He couldn't believe he was doing this, couldn't believe that he was leaving.
All the work, all the blood and tears, all over now. He was going back.
England seemed like a distant memory. More than five years on the front lines of a vicious battle had erased the remembrance of cool green hills; the cadence of conversations; the taste of his favorite foods; the smell of London fog; the comfort of a perfect cup of tea. Now, as the engines began to hum and whine, he allowed himself to yearn for things half-forgotten.
Friends that once were vivid and colorful had been reduced to a few lines dashed off every couple of months.
'Still alive. Still in America. Still looking for a decent cuppa.'
Notes that could never reveal all he felt. Half-lies, partial betrayals, one piled on top of another. Until he couldn't quite tell, really, the difference between what he felt and what he hid.
He couldn't tell his friends back in England about the demons and the monsters. Couldn't tell them about the blood and the tears. Could never reveal that not all the demons were outside his walls; not all the monsters could be slain.
Death isn't the worst thing that can happen.
He spent the eleven hour flight staring out the window, ignoring the ache in his gut. He smiled nice for the stewardess, pretending to care what he drank, acting as though it mattered what he ate.
Nothing can numb this pain.
All too soon, far too late, he arrived at the London Heathrow International Airport.
No one was there to greet him. No one knew he was coming. He collected his meager bags and hailed a taxicab. The twenty-five minute drive to his first appointment was filled by a monologue by his driver about the bloody mess Parliament was making. He made all the proper head nods and affirmative noises and was glad when the cab finally pulled in front of the address.
After instructing the cabbie to wait, he stood in front of a properly stuffy large brick building. Rupert steeled himself for this most unpleasant task.
He walked in, footsteps echoing on the marble floor. An older woman whose grey hair was pulled in a severe bun gave him a disdainful look. Rupert felt he should apologize for disturbing the absolute quiet of her lobby. Instead he approached her desk.
"Rupert Giles. I believe they'll be expecting me." He tried to speak quietly, but the hall caught his words and cannon-balled them around the room.
The receptionist furrowed her brow at his loudness, gave a sniff, and lifted her phone. She had a brief whispered conversation. Then she looked at him, giving a tight smile that never reached her eyes.
"They will see you. I trust you know the way?" Arching her eyebrows, she turned back to the computer screen. She had helped him, now he was beneath her notice.
Giles turned and made his way to the unobtrusive row of lifts. He pressed the button and waited. Taking off his glasses, he used his handkerchief to clean each lense. As he replaced them, he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. Whirling around, hands at the ready, he came face to face with a rumpled, tired old man. His hair was sticking out at odd ends, his eyes belied a horrific sadness. Even the man's posture seemed to be one of defeat.
Rupert was looking in a full-length mirror.
He gave a short laugh that died on his lips. Slowly lowering his clenched fists, he shook his head in disgust.
"No wonder the receptionist barely looked at you," he muttered. "You look like a street vagabond."
He tried to straighten his hair and had a brief, futile struggle with the creases in his pants.
Just as he threw his hands up in disgust the lift in front of him gave a distinguished 'ding' and smoothly slid open. Riding up ten floors gave him a moment to think. About what he had left behind.
What he had abandoned.
He had far too much time to wonder if he could find something worth living for here.
'I guess that's the question, isn't it?'
He shook himself out of his reverie. It was time to face the Council.
Standing in front of the door to the Watchers Council's inner chambers, Rupert knew a moment of pure dread.
Very few things in the Watcher's life had caused him to shake as much as the thought of this inquiry. Yet he had to be 'stiff upperlip-ey'. So, wishing very much that he was facing a mundane Apocalypse, he gave a sharp knock on the door.
It was opened by a young man who gave him a perfunctory nod and ushered him to his seat. A long table stretched in front of Rupert, each seat filled with a impassive face.
"Rupert Giles. Welcome back to London. I trust your flight went well?" At the opposite end of the table sat Quentin Travers. Rupert found he had to force himself to look the sniveling man in the eye.
Quentin didn't kill her.
"Quentin." Giles acknowledged him with a slight head nod, "You told me to appear before Council when I, er, 'deemed myself ready to leave Sunnydale'."
Sunnydale didn't kill her.
"Indeed, Rupert, indeed. Would you care for some tea?"
A Council flunkie shot out of his chair and was halfway to the tea service when Rupert's murmured refusal stopped him.
"No, thank you. I'm afraid I'm rather tired. I would just like to -"
Get this over with.
"- to get straight to the many questions I'm sure you have." Rupert began cleaning his glasses.
Quentin looked vaguely amused and waved his hand to the staffer. "As you wish. I will take my tea with lemon, Charles."
He waited for his beverage, shuffling the papers in front of him.
Giles looked around the table. Forty or so members of the Watchers Council stared back. Some gave him slight smiles, some glanced away uncomfortably. Most just looked blandly back at the ex-Watcher.
The Council didn't kill her.
After Quentin Travers had received his tea, sipped it with gusto, and proclaimed it adequate, the Official Inquiry into the Death of the Slayer began.
"Mr. Giles," asked a middle-aged Watcher to his left, "do you feel that you acted adequately in this matter?"
Well, she's adequately dead.
"Er, I don't know how to answer that, exactly."
"I think it's a rather simple question, really. Do you feel your actions in the matter of your Slayer's death were as they should be?"
Rupert couldn't fight back a bitter smile.
"Yes. I believe I acted exactly as this Council would have desired."
A women further down the table spoke up next. "Excellent. Now, Mr. Giles, is it true that you removed the threat? A hell-god known as -" she flipped through her notes, "Ah, yes. Known as 'Glorificus' or 'Glory'."
Glory didn't kill her.
Suddenly, Rupert found it very hard to breathe.
"I suppose you could say that."
"And you did this by means of disposing of its host body - a human male known as 'Ben'?"
All he could see now was a handsome young face, covered in blood and tears, eyes begging behind the fear. Then the coldness of Ben's breath against his hand, the brief struggle for life - a scene that lived on in nightmares.
Yes." Funny how sometimes words were so inadequate.
"And what of the Key?" An eager face leaned forward. Silence fell in the room.
The Key didn't kill her.
The Key - Dawn - is alive."
"What?" The face frowned down the table at him. "Surely you can't be serious. The risks alone -"
"No one touches that girl." Rupert had risen, his fingers clutching the edge of the table, his voice louder than he had intended.
All eyes were on him.
"Do you hear me, you pompous, overstuffed, stupid bureaucrats? If I hear one word, one inkling that Dawn is in any danger from this Council, I will tear it down myself."
The Watcher who started this line of inquiry had stood, his face livid. "So, pathological idiot is a real condition, I see. Rupert Giles, you are as reckless and arrogant as ever." He shook his finger at Rupert. "If you think for one instant that we are going to sit back and let you endanger the world over an old man's misguided sentiment -"
He never got to finish his sentence. Giles had reached him in four steps, thrown his first punch on the fifth. Suddenly the room erupted into shouts and flying bodies. Rupert just kept hitting the Watcher, over and over, ignoring the cries around him. He wanted to take all the pain and noise that was tearing him apart and feed it into this idiotic little twat.
Finally, several of the Council managed to pull him off of their fallen comrade. They threw Rupert back towards his chair, where his head caught the edge of the table. Blood began flowing down his brow and into his eye, obscuring the sight of the victim being carried out of the room. He sat back into the chair, breathing hard, waiting to be ejected from Council Headquarters.
He didn't care.
After several minutes, someone threw a rag at him. He held it to his wound.
Quentin Travers broke the silence. "Well, that was unnecessarily vulgar. Liam was out of line, but there really wasn't any need to pummel him, Rupert."
Rupert looked up. Quentin had the audacity to wink at him, like two old friends sharing a joke.
"A good enough Watcher, but he does tend to shoot off at the mouth. Anyway, let's finish this. I'm sure you want to go back to your life."
She was my life.
But they were talking again, asking questions, making notes, passing papers as if any of this mattered. How could they sit there so smugly, so serenely, when he was screaming inside?
After what seemed like days, Quentin looked up at him and smiled.
"Very good. Just one more thing, and we'll be finished here. We, er, really do need to discuss more fully the matter of the Key."
Giles leaned forward. "I think we're quite done now, Quentin."
"Now see here, Rupert. We all know that this is a difficult time for you. It's quite obvious that you were too attached to the girl. But she was a Slayer. You were, in the end, her Watcher. You carried yourself as your training demanded. We all feel for your pain. But Slayers die, Rupert. Slayers rise up, they are trained, and they die; and we are there to Watch them. That is the natural order of things." Quentin smiled. "But I'm sure you will be pleased to know that the Council is proud of how you handled yourself with a most difficult Slayer."
He'd killed her.
Standing quickly, Giles threw himself through the doorway and raced down the hall. He couldn't seem to get out of the building fast enough.
Running past the open-mouthed receptionist, he exited out into blessed freedom. He stood, gulping air, and found he couldn't stop shaking.
He'd killed Buffy.
He finally brought himself under control enough to get back into his cab and give him directions to his flat.
"You ok?" The driver looked at Giles curiously. "You're bleedin'. Cho get inna fight or somethin'?"
"Yes, something like that. Now, let's go before this gets ugly...er." A member of the Council had just run out onto the sidewalk. Rupert sunk lower in his seat. "Too late, then. Right. Let's just go."
He lugged the suitcases up three flights of stairs, fumbled for a minute for the disused key, and at last swung open the door.
"Welcome home, Rupert," he muttered to himself.
Flipping on lights, crinkling his nose at the musty air, he throughly checked the flat for unwelcome visitors.
"Old habits hard to break, I see." Giles smiled grimly, and wondered for a brief moment when he would forget to carry a stake in his jacket pocket or keep an axe under the bed.
The small flat in central Bath had been inherited from his parents. He had a housekeeper stop by twice a month to make sure the dirt didn't take over. He had notified her that he planned to come home and requested a few essentials be put in the cupboard.
He went to the kitchen and located a bottle purchased for this very moment. He did not want to unpack. He didn't want to call the few people who would care he was back in England. He didn't want to make the bed or wipe down the dust.
Rupert Giles wanted to sit in the dark and get thoroughly pissed.
The sun had just come up over the idyllic town of Bath. Birds were singing, people were stirring, and Rupert woke up very much hung-over. He looked at the half-empty bottle.
"I swear," he said, very, very quietly so as not to make his head fall off, "this is the last time I buy Scotch on sale."
As the morning sun blared in the windows, Rupert groaned and struggled to sit up. His mouth felt like cotton and his eyes were glued together. Sometime during the course of the night he'd fallen off the couch in a very undignified manner. His neck had a painful crick and his glasses were nowhere to be seen.
"Bloody hell," he said. His voice seemed to reverberate in his foggy brain. The sound of the water he poured into a glass was painful. Rupert pulled a bottle of aspirin out of his bag and took four. With any luck he'd pass out again by sundown.
With any luck he'd never wake up.
This time he managed to make it all the way to the bedroom before collapsing. Congratulating himself on his prowess, he lay back on the bare mattress and contemplated trying to make tea. He had almost decided that the task was far too daunting and he'd just have to lie here and die of hunger when the phone rang.
His head exploded into a million little pieces. All he could concentrate on was stopping the horrible sound.
"Bloody hell!" he said again, following the ringing into the living room. He located the receiver.
"Yes? Hello?" Giles squinted as the sun assaulted his tender eyes. His head began to throb.
"Rupert? Rupert Giles?" the voice squawked.
"Yes, who is this then?" Touching his fingers to his forehead, he saw that his cut had begun bleeding again. Taking the receiver with him, he stumbled about the flat, looking for a first aid kit.
"It's me! Ned! You wanker, why didn't you tell us you were back in town?"
"Ah, Ned. Well, I only just got back." He'd finally found some band-aids and antiseptic ointment. Juggling the phone and the ointment he managed to get most of the antiseptic onto the cut.
"Right. Claudia said she saw lights on in your flat last night. Did you know, she got herself a place just across the square. Anyway, we were worried about robbers and the like. Coo! Can't believe you're back, mate!"
"Yes, it is rather...bewildering." Giles now fixed the band-aid to his forehead.
"What are your plans for today, then? The lot of us were going to this great pub. Want to join up?"
Rupert was about to refuse when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. His bloodshot eyes underscored with bags, an angry red welt partially covered by a band-aid, rumpled hair, and glasses hanging crooked. He was a mess.
He needed to move on.
"That sounds good. When and where?"
He made arrangements with Ned to meet at the pub around eight. He jotted down the directions and said his goodbyes.
First order of business, then, would be to get rid of this hangover. That meant strong tea and food.
Rupert showered quickly and changed into some rumpled clothes. Making a mental note to unpack sometime that afternoon, he headed out into the busy town square.
The aspirin had taken the edge off the headache, but the bright sun still made him wince. He walked the block to a small corner shop. Ducking inside the cool, dark interior, he grabbed a basket and began throwing things in.
Tea he had back at the flat. His task now was to find food that didn't make him nauseous.
He grabbed a package of pastries and a small container of milk. He bypassed the meat products, grabbing instead some cheese and crackers. With only a moment of hesitation, he added a bottle of decent wine. One never knew when alcohol would be in order, but he had no desire to repeat last night's binge. Good wine could produce euphoria without the unpleasant morning side affects.
Taking one last glance around the shop, Rupert made his way to the counter. An attractive woman was stocking the shelves just behind the register. Unlike most of these shops there was no tobacco or trashy magazines at the checkout. Instead, there stood row after row of containers holding what looked like dried herbs.
Giles set his basket down on the counter. The woman turned around and flashed a sunny smile at him.
"Hello. Did you find everything alright?"
"Yes, I believe so." Giles tried to smile back, but it looked more like a grimace. His headache and dizziness were regrouping.
"Is there anything the matter, sir?" The shopkeeper's brow furrowed in concern. "Can I help?"
"No, no. I'm fine," he shook his head and immediately groaned. That had been a mistake. "I think I just had a little too much to drink last night. And its been a while since I had a hangover."
It had actually been about two years since his last memorable binge. Two years since he had lost his librarian position due to lack of a school. And two years since he had been officially fired from his Watcher's position. That was what precipitated the drinking. To be honest, he hadn't been that good of a librarian. But being a Watcher - that had been his purpose. She had been his purpose.
He drank to hold back time.
The woman made a sympathetic noise, then turned and scanned the containers behind her.
"Ah! I knew I got some more in." She pulled a clump of small, yellow flowers out of a jar. "This is a crackerjack hangover remedy." She put the sprig into a plastic bag. "Just crush the flowers into your tea. You'll feel better in no time."
"That's very kind of you." He examined the flowers more closely. "Mahonia wilcoxii? I thought it was just for liver complaints."
"Someone who knows their herbs. I'm impressed," she smiled. "My name is Gwendolyn Callidius."
"Rupert Giles. I'm pleased to meet you." He winced again as the bell above the door clanged, announcing another customer. "I just wish it were under more flattering circumstances."
"Well, I'm sure you could persuade me."
Giles' brain was foggy from grief, alcohol, and lack of sleep. He just stared at Gwendolyn stupidly.
"Er, I'm sorry?"
"I believe I was flirting with you. This is the part of the conversation when you ask me out." Gwendolyn grinned at him. "And my answer will be yes, if that helps at all."
"Right," he struggled to catch up to the conversation, which had obviously gotten out of his control. "Er, yes." He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses. "Gwendolyn, would you - that is, some old friends and I are meeting at the Pig and Fiddle. Would you care to -"
"Love to. And call me Gwen. Gwendolyn is quite a mouthful." She began to ring up his purchases. "I've never seen you here before. New in town?"
"No. Well, yes. I've been overseas for the last five years, on business of a sort."
"Yes." He'd never cleaned his glasses quite so well before.
"What brings you back to Bath?"
"My business was - finished."
He'd finished it.
"Ah," she met his eyes, seemed to read something in them. Gwen opened her mouth as if to say something, then thought the better of it. She looked down at his purchases. "That'll be 14 pounds."
Rupert dug in his pockets for the currency.
Gwen tried to lighten the mood. "So, single guy surviving on pastries, cheese and wine? That's no way to live!"
"Why not? It worked for the French." Giles tried to smile, to show that his melancholy had nothing to do with her. He handed her the money and picked up his bags. "We're meeting at eight. Do you know the pub?"
"Yeah, it's a good one," she smiled. "Well, Rupert Giles, formerly of America, it was good to meet you. And I look forward to tonight."
He nodded, smiled back, and managed to walk out the door without making a complete idiot of himself.
Two hours later, Giles was on his fifth cup of strong English tea. He had set up his stereo and Pink Floyd was now keeping him company.
After drinking a cup of tea infused with the Mahonia wilcoxii, his head had cleared. For the first time since arriving in England, he took time to really process events.
His behavior at the Council brought a blush to his face. Not that the git hadn't deserved a good beating, but it had been years since he'd lost control like that.
And why hadn't Council thrown him out? Quentin had been far too jovial, considering their last meeting.
Suddenly it dawned on him. They needed him. Or, rather, they needed his information on the Key. That's why Quentin hadn't defended Liam's talk of 'disposing' of it. He wanted to use it.
"Not bloody likely," he said. The thought of that addle-minded fool getting his hands on Dawn made Rupert's blood pressure rise.
In a fit of renewed anger, he reached for his jacket. He'd just go back to headquarters, set this matter straight. No Council involvement in Dawn's life. No studying, no poking or prodding.
Something in the inside pocket gave him pause. In his hand was a dime-store variety greeting card. On the front a cute bear was waving goodbye.
All thoughts of Council treachery left his mind. He sat on the couch and opened the card.
On the inside were messages written in shaky letters.
"We'll miss you Giles! Try not to have too much fun without us!"
"Good luck in England! Bet you can't wait to get us out of yourhair, huh?"
"Don't worry about your money. And try not to summon any demons."
"Thanks for everything, Giles. Really, we'll be alright. Don't worry!"
"Hope everything works out ok for you. I'll call you if I need anything. We love you, Giles!"
He clutched the card like a lifeline.
They were out of his life.
Messages from a life that was no longer his. He had to get on with his life, to find out who he was apart from Sunnydale.
Apart from her.
For most of his life he had railed against becoming a Watcher. He had tried everything to get away from his overbearing father. And now he would give anything to be able to turn back time. To be her Watcher again. To react just a bit faster, to understand a moment quicker. To take care of things.
Instead of standing by and watching her die.
Rupert allowed the tears to fall then. The tears he'd been holding back for three months, because he had to be strong.
Now there's no one to be strong for.
Nothing had prepared him for the grief. Watchers were trained in combat, in research, in ancient languages and spells. They were told how to identify adversaries, how to formulate battle plans and send their Slayers off to be killed.
But they were never told what to do afterwards. How to behave after their heart was ripped from their chest.
He had loved her like a daughter.
Giles gave himself over to the grief, to the pain. He welcomed it.
He deserved it.
Watching the people move about in the square below, thinking about a town half a world away, he mourned her.
Hours passed, his tea grew cold, Pink Floyd's final strains died away as Rupert relived five years of memories. The first time he saw her. Her first kill. Her smile.
Her hurt at his betrayal.
The way she laughed at him, teased him.
How she stood up to the Council.
How she loved so fiercely. He remembered her tears when Angel turned, her courage at facing him.
How she didn't need him.
He lingered over each memory, because in these memories, Buffy lived. He remembered her strength, her heart.
Her broken body.
"I killed her," he said. His heart breaking, his soul weighed down with guilt, he slid to the floor, hiding his face in his hands. "Oh God, it's my fault she's dead. Glory didn't kill her. The Council's stupidity didn't kill her. I did."
His broken sobs filled the room.
Rupert stood in the bathroom, attempting to make his face more presentable. He'd shaved his day-old beard and dashed cold water on his puffy eyes. His cut had finally stopped bleeding and would probably be healed in a few days. For now, he just looked very much the rogue.
He was just about to make some lunch when the phone rang. Wondering who would be calling, he answered.
"Giles? Its - its Willow."
He quickly checked his watch. It was something like four in the morning there.
"Willow? Dear Lord, is everything alright?"
"Yeah. Well, there were some Hellions..."
"Is everyone safe?" he cut in sharply. Visions of Dawn lying, bleeding -
"Oh, no, we're all ok here. I - I have some good news." She sounded nervous.
"I could use some right about now."
Silence, complete and utter, descended on the room. Rupert sunk onto the couch, mouth hanging open.
"Giles? Did you hear me? Buffy, she's back. We brought her back, Giles!" He could practically see Willow's beaming smile.
"What?" His brain wasn't wrapping around this like it should. "You - you did what?"
"We worked a spell. We've been working on it all summer, but last night - poof! We did it!" Willow was so excited her words were falling on top of one another. "Aren't you happy?"
"Dear Lord." Giles grabbed his glasses and started frantically cleaning them. "She's - alive?"
"Yes. Isn't it great?"
"You'll come back now, won't you?" Her voice held some anxiety. "I mean, Buffy's back, and she's going to need you again."
"Yes, yes of course. It will take me a few days to make the arrangements, and - dear Lord."
"I know. Pretty crazy, huh?"
"Yes, indeed. I'll be back as soon as I can. Tell Buffy that."
"Of course. See you soon Giles!"
"Right," he hung up, distracted.
It can't be.
It was impossible.
Hope is a fool's curse.
That night, he met his friends at the pub. Keeping an eye out for Gwen, he bought a round.
"So, Rupert, are you back for good?" Ned asked.
"No, actually. I just got word today that I need to go back. I'll be leaving in a few days."
A groan sounded from his friends. Giles smiled, took a sip of beer. He wasn't part of this circle anymore. What did they know of death and demons and the end of the world?
As the night wore on, he drifted further away from the noisy group.
"So, not one for conversation, eh?" A smooth voice came from his right. "Bit of a loner tonight?"
He smiled. Gwen had found him. He signaled for the barkeep and turned to face her.
She gave him a look. "You're hurt."
Giles touched his head. "I'm not hurt; it's just a scratch."
"That's not what I meant. Your eyes tell me you're grieving. Do you want to talk about it?"
"I don't think you'd understand most of it."
He shook his head, took another drink. "It's not normal stuff. I deal with things that most people can't even imagine."
She just sat for a moment. He could see some internal struggle on her face.
"Rupert Giles, I'm going to tell you something. A secret that I guard closely." she leaned forward. "I'm not what I seem. I moved to Bath a year ago to take care of my ailing aunt. Before that, I lived in a nice house out in Devonshire."
He gave Gwen a look. "I don't see anything remarkable about living in Devonshire."
She smiled. "In Devonshire there is a powerful coven that I am a part of. I'm a witch." Seeing the poorly hidden surprise on his face, she continued. "As you can well imagine, that's not something I ordinarily tell people on the first date," she shrugged. "But I could tell you had some sort of power, the moment I met you. That, coupled with your knowledge of ancient herbs and my infallible sense of people's character, made me think I could tell you this without imminent threat of my burning at the stake."
Rupert sighed, and removed his glasses. He took out his handkerchief and began cleaning them.
Gwen waited a moment. "Do you want to talk about it?"
He found, to his amazement, that he really did.
So, sitting in a noisy pub, he told Gwen everything. How he'd come to be a Watcher, the mistakes he'd made, the last year of the battle.
He spoke, for the first time, about Buffy's death.
About his guilt.
Then he told her about the remarkable phone call he'd received.
"I know that it's possible, to raise the dead." Giles shook his head. "But Willow, she's just a child. I never imagined -"
"There would be a better chance than usual because Buffy didn't die from natural causes." Gwen toyed with her empty glass. "But that's power, Giles. Power beyond what most people can handle. And it's messing with the laws of nature. Damn," she sighed. "And I really was hoping that this would go somewhere."
He looked at her in confusion.
"You have to go back, Rupert." She took his hand. "They've messed with powers that are better left alone. They've meddled with the natural order."
Gwen reluctantly released him, stood up and pulled on her coat.
"The thing about magic, Rupert, is that there are always consequences. Always." She leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "If you ever need us, don't hesitate to call. And I have the feeling you will." A beautiful smile and she was gone.
Rupert Giles boarded the airplane, inhaling the stale air and faint smell of cleaning fluids.
He was going home.
Disclaimer: Rupert Giles and company belong to Joss Whedon. The idea for this plot comes from Season 6, Bargaining Pt. 1 through Flooded and was fleshed out by my poka-dotted plot bunny, Hubert.
Author's Note: Written for Cordeliasghost. Much love to HonorH for pointing out my little mistakes and to J. for the beta. Anything else wrong is my fault. Hubert will dance for reviews.