Title: The Trojan War
Summary: Season Seven. Giles and Buffy and a moment before the end. "They taught me how to deal with your death. They never taught me how to deal with your life."
Disclaimer: They belong to others, not me. I promise to put them back precisely as I found them.
Rating: PG-13. Very mild language. Imagery. All in a day's work on the Hellmouth.
Acknowledgements: William Shakespeare wrote "Troilus and Cressida," and it's his words that end the story.
The angry voices wake him.
"Jeremy, you knew this was going to happen at some point. Why don't you --"
"Celia." His father's voice was infinitely tired. "Please leave me alone."
The creak of his father's leather chair. Giles pushed back the heavy bedclothes and crept to the top of the stairs.
"Jeremy, please, let me --"
"Damn it, Celia!" The shout made him jump. "You can analyze me in the morning! Just give me some peace for one night, for God's sakes."
He flattened himself against the wall, trying to sink into the dark jungle-print paper. The rustle of his mother's robe as she passed by, not seeing him crouched there, in the shadows.
He crept down the stairs, footsteps cushioned by the thick carpet, and peered in the doorway of his father's office. Jeremy Giles sat in the leather armchair, vacant-eyed, and his white shirt was stained with scarlet.
Giles was five years old. Sarah was a bubbly presence on his periphery, a whisk of dark curls and a laugh that rang out a full octave, bottom to top of the musical scale.
He found out only later that she was the second one his father had trained, and the second he'd lost, in as many years.
He remembers the blood, drying on his father's shirt and on his hands and on his arms and in his hair, and the sandpaper sound of his father's breathing.
There were other girls after that, other girls who came to visit, chased him up trees and tolerated his teasing, other girls who died, one after the other.
His father came home late at night streaked with mud, or bleeding from a stab wound, or nursing a concussion, or covered in dust.
And he crept down the stairs, to listen, each time, until his father's house seemed bathed in death, and every memory seemed to be of sorrow.
Giles punched the heavy bag on the Summers back porch hard, harder than he needed to, feeling bone crushing into bone in his hands.
Buffy wasn't the only one who trained hard, and needed ice packs and aspirin cream afterwards. He'd had a lot of work to do to get back in shape for this fight.
One morning in England, he'd set his alarm early. He'd been feeling old, feeling like a creaky old man with a thousand nonspecific aches and pains. So he got up before dawn and ran, ran until he was doubled over, gasping, searing pain in his side, a half-dozen miles from home. He had to hitch a ride back to the flat.
But he got up the next day, and the next, and the next, until he could run those half-dozen miles and another half-dozen back, a marathon runner's regimen, almost without agony.
That first morning, as he stripped before his mirror and flung his clothes on the bed, he counted the scars from his days in Sunnydale.
The one on his forehead is faint, from the botched stitch job the doctors at Sunnydale Hospital did on him after Gwendolyn Post struck him with an African fertility statue. The medical care there always was a little spotty, and he thinks the day he was admitted with a head wound and what felt like his four-hundredth concussion was Take Your Idiot Child to Work and Let Him Suture the Gravely Injured Day.
Between the first and second and third fingers of his left hand, the skin puckered and shines where the gashes from Angelus' bindings had sliced into the webbing of his extremities. That healed on its own, unlike the mark from the lash across his back, which required, again, slightly inept stitches and frequent changings of sterile dressings.
"Chicks dig scars, G-man," Xander had said to him, trying so badly to cheer him as he lay in the hospital bed, staring out the window.
He'd listened patiently to the boy's awful jokes, thinking that, in another life, this awkward, loyal creature could have been his son.
Chicks dig scars, he thought now, remembering the bloody hole where Xander's left eye used to be. For your sake, I hope that's true.
His fingertips are a web of a thousand paper cuts. Turning pages too fast.
There's a spot on his right wrist that still looks like a rope burn.
A knife mark on the back of his left leg, remnant of the days of Ethan and Eyghon.
A cigarette burn on his thumb, from talking too much and not paying attention to the ash.
A smooth place on his knuckles where scissors found his skin instead of the wrapping paper. He gave her tickets to one of those insufferable ice shows that year, but wrapped the tiny envelope in a huge box, hiding his laughter as she rummaged impatiently through five gallons of little foam peanuts to find her present.
There's a spot, almost an indentation, almost a break, on his jaw. He has to feel for it, but he never forgets it's there. Her fist connected with bone, driving his teeth up into his sinuses and rendering him unconscious, just long enough to save his life.
He would not erase a single one.
He gave the heavy bag one last roundhouse punch and went inside.
Buffy was staring out the window, though what she was looking for on the deserted street, he couldn't tell. The younger girls were all asleep, tossing fitfully or snoring. He did not want to think about what Willow might be doing upstairs.
He stepped up beside her and breathed her in, the warm smell of orange and roses, and when he spoke, it was soft, and the words were not his own.
"'It is the purpose that makes strong the vow, but vows to every purpose must not hold.'"
She looked up and almost smiled. "Giving me homework there, Giles?"
"It's Shakespeare. One of the lesser-known plays."
"Troilus and Cressida."
"You know it?"
"I did go to college, Giles. I dabbled in a little freshman English. One of my professors was a freak for the obscure. Reminded me a little of you."
He would have left it there, left her to her silent watch, and gone stuttering back into the kitchen to sharpen all the knives, but she continued.
"Do you want to talk about Shakespeare, Giles? I could talk to you about his women, his attitudes about war, his use of iambic pentameter. If you want. I mean, we have all the time in the world."
Her voice was bitter, but for once, he refused to let it drive him away.
"And if you're telling me now that I don't need to fight this fight, after all these months of drilling it into me that I did, I'm going to scream, I swear, and I don't care how many vamps it attracts."
"That's not what I was trying to say."
He had nothing, then, and she turned away.
"You know, if my life was a movie, it wou have ended on graduation day.
"Happy ending. Task completed. Nice clean break. We all walk off into the world victorious and everybody else picks up their popcorn and goes home, secure in our happily ever after.
"But it didn't end there," she continued. "We had to keep going. We still have to keep going."
A car drove by, going fast, bundles of belongings tied to the roof. Its headlights cut through the powerless dark and faded into the distance, the muffler's rattle echoing down the empty street.
"Sometimes," he confessed, the words out before he could take them back, "I wish we'd lost one of these battles."
"They train us, you know, to expect and accept your deaths, or even our own, as part of the process.
"I watched my father lose Slayer after Slayer, and he loved them all at least as deeply as I love you, and he grieved their losses, every single one of them, as though they were parts of him cut off.
"And then, because he knew how, you see, he picked up and began again.
"The Council taught us to deal with loss. Not with victory. They taught us how to deal with death. How to fight it with every fiber of our being, to help you fight it, but how to confront it honestly, nonetheless.
"They never taught me how to deal with your life. I didn't know how to … live with you. I'm afraid I didn't do it very well."
Another car. Was it possible there were still people left in town?
"I know it hasn't been easy for you," she said. "We've been forced together for seven years."
"It wasn't always 'forced.'" Hating himself for asking. "Was it?"
"I don't know." She looked away. "I don't know what I would have done, given the choice. It's always been about … you know, having no choice."
He could hear the record breaking as he began, "If you had only …"
"If I had, if I hadn't, if, if, if!" She closed her eyes. "I can't do this again. I can't have one more conversation about how horrible it all is.
"And don't give me the 'We may all die tomorrow' thing. So what, really. I mean, convince me that our imminent death makes it more important that we rake over every single thing ... Just leave it alone.
"You of all people should understand why poking into open wounds doesn't make them heal."
"Of course I understand that."
"Then why not leave it be?"
Because all my life, he thought. All my vivid memories, my unadulterated joy, even my grief. My finest moments and my greatest failures. Every important part of the last seven years has you in it. For good or ill, you are in it, and I can't just cut your face out of the photographs.
And I can't walk to my death knowing that you don't know that, just because I know you won't care. I need you to know that for seven years of mornings I thought of you before every sunrise.
Car number three, towing a U-haul trailer with what sounded like a soon-to-be-busted axle. "God," she said to it as it passed by the window. "Get the hell outta here already. What have you guys been waiting for?"
"You know," he began, "In Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare depicts the Trojan War as a mess from which no one emerges with glory or integrity. Considering when it was written, the play is quite unsentimental about the horrors of war and the inequalities of love."
"I know. Everybody who's any good dies, except Ulysses and Aeneas, and we don't even care about the bad guys." She hesitated; he held his breath. "It was pretty depressing, actually.
"Do you think it will be that way for us?"
In an hour, the sun would be over the trees on the hill down the road from this house. Already the sky was lightening.
"We'll need to be ready soon," he said, and she nodded.
But before he turned to go into the dark hallway to blow the candles out, he reached out and kissed her forehead, her cold sweat clinging to his mouth, tasting of her fear and her terrible hope.
And told her, "You aren't the only one who didn't have a choice."
On one and other side, Troyan and Greek,
Sets all on hazard-and hither am I come
A Prologue arm'd, but not in confidence
Of author's pen or actor's voice, but suited
In like conditions as our argument,
To tell you, fair beholders, that our play
Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils,
Beginning in the middle; starting thence away,
To what may be digested in a play.
Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are;
Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war.