Giles padded in his kitchen, pulling out yesterday’s leftovers from the refrigerator to fix dinner. A full week of school had passed, the first week, and still she had not returned. No word, no call, no sign that she was alive or dead. Not that she cared for school, particularly, but he had a small hope that the beginning of the school year would bring her familiar face back to him. Over four months since she had left. He had marked each day on the calendar, once he’d returned from the hospital, telling himself that each day brought him one day closer to the day she returned. A slice of lasagna went on his plate, and he popped it in his oven, waiting for his food to warm up. The tea kettle was already bubbling, he lifted it from the stove and poured water into his waiting cup. How many times had he poured his tea, hoping that someone would join him?
He heard a growling sound outside. He had heard it every so often the last few weeks. The idle thought that it might be an enormous demon had ended when he had poked his head out the door to see the back end of an antique Harley race down his street. Sometimes it held one passenger, sometimes two. But they always wore helmets, and he never saw the bike on any of his wanderings during the day. He returned to books, searching for a spell, a prophecy, anything that would indicate when she would return. He had tried a spell once, about six or seven weeks after she left, and it has backlashed on him. It had taken over a week to recover his usual strength, and when he had tried the same spell again, it had indicated that she was somewhere in L.A. But where, there was no telling, since it appeared that she was somewhere that was shielded. All he could tell was that she was somewhere, in L.A. or Orange County, alive. That was as specific as his locating spell would get. He had met with Joyce on several occasions since, told her he thought Buffy was alive, in L.A. But every trip to demon bars or to other shielded haunts he knew of in the area turned up no clue of her whereabouts. No one had seen the Slayer, and she was not hunting. There was no sign of her, other than an amorphous cloud over a map. He decided he’d try again tonight to see if she had emerged from hiding.
The doorbell rang as Giles sat down on his sofa, lasagna in hand. He placed his food on the coffee table and went to the door. He’d had few visitors over the summer. Olivia had visited once, for three weeks, and returned to Essex. One or two demons had popped up, reporting they might have seen Buffy at various demon bars around L.A. or San Diego, but they usually came to the back door. Opening the door, he saw the face he had most hoped and least expected to see. Buffy stood there, motorcycle helmet hanging by its strap in one hand, a cross lying in the other open palm. Her golden hair was matted down with sweat from wearing the helmet in ninety-plus heat. She wore red leather pants and a black leather jacket, dressed for the ride, not the weather. Her smile was as light and sunny as ever, but her eyes betrayed bone-deep fatigue and a bitter grief he’d never seen in them before. He wondered if his eyes showed similar emotions. He noticed the sun slipping down past the horizon as she stood waiting for him to say something.
“Hello.” He hadn’t seen her in four months, and that was the best he could come up with?
“Hi.” Her voice was flat, emotionless. She closed her hand, returning the crucifix to her pocket. They stood at the door, regarding one another silently. The silence stretched out to fill minutes, and she turned, whispering just loud enough for him to hear, “Tell my mother I live, still.” He watched her back as she stepped away from his door, returning to the motorcycle that was parked behind the Citroen.
He called after her, clearing his throat. “Wait.” Buffy turned, the helmet swinging in her hand as she froze. “Please come in.” Giles stepped away from the door, no longer barring her entry.
Buffy nodded, and strode forward, entering the apartment. She looked about, the apartment was virtually unchanged, except for his tea and lasagna on the coffee table, his books strewn around. But, truly, she seemed to be seeing it for the first time, her eyes flicking over tables and books, his jacket hanging by the door, his briefcase on the floor. She trailed her fingers idly across one of his books, almost as if she could read it. But she couldn’t, it was in a language she didn’t know. Babylonian. “That won’t work, you know.”
Giles nodded dumbly. He had tried the spell three days before. It had failed. “Are you hungry?”
“I’ve eaten. But don’t let me stop you.” She ventured back to the kitchen, reaching for the kettle and lifting it to test its contents. “May I have tea?”
Buffy was frozen in her spot in the kitchen, eyes darting around. Her shoulders slumped. “I don’t remember.”
Giles went into the kitchen, pulling a cup and saucer from their place and a tea ball and spoon from the drawer. He held out a box of tea, and she sniffed it, nodding. He began preparing the tea until she reached over to him stopping his hands and taking over the task. Giles pulled milk from the fridge and placed the sugar bowl in front of her.
“Merci.” Buffy waited, still and silent, while her tea steeped, then poured sugar into it, stirring it and testing it. Giles had never known her to be so quiet, so motionless. She had always moved like lightning. Even when she patrolled, she was noisy and pretty much announced her presence to her victims. He watched her put the tea on the coffee table, and close her eyes before unzipping her jacket. She wore a spaghetti strapped shirt beneath it, cream-colored, and it set off her tan nicely. She reached into a pocket, pulling out a slim cell phone flipping it open and placing it next to her tea. Giles took the jacket from her, and hung it on the hook next to his. When Giles returned to his food, it was cold, but he ignored it, so relieved to see the woman sitting on her knees on the floor opposite him.
Giles tried to think of something to say, and settled for “How have you been?”
“Lonely. Sometimes. You?”
“Worried. You haven’t called. I’ve been unable to find you.”
“I know. I’m shielded. To keep the vamps away. Makes me hard to find.”
“You’ve been in L.A.?”
“Some. Some here, more recently. I have a house with a roommate a couple miles away.”
“I’ve heard that bike go down the street a few times.”
“Helping me learn my way around. I’ve forgotten.”
“Is that why you did not call?”
“It wasn’t allowed.” Buffy seemed uncomfortable. “I shouldn’t be here now. He’ll know, be angry.”
“Angelus?” Buffy seemed confused. “Why? Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I thought maybe you did.”
Buffy shook her head. “I haven’t seen him, since. Since?” She looked to Giles questioningly. He nodded, hoping that she found it reassuring. The tension in her shoulders relaxed some, so he guessed she did.
“Why aren’t you allowed to call?”
“Doctor’s orders. I’m supposed to be stress-free except for work. Fixed routine. My friends, they worry if anyone sees me, I’ll…” She shrugged. “I guess they think it will make things take longer. I can’t fight, too weak. I hardly remember anything. You, a little bit, sometimes snippets of times with my mom. When I was little. But mostly I remember Merrick, Hemery. L.A. stuff. Where’s Merrick? I was hoping I could remember where he lives.”
“He’s dead, Buffy.”
She looked genuinely shocked, then saddened. “What happened?”
Giles shook his head. “I don’t know. You never told me.”
She studied her hands, serious. “A fight, maybe?”
“You call me Buffy. Is that my name?”
“You don’t recall?”
Buffy shook her head, looking thoughtful. “No one calls me that. Silly name.”
“Not anymore. Not in a long time.”
“You’ve only been gone four months. How long can that be?”
“Long.” Giles heard the ring of a cell phone. Buffy looked at her phone as it rang. She waited for the name to come through. “Allo. Bonsoir, Lorne. Non. Dans deux heures. Oui. Oui. A bientot. Je le ferai. Je t’aime. Au revoir.” She closed the phone. “I must leave soon. Jay didn’t show up for work. I have to go in. It doesn’t get busy for a few more hours, anyway.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to L.A.”
“That’s two hours away!”
“That’s what I told Lorne. I was hoping to stay home tonight. Here in Sunnydale. I had some gardening to do in the morning. It’s my first night off in two weeks.”
“So call him back.”
“No. I’ll go. He’ll make it worth my while. I’ll have my housemate do the watering and weeding.” Buffy winked at Giles, giving him the first genuine smile of the night. “But…” Buffy went over to her jacket, pulling out an envelope. “Here. Can you talk to my mother, see if she can get me registered for school? If she can, I’ll give notice at my day job.” Buffy wrote a few numbers down on the back of the envelope. “My cell. You call me, please don’t give it to Mom. I’d rather talk to her in person. In a week or so, if my memories come back, it will be easier.” She held the envelope back until Giles nodded his assent, then passed it to him. Giles took the envelope, placing it on top of his briefcase. Buffy shrugged on her jacket, eyes fixed on the room as if to commit it to memory. Buffy left without another word, leaving her tea untouched on Giles' coffee table, and quietly closing his front door behind her. As Giles lifted the first forkful of his cold lasagna to his mouth, he heard the growling of the antique Harley as she rode away.