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Giles staggers back. His protests catch in his mouth, unable to leave the ordinary way. His words mix with his blood and drip out of the gash in his throat. The old watcher sinks to his knees. Above him, Buffy's hair glows like a halo under the streetlight.
Giles tips to the side, limbs loose and cold. Grit and moisture clings to his cheek.
Buffy, he mouths, voice gone. His girl turns and walks away. Giles strains to watch his Slayer leave until his skewed spectacles fog up and his eyes fog up and his mind fogs up and there is no more.
Blood for Blood, her shadow whispers in her ear. Yes, Buffy thinks. That's only fair. Her numb fingers grip tighter around the handle of the long knife.
Buffy's every step drags her forward through the shifting landscape. A rainy street. Now slick pavement steps. Down across the railroad tracks. Walking through clumpy dark sand that sticks to her neat white sneakers. Waves crash ahead. Buffy can hear the ocean but there's no light to see the waterline. Excitement flutters the pit of her lead-heavy stomach. She could stride straight into the thieving tides and never know it until the living water was upon her. Buffy doesn't smile but she's happier at the thought.
Not yet. Buffy's shadow soothes. Buffy closes her eyes to blackness of night and behind the dark of her own eyelids she smells the salt in the air, hears the whistle of the lonely wind. Not yet, and not that way. A dim memory surfaces, drowning in a puddle of water. Buffy doesn't want to lose her breath beneath hungry waves. She turns, putting the rush of water to her left and moves on.
Boardwalk. Closed snack shack. Storage units with graffiti. Ants marking their progress, her shadow says, voice of silk. You are the authority among these scrabbling insects. Show them.
Buffy slides her damp jacket from her shoulders. Metallic and pungent with cooling blood, the soiled cloth squelches in her hand. Buffy paints rusty red swipes over the words the bugs of the earth scratched into the walls and doors and smiles for the first time all night.
"The hell are you doing?"
Buffy turns. An old man bundled up against the elements frowns at her. "What kind of paint is that?" Buffy doesn't answer. She moves past him. "Hey!" A gloved hand lands on her shoulder.
Buffy flips the knife in her hand neatly and stabs behind and to the side. A wet gurgle and a thud rings in the empty streets. Buffy moves on. Her shadow, weightless for once, glides by her side.
They catch her in the park. Headlights swing around, beams cutting across her body and Xander's car screeches to a halt in front of her. Buffy stares unblinking into the lights. Her shadow must be sticking to her back to hide from the light. She can't see it anywhere.
Xander's driver door creaks open. Friend.
Blood for Blood. A quiet reminder. But that's not right. What blood has Xander drawn from her?
Boy. Smothering weight. Holding you down.
Memories flash by. Hyena breath in her face, trying to pin her, but she's too strong. Sarcastic comments. Derision. Eyes on her ass, on her chest.
Hugs and you're my hero--
Lying to her. Setting her up to kill Ang--to kill her love.
Xander exits his vehicle, hands held up. "Buff. It's gonna be okay. It's just me. Xander."
Blinding you. He'd blind to everything good and important for his own designs. He blinds you now.
Buffy squints into the headlights.
"No matter what Buffy, we love you, you know that right? We--god, please tell that's not blood all over you." Xander's face whitens. Buffy looks down at herself. Not-so-white shoes. Jeans. Blood splattered shirt that doesn't cover her belly, her shoulders. Buffy lifts a listless hand to trail her fingers through blood smeared on her bare collarbone. Her other hand clenches around the knife.
"O-okay. It's okay. We can help you. Everybody wants to help you, Buffy. I can drive us back to them and we'll help you, like you've helped us so many times." Xander inches closer.
Justice, Buffy's shadow hisses, voice echoing to her from all sides. They take and they take and they'll take from you again. You owe him nothing, but he begs you to give. Wait for it. He'll do it.
Xander smiles, but it's not his usual goofy grin. "Give me the knife, Buffy. Come to the car. We'll go home."
Blinds you, smothers you, takes from you. Give it to him, her shadow whispers.
Buffy closes the distance between her and Xander in a heartbeat. Xander jumps a little. "Good! Good, Buffy. This'll all be over soon--"
"An eye for an eye," Buffy says. Xander freezes.
Buffy hears an old teacher, can't remember his face, smells like musty books and Earl Grey, guiding her. Focus, pinpoint, attack.
Xander sobs a shriek and falls to the ground. Buffy inspects the knife tip, slick with blood from Xander's eye. She leaves him and moves on.
The keys are still in the car.