Summary: Power and life. Mages and Slayers. And what Giles did during his months away.
Warnings: A few four-letter words, some non-graphic sex, an unusual fate for a core character.
Word count: 21K
Oblique Strategy: Water
Prompt: Giles, post-Grave, h/c.
Notes: This was a long time coming: headrush100 made the request on Sept 9! I hope it was worth at least some of the wait.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Buffy pounded into the emergency room, out of breath from her sprint from the Magic Box. Giles was at the desk signing release paperwork. He had two stitches in his forehead, and a bruised-up face. Dust everywhere, white on the knees of his jeans and in his sweater. But he was walking under his own power, if unsteadily and painfully. Buffy came up to him and found herself in tears. It was relief, more than anything. He wrapped his arms around her, carefully. Giles-hugs. Rare, and precious. Buffy snuggled her face into his chest. His shirt smelled like bricks and smoke and unfamiliar laundry detergent and Giles. Buffy wasn’t ever going to let go. Fortunately he was hanging on too.
“You were gonna kill yourself to stop her, weren’t you.”
“You’re one to lecture me.” His face was buried in her hair, and she felt his voice vibrating through his chest.
“Yeah, yeah. Warn me next time, okay? So I can kick your ass?”
He straightened his back and winced. “No more ass-kicking, please. Had enough of that.”
A brief gust, air moving in the hallway, and Anya was there, cocking her head at the pair.
“Xander took Willow back to his apartment,” she said. “She’s feeling sorry for herself. She’s not expressing any useful emotions, like remorse. Or the urge to make amends by restoring damaged personal property.”
Giles made a thoughtful noise. “Let’s give her a little time, Anya dearest. Meanwhile, call the insurance company and the police, and tell them you have no idea what happened. We should get a nice settlement out of it.” He kissed her forehead, and she whooshed away. Giles had apparently turned into the affection monster over the last six months. Either that or having your suicidal world-saving plan turn out not to require suicide after all turned you into a mush-head. Probably the painkillers they’d just pumped him with also helped.
Buffy let Giles lean on her on their way out through the automatic doors to the sidewalk. His right ankle appeared to be screwy. She flapped her hand at the loitering taxi.
“Cab ride time,” said Buffy. “Revello Drive, your home away from home, awaits.” She lowered Giles into the back seat of the cab, while he swore in what had to have been at least three languages, including English. It was such a surprise to hear those words from Giles that Buffy found herself laughing again, nearly as hard as they had last night. He giggled at her from the middle of the back seat, one hand braced on his ribcage, the other flat on the black vinyl to hold himself up.
He had only pounds in his wallet, so Buffy had to pay the cabbie. While she was figuring out the tip, Giles tottered up onto the porch. The front door slammed, and a Giles-seeking missile made contact.
“Oh God, ribs, please, Dawn. Bloody hell.”
Dawn was nuzzling into him just the way Buffy had done. Giles was petting her hair, kissing her forehead, her hair, her cheeks. Buffy drew them both into the house. Dawn kept her fingers clutched into Giles’ sweater. She babbled, a torrent of description of the last months, which even Buffy couldn’t follow. She finished with, “Buffy is going to show me the world! She said. Since it isn’t going to be ended.”
“Is she, then? Lovely for both of you!” Giles shot Buffy a look she couldn’t interpret, but she thought perhaps there was guilt in it.
“Dawn, bed, seriously, now. You were up all night!”
“Yeah, yeah, bossy. You still going to be here tonight, Giles?”
“Yes, sweetheart. I’ll be here. I need some sleep myself. Been awake for twenty-four hours. Longer.”
Buffy helped Giles up the stairs and into her mom’s old bedroom, then Willow and Tara’s. Now just Willow’s. For the moment. Until Buffy finished kicking her out. It was full of Willow’s stuff, still, with Wicca bric-a-brac scattered around, all sparklies and frillies and rainbows, but the bed would be way more comfortable for Giles than Buffy’s.
Giles sat on the edge of the bed. She helped him off with the sweater, and the henley under that, leaving him in a thin gray t-shirt. Monochrome man. He’d looked great in the black, though, she had to admit. Slamming through that door, all pissed off and powerful.
“On your stomach or on your back?”
“My chest is a mass of bruises. ‘Course, so is my back, so I’m fucked either way.”
Buffy found herself giggling again, at the expression on Giles’ face, at once pained and relieved and silly. She took his hand and helped him lever himself down flat onto the bed. There were rips and abrasions in his jeans, especially on the knees. She unlaced his boots. They were seriously dusty. The toe caps had fresh scrapes in them, deep ones. Giles had dressed for a beating, and received it. She eased the boots off. His right ankle had been strapped up in the emergency room.
“Need ice for this ankle?”
“Later. Come up here, Buffy. Want to hug you some more.”
“Giles, I’m covered in dirt!”
“And I’m covered in what used to be my shop. Give us a hug.”
Buffy felt another giggle burst free. A loopy Giles was a sweet Giles. She obediently clambered up next to him and pressed herself along his side. She put her head on his shoulder cautiously. He winced anyway, then tugged her closer. Yup— blown pupils, goofy expression, no control over what was coming out of his mouth. They’d given him the good stuff.
He spoke meditatively. “I think landing flat on my face on the floor was marginally worse than being pinned to the ceiling. Four ribs cracked, three in front.”
“Thank god for Percocet.”
“Too bloody right. Percocet and my Buffy. Not leaving you again, you know. First rule: never make the same mistake twice.”
“Except you gotta go back, don’t you? What happens with Willow next?”
“Can’t go much of anywhere yet,” Giles said, giggling. “Coven can’t teleport me for some time, not until the resonance cascade fades. I’ll have to get them to fix up my passport to look right so I can fly back. But what happens next…” He sobered for a moment. “I take Willow to the coven in Westbury, where they take back the power she drained, and then they decide what to do with her native power. Depends on her attitude. Perhaps they’ll have to drain her.”
“Declaw. Defang. Neuter. Oh fuck. I shouldn’t laugh. It hurts. And it’s serious business, and I meant what I said about her perhaps not being the same. Depends on who she was to start with. Not who I thought she was, that’s certain. No conscience whatsoever. Heartbreaking, to think that my little Willow has been so without empathy or ethics underneath it all. I did a bad job with her. Blame myself.”
He made an unhappy noise. Buffy cautiously put an arm across his waist, to give him a reassuring squeeze. He didn’t wince, so she left her arm there.
“Guilt-monster rides again. Jeez, Giles. We all make our own choices. You don’t see me or Xander running around trying to destroy the world, or killing people because we lost a lover.”
“Poor sweet Tara.” Giles closed his eyes for a moment.
“Willow’s been hatching poison for a while, I guess. You know what she said to me last night? She said she finally got the Slayer thing. That it was about the power.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, because then she threw me through a bookcase. But I knew better than that almost right away after I got the powers. When I was fifteen.” Buffy shuffled herself around on the bed so she could lie on her side, head propped up. She got a better view of Giles that way. He painfully pushed himself up a little bit on the pillows.
“You’ve always been exceptional. My miracle.”
“Nothing miraculous about me. Got here the usual way. You know, ripped from the grave by black magic cast by my best friend who’s in way over her head. Happens every day.”
“I meant something rather different by that, love.” Giles looked happy again, for some reason Buffy couldn’t figure. He tucked her hair back behind her ear. “Oh, Buffy. How I’ve missed you.”
He bent himself down to her, with a grunt of pain, and kissed her, just a brush across her lips with his. It was so surprising that Buffy let him do it, and do it again. His lips were soft, his touch a feather. Then he released her and fell back on the pillows.
“Bugger,” he said. Buffy giggled. He twined a hand into her hair again. Buffy’s mind spun. That kiss. Her lips still tingled. His hand was warm against the back of her head. Buffy realized that she hadn’t felt this warmth since… since he’d left. But he was going to leave again.
“So, you’re taking Willow back to the motherland with you. How long do you think you’ll be gone? I mean, if what you meant was that you’re coming back.” Buffy knew that she’d let a little sulk creep into her voice. Skin some guy alive, threaten to destroy the world, and vacation for you! Well, except for the maybe they’d have to execute Willow part, or lobotomize her. As tourist activities went, the guidebook said to give it a miss.
Giles arrested his hand in her hair and studied her for a moment. “Buffy, have you and Dawn passports?”
“Yeah, actually. Our father was going to take us to Europe last summer, only then he didn’t, because, well. But we got ‘em.”
“Good. Fly back with me. Stay with me for the summer. I’ve got a place big enough for the three of us. Country, lovely city, London just a hop away, and— well, an interesting bit of the world within reach, ready to be shown to Dawn. And seen for yourself.”
“Giles, I can’t afford—”
“Hush. I can.”
Three days later, Buffy found herself on a British Airways non-stop, LAX to Heathrow, with a bouncing Dawn, a sulking Willow, and a still-wincing Giles. Four maybe-broken ribs meant he was going to be wincing for a while, and popping the painkillers. Dawn got the window, Giles got the aisle for his legs, and Buffy sat between them. Willow was across the aisle from Giles.
The last few days with Willow hadn’t been great. Willow didn’t understand why she had to go to England. She’d confessed her sins. She knew she’d screwed up. She’d admitted that killing Warren was wrong. Couldn’t she be allowed to grieve for Tara in peace? She was only going because Buffy and Dawn were, too; she certainly didn’t need to go. And so the litany went. Buffy knew Giles was worried. In the end, he’d had to snap at her, and tell her that if it hadn’t been for his intervention, they’d have sent a team to kill her outright, as a menace. She’d burst into sobs, and told Giles she’d do whatever she needed to do.
She had, in another one of those grief-stricken moments, allowed him to set a binding spell in place. She was restricted from casting at all, and would need to break the binding and her own oath to do so. It wouldn’t hold her, Giles had told Buffy, if she truly wanted free, but she would likely bow to it unless provoked. They were transporting a tiger in a cage. It purred, and rubbed its face against the bars, but it could break you with a single pawswipe if you were foolish enough to open the cage door.
Willow sat apart from them, wad of tissues in her hand, sniffling. Giles periodically leaned across to talk to her, touch her arm reassuringly, and calm her with that soothing quiet voice.
The lights went off after the movie, and the cabin settled. Dawn was already asleep, cheek flattened against the shuttered window. Jet engines, the rush of ventilation, low murmurs, the occasional soft bell of the mysterious signals passed among the crew. Giles pushed up the armrest between them, and lifted his arm for Buffy. She snuggled in against him. He spread the blanket over them both.
Across the aisle, Willow watched them. Buffy met her gaze for a moment. Willow smiled, a cute little smile. Buffy shivered. Giles turned toward her, mistaking her shiver, and tucked the blanket over her more closely.
“You warm enough?”
“Yeah, fine. You? Did you take your pill?”
“Mmm. Just did.”
“Willow is looking at us.”
“Let her look.” Giles kissed Buffy’s forehead.
That was all he’d done, since their day spent talking in bed. In her mother’s bed, Tara’s bed, the bed of dead women. Buffy knew very well that something had shifted irrevocably between them in the moment he’d kissed her. Apparently Giles was taking his time about following up that change. He’d been too stiff and sore and exhausted to do anything more, but he hadn’t tried. Meanwhile: cuddling, and sleeping together chastely, and long whispered conversations huddled warm under blankets. As now. Buffy had learned more of Giles’ past in three nights of talking than in the previous six years. She’d learned about how he spent the last nine months, too: self-discovery, time at the coven spent quietly meditating, the laser surgery on the eyes, the wardrobe makeover at the hands of his younger sister, the hours on horseback rediscovering a childhood pleasure. In return she’d told him about her descent into and then climb from the pit, literal and metaphorical. He didn’t judge her. He’d never judged her. Not even when she felt she’d deserved it.
Laughing at her when she’d told him about Spike had been exactly what she needed. Though she still hadn’t told him the big thing about Spike.
She wondered if that gentle-handed treatment, that had worked so well with her, had been exactly wrong for Willow. Maybe Willow had needed more forceful intervention all along. Firm limits. Like Dawn had turned out to need. Not Giles’ fault if so: he’d been chosen for Buffy, not for Willow. He’d find a way to blame himself, though.
Giles lay back in the airplane seat now, stiffly, waiting for his Percocet to take effect. Buffy tucked her socked feet under her on the seat, bringing her head a little closer to his. Giles rested his hand on her knees, outside the blanket.
“Looking forward to your holiday, Buffy?”
“Vacation. Sweet word. When’s the last time I had one?”
“Before your junior year of high school, I think. You’ve earned this many times over.”
“Do Slayers normally get vacations?”
Giles breathed out a laugh. “No. Neither do their Watchers.”
“You just had one!”
“I did. And now I will give you yours. Please forgive me, Buffy, for leaving you.”
“We already covered this. Don’t want to hear it. If you feel so guilty, you can make up for it by taking me shopping in London. I wanna see this Carnaby Street place.” Giles groaned, on cue. “What are you going to show us? What places are we going to see?”
“We’ll start in Bath for a few days, I think. To get settled in. Willow will go to the coven house in Westbury straight away. They’re sending people to meet our flight.”
“She won’t like that.”
“She’ll have to take it, I’m afraid.”
“Okay, Bath. What’s it like?”
“You’ll see,” he said, with a secret smile. “Then my sister’s place in Avebury, not so far away. That’s quite out in the country. We’ll have some riding, if my ribs allow. We can teach you and Dawn regardless. Then a bit of time in London. And we’ll likely spend time at the coven, not so far from Bath. It’s all quite small and close together in comparison to California.”
Giles turned a little in his seat, toward her. The pill must have begun working its magic on his ribs. Buffy had seen his chest, the morning before. It was a livid display of purples and greens and yellows. Some of the bruises looked deep. His back had been better: fewer deep bruises, more spread out. Willow had pinned him against the ceiling, he’d said, but not hard enough to smash him through it. He’d taken the worst damage when she’d let him fall to the floor. It had been a wonder his ribs hadn’t snapped and punctured his lungs. And there was a hand-shaped burn over his heart. Anya had given Giles a salve to use on it, to prevent scarring, made from vitamin E and aloe vera and something else Anya had cadged from a demon connection. Buffy had smoothed that on while Giles bit his lip. Even with the Percocet.
Giles was dealing with Willow patiently. How he could, Buffy didn’t know. That one look at his chest had her hating Willow all over. How could somebody hurt one of their dearest friends like that? She’d slashed up Xander, too. Xander had forgiven her, and just kept repeating that he loved her. Buffy wasn’t as karmically advanced as they were. Though she’d seen flashes of anger, in Giles, when Willow was being balky.
“What’s Willow going to do, at this coven?”
“Much what I did, I believe. Meditation. Recentering. Healing.”
“Healing from… I guess you had that spear wound, didn’t you.”
“That was already patched up. Spiritual healing. From, well, five years on the Hellmouth. And from something Willow and I have in common.”
Buffy thought about that one for a minute, and decided she knew what he was alluding to. He’d told her about Ben, though it had merely confirmed a suspicion she’d had. She pulled her hand out from under the blanket and slipped it into his. “Though in your case you were saving the world, cleaning up my mess, not going for extreme torture and revenge.”
“Ah. Yes.” He squeezed her hand. “Both of the men that I, I, well, both were in circumstances outsiders found justifiable. I still bore bloodguilt. In Randall’s case, I carried it for twenty years. You were the first person I’d voluntarily told about it in all that time. I… told the full story to my counselor. Quite a lot there, that I’d hung onto. Surprising amount of emotion. I should like to spare Willow those twenty years, if I can.”
“Sounds intense.” He made a noise of assent, which Buffy felt where she was leaned up against his chest. Carefully leaned up, because of the bruising. He wanted her close, it seemed, though it made him wince.
“What happened with Randall?”
“You know the basics, I think. Eyghon took him. Then we tried to exorcise him, but it didn’t… We failed. I failed.” Buffy pressed his hand. “I had to… I had my sword handy. I— I won’t go into detail here. Some other time? When we can talk more freely.”
“Only if you want to. Didn’t mean to make you talk about it if it’s hard.”
“My, uh, my counselor suggested I tell you about it. As somebody who could listen and understand.”
“Any time, sweetie,” said Buffy. Giles flashed that little smile at her. “So they’re near where you live, you said?”
“I took the flat in Bath so I could be near them, truthfully. Jenny put me in touch with them, years ago now. When I knew I was leaving Sunnydale at last, after your, your, death, I contacted them. They agreed to help me.”
“Not connected with the Council, then.”
“Goodness, no. They don’t get on with the Council, really. No one does. But having been your Watcher did matter, as did having the sort of magical power I have. Their brief is to care for the well-being of, of, sorcerers. British magicians.”
“So you’re secretly mister Merlin?”
Giles laughed softly. “Hardly. But when I get a bit more confident with it, I’ll be quite an asset to you.”
“So, my coming back kinda interrupted you.”
“I’d begun working with a counselor, but we hadn’t gotten far when you, when Willow, when I got the phone call. I dropped everything to go back.”
Buffy remembered how painfully awkward that first conversation with Giles had been. She had still been lying to everyone about where she’d been and what her true state of mind was. Why she’d lied to Giles, she couldn’t say, not even now. He was the one person who might have understood, might have helped. But she’d chosen the pit instead. So Giles had tapped at the punching bag, and told her he was bewildered, and eventually gone away again.
“That’s really why you went away, isn’t it. To finish fixing yourself.”
“It’s like that stupid safety video they just played. You had to put your own oxygen mask first before you could worry about anybody else’s. Now it’s on, so you can help me with mine.”
“Oh, I think you did well enough with your mask. I might help you adjust the strap a bit.” Giles touched her face, then leaned down to brush another of those feather-kisses across her lips. Buffy felt unfriendly eyes on her again. She looked over, and yes, Willow had that little smile again. Her Slayer senses were triggering badly with Willow. Maybe being beaten up by somebody put them on the Slayer alarm list? Buffy hadn’t known humans to set her off before. She shivered again, then looked back at Giles, who was watching her. She set Willow aside with an effort.
Buffy took his left hand in hers. This hand flipped through cards in the library catalog. Traced words in the Pergamum Codex as he translated. Taught her to hold a crossbow. Endured mutilation by Angelus. Snuffed out the life of a hellgod. She traced his fingers. The scars on the middle two, where they’d been broken, then repaired. The callus on the last joint of his middle finger, where his fountain pen usually rested. Calluses on the palm, from holding a sword. Thickened pads on the fingertips, which puzzled her until she remembered the guitar. The ring with the Latin words about guardians, which Giles had said was a family motto.
He turned her hand over, cradled it in his— so small her hand was, in his palm— and explored as she had. Buffy tried to see it as he was seeing it. No scars. Never any scars on the Slayer. Callused, though, yes, in the same places he was, and for the same reason: they were both warriors’ hands. Silver rings on every finger, bright against her faded tan. Nails short, done in clear polish. Buffy had tried keeping long nails. She broke them instantly. Too much maintenance for the single-mom Slayer. It was the same reason she’d cut her hair.
That moment, when Giles had turned to her, and seemed to see her for the first time, and commented on her hair, and held her so tight— something had begun to melt inside her then. And had stayed soft and warm when she’d been with Dawn in the pit.
When was the last time she’d been touched by anybody like this? She touched to hit. Or was touched to get sex. With Spike, both at once. Giles’ touch, now, was soft and undemanding. He touched because it comforted. Who drew more comfort from it, Buffy didn’t know. It didn’t matter. She soaked it in.
She remembered climbing high on the hills above Sunnydale, one November, during an early storm. The hills were still brown from the summer. She’d been tracking a demon, and had been out until after daybreak. She’d sat on the hill, on a rock, watching the tentative rain soak into the red earth, through the dead grasses and the sprouts of the new. Everything had come alive around her, as the sun came up. Birds and small animals, and the black-tailed deer that had wandered past, unconcerned by her.
Giles’ touches on her hand slowed, and softened. Buffy saw that his eyes were closed. He’d fallen asleep. Buffy leaned herself against his battered chest and followed him away.
The Coven people dropped them off at Giles’ place in their van, then took a sulking Willow off with them. Buffy didn’t want to say anything, didn’t let it stop her from hugging Willow and telling her everything would be all right, but she felt easier the moment Willow was out of sight.
Giles’ flat in Bath was half of an older house, outside of the main city and on the outskirts of the countryside. It had two bedrooms upstairs, each with a double bed. Giles’ room was at the eastern end of the house, and caught the morning light. The guest room was smaller, lined with bookshelves, with an underused air. But it was comfortable, like the rest of the house.
Buffy opened her suitcase in the guest room and changed. Dawn was asleep crosswise at the foot of the bed already. Buffy tucked a blanket over her and slipped out of the room. She wandered around the flat, exploring. Giles was moving from window to window with a watering can, tending to his plants after his days of absence. He gave her a shy smile.
“Dawn’s conked,” she told him.
“You should try to stay awake until tonight,” he said. “It’ll be easier to deal with the jet lag if you don’t cling to California time.” He bent over the leaves of an African violet and tutted. Buffy brushed a hand down his arm, then moved off to his study.
Familiar things, dislocated, that was Buffy’s reaction to Giles’ flat. The dragonfly lamp, on an imposingly large desk. The statue of Shiva, on a windowsill next to a potted aloe plant. The afghan throw on a lounger. The guitar on a stand next to a stool she’d never seen. Giles had left all his Californian furniture at a consignment shop. Buffy knew this because the shop had sent her checks whenever anything had sold. He hadn’t said anything, had just made it happen. But he’d taken his bric-a-brac back. Probably he’d originally brought it with him to Sunnydale when he’d been sent there short weeks before her.
The other reaction was that it felt just as much like home as his Sunnydale apartment had. Its colors were green and white and brown. Every window had plants in it: kitchen herbs, magical herbs, or flowering things. Feng shui crystals hung in doorways and corners. Watercolors, of flowers and leaves and small things, with an unreadable signature, brightened the walls. Bookshelves everywhere, with the collection Giles had brought with him to Sunnydale and taken away again when he’d fled. The one Willow destroyed in the Magic Box had been the unimportant one. He still had his personal collection.
Later, they left a note for Dawn and went into town in Giles’ car. He’d bought another BMW, or perhaps had always owned it. It was as overengined as his American car had been, and this one had a manual transmission. It was odd to see him on the right-hand side of the car, shifting with his left hand. Buffy was a little weirded out by the road side change. She kept looking the wrong way down the streets.
Giles ran them over to a Waitrose, which was like a Safeway except for all the brand names being different. Buffy drove the cart around for Giles, who was still limping. He bought bagfuls of veggies and other perishables, food for three people instead of just one. Buffy tried to pay for some of it, but he refused.
“You’re my guest,” he said. “Not to mention my Slayer.”
They woke Dawn for dinner. Giles and Buffy sat up together for a couple of hours afterward, with a modest glass of wine apiece. Giles told her a little bit about the history of the city, and the natural hot springs, and the many cultures that had come here to worship and to bathe, from the Romans to Jane Austen. At last Buffy’s yawns couldn’t be ignored, and she excused herself for bed. Buffy changed into sushi pajamas, brushed her teeth, and made her way to the guest bedroom.
Dawn was awake and staring at the ceiling. She moved over to make room for Buffy, grumbling slightly.
“So, like, why aren’t you with Giles? I thought you guys were sleeping together.”
Buffy could only make a little gulping sound.
“It’s not like I didn’t know about you and Riley, or about Willow and Tara. If you’re staying here just to spare my innocent sensibilities, gimme a break.” Teen sarcasm, like a diamond slicing glass.
“You’re okay with it?”
“Didn’t get the impression my opinion mattered. I like Giles. Life is less weird when he’s around. If it means he’ll come back, or that we’ll get to stay here, I’m all for it. Otherwise, just don’t let me hear you. You and Riley used to get noisy and it was gross.”
Now wasn’t that humiliating.
“I guess you must have broken up with Spike.” Dawn’s voice changed, from tormenting her older sister mode to uncertain kid mode. “That was. Um. Did… did Spike try something with you?”
“What makes you ask?”
“Xander said something about it. Said he’d— said a bunch of stuff I didn’t believe.”
“Xander should shut up.”
“I knew it couldn’t be true.”
“I didn’t say that. I know you like Spike. I used to like him sometimes. But he’s a demon, Dawn. That means something. I forgot it, and, well, it was bad.” Buffy got out of bed and left Dawn. She needed a hug. A million hugs.
Buffy crept down the hall. Why creeping, she wasn’t sure. Unfamiliar house, at night. Floorboards creaking at unfamiliar moments, in a way she’d never heard before. This house was at least a hundred years older than anything she’d ever seen before. Two hundred? Everything was wood and plaster, great wide boards that gave gently under her bare feet.
Giles’ door was at the end of the hall, past the little washroom. She tapped, then cautiously opened the door. Giles pushed himself up in bed, grunted, and blinked. “Buffy?”
“Yeah. Can I come in?”
“I’ve been waiting for you. Come here.” He shifted aside and lifted the blanket for her.
White sheets, crackling as she slid between them, cool on her feet, warm in the hollow where Giles had been. He shuffled the pillows around, folding one into his elbow, so he could lean on it while on his side.
“How are the ribs?”
“Less acutely awful. I can move without stabbing pains sometimes. For instance…” He bent his head and kissed her, again just a brush of his lips over hers. Buffy moved into him. She sheltered against his chest. Warm, rising and falling with breath, vital, alive. He could be broken. He could be killed. He had a soul, and not just a thing tenuously layered over a demon, a shred of humanity tacked down over the appearance of life. Giles’ soul was intrinsic to him. He breathed to stoke a thousand million little fires inside himself, not to set a cigarette flaring.
She was going to have to get this out.
“Dawn just reminded me of something that I think I have to tell you.”
“I’m listening.” He stroked her hair.
“I told you about sleeping with Spike.”
“Mm.” His chest shook a tiny bit, and she heard the ghost of that giggle fit.
“There’s more stuff. Something that happened one night. I had just been in a nasty fight. I was pretty injured. Slayer energy was occupied fixing me up. And I was run down. Hadn’t been eating right. Hadn’t been eating at all.”
“I can tell,” murmured Giles. “Going to feed you up while you’re with me.”
“Anyway, I was weak. Spike, um. I went to take a bath, to clean up after the fight, and, I told him no, but, he… When he came in the bathroom, I couldn’t really fight back. He, uh…”
Giles had gone rigid next to her. He must have seen where this story was leading. Buffy was afraid that he’d decided he didn’t want her any more, didn’t want to keep going with her wherever this was going. Then he breathed again. He spoke in his softest, huskiest voice, the one that said that everything would be set right in moments. “What did he do, Buffy?”
“You guessed already.” Buffy rubbed at her nose.
“Have you ever said the word? Have you ever named it? To anybody?”
“It has power until you do. Buried, it rules you. Name it, Buffy.”
“But I fought him off before he, before he could… And I did it with him before, lots of times. It wasn’t like we weren’t—”
“You know it doesn’t work like that, Buffy. If you told him no, that ought to have been enough for him. Name it.” He held her face in his hands, and was gentle but insistent. If she could say it to anybody, she could say it to Giles.
“He tried to rape me. He tried. He almost did it.” Buffy burst into tears. Giles held her. “Do you still want to be with me? After the stuff I did with him?”
“Oh, Buffy. You are the bravest person I have ever known. I’d be honored to be with you. If you’ll have me.”
“Don’t get it. Why? Me… I’m not…”
He produced a handkerchief from somewhere and solemnly wiped her face. Buffy suspected him of having a magical hankie dispenser hidden on his person. She took over and blew her nose, then tucked the soggy thing into the pocket of her pjs.
“Turn over.” He spooned up behind her, one arm under the pillows and her head, the other over her waist. “There. Get some sleep, now.”
At first she waited for his hands to move to other places, to start taking, but they didn’t. They wouldn’t. That was why she could be there with him. He would wait for her to make the next move.
Each morning, early, Giles meditated for an hour in his bedroom, in front of a window looking east. The sun wasn’t always visible; England’s skies were so different from the hazy eternally-clear skies of southern California. Giles said that seeing the sun wasn’t important, nor was looking east particularly important. He wanted to look out at the day, at sunlight if it was there. Buffy sat with him. It was difficult for her to sit still with her thoughts. There were so many of them, and she’d been keeping them bottled up for so long. They boiled up and out. She interrupted their meditation every day of that first week, with rage, or grief, or shame so intense she had to flee to the bathroom to cry.
He said to her that he’d done the same, at first. He would gently lead her back to his room and sit with her again. It was his familiar Watcher patience, and more. He was still at his center in a way he’d never been before.
Buffy had missed him as a Watcher more than she’d realized. She could fight with the best of them, but she’d forgotten how to hone. She rediscovered that skill now, sitting on the floor of Giles’ bedroom, looking out of his window. She’d been so uncomfortable being inside her body. Not at home in her own skin. That had been a painful thing to admit. Slowly she re-learned how to be Buffy, and began to remember how to be the Slayer as well.
After their morning sessions, Giles spent the days happily playing tour guide in Bath and Bristol. Bath was totally gorgeous in sunlight, all that yellow stone and all the buildings looking similar and so pretty. Giles had explained the period of architecture to her, and Buffy had found herself wishing she was back in school so she could take a class and learn more about that stuff. She liked picking out details in things like cornices.
On their third morning, they looked at the things in downtown Bath, all the big tourist attractions. They had just emerged from Bath Abbey onto a little square surrounded by benches. Tourists and pigeons milled around them. Giles’ cellphone buzzed in his pocket. He begged Buffy’s pardon with old-fashioned courtesy, then turned away to answer it. He had a long conversation with somebody that made him look grimmer and grimmer as it proceeded. Buffy was happy to hang out in the sunshine and listen to Dawn read highlights from a pamphlet on the walking tour of Bath Giles had proposed they do. It all sounded great to Buffy. She was just happy to be here, so far from the trap that Sunnydale had become.
Giles hung up and joined Buffy and Dawn on the bench.
“What was that? Bad news?”
“The coven people, calling to talk about Willow. She hasn’t been cooperative.”
“She’s supposed to be surrendering her stolen power voluntarily. But she hasn’t.”
“I take it that’s bad.”
“Well, it would be nice to have my full powers back, yes.” Giles pulled a wry face. He stood and they followed him out of the square, heading uphill toward their next destination, a museum of some kind.
“What’s the holdup? Why isn’t she?”
“She says it hurts. She should bloody well try having them ripped out of her.” Giles rubbed at the center of his chest.
“Do they need us to help?”
“I, I asked them. They seem to think it would be more harmful than helpful for Willow to see us, people that are, are involved with her. But we’ll be visiting her some time next week.”
Buffy let Giles and Dawn pull ahead of her on the sidewalk. He was limping, still. What to do about Willow? It might have been a mistake not to talk Xander into coming along with them. He’d muttered something about this being the time of year when he had the most construction work, and Buffy had let it slide. Xander could maybe hold Willow to her promises. Though maybe the coven wouldn’t have wanted him involved?
Buffy sighed, and scurried to catch up with her Watcher and her sister.
Continued in part 2