Disclaimer: Finding the weather in England too damp, ASH has moving into my California home. He is in the kitchen right now, making me a cup of tea. Really. Ask Joss. He's in my library, writing me a bedtime story.
Spoilers: A handful of little ones. Nothing major.
A/N: This was supposed to be a Yule present for Dragon86, but it's a little late. Better late then never, right? So here it is, my fellow Wiccan and B/G shipper. Thanks for being my friend, and sharing in so many of my obsessions
Many thanks to Michelle C, who beta'ed this for me with amazing speed. You rock, girl.
He should be grateful for the silence. For the better part of a year he had been living in the constant din that surrounded teenage girls; first in Sunnydale as they prepared to battle the First, and then in the months since then as he established The Academy. It sometimes seemed that the walls around him echoed of voices even when he was alone. This morning marked the first day of winter break, though, and all the girls had left to spend their vacation at home. Even Andrew had decided to leave for the holiday. They weren't a school in the strictest sense of the word, but they tried to maintain the outward appearance of one. And as he was reminded almost daily, the new slayers were also regular girls, who needed things like vacations and time with their family. For the next two weeks he was going to have the house to himself. Peace and quiet. Just him and his books, a bottle of wine and a fire in the fireplace. It surprised him to find that he was lonely.
He was washing his dinner plate in the sink when a knock at the front door startled him and he almost dropped his dish. Catching it before it could break he set it down in the sink and turned off the water. Long experience had him checking the entryway for available weapons before he cautiously opened the door. Silly, really, because demons that came to surprise rarely knocked first.
"Hey Giles." Not a demon, but definitely a surprise.
"Buffy, I... what... hello." He couldn't seem to form a complete sentence, and blamed it on the shock of seeing her unexpectedly after almost six months.
"Can I come in?" She grinned at him, and it wasn't until he forced himself to look away from her familiar smile that he realized it was raining outside and she was soaking wet.
"I'm sorry, forgot my manners for a minute. Please, do come in." He stepped aside, allowing her easy access to enter.
"Be careful who you say that to," Buffy teased. "Don't want to invite a vamp by mistake."
"Yes, yes, very funny." Giles shook his head. "Let me get you a towel."
"Don't want me to drip all over your house?"
"No. I don't want you to get sick," Giles stated, more seriously then he meant to. He walked down the hall to the bathroom, finding the largest and plushest of the towels in the cabinet. Not realizing that Buffy had followed him, he turned around, almost hitting her. Fortunately, her reflexes were as quick as ever and she ducked just in time.
"Thanks." She gently tugged the towel from his grasp. Running it through her hair first, she then tried to dry off her clothes. Her jeans and cable knit sweater were resistant to her attempts. Biting her lip, she looked at Giles.
"Do you have anything I can borrow? My suitcase is still at the train station. There were no cabs, so I left it there and walked here."
"You should have called. I would have come to pick you up," Giles admonished.
"Nah, I wanted to surprise you. Besides, a couple of miles is nothing more then I'm used to." The truth was, she had needed the exercise. After a day of travel her muscles had been stiff. More then that, though, she was feeling oddly nervous about seeing Giles again. Why, she wasn't sure.
Nodding his head in understanding, Giles led the way up the stairs.
"I think you left a few things here this summer, when you helped get everything set up. Let me see if I can find them." Leaving her standing in the hallway, he entered his bedroom. It only took him a minute to find the worn jeans and fitted black t-shirt. In deference to the season he added one of his own flannel shirts to the pile. There were flecks of white paint on the sleeves, and he smiled when he remembered that they had gotten there when he had set up the training room for her, back in Sunnydale. Was that really only three years ago? So much had changed since then. Shaking off the memories, bad and good, he emerged from his room.
"Bathroom's down the hall, if you want to freshen up," he said as he handed her the clothing. "I'm going to... I'll be downstairs."
It only took Buffy two tries to find the door leading to the bathroom. Stripping off her wet clothes, she shivered slightly. Eyeing the shower, she gave into the urge and turned on the hot water. Fortunately this was a bathroom shared by a handful of girls, so she had a wide selection of shampoos and soaps to chose from. She wondered if Giles would notice that she now smelled like mangos and coconut instead of smoke and rain. Did he ever notice things like that? She hadn't, when they worked in the library together for so many hours. Not until later did she notice the mix of spice and musk wrapped in wool that was specifically Giles.
Dressed in her own clothes, she slipped her arms in the flannel shirt that carried his scent. Soft and faded, it looked vaguely familiar and felt perfect. She was reminded of being a child, and staying home from school because she was sick. Her mother would wrap her in her own robe, and it would be like wearing a hug all day. She pulled the shirt tighter around herself as she walked down the stairs.
"Giles?" she called as she peered down the hallway.
"In here," came his voice from a room at the back of the house.
When she rounded the corner and walked into the room, Buffy knew that she had found Giles' home. The rest of the house had been given over to the school, and the new slayers. Evidence of teenage girls was everywhere, except here. This room was everything she had ever acquainted with Giles. Two walls were entirely covered with books, a third by a massive stone fireplace. There was a large overstuffed couch, perfect for reading or taking a nap. An arm chair faced the fireplace, a small table next to it holding a lamp and an open book. Small antique art pieces, a passion Giles had shared with her mother, were tastefully displayed in the room along with a few newer items.
"Hey, that's us!" she couldn't help exclaiming when she recognized a picture of herself, Willow, Xander and Giles hanging on the wall. They were not centered in the frame, and she remembered that they had set the timer on the camera to capture the four of them on one of their rare non-demon-fighting outings. It had been the summer after her freshman year. They had defeated Adam, and hadn't yet heard of Glory. For a brief time everything had been almost normal.
"Would you like something to drink? I have a rather nice Merlot opened." His voice came from right behind her, and she was surprised to note that he had gotten so close while she was lost in the picture. Rolling her eyes at her lack of 'spider sense' she turned to face him.
"Six months in Italy, and I still can't stand the taste of wine. I wouldn't say no to a Coke, though."
"Yes, of course." Giles disappeared into the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a wine glass in one hand and a glass filled with ice and soda in the other.
"Oh, crushed ice. Just the way I like it," Buffy joked as she accepted the drink. Giles gestured to the couch in front of the fireplace and Buffy sat down. Turning the armchair so it faced the couch, Giles also sat down.
"Where is Dawn?" It took a few minutes of peaceful silence between them for him to ask the obvious.
"She left for Mexico yesterday. Spending winter vacation with Willow."
"And how is Willow holding up? I was grieved to hear about Kennedy." He had received word a few weeks ago about the death of the slayer. Phone service where Willow was living was spotty at best, though, so he had only been able to offer his condolences by letter.
"She's hanging in there. No going black magicky. We thought she could use some cheering up, though. Thus the Dawn visit. If nothing else, she'll be to busy to be depressed."
"She's had to deal with too much loss in her life. All of you have." He hated to think of all the 'Scoobies' had gone through in the years he had known them. The death, destruction, loss of lives and innocence. They were like his children, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Buffy... No, not Buffy. No matter how much he tried to convince himself differently, his feelings for Buffy were not those of a father for his daughter. They should be. He had watched her grow up. He wanted them to be. It would be safer that way.
"She's strong. Last year, with Tara and Warren, and then the First so soon after... it could have destroyed her. It didn't though. This won't either." She pressed her lips together, trying to decide if she should say what was on her mind or not. But then, when did she ever not say what she was thinking? "A lot of why she made it is because of you. If you hadn't come back when you did, if you hadn't brought her back here with you... I don't know if I ever thanked you for that, Giles."
The look in his eyes told her that he was about to protest, or try to pass the credit on. Buffy pressed her fingers against his lips to keep his words from coming out. When she realized what she had done she quickly pulled them away.
"Just let me say thank you, okay? It's Christmas. The time of year we're supposed to count out blessings, right?" When Giles didn't immediately reply, Buffy turned her gaze back to the room. As silence hung in the air, she noticed something that had been bothering her since she had sat down.
"You don't have a Christmas tree, or any decorations."
"No. The girls all went home for the holidays." Giles was glad for the change in subject, even as he wished she would change it once more.
"You're here," Buffy pointed out.
"I've never been much for celebrating Christmas," he shrugged.
Buffy was about to speak, when it occurred to her that he was right. She had never noticed before his lack of participation in the holiday. Probably because she had been too wrapped up on her own celebrations. She had had Dawn and her mom, her friends. Willow obviously didn't celebrate Christmas, but she had never questioned why Giles' home had also been bare of decorations. She had never wondered what he did for the holiday, had never though to ask. A wave of guilt swept through her. Lifting her chin, she resolved to make it up to him.
"Well, you're gonna this year. Tomorrow, we'll find a Christmas tree lot. You know, one without a secret cave full of Bringers living under it. And we need to go buy some ornaments, unless you have some hiding around here."
"Attic," he said. When she cocked her head to the side and looked at him in confusion, he expanded. "There are boxes of ornaments in the attic. My mother's. She used to decorate the whole house every year. We would get a tree, seven or eight feet probably but as a young lad it always seemed enormous. When she died, my father packed everything away and put it up in the attic."
He was staring at the flames of the fire, turning the wine glass slowly in his hands. His brows slightly furrowed and a frowns twisted the corners of his mouth. Not wanting to let him fall into memories that were obviously not of the happy holiday variety, Buffy stood up from the couch and gently withdrew the goblet from his hand.
"So, what's a girl got to do to get a room for the night?" she joked lightly.
"What? Oh, yes." He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt before getting out of his chair. "I'll show you where you can stay."
The sound of rain against the window woke her up. Sitting up, she moaned as her head came in contact with wood. It was only then that she remembered that she was sleeping on the bottom of a bunk bed. Rubbing her head with one hand, she stumbled out of bed. She was just trying to decide if she should rifle through the closet and borrow someone's clothes or ask Giles for something to wear when she spotted her suitcase next the the bedroom door. Giles must have driven down to the station and picked it up. Such a Giles thing to do. Glancing at the clock she saw that it was only a little after seven, and wondered how long he had been awake; if he had even gone to sleep.
Showered and dressed in her own clothes, she wandered downstairs. Making her way to the back of the house she found Giles in the kitchen. He was facing the stove, his back to the rest of the room and her. Padding across the room, she waited until she was right behind him before speaking.
"So, what's for breakfast?" His muscles tensed at the sound, but almost immediately relaxed. Reaching for the porcelain tea cup setting on the counter to the right of the stove, he took a sip before answering.
"Eggs, wheat toast, sausage. Or there's some of that deplorably sweet cereal you like in the cupboard." He shook his head slightly as he gestured to the pantry in the corner of the kitchen.
"Eggs and toast are good. No sausage for me though." Seeing the bread on the counter she took out two pieces and put them in an old battered toaster that looked like it was as old as the house. When the first two pieces were a golden brown she took them out and replaced them with two more pieces. Glancing over her shoulder she saw Giles dividing the skillet of eggs onto two plates. The savory tang of sausage made her change her mind, and as she added the toast onto the plates she snagged one of the links out of the pan.
"I thought you didn't want sausage," Giles commented absently as he carried the plates to a table in front of a large window. It was already set with two glasses of orange juice, forks, knives, butter and jam.
"And you've never known me to change my mind?" Buffy laughed.
"How silly of me," Giles returned. He smiled, but then his look grew more serious. "What are you doing in England, Buffy? You never did say last night."
"Trying to get rid of me?" she teased.
"No, of course not. I just assumed you would want to be with Willow for the holiday, or perhaps Xander. One of your friends."
"I am with one of my friends." Confusion, surprise and pleasure moved swiftly across his face, and if she hadn't been watching him so carefully she might have missed his reaction. "I just saw Xander last month, and Willow is going to come visit soon. I thought about staying home, or going someplace warm like Tahiti, but then I started thinking about Christmas and family and it came to me that this is where I wanted to be."
"England is neither home or a warm vacation destination," Giles remarked, and Buffy wondered if he really didn't understand what she was trying to say.
"You are home, Giles. The library, your apartment, the Magic Box. Those places were like my second homes. The one thing they all had in common was you. Almost since they day I moved to Sunnydale, you were like my..."
"...father?" Giles supplied.
"Hell no." Buffy shook her head veminently and pushed her almost empty breakfast plate away. "No matter what Quentin Travers said, you aren't my father. I have one of those, remember? Or maybe you don't, with the whole absentee thing. Anyways, there might not be a label for it, but you are a part of my family."
More used to action then talk, Buffy rose from the table and carried the dishes to the sink. Washing them, she placed them on the counter to dry. Still needing something to do, she recalled their conversation from the evening before.
"So Giles, what do you think of going to get a tree? The rain's stopped and the sun's out. Or not," she added when she saw what she assumed was a reluctant look on his face.
Still staggered by Buffy's speech, it took Giles a moment to realize that she was speaking to him.
"A Christmas tree would be lovely."
Grinning, Buffy hung up the damp dish towel and left the room to find her coat.
"We're going to need to stop and buy lights. The ones I have are probably thirty years old, and surely can't be expected to work." They were older then that, actually. It had been at least that long since he had celebrated Christmas. Now he had a tree tied to the roof of the car and he was going home to decorate it. For the first time since his childhood he was excited about the holiday. He knew it was all because of the occupant in the passenger seat next to him. Her enthusiasm was catching, and it occurred to him how much more alive things seemed when she was around.
He parked in front of the first store that looked like it would carry Christmas tree lights. Holding the shop door open he allowed Buffy to enter first. As he followed her inside his hand brushed against her lower back and for just a moment he was tempted to leave it there. It was never a move he would have made before. Most of the touching they had done in the past had been limited to training. They were not the same people they had once been. Maybe it was the fact that she was no longer "the" slayer, and he was not her watcher; the simple passage of time taking them away from who they had been.
"So, white lights or colored?" Buffy's simple question drew his attention, and he let himself be drawn into an animated debate. Half an hour later they left the store each toting a paper bag. After deciding on white lights (more British, Buffy proclaimed), they added apple cider and tinsel to their basket. At the last minute Buffy also added a battery operated train set. "For under the tree," she explained.
"Bloody hell." After getting pine sap all over his glasses, Giles had removed them. He hadn't thought about the fact that his eyes were no longer protected by wire and glass, his right eye was now red and sore from a painful meeting with a pine needle. Rubbing it only made it worse.
"Tired already? That's sad, 'cause the sun just went down an hour ago." Buffy walked into the room with a mug of hot apple cider in either hand. Her teasing smile turned into a frown when Giles lowered his hand. Setting the mugs down on the closest surface, Buffy knelt down in front of him. "What did you do?"
"It's nothing," Giles tried to brush it off. Buffy stilled his hand and moved in closer to get a good look. Though red and puffy, it didn't look like anything was wrong with the eye itself. Running a thumb along his cheek, Buffy leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to the abused skin under his eye.
"Did you get attacked by the Christmas tree? I don't remember reading anything about people attacking trees, not even in one of your books." She knew that she was rambling, but that was what she did when she was unsure of herself, and this was definitely one of those times. Standing abruptly, she retrieved the apple cider and handed one to Giles.
"My mom made hot apple cider every year at Christmas time. We would tease her, Dawn and I, because it would be eighty degrees outside and she would insist that we drink cider while we decorated the tree." Buffy stared out the window, for a moment seeing bright sun and too-green grass before blinking the image away. The darkness shrouded soggy landscape was as different from her childhood home as the sun drenched Italian villa she lived in now.
"In my family it was eggnog." Giles waited until Buffy turned back to face the room before speaking. "My mother would make it from scratch. The year I was twelve, she let me have a glass of the adult's eggnog. The first year after she died I tried to make some. The smell made me sick and I dumped it all down the drain. Haven't been able to drink the stuff since."
Buffy wanted to cry for the little boy he had been. The man, she decided, it would be better to cheer up.
"Dawn tried to make eggnog once. I walked into the kitchen just as she turned on a blender full of milk and eggs. Did I mention there was no lid on the blender? You can just imagine what the kitchen looked like after that." She was pleased to hear a chuckle, and decided it was best to change the subject. "So, do we hang ornaments now, or do you want to go another round with the tree first? I'm sure there's a sword around here, to even the odds a little bit."
He tried to scowl at her, but ended up laughing. Reaching into an open box, he pulled out an ornament.
"Giles, I'm back." After decorating the tree and eating dinner, Buffy had decided that she needed to take a walk outside. After so many years of patrolling, she felt strange if she didn't spend at least a part of the evening outside. Giles had offered to go with her, but she had told him that she wanted a few minutes alone. If anyone understood the need for solitude, it was Giles.
"You'll be glad to know that there are no vampires or other things that go bump in the night around here." Pulling a wooden stake out of her jacket, she set it on the small table next to the door before hanging her jacket on the coat rack.
"I should think not, given that my nearest neighbor is more than a mile away. Not much potential for a meal out here. There is the added bonus that this house has been lived in by Watchers for more than a hundred years. Vamps prefer the clueless, not someone known to have weapons at their disposal."
"And yet, they always seem more than happy to come after me," Buffy mussed.
"Only the foolish ones. The ones who don't realize who they're facing," he told her. There was also glory to be found in facing a slayer and living to tell of it. More if the battle ended in her death. He didn't need to remind her of that fact.
"Would you like something hot to drink? You were gone for a while, and the winters here can be enough to chill you to the bone." When Buffy nodded her head he left to go get drinks for the both of them.
When he returned Buffy was curled in the chair facing the fire. He watched her silently for a minute, noticing how perfectly still she was. That was something that had changed in her the past few years. The girl he had first met had been incapable of staying in one place for very long. Even sitting, she was always talking, or playing with a pencil. Always restless, it seemed; when he pictured her it was always her in motion. Now there was a calmness about her. He wondered if it was because she no longer carried the burden of being of being the only Slayer, or because she did carry it for so long.
"Mmm, steamy chocolaty goodness. One of those for me?" Buffy uncurled from the chair, and rose to meet him in the middle of the room. It amused her to see the layer of miniature marshmallows floating in the mug, a touch she was sure he wouldn't have added if he had been alone. Giles was about to walk past her on his way to the couch when she stopped him. "Hey Giles, look up."
"How did that get there?" 'That' was a sprig of mistletoe tied with a red ribbon that she had hung while he had been in the other room. The man at the Christmas tree lot had given it to her, and she hadn't shown it to Giles.
"So?" She raised her eyebrows and gestured at the mistletoe. "I don't have to explain to you the traditions surrounding it, do I?"
The perplexed look on his face had nothing to do with tradition, she was sure of it. After allowing him a full minute to react, she sighed. Time to take matters into her own hands. Setting down her mug, Buffy pressed one hand onto Giles' shoulder, the other rested gently against his cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Giles." Raising herself a few inches by standing on her tip toes, Buffy pressed her lips to his, lingering a moment before stepping back.
"Buffy, I... I mean I..." The phone chose that minute to ring, and Giles wasn't sure if he blessed or loathed the sound. He almost dropped the handset when he picked it up. Listening for a moment, he handed it over to Buffy.
"Hello? Dawn! How are you?" Giles silently left the room, giving the sisters time alone to talk. Running a finger over his lips, he was tempted to pinch himself and make sure this evening, this week, was not a dream. Buffy had kissed him twice in the space of a few hours. The first could be brushed of easily; a comforting gesture. The second was causing his head to spin. Was it possible that she felt something for him? Shaking his head, he tried to clear his head.
After washing his mug, Giles circled the downstairs rooms, checking windows and doors to make sure they were all locked. He was just getting ready to head upstairs when Buffy's voice stopped him.
"Dawn and Willow both said to say hello."
"I hope you expressed my regards to them."
"I told them you said Merry Christmas. Does that count?" She cocked her head to the side, raising her eyebrows, mocking him.
"Yes, yes. I suppose my British formality has returned a bit, being away from you lot." Funny, because the few friends he had reconnected with since returning to England had all commented on how very American sounding he was now.
"You did sound like tweed-wearing high-school-librarian Giles for a second there."
"Indeed. Do tell." He purposely thickened his accent, while using his index finger to push his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose, earning a laugh from her.
"Major wiggins. I'm having flashbacks. Snyder is going to come around the corner at any moment." Buffy shuddered, only half faking it.
"Heaven forbid." He was tempted to look behind him, make sure that they were really alone.
"Giles, about earlier... It doesn't have to mean anything. A tradition followed, a kiss between friends."
Removing his glasses, Giles cleaned them with his shirt, replacing them before speaking.
"Is that what it was?" He had to know what she meant, not what she was saying.
"That's what it can be." She needed to give him that option. The kiss had been unplanned, like so many things in her life. It was, however, something she had dreamed about many times in the past few years. As much as she wanted it to mean something, she also wanted- needed- it to be his choice as much as her own.
"I'm going to bed now. We can talk about this... or not... tomorrow." Suddenly nervous, Buffy started up the stairs. Half a dozen steps up she stopped and turned around, walking back towards Giles. "I didn't mess anything up did I? I mean, between us?"
She was on the bottom step, putting the two of them almost at eye level. Taking a breath, Giles brushed a lock of hair out of Buffy's face, tucking it behind her ear. Cupping her cheek with his palm, he gave her a soft smile. "You didn't 'mess' anything up."
"I promise." Giles watched as she once again climbed the stairs, waiting until she was out of sight before turning and walking back to his library. He knew that he wouldn't be getting any sleep in the next few hours. His mind was too full.
Settling down on the couch, he stared into the flames of the fire, but his gaze kept wandering to the sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Buffy's words kept circling in his head. Can be... between friends... They began to take on the weight of an ancient prophecy, and he analyzed every syllable and nuance. Mentally exhausted, he finally fell asleep.
She couldn't sleep. Around midnight she had drifted off, but at one-thirty she was awake again, and too full of restless energy to return to bed. Opening up her suitcase she removed a pair of brightly wrapped packages, deciding that as long as she was awake she might as well go downstairs and put Giles' presents under the tree. It was, after all, the 24th of December now. Tiptoeing past the bedroom doors, she walked down the stairs and into the library.
Eyes on the still-lit tree, it wasn't until she placed the present on the ground that she realized she wasn't alone. Turning, she looked behind her and found Giles on the couch. His eyes were closed, but when she took a step towards him, he spoke her name.
"What are you doing up?" he asked as he sat up.
"Currently lacking the ability to sleep. Plus..." she gestured to the tree, "presents."
"You didn't have to do that." He had sent her gifts by mail weeks ago. They were probably sitting at the post office in Italy, waiting for her.
"Yeah, right. I'm going to fly over half a dozen countries and major water to see you at Christmas time and not bring gifts. That's going to happen." It had taken her hours, no days, to pick out just the right presents. Something personal, not demon related, just right. She had rejected CDs, books, and many magickal trappings. Wandering through dusty shops in side alleys she had found a small brass dragon. It fit in her hand perfectly, and the slightly fierce look on its face reminded her of Giles preparing for a fight. The other box contained an oil painting of the street where she lived. She wanted him to be able to picture where she lived, and the painting captured her new home better then any photo could.
"Thank you, Buffy." Stretching, he slowly stood up.
"You're welcome." Yawning, Buffy felt the lack of sleep finally catching up with her. "I'll see you in the morning."
She was in the middle of the room when a hand on her shoulder brought her to a halt.
"Look up." Buffy raised her eyes to the ceiling above her, to find that she was standing under the mistletoe.
"You don't have to..."
"Shhh..." Giles stopped her with a whisper. "I want this to be more then just a tradition, more then friends."
"Really?" Her eyes were wide, sparkling with hope.
"Really." Cupping her cheek, he bent down to meet her at the same time she rose to met him. Eyes open, heads tilted, they came together in a kiss.