Conversation in a Quiet Moment
"Giles, I'm fairly sure I'm not supposed to be in here." Buffy looked around the barroom nervously.
"If I recall correctly, you turned 21 recently. You are a full adult, eligible for entry anywhere." Giles smiled around the English-style pub. "And it's so much more soothing than the Bronze."
"You think I need soothed?"
"I think you and I need several uninterrupted moments to talk, and I find good English beer an excellent accompaniment to talk."
"Beer bad, remember?"
Giles conducted her to a table in the corner. "American beer bad. This is English beer. It is all good. But you needn't have any if you don't wish."
The waitress came by, and Giles ordered a Guinness. Buffy frowned a moment, then ordered one for herself. Once the waitress was gone, the two stared at their folded hands on the table.
"What will happen to Willow now?" Buffy asked softly.
"I don't know. We'll have to see how she is when she wakes up completely."
"Are you sure it's a good idea for her to be at Xander's?"
"He'll look after her. She'll be safe there."
Buffy frowned. "Safe from who? Or what?"
"Safe from herself, mostly. The rebound may be quite severe. He'll make sure nothing drastic happens."
"She's my best friend. She really is. If I could--"
Giles put a hand on hers. "I know you love her, Buffy. But Xander has known her all her life. He's her link to the world, a reminder of happier days. Before we can do anything else, we need to find out if she's going to be able to cope at all."
"You mean--she could be ..."
"Insane, yes. That much power, that much grief, the things she did. She's very strong, but ..."
"But sometimes strong isn't enough."
They were quiet while the waitress brought their drinks. She didn't even glance at Buffy.
"Shouldn't she be asking to see my ID or something?" Buffy asked anxiously.
"Perhaps she didn't think she needed to."
"I look old?" Buffy said, horrified.
Giles didn't even try to reply, just chuckled as he sipped his mug of beer.
Buffy raised her mug and sniffed the contents. She wrinkled her nose.
"You needn't drink it," Giles said.
"No, if you can drink it, I can drink it. Slayer strength and all."
"It's not supposed to be a test of endurance."
She took a cautious sip, and Giles couldn't help laughing at the shocked look on her face. "Euw!"she finally gasped.
"It is an acquired taste."
He took pity on her and took the mug away. "You needn't fear it'll go to waste."
"Maybe a shandy for starters."
"Beer and lemonade."
"People drink that? On purpose?" She picked up the menu on the table. "Hey, they have cider!"
"No, I don't think so."
"Why not? Cider's made from apples, it's even healthy."
"These apples have been left to their own devices, in a dark place, for several months. I'll fetch you a shandy."
"Shandy's a wimp's drink, isn't it."
"No, it's a lady's drink."
He stared at her bright smile a moment. It looked like she had to work harder at bringing out that sunny expression that used to come so easily to her. "I'll be right back."
Buffy sniffed the new drink equally cautiously. She frowned, then took a sip. "Well, that tastes--better."
"You needn't finish it if you'd don't want to. It's only something to keep your hands busy as you talk."
"Am I gonna get heckled if I go get a Coke?"
"If you are, I give you permission to hang them from the rafters by their collars. But I'm not sure they have it here."
"Not have Coke? What kind of place is this?"
She pouted at him for teasing her, then she just looked at him, seeing his smile and the amusement in his eyes. She jumped from her chair and around the table to wrap her arms around him and squeeze him almost as hard as she could.
"I missed you," she whispered, trying not to cry.
His return hug was nearly as tight. "I know, dear." He sniffed without trying to hide it.
She finally got her voice under control and sat back down. "So."
"So." Giles started to speak a couple of times, then obviously changed his mind of where he wanted to start. "Did you get school worked out?"
Buffy felt her face go hot. "Um, well ..." When he was only silent, she looked up anxiously, sure he be giving her the I'm-Very-Disappointed frown. There was some of that frown, but there was more of a look that upset her even more, the She's-Not-Managing-Things-On-Her-Own-At-All-Well look of concern. "I haven't had time! Food on the table, a roof over our head, being there for Dawn--or trying to--Slaying ... Willow ..." She took a drink and barely noticed the taste. "And it costs so much," she said softly. She braced herself for his reaction.
"But aren't there grants and such you can get from the state?" he said, frowning thoughtfully. "A young woman on her own, taking care of her sister, I would think there would be all sorts of resources to let you finish school."
She uncurled a little from her protective mental crouch. "I was a little afraid to go to the state. There was a social worker, asking questions about Dawn ..."
"Oh, dear. Did that work out?"
"Nobody's asked any more questions, so I guess it's OK." And hopefully he wouldn't ask any more about that episode.
"Dawn should be old enough to tell the state where she wants to live, unless there's some obvious reason not to stay with you."
Buffy laughed a little. "Like her big sister's habit of hunting things in the night and letting them follow her home." She winced at that last bit. Giles was doing that pursed lips thing that said he had lots of things to say and wasn't going to say a one of them. "About Spike ..."
"You needn't go into it, Buffy."
"Oh, you are mad at me."
"No. No, I'm not, I'm--I'm trying to think of something to say that won't make me feel an utter hypocrite."
She tilted her head and gave him a very curious look. "Really? Ripper stories?"
"Never you mind, young lady. I wasn't here, I can't judge." He blinked a moment in surprise. "Where is Spike, anyway?"
Buffy discovered the great usefulness of having a glass to keep your attention on. "He left."
"Left? Spike left Sunnydale? At last?" Giles realized that Buffy might not have the same burst of glee he did at the thought. "Did you want him to?"
And that was the 64,000 dollar question, as her grandma used to say. "I don't know."
"Sod walked out on you, did he?" Giles made another mental note in the file of Things to Abuse Spike For. He saw the look of real distress on Buffy's face. "What did he do?"
She still couldn't get her mind completely around that scene in the bathroom. Seeing Spike again would have been painful and disgusting and all sorts of awful things, but to think that, after all his declarations, he could just up and leave ... She shook her head, sure of only one thing. "What happened is between him and me. If I ever see him again will be soon enough to deal with it. But he's gone. Riley came back," she added, making a Buffy leap of logic.
"Riley?" Giles blinked. "Riley Finn?"
"Uh huh. He's got a scar. And he's married."
"Married? Good lord. To whom?"
Buffy took another drink. Gee, her glass was nearly empty. "Sam something or other. She's a soldier, too. But she used to be a doctor or something, but now she's part of his team, and they fight evil."
Giles drained his glass, which was marginally preferable to tracking down Agent Finn and pummeling him. "And so he thought he should bring his bride by and show her around for all to see?"
"Huh? No, they were on the track of--" And that thought went back to Spike and Uncomfortable things she didn't want to think about. "Demon stuff. Giles, why are you angry?"
"I'm not angry."
"Yes, you are. You've got that squinty Ripper look in your eyes and you just shredded the napkin."
He frowned at the scraps of paper in his fingers. "Hm. I think I'll have another drink. Would you like one?"
She looked in surprise at the empty bottom of her glass. "Yeah, I think so. That was neat."
He paused to look at her very closely. Well, shandy shouldn't make too much of a dent in a Slayer's constitution. He signaled the waitress for another round.
"So what are you doing with yourself?" Buffy asked, grinning. "Still hanging out in that town, Sink or Kitchen ..."
"Bath." As always, he wondered if she was having him on or if she really was that unaware of the things on the periphery of her life.
"I knew it was something porcelainy. So, what do you do? How did you meet this 'powerful coven in Devon'?"
It was his turn to fidget with his glass. "I've--had dealings with them before. They trust me."
"Giles," she said sternly, "have you been out cavorting in the woods?"
"I beg your pardon!"
"Cause I've seen the books, I know about the wacky witchy rituals." The shadows in her eyes came back as she remembered the most recent rituals, which had not been in any happy sense wacky.
He put on his best librarian-lecture face. "If you're insinuating that I participated in any rituals that were performed, as they say, skyclad--"
She gave him the Mother-waiting-for-an-explanation look she'd been practicing. "Yes?"
He accepted his new mug of beer from the waitress and waited till she had left. "You're absolutely right."
Her eyes went so big it was painful to look at. Then she waved her hands in the air in front of her eyes. "No, no, pictures I don't need." Her face went blank again. "Tara wanted to do one of those for the summer solstice. Wanted all of us to be in it. Even Xander, though he said he didn't think he could do it without embarrassing himself ..."
Giles handed her his handkerchief and found a napkin for himself. "Part of me doesn't blame Willow in the slightest," he said very softly.
Buffy didn't say anything as memories of Giles hunting Angel--Angelus--after Jenny Calender's murder replayed in her mind. "They were so happy right before ... I think they had a shot at working it out."
"Perhaps." He knew the issues that would have had to be resolved between the two women, but wondering if they could have settled their problems was as fruitless now as contemplating the happiness that had been lost.
Buffy took a drink and stared at the liquid in her glass. "Fuck," she said sincerely.
Giles nearly dropped his mug. "Buffy!"
"Huh? Oh. Oops."
Now the Mr. Giles, School Librarian, Frown of Disapproval was out in full force. "And I suppose we can blame your new vocabulary on a certain bleached vampire."
"Um, maybe ... But it's not like I never heard the word before."
"And do you use such language in front of Dawn?"
"No! I don't think so. Not unless it really needed to be used. And that was meant to be a joke," she added as the Frown began to segue into a Glower. "And I bet you say stuff like that."
"Not in front of you. There is a time and place for such things--"
"And right about now is one of them." Buffy knocked back the rest of her shandy. "It's been a really sucky past few days, and sucky isn't strong enough."
His lips were trying very hard to twitch into a smile. He fought it down. "And do I need to ask where you learned to drink?"
Wisely she didn't say anything about lines of bottles in crypts or kitten poker games in the backrooms of bars. Or the sudden visceral memory of riding on the back of the motorcycle behind Spike, arms wrapped around ... "I don't want to be the grown-up anymore."
"All of us wish that at one time or another."
"It sucks. And the word that rhymes with it."
"Yes, it does."
"Don't like it."
"The universe doesn't care."
She glared at him but saw only sympathy in his eyes. Like he'd known all along that the universe didn't care what you thought and was only sad at having to watch her learn the same thing. "Want another drink."
"I don't think so. I'd rather not see the return of the CaveSlayer. Though how you could be getting drunk on shandy I don't know."
She pouted, but she suspected only half her mood came from booze. The other half might be from having Giles around to help hold up the world if she wanted to let it slip just a little. Something across the room caught her eye. "What's that?"
He looked over his shoulder. "That? It's two men playing darts."
"Ooh, darts!" She grinned as another dart plunked into the board.
For a moment he was clairvoyant. "No, Buffy."
"Flingy things with points and wings."
"I don't think you should play with the darts, Buffy."
"Hey, I'm good with the throwy things."
"No. And don't give me that look, young lady."
She gave him the full-bore Buffy pout and stomped her foot under the table. Then she stopped, looked concerned, and replayed the last few moments in her head. Giles tried to maintain his stern look. A strangled giggle escaped Buffy's control. He looked away, forcing his jaw to stop quivering.
It was the snort that got away from Buffy that wrecked them both. Giles covered his eyes and leaned an elbow on the table to hold himself up as he laughed. Buffy just sat there and giggled herself breathless.
"Flingy things?" Giles repeated when he caught his breath. Buffy mimed throwing a dart with great concentration. That set him off again.
Finally she wiped her eyes on her shirt sleeve. "Yeah, that was grown up," she said ruefully, but still with a faint smile.
"Yes, it was," Giles told her, still grinning. "It's what grown-ups call letting off steam and relaxing before going back out there to do their jobs." His smile faded as he watched the world settle back around the Slayer's shoulders.
"It doesn't change anything. We've still got to deal with Willow and all the rest of it."
"Yes, we do. And would sitting about feeling miserable have made any difference either?"
Buffy looked at him for several moments. "You're being wise again."
"So sitting around acting silly is a grown-up thing to do?"
"Very much so. Asking for help if one needs it is also a very grown-up thing to do."
"Except I'm supposed to be standing on my own two feet."
"In between earning a living for yourself and your sister and saving the world."
"Hey, that was Xander's gig this time. I just got my butt kicked and sliced up zombie things. With the competent help of my little sister." She grinned. "Xander saved the world."
"I know. I'm so proud I could burst."
Her smile went away again. "Him and Anya--"
Giles took her hand. "Don't. What could you do, anyway?"
"More of that grown-up shi--stuff, huh? I didn't say it!"
He drained his mug. "I think it's time we left. Barroom's seem to have an adverse effect on your character." He left some money on the table and stood.
Buffy hopped up and wobbled just a little. She straightened her shoulders when she saw Giles looking at her sternly. "Two glasses! That's all! Maybe it was the lemonade."
"Of course." He put an arm around her shoulders and conducted her towards the door. "And if you're lucky, tomorrow you'll experience the very grown-up thing called a hangover."
"Pffth," she said, waving a hand. "If I didn't get a hangover after splitting three bottles of whiskey, I'm not going to get one over two glasses of spiked lemonade."
She pulled free and grinned up at him. "Isn't being a grown-up fun?"
"Yes, it is, and soon enough I shall remember why."