By lost

Title: "Waiting"
Author: lost
Rating: G
Spoilers: I guess up to 5th season
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Joss (or whoever). I own nothing. Seriously, I'm like a monk here, people.
Feedback: If you wanna.
Dedication: For Lily (my beta), for believing I could write, even when I didn't. :)

He waited for her.

She had gone on patrol earlier that night and had not yet returned. It was supposed to be a routine patrol, like so many others she had been on before. There were no prophecies of doom, no plans afoot by evil forces bent on her destruction, at least none that they were aware of. But still he waited for her to return before he would even consider resting.

The book he was studying lay open on the desk before him, a reminder that he still had work to do, but he could not concentrate. He pushed away from his desk and stared at the pile of books he still needed to wade through. He rubbed his eyes before turning his attention to the rest of his apartment. Everything was in shadow, the faint light of the desk lamp not quite reaching the rest of the room. It seemed unnaturally still, as if no one actually lived there.

His home was quiet, but not in the way that the old library had been quiet. There, echoes of his friends were always near: Willow's printouts, Xander's food wrappers, and through every aisle, the flowery scent of Buffy's shampoo. They had started coming to his apartment after the library was destroyed, but as their lives grew in different directions, their visits became shorter and spaced further apart. Buffy visited even less, choosing to drop by only as it suited her, it seemed.

He got up and walked toward the entrance of his apartment. He peered through the window by the door again and sighed. There was still no sign of her.

It was late and the new moon and cloudy sky made the darkness seem even more oppressive and dangerous than usual, as if it was ready to swallow whole anything that ventured into it. The fact that it was he who had sent her into that inky blackness, as he did almost every night, weighed heavily on his mind tonight.

And so he waited. He was always waiting for her, it seemed. Waiting for her to report. Waiting for her to come home. Waiting for her to grow up. Waiting for her to open her eyes.

No, he thought, that isn't fair. Everything has its time and season and that is as it should be. He had had his time in the sun and now he would do everything in his power so that she could have hers. At times, though, it seemed she was so desperate to have a 'normal' life that she was reckless with her choices. She made decisions that hurt her and the people around her.

He leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the window and reminded himself that they were her choices to make and the impossible hopes of a middle-aged man should not be expected to affect them. But that didn't stop him from wishing it was not so.

He walked back to his desk and the book he was reading. No new prophecies loomed in their futures, the Fates apparently giving them a brief rest from their ongoing struggle. But he feared being lulled into complacency and failing her again. Memories of her death at the Master's hands still haunted him, periodically making sleep something to dread instead of the rest he desperately needed.

His eyes wandered to the picture on his desk of his little family. It had been taken early on graduation day, when, for a moment, they could pretend to be the happy untroubled young people they appeared to be in the photograph. He studied their smiling faces. They were still suffering growing pains, but he loved them through their problems and he marveled at the men and women they were becoming.

Especially his Buffy. She was dressed in a maroon cap and gown, her smile bright and her blond hair pulled back, away from her face. So different from the girl he'd first met and yet she still managed to retain some of that same hope and joy. He looked closely at her face and searched her eyes for any hint of the sorrow she must surely feel; sorrow he had helped put there.

But he found none. She was his Buffy, indomitable to the last. Able to lose and sacrifice so much and still find joy in the simplest of things: being with her friends, laughing in the sun, sharing the things she loved.

His mind shied away from that thought. She had been ready to share a personal joy with him the day he'd betrayed her. The look in her eyes then had nearly torn his heart out. He didn't know if he could survive such a thing again.

We're fine now, he told himself. The reassurance sounded hollow even in his mind. They were growing apart. He could feel it and he wondered if she had even noticed. They'd stopped patrolling together, training, or, for that matter, even talking to one another.

She would still need him, in his capacity as researcher, but the old bond of mentor and student had faded. He had hoped for a more adult relationship, a more equal relationship, to quietly fill in the vacuum. Instead it felt to him as though he was being discarded, as one did childhood things.

He formed a wry smile as he wondered what the Watcher's Council would think of his fading relationship with his Slayer. Travers would probably dance with glee, the pillock, he thought. In the end, he would become what every other Watcher had been to their Slayer: an observer and chronicler, and nothing more.

He looked up at the clock on the wall. Three o'clock. She was an hour late. He couldn't take it anymore. He stood, planning the fastest way to cover Buffy's route for the night, when he heard the front door slam open.

"Gi-iles! I'm back!"

The sound of her voice flooded him with relief. The tension in his chest lessened and he could breathe again. He could hear her now, making her way to him. She was softly singing some silly pop song that meant nothing but allowed her to make a joyful noise. It amazed him, how she could sound so carefree, so young, so vibrant after going out in nights like these.

She's back. That's all that matters. She survived another night and she came back to me, his mind whispered. No, it was not possible for him to become the dispassionate drone that other Watchers had been. She was his reason, his purpose, and he would be there for her at the end of every night.