Fear of Flying
by Duncan Johnson
This story takes place after Tabula Rasa in season six.
I hope that you are well. How is the slaying going? As you may have guessed by now, I am a little out of practice when it comes to letter writing and, believe it or not, you are slightly more intimidating from the other side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, it is well past time that I put pen to paper so I shall persevere. Forgive me.
It is raining here in Bath. The hammering on the windowpane sounds like the footsteps of Sunnydale High students when the final bell rings. It amuses me that I can now look back on that sort of thing with a sense of nostalgia, however difficult some of my experiences at that school may have been. I also find myself missing your climate. I fear that you may have irreparably corrupted me.
Now that I come to think of it, I'm not sure that I have that much to report. The pace of life here is much slower than you are used to and I for one am grateful of it. It has given me a much needed opportunity to catch up on my reading (for pleasure, you understand, rather than in my capacity as Watcher) and I have spent many a happy afternoon wandering the streets of Bath trying to enhance my record collection. The only interesting event occurred last Tuesday when my neighbour's cat decided to jump in through the open kitchen window and make itself at home. Loveable though the creature undoubtedly is, it is also extremely clumsy and proceeded to demolish the careful arrangement of my new home. It took Caroline (my neighbour) and I a good half-hour to catch the animal and far longer to clear up after it. I am taking Caroline out to dinner tonight and more than that I have no intention of elaborating upon.
I have not really done much beyond that. Well, I suppose there is one thing, but I had not intended to tell you about it. However, I suppose that you do have a right to know.
* * *
It occurred while I was flying back to England. We had crossed the United States and were over the Atlantic. The in-flight movie was one of those alleged "comedies" I have very little time for so I was trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, the man I was seated next to was an incorrigible fidget, which made it difficult for me to get much rest at all.
A stewardess had just handed me an orange juice when we were both distracted by a commotion three rows in front. The man in the aisle seat appeared to be having some kind of fit. He was mumbling to himself and clawing at his face. The stewardess immediately hurried over to see what the problem was, but the man's behaviour only became more erratic. I got out of my seat and went to see if there was anything that I could do to help. The stewardess was at a loss to explain what was going on and the man seemed completely oblivious to our presence. While the stewardess left in search of a doctor, I continued to try and calm the passenger, with precious little success.
Then I noticed something odd. A large insect was crawling up the man's back. It was an iridescent blue-green in colour, but, strangest of all, the insect seemed to be transparent and I could see the man's jacket through its shell. I reached out to brush the creature aware. It's antennae twitched as it sensed my approach and it sprang, landing on the back of my hand. It began to burrow beneath the surface of my skin, but before I had a chance to cry out, the world shifted.
* * *
Even after I recovered my senses it took me a moment to get my bearings. I was no longer on the aeroplane. Instead I was standing in the middle of a street. A very familiar street. I was back in Sunnydale. It was extremely hot and humid and the sun cast an angry orange glow over everything. However, when I looked up, the sun itself was obscured by the dust that hung in the air.
I hurried off in the direction of The Magic Box only to be greeted by a shock. The shop was closed. The windows had been boarded up and someone had scrawled graffiti across the front. The door was locked, but I managed to prise open one of the windows and climb in that way. I expected someone to try and stop me breaking in at any moment, but I had not encountered a single soul since I had arrived. Within, the shop was a mess. Books and other items were strewn across the floor, those that hadn't shattered into thousands of pieces that is. The debris crunched beneath my feet as I cross the room, surveying the damage.
I was baffled as to what might have occurred. Anya would never have allowed the shop to get into such a state if she could have prevented it, which begged the question, what had happened to Anya. I reached for the telephone, but the line had been disconnected. With growing trepidation, I entered the training room at the back of the shop. This was as much of a wreck as the shop floor, but many of the weapons were still present amid the chaos. I would have chosen the crossbow, but I could not locate any bolts, so instead I settled upon an axe before setting out in search of you.
* * *
There was a 'for sale' sign outside of your house. I knocked on the door repeatedly, but could not rouse anyone. Peering through the windows I was surprised to discover empty rooms, all the furniture I was familiar with now missing. Creeping round the back, I broke a window and let myself in. A quick search revealed that all the rooms were the same. Any trace of you or Dawn had been expunged.
The wind had picked up by the time I got outside and I had to hold my arm in front of my eyes to protect them from the swirling dust. Night was falling, but, loath as I was to roam the streets of Sunnydale after dark, I was much more concerned with discovering what fate had befallen you. I had tried The Magic Box. I had tried your home. My next port of call seemed obvious. I strode off in the direction of The Bronze.
I still had not seen another human being in Sunnydale and I was becoming increasingly disturbed. How could the entire population of a town, even one that was situated on a hellmouth, just vanish? I was, therefore, more than a little relieved to discover that there were actual people at The Bronze. My relief did not last long, however.
A young man near the door noticed me first. I was too busy looking for you to pay him much heed, but I do remember him grabbing a girl by her wrist and barking something hurriedly at her. She in turn then sidled up to me and draped a slender arm across my shoulders. She leaned into me and I could feel her lips on my ear as she whispered to me. I shall not repeat any of what she said here, but suffice to say her comments were quite embarrassing. She giggled as my face flushed, then her face shifted and I realised that I was gazing into the eyes of a vampire.
Instinct took over and I struck her in the face with the flat of my axe, forcing her away. She recovered quickly and lunged again, but by now I had a stake ready. She literally ran on to my outstretched arm and exploded in front of me.
I paused, breathing heavily. Slowly I looked up to survey the dance floor. Each and every one of the people in The Bronze was now proudly displaying vampiric features. I ran.
Sweat, both from my exertions and from the heat, trickled into my eyes as I ran. I tried to wipe it away with the back of my hand, but only succeeded in filling my eyes with a generous quantity of the ever-present dust. Blinded, I stumbled against a wall and fell over a couple of dustbins. Eyes streaming, I could just make out the silhouettes of two vampires as the advanced on an easy kill. Not for the first time, I mumbled a hurried prayer as I prepared to make my peace with God.
A black-clad figure swept down from the rooftop. The figure kicked one of the vampires in the stomach, sending it flying across the street. My rescuer took advantage of the resulting space to swing round and stake the other creature. The first vampire was getting to his feet and was now trying to escape back to The Bronze, but my rescuer had other plans. A stake, hurled end over end, embedded itself in the fleeing vampires back and then hung suspended in the air for a moment while the monster crumbled around it.
My rescuer offered me a hand, which I gratefully took, and hauled me to my fee. At first I thought it was you, but as my eyes cleared I realised my mistake.
'Well, well, look what we have here,' Spike said. 'Didn't expect to see you round these parts again. Blighty not all it's cracked up to be?'
'What's going on here, Spike,' I demanded.
'What, no thank you for saving your bleedin' life? Next time, they can have you for all I care.'
I grabbed Spike by the front of his shirt and lifted him so that he was standing on tiptoe.
'I'll ask you again,' I said. 'What is going on?'
Spike laughed. 'And here I thought you used to be a Watcher. Isn't it obvious? The vampires have taken over.'
'But how?' I asked. 'Why?'
'Oh, don't be an idiot, Rupert,' Spike complained. 'They just walked in and started feeding. I mean, who was going to stop them? The Slayer? Don't make me laugh.'
'Buffy,' I said. 'What's happened to her?'
'She caved, that's what,' Spike replied. 'When the chips were down I guess she wasn't as tough as we all liked to think she was. She didn't even lift a finger to try and save us. Even Xander made an effort, but not her. No, she just left us out to dry.'
At this point I ought to say that I'm paraphrasing here. Spike's actual rant contained more venom than I am comfortable with putting down in a letter to you.
'If you hate her so much,' I ask,' why are you fighting the vampires rather than helping them?'
'This bloody chip, that's why,' Spike explained, tapping the side of his head. 'A vampire without fangs is a joke to them. Or worse. They would kill me if they could, but most of them are too afraid of me to try. Every so often, though, it helps to knock a few of them about. Just to remind them how we all stand. Now, if we're quire through reminiscing, I'd like to go back to my crypt and try and drink enough booze to make me forget this twisted world.'
'There's one more thing, Spike,' I said. 'Where is she?'
'She who?' he asked. 'The cat's mother?'
'I don't have time for games,' I snapped. My patience with Spike has never been great at the best of times, and that night was a bad night even by our standards.
'I haven't seen the Slayer in weeks,' Spike replied. He turned to leave, then paused. 'You might try the old school,' he suggested. 'It's where most of her friends hang out. The ones that are left, that is.'
He turned and stalked off into the night.
* * *
The ruins of Sunnydale High were as dark and twisted as I remembered them. I remained alert, anticipating an attack at any moment, but the night stayed ominously quiet. The moment I touched the blackened doors, however, a crossbow bolt embedded itself mere inches from my head.
I turned slowly to face my attacker. He was a boy, no older than fifteen, with spiky red hair. He held the crossbow in one hand and in the other he was holding out a cross. His hands were shaking. I raised my own hands above my head.
'I assure you I'm not a vampire,' I said.
'Oh yeah,' the boy snapped back. 'Prove it.'
'And how do you suggest I do that?' I sighed.
'I could always stake you and see what happens,' the boy remarked. He probably thought that he was being brave and cool, but to me he only came across as annoying. I took three steps forward and snatched the crucifix from his hand.
'Is this proof enough?' I demanded, waving the cross in his face.
'If you're not a vampire,' the boy wanted to know, 'what are you doing outside at night?'
'I'm looking for a friend,' I explained. 'I was told she might be here.'
'Where else would she be?' the boy remarked cryptically. 'Go on in, humans are always welcome. Oh, and could I have my cross back.'
My footsteps echoed through the corridors. The old classrooms had been converted into dormitories, but I recognised none of the faces among the occupants. Before long I found myself in the large hall that had once been the cafeteria. I stood at the entrance, scanning the people lying on camp beds, or in sleeping bags, or simply on the uneven floor, searching desperately for a familiar face.
'Giles,' someone called. 'Is that you?'
It took me a moment to recognise the grimy, malnourished figure walking towards me.
'Anya?' I said.
She slapped me.
'What was that for?' I asked, gingerly examining my cheek.
She stared at me for what seemed like an extremely long time. The she said, 'You really don't know, do you? Follow me, I'll show you.'
She led me to a corner of the large room. Someone had hung blankets as a screen to give this area at least some semblance of privacy. Xander was lying on the floor, head propped up by battered pillows, eyes closed.
'Xander, honey, I've brought someone to see you,' Anya said.
'Xander,' I said.
'Giles?' Xander asked. 'Is that you?'
I though it was odd that his eyes remained closed. Then I noticed the scars.
'Yes, Xander, it's me.' I crouched down beside him. 'Xander, what happened to your eyes?'
'They clawed them out,' Anya said bitterly.
'The vampires,' she said. 'Xander tried to fight them and lost. Anyone else they would have killed there and then, but they thought it would be fun to play with Xander.'
'Let's just say I don't get out much anymore,' Xander added. He was smiling as he said it, which only hurt me more.
'If there was anyway I could have prevented this,' I began.
'Prevented this?' Anya released a short mocking laugh. 'You're the cause of this. Dont you get that? If you hadn't left none of this would have happened.'
Xander reached for Anya's hand.
'Anya, I don't think that's fair,' he protested weakly.
'Not fair?' Anya was incredulous. 'How can you say that after what they did to you?'
'After what the vampires did to me,' Xander said. 'It's not as if Giles here ripped my eyes out himself.'
'He might as well have done,' Anya retorted venomously. 'If he hadn't abandoned us do you really think things would have turned out the way they did? If he had been here where he should have been then Buffy would have been able to fight back instead of gibbering in a corner.'
'Anya,' I said, 'you can blame me for what happened if you like, hate me if you must, but at least do me the courtesy of telling me what happened.'
Anya would not meet my gaze.
'Please,' I begged. 'I haven't been here and I don't know what's been going on. I understand that it must hurt, but please tell the story so I can try and make some sense of this. You owe me that much, surely.'
Xander squeezed Anya's hand comfortingly.
'You saw some of it before you left,' he began. 'Buffy was in financial trouble and couldn't hold down a job for more than twenty-four hours. She became increasingly reliant on handouts from her friends.'
'By which he means us,' Anya explained. 'We poured most of our income from The Magic Box into supporting her, but there seemed to be no end to her need and the shop could only supply so much.'
'We got so far in debt that we had no choice, but to close the shop down,' Xander continued. 'By that time Social Services had stepped in and taken Dawn into care. I think that was the thing that finally finished Buffy off. Dawn had been her reason to carry on after she came back and once they took Dawn away, well, she didn't have any reason to keep going anymore.'
'I don't think she even noticed when the repossessed the house,' Anya added. 'And when the vampires arrived on mass there just wasn't any fight left in her. All she wanted was a place to hide until it was all over. You were her Watcher, you were supposed to take care of her. She relied on you and you left her to cope on her own because you had better things to do than worry about us. She was drowning and you didn't even notice.'
Xander did not disagree.
A lump had formed in my throat and I had to cough a couple of times to clear it.
'Where is she?' I asked quietly.
'Giles, I'm not sure if ' Xander began, 'that is, she wouldn't want you to see her like this.'
'Where is she?' I asked again.
* * *
The library had collapsed when we blew it up to destroy the Mayor and it was now on a lower level than the rest of the ruins. I was still sore following my run in with the vampires and the climb down was particular difficult. I slipped and lost my grip, ending up in a thoroughly undignified heap on the library floor.
There was a skittering sound to my right and I looked up to find you crouching over me.
I am having great difficult putting this scene down on paper and this is the reason I originally did not want to share this story with you. Seeing you like that, a shadow of the Buffy I knew, it broke my heart and I am struggling to keep my emotions in check even as I write this. I pray to God that you are unable to imagine what I saw because I would not want that stain on anyone's memory, least of all yours. I wanted to reach out and hold you tight, but when I stretched out my hand towards you, you scurried off to the far side of the room. I chose not to follow, instead giving you space and waiting for you to summon the courage to come back towards me.
'Giles?' you croaked.
'Yes, it's me,' I managed. My mouth was dry and I was struggling to form words. 'Buffy, what happened to you?'
'I-I don't know,' you stammered. Your eyes were darting about the room, looking everywhere instead of at me. 'Everything just seemed to go wrong. I was right, you know?'
'Right about what?' I asked.
'This really is hell.' You giggled at that.
'I should never have left,' I said.
'Why did you?' you asked. 'You didn't have to go.'
'I was preventing you from realising your true potential,' I said. 'You were using me as a crutch instead of standing on your own.'
'But that's silly,' you said. 'You know I'm not strong enough without you.'
I stared at this version of Buffy for a moment, taking in her stance, the way she would not meet my eyes. And then I laughed.
My laughter echoed within the confines of the shattered library and that only encouraged me to laugh louder still. Buffy tried to say something, but my laughter drowned her out.
Still laughing, I clambered to my feet.
'Show yourself,' I demanded confidently. 'It's well past time we ended this charade.'
'Buffy' grew, her flesh hardening into a chitinous shell as she did so. Her body distorted and soon the blue-green insect I had spotted on the aeroplane was towering above me.
It hissed at me, but I refused to be intimidated. Somehow I knew that I had already faced the worst that this creature could throw at me.
'Why?' I asked simply.
'To feed,' it buzzed back.
'To feed?' I repeated. 'Let me guess, you feed on doubt, am I correct? And this entire scenario was created to encourage me to doubt myself.'
'You abandoned the girl,' the insect said, 'and you fear the consequences. Think of what might happen without your guiding hand.'
I shook my head.
'I'm afraid you've rather miscalculated this time, my friend,' I said. 'I know that Buffy is strong enough to manage without me and she knows it too. In fact, I suspect she'll positively thrive as a result of the experience. This whole dream sequence? Well, it's all a bit silly really, isn't it?'
'Yet you still doubt,' the insect said. 'I pulled the doubt from your own mind.'
'Of course I doubt,' I said. 'I am only human, after all. But a tiny amount of doubt isn't going to overwhelm my confidence that I've made the right choice. Leaving was the right thing for me to do and no overgrown bug is going to tell me otherwise.'
During my speech the insect had visibly weakened and now it shrunk in upon itself. Once it was the size of a typical beetle, I ground it beneath my heel.
* * *
I opened my eyes.
'Sir, are you all right?' The stewardess was shaking me by the shoulder.
'Just a dizzy spell,' I explained. 'I'll be fine in a minute.'
The man in the seat I was leaning on looked up at me.
'I understand that I was having some kind of seizure until you came along,' he said. 'I don't know what you did, but thanks.'
'You're welcome.' I started to head back to my own seat, then paused and turned back. 'By the way,' I said, 'you did the right thing.'
The man's eyes widened. 'How did you..?'
I smiled in a manner that I hope was suitably enigmatic and sat back down.
So that's my story. This letter has turned out to be far longer and much more emotional than I had originally intended, but I suspect that it the nature of such things. Seeing these events put down on paper has reminded me of how proud I am of you. I have faith in you, Buffy, and I know you won't disappoint me.
Please give my love to Dawn and I hope to hear from you soon.
With deepest affection,