Wounds
By Gail Christison

TITLE: Wounds
AUTHOR: Gail Christison
Rating: MA15+ for dramatic content. No sex. No violence. Previous violence inferred
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Joss. Just wish he would play nicer :-)
Timeline: A little while after Restless
Spoilers: general...I'll let you count the episodes
Summary: Buffy finds Giles cuffed to his bed and makes a discovery that opens her eyes to a great many things
Feedback: Always :-) chriscln@iinet.net.au
Distribution: my site http://www.wickedsky.com/oncemore; Solo if she wants it.
Author's: notes: Since everyone did such a wonderful job of the PWP for Holly's challenge, I decided to do something different. This is a kind of Buffy and Giles epilogue for the series to date, in the tradtion of my episodes epilogues, I hope...

Dedictation: for Holly, hope you like it! and to Brenda for braving Buffy for me again


“Things are going better, don't you think?”

Willow looked up from the text she was studying. “What things?”

Buffy had stayed in to work on several overdue assignments. Things had been quiet since their surreal visit from the First Slayer, anyway, but it was almost weird being together, in the dorm room, the way they'd both originally envisioned college.

“Everything,” Buffy said. “We're all sorta better now…after…”

Willow blinked. “You mean we're not ignoring each other, neglecting each other or forgetting any of us exist?” she asked, a mixture of innocence and barb.

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Subtle, much. I keep thinking about it. I missed so much stuff, Will…I didn't even remember Xander's birthday this year…” She rolled her eyes. “God, I didn't remember Giles' birthday either.”

“Buffy, you didn't even remember mine,” Willow said wryly. “Jeez, you didn't even remember to tell Giles about Riley. That's not the point.”

“No it isn't. I got lost this year. That's the point. I forgot about 'us.' But I think we're all good now. It was really fun yesterday.”

Willow smiled. It had been fun, all of them together without any big brewin' evil, for a change. Xander had even made Giles laugh…and none of them had heard that for a very long time. Not even Giles' nervous giggling about moon pie had come close to the open, spontaneous roar of laughter at the younger man's antics as his first attempt at baking turned into a keystone cops version of burned fingers, flying cookies and flaming dishtowels.

“Sure it was,” she said softly. “We were together. We wanted to be together.”

Buffy looked up. “Yeah…and Anya was shopping; Tara's away and so is Riley. It was good because it was just us, wasn't it?”

Willow stopped for a moment then nodded slowly. “I wanted it to be like that all year, but when I started seeing Tara I kind of forgot too. Being with her kind of became…”

“I know,” Buffy said quickly and made a face. “Don't beat yourself up about it, Will. Me… Riley…bad. Remember?” She made another, worse face. “Evil Buffy.”

Willow giggled. “You kind of were. You made Giles drink with Ethan.”

Buffy looked at her as though she was crazy. “Of all the ways I've screwed up so far this year what made you pick that?” she asked, bemused.

The smile vanished. “I'm not sure; maybe for the same reason I noticed how much happier he seems to be now; or maybe because it had been coming for a long time. You hurt him a lot.”

“How do you know so much? I mean, I didn't even know there was a problem until he went all demon on me.”

“I told you he was feeling 'out of the loopy'. We all were, but not as much as Giles. You didn't see him, Buffy…when he found out about Riley and the Initiative,” Willow chided. “And I know what I know because I asked,” she added pointedly.

Buffy's eyes widened.

“A-after…after the demon thing. Not the other…thing…with Spike. He still won't talk about that. He asked me to try and find out what happened to Ethan…y'know, with the computer and all. I wanted to know if he was okay. I asked about what happened with Ethan and stuff just kind of came out. Not in so many words, but, well, Maggie Walsh was a bitch…and, well, so were…” She trailed off.

“So was I,” Buffy finished. “He told me…about Professor Walsh. I'm guessing Spike probably tapped into something that's going to take more than a group hug to really fix.” She looked up almost ruefully. “So Jiminy, are you trying to tell me something or just trying to make sure I never do it again?”

Willow half smiled. It was hard to stay mad with Buffy when she was so like her old self again. “Both,” she said boldly. “We are all together again, and that's a good…Xander especially. I like him way better this way…”

“But…?” Buffy asked. “I can hear the 'but.'”

The other girl sighed. “But there's still a part of Giles that's missing. He's been our friend for a long time, Buffy…and he's not the same any more. He hasn't been for a long time. He's all closed up inside…and he never relaxes. Not really.”

Buffy's head tilted to one side, red patches flaming in her cheeks as she realised something for the first time. “I did that,” she said softly.

“You did what…?”

“Nothing,” she whispered. “I think I'm going to go and see Giles…”

“It's late…”

“He'll be awake. He always is when I drop by during patrols…after patrols. The light's always burning.”

“Sounds like he's worse at the sleep thing than even I realised.”

Buffy stared at Willow's bent head. She was turning pages in her book, and it was obviously just a casual thought, but…

“You really think so? God, I can't remember the last time I found him asleep, or saw him sleep…not even a nap or forty winks in his chair…well, except for our little video Fright -Night, that is.”

Willow looked up again and shrugged. “He might be one of those people who only need a few hours a night…or not…” she finished when Buffy scowled.

The latter slid out of bed and reached for her clothes. “Why are we discussing Giles' sleeping habits?”

“Because we care about him?” Willow ventured, irony in her voice.

“Y'think…? Subtle much,” Buffy drawled, rolling her eyes as she pulled on her jacket. “I shouldn't be too long, but don't wait up…in case I get um...held up…along the way.”

“Be careful,” Willow yelled after her, hoping the hold ups would be few and far between, and preferably as toothless and clawless as possible.


********

Buffy frowned. Just to make a liar of her, the apartment was in darkness. She tried the door, half expecting it to be locked, confirming that Giles wasn't home. It wasn't. A shiver went down her spine as she pushed it open.

Her sense of dread wasn't lessened when she put on the light. Giles' desk chair was knocked over and the lamp on the desk was on its side, though mercifully not broken. Two of the breakfast stools were also knocked over and his guitar lay on the floor. There was a smear of blood on the wall and another on the floor near the stairs and some of his clothes were scattered around the room. She opened her mouth to call him, stopped and ran down the hallway, checking the bathroom, the closet and the back door, which was locked. That only left the loft.

She looked up but couldn't see anything as she sprinted back and across the living area, to take the stairs by twos. She slid to a halt on the landing, unable to quite grasp what she finally did find and too stunned to fully absorb it.

A moment later she shook herself and raced to the bedside. “Oh my God! Giles!” she exclaimed frantically when she saw more blood on the bed, and jumped when he moved and opened his eyes.

“Buffy?” he moaned, trying to sit up but constrained by the handcuffs that rattled when he started to move. “Christ…!”

“What happened?” she demanded. “Who did this to—?”

“Buffy…” he interrupted, his face contorted with pain.

Her eyes widened with concern. “What? Giles…?”

“The quilt,” he growled.

Buffy straightened and looked again at the long, lean, naked form on the bed, the impact of the vision of which she'd kept at bay only by virtue of the shock of seeing him apparently unconscious and obviously hurt. Not to mention the blood on the sheets and the injuries to his torn wrists, indicating a prolonged struggle against his captivity…

A second later she shook herself, snatched up the big quilt from the floor, pulled it onto the bed and tucked it around him.

For just a moment their eyes met, each of them too self-conscious to speak, then Buffy was moving, trying to snap the chains on the sets of cuffs. They were immensely difficult to break, considering the use for which they were actually designed, but she finally succeeded and helped ease each of Giles' obviously achingly stiff arms back down to his side.

“Sorry I can't get them completely off,” she said awkwardly when he finally opened his eyes again. “Giles, who did this to you?”

He looked away from her. “Ethan sent some friends…demon friends…to thank me for his rather unpleasant stay in Nevada,” he explained, with difficulty, still obviously in considerable pain.

Her eyes went to the blood that had seeped into the sheet he was laying on. “You should let me look at your back.” she said, distressed, and started to turn him.

“No!”

Buffy let go. “Why not?”

“No,” he repeated. “Let it be.”

“But you're bleeding all over the sheet. What did they do? Let me help.”

“Buffy, no!” he barked when she used her Slayer strength to turn him on his side before he could resist further.

She froze, staring at a mosaic of bloody cuts, obviously made by some kind of exceedingly sharp blade, or claws, the colour draining from her face and her eyes wide.

When she could breathe again, she reached out trembling fingers, almost as though in shock, and traced a deep gouge beneath his shoulder blade.

This one, however, was not fresh. It was old. Old scars were all over his bloodied back: large, small, sliced, and burned…twisted, spidery ribbons and silver-red gouges in the otherwise smooth surface of the skin now savagely torn again.

“Please…Buffy,” he managed miserably.

After a beat for his words to register through her horrified memories of all the implements Faith and Angel had intended to use on her, she rolled him back very gently and brought the quilt up to his chest, her heart pounding, and her stomach tied in knots.

For a long, long moment they looked at one another, moisture trickling very slowly down Buffy's cheeks, its reflection glittering in the soft green eyes.

“I should get the first aid kit,” she whispered hoarsely.

The green eyes closed slowly as she fled.

She'd only just reached the bathroom before she had to spin away from the medicine cabinet and lunge for the pedestal, holding on with trembling arms as she threw up violently. It was some time before her stomach stopped heaving and she was able to wipe her mouth with tissue.

She turned, took only a couple of steps before collapsing almost in slow motion, to the floor, sobbing. The maelstrom of guilt and regret, so long coming, now refused to release her. The assault of memories, some so deeply buried until now that she reeled from the brutal intensity of them, brought her close to throwing up again.

All of her focus, all of her emotion during the months after Jenny Calendar had died had been reserved for Angel. And when Angelus had tried to wake Acathla, there had been no time, no emotion to spare for worrying about Giles, even for wondering if he was still alive…let alone what nightmare torture Angelus might be inflicting on him while she struggled to find answers and dealt with Spike…and her mother. No, she'd walled off that part of herself; the guilt, the failure…her heart refusing to even acknowledge the sad, hunched figure standing so uncomfortably with the others outside the school after it was all over, while she watched from across the street…

And a million miles away.

Somewhere a part of her reminded herself that Giles needed her now, but her body wasn't co-operating. She needed to get up, to get the first aid kit, to find him something for the pain, but she had no strength. Terror gripped her for a moment. The last time she'd been so helpless was when he'd drugged her during that test…

She closed her eyes, swallowing another sob. How she'd judged him then…and still he'd refused to sit in judgement on her, to show her what she'd done to him…how much she'd hurt him. Her stomach turned over, and her trembling grew more violent.

“Giles,” she whispered. “I'm so sorry…”

“I know,” a voice said softly from the doorway.

Adrenaline shot through her and she froze, despite the unabated trembling. She couldn't face him, possibly ever again. She didn't look up.

“Don't,” she managed hoarsely.

“Don't…?”

“Don't forgive me. Not again. You can't…”

“I already did, a long time ago,” he told her gently.

Buffy sobbed again. “You can't.”

“I can,” he insisted, still gentle. “And I have.”

She shook her head, and was about to argue when he made a small noise and she heard the cuff on his right hand drag down the doorframe. All else forgotten for an instant, she struggled to her feet and went to catch him before he fell. He'd managed to find his robe, but it was tied badly, so that only the bottom half was still closed and one side was hiked up higher than the other.

“What are you doing out of bed?” she cried angrily, unable to stop the panic, or the tears, that choked her voice.

“Believe…believe it or not,” he managed ruefully, “I needed to go…”

“Go where…?” she demanded dumbly, ramming her shoulder under his left arm.

“Buffy…”

“Oh, there. Do you still…?”

“Afraid so.”

Wordlessly she helped him to the bowl and turned her head away while he went.

“Thank you,” he said quietly when he was done. “I'm not sure I can make it back upstairs, though.”

Buffy shifted their weight slightly. “We will,” she told him. “Don't worry.”

It took a long time, one step at a time, each small sound he couldn't disguise reminding her how hurt he was, how much pain he was in, until they finally reached the loft. When they did, she steadied him before pulling away.

“Buffy—”

She shook her head and started to undo the robe.

Giles put his hand over hers.

“It's okay,” she said tremulously. “It's not like I haven't seen...” She shrugged. “…You know. Let me help.”

He dropped his hands and she supported him while he sat down.

Buffy pulled the cord undone and slid the heavy robe off his shoulders, so that it fell back on the bed.

Some of the deeper wounds were bleeding again and he was very pale.

“It's bad, isn't it?”

He nodded gingerly.

“I'm going to go back and get your first aid kit. I promise to be right back this time.”

She started to turn, but he caught her fingers.

Buffy stopped, swallowed hard at the painful gorge of tears that leapt to her throat.

“I-It was a long time ago,” he said.

Her lip trembled and she closed her eyes against the hurt. His fingers were warm and gentle around hers, his concern far more than she deserved. She nodded silently and pulled away.

The kit was on top of the cabinet, where it always was when he wasn't patrolling. Fully stocked, as always. Giles was meticulous about it. He'd always had to be in their line of work and with his penchant for getting banged up. Armed with it, a bottle of hyper-strength painkillers which she so didn't want to know why they were in his cabinet, and a damp cloth, she ran back up the steps to find him still sitting where she'd left him, the bottom half of his robe drawn across his lap and over his knees. He looked awful, the metal cuffs still dangling at his wrists, the wounds lacerating his back, blood smeared across it, the pain still contorting his expression.

Silently, she crossed to his side. He turned obligingly and she cleaned the surface of his back very gently with the cloth, then opened the kit and started to work, everything he'd ever taught her about using its contents flooding back to her now. She worked steadily until he cried out in pain several times in spite of himself.

She had been gentle, but the wounds were so raw, so exposed that the various small antiseptic towelettes and prep pads she was using from the kit were almost as agonising to the touch as the infliction of the wounds in the first place.

By the time she was done they were both trembling.

“Maybe…maybe I should call a cab and take you to the emergency room? I don't know if I did it good enough…a-and I don't know what else to do…” she ventured shakily. “There's so many…”

He turned back. “You did fine,” he said in a strained voice. “I'm not going to bleed to death or die of shock, Buffy. D-Don't fuss. Ethan intended me to be humiliated, and to suffer, not expire. He likes the game too much. I'm not going to the emergency room again.”

Buffy stared at him. In a way this was her fault too. If she hadn't driven him to drink, he would never have given Ethan the opportunity to turn him into a demon.

“Giles, why don't you hate me?”

He was silent for a long time. “It's true I have been terribly angry, for a very long time,” he said carefully. “But I could never hate you. I…” He looked away suddenly.

Buffy stared at the back of his head. They were so alike. They'd both been hurt so much and they were both so challenged when it came to revealing themselves, their feelings. How many times had she wanted to tell him stuff and had no words…no clue as to how to even start? How many times had she chosen, out of fear or failure, to just walk away?”

“You…we need to get you into bed,” she said awkwardly and stood up, surveying the bloodstained base. “I need to change the sheet.”

“Don't fuss,” he said quietly.

Giles…”

He turned back, the soft eyes searching her face. “Bottom drawer of the tallboy,” he conceded wearily. For a moment he thought she was going to speak, but after a beat a self-conscious smile tugged briefly at her lips, then she moved away.

It was done surprisingly swiftly, Buffy not wanting him on his feet for any longer than absolutely necessary.

“Pyjamas?” she asked, helping him sit down again.

He nodded silently, amused when she dug out his oldest pair, blue striped flannelette horrors he'd stopped wearing long ago. In fact, he remembered exactly when. It was the night after his experience with Snyder's band candy. He remembered picking them up and staring at them…and wondering just what the bloody hell he'd allowed himself to become.

She turned and handed them to him. “They're old,” she offered.

He grunted and took them. “Then they'll be a perfect match, won't they?” he muttered, gingerly attempting to pull on the top half, then rolling his eyes and reluctantly allowing her to help.

“I only meant it won't matter so much if you bleed again and they get icky,” she retorted.

He didn't look up, instead leaving the buttons while he moved to put on the bottoms, dropping the robe on the floor as he half stood.

Buffy watched his face screw up in pain and his hands begin to shake as his back stretched when he stooped to step into the pants. In a moment she was there snatching them from his hands and pushing him back down onto the bed.

“Do you mind?” he growled.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” she retorted and knelt in front of him, holding the pants open near his feet.

Irritated, he put one foot, then the other into the legs and rolled his eyes as again as she hiked them up to his knees, making sure his feet were clear. From there it was a simple task for him to take hold of them, stand and pull them up.

Thankfully, as far as he was concerned, Buffy had already moved clear and was looking away. Small mercies, he thought.

“Willow will worry,” he said unexpectedly.

Buffy turned, stepped towards him to help as he turned to sit on the bed, then slide into it. “I'll call her,” she said dryly and scowled when he waved her away. He was quite obviously in a lot of pain, and she wished he had agreed to have his back looked at, but she understood why he refused.

When he was finally in, resting on his side, he forbore Buffy to cover him again. “I really think you should be going back,” he said as she sat down on the side of the bed. “You have classes tomorrow. I can manage perfectly well…just more slowly than normal. It's not as though I have anything to hurry for…after all.”

“I'm not leaving you like this. Some of those cuts look like they're going to need stitches.”

Giles knew the tone. Arguing was going to be futile. “I'll be fine.”

“Like you were the last time?” she asked, her voice brittle, and pitched higher than normal. He refused to look at her, instead closing his eyes and pushing his head further into the pillow.

“I don't need…” he began.

Unable to stop herself, Buffy reached over and brushed the hair from his temple with her fingertips. It was strange and frightening to touch him so intimately, something she'd never done before, but the need to now was somehow overwhelming…

“Yes…you do,” she whispered. “We both do. We're too much alike, you and I, both kicking and fighting against our destinies, both so stubborn,” she teased, and watched his mouth soften, and the corner of it quirk slightly upwards in spite of himself. “Neither of us has the first clue about how to tell people how we really feel, or when to…”

At her small pause, he opened his eyes again and turned his head to look at her face.

When their eyes met, Buffy finally smiled a little, and let the backs of her fingers trail down his cheek, surprised when his eyes closed and his lips parted just a little. She swallowed, summoning all of her courage.

“…Or when to say I love you,” she finished.

The green eyes flew open again but his gaze was steady. “Some of us don't have that right,” he said unexpectedly.

Her own blue ones had dilated alarmingly. “Right…? You think I don't have the right…?”

His expression softened a little. “Not you.”

Buffy halted, mid rage. “You…?” The colour drained out of her face. “And you never told me…even once?”

His expression became almost whimsical. “Haven't I?”

That gave her pause, her head tilting to one side as she explored the question. Of course he had, in a thousand different ways…but she hadn't been listening.

She looked away, shamed. “You…you've always had the right. I just haven't always deserved it.”

He sighed a long sigh, prompting her to turn back in spite of herself.

“I did wonder,” he said softly. “There have been times when it seemed that you wouldn't have noticed…or cared…if I was replaced by a computer terminal, as long as you had Willow and Xander for support and your various young…men.”

“That's not true,” she was stung to retort, knowing almost immediately that it really was, and colouring brightly. “Okay…so lately, maybe…but not any more.”

Giles continued to look at her, a bemused, but she could see, disbelieving, look in his eyes.

For some reason it hurt far more than his disapproval or anger would have. “You don't understand. All this time, I did need you…but you were there…always there. I-It wasn't that I didn't care…it was just…there was always so much…and I thought you knew…and I'm really making a mess of this,” she said, dragging a hand through her hair, annoyed by the tears that had returned and her terminal inability to say what she really meant.

“I think I can translate most of it,” he said dryly, grimacing as he shifted slightly to get more comfortable. “You've been taking me for granted for four years, but you really do care…”

Buffy sniffed, not liking the edge in his voice. “Like you're the original 'reach out and touch someone' guy,” she shot back.

“That was hardly possible, even in the most avuncular way, while you were a minor,” he pointed out dryly. “And later you were rather busy with your own…”

“What? Friends can't even…what's avuncular?”

Giles blinked at the midstream switch. “Friendly, open…uncle-like,” he offered, bemused.

“Oh…well, whatever…but we're talking about us now…we…the Chosen Ones, not me and Snyder, or Willow and Miss Calendar, or even Mom and Xander, for God's sake. C'mon, Giles, admit it, the truth is we're just as bad as each other.”

He cocked an eyebrow.

“Well, almost as bad. Okay, we've established my extreme badness. Can't we move on? I'm trying so hard here, and you're making me crazy.”

At that point Giles seemed to notice the tears for the first time. “I'm sorry,” he said gently.

It only made it worse. The same pain that had seized her earlier now spread ominously into her chest and up into her throat. She sniffed again and blinked, picked up the bottle of painkillers.

“Can I get you something to take these pills with? Tea?” she asked, rising.

“Tea…” he agreed, concern in his eyes.

In the kitchen Buffy put the tray together almost unconsciously.

Why was it always so hard to talk to him about anything other than slayage or school? And why did it suddenly matter so very much?

But she knew the answer to that…had for a very long time. A memory of her terror …terror she'd beaten into anger when she realised what he was going to do after Jenny Calender died, resurfaced then. She'd come so close to losing him…so close to being truly alone…

When the tray was almost done she turned to look for the small jar of coffee he always kept for her and stopped dead. A note and some keys were pinned on Giles' pinup board.

She screwed up the gloating note from Ethan and threw it in the trash, put the keys on the tray, her hand shaking. Ethan deserved to be eaten by something huge and gross, possibly after it had finished with her…

When she reached the loft, Buffy found Giles dozing. For the first time she wondered when exactly was the last time he'd slept properly. She put the tray down quietly and went to the bedside. She'd never had the opportunity to watch him sleep before.

He looked so different, so…young…well, younger. He'd let his hair go natural too … nice, and kind of curlier, and the earring seemed to be a permanent fixture now. She decided she liked the new him after all. In sleep he seemed almost at peace, almost content. She swallowed. He seemed a lot less Watchery and a lot more guy-ish. For the first time she began to really get Willow's enthusiasm about the new Giles. She was beginning to get a lot of things…

And for the first time since she'd stopped him from sacrificing himself to his grief for Jenny Calendar, she let herself acknowledge what she'd known since he'd tried to take her place, to face the Master, and what had burned into her soul that day outside the warehouse: that she loved him; that she needed him more than she'd ever needed anything or anyone…that she would have sacrificed Angel himself if it meant saving Giles…

And almost had…

How long would he have gone on not telling her? Gone on putting up with her selfishness, her endless neglect? Forever, probably, knowing Giles. He moved a little, an arm sliding out of the covers. The handcuff, still sawing at his torn wrist, had made it bleed again.

Buffy bit her lip. How much had he suffered for her? How many times was he going to get hurt because of her? Ethan or not, she knew in her heart that this was her fault too. Her stupid, stubborn, 'if I don't think about it, I can hide forever,' fault. She scowled through her misery. Character flaw, much

'You have no respect for me or for the job I perform…'

She closed her eyes. He must have been so hurt…probably even more hurt when she managed to not take responsibility for any of it…again.

As the rhythm of his breathing deepened and the silence of the room began to scream at her, her mind slowly began to explore even less palatable revelations…

I don't know you…She's forty. I'm sure she's got better things to do than hang around a bunch of teenagers…What about Giles? He's all alone—I'm sure Mister Giles doesn't want to spend Christmas with a bunch of girls…All you will get from me is my respect…and my support…Fire bad, tree pretty…You're really, really old and it's gross…I can't do this without you…She's the smartest person I ever knew…If you touch me, I'll kill you…A father's love for the child…I'm sorry I couldn't kill him for you, for her…You can't leave me…Welcome home, Buffy…Sadly, I must remind you that Angel tortured me, for hours, for pleasure…You'll watch him…?

The blur of memories screeched to a halt and her eyes flew open.

“No…” she mouthed, stunned at the breadth of her stupidity. “I'm sorry…I'm sorry…”

How could she ever face him? And how could she not? How did she get so insensitive and blind? Okay, so insensitive was a family trait
but God, Summers…

“Please don't hate me,” she whispered tremulously. “I never meant to hurt you.” She didn't notice that his breathing had ceased to be rhythmic as she continued miserably, the words chasing her thoughts.

“God, Giles, I wish I could make it better…I wish I could tell you…but I'll never be able to…”

For a moment longer she stared at the familiar profile then scrambled to her feet and turned for the stairs. He would find the keys when he woke up. What he didn't need was to wake up to her face and all the miserable memories that went with it… Maybe she could call Xander to come and be with him…

“Buffy, wait…”

She turned, startled. He was struggling to a sitting position on the side of the bed, breathing a little heavily.

They stared at each other wordlessly for a long moment.

“G-Giles?” she stammered, finally breaking the silence.

“I don't hate you,” he said, very gently.

Her face crumpled. “You should. I-If I were you, I would. I'd be so angry…”

He shook his head slowly. “For a time…but not any more. Disappointed, yes…at times so terribly disappointed…but I could never hate you.”

She frowned in frustration…but…but I did so many h-horrible things…said so many things…Giles, I never meant…”

“I know. I was your age, once, Buffy. I know only too well how easy it is to run away, to deal with the difficult issues by not dealing with them at all.”

“I don't want to run away any more. I just…I don't want…” She growled in frustration and clenched her fists. “I am so challenged when it comes to this stuff. Just…just…” She wheeled and reached for the tray, handed him the keys. “I'll reheat the tea.”

He didn't reply.

Buffy had reached Giles' desk downstairs before she stopped, made a noise in her throat and stamped her foot. She was doing it again. She dumped the tray on the desk, turned angrily and stomped back up the stairs.

Giles was exactly where she left him, sitting quietly on the side of the bed, his head bowed, perhaps in thought, and thankfully, the cuffs were gone. He looked up when she reappeared, then stood instinctively, more out of surprise than forethought and winced as every wound on his back pulled savagely.

“I was stupid. I was wrong. When it comes to us I'm so stupid it's a crime…but just because I'm stupid doesn't mean I don't care,” she said in a rush, making him blink.

“I know that,” he told her quietly.

It was her turn to blink. “And what Travers said…” she continued tremulously.
“I think it's only fair that you should know—”

Giles' eyes widened in surprise, but before he could speak he had to sit down, all colour draining from his face and his hands trembling.

In a heartbeat she was at his side. “What is it? Tell me…should I call a doctor?”

Giles covered the hand that had instinctively gone to his shoulder. “Ssh. I'm fine. I daresay there's a little bit of reaction setting in.”

He felt her fingers tighten beneath his. “I wish you'd let me call a cab. We could go to the twenty-four hour clinic over on Marshall…I-it doesn't have to be the Emergency Room.”

Giles shook his head. “It was bad enough trying to explain my back the first time. It took Xander's extremely fertile imagination, a fictional mad dog and a long story about him accidentally slamming my hands in the door of my car to prevent them from reporting my injuries to the authorities.”

Unexpectedly, Buffy giggled. He looked up slowly and caught the glint of absurdity in her eyes and found himself smiling back.

“Mad dog?” she managed.

A moment later they were both giggling uncontrollably. They continued to do so until they both gasped for breath.

By then Giles had caught her hands and she, his. When each of them realised, they grew very still, though neither relinquished the other.

Buffy's cheeks were flushed from laughing, and her eyes bright, but now they grew moist and full with strong emotion.

“I should never have left you,” she whispered.

Giles's fingers tightened around hers, but his eyes dropped and his head bowed slowly.

She released one hand, reached out and brushed some stray hair off his ear. “Why do you stay? Why are you so patient with me?”

He sighed without looking up. “Because you needed me,” he said in a voice thickened by emotion. He laughed softly, ironically, and looked up slowly.

“And strangely enough…because I need you too.”

Buffy half laughed, half sobbed at the pain in his eyes before they were lowered again.

“That's it, isn't it? That's what I was never smart enough to get. Considering how much I've always needed you, I really should have,” she said bitterly and rested her brow exasperatedly on the top of his head, closing her eyes tight when his hand slid around her forearm and squeezed comfortingly.

“I should be made to eat a box of the Mayor's spiders as penance, or…or spend a week in a cell with Spike…On second thoughts…”

Giles chuckled. “Or perhaps to spend time training with me for a while instead of your young Adonis?”

Buffy choked and clamped her throat closed, took several deep breaths before lifting her cheek from his hair and straightening.

“Yeah, all book stuff and Slayer lore and training with all those pads I used to hate,” she agreed tremulously and tried to grin.

He looked up slowly, his brows drawing together slightly when he saw the misery in her eyes. Then his soft, clear green ones grew very tender and glowed with warmth.

Buffy watched in surprise as a big hand reached out, closed her eyes as large fingers brushed moisture from her cheek, and was very nearly undone by their gentleness.

“I love you so much…” she whispered.

For a long moment Giles sat very still, then his expression cleared and his face suffused with affection.

“I've never stopped loving you, Buffy,” he said softly. “And I never will.”

A tremor went through her and her fingers went to his. For several moments neither of them spoke, then the blue eyes opened and met the gentle green ones.

She grinned slowly. “We did it.”


His concerned expression creased into a tender smile as she said alongside him and rested her head in the crook of his arm. He closed the arm contentedly around her and brushed his lips against the fair head.

“Yes we did,” he said softly. “Didn't we…?”

 
End