Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I Am Legend belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Francis Lawrence.
She stood very, very still.
The man had a gun.
“Wait,” he said. His voice cracked and scraped in his throat. “Wait. Please.”
All of her instincts came screaming to the front. Escape. Hide. Kill.
She tensed, prepared to turn and flee, using the row of abandoned cars and debris as cover from the rifle in his hand—prepared to pull the blade she had down her back and whirl it, singing, into his throat.
But some part of her fractured mind said, Wait.
A dog pushed up against her leg, panting, tongue lolling out of its black-muzzled jaws. A low, questioning whine, and then a wetness against her leg as the dog licked her.
“Please,” said the man. He swallowed, and she could hear how dry his mouth was from where she stood, nearly fifty feet away. “Please.”
He lowered the gun. Took his finger from the trigger, slung it back on his shoulder.
“I'm not going to hurt you,” he said.
The dog nosed at her knee. She glanced behind her, and then at the man again, at the three slow steps he'd taken toward her.
He held out his hands, his shaking hands.
“Please,” he said.
He handed her a plate of food.
“Eat.” He put a fork in her hand.
She sat at the table and ate. She ate and watched him watch her, watched him sit at the head of the table staring at her as she worked through three helpings of vegetables. He sat there watching until his watch beeped at him, and then she watched as he went through the house, pulling steel covers over the windows, locking them in place.
He showed her the tub.
“You can, uh,” he said. “You...I mean...I, I'll go...”
He didn't go far. She could hear him standing on the other side of the door, hear him shushing the dog when it came to whine at his feet.
She washed awkwardly, the left arm still not healed from when she had broken, then set, it the night before. By the time she was clean, the smell of the dress she'd left in front of the door made her stomach turn.
When he came in with an armful of clean clothes, she was standing at the window in a towel, staring at the cover as if she could see the sun going down.
A shirt and a pair of shorts, worn. Clean.
The room he took her to was bare, neutral, a guest room. The bed was clean and warm, and yielded easily to her weight when she sat on it.
He stood in the doorway as if he couldn't remember what he'd been about to do.
“It's safe,” he said finally, and his voice wasn't as faint, as shallow with disbelief, as it had been, as if he was finally coming to terms with the fact that she was there. “Just...just be quiet, and we'll be all right. I'm right next door, so don't be scared...”
He trailed off, and there was an embarrassed pause. His expression was something between uncertainty and desperation and pleading.
She looked at him. Escape? Hide? Kill? No,
came another thought, and this one was so loud and strong that she almost passed out from the shock. No, it's OK. He's OK. I'm safe.
He put his weight back on his heels. His eyes ate her whole. He opened his mouth
She let her body collapse, then, onto the mattress, all of her muscles relaxing at once, and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
She woke, abruptly, when full dark fell.
The night outside was filled with growls. She lay still, eyes open to the ceiling, near-total exhaustion clinging to every bone in her body, and counted by tone. Thirty in the near vicinity, only ten prowling in a hundred foot radius. She could kill them all if she was quick and quiet, and still get away.
She put a hand on her— Knife.
Abruptly she was standing, eyes wide, hands searching. Gone. Knife. Gone.
Panic sharpened her thoughts. Knife! Gone!
She rushed to the door, grabbed the knob, swung it open—
He looked up.
They stared at each other, her standing in the doorway, him sitting against the wall, the gun on his knees. The dog raised its head beside him, and its tail began to wag.
He hadn't slept. She could see the exhaustion in his face, the debilitation of a normal, human man at the limit of his endurance. He hadn't rested at all. He hadn't changed his clothes, or even taken off his coat. He probably hadn't even closed his eyes.
His shoulders were stiff, immovable.
“Don't be scared,” he said, his voice hoarse with fatigue. “I'm right here.”
“You don't have to tell me anything right now,” he said. “We got time. But—uh—a name, maybe.”
She watched as he portioned out the steaks he'd cooked, three for each of them including the dog. He'd given her another shirt earlier, and she wore it.
“You can call me Robert,” he said, ladling out the broccoli. “And this is Samantha, remember, except she prefers Sam. Tomorrow you can come with me, and I'll show you where we go for supplies—”
He glanced at her, briefly, quickly, shying away against almost as soon as he'd looked.
“Know how to use a gun?” he asked. “It's OK if you don't. I'll show you.”
He reached for another plate, brushed her arm with his. She could see the effect of it in his whole body.
“Sunday's movie day,” he said, serving out water and orange juice.
She could see, in his hands, his shoulders, his eyes, how badly he wanted to touch her.
“OK?” He glanced at her again.
She thought about what she could say. Thought about opening her mouth and telling him her name. Thought, in a moment of vivid, painful clarity, about what it would feel like to say, Hi, Robert. My name's Buffy, and I killed my sister and all our friends because I'm immune and they weren't. No, no, no,
someone screamed in her head, and she retreated from those thoughts, thoughts that cut like knives, because even three years later it was still easier to just be crazy. Miss Edith speaks out of turn,
He was looking at her. Really looking at her, now, and his eyes were so...desperate. Pleading.
Begging her to call him by his name. No, no, no.
He handed her a plate. The steak smelled just like it had come off a steakhouse grill.
She opened her mouth to say, Thank you.
“Robert,” she said.
He almost dropped a fork. His mouth opened, didn't close.
“Robert,” she said again.
She glanced out the window. The sun was going down—it would be dark again, soon.
“Robert,” she whispered, and reached out.
He took her hand, his larger one swallowing hers, and she realized that she was touching another living human being for the first time in three years.
Inevitably, helplessly, Buffy felt sanity come creeping back into her head.
It didn't hurt as much as she'd thought it would.