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Buffy sits curled up on her bed, knees pulled up to her chest. She didn’t know it would be this hard, the first night without him here. They found a Motel 6 with enough vacancies to fit them all. Got everyone with major injuries to the nearest hospital. It’s 2 AM, and she can’t sleep. There’s someone missing next to her. Someone who should be here but who isn’t. There’s a hole in the world.

Dawn is snoozing lightly in the bed next to hers. Looking at her sister fills her with gratitude. She’s happier than she can possibly express that Dawn is alive and well, that Willow and Xander and Giles and all the rest of them are okay, and yet she can’t really manage to be happy. 

They all sat up for a good long while in Giles, Andrew and Xander’s room, just talking. There was a carton of wine involved, and a lot of silly jokes. They laughed for no reason and were happy to be alive, and basked in each other’s company. But now that she’s alone, it hits her like a tonne of bricks.

Spike’s gone. He saved them all and he’s gone. He died a hero, went down fighting just like he wanted, but she can’t be happy about that, not ever.

And there’s no one she can talk to. None of the others understand what she and Spike shared, what he meant to her. When they all abandoned her, he stood by her. Loved her. Made her strong. She could try to explain it, but even then they wouldn’t get it. Xander always hated Spike. Giles tried to have him killed. Willow might try to understand, but she couldn’t either, not fully. After everything that Buffy and Spike have been through, all he did to her and all she did to him, she’s never felt closer to anyone than she did to him. Not even Angel, not like that.

‘I love you.’

‘No, you don’t. But thanks for saying it.’

Would this be easier if he had believed her?

‘What a jerk!’ she mutters. 

Dawn stirs ever so slightly, and Buffy sighs. She gets out of bed and leaves the room.

The night air is chilly, and she hugs herself. In the direction where Sunnydale used to be, there is now nothing but darkness. There’s a hole in the ground. A big, gaping hole. Her home, her job, everything she knew, is gone. It’s lucky, really, that everyone left town when they did, or they’d all be dead too. She wonders idly where they’re supposed to go from here.

A few doors down to her right, one opens and Giles steps out.

‘Hi Giles,’ says Buffy. Her old Watcher looks up at her, startled. He has a large cup most likely containing tea and possibly also scotch in one hand. The other is in his pocket.

‘Buffy,’ he says. ‘Can’t sleep?’

She shakes her head. ‘I thought it might be easier than this… Didn’t sleep last night, and after the day’s excitement…’ She smiles. ‘Still no sleeping for Buffy.’

‘Yes, well… Me too. Obviously.’ He takes a few steps closer. ‘Listen, I meant to… I–I mean to say, I really have behaved in the most appalling manner…’ He trails off, as if searching for the words.

‘It’s okay,’ she says. ‘Already forgot about it.’

‘You shouldn’t,’ he says. He has reached her now, and he pulls his hand out of his pocket to touch her shoulder. ‘As much as it pains me to say it, Spike was right. I felt frustrated, because I wasn’t… Well, I wasn’t needed. You didn’t need me anymore.’

Buffy turns to him. ‘This is really eating you up, huh?’

He smiles. ‘A little,’ he admits. ‘But, Buffy, I am so proud of everything you’ve done, everything you’ve accomplished, and I’m so sorry that I ever let you think otherwise.’

She covers his hand with hers. ‘You’re forgiven,’ she says. ‘But feel free to keep apologising if it makes you feel better.’

He lets out a small laugh, returning his hand to his pocket. Takes a sip of his tea. Looks over at her again. ‘There is one other thing,’ he says. ‘I… I’m really sorry for your loss.’

She looks at him, raises an eyebrow. ‘Really?’

‘Yes, really. I don’t… I don’t know what transpired between you and Spike, towards the end, but… I know it hurts you that he’s gone.’

Buffy nods. ‘It does,’ she says, simply. ‘Thank you.’

‘Is that why you can’t sleep?’ 

‘Partly. Probably.’

He remains silent, studying her, as though he’s waiting for her to speak again. 

She sighs. ‘He… He gave me strength. Made me feel like I could really do it, and we grew really close. I… I miss him.’ She feels a tear slide down her cheek and quickly wipes it away with her sleeve. ‘He made me believe in myself, when nobody else did,’ she continues. ‘That’s a really powerful thing. It… meant a lot to me. He meant a lot to me.’

Giles nods. ‘I can’t pretend to understand why you felt that way about him,’ he says. ‘But I can understand how you felt. How you feel. It’s… I was wrong about him. I see that now. He sacrificed himself, of his own free will. There was no chip, nobody had to make him do it.’

‘I did,’ Buffy whispers, tears flowing again. ‘It’s how it feels… He did it for me…’

‘You didn’t force him, Buffy, he made a choice. And if you don’t mind my saying so, it was the right one. We would all be dead if it weren’t for him.’

‘I know,’ she says. ‘But he died thinking I didn’t love him.’

Giles studies her face over the top of his glasses. ‘And did you?’

Buffy heaves another sigh and looks down at her hands. In her mind’s eye, she sees it all over again. She takes his hand, their fingers entwine just as his hand catches fire. He’s bathed in sunlight…

‘I love you.’

She nods. ‘Yes,’ she whispers, and the tears begin to fall. ‘I did. And I do. I love him.’

Giles sets his mug down on a nearby window sill and puts his arms around her, and all of a sudden she remembers why she loves this person – this school librarian, magic shop keeper, Watcher, warlock, genius, this brave and amazing fighter. And she begins to cry in earnest, letting everything she feels spill out onto him, the closest thing she has to a parent now, the closest thing she’s ever had to a reliable father figure.

He strokes her back soothingly and kisses the top of her head. ‘Then you know what you have to do,’ he says. 

‘What?’ she mumbles.

‘Remember him,’ says Giles. ‘Take the strength he gave you and use it to keep fighting, to keep going. For him, and for everyone else who’s died. Live, for him.’

She sniffs and nods. ‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I will.’