So Much, So Many, So Few
TITLE: So Much, So Many, So Few
CLASSIFICATION: Slight B/A (it couldn’t be avoided), B/G
SPOILERS: Earshot, Band Candy, Revelations, Amends, Graduation
FEEDBACK: Please, please, please, please...humour me, if you will. Your words are we writers' bread and water.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to the God that is Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the WB corporation, and anyone who claims them. No infringement intended. I just like to teach them new tricks.
NOTES: The title, for those of you who spotted it, is a bastardisation of Sir Winston Churchill's quote: 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.' Okay, so he was talking about the Battle of Britain, but I thought it applied quite well, don't you? Similar to another of my stories, Nobody Else, only this one's set after Graduation Day. Hey, when you're onto a good thing...
Buffy found him seated on the last row of the high school bleachers, staring morosely out over the dark deserted playing fields. The night was warm, and he had long since removed his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. His tie was long gone, and she wondered when he had lost it. Not that it mattered. It was only a tie after all, and she was sure he had dozens more. She thoughtfully reached inside the pocket of the trousers she wore, and felt the smooth paper of her diploma. It touched her beyond words that he had gone rooting through the wreckage to find it for her. That was so like him.
He couldn't see her in the darkness, hidden at the foot of the bleachers, and for that she was grateful. She wasn't ready to talk to him yet; she didn't know the words to say. The ruined high school was behind them, both literally and figuratively, and Buffy found herself stopping to take stock of that realisation. High school was really over. She would never walk down the halls of Sunnydale High with him at her side, gently teasing him. He had always adjusted his own long stride to match her shorter one, and she had never even seen it. They would never sit in the sunlight with Willow and Xander, discussing the fate of the world. They would never train in the library, her determined to hold back and him pressuring her to let go. He always insisted he could match her in a fight and very often did, although she was damned if she was going to let him know that. She had often wondered what Principal Snyder would have thought had he walked in on one of their training sessions. They usually ended with one or both of them sprawled on their floor. It would have made an interesting picture.
Principal Snyder...at the thought the smile fell away from Buffy's face. She supposed she should be grateful that the casualty rate was so low, but even one death was one too many. Snyder and Larry and Harmony...they had all played their various parts and they had paid for it with their lives. All those years Buffy had believed her fellow students were oblivious to the sacrifices she had made for them--her words to Jonathon in the tower were a prime example of that--and she was surprised at just how wrong she had been. They could have run away, like their parents; they could have refused to fight, but not one of them had.
It was a shame the real story couldn't be told, that the students would never be given the recognition they deserved. The police department had already concocted a cover story for the press: a leaking gas pipe has exploded underneath the school. The truth would never be known. Buffy wasn't even sure what the truth was anymore. She had believed Angel would never hurt her, and yet it was he who came closest of all to killing her. Faith was evil, Buffy had been so sure of that, and yet she had been her friend once. The Mayor was a demon, incapable of love or affection, and yet his feelings for Faith had proved to be his undoing. She didn't know what was right anymore, she didn't know where to turn, where to look, who to seek.
A soft discreet cough broke into her thoughts, and she looked in the direction it had come from. Up. Giles. "Are you going to stand there all night?" his voice came out of the darkness, low and amused, and she smiled. He might be predictable at times, but she could never underestimate his aptitude for surprising her. She was positive he did it on purpose.
"I didn't think you could see me," she responded, climbing the bleachers towards him. He was sprawled on the last row, his head tilted back to watch the stars. His face was in profile to her, and she stopped a few feet away, watching him. The quiet starlight made him suddenly seem years younger, and she felt a unexpected rush of tenderness flood through her. He had been there all the time, even when she hadn't realised it. Even when her thoughts were occupied with Angel or Willow or her mother, Giles had always been there waiting for her. At the back of the room, in the dim light, outside of the circle, he had always been there. Buffy smiled, and lowered herself to sit on the row below him.
"I can always see you, Buffy," he said gently, turning to look at her. His face was half in shadow, and for the first time in longer than she cared to remember he looked peaceful. It was a prime example of how blinkered she had been to the world--Giles had fought as long and as hard as she had, and he was no Slayer. He wasn't even a Watcher anymore. He was just Giles...and that was all he'd ever needed to be, Buffy thought. She sighed and rested her head on his knee, her eyes slipping shut as she felt his hand come to rest on her hand. "Tired?" She nodded silently. "It's to be expected, I suppose," he told her, his voice as warm as a summer breeze. Giles' voice made her feel safe, made her feel loved and protected. She imagined him fighting away packs of vampires with only the power of his voice, and the picture made her smile. "When did you last sleep?" he asked, and she shook her head again. Words were too much effort at this point.
"It's an odd feeling, isn't it?" he said, his hand stroking her hair ever so gently. "Finishing high school? I remember my own, and there wasn't even any fighting. Of course I was terribly disappointed about that." She smiled weakly, hearing the amusement in his voice. "But that was a long time ago."
"Not so long," Buffy admonished, and she swore she could feel him smile. She didn't like it when Giles put himself down, even if he was only joking. She was allowed to tease him, because both of them knew there was no seriousness in her words. An old man didn't battle evil on a regular basis. An old man wouldn't have thrust a sword through the Mayor's chest, simply because he threatened her. An old man wouldn't have managed it once on the police car, let alone twice! Giles wasn't old. He would never be old. He would be mature. Dignified. And she...she would never be old, period. Another year, perhaps two at the most. Buffy never expected to grow old, but it made her sad that she would never see Giles with wrinkles and grey hair.
"The end of an era," Giles murmured, more to himself than Buffy, his hand stilling on her hair. "In more ways than one. I think I'm going to miss this place." He twisted his head around to look at the ruined buildings behind him, still lit with flashing lights and headlamps. When he breathed he could taste the acrid scent of smoke and soot, mingling with just the smallest hint of charred flesh. "Just think, somewhere in all that wreckage is the room where we first met."
"Right on top of the Hellmouth," Buffy added, lifting her head to look at him. His face was uncommonly pensive and his eyes were sad. She wanted to pass her hand across his forehead and wipe away the stress lines, but she didn't dare. She felt strangely shy around him now. She didn't know how to define their relationship anymore. He was no longer a teacher, and she was no student. He wasn't her Watcher; he wasn't her surrogate father; and he wasn't really a friend either, not like Xander and Willow were. "Match made in Hell, huh?" she joked, and he smiled.
"No, that would be Cordelia and Wesley," Giles said, his face suddenly deadpan, but his eyes twinkling with humour.
Buffy's mouth dropped open and she stared at him in surprise. His jokes were usually of a more mature nature, usually so obscure she was barely even sure he was joking. "Giles!" she exclaimed, desperately trying to stifle the giggles that threatened to erupt. "How is Wesley anyway?" she said abruptly, horribly aware she had barely given her former Watcher a thought. Wesley may have been an insufferable fool, but he too had come through in the end. He was no James Bond, but he had done his best. He was one of the good guys, after all. The last she had seen of him was his limp form being loaded onto a stretcher. She hoped he was okay.
"He's fine," Giles told her, a grin still lingering about his mouth. "Whimpering, but fine. He'll be discharged tomorrow, I should imagine."
"Good." The silence that stretched between them was comfortable, familiar. Buffy rested her head back on Giles' knee, and his hand dropped to the nape of her neck. His touch was welcome, his fingertips whispering over her skin. He was usually very aware about keeping a proper distance between them, and Buffy wondered what was different. He seemed different tonight, far more relaxed than she thought she had ever seen him, but with a strange air of sadness and melancholy about him. The end of an era indeed.
"Did I do the right thing?" Buffy closed her eyes, images from the past few days flitting in front of her lids. Everything had happened so fast, she had barely had time to process one event before something was happening. "I don't know what to feel. About graduation and the Council, Faith...and Angel. Everything is so mixed up. No one's ever quit the Council before, have they?" She could feel him shake his head, his fingers squeezing the back of her neck gently, supportively. "It felt right. I know that much. But that doesn't make it right. Angel felt right, but he's not, is he? Not for me."
"No, I'm afraid not." The regret in his tone was sincere, and all the more touching as a result. Buffy knew how Giles really felt about Angel, had known for a long time. She just hadn't wanted to admit it to herself. The thought that the person whose opinion meant more to her than anything else hated the man she loved was saddening. "I think leaving you, Buffy, was...the one unselfish thing Angel's ever done. I think that more than anything might set him on the path to redemption."
"How can you say that, Giles? He's helped so many people..." Buffy sat up, twisting to face Giles. His face was sorrowful, but open and truthful. He reached for her hands and held them gently, imprisoned within his own larger ones. His words tore at her, doubly painful for the truth she knew they contained. It was something she had felt for some time, ever since he returned from Hell. Angel was right when he told her he was weak. He was. She had propped him up so many times she hadn't realised how liberating it was to be free of his weight until Giles spoke.
"But not for their sakes, Buffy. For his own. He helps people so that he might earn redemption for what he's done in the past. He's working towards a goal he can't achieve without their help. He needs them more than they need him. People in trouble can always find someone who is willing to help them. Vampires with souls can't." Giles stopped, one hand reaching down to brush away the single tear that slipped down her cheek. "Oh Buffy, don't cry. It will be alright, I promise you. I know it hurts, but you'll get through this. You have your mother and your friends, and you have me. I swear to you, I will be with you every single step of the way. Every step, Buffy."
"Promise?" she whispered softly, laying her hand over his that still rested on her cheek. He was looking at her with such an expression of tenderness and respect as she had never seen before, not even with Angel. Giles was usually so closed off with his emotions, she could scarcely ever tell what he was feeling. But tonight everything he had ever felt for her was in his eyes. She shivered briefly, and he reached for his jacket, draping it smoothly over her shoulders.
"Better?" he inquired, and she nodded. Silence fell between them once more, and Giles tilted his back to watch the stars. Buffy moved up a row to sit beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. He looked down at her briefly and smiled. In the dim light she could barely see him; he was more a silhouette than anything else. She could have been talking to anyone, and it gave her a sudden thrill of delight that it was him beside her, that he was the one she could turn to. How did she ever get so lucky, Buffy wondered. She could have had anyone for her Watcher...Wesley or Mrs. Post...and instead she was given Giles. She realised for the first time that even if she had the choice of anyone else in the world, she would always choose Giles. Even over Angel.
"You're right, you know," she told him, her voice hushed but still sounding loud in the silence. "About Angel." She felt his arm come around and drape across her shoulders, and she rubbed the crown of her head against his cheek. He was so warm, so solid and safe. "I think part of me is relieved that he's gone, and another part feels terribly guilty for even thinking that. Is that weird?"
"I think it's perfectly normal," Giles said, his arm tightening around her. Buffy idly recognised that this was the first time either of them had ever really hugged. She had sobbed in his arms outside the burning factory after Jenny had died, but that had been more about comfort and necessity than anything else. She had never before gone into his arms simply because she wanted to be there. Which was curious, she considered, because in all her life she had never found anywhere she wanted to be more.
"Everything's going to change now, isn't it?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the stars in distance. She had never taken the time to look at them before--whenever she was out at night she had more important things than stars to look out for--but they really were quite beautiful. "Everything. You, me, and the others. I just...God, I don't know. I just have this horrible feeling that everything's ending."
"It'll be fine, Buffy," Giles assured her, twisting his head around to stare at the ruins of what had once been Buffy's high school and his place of employment. "Just take it as it comes. No one can ask more than that. All things change." She was more right than she knew when she said everything was going to change. He didn't know if he himself was prepared for what lay ahead. All of his life he had known he was destined to be a Watcher. Even after he was fired he had his job to fall back on, and the fact that Buffy needed him. But he wasn't so sure about that anymore. She had grown up, in more ways than one. She wasn't a girl anymore. Giles wasn't sure he whether he welcomed that particular change or not. She was no longer the young, often petulant girl who had so infuriated and challenged him in the past, but there was a hardened embittered light in her eyes at times that worried him. He knew she would never end up like Faith not as long as he had breath in his body, but facing such evil year after year was bound to have adverse effects on anybody. Somewhere along the way Buffy had lost her youthful idealism and innocence, and he couldn't help but wonder if he could have done something about that.
"Not for me," she whispered. "My life's not gonna change. My future's not gonna be brighter. I don't have one." Her words were meant more for herself than Giles, but he heard them nonetheless. They tore at his heart, all the more painful for their innate truth. There was no future for a Slayer. There was no hope for a family, for children, for happiness. All Buffy had to look forward to was a life of slaying. He suddenly wished with all his heart that she had never been called, that she had never come to Sunnydale, never known him. Maybe her life would have been better, maybe it would have been worse, but there would have been hope, at the very least. But how could he tell her this? How could he sound the death knell on all her hopes and dreams? He couldn't. So Giles did the only thing he could do. He lied.
"You do have a future, Buffy," he told her, and he was surprised at how intense his voice sounded. "It might not be the same as Willow or Xander's, but it is a future. You can help people. You can save lives. You can be happy, I know you can. If I have to spend the rest of my life working towards it, I promise you will be happy. Your life can be as rich and as wondrous as anybody else's. And you know I'll always be here."
"Always. I won't ever leave." He paused, shaken by the depth of emotion he heard in his own words. It was true after all, he realised. Her future was just different, that was all. He wondered if all Watchers felt this way towards their Slayers, or if it was just him. He couldn't imagine Wesley or Merrick with such tremendous love for the woman before him in their hearts. There weren't enough in him to express just how much he loved Buffy. Everything about her astonished him daily, from her incredible courage to the endless bounty of her heart. He couldn't possibly imagine a day without her.
"So," Giles said lightly, trying to liven the conversation. It had taken a rather sober tone, and he suspected sober was the last Buffy needed to be tonight. He was having difficulty taking everything in, and he had over four decades of experience to fall back on. Despite her maturity and training, she was still so young. It was the first time any of them had ever seen a demon in its true form. He was still shaken by the incident. And Buffy...? Well, even after four years he could never quite tell what she was thinking. Her mind was an eternal mystery. "Where are Willow and the others?" he asked.
He felt Buffy shaking against him, and looked down sharply in concern. Was she crying? What had he said that could provoke this reaction in her? "Buffy?" he asked worriedly, racking his brain for something to say. "Buffy, are you alright?" He lifted her chin up with a finger, and stared into her face. No, not crying. Laughing. "Buffy?"
She wiped her eyes with one hand and smiled up at him. "Oh, Giles," she said. "You're so damn innocent." Her eyes were dancing and her face was alive with affection.
"Innocent?" he asked incredulously. "Me? You're joking."
"You're madly in love with a girl, right? And both of you survive something you really didn't expect to. You're amazed you're alive. You want to celebrate. You want to prove that you're still alive, that you're not dreaming. What would you be doing?" Her eyes bored into his, and he felt himself blushing as he realised quite what she was referring to.
"Oh," he said, his face hot. "Oh." He ducked his head, embarrassed and more than a little aroused himself. He remembered a conversation he and Buffy had once had, about Faith's claim that slaying made her hungry and horny. Buffy had wanted to know if that was normal. And it was. Buffy had thought that Faith was 'getting off' on death, but Giles suspected that wasn't it. Every fight a Slayer went into could possibly be her last. It was the brush with death that was so exhilarating, so life-affirming. What better way to know you're alive than cheating death?
He could still hear Buffy chuckling quietly to herself. He smiled and lifted his head to meet her eyes. She was watching him with amused patience, and when their eyes connected she said, "So Willow's with Oz. I think Xander and Cordy are saying goodbye somewhere...not doing that, mister," she added. "And you and me, the loners of the bunch, are sitting here in the middle of the night."
"What would you rather be doing?" he said softly.
"Is that offer for ice cream still open?" Buffy asked, tilting her head to look up at him. Their faces were mere inches apart and she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. He was smiling. Giles had a beautiful smile, she thought idly. He didn't smile too often, but when he did it was lovely. She debated telling him so, but decided against it. He would probably get embarrassed, and Buffy didn't want to spoil the mood. It was nice just sitting here with him, without having to worry about vampires or an impending apocalypse or...yes, even Angel.
"I would have thought you'd prefer it with Willow and Xander later but yes, the offer's still open. Anytime you want." His voice was light-hearted, but Buffy frowned nonetheless. How had she lead him to believe she preferred her friends' company to his? She snuggled closer to him, her arm stealing around his waist, tucking her head under his chin. The propriety of her actions flitted through her mind briefly, but she banished it swiftly. It wasn't wrong to be close him like this. She loved him. She might not always let him know that, but she did.
"I'd like to have ice cream with my favourite Watcher, if that's okay with him." Buffy's voice was soft and tender, and she planted a very gentle kiss on his collarbone. He tried to keep from shivering, but failed miserably. Just the imperceptible imprint of her lips was enough to keep him burning, and the damndest thing was, she had no idea.
"I'm sure Wesley will be perfectly willing, Buffy, but I don't think the hospital will let him out-" He grinned and flinched as Buffy thumped him playfully on the chest. He knew she didn't mean it, and she could be so gentle it surprised him, but there were times when Buffy just didn't know her own strength. He was certain he would have a bruise. Not that he would ever tell her that. There was no need.
"I meant you, Giles!" she laughed. "Don't be silly. You know you're my Watcher."
"Buffy, you no longer officially have a Watcher," he said, and the words suddenly hit him with such force he could have sworn his heart froze in mid-beat. He hadn't allowed himself to consider the implications of her actions before, but now they hit hard. Buffy had resigned from the Council. She was a rogue Slayer. She was what he had warned against when Faith went AWOL. The Council would surely not allow Buffy to just walk away from them--no, they would come after her, of that he was sure. They would come after her, separate them perhaps. He didn't know quite what they would do with her, but he knew it would be nothing pleasant. As Travers had said there was a war raging, and whoever was fighting it aside, there was no place for niceties in war.
He looked down at her blonde head resting so trustingly on his shoulder, and knew that he would die before he let them take Buffy away. In England, before he had ever met Buffy, in the time when her name conjured up for him nothing but an image of the quintessential Slayer, he had sworn an oath: to guide the Slayer, to train, protect and teach her, to support and care for her. Loving her had not been part of the oath, but inside him Giles knew that he had sworn it nonetheless. And it was an oath he would never, ever break.
"You said Watchers are chosen, right? Just like Slayers?" Her voice was soft and thoughtful, and he could feel her breath puffing against his neck. He nodded, brushing the hair back from her face gently. He didn't know what had brought on this pensive mood she was in, but it strangely suited her. "So you were chosen, Giles, not Wesley. You were chosen to be my Watcher, and the Council can't change that. They can replace you a dozen times over, but not in my heart. You will always be my Watcher. And my friend," she added, almost in a whisper.
"Oh Buffy," he sighed, feeling the unexpected pricking of tears. He dashed a hand across his face, rubbing at his stinging eyes. "Make me lose my dignity, why don't you?"
"I don't think I've ever seen you cry, Giles," Buffy said thoughtfully, and her words made his breath catch in his throat. He could suddenly see the burning factory, Buffy's hurt, angry face, could feel the pain clenching at his heart when he thought about Jenny. Yes, Buffy had indeed seen him cry. She must have sensed something, must have heard his stifled breath, because she twisted around to look at him, her own eyes shining with tears. "Oh, I'm sorry, Giles," she whispered, her small hand reaching up to touch his cheek. "I am so sorry."
"It's okay, Buffy" he murmured back, firmly shoving the memories back into the recesses of his mind. He wouldn't allow them to intrude, not now. Tonight was no time for sorrow and reflection. They had survived. They had managed to hold back the night for just a little while longer, and with a minimum of casualties at that. The small part of Giles that still retained the innocence he had known in his youth, the innocence he had been so regretful to see slipping away from Buffy, cried out that any casualties were too many, even one. But time and experience had eroded that naiveté until it was almost gone, and he knew that no matter what there would always be casualties. He was only relieved that Buffy hadn't been amongst them.
"Shall we go then?" Buffy said, gently bringing him back from the dark place his thoughts had taken him to. As somehow he had known she would. He often thought it ironic that it was only in the darkest, most desperate moments of his life that he came to realise just how brightly the light that was Buffy shone. If ever he found himself regretting his life's path, cursing at the fate that had led him to Sunnydale and the Hellmouth...well, then he thought of Buffy, and he would smile.
"We shall," Giles replied, slapping his thighs and rising to his feet slowly. He had been sitting there for some time now, and the slight chill had set into his bones. He was no longer as young as he used to be, and he stumbled slightly. But before he could fall, always, always, there was Buffy, slipping under his shoulder and propping him up. "Thank you," he murmured, a smile spreading across his face. If it had been anybody but Buffy, he would have preferred to fall. Better to be seen as clumsy and bumbling than weak, he thought. But somehow, with his heart's love, it was different. She wouldn't think any less of him, he knew, because she was him. If he had been torn open by the monstrosity that the Mayor became, Giles half wondered whether they would have found the word 'Buffy' imprinted right the way through him, like a stick of the sweet rock his grandmother used to buy him at the seaside when he was a boy.
It was nearly dawn, and in the east Giles could see the pink fingers of light creeping across the horizon. The sun was rising again, he thought, and but for the will of one amazing girl. The world, and himself, owed her a debt that could never be repaid. Ice cream was not enough. A lifetime of service to her was not enough. Even his heart, the only gift he could offer her, was not enough. "Buffy," he said, and she turned her head to look at him as they descended the bleachers, picking their way carefully.
Hesitating briefly, Giles pondered the appropriateness of his words, and then dismissed his concerns. It was not wrong to tell her how he felt. There was no harm in letting her know that she mattered, that she was important. "I don't know if you know this, but...what you do counts. Maybe the world won't ever know it, but I do. And I'm...proud of you. I've always been proud of you. And I always will." In the uncomfortable silence that followed, he shrugged, a wry grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I just wanted to tell you that."
And suddenly he found a small, warm Slayer in his arms, hugging him tightly enough to break several ribs. Just as the pain grew enough to cause him to protest, Buffy pulled back, her eyes shining with tears. "You wonderful, silly man," she whispered, reaching up on the tips of her toes to kiss him gently, sweetly. "You could have just said it. I love you too." She smiled, a warm smile that rivalled the sun for radiance. And why shouldn't she? Giles thought. The sun shone in the day, keeping back the darkness, and Buffy shone at night. Between them, they were quite a team.