There was nothing quite like the passage of time.
It wasn’t as though she’d asked for this. Time had not bothered to slow for her; had not granted her the opportunity to run in the other direction the minute she was approached by an old man in a fedora outside Hemery High. Before her life and every constantshe had ever depended on was stolen in a blink.
Before the weight of the world was placed on her shoulders.
However, she couldn’t deny that power was addictive in that entirely unfair sense. She had grown dependent on her strength over the years, which made the fall all the more devastating. The world was an iniquitous place. Four years of her life had been dedicated to battling evil, hunting demons, and preventing numerous apocalypses.
She had wished away her power so many times. Just months before, she had argued with her mother, screaming that she would do anything to be a “normal girl”—to shop, gossip, and study. To reclaim her purloined childhood—her youth and vulnerability. To return to a time of innocence before the heartache that no girl her age should have suffered.
She was supposed to be the only one. One to speak for a planet chock-full of people. One to defend. One to lay down her life when the time arrived. One to do all the work for a billion-plus nameless citizens who would not recognize her if she ever took that final bow. She was supposed to be the only one, but there were two.
There were countless theories to explain her sudden lack of power. Perhaps the Powers had finally caught up with her and realized that the Calling had been handed down.
Why it had taken them so long, she didn’t know.
However, speculating on her lack-of-powers and possible ties to the recent Chosen Two didn’t get her very far. After all, there had been two slayers for over a year now; if the Powers were indeed just doing their housecleaning, they could have, at the very least, sent her a warning.
There was no conclusive explanation. No one good reason for anything. Buffy simply had no strength. End of story.
Furthermore, her lack of slayer-power was not accompanied by a lack of slayer-instincts. It took every ounce of her resolve keep from jumping into each conflict that plagued the Sunnydale campus, let alone to refrain from patrolling. While Faith was there to keep the vampire population under wraps, there was something about getting the job done personally that she missed. The lack of action left her feeling vacant and unsatisfied. And true, while the other slayer had proved herself on a number of occasions, Buffy simply didn’t trust the anyone but herself when it came to sacred duties.
Her mood was decidedly gloomy as she took her seat in the cafeteria. Not even Xander’s characteristic grin could cheer her up.
“Top of the afternoon to you. How goes the world through the eyes of the Buff?”
The smile she offered in return was halfhearted at best. “Same old,” she replied flippantly, picking at her paper lunch bag. “I assume you two had fun Bronzing-it last night while I was reaping the benefits of Watcher orders?”
The reaction was instantaneous; her friends assumed an identical façade of extreme disinterest and shook their heads. “It really wasn’t that much fun,” Willow assured her. “I mean, not as in the entire…’oh, we do this every night.’ To have a reason to stay at home…very cool.” She paused awkwardly. “Have you spoken with Giles since the ‘stay-inage’ orders of yesterday? And idea on what—”
“No, not yet,” Buffy retorted, her tone harsher than she intended. Her mood, despite milieu, rolled on an exceptionally short yoyo as of the recent. She really couldn’t be held accountable; all things considered. Impending circumstances affected her like a bad case of food poisoning. “Sorry, Will. He doesn’t seem too wigged as of the current. When he loses his cool, that’s when I’ll go into panic-mode.”
That was a lie, but she found no point in worrying her friends any more than necessary.
“Let’s not focus on thoughts of unhappiness,” Xander said easily. “After all, big eighteen coming up. Outlandish birthday plans, anyone?”
Buffy grinned in spite of herself. “I thought I told you…quiet reflection is the theme for this year’s Slayerfest. Birthdays in the Land of Buffy don’t have a history of resulting in hugs and puppies. Big yay for quiet reflection.”
“Oh, come on,” he prodded, flashing a puppy smile. “I just know there’s a party weasel buried in there somewhere. Slip into your fun shoes and get yourself a noisemaker. If your dad’s gonna be a no-show for skating, I say Wills and I take it upon ourselves to entertain the Buff.”
She sighed at that. Though it was no secret, she didn’t appreciate being reminded of her father’s shortcomings. “Thanks for the thought, Xan,” she retorted. “But I think I’m covered. I’ll make Giles take me or something. He owes me.”
“How you figure?”
“World saveage. He can spare one night to treat me. Especially when I’m feeling this…” She made a face. “Lethargic.”
Willow frowned and leaned forward supportively. “I’m sure it’ll wear off soon,” she said, though her tone lacked confidence. “I mean…it has to, right?”
The Slayer paused and forced a nod. “Yeah. Like I said…no major Gilesy wiggage in action right now. I should keep my cool. Be mature about this.”
“About losing your power?”
Worry lines stressed Buffy’s face, and in a complete collapse of fortitude, she consigned her head into weary hands, whimpering.
Willow lurched forward, eyes wide. “Ohhh! I didn’t mean that…I…you’re going to get your powers back. I mean…you have to! You’re the Slayer. No sense slaying without…slayage powers, right? You’re probably just…worn out or something. And…no worrying from Giles, remember? I mean, you’re right. If Giles loses his easily-wigged-British-cool, then yeah. Panicky is perfectly acceptable and…but Buffy…you’re going to get your powers back. I mean, you have to. How else can you slay?”
“Faith,” she pointed out.
“Pshaw.” Willow rolled her eyes. “The slayer-slut-bomb?”
“Well, she was the one they tapped.”
Still, sense was not being made. No sense at all. Not with her friends, and certainly not with her Watcher. And with as much as she tried to force her thoughts to greener pastures, her mind kept dragging her back to the frightening reality that she might never get her powers back.
God, she didn’t know what she would do. Despite the burden of Slayerhood and all the heartache and stress that came with it, she couldn’t imagine a world without her strength. Not anymore. Not with everything she knew. There was a demon population out there that needed to be controlled, and she knew how to do it. It would be difficult without strength, but she would find a way. She had to. She couldn’t sleep at night knowing that innocents were being taken at the whim of a newly risen vamp or a vindictive sprite granting vengeancy wishes.
There would be no rest. Not in this lifetime.
Willow waved a hand in front of her face. “Buffy? You sure you’re all right?”
She blinked at her friend and forced a smile. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. Just…you know…”
She nodded. “Well…it’s not exactly something that’s easy to let go of.”
“It’ll pass. It has to.”
Willow’s tone, however, was clouded with doubt. And it followed Buffy the rest of the day. Through class, through faking through her homework, and finally to the library, where Giles would almost assuredly tell her that there was nothing to do but wait.
The library was not often regarded as a place of sanctuary, but she could not deny the relief that encompassed her when she crossed the threshold. Buffy paused a minute, sighed, and dropped her belongings into a chair. She didn’t know when the library had started to feel like a second home to her; it was only a matter of time, she suspected, before her Watcher started bickering at her to clean up after herself.
The librarian appeared on prompt, popping out from the office. “Ah. Good afternoon. Feeling any better?”
She shook her head and sighed again, lifting herself into the table. “Nada. Any luck with the research?”
There was a subtle, however detectable change in manner. It was minor enough to be overlooked by the casual observer, but three years together had schooled her well in deciphering her Watcher’s various mannerisms. She could, by no means interpret the meaning, but it definitely indicated that something was up. The look on his face betrayed his discomfort. However, it was fleeting at best, and he shook it off the next minute. “No,” came the reply.
Disappointment filled her whole. “Didn’t figure.”
“I still believe that all you need is rest.”
Buffy snickered at that. “Sure. Make it sound all simple. Like I resting is an option. I had a dream last night that I was walking through the graveyard at night and…” Buffy trailed off; she didn’t need to elaborate. “But then the vamps dressed in drag and sang Broadway show tunes. It kinda took away from the big picture.”
A small, nearly indiscernible smile tickled his lips. The gesture was transitory, but it succeeded in giving her an inkling of empty hope. If he could find something like that amusing, he couldn’t be too concerned. Maybe when she hit month six of her weakened state, he’d concede she caught the Slayer bug.
Still, shaded hope was better than none.
“Well,” Giles said after a minute. “I have decided that…given everything, you deserve a night to yourself. Your mother called…she supported my taking you to the ice show this evening, despite my—”
Buffy blinked incredulously. “Seriously? I mean…you do realize that cotton candy and assorted souvenirs of all types will be included? Not to mention the event itself.”
The look on the Watcher’s face dimmed softly, a sort of fond reflection. “Your mother…” he repeated, an eyebrow flickering in discomfort. She couldn’t blame him. After all, not much time had passed since they were making out like horny teenagers. The Slayer had yet to progress beyond the ick-factor; she couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt. “She…she said that she had offered to take you but…understandably, you consider it more of a…erm…”
He wanted to say ‘fatherly responsibility.’ That enough was clear in his eyes. It was a fair estimation. Over the past three years, he had marked the bar as more of a parent than her biological relation could ever hope to touch. Buffy smiled her gratitude. “Great. So you’re taking me. As in the…really? You’re all about the takage of your—”
“Yes, I believe we have covered that.” Giles stuffed his hands into his pockets. “You deserve it, after everything. With what you’re going through. What time do these things normally begin?”
“Seven, but we’ll wanna get there early.” She wriggled in excitement. It was so good to feel something other than worry. For one night—one night—things were going to go the way they were supposed to. She could forget her slayer-y worries for one night. It wasn’t much, but it meant the world. “Ohhh…major yayness! Thank you so much!”
He nodded with a small smile. “Of course. But first—”
“Slayer trainy-ness. Gotcha. ‘Course, you…all work and no play.”
“All things considered, I would call that an unfair conclusion.”
She grinned wickedly. “I really appreciate this, Giles. I mean…Mom’s right. I didn’t mean to throw it in her face, but it really is a…something you do with…” At that, she cast her eyes down, feeling suddenly awkward. “Well, you get it.”
The look on his face betrayed something more than knowledge; rather, a sort of poignant understanding. And before things could get too awkward, training ensued. The naming of random stones, the beg for forgiveness when she found her mind wandering down a random path yet again. The familiar look of irritated fondness that tackled Giles’s countenance whenever she did something so entirely adolescent that it caused everyone to stop and remember that the Slayer had a life unattached to her duties.
It was near five when he dismissed her, leaving an hour and a half for preparations. A quip was made about her ability to beautify herself within such time constraints, resulting in traded jibes even after she had exited the library.
From there, it was a matter of patience. Of keeping collected. Had she lingered, Buffy would have seen her Watcher finish cleaning up evidence of their training session. Fifteen minutes passed. He took his time; collecting himself in an instant of discomfort before finally reaching for the phone to call Quentin Travers.
The message was short but to the point. There was no need for elaboration.
“Everything is ready.”