Title: Heal Me
Author's Name: Laura Sichrovsky
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: PG- 13 or FRT
Season: This is set in season four.
Summary: Through an act of neglect on Buffy's part, Giles becomes very ill. When he ends up in the hospital, Buffy works
through her guilt and faces her true feelings for him.
Spoilers: None really.
Disclaimer: This is where I put the statement saying that I do not own Buffy, Giles (Heh! I wish!), Sunnydale, or anything relating
to the show. No one is paying me to do this and if you feel the sudden urge to send me gifts, you might want to talk
to someone about that. Joss Whedon owns all things Buffy and has not given me permission to use these characters
as I have so if you have problems with the story, please send the pretzel bombs to me, not him.
Author's Notes: I've stopped asking where the ideas come from. This one cropped up as just one image of a deathly ill Giles
shivering on the couch. It just spun itself out from there. We hope you like it.
Thanks need to be given, and here is where they go. Thanks to Joss for creating characters so fun to watch
and to borrow for a bit. Thanks to Tony Head for making Giles so amazing. I tried to fight it, but he was just
too remarkable not to fall for. To Ann, who helped with the details, listened to me ramble, talked me through
this, and who never ran out of patience, I owe you so big! Thank you just doesn't seem enough. To Lisa, Laura,
(God save the Queen!) Nikki and Michelle, who called me on my mistakes, and helped me hear my inner Brit,
Thank you,. I couldn't do it without you. Thanks to my amazing husband who not only doesn't get upset when
my writing takes over, but who doesn't freak about the men who live in my head. I love him so.
A Note on the spelling of Willow's and Anya's nicknames here: I spelled "Wil" instead of "Will" and
"Ahn" as opposed to "An" because that was the way they were spelled in the subtitles on the DVDs.
"I vote for The Matrix," Xander said from his place on Giles's couch. "It's got action, suspense, girls in tight leather. What more can you ask for?"
"Xander, I don't think the girls will want to sit through that movie."
"Of course they will. It has Keanu Reaves in it."
"I was thinking of something with less…combat in it. I understand The Sixth Sense is quite engaging."
"Giles, it's a movie about a kid that sees Ghosts. If we want something scary, we can just skip the movie and do patrol. The girls are going to want something fun and non spooky."
"But, The Matrix?" Giles made a face. "Isn't there another alternative?"
"Not unless you want to see Toy Story 2."
"Why don't we just let the girls decide?" Giles offered.
"Alright, but if we get stuck watching a chick flick, you're buying me popcorn."
Giles was about to retort when the door opened, Buffy and Willow laughing as they let themselves in.
"Hey you two," Xander greeted them. "Giles and I decided to be gentlemen and let you girls pick the movie. So what's it gonna be?"
"Oh," Buffy looked uncomfortable. "Well, we actually can't stay too long. We're meeting some friends for coffee in an hour."
"Buffy?" Giles was looking at her, his expression both incredulous and hurt. "We've been planning this outing for a week now."
"Yes, but Madeline is really busy. This is the only time we could get with her this week. We'll hit the movies with you tomorrow."
"I can't tomorrow," Xander said dully. "I have to work. This is my only free afternoon this week."
"Oh. Well, we'll just do it next week."
"Buffy, you aren't being fair to Xander." Giles pointed out. "And I was hoping to show you some new combat techniques before the movie. I think they'll be quite useful to you."
"You can show them to me later, Giles. When I don't have somewhere to be."
"That's the problem," Giles shot back, his voice tense, his temper getting the better of him. "You always have somewhere to be. And it's never where you should be. I understand that you are enjoying the freedom of university, but you are neglecting your friends and your duties. When was the last time that you trained? Have you studied up on your demons lately?"
"Don't you dare lecture me on my duty." Her eyes flashed as she turned on him. "I've given up everything to be the Slayer!"
"You know nothing about giving up your life for your calling! You still have your family, your country, your life. You still have your friends, even if you do treat them terribly."
"Don't give me that. You choose to stay here. And this is what you trained for, worked your whole life for. I didn't ask for this. And yes, I do sacrifice. I have no social life at all."
"Your boyfriend is a bloody soldier." Giles was angry now. She'd just dismissed everything he'd given up for her to whine that she didn't get to play as much as she'd like to. "He goes on patrols with you. Exactly what is it that you are giving up?"
"You wouldn't understand." Her tone was scathing, dismissive.
"Translation? You don't have an answer because you really aren't sacrificing anything."
"We have to leave." Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at Giles.
"Oh yes," Giles snapped. "Wouldn't want to keep your real friends waiting."
"Maybe…Maybe we should call Maddy and reschedule," Willow replied uncomfortably.
"No need to feel sorry for us, Willow." Giles said coldly. "Xander and I will be fine. Off you go."
"Oh, stop it already," Buffy huffed. "You don't do dramatic very well."
"Fine Buffy." Giles's expression was empty. "Call me tonight to report after patrol?"
"I'm not going on patrol." Her voice was tense. "You knew that. I have a date with Riley tonight and you already knew that I wasn't going on patrol."
"Yes, of course." Giles voice had become even angrier. "We wouldn't want your sacred duty to interfere with your quality time with the nancy ninja boy."
"Now, that was just rude." Buffy's eyes were huge, her voice was quiet.
"Look who is talking," Giles replied. "You dismiss Xander and myself without a second thought and expect us not to be hurt?"
"I'm sorry for trying to have a life." Buffy was staring defiantly at him.
"And we aren't in it anymore? Thank you for informing us."
Buffy opened her mouth to retort, but she just stood there blinking at Giles. After a minute, she sighed.
"Of course I'm not saying that." Her tone was decidedly more gentle. "It's just…I'm sorry. It was rude to cancel at the last minute. It's…you're supposed to be understanding guy."
"I do try to be, Buffy, but there is only so much that one can understand."
"Can I make it up to you this weekend?"
"Then you'll still be leaving?"
"I have to. I promised Madeline."
Giles frowned, but he nodded.
"I'll tell you what. I'll patrol tonight." Buffy offered it as a gesture of peace. "And hey, why don't you come with me? You can show me those fighting moves?"
"That would be…nice." Giles replied.
"Good. Nine o'clock at the Restfield cemetery. I'll meet you at the Graves crypt."
"I'll see you there." Giles voice was calm again.
"And now we really have to go," Buffy added. "Xand, I'll meet you for breakfast tomorrow?"
"Sure, Buff." He smiled at her, but the smile didn't reach his eyes.
Buffy didn't seem to notice as she and Willow turned to leave.
"Bye Giles," Willow said, hugging him and giving him an apologetic half smile.
"Have fun, Willow and call when you can?" He let her know she was forgiven with just those few words. She smiled back at him.
"I will. And I'll call you too, Xander." Willow followed Buffy out and closed the door behind her.
"Well," Giles turned to Xander. "Does The Matrix still sound good? My treat. Popcorn as well."
"You know Giles," Xander said as he got up from the couch. "You're pretty good at this comfort thing."
Giles just smiled at him as they prepared to leave.
It was completely dark as Giles walked through the cemetery. The weather had been unseasonably cold; clouds blocked the moon and stars, making the darkness total. A frosty wind was blowing, rattling through the trees, causing Giles to pull his coat tighter around himself. He reached the crypt at ten minutes to nine, leaning against the building, idly searching the graveyard for movement.
He didn't expect her to be on time; she never was. It was one of the many things about his Slayer that irritated him to distraction. She had always been different, nothing like the handbook said she should be. In some ways, this was a good thing, in others, it was decidedly not. Lately, her actions had been more and more frequently falling into the 'not' category and Giles was at a loss as to what to do about it. In all honesty, he knew there was nothing he or anyone else could do; Buffy was independent and she alone would have to change her actions. He just hoped she'd want to before something drastic happened.
By ten o'clock, Giles starting to worry. Buffy was given to being late, but usually not this late. His mind began to conjure reasons for her absence ranging from losing track of the time to grisly death. The latter thought sent chills through his heart. Giles started to pace, careful to keep an eye on his surroundings so nothing could sneak up on him.
Ten minutes later, it started to rain. He considered going into the crypt to keep dry, but he worried that he would miss Buffy if he did. The rain came down with more force and the wind picked up. The rain was cold, biting into his skin and chilling him. He gave up on his pacing to seek the meager shelter of the roof overhang of the mausoleum. The wind blew harder and he huddled, hugging himself, squinting against the storm.
Giles looked at his watch and was worried when he saw that it was ten thirty. Any number of things could have happened to Buffy. He had images of her lying in the mud, bleeding; dying. He decided to brave the rain and go looking for her. He pulled his coat even tighter and walked out into the downpour.
He started in the North quadrant, looking behind gravestones and trees. His mind was in a whirl, his thoughts panicked. If something had happened to her, if she were…he couldn't even complete the thought. He might be frustrated with her, but she was his world and the thought of a life without her in it was unbearable.
Moments like this, Giles felt a deep kinship with the Watchers who came before him. He imagined the fear they must have felt every time they sent their Slayers into battle. He read in their journals of their worries for their charges and he knew the feeling well. From the first day he met her, she owned him. And with that power came a bond that turned a complete stranger into Giles's reason for living.
As he moved his search to the West end of the cemetery, his thoughts turned more dismal. He was becoming increasingly convinced that he would find her mangled body and his resulting dark mood forced him to be dangerously honest with himself. Yes, he was terrified of a life devoid of Buffy, yet not for the reasons he should be. It would indeed be criminal for the world to be deprived of the most amazing Slayer in centuries. It was also true that as her Watcher, Giles would lose the will to train any other young woman to take her place. But in this moment of raw candor, Giles was willing to admit that the cruelest blow to him would be the one he would suffer as a man; as a man who loved a beautiful woman to distraction.
Giles never let himself dwell on those feelings; they brought him nothing but pain. But since he was being so direct with himself, he allowed himself a moment to examine them. He wasn't sure when his thoughts towards his Slayer had changed, but he had been unable to deny that they had. He'd first noticed it at her senior prom. She had walked in, strong, powerful, a vision in a pink gown and he realized that he had lost his heart to her. He knew she would never return the sentiment, so he banished those thoughts as pointless and moved on with his life. At least that was what he told himself by the light of day; his dreams and nightmares were a completely different story.
Giles knew he had to remain calm, whatever he found, so he put his emotions back in check and slogged on through the icy rain searching for Buffy. By eleven thirty, he'd completed a circuit of the entire cemetery and had found nothing. Rather than calming his fears, this served to push him further towards blind panic. He wanted to go home, but his worry that he'd missed her, that she needed him, kept him standing in the darkness. He was freezing, shivering violently in the storm and the inaction was driving him crazy. He decided to make another round of the graveyard.
At twelve thirty, he admitted defeat and went home. He was still wearing his wet clothes when he called her dorm room. He got no answer, so he allowed himself a quick warm shower and a change into dry clothes. He tried calling again and still received no answer. At a quarter to two, he slowly climbed the stairs to bed. It took him a while to fall asleep and when he finally did, his dreams were not kind to him.
He sat up in bed, gasping and sweating. Looking at the bedside clock he saw that he'd only been asleep about an hour. He lay down again, attempting to go back to sleep, but images from his dream haunted him. Buffy, her body broken and mangled; Buffy, injured, calling for him, dying because he wasn't there for her; Buffy, turned into a vampire. Giles drew a deep breath forcing himself to relax. Once more, he drifted into a troubled sleep.
The rest of his night was no better. He woke every hour or so, trembling and panicked in the darkness. He would force himself back to sleep only to start the process all over again. At seven o'clock, he got out of bed for the day. He was exhausted from his lack of sleep and his body ached from his walk in the storm. He went downstairs and dialed Buffy's number.
"Hello?" Her cheerful voice came over the line. Giles felt weak with relief and sat at his desk.
"Oh, Buffy. Thank God you're all right."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"When I didn't see you last night, I was worried."
"Oh that. Sorry. I lost track of the time and then it started to rain. Riley said I should just stay in, so I did."
Giles felt as if he'd been slapped across the face. He'd been out all night, braving the rain, terrified for her safety, and she'd been warm and comfortable in the arms of her soldier boy. He didn't want to make an issue out of it, yet when he opened his mouth to tell her everything was fine, something else entirely came out.
"Buffy, that was rude and irresponsible. I waited in the rain until quite late for you. If you never intended to show, the least you could have done was to call me before I left."
"I said I was sorry."
"Sometimes sorry isn't enough. You should have been there."
"Why are you making such a big deal about this? I'm sorry you were out in the storm, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. It's not like you have a cell phone or anything."
"You could have done something, Buffy. You could have followed through on your promise and come to the graveyard."
"But it was raining."
"And you wanted to be with Riley."
"It's nice to know where your priorities lie." He hung up on her, feeling angry and alone.
He sat for a minute, fuming. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Granted, he wasn't officially her Watcher anymore, but he'd thought he was her friend. Being treated like this hurt. Giles sighed. He didn't feel up to facing the day and really, why did he have to? Buffy was too busy to acknowledge his existence, he didn't have any responsibilities to see to, and he was tired.
Having made that decision, he rose from the desk and went back to bed. Maybe his life would look better after he got some sleep.
When Giles woke again, it was dark. He felt the momentary panic of disorientation. Where was he? How had he gotten here? As the sleep cleared from his mind, he realized he was in his own bed. Giles shifted to see the clock. It was nine o'clock. He'd slept the entire day away, yet surprisingly, he felt as if he could sleep for another week. How could he be so tired? Perhaps he should get something to drink.
Sighing deeply, Giles tried to sit up. He was halted as a dizzying surge of pain shot through him. Before he could do no more than wonder, waves of nausea assaulted him. He struggled through the pain and sat up. The nausea was worse in this position, so he got to his feet, stumbling down the stairs to the bathroom. He made it just in time to empty the entire contents of his stomach out.
He sat gasping and shaking on his bathroom floor, wondering what had just happened. After a few minutes trying to collect himself, Giles struggled to his feet. He was still trembling and the room was spinning in a most unpleasant way. He made it to the couch, where he decided to rest until he felt up to the challenge of the stairs. He sat on the couch, his body aching, his heart beating rapidly. He realized that he was cold and he pulled the blanket off the back of the couch, wrapping it around himself.
Giles was just starting to think that maybe he could make it to his bed when a fresh bout of nausea hit. He closed his eyes against it, willing it away, but his protesting stomach won that battle of wills and he found himself once more in the bathroom, choking and heaving. Gasping, he struggled to the sink and rinsed his mouth. He was disconcerted to find that he had to hold on to the basin to keep from falling over. The room was still spinning as he stumbled his way to the living room. This time, he felt lucky to have made it to the couch and gave up completely on the lofty goal of climbing the stairs. He pulled the blanket around himself again, laying on the couch and drifting into an exhausted sleep.
He had no idea how much time passed, for he was lost in a haze of pain and fatigue. He knew that he struggled to the bathroom several more times and that his entire back hurt because of his efforts in there. He was so very cold. No matter how tightly he pulled the blanket around himself, he was shivering from the chill. He couldn't seem to keep his eyes open, no matter how hard he tried. He couldn't remember being this tired in his entire life; of course, right now he couldn't remember much. He felt his mind drift and he knew he was going back to sleep.
It couldn't have been much later that he was awakened by the sound of voices. He couldn't pick out any words and he didn't recognize them, but he assumed it had to be the children. Who else would be in his flat? He forced his eyes open, surprised to see that the room was lighter. He looked around and didn't see anyone. He struggled to sit up, gasping as the nausea assaulted him, yet again. He still didn't see anyone, but he could hear the voices, sounding as if they came from another room. Giles was just musing on the fact that he really didn't have another room, when the nausea forced him back to the bathroom.
This time, there was nothing to come up. He'd already emptied out everything he'd eaten for the last year and a half, so he was left to gasp and choke as his stomach tried to force out food that wasn't there. He was heaving so hard that he couldn't breathe; he had the frightening image of choking to death, and then it passed, leaving him shivering and panting on the floor. His breathing slowed to normal as he sat there wondering if he should take up permanent residence here in the bathroom. Deciding that sleeping in the bathtub wouldn't be a very restful option for anyone with a pulse, he once more forced himself to stumble to the couch.
He'd forgotten about the voices until he was just drifting back to sleep again. He heard them once more and tried to force his eyes open, but couldn't. He vaguely wondered if he should worry, and then he was sleeping. When he opened his eyes again, he swore the room was full of people. He could see shapes moving just beyond where he was laying. He tried to focus on them, but it gave him a headache and he closed his eyes again.
The next few times he woke were a jumble of pain and nausea. He left the couch only to fight his way to the bathroom to dry heave. The remainder of his time was spent shivering and dozing. He opened his eyes some time later, recognizing that the room was darker again. For the first time in what seemed like years, he didn't feel the driving need to vomit. Perhaps things were getting better. As he lay there he decided that he'd traded the nausea for mind numbing cold. He had never realized that his home could so resemble a penguin habitat. He pulled the blanket tighter around himself, shivering so hard that it made his head hurt. He thought a cup of tea might help, but the exhaustion that overwhelmed him kept him on the couch and he once more drifted off to sleep.
When he woke the next time, the room was lighter again. He was sure he'd gotten up a few times before now, but he could only recall disjoined images of using the bathroom and choking on a mouth full of water. Shivering, gasping from the solid ache that his body seemed to have become, Giles tried to raise enough strength to get to the kitchen. After a bit, he gave up, letting himself drift back into sleep. He opened his eyes some time later, not knowing what woke him up. The shadows were back, walking around his living room. One of them came frightfully close to him and disturbingly, it resembled Xander.
Giles closed his eyes against the images, drifting back to sleep. He knew that the intense cold was making his body tremble, but it suddenly felt as if his whole couch was shaking. He forced his eyes open again, seeing that the shadows were still there. One of them was sitting next to him. He squinted, trying to focus. He was disconcerted to realize that this one looked like Willow. He also became aware of voices again. This time however, instead of seeming far off and disembodied, they were close; right next to him in fact. He struggled to understand them.
"Xander, we have to get him help." The voice was Willow's. "If this thermometer is right, his temperature is 104.8. He looks so pale. Go call 911."
"Can't we just take him?" Giles recognized Xander's voice.
"Can you carry him? I can't. And he's not walking anywhere. Call."
Giles focused on Willow, wanting to tell her that he was fine, but he couldn't force the words out. He could hear Xander's voice in the background, tinged with worry.
"They're on their way." When did Xander's voice get so close?
Again Giles wanted to tell them not to worry, but he couldn't. He had a momentary image of being trapped, held prisoner in his own body until he died, and had to swallow down his panic. He put as much energy as he had into forcing himself to move. He was able to touch Willow's hand, causing her to jump.
"Giles? Don't worry. We're here and we're getting you help."
He faded off again, exhausted from the mere act of moving his hand. When he opened his eyes, he was looking at the ceiling of what he knew must be an ambulance. He turned his head, seeing Willow sitting next to him, her face a study in worry. The movement of the ambulance lulled him back to sleep.
When next he woke, he found himself in a bed in what could only be a hospital room. He felt more awake, more there than he had in a long time. He looked around and saw Willow and Xander in chairs just off to the side. They were talking quietly. He attempted to call to them, but all that came out was a raspy croak. It was enough to catch Willow's attention and she turned to look at him. He tried again, still making that feeble gasping noise.
Willow walked around the bed and brought him a glass of water with a bendable straw in it. After a few painful swallows, he took a deep breath.
"Willow?" His voice was weak, but it was there.
"Oh Giles," She smiled at him. "We were so worried about you."
"What happened?" He knew it was a stupid question, but he found his memory lacking.
"You're sick. Xander called me and said he couldn't wake you up. I thought maybe he was exaggerating until I saw you. You were pale and shaking; your skin was dry and you were breathing funny. I'm not sure you even knew we were there. I shook you and I couldn't wake you up. So we called 911."
"And then?" Giles prompted.
Willow opened her mouth to answer, then she looked down, tears in her eyes.
"Then we almost lost you, Giles." He'd never heard Xander use such a serious voice. "They made us wait in the lobby, but the doctor came and told us they couldn't get your temperature down."
"They also had trouble getting an I.V. line in." Willow's voice was trembling.
"Your veins were so weak that they had to go in through your groin." Xander added.
Giles's eyes widened and Xander gave him a weak smile.
"Don't worry," Xander said. "They moved it as soon as they could."
Giles looked at his right hand and saw the clear tubing taped to his skin.
"They said that if we hadn't gotten you in when we did, you would have died." Xander's voice caught and he swallowed. "If your fever had gone any higher your brain might have cooked."
"As it was, your heart was already straining from the dehydration." Willow looked at him, tears running down her cheeks. She touched his hand. "Giles, what happened?"
"I'm…not sure. I was asleep. Then I was vomiting. And I was so cold. I…I was dizzy, couldn't stay awake."
"For how long?" Willow asked.
"What day is it?"
"Friday evening," Xander answered.
"I think I started to feel ill Wednesday morning."
"Almost three days?" Willow was upset. "Giles, why didn't you call us?"
"I couldn't even get up to my bed, let alone make a phone call."
"We're just lucky Xander went to see you after work."
"Yes," Giles replied, looking at Xander with a tired smile. "I am lucky. Thank you, Xander."
Xander looked embarrassed and mumbled something about dumb luck. A thought occurred to Giles.
"Do Tara and Anya know where you two are?"
"We called and let them know what was going on when we first got here," Willow replied. "They should be here any time now."
"Buffy?" He asked quietly.
"She wasn't home when we called," Xander said.
"You should go home. You must be tired."
"Oh no, mister!" Willow said forcefully. "We aren't leaving you here by yourself. I'll call and see if Tara's left yet."
Giles wanted to argue, but he was suddenly too tired. His eyes started to close and he struggled against them. Willow was talking on the phone and she reached out, gently stroking his hair and making soothing noises.
"Sleep, Giles." Her voice was soft and reassuring. "We're here and we'll take care of you."
His body relaxed and he drifted off into a restful slumber.
Tara paused at the door to Willow's dorm room, fumbling in her pocket for her key. She inserted it into the lock and opened the door. She walked in and froze, startled to see Buffy sitting on her bed, books and papers spread out around her. Buffy was looking up at her with a surprised expression.
"I'm…I'm sorry," Tara stuttered. "I would have knocked, but…well, I thought you'd be at the hospital."
"Hospital?" Buffy blinked.
"With Mr. Giles?"
"I'm sorry, but huh?"
"That's why I'm here." Tara walked into the room, retrieving a canvas bag from a chair by Willow's bed. "Willow wanted me to pick up a few things for her because she's staying at the hospital with Mr. Giles."
Buffy looked completely bewildered. Tara handed her a paper that had a room number and a phone number on it. After a minute, Buffy called it. Willow answered the phone.
"Wil? What's going on?" Buffy's voice was confused and strained. "Is he okay? Calm down. I'll come with Tara. Okay, Wil. Bye."
"Is everything all right?" Tara asked as she gathered up some books from the shelf above Willow's bed.
"Well, I'm not actually sure what she said, because of the panic and all, but it sounded bad."
Tara nodded, snapping the bag shut.
"Whenever you're ready we can go."
Buffy grabbed her purse and a note book.
"I'm all packed. Let's go."
Giles was sleeping when Buffy burst into his hospital room, a look of panic on her face. She stopped at the foot of his bed, swallowing hard, her eyes closing momentarily. After taking a deep breath, she walked over to Willow.
"He looks so…" Buffy started, her voice catching in her throat.
"Weak?" Willow supplied.
"I was going for pale, but okay. Wil, what happened?"
As Willow filled her in on the last few hours, Buffy felt a mounting sense of alarm. Her mind was screaming at her and her world seemed to tilt. Giles had almost died? Giles couldn't die. It was one of the unspoken rules of her life; vampires were bad, she was the good guy, and Giles couldn't die. She looked past Willow to Giles. He'd certainly looked better the last time she'd seen him. It actually hurt her to see him like this, so she turned away.
Her gaze fell on Anya and Xander, sitting off to the side. She'd never seen Anya so subdued. It was creepy. She turned her attention back to Willow.
"And then he woke up here." Willow was saying. "I was never so relieved to see anyone wake up."
"But he's going to be fine now, right?" Buffy asked.
"Well, the doctor is supposed to get back to us."
"About what? He's in the hospital, right? So, sick guy gets all better. What's to get back to us on?"
"Buffy, he was very sick. When I said his heart was weakened, I wasn't kidding. The doctor is doing tests to make sure nothing was permanently damaged."
"What does that mean?" Buffy felt that sense of panic threatening again.
"Well, it could mean that he'll need surgery, a pacemaker, or just a long vacation. I'm not sure."
"A…a pacemaker?" Buffy choked on the words. It wasn't supposed to be like this. This was Giles.
"That's worst case scenario, of course." Willow replied. "We won't know until the doctor gets back with us."
Buffy could only nod. She couldn't force words past the lump in her throat. She walked around the bed and sat on the edge, looking at him. She was surprised when he stirred from his sleep and opened his eyes.
Giles had been dreaming about summers at the beach when he was a child and felt a sense of disorientation when he opened his eyes. It took him a moment to remember where he was and when he did, he realized he was looking into the eyes of his Slayer. He would have thought he was still dreaming if it weren't for the annoying beep of the heart monitor in the background. Of all the soundtracks that ran in his dreams, that wasn't even on the list. He focused on her face, noting the worry in her eyes. He reached out and touched her hand.
"Buffy?" He mentally cursed how weak his voice sounded.
"Hey, Giles." He knew her well enough to read through her overly cheerful voice; she was terrified.
"Buffy, I'm fine."
"Of course you are." She absently took his hand in hers. "Now if we can just convince the doctors."
Giles smiled at her and turned to look at Xander. He noticed Anya sitting next to him, her head down, a paper bag next to her. He caught Xander's eye and arched a questioning eyebrow at him. Xander shrugged.
"Anya?" Giles called to her. "Would you mind coming over here for a minute?"
Anya nodded and stood. She paused for a moment, then picked up the bag and walked over to him. She was still looking at the floor.
"Anya, is something wrong?" Giles asked.
"It's just…it makes me sad to see you like this. I don't want to be sad, so I'm not looking."
Giles chuckled at her, reaching out with his free hand and taking hers.
"I assure you, Anya, there is no reason to be sad. I was ill and now I'm getting better."
She looked at him seriously.
"Do you promise?" Her voice was quiet, tinged with worry.
"Good." She looked into his eyes and smiled. "I would miss you if you died."
"What's in your bag?" Giles asked, more to change the subject away from his demise than from a sense of curiosity.
"I heard that at times like this, gifts are appropriate. So I got you some things to celebrate your not dying."
Giles was both touched and terrified. He didn't even want to speculate on what she might have deemed a suitable gift for him. Anya let go of his hand and reached into her bag. She brought out a leafy green plant in a blue pot.
"The woman at the store said this sort of thing was customary for sick people."
Giles felt a sense of relief. This was a nice gift. He motioned her to put it on the bedside table.
"Thank you, Anya. I'm feeling better already." He smiled at her with genuine affection.
"There's more," Anya said, her smile getting bigger. She pulled out a set of paperbacked books.
"I know how much you like to read and I didn't want you to get bored."
"That was very thoughtful," Giles replied, letting go of Buffy's hand to take the books from Anya, looking at the title of the top one. "Women Warriors at the River of Blood. Anya, what is this?"
"It's a romance story set during the American Indian times. It's very stirring."
"Yes, I'm sure it is. Thank you." Giles would have to be very bored indeed to read something like this. Of course in a hospital, he might just get that desperate.
"I have one last thing," Anya said, reaching once more into the bag and pulling out another book. "I was going to save this for your birthday, but I thought you might need it more now."
This one was older, well worn around the edges; a hardbound book as opposed to the paperbacks. The cover was dark blue with gold, faded lettering. Giles's eyes widened as he read the title; A History of Magic on the British Isles.
"Anya, this is…" He was speechless. As a birthday gift, this would have been amazing; as a way to keep him sane in the hospital, it was perfect. He looked up at her and smiled. "Thank you very much."
"See Xander," she smiled, looking over her shoulder at her boyfriend. "I told you I'd make him feel better."
"And indeed you have, Anya." He was absently running his fingers along the gold lettering of his new book.
Anya returned to her place beside Xander just as the door opened and a man Giles recognized as his doctor came in. The doctor was reading his clipboard as he walked into the room. When he looked up from it, he stopped, his eyes widening at all the people in the room. He eyed them suspiciously.
"Dr. Marshall," Willow said, stepping forward. "This is our family."
The doctor didn't really seem convinced, but he nodded and went back to his clipboard. He walked up to Giles's bed, looking at the readings on the various machines. He made a few more notes on his clipboard.
"Well Mr. Giles," he said. "You are a very lucky man. You were exceedingly ill when you came in, but there wasn't any permanent damage. Your fever is down and we have sufficiently rehydrated you. Your blood pressure is back to normal and your heart has stopped straining."
Everyone smiled and murmured in relief.
"What caused the illness?" Willow asked.
"It was a virus, compounded by dehydration and exhaustion. Have you let yourself get worn down lately, Mr. Giles?"
"That about sums up my entire life," He chuckled.
The doctor raised an eyebrow at him and Giles sighed.
"I'm sorry. Inappropriate humor, I suppose. I was out in the storm we had the other night and I didn't sleep well afterwards."
"You were out in the ice storm? For how long?"
"Only about four hours." At the doctor's scandalized look he continued. "It was a favor for a friend."
"You must have already had the virus, but your body was fighting it off. You let yourself get worn down and the virus took over. You really should take better care of yourself."
"Duly noted," Giles murmured.
"We are going to keep you here at least another day, possibly two. I want to be sure your immune system is back at full strength."
Giles sighed, his expression petulant. He did not want to spend any more time in this ghastly place, but he knew it was for the best. He was too exhausted to argue.
"I'll stop by again tomorrow. If you need anything, buzz the nurses' desk. Good night." With that, the doctor left the room.
Buffy reached out from her perch on his bedside to take his hand again and Giles smiled at her. Something about having her here made him feel better. His eyelids began to grow heavy and he yawned. He tried to fight it; after all, he'd been sleeping for the better part of three days.
"Sleep now Giles," Buffy said, stroking the back of his hand. "We'll take care of everything."
He let his body relax and closed his eyes, concentrating on her touch. He could hear them all talking.
"I think he's sleeping." Buffy said.
"Good. He needs it," the red haired witch replied. "And I think we need to thin out the room."
"Huh?" Xander asked her, bewildered.
"As much as Giles seems to appreciate the company, there are just too many of us here. We should do this in shifts. Tara and I will stay through tonight."
"Anya and I can come in the morning," Xander put in. "I'm off work tomorrow, but I have a private job at three. I'm doing an estimate for a fence."
"I'll take over at two then," Buffy added. "I have a weekend study group until one. Then you'll have time to stop at home before work."
"Buffy," Willow said delicately. "Are you sure you can be here?"
"Of course I am, Wil. Why are you asking?"
"Well, you did say you'd meet Giles at the cemetery and you didn't. With Xander having to be at a job, if you can't be here, we need to know, so Tara or I can come."
"I said I'd be here." Her voice was sharp and defensive.
"Okay, Buffy." Willow's voice was soothing. "But if you can't, call me?"
"I will," Buffy sighed.
"Okay," Willow was back in business mode. "So Buffy will be here at two. Tara and I will come back at eight, right before they close to visitors. We can stay the night again. If he has to stay another day, I can call everyone to extend the schedule. Sound good?"
Giles wanted to tell her that all this fuss was unnecessary, but if he were to be honest with himself, he didn't want to be alone. He yawned again and forced his eyes open.
"You'll be leaving now?" He asked, quietly.
Everyone turned to look at him, surprised to find him awake. Xander stood up and walked over to the bed. He touched Giles's shoulder.
"Ahn and I are heading out, but we'll see you in the morning. Take care of yourself."
"You too, Xander." He touched the boy's hand with his own and they exchanged an entirely overly emotional look. Xander broke eye contact first, looking at Anya who had walked over to the bed. She smiled at Giles.
"Please try to get better," She told him. "You'll depress me if you don't."
"As a favor, just for you, I shall try to be somewhat better tomorrow." He said seriously, hiding his smile.
"Thank you." Anya touched his hand and left the room with Xander.
Giles looked at Buffy. She reached out and gently stroked his face.
"I'll see you tomorrow," She said, looking into his eyes. "If you need me for anything, call."
Reluctantly, she gathered her things and left.
"Are you ready for bed, Mr. Giles," Tara asked quietly.
"I suppose so," Giles replied. His face was troubled.
"What's wrong?" Willow asked.
"It's just…" He blushed and looked at the bathroom.
"Ahh, I understand," Willow smiled at him. "Let me help."
She walked over to the bed and unhooked the I.V. from where it was hanging, holding the bag in her left hand. She pulled the covers back and held out her right hand to Giles. Tara came around and offered her hand as well. Giles sighed, pulling himself to his feet, slightly shaking and completely mortified. He put his weight on the two girls, surprised and dismayed at how much effort this was costing him.
In the bathroom, Willow hung the I.V. bag on a hook on the wall. She turned to him and he blushed deeply.
"I…I think I can take it from here," he stammered.
"Are you sure?" Willow's brow was furrowed. "I'd hate for something to happen to you."
"Willow, I'm just using the restroom, not battling a demon."
She chucked at him and helped him to get a firm grip on the hand holds.
"Call when you're done."
He finished up and walked shakily to the sink to wash his hands. He looked in the mirror, shocked to see a haggard old man looking back at him. No wonder Willow was afraid. He held himself up at the sink and splashed some water on his face. The cooling effect felt nice.
"Everything okay?" Willow called from outside.
"Yes," He replied, turning as she opened the door. "Now, what if I hadn't been done?"
"Then I would have left again," Willow said with a grin.
Giles shook his head and smiled at her. She unhooked his I.V. bag again and offered him her arm. When they got outside the door, Tara lent her help. They got him settled back in bed.
While he'd been in the bathroom, Tara had gotten him a cold soda from the patients' lounge. Now she handed it to him with a straw. The chilled liquid soothed his throat. He put the drink on his bedside stand, where he could reach it if he woke in the night. Willow came over, tucking the blankets around him. She sat on the edge of the bed and began to play with his hair. He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"I'm not a child, Willow."
"I know that. If you were I'd be singing you a lullaby." She smiled at him, then her face turned serious. "Giles, I'm still a little freaked that we almost lost you today. Let me fuss."
He nodded, yawning and closing his eyes. He took comfort from her touch and soon drifted off to sleep.
Buffy worried all the way back to her dorm. As worrying was far from her favorite pastime, her mood was dark by the time she got there. She was just putting the key in the lock when a voice behind her startled her, causing her to assume a battle stance. The voice didn't belong to a demon; it was Riley.
"There you are." He didn't seem to notice that she'd just about taken his head off. "We were supposed to meet for dinner. Where were you?"
"Oh, right. Dinner. Sorry." Buffy unlocked the door and went in, throwing her bag on the bed. "I was at the hospital."
"Are you all right?" He rushed to her side, his face a study in concern.
"I'm fine. I was there to see Giles."
"What's wrong with Mr. Giles?"
Buffy proceeded to tell him the story, pacing the length of the room the entire time.
"And the whole thing is my fault," Buffy concluded, shaking her head in frustration.
"Buffy, this isn't your fault," Riley said from where he now sat on her bed. "He has a virus."
"Which wouldn't have hurt him if he hadn't been out all night in the rain looking for me."
"You didn't know he was out there."
"Yes I did. At least I knew he was going to be out there."
"But you thought he'd go home when it rained. You didn't know he'd stay out there."
"I guess not," she sighed.
"This isn't your fault and Mr. Giles is going to be fine. Look, it's only nine, why don't we go out for a late movie? It'll take your mind off everything."
"Not tonight, okay?" Buffy looked at him, willing him to understand. "I'm not really in a concentrating mood and I'm actually kind of tired."
"Alright," Riley smiled at her. "How about tomorrow?"
"I have study group in the morning and Giles watch at two. Can I call you when I'm free?"
"Okay." He got up from the bed and gathered her in his arms. "If you need anything, call me. And tell Mr. Giles that I hope he feels better."
"Thanks, Riley," she said, kissing him and closing the door behind him.
After Riley left, Buffy got ready for bed. It was early, but she hadn't been lying when she told Riley she was exhausted. She turned out the light and lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.
She desperately tried not to think about the fact that she'd almost lost Giles tonight. With their callings, death was a daily possibility, yet in her mind it was never a reality. Giles had taken on some kind of immunity in her mind; he'd become invulnerable. Yes, he was injured from time to time, but he always came back from it with nothing more than some minor bruising or a few stitches. And maybe that was what terrified her so much about this. Giles had faced the worst that the Hellmouth had to offer, he'd fought demons and vampires without permanent damage. She couldn't wrap her mind around the reality that he might have left her because of a germ.
Buffy turned over and punched her pillow. And it wasn't as if the guilt was helping any. She'd told Riley that she wouldn't worry about it, but she did. Giles wouldn't have been out there if it hadn't been for her. He'd been waiting in the icy rain for her and where had she been? Curled up in a warn bed with Riley. She hadn't even called him to tell him she wouldn't be there.
The guilt was tying knots in her stomach. She hated the feeling, yet she'd been feeling it a lot lately as time after time she found excuses to keep her away from Giles. In a rare moment of self honesty, Buffy admitted that for a few months now, she'd not only been staying away from Giles, but she'd been refusing to look at the reasons why. It wasn't that she didn't want to see him; she actually enjoyed his company. But since she'd started college, things had been so complicated, more so where Giles was concerned; her feelings and thoughts had been in a tumble and it seemed to center around him.
There were moments when they were together that her stomach knotted up and her heart raced; his touch had sent electric shocks across her skin. She knew she was being silly, this was Giles after all, so instead of studying her feelings, she did the first thing that came to mind. She limited her time with him. It stopped the breathless, confusing moments, but it did nothing to shut down her dreams. The dreams made her nervous. What kind of Slayer dreamed about kissing her Watcher? It made her edgy and angry, so she started avoiding him all together.
Now as she lay in the darkness, she faced the reality that her withdrawal had not only strained their friendship, not only hurt Giles emotionally, but it had been the cause if his illness. Buffy had never been one to closely analyze her feelings; she wasn't really an 'Oprah' kind of girl. But maybe in this case, her denial was causing more damage than it was avoiding. She closed her eyes and thought of Giles. She thought of his smile, sweet and reassuring; his eyes, deep and amazing; the way he moved, the way he fought, the way he looked studying a book, the way he looked after her, whether she liked it or not. She thought about him in his jeans, unexpected and attractive; she thought about the tux he wore to prom. She thought about his gentle touch and his compassion. She felt deep happiness, her body tingled and her blood raced. But what did it all mean?
Things with Riley had been strained lately. She tried to be what he wanted, but she couldn't; it wasn't in her nature to be submissive. In all honesty, she didn't love him and she probably never would. But it was never about emotions; Riley fit her request list. After Angel, Buffy wanted something normal, something with no Hellmouth implications. After Parker, reality set in. With her life, whoever she dated had to understand her calling, had to know what a Slayer did. Riley was perfect. He was the all American college boy, clean cut, smart, brave, a soldier and a gentleman. But his ties to the Initiative gave him a knowledge of demons and darkness that rivaled her own. It was perfect; they could go to the movies together and stake vampires on their way home.
Yep, perfect in every way, except that she felt nothing for him. At first she wondered if the trauma of Angel had rendered her incapable of loving again, but as her thoughts about Giles wandered into dangerous territory, she realized she just didn't love the right man. She wanted normal. Giles wasn't even close to what anyone would call normal. Of course, as the Slayer, she'd learned that sometimes the things that work best were anything but normal.
Buffy sat up in bed, hugging her knees. What was it that she really wanted? Not what she thought she should have, not what looked right to the world, but what she really wanted. If she had to choose, who would it be? Could she really have a relationship with Giles? She let herself linger on the idea. Holding hands with him, cuddling with him, sitting on the couch, reading a book with him, kissing him. Her whole body hummed with the rightness of it. She very much could have something with him.
If he was willing, that was. Now there was a thought. How would he feel about all this? Could he possibly feel the same? There was only one way to find out.
Buffy lay back down, thinking through how to tell him. She'd wait until he was better, until he was home. Then she would tell him how she felt and go from there. It wasn't a great plan, but it was a plan. For now, that was enough. Buffy closed her eyes, thinking about Giles and drifted off to sleep.
When Giles woke up the next morning, he felt much more like himself. He'd only woken once during the night. Willow had helped him to the bathroom and back again. He felt like a bloody invalid, although he supposed technically he was. Now, he was feeling stronger and was ravenously hungry.
He looked over to see Willow and Tara asleep on the chairs. He had no idea how anyone could sleep on something so uncomfortable. He considered waking them, as he had to use the facilities again; stupid I.V.s. After a moments thought, he decided that he could do it on his own. He did a fair job of it too. He was a bit shaky at first, but he didn't fall over or trip, he made it to the bathroom and back. Yes, he was definitely putting this one in the 'job well done' category.
His only mistake came when he was getting back into bed. He hung the I.V. bag back on the hook, then turned to get into bed. He would never understand how he did it, but he somehow got the tubing tangled around his arm and as he climbed into the bed, it caught, pulling painfully at his hand. He gasped and swore rather loudly, causing Willow to jump awake.
"Giles! What are you doing?"
"I'm fine." He gritted his teeth against the pain, inspecting his hand for damage as he stood there. There was a little bleeding, but it hadn't pulled out.
"Here," Willow said, crossing over to him. "Let me help you."
"I've already finished in the lavatory. If you could just help me untangle this torture device, I'll be fine."
"You really are a grumpy bear in the morning, aren't you?" Willow smiled at him.
He made a face at her and she helped him sort the tubing out. She got him all tucked back into bed and he thanked her. By this time, Tara was up.
"How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Giles?"
"Much better, Tara, thank you. Although I am famished. Will they be serving breakfast soon?"
"I'll check." Tara smiled at him and left the room.
"It's good to see you hungry again," Willow said.
"I'm sure this I.V. solution has restored my energy, but after three days of not even water, I'm starving."
"They're passing out breakfast trays now," Tara said as she walked into the room. "You should get yours soon."
Willow looked at the clock.
"Xander and Anya should be here in about half an hour. Buffy will be here at two, then Tara and I will be back for the night at about eight."
"Willow, I don't need to be babysat," Giles grumped.
"I wasn't suggesting that you did," she replied mildly. She walked over to the side of the bed and looked into his eyes. "I'm still a little twitchy about the whole, you almost dying thing. This makes me feel better. Can you live with that?"
Giles reached out and gently touched her hand.
"Willow, I'm a hard man to kill."
"Let's not find that out, okay?" Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears and her voice caught on the last word. Giles patted the back of her hand.
"If it makes you feel better, then I suppose I can deal with it."
Before she could do more than smile at him, his breakfast tray arrived. He took the metal warming lid off enthusiastically. He looked down and his brow furrowed.
"What's wrong?" Willow asked.
"I'm starving to death and they bring me toast and oatmeal? What kind of breakfast is this?"
"The kind they give sick people. Eat it. If you keep it down, we'll figure something else out."
At the mention of keeping the food down, Giles looked at her in horror.
"I hadn't thought of that." He sighed. "If this comes back up I might just give up on eating all together."
Willow sat down on the edge of the bed, rubbing his back gently.
"Take a few bites and see how you feel," she suggested.
Giles took a bite and made a face.
"I always did hate this stuff."
He ate about half the oatmeal and a few bites of toast and sat back. He looked at Willow quizzically.
"What?" She asked.
"Why are you asking me?"
"You were the one who said to try the mush and see what happened."
"Well, are you feeling like you need to vomit?"
"That's a nice question to ask."
"Giles…" Her voice held a warning and he couldn't help smiling at her.
"Well, my stomach doesn't seem to be rebelling yet. How long does one wait for this sort of thing?"
"I'd guess if it's still there, it's staying."
"You know," Giles looked up at her seriously. "This is a conversation I can honestly say I never pictured us having."
"What? Whether or not you'll keep your breakfast down?"
Giles nodded, then sighed, looking at the remaining oatmeal.
"Now that I know I can keep food down, this is quite a disappointing breakfast."
"Did I hear someone mention breakfast?" Xander asked, coming into the room, carrying a white paper bag. "Anya sends her regrets, but the hospital depressed her too much, so she stayed home today. I however, come bearing gifts."
Giles looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, Anya and I went to the Pancake House for breakfast this morning. As we were leaving, I remembered how ick hospital food is. And so, I have in this bag, one All American breakfast to go. You know, Giles, that breakfast you always order when we go there? The one with the hash browns and bacon?"
"You always were my favorite child." Giles smiled at him.
"Excuse me?" Xander asked, setting the bag down on the bed.
"Well, I'm either going to adopt you or name my first son after you. But right now I'm too busy starving to death to decide." Giles brought out three Styrofoam containers, setting them on the tray table and opening them. He opened the one with the pancakes and Xander pulled two small glass bottles from his pocket and set them down.
"Can't have pancakes without syrup, can you?"
"Oh yes, I'm definitely leaning towards adopting you." Giles said around a mouth full of hash browns.
"That's just the pancakes talking, G-man." Xander grinned.
"If I were less enamored with you right now, I'd remind you not to call me that."
"Lucky I'm on your good side," Xander replied, making no attempt to hide his smile.
Giles surprised himself by eating over half of his breakfast. Normally, he could eat the entire thing; he was a big man after all. But knowing that his body was still trying to figure out what had hit him, he wasn't at all sure how much he'd eat. Now, he was comfortable and pleasantly full. He lay back on the pillows, watching as Willow ate the rest of his food.
He was pleased to discover that the sleepy, lethargic feeling was gone. He was relaxed, but not tired and in his opinion, this was a great improvement.
Willow finished the food, and gathered up her things.
"We'll be back tonight. Do you want us to bring you anything?"
"Perhaps some toiletries?" Giles ventured after a moment's thought. "Shampoo, a razor, toothbrush?"
"We can do that." She leaned down and kissed him on the top of the head. "You be good today."
"Am I to start calling you, 'mother' now?" Giles asked sourly.
"Only if you really want to," Willow grinned.
"We'll see you later, Mr. Giles." Tara said and the two of them left.
Giles reached over on his bedside table and retrieved the book that Anya had brought him. He'd read a page or so into it when he felt Xander's eyes on him. Giles didn't look up.
"Is that what you plan to do all day?" Xander finally asked.
"That would be why I picked it up. Why?"
"I just thought maybe…"
Giles looked up from his book to see Xander pull some card games out of his duffle bag.
"But if you'd rather read…"
Giles looked from the cards to Xander. Xander reached back into the duffle and pulled out a bag of cheesy chips.
"We could play for these."
Giles closed the book, pulled the table over, then smiled at Xander.
Buffy rushed out of the elevator, juggling her bag and books. It was almost two o'clock and she didn't want to be late. She stopped outside of Giles's room when she heard laughter.
"No, I'm totally serious," came Xander's voice. "That's what she thought it was."
Giles chuckled. After a moment, Buffy walked in.
"Hey Buff. You are right on time." Xander smiled. "And I have to run or I'll be late for Mrs. Higgins's fence. You owe me somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty cheesy chips, G-man. Pay up."
"I would but you ate them all."
"And you didn't help?"
"Well, I'll let you off the hook this time, but only because we ate the evidence."
Buffy put her things down and sat on the edge of the bed. Xander walked over and hugged her, then winked at Giles.
"You take good care of her, Big-G. I'll see you guys later." And then he was gone.
"Big G?" Buffy asked.
"Don't ask me," Giles shrugged. "I rarely ever know what he's talking about. How did your study group go?"
"It went pretty well. I think I have a better grasp on the causes of the Peloponnesian wars." She looked closely at him. "You look much better today."
"I feel much better." He held up his right hand. "They even took the I.V. out this afternoon. Now, if they'd only let me wear real clothing, I'd be human again."
"If they did that, people might think you were actually getting better. So, what were you and Xander doing?"
"Playing cards for salty snacks."
Buffy laughed, but it felt forced. This whole exchange lacked the easy camaraderie that he'd had with Xander and Buffy felt the loss. She looked into his eyes.
"Giles, about the other night. I'm…well." She paused, the words catching in her throat. He gently touched her hand.
"There's no need for that."
"Yes, there is," Buffy wanted him to know how badly she felt; not only for the other night, but for the way things were between them now. It pained her to know Xander was closer to her Watcher than she was. "I shouldn't have…and you shouldn't have…and all this is my…"
"No," Giles interrupted. "This isn't your fault."
"But you wouldn't have been out there if…"
"No, I wouldn't have. But it was entirely my idea to stay."
"To look for me." She looked at the floor. Giles squeezed her hand.
"Can we agree to share the blame?" He asked, smiling when she looked up at him.
"Sharing is good. Maybe this can be the start of a trend. We can share other stuff too. I hear friends do that."
"Really? What sorts of things would we share?"
"Cookies. Ice cream. Lunch. Movies. Information."
"I'd like that very much, Buffy. I missed having it."
"I know. So, what shall we talk about to pass the time." He smiled at her and Buffy noticed that he was still holding her hand.
The next few hours flew by quickly. They sat talking about everything they'd missed out on over the past few months. Buffy filled him in on what the Initiative was doing and he brought her up to date on his research. She told him about her new friends at school and he shared with her about his new neighbours from Brazil. She told him all about her classes, her teachers, the other students. He reminisced about his days at university.
It was relaxed, it was fun, and it was exactly what Buffy had been missing. She knew the rift was her doing and she swore to herself to never let it happen again.
Giles's dinner showed up at six o'clock and Buffy had to feel sorry for him. She knew him well enough to be aware of his likes and dislikes. Steamed spinach, plain white rice, and poached chicken definitely went on the 'dislike' list and Buffy didn't blame him. She'd pulled a chair up next to the bed and talked to him while he picked at his food. She was pleased with the way things were going between them and didn't want to stop the conversation, even to let him eat.
Later, after Giles had finished his dinner and Buffy had moved back to her place on the edge of his bed, the doctor came in. He took a few readings and made a few notes.
"Well Mr. Giles," he said. "You appear to be doing very well now. I'll write up your release papers and you can go home in the morning. I would, however, caution you not to over do it. If you overexert yourself or neglect your health, you'll end up right back here. Do we understand each other?"
"We do," Giles replied quietly.
"Right then. Take care." The doctor left the room, closing the door behind him.
Buffy smiled at Giles, taking his hand in hers. It was becoming her preferred way of talking to him; sitting close to him holding his hand. She knew it must be strange for him, but he didn't say anything.
"This is very good news," Buffy said, absently stroking the back of his hand with her thumb. "No more bad hospital food."
"And no more pushy nurses, poking me in places I'd rather not have poked," Giles added wryly.
"Who's poking you?" Willow asked as she and Tara walked in.
"Unpleasant nursing staff," Buffy responded.
"Ahh. They can be like that." She put her stuff down and walked over to the bed. "Hey, you look almost like Giles. You have color and everything now."
"Yes, well, thank you, I think," Giles said with a smile. "The doctor must agree with you as I'm going home tomorrow."
"That's wonderful, Mr. Giles," Tara responded.
"I'm so glad," Willow said, walking to the side of the bed. "And hey! Now we can set up Giles watch at his place."
"Willow please." Giles looked frustrated. "I don't need to be babysat. I'm actually looking forward to just relaxing alone in my flat."
"But what if you need something? Or something happens to you?"
"Willow, I can't have the lot of you moving in on the off chance something happens to me again. I'll tell you what. I promise that if I need anything, I'll call you."
"You promise?" Willow asked, looking concerned. "You really promise?"
"I promise, Willow." He let go of Buffy's hand and took Willow's. "Please stop worrying."
"Not likely, but I'll try," she laughed. "Just don't be surprised if you get daily check in calls for a while."
"I think I can live with that."
"It is now 7:55. All visitors must depart the building by eight o'clock." A woman's voice came over the speaker.
"I guess that's my cue to leave." Buffy stood up and collected her things. She walked over to the bed and leaned over, kissing Giles on the temple. "Sleep well and I'll see you tomorrow. Bye guys!"
She waved to Willow and Tara on her way out.
Willow turned to Giles, holding up a bag and smiling.
"We brought the stuff you asked for. We stopped at your place and got shampoo, soap, razor. We even picked you up some clothes."
"Thank you, Willow. I am feeling rather… unkempt at the moment."
"You are kind of sporting the mountain man look, aren't you?" Willow asked with a grin. "I've never thought of you growing a beard before."
"I don't look good in one and the itching is about to drive me insane."
"Well before you go off to descruff, Tara brought you something too."
Giles raised an eyebrow looking at the shy blonde witch who stood off to the side. She blushed and shrugged at him. She pulled a plastic wrapped sandwich and a bag of chips out of her bag.
"I…I remembered your breakfast and I thought…I thought maybe you'd want something else to eat." She walked over and handed him the sandwich. "It's turkey and Swiss with a lot of lettuce and tomatoes. I hope you like it."
"Thank you, Tara," Giles smiled reassuringly at her. "The dinner they served me was less than adequate. It consisted of green mush and poached chicken on dry rice. Why would anyone poach a meat? There wasn't even a sauce. It was dreadful. I only ate a few bites, so I am quite famished."
Tara smiled as he opened the sandwich and began to eat. When he finished, he gathered his things and went off to take a shower. He hadn't worried about hygiene while he was ill, but now he was more than ready to clean up.
He stood at the sink and shaved first, pleased to see that he didn't look nearly as haggard as he had the last time he'd looked in the mirror. When he was satisfied that he didn't look like a hermit any longer, he removed the hospital gown and stepped into the hot spray.
The water felt wonderful. As Giles lathered the shampoo into his hair, his body relaxed and his mind began to wander. At first it skimmed over things he'd have to do when he got home, books he wanted to read, and other such mundane things.
Inevitably, it wandered into dangerous territory and he began to think about Buffy. He was pleased that they seemed to have worked through their differences. He'd even gotten an apology from her, which was rare indeed. He tried not to let himself hope too much, but he was encouraged after their talk. Perhaps she would stop shutting him out of her life. He was beginning to tire of constantly being on the outside of her world looking in.
He found himself confused as he thought about her actions lately. She'd been sitting close to him, holding his hand. She was constantly touching him in spontaneous gestures of affection and she'd kissed him on the temple when she left. He wondered what it all meant. Most likely, this was her way of dealing with his illness, much as Willow reacted by over mothering him. But some small part of him, the one that held out impossible hopes, whispered that she was behaving as she did towards Riley. The rational part of Giles caused him to snort at this thought. He was her Watcher, her father figure, hopefully her friend, nothing more. He never had been and he never would be. It was just a fact of his life, one he'd learned to live with. It would do him no good to think on it now. He pushed away the thoughts and relaxed again, soaking in the steaming water and finishing his shower.
When he was done, he dried off and dressed in the sweat pants and t-shirt Willow had brought for him. As he sat on his bed, toweling his hair dry and chatting aimlessly with Tara and Willow, he felt better than he had in days. Tomorrow he'd go home and this hospital stay would be but a memory. Now, that was an attractive thought.
Later, as Giles drifted off to sleep, he couldn't help but smile. He was feeling human and his talk with Buffy had given him hope that he would be accepted and useful again. All in all, his life was looking up.
Buffy had just settled onto her bed, history book on her lap, when the phone rang. She leaned over and answered it.
"Buffy?" It was Riley. Now why did that disappoint her so much?
"Hey. What's up?"
"I was just checking to see if you were home yet. Do you want me to come over?"
"Well, I've got this history test to study for." It wasn't really a lie. She did have a test coming up. But the reality of the situation was that she had no desire to see Riley.
"Buffy, is something wrong?"
"You just seem…I don't know. Maybe like you don't want to see me?" Now how had he nailed that one?
"Riley, it's just…I mean it's not that I don't…" Her voice trailed off.
"Riley, you are a great guy."
"Are you dumping me?"
"Well, I wouldn't…not that I…huh, it's just…"
"I'm just…I don't think that I love you." Wow. That sounded harsh even to her own ears. There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone.
"You are dumping me! Did I do something wrong?"
"Oh no. You've been just great. Better than I deserve, really. You've treated me so well. It's just that…do you really want me to stay if my heart isn't in it?"
"You don't think you might grow to love me? I love you."
"Oh Riley, I'd like to say I could, but I don't think so. And if I stay, it's just unfair to both of us."
"I know you're right, but I don't want to let you go. I do love you. Can't that be enough?"
"It's not and you know it."
"Why can't you love me? Is it me? What if I change?"
"Again, that's not fair to you. If I can't love you like you are, then I don't love you. I'm sorry. It's not you. It's me."
"Is there someone else?" His voice sounded tense.
"Not yet." She knew how bad that must sound, but she felt she owed it to him to be honest.
"Not yet? What does that mean?" His voice had an angry edge.
"It means that I don't love you. I might love someone else, but he doesn't know I'm alive and I feel awful for hurting you like this."
"Buffy…" He paused and took a breath. "I won't lie to you. This hurts. But I just want you to be happy. This other guy. Will he make you happy?"
"I think so. If he'll have me. I don't even know he wants me, but I have to try."
Riley sighed deeply and it hurt Buffy to know that she was causing this.
"Be happy, Buffy. And if you ever need anything, you know where to find me."
"Thank you so much Riley. And you know that if you ever need anything from me, all you have to do is ask."
After Buffy hung up the phone, she sat on the bed for a minute, conflicting feelings running around her head. She felt horrible for hurting Riley, but relieved with the freedom she now had. She was free to be herself, free to be the Slayer, free to contemplate her feelings about Giles. That thought made her smile. Riley was a great guy, but he never understood that being the Slayer wasn't her job; it was who she was. He always wanted her to be more the classic woman that he grew up dreaming about. It wasn't his fault really. It was a dream most men had; the cute little breakable, feminine, girl. Most men, but not Giles. He never seemed intimidated by her. He encouraged her to be strong, to be a warrior. He understood her and her calling in a way that Riley could never hope to. And she understood his. There would be no need to hide anything from him. She could be herself, free to live and to love him. It was a nice thought. Now if only she could convince him of that.
With a smile and a sigh, she went back to studying her history book.
The next morning, Giles didn't even look under the metal warming lid on his breakfast tray; the smell alone was enough to convince him he wanted no part of it. He was going home today and he would eat a real breakfast.
By the time Willow and Tara woke up, Giles was already dressed and prepared to leave. He was only waiting for a nurse to bring his paperwork by. At nine o'clock, he was ready to send Willow off the find the nurse. He was just starting to suggest it when the nurse came in.
"Ah, Mr. Giles." She was tall, blonde, and had the bearing of a Nordic Warrior. She was entirely too cheerful for Giles. "Here is your paperwork. Dr. Marshall has released you. Here are your instructions. Get plenty of rest and eat well. Don't exert yourself. If you have any questions, call the number at the bottom of the paper. I'll have Stan come by with the wheelchair. Have a nice day."
And then she was gone. Giles looked at Willow, who just shrugged at him.
"Too much caffeine?" Tara suggested quietly.
"Too much something." Willow agreed.
Stan turned out to be a little old man and Giles was sure that Stan couldn't push the wheelchair with him in it.
"Must I ride in that…thing?" Giles asked.
"Hospital rules I'm afraid." Stan replied. "You don't ride, you don't leave."
Giles had a momentary image of being chained in a basement as his punishment for refusing to use the wheelchair. This was after all, the Hellmouth. You never knew about things like that here. He sighed and sat down. Anything to leave this place behind.
"Can I push the chair?" Willow asked with a smile.
"I guess you can if your father doesn't mind." He answered, looking at Giles.
"Can I please, Dad?" Willow asked with a grin, before Giles could inform Stan that she was not his daughter.
"I suppose you can," Giles growled at her. "But I might ground you when we get home."
Willow just laughed at him and took over pushing the wheelchair.
The girls had driven Giles's car to the hospital the night before and now Willow stood at the drive up with Giles while Tara went to bring it around. When she pulled up, Giles got up from the wheelchair and went around to the driver's side while Willow loaded his luggage into the trunk.
"What do you think you're doing?" Willow asked when she saw him helping Tara out.
"Getting into my car?"
"You're not driving."
"I'm well enough to leave the hospital. I'm not dizzy. I'm not on any medication. Why on earth should I not drive?"
Willow thought about it for a minute and shrugged.
"I guess there isn't a reason. It just seems weird, you getting to drive yourself home."
Giles chuckled and got behind the wheel. He was more than ready to get back to life as normal. He was in a good mood as they drove to his flat. He was away from the hospital and he was almost healthy. He chatted amiably with the girls about light subjects.
When they got to his flat, Willow and Tara helped him take his things in. Willow opened the door and when Giles stepped through, he stopped in his tracks.
There was a paper banner over the pass-through to his kitchen that read, "Welcome Home Giles." The words were painted in pink and there were sparkles all over it. He blinked. Xander, Anya, and Buffy came out of the kitchen.
"Good to see you up and about, G-man," Xander said with a smile.
"What is all this?" Giles asked, bewildered.
"It's your 'welcome home, we are glad you didn't die' party," Anya supplied.
"I kept her from adding that to the banner," Xander laughed.
"A party?" Willow asked with a frown. "Giles needs to rest."
"We thought about that," Buffy said as she walked up to Giles and wrapped an arm around his waist. "We have food and we are going to watch a movie. How much more restful can you get than just sitting and watching the television?"
"Well." Willow was obviously caving. "I guess that's restful."
"How did you know when we'd get here?" Tara asked.
"We called the hospital this morning," Xander said. "And then we picked up much breakfast food from the Pancake House. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns. We got it all."
"Let's get this party on the road." Buffy led Giles to the couch. "You, sit. I'll bring you food. What do you want?"
"Eggs, pancakes, hash browns?"
"You got it." She was off to the kitchen.
After everyone had food, Xander put in The Mummy and they settled back to eat and enjoy. Giles finished his food and put his plate on the coffee table. He was enjoying the movie and settled back on the couch to watch. After a few minutes, his attention was pulled away from the television as Buffy moved closer to him on the couch. She kept inching over until she was practically in his lap. He was shocked, but not displeased. He tried to ignore her and turned his attention back to the movie.
He was doing a good job of it until she wormed her way into the crook of his arm, snuggling against his side, draping his arm around her shoulders. She laid her head on his shoulder and his breath caught in his throat. What in the name of all things holy was she doing? He felt that he should protest, but he didn't really want to. Perhaps she was just reassuring herself that he really was here and well. He relaxed his body and went back to the movie.
Giles thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
"That was a good choice, Xander."
"I was hoping you'd like it, Big G."
"Will you please stop calling me that?"
"Whatever you say, G-man." Xander's smile was mischievous.
Giles just shook his head. A yawn took him by surprise and he blushed.
"I think it's time to call a close to the party." Buffy smiled. She'd moved off of Giles as the movie came to an end and he realized that he missed having her there.
"I've got to get to work anyway," Xander said, standing up and offering a hand to Anya. "It's good to have you home, Giles. Take care."
"I will," Giles replied. He was surprised when both Xander and Anya hugged him.
"You stay well, Giles. I don't want to have to go back to the hospital to see you," Anya said as she and Xander went out the door.
"Odd girl," Giles said, shaking his head.
"We should go too," Willow said. "I have so much laundry to do. Are you coming, Buff?"
"Nah," Buffy smiled. "I did my laundry, so I'll take Giles watch for the day."
"I don't need a keeper, Buffy," Giles retorted.
"I didn't think you did," Buffy replied mildly.
"I actually feel better knowing you're going to be here," Willow said. "Call if you need anything?"
"Will do," Buffy smiled.
Willow and Tara hugged Giles and Buffy on their way out the door.
Buffy turned around, looking at Giles sitting on the couch. He was dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt; his hair was slightly mussed. He looked so different than the man who was her Watcher, yet so much the same. The smile on his face, the affection in his eyes when he looked at her, his sense of humor, his commitment to her, his compassion; all of the things that made him Giles, made him hers, were still there. Gone were the walls that kept him apart from her, the self-imposed rules that locked him into the role of 'adult guardian' and held him separate from Buffy and her friends. Now, sitting on his couch in the early afternoon sunlight, he was simply a man; and a sexy one at that.
Any doubts Buffy might have had in her decision were gone now. For the first time in her romantic life, everything made sense; something that felt right, was right. There would be no compromises, no hiding who she was, no changing to suit her lover; Giles always accepted her just as she was.
She crossed the room and sat next to him, taking his hand and smiling at him. He smiled back.
"What are you thinking, Buffy. You look pensive, but in a good way."
"It is in a good way," Buffy said, gently squeezing his hand. "But don't worry about it right now."
"Buffy," Giles said, his voice just shy of stern. "I thought we agreed to share information from here on out."
"I will share." Buffy smiled reassuringly. "I'm just not sure this is the right time."
"Why don't you let me decide?" His voice was gentle, he looked into her eyes.
"Because you need to go and rest." Buffy said, just as gently. She wanted to reassure him. Her words had the opposite effect.
For Giles, this moment was a culmination of some of his sharpest fears. He was being treated like an invalid, as if he were weak and couldn't handle his life any longer. In short, he felt obsolete. It made him testier than he should have been. He knew he was over reacting; he simply didn't care.
"I don't need you to be my mother," he snapped at her.
"I don't want to be your mother." Her voice was soft. She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "I want to be your lover."
Giles froze. His misplaced anger drained from him to be replaced by blind panic. This could not be happening. He looked at her; she was smiling at him, waiting for a response. He knew he must look stupid, just sitting and staring at her, but he couldn't seem to shake his stunned reaction. Had she just said she wanted…?
She reached up and gently touched his face. He leaned into that touch, closing his eyes and pretending that she meant it; just for a moment. Then reality set in. She was his Slayer, she was twenty five years his junior, she had a boyfriend, and she had never shown any interest in him. There was only one thing this could be. She was panicked from almost losing him. He took a deep breath, taking in the soft vanilla scent that was Buffy.
"Buffy." His voice was just above a whisper. "Please don't."
"I…I can't…this isn't…" He drew in another breath, collecting his thoughts. "You are confused, frightened. You don't know what you want."
"Actually, for once in my life, I do know. Giles, look at me."
He opened his eyes, looking at her. She was beautiful. The sunlight set her hair aglow, her eyes sparkled, she was smiling. All the love he felt for her welled up in him and he swallowed hard.
"Giles, I love you." The words were so simple, but they carried the weight of his future with them.
"Buffy, you can't…you don't…" His voice failed him. He looked at her, his eyes wide, his doubts eating him whole.
"Yes, I do." She took his hand again, looking at him seriously. "Giles, you are the only man who has ever stayed with me through the good and the bad. You've protected me, sacrificed for me, let me be who I was meant to be, and loved me thought it all."
"If I'm everything you want, then why have you cut me out of your life?" He asked, giving his fears voice.
"Honestly? Because you scare the hell out of me."
"The feelings I have for you, the thoughts, the dreams, they are so powerful, so deep. I just didn't want to face it. So I ran from them, ran from you."
"And now?" His look was intense. "What has changed?"
"Nothing. Facing these feelings still scares me stupid. But, I almost lost you and it was like a slap in the face. I'm wasting time I could be with you, being scared. Not anymore. I don't want to wake up one day and realize that I never got to love you."
"And what of Riley?" Giles's heart was pounding in his chest. Her words were affecting him deeply. How much he wanted to love her. But he had to know that she wanted it too.
"I broke up with Riley last night. He's nice, but I don't love him. He was safe, he made sense; and so I stayed. I don't think that he really loved me either. He just loved what he wanted me to be. I need someone who loves everything I am, who wants me for me. Do you think…do you want to do that?"
He reached out and touched her face, his heart in his eyes. Oh how much he loved her.
"I already do." His voice was soft and rough, his emotions catching in his throat.
He leaned in and kissed her, his mouth caressing hers, putting all his love into this one moment, this physical connection. His tongue traced her lips and she opened for him. He pulled her tightly against him, tasting her deeply, holding her close, wanting nothing more in his life than her.
After a few sweet moments, she broke the kiss, pulling back to look at him. He felt his breath catch in his chest. She had changed her mind, had realized that he was old, not what she wanted; that this was a mistake. Now she would leave, walk out of his life, leaving him empty and broken. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think. She touched the side of his face, pulling him from his thoughts.
"Buffy…" His voice broke, his fear was in his eyes.
"Oh, Giles, no." She caressed his cheek. "No, I'm not leaving. I love you. No worrying here."
"Then…why did you stop kissing…?"
"Because I'm not going to be the reason you go back to the hospital," she laughed.
He made a face at her. This was the last thing he wanted right now. He wanted to take her into his arms, into his bed, and she was babying him.
"I'm serious, Giles." She looked at him intensely. "I've hurt you enough in our life together. No more. From here on out, we take care of each other. So, up to bed now, mister."
Giles looked her up and down suggestively, his desire plainly written on his face.
"Bed could be good," he said, his voice deep and sensual.
"Not that good," she laughed. "Not yet any way. But I will take a nap with you, if you want."
Giles pulled her close, his lips caressing her neck, working his way to her ear.
"I want," he whispered in her ear. He was gratified to feel her shiver in his arms. She looked up at him, her heart in her eyes and he gasped. He saw it all there; she loved him, she wanted him, she worried, and she hoped. He gently touched her face, leaning in to kiss her again. After a moment, she broke the kiss once more. She took a deep breath and moved from his arms.
"Okay, I really need for you to get better fast, so nap now."
He chuckled as he stood up, taking her by the hand and leading her to the stairs.
"I suppose I can agree to a nap for this afternoon as long as you promise me something more interesting for tomorrow afternoon."
"Like arranging your books alphabetically?" Buffy asked mischievously.
"I was rather thinking of arranging something else."
"You. In various places around my bedroom. Repeatedly. Agreed?"
"Oh, I very much agree." Buffy stopped at the top step, turning in his arms and kissing him. "I'll agree to anything as long as I'm with you."
Giles swept her into his arms and carried her off to his bed. He slipped in next to her, pulling her into his arms.
"I love you," Buffy whispered into his ear, snuggling close to him.
"I love you too," He yawned. "I always have."
He drifted off to sleep, holding her close, his heart full of hope and love.