Standard disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, just the story.
Feedback: Please! (N.B.: While I appreciate the sentiment behind heart-clicks, I cannot see them.)
She felt him in the doorway behind her; felt him arrive, lean, move no closer.
She struck again. Muscles from toes to fingertips flowed like liquid metal, then hardened to steel at the instant of contact. Nerves all up her arm and into her shoulders and back felt the impact.
The bag swayed.
He said nothing.
She was able to breathe in his silence, his distance. Unlike the others, he didn't have to ask how she was feeling. He knew the feeling she hated above all others was helplessness.
He knew she fought so hard, risked so much, seemed so careless of danger because, more than she feared death, she feared defeat. Which was not quite the same as being fearless.
This time she had lost.
She remembered him telling her once that she'd find Dawn, save her, because, "that's what you hero types do." At the last minute, heroes like her saved the day.
It had been what she needed to hear then, and actually more than once since then, but it wasn't true. Not always.
She was old enough now you'd think she'd know it; know losing despite all your efforts was inevitable sometimes. She thought of her mother, of Glory's tower, of Ford rising from his grave as a vampire. "I believe that's called growing up." "I'd like to stop then, please."
She did know defeat. Loss. But they never got any easier.
Her arms sagged; she took a half step back, an unspoken truce with her inanimate opponent.
Still, Spike didn't crowd her. The question, when it came, was strategic.
"Time to run then, Slayer?"
She shut her eyes. A tactical retreat.
She'd pulled a Brave Sir Robin before; not that it had worked out so well.
But this time, more than her friends and family were at risk; this time a whole city needed her.
"I'll tell you when."
She was the Slayer, after all.
She'd be the last to go.