Foreigner
By Darcy Galvan

TITLE: Foreigner
AUTHOR: Darcy Galvan
RATING: PG-13 (for an itty bit of bad language)
E-MAIL: mscribe@angelfire.com
SPOILERS: season 6 involving our dearth of Gilesean goodness
SUMMARY: emotional Giles/Buffy angst (*snort* surprise from me! LOL).
NOTE: Okay, so here's another piece of Darcy angst that I've been working on forever. It's done! There's no Slayer action in this, but hey, talking is important! Thanks to Me! For doing a little bit of beta work for this poor author...


He wasn't quite sure what he had expected upon his arrival, but it was certainly not this. She opened the door and he fairly gasped, his breath hitching at the sight of her.

"Hello, Buffy." Was that calm composure his? Surely not. Her expression did not change. She stared at him for a beat, her eyes flicking down. Up. She turned and walked away. Giles had been so enthralled with the sight of her face that he didn't move until he heard the back door click and he dropped his jacket, fingers oddly numb and unnoticed. He didn't even know why he'd come to the damned house first. His luggage was still in the rental car out front and he hadn't even checked into the hotel yet. But he'd just had to see...

"Giles?" His eyes swung to the upper hall. "Giles!" Dawn rushed down the stairs, her long brown hair flying straight behind her like a welcome banner. She almost made it to his arms before she realized herself and pulled up short, a flush of self-reprimand in her cheeks. "You left," she spoke. He nodded mutely, consciously holding his arms to the sides. They ached at her distance.

Dawn breathed in stiffly through her nose, her neck long and elegant in her tension. "She really needed you."

"I know," he said, his voice sounding light and far away.

"I could hate you if I wanted to."

"I know." She sprang forward and he held her so fiercely that she squeaked. He pressed a long kiss to the top of the familiar head when she buried her face in his chest. He would remember this. "I've missed you so much, Dawn."

"Then why did you leave?" When he opened his mouth to respond, she shook her head, feeling anger massage her throat. She held it back. "I know, really. A-and I understand. She hasn't been...I just...I wish you hadn't. I missed you too. She wasn't the only one acting weird. Willow had problems with magic and Tara left her for a long time because of it, but things are getting better. I stole stuff," she said with an odd twist of a smile.

Giles gaped. "What? Dawn!"

She shook her head, her pulse pounding in her ears and she just wished she could scream at him. She could, but she wouldn't. She was an adult. The strange little smile flickered again as she realized something: he needed her now. And she hated it. "It's not your fault, it's just...you've missed a lot. We needed you." Dawn's shoulders moved in a little laugh. "It was kind of funny to need you. I remember I used to think you were old and stuffy and I annoyed you. You weren't really yourself then. Not your own, anyway. Mostly hers." She shook her head and smiled more fully.

"And not anymore?" He asked with a lopsided grin. He was off balance at the adult sounds she didn't seem to realize were coming out of her mouth, like a phone picking up someone else's signal.

"No, you sure picked a bad time to figure it out." She balked at the sharp pain she saw in his eyes and added sweetly: "Well, at least you're still old." She gave him another quick hug. "I'm so glad you're back."

He swept a hand across her cheek. "You may be the only one in this house."

Dawn turned to glance toward where Buffy had disappeared, her face possessed by seriousness when she turned back. "She hasn't been the same. She needed you."

"Needed my problem solving skills," he said, flatly revising her statement.

"She did," Dawn said, but paused for a moment and said bluntly, "but I think you're old enough to know it's more complicated than that."

Giles wanted to smile at her attempt at humor. His mind kept flying between the image of Buffy and the sound of Dawn's voice. The brief flash of one brought a delusional quality to the whole scene, while the proximity of the latter brought reality to it. Was she really so different than she had been? "Which is exactly why I had to leave." He let his eyes wander thoughtlessly toward the back of the house. "I'd only hoped that by now..."

Dawn's eyes focused hard on him. What was it that colored those eyes now and made him really heed her? "It's only because she loved you so much that it got so hard."

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Buffy walked straight out the back door and onto the streets.

Giles was back.

For the wedding, she guessed. She'd seen Anya send out the invitations. It had just never occurred to her < you ignored it > that he would be coming back for the wedding. He should have just sent flowers. But she supposed that he'd decided that it was okay now?

Was he satisfied that she'd screwed her life up enough? He'd just decided to check up on her decline? He had no idea. Did he know how far she'd gone? How many times she'd concluded that it would be easier never to get out of bed again and that the only time she'd felt some flicker was when her body pounded with someone else's and the aching, howllow-echo heat reminded her she was yet living? Dawn had multiple-offender sticky fingers, Tara had left Willow for quite a long time because of issues with magic that Giles knew about, but felt he didn't need to talk to her about, apparently. God, she'd even slept with Spike. She ran a hand shakily down her side, remembering how he felt...She shook her head trying to physically rid herself of these thoughts. Any thoughts.

Buffy didn't know where she was going until she had reached Giles' old apartment. She looked at the alien pink geraniums growing in a white pot next to a pair of flip flops. Giles despised flip flops. Tokens from a strange life she didn't know, in front of a door no longer his and no longer offering a place for her.

She had been prepared to keep him away forever.

She sank to the chair and table in the courtyard, then dropped her head and wept. Fast, hard, soon passing. Some part of them had gone and was never coming back.

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The sun set, night came and Buffy did not return. Giles sat with Dawn, had dinner with her and when he suggested that he return in the morning, she begged him to stay. She fell asleep on his shoulder and he closed his eyes until the pain ebbed to a dull ache in the back of his throat that wouldn't leave for days. He gently woke her and led her upstairs. When she fell into bed fully clothed, he pulled her blankets up and brushed away a stray piece of hair. He stalled in the middle of the room, drifting. "I love you, Dawn." He turned from the room and smiled when a cottony sleep muffled "Love you too," accompanied him into the hall.

He padded down the stairs and returned slowly to the living room, deciding that he needed one more moment to sit, rest his eyes and recover himself before leaving.....

.....when he gradually became aware of a touch on his hair and the low static weight of a gaze falling on him. He let his eyes open. "Buffy."

She sat pensively on the arm of the couch and shook her head. The new short hair grazing her smooth neck. She slid down until she nestled into the curve of his body. Her presence swept through him like a live current, bringing his arms to life, but she tensed. He froze. Slowly removed his arms from the circle they'd begun with her. She didn't embrace him, merely echoed his body with her own. Cloth only touching cloth. He couldn't comfort her when the tears fought their way from between her lids. She was present, but untouchable.

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Giles lay in the hotel bed later that night. Early that morning. After nearly half an hour of silence, Buffy had risen and disappeared upstairs. He had let his head fall back, run a hand over his face and stood, gathering his jacket and his things. Picking up the keys to his rental car, he had opened the door when he heard a quiet, fervent tapping noise. He turned. Dawn stood at the top of the stairs, a regretful look on her face.

Bye, she mouthed, dropping her shoulders in defeat for the night. He mouthed his own good-bye and walked into the night.

Giles rolled over, pulling the covers restlessly. They were warm enough, but too soft and thick. They smelled foreign. When he stepped out of the house that night, why had he felt like he would never be coming back? Did she hate him even still? When he thought about Buffy, there would sometimes be a slow rising anger that pulled out of nowhere and vanished immediately. More often than not it was a creeping emotion, nausea and something like fear accompanying her picture. Fear of loss, fear of change. Giles hadn't admitted it for months. His life had changed irrevocably, as had his relationships with those he still called family. It was a frightening thing.

His trip from England to Sunnydale six years ago had had its own sort of fear. Excitement, pride, and anticipation. This time it had been full of a terror that left him torn between tears and a desire to leap from the plane. It wasn't seeing them, seeing Buffy that he feared in and of itself. It was the knowledge that they were all different people and there was no going back now. This was a different life. Similarly named characters meeting in an alien story line. Dizzying outward familiarity disrupted by a new reality. He wondered yet again if he'd made a mistake by coming back.

"Stop it," he said. Anya and Xander had invited him to their wedding. He wasn't going to refuse. But he had hoped...he rolled again, viciously cutting the thought off. Tomorrow. He'd think about it tomorrow.

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Giles paused just outside of the Magic Box before pushing through the door. A smile appeared on his face, surprising him as the bell called out his arrival.

A voice came from somewhere in the back and Giles' smile widened.

"An, honey, there's someone...GILES!" Xander rushed him in a hug and Giles felt his heels leave the ground. Xander stepped back, pink invading his cheeks. "Ah, he..." He stuck out his hand and Giles grabbed it, pulling him back into the interrupted hug.

"Hello, Xander."

"Giles," Xander scratched his eye with a suspicious wiping gesture and rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. "I-it's really great to see you. WE...I..we missed you." He beamed with such touching force that Giles covered his mouth to steady himself.

"Giles!" Anya's familiar shrill hit him before she did. He was once again embraced with affecting emotion.

"Hello, Anya, it's wonderful to see you." He looked back and forth between the two of them. The tall young man he'd seen go from a gawky, fiercely loyal teenager to someone strong, loving, and equally loyal. And Anya, whose most apt description was generally, "she's...Anya," but captured you with her enthusiasm and unabashed, no-nonsense approach to life. He cocked his head in wonder.

"Giles?" Xander asked, leaning forward with an unsure smile. "Where'd you go?"

"I'm sorry? Oh," he laughed self-consciously. "I just can't believe that you two are really getting married. It's just so incredible." Xander ducked his head while Anya beamed proudly. "It's wonderful."

"You're still going to give me away, right?" Anya asked, worry brushing her features.

"Nothing would stop me."

"You're back," she said with wonder.

"It would appear so." Giles laughed again, enjoying the feeling. He laughed quite a lot in England. New friends, new places and jokes. Joy was an amazingly expected part of life. This laughter hovered over years of sadness, but somehow echoed in a deeper place.

Xander stole a glance at Anya, his smile guttering for a moment. He spoke lightly, sketching around the words as if he only wanted to request a glass of water. "So, have you seen Buffy?"

Giles withdrew visibly. He felt a brief flash of anger at the ruined moment they had been sharing. He squared his shoulders and was Giles again.

Simply, "Yes."

"Oh. I-I'm sorry."

"No, I would have asked as well." He pocketed his hands and swung slowly to the tables at the rear of the store. Leaning thoughtfully on his elbows he spoke to a stack of books. "I just can't believe it. Everything. Everything is changed. It's not...her. Maybe I'm not myself. Oh, hell, I don't know. We didn't say a single thing. She saw me and walked out. I didn't even try to stop her. I used to be able to say...something...anything, even if it was the wrong thing. It's humiliating, it's..." He slammed his open palm onto the table, shocking Anya's eyes wider. He laughed hollowly, tapped a finger on the table and shrugged an unsettlingly cheerful defeat, opening his arms wide. "I'm open for suggestions."

Xander sat down next to Giles. "This is probably really weird."

Giles snorted. "If that word can go far enough."

Eyeballing Giles, Xander smiled gently, "Hey, just remember I didn't go to a college with its own dictionary." He smirked, "I didn't even go to college."

Giles chuckled and settled his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I wish they'd help in this situation, they tend to be thorough." He sighed. "It is difficult and I'll admit it's rather frightening as well." He looked around the store. "I used to have a place here."

Anya repeated his survey of the store and said unsurely. "You can have it back...if you really want."

Giles burst out laughing and took Anya's hands, giving them a squeeze. "I think that's the most kind, selfless thing you've ever said. And it must have been the hardest, too." She nodded, concealing a smile and taking a seat on his other side. "That's not what I meant, though. I mean that I used to have a place in town, in this circle with all of you. Albeit a rather odd position that got overlooked quite often."

"Giles, we never--"

Giles held out a hand, cutting Xander off. "I know you children never meant it, it's hard to notice everyone all the time, no matter what age you are."

"You always noticed us," Xander said.

Giles arched an eyebrow, his eyes sparkling. "Do you recall my job title? But I failed too, many times. It's just that whatever happened, I belonged."

"You still do," Anya protested weakly.

"Thank you for the effort, but I'm quite sure we all know the truth. I could pick up my books again and research, but I don't think I can be satisfied doing that anymore. And I can't just sit around and nod or frown as the situation warrants."

"It's those damned scones that did it to you," Anya muttered angrily. "I knew England was a bad idea."

"Anya," Giles said flatly, "don't you think I deserve more than being your walking card catalogue with the occasional witty remark?"

"You know I do."

"That's the problem. We all know now. You all loved me, I know, and you'd never try and hurt me, but I was a blind old fool and I think a lot of my pain was my fault." He sighed, "I don't think I could ever explain why I felt the way I did. There were moments I suppose I could bring up, but that was only the evident part. Even I never fully realized how deeply I felt, how much I deserved until I'd really been gone. It's the most painful discovery I've ever made."

"But Giles, we just needed you to--"

"Xander," Giles said firmly, "what were my other positions in the group? Token adult presence? You don't need one of those anymore, you're all quite capable of caring for yourselves."

Xander looked straight at him. "I know that. Could you fit in again, just differently?" Xander asked. "We've all been through a lot while you were gone." Giles grimaced and he paused, but continued. "A lot of stuff's happened and I think that with some practice we're becoming pretty damn good at recognizing what's important. Who's important."

Giles cocked his head, amazed at this young man and loving him more dearly than he ever had. "I'm really very proud of you all."

The bell over the door banged sharply and all three looked up, startled.

Buffy stood in the door, mouth open, eyes dark. Her mouth worked and her head turned several times as her body finally caught up with her mind.

"I-I-uh, Dawn...wanted you to come for uh, lunch. Lunch. Dawn wanted you to come for lunch at one if you want to." She licked her lips and nodded. Then her lips twitched into a soft, genuine smile. "It would be really nice."

Giles' tongue moved even before he thought he'd processed her words. "I'd love to."

Buffy had to take a moment to consciously track where her limbs were before she was able to reply "Okay," and move through the door.

Giles stood for another moment before he felt Xander's hand on his back and heard his voice telling him, "You could try, Giles."

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"Get confident, stupid," Giles muttered to himself as he pulled the rental car to a smooth stop in the Summers' driveway. He chuckled as he heaved himself out of the car, slamming the door. At the front step he didn't even give himself time to pause before ringing the bell. Buffy answered the door and offered a smile. Giles grinned like an idiot. Buffy's smile faltered, so she merely turned and lead the way into the dining room and Giles smacked himself in the forehead with a grimace.

"I hope you like spaghetti, it's all Dawn really knows how to make and she insisted we do the real cooking thing."

"I love it," he said cheerfully. Their eyes met and Buffy merely watched, no reaction, no hesitation or gaze flicked from side to side. Giles rocked on his heels and lost the contest when he decided to examine the air over her left shoulder.

"So, did you have a good trip?" Buffy asked, turning away and arranging the plates and cutlery that had been stacked and waiting on the table. Giles was too distracted by her movements and the impression of her shape to see how white her fingers became as she gripped the silverware. How it trembled.

"Ah, it wasn't altogether pleasant. Hit a good wave of turbulence somewhere over the Atlantic and I nearly had them turn the plane around." Buffy laughed a little and Giles stomach twisted a little tighter, then loosened. "And I was nervous." She looked up, a glass held just above the table. She set it down gently, but it seemed to pound in her ears and she winced. He looked so sorry. "I didn't know....I didn't know how you....I was afraid." He sighed and took his glasses off only to give them a cursory glance and place them back on his nose. "It's just that with the way I left I didn't know how you would react to my arrival."

"So you decided the surprise-me-with-a-cardiac-arrest bit was a better plan?" Buffy asked flatly.

"I just didn't want you to tell me to stay away," he said. "I couldn't have--"

"Giles, I forg--"

"Okay, guys! Who's hungry?" Dawn asked with forceful cheer as she pushed into the dining room with a bowl full of pasta. Giles deflated and Buffy curled in on herself. She had thought she was ready right then to forgive him, to let him walk back into her good graces; but when Dawn had interrupted her, a sly voice had cheered and she realized how tightly she held onto her anger. How much easier it had made life without him. And with him. Buffy refused to be the one to give in. She removed herself to the kitchen and took several gulping breaths over the garlic bread "I'm fine, I'm right, I'm right" before bringing it back in with a regal smile.

Giles lowered himself to his chair and began his meal, disappointment tainting his food with a bitter, salty edge.

Dawn worked between the two the entire meal, dragging them into conversation. Her wide smile froze on her face with the force of her fear as her heart hammered in her chest. < They can both just suck it up and be civil > she kept telling herself. Desperate love for both of them fueled her mind for chatter and she used every ounce of herself to keep things light and moving. By the time she pulled out a box of ice cream sandwiches ( "dessert for the lazy!" ) Dawn had both of them smiling and she herself had forgotten the tense air that had shivered around them when she'd decided it was time for food.

"That was delicious, Dawn," Giles said, stretching his arms over his head and dropping them to cross languidly over his chest. "I had no idea you could cook."

She nodded with a smile. "Well, it took me about two weeks to be able to make an entire meal, but I did it. Now I'll take a break until next year." He laughed and her cheeks glowed with love. "Okay. Um, guys, I hope you don't mind, but I'm gonna go over to Jennifer's house for a while. Her mom doesn't know about my little shoplifting habit yet and she's about the only person who'll probably let me come over some time in the next five years. I guess I'm a bad influence." She looked over at Giles who sat silently in his chair and explained gently. "Um, I'd stay longer and all, but I didn't know you were coming...I promised her I'd help with her history project. But I told her about your visit, so I'll be back in a while, okay? Just like, an hour." He agreed and stood. "Okay, bye," Dawn said, giving Buffy a quick one-armed hug. She rose on her toes to give Giles a slightly embarrassed but heartfelt kiss on the cheek. He smiled in pleasant surprise and touched her head as she swept out of the house. He sighed and turned to Buffy.

"Well..." Giles began.

"I'd better do these dishes," Buffy said, moving swiftly for the sink.

"Here, let me help you."

"Uh, thanks." She began scrubbing. "You never get used to dishes. I mean, a lot of stuff has happened and now I *have* to do them, but I won't ever like them. I think that if I'd had any money I would have skipped the new boots, jewelry, maybe heat, and gone for the maid."

"You seem to be doing pretty well."

"Yeah, it looks that way, doesn't it? Double-Meat isn't exactly the best payer and that little check you gave me was gone faster than you wer--" they both visibly tensed and Buffy swore. "Giles--"

"I did give you quite a large amount, Buffy. I had thought..."

Irritation flared in her words. "Oh, my God, Giles, that was so not the point. Besides, I had stuff to take care of: a house, people to support, and one check wasn't going to keep things going forever."

"But a constant supply of them would have?" He questioned tightly.

"When did this turn into an argument about you and your money?" she cried. He just looked at her with a waiting expression. < I wouldn't know, > it said, and she wanted to slap him for it. "I didn't need your money," Buffy informed him with dangerously constructed patience.

In an instant his expression changed and he sighed, "I know."

"God, don't say that," she snapped. She'd wanted to be calm, but if it was an argument he wanted, she was willing and able to go all out.

Giles rolled his eyes, the tension back. "What do you want me to say, Buffy?" He asked with an attitude he thought he'd left behind in his adolescent years.

"I don't want you to just agree with me. You don't do that. Just...just explain it to me. I don't know! Since we're on the subject, why don't you tell me why. Tell me what. I didn't need your money. It helped, but I needed you."

"How was I supposed to know that when I tried and you never seemed to take anything from it?"

Buffy licked her lips and laughed a little, her neck strained as she looked around the kitchen, struggling to remain composed. She slapped a pan roughly, sending water splashing to the floor. "I just wanted to do the damn dishes." She stalked through the door and into the living room.

"How was I to know?" he repeated, following her.

Buffy stood, back straight to him, but at his words she snapped around, her chin quivering with rage. She opened her mouth, but a foreign, strangled voice came out. "I--GOd--I..." her face twisted in an effort to keep the composure, to keep the tears at bay. "Do you know what happened to me when you left?" she whispered harshly. "What I did to myself?"

"You'd started before I left. You would have done that sooner or later, I couldn't--"

"Bullshit!" Buffy spat, cutting his words off. "If I had known you were there, if I'd had you--"

"You would have leaned on me until you crashed," he rebutted. "You couldn't see what needed to be fixed while I was following you around and patching it up."

"Shit," Buffy ground out, knowing there was a laugh buried in that sound. "You just couldn't take it anymore than I could. Only you could get away from it."

"You're right," he said. Buffy jerked her eyes up, thrown off kilter. "I was being selfish. I knew that the only reason you even cared I was back was that I could take care of Dawn and the money. That I could take care of you. That may have been well and fine, but I needed help too. I needed YOU." He sighed roughly. "There's wrong in there somewhere; I couldn't expect you to be there for me. I was supposed to be there for you."

Buffy pulled her shoulders in closer to her body, uneasy at the emotion kindling in his eyes.

"But people can't help need, Buffy. I'm glad to give you anything you require, you're the most important person in my life and I love you. It was selfish, but I hurt and I was..." He faltered, using speed to regain his composure. "There were reasons...but I couldn't watch you walking wilfully and blindly to your destruction. Money was the simplest of your problems and you didn't seem to want to fight any of them. You wanted substitutes to run in and do the work for you rather than help you."

He paused, thinking back over his floundering speech and said ruefully, "And I started to. But I shouldn't have. It looks like it hurt more than it helped, even if it seemed nice for a while." A sort of wistful, absent smile peeked at the corner of his mouth.

For a moment there was no anger. Buffy lowered herself gingerly to the couch and murmured, "You're sorry you came back?"

He shook his head roughly. "I'm sorry that my coming back allowed you the opportunity to give up. That giving up is not you. You fight."

"I used to think that about you," she countered edgily.

"Damnit, Buffy!" Giles growled, furious that this argument was happening, that they couldn't just laugh together and suddenly feel that everything was right. He just wanted it over, but it wasn't going away. "Open your eyes. I know that I hurt you. You think I don't know? That it didn't hurt me? But for God's sake, I didn't know how to help you without carrying you and that wouldn't have done either of us any good in the end."

Buffy covered her eyes with a tight-fingered fist. "I really miss you, Giles."

He wanted to move, wanted to comfort her. Years of instinct to protect the Slayer and years of love that told him to protect Buffy attempted to spur his muscles into action. Giles held on stubbornly, dropping his head and staring angrily at his shoes. He'd give himself thirty seconds to calm down. Thirty seconds to regain his composure and think, and then he could go over to her. If he went angry...

The door swung open and he heard Dawn yell out, "Is there going to be any dinner? 'Cause I told Jennifer..." Her boisterous greeting trailed off. Giles looked up and saw Dawn and a tall redhead standing in the doorway with dumbly surprised looks on their faces. The girl, Jennifer, was staring at Buffy whose head was still down and whose posture was so defeated. She suddenly felt Giles' icily stern gaze and turned, catching his eye and blushing in embarrassment, hastily switching her eyes to Dawn.

Giles turned the look upon the younger Summers, not bothering to soften it with any apology. He watched her in silence while she rolled things over in her mind. Her face became sad and she hitched a thumb toward the door. "Um, I guess I'll just go over to Jennifer's for dinner."

"Yeah," the other girl said in a soft voice. They headed away and Giles' heart sank at Dawn's expression. She paused, turning her head slightly and offered him a sympathetic smile. His own face softened and he nodded. The door clicked shut.

Giles turned back to Buffy then, feeling calmer. She had remained unmoving, hand over eyes. He moved forward, crouching before her, greedily taking in the line of her arm, the curve of her spine as she breathed slowly and evenly.

"Buffy, I don't know what I'm supposed to do now. I'm sorry I yelled, and for the *way* I left, but I won't apologize for what I did, for the leaving. The way things were headed, my being here wouldn't have changed anything for the better and may in fact have done some damage. But for now, I'm here and I'd like to make this stay as pleasant as possible. I'd like to be able to talk to you again without it dissolving into pain."

He heard her breath again, watched her back rise and fall and then heard her speak. "How's England?"

"What?" he asked incredulously, rocking back on his heels.

"How is England?" she repeated clearly, like a foreigner learning the language. Learning again. She sat up then with tired dignity and slowly raked her hair back from her face. Giles forgot to exhale as her hair shifted, her arm cutting a graceful arc. "How was the weather? Was it nice to be home?"

He blinked stupidly and shifted, seating himself on the couch a safe distance from her. Movement gave his brain time to reconnect and he replied, "Beautiful, I-I-I'd forgotten how much...I didn't realize I'd missed it so."

Slowly: "Any Slayers?"

"Two, actually." He was confused, painfully nervous, but he tried to work around that. "Not mine, but when their Watchers became ill, I took over their training for three weeks. Rather nice girls, all things considered. I suppose you could say I'm in the Watchers Reserve." He tried a small smile.

"Hmmm," a politely thoughtful nod.

"They were rather a lot like you, actually," he said testingly, observing his kneecaps with keen interest. "Not as prone to eye-rolling, but they have the same sense of self that you did; a refusal to be just the Slayer."

Buffy almost cringed at his unthinking use of the word 'did' in his speech. "Damn, I'm not original," she said, deciding to protect herself in dry humor.

"You will always be."

There was a moment of unadulterated silence.

"Will you ever be my Watcher again?" She asked in a calm, disconnected voice. Anticipation pushed darkness at the edges of her vision.

He looked up, startled for a split second before answering plainly, "No, I don't believe so." He clasped his hands and leaned his elbows on his knees. "I very much doubt we're meant to go that road again." She nodded heavily, feeling the thick weight of expected truth. Yet there was something...soothing in it. "Perhaps we'll be friends."

"Friends!" Buffy burst in a choking laugh. It felt so insubstantial, too easily broken. It was tenuous while she wanted the strength to fight for solidity; the side-effect intimacy of Watcher and Slayer. Buffy and Giles. She used to be able to tease him and make him smile. Used to.

She looked up calmly then and smiled with a saint's distracted affection. Giles was at a complete loss for words. Buffy put her hand out and for a moment, he hesitated. He reached out and grasped her fingers and was shocked to find them shaking. Buffy had the steadiest hands of any person he'd ever met. But she wasn't the same anymore, was she? Hadn't been for some time. That thought made him draw his hands back. He didn't even know her. Not really.

"I hate this," she stated.

"I quite agree."

"If you left next week and we never spoke again..."

"We'd both survive," he finished for her, a stiff smile crumpling his face.

"I don't want to. You have to be wrong." The words passed her lips before she could sensor them, but she didn't regret their truth.

"But you would, my dear girl. You would and I would. Our lives would never be the same." He smiled absently and began pacing, fingering objects as he moved about the room. "I know that it would be hard, but we would and, well...life would be...quite regular." How often had he longed for normality?

After a while Buffy exhaled slowly and stood. "Are you really staying in a hotel?"

A flash of surprise and then tired relief at the end. "Yes, it's quite nice."

"You don't have to. I mean, you're only going to be here for a little bit longer, but you should be comfortable. Or at least....not alone. You should stay here."

He began to decline, but Buffy just quirked an eyebrow and turned for the stairs.

"Buffy..."

"Quiet," she shushed him. "You can stay in Willow's old room, she's staying with Tara now. Sheets are clean." She mounted the stairs and heard him follow her, but she never turned around.

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Three days later, the night before the wedding, Willow, Tara, Buffy, Dawn, Giles, Xander and Anya gathered for dinner in the Summers home. They were making last minute plans and listening to Anya give her last minute speeches and orders. Buffy and Tara were beginning to nod off when Anya slapped the table excitedly, shocking the two guilty would-be nappers into semi-wakefulness. Giles smirked at Buffy who stuck a lazy tongue out at him.

"And you will recall that, in accordance with tradition, you will all attend the wedding tomorrow afternoon as my honored guests." She tapped her pen down the line of instructions and lists on her notepad and nodded. "That's it." Anya's shoulders bunched in excitement and she gave a frothy series of claps. "Yay!"

The listeners stared back in a sort of open mouthed stupor. Dawn looked around and spoke slowly. "Uuuhhhh, okay. Um, yay?"

Anya smiled encouragingly and raised her glass to Willow and Buffy. "Practice your toasts, you two!" Buffy and Willow grinned at each other.

"I just can't believe that you guys are actually getting married," Tara said happily. "Oh, well, not that I thought it was impossible, because you guys are wonderful together it's just, well, you know what I mean."

"Yeah, thanks, Tara," Xander laughed.

Willow looked a little teary as she examined the two before her. "I always thought we'd get married. But I guess the whole girlfriend thing gets in the way. At least I get to be your best man. Or best woman? Can I be a matron of honor?"

Dawn sank a little lower in her chair and smiled sleepily. She had watched everyone since their arrival. She hadn't seen them all together in a room for too long and she found she had to press her lips tightly to keep from making an embarrassingly joyful noise. Even Buffy and Giles had relaxed. They'd stopped casting secretive and weighty glances at each other and merely settled to enjoy dinner and the company. She settled a little more comfortably and let the familiar chatter work over her.

"Dawn? Hey, are you asleep Dawnie?" She opened an eye at Xander's voice.

"No, I just..." she looked around "I just must have slept my way through dinner." She chuckled and sat up. "I just got comfortable, I guess." She looked around again at everyone and licked her lips. "I'm just glad to see everybody."

With final schedules arranged and hugs all around, the company departed and Buffy, Giles, and Dawn silently gathered up the dinner plates, transporting them to the kitchen sink. After the initial fight, the ritual of cleaning became a soothing, if quiet affair. They didn't speak, but silence wasn't harmful. They were both unconsciously adamant that the more words they uttered, the greater the likelihood of pushing their ability to mend the relationship further and further away. The silence helped nothing, a fact they stubbornly ignored because neither did the silence destroy and the stability was comforting whether or not it was exactly pleasant. For three days they had managed to avoid each other by way of wedding plans and visiting with other friends. And during all their meals together, they had miraculously been able to keep conversation to the food and rather shallow occupations. As Dawn had finished with her portion of the wash, Buffy absently flipped the radio on and began swaying to the music. Soon Giles began humming along. Dawn cleaned her hands and stood thoughtfully.

"Dawn?" Giles asked, putting down his dishtowel for a moment.

"Dancing."

"Excuse me?"

"Dancing. At the wedding. There'll be dancing, right?"

With a smile, Giles confirmed her suspicions. "It is very likely that there will be dancing."

Dawn smiled with infectious teenaged joy. "I totally love dancing."

Giles laughed. "Well, I assume you tango?"

"Of course!" Dawn giggled, grabbing his hands as an extremely tango-inappropriate pop song rolled out of the radio. Giles spun her out and back and proceeded to lead her in a cartoonish dance around the kitchen. Buffy couldn't help but giggle at the utter absurdity of the scene as Dawn twirled by. Dawn laughed joyously as Giles dipped her so low that her hair swept the floor. When he released her, she collapsed in happy giggles against the counter.

Giles turned his still glowing face to Buffy and held out a hand. "Do you dance as well, seņora?" he asked with amazing composure, his voice dark and rich with happy exertion. Buffy's blood sang and she began to decline when Dawn circled her waist with an arm and pulled her up. Buffy laughed, allowing Giles a sigh of relief, and the three began swaying around the kitchen.

"I thought you were classy and dignified," Buffy called to Giles, the movement lightening her tongue.

He swiveled his hips and replied, "Don't you mean stuffy? Everyone deserves to behave like a complete moron every now and again." Buffy turned her quick gaze on him, but he avoided her eyes, twirling Dawn slowly. The radio announcer came on and segued into a song impossible to dance to and the three caught their breaths.

Dawn smiled and yawned widely. "Is it sad that that was the most fun I've had in a really long time?" Buffy shook her head affectionately and Dawn gave her a kiss on the cheek, receiving a rub on the shoulder from Giles as she passed out of the kitchen and up to her room.

"Thanks," Buffy said, suddenly edgy in their privacy.

"For what?" he asked, pushing his sleeves up to force a casual stance.

"For giving her a real reason to smile. She hasn't been doing a lot of that this year. None of us have, but this much pain has been kind of a new thing for her." Giles' lips tightened and his eyes hardened with pain. Buffy shrugged with effort and smiled. "You're pretty light on your feet."

"I keep in practice," he said archly, willing the weight on his chest away with every word. "I don't think Anya and Xander's dancing will really exceed good-natured flailing and swaying, though."

"Yeah," Buffy said, her voice holding a surprising note of disappointment. "Regular people don't really DANCE anymore, do they?" She asked. Sudden images of Ginger Rogers dancing while she and her mother hummed along twirled her thoughts for an instant.

"No, I suppose not many do," Giles agreed as he idly spun the tuning knob on the radio. Buffy looked up as a slow, waltzy song from the early nineties floated into the kitchen. Giles turned back to her and smiled with a hint of self-conscious questioning. Buffy hesitated for several long moments before stepping into his grasp. Giles placed one hand softly on the small of her back and took her hand with the other. His heart skipped at the feeling of her breasts and belly against him and her form so close, and he smiled tenderly at the warmth that wrapped him up. "Hand on my shoulder," he directed quietly. He slowly began moving them about the kitchen.

Buffy watched their feet at first, not having danced properly since she was just a normal girl, but soon her brain connected the movements with the timing and she could look up. When she lifted her eyes she was immediately caught by the old warmth of Giles' face. Her breath tightened in her chest and her lips curled. Their gazes remained locked for a time and they smiled in the warm, safe silence of the kitchen. And for a while, words were unnecessary, because everything passed between their eyes and there was no awkwardness or hesitation. Buffy slowly lowered her cheek to Giles' shoulder and the two of them, once the Watcher and Slayer, now something a little more frightening, closed their eyes and danced.

Buffy remembered this feeling of peace. She'd come to find a similar, albeit colder version in the silent presence of Giles the past few days. This night, however, the comfort was too great, too complete; and the warmth suffusing itself in Buffy's belly was unsettlingly pleasant. The beginnings of a thought had occurred to her, that perhaps it was just Giles. Buffy tipped her head up and suddenly he was too close. < I can't forgive him. I hate him. > And was it true? Sometimes she still glanced at him and felt hopeless rage, but none the less...

Buffy pulled herself away from Giles' touch and his hands hung, paused in mid air, molded emptily to the curve where her shape should have been.

"Buffy?" He asked, and she could see his brow ready to furrow. She couldn't tell at that moment whether she hated him or herself.

"It's late, Giles," she said, her words a bit too sharp. She snapped the radio off and they both started at the sudden silence. "Tomorrow's a big day and the dishes can wait for after the wedding. Time for bed." She crossed her arms over her waist, creating an unconscious barrier between them.

"Oh," he said softly, his eyes darkening in disappointed bewilderment. He shook his head and his lips twitched into what they felt must have been a smile. He clicked the lights off before he spoke, as if sound traveled better in the dark. "Of course." Buffy bit her lip and waited until she knew he would follow her before moving to the stairs. She felt him behind her in the darkness as they mounted the steps. She could almost sense his shape in the soft blue-black, almost feel the confusion.

At the top of the stairs they paused, hesitating, neither one wanting to be the first to give in, yet Buffy still with her back to him, feeling the weight of his eyes on her. She turned to him, seeing him, barely outlined by diffused moonlight. Impulsively, Buffy leaned forward and pressed her cheek to his, brushing a light kiss across his jaw. "Night, Giles." She slipped silently into her room and pressed the door shut with a muffled click leaning against it with a quiet curse. And though she could not see him, she felt him outside her door, still, long after she'd slid between the cool clean sheets that smelled so empty with only one scent resting in them.

******************************************************************************

Buffy zipped up Willow's dress and then picked up her own, eyeing the green material distastefully. "At least she took our suggestions and got rid of some of the ruffles. I still think we're going to look like mermaids at a boat show. Why can't the guys suffer like this too? There's only two of them, but they get to wear the good stuff. I know at least one of them deserves this humiliation," she mumbled, trying valiantly to block out the words she knew were coming from Willow.

"Buffy, I know you're mad at Giles for leaving." The redhead sighed. She hated watching Buffy avoid the man they'd loved so dearly. Hell, she knew Buffy still loved him, she was just too hurt and stubborn to see that that was the important thing. "I'm mad too, but can't you forgive him? And I know we could have used his help a lot, but--"

"I'm not mad at him for that!" Buffy interrupted, stepping out of her street clothes. "I mean, I AM, I was...but that's not why it's so hard that he's back. I'm not mad that there was enough reason to leave. I'm mad that there wasn't apparently enough reason to come back. That *I* wasn't enough reason."

"Buffy, if he'd come back--"

Buffy stepped into the dress. "He didn't want to say damn the consequences and come back to me." Yanking it up, she shoved one arm in a sleeve. "He wouldn't even call to say if he missed me or not."

She shoved the other arm in. There was a tiny tearing noise and both girls winced. Willow moved to find the source of the noise. She lifted a layer of material and nodded. "I bet Tara will be able to put one stitch in it and have it fixed. Two minutes." She got back to their unwilling conversation. "Buffy, he did call; you told him to go to hell and leave you alone."

"I was mad. He hurt me more than anyone ever has. I wasn't worth fighting for."

"You never called him either," Willow pointed out, grabbing the zipper.

Buffy gave a tense, petulant shrug, then was still for a few moments. "I wanted him to come back because he wanted to. Needed me. I don't even think he needs me anymore. He doesn't love me."

Willow's lips parted in recognition as she pulled the zipper into place. Not at the words that Buffy had used many times before, but at the soft, wistful tilt of the voice. "Buffy?" Their reflections were in the mirror, one startled and still, the other at once sad and critical, both in kelly green nightmare confections.

"It makes my hips look big, but it's for Anya," Buffy said. "Did you know that he helped to train two Slayers in England? His friends, his flat. He's happy. He's not going to stay, not for me. Am I such an idiot? Did I really think I had all of him just because he was my Watcher? I'm not all he needs."

"Buffy, do you love Giles?"

"Of course I do. You know I do," she replied, focusing intently on getting out of the dress, purposefully misunderstanding the question.

"Buffy."

Buffy held her hands out, palms up, her face registering honest confusion. "You tell me?"

"Wow."

"Wow? You can't 'wow' yet, there's nothing to 'wow' yet. I still don't think I can forgive him." She chewed on her lip, deciding that if Willow could figure her out thus far, she would get the rest of the story anyway. "Besides, what would I give him? Why would he want me even if I decided that's what I wanted?"

"Oh, I don't know," Willow sighed, heaving back on her elbows with feigned defeat. "I mean, you're ugly as sin, have NO discernible talents or skills, he barely knows you and you have absolutely nothing in common. Hell, he never even liked you at all."

"Shut up."

Willow chuckled. "Buffy, let's be honest: nobody knows what Giles wants anymore. I bet he doesn't even know. But I do know at least one thing he needs: you. You may not believe it, and he may need a lot of things, he's changed a lot, so have we. Yeah, he has friends in England, and a life there. That's something we have to respect because he deserves something of his own, but he loves you, he'll always love you and he'll always need you. You need him too. He'll figure it out eventually and that'll be final, but I don't think it can start until you go to him and you both let go of what went on between the two of you." She let out a deep breath and nodded, satisfied.

"Wow," Buffy said, pulling her tee shirt on and then hanging the dress up on the back of the door. "That must be the longest speech you've ever given. I'm sorry you didn't get to give our commencement speech." She grinned.

"Buffy."

"Stop saying my name like that."

"Then go out and do what you have to do, but were too hurt to admit you needed. Take care of business. Be proactive."

"You'd make a crappy motivational speaker." Willow remained silent in irritation and Buffy looked at her, all traces of a smile leaving her features. "I can't," she said simply, striding out of the house.

Willow dropped back against the bed, fresh out of ideas.

*****************************************************************************

Buffy sat in the tub, listening to the murmuring brush of Giles and Dawn's voices downstairs as they pepared for the wedding, part of her missing Willow and Tara's voices in the bedroom down the hall.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, finding that odd little sadness that had clung to her for weeks. It felt good sometimes to indulge in depression. Today it merely felt oppressive. Buffy opened her eyes, held her breath, and slid her shoulders down the slick body-warmed porcelain letting her head slip beneath the water, staring at the ceiling through a wavering wall. She floated in the softly thick silence, her cheeks pooching out full of unmoved breath. Her hair swayed around her, bubbles and blonde threads waving and twisting before her eyes. Her chest began to grow tight after a minute or so, but she remained.

Something about the restraint combined with instinctual desperation for oxygen, the odd euphoria of near pain, was deeply enjoyable. She could control. < This is what it's been like > she thought < heavy and slow and wavy. > She frowned thoughtfully, not used to making such comparisons. With a forceful push of the abdomen, she expelled hundreds of tiny bubbles and broke the surface with her head. Water cascaded down her face, forcing her to squint, sputter and spit. Slicking her hair back to the nape of her neck, Buffy leaned against the wall, letting her hands drift over her body. Neck, breasts, hips, and back to her shoulders with absently tender affection. And then she knew.

She could control it.

She didn't know exactly what "it" was, but she was suddenly aware that whatever the thing had been, it no longer clung heavy and scraping over her shoulders. She'd let herself look away for a moment and some evil thing had flown away and something new had replaced it. But this edged around her body in a warm, comforting layer. Buffy smiled as she wondered how she would tell Giles and lifted her arms above her head, deciding that she could afford a few more minutes in the tub.

******************************************************************************

The pastor began to speak and Buffy found her thoughts trailing away. Her gaze moved over the line of faces. Dawn was enthralled by the ceremony, her romantic rapture so young, but she, so old that it scared Buffy. Tara watched Willow with such an expression of love that the Slayer had to grin. Xander and Anya beaming at each other over their clasped hands. Buffy knew that expression made up for any hideous bridesmaid dress Anya could have picked. And Giles...his profile was so familiar. Talent or no, she could have sketched his portrait in an instant. She smiled at him, looking so sexy and adorable in his tux. Just wait until he whipped out the English accent at the reception. The ladies would just melt.

Giles became aware of someone's gaze on him and he glanced about, catching Buffy's eye.

A reactionary part of her wanted to drop her eyes. Instead she held his gaze with a smaller, but blindingly honest smile. She mouthed the words "I love you," the intimate moment making her breath quicken; the setting that did not belong to them somehow relieving the terrible pressure she'd felt for so long. The tender recognition that touched his face softened the distance between them and Buffy suddenly felt lighter. Their gazes remained connected until the rings were exchanged and the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife" rang out. They turned to watch Xander dip Anya low and plant a passionate kiss on her. Anya gave his butt a playful -- to the untrained eye -- pinch, making him jump and causing their guests to break into uproarious laughter and whoops and catcalls.

The trip to the reception hall shuffled by in a blurry series of clicks as if impatience had nudged it to sidestep the normal pace of time, and suddenly they were in the summery scent of floral arrangements and light lunch. They ate and laughed, a pure, airy sound that seemed vaguely unfamiliar, but entirely necessary and proper.

Buffy took in the colors, sound, shape and form. An impressionist watercolor lasted throughout the day. Later she would remember it all in detail, but with sunlight muted by glass falling on her shoulders and a bridally decreed escape from all reality, she only got a gentle sense of it. All she felt was an almost palpable joy and a softly trained focus on the man two seats away from her who had been worlds away for an eternity. Buffy watched Xander and Anya rise with the soft swelling of music and begin to sway in a small circle of two that managed to be a universe of it's own. All the time she was comforted by the pressure of his gaze as a warmth on her neck.

The rest of the party moved to the floor, each to his own, and Buffy went to a small open space, turning to the man she knew was there. Dawn twirled by with a giggled, "I totally love dancing!" They laughed, watching her go and then for the second time that week Buffy stepped into Giles' arms and let herself move.

"Hi, Giles."

"Hello, Buffy."

"How have you been?"

"Splitting my time between 'fine' and 'dreadful.' And you?"

"I've missed you."

He released her with one arm, gently twirling her out. Buffy felt an almost painful joy at the selfishly firm grip of his hand, the sensation of Giles tugging her back to himself. Wanting.

"Would it be selfish of me to say I'd missed you too?" He queried, voice deep with anticipation.

Buffy nodded. "It would be perfect."

Giles' lips felt right against hers and she sighed. His touch paralyzed her. He let his head move, cheek on her hair, lips at her ear as she tipped her face up, moving in to fit him better. His voice moved gently in her ear.

"Oh, how I've missed you, Buffy."

THE END