A story about love, but maybe not about romance. A sweet little piece about two gentle people who love each other without being in love, trying to overcome regrets, fear, and loneliness in order to keep what's left of their lives together. Completely AU, after season five.
Author's Note: It's a piece about Tara and Giles. I never imagined I would write such a piece, but the idea would not leave alone until it was written. If you find that wrong, bad, or in someway worth getting upset over, please stop reading. I don't write to make people sad, I write because I love it and I like to share what's in my head with people who are looking to enjoy a flight of fancy.
Author's Second Note: This is fictional, so please don't fault any technical inaccuracies if there are any.
Dedicated to Ginar369, MaireAlibhe, WriterDragonfly, and AGriffinWriter- my courage for sharing new ideas.
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
The heat was stifling. Humidity clung to them. The only thing heavier was the air of depression, desperation, desolation. They all hung in its sickening mist, together.
Death does that to a family. They were family. Two mourning daughters. A widow of sorts. Bereft siblings in name, not in blood.
They all seemed to move around him, these new little pods. Two couples, one newly wed in a small ceremony that was the farthest thing from her white wedding dreams. The other pairing tentative and bruising, but undeniably together, agreeably forcing themselves to do it out of comfort and need.
Giles watched them sitting in the darkened Summers' living room, looking over something, the vampire's deft white fingers weaving through long, thick brunette locks as his newly adopted "sister/daughter" leaned silently against his knee. Buffy's hands whittled stakes as she peered at - it was the paper, he could see now.
"Good afternoon." He broke the stillness.
A chorus of hellos, a small nod from the only other one moving through the grief alone. Oh yes, fully loved, fully supported, and yet alone. Like him, she didn't have a cluster, or a pairing.
"Tea?" Tara murmured, and rose to make it without waiting for an answer. She always cooked. Made tea. Cleaned. No amount of pleading stopped her. People deal with the loss of significant others in different ways.
"Can you pop Spike's blood in the microwave? He's braiding." Buffy asked as she headed to Giles' side.
Losing a parent and one's best friend, one's sister-at-heart, makes one act oddly as well, he reflected, listening to the Slayer's request for her vampiric partner.
"Thanks, Tar." Spike called.
"You look upset." Buffy said flatly. No quips, no cute idioms he once would have found annoying, now missed.
"It's nothing urgent. But yes. I'm upset." He confessed. Honesty was better now. "Travers is getting a bit of his own back, now that Glory is destroyed and the world is safe." The name of the beast, the thing that killed Willow, that hurt Tara's mind, that held them all over the precipice- it had an eerie effect on the room. His warriors turned to statues. He hurried on, trying to out run the shadow that suddenly seemed beside them. "He wouldn't fire me, not after having to submit to the humiliation of just rehiring me and giving me a raise, retroactive pay, etc."
"So what's he doing?"
"He's changed my visa clearance. I'm no longer on a two-year automatic renewal. I'm on a six month, renewable by application process. Also known as the 'Don't get comfortable, don't forget who owns you' visa. That's what he's trying to say." His fists clenched. "And the six month period began in May. After... Well, after he thought it would be safe to upset us."
"So- that only gives you until November before- before they take you away?" Buffy's voice was emotional, for the first time in days, maybe weeks. Eyes instantly blazing, angrily tear-filled, turned up to meet his face. "They can't! Giles, we can't lose one more person!"
"She's right." Tara returned, two mugs in hand.
"They're not taking me away." He soothed. "That is- not definitely. Most probably not. Not while you're active. But, there is the risk, as long as he has me on that plan. I'm going to bite the bullet. I should have done it years ago- only..." He paused guiltily. "Only, slaying is an uncertain business. I didn't know how long-"
"How long I'd live." Buffy finished the words he couldn't bear to say.
"Yes." He cleared his throat. "I didn't have anyone over here besides you, the assignment. Now even if, God forbid, I should- hm, I should find myself without an active position, I have family here. California is my home, if not homeland."
"Beautiful stuff, G-Man." Xander managed a weak joke. "But what bullet are you biting?"
"Applying for dual citizenship." He sighed. "It's a long process, nowhere near complete in the four months remaining. I'm doing everything I can to speed it along, without Travers becoming aware by my pulling any strings. I have a meeting with an immigration advisor tomorrow morning, first thing, and I'm driving to Los Angeles tonight so I can be ready in the morning."
"That's fast." Dawn said. "When did you get the letter?"
"Ah. June. But I didn't notice it. In all the - all the other things. Mail hardly seemed important. I read it this morning, spent the time investigating a course of action, and I just wanted to stop over to let you know where I was headed so you wouldn't worry when I missed dinner, or didn't get home until tomorrow night. All right?"
"And you wanted to see us." Anya smiled. "It's a good thing."
"Yes. Yes, it is." He hugged Buffy briefly, walked to Dawn and stooped to kiss her forehead, exchanging a small smile with Spike as he straightened up. "Don't worry. We have time, and we have ways. I just needed to let you know."
With a few more questions and a few more farewells, he was gone.
"He's doing everything he can. We just have to wait. He has to wait too." Spike tried to soothe his restless lover, tossing beside him in the pre-dawn gray. "You not sleeping doesn't make it better."
"What about a - a marriage of convenience? Like in that Greencard movie?"
"Never seen it. And he hasn't knocked anyone up, has he?"
"No! Not that way. Where the guy marries an American to get citizenship."
"The immigration blokes still investigate that stuff, Buffy."
"But it stacks the deck in his favor. They would need super good reasons to deny him if he had a wife here. They'd be breaking up a family." She suddenly choked back a sob. "My family's already broken... If Mom were here- I bet she'd do it. I bet she would."
Spike thought that slightly unlikely, but anything was possible. He didn't voice that opinion. His girl was sobbing again, like she seemed to do at least once a week.
Tara didn't sleep well. She woke up early, she woke up many times in a night, reaching for a form no longer there. College was done for the semester, and she was out of the dorms until September, so she took the spare room in the Summers' home. The waking up was less painful. To be surrounded by loved ones, if not the one she loved most.
This morning she woke to tears. Pained, deep ones, ones trying to be stifled, she could tell by the way the air muffled in between the tortured sounds. She'd done it herself, often. "Dawnie?" She murmured, coming to.
"Shh... can't expect... marriage to a stranger!"
No, not Dawnie this time, but Buffy. Spike's words, fragments of sound she barely caught, were trying to soothe her sobs.
"It doesn't have to be a stranger!" Buffy's words were clearer, louder, more desperate. "He has friends!"
"There's you and Dawn. Anya and Tara."
Tara didn't mean to eavesdrop, but the sound of their names attracted her attention, brought her fully awake.
There was a long pause. "Dawn's too young."
"You... you?" Spike's voice was softer, sadder.
"No." One word, clear.
Tara listened for a moment, but nothing more was said just then. She guiltily moved from her bed, awake now, and forcing herself to start the day, heading for the shower, intent on waking herself up fully so she would not sink back into bed, back into lying alone, staring emptily at the ceiling.
She passed their door, just in time to hear Spike's voice. "I don't think it'd ever occur to her."
"I couldn't ask her. He never would."
"She doesn't even swing that way."
"She wouldn't have to 'swing' Spike! Giles would never expect her to 'provide physical proof', or something like that."
"Okay, okay, settle yourself, Luv. It wasn't my idea."
A pause. Tara was frozen by their door, guilt forgotten.
"If I lose him, too? I think I'll die, Spike. For real. I don't want to leave you or Dawn, or anyone. But I don't think my heart could beat anymore. I don't have room for one more hole in it."
The sobbing started again.
Tara darted toward the shower, frightened at Buffy's words, confused by the half-heard conversation.
Giles opened the door to his flat, smiling broadly at the unexpected visit. "Tara! It's good to see you."
He saw her every day. He meant it was good to see her out, dressed for the world, moving through it. "You, too." She smiled sweetly, took a deep breath, and tremblingly pushed herself into the room before she could change her mind.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I c-came to see if you heard anything."
He didn't have to ask about what. They asked every day. "It's still a six to eight month wait for the first exam and interview. After that, it moves more quickly."
"Is it different if you're married to an American citizen?"
"Oh yes, different process." He nodded and shuffled past her toward the kitchen. "Tea? I made scones, but don't let Xander know. He'll come over and eat them all."
He's sweet. He's kind. He loves us. We love him. It would help him, and help us. Buffy's not the only one who feels like her heart has holes inside, worries about living with them, with pieces missing.
"Yes. Please." She finally agreed to the tea, leaving her own thoughts for a moment. As soon as he began clinking about in the kitchen, they consumed her again.
He would never ask me. I couldn't ask him. I could ask if he'd consider something like that, then tell him I could help.
Willow? Willow, let me know if you mind, Sweetie. I know you don't. I don't even have to ask. You would do it too if you were here. You loved him more than they even knew. Tara smiled in spite of her anxiety, remembering her girlfriend's confession that Giles was one man she still had some sort of crush on, though her love for him was platonic.
We both loved you, so much. Giles and me. I think you were his favorite- you two bookworms.
"Just boiled when you came. I have jam and lemon curd. I suppose I ought to start eating Oreos and Coke, to prove my Americanization." He laughed as he entered, putting a rosewood tray between them on the coffee table, two cups, two scones, two little pots of jam and curd, and spoons.
"Oreos with tea, it works." She smiled shakily.
"What's wrong, dear?" He asked. That smile fooled no one.
What isn't wrong about this? Tara shook her head. "Nothing."
"It's natural to have bad days after a loss." He met her eyes. "I sometimes find it hard to be around the others. The family, the couple."
She did too, and nodded in spite of herself. "I love them."
"I know. As do I. It is hard, love or not." To feel alone, even in the midst of so much friendship. To feel that you're looking at things you'll never have again, never had to begin with.
She conceded. "I guess I try not to think about it- but yes. I-it is."
Silence, companionable, kind. Sipping together. The warmth gave her courage to pick up her first vein of conversation.
"Would it be easier if you were married to a citizen?"
"Hm? Oh, the citizenship." He was thrown for a moment. "It moves you to a different queue, one moved faster, and they do have to find some extremely valid reason for deportation or revoking a visa when you're married, lest they break up a family." Giles answered. It was only after all the information rolled so easily off his tongue that he realized her questions might not be general. "But I'm not married. There's no question of me finding a wife in a few months time." He didn't meet her eyes now, his voice slightly harsh. "No need to try to set me up with someone. The only person who might consider this is either unscrupulous, expecting some large some of money, or needing a ruse of their own."
I am not! "N-no! No, someone m-might w-want you t-to stay. B-because we need you here." Tara contradicted him quickly, tea sloshing in her saucer as the cup rattled back to the tray.
"Tara..." Startled, he trailed off as soon as he began.
"I- I know you wouldn't w-want to. Only, if it w-would help, s-someone might be w-willing to." Her stutter was worsening. She clamped her lips closed, bravery vanishing. "I'm sorry. I sh-should go. I don't know anything about th-this."
"Wait, please." He rose when she did. "Sit?"
She hesitated, but sat, and he slowly sank back as well.
He didn't speak for a long minute, a minute that felt like an hour. "Tara, if someone incredibly kind did want to do this, simply because they want me to remain in the country- it would be wonderful. It would also be unfair. It wouldn't work."
Her turn for silence. It would be easy to agree, go away quickly and never speak of it again.
And curse herself every day if he left them, if Buffy felt worse, if they all fell apart even more. "Why?"
His turn to hastily put his cup down. Why? How to put words to that which should need no explanation? "It wouldn't be a real marriage. It wouldn't be two people who love each other, wanting to make a life together."
"It could be two people who love each other- like family, like friends, who want to make sure life together doesn't stop." She told the floor.
"It would be a terrible burden to the other person!"
"Why? What are you asking this person to do that they wouldn't do already?" Tara's eyes found their way up. "To live in a house with you? To spend time with you? Tell the people at INS that yes, she does love you and she knows that you drink tea in one hundred and five degree weather, to name your favorite music, food, and which side you sleep on?" She blushed suddenly. "You're a good teacher, and you're smart. You could teach someone about you, and learn about them, in a few weeks, maybe days."
Is she offering for herself? Or is it for- the only other one could be Buffy. Buffy couldn't offer, not with Spike in the picture, and I can't ask her to choose. "It would ruin that person's chance for a normal relationship, by carrying on a pretend one." He said gently.
"I don't want any other 'normal' relationship. Not for a long, long time. Maybe never again." I feel safe with him. Enough that I could live in the same house and know my heart would just go on being broken. Not healed yet, just living through it, letting time do what it has to do. No forcing it to mend. No one pushing me to "get back out there", not that I know anyone who would. All my friends would know the secret, and they'd all get it.
"Tara." He breathed out her name hesitantly, blinking, removing his glasses. "I- I'm much older than you."
We've stopped alluding. Now we know it's us, we're talking about him and me. She felt hot, and her stutter reappeared. "I h-have an old s-soul. You're f-forty something. Not seventy. I'm twenty one. Older g-guys and younger g-girls, it happens all the time."
"Hrm." He felt hot as well, blushing. "Your preferences- romantically..."
"I've been with men before. I had boyfriends." Her heat flooded to her cheeks, turning them rose pink. "You wouldn't expect us to," she swallowed hard, "to d-do th-things." He nodded emphatically. "It shouldn't matter."
"I don't want you to live a lie!"
"I don't want you to leave! It's not a lie if we c-care about each other and we're t-together. It just wouldn't b-be a regular m-marriage."
She had tears on her face, one on each cheek. She shuddered gently when he reached over and wiped them away. He had not been like a father to her, because her father was horrible to her. "Giles" and "father" had never been synonymous or even comparatives. Giles had been nothing but good and helpful to her, always. He had briefly been just a father figure as she entered the group, until she began to see him as the wisest and oldest of her friends. "You have two rooms. How many nights of the week have we all ended up crashing here, or Buffy's, even Xander and Anya's? I- I don't think it's as h-hard as you think it would be." She forced out a final piece of her explanation.
Everything she said was true. He'd just never ever expected to hear her say such things, and he'd genuinely never thought about them. "I don't deserve a kindness like this." He said humbly.
"You don't deserve to get torn away from your family, either." She whispered. Her throat dried out over the sudden lump. "If you don't want to, you can say so. If it's- y'know- if it's me. I g-get that."
"No! No, Tara, dear, that's the kindest, sweetest offer, and I'm unworthy of it." He felt the world spinning, overwhelmed as he considered what she might genuinely be offering. "It's such a serious commitment, even if it's only a marriage on paper. I don't want to ask you to do that."
"You didn't ask. I did. I asked y-you." She bit her lip. People rejected her. Many times. This would be one of the few times she deserved it. She was asking a good man to live in a lie, and with someone clearly not his type.
His denials had turned suddenly to caveats, pushing her to consider, to withdraw from something that actually sounded simple when she presented it. "We'd have to make it look real. A ring. A small civil ceremony that wouldn't alert Travers, but would be valid and documented. You'd have to live here afterwards. We'd have to take a little honeymoon, or at least a wedding night away." His chest felt oddly tight, bitterness stirring in him. He'd wanted those things. Those things to be real. Now they would come as stage dressing, if they came at all.
"I know. And we'd need to do it soon. Maybe next month." Tara whispered.
"We'd have to tell the others."
"They won't mind."
They'd talked themselves out of words for a moment. "Do you? Think hard, Tara. Do you mind?"
"I mind the fact that people can make you leave us- that Travers is trying to push your buttons." Fury shone briefly in her eyes, and her voice was suddenly cold and firm. "We've been through enough. I want to do anything I can to help you stay."
He let go of air he'd clamped in his lungs, suddenly sharing her fury, suddenly not minding sticking it to his megalomaniac of a boss, muddying the waters, throwing up every defense he could. Even if the defense came in so soft and gentle a package.
"You'll have to humor me."
"You'd have to do the same for me." She shrugged.
"Would you come to dinner with me?"
"But... like a date?" She blinked. This was not about dating!
"I think we'll have to appear to date for a few weeks." He smiled faintly. "I don't think it will be unpleasant. We'll make most of them group outings."
"Oh! No, no, not unpleasant!" She shook her head. They smiled together, suddenly.
"It's not a good idea, this. It's not smart." He reminded her.
"But it won't be too bad."
"We brought pizza." Giles entered the Summers' home.
"Doughnuts." Tara added, holding out a bag.
Spike sat up slowly from the couch, Dawn's head popping up from the region of the floor by his boots.
"Both?" Dawn asked warily. "What's wrong?"
"Maybe it's something good!" Xander said hopefully.
"Whatever it is, it's about time. Buffy and I managed the store all afternoon, and you know Buffy isn't good at running the register." Anya snapped.
"That's because you won't let anyone but you touch money." Buffy huffed.
Spike finally spoke. "No blood?"
"I told you we needed to stop." Tara hissed.
"The pizza would have gotten cold!" Giles hissed back.
The snarking and muttering in the background stopped. Five figures stared at two. Giles coughed uncomfortably. "Dinner, then dessert. Shall we?" He resolutely headed to the dining room, Tara behind him.
"Something's weird." Dawn whispered to her sister.
"Something's always weird." Buffy mumbled wearily.
"Gonna tell us whatever it is?" Spike finally asked as the last paper plate was pushed away.
They exchanged a glance. Been trying to all through the short meal, but nothing seemed to come out.
"It's the visa papers, isn't it?" Buffy suddenly whispered. "They turned you down, or Travers told you he's pulling rank or calling in favors, and no matter what, you're on this six month cycle of waiting to see if our lives get torn apart!" Buffy crumpled her napkin viciously, anger in her voice making it quiver.
"No, no. No." Giles soothed. Then he cleared his throat. "Though, in a way, it's related to the visa application. Tara- Tara very generously tried to help us add another way to stack the deck in our favor."
"Tara has connections with the immigration people?" Anya demanded.
"I don't." Tara assured them. "B-but I heard that p-people who are already married to an American citizen h-have more success in getting approved."
Buffy's arm spasmed, her water glass splashed Xander as it spilled across the table. "Married?"
Spike darted a quick look at her. "You say somethin' to him?" He demanded in a whisper. "Or her?" She shook her head furiously.
"What Tara said is true. It's not a guarantee, but it is a different, and usually more swiftly processed circumstance."
"Well duh." Xander looked at them like he couldn't believe they'd just thought of this. "Am I the only one who's seen those web ads? Russian brides or Asian brides or whatever brides? Looking for love- and American citizenship?"
"You probably are. You're the only one who looks at websites where ads like that pop up." Spike snarled.
"Hey! Years ago- but I bet it's still around." Xander blushed.
"What kind of web- " Dawn was hastily cut off by Anya.
"That only works if you're outside, looking to get in. He's here, and he wants to stay. You'd have to find someone really shady, or really ugly and desperate to fake a marriage from this side."
Tara made a miserable noise.
"Or someone very compassionate and helpful. A good friend who would like to see this family- what remains of it, stay intact." Giles briefly gestured to Tara, who studied the tablecloth.
"You guys?" Dawn's voice reached inhuman frequencies as she stood and made a move to hug them- then stopped. "That's amazing! But...wait, Tara... I'm not getting something, right?"
"It's an act, Bit. An act for a bloody good cause." Spike nodded gratefully at the blonde as she lifted her head.
"Oh. That makes way more sense." Xander looked relieved. "Way to go, guys! That's a good ... no, wait. That's a plan. I'm not going to jump and say it's a good one yet. I mean, good idea, but isn't it kind of a stretch? Don't the immigration people do some digging to find out what's legit or not?"
"Then they're good." Buffy said firmly, in her Slayer-taking-charge tone of voice. "They've known each other a couple of years, and they have a lot in common."
"They do?" Xander asked.
"We do?" Giles echoed.
"You run a magic store, Tara's a wicca, and she works there part time- boom, office romance angle." Buffy impatiently ticked off reasons on her fingers. "You're a former museum curator, Tara's an art education major. You were a librarian and your apartment looks like it, she's all smart and reads those weird books about insect reflections and cosmological crap. You both like tea. You're both- alone. And it makes sense- I mean, the way you're playing it out to the visa people, that two lonely people who've lost someone finally seize the moment and get together!"
Tara looked at her silently, having already heard that this idea was on Buffy's mind. Giles on the other hand arched an eyebrow above the rim of his glasses. "You've given this a lot of thought, very rapidly."
Buffy blushed slightly. "I knew if you needed a bride, it would have to be someone you could trust with the Hellmouth-y part of your life. There's only four of us that could help, and three of us are unavailable." Buffy's tone softened. "Tara, I know you ought to be unavailable too. I- I don't know how you can even pretend to start over, after- after Wills."
Her eyes prickling, Tara tried to sound brave. Strong. Strong like an Amazon. "Because if Willow were here she'd do anything for Giles."
"And I for her." Giles found his own voice rather tight. "For anyone here. We've come too far, through literal hells, and deaths, to let some arrogant man behind a desk an ocean away push us apart. We go out fighting, using any weapons we can."
"All's fair in love and war." Spike quoted and sat back in his chair with a smirk. "When's the happy day?"
To be continued...