Pairing: Angel & Giles
Summary: Of course it's death that brings them together. Buffy's death.
AN: written for Mer aka stakebait. This is what she asked for: "Giles/Angel: Any time after BTVS season 2, dealing (or deliberately not dealing) with what Angelus did to Giles."
Many thanks to itsabigrock and wesleysgirl for betaing this.
The insistent ringing, when it finally drills through his drunken haze, makes screeching chalk on a blackboard sound like chamber music. Has the doorbell always been this shrill? Clutching his aching head, Giles pushes himself off the sofa and staggers towards the front door, knocking over an empty glass that sits on the floor next to the sofa. It skids across the floor and disappears under the book shelf.
He remembers drinking steadily until about two last night. After that? Tabula Rasa. He squints at his watch, or tries to, because his wrist is bare. He must have left his watch in the bathroom, or maybe on the living room table. Never mind, he doesn't need it. It's still dark, and he's still drunk. Less than two hours till sunrise. He's a watcher. It's his job to know.
After a cautionary glance through the spy hole, Giles opens the door. The identity of his late visitor comes as no great surprise.
"Where is it? I can't find it."
Straight to the point. No 'How are you holding up, Giles?', no 'Sorry about the late hour.' Angel was never one to mince words.
"It was necessary to conceal it. We couldn't allow word to get out," Giles explains.
Angel nods. Of course he understands.
As usual, the vampire's features are rigid as though hewn from a block of marble, but Angel's dark gaze flickers past Giles's shoulder to the stairs and upwards, then back to Giles's face.
If Giles had known Angel was coming tonight he would have put Jenny's photograph where her killer could see it.
Giles rubs his chin, aware that his two day stubble makes him look scruffy, but grief has left him too raw to feel embarrassed about trivialities.
Angel shifts on his feet, impatient and restless, but he doesn't speak. He doesn't have to. Giles knows what Angel wants. He also knows that Angel doesn't like having to beg for favors – especially from him.
Giles could wait it out, could force Angel to put his request into words, but decides against it.
"Very well, I'll take you. Wait here." Giles closes the door in the vampire's face. Did Angel expect Giles to invite him into his home? Giles doubts it.
As he's standing in his silent apartment, one hand gripping the handrail to stay upright, Giles is assaulted by the fragrance of roses, of petals long withered and gone, swept up and bagged as evidence.
For a few drawn out seconds he doesn't know what to do. Get changed, yes. He swallows a couple of aspirins, then puts on a clean shirt and clean trousers. Matching socks. Tie. He takes his time.
To shave or not to shave? Not really a question. He has no intention of visiting Buffy's grave looking like a down-and-out. Stuffy? Quite. And rather stiff upper lip-y, as Buffy would call it. But anything else would be highly improper.
Jacket, keys, stake. Then one last sweeping glance through the cluttered living room….
There. Two nights ago, Spike forgot his empty silver flask on Giles's table. It's still sitting there now, right next to a near-empty bottle of cheap Bourbon that Giles didn't get to finish last night. Frightful stuff, but you don't drown your guilt and grief with Single Malt. After a moment of hesitation, Giles picks up the flask and fills it from the bottle before slipping it into his jacket.
Finally, Giles steps outside. Angel is still there, radiating impatience. Behind him, at the curb, stands a gleaming black 1967 Plymouth GTX Convertible.
"Yours?" Amazing how a world of meaning can be crammed into one word: incredulity, mockery, derision…
"It, uh… was a bargain." Angel fidgets.
"You drive." Giles knows full well that he's not fit to drive himself.
Sunnydale has been asleep for hours. Its engine a low rumble, the Plymouth whizzes through a town that's gloomy and silent, just like its passengers. The air is fresh in Giles's face and he can feel himself sobering.
He knows he could talk to Angel about the hellish creatures that squeezed through the rift when Dawn's blood tore apart the fabric of the universe, and about the fact that some of them may still be at large; about Glory's minions, and the Council's role, and the death of the Knights of Byzantium. Could talk shop for hours.
Or he could talk about Tara washing Buffy's broken body and combing her hair; about taking turns with Xander, digging Buffy's grave; about burying Buffy in a stolen coffin, or about the headstone Xander carved; about Dawn barely holding up; or about Willow's veiled allusions to forbidden texts. But the truth is, Giles doesn't want to talk about any of this, least of all to Angel.
By the time they reach the woods, the only words they've exchanged are directions.
They get out of the car and head into the darkness of the woods, their footsteps loud even on the soft ground.
Giles fingers the stake in his jacket pocket, not because he thinks he'll need it, or because he wants to use it, but because his fingers need something to hold on to.
Questions are spinning madly in his head. Would Angel have known that Doc was a worshipper of Glorificus? Would Angel have succeeded where Spike failed and thrown the duplicitous chaos mage off the tower before he had a chance to spill Dawn's blood? Would Buffy still be alive if Angel had been there?
"Why didn't you call?" Angel barks. Apparently, his thoughts run along the same lines.
"It wasn't my decision to make."
Without warning, Giles is grabbed by the lapels of his jacket and slammed against the nearest tree, hard enough to crack the bark. And suddenly Angel's face is close enough for Giles to smell the alcohol on his breath. Cheap Bourbon, if Giles is not mistaken.
"Don't lie to me, Rupert. You went behind her back before. You're a watcher, trained to make that kind of decision."
It's true, Giles had thought about calling Angel. More than once. One time he got as far as dialing the L.A. regional code. He remembers rubbing Angel's business card between thumb and index finger, and staring at the almost abstract squiggle that looked more like Japanese calligraphy than an angel. So why hadn't he gone through with it?
Giles wheezes, desperate to draw air into his lungs, but his body seems to have forgotten how to breathe. His back is a sea of pain. In the back of his head a more clinical-minded part of him knows he'll end up with a massive bruise, one that will take a long time fading.
But the pain is nothing compared to the crushing pressure of Angel's body against his own. Feeling Angel's hands on him triggers a deep-seated, gut-churning nausea. Giles breaks into a sweat. Until now, he thought he'd thoroughly exorcised those hours in Angelus's power, but here's his proof that the memory's still festering.
Even as he's struggling to keep his body in check and his expression unflinching, Giles knows that Angel can smell his fear. Knows it not just on an intellectual level. He can see it, too, because something in Angel's face crumbles. Barely scabbed-over guilt is scrubbed raw as shame rears its head.
Oh yes, deep down, Angel craves forgiveness. He's a white hat because he thinks that somewhere along the line his feats of heroism will earn him absolution. Giles could give him a smidgeon of that reprieve, could absolve Angel from the things Angelus did to him and to Jenny. A few kind words, a sip of Bourbon from Giles's flask, a friendly pat on the back maybe…. Instead, he gives Angel his fear, and gains the satisfaction of feeling Angel's grip go slack.
Suddenly free to move, Giles slowly and deliberately rights his clothing, pulling down the hem of his jacket and his shirt cuffs, basking in Angel's impatience.
Part of Giles knows what he's doing. He's punishing Angel the same way Dawn's icy silences and Willow's veiled inquiries are punishing him.
The children never blame him openly, but Giles knows what they're thinking. That with all the books at his disposal, and with all his learning, Giles should have figured out a different way, a better way to defeat Glory. That as Buffy's watcher, Giles should have been able to protect her. That he failed her, and that he failed them.
The other day, Dawn said she wished that Buffy had never been called. And she glared at Giles as if he had personally chosen Buffy, as if it were his fault that her sister became a slayer. Quite ironic, if one thought about it: If Buffy hadn't been a slayer, strong enough to protect the key, Dawn wouldn't be around to reproach him.
Yes, they're punishing him, though not as much as he's punishing himself. In fact, the only one not blaming him is Spike, but only because the vampire is too busy blaming himself.
"Yes, I could have gone behind Buffy's back. And I didn't," Giles says. And yes, not a day passes when he doesn't ask himself if maybe he should have. But Angel has absolutely no right to pile more blame on Giles's shoulder. Not Angel. Who murdered the woman Giles loved, and who tortured him for hours. Not Angel, with his expensive shoes, and his fancy car, and his arty-farty business cards, looking like the lead in a clichéd, second rate P.I. TV show. Not Angel.
It's only fair that Angel should shoulder some of the burden.
"You took pleasure in my pain," Giles adds. "I'm not going to forget that anytime soon."
They stare at each other in mutual dislike and mutual anguish.
His pain back then, and the shame of suffocating an unarmed man, and the grief Giles is feeling right now, they're all bleeding into each other, becoming one and the same: a dull ache, deep inside his chest, tight and nasty and venomous, poisoning him from the inside.
He can picture Angel naked in chains, hanging from the ceiling in that old mansion, writhing in pain, and he can picture himself wielding a honed butcher knife and pushing the sharp blade deeply into Angel's flesh. The fantasy doesn't even scare him. The dormant darkness that Ethan always saw in him, the desire to hurt that Ethan tried to nurture, it has never been closer to the surface. Why shouldn't he indulge himself. His whole life is dictated by rules. Why not give in, why not embrace this darkness?
For a fleeting second, Giles sees himself driving the stake into Angel's chest. It won't bring Buffy back, and it won't mend the joints in his hands that Angel snapped three years ago and that always twinge painfully whenever it's about to rain. He knows he has outlived his purpose. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no reason not to fall. But somehow, he's not ready to fall. Not yet.
Giles can hear and feel his blood pumping rapidly through his veins. The alcohol is making him dizzy. He turns and walks away, taking the lead again. "Are you coming?"
Angel silently falls into step.
It's been almost a week, but the mound of earth on Buffy's final resting place smells moist and slightly moldy. Giles hates the smell of freshly dug graves. He's buried too many colleagues, friends, and loved ones.
There's a maple leaf lying on the headstone. It can't have been there long. Desiccation has barely set in, the leaf is still green and fresh, only slightly curled inwards at the edges. With a harsh gesture, Giles brushes it away.
Unwilling to return his gaze to Angel, Giles stares straight ahead, at the headstone. "Willow and Tara picked the place. Xander made the inscription." Mindless chatter, fuelled by the last remains of drunkenness.
Angel steps closer, caresses the engraved letters with his fingertips – Buffy's name, and her epitaph. "It's—it's good."
The flowers are not yet wilted. And Buffy in her coffin—but no, Giles wrenches his thoughts away from the image. He wants to lash out. Destroy something. But there's nothing he can vent his anger on. Only Angel. Silent, broody Angel. Who failed Buffy just like Giles failed her. Would Angel have had the strength to kill Dawn?
Giles glances down at the flowers Dawn lay on her sister's grave, peonies and roses, and for a petty, unworthy moment he wishes Dawn were the one to lie in that coffin.
"How's Dawn? Is she alright?"
"Willow and Tara are looking after her."
Giles knows he ought to say something like 'There's nothing you could have done.' Instead he unscrews the flask, lifts it to his mouth, and he drinks deeply until his eyes water, wondering if there's enough Bourbon in the flask to smother the pain in his chest.
"She's all yours now."
Without waiting for a reply, Giles pockets the empty flask, and turns away from the grave. Above them, the sky is already turning to grey. Without another glance at the solitary figure beside the grave, Giles heads home, taking a short-cut across the nearby cemetery. He doesn't mind walking alone.
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak,
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.