Catharsis

The night after her fight with Spike in the abandoned house…

Buffy heard a knock on the door and got up to answer it. She wasn't expecting anyone, and had hoped for a quiet night. Willow had even taken Dawn out, which was the first helpful thing she'd done in a while.

'Who would be knocking?' she thought. 'Everybody I know just walks right on in.'

She turned the knob, pulling the door open, and gasped in surprise, blinking back immediate tears.

"Hello, Buffy," he said warmly.

"Giles!" Buffy rushed forward to hug him, forcing a groan from the man as she squeezed him too tightly. "Sorry!" She tugged him inside by his free hand, kicking the door shut behind them. "What are you doing back so soon?"

Giles set his valise down and stepped forward to embrace her again. Buffy gratefully accepted the hug, but she was unsure why her Watcher was being so affectionate. 'Did he have bad news?'

"May we sit?" he asked, avoiding her question.

"Uh, sure…" They moved into the living room and took a seat on the sofa. Buffy fiddled with the hem of her shirt, nervous about what he might be here to tell her.

"How are you, Buffy?" he asked genuinely, studying her.

She put on one of her fake, reassuring smiles – the one she was getting so good at since being torn out of heaven. "Fine…looking for a job. Dawn could eat anyone out of house and home…Are you here to give me bad news?"

"No, dear. I…well, I was concerned that maybe my departure was a bit…premature?"

"You were right, though. I do need to handle the grown-up stuff, with Mom gone," she hastened to say, giving the answer she thought he wanted. "Not that I'm not glad to have you here…"

"Well…despite what I said, you have no expertise as a parent, and I shouldn't expect you to know how to effectively deal with a teenager on a sudden basis. Buffy, you don't have to tell me things just because you think I want to hear them. We've never been that way with each other, have we?" he replied.

"I…I don't know. I guess not…I just don't want you to be disappointed in me," she mumbled, looking down at her lap. And that was a significant clue to Giles.

Buffy had never been meek around him. Defiant, yes; avoidant, frequently; glib, quite often – but never looking like a little girl afraid of a punishment. It confirmed that he had been remiss in addressing her mental state after her…resurrection. Taking the time to look her over, he could see physical changes, as well. She was too thin, and there were circles under her eyes most probably from a lack of sleep. And there was her demeanor – completely lacking the fire and spark she'd carried prior to her death.

He reached out and lifted her chin so he could see her eyes. "Dear girl, you could never disappoint me. Not in a way that would make me love you any less. Forgive me, Buffy…I've never been a parent, and you're probably the closest I'll ever come to having a child of my own, but I've still failed you. I thought by leaving that you would learn to swim, but you've been sinking, haven't you?"

She nodded, unable to speak, as a tear coursed down her cheeks from closed eyes. If she looked at his concerned face, she knew she'd break down, and she couldn't do that. Letting it out meant never being able to stop…

Giles squeezed her hand in comfort. "It's alright…there's only the two of us."

His permission was all her fragile psyche needed, and Buffy wept openly, collapsing forward so that her forehead rest on her knees. The Watcher inched closer, wrapping his arms around her tiny frame and rubbing her back in soothing circles. It pained him to see her so…broken, so grief-stricken. He feared he didn't have the knowledge to help her like she needed now. They stayed in that position for what felt like hours until her sobs dwindled to sniffles. Buffy lifted her head a little and noticed a damp spot on his leg.

"I got you wet," she murmured, her voice wobbly.

He chuckled. "I'll live. Its just denim. Do you feel any better?"

She rose up enough to lean against his shoulder instead. "A little. (sniff) I was afraid if I started, I'd never be able to stop…like when Mom…died, and there was still so much to face with Dawn and Glory. I haven't even really grieved for her, yet. She must think I'm a horrible daughter."

"Joyce would think no such thing! Your mother was very proud of you, Buffy. And if she knew all you've gone through the past months, I'm sure she would understand. You protected Dawn. Anything else would pale in comparison, in a mother's mind."

"Even from you," she whispered.

"Another one of my not so bright ideas. I tend to fall back on pure logic when I don't know what else to do. It was wrong of me to not consider your love for your sister as an asset, not just a weakness."

Buffy shifted back so she was facing him again. "Did you ever wish, while I was gone…that it had been her, instead of me?"

It was Giles' turn to look away, ashamed. "I did. It's not her fault, of course…"

"No, I get it. You don't have an attachment to her, like I do. The others don't, either…not really, except…well, anyway, I don't blame you. Just never ask me to put my life before hers again. I can't do it. So, what did you do in your week away?"

"Buffy…"

"Not time yet for deflection, huh? Bummer…"

And there was the 'glib' part again. "Buffy…the truth is, I got a phone call that made me…concerned…"

"Oh?" 'Who would have called Giles already?'

"Yes…last night," he said pointedly.

She swallowed nervously, not liking where this was going… "Okay…"

He knew that Buffy would never open up if she felt pressured, so he had to approach this delicately. "Buffy…I'm here, I'm ready to listen…I want to help."

And so it came poring out. How she'd been 'done' at the time she jumped from the tower. How Heaven had made her feel. How she felt so unworthy because they didn't keep her there. How she hated her friends for meddling and pulling her out. How this world felt like Hell to her now. How all she felt was cold, and anger, and despair. How unfair it was that everyone expected her to be just how she'd been before her death. How confusing it was to find Spike to be the only one that understood that she just wanted to 'be', while she tried to learn to adjust. How tempting it was to let some random vamp have its one good day. And how she'd tried to coax Spike into taking his best shot, feeling like he was the only one worthy of taking her life. How she feared that he was gone for good now because of what she'd forced him into.

"I wouldn't worry too much about Spike. He's like a bad penny," Giles said in response, trying to lighten the mood.

She shook her head. "You didn't see the look in his eyes, Giles. It was like I'd…betrayed him…in the worst way. We were almost friends, kinda, you know…before I messed it all up. Par for the Buffy course, though. I drive everyone away. It's my gift."

"Buffy, you don't drive people away. You have Willow and Xander, Dawn, Anya, Tara…me…"

"You'd have stayed away longer if Spike hadn't called you," she said petulantly.

"Possibly…though, I told you to call me if you needed me…"

"After saying I had to learn to do things by myself…Anyway, you forgot my dad, and Angel. And Riley," Buffy insisted.

Giles ticked off his points on his fingers. "Firstly, your father has acted like little more than a sperm donor for years, and that is not your fault. He's a selfish bastard who threw away his family to chase after some tart. He doesn't deserve you as a daughter. Secondly, Angel didn't leave because of you, Buffy. He left because he's a coward, and it was easier to leave you hurt and pining for him than try to work out a way for you to be together. Bloody pillock was never good enough for you, and I'd say that based on just his personality, let alone his status as one of the undead. And last, you and Riley just weren't compatible. Buffy, that's not a crime. Based on your personalities, did you really see that working out for the long term, aside from your…professions?"

"Well…no, probably not. At some point, I just stopped letting him in. I wanted to love Riley…"

"But you didn't," he finished for her. "And that's alright. You're only 20, Buffy. Everything is still a learning experience. Why, at your age, I was…well, that's a story for another time. Let's get back to how Spike can hit you without the chip going off. Do you think it has failed completely?"

"Unh-uh. Spike was pretty clear on saying that it was me that was different, not him. What did I come back as, Giles? It's not just Spike's chip that sees me as less than human. I feel less human…just, less…numb…sometimes, nothing. What if I came back without my soul?" she theorized, horrified and trembling.

"Buffy…Buffy! You didn't come back without your soul. You wouldn't be so worried about it if you had. While Willow's spell does seem to have changed you somewhat, all that you have described points to depression, Buffy, not being soulless. I'll have to look over exactly what she did, but I'm sure we can rectify this. In the meantime, will you consider seeing someone?" he gently suggested.

"What, like a shrink?"

He smiled affectionately. "To put it so bluntly, yes. I know someone…through the Council. She normally works with Watchers who have lost their charges, but…"

"A Council employee, Giles? How could I even trust…"

"With the Council, not a part of it. She has an independent practice that deals with civilians, as well. Buffy, I'll do what I can to help you learn adult practicalities, but you need someone to confide in, someone who knows how to help you in a way none of the rest of us do. I promise, she'll be discreet. Dr. Thomas is a friend, of sorts…Please consider the idea."

"Fine," she huffed. "But if the Council tries to commit me, I'm coming after you first!"

"Thank you. I only want to see you happy, Buffy."

"I know…I'll think about it," she replied, rolling her eyes.

The phone rang, a panicked Dawn on the other end. Buffy was grateful to have Giles there to deal with Willow while she slayed the demon, checked over Dawn, and got the teen to the hospital to have her broken arm set. Even more grateful to have him back her up about Willow quitting magic and moving out of the house. Buffy knew she wouldn't have had the courage to be tough with her best friend alone. Emotionally exhausted, she was relieved when Dawn headed straight to bed and Giles told her he would lock up for the night.

Maybe…just maybe, getting through one day at a time wouldn't seem so hard now.