Year's End
By Shelley

Title: Year's End
Author: Shelley
Date: December 31, 2002
Spoilers: Through "Wrecked," with mention made of Giles' seventh season Watcher buddy.
Summary: Giles spends a quiet night at home on New Year's Eve.
Rating: PG13, for language
Pairing: B/G subtext, mention of B/S
Distribution: Want, take, have, let me know so I can gloat over the fact that somebody wanted and took.
Feedback: Suggestions for improvements are deeply, deeply appreciated. (Not that I object to praise as well... <grin>)
Disclaimer: Joss is a genius, and he deserves to own it all. I am a worm, and deserve only the enjoyment I derive from playing with his wonderful creations. He gets the money, but I think I get the better part of the deal.
Note: This is in response to a challenge issued by Gileswench. She asked for a fic set on New Year's Eve that includes someone making a resolution and breaking it within a day, a B/G kiss at Midnight, champagne, and a reference to either Manchild, VR5, or ASH's coffee commercials. The fic is also supposed to include at least TWO of the following: a Harry Potter reference, someone other than Giles wearing a piece of tweed clothing, a visit from any member of the AI team, hot chocolate with whipped cream. This may be more angsty than she anticipated, but it leapt into my brain almost the moment I read the challenge.

Giles looked again at his invitation to Ralston's party, and mentally cursed himself again for not going. He shouldn't be sitting alone in his flat on New Year's Eve when he had friends who were trying to reconnect with him. His life in Sunnydale was over now, and he needed to start making a new life for himself here in Bath. It was 10:30; if he left right now, he could still make it to the party well before midnight. He stood up resolutely, and went to the bathroom to make sure that his tuxedo was still unwrinkled. He was entirely presentable; all he needed to do was walk out the door and get in his car. Instead, he sat back down, and resumed his morose contemplation of Ralston's invitation.

Giles spent the next hour turning the invitation over and over in his hands as he mentally counted down the minutes left in the year. This horrible, horrible year couldn't end soon enough for Giles, but he still felt the need to review it before it passed away forever. He looked longingly at his whiskey decanter, but he was resolved to leave it closed. He had picked up some bad habits in Sunnydale, and he needed to leave them behind along with the land of eternal sunshine.

The cruel irony was that 2001 had started out with such promise. The previous year Giles had discovered within himself an affinity for retail and, even more surprising, a true fondness for his blunt assistant. Glory was a factor, but the Council had recently agreed to investigate her, and Giles had held high hopes that Council researchers would discover a chink in her armor. True, Joyce had been ill, but she seemed to be recovering and the doctors did not anticipate any further problems. Also, he had come to an understanding with Joyce at last, with both of them finally past the resentments each had harbored over Buffy's destiny and the awkwardness that had lingered after the band candy. Xander had truly come into his own, making Journeyman Carpenter in record time, and receiving a promotion to construction foreman. Willow was happier than he had ever known her to be, having found her soulmate in a person just as kind and gentle as herself. The happiest thing about his life last year, however, was the fact that his relationship with his Slayer had never been better. Giles had finally regained all the trust he had lost on her eighteenth birthday, and the two of them were united in their desire to protect Dawn. Moreover, Buffy's fear for her sister had driven her into a strict training regimen and had filled her with a determination to learn everything she possibly could about her powers for the first time since she had been Called. Best of all, there were no annoying pretty boys about to distract Buffy from her responsibilities ... or to interfere with his relationship with her.

Yes, 2001 should have been a stellar year, but it had quickly fallen into shit. The Council decided to take a more active role in their lives. Dawn discovered that she was the Key, and responded with self-mutilation, necromancy, lying, skipping school, sneaking out of the house, and dating vampires. Joyce died. Glory stole Tara's mind. Willow began exploring the darkest of magics, first to hurt Glory and later to resurrect her friend. He had been skewered by a lance and damn near died. And worst of all, Buffy had fallen apart. Battered by her mother's death and by the knowledge that she was fighting a god, Buffy lost confidence in herself. He and Buffy had gotten into a dreadful row, and she had taken a swan dive into a hell dimension before he could make things right with her again. Buffy's death should have been the lowest moment of his life, but the Hellmouth wasn't done with him yet. It had brought Buffy back to him, but a sad, broken Buffy that bore no resemblance to his spirited Slayer. The faded girl that had held him so tightly when he returned to Sunnydale was nothing but a cruel mockery, and made Buffy's death even harder to bear. She refused to start living again, fobbing all of her burdens off on Giles until he realized that her unhealthy dependence upon him was harming them both. She needed to be shocked into living again, so Giles had fled Sunnydale, abandoning his friends, his livelihood, his responsibilities as Buffy's Watcher, and the last of his self-respect.

After an hour or so of intense brooding, the silence was broken by a telephone exploding in his ear. Assuming that it was Ralston, Giles tried to ignore the persistent ringing ... but too many years as a Watcher made this impossible.  The fear that it might be Buffy on the other end of the line calling to tell him that she was hurt (or worse, that it wouldn't be Buffy, because she was too badly injured to call herself) was deeply ingrained in him. He was constitutionally incapable of ignoring a ringing phone. Reluctantly, he picked up the telephone and grunted out, "Hello."

There was a pause on the other end, and then Buffy's voice came floating over the line, instantly dispelling his self-pity and depression. "Oh ... Giles! Hi! I didn't think that you would be at home tonight. I was just going to leave a message on your machine wishing you a happy New Year. What are you doing home alone on New Year's Eve?" Buffy suddenly lost her frantic cheeriness, and became unsure of herself. "Oh, I bet you aren't alone. Look, I'm totally sorry for taking you away from your company. I'll just hang up now and leave—"

Giles interrupted his babbling Slayer. "Buffy, there is no one else here. I was spending the evening alone, and I couldn't be more delighted that you called. It's a little after 11:30 here; do you have time to chat with me until midnight strikes?"

Buffy hesitated for a moment, and Giles' heart contracted painfully. She still hadn't forgiven him for leaving. But then her enthusiasm was back, brighter than before. "I would love to spend your New Year's with you, Giles! That would be fun."

Remembering her initial hesitation, however, Giles asked her, "Are you sure, Buffy? I'm fine, if you have other things to do..."

"No, no. I'm of the good.  Really. I just didn't expect to actually talk to you, so you took me by surprise. I was just going to leave a message on your machine, but talking to you in person is much better! Really."

She obviously didn't want to stay on the phone, but it was unlike Buffy to stay where she didn't want to be ... particularly when given permission to leave. Giles was about to make his own excuses to hang up, when he suddenly realized what the problem was. He was an idiot for not seeing it immediately. "Of course, I do insist on paying for the call. A half-hour transatlantic call would not do your budget much good!  Why don't we both hang up, and I will call you right back?"

The smile in Buffy's voice sounded much less forced when she came back on the line. "Thanks, Giles. I'll talk to you in a minute."

Grinning happily, Giles dialed the number as quickly as he could. A nice long chat with his Slayer was just what he needed to pull himself out of the doldrums. Buffy picked up the phone on the first ring, and yelled out "Happy New Year!" before he even opened his mouth.

Giles laughed merrily. "And a Happy New Year to you as well! Did you have a nice Christmas?"

"It was alright. And oh!  Thanks for the earrings; they're beautiful! They rank right behind Dawn's present as the best thing I received for Christmas."

"I'm glad you liked them. What did Dawn give you?"

"She did all of her chores for the first time in months. The house is spotless, from top to bottom!"

Giles lost some of his good cheer at this. "Buffy, I thought you were going to be more strict with her..."

Buffy instantly went on the defensive. "I am! She hasn't skipped school once since you left, and she is keeping up on her homework. But I don't know how to make her do her chores without standing over her, and between work and slaying, I simply don't have the time to do that. I normally do stuff after I get back from patrol; should I wake her up at 2:30 in the morning just to clean the toilet? She needs her sleep, and it's a lot easier if I just do it."

Giles sighed unhappily. It was time to change the subject. "I have a bottle of nice champagne here. If I open it, would you join me in a toast?"

Buffy laughed, equally glad to be moving to safer ground. "It isn't even 4:00 in the afternoon here, Giles!  It is way too early for me to be drinking alcohol! But I guess I could join you in a cup of coffee..." Buffy's voice tapered off and was replaced by the sound of objects being moved about in the cupboard. "Damn! I guess Willow flaked out on the grocery shopping again; the only coffee in here is Taster's Choice."

"That horrid stuff?!? Why on earth do you have that in your cupboard?"

"It was mom's," Buffy said sadly. "I guess I never got around to clearing all her stuff out of the house."

"I remember that Joyce drank that rot, but I never understood why."

Buffy laughed again. "Would you believe it's because she had a crush on the actor in the commercial?"

Giles laughed also. "You mean, she actually bought that foul concoction because of an actor?!? I will never understand you Yanks!"

"Oh, like you Brits don't use advertising or commercials," Buffy snorted. "In any case, we don't have any drinkable coffee. Why do you want me to have something anyway?"

"Because I bought an expensive bottle of champagne for a party that I decided not to attend, and I have been wanting to open it."

"That still doesn't explain where I come into things."

"Because I have made a New Year's resolution that I will not drink alone any more. From now on, I only drink in the company of others ... even if my companion is over the phone and not in the same time zone as me."

"Oh, Giles. I'm so glad to hear that! Things never go well for you when you drink alone."

Uncomfortable with this conversation, Giles grunted "Quite. Now, if you will get yourself something to drink, I can pop the cork on this beauty. And, since you are a Summer's female, I know that you have hot chocolate somewhere in that cupboard."

"Sure do, but there aren't any marshmallows. Hot chocolate without marshmallows is just plain wrong."

Giles chuckled. "Do you have any whipped cream in the freezer? It's quite good that way..."

"I'll try it," Buffy said in a skeptical voice.

When Giles clearly heard the sound of the microwave going, he popped the cork on the champagne. He was dexterous, and not a drop was spilled. When the microwave beeped, Giles heartily asked, "So, to what should we drink?"

"How about the fact that the year 2001 is finally over? In, uh... ten minutes your time, eight hours and ten minutes my time, neither one of us will ever have to face 2001 ever again."

"I'll drink to that, by God!" Giles' response was subdued, but heartfelt.

The champagne was wonderful. Giles drained half the glass, and felt a warm glow spread over him. "So, Buffy, I've told you my New Year's Resolution. Do you have any?"

Buffy hemmed for a moment, and Giles wasn't sure she would answer. "Yeah, I guess I do..." Suddenly, her voice brightened, and she stated more confidently, "actually, I have two of them."

Wanting to avoid more tension for the moment, Giles asked, "So what is your second resolution?"

"I'm resolved that I'm not going to die this year," Buffy giggled.

Giles felt like he had been unexpectedly punched in the gut. Along with the queasiness, however, was an sudden rage. "That's not very funny, Buffy. I thought you were going to start living, damnit, not sit around planning out your next funeral!"

Without hesitation, Buffy's anger rose up to meet his own. "Yeah, I thought that too, but I'm not sure how long I've really got without a Watcher to back me up. We both know that you have extended my lifespan considerably, so I have to face the fact that it has been shortened by your absence."

"Buffy, you don't need a Watcher anymore! You and your friends are more than capable of handling matters on your own."

"Is that what you tell yourself when you need to justify abandoning me? The truth is that Tara has removed herself from Scooby-status, Willow is suffering from, uh, some personal problems right now and can barely take care of herself, and Anya's time is monopolized by the store because she has to do the work of two people now that you are gone. I don't want Dawn involved with Slayer business, so that leaves just me and Xander to do research ... and you know that the two of us were never the bestest book-guys among the Scoobies!"

"Have you considered asking the Council for another Watcher?" Giles asked quietly, praying that she would say no. It wasn't the better part of his nature, but he was rather possessive of his Slayer, much as she was of him. He hated the idea of her with another Watcher, but he could live with it if that was what it took to keep her alive longer.

"Yeah, like that worked so well the last time," Buffy snorted. "You know that you are my only Watcher. Wes is a helluva good guy, but he never stood a chance with me."

"Since when is Wes a ‘helluva good guy'?" Giles hated the snotty tone in his voice, and prayed that Buffy didn't pick up on it.

"Dunno, maybe always? He drove Cordelia up here on his motorcycle, to visit her folks for Christmas. He and her dad got in a horrible fight about interior decorating, and taxes, and all Europeans being Communists, and a whole lot of other stuff that would only make sense if your last name was Chase—oh, and I think the Queen Mother got insulted as well, though Wes was too mad to be exactly clear about that part. In any case, he's been crashing on my couch for the last week, and I've gotten to know him pretty well. He's a decent guy and would have made a pretty good Watcher if I had ever given him half a chance ... but I couldn't. It was hard enough to accept another Watcher after Merrick died; I can't do it again."

"Buffy, you can do whatever you want to do. If you think you need a Watcher, I'll make sure the Council sends somebody trustworthy."

"Yeah, a Watcher would help me a lot ... provided you were that Watcher," Buffy responded acerbically.

Giles exploded at that. "Damnit, Buffy! You are never going to learn to take responsibility for your own life if I continue to hold your hand!"

Once again, however, Buffy matched him in her anger. In fact, she surpassed him. "What a joke! You think you're teaching me responsibility by running away from your responsibility to me? Were you just playing games with a dumb kid when you told me that being a Watcher was just as much an inescapable destiny as being the Slayer? You seem to have escaped your destiny not once, but twice, whereas I got called back from the dead in order to keep on meeting mine!"

A swift intake of breath was Giles' only response. He wanted to yell back, but he had nothing to say. She was right; he had walked away from his destiny. (Who are you kidding, old man, he sneered to himself. You ran from it.)  The silence stretched on uncomfortably, and he looked at the clock. "Look, Buffy. It's less than three minutes until midnight. Why don't we try to be civil for that length of time and then hang up? I'm turning on the telly right now in order to keep track of the countdown. So ... what are you doing this evening?"

Buffy muttered under her breath. It sounded like she said, "At least you didn't ask about the weather." More audibly, Buffy responded to his question, "Xander is taking us all out to a long movie. Wes and I want to see ‘The Fellowship of the Rings,' but Willow and Anya have their hearts set upon seeing ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.' I think that Xander's going to vote with them, so I expect I'll be experiencing the wonders of Hogwarts this evening. If we go to the 9:00 show, it will get out a little before 11:30; we'll have time to walk to the Magic Box, where a bottle of bubbly is chilling as we speak."

Giles' voice was low and unhappy when he asked, "And Dawn?"

"She'll be at a school dance, one of those ‘Safe and Sober' party deals that the city sometimes does for teenagers."

"And are you sure that she will actually be there?"

"Yeah, I am," Buffy snapped. "It's a lock-in, which means that I check her in with one of the numerous chaperones provided by the school, and she isn't allowed to leave until morning. Believe it or not, I actually did make sure that it would be a safe place for her before I signed her up."

"I'm sorry if I sounded critical," Giles sighed. "It's almost midnight; do you have enough hot chocolate still to make a toast?"

"Yeah, but I'll have to reheat it."

The silence was oppressive, broken only by the sound of Buffy's microwave floating over the phone line, and by some manic celebrity counting down the time until midnight over the television set.

The microwave beeped, and a clock counter appeared on the telly. In order to involve Buffy—and to break the silence--he started to recite the numbers on the television. "Fifteen... fourteen... thirteen..." Buffy joined him in the countdown. "Twelve... eleven... ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one... Happy New Year, Buffy!" The treacle sound of "Auld Lang Syne" wafted up from the telly, as if on cue.

But Buffy didn't wish him a happy New Year; she made a kissing noise instead. Then she huffed at him. "I didn't get my smooch, Giles! You're supposed to kiss somebody at midnight! Let's try this again. Three... two... one..."

Feeling ridiculous, Giles kissed the phone. Then he closed his eyes and kissed the phone again, trying to imagine that Buffy was truly there ... and was in fact urging him to kiss her. For the briefest of moments, he actually felt her lips under his own, soft, pliant, and oh so sweet. Then he opened his eyes, and the illusion was gone.

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on his part, but Buffy sounded a bit winded when she spoke up again. "Got it! Right on the smacker!"

"Oh dear," Giles joked. "I was aiming for your cheek."

"Yeah, right, Ripper."

"I was," Giles insisted. "At least, the first time I was..."

Buffy giggled, and for a moment, everything was right between them. Suddenly, however, Buffy sobered ... and they were back in their minefield of unresolved issues.  "Giles, I want to apologize for yelling at you. I really don't want to fight with you, particularly not over the phone. I honestly thought that I was past being that angry; I wouldn't have called if I had known that I was still so likely to go off on you."

Giles sighed.  "That's alright, Buffy. I don't want to fight with you either. But do you really think that I'm that big of a hypocrite?"

"Honestly?  Yeah, I do. When you were my age, Giles, you dropped out of school in order to live entirely for yourself; I had to drop out of school to become a single parent. You were picking pockets and hotwiring cars; I'm working for minimum wage at the Doublemeat Palace. You were spending your money on illegal drugs and magic supplies; I'm spending mine on mortgages and Dawn's school supplies.  You were..." She petered out, but Giles had no trouble guessing what she had intended to say.

"I was raising demons, while you battle them every night of your life," Giles finished quietly. "I guess you're right. I don't have the right to lecture you about responsibility. But Buffy, I just don't want you to mess up your life as badly as I did before you straighten out again."

"Why? Because I won't have another twenty years to get my act together, the way you did?"

Although the question was loaded, Buffy didn't sound bitter. She sounded resigned, and that set him back far more than her earlier diatribe had. Giles' automatic "Of course you will!" lacked conviction. Buffy chuckled humorlessly, and Giles decided to forget about the damn champagne. He wanted whiskey.

In her mercurial way, Buffy changed the subject again. "We've been talking for a while, Giles.  I should get going soon, if I'm going to get Dawn fed before her party."

"Of course. I'm really quite grateful to you for spending my New Year's with me, Buffy."

"You've got to be kidding," Buffy chuckled wetly. "I interrupted your quiet evening alone just to fight with you, and you're grateful? You've got to get a life, Giles."

"I always enjoy talking with you, Buffy, no matter what we discuss." This was true, he did love talking to her, and he suddenly felt a little desperate to keep her on the phone. Without stopping to consider, he went back to a topic he had instinctively avoided earlier. "But you can't hang up before you tell me what your first New Year's resolution is."

"Oh. That.  Yeah. See, right after you left, I was a little depressed, and I started a new relationship."

Giles' voice was completely neutral as he said, "Congratulations." He prayed that she couldn't hear him gulp down an entire shot of whiskey the second after he said it.

"No!" Buffy yelped. "No congratulations! This is a bad relationship; a really, really unhealthy relationship; a I-don't-want-Dawn-exposed-to-this-ever sort of relationship."

"And how does New Year's enter into this, um, ‘bad relationship'?"

"My resolution is to end it," Buffy stated simply. "To never, ever see him again. Well, not to not see him, ‘cause that would be kinda hard, ‘cause I see him all the time; but to not see-see him, if you know what I mean..."

"I think I do," Giles said slowly. And he did. With her unerring instinct for men who could hurt her, Buffy had found yet another controlling, muscle-bound asshole that would diminish her and make her unhappy. This one must be a real prize if she could recognize his inappropriateness for herself. But if he knew Buffy—and he did—she wouldn't be ending it any time soon. The girl who clung desperately to Angel even though she knew that he would never bring her anything but misery had grown into the woman who had grieved when Riley dumped her because he blamed her for his habit of frequenting vampire whores. No, Buffy would convince herself that she cared for this unidentified washout and would continue to stand by him long after he hurt her. Heaven forbid she find someone who actually cared about her and would treat her well! Someone like... He screamed at himself to shut up before he could finish that particular thought. That thought that he never, ever finished...

He must have been silent for too long, because Buffy sounded a little anxious when she spoke up again. "Giles? Are you going to say anything?"

"What do you want me to say Buffy," Giles asked wearily. "You need to start making your own decisions, and this is no exception. I am done managing your life for you."  Giles knew that he sounded cold, but he could hardly tell her what he really thought of her choice in men...

"Oh. Right."  Buffy sounded small and unsure of herself, and Giles' heart broke for her.  "So, will I be seeing you at Xander and Anya's big event?"

"Probably not.  I don't think I'm going to be able to make it, I'm afraid." Giles was lying.  He had already bought his airline ticket, and had been counting the days until he saw his young friends in Sunnydale once again. But in a sudden moment of clarity, Giles realized that he wouldn't be going to the wedding after all.  This conversation with Buffy had proven to him that she was still too needy—and too angry—for him to see her yet. They both needed more time apart from each other. And there was the question of her "bad relationship." He knew that it was an unbelievably selfish reason to bail out on Xander and Anya, but he truly couldn't stand the thought of being introduced to Buffy's new beau. Angel and Riley had been enough; he was simply incapable of making polite conversation with even one more of Buffy's boyfriends.

Apparently he wasn't the only one who thought it was shitty of him to miss the wedding.  "I can't believe that you're not going to be there! How can you do that to Xander? You know he loves you like a father! Way more than his father, actually. He's going to be incredibly disappointed if you flake out on him."

"I know," Giles said morosely.

His regret seemed to take away much of Buffy's steam. She sounded sad herself when she responded, "I guess you need to do what you need to do. Listen, Dawn just got home, so I've got to go. I'll talk to you later sometime, okay?"

"Alright Buffy. You take care of yourself. And of Dawn. Good-bye." Giles supposed he should hang up the phone at that point, but he couldn't bear to do so. He didn't have to, however, for Buffy uttered a muted "Bye," and hung up for him.

Giles listened to the dial tone for a few minutes before walking over to the receiver. As long as he was up, he grabbed the whiskey decanter and settled back on the couch. A part of him wondered what he was doing, but the larger part of him knew: he intended to get stinking drunk. He was going to sit here, by himself, and drink until he was too plastered to stumble upstairs to his bed. It had been 2002 for less than fifteen minutes, and here he was breaking his resolution already. God, but he was weak! But he wasn't the only one. Somehow he knew, he knew, that Buffy would be breaking her resolution before morning as well. That knowledge drove him to throw back his drink in a single gulp. The sooner he drank himself unconscious, the sooner he would rid himself of the mental image of Buffy having sex with some tall, overly-muscled young man that even she knew was bad for her. Oblivion couldn't come soon enough.

The End