He’d walked around, map in hand, guide book shoved into a pocket that was bagged out and shapeless now. He’d craned his neck up, squinted against the watery glow of a sun that seemed much farther away than the one that shone on California, got shamefully drunk on real beer, and had someone try to lift his wallet who whined when he came close to breaking his wrist by accident.
Really. An accident.
He was home and he was happy. He refused to think past that fact, refused to even plan more in advance than the next tourist attraction, the next pub. He had money enough to stay at a good hotel indefinitely, clothes to replace those lost when –
He couldn’t quite get past that thought so he pretended he didn’t want to.
The days flowed and merged, like the mud and silt the locals thought of as a river. He found himself walking beside it one afternoon, as the warm day drew to a close, with the cries of the seagulls, silhouetted against the sky like torn newspapers, dirty and ragged, reaching deep inside him, stirring the lethargy that he’d hidden behind anthill activity.
Shock. He was in shock and he hadn’t known it. As if a dial had been turned by an expert hand, the static buzz cleared to words, distinct and sharp. His home had been destroyed. Friends of his had died; many of them. He was grieving. It was...normal. The relief was like clear, cold water, the sun breaking through clouds, the smell of mown grass, damp and greenly fresh...like any amount of clichés, in fact.
He looked down and saw his hands, rounded against a tubular barrier, rusted where the dull, grey paint had flaked away. His knuckles were white against a tan that faded with each English summer day. He relaxed his grip slowly, feeling light enough to float away.
Then he heard voices behind him, getting louder, and he felt a smile tug at muscles starched-stiff with dried tears during too many nightmare-choked nights. He hadn’t been hiding from them in any real sense of the word; they knew where he was, had even joined him on some of his excursions, but now...
He turned and smiled at them, seeing the polite expressions frozen onto their faces shatter and splinter, melt and warm, as they registered the change in him.
Xander spoke first, Willow next, Buffy last, but he barely heard them because the gulls were louder now, drowning them out. It didn’t matter. They were just saying his name as they hugged him, touched him, brought him back, and he knew what that was.
He remembered it now.
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