't hardly breathe. And I had to dig... dig up. Then I was outside and I was cold again. I knew I had to find you. I knew I'd be okay when I found you. And I knew from what you had told me that you would be here, so I started walking. And I came here, and I found you. And then I was falling again, but this time you caught me."
He held her as tight as he could, rocking her in his arms as warm tears spilled down his cheeks. He was beyond the ability to speak, and so just continued to cry, and hold onto her.
"I love you too," she whispered barely loud enough for anyone to hear.
Only one person did. Only one person needed to.
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