Title: Not For the Faint of Heart
Series: Somewhere Close By (3 of 3)
Originally Published: September 6, 2016
As far as apocalypses went, it could have been worse. Not by much. But it definitely could have been worse. Less fatalities than you might have expected from a battle so large. And, at the end of it, the Cleveland Hellmouth was effectively sealed for at least another millennia. But all of that was because Buffy Summers, Head Slayer for the Slayers' Council of Watchers, was possibly the most stubborn and fierce being on the planet.
Buffy held the front line so that rest of the slayers could fall back to protect their magic users and to wait for final stage of the plan. Then, once everyone was in place, she pushed deep into the Hellmouth. Normally, that would have been a suicide mission, but Buffy had an advantage that none before her could claim. Her way out wouldn't have to be the way she came in.
For months, since Giles had been able to find his lost Slayer in the middle of central London without consciously trying, it had become something of a game for the two of them to test this strange connection of theirs. Giles discovered that if he concentrated, he could pinpoint exact Buffy's location, even when she was on the other side of the planet for one of her trips. When Buffy was stressed or agitated, it just made it easier. They also found that it worked in reverse. It got to the point where Buffy could not only tell when Giles was somewhere close by, but also get a general idea of his mood. (She had become very good at knowing when to have a cup of tea ready for him.) She claimed wasn't that different from honing for vampires. But while they had figured their newfound ability might one day save one or both of their lives, neither ever imagined it could be the key to once again saving the world.
Trusting in her bond with her Watcher, Buffy had battled her way deep into where no living soul dare venture until she could feel a light tug from Giles to go no further. There, she held on, wounded and tired, fighting and fighting until Willow could open a multi-user portal to where Buffy was, based on Giles's specific instructions. He was the first through, to pick her up and whisk her away for medical treatment, while slayers and mages who had followed him completed the final of the seven seals. Since the seals would have to be removed in the order they were cast, there would be no way of accessing the first seal without removing the first six, creating a Gordian Knot.
It was quickly determined that Buffy was suffering as much from exhaustion as she was her battle injuries. Margaret Harkness put Buffy into a healing trance that lasted for nearly two days and insisted that Buffy recover at her own home in Somerset rather than in London or Devon. When Buffy finally woke, she found her sister lying next to her and Giles in a nearby chair, both asleep. She didn't recognize the room, but if she had the two people that meant the most to her close by, then she wasn't going to worry about the details. Buffy looked over longingly at Giles, but his chair was too far away for her to reach. Instead she turned towards her sister and gently smoothed back a few of Dawn's stray hairs.
"She demanded to be with you and no one could gainsay her. She gets her stubbornness from you, after all," said a soft voice.
Buffy turned her head to find her Watcher silently regarding her.
"I thought you were asleep."
Giles shrugged which could mean that he was only dozing or that he had indeed been asleep and her return to consciousness had silently roused him.
"Where are we?"
"Margaret's home. You've been unconscious for nearly three days."
"Sorry to miss the end of the show. No unexpected surprises?"
"No, everything went as smoothly as one could hope under the circumstances."
"How many?" Buffy asked, knowing that Giles wouldn't need clarification as to what she meant.
"Surprisingly few. Three of the slayers from Cleveland. Xander said you wouldn't have known two of them. The third was Cathory." Giles paused to let Buffy process that. Cathory had been a difficult slayer from the very beginning, with a talent for causing strife and discord. Worrisome behavior for a woman who was meant to serve as humanity's protector. Ultimately, Giles and Buffy had decided that sending her to the Hellmouth might instill a sense of responsibility and pride of purpose.
"Not exactly the ending I had hoped for her. But better a hero's death than a gradual fall into darkness, I suppose," Buffy sighed.
"Faith said much the same thing. More bluntly, of course."
"Cathory wasn't exactly playing well with others over in Cleveland either, huh?"
"No, it appears not. Kennedy took a particular dislike to her."
"Not even going to go there. Who else?"
"Angus. Died with his boots on, just as he wanted."
"How are the Lasses taking it?"
"Sorrowfully, but they have each other."
"No one else?"
"No. Many injuries, a fair number severe, but everyone should make a full recovery."
"Thank goodness for that," Buffy's exclamation was interrupted by wide yawn.
"Rest a little more," Giles said, in that warm, caring tone he would get whenever she was hurt. "There will be much to discuss now that the last known Hellmouth is closed."
"What about you? You can't be comfortable there."
"Trust me, Buffy, there's nowhere else I would rather be. I'll still be here when you wake."
True to his word, he was indeed close by when she woke again a few hours later. Even better, Xander and Willow used the multi-user portal to come to England for a few days, so Buffy was surrounded by those she loved. They all deliberately avoided discussing anything that could remotely be considered work related. That would all be for tomorrow.
Giles returned to London the next day, with Buffy staying behind to discuss reassignments. (Dawn reluctantly returned to school, but made Buffy promise to visit the following weekend.) There would be no reason to keep quite so large a headquarters on an inactive Hellmouth, which was good news in terms of the watcher shortage, since most could then be reassigned to London. It was more difficult in terms of senior slayers like Faith and Kennedy who were used to regular fast-paced action. In the end, Buffy wound up staying with Margaret for over a week, commuting to Cleveland via the multi-user portal, which was as much to test the portal as it was to facilitate the transition. Giles stayed in London covering things from there. Though they talked on the phone regularly, it was mostly shop talk, not anything remotely personal. It was almost as if verbalizing how much they missed each other would only make it worse.
It wasn't even that surprising that on Buffy's first day back at headquarters, Giles was stuck in meetings the entire time, but he escaped long enough to poke his head into her office.
"Yeah, that would be great!"
"How would you feel about Mexican? I know you like it."
"I'd feel a whole lot better about what this country calls Mexican if it was something other than dismal Tex-Mex. Heck, I'm desperate enough that I'd even take halfway-decent-Tex-Mex."
Giles couldn't help but smile. He had heard this rant before and, after his years in California, he really couldn't find it in himself to disagree.
"How about authentic 'people from the Mexican Embassy eat there' Mexican?" he asked, lightly.
"Such a place exists?! In this city?!"
"And you are going to take me there?!"
"Yes." Giles was outright laughing at this point. It was easy for him to ignore the slight fissure of disappointment that he hadn't properly conveyed his intentions when she was this excited.
"Buffy, you know that I'm no judge—"
"Are you changing?"
"No. And I doubt I will be the only one in a suit."
"Right. Then I'll need to go back to my place first. Where's the restaurant?"
"It's in my neighborhood. I'll drive you back afterwards."
"No way, mister! I'm wise to your ways. You'll drop me off and then you'll stop off at the office for something that clearly could wait until morning and stay for another three hours. I'll cab it."
"You can always stay over, you know."
Buffy paused momentarily to consider. Even though they had said they would talk about moving in together after the apocalypse, Giles hadn't brought it up again (possibly because they had rarely been alone) and Buffy was still conflicted enough not to say anything either. A week living in a home, even if it was not her own, made life in her dorm room seem near intolerable. Everything from her mostly uncomfortable bed to her too small shower reminded her that this was not meant to be a long-term solution. Yet, that only made things more confusing for Buffy, because moving in with Giles simply because she wanted out of the dorms was a terrible reason to do so. But what did one night hurt? If anything, it might clarify what she really wanted and what she actually needed.
"You know what? I think I'll take you up on that," Buffy said. "It's been hard being back in the dorm. Margaret's comfy guest bedroom has me spoiled."
"I suspected as much. I admire your fortitude for lasting this long, to be honest," Giles replied with warm smile that made Buffy wonder how the hell she was going to control her hormones. The man should come with a warning label.
"Meet back here at around six? Or on second thought. . . ." Giles's voice trailed off as he got a scheming look on his face. "Do you think you could stop by my office around 4:30 right before my last meeting starts?"
"Sure, who's it with?"
"The Old Guard"
"Wow. It's been a while since they demanded a meeting. And they're coming here?"
"Well, they were most amenable when I explained it was the only time I had open today and couldn't possibly make my way over to Mayfair as I had meetings right before."
"They were scared you were going to send me in your place."
"Precisely," Giles confirmed with a wicked grin.
"So let's see . . . 'Well, hi there, Mr. Stuffypants and Lord Buttbrain! So good to see you again! Giles, that reminds me. It looks my meeting might end early. I'd like to sit in, if it does.' How's that sound?"
"Perfect, if slightly smug," Giles laughed.
"Right. Less on the smug. More on the saccharine."
"Oh, keep the smug! I do enjoy it!"
"You just want to watch the Old Farts squirm."
"Too bloody right!"
Buffy did more than make them squirm. Her very presence made those former watchers turn white in fear. They hustled Giles through the meeting, agreeing with everything he proposed, and raced from the building not even a half hour since they first entered it. Giles later told Buffy that he owed her at least five dinners for that.
Since Giles suddenly found himself free, they decided to head over to the restaurant early before it got too busy. It was a good start to what proved to be a relaxing, fun evening. The restaurant was cozy and the food was all delicious, meeting Buffy's high standards. Their table was positioned in a quiet corner, so they felt a little more free to talk about slayer-related things without worry about who might be listening. So much had happened in the past few weeks and they were both eager to discuss them. Xander had already announced that he was moving back to London and wanted to resume his old role of checking in with the slayers in the field. That worked fine for Robin, since he never did really take to all the traveling. He was more effective as a teacher. Once an educator, always an educator and all that. Robin had even raised the idea that he and Xander might make good roommates and Xander seemed to be seriously considering it.
Willow was returning to England too, but not to London. She was going to be taking up residence in Devon with the Coven. Alone. Kennedy was staying on in Cleveland, because a sealed Hellmouth wasn't the same thing as a non-existent one. Nobody knew what that meant in terms of their relationship and nobody really wanted to ask. It was clear that the multi-user portal wasn't meant to be used as commuter transportation, after all. A week of constant use tended to cause headaches and unnatural fatigue. Buffy was pretty sure she preferred the aggravation of air travel.
As for Faith, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do, except leave Cleveland. The problem was that she didn't really have a place to go. London made the most sense, but she and Buffy got along much better when there was an ocean between them the majority of the time. It seemed that was holding true for Faith and Robin as well.
When Buffy and Giles mostly had exhausted work news, they switched to more personal interests. Giles mentioned that there was an exhibit at the Tate he was interested in seeing and Buffy offered to go with him, since it had been far too long since she'd been inside an art museum. While she was at Margaret's, Buffy had finally seen some of the new Doctor Who episodes. An old fan himself, Giles was excited to hear what she thought and they had a good long chat about that. (She liked it a lot, but still preferred the X-Files.) When it came to movies, Giles had finally seen that British comedy about a zombie apocalypse that Xander recommended and he had enjoyed it thoroughly, but the romantic comedy that Buffy had been looking forward to had proved to be disappointing. Giles reminded her that there was a new Pride and Prejudice adaptation about to be released and Buffy made him promise to take her.
All in all, it was a wonderful evening. The only thing that marred it was that there was a slight uneasiness about Giles. Or something wistful, maybe. It wasn't a constant companion during dinner. Just flashed here and there and then was gone just as quickly. If Buffy didn't know Giles as well as she did, she doubted she would have realized anything was amiss, though she couldn't quite catch the pattern of what triggered it. It reminded Buffy of times back at the Magic Box when she would have to cut one of their discussions short to go check on her mom and Dawn, but she wasn't quite sure if that was a clue or a red herring.
Buffy thought about it as she finished her dessert when she felt Giles watching her. When she looked up, his eyes were soft and fond. He looked like he was on the verge of laughing.
"What? Do I have some of it on my face?"
"No, you look wonderful. You're here! Alive! Just taking a moment to bask in the presence of my Slayer," he grinned. Unlike some of the heart melting looks he had been shooting her way lately, Buffy knew this particular smile as well as she knew Giles. It was the proud Watcher look he had been sending her way since she was 16 and still made her feel all warm and gooey inside.
"See, this is why I used to feel sorry for the other slayers. They would never have to be the 'one girl in all the world' but they also didn't get their very own Watcher to bond with."
"Used to feel sorry?" Giles asked, amused.
"Yeah, I was wrong. They do. The ones that start tapping into the deeper slayer stuff do. Look at Rona and Ellie Buckingham!"
"Yes, I noticed that Eleanor has taken quite a maternal interest in Rona, for all that she is only a few years older."
"Maternal? Or watcherly? I see Rona improving like crazy every time I go to visit. And Ellie's always there, supporting and advising. Being her rock in our insane little world. The same way that you're mine. I see our relationship in them."
"Buffy, are you sure? Because this has serious consequences, especially since our watcher numbers are still so low."
"I'm positive, but, Giles, don't worry. This is a 'beyond our pay grade' thing."
"What do you mean?"
"Look, we're providing watchers, like Merrick and Wes were to me. People who can train and provide advice, hopefully a bit more capably that poor Wes could when he first arrived. But you were different. From the very beginning, you were different. I had barely met you, but the moment things started going wrong, I went looking for you. It's like I knew that having you near would make things better for me."
"We are bonded. Mystically, I mean. Some watcher and slayer pairs do. No one has quite understood how or why. But I suspect it happened to us on our first meeting."
"Yeah. . . . And I think . . . Well, now I think that I might have Called you to be my Watcher. Or whatever force it was that Called me in the first place Called you to be my Watcher. When it looked like I needed you. Think about it. Suddenly, the Old Council decided that the Sunnydale Hellmouth needed a Watcher permanently stationed there? After centuries of ignoring it? And, of everyone that they could have selected for the job, you just happened to be in the perfect place at the perfect time to get the assignment. Sort of like how Ellie's husband found the perfect tenure-track teaching job in Chicago, when he had only been making some light inquiries to see if moving to closer to Rona was even possible."
"I never considered this before. I mean, yes, of course I believe that it wasn't just a matter of happenstance that our bond formed. That there was something greater at work, but I never. . . ." Giles shook his head, not just because of the deeper ramifications if Buffy's theory should prove to be true, but for the implications he, Rupert Giles, had been selected by some greater power to be the Watcher for Buffy Summers.
"Whoever it was who did the choosing," Buffy smiled, taking both of his hands in hers, "knew what they were doing. I cannot imagine how anyone could suit me better. Given the choice, I would Chose you. I will always chose you."
"Buffy, I'm British. Please don't make me cry in public," Giles replied, mostly joking. Buffy grinned back at him. "So you believe that when a slayer has reached a certain level of skill, a watcher is then selected? Someone with whom the slayer will likely mystically bond?"
"Seems like it. Look, we already figured that not every girl who is Called is going to go pro, right? Some are going to have other interests—like Vi, who is a med student first, slayer second—or some are going to be like Kimberly, the girl I was telling you about before. She's a good enough slayer, but she just doesn't have the deeper instincts."
"Yes. Though fortunately, with so many slayers in the world, that is no longer a death warrant. Any others besides Rona?"
"Giles, every senior slayer that I know—and you and I have identified about twenty so far—each one has a watcher by her side. And they are all showing signs of having mystically bonded. Give them ten years, they'll probably be able to find each other on the other side of the planet, just like you and I can now do."
"Maybe even sooner if they have our example to follow."
"There's just one problem with my theory."
"Faith. She doesn't have a Watcher and she's definitely playing in the big leagues."
"Well, that's Faith for you. It don't think she disproves your theory as much as she just does not have the temperament to work too closely with anyone. I imagine that she would find a bond similar to ours rather constricting."
Buffy was about to respond when the waiter reappeared, asking if they would like anything else. At their refusal, he then brought the check.
"You sure you wouldn't like a cup of coffee before we go?" Giles asked, not wanting the evening to end. Yes, it was true that Buffy had finally consented to stay over, but they would both likely retire to their separate rooms once they arrived. He'd offer to take her to breakfast in the morning, but it wouldn't be quite the same.
"Honestly, I think I've been in this country too long. All I really want is a cup of tea, but I don't think this is the place," Buffy sighed.
"Well, you're in luck. I have an excellent lapsang souchong back at mine."
"Really? You've been holding out on me!" Buffy pouted.
"Bought it for you," Giles shrugged, his grin warm. Buffy did her best not to blush. It was the small things like this that made her feelings for him so difficult to control.
"You know," Buffy said, quickly. "When Willow and Xander finally move back, we'll have to bring them here. Ex-pat Californians go into withdrawal faster than most of their northern brethren when it comes to Mexican food. You saw me when you told me about this place. I was like a junkie given the promise of a real fix!"
"Yes, well . . . I suppose it's an understandable reaction. . . ." Giles replied and there it was again. That flash of whatever it was. But it was already gone, almost instantly as it appeared, and he was relaxed and smiling once more. "So I take it you liked the place?"
"Liked it?! Did you not just seem be devour everything in sight?! It may even be better than Las Brisas. You remember. That Mexican place in Sunnydale? But it changed hands right after high school and it was never as good after that. I mean, decent enough. But not the same at all."
"Yes, I do remember some complaining when that happened."
"Oh like you weren't bummed too! But, you know, it sort of sucked. I finally had a boyfriend who I could go on dinner dates with – because, you know, Riley could actually eat and everything – and I no longer had a good date place. . . ." Buffy paused, as an all-but-forgotten memory from high school floated to the surface. Catching Giles propositioning a chair. Taking pity on her poor Watcher and coaching him on how to ask Jenny Calendar out. "How do you feel about Mexican?" And suddenly all the pieces fell into place.
"Giles?" she asked cautiously. "Is this a . . . date?"
Giles froze, which was response enough.
"Oh My God! It is! This is a date!" Buffy's smile was dazzling, but before Giles could even process what that might mean, it was replaced with a grimace.
"What? What's wrong?" Giles stammered out.
"I was going to wear this really cute dress, but I got self-conscious and changed into something that was less date-like, at the last minute. I should have kept it on!'
"But . . . you look lovely!" And she did. The skirt and boots were something he'd seen her wear to the office before, but she had done something to make the outfit look more appropriate for an evening out that he couldn't quite pinpoint. Something with her hair, perhaps.
"Yeah, well, I'll wear the dress the next time we got out and you'll see how wrong you are!"
"Next time?" Giles asked, unable to keep the delight out of his voice.
"Well, yeah! I need a do-over! I'm a much better date when I've clocked on to the fact that I'm on one."
"I can't image where you'd find room for improvement."
"Now, you're just flattering me!"
"Well, I would very much like that second date," Giles grinned.
As they left the restaurant, Giles tucked her hand into his arm, as he had so many times since that day Buffy had gotten lost, but for the first time Buffy let herself lean against him like she had been wanting to all along. They shared a grin that was equal parts giddy and bashful and continued their walk back to Giles's, enjoying the nice night and each other's presence. It all felt a little surreal to Buffy. It was like finding out that the one thing you desperately wished for was yours all along. Actually, that was exactly what had happened. No wonder she was so at sea.
"I'm sorry I got so distracted by the promise of Mexican food. I didn't even catch the date connotations."
"Well, I was quite oblique about it. I suppose I should have started with the 'I have a thing, you have a thing' and then led to asking about Mexican. I lost my nerve."
"But I do, you know. Have a thing."
Giles's pleased and bashful smile made Buffy's insides melt a little.
"I didn't know. But I had hoped that . . . well, that I might have reason to hope that you could."
"So what made you finally make a move? Was it because I got hurt?"
"No, that just nearly gave my decision tragic overtones. I had only just resolved to try, you see. Barely hours before, to be honest."
"You're kidding! So what made you change your mind?"
"Right before the apocalypse when we were at your flat—"
"Dorm," Giles, agreed with mock solemnity. "And we had taken a break from the planning while you made more tea. . . ."
"And you teased me about moving in."
"Yes. And you were so sweet and worried about me being happy. I realized that I was taking the coward's way out, settling for less than what I truly wanted, because I was afraid I might lose what I already did have. 'Faint hear never won fair lady' and all of that."
"Well, call me a coward!" Buffy laughed. "Giles, do you have any idea how hard I've been trying to not make a fool of myself over you?!"
"Oh, Buffy. Truly?"
"Do you remember that day when I got lost? I was so frustrated and worried. And then suddenly, there you were, the one person I wanted to see most in the world. The one that makes everything better. It was all I could do not to throw myself in your arms! I've been fighting my feelings ever since."
"Ironically, that was the day I finally laid down my arms and stopped fighting what I felt for you. I honestly have no idea how long I had been running from this. Years maybe."
"I wish I had known. I kept worrying that I was going to do something stupid and you'd figure out how I felt. And then you'd be all awkward and uncomfortable around me. Why do you think I fought so hard against moving in? My dorm room is not that appealing in comparison to your warm, comfortable home."
"What a pair we are! I kept trying to get you to move in since I thought that was as close I would ever get to what I wanted."
"Well, good thing we cleared this up or we might both have died of sexual frustration," Buffy laughed. Giles stopped short, nearly toppling Buffy in the process. Buffy then froze in embarrassment as it struck her that she had just taken things a bit too far. Not that having feelings of a sexual nature should have been all that surprising. They kind of went with the territory if they were actually going to make a go of it. But it might be a little early to cross that line so casually. Sheepishly, she risked a look at Giles. He was staring back at her, rather stupefied. He flashed her a quick grin when he saw her look of concern, but then grew serious again. Telling her that they needed to take a quick detour, he took her hand and led her to a small "off-licence".
"Wait here," he said. "I won't be a minute."
It wasn't until Giles had disappeared into the store that Buffy realized what he was buying and she covered her face to try to keep in the nervous giggles that were threatening to spill over. She kept her hands tented over her nose and mouth, but slid her hands down to uncover her eyes so she could continue to watch her man. (He was. He was her man now.) She let her hands fall to her sides as Giles left the store so he would be able to see that she was grinning, not hiding her face in shame. It was slightly embarrassing maybe, but she was far too happy to really feel it.
"No expectations or anything like that," he earnestly assured her, as he returned to her side. "I was just enjoying the maybes and possiblys and I didn't want a cold dose of reality getting in the way of that."
Buffy shook her head with a laugh at the whole situation. He really was the most adorable guy ever. Bracing her hands on his shoulders, she raised herself up so that she could kiss him. It was just a quick brushing of lips, but it sent tingles through both of them. Buffy curled her hands around the lapels of his jacket and pressed herself up close.
"There's no 'possibly' in this situation. It's a big, fat 'definitely'. But . . . you promised me tea," she demanded with a teasing pout.
"So I did and so you shall have," he grinned, slipping his arm around her to draw her close to his side. Buffy snuggled up against him with a pleased sigh. They went to courtly first date behavior to the comfort of long-term lovers in the space of a few minutes, but it felt like they were just becoming what they hadn't realized that they already were.
There was no feelings of urgency as they entered their home, as they both now considered it to be. (Buffy would never spend another night in the dorm.) There was no rush to the bedroom, not when they could savor the slow burn growing between them instead. It was a special night, their first night. Extraordinary in its ordinariness and in its promise of all the nights that were to come.
Buffy already knew where the tea things were kept and so she did that as Giles lit the fire in the library. He finished his task before she did hers, so he joined her, unable to remain apart from her for too long. He kissed her for the first time in the kitchen.
When the tea was finally done, they cuddled in front of the fire and made plans for the future. Buffy didn't want to keep traveling as much as she had, not now that she had a home of her own. Fortunately, Faith, if she was willing and Giles strongly suspected she would be, could take on that role alongside Xander. Buffy would still be available for the occasional visits, but the only traveling she was really interested in now would be when she could convince Giles to take a well-deserved vacation with her. Maybe they could go to Italy for a week or two when things had quieted down. There would be children at some point in the future. They should enjoy their solo time while they could. Well, they already had Dawn, but she would be off to university soon. As long as Dawn knew that she would always have a safe place to come home to whenever the world got a little too rough (and Buffy would make sure that she did), then all would be well.
They talked and planned until the fire was dying and then, in the soft glows of the embers, they enjoyed the peace of they found when the other was near. Giles's hands were in Buffy's hair, making her eyes flutter half-closed and Buffy casually stroked his chest and shoulders with the same rhythm.
"I love you." And she grinned at his slightly startled expression as he pulled back from her a little. After their long silent communion, verbalizing it had seemed almost a non-sequitur even to her. "We hadn't said it yet."
"Oh bless me! You're right! I love you too, Buffy. So very much."
Buffy pulled him down to her again and their slow burn began to spark up.
"Time for bed?" Giles finally asked, slightly breathless.
"Yes, I think so. The perfect time, in fact." And then she started to laugh. "We did it, didn't we?"
"Did what, love?"
"We found 'happily ever after'. I didn't think I ever would."
"Guess we couldn't get there on our own. We needed each other," Buffy grinned and Giles found himself too filled with emotion to respond. So he kissed her instead and then, hand and hand, they made their way upstairs.
In a few months, there would be a wedding and, in the decades to come, that would be the date that they would commemorate publicly. But it would always be on the anniversary of this night that they would have their true celebration in private. Because it was from this night forward that they considered themselves to be married.