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by shalott

It's a cheap prefab house and the walls are thin. No one else is sharing her room—they'd never get a full night's sleep—but even so, lying here in bed, door closed, she can still feel how crowded the house is. The quiet creak as someone goes to the bathroom, the occasional snore, soft voices or softer sobbing in the hallway when someone can't sleep. So many lives, crammed in around her, and they're still just a tiny handful of all the lives she's got cupped in her hands. Hands that look so small against the white ceiling when she holds them up above her head in the dark.

The anger is gone for now. It'll come back in the morning, once she goes out and sees all of them looking at her, wanting her to give them all the answers, except when her answers don't match the ones they want. Once she sees Wood again, his face swelled shut, and Spike, defiantly vicious as she so needs him to be. Once she sees Giles. But right now she's just tired.

She drops her hand and closes her eyes when the door cracks opens. If it's not important enough to wake her up for, it can wait until tomorrow.

"Buffy?" It's Giles, very quiet, and there's the anger again, right on schedule. She doesn't move, doesn't respond. He doesn't have the right to come in here and ask anything of her, not after what he pulled tonight. Then she keeps still out of surprise when he comes carefully into the room despite her silence; belatedly she realizes that he's sneaking, he thinks she's asleep, and he's still coming in, and by then she's keeping still out of steadily building rage, waiting to see what he's going to do.

He comes to the side of the bed and looks down at her. She can see in the dark, even through her lashes, and he can't, but he still stands there as if he can make out every detail. He looks tired—she cuts that thought off, right away, because he doesn't deserve it. A flash of white—he's putting something on her bedside table—and then he moves his hand over her forehead, not touching, just hovering slightly above, and whispers, "Pax et caritas tecum—" and she lunges up from the bed, grabbing his wrist.

Giles jumps back, startled, but she doesn't let go, yanking him back hard enough that he gasps in pain, stumbles forward and sprawls over the bed. She grabs him by the shoulders and hauls him over, pinning him flat on his back against the mattress. "And just what the hell were you doing?" she says, cold as ice.

His glasses are askew, and he makes an abortive attempt to straighten them—he can't reach with her holding him down. She doesn't make a move to let him go, even when he pauses expectantly, and after a moment he stops waiting and instead says quietly, "Leaving."

"You've been coming and going without a word for the past six months," she says, tightly, and why is it only occurring to her now just how maddening it's been, having him there and not-there, showing up only to dump more potentials in her lap and vanish. And then she realizes what he means and looks at the letter he left on her table.

She sits back and grabs the letter, ripping it open while he fixes his glasses and sits up awkwardly. It's long, but it doesn't take long to read, she's good at reading through his Britspeak by now, and it's just a half-assed apology squashed up with all the same things he was saying tonight, blah, be a general, blah blah responsibility, blah blah blah, and finally the kicker,

You are quite right that I have taught you all I can. All I can offer you now is advice, which is useless if it matches what you already intend to do, and worse than useless if you reject it, for then it merely breeds tension and fear among those who must look to you for guidance. Yet I have been unable to bring myself to remain silent, even when I know full well you will not listen to me. In some small corner of my mind, you are still the girl who demanded evenings off to go out on dates and had to be cajoled to patrol, and I the harried Watcher desperately trying to keep you on course...

It goes on from there, but she's boiling too hot to bother. She rips it in half and throws the pieces aside, shoves him back down, ignoring his stifled yelp of surprise. "I don't believe you."

He tries to interrupt, "Buffy, I simply think it's best if—"

"Shut. Up." She punctuates this by slamming him against the mattress, and he closes his startled mouth with a nearly audible snap. "It's hard for you when I ignore your advice? It's hard for you to keep your mouth shut when you know you should? Fuck you!" She's yelling, even though her voice hasn't gone over a harsh whisper, and the only thing about this that's even a little satisfying is watching his eyes go wide with shock when she swears at him. "Everything you say about how I have to lead, how I have to be a general, and it's all bullshit because what you really mean is that I should do what you tell me to do, and if I don't, you're going to run off and sulk!"

"That's bloody well not true!" He grabs her wrist, trying to prop himself up with the other arm, get some traction underneath her.

She shoves him back down easily, shaking him off. "That little girl? The one who had to be lectured, trained? She's been gone for a while now."

"Yes, I know—"

"No," she says, in a flat, deadly voice she didn't know she could use with him. "You don't know. But you're going to."

He clearly doesn't realize she's going to kiss him until she does it, his mouth staying hot and open for a moment before cringing back from her, his whole body going completely rigid. He jerks his head aside, gasping, and his voice sounds choked, strangled, "No, Buffy, don't—don't—"

It's hard to unbutton his shirt with one hand, but she manages, even though he's really fighting her now, pulling out all those martial arts tricks he taught her for use against a stronger enemy. They don't work. She can feel his heart pounding frantically all over his chest, even as she strokes her fingers deliberately down to his waist, starts unbuckling him. He's breathing so hard he can't even keep asking her to stop, and there's a horror in his face that hurts to look at. But she's not done making her point yet, so she keeps her eyes on what she's doing.

When she slips the belt open, he just quits and goes limp under her. It catches her by surprise, and that gives him a few moments to catch his breath. "Please," he says softly, sick misery in his voice. "Buffy, please stop."

She has to clench her teeth and swallow hard to keep bile from coming up her throat. It's not the right moment, but she can't keep going after that, so she straightens up and lets go of him. She watches him try and pull himself together, looking everywhere but at her as he starts trying to button his shirt up with hands that are shaking too hard to manage. He can't even sit up yet.

"That's what Spike did to me," she says after a minute, when she can control her voice again. "Just before he left to—get the soul."

Giles does look up at her then, moonlight flashing off his glasses, hiding his eyes. She takes another deep breath and goes on. "Except he didn't stop. I had to kick him across the room, and if I wasn't—" She stops. "So don't you dare tell me that—If I can—If I can deal—"

His arms gather her close and she curls forward into them and presses her face tight into his chest, because she knows how thin the walls are, and she can't let anyone hear her crying.

All feedback much appreciated!
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