Buffy had gotten used to her routine, by now.
Wake up to Alarm. Snooze. Lie in bed for five minutes. Get up to the next ring of the alarm. Turn off the alarm. Stand. Walk over to clothes. Grab clothes. Put them on, one at a time.
She'll then leave the box room that holds the bed and her belongings, still packed away in case she needs to run again.
Then she'll pause. Again. Look around. Nobody here. Nod. Go to the bathroom. Stare into the mirror for too long. Pull some form of expression at self (disgusted, annoyed, sticking tongue out because today's not so bad, really, get a grip). Brush teeth - remember to put toothpaste on the brush. Pause. Watch the water run over the brush. Grimace. Brush teeth. Pause.
Stare at self, look for signs of anything at all.
No. Still nothing.
Next, She'll leave the bathroom. Pause, roll her eyes, return to the bathroom. Shave if needed. Use toilet, pause. Nod, then return to the kitchenette. Look around. Still nobody.
Still lonely. (But you had to leave. You didn't have anywhere to go. Did you? Maybe. Maybe not. Moot point, because you didn't want to stay, anyway.)
Then she'll breathe.
Not undead, hello, Buffy, so just breathe.
There you go. Nod. That's it. Go to the fridge. If anything's in, make a sandwich. If not, scowl, but smooth that over, because the boss doesn't mind if you pick something up at the diner.
(You say you're emancipated.)
(Your boss knows better, but he lets it slide. The signs of being an inexperienced runaway must be obvious. His wife - your other boss - narrows her eyes at you occasionally, but she never fails to give you a ten - or a five - dollar note at the end of your shift on Fridays. She does it to all the people that work at the Authentic American Family Diner you work at who... probably shouldn't be. Obviously, the Diner has a name, but that's the branding.)
(You can find most anything in LA, and that's why you like it here. Because, since that's the case, what you're actually looking for is harder to find. And maybe the name. Los Angeles. The City of Angels. It - it might hurt, a bit, but it's fitting.)
(The name, and maybe the pain, too.)
Remember not to just stand around reminiscing. Grimace at nothing and everything all at once.
(Try not to go numb, but also try not to feel too much or think too much about anything, in particular, that could remind you of him - but then, there you go again.)
Breathe. Just Breathe.
Then - Buffy will sigh, or make some other noise, maybe it'll be a bit too much this morning (but that hasn't been the case as of late, you've gotten at least a little better over the last month) and she'll cry, a bit, about something or another - maybe him, maybe her mom, maybe her friends, maybe her life and her lot and her fate -
But that's not every day. It's just... something that spices up the routine. The monotony of working in a Diner and sitting around a barely decorated apartment Buffy's still surprised she can afford.
Maybe the landlord - a lady in her mid-forties, deeply tanned with greying black hair and angry eyebrows but kind, green eyes and a soft face all the same - pities her. Buffy's never asked.
So. She's used to her routine, by now.
Which is why something spiced it up a bit. Once Buffy got used. Not much, but a tad.
She met someone. Maybe a friend. At least, a companion while she's Anne. While she's a teenage runaway and not Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer.
Thalia, the girl stutters out. She looks freshly run-away like she's not even been on the streets three weeks, let alone the two months she says she's been out here for.
Her family are major wackos, though. It's kind of nice, to not be the Vampire Slayer to the girl who's been told she's a demon enough times that she believes it - kind of hard to hide that sort of thing when you sort of share a teeny tiny apartment, just as it's also kind of hard to hide grieving a lost loved one - just a nice, if freakishly strong girl who leant her couch in a time of need, got her a job with a nametag that didn't say anything about her real identity (because while Buffy uses Anne to hide from everyone who knew her and herself, Thalia uses - well, Thalia, to hide from the exact same things for very different reasons) and kept her company a few times, when the girl woke from something awful in her dreams.
But... yeah. So, Buffy's routine adjusted. And maybe things were a little less grey and dull and painful with someone to talk to - someone who might not understand exactly, the pain of having to kill someone you love for the safety of the world, but does indeed understand the pain of losing someone you love if in a different way, and is genuine in her empathy - like some sort of emotional conduit. It kind of reminds Buffy of her friends when they're feeling wise and up to it - Thalia's ability to give her advice and comfort and just a presence to be near so she's not alone whenever she needs it, and - and Buffy tries her best, on her better days, to do the same. Better weeks, Better months, and suddenly, scarily, it's almost September.
If she were in Sunnydale, it'd be back to school for her, soon.
But Anne doesn't go to school, unlike Buffy. And, for now, Buffy is Anne - just like the girl who sleeps on her couch is Thalia. Because she says so.
Because she - they, need to be someone they're not, at least for a little while.
Before Buffy could meet up with Lily, there's another new face. Another runaway, but... less of a runaway. She's running from something, but - not a home. Not her parents.
"Died years back," She had said, seemingly unaffected. Buffy felt similar about Angel now - a sort of hollow feeling. She'd cried, not all of her tears, but many, and Buffy didn't want to cry any more of them. So she didn't.
(Your dreams are a kind of solace. For in dreams, we enter a world that is entirely our own.)
(Not that you'll know that quote for a few years, yet. Doesn't matter. We're looking back. )
Faith is - she's strong like Buffy is, and that's interesting. Because Kendra died, and the memory of that still hurts, but Buffy admittedly didn't know her as well as she'd have liked to, and maybe that's why. Because any chances were lost, because Kendra can never see more of life, learn more things, grow older and get friends and something outside of Slaying. Because she's dead, too, like him. Like Angel. But it hurts less because she wasn't in love with Kendra - and it feels bad, felt bad, will always feel cruel, but that makes it easier to deal with Kendra's loss.
The knowledge that her pain could be so much worse.
Faith hadn't wanted any platitudes, and Buffy, currently experiencing a kind of great tragedy, understood that feeling, so she hadn't given any. But Thalia had understood, in a sense - in that she lost a parent, the difference being that her mother, the best parent Thalia had ever known, was nothing like Faith's mother, in the woman's later days (not that she died old.)
"So what's your issue?" Faith had asked, callous, but there was something steely in her eyes - like, like if she knew they could be trusted, that they could trust her, maybe she'd tell them her reason for being here. Buffy didn't have another couch, but she could buy a sleeping bag. She could make it work.
"I lost someone... I cared about." Buffy admitted. "Two, really." She paused, collected herself. "Someone I loved. And... and I got kicked out. Mom - didn't want me around, any more."
Faith nodded, slowly, her face a fraction softer.
"Then - Then that's h-her problem," Thalia said, forcing her way through her stutter. Eventually, it would fade, but it would take time, and friends, and maybe a language coach of some kind. If her family had wanted her to stutter, to be meek - and this is one of the times when Thalia's eyes got their own kind of steel - then she would help herself, and damn them, because - because they hurt her, for all these years, ever since her magic first showed itself. But she'd never, ever be like them - there is strength in kindness. She'd be the kind of person she wants to be, which is and has always been the antithesis to them.
It's the three of them, in this room, in Anne's apartment (not Buffy's, because here you aren't Buffy). Buffy could get used to this - maybe even grow to like it. Grow to have friends that aren't Willow and Xander and a support network that doesn't include her mother or Giles.
In a way, she's found a way to deal. Right here. This apartment, this job, these people.
Buffy smiled softly at Thalia. "She couldn't deal with my life," Buffy said, quietly. "She'd - hated how dangerous it could be, I guess... doesn't make sense to throw me out if she's scared of the danger, but..."
"That was an excuse," Faith waved away whatever Buffy was going to say next. "I think the two of us can vouch that parents can be very, very easily very shitty about most everything."
"Mom was never," Buffy said, sighing. "Except... But that was Dad."
Mostly. Partially. They both agreed, in the end, that it was for the best, for her, to help, to make her better.
Because vampires don't exist. At least, from where they were standing.
(The Mental Asylum. You remember, don't you? You hate that place. Will always. You never told your mother, but even though you don't remember much - and perhaps because of that - nightmares were common for a while after, and they still occur now.
But they just... they didn't know. Couldn't handle. They thought - they thought they were helping.)
"If she didn't stop him," Thalia said, quiet but strong. "Then it's on her, too."
"Magic," Buffy said, hesitantly. Indicating Thalia. Unable to really continue following the direction the conversation was going. "My - strength. And... some other things. Behaviour, I guess." She glanced at Faith. "And you?"
"I..." She paused. Looked at them, properly.
"You don't have to," Thalia said. Faith relaxed, minutely. "But it would help you if you did," Thalia added, pushed, ever so lightly, with her words.
"Can we go out tonight?" Faith asked. "All of us. Just - somewhere. A nightclub, a bar, somewhere."
Not exactly connected, but.
It had been a while since Buffy had had any form of what you could call 'fun'.
It's a diversion. A distraction. Buffy is sorely tempted.
"If you promise," Buffy said, possibly pushing her luck, "That you'll still be here in the morning. And..." She hesitated and pushed even more. "And that you'll tell us, eventually, what - ...what you're running from."
Faith looked at her, and Buffy kept eye-contact, deliberate and strong. Talking had helped Buffy because talking helped people. Humans are social creatures. So talking will help Faith, inevitably, once she gets past whatever block is stopping her.
Like Thalia had managed to get past hers, and Buffy had managed to brute force her own out of the way. Faith was strong, strong like Buffy (and... well. There is a possibility, but the likelihood of Kendra dying and the next Slayer who's called is a Boston native that just so happens to be in LA when Buffy is Anne is... slim. Buffy would never be that lucky.) and - and maybe she could do something that's in the middle of those two options.
"Alright." Faith said. "I'm gonna regret this," She admitted - in the month of knowing her, this was not a common occurrence and it did nearly shock Buffy, but only nearly - "But... alright, fine - it's, it's five-by-five." She shook her head, a minuscule movement. "I'll be here."
And here she was. And here she was for the day after that, and the day after that, and Buffy bought her a blowup mattress instead of a sleeping bag because it felt like a better gesture, and... she kind of never left.
It lasted. Lily showed up a week before Buffy would have been entering Sunnydale High for her last year of schooling, and... it went much the same. She didn't involve Thalia because she wasn't sure seeing real demons and what they looked like and how they acted might not help it might make it worse, and though Faith invited herself along to break into the centre and busied herself with pretending not to steal shit that Buffy pretended she wasn't pretending not to steal and also simply pretended Faith wasn't stealing anything at all (because she knew Faith was stealing in the first place, her pretense wasn't very good) - they could talk about it later - but Buffy made Faith promise to keep an eye on Thalia while Buffy went to deal with the hell dimension.
And when Buffy left it to find Giles and Lily and no Faith and Thalia, and when Buffy was okay with this...
"I can get you set up," Buffy said. "You can... take my apartment. And - I can get you-"
"It's okay," Lily said. "I'm - Thalia."
Buffy paused. "What?" She asked, quietly. "They had to leave," Lily said, in that soft voice of hers. "They sounded panicked - or, at least, Thalia did." Lily paused. "Faith was... eerily calm."
Buffy's blood ran cold. "What did they say?"
"Have some faith, Annie," Lily-now-Thalia said, still quiet. "T and I will be fine."
"That's what she said that you should tell me," Buffy accused, surprised slightly by how worried she was... but not really. They'd helped her when she needed it, she'd bonded with them.
She cared. They were her friends.
"That's all she said," Lily-Thalia said. "But I found this, in the apartment."
Lily-Thalia handed over a scrap of paper - like the sort the orders were written on at the Diner.
I'm sorry we aren't here. I'm sorry I can't say why; no time.
Faith thinks she knows somewhere she can find help. She's talking to Lily right now, sending a message.
I'm sorry, Anne. So sorry.
(My name is Tara. I'm sorry I never told you in person... I'm sorry I found out your name is Buffy Summers. I haven't told Faith.
Please be back in Sunnydale by the time we arrive. Faith's put all her hope on the you that you were. I'm sorry to
It stops. Buffy stares at it, at the unfinished letter on a scrap bit of Diner note paper, stolen from one of the clipboards.
"You might need to be Anne again," Lily said, quietly. "But I don't think Tara will ever need to be Thalia."
Buffy carefully folded the note, and nodded, slowly.
"Giles?" She asked, voice louder than before so he could hear.
"Yes, Buffy?" He asked, softly. Buffy didn't look straight at him - couldn't.
"My apartment's not too far." She said. "I'm giving it to - Thalia, but I need to get my things."
Giles nodded. "I shall drive you there, then." He said, slightly more firmly.
"And then...?" Thalia asked.
"Sunnydale," Buffy said, quietly. "Giles -" She paused.
"Anything." He said. "Just..." He hesitated. "Come home."
Buffy nodded. "I wanna - give mom time to... adjust." She chose her words carefully. "Can I... stay at yours?"
"Of course," He said. "Though - I have... moved."
Buffy nodded. Giles didn't exactly need to explain why.
"There is more space," He continued, "Though a severe lack of furniture."
"That's okay," Buffy said, a slight smile attempting to form at the familiarity of it all. Of Giles, of talking to her Watcher. At him, in general, and the nicer memories of Sunnydale his presence brought up.
But then, there were the worse ones, and her smile faded before it properly formed.
She wasn't ready. But - she had to be. Because, really, she'd never be ready.
So she just had to go anyway.