Stay
By Kelly B.

Title: Dealing
Author: Kelly B
Rating: PG – minimal language
Timeline: Post Season Six. 
Spoilers: All of season six, and references to past seasons as well
Disclaimer: Joss owns it all, but I am borrowing them, and I might not give Giles back.
Feedback: Please…just play nice!
Author's Notes: My first fanfic…I am hooked!
Distribution:
My site (kelshouse.com) and buffygiles.com / Otherwise, just ask!
Summary: After spending several weeks in Sunnydale to help with the recovering Willow, Giles heads back home before truly making peace with Buffy. An unfortunate incident provides them another chance…will they take or leave it?


“If this world is wearing thin, and you’re thinking of escape.
I’ll go anywhere with you—just wrap me up in chains.
But if you try to go alone, don’t think I’ll understand…
Stay with me…” –Shakespeare’s Sister

-PART 1-

It was way too early for this. I had gotten in much later than usual, as a little crew of Harmony-esque girly vamps kept me running for awhile. But someone was shaking me, and I could tell the sun was bright.

“Buffy! Buffy, wake up.” Dawn. Must have burnt breakfast again.

I moaned. “Dawn, please. So tired…no work today…”

“Buffy, you have to take the phone…It’s…Giles…”

It was only then that I noticed the tear in her voice. I opened my eyes. “Giles is on the phone?” We had said goodbye to him the night before; he was taking a red eye back to London.

“No, Buffy…it’s a hospital…”

“A what?” I shot to a sitting position and grabbed the cordless from her hand. “Yes, hello? This is Buffy Summers.”

I sat and listened in silence to the nurse on the other end. Dawn sighed at my one word answers until I hung up.

“Buffy, what? What is it?”

I steadied my voice before speaking. “Giles was in an accident. On the way to the airport this morning…”

“What kind of accident? Is he O—“

“The car. His rental car. Spun out of control, I guess. Don’t really know. But he’s hurt, and he’s in the hospital, so I need to go to him, and…”

“You need me to stay here?”

She looked dismayed and resolved all at once, and I was proud. “Please Dawn…in case Willow calls. I’ll be distracted with Giles at the hospital…”

“It’s OK, Buffy. I’ll call Xander and let him know. Just go…and call me when you know what’s wrong, OK?”

“Of course I will, Dawnie!” I called to her from the bathroom. The nurse had made it sound serious, and I needed to hurry. 

The drive to the hospital was only 12 miles, but it took forever. I tried to concentrate on the road, and not the crazy, surreal feeling I’d been living with for the past two weeks. Since Willow’s exploration in global destruction, life had been mostly consumed with caring for her and the subsequent fallout. Although besides Xander, she hadn’t been ready to spend time with anyone. I went to see her at his apartment every day, but she barely talked. Giles didn’t know how long it would take… if she would ever be the Willow that we knew.

There was no funeral for Tara. We failed to reach her family, and counted a silent nod from Willow as agreement to cremate the body. The urn was at our house, until Wil could decide what to do with the ashes. I think we were all numb to it…not yet fully realizing the significance of Tara being gone from our lives.

Reconciling with Dawn had been great. There was finally a peace in our home that had been gone since…well, forever.

And having Giles around…it helped, like always. We talked a lot, mostly about Willow, Tara, Dawn, Anya, Xander… and made some plans. I knew it was time for me to find a better job, and though I hadn’t discussed it with Dawn just yet, he helped me decide that it might be time to sell the house, look for something smaller.

When I said goodbye to Giles, we still hadn’t talked much about us. Hadn’t talked in depth at all about how he left, how I’d been so mad at him for it, how we hadn’t kept in touch, and how hard it had been. Just those few words when he first arrived, before the world nearly ended again. Our time was taken up with everyone else, and it was as if pretending we were OK made it easier to deal.

But immediately after the goodbye, I felt so far from him. It was almost like he had never come back, and I wanted to call him, or find him, and tell him that I did need him, that I was happy he’d come.

Now I was going to have a chance, but what would I find when I got to the hospital? It frightened me so badly I couldn’t let my mind wander to the possibilities.

Fairly certain I had parked illegally, I ran to the ER desk.

“Yes?” a distracted receptionist asked.

“I’m looking for Rupert Giles. He was brought in several hours ago, and…”

“One second…” She types some things into her computer, then told me, “He’s in room seven. Are you family?”

“Yes,” I called already down the hall.

Room seven was a vision I will not soon forget. Empty, white walls, and too brightly lit, with one hard looking hospital bed crammed between the cinderblocks. A single folding chair sat beside it. And in it laid my Watcher, and the man I trusted more than anyone. He was unconscious, and very, very broken.

His face was covered with cuts and bruises, a sight I had beheld too many times before. There was a bandage around his forehead, and another wrapped wide and tight around his bare chest, which sported more bruising. His left forearm was splinted, and his lower left leg was in a fresh cast.

“Oh Giles,” I whispered. This was bad.

I sat in the rickety chair, sure a doctor would be in soon. It was taking too long, long enough for me to study Giles’ swelling face, his shallow breathing, and wonder if he would be all right.

“Pardon me, are you Mr. Giles’…?”

A doctor looking type middle-aged woman had walked in the room.

“Hi, I’m Buffy Summers. Giles, ah Rupert, was staying with us, we’re old friends…what, my God, what happened to him?”

“Hi Ms. Summers,” she offered her hand. “I’m Doctor Billings. Let me fill you in on Mr. Giles’ condition.

“He was in a car accident. We’re not sure what happened, but his car was about five hundred feet off the highway, in a field. He seemed to have been there for awhile before someone called 911.”

My God, I thought, how long was he just lying there?

“As you can see, he has extensive injuries, mainly to the left side. Shattered wrist and hand, several broken ribs, fractured tibia. Fortunately, no internal injuries, so we believe, no surgery will be necessary. But there is a concussion too…He has not regained consciousness just yet.”

“How serious, I mean…what kind of recovery time are we talking about?” I asked. “He used to live here, but he moved back to England, in the fall, and was visiting…He was on his way to the airport to return…”

“Oh my,” the doctor said. “Well, Ms. Summers, thought he is not in any danger here, his condition is serious. As long as he stays stable, I expect he’ll be released in several days. As for his care…he obviously cannot walk, and with the arm and ribs broken, no way to use crutches. He’s going to need a lot of rest, and a lot of help…

“Will you be able to assume his care?”

Oh boy. Of course, of course I am able…just how? With Wil out of commission, and the bills to pay, and would Giles even want to stay with us?

“Ms. Summers…”

“Of course, of course I am. You just keep me apprised of his condition, and what he’ll need, and we’ll make sure we have everything ready for him.”

“Alright then.” She was looking him over, checking some monitor that was hooked up to him. “We’re administering a heavy painkiller right now, before we move him to a room upstairs. He may not be awake for awhile, so if there’s anything else you need to be—“

“I’ll be right here with him,” I said.

And so I was. Thirty minutes passed, and he was moved to a room on the fifth floor. Another ninety passed, no movement at all. I was starting to worry.

“Should he be out this long?” I asked the duty nurse. She was checking his blood pressure.

“All his signs are stable,” she said casually. “He’s had a big trauma.  It’s good that he is resting.”

Great. It was going to be a long day.

 I walked down the hall to call Dawn. Xander was stopping by after work to pick her up and bring her to his place. He thought Wil would be happy to see her. Then she was going to spend the night with Anya, so I could stay.

Poor Xand. He had grown up so much in these last weeks, caring for Willow. I knew he was trying to be independent, though Anya was starting to come around, thinking maybe they could work it out. Still had the Vengeance Demon thing to sort through though. What a life. One of my best friends practically catatonic, another hospitalized, and me, leaving my sister overnight with a demon.

I grabbed some soup and a sandwich in the absolutely ick cafeteria, and went back up to Giles’ room. Nice to catch up on game shows, and apparently, nice to catch up on a little sleep. In the not so cozy chair next to his bed, I feel asleep.

Jeopardy was ending when I woke to a beeping sound. The monitor hooked to Giles was flashing something, and the sound was loud. Before I knew it, there was another doctor running into the room, flanked by several nurses or assistants or whatever.

“You need to leave,” he barked at me. I stood there frozen, until, practically unconscious myself, I felt someone lead me out the door.

It seemed like hours, hours before they came out of the room. And before this new doctor, a gray haired man who was way too tall, came out the door and looked gravely at me.

“I understand you are here with Mr. Giles?”

“Certainly not here to catch up on Bob Barker’s career. What is going on, Doctor?”

He raised a gray furry brow at me. Oops…

“I’m sorry, please just—“

“Ms. Summers—“

“Buffy will do.”

“Buffy, then. There have been some complications. Essentially, his blood pressure dropped to a dangerous level, and he’s slipped into a coma.”

What?!  But the nurse said he was fine, and—“

“He was. However, his body has been through a great trauma today, and sometimes, the way one reacts is extremely unpredictable.”

“So what does that mean, exactly. And please, in English…”

The doctor sighed. “Simply put, some systems have shut down so that his body’s, shall we say, ‘energy’ can focus on his healing.”

“So, how long…” He had just really healed from the beating Willow gave him…

“Unfortunately, there’s no telling.” The jolly green doctor softened up a bit then.  “It’s still my opinion that he will be fine; we’re obviously more cautious now. But I expect him to remain in this state for the night, at least. You may want to go home and…”

“Thank you, Doctor,” I said. “I’ll be staying here with him.”

I called Dawn at Xander’s, grabbed chips and soda from the vending, and walked back into the semi-private room. Giles was the only patient, thankfully. No mood for small talk.

As I looked at him now, my heartbeat accelerated. They had him on oxygen, and his face was so pale beneath the mask and the bruises. He didn’t look at all like the man who’d been my anchor for the past six years.

Suddenly not hungry, I set my snack down on the floor, and scooted my chair closer to the bed.

“Giles…Giles, I know you’re resting, and I’m glad…” I took his right hand in mine. “Listen, we have a lot of things to talk about, and I’m going to take care of you, but don’t…get any crazy ideas…”

I was suddenly too tired. It was barely dusk, but what else was there to do? I leaned my heavy head next to Giles’ shoulder, closed my eyes, and stayed awake just long enough to whisper, “I still need you,” before drifting to a fitful sleep.

 

-PART 2-

I woke up with a major backache and a sense of panic. It was around three in the morning, the room was dark, and all I could hear was the steady (thank God) beep of Giles’ monitor, and the whisper of his light, assisted breathing.

“Giles,” I said softly. Of course, he didn’t stir. I sat up then, stretched, grabbed my warm root beer, and took a sip. I tried to will him to wake, but it didn’t work.

It was so hard to look at him. It was so cliché of me, but now…now I could suddenly see so clearly all he had done for me, all he had been for me. Every day since he walked into my life, he had put me before everything else. And every one of those days, I had taken him for granted.

I blamed him for my calling to face the Master, mocked his position as Watcher. Whined to him incessantly when it suited me. The second that Angel came back into my life, I had disregarded his feelings for Jenny, the fact that he had been tortured by Angelus and Dru. I allowed him to feel useless and unnecessary when I started at SU and didn’t have time for him. I expected him to pick up all the pieces when we lost Mom, and then, he had lost me.  When I came back, I picked up where I left off, expecting him to handle whatever I didn’t feel like.

Then I had told him he was abandoning me when he left.

How many times had I hurt him, and once he decides to do something for himself, and I just…hurt him again.

The weeks after he left for England, I nearly called every day. But instead, I never did…not once. All the humiliation, of taking the ultimate Fast Food Loser job, of losing myself in Spike, of letting my friends’ lives fall apart around me and not lifting a finger to help…I couldn’t imagine the shame I would bring him if he knew.

But now he did. And he still helped me. He helped me to laugh at myself, and find my strength, and though he didn’t say it, he had forgiven me. And that was maybe enough to let me forgive myself.

I shocked myself with the tears that were falling from my eyes. I had thought I was dry, a virtual desert after our latest loss of Tara, and in some ways, of Willow. But it struck me now, that if anything happened to Giles…well, that would be more than I could possibly stand.

 
*****
 

“Buffster, y’ ready?” Xander called.

“Coming,” I groaned. Grabbing the garbage bag in one hand, a knapsack in the other, I headed out the door behind Xander.

“Let me grab that,” he said, throwing the bag in one of the cans at the side of the house. “You looked wiped, Buffy.”

We climbed into his truck, and I nodded. “Yeah well, hospital sleep, not the best.”

“Dawn said you go back to work tomorrow,” he said.

“Yeah. You know, the Palace can’t do more than a few without the Burger Queen.”

“Have you thought anymore about what’s next?” I had filled him in on my resolve to search for the bigger and better in day jobs…well, at least better.

“A little. To be honest, Xand, who’s had the time to think about it? I mean, once Giles can, you know, come home, I’m going to have a major scheduling catastrophe on my hands. Unless I can find the ideal, lucrative stuff-envelopes-while-you-watch-cartoons job, the Doublemeat is my best bet for creative hours. At least I have a little time in there, so they can work with me, and I can be here to take care of him…”

He sighed. “Who’d have thought, Buff, you and me playing the grown ups and doing it so, uh, well?”

I waved him off. “Well? You think? I don’t exactly feel like the troop leader, soccer mom, career superstar type.”

“Well, I do,” he said. “Bring on the scouts!”

It felt good to laugh, to roll down the window and feel the wind in my hair. The last three days had been nothing but a lesson in endless patience, and the juggling of all my new, freshly embraced roles. Good big sister, passionate Slayer, loyal bedside friend. Adding professional burger flipper back on the badge tomorrow would be difficult.

Xander’s latest site was just a mile from the hospital. He was dropping me off and would come see Giles at lunchtime, then take me out for a while at dinnertime before dropping me back. I had spent last night patrolling, and would do so every other night. That gave me the nights in between to stay near Giles.

When I got to his room, I was surprised to see Dr. Billings there. It was a little too early in the day for a routine visit.

“Doctor Billings…what’s going on?” I asked.

“Good morning, Ms. Summers,” she smiled. “I think we have good news for you.”

As she stepped to the side, I could see Giles’ face, and…his eyes were open.

Those gray blue eyes, I feared I’d never see again. I took one look at his pale face, no longer blocked from my vision by the mask, and burst into sobs.

“I’ll leave you for a moment,” the doctor said. “I’ll be back to fill you in on the prognosis, Buffy.”

Giles stared at me tiredly, almost sadly, and slowly lifted his uninjured arm.

“Buffy…eh…hello…” His voice was so weak.

I tried to speak, but only choked on a sob as I hurried to him. As gently as I could, I let myself fade into his side, rested my head on his shoulder, trying not to cry, just being thankful he was still there with me.

“Buffy, Buffy…” he groaned.

“I’m sorry,” I sat up. “Am I hurting you?”

“Not you, it just…hurts regardless right now.”

I looked him over. His face was still so pale and beaten, and it was obvious that even breathing was causing him pain.

“They didn’t call me,” I said quietly. “How long have you been…awake?”

“Not long, I think,” he answered, closing his eyes.

“Giles, God, I was so afraid…” I could barely speak above a whisper.

That opened his eyes again. “What is it, Buffy?” I could have mistaken, but there was something like hope in his expression.

This was not the time to get lost in my own emotions. “Nothing. You’re going to be okay, soon, and we’ll get you out of here and home. Don’t worry about a thing.

“I’m going to go call the gang. Everyone will be so glad…”

Somehow, I left his side, catching the look of bewilderment that flashed in his eyes before he closed them again.

 
*****
 

They released Giles after eight additional days in the hospital. Anya, Dawn, and I took turns sitting with him, but Giles remained sleepy and relatively quiet. The doctor assured a frantic Anya that he was exhausted, and his body was working overtime to heal itself. It was very sweet, how protective she was of him.

Xander brought Giles through the front door around 10 in the morning. I had sent Dawn to a friend’s, thinking we would need it quiet for awhile.

“Giles, hi…”

Until he was able to better support himself, he needed a wheelchair to get around. Now his eyes averted mine.

“Hello Buffy,” he said quietly. Xander looked over at me and shrugged. I took it the ride home hadn’t been much with the pleasantries.

“Listen Giles, we have everything set up for you, OK. We brought the bed from Willow’s room down here to the living room, so everything is on one floor for you, and someone will always be here with you. Doctor Billings said in about two weeks you should be ready for a walking cast, so until then—“

“Thank you, Buffy.”

His stoicism floored me, but what did I expect? Surely the last thing he wanted was to have me in his face every day.

Xander helped me get Giles into the bed. I tried to ignore it, but there was considerable pain in those eyes. He laid back and let out an almost inaudible moan.

“Let me get your medication,” I said “Is it in your bag?” I grabbed the small leather sack and began looking.

“Buffy, wait—“

It was too late. If there was something he didn’t want me to see, this was it. I looked at the plane ticket I held in my hand. It wasn’t taking him to London, but to Reno International Airport, no connection.

I silently put them back, grabbing the pill bottle.

“No big,” I said, holding it up. “Here they are. Let me get you some water, or do you prefer tea?”

“Tea would be wonderful,” he said. Still avoiding my gaze.

“Great. Right back. Xander?”

He followed me into the kitchen.

“What’s up, Buff?”

“I was about to ask you. Has Giles said a word to you about what happened?”

“No. I mean, it was just a car accident right? He was on his way to the air—“

“Exactly.  To the airport. And we thought he was going back to England, but he wasn’t.” I turned and grabbed the tea kettle.

“How do you know that?”

“Because,” I seethed.  “His ticket said he was going to Reno. Nevada.  What’s there, besides…”

“Ethan Rayne.”

“Exactly!”  I grabbed a cup and saucer from the cabinet.  “Why would he be going to see him? And not tell us if something was up? And what did it have to do with his car just mysteriously crashing off the side of the road?”

“Buffy, do you really think—“

“I don’t know what to think. I’ll have to figure it out.”

“Here’s a thought,” Xander said, slipping into his full obvious Xander mode. “Why don’t you ask him? Since when can you not be straight with the G-man?”

“A lot has changed. You know that.”

“The way he feels about you hasn’t changed, Buffy. It never will.”

That struck, and I stopped what I was doing. There was silence in the kitchen, until the water boiled. How could Giles still feel anything for me? 

And if he did, why did he keep leaving?

“I know you need to get to work. Thanks for getting him. Why don’t you see if Will wants to come for dinner tonight? I’ll make spaghetti for everyone…”

“I’ll ask her,” he said, putting his hat on. “But Buff, remember, you should ask him…OK?”

“We’ll see.” I kissed him casually on the cheek, hoping he could tell how grateful I was that he was always the Xander I knew.

“Here you go, Giles,” He sat up slowly and took the tea from me. “And here’s the pills.”

“Wonderful, Buffy. Thank you.”

“Are you hungry? You want to watch some TV?”

He finally looked at me, then. “I believe after I finish here, I will have a nap. The ride from the hospital was a bit jarring.”

“OK.  Let me close the blinds, so you can sleep.”

“I appreciate what you are doing,” he said softly.

“But?”

“But nothing. I just thank you…I don’t know where else I would have gone, to…recover. And bringing the bed down to the ground floor, that was so considerate.”

Why would you have thought about where else to go? “Giles, I kill life-sucking demons with my bare hands. Moving a bed, not such a difficult task.”

“I realize that.”

I gave up, shut the blinds. The room wasn’t nighttime dark, but it would do.

“I’m going to go get some laundry done. Let me know, whatever you need.”

“Alright,” he answered sleepily. His eyes were shut already.

I watched him for just a moment, trying to take it in. He looked fragile and…far away. Not my Giles, but then, he hadn’t been in so long.  Not since he, no, not since I came back. We didn’t belong to each other anymore.

I started walking away, and I couldn’t be sure, but under the noise of my footsteps, I thought I heard him say words that would pierce my heart, if they were true.

“I need you.

Surely I’d imagined it, so I kept walking.

 

-PART 3-

Xander managed to get Wil out of the apartment for dinner that night. Anya came, armed with pie and cookies and videos, and it seemed to calm everyone.  There hadn’t been time in awhile to just be together, like a family again. I noticed how happy Dawn looked, and caught Xander and Anya touching hands several times. Even Willow had relaxed some, quipping with Xander about the kitten he’d brought her from the animal shelter, and teasing Dawn about her new haircut.

But Giles remained quiet. He sat at the table for dinner, but he remained pale and stiff. After he picked at his plate, he asked Xander to help him to the washroom.

“Let’s, um, clean this up,” I said.

“Buffy, what is wrong with Giles? I mean, besides the obvious?” Anya asked her.

I looked up. She, Dawn, even Wil, were all looking at me, expectantly.

“What do you mean? He’s just tired.”

“Buffy, Giles has been hurt before. He’s never acted this way. He won’t talk to anyone…”

“Well, he’s never been hurt this badly before. He just needs time…”

“Is it my fault?” Willow asked. “Did I make it…harder for him?”

I sighed. “No Wil, it has nothing to do with that. Giles has been away for a while. Maybe it isn’t so strange that he’s different now.”

“Well I don’t like it,” Anya said, grabbing the pasta bowl and following me to the sink. “How did he end up in such a bad accident anyway? There’s hardly any traffic that time of morning.”

“I don’t know,” I answered quietly, scraping a plate. “We haven’t talked about it.”

“You haven’t asked him?”

“Anya, no!” I sighed. “He needs time. We don’t…we don’t really talk so much anymore. And if something’s going on, if he wants me to know, he’ll tell me. Or you. Or whoever. But I’m not going to beg him to talk to me. He doesn’t want to be here in the first place.”

“Why would you say that? Of course he does! Anyone can see.”

I looked up at her. “Anya, just because we want him to feel that way doesn’t mean that he does.”

“Buffy, you forget something. I was there when he got here. And I was not so caught up in the chaos that I didn’t see how he looked at you. Being with you is where Giles belongs, and he knows it. And that’s what’s different”

Dawn walked into the kitchen then. I wanted to end the conversation. “If he wants to be here, he can be. No one asked him to leave. Dawn, where’s Willow?”

“She’s grabbing a few things from her room. Who are you guys talking about? Spike? I can’t believe we haven’t heard from him.”

Anya grimaced at Spike’s name, and I glared at Dawn. “No. Good riddance.  Why don’t you go help Willow? I don’t think she should be alone up there…not yet.” Not where she had watched Tara die.

Dawn turned on her heel to go. I waited until I heard her footsteps up the stairs, and then I lowered my voice, “Anya, I am not going to beg Giles for answers. It’s not that he doesn’t care, I know he does, but things have changed. He needs to move on, so I need to let him.”

I was surprised to see tears in her eyes. “OK Buffy…I just…I hate to see two more people lose each other, who…who need each other.”

There was that word again. Need. I didn’t want to need Giles. It seemed to be too much for us both.

I touched her hand. “Anya, you and Xander will find what’s right for you.  You both deserve to be happy.”

“And so do you and Giles.”

Strange how she put it. Like we were a couple or something. I just shrugged, and we finished the dishes in silence.

Two movies later, the Scoobs were stretching themselves awake. Dawn had curled up on the bed next to Giles, who seemed to soften when she was around. Anya and Xander were lying on the floor, sharing a pillow, and for the first time since the almost-apocalypse, Willow seemed to feel comfortable enough to sit next to me. We were smushed into the easy chair together, and she even laughed at some of the funny parts.

Everyone said good night and tiptoed quietly out to let Giles sleep. I decided to wait up awhile, in case he needed anything. I flipped through a magazine until I couldn’t muster the will to move, so I put my head on the arm of the chair and let myself go.

I was standing here, in this room. Mom’s body on the floor.  Everything was cold, was dim, there was no air. No tears, no words. Fear rose up inside me, ready to choke me, and I wanted to scream but my mouth wouldn’t open.

And then arms, strong arms, caught me, held me up, so I wouldn’t fall. I felt my knees give and still, I stood. He held on to me, stroked my hair, his breath on my neck.

And then I reached inside myself. What was the coldness in my hand? This steal, this sharpness. Then a scream.

I looked at my hand, saw Faith’s knife. That blade of terror I had used to nearly killed her. And then I saw his face; the scream had come from him. Oh my God, I had cut off his hand. He was holding me and I cut off his hand! Oh God…

“Noooo!” 

This time the scream woke me up, and I am still not sure whether it came for Giles or from me. I looked over at the bed, and he was shaking, trembling, sweating, awake…

“Giles, what is it?” I asked, rubbing my eyes to see.

“Who is it?” he yelled.

I put my hand to his right shoulder and shook him slightly. “Giles? Giles! RUPERT! Wake up!”

He jumped awake and then cried out at the jarring it gave his injured ribs.  I watched him open his eyes and adjust to the darkness.

“Who’s there?” he asked.

“Giles, it’s me.”

“Ah Buffy…” He shut his eyes then, and said nothing.

What the hell is up with this?  “Giles…” Did he go back to sleep? I brushed the damp hair from his forehead. He didn’t flinch.

Whatever. I didn’t know what had caused him to thrash around like that in his sleep, but if he was having a nightmare anything like mine, how could he go back to sleep so soon? I rose off the bed to go upstairs.

“Wait.” He covered my hand with his and held it to his chest.

His touch set a funny spark off in me. I didn’t move my hand away.

“What is it?”

“I was dreaming. I—I just…I don’t want to speak of it right now, Buffy.”

“Speak of what?”

I could make out his grin, that one he saved when he was half amused, half annoyed. “Telling you that would be speaking of it, don’t you agree?”

“Of course.” I looked down. My fingers had absently been caressing his chest, ever slightly beneath the pressure of his hand. I could feel his heart beating. He wasn’t going to tell me about Nevada. Not yet anyway.

I let out a sigh “Are you alright? Can I get you anything before I go to bed?”

“I heard you cry out in your sleep, didn’t I?” he asked.

“I thought that was you.”

“I don’t believe so, but perhaps…”

“Maybe it was both of us.” I continued to stare at our hands.

There was a maddening silence then. Something was stirring in me, and I needed to get away from it.

“So then, tired, you, me. Need to sleep. You need water? Bathroom trip? Anything?”

He took a deep, labored breath. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I need to talk to you. Are you working?”

“An afternoon shift. It’ll be a late night, so maybe in the morning.”

“The morning will do.”

I swallowed hard. His hand was now caressing mine.

“OK.  Will do.” Slowly, I took my hand away, and stood. “Let me bring you some water, and your pills, just in case…”

I was in the kitchen and back in a moment. He was already sleeping. I set everything down on the end table next to the bed and headed up the stairs.

Lying there, hoping I would sleep too hard for any more dreams, I thought about the feeling of his heart beating. It was the most life I had felt since I came to life again, and I wanted to feel it again.

 
*****
 

Nothing.  He said nothing about his dream, or Ethan Rayne, and nothing about Nevada.

“I just wanted you to know, Buffy. I don’t want you to worry.”

Big freakin’ deal. He told me he was going to give us money for groceries and bills while he stayed at the house. Did he really think I cared?

“That’s very nice, Giles. Thank you. I’m sure it will come in handy.”

“Buffy, is something wrong?”

“Nope.  I need to run some errands before work. Dawn will be downstairs in a minute. I’ll catch up with you later.”

 
*****
 

And nothing like an eight hour swing shirt at the Palace o’ Doublemeat to put me in a good mood. At least it gave me fuel for slayage. It was a quick, effective patrol.

I stopped off at the Bronze afterwards, shocked to see Anya, Xander, and Willow sitting cozy and chilled, hugging their beers.

“Hey guys.” I plopped myself in the last empty chair. “What’s going on?”

“Just a little joint session of the Scoobs,” Xander said.

“Is something going on?” I asked.

Willow looked at me, spoke in a quiet voice, “Trying to worry about someone besides me. It’s a pleasant alternative, trust me.”

“’K. Who are we worrying about?”

“You and Giles,” Anya said, taking a long drink.

“I need a beer.” I walked to the bar, ordered two, came back.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

Xander started. “Buffy, the tension last night was…way too tense. Giles has been gone, and he’s back with his, his family, who missed him…”

“And he hardly talks to anyone but Dawn,” Anya finished.

“Furthermore, you are like, the Great Protector,” Willow said. “But Giles is really hurt, and you act like you don’t even want him there. It’s just not like you.”

Alrighty. “This is quite a little script you guys have going here,” I said. “Wanna tell me how it ends?”

“You need to ask him where he was going, Buff,” Xander said. “And what the hell happened to him.”

I started on bottle number two. “I already told you. If he wanted me to know, he would—“

“Just tell you? Why would he?” he continued. “Why would he volunteer anything with you acting like he’s already back in England?”

I glared. “I think you guys should not worry about this. If you want to know what his deal is, feel free to ask. I am doing my best to make sure he’s taken care of, which isn’t easy knowing he would rather be in Nevada, visiting his own would-be murderer, than be here.”

“That’s just it,” Willow offered quietly. “If it concerned Giles any other time, it would be you taking care of him…not just making sure he was being ‘taken care of’.’”

I remembered the night he had found Jenny Calendar’s body. The rage, the fear inside me when I realized where he had gone, that Angelus might kill him. How he cried in my arms, and I would have done anything to not let him go, to take his grief away. And I thought about the time he nearly died when we were running from Glory, and even a few months ago when Anya told me he was dying…OK. So Wil was right.

But more loudly than that, I could hear him saying, after all my pleading, Buffy, I've thought this over ... and over. I believe it's the right thing to do. And the ‘right’ thing had been to leave me, to go thousands of miles away when I needed him more than ever.

I looked at my friend and smiled. “Thanks Willow. I know that you’re right, about the past anyway. But things are different now, and I’m not sure if they can go back. I will feel things out, OK? And I’ll see where it goes. That’s all I can say.

“Here, finish for me.” I handed my bottle to Xander, gave Willow a hug, Anya a smile, and bid them goodnight.

The house was dark when I walked in. Good…giving Dawn a little more leeway, she was proving to me she could take care of herself. I peered in her room to make sure she was sleeping, changed my clothes, and headed downstairs for something to eat.

When I turned on the kitchen light, to my surprise, Giles was sitting at the table, drinking (shock of shocks) a cup of tea.

“Giles! I didn’t know you were up.” Suddenly my shorts and tank top didn’t seem like enough cover. “Trouble sleeping?”

He smiled wryly. “As is the status quo, I suppose.”

“Have you been having trouble?”

“Buffy, what are you eating?” he asked.

“It’s cheese,” I said, looking up from the box of Velveeta. “Want some?”

“No, thank you. The words ‘food product’ after the word ‘cheese’ have always seemed a bit daunting to me.”

“Good with Fritos,” I shrugged. I wasn’t going to push him on the sleeping issue.

There was only silence beneath the 60-second hum of the microwave, until he broke it.

“I had another nightmare.”

My head snapped to look at him.

“Another?”

“There was one last night,” he said. “I assumed you could, well, tell, after we woke up.”

“I wasn’t sure,” I said quietly, and I guess, too shortly.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Please. Continue with your…cheese product.”

I’m going to continue, all right. “Giles, what the hell is your problem? Do I have to plead with you to tell me anything?  You’re playing Mr. Stoic and I’m supposed to beg you to speak words to me? I won’t do it, Giles. I won’t let you hurt me again.”

Whoa.

More than I wanted to say, there.

Silence ensued again. I threw my dish in the sink. What now?

“Can we move this conversation to the other room?” he asked softly.

“Oh, this is what you call a conversation?”

“Buffy, please…”

I stopped short when I saw him gripping his side, pain on his face. Without a word, I pushed his chair back to the living room and helped him into the bed. Back in the easy chair, staring at him.

“I am not trying to hurt you, Buffy,” he started. “I never wanted to hurt you, and I don’t intend to ever again. I am quite certain of that.

“Be that as it may, I cannot comprehend why it is you think I am trying to hurt you now.”

“You won’t talk to me.”

“I’m trying right now.”

“Giles, you haven’t wanted to discuss my patrolling. You don’t want to explore why it is we’re both having horrible nightmares. You haven’t told me how you ended up flipping your car and nearly killing yourself. And you sure as heaven, hell, and all its variations haven’t told me why you were going to Nevada instead of back to England like you said.”

He made no immediate attempt to answer, but the fire was already burning. I wouldn’t have let him if he tried.

Standing at the foot of the bed, I stared down at him, though his eyes averted mine.

“You never lied to me before.” Withheld the truth maybe, but never outright lied…

“I’m sorry,” was his answer.

“Do you get sick of saying that, Giles? Because I am so completely sick of hearing it.”

He shook his head. Now when he looked at me, his eyes blazed. “Not more than three weeks ago, you said I had nothing to be sorry for.” He laughed a short, bitter laugh.

I ignored that. “What is it that you hate about being here? Why am I the last person you can stand in your sight?”

“Why would you even think that?”

“Why would you leave here to go to Ethan Rayne?”

He took of his glasses, and for a second, I expected him to throw them at me.

“Buffy, I received word, two days before leaving here, that Ethan is dead.”

“I see.” I sat again, hugging my knees to myself. “And this bit of actual happy news had to be kept a big secret because…”

“It came from Riley.”

Wrong thing to say.

”So what? You couldn’t tell me because Riley called you? Did you honestly think after everything that’s happened, that I would really care about that?”

He stared at me, then looked away.

“Riley was here, Giles. He was here months ago, with his cool Ninja wardrobe and his smart, well-manicured wife. Made peace with the Riley thing, Giles.  Forgive and forget, relive and regret, you know? No, you don’t. How could you? Haven’t had the time of day to talk about anything with me. Just take care of this, here’s what to do about that.

“You don’t care about me. Not really, not anymore.”

Hot tears were falling down my cheeks, which I brushed away angrily. The more feeling I showed, the more obligated he would feel to try to make it better.

And I believed that. Until I looked up into the silence and saw my Watcher, my anchor, sobbing soundlessly into his hands. His whole body shook with a raw sadness I hadn’t seen in him since Jenny died.

My instinct took over. I climbed on the bed, wrapped my arms around his neck, and rested his head on my shoulder. His tears soaked through my shirt, wet my hair; his arms slid around me and tightened.

But he wasn’t holding me, he was holding on.

After a minute, that passed too quickly, his words came. They came as perfect daggers, pointed in all the right places.

“How?

“Can you say that?

“When every…everything. I have done.

“All I do…

“It’s all been for you.”

He pushed me away then; could he have known how far from him I already was?

Now he looked at me, but I looked down.

“It hasn’t felt like you care, Giles, not in a long time. Even so, I never thought you would lie to me. I thought even if I couldn’t lean on you anymore, I could depend on your truth.”

His hand reached for mine, then recoiled to his own face. He rubbed his temples. The only sound was his breath.

“Are you going to say anything?” I pressed. “Or are you just going to hide? You’ve gotten great at it, Giles. Just—“

“Leave me alone, Buffy.”

Four words…they should have only cut through the silence, not me. Had he said anything I didn’t already believe? Anything he hadn’t proven with his absence?

“Whatever you say. Good night.”

Up the stairs, not for the sleep, for the distance. If he had nightmares, he could have them alone.

 
*****
 

We barely talked for the next two days. I knew it was driving Dawn crazy, but I was not going to give. He was the one who left this time, and I was not going to take the blame for it. Period.

Even so, someone had to take him to his doctor’s visit. I probably could have convinced Anya to do it, but when I mentioned it, Dawn flipped. She said it was my responsibility to take care of Giles and whatever was going on, I needed to get over myself. I so hate when she is right.

It took both of us to load him, practically piece by piece, into the Jeep.  God, he was trying to be Nothing-Bothers-Me Giles, but he was still so weak and being moved the way he was obviously hard on him. On the way to the clinic, the guilt set in. So I turned up the radio.

Getting him out of the car was no better. Actually, much worse. He put his arm around my neck and though I lifted him easily down, all I could think of was the scent of him, and how close he was to me. That’s when I lost my concentration and we stumbled.

I saved him from falling completely, but not before he’d caught himself with both feet. “Damnit,” he cried. He gasped for a good breath.

“Oh my God, Giles, I am so sorry…Let me help you…”

“It’s alright…” he muttered as I supported him—much more carefully. He slumped in the chair, grimacing and holding his left leg. “Just let me catch my breath.”

I waited for his silent nod and wheeled him into the waiting room. We sat there for 20 wordless minutes until his name was called. I could tell from his face that he was hurting, be it from my lack of stable support or just because. I hoped it was from stumbling. I couldn’t stand thinking of him being in pain like that.

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“I’m fine,” he said. I watched as the nurse wheeled him away from me.

Another fifteen minutes, and the same nurse came for me. “Ms. Summers, is it? You’re here with Rupert Giles?”

“Yes,” I said.

“The doctor wanted me to go over a few concerns about his care with you.”

“What?” I asked. “What is it?”

“Nothing on your part, most likely.” She smiled as if to calm down. “For the most part, Rupert is healing as expected. They are fitting him with a walking cast right now. We are concerned, though, about the obvious lack of sleep…are you aware of whether he has been sleeping well?”

Great. “Well, to my knowledge, he—“ Ugh. “Probably not as well as he should be. I know he has been up late and waking up some. Our house gets…you know, kind of crazy.”

“I see,” she said. “Is he under a lot of stress, other than the obvious?”

How could she tell we were fighting? “Obvious?”

“An recovery like his is quite stressful in and of itself. Not being able to walk or care for oneself, having been in a coma…”

“Of course,” I said dumbly. “Yes…I mean, he is probably experiencing some general life stress outside of, you know, the recovery. Why are you asking?”

She smiled again. “We just want to care for his entire well-being, Ms. Summers. It would help the healing process a lot if he were resting more peacefully. You can certainly help by doing all you can to make his environment as pleasant and tension free as possible.”

She obviously had no idea what kind of people she was dealing with! “I will do my best. He’s OK, right, I mean except for the obvious?”

“He is. It’s a lot to deal with, being seriously injured and so far away from home. He says he is still in pain much of the time—“

I’m sure dropping him on his broken leg helped infinitely…

“..so the doctor is changing his prescription and that should help as well.”

Far away from home… She couldn’t have known those words were like a knife. Giles was hurt and far away from his home. What happened to his home being with me? Why couldn’t I take care of him the way he needed?

She wrapped things up, gave me strict instructions not to let him overdo the walking, and brought Giles to me. The exhaustion in his eyes was still clouded by his distance. I wanted to reach out, but all I could do was be more careful in assisting him. We said nothing the whole way home.

Thankfully, he fell asleep almost immediately. Maybe the new meds would do the trick there. I started cleaning up the house as quietly as I could, including scooping up what I could of Giles’ laundry. Just as Mom had done, I went about shaking out all the articles of clothing and turning pockets inside out. Besides vamps in the house, not much had annoyed Mom more than a stray tissue getting into the dryer…

As I shook the last pair of Giles’ khakis, something fell and clattered on the floor. I figured it was change and went to reach for it.

What I held, though, was not money. It was two pieces of jagged, slate-like stone. There was some funky symbol separated by the break.

I looked more closely at it, but I didn’t recognize the symbol. Then I studied the pair of pants it had fallen from. One of the legs was cut up the sides. Obviously what he had been wearing during the accident.

I put the stone pieces back in the pocket, and carried his clothes back upstairs. He would have to explain at some point, wouldn’t he? As I stuffed his clothes back into his bag, I tried not to notice my hands shaking.

 

-PART 4-

I was in a daze. Everything was purple, maybe gray, but I could not see through it. There was something coming at me, probably a vamp, and I raised my stake. I tried. But I couldn’t lift my arms. I was so weak I couldn’t even move my fingers. The vamp was getting closer, but now I couldn’t move my feet either. I heard a sound behind me, and somehow I could turn my head. Giles was standing there, tying the rope around me. He was crying, holding a syringe between his teeth. There were needle marks in my arms. I screamed at him. “If you touch me, I’ll kill you.” My words slam into him, and as if he was struck, he falls down. Then from behind, I feel the bite, clamping down on me, with Giles out of my reach…

No doubt the scream was mine this time. I sat up just in time to see him coming.

“Buffy?”

“Giles, what are you doing up here?”

“You were crying out in your sleep. I didn’t want you to wake Dawn.”

“She’s at Michelle’s overnight.”

“Yes of course,” he said lamely.

“You’re not,” I yawned, shaking my hair out of my ponytail. “…you’re not supposed to be taking the stairs yet.”

“I’m fine,” he said, “You’re not.”

“Yeah, you look really fine.” I watched him wince as he arranged himself carefully on the foot of the bed.

He looked at me sternly. “We have to talk.”

I flipped on the light. “About what? You gonna give my gas money for the trip to the clinic?”

I heard him sigh deeply as he looked away.

“How far shall we take this? How badly do you want to fight me?”

“I don’t want to fight with you, Giles.” Truth time. “I want you to be free.”

He sucked in his breath. “Free from what?”

How deliberate did I need to be? “From me, Giles. From being my Watcher, from feeling like you have to be here with your box of Little Mermaid band-aids and keep me from…falling down.”

“Oh really? If I am not mistaken, you are the one who has been caring for me, or at least going through the motions. And trying to keep you safe is still, and always, the most important thing in the world to me.”

Then why did you leave me?” I clenched my fists against his answer.

Stop the world, I want to get off. I knew how it felt to have my breath taken from me, and it was happening again. Giles was looking straight at me with tear filled eyes, and they were not the tears of primal grief I had seen the night before. In fact, there was something there that I had never seen.

Or maybe noticed.

“Buffy…”

I waited.

“I’m not a warrior of your magnitude, Buffy. I am not a hero. I know history, I know facts, I try to be wise. I try to know how to respond when someone calls out to me. Those things will not put my name in books someday, unless my name is linked to yours. For certain, the best thing I have ever done is share in your extraordinary life.

“And just as certain, the most heartbreaking thing I have ever done has been to walk away from you.”

The edge dropped from my voice, but I still could not meet his gaze. “Then please, explain to me why you did.”

“Has this week not made it obvious to you? I am in your way. You are moving on, raising Dawn, maintaining relationships with your friends. Still the most effective Slayer the world has ever seen. Not having to take time out for a has-been Watcher with nothing else to offer you.”

“If that’s how I felt, why would I care that you left?”

“You haven’t.”

This was ridiculous. “Grrr…how can you say that? We’re not getting anywhere with this, Giles. You don’t care, I don’t care, we both care but we don’t believe it. What is it we really have to talk about?”

“Ethan tried to kill me.”

“Again? I thought you said he was dead.”

“He is.  Now he is. But he wants me to join him. And so he left, a trap. Fortunately, it didn’t work.”

“What kind of trap?”

“In my car,” he sighed. “I still don’t know how he got it there. It was a Matisze stone, a relic created by the Majara Demon. Majara was a master of mind control. He trapped his followers using the powers of the stone…

“When I was driving, I just became, unaware of myself. It was as if my mind wandered, but in the most literal sense. I focused on everything but driving the car down the highway. And then I, well, I suppose some time in there is when I simply drove it off its course.”

“Off the road,” I clarified.

“Precisely.”  His right hand reached into his pocket. He handed me the two pieces stone.

“I gather you’ve seen this already?” he asked quietly.

“I did. I was going to do your laundry, Giles, I didn’t mean—“

“Ah.” He smiled sadly. “Of course not. But there was a time…there was a time you would have just asked me.

“And a time I wouldn’t have to.”

The silent pause was suffocating. He broke it only with a small, “Touché.”

The course of the conversation had to change.

“How did you get it? Weren’t you unconscious after you crashed?”

“No, not right away,” he said grimly.

He was awake? Lying there with his bones crushed, and alone, and… I couldn’t say anything.

“He must have slipped it under the passenger seat, so when the car flipped—“

Flipped...don't remind me...

“It fell into my lap, so I…held on to it.”

“Do you think Ethan is really dead?”

He looked at me, and for a moment, it just like in the old days. Caution and adventure brimming in those eyes. So much better than tears.

“I don’t. That’s why I was going to Nevada…to check. To trace him.”

At least things were starting to make sense. “Giles, your accident was bad.”

“Quite.”

“He was trying to kill you…again, I might add, and he almost did.”

“Yes.

“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”

“I wanted to.” He shifted his weight on the bed. “But you were tending to Willow, and everything else… I am sorry; it wasn’t my place to assume you needed me deciding what you should or shouldn’t have to deal with anymore.”

“I guess you were just trying to protect me.”

“Yes, well.” Our eyes finally met. “It’s the very vein of my role in your life.”

“No…not at the expense of being my friend.”

His gaze intensified then, but somehow I managed to hold it. I so wanted to just tell him everything, describe to him how the black gaping hole of my life became galaxies larger when he went away…how I didn’t need him to take care of me, I just needed him with me.

“I will never stop being your friend, Buffy. Not as long as that is what you want me to be.”

Friend…was a small, simple word. “I don’t know what I want,” I admitted.

He let out a deep breath, so I continued. “I do still want to understand why you went away. I thought this was your home now, not England. Not after everything we’ve all been through together.”

“Buffy, please accept it when I tell you…I deeply, honestly believed that you needed me to go. Whenever I tried to talk to you, you grew cold. You didn’t communicate with me on any level, and so, I felt that it was time.”

“But I asked you to stay, Giles. I begged you, and I don’t beg for anything except the occasional last bite of Chubby Hubby.”

“I know you did.” He stood up then, walked carefully to the window.  “Would you say you were in a frame of mind to know what you wanted then, either?”

My cheeks burned. “No, I suppose not.”

“I can give you time to decide now. I can’t go anywhere for a little while.” He gave himself and his casts a bemused once over.

I swung my legs around the bed, resting my head in my hands, and spoke slowly, half into myself. “Do you mean, if I ask you not to go back, you’ll stay?”

“I don’t want to just stay, Buffy.”

I glared at him. “Giles, it’s late. What do you—“

“I want to stay with you…if that’s what you want.”

Huh.  Hadn’t expected that. Did he mean what I thought he did? He wanted to stay with me. With. Me. Us, together.

Somehow, it sounded nice when he said it. It sounded…right.

“Giles, I—“

“Sssh.” He had walked over to the bed, stood before me. He put a finger to my lips.

“Don’t decide now. Just consider, Buffy. Consider what you feel. I am not and will not press you for anything.”

“The other night,” I said. “You said you needed me. Did you mean it?”

He cupped my face with his hand. “I need that precious heart of yours.  Every part of me does. I need you to find it in yourself to be able to smile at me, to be able to touch me without it burning you.”

A tear had fallen from his eye to my arm. I stared at it, running its way off.

“You haven’t smiled at me since I woke from the coma.”

“What?”

“Not once.”

I considered it, and knew without much effort that he was right. I was shivering.

“You should sleep,” he said. “You’ve been working so hard. And the dreams can’t be helping.”

“How do you know?” I said. “About the dreams?”

“Your waking up howling is a sure clue,” he started. Then shrugged. “Mine have been merciless as well. Always something from the past, but always twisted, so that we are at odds with each other. Hurting each other.”

“Your typical Psych 101 stuff…”

“Precisely,” he said.  “Typical, but…”

“Awful.” I finished. “And yeah, I am pretty wiped. Maybe the dreaming will stop now…”

“I do hope so, Buffy.”

“Giles…?”

He stared at me wanly. God, he still looked so weak.

I could only say one thing to him.

“Just stay with me.”

I didn’t think, at all, that he would. But he sat next to me on the bed, the tears in his eyes fresh and unshed. I grabbed his shoulders gently, guided him toward the pillows. He reclined slowly and I laid myself next to him. I pulled the covers over us, and felt for his hand. I fell asleep to the sound of his breath, and once or twice, I thought I heard my name on his lips.

 

-PART 5-

Things were different in the days after that. Giles felt strong enough to use the stairs twice a day, and so we moved him into Willow’s room. Anya and Dawn took him to the Magic Shop for a few hours in the afternoons. And at night, he and I sat quietly, outside on the porch or on the couch, and became acquainted with each other again.

As frighteningly empty as my life had been during those months since he left, his had been lonely and isolated. He had rented a small apartment back in Bath, worked part time in a bookstore, and argued with Quentin Travers over his “abandonment of his much bally-hooed” Watcher duties. I giggled when he told me how he had told Travers that a Slayer who was dedicated enough to come back to life and resume her duties did not need anyone looking out for her. Hence and thankfully, no new Watcher had been sent.

All of his old friends in England were either dead or moved away. He did run into Olivia once or twice, had some drinks. When I raised a brow at that, he told me she had to cut their time short to get home to her husband.

“It’s a solitary life, I guess,” I told him then. “Slayers, Watchers. Do any of us ever get married, have babies and puppies and Disney vacations?”

His silent response to that gave me chills. The closest I ever came to domestic bliss was a few snuggly sunny mornings with Riley, eating Krispy Kremes in bed. Was that as good as it was going to get? It was light years (and several in Heaven) removed from me.

Anyhow, he spent time at the same Coven of Devon that lent him the mega-magic juice, learning about resurrection spells and rituals and their possible affects on the soul and mind. He told me nothing different than what Tara had, but this time, I was relieved instead of panicked. What made it even better though, was his tender voice when he said, “See, you are still my Buffy.”

He said he called me near every week, even though he found nothing. Never caught me at home though, as I was, of course, busy with vegetable meat products and a masochistic vampire.

I told him more about that. How I discovered the Hellmouth special being served at the Doublemeat. How numb I was to the world when I wasn’t beating Spike’s face, or crashing through walls. And how incredibly drawn I had been to the idea of escaping to an imaginary loony bin where my parents played the heroes.

He listened to every word, and every night before bed, he cupped my face again and kissed my cheek softly, and made me feel so safe. But every day, his bones were mending, his pain was subsiding, and my time to make a decision about our future--Our Future-- was getting shorter. 

 
*****
 

Over two weeks since Giles moved in with us. I felt a little guilt about neglecting Willow, so I stopped over at Xander’s after a day shift. I had to blink at the sight that greeted me. Willow, apron and all, was mixing cake batter in one bowl, and something resembling meatloaf in the other.

“Hey Wil. Housekeeper Alice much?”

“Oh hey, Buffy. It’s just been a, a good day, and I wanted to do something for Xander, even something small, just to thank him. You know, for being so fuzzy and warm.”

I beamed, glancing at a pot on the stove. “Geez, and mashed potatoes too? Forget Alice…you’re a regular Ma Ingalls. If the way to Xander’s heart is his stomach, you’re gonna give him…”

I laughed at myself. “No safe way to finish that one, huh? This all looks really, really great.”

“Thanks.  You want to stay?”

“No, I can’t. I told Dawn and Giles we’d order Chinese tonight. No comparison to Chez Rosenberg, but we’ll have to settle.”

“Dawn says he’s doing a lot better,” she said. “Has he said when’s he’s going back to England?”

She couldn’t say home either, when it came to Giles and England.  Talking seemed safe.

“Hmm…Wil, can I bounce something off of you?”

Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding? Finally some catty talk for me? All Xander will discuss with me are X-files reruns and doughnut of the day.”

“He’s just being protective, Wil.”

“I know,” she said. “But not me now, you now. What’s up?”

I filled her in on the melting tension, Ethan Rayne’s latest dubious plot--

“Wait a second, why aren’t you off chasing after Ethan? Isn’t that what you do?” she asked.

“Well yeah, but not now.” She gaped at me. “Don’t worry. I called Riley and Sam. They’re on it until I can be…”

“OK. Continue.”

I skipped the parallel nightmares, and went right to the part about our new non-Slayer/Watcher quality time, and the decision Giles had asked me to make.

“So he’s going to stay if you…if you just ask him to?”

I nodded, licking a cake-batter-covered spoon. “All up to me. Should I be selfish and hang on to him, or give the only man (except for Xander), who has ever stayed around, a chance to go find new dreams?”

“I thought you said he wants to stay here.”

“Well that’s sort of the other part. He said he wants to stay here…with me.”

“You mean move in and like, help with Dawn and bills and stuff?”

“I don’t think that’s all there is to it, Wil.”

She looked up from her meatloaf. “Huh? Oh…oh!  Buffy, Giles is—“

“Don’t ask. I really don’t know. All I know is, he loves me more completely, more unconditionally, then anyone, ever. The way he loves me, rescues me. And yes, unashamedly, I admit that I want that, I need that.”

“You mean, with your Mom gone?”

I grimaced at her. “No, that’s not what I mean at all. He’s not a comparison to Mom.”

I stopped. Of course he wasn’t.

“He loves me like…he loves me the way I loved Angel.”

She reached over, touched my arm. “The way Tara loved me.”

I just stared it her. The fact that she saw it too, I was suddenly convinced. “Yeah. Yeah, he does.”

“So what are you going to do? I mean, do you love him that way?”

“Twenty million dollar question,” I said. “I love him more than anything, and I’ve gone crazy, you know, quite literally, without him.”

“Maybe if you love someone that much, it doesn’t matter how,” she suggested.

I shook my head. “I don’t know if that’s true, but, I think I need to find out.”

I gave her a hug and grabbed my purse. “Have a great dinner, Wil.  It’s good to see you smile.”

It was time for me to find mine.

 
*****
 

“You’re home!” I called into the living room. “What the heck…I thought you’d be waiting on me.”

“Buffy, check it out!”

Dawn led Giles by the hand into the kitchen where I was unloading cartons of fried rice and pineapple chicken.

She made a clumsy attempt to twirl Giles around as she sing-songed, “Meet Mr. Giles, the cast-less wonder.”

“Hey!” I said, studying his leg. “I forgot you had another check-up today! What happened to the fancy plaster?”

“It was terribly annoying, and I am fine.”

“Your leg was broken, Giles, like four weeks ago.”

“Yes, well, they have these very fashionable blue braces, so I will be well supported and fabulously trendy.”

“Sounds like a bra commercial,” Dawn chided.

Giles blushed. “Will you pass the crab raaaaa-coon, is it?”

“Rangoon, you goof,” she told him, passing out the chopsticks.

Thirty minutes later, Dawn was giddy and on her way to the mall with Anya, and we were all stuffed. Giles helped me clean up.

“I can’t believe you had that cast taken off,” I started. “Isn’t it harder to walk now?”

“Much easier without that cumbersome eyesore.”

I eyed him as he limped to the dishwasher. “Sure seems like it.”

He actually giggled. “Listen to my Buffy. Has herself pummeled near every night, and has risen from death twice, yet she stops to worry that a silly little fracture would keep Ripper down.”

My turn to laugh. “Ripper, huh? Gotcha, Rip. No worries here. Why don’t you train with me tomorrow? Been awhile since we sparred.”

He neatly folded the dishtowel and raised his teacup. “I’m rather thankful for that.”

Serious Watcher Voice. That was my queue.

“Giles, or Ripper, if you please. It’s a beautiful night…I hear the great outdoors calling, and I am taking the night off from patrolling. Shall we?”

“Lead the way.”

It still took Ripper the Castless Wonder an extra moment to find a comfortable sitting position on the steps. I waited wordlessly. There was no doubt, now that he was nearly himself again, he would want to be looking forward.

Deep breath. “Tonight was really nice. It’s great for Dawn to have family and happy banter like that.”

“Yes, and crab rangooon.” He rolled his eyes.

“You’re such a snob. Let go of your bland British tastes and admit that carryout is the best way. For Watchers on the run.”

“You sound like a commercial, Buffy.”

“When I retire from slayage, I’m certain Spokesmodel is in my future.”

“Perhaps,” he said quietly. “You know, tonight was pleasant overall, not only for Dawn, although I’m sure it does her much good.”

“It’s good for all of us…” I trailed off.

He did a strange thing then. Grabbed my hand, rested it in his lap, and caressed it with his good one. As if it were something that happened all the time.

“Have you given thought to what we discussed?”

It was sort of funny. We had discussed so many things in those last few days, he could have been talking about Dawn getting her drivers license or Willow going back to school. I was too busy interpreting the strange chill and non-awkward stomach flutter that were results of his gentle touch.

So I went with it, leaned my head on his shoulder.

“How can you love me so much, Giles?”

His sigh was so deep, I felt it vibrate. Runaway strands of my hair were in his face, and he kissed them.

“Look back, Buffy. Look back on the last six years, and see if you can find the answer to that.”

He carried me, when Amy’s mom had nearly killed me. He protected me, when prophecies told him the Master would kill me. He forgave me, when I ran away, took Angel back. He beamed with pride in me, over my SAT scores, my graduation, my defeat of the mayor. He took me back, after I blew him off for Maggie Walsh and false independence. He held me up, when Mom died. He let me go, when he believed I needed it, and he came back, when I needed him most.

“Giles,” I started, slowly. “We have all been through…God, everything and more these past six years. Heaven, hell, back again. Time after time. All the fear and the loss and the brokenness, we all felt it together…

“But when you went through it, you felt it twice. Once for you, and once for me. Everything that happened to me, you took it to heart, you took it to your soul. And not because you were my Watcher. God knows, no one did that for Faith.

I think he was holding his breath. He hadn’t flinched, so I continued.

“How many times have you stood in the gap for me? Fought when the odds were against us? Nearly died to protect me. Over and over. Even when I was just being a self-centered, awful bitch, you centered your world around me.”

He leaned his head against mine. Mmm. I breathed in the scent of him, the subtle musk and fresh soap. “Does all that mean you understand?”

“I do,” I said. “It doesn’t matter how you can love me so much.  It matters, God, it matters more than anything, that you do.

I could feel his lips, he smiled into my hair.

“I do,” was all he said.

“Giles?”

“Yes, love?”

I turned my head to face him, study his eyes. Care lines around them, passion reflected. He seemed to be drinking in everything about me, looking at me the way no one had before, yet it was the way he always had. I reached out with both hands, rested them in his hair, traced his jaw line with my thumbs, and felt a hunger that surprised me and was familiar all the same. A small sound escaped him as I pulled his face toward mine.

It was like finding home. His parted lips were warm and soft on mine, and perfect. If I were a Hallmark writin’ girl, I’d say it was less like a kiss, and more like taking a breath, and I mean that in the best way.

When we pulled away, those now too-familiar tears were there in his eyes, but rather than drown them in their anguish and regret, they sparkled there with a new life. Then they fell and mixed with mine on our joined hands. And I found myself in a seemingly old place, that now felt new, and certain, and there was only one thing to say.

“I want you to stay.”