Going, Going, Gone by Djinn
Giles sat on the balcony of his hotel room, looking out at the night sky. His view wasn't as pretty as the one he'd had in Rome. Not by a long shot. But it was easier to be here. Easier for all the wrong reasons.
Damn the Immortal.
His cell phone rang and he glanced at it, saw her name on the ID screen. Buffy was calling him.
Sighing, he picked up the phone and put down his glass. He could do this now. He had to do this now. "Hello."
"Buffy. Hello." As if he didn't know it was her. As if she didn't know he knew it was her. She'd gotten him the damn phone, shown him how to use it even.
"Where are you? Stephan said you'd left."
Stephan. Only she was allowed to call the Immortal that. It wasn't really his name. She'd made it up. But maybe it was his real name. She was frighteningly intuitive--when she wanted to be.
"I'm in Dublin. I thought it was my turn to go out slayer hunting. Andrew and Xander have done more than their share."
"But I need you here. With me."
"You have Stephan." He knew he'd put a bitter twist on the name.
"Giles, what's the matter?"
He could hear the Immortal's dark tone. "You love her. I know you do." The man had ripped something open in Giles when he'd said it. Because as soon as he'd heard the words, he'd known they were true. And, God help him, they were a truth that Giles had never, ever allowed himself to consider.
He loved his slayer. No, he was in love with his slayer. A rather large difference.
Too large for the Immortal's taste. "Get out of Rome," he'd said. "And she'll never have to know."
And Giles had left. Left the girl he'd sworn to protect behind, because now one of the things she needed to be protected from was him.
"I'm very tired."
"Why are you being this way?"
"Tired? Well, you see, my dear, I'm a very old man." Older by the moment. Unlike her handsome beau.
"No, you're not. And that's not what I meant."
"What do you want, Buffy?"
"I need you here." She sounded off balance, but then he'd never talked to her this way. Never been quite this cold. She trusted him.
God help him, she trusted him. He could imagine her eyes as she waited for him to answer her. The way they would change from questioning to betrayed.
He'd do it fast. It would hurt less that way. Or it would hurt her less that way. "You're grown up now, Buffy. Perhaps you should act like it." His voice was too harsh, too angry.
If she were here, he'd pull her to him and--
"Are you leaving me again?"
"Do you think I find it interesting in Rome? Scintillating stuff for the old man, eh? Stuck with a bunch of pubescent girls." Except for Buffy--somewhere in their time together, she'd left girlhood behind and become a woman.
A woman he wanted.
"Giles, what the hell is wrong with you?"
"You, Buffy. You're what's wrong with me." It was the truth, even if she'd never understand that.
There was silence. No sniff. No sound of tears. No angry words. Then the connection went dead.
"Goodbye, Buffy," he whispered as he put the phone down and picked up the bottle of Irish whiskey he'd been nursing along all evening.
He drank it all and managed to forget her. For the night.
"Don't worry, my dear," Giles said in what approximated Hungarian as he loaded the last slayer into the car Xander was driving. "You'll be safe now."
By her expression, he knew his Hungarian was not up to the task of comforting a scared, young woman. He smiled at her encouragingly, and she seemed to relax. Shutting the door, he gave the top of the car a pat and watched as Xander pulled into traffic.
He waited until they were out of sight, then turned for the entrance of his hotel, nearly running into Buffy.
"If Mohammed won't come to the mountain," she said, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Buffy." It had been two months since he'd seen her. Since he'd left her.
"Giles." She eyed him warily. "Are you going to be mean to me again?"
He should. He should be terse and ugly, make her run away in tears.
But she looked so lovely in the fading light.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Other than looking for you?" She put her hands in her jacket pocket, turned to walk with him toward the hotel entrance. "I've never seen Budapest. It's nice so far."
He glanced at her. She was staring up at him, her look hard.
"Well, now that you're with me, I'm sure it won't be."
It was a stupid, self-indulgent thing to say. He saw her eyes narrow, and she turned away.
"Stephan told me not to look for you."
"Stephan was no doubt right."
"Did something happen between you two?"
"Yes, Buffy. The Immortal and I had a torrid affair and now can't bear to look at each other, knowing it can never be."
"That's not quite what I meant." Her voice was as sharp as his had just been. Suddenly she captured his arm, pulling him close as she kept walking past the entrance of the hotel, down toward the Danube.
"Where are we going?"
"The minute we get inside that hotel, I'll have lost you. You'll turn all British, maybe even mean British, and duck out of sight. And I'll be stuck in Budapest with no one to show me around."
"It's not as if I'm a native." He could hear his voice softening and hated that he couldn't stop it. But it felt so good to be walking with her this way.
"Oh, I'm sure you did the European youth walkabout thing back when you got out of school. In the dark ages." She looked up at him, and he couldn't tell if she was kidding.
"Yes, I did. They had knights still. In armor and everything."
She laughed, and he felt himself relaxing. He tucked his arm in a bit, felt her move closer.
"So. You left, Giles. Why?"
"I needed a change."
"No, you said you were tired of me."
"That's not precisely what I said."
"Close enough." She stopped, waited as cars passed, and then pulled him when there was a break. They dashed across to the bridge; she never let go of his arm.
Did she think he'd run away? He felt like a moth, captured by the fire. He should run. But he'd be damned if he knew how to pull away.
The river shone below them. The last light playing across it. Letting go, she stared up at him, standing very close.
"Beautiful," he said, not really referring to the river.
"It is. But there are lots of beautiful rivers in Europe. In fact, they're a dime a dozen. Not unlike museums and fancy churches. Watchers, however, who abandon you..."
"Tell me why you left."
"You don't need me anymore."
"Because I need to grow up? Just like last time you left?"
"Not quite like that." It wouldn't be fair for her to think he didn't know she'd grown so much in the last few years. But he had to tell her something that wasn't anything close to the truth.
"Andrew has a theory."
"He does?" He made his laugh mocking. "I'm sure it's a dilly."
She laughed, and he knew it was at his choice of words. She always had laughed that way at him. He'd found it delightful then, he still did.
"His theory wasn't something I'd ever considered before."
"I'm all ears."
She turned away suddenly, stared out at the river. "Are you in love with me?"
He forced the laughter out, letting his surprise make it more real. "What?"
Her fingers tightened on the railing; he saw the stone crack. "Don't turn this into a joke."
"Yes, Buffy. Seeing how much fun Xander had fancying you when you were in the arms of another, I thought I'd try it. It's quite exhilarating."
She let go of the bridge and turned on him. "Stop. Joking."
"I have a responsibility to help you. Not to pump your ego. Perhaps I left because I was tired of seeing you spoiled and pampered by that...man. When are you going to stand on your own?" It was not the best rejoinder, but it would have to do.
She frowned, her eyes dark as she stared up at him. "He was right. Andrew was right?" She shoved her hands in her jacket, turned away.
"Where are you going?"
"Home." She hit the word hard. As if she knew how much it would hurt him that home was with the Immortal now. Not with him.
"Safe trip, then." He was pleased with himself. His tone was smooth, even a bit flip.
She hurried off in the direction of the train station without another word, and she didn't look back at him. Not once.
The sound of someone being paged woke Giles. He tried to sit up, was immediately sorry for it as his head throbbed and he nearly ripped a needle from his arm. He looked around, realized the world had gone black.
"Shh, lie still."
Buffy? He struggled to get away from the strong hands holding him down.
"Giles, stop it. You're in the hospital. You're going to be fine."
"I can't see." Had he lost his eye? The way Xander had? Only not one. Both.
"You have bandages over your eyes. But they'll be fine, you'll see."
"So, I won't need glasses?" He smiled, felt his skin tear around his lip. "Oh."
"Here. This will help."
He felt her dab something slippery on his lips. "Why are you here?"
"I heard you were hurt. What were you thinking taking that thing on by yourself?"
He hadn't been thinking. He'd been drunk. Another night, the latest slayer sent on to Rome and nothing more to do except think about Buffy and what he wanted but could never have. So he'd drained a bottle of Rioja and cruised Madrid. And found a Horkneth demon attacking a young woman and her son. "Did they--are they all right?"
"The boy's fine. His mom's in intensive care. But she's alive because of you." Buffy's hand settled on his forehead. "You were very lucky." He could feel her breath on his cheek.
"Yes. Lucky." He wanted to hold her hand to his head, keep it there, enjoy the feel of her touch. But he didn't move.
"I shouldn't have just walked away in Budapest."
"You did exactly the right thing, Buffy."
"I'm not sure."
"As...annoying as it might be to say that Andrew was right about anything, he was on target with this one."
"How long have you...?"
"Truthfully, I don't know. I'm not sure I was aware of how my feelings had changed until the Immortal pointed it out to me." It was so much easier talking to her when he couldn't see her. These truths didn't hurt so much when he didn't have to watch her reaction.
"Stephan made you leave?"
It was amazing how she could jump the chasms in his story and arrive at what had really occurred. "He suggested--"
"Did he make you leave?" Her voice was tight.
Giles swallowed hard. "I'm very tired and in a great deal of pain. Do you think you might go fetch the doctor for me?"
"I will. Once you answer my question."
"No. He didn't. I left of my own accord."
"You're a shitty liar, Giles." Her hand came off his head, and he heard her sharp, hard footsteps heading out of the room and down the hall. Boots, he imagined. She was wearing a pair of the boots she so loved.
A moment later the bootsteps were back, accompanied by someone who walked with a little less intent. "How are you feeling, Mister Giles?"
"I've been better." He felt hands prodding him; pain erupted. He cried out.
"Sorry. I have to check. You're healing nicely. Much faster than I expected." A gentle pat on his shoulder, then the doctor said, "I'll get you something for the pain." His footsteps faded away.
"You've been around slayers too long, Giles. You even heal like one."
"Not quite," he said, as the pain got worse.
"Here you are," a new voice said. A nurse, probably.
He felt his head lifted, pills put in his mouth, then a tiny cup of water held to his lips. He drank, swallowing the pills down with the water.
"They work very fast." Another pat on the arm, and he and Buffy were alone again.
"I was really worried about you." She sounded as if she was crying.
"Buffy, I want you to do something for me."
"Okay." She took his hand. Her soft, warm skin on his felt like heaven.
"I want you to go home."
Her hand tightened, as if in reaction. "What?"
"Go home, Buffy. You've done all you can for me. And I appreciate it more than you'll ever know. But you need to go home."
"You're not well yet."
"But you said I will be. And look at how fast I'm healing." He smiled gingerly; this time the skin didn't split.
"I think I should stay here. At least until the bandages come off your eyes."
"No, my dearest, I think you should be with the man you love."
She let go of his hand, he could hear her get up, heard her gathering her things--a coat and purse, no doubt--then she walked to the door and stopped. "What if I don't know who that is?"
"It's not me, Buffy. You've just been worried. It's quite common to mistake relief for something more."
"If you say so."
"Well, you're the smart one, Giles." Another few steps then she stopped again. "Answer me this. Why does everyone I love leave me?"
"I haven't left you, Buffy. I'm just not quite as close as I used to be."
"Semantics, Giles. Nothing but word games." And then she did leave, her boots clip-clipping so fast it sounded like she was almost running.
Giles stood by Andrew, wondering why on Earth they had to wear tuxes for this latest hunt.
"The girl you want...she's over there." Andrew pointed to a crowded room across the hotel. "In the ballroom. It's sort of like Clue. The slayer with a stake in the ballroom." He grinned.
Giles had no idea what he was prattling on about.
Andrew's grin faded. "You'd think with the number of years you spent in the 'colonies,' you'd have picked up on some of the tribal pastimes. Colonel Mustard? Mrs. Peacock?" He sighed. "Why am I trying to talk fun to Professor Plum?" He pushed Giles gently toward the ballroom and turned toward the bar.
"You're not coming?"
"I think you can handle her."
"Yes, well, that's not the point, is it?" Giles was feeling a little testy. Had ever since he'd been released from the hospital in Madrid. He hadn't heard from Buffy since.
Three months. No word.
Not that he'd expected word. But still, she could have shown some concern for his welfare. At least called to see if he could see after the bandages came off.
He sighed and forged onward, making his way into the ballroom, looking for a girl of the right age.
He stopped. There was no one under the age of fifty in the room.
"It's an American School reunion. I didn't want you to accidentally hit on the wrong girl." Buffy sounded amused.
He turned quickly. She was wearing a long black dress. Her hair was up. She looked utterly lovely.
"I've never danced with you." She said it the same way she used to talk about a weapon she'd never used.
"No, you haven't."
"Time we changed that, don't you think?"
"I--" He exhaled slowly. "I'm not sure what to think."
"There's no slayer here--other than little old me. We tricked you."
"Andrew and I." She grimaced. "Consider the wrongness of that. Andrew. And. I."
He grinned, saw an answering smile light her face. "It is very wrong, Buffy."
"Don't I know it." She took his arm, started to lead him onto the dance floor.
"We can't dance here. In the middle of their reunion."
She made a face. "Giles, please. They've practically adopted me. I've been on their city tour and everything. And you know, Vienna is a pretty place." She waved to several couples; they beamed back. "See. It's all good."
He laughed, charmed as ever by the spirit that she held onto no matter what she'd been through. The spirit that had probably been what had made him fall in love with her in the first place.
It had no doubt been what made the Immortal fall in love with her, too. "What about Steph--"
Her hand was over his mouth, harder than she probably meant to--he felt his lips smoosh against his teeth. "Ancient history, Giles. Got it?" Her hand didn't budge.
He nodded, smiling at her little pun.
She let go of his mouth. "Now dance with me, watcher man."
"You really should not call me that." But he pulled her to him, felt her strong, young body against his and knew he was lost. "Buffy, I think this is a very bad idea and--"
She kissed him, swaying to music that had been released long before she was even born, surrounded by men and women not so very much older than him, men and women who were clapping and yelling encouragement. He knew he was blushing a hundred shades of crimson.
Then Buffy opened her mouth to his, and he forgot all about the crowd and just concentrated on her. When she finally pulled away, he let himself smile.
Her expression was teasing, as she said, "Hmmm."
"That was not me at my best," he felt compelled to say. "You caught me quite off guard."
"I'll take your word for it." She smiled up at him.
He smiled back, pulled her closer, and danced with her the way he wanted to. She didn't seem to mind at all. He saw Andrew standing at the door. He lifted his glass to Giles, then left them alone with their new friends.
She kissed him again and didn't let him up for air for quite some time.
"I wasn't going to say anything dire."
The grin she gave him was his favorite in her repertoire. "I didn't want to take any chances."
"I'm actually quite flattered that you didn't."
"Do you want to get out of here?"
He felt his heart speed up. "Well, there's no rush."
Her smile changed. Became a wicked one he'd never seen before. "Do you want to get out of here?"
"Oh, good Lord, yes."
Her smile only grew more devilish. "Let's go." She tucked her hand in his arm, the way she had on the bridge, and waved to the crowd as they left. There were a few wolf whistles to accompany their exit.
"Very classy," he murmured.
"Yeah. What can you do?" She looked very beautiful against the gold and crimson and crystal lobby. "So, do you have a room in this dump, or what?"
"I do, indeed, have a room." He touched her hair, let his fingers drop to her face, then pulled away from her. "Buffy, we don't need to rush into anything."
"I almost lost you in Madrid. You almost died, you know?"
"You didn't tell me that."
"I couldn't tell you that and then leave you. And I knew you'd make me."
"How did you know?"
"Because that's what you do. You make me make the hard choices. And I did. I left you this time. And now I'm back. And you're here. And I'm here. And upstairs you have a room, and I bet it has a bed. And I want to use it." She stared up at him as if she was challenging him to a duel.
He couldn't help it. He burst out laughing.
"Okay, as romance goes, I admit that was lacking." She started to laugh, too. "But it was sincere."
"It was utterly charming." He took her hand, let his fingers twine with hers. "Let's go see what happens."
Her smile was suddenly shy. "I thought you'd never ask."
Giles woke, an unaccustomed weight on his chest. He looked down, saw golden hair spilled across him and the pillow, and smiled.
Then he groaned.
Was he suicidal? A man his age bedding a slayer.
He knew he was grinning like a fool, even as he groaned again. Easing Buffy off him, he slipped out of bed and got dressed in something decent enough to let him run down to the lobby shop where he'd seen some aspirin for sale.
He stopped, turned to look at her as she stared sleepily up at him. "Hmmm?"
"You're not leaving, are you?"
"I'm going to get some aspirin."
"Oh." She closed her eyes, then opened them again. "Did I hurt you?"
"Just a bit." He smiled at her. "I can get some coffee, too. Would you like some? Maybe some breakfast pastry?" It was all so odd--how awkward it should be...and wasn't.
She nodded and cuddled back into his pillow. "Don't be long."
"I won't." He took the stairs quickly, feeling his muscles twinge, but the walk seemed to be doing them good. So she hadn't permanently injured him, then. He was just out of shape. He bought the aspirin, then went to the little bakery just off the hotel entrance and ordered coffee and strudel to go.
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
Giles whirled, hands coming up by instinct, as if he could take on an angry Immortal.
Only the man didn't look angry. He looked intolerably amused. And pleased with himself.
"This is on me," he said, handing the old woman behind the counter a large bill. "Keep the change, my dove."
"So," he said, putting the coffees in Giles' hands, tucking the bag of strudel under Giles' arms, and turning him toward the entrance, "I think this worked out well, don't you?"
"You aren't angry?"
"Why would I be angry?" The Immortal opened the door, letting Giles go out first. He stood on the sidewalk, hands on his hips, and took a deep breath. "I'm a free man again. It's a wonderful feeling."
The Immortal grinned at him. "When you've lived as long as I have, everything gets old, my friend. And besides, I saw what was happening. Who am I to stand in the way of true love? Even if I did have to help it along a bit. My, but you two are blind when it comes to what you want."
Giles knew his mouth was open.
"I told this to Buffy when she left me, and I will tell this to you: if you ever need my help, you have only to call." He smiled warmly, then his gaze wandered to where three young and very comely women were getting into a taxi. "Excuse me. I think I might share their cab."
The women looked up as he hurried over, gesturing for him to get in. The taxi pulled away, leaving Giles on the sidewalk.
"Sir?" The doorman pulled open the hotel door. "Please..."
Giles walked in, pressing the elevator buttons with his knuckle, but he had to put the coffees down to navigate the key card.
Buffy was sitting at the window seat as he walked in. She was swallowed up in his robe, staring down at where he'd been talking with the Immortal. She looked up at him, and her smile was untroubled.
Giles handed her a coffee and the bag of strudel. She peeked in the bag, then got up and found some napkins. She split the strudel and offered him half.
"My favorite kind," she said softly.
"So. Fancy meeting him here, huh?" She looked up at him, a tiny piece of strudel on her lip.
He kissed it off. "Yes. I was quite surprised."
"If we ever have need of him, etcetera, etcetera." He did a passably good King of Siam.
She laughed. "I should probably be offended. He was tired of me, wasn't he?"
"Who could be tired of you? He just knew when to get out of the way."
Her smile was very pleased. "Who knew you were so gallant?"
"Who, indeed?" He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, enjoying the moment, the fact that she was here with him, dressed in his robe, fresh from his bed.
His hip twinged, and he laughed softly at the thought of his young love who might just kill him if he didn't get into shape quickly. He reached for the aspirin and swallowed a few with his coffee.
She put her coffee down, left her strudel unfinished, and pulled him back to bed.
He let her have her way with him, ignoring his aching muscles.
After all, no pain, no gain.