This is a story about Slayer fashion choices in Season 8, and the burdens of being Buffy...
Rating 15 (off-camera violence, blood), 1521 words, Buffy plus cameos by Willow and Satsu.
'Kevlar' is a trademark of Du Pont. 'Buffy' is a trademark of 20th Century Fox. Keen fashion sense and witty banter are, or at least were, trademarks of Buffy Summers.
ETA: Director's Commentary here.
Unstylish Yet High-Priced Boots
Buffy collapsed down onto her bed with a sigh. It wasn't getting any easier. Dull fingers tugged at the zip of her Kevlar jacket; she slipped it off and threw it rather more forcefully than she'd intended over her shoulder. Bad move, when you're a Slayer. The thud as it hit the wall raised dust and would have shaken all the ornaments off her shelves, if she'd had any. Mom had had ornaments. The house in Sunnydale had been full of pretty things. All gone now. Swallowed up in a crater, along with the house itself and everything she'd known, everything she'd been. It was a brave new world now.
She sighed again and leaned back to pick up the jacket. It'd fallen down between the bed and the wall, so she had to wriggle over and stretch. The texture of the cloth snagged against her fingers as she held it. Maybe she should buy some new knick-knacks for her room? Some vases with flowers, perhaps. Something pleasant to look at. She suddenly hated the shapeless grey bundle in her arms, longing to tear it to shreds. She never wanted to have to look at it again; so lumpy and ugly and .. and... practical. Damn it. She knew why she had to wear it. Why she insisted the girls wear it, despite their moans and complaints. It had saved Jacqueline's life tonight, for one thing. Though Buffy wasn't entirely sure if Jacqui would thank her or curse her for that, when she finally recovered consciousness. If she recovered... No. Don't think like that.
The demon's claws had sliced straight through her arm into her torso. Without the armour, she'd have been cut in half. With it, she only suffered half her ribs caved in, a punctured lung and perforated intestines. She'd been coughing bright red blood as she lay there, crumpled and broken. After that, killing the demon had been easy; it had shrivelled and burned in the white-hot wild rage of four infuriated Slayers. Killing it had been easy.
Carrying Jacqui out of there had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done.
It wasn't that she was heavy. She'd felt light as a silk scarf as Buffy had cradled her head in her arms, one of the other Slayers taking her feet. Only the convulsive periodic heaving of her chest and the blood still bubbling slowly from her mouth to show she was still alive. A normal human would probably have died right there, of shock and blood loss and pain; but Jacqueline was a Slayer. Slayers were tough. Slayers never gave up, even when every breath was an agony.
Damn it all, she'd probably recover from the injuries to her torso, given time. Not a scar to be seen - at least, not on the outside where people could see it. Slayer healing was a wonderful thing. It could heal almost any wound.
But it couldn't regrow her arm.
Neither could magic. As soon the helicopter touched down on the castle roof a tiny red-haired tornado had rushed towards them, already trailing magic in her wake as she drew the energy into herself for a healing spell. She'd stabilised Jacqueline's condition, eased her breathing, and mended the holes in her intestines with a special added charm to prevent peritonitis. But not even Willow could repair severed limbs.
She'd drawn Buffy aside to explain that privately, her eyes haunted and miserable and full of self-blame. She'd explained how the power could restore health, knit bones, seal wounds; how it could fight off infection and disease. But it couldn't replace an organ that had been completely destroyed - or well, it could, in theory, but the new replacement would be a thing of enchantments; it would be completely permeated by magic, and it might, you know, develop a will of its own and become an evil hand that attacked its owner, or it might turn into an icky tentacle or something overnight, and she didn't want to take the risk, even though she knew there ought to be a way to make the spell work, but she wasn't good enough yet, and -
Buffy had cut Willow's increasingly frantic babbling short with a kind but firm "Will! Will!" and when that failed, had shaken her by the shoulder. She'd thanked her for her help, reassured her that she'd done more than anybody else could have done already, told her not to worry, then swiftly changed the subject by handing over the magic whosit they'd been fighting the demon for in the first place. Willow's eyes had lit up, and Buffy felt vaguely guilty as the witch ran off to start studying it.
She loved her friend dearly, and in most things she knew she could trust Willow with her life... but she also knew that there were some temptations it just wasn't fair to put in her way. Magic being exhibit A. She might be all goddess-y and enlightened and one with the universe now, but the old Willow was still in there too. And a Willow worried that her powers weren't yet good enough to cast a spell that could help people, but was incredibly dangerous... Buffy shuddered. Best to keep her distracted, and well away from all thoughts of experimentation.
So. Sponsoring a witch. Yet another responsibility to pile onto Buffy's attractively slender and not at all broad shoulders. Along with nursemaiding five hundred Slayers, managing an international organisation, preventing apocalypses every other week, and - oh yeah. Fighting a war against humanity.
Couldn't she just go home now? But home was a mile-wide crater in the ground. This was her home now, or as much of one as she'd ever have again.
She knelt to unfasten her combat boots, and tugged futilely at the laces. They were matted and sticky and shrunk taut, and she hoped desperately that it was demon blood and not Jacqueline's blood that made the leather clammy and smeared red stains all over her hands as she struggled with them. The boots wouldn't come off. Hands that could bend steel bars in half scrabbled helplessly over bindings that wouldn't come undone, knots she couldn't untie. Part of her yearned to rip the things in half with brute strength and fling them far away. Another part was ready to give up; ignore them, curl up in her bed and sleep with her boots on, maybe try again in the morning. But she wasn't going to let the things beat her. Her vision grew blurry, tears of anger and exhaustion and grief sparkling in her eyes and slipping down her cheeks, her fingers turning red and numb as she pulled and tweaked and teased at the unyielding bonds.
"Is something the matter, ma'am? I heard - oh! Oh, I'm so sorry, I'll come back again later, I-"
Buffy looked up, blinking and rubbing to clear her eyes, angry at her own weakness. The dim silhouette in the doorway resolved itself into the anxious and embarrassed form of Satsu, looking as if she was about to bolt down the corridor. Buffy gave her a watery smile, wiped her nose, beckoned her into the room.
"Yes, e-even your fearless leader gets all weepy and silly sometimes. Now you know my secret, I'll have to kill you."
Satsu grinned, but her eyes were compassionate. "Sumimasen, sensei-sama, but in your present state I think I might even win that fight."
Buffy managed a sharp look up at that, but she had to concede that there was no way she'd be proving Satsu wrong tonight. She slumped back on the bed, massaging her fingers painfully. The younger Slayer noticed, concern filling her face.
"Are you injured, ma'am? Should I get help?"
"No! No." Buffy gestured weakly at her feet. "It's just.. stupid boots. Don't know why we wear them."
Satsu looked for a moment as if she was about to explain why - probably by quoting Buffy's own words back at her - but then clearly thought better of it. Which proved that she was a very wise young woman. Instead she sat on the end of the bed and reached out a tentative hand.
"Would you like me to help you take them off, ma'am?"
"That... that would be heavenly. Thank you." Buffy stretched out on the bed, lifting one leg obediently - and then raised her head up to look back at Satsu in curiosity.
"Not that I'm ungrateful, but - why?"
Satsu was suddenly busy with the fastenings of Buffy's footwear, so she couldn't see her face - but Buffy could almost swear she was blushing. But her voice was calm enough when she replied.
"Because I've watched you. You have to be strong always, so that the rest of us do not feel afraid. But there are some things you should not do alone: some things are easier if you have help."
There was a firm tug, then Satsu raised her head and looked back at Buffy with a dazzling smile, holding up her prize in triumph.
"Such as taking off boots, for example."