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The day was special - it was the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the Sunnydale Hellmouth. The four previous such anniversaries had been marked by feasting and imbibery on the part of the Sunnydale survivors - particularly those who had once called themselves Scoobies. For the latter two, the celebrations had been held in the joint home of Slayer and Watcher, who had become husband and wife in all but name. This time, though, there was no party. There were no celebrations, no laughter was heard. Today, the Giles-Summers home heard only tears.

He had left her.

The trouble had begun some months previously when he'd received a phone call from a Gregory Morton-Fletcher, an elderly and distinguished gentleman of the British persuasion who had the startling and somewhat unwelcome news that the New Council of Watchers had reached a level of functionality and that they requested Giles's help in locating, securing and training the new Slayers who had been awakened by Willow's spell. Since these tasks were already being accomplished by the Scoobies themselves and their own handpicked lieutenants, the suggestion that they ought to hand themselves over to the authority of the Council, which had done them so much damage in the past, was received with less than buoyant enthusiasm by all concerned.

It wasn't until a prophecy came to light out of that damned Codex - she cursed the day Angel had retrieved it for him - that he started to think seriously about rejoining forces with the Council. The prophecy was something about a Slayer's son, and Giles wanted to know more. Unfortunately, the only people who knew more were the Council, and they weren't willing to share information without concessions in return. His suggestion that perhaps they ought to work with the Council after all had not made her happy. They had in fact gotten into quite a row and a number of things had been said which under ordinary circumstances would be difficult - if not nearly impossible - to take back.

These, however, were not ordinary circumstances. After one too many unforgivable things had been said, she had hurled a vase at the wall in her anger and frustration, shattering it and spilling water and roses - the roses he'd just that day brought home for her as a birthday surprise - all over the floor. They had both stood there for a moment in stunned silence, staring at the shattered remains of the vase on the floor. She'd never done such a thing before during one of their fights; neither of them had. It was a mark of how close she was to losing control in her anger, and when he looked up at her face he saw her fear on it. "I need to get out of here," she said quietly. "I have to calm down. This discussion has gone too far." She had gone upstairs for a few minutes and he, lacking anything else to do, had begun cleaning up the mess. When she came back down he felt like all the wind had been knocked out of him. She was wearing clothes she hadn't worn in four years: patrol clothes. Since the establishment of the Slayer Academy, Buffy had retired from active Slaying, but here she was tonight dressed in her black leather pants, a black turtleneck, black boots and a black knit cap, with her tool-belt slung about her waist and its loops bearing stakes. Her face was shuttered to him and her eyes were flat. "I'll be late," she said quietly. "Don't wait up." She went out the door and the sound of it shutting behind her was like the sound of a coffin lid closing over his heart.

When she came home in the predawn light, battered and worse for wear but alive and calm and prepared to work things out with him, he was gone. He had cleaned up the water and glass, put her roses in a new vase, packed his things and left her a note.

My dearest Buffy,

As you needed time to think and clear your mind tonight, even so do I. I have decided to go to England to research this prophecy more fully in the Council archives - what's left of them, anyway. By the time you receive this note, I shall likely already be on a plane headed to Heathrow.

I ask that you not follow me to England. Stay here, do the things which need to be done here. Give me the time and space that I need to clear my mind and my heart. When I have done so, then I shall be prepared to talk to you more clearly.

As you said this evening before you left, the discussion went too far. That things could reach such an impasse between you and I troubles me. It is one of the things which I will need to consider, and I ask that you consider it as well in my absence.

Do take care, and I shall be in touch as soon as I feel that I am able to discuss things with you rationally.

I remain, as always,



She didn't cry that night. She didn't cry at any point in the next week when she explained things to Dawn, Willow and Xander separately. Her life went into a sort of holding pattern of training, eating, and sleeping, but she did not cry. She didn't cry on Valentine's Day when she didn't hear from him. Spring came and flowers bloomed and on tax day Dawn gave her a Boxer puppy that she named Chucky for his "wanna play?" attitude, and still she didn't cry.

Then the sun came up on the fifth anniversary of the destruction of Sunnydale, and the phone did not ring. The mail carrier came and left the light bill, but there was no card or letter from Giles. Giles did not come to the door. On this day of all days, which they had always, even before they had begun a romantic relationship, spent together, she did not hear from him, and as the sun went down that night and she sat on the deck watching the first star come out, she knew that he was not coming back.

Finally, there, all alone on a chaise lounge with only Chucky to see, she broke down. The tears came at first silently, and then as great, gulping sobs which wracked her body. Concerned for her, Chucky abandoned his chew toy and came to her side to comfort her, and she cried into his fur. She cried until she was too tired to cry any more and then, with her faithful puppy snuggled up to her, she fell asleep in her chair.

The sun and Chucky's insistent nose-nudges woke her the next morning. He wanted his breakfast, and her stomach wanted hers, too. She rolled off the lounge chair, sandy-eyed and stiff, and looked out over the woods behind the house at the sun, which was just starting to peep over the tops of the pine trees. He wasn't coming back. She ran the notion through her mind and, while it still hurt - hurt like hell, in fact - it wasn't the debilitating pain it had been last night. It wasn't the blank numbness of the past several months which had kept her in a holding pattern and which had her friends sending worried glances at her and at one another when they thought she couldn't see. It was a soreness in her heart, a throb down deep in her soul that she knew wasn't going to go away any time soon, but she also knew that it was time for her to resume her life.

She took a deep breath. "All right," she said softly to the sun. "Alone, then." With those words, she turned and went inside to get her whining puppy his breakfast.

While she was cooking her own breakfast the telephone rang. She wasn't in the mood to speak to anyone yet, so she let the machine get it, and winced at the sound of Giles's voice on the recorder. That was going to have to go first thing. And then Dawn's voice came on the line, leaving a message. "Buffy? It's Dawn. Listen, Rick and I are going camping down on the river this weekend. If you want to go with us, we'd really like you to come. Call me back and - "

Buffy snatched up the phone. "Dawn?"

"Buffy! I thought you weren't there." Dawn's voice was faintly accusatory.

"Sorry," Buffy apologized. "I was outside on the deck. What about the river?"

Dawn repeated her invitation. "Camping. Rick and I and another of his friends. Leaving today."

"Dawn, this isn't a setup, is it?"

Dawn laughed. "No, Buffy, I swear. His friend's name is Kimmie. Everything's on the up-and-up. Will you come?"

Buffy thought about it for a moment. This was something she'd never dared do before. Stray so far from the house, when at any moment Giles might call or come home? Never. She looked out at the sun. "Can I bring Chucky?" she asked. "I don't know if I could find anyone to watch him on this short notice."

Dawn took the phone away from her mouth for a moment to ask Rick, and then returned with an affirmative answer. "Sure. Rick likes Chucky, and Kimmie likes dogs too. You'll come, then?" Dawn sounded thrilled.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I'll come."

"Awesome!" Dawn squealed. "We'll pick you up in an hour and a half, okay?"

"Okay," Buffy replied and hung up. She went into a flurry of activity, wolfing down her breakfast before racing upstairs to throw some weekend necessities into a couple of bags. She ran back downstairs to get Chucky's leash from the laundry room, as well as to fill a small bucket with dog food for him. By the time she was ready to go, she only had about fifteen minutes to spare. And then she thought of the answering machine.

She stood before it in the kitchen, pondering what to say. She reached for the 'record' button perhaps ten times, stopping herself each time, knowing that it needed to change and yet at the same time some part of her almost desperate to keep his voice on the tape, the soft English accent informing callers that they'd reached the Giles-Summers residence. Finally she made up her mind what to say and she reached for the machine.

"Hi, you've reached Buffy Summers and I'm not here. I've actually gone camping for the weekend with my sister. If you're selling anything, don't bother, because I already have everything I need. If it's an emergency, Dawn has her cell phone. Anybody else, do your thing after the beep. And... if this is Giles... I still love you."

She released the button a split second before hearing Rick's truck pull into her driveway and set the machine back on the kitchen counter with a satisfied smile.
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