By Kathy L

TITLE:  Interlude
FEEDBACK:  Yes, please!!!!! 
DISCLAIMER: All hail storymaster Joss, who owns all these characters. I'm
just playing with them for a bit.
DISTRIBUTION:  Solo if you want it, its yours. Anyone else, please ask (like I'm gonna say no!! :)
PART: 1/1
SPOILERS: Through "Enemies"
SUMMARY:   Let's just say that Buffy looked kind of freaked at the end of 'Enemies'.  Hence, the inspiration for this story.

"You're still my girl."

"Always." she said, with a bittersweet smile.  Then she walked off into the night.

She wandered aimlessly, still trying to cope with the multiple horrors of the previous evening.  Strange, how even hindsight could not dampen the blows of these particular revelations.  When she learned of Faith's betrayal and her plans for Angel, she still held out hope that they were wrong, that it was some plan of Faith's to finally deal with the Mayor  her own way.  When they came to her house to lure her to the mansion, she was still waiting for someone to wake her up,  tell her it was all a charade.  But the shock of seeing for herself where Faith's true loyalties lay couldn't compare to the sheer terror of seeing Angelus again. 

Though she would not admit it, even to her closest friends, it had taken her months to recover the last time.  She no longer scared her mother half to death by waking up screaming at some nightmare rooted in Angelus' exploits.  She was learning to trust again, learning to trust *him*.  But still part of the innocence was gone.  She remembered that night at the skating rink when she had cared for the cut on his forehead.   She had kissed him with his game face on, not noticing, not caring.  She flashed forward to the kiss in the courtyard not three weeks before, when he had sensed someone prowling around the property and had reverted to the vampire.  She knew, logically, that he wouldn't hurt her, but she had been momentarily terrified nevertheless.  What hurt just as much was seeing the pain and guilt in Angel's own eyes as he watched her reaction and tried to calm her fears.   And now she had to watch a play by play all over again, knowing it was a ruse but still very very close to screaming anyway.

She couldn't go home.  Angel's performance had opened the door to memories she had tried so hard to keep locked away.  The last thing she wanted to do was sleep and let them come at her in a full force gale.  She had tried to pretend she could handle everything just fine, until she spent most of the previous night watching infomercials in the living room, trying to keep away the nightmares.   She needed to talk to someone, and get the shock she was still feeling out of her system.  But it was late, and there were few options at that hour.  She walked around a bit more in a daze, and eventually found herself standing on the unlikeliest of doorsteps.

<What am I doing here?> she kept repeating to herself in that infinite few seconds between the knock and the click of the released deadbolt.

"Buffy," said Giles. "Are you alright?" he asked with concern.

"Hi." she said with a casual smile, as if she had just dropped by on a stroll. "Um...yeah." She stood in silence for a moment and looked at his expectant expression. <Then what are you doing here, Summers?> 

"No." she amended, her voice tinged with a small measure of the pain and confusion that was tearing her apart.  "Actually, alright is something I'm not." 

"Come inside," he said gently, leading her into the living room.

She wasn't sure why she had ended up at Giles' but she let that thought fade as the comfort of his house washed over her.  She liked the library, but it held too many tragic memories for her to ever relax like she could there in that living room. She hadn't fought for her life there, hadn't seen people die there.  It was the one place where her trust had never been freely given and destroyed in return.  She thought it ironic, since it was the site of Angelus' most cruel joke, and by all rights the last place she should seek refuge.  But the memories that flowed around her when she was in this house were not borne in pain.  They were the little things-- kindnesses, comforts, and always, always, unwavering support, usually when it was the most needed.

It was the look on Giles' face the night she came back to Sunnydale. It was the easy banter with Xander on the couch soon after, the feeling of acceptance by all of them, welcoming her home. It was the long talk she and Giles had after her welcome-home party, when things hadn't gone quite the way she thought they would. 

Even later, when she was sure that their friendship was  stretched beyond its limits, these rooms had been witness to reconciliation and  healing.  The alcove near the window, the night after they had prevented the demon cult from opening the hellmouth.  She had wept after he told her that he no longer considered Angel and Angelus one and the same.  The second stair, where she had sat and opened up a belated birthday present - a real one this time.  His card had been succinctly Giles, but what was inside the package had made her laugh and cry at the same time: an autographed picture of Scott Hamilton wishing her a happy birthday.  Giles had mumbled an apology about Brian Boitano being missing in action.  It had meant so much to her.  And it was in his kitchen that she had taught him how to make her version of hot chocolate.  It was a flimsy excuse to stay, because at that point she wasn't sure she would see him again.  Over two steaming mugs at the kitchen table he had reassured her that in spite of Wesley's adamant pleas to the Council, he wasn't leaving her. He never would.

She didn't realize it until that moment, but she had come seeking the same solace from the problems she now faced.  And he was the only one who would understand her because they were a mirror of his own fears.  How could they be so different, yet so alike? The bond was a strange one, but it was strong, and it had saved her life more times than she could count.  It wasn't just the killing or defeat of the demon of the week, it was coping with every aftermath that went with it.  What Wesley would never understand was that Giles' knowledge had kept her alive, but his love had kept her from losing her mind.

Buffy took a seat on the couch and glanced around the living room, fidgeting nervously.

Giles closed the door and came around to sit in an arm chair, a million thoughts running through his head.  He wasn't sure what to say, though he was sure he knew the reason for the late night visit.

"Can I get you anything? Some tea, perhaps?" he said, ever the good host.

"No, I'm okay." She thought about this for a moment, "Well, not okay, but-" she cut off midsentence and gestured helplessly.

"I know," he sighed, "Faith's...betrayal... is a hard thing to accept."

"I thought I was helping.  I thought she was starting to come around--she seemed so much more focused. I should have known..."

"She fooled us all, Buffy.  You must remember that she did pass the Council's psychological evaluations.  It seems lying well wasn't outside the realm of her expertise after all."

"What are they going to do?... The council, I mean.  This must have happened before."

Giles hated lying to his charge, but this time there was no way in good conscience that he could tell her the truth.  Only two slayers in the Watcher records had ever turned, and in each case it was a bloodbath before they were finally defeated.  The Council did have a ritual to permanently deprive a Slayer of her power, but the evil they had tried to use it against was too great, and many Watchers had lost their lives in the attempt.  He derived a small measure of hope, though, from the fact that before Buffy, there had never been two Slayers activated at the same time.  As much as he was loathe to admit it, she was most likely their most powerful advantage.  It was not a thought that brought him comfort.

"They have called an emergency meeting and are discussing the matter.  In the meantime, I suppose we must do what we can here." 

Buffy wrapped her arms around her knees and curled up against one arm of the sofa.  In a very small voice she said, "She scared the hell out of me last night."

He was surprised for a moment, and then the words were like a lance through him as he saw through to her true meaning.  "Buffy, I-"

She looked up at him and said,  "You should have seen her, Giles.  One minute she's my friend and the next she's a cold-blooded psycho ready to kill me.    Like everything we had been through meant nothing to her.  She had so much hate...and it was all directed at me...  And you know what the worst part was?" Buffy turned from Giles and looked off into space. "There was nothing in her eyes... no hesitation...not one shred of guilt.  She was thoroughly enjoying herself..."  Buffy turned back towards Giles, trying to stifle the tears, "How could she do that to me?"

He sat next to her on the couch and in a soft voice said, "It's alright, Buffy.  He hasn't turned.  In fact I daresay the only danger now is that he loves you too much."

She sat there, stunned, as the real meaning of her words hit home.  She hadn't intended to let that much of herself go, especially not where Angel was concerned.   She was afraid to look up at Giles, expecting to see the hardened expression he still wore every time Angelus' name was brought up.  What had she been thinking?  How could she come here and admit her own fears when he had so many more of his own that haunted him?

"I- I'm sorry," she said brokenly, "I shouldn't have come.  I have no right..." She made a move to leave but he caught her arm.

She sat back down and looked at him this time, seeing unformed tears in his eyes. 

He said, "You have every right.  I- I am the one who should apologize." 

He knew her so well, and he would have given anything to have accomplished what they did without Angel's intervention. He knew it would be difficult for both of them, but he believed Buffy when she said was strong enough to handle it.  He never dreamed it would cause her this much pain.

"For what?" she sobbed, "For bringing him back?  You said yourself it was the only way..."

"I- I didn't mean to hurt you in the process," said Giles, his voice heavy with an unusual display of emotion.

"It's not your fault," she said, meaning it.  "I know it was an act.  Really I do, but ... God... seeing him like that..." She shivered at the memory. "There is so little that separates him from what he was... I realize that now." She laughed derisively, "And here we were, trying to pretend that nothing had happened... that nothing was going to happen." 

She heard Spike's words echoing in her head...and she finally had to admit to herself that he was right.  She had said the same words herself, true, but she had never really believed them until last night, when she saw what would happen if she kept denying the inevitable. 

"I love him so much... I thought maybe, I don't know... I guess I thought that just being around him would be enough..." She felt a pang of guilt, not from being with Angel but because  Giles had been adamant from the start that she and Angel keep their relationship under control, and here she was basically admitting that they had blatantly ignored him.  When she thought of how close they might have come...

"There's no way I could have brought him back, right? I mean, we never- ... A- And your ... friend... he was on our side," she said, trying to convince herself.  "He wouldn't have... I mean, there's no way that this could all be the other way around, right?" she heard the desperation coming out of her mouth but she didn't care because she felt every bit of it.  Before last night she couldn't imagine Angel, her Angel, ever scaring her this badly.  She could tell herself and everyone else it was an act, but in her heart she was still terrified.  She realized then that this was the reason she had shown up on her Watcher's doorstep.  She was like a child in the middle of the nightmare;  she desperately needed Giles to turn the lights on and tell her that the monster was only in her head.

"Buffy, no..." said Giles, adamantly.  He put his arm around her and held her as she leaned into his embrace.  He was furious with himself for setting her up in such a situation to begin with. He should have known how hard this would be for her.  He could imagine his own horror facing Angelus again, how could he assume that she would handle it any better? He had thought that Angel and Buffy's love for each other would alleviate most of the horror of the charade but it had only made things much worse.  The weeping slayer in his arms was proof enough of that.

"I am quite certain that Angel is himself.  Elric is nothing if not honorable.  He would not repay a debt by deceit.  I believe it was merely a case of Angel carrying things a bit too far."

"But why?" she said, miserably.

He pulled away and looked at her with kind eyes. "Buffy, you must understand that in spite of our desire to- to distinguish Angel from Angelus on moral grounds, physically they are one and the same.  The atrocities Angelus committed may be over, but we know that Angel still has very vivid memories of those times.  It is only natural that he would draw on those memories to recreate Angelus' personality. It doesn't mean that he has turned, or that he has stopped caring about you."

A half-formed thought that had been nagging at Giles for some time finally crystallized.  It was something Angel had started to say when they had locked Willow's double in the book cage.  Something about a vampire's personality not being completely different than that of the living person.  If that were true, it meant that Angel himself was capable of the same cruelties as his soulless counterpart.  His soul allowed him to suppress that side of himself, yes, just as a person does not act on every thought that comes into their head.  But the inclination was there, nevertheless.  Giles suspected that this was the real reason behind Angel's successful deception of Faith, but he wasn't about to give voice to such horrifying notions. 

"Then- then he's really okay," Buffy said hopefully.

"Yes, yes he is." <For now>, Giles thought to himself.

Buffy sighed in obvious relief, and he could see the tension flow out of her face.  She was silent for a moment, and then she said sadly, "We can't go on like this."

It tore him apart to see her so dejected, but at the same time he was relieved. He had been hoping that she would make this realization on her own.  He could have given her an ultimatum, but it would have strained their own relationship and she would most certainly have ignored him anyway.  He supposed the Mayor's choice of mayhem was fortuitous after all.  The close call gave her a chance to see the consequences of her actions before the real damage was done.

"What will you do?" he said simply.

She was surprised.  She had expected him to rush to agreement with her.  Instead he had thrown the ball entirely into her court, no judgement, no orders.  The look on his face told her she had only to ask for advice if she needed it, but that he was not going to interfere this time.  She was touched by his faith in her.

"I don't know.  We have to talk, I guess.  Work something out.  But first I gotta figure out the 'me' before I figure out the 'we'."  She wasn't sure how she was going to be able to let Angel disappear from her life, but she knew now that it was something she had to do, before they destroyed each other.

"I'm here if you need me," said Giles, a trace of the old hurt in his voice.  He knew that this was something that must be done, but the last time Buffy had been hurt that deeply she had put him through hell for two and a half months.  He wasn't sure if he could bear it again.

She put a hand on his arm, and said, "I know." She gave him a pained smile. "I'm not going anywhere."

"That is good to- to know," he said, with more relief than he meant to show.

"It's late. I should get going.  Goodnight, Giles," she said, giving him a hug.  "Thank you."

"You're quite welcome," he said, showing none of the usual fluster associated with her displays of emotion.  "Would you like a ride home?"

"No, no I think I need to walk.  See you tomorrow." she said, as they made their way to the door.

"Goodbye, Buffy.  Be careful."

"Always," she said with a smile, and walked off into the night.