Part 11

The sun’s fire faded behind the dark mountains, the sky dimming from a brilliant wash of pink and lavender to dusky and black. Day had faded to twilight, twilight to the gathering gloom of night.

Buffy watched it from the windows of the motel’s common room and smiled. She didn’t need to see Giles come up behind her to know he was there. Or why. Despite Iain’s untimely murder, Giles was able to learn enough about the Saber from his initial reading of his colleague’s notes to figure out on his own what she was planning. He wasn’t stupid. They’d already had the argument, like a hammer on an anvil, neither side yielding. But she knew he wasn’t back for another fight. She knew they would never part angry.

“I just wanted to see the last one,” she said, nodding toward the faded sunset. “It was a good show, too.”

Giles moved beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. He kissed the top of her head lightly, as if she were a little girl. She didn’t mind. Not at all.

“It’s been a real ride, the last sixteen years, huh?” she asked. She didn’t really know why she felt so calm. Sentimental and more than a little regretful, but calm. Not like the time she faced the Master, knowing she would almost certainly die. She’d been terrified then. Maybe it was the influence of the Dark Hunter. Or maybe it was Elisa’s brave example, or Master Takeda’s bushido teachings. Maybe it was just that she’d grown tired and resigned. After all, where would she end up? Hell? She’d been there and called it home. Oblivion? That would almost be a welcome release. No, death didn’t hold nearly as many terrors as life did.

“This is all my fault,” said Giles. “If I hadn’t translated the Apocrypha …”

“If you hadn’t, someone else would have. Probably Iain. Don’t you go taking responsibility for the sins of others, Giles. You and I both have enough of them counted against our souls already.”

“There must be another way. I can’t lose you. I don’t know what I would do without you,” said Giles softly.

Buffy looked deeply into his eyes. There was an inexpressible sadness in them, like a solitary flame in a deep, dark forest on a cold winter night. “But you’ve always known it would happen. One Slayer dies, another is called. There’s never a happy ending to this story.”

“Everyone dies, Buffy. That foreknowledge doesn’t make it easier for the ones left behind.”

“If the Dark Hunter makes it through this, I’ll live on. Where it will go after the Saber does its job, I can’t say, but as long as it lives, everything I was will be a part of it.”

“Small compensation for never again hearing your laugh, or seeing you in love, or just watching you puzzle over one of my silly, incomprehensible books. It’s not fair of the universe to demand this of you.”

Buffy sighed and looked back out at the gathering night. “Since when did ‘fair’ ever have anything to do with it? I gave up on ‘fair’ a long time ago.”

Giles voice broke as he said, “It’s just … I love you so very much, Buffy. You’ve taught me so much about being human. You’ve shown me that this world is worth fighting for, if it can produce people like you. You are everything that is good and right in my life, and I can’t imagine that life without you as a part of it.”

Buffy squeezed his hand tightly, then put her arms around him and hugged him. “And you’ve shown me that there are people worth dying for. You’re the best. Whoever the next Slayer is, I hope she has a Watcher who is even half as wonderful as you.”

They stood like that for a long time, until night revealed the cold infinity of the heavens, and the winter wind blew like an echo of eternity beyond the frost-rimed windows.

*                              *                              *

Angel breathed a sigh of relief as the Lear finally pitched upward into the darkness and left the light-jeweled expanse of O’Hare below.

They’d just spent five hours of waiting on the tarmac and taxiways while the disaster that was Chicago O’Hare was unraveled by harried, stressed ground- and air-controllers. Five hours since O’Hare was reopened after the “blizzard of the decade”, and they’d burned off so much fuel waiting in line that they now couldn’t make it all the way to Oregon without another stop en route.

But at least they were moving again. That was the main thing, and every passing minute brought him closer to Buffy. Even though he still didn’t know what Protocol 17 or the Avatar Project were, at least he wouldn’t be watching events from a distance for much longer. He would be with Buffy, and right at the moment, that was all he really wanted.

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