By Gail Christison
Author: Gail Christison
Pairing: [inferred B/G]
Timeline: After The Gift
Summary: See above
Disclaimer: Joss did it. It's all his fault <g>
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org Always love to hear what you think :-)
Distribution: Once More With Feeling http://www.wickedsky.com/oncemore/
Author's notes: Thanks to Liz for the help; To Savage, hope you feel better soon, and to EW who demanded I make it better. :-)
Dedication: To my friend Sarah.
"To be honest I prefer not to."
"But you have to sleep, Giles. You look like hell."
"Thank you, Xander."
Giles shrugged and his mouth threatened to pull into a tiny smile, but failed, just.
"I can't sleep. I haven't been able to sleep since..."
They both fell silent. Eventually Giles picked up the bottle again and poured himself another shot.
"Anya should be here soon, yes?"
"What? Oh, yeah…about half an hour. She needed to do a couple of things in town after she closed up. She's getting a cab."
"You couldn't pick her up?" Giles asked, surprised.
Xander looked uncomfortable.
Giles frowned. "Willow was here last night, and Dawn the night before, with Tara...and singed cookies. Now you're here. What exactly is going on?"
Xander shrugged. "Closing ranks," he said softly, his dark eyes lifting to the green ones and holding them defiantly.
The older man couldn't find the words for a few moments.
"I-I'm fine, Xander," he stammered eventually and finished the drink.
"None of us are fine," the boy snapped a little harshly then slumped.
Giles looked away. "I’ll be all right," he said gruffly.
"No you won’t."
Giles looked back at him, startled by the tone of his voice.
They stared at each other for a few moments.
"I have been here before," he said slowly and softly.
Xander’s eyes widened and he looked away. "Can I just say that I’m here now, and it’s a pretty crappy place?" he retorted.
Giles’ eyes lit a little and he nodded at the turned head. "It is that. I can only tell you that time and distance will bring their own peace."
"Yeah, well, I’m not so sure about that, without Buffy here. I mean, who’s going to be anti-apocalypse girl now? Faith?" His face clouded. "I think I like her better where she is now. And since Faith was called after Buffy, does that mean no new slayer…or if there is a new one, will she come to Sunnydale? Or maybe she’ll be the Marseilles slayer or the Athenian slayer or the Lithuanian Slayer?"
Giles dragged a hand over his face. "I don’t know," he said hollowly. "I just don’t know. Nothing about…about Buffy has ever been conventional or by the book."
Xander looked bemused. "Since when has anything about Slaying been by anyone’s book?"
Giles chuckled mirthlessly, then lowered his head, his eyes closing for the briefest of moments before he shook it and straightened again.
"Would you like something to drink? Coffee, perhaps?"
Xander watched the older man rise and head for the kitchen as though he couldn’t think about any of it a moment longer.
"My usual," he called after him, deliberately. "That ‘revolting chocolate and sugar confection’…Remember?"
Giles didn’t answer, and Xander didn’t see the small smile of affection on the older man’s haggard face.
They were sitting over their drinks, sipping silently and pretending that the oppressive silence wasn’t closing in on them, when Anya finally burst in.
"I hate cab drivers," she announced, slamming the door behind her.
"Problem?" Xander asked, trying to look interested.
"Yes. Trying to find one. He didn’t want to stop."
"Anya, you didn’t walk in front of a car again?"
Giles looked astonished.
"Well, they’re supposed to stop when you raise your hand. I’ve seen it in the movies."
"But they don’t have to," Xander pointed out, "especially if they already have another fare."
Anya made a face. "The little old lady in the back didn’t seem to mind. Although she was kind of pale after I got in. I don’t think she liked stopping."
"From forty miles an hour to zero in two seconds, I don’t blame her," Xander retorted. "We’ll talk about that later. Did you get everything you wanted?"
Anya grinned. "Yes. Everything. I even got something for the boss."
Giles looked up, partly curious, partly wary. "That wasn’t necessary," he said softly.
"Oh, but I wanted to," she told him enthusiastically and presented Giles with a shop-wrapped package.
He turned it even more warily in his hands and flicked a glance to Xander, who had a slightly wild ‘don’t look at me’ look in his eyes.
The wrapping came away to reveal a narrow velvet case.
Giles opened it slowly, smiled, and shook his head. "Thank you, Anya. That’s terribly thoughtful of you."
Xander, nonplussed, looked from one to the other.
"He broke his last pen yesterday while he was taking an important phone message. The language was not repeatable," Anya shrugged. "He needs to have a pen."
Xander’s gaze slid back to Giles.
"It’s a magnificent gift, Anya," the older man confirmed, looking again at the expensive silver pen.
She smiled. "I told them it wasn’t allowed to break and it had to be too strong for you to snap it in half while you’re thinking, like the last three."
The smile vanished from his face and Giles looked down at the pen again.
"Thank you," he said quietly, rose, and in a couple of moments had disappeared up the stairs.
"What?" Anya demanded, blinking.
Xander sighed. "It wasn’t you, An," he told her as she sat beside him. "You did a good thing."
"I did? Good. I wanted to make him less unhappy. It makes him very unhappy not having a pen."
Xander rubbed her back between her shoulder blades. "I know, hon. He appreciates it."
Anya looked up at the loft, its curtains not quite closed, and saw Giles sit down on his bed, his head lowering to rest against the knuckles that were clutching her pen. Her eyes grew very bright.
Humans were so fragile. It terrified her. Xander was Human and therefore mortal. And that terrified her most of all. That and the fact that she knew somewhere deep inside her thousand year old soul that the boss was never, ever, going to get over the loss of his Slayer…
"We should go."
"What? But, Giles…we should…" Xander stammered, surprised.
"We should go," Anya repeated.
He didn’t look up from the invoices he was sorting at the reading table in the Magic Box.
"You are all perfectly capable of looking after yourselves now. You don’t need me…not even for the books," he added, an almost bitter tinge to his very soft voice.
"But…" His companion scowled. "Screw the books!" Willow said angrily.
Giles’ head flew up. She’d changed so much since Buffy’s death. The last time they’d spoken of him going home had been very different…
No, Willow was a child no longer.
"You…you’re leaving a-and you have a life here. There’s your apartment…this place," she indicated the shop, "us. You can’t go. You won’t be happy there."
Giles, who had been about to smile at her enthusiasm, stopped himself from looking away, his eyes flickering with pain.
"Happiness is not going to be an issue, Willow," he said quietly.
Her eyes grew very wide and she closed the mouth poised to retort, as they glistened with moisture. "Don’t go," she whispered.
"I must," he replied, barely audibly.
"I…we love you, Giles," she told him, moisture escaping down soft cheeks.
"And I, all of you…but I can’t stay here, Willow. Can you…can you try to understand that she’s everywhere? Especially here, the flat…even the streets we patrolled. I can’t stay. I want…I need to go away."
Willow could hear the pain in his voice, the emptiness in his soul. She nodded silently, unable to stem the escaping moisture.
In one movement Giles moved from his chair to sit in the one beside her, drawing an arm around her and squeezing, an act so uncharacteristic that Willow was too moved to speak.
"You’ll be fine," he told her softly. "You have your Tara, and you’re finally beginning to understand who you are, what you are. You don’t need me anymore, love."
She turned into his chest and put her arms around him, holding on tightly.
There were no words. They didn’t need any. Both of them understood that nothing would ever be the same again.
Giles closed his own around her comfortingly and rested his chin on her soft hair, his heart leaden and his throat constricting with grief, but he remained silent until she finally drew away.
"W-will you be going very soon?" she asked in a tiny voice, scrubbing the moisture away, and making the red blotchiness of her cheeks even worse.
He nodded, swallowing with the effort to stay calm. "Soon. I’ve spoken to a firm about removal of my effects to London, and an estate agent about sub-letting the flat."
Willow’s lip trembled. "Th-then we’ll all have to have dinner before you go. Wh-which reminds me…I came over to bring you more cookies…a-and to tell you that Dawn’s doing okay. She likes Tara a lot. They’re spending a lot of time together."
Giles nodded. "I’ve found a way to send word through his firm to her father, but there has been no response yet. If there is none before I’m due to leave, I will instruct Dawn’s lawyer to hire someone to find Hank and inform him of the situation."
Willow nodded again, not really caring if they never found the man. "She’ll be fine with us…at least until he arrives…or the authorities decide to do something."
"Good," he said with difficulty.
Leaving Dawn felt like a betrayal of Buffy’s trust, but he was finding it more and more difficult to look at and listen to the last remaining Summers woman. It most certainly was not her fault, and he truly did love her. The almost uncontrollable rage he felt deep in his soul each time she spoke or looked at him with those eyes, was something she didn’t deserve. She didn’t deserve it, and he couldn’t stop it…
No, he couldn’t stay…
"Right," Willow agreed. "Tea. We should have tea…a-and cookies." She rose and started for his office, where the kettle resided. "Coming right up."
Giles watched her go, shadows almost swallowing his jade gaze.
So many good memories…a montage of school, library, donuts, Willow and Xander bickering, half empty pizza boxes on the reading table at two in the morning, piles of books and so many yawns…Jenny teasing and the smell of tweed and musty antique volumes and Earl Grey tea…
He closed his eyes. And Buffy: with her raucus training music and ridiculous shoes, her defiance, her teasing, the eye-rolling, her courage…and her fear…
He would never forget the first time he ever asked her to die. It was etched on his soul like a brand. More than anyone else, he understood her heart, knew what it cost her to be who she was. He was still lost in memories of her when Willow returned with the tea.
She lingered, even helping close up before she had to go, to meet Tara and Dawn at the mall.
When she was gone Giles cleared away before dropping into his office chair and picking up the book sitting closed on the desk.
It seemed strange to be reading his own handwriting; even stranger to be reading his first ever…rather pompous and disapproving…impressions of his new Slayer. He read on, however, well into the night…
"I can’t believe the removal guy comes tomorrow." Willow frowned. It had already been a week since Giles had told her he was leaving.
"What removal guy?" Dawn asked. "You guys aren’t going anywhere…?"
Tara turned. "Oh, sweetie, no. We’re staying right here…um…"
"It’s okay, Tara. Dawn, we didn’t want to tell you before, but Giles needs to go away for a while."
"Giles? Giles is leaving? He can’t leave!" Dawn exclaimed, shocked.
Tara put an arm around her. "Sure he can," she said gently. "He’s finished here. He’s still a Watcher. They might need him somewhere else."
"I don’t believe you!" Dawn said through her teeth, tears in her throat. "He wouldn’t leave me all alone. He...he’s my last…I don’t want him to go away."
"Being around here hurts him," Willow said very quietly. "He wouldn’t leave you if he didn’t think we could take care of you. And he’s going to make sure they find your dad and make him help, too."
"No!" Dawn made, almost desperately, for the door. "I want to see Giles. I want him to tell me…" She stopped suddenly, her eyes dilating frighteningly, made a strangled noise and collapsed.
Willow and Tara scrambled to her side just as her eyelids began to flutter.
Giles, dark circles under his eyes and more room than ever before in his sweater and jeans, looked around the near empty apartment. It was eerily like his nightmare at the time of their encounter with the First Slayer.
…Except that there was no Buffy. No warm presence to fill his life with the sound of her laughter, her teasing, even her scorn. No quicksilver girl to whom he was tied more closely than blood, more even than tears.
No woman whose love meant more to him than life itself…
Soon he wouldn’t even have the echoes of her life that reverberated around this place, this town. He sat down hard on the crate of books next to him, his legs turned to jelly.
He did not ask to love her. He didn’t even ask to be her Watcher. She was the single most infuriating, ingratiating, courageous, contrary creature he’d ever known, and he loved her beyond measure…
He would always love her. She was as much apart of him as his own soul…more perhaps.
In a very real sense, they were twin spirits, each with it’s own destiny, each having fought so hard against that road, each carrying their personal loneliness in silence, both snatching at moments of promised happiness with others that never quite seemed to eventuate…
"Oh, Buffy love, I’m sorry," he whispered raggedly, wishing he hadn’t packed his brandy already. "I’m so sorry."
A knock at the door brought his bent head back up.
He sighed. The removalists were there, already. He wasn’t used to people knocking. He looked around, tasting one last time the memories that filled those walls, reverberated through the tiny apartment.
As he approached the door one last memory flared to life. With each step he remembered how lost he was that summer without her, how afraid…until he opened the door.
Grey blue eyes rolled up to meet stunned green ones staring at the slip of a girl standing in his doorway, hair asunder, scuff mark on one cheek, wearing only an oversized T-shirt obviously stolen from someone’s line.
"Buffy?" he whispered, jagged waves of shock coursing through his body.
"I’m back," she said simply.
He shook his head. "I buried you."
She nodded. "And I came back. They sent me…made me…remember, I told you…Dawn is me. They made me from part of her. They said it’s not my time. Th-they need me here."
"Who does?" he demanded, his hands trembling.
"Them…they…them…the ones who sent Angel back here from hell. It’s me, Giles. You know it’s me. You can feel it. I can feel you."
Giles almost stepped towards her. "No…it’s a spell, a trick…it has to be. You can’t…" He wanted so badly to reach out and touch her, to…
"No," he repeated hoarsely, shaking his head. "No."
Buffy closed her eyes for a moment. "Once, when I got all psychic, I heard you. You were helping me back to the car. You thought I might go mad from all those voices in my head."
"Any…anyone could extrapolate s-something like that f-from my records…" he began.
"No," Buffy cut him off, determined to finish. "That was what you were thinking. But I could see behind…I could see the burning thing behind your thoughts."
Giles’ eyes flew to hers, searched them, half in fear, half in hope.
"You love me," she said very gently, her voice husky with emotion. "I saw it. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to know how much I was hurting you by not loving you back. I was still in love with Angel …and by the time I was ready to move on, Olivia was there."
"Oh God, it can’t be you. It isn’t possible!" he rasped. "It can’t…"
They were both trembling as she stepped over the threshold in the doorway and touched his cheek.
"But it is me," she whispered. "See. Warm. Real." She took his face in both hands, the whisper turning to a purposeful sound. "I believe that’s seven apocalypses for us now."
She watched his face begin to crumple, watched him struggle against overwhelming emotion, trying instinctively to be ‘Giles’, and failing.
"Buffy," he said soundlessly.
She let her arms move around his neck as his convulsively closed around her.
"Oh God…Buffy!" he sobbed as they clutched each other.
Buffy turned her face into his hair. "I love you, too," she rasped near his ear, felt his arms tighten and heard the small sound wrenched from his throat. "I will always love you."
It was almost more than she could bear, to hear him weep for her. It was a sound she had hoped never to hear again. The memory of his grief after Jenny’s death only made it harder to know what it must have been like for him after her own.
Heedless of her own tears, Buffy finally let go, drew him inside and closed the door.
"I’m kinda guessing you’re expecting someone," she managed tremulously, looking almost wildly around at the empty room. "Where’s Dawn?"
Giles thrust his hands deep in his jeans pockets and hunched his shoulders.
"Um, yes, I shall have to cancel. Today was to be the last of it. The rest has already gone into storage until I could arrange for it to be shipped to England. Dawn is with Willow and Tara. She could hardly have stayed here, alone, with me."
"But…" Buffy wiped her wet eyes. "But you won’t go now, right?"
He shook his head, without really lifting it.
Buffy watched him, tenderness in her eyes, knowing how hard it was for him. "Giles, I really need some clothes. "Even tweed is starting to look good right now."
"Oh, oh, right," he stammered and took himself with indecent haste up his stairs to the loft. Moments later he was back with a grey tracksuit.
"It’s going to be miles too big, but at least you’ll be cov…um…warm," he amended, handing it to her.
Buffy didn’t wait for him to turn around, drawing the soft grey pants on and pulling the sweatshirt over her head.
"Perfect," she grinned when it was on.
Giles looked her bundled form up and down and smiled in spite of himself. "Very becoming," he teased, his eyes lighting on her exposed throat now that she’d pushed her hair back out of the way.
He stepped forward and reached out to trace the scar. "It is you," he whispered.
Buffy nodded slowly, her own fingers reaching up to touch the fading outline of proud flesh.
"Everything that makes me, me: all my flaws, all the reminders of my past mistakes… they want me to remember it all. There’s supposed to be some new stuff…but I-I don’t know much about that yet. They…they said I’d know when it was time…"
"I don’t care," Giles growled suddenly, and with vehemence. "Right now I don’t give a damn about anyone’s destiny, or responsibility, or any of it!" His hands were trembling again. He realised and pulled away, back pedalling to sit on the chest in the middle of the room.
"I thought I’d lost you," he said hollowly. "I thought I’d lost everything…"
Buffy’s eyes widened, then filled until they glittered brightly.
He didn’t meet her gaze until she was standing right in front of him. He looked up very slowly until he could see the chameleon eyes looking down at him, now soft greyish green and glistening like the leaves after rain.
As he drank in the love in them for him, his heart lurched with emotion he could no longer repress, the truth he couldn’t keep out of his own.
Buffy saw it and smiled slowly, her eyes glowing, her fingers moving to rest against his cheek. "Everything?" she whispered.
His own eyes far too bright, he smiled and covered her fingers with his own.
"Everything," he said.