Buffy dragged her fingertips across a row of book spines, feeling the wisdom below, like a fortune teller intuiting the secrets of her deck of cards. She felt out of place in the library, what with it being neat and tidy and airy and indefensible and no weapons anywhere. And of course, full of books.
Somewhere deep in the sea of tall bookcases were Dawn and Willow, no doubt bibliorgasming their way through volumes of dead languages or ancient incantations or whatever. She might not find them for...days, even with her superior tracking abilities. Why oh why did she agree to Dawn’s plead to “pop in for just a tiiiny peek” on their way to the mall?
Panicked, Buffy looked about her helplessly. However would she occupy herself?
She’d liked books well enough, once upon a time. Stories. Pictures. Bedtime ritual with her parents. Mostly with her Mom, but Dad had been there too, when she’d been little. Until the age of fifteen, when the books started telling her fortune, prophesying her life, as in, end of. And books had gotten her out of trouble often enough, whether that trouble be a pickle, jam, a sticky situation, a predicament, hot water, dire straits, between a rock and a hard place, or, well, usually, an apocalypse. Apocalypses; plural. She’d lived through them all. So many. So many. She put down the thesaurus and moved on.
Anyway, by now, the negative association had stuck. She supposed she should be grateful, but it was hard to be grateful for that which she didn’t choose, for which she was chosen instead. Chosen so that she’d be gifted the losses that kept on coming. She rolled with the punches the best way she could, and she did get a sister out of the ordeal, and what, two extra lives? So maybe it wasn’t all losses. But it sure as hell was not anywhere close to a fair trade.
The last apocalypse had been the worst. Hometown gone, just like that. But look at her now, Slayer General to an army, no longer once in a generation, no longer even twice in a generation, and that bought her some much-needed slack, an extension on that looming expiration date. She could return to college now, get that degree in whatever would make sense for a slayer to get. Maybe not even slaying-related. It could be anything. Art history. Astrophysics. Animal husbandry. Plenty of choices starting with the letter “A” alone. And what exactly was animal husbandry?
A memory, from a lifetime away, resolved in her mind. She liked poetry! Maybe she could study literature. It had to be fate, because there she was, right in the Poetry section. She pulled out a volume bearing a woman’s name (“Sara Teasdale”), because the overwhelming majority of her time in school had been spent laboring over what men had to say, committing to memory what men wrote. Enough of that. She thumbed to a random page. The title sent a shiver down her spine, for it read: “Dust”.
When I went to look at what had long been hidden,
A jewel laid long ago in a secret place,
I trembled, for I thought to see its dark deep fire —
But only a pinch of dust blew up in my face.
I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes —
The book slipped out of her grasp—the same time she felt the sting in her eyes. She’d been glossing over the details, what they’d lost collectively, what she’d lost. Trying a little retail therapy. Focusing on long-term plans. But now… Now…
Her heart trembled. He really was gone, even the stupid poem said so.
He’d died a champion, of course. As hers, for her, for the world. Because of him, there was still a world with her in it, with things like shopping malls and libraries and shrimp, though unjustly without him. For the first time in recorded history—and the Council had been so meticulous with the history recording—a vampire, a supposedly force of evil, pure soulless demon, had redeemed himself, earned back his soul, and volunteered himself for the greater good of The Mission. And gone to dust for his conviction.
She couldn’t regret his sacrifice. He wouldn’t have wanted that, his greatest triumph tainted with an emotion usually associated with failure. No, he should be celebrated for the glory of his victory, for the blinding brilliance of his soul that had turned an army of darkness to powder.
As a warrior, she knew he had died a hero’s death. She was proud of him. As a lover… Buffy picked up the book at her feet, still opened to the page that spoke to her, and held it to her chest. As a lover, as an equal, she would carry his memory as a jewel laid in a secret place, not in shame, but as a treasure to protect, to keep with her always.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” Dawn’s voice rang out from right behind her. Buffy dropped the book to her side with the stealth of a fighter concealing a weapon, and gathered her expression into one of insouciant cheer before turning around.
“Not much. You ready?” Casual. Must sound casual.
But Dawn just stared.
Was she somehow giving herself away? “What?”
“Omigod, Buffy. Are you literally bored to tears? It was barely 15 minutes.”
Buffy scoffed. “My allergies are acting up. Probably dust or mold from these old books.”
She heard Dawn mutter, “Figures you’d be allergic to books,” but let it drop. Enough about her teary eyes. She spotted Willow by the entrance. “Let’s go.”
It was only after Dawn'd set out ahead of her in long strides that Buffy returned the book to the shelf, glancing as she did at the last lines of the poem:
It is strange how often a heart must be broken
Before the years can make it wise.