Title: Empty Nest
Characters: Buffy, Dawn
“You have way too many clothes, Dawn.” Buffy’s apartment in Paris was pushed to its edges by a mountain of boxes and garment bags, some of which were already trying to escape under the main door. Buffy stooped to inspect a flash of blue polka dots in amongst a cardboard box marked CDs. “You have way too many of my clothes.”
A voice called from the bedroom. “The older look is very chic.” And her sister appeared in the door frame pulling on a heavy suitcase. Buffy took it from her with ease.
“And isn’t this my suitcase?” she said, placing alongside the rest of the spoils.
“You’ll get it back. I’m only moving across the river. It’s really not that far.” Dawn gave a quick assessment of her now empty bedroom. “Yup. That’s everything.”
“Surely some of the milk in the fridge must be yours too,” replied Buffy, though she feared for the floorboards if Dawn piled up any more possessions, and was grateful they’d reached the end. Her sister smiled serenely and perched herself on a heavy trunk, flicking her espadrilles against the soles of her feet as she waited for the concierge to buzz them.
“I’m seriously not going too far away. You can visit anytime.”
“I don’t think Jean-Paul will appreciate my turning up too often. Where is he anyway? I thought he said half past?”
“It’s tough to find parking around here.”
“And he will be struggling with the very, very big truck he’s bringing,” Buffy joked. Dawn opened her mouth to protest but swallowed it. Nothing was going to rock her good mood that day.
“A couple of our friends are bringing their cars too,” she recapped. It will probably all fit in three cars. Or we can make two trips. It will all work out somehow.”
Buffy sat on the trunk next to her and their shoulders touched. She was going to miss the closeness they shared and the smell of her brushed hair.
“I can't believe my little sister is moving in with a guy. Are you sure about this? It's a big step.”
“I know it is, but I’m sure. His place is nearer to my office and I spend all my time there anyway. You like him, don't you?” She looked worried. “You don’t have a problem with him?”
“No. Not a problem. I like him well enough. Maybe not enough to upend my life and move in with him personally,” she paused and smiled in reassurance. “But he seems like a nice guy. Of course, when you and the boys are shoehorning all this stuff into their vehicles, I am expecting to have a quiet word with Jean-Paul. Just to threaten his life if he ever hurts you.”
“He told me you did that when we first started dating.”
Buffy grinned. “That may have worn off by now. A friendly reminder never hurts”.
“What about you? Will you be OK? Living on your own here. I mean, I know you travel on your own all the time but that’s not the same as coming home to an empty house.”
“Me? I’ll be fine.”
“It’s going to be weird.”
“It won't be weird. I shall embrace the concept of space. It will be like having a whole new apartment to myself. I will have full use of the bathroom day or night. I can have friends round and my own choice of TV channels.” She waved her arms exuberantly. “The whole of the couch will be available to me. No longer squeezed into one end.”
“You always say there is nothing on TV,” her sister reminded her. “Seriously, we won't be far away. Just across the river.”
“This isn’t about me. Honestly, Dawnie, I’m excited for you. And excited at being able to see my apartment again. Look! Carpet!”
“You should maybe try the dating thing yourself. The last few weeks you've been very crabby.”
“Have too. I thought it was me moving out, but it isn’t that, is it?” It was Buffy’s turn to open her mouth in protest but Dawn cut her off. “Because any free time you get, you go to England.” She let the point resonate then spoke more softly. “So what’s changed the past few weeks? Is Giles not getting any better?”
“Oh Giles is doing great.” Buffy couldn’t keep bitterness out of her voice. “Giles is doing fabulous.”
“See! Crabby.” Dawn laughed and Buffy folded her arms stiffly but then smiled.
“Actually, he’s doing really well according to the medical staff. This new doctor seems to be making inroads in his stubbornness to deal.”
“He’s remembering more?”
“I kinda think he’s maybe always had his memories,” Buffy mused. “He just didn’t want them.” Her sister waited patiently for her to continue. “And he’s made some changes in his life and is apparently really positive as a result.” Buffy wasn’t ready to share that she’d been sleeping with Giles, much less the fact he’d ended their physical relationship as part of his therapy. “Like some great burden has been lifted,” she added. That had been the phrase the ward nurse had innocently used, unaware of the details, and Buffy had never felt so insulted in her life.
Dawn flicked her shoes against the trunk in thought.
“It was a messed up night, even by our standards. If I hadn’t delayed you in going to his parents’ house...”
“What happened isn’t your fault.”
“No. I know. But I sometimes wonder what might have happened had you been there.”
Buffy had run through it in her mind hundreds of times and every time not only had she’d saved his mom, Olivia and the rest of Giles’ birthday guests, but on a good night she even prevented his dad being killed too. Life could have carried on normally then.
“We’ll never know,” she said quietly.
“Does he blame me?”
“No. God, no.” Buffy replied vehemently, then thought about Giles with sadness. “He blames himself mostly. Me partly. You, not at all. It was a nice gesture to want to surprise him on his birthday. He knows that.”
“So why with the recent crabby? If he’s doing well, what’s the problem?”
“Hospitals wig me,” she admitted. “Especially those kind of hospitals. And then there was that stupid vampire summoning stunt he pulled, trying to get himself killed and thinking so little of me he didn’t even leave a note.”
“Well, duh. Of course he didn’t.” If Dawn was trying to be comforting, she had an odd way of expressing it. “Not if he wanted to make it look good,” she elaborated. “He wanted to go out a hero. It's probably a good thing he went to all that trouble, it shows he cares what you think of him.”
“It shows he's a stupid, idiotic moron.” The anger was back and Dawn patted her hand in amusement.
“Yours is a special kind of love, Buffy. Never change.”
“It’s just…It’s just…I thought for sure we were going to find him dead.”
Buffy thought not of her desperate journey trying to intercept Giles from his suicidal attempt to clear out hundreds of vampires, but of the night of his party. Her mind was full of images walking through the house that displayed much death, Dawn at her elbow, both with stakes and flinty looks. A family nest, ripped apart by a single predator. Another room, another corpse. Party balloons, a large cake in the kitchen, blood on the stair rail. Dawn hadn't met Giles' family except for Olivia, and could compartmentalise it as just another crime scene as they performed the grim check for pulses, but Buffy had known some of these people. She had taken his mother to her heart. In her eighties, but as sharp as a tack.<<I’m so pleased to finally meet the woman in my son’s life.>> “I think you’ll find that’s Olivia.” <<She’s a lovely girl, but I think not.>> And it hurt to see her as a victim, but as Buffy patrolled the house, identifying, counting, dreading, in every room she was holding her breath for when they would find Giles.
His was the last body, inevitably of course, as fate made them witness it all. He was in what had been his father’s study and looked as lifeless as the rest, but then, no, not dead, unconscious, half-dead. Miraculously he had a weak pulse and was the only survivor. One wrist tied to a broken chair, scattered, smashed furniture and chess pieces bore witness to his resistance, whilst the dust all around him, told Buffy of his victory. In the ten minutes she and Dawn had spent searching the house, the expectation of his death had been unbearable. In those ten minutes it had been incredibly important to Buffy that he be not dead.
“He's a survivor, Buffy. You two have a lot in common.”
The intercom buzzed and Dawn jumped down to answer it, adding, “Plus, you know, total drama queens.”
The next two hours brought startling laughter and joy as Buffy helped push everything, including Dawn into the three cars and wave them off. Jean-Paul had said she should come for Sunday dinner and his friend Henri had engaged in some mild flirting. She thought it was probably his default behaviour and hadn’t taken it seriously. All alone, she poured a glass of wine and despite having the length of the couch, sat in her usual spot and wondered what Giles was up to at that moment. There was nothing on TV.