Feedback: It's like oxygen.
Notes: Emphasis Thoughts/Memories
"With any luck, they'll be sleeping for some time."
The Englishman's voice was little more than a whisper as he spoke to the redhead beside him. She could only murmur an agreement, her heart breaking again for the sisters who had conked out the moment they hit the soft, inviting fabric of the couch, worn out from their earlier meltdown.
After surveying the two still holding one another for several long, sorrowful moments, Willow turned away, unable to watch any longer.
"Giles?" Eyes brimming with tears for her friends, she spoke in a trembling voice. "What are they gonna do?"
In silence, he wrapped an arm lightly around her shoulders and guided her into the kitchen so they could talk more freely. The second they were in there, she turned around and threw herself against him, barely containing her own sobs.
"I... I mean... I've rarely seen Buffy so, so... what's the word? She's a wreck. A-and what about Dawn? I mean... did you see her? She fell to pieces. It's not fair. First Joyce, now... this. I just don't get why he never told them. It's so unfair... you know? They don't have anyone, now. Why, Giles? Why? Why did he do it?"
"Shh, shh." Uncertain of what consolation he could offer and feeling utterly helpless, Giles could only hesitantly hold the Wiccan close to his chest and rest his chin on her crown.
"He couldn't let her jump."
His words were murmured into her hair, but Willow heard them and drew back, lifting wide, wet eyes up to his pained green ones.
"But... but surely... there... there could've been another way..."
"What else could he have done"
"I-I don't know.. but I'm sure he could have found another solution"
The Watcher's voice was sombre as he replied. "He couldn't have done anything, Willow. You know that. He couldn't have cast a spell, or stopped time, or used superpowers to stop Glory. He couldn't turn back time to stop Buffy from being called; likewise he couldn't make Dawn's skin impenetrable. He was just a man"
Giles barely heard Willow's soft concord, lost in painful memories.
"...Just a man who chose to die because he wanted to give the children he loved a chance to live. After all, he had no way of stopping what was going to happen; he possessed no unearthly power that could have protected either of them, so he did what he had to because it was the only way to save them. It doesn't matter what his life was like when he was alive. When all's been said and done, all that matters is love and how you show it. And he showed it... he proved it... he proved his love through his actions. Regardless of how much hurt Buffy may suffer right now, one day she'll realise that he was only doing what anyone else who loved her would do... he was just trying to do the right thing." As he noticed Willow's look of surprise shift into that of dawning understanding, he hastily corrected himself. "Buffy and Dawn, I mean. One day they'll realise that their father did what he thought was best"
"But couldn't he have told them what he was going to do? You know, give them just a little bit of warning"
He shook his head in reply. "You saw the letter, Willow. Even he wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen. Plus, I'm fairly certain that his jaw may have objected to that course of action"
"You know... you should be careful saying stuff like that. Anyone would think that I'm an aggressive person"
Giles turned to the doorway at the sound of Buffy's tired-but-semi-amused voice.
"Buffy... are you sure you should be up"
"Way sure." She gave him the tiniest of smiles before fixing her gaze on her best friend.
"Think could have Giles all to myself for a little while?"
"'Kay." Willow's agreement was gentle, as was the smile that accompanied it. She gave her friend a strong hug before exiting the room, leaving Watcher and Slayer silently surveying one another.
"Did you mean it? What you said just then?"
Giles lowered his gaze as Buffy's question pierced the silence. When he looked up again, his expression was guarded.
"I said a lot of things, Buffy."
She folded her arms across her chest and leant against the wall, bright eyes conveying the sincerity of her curiosity.
"Is that why you did it?" Her question was met with silence, and unexpectedly, her eyes brimmed once more with tears. With a trembling voice, she pleaded, "Tell me, please?"
"Yes." The word felt like it had been wrenched from him and he cleared his throat awkwardly, before clarifying, "It is."
"You... you... did it because... you love me?"
He swallowed hard as he recalled another moment not so long ago when he'd been force to face his feelings for this young woman.
Bottom of Form 1 She'd come to him, full of fears and desperate to know how to avoid an early grave after badly losing a fight. Her voice was full a note of panic at the lack of information they'd been able to find. "If there were just a few good descriptions of what took out the other Slayers, maybe it would help me to understand my mistake, to keep it from happening again."
"Yes, well..." He'd attempted to stall, all the while avoiding meeting her gaze until he finally managed to construct a sentence that wasn't too painful to get out. "The problem is that after a final battle, that, er, it's difficult to get any, er... well, the... the Slayer's not...she's rather, um..." Well, it hadn't meant to be painful, but no matter how he tried, that sentence was always going to rip through him.
She'd looked at him, full of sympathy but for all the wrong reasons; and when she spoke her voice was soft and understanding. "It's okay to use the 'D' word, Giles."
He'd wondered about changing the subject - anything to avoid having to have this excruciatingly painful conversation - but he knew he couldn't. They needed to discuss this for her sake... and for his. It was time he faced facts, instead of burying them deep beneath his feelings. "Dead. And..." he'd swallowed again - not knowing how else to react to the feeling of having his heart ripped out of his chest at the admission he was making - before adding wryly, "...hence not very forthcoming."
Full of frustration, Buffy had returned to her task of flipping through the books before her, her movements full of agitation. "Why didn't the Watchers keep fuller accounts of it? The journals just... stop."
Giles had looked away, almost unable to cope with the anguish stirring within him at the thought of the confession he was about to make. "Well, I suppose if they're anything like me, they just found the whole subject too..."
"Unseemly?" She'd waited a beat almost as if hoping he'd correct her before in response to his silence, adding, "Damn. 'Love you, but you Watchers can be such prigs sometimes."
Too late, he spoke up, completing his confession in a pained voice: "Painful, I was going to say."
She'd fallen silent then, not knowing how to handle the truth he was expressing, before deciding to deal with it in her usual fashion - ignorance. Dealing with emotional encounters never had been one of Buffy's strong points.
He snapped out of his trance, and looked down at the still hurting young woman before him, realising that he hadn't answered her question. As he took in the desperate look in her eye, he wondered if he could trust his heart to her, or if it would be trampled on again. Compassion swelling within his heart despite his cautiousness, he finally gave in to the truth and stepped toward her, clasping her shoulders gently. His voice was soft and full of tenderness as he gently enquired: "Why else would I have done it, Buffy?"
The tears broke free as she let his words wash over her, a pinprick of hope alighting her heart as she half-smiled up at him. "Really?"
He nodded gently, encouraged by the look on her face. "Really." He absently caressed her shoulders while his honest gaze pierced hers. He drew a deep breath, and bravely - or stupidly, depending on how one looked at it - added, "Don't you realise that everything I've ever done is because of you? That I've done it all without question - without hesitation - because you mean so much to me?"
For the second time that day, Buffy felt the odd sensation of the bones in her legs disintegrating and she leant into Giles' touch, hiccupping loudly as her tears threatened to consume her. His arms slid around her and she fell easily into his embrace. After a long moment of feeling surprisingly contented in Giles' arms, she pulled back and gazed up at him, her drying eyes searching his for something that even she wasn't sure of.
"I'm sorry," she eventually whispered, looking away. "I-I didn't mean to...um, cry on you... again. It's just that," she paused for a second, trying to make sense of the thoughts tumbling wildly in her head, before selecting the one that stood out the most and voicing it. "I just... I never thought it was that simple."
Intrigued, Giles raised an eyebrow and wordlessly waited for her to continue.
"I-I mean... you know... it's..." She cautiously peeped up at him again amidst her stutters and shifted slightly in his loose grip, before once again struggling to explain her odd statement. "For... um, for so long, I had sleepless nights... and... well, they were... they were all because of you. I don't mean that in a... weird way... I just, I mean, I wasn't able to sleep 'cause my brain couldn't switch off. It was always still processing our..." she hesitated, mentally fishing for other words to describe what they shared, before reluctantly giving in and speaking the one that unsettled her the most. "Relationship. I never got why you did the things you did. I guess, I should have, but... I think, after Dad left, my confidence in reading people's... um, feelings... kinda got knocked sideways."
"That's understandable, Buffy."
Giles' soft understanding was acknowledged with the slightest of nods as she continued, knowing that if she stopped, she wouldn't be brave enough to start again. "Yeah, but still... I should've known that you were different. I mean, all those times I tried to figure it - you - out, I ended up confused because I kept focusing on the fact that you were my Watcher and I was your Slayer. If I'd just remembered that we're friends, too, my brain wouldn't have felt like exploding nearly as much. 'Cause, you know, friends love and protect each other, don't they? And... when I think of it that way... the way you see it... everything becomes clearer. It all makes sense and... fits together, you know? It's just..." She returned to her original statement with the slightest of smiles, "So simple."
He smiled affectionately back at her, and when he spoke his voice was full of warmth. "We've all been there, Buffy; struggling for answers and failing to see what's right in front ot us. I understand completely."
"Yeah, but..." Buffy hesitated, swallowing hard against the sudden threat of hot tears, "Look at what Dad did. I know now more than ever just how much he loves me... and Dawn. No-one sacrifices their own life for someone else if there's no love there." The still-raw pain branded on her heart raged, and she fought to keep her voice even. "When you tried to fight the Master; when you told me about Kralick... even when you warned Spike to stay away from me... how did I not see it? I-I mean that's friendship; that's love. I should have realised what it was instead of complicating things by trying to... justify it."
"Buffy..." Giles sighed her name as she drew a ragged breath, still fighting off tears. Lifting his right hand to gently wipe away the few that had broken free, he smiled tenderly. "It's okay... really, it's fine."
"No, it's not." Her voice trembled under the strain of holding back her emotions, so she added an emphatic shake of her head to impress her point upon him.
"Yes," Giles gently insisted, "it is." He lifted his other hand to cup the left side of her face so that he could train her gaze on him. "It's important to me that you know that everything I've ever done for you was in your best interests. Not mine and certainly not the Council's. Whenever I risked my life - or my job - for you, it wasn't because you were the Slayer, or because it was what I had been taught to do... it was always, always because I cared so very much for you - and when you care about someone, you put them - their feelings, their lives - before your own. Okay?"
Meekly, Buffy nodded, oddly aware of the mix of soft and rough tones in Giles' palms. Her mind drifted for a second, and she realised that in five years of working together... of friendship, he'd never held her like this. In fact, he'd never once touched her except when teaching her a new move... and she'd never reacted to any such touch this way before. Clearing away the confusing thoughts, she attempted to return her mind to what Giles was saying.
"Buffy... whatever you imagined, whatever it was that you thought drove me to do the things I did... it doesn't matter. What matters is that we're here now; finally being honest with each other. We've moved on, Buffy, we've all grown up... yes," he added at the teasing lift of her eyebrows, "Even me. Three or four years ago... even just last year, we would never have been at a stage where we could have had this discussion. But now... the time just seems right. I feel I can talk to you about this, and I think it's because you're open to hearing it. If I'd told you all of this before, you would have..."
"Freaked out?" Buffy offered.
With a soft chuckle, Giles nodded his agreement. "Indeed. Since the day we first met people have tried to label our relationship and I believe that we've adopted so many of these labels to an extent that we've struggled to put our affection for each other in the right context... I know I have."
Buffy nodded, shuddering slightly at the friction her movement caused between her skin and his. "Me too. If Travers had never said you had fatherly feelings for me... I don't think I ever would have thought of you in a fatherly way. But then the way you reacted to some of the stuff going on in my life... like all that stuff with Riley... that wasn't they way a dad would react. At least not the way I see it. And then there was the other extreme with Snyder making all sorts of sick implications, just looking for an excuse to kick me out... not that he was the only one. I mean, several people wondered why you and I hung out so much and... well, it was too complicated to tell them the truth, so I just let them think what they liked."
Shock flashed across Giles' face, replaced quickly by something nearing understanding. "So, that's why..."
"Anyway," Buffy continued, despite the urge to laugh at his expression. "Even though I knew that we didn't and would never have that sort of a relationship, the implications were enough to make me wonder why you got jealous about Angel and why I got so insanely jealous about Olivia."
"I completely understand that confusion," Giles murmured. "Snyder hinted what he thought at every available opportunity and, although I knew his imaginings had no substance, it certainly made me ponder why I felt so strongly about your relationships and why it hurt so much that you didn't see me as a 'man'."
"Giles, I never meant..."
"It's okay." He rubbed a thumb pad reassuringly along her cheekbone. "It's in the past. It's gone: forgotten and forgiven."
She shivered again under his touch, confused at her behaviour. "Thank you." She whispered, looking away for a brief second, before fixing her gaze on his once more. "You know, all this... I can't explain it, but... I guess, I kind of feel like I can move on and close this chapter of my life. You know? It's like I've been trying to solve these mysteries for so long and it's been holding me back from so much and now... well, like I said: I can move on now. I wish it had happened some other way... that dad didn't have to d-... you know..." Her voice trailed off and she swallowed against the sensation of impending tears as she carefully avoided the pain-filled word. "Um... j-jump... but, I'm glad we had this talk. It was... um... way overdue."
He gazed tenderly back at her, his thumb reaching upward to catch an escaping tear despite himself. It took a moment to structure a sentence as he silently wondered at his behaviour and the odd reactions it was creating within him. "I agree. You know, some - uh -" He cleared his throat awkwardly, "Sometimes these things are necessary in order to shake us into being honest with ourselves. Often, when we are faced with our own mortality, we react by promising to live better lives; settling old feuds and telling those we love how we feel. I'm not attempting to trivialise the pain you're going through right now," he hurriedly amended, "I just... well... I agree. what I mean to say is: I'm glad we had this talk, too. Not that I'd ever intended on it, but... it's good that we did."
Buffy grinned up at him. "Ramble much, Giles?" She tilted her head back and bit back a giggle at the confused expression on his face. "Relax, I'm teasing."
His features eased into an affectionate smile and for a long moment they stayed that way, their smiles gradually relaxing as they watched each other; each aware of the change in their friendship, yet neither confident enough to cement it. Finally, Buffy drew a breath, and spoke into the stillness.
"Giles, I... well... thank you." Hesitantly, she moved his hand from her face and lowered it so that she could lean in toward him again. "This has been... um... one of the worst days of my life, but... you... in a weird way, you made it one of the best, too. Thank you for being the best friend I could ever ask for." She bit her lip for the briefest of seconds in indecision and, before her courage could fail her, she raised herself on her tiptoes and planted a gentle kiss on his cheek.
"Y-you're.. uh... you're... welcome." He stuttered out in surprise. As she lowered herself to stand properly before him again, he watched her with interest; believing for the first time, that through whatever stood ahead of them and despite everything that lay behind, their friendship would go from strength to strength.
Putting thought into action, Giles tentatively wrapped his arms around her small waist, drawing her into an embrace - not of comfort, but of friendship. When she was close enough, he leaned down and whispered into her ear: "You're my best friend, too."