The following characters are the property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy Productions and other various corporate entities. They are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. I do not use character-death, relationship or other spoiler headers for my stories, so you read at your own risk. Thanks to the exceptional beta team of Naomi and Rheanna, as well as Jessica for the donation of one very good line. This story is rated PG-13 and contains spoilers through late in BTVS' season six and ATS' season three; it takes place in a future approximately two and a half years from now. You are welcome to archive it anywhere you wish, but please let me know first. Any and all feedback is very much appreciated, so send praise or flames to Yahtzee63@aol.com.
Summary: Six conversations. Five unanswered questions. Four people. Three relationships. Two continents. One big honkin' crystal from who knows where. No plot. You're warned.
"Those of you on the right side of the plane should have a good view of the city as we approach. Local time is 6:04 a.m. Temperature is 5 Celsius, 42 Fahrenheit."
Buffy unfolded herself from the awkward huddle she'd half-slept in throughout the night; one of the little airline pillows fell from the seat as she pushed herself upright and peered out the window. The plane was already at the odd angle that signified both turning and descent, and London's lights glittered beneath, a red-and-gold jewel box.
One of the British Airways hostesses came by and, with an apologetic nod, took away the plastic cup and foil wrapper on the tray table, then folded it up. She smiled as she did it, leaving Buffy to decide that, yes, the stewardesses were a lot nicer in first class. Or maybe it was just that the British flight attendants looked friendlier in those cute little hats.
Around her, people were preparing for their arrival in various ways: folding up magazines, putting on jackets. The woman in the aisle across from her had apparently put her hair up in curlers during the flight and was now removing them one by one with no apparent embarrassment. Buffy fished around in her backpack until she found her makeup bag. This is crazed, she thought as she started smoothing on Clinique lotion. Like Giles hasn't seen me looking a jillion times scarier than this.
Of course, for the past two years, he practically hasn't seen me at all.
Using her tiny, eyeshadow-smudged mirror, she made up her face with the same care and attention she'd normally have invested in a date -- or, at least the way she remembered preparing for dates. The foundation and blush did little to conceal her exhausted pallor, and her hair had long since passed the point of being fit for anything besides being yanked back in a scrunchie.
It couldn't be her appearance she was so worried about, could it? But what else could it be? She and Giles had mended their fences. Patched things up. Things were good. And if they didn't see each other as often as they used to -- cooperate as much as they once did -- well, it was natural for things to change. She'd grown up, just like Giles had wanted her to. So there was no reason at all that Giles wouldn't be thrilled to see her. No reason at all.
Giles looked older.
There he was, in the middle of a few limousine drivers carrying signs. He had the same kind of glasses, and he was about the same weight he'd been when she first met him, and he was of course wearing a tweed jacket. Same Giles as ever. But he looked older, no doubt about it.
Then again, Buffy thought, I do too.
"There you are," he said, with that uncertain smile that always followed the words he used to smooth over an awkward moment. Why was it awkward? Buffy couldn't put a name to it -- but it was. They stood apart from each other -- not like strangers, but not like the closest of friends. "I'd begun to think they'd detained you at the gate."
"What for?" Buffy said. "Thought I'd try to smuggle weapons on board?"
"If anyone would."
"Already thought about an in-flight demon," she said, fishing in her purse and then holding up her wooden hairbrush. "Not only is it a stake that gets through security screenings, it adds volume and bounce. And nobody checks to see if your hairspray bottle actually holds holy water."
"Ingenious as ever," he said. She was smiling up at him, and he was smiling down at her, and it was the perfect time for them to hug, Buffy thought. For a moment, she could vividly remember every time she'd been in Giles' arms -- a desperate embrace after Jenny's death, a sheltering hug as her mother lay dead steps away, an overpowering clutch after she'd returned from the dead. The only thing those embraces had in common was deep, boundless need. That, and the sense of protection and -- rightness -- Buffy had felt each time. She had known that Giles loved her, and that he would take care of her as best he could. No matter what.
Neither of them moved. They just kept facing each other until Giles cocked an eyebrow at her. "I suppose the question isn't whether you checked any baggage, but how much."
She turned with him as they headed through the concourse, their footsteps sounding against the floor in the early-morning quiet of the airport. As he began making small talk about the drive to his family home, she thought to herself -- it'll get better. Whatever's wrong with me -- with him -- it can't last.
She turned down Giles' offers of brunch in the city, of sightseeing, even of shopping. Instead, they simply piled her bags high in the back seat (nearly obscuring the rear window) and drove out to Giles' new house. He put her in the guest bedroom, laid out some towels and let her get some rest.
Buffy crashed for hours, sleeping the deep, placid, blissfully sweet sleep of jet lag -- as she turned over in one semiconscious daze, she decided this alone was almost worth the trip. Giles had real linens, not the scratchy stuff Buffy bought for herself and Dawn at Target; between the cool sheets, the soft mattress and the heavy blanket, Buffy could have happily stayed there, dozing off and on, for days.
That, of course, would help her postpone going downstairs and talking to Giles. Stupid, she told herself as she plumped the pillow beneath her head. The guy needs your help, probably with something major. And besides, isn't it good to see him again? Weren't you happy when you saw him?
She had been, but -- there was no denying that she was reluctant to go downstairs. Something unnamable was holding her back.
Buffy swung her feet to the floor and sat up, running one hand through her hair. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the door -- long hair, closer to its original brown than she'd let it get since she was 15. Almost as skinny she'd been her freshman year of college, when she took a kind of perverse pride on living off a container of yogurt a day. A thin white scar that ran the length of her arm, made with a blade enchanted so that its cuts could never entirely heal, not even if made upon a Slayer. Buffy had long since decided she kind of liked the scar; it was nice to have something on the outside that suggested the truth within.
When she looked at herself, she could see all the years. That thin line on her arm had a razor-sharp brightness that she could see reflected in her own eyes.
Does Giles see this when he looks at me?
Giles had left her in order that she would learn to stand on her own two feet. Not to rely on him to be there. Which, in Buffy's opinion, was like trying to teach someone not to rely on the law of gravity. But all the same, he meant it enough to lay their relationship on the altar of her independence, to sacrifice their bond to something that he thought would do her more good, in the long run.
The long run. No Slayer in the history had ever lived past 30, and Buffy'd already died twice, and Giles was still thinking about the long run.
No, she thought. No. I got done fuming about this YEARS ago. It was for the best, wasn't it? I grew up more than I ever would have otherwise. Even if it hurt my feelings, he did the right thing. No point in getting my panties in a wad about it now.
But if she was honest with herself -- something she was getting better at, by small increments -- she'd never quite made peace with the way she'd felt after he left. And something about their present situation was making her think about it again. What? she asked herself. I mean, I love him, I care about him, I'm here to help him --
To help HIM, she realized. Not for him to help me. I'm here to solve the Council's problem. He's not in my country; I'm in his. It's my choice when to stay and when to go. And I'm the one coming to his rescue. Buffy mulled that over, realizing that her unease sprang from the fact that the balance of power between them had finally shifted -- in her favor. Both old affections and old grievances looked a little different, from this perspective.
She took a deep breath, cleared her mind and resolutely began getting ready to go downstairs. She wasn't sure exactly but she wanted, but she did know this much: Of all the things she'd ever lost, Giles was the only one Buffy had a chance of getting back. And if there were any way possible, she intended to make it happen.
She didn't come downstairs until she felt good and looked better -- wearing the lavender sweater she'd bought for the occasion, her hair braided back. Now awake enough to take in her surroundings, Buffy looked curiously at Giles' house as she came down the steps. Her guest bedroom was bare enough -- a rickety chest of drawers and a cast-iron twin bed that seemed to have been left over from a hospital during some World War or other. Not many guests, then.
But the rest of the house -- the parts he lived and worked in -- those felt familiar, warm, right. She'd never before realized how his furnishings and books and paintings clashed with the psuedo-hacienda apartment he'd had in Sunnydale, not until she saw them here, in the English house they were always meant to inhabit. His mica-shaded lamps cast warm light into high rafters and small corners. His scarlet-spined books were more at home tucked into bookshelves built right into the wall. The rooms smelled like coffee and candles; as much as Buffy hated to admit it, they looked like Giles' real home.
There was a "for sale" sign in the front yard of her house in Sunnydale. She'd had enough difficulty managing the expense after her mom's death; with Dawn no longer living there, Buffy had to acknowledge the sense in moving. But the thought of leaving the house made her shiver, and she pushed the memory aside.
Giles was propped up on the sofa with a book, so very casually that she knew he'd been anxiously listening for her on the stairs for hours. He poured her a drink without even raising an eyebrow when she said she wanted her whiskey neat.
Only when they'd sat down on the sofa -- opposite from one another, almost at the far ends -- and Buffy'd downed a swallow of her whiskey did she dare to start talking. "I can see why you like it so much here."
"I mean, you've got a nice place. This house -- it feels like you. Comfortable. Like it fits."
"Thank you, I suppose." Giles sipped his whiskey as carefully as he might have done a cup of hot tea. "But I meant -- why did you say I liked it here?"
"You like it better than Sunnydale, obviously," Buffy said. Now, where the hell did that come from? she thought.
"I like it here well enough," Giles said, taken aback, as well he might be. "But -- no. Not better than Sunnydale."
The unspoken question hung in the air, so tangible that Buffy half-thought saying it aloud would be ridiculous: Why don't you come back, then? But hadn't this question been answered a long time ago?
Maybe not, she thought. Maybe I only told myself it was.
Giles, perhaps seeing the shifts of emotion on her face, changed the subject deftly. "Perhaps we should begin with the, ah, matter the Council wished you to look into."
Right down to business. "You got it. What needs killing? Or am I gonna tutor the Council in the ways of the 21st century?"
"I am certain several of them would appreciate your lecture on the usefulness of the cellular phone and the horseless carriage," Giles said. "However, more to the point, we need you to examine this."
He pulled a carved, oaken box from a side table and slowly opened it. Buffy peered inside to see a yellow crystal -- deep gold, but surely not amber. Topaz? It glinted faintly in the dim light, revealing flaws in the center, cloudy threads of gray and white.
Buffy closed her eyes. Giles' voice was puzzled. "Buffy?"
"You think I'd fall for this again?"
"Buffy. No. This isn't -- no."
She opened her eyes again, looked at his drawn, pale face. He was telling the truth, and her doubt had hurt him. But wasn't her doubt the truth too? Without any words of apology, she carefully lifted the crystal from its place in the box and tested its considerable heft in her hands. "Not picking up any weird vibes from this."
"Give it time," Giles said. "We have to hope that you have some reaction. Some -- sense -- of what this is intended for."
"Why? I don't guess the Council brought me over here to settle a paperweight crisis."
Giles sighed and set the box on the coffee table, taking up his whiskey again as he did so. "This was confiscated from a Hevreth demon a few weeks ago."
"Hevreth aren't too scary, as a rule," Buffy shrugged. "They're mostly after money. Helps them fund their whole anchovy fetish."
"On a Hellmouth, you learn to keep your ears open. You listen to the bartenders. You listen to the street people. But you PAY the pizza guy to spill everything he knows. Nobody knows a town like the Domino's delivery man."
To Buffy's amusement, she saw Giles' face shift into a faint smile; his eyes crinkled at the corners in the way she remembered. "Of course. You never cease to amaze me, Buffy."
That felt a little more right. Aglow with praise, Buffy said, "So the Hevreth got himself a nice rock at the Nature Company. What's the emergency?"
"As you say, Hevreth are mostly mercenaries -- they have few evil plans of their own, but they can easily be persuaded to assist in the wrongdoing of others. Some very powerful vampire masters and demonic overlords have gained immense strength with the assistance of Hevreth demons."
"So when you see one, you want to know what it is he's getting paid for," Buffy said. "Check."
"When this Hevreth was accosted, he was emerging from an dimensional portal," Giles continued, peering at the crystal himself. "He got away, but he left this behind. We think it may have assisted him in his travel."
"I got it. We're looking for the mystical return address on this puppy, so we can find out who sent him here and why."
Giles nodded. "Dimensional-travel crystals are generally more attuned to those who have already traveled to other dimensions at least once --"
"-- and they have a tendency to be drawn to, ah, the formerly dead. Usually vampires, but --"
"I get it," Buffy said, cutting the topic off as quickly as she could. She rotated the crystal in her hands, feeling the rounded edges against her palms. Taking a deep breath, she tried to summon some of the meditation techniques Giles had taught her so long ago -- but she was out of practice, and the combination of whiskey and Giles' presence did not help her peace of mind. "I have a feeling this might take a while."
"Days, perhaps," Giles said. "Or even weeks. Crystals will shift to the frequency of a susceptible candidate over time. But -- we have time, don't we?"
There was hope in his voice then, hope and uncertainty, and Buffy realized for the first time that Giles was uncertain of her welcome, too. He'd felt the shift in power as well. The realization hit her bloodstream at the same moment as the whiskey -- made her lightheaded, bold, exhilarated. "We have all the time in the world," she promised, and she delighted in his grateful smile.
"Well. Yes. Right, then," Giles said, taking the crystal from her and putting it on the table -- the better to start picking up slayer-vibes, Buffy figured. "That gives up a chance to catch up, doesn't it? Tell me how everyone is. Is Dawn getting on all right with your father?"
Buffy took up her own whiskey, let it burn down her throat. "My dad gives her a nice room, and lots of clothes, and a key so she can let herself in at whatever hour she wants."
"I'm sorry. I'd hoped he would seize his second chance."
"It's okay," Buffy said. "Dawn's not -- she's not like she used to be, Giles. She used to cling on all of us like crazy. But now, she's grown up so much." She'd showed her baby sister the world, just as she'd promised. And I was so stupid, Buffy thought, that I didn't realize that meant she'd run off into it without me someday.
"She's doing well?" Giles' voice was gentle, sympathetic.
"Better than ever," Buffy said. "She's making great grades, and she's in about 900 activities at UCLA, and next summer she's gonna backpack around Europe." All of which meant she didn't come back to Sunnydale that often, Buffy neglected to add. But she saw the understanding reflected in Giles' eyes.
"And Xander? He hasn't called me to ask for any countercharms in a while, so I take it Anya's no longer vexing him."
"Nah. She met this ogre a while back, so she's over it. I mean, she still shows up at parties and makes out with her new guy just to tick Xander off. But, as revenge goes, it beats the whole toad incident of 2003."
"Hear, hear." He was laughing slightly, and she joined in, relishing their first shared laugh in far too long. "So, now that he's not running from his ex-girlfriend, whatever is Xander doing with his time?"
Buffy shrugged. "He puts in a lot of extra hours at work. He likes it. He likes the money, too. He dates. Basically, he lives a real life." And there was the bitterness creeping in again. She forced herself to smile back at Giles. "I mean, he still helps me out. It's just -- now it's only a part of his life."
"That's how it should be, really."
"I know that." She sighed softly, looked at the amber glow of the lamp. "Doesn't mean I don't miss him sometimes."
"Do you ever hear from Riley?"
"Christmas cards. And a birth announcement, about a year ago. Little boy. I swear they named that kid Terrence. Can you imagine?" Giles looked back at her with an expression that could only have been on the face of a man named Rupert. "Sorry."
Giles hesitated, clearly trying to choose his next words carefully. Buffy knew, almost without having to think about it, that he would not ask about Spike; his fate didn't bear talking about. Which meant he was probably about to bring up the subject of --
"And how is Willow?" he said quietly.
Buffy shrugged. "She thinks Al-Anon is working for her. Better than NarcAnon, anyway."
Giles sat there for a few moments, digesting that. "I've asked myself about that more times than I can count," he said. "Whether we didn't do her more harm than good, removing her powers. If she'd learned to set them aside on her own -- perhaps she wouldn't have fallen prey to so many addictions since."
"There wasn't any choice," Buffy said. She could tell that Giles already knew this, but maybe it would help him to hear it again. "Willow had to be stopped. Things aren't great now, but at least the only one in danger is herself."
And wasn't that a cool, logical, adult thing to say. It didn't seem to have much to do with the reality of finding Willow drunk at the Bronze, or high out of her mind in the increasingly-cheap apartments she seemed to inhabit. It didn't say anything about the way Buffy felt when she looked into Willow's drawn, distant face and tried to remember the way her friend's hair and eyes used to shine.
Giles was clearly trying hard to think of a more enjoyable topic of conversation. His eyes lit up, as if in relief. "I must say, I was astonished to get the card from Angel and Cordelia. Those two married -- I can hardly imagine it."
Scratch the whole "enjoyable" concept, Buffy thought.
She didn't have to wonder what her face looked like; she could see herself mirrored in Giles as the faint smile faded from his face. "Oh, Buffy. I'm sorry. I thought you were long over him."
"I was," Buffy said. "I am. It's not that. Not exactly that, I mean." She waited for Giles to interject something, another switch of topic. But instead he kept watching her, patient and willing, and she felt herself smiling softly. Giles still knew her; he still knew when to keep his peace, to let the words flow out of her.
She settled back into the sofa. "I saw Angel and Cordelia in L.A. this summer, while I was down visiting Dawn. I thought I'd drop in, you know? I thought -- well, what you thought. I thought it was going to be like some paranormal Saturday Night Live skit. Cordy making Angel buy her shoes, him brooding about the credit card bills. Don't fight the smirk, Giles; let it out. You were thinking it too. But when I got there -- they weren't like that. Cordelia's not the person she used to be. She grew up a lot. And Angel was -- he was --"
As she hesitated, Giles supplied, "Human."
"Yeah, now, but that's not what I mean. Giles -- he was happy. Down-deep happy." Buffy gestured with her hands, clinking the ice cubes against each other as her drink sloshed. "He's still doing the demon-slaying thing, but he's teaching self-defense and martial arts classes. His kid with Darla is living with them, and that seems like it's working out. He and Cordy have this nice apartment in a hotel and -- she had a baby too, did you know? A girl. Angel's got a pulse and a job and a wife and a son and a daughter, and he loves his life."
Buffy remembered how Angel had been -- standing in the sun, wearing shades to guard his unaccustomed eyes against the brilliant light. He was proud of his hotel, proud of his business, proud of Cordy, with her round, pregnant belly. He'd scarcely been able to look away from his wife the whole time.
Giles lifted one hand as if to pat her arm, then seemed to think better of it as it dropped. "And you wish that life were your own."
"No," Buffy insisted, stamping one sock-clad foot on the Persian carpet. "Giles, I don't want normal. If I've learned anything -- big if -- I've learned that I suck at normal."
"That's not what I meant, precisely," Giles said. Had they always had to struggle so much to understand each other? "I meant Angel. You wished that you were with Angel."
"No again. God, I have to make you get this." If he got it, maybe she would too, she thought. Buffy looked up at the ceiling -- smooth white plaster, cracked and slightly yellow with age -- as she struggled for words. Giles resumed his patient silence, and suddenly it all seemed so much easier. "I don't love Angel anymore. I quit loving him a long time ago. And that's why I was mad. Making sense yet?"
Giles shook his head. Buffy sighed. "Giles, I didn't fall out of love with Angel. I -- I made myself quit loving him. I took that love and killed it. The year after he left, every time I thought of him -- imagined his face, or went to a place we'd been together -- I would just try and burn it out of me. I'd take all that anger and hurt we went through and use it like, like acid or something. Just eat it all away. And by the time I saw him in Los Angeles the last time -- about a year after we broke up -- I could look at him and feel nothing. Nothing except anger. He seemed so far away."
"And you regret that."
"I did what I had to do. What I thought I had to do." Buffy laughed, a short, harsh sound that even she realized sounded bitter. "But the thing is, I didn't have to. I thought there was no hope, and there was. Angel was going to be human and happy and together in just a few years. But I didn't know. And I let him go, so he could make Cordelia a good husband someday."
Giles sipped his own whiskey, considering what she'd said. Finally he said, "Buffy, I realize the -- tragic nature -- of your connection with Angel. But he is a married man now. You must not interfere."
Buffy felt it as much as heard it, with muscles tightening and skin that went cold with shock. "That's what you think," she said flatly. "Giles, you can go -- no."
She shoved herself off the couch and began stalking to the stairs, ignoring the whiskey that sloshed over the rim of her glass onto her hand. As she got to the second step, Giles' hand grabbed her arm. "Buffy, please. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you."
"Boy, you sure are good at it for somebody who isn't even trying," Buffy said. "You're a natural, you know that?"
"Buffy --" Giles' own eyes were bright with pain now, and she wanted to scream or cry or throw something really, really hard.
"I don't want Angel back," Buffy said. "I never will again. I gave him up. I gave up a normal life. I gave up a real relationship with my mom. I gave up Willow. I gave up YOU. And until I saw Angel like that, I never had to ask myself if it all could have turned out differently. But then I did -- then I had to ask -- and once I started asking, I --"
She gestured helplessly, unable to find any one word that summon up all the helplessness and futility that had commanded her these past several months. But even as she fought to express it, she realized it was unnecessary; Giles was looking at her with compassion and, at last, understanding. "Angel was just a symbol of something larger in your life. Of all the things you've lost, because of who and what you are."
"What if it didn't have to happen that way?" she whispered. "What if we all could have been happy, instead of --"
They were silent together for a long time; she did not come down from the stairs, and he did not step up to join her. Their faces were even, and even in her misery Buffy found it strange to be looking Giles straight in the eye.
"We can't second-guess the past," Giles said at last. "I know it is hard. One of the hardest lessons I ever learnt. But it's nonetheless very true."
"I don't know if I can do that," Buffy confessed. "But I just needed to --" She couldn't say, Get you back; that was too much pressure, too soon. "I didn't just come here to work with the crystal, Giles. I needed -- to talk with somebody who remembers the old days. I know it's weird to be talking about the 'old days' at 23. But it's true. I need somebody who remembers me the way I used to be."
"What for, exactly?" Giles' eyes were kind behind his glasses.
"To see how I've changed. To tell me the truth. To tell me if any of it is for the better."
"Do you really have to ask that?"
"Yeah," she said without shame. "I really do."
Giles brushed one hand against her cheek -- a gentle, affectionate gesture he'd never given her before, but nonetheless filled her with grateful warmth. "I think more than anything you need time to rest."
"So I can crash here for a while? We can, you know, catch up." Surely that was all they needed. Time. "Between mystic crystal revelations, of course."
"You can stay as long as you want," Giles said, and once again, she felt the flush of her new power.
The next few weeks were unlike any others Buffy had known in her life, or at least since she was a very small child. She had no demons to slay. No schoolwork to keep up with. No job to show up on time for. She was without responsibility, without anchor, and instead of feeling frightened or irresponsible, she was only deeply, wholeheartedly relieved.
She did, of course, have a crystal to get in some weird metaphysical synch with. But, as Slayer duties went, this was not extremely taxing.
"I brought you the Times," Giles said, coming in the door from a day of blustery rain and tossing sodden newspapers on the chair. "And, ah, the Sun. Don't mind the page-three girl; it's not unusual over here, you'll find."
Buffy turned from the crystal and flipped instantly to page three. Her eyes went wide. "HELLO."
"Any progress to report?" Giles' nose and cheeks were pink, and Buffy suspected it wasn't entirely from the cold.
"This rock keeps the closet door from banging shut during the night," she said. "So, like, kids can buy this newspaper?"
Giles ignored her. "Please refrain from using valuable transdimensional artifacts as doorstops, Buffy."
"Sure thing," she said, beginning to flip through the damp pages of the Sun. "Soon as you fix that closet door."
He fixed the door that night, restoring Buffy to deep, peaceful sleep. During those weeks, Giles let her sleep as late as she wanted; though she generally rose when he did, every now and then she would remain in bed until early afternoon, enjoying the soft rose-pink morning light through the curtains, thinking of nothing other than the patterns made by the shadows of the leaves of the sycamore tree.
Most often, though, she went down to have breakfast with him; she delighted in proving to him that she could cook now, omelets and waffles and even a semi-respectable quiche.
"This is marvelous," he said, tucking into his breakfast with unfeigned delight. "Quite preferable to those odd little envelopes you used to have in the mornings."
"Pop Tarts," Buffy explained through a mouthful of quiche. "How did I live on that stuff? And the naked girl is in EVERY issue?"
"We must find you some books."
She'd never been much of a reader -- embarrassing but true -- but Giles brought her books now and then, offerings from his own shelves meant to divert and entertain her. To what was no doubt their mutual surprise, she read them all, enjoyed them, wandered around the house with her nose between the pages until even Giles laughed at her. Persuasion. Enchanted April. The English Patient. The End of the Affair. Women finding themselves, one way or another -- Buffy wondered if Giles meant for her to recognize the theme, or whether he hoped the message would just sink in unawares.
Most days he left her alone to go to the Council headquarters and do whatever unfathomably arcane tasks the Council set for him. Buffy was certain that the other Watchers must have been at him nonstop about her inactivity in England. To her satisfaction, he never mentioned it. Instead, she saw him off in the mornings, listened to his car crunch away on the gravel drive, straightened up the house a bit and settled in to read or to sleep. When he came home at the end of the day, they might go for a walk. At their most ambitious, they'd drive into town for a movie or concert. But they were more likely by far to spend the night talking about pleasant trifles or just reading on the sofa together, side by side.
"Captain Wentworth is so off the hook."
"Pardon?" Giles put aside the Guardian to look at her. Even though he had read all the books in his home, most of them more than once, he always listened with respect and even interest to Buffy's first impressions.
"This love note," Buffy said, trying not to actually sigh. "This is the best love note ever written. EVER. 'You pierce my soul' -- this is a good opening line. And 'for you alone I think and plan' -- swoonworthy. He could have gotten out of a much bigger doghouse than the one he was in, with that note."
"That exceptional, hm?" Giles pretended to study the cover of Persuasion. "I shall have to memorize it in case I ever need it later." She laughed.
As she grew stronger, she assumed her duties again; England was fairly quiet in a supernatural sense, at least compared to Sunnydale. But there were still a few vampires to slay. And there was no denying how good it felt to be a Slayer with her Watcher once again.
"And THAT," she yelled as the vampire fell to the ground, "is how the double flying roundhouse kick looks."
"Lovely form!" Giles said with a grin. Buffy beamed back. The vampire staggered to its feet, and she gasped. "Oh! Now I have to show you this great hammerfist technique."
"Am I interrupting?" the vampire said. Buffy spun around, back to the vampire, and let her fist swing back with all her might. The vampire went down again with a heavy thud.
"Seems rather more showy than practical," Giles said, but Buffy could tell he was enjoying watching her.
The vampire managed to get up again. "Wouldn't you two rather just chat?"
Buffy tilted her head to one side. "Come to think of it, yes." With one lightning-fast stroke, she staked him.
Giles came toward her, waving away the swirling dust. "You're better than ever."
"Like a fine wine," she said.
He laughed out loud and put an arm around her shoulders as they strolled off through the cemetary. "I think that's my line."
Her dreams were becoming vivid again -- unsettling and strange. Buffy felt no genuinely prophetic sense from them; she'd become very good, through the years, at knowing which of her dreams were precognitive and which were not. These did not, but the images were strong, demanding attention. They foretold nothing -- but they meant something. Instinctively, she sensed that they were responding to the crystal. Perhaps the connection began on the subconscious level.
She reported this much to Giles, dry and flat. Simple fact. She did not tell him the substance of the dreams. She did not tell him of the night she held Angel's child in her arms, only to look up and see Darla, stark in red satin, holding her hands out for the baby. Or of the vision of Spike scratching lines in her window-glass, obscene words and religious symbols and misremembered Byron. Or of her dream of Giles himself, standing next to her, telling her to look within -- deeper, deeper --
-- and always, the yellow crystal. Luminous behind Darla's head, clutched in Spike's pale hand, or there in Giles' hands, commanding her vision and something deeper still.
Buffy told Giles none of this. To her own half-aware dismay, she sometimes tried to shove the dreams down beneath her consciousness. She did not want to remember them. She did not want to acknowledge the crystal's effect on her. She only wanted to continue this idyll with Giles -- this serene, happy time when she had no more pressing concern than caring about someone, no greater burden than his care for her. She was feeling connected again, connected to far more than the crystal.
In short, Buffy was behaving like a convalescent. She was healing, and Giles was letting her heal. She had needed a time like this more than she knew, for longer than she could possibly say. Her gratitude toward Giles for giving it to her was almost boundless.
Because the great question, the great yawning uncertainty underlying it all -- Why only now? Why not before? When I'd come back from the dead, when I was so scared and so sick of life? I needed this like water then, like air. And instead he left me to wallow in misery and degradation for almost a year.
Buffy had never asked Giles these questions. She'd told herself she knew the answers when they'd reunited in that awful spring when Willow finally spun out of control forever. But she was learning, day by day, that the wound he'd inflicted when he left had never truly healed. She'd bandaged it up well, learned to carry on without noticing the pain. But it was still there, and their renewed intimacy was making it worse, not better. Buffy knew that, inevitably, she would have to ask him about it. Hear what he had to say. And deal with it, if she could.
And maybe, down deep, that was the real reason she'd come here -- the real reason Giles had invited her, instead of sending the crystal Fed Ex. To find a place safe enough for that question and its answer.
Buffy thought they were getting there at last.
"You underestimated me."
Willow's eyes were black. Buffy backed away from her, as far as she could go, until the cement blocks of the dorm-room wall were against her shoulder blades. "No. I didn't. I always knew you were powerful, Willow."
"That's not what I mean," Willow said. Her hair was long, and she wore baggy overalls, and but for the black eyes she might have been 16 again.
The floor shimmered blue-green like the surface of a pool. The Gentlemen were floating by, and Buffy could feel her heart thump-thumping in her chest, strong, too strong, so strong they would hear. "What do you mean, Wil? Tell me, just tell me fast --"
When Willow told her, her heart could stop beating. Tell, Willow, don't tell --
"You never saw me for what I was," Willow whispered.
Buffy couldn't look at Willow anymore. She looked down at the blue-green floor, saw the emptiness of space beneath her feet. They were dangling free in the cosmos, soaring above the planets, kept from blackness and oblivion only by the translucent floor. "What were you?"
Willow floated toward her, hair streaming about behind, and the black eyes welled with tears. "Buffy," she whispered. "I was BEAUTIFUL --"
Buffy sat up in bed with a cry, realizing only as it echoed from the walls that she had truly screamed, that she was awake now. She looked down at the hardwood floor, the rag rug, and took in a deep, shuddering breath of relief.
"Buffy?" Giles opened the door without knocking. That was unlike him, and Buffy knew one moment of embarrassment; she was wearing only a tank top and panties, not at all her usual Giles-appropriate attire.
He seemed embarrassed himself, but the concern was too distant for either of them to pay much attention to. "I'm okay," she said. "Just -- vivid dream. About Willow."
Giles did not speak of Willow. She'd known he wouldn't. "You frightened me."
"It's the crystal," she confessed. "It's starting to get to me. I mean, maybe I'm starting to get through to it."
"If it's hurting you --"
"It's not," she promised, though she couldn't have said why she thought so. "This is just -- it's the process, okay? I know you use that thing to travel. I got a look at where, I think." The cosmos spiraling beneath her feet. "At least, maybe."
"I don't want you hurt." Giles was reluctant to leave; to her surprise, Buffy found herself sharing in that reluctance. "We could find others to investigate, Buffy."
"No. I can do it, Giles," she pleaded. Let me prove myself to you, she thought. Even if it means I have to leave -- at least I can prove myself to you first.
Giles looked unconvinced, but finally he said, "If you need me --"
As he padded down the hallway, back to his own bedroom, she thought, If I need you.
When did I not?
"Isn't Thanksgiving the third Thursday of November?" Giles said, thumbing through his Multidimensional Grimoire without looking up.
"Fourth Thursday," Buffy supplied, tucking her finger between the pages of Cat's Eye to hold her place. She was wearing one of Giles' old sweaters, black wool, satisfyingly scratchy and warm and big. The previous night's dream already seemed distant, and the crystal was no more than an attractive centerpiece on the coffee table. "Why?"
"Will your father be doing anything for the holiday? If not, perhaps you should do something for Dawn."
Buffy bit her lip, shocked and uneasy. There it was -- a hint to leave. Something she'd thought Giles wouldn't give -- hadn't he said as long as she wanted?
And then he said, "I've enough to bring Dawn over for a few days, if you think she'd like it."
She felt the grin spreading over her face; perhaps he did as well. Giles looked up from his book and returned the smile, even though he looked a little puzzled. "What's that for?"
"For letting me think of this place as home," Buffy said gently. "Even for a little while."
He looked vaguely abashed. "It feels more like home with you here," he confessed.
Now, Buffy thought. Now or never. "Giles?"
She didn't say it in any special tone of voice, but she could tell he sensed what was to come. Carefully, slowly, he closed his book and set it on the coffee table. When he turned back to her, his face was serious. "Yes?"
"Things are a lot better when we're together."
"Yes. They are."
"So --" Deep breath, no turning back now. "Why did you go away and leave me alone?"
"We've been over this," Giles said, but his voice was not a warning. "You remember what I said."
"That I needed to grow up and face responsibility," Buffy said.
"And you agreed I'd done the right thing."
"I know," Buffy said. "But I'm starting to think I might have been wrong about you being right."
"Which means you think I was wrong."
"I don't know. Maybe?" Buffy breathed out in frustration. "Giles -- you weren't just some crutch. I was really hurting. I really needed someone. I needed you. And you weren't there."
Giles dipped his head, pushed his glasses up with one finger. Without quite meeting Buffy's eyes, he said, "I know. I was wrong. More wrong than you even realize, I think."
Victory was so sudden and unexpected that Buffy could only stare at him for a few moments. Finally she managed to say, "When did this sink in?"
"I knew all along," he said simply. "But Buffy -- I couldn't stay. I wanted to. You have no idea how much I wanted to stay with you, help you through it all. But I couldn't have done."
"Why?" Buffy tried to keep the desperate pleading out of her voice, tried to make it just a question. "I want to understand, Giles. I'm done being angry about it. I just want to know."
"When you died --" Giles' voice caught in his throat, and Buffy took one of his hands in her own. She let his fingers lap over her wrist, where her pulse beat strong. "Buffy, you know how much you mean to me. How much I do love you." Buffy nodded impatiently; this was old news. "But we never talked about how -- without your father in your life, and -- I haven't any children, and --"
"You felt like -- I was your daughter?" Buffy said. When Giles nodded, she tried to think of how she should feel. A couple years ago, she knew, if Giles had said that to her, she would've teared up, hugged him tight, told him he was a better father than the one she was born with. It all would've been true. Now, though, it was clear -- Giles was only describing the past.
"I'd always known you would die in the course of your duty," he said. "I knew that before I ever met you. The closer we became -- the more fond I was of you -- the harder it was to remember that. And yet I always did remember. I always kept myself prepared, or so I told myself. But after I saw you fall, after I saw you lying there, dead -- broken --"
Tears were in his eyes, and she clutched his hand tighter. "Hey," she said gently. "Still here."
Giles nodded, but he still couldn't look directly at her. "I'd taught myself to bear the pain of losing a Slayer. But there is no bearing the pain of losing a daughter. It is unendurable, Buffy. I didn't know it was possible, to hurt like that and keep on drawing breath."
Buffy thought back to her mother's death, to Jenny Calendar's funeral. What Giles went through was worse, she told herself. She could conceive of that, but she could not truly understand it.
He continued, "I only had one way of making myself get through that. It was cheap. Cowardly, even. I hated myself for doing it, but I kept on. You remember -- the way you talked to me about Angel? About how you stopped loving him?"
Acid baths and burning. "You made yourself stop," Buffy said. "You stopped loving me."
"Never," Giles said roughly. "But I stopped thinking of you as my daughter. I could survive losing a Slayer. I could even survive losing a friend. But if I thought of you as my child -- Buffy, I couldn't have gone on."
"Okay," Buffy said. She felt as though she should have some sense of grief for the one true father figure she'd ever known. But it was all too distant now, too nebulous, for her to grasp hold of and weigh the loss. "But when I came back -- I know I was leaning on you like a father. I see that now. But a friend would have worked, too. Or even a Watcher."
"I was confused," Giles said. He finally looked her in the eyes; apology was written on his face, as was regret and remorse. "I don't know how much of this I consciously understood at the time. I don't know that I understand fully even now. But that was why I had to go. If I'd stayed, I would have let myself love you like that again. And I couldn't do it. I wasn't strong enough. I -- I am so sorry --"
"Don't," she said. Her voice was thick; it felt as though she had to swallow hard between each word. "I wanted the truth, and you told me."
"It was selfish. Selfish and small."
"No, it wasn't. You were trying to keep yourself going. Sometimes to do that -- you do stuff you wouldn't ordinarily do. It doesn't make you a bad person."
She thought back to those strange months after her return. To the long, awkward distances from Dawn. To the surreal, unsettling nights with Spike. To the changes she tried not to see in Willow. What she'd done to survive. If she could forgive it in Giles, could she forgive it in herself?
"You did what you had to do," she choked out. "Maybe it wasn't for the best. But we got through it. That's all that matters."
"No, it's not," Giles said. "But it is -- enough, perhaps."
To save himself. Giles had cut her loose to save himself. Buffy would have thought she would feel outraged or cheated -- instead, she knew only a profound sense of relief. He had not left because he didn't love her; he had left because he loved her too much. It did not make the past easier to remember, but her worst fears were dispelled. All this time -- all these years -- deep in her heart, she had secretly imagined that Giles could see deep within her then, see the blackness and misery twisted up at the core of her, and that he had turned from it in contempt and disgust. But it had been none of that. He was the Giles she knew and loved, afraid of more or less the same things she had been afraid of, after all.
They had failed one another. But they'd done no worse. And if they were no longer father and daughter, what they had left was still as real and true as anything else she'd ever known.
"You still love me," she said, smiling uncertainly.
"What? Of course." Giles was the one squeezing her hand for comfort now. "You can't ever have thought --"
"I thought of lot of things back then," she said. "I was seriously mixed up."
"I know. I might've helped you."
"I helped myself. Maybe it wasn't the best thing. But it worked out." She took a deep breath and let it out; as she did, it felt as though every muscle in her body was relaxing. Buffy flopped against the side of the sofa, suddenly alight with something that went deeper than relief. "And we're friends again, which is the main thing. Right?"
"Always," Giles said. She could see her own gratitude shining in his eyes and, on impulse, she opened up her arms.
She half-laughed, half-sighed as he embraced her, held her tight. Giles' arms were around her, and her head was against his chest, and they were hugging once more. Buffy snuggled in, relishing the sound of his heartbeat, the familiar, masculine smells of whiskey and aftershave and something that was uniquely Giles. Once again she felt safe, protected. All was right with the world.
It was like before, sort of. But not quite.
Buffy wrapped her arms more closely around his back, felt the gentle rise and fall of his breath. His face was tucked into the curve of her neck, the rasp of his unshaven cheek rough against her throat.
She did not know the change so much as she felt it -- an energy humming inside her, as if in one long, taut arc, like a plucked guitar string vibrating from the crown of her head to down between her legs, passing straight through her heart. Physical, tangible, real.
Buffy jerked back, stared at Giles. He was staring back at her in equal parts shock and embarrassment, and she could feel her cheeks flushing with heat. Their faces were still close together, so close she couldn't think. "I -- uh -- um -- I --"
"It's late," Giles said.
"We're both --"
"-- exhausted. And you have to --"
"-- get up early in the morning, so --"
"-- we should go to bed. Beds! Separately! One at a time." Buffy practically jumped off the sofa, crossed her arms in front of her, balled her fists up in the long sleeves of Giles' sweater. "So, in the morning, then."
"Of course." Giles wouldn't meet her eyes again, but this time it was a relief. "I -- Buffy --"
"Yeah?" she said uneasily.
"Sleep well," he said. Buffy, not trusting herself to reply, turned and ran up the steps two at a time.
She spent the night twisted up in the sheets, unable to sleep.
Giles, she said to herself. GILES. Tweed man. Old guy. Slept with your MOTHER. Remembers the moon landing. Like a dad to you.
No. Used to be like a dad.
This was far from anyplace they'd ever been, anyplace Buffy had ever dreamed of their being. She tried to connect this new feeling to the way she'd thought of Giles in the past, and she could not. There was no understanding what had just happened between her and Giles in the light of everything that had gone before. And yet it had happened all the same.
She did not fall asleep for hours, and when she did, she did not dream.
The next morning, she did not make breakfast. Nor did Giles. The two of them drank coffee in silence, until Buffy said, "I really should go home for Thanksgiving."
"Think I could fly out tonight?" Her eyes flicked over to him, wondering what he would say.
"I'll make the necessary phone calls," Giles replied. He did not look up from the dark surface of his coffee.
They were quiet together for a few moments, until he said, "Buffy --"
"Yeah?" Her heart seemed to contract within her chest.
"There is the matter of the crystal."
That stupid thing. "I'll take it with," Buffy said. "There's people in California who can deal with it better than me, probably."
"Will you be able to get it aboard? Customs might give you difficulty."
"I'll check it."
That night, as the plane lifted off, Buffy looked down at the lights of London, as golden and beckoning as they had been before. They looked like the stars in the sky she had floated above with Willow. She did not expect to see them again.