AUTHOR: Kelly B.
DISCLAIMER: Apparently, Joss owns it all.
DISTRIBUTION: My livejournal; will be x-posted around.
PAIRING: Gen, but Buffy/Giles friendship
SUMMARY: An epilogue to “Graduation Day.” Imagine if these two began their next chapter (or any single conversation!) with open communication…
NOTE: Gulp… it’s been so long! (HUGS allthejellies) I have spent the last month rereading old fic of yours and mine, reading new stuff, checking out the dang comics, rewatching eps and watching fanvids, and re-falling-for Virtual Lunatics Season 8. There are a million B/G threads running through my head, so I had to get something out. I’ve missed them and this fandom!
FEEDBACK: Lovely. (It feels like the first day of school again...)
Buffy murmured a final assurance and told to her mother she’d see her tomorrow. She rested the phone on its base and grabbed two cans of soda on her way back to the living room.
But Xander was already asleep on the couch.
She smiled and covered him with a throw blanket, settling on the chair across from him, not quite ready for bed.
The gang had piled into Oz’s van and gone for pizza after what had been billed as “graduation.” Everyone began the outing with game face on, but before the breadsticks even arrived, a more somber mood befell them. They began to tick off names of classmates who’d been killed in the battle, as well as people whose outcomes were unknown to them. No one mentioned Faith, and no one mentioned Angel, but the weight of their memories was almost tangible. Cordy left the table and called the hospital, confirming Wesley was being admitted for observation. They drifted to silence, eating, reassuringly smiling at each other, slouching in exhaustion.
Now Buffy watched the person most like a brother to her, crashed just feet away. He hadn’t wanted to go home, like many times before. Joyce never minded letting Xander spend the night; a few times he’d been there when Buffy returned home from a patrol. And tonight? He’d been so brave and strong, just because she asked and because his heart was just that good, uncomplicated, selfless. And for him, there never was a golden umbrella or motherly hug or round of applause or happy ending…
Looking at him in his well-deserved rest, Buffy felt herself relax into grief. As quietly as she could and as much as she’d allow herself, she cried for Xander, for herself, for them all.
No sooner had she collected herself, she heard an almost inaudible knock. Xander didn’t stir, but she knew.
“Hi,” she said softly as Giles crossed the threshold. “How’s Wesley?”
“He’ll live,” Giles answered. “He misdiagnosed himself with a broken neck. He’s staying overnight to be treated for… bruising…”
She smiled. “Poor little guy.”
“Yes, well…” Giles broke off as he noticed the sleeping figure on the couch. Buffy watched with intrigue as her Watcher crossed silently to the sofa, regarded the sleeping young man, and reached toward his hair. He paused with his hand mere inches away, and she saw something both rare and familiar in his eyes. Then he bent over and kissed Xander’s forehead. Xander still did not stir. But Buffy did.
“Want some tea?” she whispered.
“Oh yes.” He followed her to the kitchen.
Buffy fussed silently in preparation, not sure what to say, as Giles was looking at her in much the same way he’d looked at Xander.
“OK,” she breathed finally. “What’s up?” She handed him a cup and settled herself on a stool.
Off came his glasses. “I’m… in awe, I suppose. And perhaps some shock. And not looking forward to the adrenaline wearing off.”
“It has been over-the-top crazy,” she agreed. “But you seem…. It seems like a little more than that.”
He took a long, slow sip. “Does it? Buffy, can you possibly be mindful of every perilous event that has occurred the past several days? Because I believe I’ve lost track myself…”
She got up, searching the cabinet for some cookies she was sure Mom had just bought.
“You mean you haven’t had a chance to update the Watchers’ journals, yet? Or wait… I guess you don’t have to do that anymore since…”
Giles furrowed his brow. He couldn’t stop the mental ticking off of all the things he wanted to say, all the details in between the major events of the previous three days, the narrow escapes and large, looming changes before them. He took a deep breath and crumpled into the stool next to hers.
“You’re so tired,” Buffy said.
He smiled. “As are you…”
“Yeah. I…want a cookie?”
He took one gratefully, then said, sheepishly, “I am famished.”
“What, you didn’t fit in a trip to the yummy hospital cafeteria?”
“Repugnant thought,” he said. “Also, it was closed.”
“I got you covered,” she said, and started setting out more fixings… bread, ham, mayonnaise, potato chips, an apple. He watched, words still feeling beyond him, as she prepared a sandwich.
“Xander really was amazing,” she said, not looking up from her task. “I mean, I know I’m the one who made him ‘Key Guy’ and all, but honestly… I didn’t know if any of it would work. I definitely didn’t think we’d all be… here… in tact… having late night munchies when it was over.”
“Your faith in him is going to change his life,” Giles said, taking an apple slice and surprising Buffy again with the boldness of his affection for Xander, not to mention his admiration for her. “One of many things that is going to be different from now on.”
OK, she thought. Here comes whatever it is… She set the knife in the sink and poured two glasses of milk. Then she tentatively put her hand on Giles’ arm. His tired eyes looked at her, not masking their surprise.
“Are we going to be ok? Is there something you’re not telling me?” she said, a little bewildered that her voice was shaking.
He covered her hand with his. “Buffy… we’ll be fine, I’m sure…” He then busied himself with his plate. “Are you, however, fine right now?
“I am… I… I have no idea.” She put her hands in her lap.
He couldn’t hold it back any more. He hadn’t written in his journal, the necessity of which had nothing to do with the Council’s protocol. He had certainly not discussed anything with Wesley, who was too overcome by his brush with death and Buffy’s successful mutiny and a few pulled muscles to think straight. Giles needed to put things in order.
“We almost lost Willow…” The list began ticking. He paused, and she took the hint.
“You tried to kill the mayor. And I was so scared he was going to kill you.”
“And I was… so scared he was going to kill you…”
“And Faith nearly killed Angel…”
“And you nearly killed her…”
“And Angel…well, I…” Swallow. She had been running on adrenaline. This was getting harder. “I guess I would have let him kill me…”
“And that…” His voice went gravely. “That would have killed me.”
“Giles, I didn’t know what else to do. Saving him… there just wasn’t an alternative. I couldn’t… I know everything happened quickly and it might have seemed rash, but I did consider… a lot. I didn’t see another way.”
He grunted. He didn’t mean to let it come out, but it did. He concentrated on the apple. If not, he would begin ticking off another list… the scars on his body, the number of fingers that ached every morning and night, the number of times she’d asked him to help Angel, to trust him.
“Giles… Giles, please don’t go away. Look at me.”
“I know,” she continued. “And none of it means I don’t respect you… or that I don’t care. Please believe me. I don’t want you to hurt because of me, not ever again.”
Maybe more had changed than he realized. Who was this thoughtful woman speaking to him? He’d always given her the benefit of doubt, his faith, his forgiveness, because it was an instinct and a necessity. He would take the disappointment and disregard because it was his duty to help her, not ask from her. But she’d never really given him the same regard, the same compassion, for more than a fleeting moment. And now…
“I don’t suppose the subject of Angel will ever be a simple,” he said, resigned. “I know it was… I know it was Angelus who did the… the things we abhor so much. And I cannot ask you to understand what Angel’s nearness does to me. I am a logical man, Buffy. I can control my responses. But his face… him touching you… even his help… it still reminds me of what his hands have caused in the past year.”
He looked away, farther away than the boundaries of the walls around them. “If not for you…” No. Even though she was looking at him with more intent and perhaps sensitivity than ever before, he could not finish the thought. Because the fact was, had it not been for her, Giles would have set a fire and watched Angel burn, soul or not, some time around Christmas Day.
“I know there is nothing I can say, Giles…”
He nodded, wishing she would leave it at that, but knowing.
“I can’t be sorry he is alive again. But I wish he’d been gone… dead, I guess… before he hurt you… in all the ways he hurt you.”
She had no idea how many ways Angel had hurt him. Nevertheless, he gave her what she was asking for, what had never been spoken between them.
“I know, Buffy,” he murmured. “I forgive you. And for what it is worth, I’m sorry for the ways he hurt you.” A sigh escaped him. Who the hell was he kidding? “And I am sorry for the ways I hurt you.”
There was a tiny shudder that went through her, so small perhaps only someone whose central purpose in life was to watch her every move would notice. Giles pushed away his plate and 40 years of emotional inhibitions, and reached for her hand.
She not only accepted the gesture, but squeezed his in return. Her eyes glistening, she decided to quip. “This very special moment brought to you by exploding school buildings and Double Stuff Oreos.”
He forced an appropriate-sized laugh. She continued. “So what happens now?”
Giles looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “More cookies?”
Now she giggled, pushing the package toward him. “I quit the Council. The Big Bad is ashes. Faith is in a coma. College starts in a few months…”
He took a deep breath, then a big bite. Chewed thoughtfully. Let go of her hand. Looked in her eyes. “I believe all of this will, quite possibly, force the Council to rethink some things. Faith and Wesley and Gwendolyn, these are all glaring examples of their failures. And without their aid or sanction, we – you – were able to take down the Mayor and avert the apocalypse. Again. It may be that after 1200 years, the power has shifted to the Slayer.”
“Whew,” she breathed. “That’s a big whopping directional shift from ‘more cookies.’”
His laugh was sincere this time. “You asked!”
“I did.” She stifled a yawn. “And… maybe tomorrow you can answer my question of, ‘How the hell will we manage that?’”
“You ready to turn in?” he asked. Suddenly, he was back in his glasses and sitting ramrod straight.
“Giles, no. You don’t have to go all librarian and leave. I just… fire bad, tree leafy capacity is sneaking back up on me.”
“Pretty,” he said.
“Huh?” She ran her hands through her hair. “Not until I spend quality time with shampoo.”
“It was fire bad, tree pretty.”
“Oh.” Buffy looked confused, then curious. “You really listen to everything I say, don’t you?”
“Does that surprise you?”
“When it comes to ‘here’s how we take down an evil-brontosaurus,' no. When it comes to everything else I say, yes.”
“Buffy…” The glasses were off, again.
“We’re so bad at this,” she muttered.
“No. I mean, yes, we are.” He turned to her decisively, their knees almost touching between the stools. “Let’s stop… being bad…a-at this.”
She looked down at her hands. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Buffy, why do you think I’m still here after Quentin gave me the boot?”
“Because. You felt responsible. You’re Responsible Guy.”
“Responsible for what?” he pressed.
“Fighting evil. Protecting Sunnydale. Preserving the family name. Collecting book fines.”
“Ok, ok.” She looked up to him. “I guess it is possible that I have something to do with it.”
“Something?” He reached to where their knees met and gently placed his hands on her. “Everything. Buffy, every reason I am here, duty, obligation, affinity… each begins and ends with you.”
Buffy stared at the strong, scarred hands resting on her knees. They were the hands that often guided her, repaired her, even chastised her. They flipped book pages and took notes and cleaned wounds and pounded tables and, she knew, were even broken, to protect from evil… to protect her as she fought evil.
And now, when Giles could leave, his integrity in tact, having won more than he’d lost, having been formally replaced, he stayed just for her.
No man had ever done that for her.
“It does seem like…” She struggled with the balance of saying what she needed to and treading carefully on their shaky foundation. “We have a chocolate and peanut butter quality to us.”
She expected a raised eyebrow, an irritated sigh, or an impatient fake-giggle. But he just kept looking at his hands and nodded. Then he surprised her again, quietly declaring, “Better together.”
Her smile filled her face. “Better together,” she echoed.
They sat in silence for a prolonged moment, joined in a touch and a new, common goal. Finally, he straightened again and said, “I should be going. We should… well, Xander has the right idea.”
“Are you ok to drive?” she asked. “I have another couch. And a spare bed or two.”
“Tempting as it is, I’ll sleep better in my own bed. But… please call or come ‘round tomorrow, if you’d like. We can start devising our strategy.”
“Sounds good,” she said, following him to the door. “Giles—“
He turned. “Yes?”
“Thank you!” she cried, throwing her arms over the chasm and around his waist.
He held her tight and without reservation, his face buried in her hair, feeling her muted sobs and quietly promising her he would never, ever let go.