Too Little, Too Late
By Tevye

TITLE: Too Little, Too Late
SPOILERS: Season 4
FEEDBACK: Yes please.
SUMMARY: Buffy comes to, too late.
RATED: PG-13


Riley reached out and trailed a hand down the inside of her arm as she reached for her shirt. "I’ll miss you," He whispered. Wrapping his hand around her wrist, he tugged her playfully back down on to the bed next to him. "Stay a few more minutes?" He pleaded between kisses.

"Mmmm . . . Perhaps . . . just . . . a little longer." Giggling, Buffy rolled back into his arms, letting his gentle caresses take her higher and farther, until nothing existed for them outside each other.

*****

Humming softly to herself, Buffy made her way through the courtyard to Giles’ apartment. As she approached, the door swung open to reveal Xander standing in the threshold. "Hey Xander . . ." The bright note in her voice dropped as she took in his somber expression. "Something’s wrong."

He stood silent. His eyes fixed on her, his body unmoving from doorway.

"Xander, what’s wrong?!" She was panicking now. Something was deeply, deeply amiss, she could feel it in the pit of her stomach and it was reflected in Xander’s eyes. "Is it Giles?!"

"Yeah. Yeah, it is." His voice was flat, almost emotionless except for the faint trace of a bitter laugh. He crossed his arms and simply remained standing there staring at her.

Shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, Buffy finally murmured "Are . . . aren’t you going to let me in?"

"She wants to come in." He muttered with a shake of his head, the tone of his voice betraying just how he felt about her request. Still he moved back allowing her entrance.

Timidly Buffy stepped over the threshold, frightened at what she might find there. Scanning the room, she zeroed in on Giles. She could see the top of his head over the sofa. Letting out a small sob, she hurried around to the other side. His face was horribly beaten, bruises beginning to swell up around his eyes, and cuts marring his face in a way that almost looked like it was a . . . pattern.

"My God Giles . . . what did they do to you?"

"Why do you care?"

"What the hell does that mean, Xander?"

"It means exactly what it sounds like." The young man crossed his arms again and leaned against the door effectively trapping Buffy.

"Xander!" Willow tried to shush her friend, but he wouldn’t have it.

"Oh, come on, Will. You’re thinking the exact same thing."

The redhead fell silent, her eyes dropping to the floor.

"Giles, I promise I will get whatever did this to you."

"Been there. Slayed that." Her gaze snapped up to Xander. The normally joking soft chocolate brown depths, were now hard, alight with intense hatred directed totally at her. Turning she looked at Willow.

The emerald eyes held a sort of sad disappointment. Unable to hold her gaze for long, Buffy spun around to face the figures behind her. Tara looked at her as though an idol had recently been smashed. Anya’s normally disinterested gaze now seemed to bore through her and find her lacking. Spike simply leaned against the fireplace disgust laced in his body posture.

Whirling back around to meet Xander’s hatred because for some reason at this moment it was better than anything else, Buffy asked in a strained voice. "When did this happen?"

"Last night." Willow whispered quietly. "It was horrible . . ." Her voice began to break, and Xander came to stand behind her.

"You don’t have to tell her Willow. She doesn’t deserve to know."

"Like hell I don’t. You should have called me!" Her entire body shook with rage at being shut out.

"You should have been here!!" Willow shouted rising off the couch. "You should have been here! Why weren’t you? What was so important? Come on, tell me, please just tell me you were in a car wreck or your Mom was sick or you ran into lots of vamps on the way . . . just . . . just tell me anything other than you were with Riley . . ." She let out an almost animal wail. "Please just let me be able to still look at you."

"What is this? When did Riley become a crime? Dammit why are you all so focused on me? What happened to Giles?"

Xander stalked over to the counter grabbed an open book. "You want to know what happened to Giles?" He slammed the book down on the table, "Here is what happened." Jabbing his finger at the drawing of a demon, he ground out, "Recognize it? Come on, take a good hard look." Buffy let out a whimper and turned away, but Xander grabbed her hand. "You don’t get off that easily. Last night, remember? ‘Don’t worry . . . I’ll go tell Giles.’ You almost killed him. Want to know who saved his life? Spike. You almost killed him and Spike saved him." Xander shook his head and walked towards the door. "The world just got way too fucked up for me. Giles . . . I’m sorry, I can’t stay here . . . If you need me just call . . . I . . ." He dropped his head in his hands as a shudder wracked through his body.

Getting up, Anya walked over to her boyfriend. Fixing her gaze on Buffy she stated quietly, "You made him cry."

Buffy closed her eyes as tears began to flow down her faced. "I couldn’t know. There was no way I could know. I was coming here now . . . to . . . tell . . . How was I supposed to know?" Her pleading had risen until she was almost yelling.

"You weren’t." Willow said quietly. Her voice thick. "You shouldn’t have to know something is going to happen to him. We have a demon. We come to Giles. That’s how it works. At least that *was* how it worked."

"Oh, like you came to him with every piece of magic you did?"

"That’s not the point . . ."

"That is enough." Giles’ soft labored words cut through the entire room, silencing it immediately. The tension increased ten-fold as he finally raised his eyes to meet Buffy’s. One was nearly blinded by blood from a busted vessel, but in the other she saw no hatred, no disappointment, no disgust, just merely tired resignation, and it shattered the little equilibrium she had left. "I would like everyone to leave for now."

"Giles . . ." Willow placed a hand on his shoulder.

"I’ll call if I need anything, but I need to speak to Buffy alone."

Without another word the entire gang filed out. The entire time Giles’ gaze held Buffy prisoner. When they finally heard the door slam, he let his gaze drop and asked in a near whisper. "I just need to know one thing . . . when . . . what made me unnecessary?"

"You’re not unnecessary. I need you."

"Buffy, just this once . . . don’t lie to me . . . please."

"I’m not lying."

"Then why was it so hard to come to me? What made it so difficult to take thirty minutes and come tell me?"

"I was coming. That’s what I came for. I didn’t know they would attack you Giles. We’ve never been able to predict attacks." She clenched and unclenched her hands.

"Every other time I’ve at least had the information."

"And you would still send me home." A sigh tore through her. "I made a mistake Giles, and God I’m sorry."

"It’s not good enough this time Buffy. One little word won’t make it go away. You betrayed us."

"Betrayed!" She jumped up. "I made a mistake Giles. That’s all it was."

"You made a promise, and when you broke that you put us all in jeopardy."

Buffy pressed the heels of her hands against her temples. "We live in jeopardy. I can’t stop that no matter how much I want to." She sobbed.

"How much do you want to?"

Buffy dropped her hands and looked at him in shock, "How can you ask me that?"

"Because you could have prevented this." Without another word he took an object from out of his pocket and placed it on the book over it’s drawing. "The demons are called Yuraths. They seek power, the ability to control a dimension’s density, and to do that they need this. It is one of seven entrusteds, indestructible objects whose power lies in their history. Because of the danger that lies in all seven entrusteds being brought together each one is spread about the globe and bound to a protector so powerfully that not even death can remove it without a retraction or a counter ritual. Do you recognize it Buffy?"

It was alluring almost, a simple gold band with a black stone, but it seemed to radiate something more. She knew it was familiar, but she just couldn’t quite place it . . .

Giles took out his left hand, which had been in his coat pocket. Gingerly he placed his hand beside the ring. It was bandaged heavily with white gauze and there were patches where the blood had soaked through, but despite all that her mind focused on one thing that was glaringly wrong---the hand was short one finger.

"Do you recognize it Buffy?"

"Oh God." Her face contorted in pain, and she slammed a fist into the table. "I didn’t know . . . Oh God, I didn’t know . . . The markings . . . on your face . . ." She gasped out between sobs.

"Were required to do the counter-ritual . . ."

"Oh God . . . I didn’t know . . . I didn’t . . ."

"Buffy . . . last night . . . where were you?"

She slammed her eyes shut, and let out a louder cry. "Why? I can’t change it."

"But you have to face it. You have had a great deal of responsibility that you didn’t ask for thrust upon you, and I understand your feelings of resentment. But you have that responsibility nonetheless, and it will not go away just because you ignore it. It is time you decided which burden you will bear, the defense of lives or the guilt that will eventually come when those lives are lost."

For a long while they sat in tense silence, Buffy not knowing what to say, and Giles not knowing how to say what was coming next.

Finally, very quietly he picked up the ring placed it back in his pocket and stood, holding onto the couch for balance. "I’m leaving Sunnydale."

"What?!" Her world had just bottomed out from under her, and the shattered pieces of herself were falling into the abyss. Buffy stared unbelieving at the form of the one constant in her life as it suddenly all went up in smoke. "You can’t do this to me."

"What am I doing to you?"

"You made a promise! You can’t leave! I can’t do this alone! And you said you would stay. Here you are talking all about responsibilities and how I have to make a choice, and you’re leaving! You bastard."

Giles shook his head and bit back a sob. "I stayed Buffy. You left. You made your choice. You walked away. I’m just finally accepting it."

"You can’t . . ."

"I have to. Everything here is eating away inside of me. There’s just so much anger and resentment festering and growing, I’m surprised I’m still capable of love. I have to go before I lose that capacity."

Her eyes met his. "We’re a team." She pleaded.

"We were, and it was . . . so beautiful." His breath caught at the word. "The most pure and wonderful thing I ever had. Let me remember it that way."

Letting a tiny sad smile cross her face at the memories his words called up, she asked seriously, "Do you think that . . . someday . . . we could be again?"

"Oh, hold out that hope to me Buffy. I’ll live a lifetime on it." Walking in slow labored steps, he made his way over to the kitchen counter. "Here is the number where I will be." He held out a slip of paper. "I had to have Spike write it down. It’s in L.A. I’ll be there for some. I . . . I have to be rebound. The process takes some time . . ."

She stumbled towards him. "They can’t make you . . ."

"We all have our responsibilities Buffy. This is mine. So . . . I will be there for at least three months. If I move I will notify you."

"Why are you doing this?" She finally asked.

Placing his good hand underneath her chin he forced her to look at him. "I love you Buffy. I am willing to die for you a thousand times over, but I am not yet ready to die *because* of you. My love is not that pure."

"Will you ever be able to forgive me?"

"Oh, God, Buffy." He wrapped her in a fierce, demanding hug that gave too much. "I forgave you for every transgression long before you committed it. I absolve you with every heartbeat."

She began to weep against his chest. "You . . . bastard." He couldn’t leave her like this, with his forgiveness. She needed his hatred, his anger. She could work to fix that, but how did you work to erase a sin when you already had the absolution?

A horn honked from outside, and Giles pulled away, looking up at the clock.

Buffy stared at him in disbelief. "You already called a cab?"

"I asked Spike to call me one when he left."

"So just like that? You can’t wait another day?"

Giles shook his head. "Tomorrow you’ll smile, and I won’t be strong enough." He made his way towards the door.

"What can I do or say to make you stay?" Buffy called out desperately.

Giles stopped in the doorway his back remaining towards her. "A great many things. But I doubt you will do or say any of them." He stood there waiting . . . giving her a chance to prove him wrong.

Buffy looked at him. She knew what he wanted to hear, three tiny words, which should have been said long ago. She could hold him here with just those three words. Bind him to her forever, no matter what the meaning of them. Opening her mouth, she tried to let them come out, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t make them mean what he wanted them to mean, and he didn’t deserve anything less.

Instead she simply whispered. "I’m sorry."

Giles hung his head. "So am I." He said and then walked out.

Following him to the curb, she made no move to help him get in the cab. It was no longer her place. Instead she simply watched with tears in her eyes, offering silent support, the way he had done so many times before.

She followed the cab down the road until she could no longer see it, and then remained there, looking at where it had crossed the horizon. Standing there on the curbside, tears trailing down her face, she raised a hand in farewell to something already gone, and whispered, "I love you."

END