"She had that spontaneous quality of aliveness which illuminates people who have already done a lot of their dying, and I think I am beginning to understand the truth of that." Madeleine L'Engle
The first time Buffy came to London to visit Giles, not on business, was the first time they went drinking together. He knew better, of course, than to feed a Slayer anything alcoholic. Buffy metabolized things so quickly that alcohol went straight to her head but she'd wanted an authentic London experience and there was nothing more authentic than a dirty English pub.
"You sure?" Giles asked, holding the door open for her as they entered the darkened pub. It was near his flat and never too crowded. He came sometimes after work for a pint, usually alone.
"Oh yeah," she said. "I need to have some drinking experiences that don't end with death and kittens."
"I don't see why they can't bloody use sterling like everybody else," he muttered, nodding his head at the bartender who recognized him. He led them to a small table near the back, a table where they had their backs to the wall and could see anyone who entered.
"See? That's what I said," she exclaimed. "Poor kitties."
"Well, let's not get completely pissed," he said in his best I'm-your-Watcher-and-you'd-do-well-to-listen voice. She rolled her eyes.
"Deal," she said. "You set the pace."
He went to the bar and ordered two pints for them.
"Bit early for you mate," he said, handing the glasses over.
"Here with a friend," he said.
"So I see," the bartender said with a wink. He chose not to acknowledge their relationship to the man and returned to the table. Buffy tried her lager and didn't spit it out or make a face so he considered it a success.
"Foamy," she said, which seemed to be an observation, not a complaint.
"I'm sorry Dawn couldn't come with you this trip," Giles said.
"Oh, she's all into school right now," Buffy said, shrugging. "Besides, she thought I could use a vacation."
"Is that what this is?" he asked. "A vacation?"
"Sure," she said. "No Slayer business, no council missions or need to see the coven in Devon. Just a girl going to London to see about a man." He smiled at her. "That's okay right? That I came to see you?"
"It's perfect," he assured her. "I'm just surprised. You could go anywhere in the world."
"I have gone anywhere in the world. I've been all over collecting Slayers and setting up networks and fighting evil and frankly, I'm tired. All I wanted to do was come home to you for a while," she said honestly. Giles, not trusting his voice at the moment, took a deep pull from his pint. "Dawn does say hi," she added.
"Ahh, yes," he said, finally. "I owe her a letter."
"There is such a thing as e-mail," she teased him.
"Not as satisfying as getting something in the post, I'm afraid," he said.
"It's cheaper, though," she argued.
"Well, it turns out being the head of an international magical council pays fairly well," he said with a grin.
"I can't complain," she said, clinking her glass to his. They shared two more, catching up on old times. Buffy told him about seeing Willow in South America where she'd gone to find three new Slayers.
"She was talking about Oz a lot," Buffy admitted. "It was sort of weird. Once he left and she met Tara… she didn't… and then Kennedy." Buffy shrugged.
"Maybe she has finally healed enough to want him back in her life again," Giles offered, helping her put her coat on. Outside, it had begun to drizzle.
"Maybe," Buffy said. "I always liked Oz."
"Me too," Giles said. "He was always a lot calmer than you lot."
"I was calm," Buffy argued, smacking him a little too hard on his arm. It made him stumble a bit. "Sorry."
"You were many things Buffy, but rarely calm," he said. "Do you want to wait out the storm?"
"Nah," she said. "It's not even raining that hard."
They exited the pub into the early evening, though the sun was already well into setting. It would be dark soon. They both had stakes and London now had a high population of Slayers, but Giles would never shake the feeling that with darkness came danger. He walked closer to Buffy, so their arms brushed with each step.
"You all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said. "I just feel all warm and happy."
"Good," he said. "That's the point."
They started the walk back to her hotel amiably. He'd offered to let her stay with him but his apartment was small and his guestroom currently held books and no bed so she'd declined politely. The hotel wasn't far, though. She'd come for a full week – he had picked her up from Heathrow only yesterday. It was a luxury, this time with her.
"I'm the brawn," she said. "Shouldn't I be walking you home?"
"I'm a gentleman," he said. "Though I appreciate the implication of me being too weak to fend for myself."
"Don't abuse sarcasm," she chastised. "I know you can take care of yourself."
"It is better with you here," he offered. "In any case."
It was then that the skies opened. The water began to pour down, soaking them almost immediately. Giles grabbed her elbow and pulled her under an overhang to try to get out of the worst of it.
"Sheesh," Buffy said, squeezing out the ends of her hair. "Thanks for the warning, nature."
"Sorry," Giles apologized but she smiled.
"Not your fault. It's just water, after all."
"It's cold," he commented. "Too cold to keep walking." Buffy turned to look at the shop they'd stopped in front of and was surprised to see it was a tattoo parlor.
"Maybe we can wait it out inside," she suggested. He looked over her shoulder.
"I don't think we seem like the type," he said, dryly.
"If they only knew," she said softly. "Let's go in."
"Buffy," he said, starting to argue.
"I've been thinking about getting one for a while now," she said. "It can't hurt to look."
"Tattoos are awfully permanent," he said, but she was already pushing the door open. He had no choice to follow or to stand alone in the cold. Distantly, he could hear the buzzing of needles from the backroom but the front was empty. There were a few plastic chairs, and several framed pictures of tattoo art on the walls. Most were predictable – tribal designs, skulls, dragons with flames shooting from their mouths. Buffy walked the perimeter of the walls, looking closely at each design.
"What do you think?" she asked him.
"I think you've already had one tattoo removed," he said. She rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously.
"Well that wasn't exactly my choice," she said. "I was sort of forced to get it removed by my extremely irate mother."
"You wanted to keep it?" he asked. "After what Ethan did to you?"
"Well, I didn't exactly want to start worshiping chaos, but at least we would have matched," she said, reaching out and touching his forearm where is own tattoo still remained. He'd never gotten it removed either – it served to remind him not to take the wrong path again.
"Matched," he snorted. "Silly girl."
"My life changes so much," she said, looking at him contemplatively. "Maybe something permanent would be nice."
"Well, I'm not your father. If you want one, get one," he said. She grinned.
"I think I will." He was surprised – he thought reverse psychology might have worked in this case.
"But you haven't even had time to consider it properly!" he exclaimed.
"I'm being spontaneous. Live a little, Giles," she said, and rang the bell at the counter. A woman appeared, heavily tattooed herself.
"Wotcher," she said, sounding quite bored.
"Do you have time to give me a tattoo?" Buffy asked. The lady looked past Buffy at Giles who just shrugged as if to say, 'I can't control her.'
"Nigel's free," the lady muttered. "Do you know what you want?"
"Yeah, really easy," Buffy said. "Giles, wait here."
"What?" he asked. He didn't want her to go in there without him, into that seedy back room where anything could happen.
"It's a surprise," she promised. "Read a magazine."
He sat down with an audible mutter, letting her know that he most emphatically did not approve.
After ten minutes, he started to listen hard to see if he could hear her – any Buffy shrieks of pain but it was only that dull drone of the tattoo gun and indistinct voices. He checked his watch. It was dark out now, and the florescent lights in the waiting room were hurting his eyes. He still couldn't believe that Buffy was back there getting inked while he waited like her grandfather in the waiting room. He was actually kind of irritated. The warm, comfortable feeling he'd had with her in the pub and on the street was dissipating rapidly. After 25 minutes he heard her voice and soon the door opened. He stood, and she smiled widely at him.
"Well let's see it," he muttered. She stuck her hand out and he saw a small white square of gauze on her wrist.
"What is it?" he asked but she waved him away and turned to the counter to pay for her purchase. Finally, she was through.
"Look, the rain has let up," she said. "Let's make a mad dash for the hotel."
"You aren't going to show me?" he asked.
"I am," she promised. "When we can see it in proper light and where it won't get wet." He followed her out onto the street and she kept up a quick pace through the drizzle all the way into the hotel lobby. The hotel was old and though there was a lift, it was slow and so they took the stairs. Three flights was nothing for her, but he couldn't bound up them in the same way. Finally, she unlocked her door and let them inside. She started taking off her wet layers.
"Take off your coat," she said. "It's damp."
"Buffy," he said. "I can't believe you went in there without me."
"I wanted to surprise you," she said. She started turning on lamps to light the small room. Her bed was made and in one corner was her suitcase. He could see into the bathroom where the counter was littered with her products.
"Did it hurt?" he asked. He remembered the pain, but it had been mixed with magic and pleasure.
"A bit," she said. "Yes, a lot actually but I think being a Slayer took the edge off."
He'd noticed her saying that – calling herself 'a' Slayer instead of 'the' Slayer. He thought that maybe it was a good thing, a healthy thing.
"The wait is killing me," he said, and she sat down on the bed, patting the space next to her. He sat down gingerly. She held out her right hand and he looked at the white gauze again. It wasn't very big, just the width of her tiny wrist. So much power in such a small package. She started easing off the tape.
"I hope you like it," she said, and pulled off the bandage quick like a band-aid. He gasped.
"You…" he said, grabbing her fingers and dragging them closer to the light source. She let out an 'oof' and was leaning awkwardly across his knees but he didn't notice. "I can't believe you did this!" Her face fell.
"You don't like it?" she asked. "I thought…"
"I love it," he said.
On her wrist, in tiny, scrolling script was the word 'Giles'. She'd tattooed his name on her wrist.
"This way you're always with me," she said, smiling, relieved that he'd liked it. "You're my something permanent. No matter what happens, I know you're always on my side."
"That's right," he murmured and pulled her into a tight hug. She hugged him back, letting her head rest briefly on his shoulder.
"And if anyone asks, I can say that I got this the time we went drinking together," she joked.
"Ahh yes, a drunken regret," he said.
"No!" she exclaimed. "Never any regrets."
He kissed her cheek.
Buffy and Dawn had invited him to Italy for the Easter holiday and since he hadn't seen Buffy since she'd last been to London, he accepted immediately.
"You can stay with us," Dawn told him over the phone. "We fixed up the spare room last summer. It's nice."
"Only if you're sure I won't put you out," Giles said.
"We're sure. Besides, Buffy's totally excited about playing hostess. All she can talk about is Giles this and Giles that. When Giles comes, and on and on," Dawn said. "But it's nice. I feel like I haven't seen you in forever."
"Too long," he agreed. "I'll look forward to it."
He knew it would be nice to get out of London – to get out of England. Rebuilding the council wasn't easy – he hadn't expected it to be, but after two years it was beginning to come together. He hadn't had to face an apocalypse in over a year and it was a nice feeling – the world not constantly trying to end. He was rediscovering what it was like to have a life, one that wasn't located just above the mouth of hell.
Often times, he wished that Buffy didn't have to live so far away. When Dawn graduated from college, he would offer her admission to the Watcher program and he thought that if she accepted, he might be able to entice she and Buffy to relocate to London but that was at least two years away yet, and until then he'd have to be content to bi-annual visits, postcards, and phone calls. Besides, it wasn't as if Buffy was wasting her days. She traveled a lot for the Council and there was plenty of demonic activity to contend with in Rome – all ancient cities always had a high demon population.
Giles was surprised to see that Dawn alone picked him up from the airport.
"Buffy was held up," she explained, helping him put his suitcase into her small trunk. He'd never been anywhere with Dawn behind the wheel before and he was a little nervous, especially if she drove like the locals. "She wanted to be here, but two injured Slayers showed up on our doorstep last night."
"Are they all right?" Giles asked. Dawn shrugged.
"I think so. It was pretty bloody though and they were young. She didn't want to leave them alone so she sent me." Dawn smiled as if seeing him for the first time and launched herself into his arms. "I missed you!" He dropped a kiss on the crown of her head.
"It's so lovely to see you," he said. "You look simply smashing." She blushed and they climbed into the car which she pulled out like a local, with no heed to the traffic around her. He braced himself. "How are your studies?"
"Fine," she said. "My Italian is way better than Buffy's, that's for sure. I don't know why she stays here. I'm always translating for her. She needs to live somewhere they speak English."
"Well, she always has a home in England," he said.
"Yeah, I heard about you and her in England. I think there were drunken adventures to a tattoo parlor if I recall correctly," she teased.
"I was not drunk," he said. "And that was all her idea."
"I think it's sweet," Dawn said, pressing her foot down on the accelerator. Giles took off his glasses to clean them on his shirt. If he was about to meet his death, there was no reason to see it clearly. "She's so excited to see you Giles, it's crazy. She's been jumping around for days going, 'GILES' at the top of her lungs."
"Really?" he asked, slipping his glasses onto his face while they were at a red light. The city really was beautiful and he craned his neck to try to see it all at once.
"I know she's crappy at the whole communication thing, but she misses you," Dawn said. "She misses all her scoobies."
"It's hard to be apart after so long together," he commented.
"I'll say. I miss Xander," she said. "We invited him, too, but he's either in Australia or Africa right now. I can't keep track."
They chatted all the way back to the small house Dawn shared with her sister. Giles was never so happy to be out of a car in all his life, and he'd driven with Buffy before, so it was saying something. The house was surrounded by a tall fence and had a lovely little garden out front. It was far enough from the heart of the city to be off the beaten path.
"How lovely," he said. Suddenly the door burst open and Buffy appeared with a huge grin.
"AH!" she cried. "MY WATCHER IS HERE!" He couldn't help but grin just as widely at her enthusiasm. She ran down the path, threw open the gate, and launched herself into his arms.
"Hello, love," he said, laughing. "How very good to see you."
"Yay, you're finally here! And Dawn didn't kill you with her psycho driving!" she said into his chest.
"Hey!" Dawn said, opening the trunk and pulling his suitcase out. "I'm right here."
"It was a close call," he whispered theatrically. Dawn rolled her eyes.
"Come in, come in," Buffy said, taking the heavy suitcase with ease and ushering them all inside. "Did Dawn tell you about the unexpected guests?"
"She did. How are they doing?" he asked.
"Better," she said. "We got them all patched."
"Well, I hope I'm not imposing. I still can get a hotel room if there isn't space."
"Nonsense," she said. "You can have my room. I'll just share with Dawn."
"Buffy," he said. "It's quite all right…"
"No," she said, firmly. "Plus, Dawn probably won't even be here because she's always with Francisco." She drew out the name in a sing-song voice and Dawn shot her a dirty look.
"Shut up," she said.
"Francisco?" Giles asked in a stern voice.
"My boyfriend," Dawn said, rolling her eyes. "At least he has a pulse."
"Shut up," Buffy snapped and Dawn smiled smugly.
"Nice to see some things never change," Giles said.
"Anyway, you must be hungry. Let's get you all settled and then we'll worry about lunch," Buffy said. "My room is upstairs."
He followed her up a narrow staircase and she pushed open a bedroom door. It wasn't anything like her bedroom back in Sunnydale. Her bed was at least a Queen with a dark, wood frame. The walls were painted a luscious red – it was very warm and didn't overpower the room because of the large picture window that let in plenty of sunlight with the soft, gauzy curtains. She had a big, gilded mirror on one wall a matching vanity. Over her headboard was a large cross.
"Nice," he said. "Thank you for letting me stay here."
"Giles I'm so happy you're here," she gushed. "Would you like to freshen up before we go?"
"Please," he said.
"Bathroom is right through there. I'll be downstairs and I'll introduce you to the newbies if they're awake." He watched her descend the stairs feeling as if his heart might burst. Alone in her room, he set down his suitcase and took of his jacket. It had been cool in England but here the sun was already shining and warm. His shirt was a little rumpled and normally he'd roll up his sleeves to try to hide the wrinkles but he resisted. On his left wrist, he'd gotten 'Buffy' tattooed at the same shop in the same delicate scrolling font and he didn't want to show her right away. He wanted to surprise her when the time was right.
Downstairs, Dawn was putting books into a bag in the kitchen. Buffy was leaning against the counter watching her.
"Just skip," Buffy was whining.
"No!" Dawn said. "I have to go to class!"
"But Giles!" Buffy said.
"I'll be here all week," Giles said. "Buffy, I cannot believe you're encouraging Dawn to skip school!" Buffy turned to look at him.
"She's like a super genius, she can miss one class to hang out with us," Buffy said. Dawn rolled her eyes.
"Buffy logic," Dawn supplied. "I'll be home for dinner."
"Bring Francisco," Giles said and Buffy nodded.
"Bye guys," Dawn said and ran out the door before anyone else could mention her boyfriend.
"Oh well," Buffy said.
"How is Francisco?" Giles asked.
"Oh, totally great. I just like to give her a hard time," Buffy said. "Want to meet the other girls? I told them they were coming and they got all wide-eyed."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you're my Watcher!" she said. "Instant celebrity status."
"All right," he said, disinclined to argue with her. She led him down the hall and knocked lightly on a closed door. She didn't wait for a response before she opened the door a crack and stuck her head in. "Up for a visitor?" She pushed the door open all the way so she and Giles could enter the room. The two girls were in bed together, looking up groggily. Both were heavily bandaged and looked a little worse for the wear. Both were frightfully young as well – a good deal of the new Slayers were in their late teens but these girls looked fifteen at most.
"This is Carmen and Alexandria," Buffy said, indicating which name went with which girl.
"How do you do?" Giles asked, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"You're Dr. Giles!" said Carmen in a heavy Spanish accent.
"Just Giles," he said.
"I read about you," Carmen said. "About how you lived on the hellmouth with Miss Summers."
"Just Buffy," Buffy said, wrinkling her nose. "Giles is my Watcher."
"What happened to you?" Giles asked.
"Demon," Alexandria said softly. "We couldn't… I wasn't strong enough to…"
"It's all right," he said. "What's important is that you got away with your life."
"I'm going to patrol tonight," Buffy said. "See if I can't track it down."
"Demon hunting," Giles said dryly. "Wouldn't be a vacation without it."
"No rest for the weary," Buffy agreed. "All right munchkins – we're going out. Rest up and help yourself to whatever is in the kitchen."
"Are you sure it's all right to leave them alone?" Giles asked, worriedly. If they were attacked, they were in no form to fight.
"Willow put the whammy on the house. It's safe," Buffy said. "And I'm hungry, so let's roll." He was hungry as well so he followed her down the steps and out into the yard.
"Walking?" he asked.
"Not exactly," she said, pulling open the door to the shed. Inside was a Vespa with a couple helmets hanging from the handle bars. "Does it offend your masculinity if you ride behind me?"
"I think I'm secure enough to manage," he said, catching the helmet she tossed to him.
"You know how I am with cars. This is much easier to navigate," she explained, climbing on. He got on carefully behind her, making sure his weight was centered before relaxing a little. He was pressed against her back and he took the opportunity to give her a little hug. She turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. "Giles," she said happily. "Can't you stay forever?"
"One day at a time," he said with a sternness that wasn't real.
"I have a favorite café," she said, turning the machine on and pulling out into the street. He had to hold on to her and put his hands on her waist to keep upright. She tried to drive as safely as possible as not to scare him. Luckily, the café was close and though it was nice to sit close to her and to hang on, he wasn't sad to get off.
They secured the vehicle and sat down in the afternoon sun. She seemed warm, tan, and happy to see him. He smiled at her, feeling a little bashful under her constant gaze.
"It's nice to see you happy," he said.
"Italy is nice," Buffy said. "But you know, Dawn has been thinking of transferring."
"I thought she enjoyed University here," Giles said.
"She does but there's this program at UC Berkeley she's interested in. She's just waiting to hear back from them," Buffy said. "And if Dawn leaves Italy, well, there isn't really a reason for me to stay here alone."
"Is that so?" he asked.
"It's so," she said. "Any ideas on where an old fashioned Slayer might be needed?"
"A few," he said. "I have something for you." He hadn't planned to show her now but her face was rosy and glowing in the waning light and she looked so open to him that he couldn't resist.
"A present?" she asked, hopefully.
"A present," he confirmed, and pushed up his sleeve to expose his wrist to her. She grabbed his hand and squealed in delight, drawing the stares of the other patrons. Giles ignored them.
"That's me!" she said, tracing the letters with her finger tip. "I'm right there."
"Right where my blood flows," Giles said softly. "Up through my heart, again and again."
Buffy pressed her lips to her name.
With Dawn back in the states, it didn't take Buffy long to pack her things and leave Italy behind.
"What about the demon population in Rome?" Giles asked half-heartedly, on the phone. It wasn't like he wanted her to stay there.
"There are plenty of girls stationed here," Buffy said and he could hear her taping boxes through the line. "Plus, as a Slayer, I follow my instincts."
"And where do your instincts lead you this time?" he asked.
"They say, Buffy, go to England," she said in a stern voice.
"Ah, England. Good country," he joked, playing along. "And are your instincts telling you that there is some sort of threat here that you need to fight?"
"Well, I guess I'm not so much following my instincts as my heart this time," she said, softly. "It feels kind of like my instincts, but the percentage of success hasn't been as high."
"But this time feels different?" Giles asked, shifting the phone from one ear to another. They'd been talking a long time.
"Maybe," Buffy said. "I hope it's different."
"And when will you arrive in London?" Giles asked, flipping open his date book.
"I'm shipping most of my stuff ahead," she said. "There isn't much. Some to Dawn back in California, and some with me. I should be there in two weeks from today."
"Well, I'll be sure someone is at Heathrow to fetch you," Giles said, writing Buffy down on a square of his calendar. After a moments hesitation, he added an exclamation point after her name.
"How kind of you," she said. "But if we stay on the phone any longer, I'm going to have to cash my plane ticket to afford the call."
"Quite right," he said. "Well, If I can wait six months, I can wait another two weeks to see you."
"Goodnight, Giles," she said.
"Goodnight," he replied and hung up the phone.
Alone now, without the comfort of her voice in his ear, he moved around the flat, readying himself for bed. He shut off lights and locked doors. He checked each window and closed his bedroom door behind him. He brushed his teeth and got into bed. He had never been a deep sleeper and after living on the hellmouth, he'd stopped being a sound sleeper as well. These days, he drifted off for an hour or two at a time and woke up suddenly, as if in danger.
Now, he didn't bother to try to sleep. He thought about the things he had to do to prepare for Buffy's arrival. He would give her an office at the Council building. The one across the hall from his own technically belonged to Xander, but Xander was almost never in Great Britain, so he would relocate Xander's things and put Buffy there instead. That way she would be near to him.
Assuming, of course, that she wanted an office. She'd been fairly settled in Italy for a while now, perhaps she wanted to resume her life of world travel – head up another team of Slayers. Maybe she was just coming to England to pick out the cream of the crop of the Slayers training in the Council building so she could take her army and fly off into the wind.
He didn't know why he couldn't just ask her these things. After years together, after life and death, after hours on the phone, after loving her so much that he wrote her name on his skin, he still could never just say what was on his mind. It was stupid really. This constant guessing game he made himself play. Well that would all change.
When Buffy came, he would be honest with her always.
Well, he would try to be honest with her always.
When Buffy stepped out of the terminal with her bag, she scanned the crowd of cars and people for her Watcher. Instead, she found Andrew who smiled widely and waved his hand so fast it was a blur.
"Hi Buffy," he said.
"Where's Giles?" she asked, letting Andrew struggle with one of her suitcases.
"Oh, uh, Mr. Giles sent me to get you while he was in his meeting. I'm supposed to bring you to the Council building," Andrew said, leading them to a long, black car. Inside, the driver sat with the engine idling.
"Is that our ride?" she asked, watching the trunk pop open. She put in her larger suitcase and then, rolling her eyes, loaded the other one.
"It's the Council's car," Andrew said. "Only the best for numero uno."
"Let's go," she said, sliding into the back seat while Andrew tumbled in awkwardly behind her.
"Mr. Giles is training me to be a Watcher," Andrew said after a few minutes of driving and lapsed conversation. Buffy, at one time, would have introduced herself to the nameless driver but she knew now that he already knew who she was and that she'd get no response from him save for a yes ma'am or no ma'am.
"I know, Andrew," Buffy said with a little more kindness than she felt. "He says you're doing well."
"Really? Because I think that the whole British…"
"Andrew… I do want to hear about your whole training in tweed but I'm kinda beat. Do you mind if we catch up later?" she asked.
"Oh, okay," he said and from his bag, 'man-purse' Buffy's mind supplied, he pulled a gameboy and started playing intently.
Buffy let her eyes close but she didn't sleep. It was hard for her to sleep – even with the balance of power shifted, she never really felt safe. The sound of the smooth engine was soothing though and helped settle her down. She'd been so excited to see Giles and the disappointment had been sharp at the sight of Andrew but now every second that passed brought her closer to her Watcher. When the car stopped, she popped out excitedly.
"I'm supposed to take you to your office," Andrew said.
"I don't have an office here," Buffy said, watching the driver drive away with all her luggage still in the trunk. She didn't worry – it would end up where it was supposed to be.
"You do," Andrew said. "On the executive floor." Buffy shrugged and followed him in. The halls were mostly empty – they passed a few people Buffy didn't know and she didn't slow down enough for conversation. Sometimes people recognized her and sometimes they didn't and her least favorite activity was finding out which one it was going to be.
Finally, after a maze of hallways, they reached Buffy's office and she was surprised to see that her name really was on the door.
"I thought this was Xander's office," she said, touching the letters of her name. The plaque was shiny and new and still sort of greasy like it had recently been polished.
"Guess not," Andrew said and they went inside. "Want me to wait with you?"
"Not really," she said. "Where is Giles?"
"I'll go let him know you're here," Andrew said, edging out of the room. Buffy looked around the office – it was big, with a lovely view and a large, wooden desk. There wasn't anything personal about it because she hadn't moved in but she totally understood the gesture. This was Giles' way of asking her to stay, of letting her know she was welcome and wanted. She sat on the edge of the desk and tried not to pace but when she heard his voice down the hall, she burst out of the door and saw him standing a few yards away with a man she didn't know.
"There you are," he said and she walked up to him with her arms out. His hug was warm and familiar and he smelled clean and right. "Hello, Buffy,"
"Hi," she breathed. Finally, she let go and stepped back, looking over at his companion who was serving as their audience. "Who are you?"
"Buffy, this is Mr. Bradley, the Council's head librarian," Giles explained.
"It's like Bruce Wayne and Batman being in the same room," she said.
"I…" Mr. Bradley looked confused.
"Never mind," Giles said, fondly.
"Nice to meet you, Ma'am," Mr. Bradley said and she shook his hand.
"That will be all for now," Giles said, dismissing him. Mr. Bradley walked away slowly, looking back over his shoulder as Buffy linked her arm with Giles'. "Do you like your office, Buffy?"
"It's huge," she said. "I've never had an office before. A cubicle once, but…"
"Mine is just across the hall," he said, unlocking the door and letting them in. This seemed more familiar – books and tea cups and broadswords all over the place. She breathed in deeply.
"So we can be neighbors," she said. "What am I supposed to do with my office?"
"I guess that depends on what you plan to do in England," he said, motioning for her to sit down. She sat in one of the chairs facing his desk and he sat in the other, so they could be on the same side of the formidable piece of furniture.
"I plan to eat scones, mostly," she said. He gave her a small smile for her comedic effort.
"There is plenty to do around here," he said. "We'll find the right fit."
"Yeah," she said absently. "Mostly I plan to find a place to live in the next couple weeks and I was hoping you could help me with that."
"Of course," he said. "Are you staying in the same hotel?"
"For now," she said.
"Travel is tiring. Would you like to rest for awhile?" he asked. "I can have the car take you and your things there now if you'd like."
"I want to stay with you," she said. "I mean, if you aren't too busy. It's just that… with Dawn away now, I've been sort of isolated for the last few weeks and now you're here and I'm here and we're here together, so I thought maybe…"
He had missed her babbling.
"Consider my schedule cleared," he said. "I'll take you to check in myself and then we'll find some dinner, yes?"
"Normal Buffy and Giles visit routine then?" she asked.
"Oh… would you like to do something different?" he asked.
"Can't we just stay in?" she asked. "Not that I'm against dinner but…"
"We'll pick something up on the way home," he promised. Giles made a phone call and then led her down to his car. Her luggage was already in the back seat and he held open the door for her. She climbed in. It was a short drive – a pause to pick up curry for dinner – and then they were both in Giles' familiar, small flat. He built a fire in the fireplace while she opened the containers of food and found dishes in the kitchen. They sat on the sofa eating, watching the fire as if it were a television. Outside, it began to rain.
"I really am in England," she said, standing up to look out the window properly. Down in the street, cars drove slowly and pedestrians opened their umbrellas. Lights began to flicker on as the darkness settled. Giles came up behind her and let his hand rest on her shoulder.
"Yes," he said. "I'm so glad."
"I don't think I'll patrol tonight," she said, turning back to face him. He smiled in the soft light.
"No," he said. "Portia will probably take her squad out anyway, despite the rain."
"Portia?" Buffy asked.
"You met her once. She's the senior slayer in London," he said. "Was, anyway."
"Is she good?" Buffy asked.
"Oh, yes," he answered. "In a militant sort of way. Perhaps you could teach her a few things about imagination. She's very big on technique but it sometimes gets her in trouble."
"Just call me Professor Summers," she said softly, and leaned against him. He put his arms around her and rested his chin on her head. She relaxed into him, all soft muscle and liquid bone. There was another hour of watching the fire and touching his fingers before he drove her back to the hotel.
That night, nearly two thousand girls had the same dream. Buffy wasn't sure if it was her dream that the other girls were sharing or if it was something bigger being funneled into the mind of every Slayer, but when she got to the Council building that morning, every Slayer she saw wore the same, hollowed look. When she went straight up to her office, there was a growing group spilling out of Giles' door.
"Move," she snapped and the girls fell away like the tide, leaving a tidy path for her to reach her Watcher.
"Buffy?" he said, as if he'd been waiting for her to arrive before listening to any of the girls.
"We have a problem," she said and the words tasted so familiar in her mouth that it was uncanny. She almost laughed after saying it, it was so normal. Giles' face slid into that single expression, that look of exhaustion and contempt that he always got after she said those particular words. There were 20 girls crowded around Buffy, 20 Slayers besides herself and they all mirrored her stance – feed wide for balance and crossed arms over their chests, maybe to protect their hearts, maybe to hold themselves together.
They moved to a larger room, one used as a classroom and Giles took notes on the whiteboard in his sloppy, masculine handwriting. They all discussed the dream and Giles wrote words like deep magic and apocalypse and different dimension on the board. The dream didn't make sense but then, that was part of the battle. Somewhere in the back of the room, Buffy could hear a girl crying. She could tell that Giles couldn't hear it – it was soft. She scanned the room and saw the girl – she was so young. The girl met Buffy's eyes and then looked away again quickly.
"Let's take a break," Buffy said. Giles looked up from his book and nodded once. There was a time when he would have argued but now he just let Buffy lead. When the room began to buzz with conversation and movement, she saddled up to Giles and asked about the crying girl.
"That's… drat, I can't remember her name. She's new and young. Thirteen, I think, from Denmark," he said. "She hasn't been here very long."
"She was crying," Buffy said.
"If there is anything I've learned from being your Watcher, it's that you must lead your Slayers, not try to parent them," Giles said carefully. "I tried very few times to act like your father instead of your Watcher and none of them ended well."
"I know," she said. "Plus you as my dad is way, way icky." He smiled at her but it was brief and mostly in his eyes. They moved out of the room back toward his office where there was at least tea and biscuits if not actual lunch. "Tearing the space between the dimensions… is that what Glory did?"
"Sort of," Giles said in a way that meant no. "She opened a portal – portals are like doorways, meant to be opened and closed. Tearing the space between is not nearly so precise. It will be harder to mend, to right the realities. Our best hope is to stop it."
"I am sort of tired of cleaning up messes," Buffy said, closing his office door behind them. A few minutes without the constant din of teenage girls would be appreciated. She never gave Giles enough credit for sticking it out all those years in the library with her and Willow and even Cordelia.
"Sort of?" Giles asked, handing her tea.
"Very," she amended. She nibbled on the chocolate biscuit her gave her but it was half-hearted. Eating and slaying had never gone hand in hand for her. "So how do we stop it?"
"We can't stop it from this side. What I mean to say is, if this demon is trying to rip into our dimension, we need to go over to his to defeat him," Giles explained.
"We need Willow," Buffy said.
"And I have no idea how to locate her," Giles said, sitting down with heavy frustration. Buffy reached out and patted his hand.
"I wouldn't worry about that. Willow seems to know when she's needed. I'll send the word out – she'll show," Buffy promised. "In the mean time, I want all the training amped up to maximum levels. And I want as many Slayers as we can get in one location. If this demon does bust through the proverbial wall, I want an army waiting for him."
They moved from the Council building – an easy target – to their property is Scotland. Girls were already converging there by the time Buffy and Giles got into his car to start the drive north. Giles was behind the wheel and Buffy was on the phone with Dawn.
"What part of cancel your flight did you misunderstand?" Buffy was saying, the exasperation in her voice making it high and whiny. "Because I don't want you to fly home to an Apocalypse, that's why!"
Buffy paused and Giles could make out the tinny noise of Dawn's response but he couldn't decipher what she was saying. It sounded heated, whatever it was.
"They don't even celebrate Thanksgiving here, Dawn. Come for Christmas," Buffy snapped. Giles rolled his eyes. He was almost grateful an Apocalypse would distract from the turkey and cranberry sauce hunt.
"The world will still be here," Buffy was saying. "Yes it will. Yes, it will!"
"Let me talk to her," Giles said, holding out his hand for the phone. She glared at him and ignored his hand.
"Frankly, Dawn, I don't appreciate the lack of confidence. Have I ever let the world end before?" she said. "That's what I thought."
Giles had to chuckle. It only earned him another glare.
"I swear to God, Dawn, if you show up in the country before December, I'm gonna kick your ass all the way back to Berkeley," Buffy said. "Anyway, I'll call you when I save the world. Again."
She hung up the phone and sighed loudly.
"And how is your sister?" Giles asked lightly.
"Pissed," Buffy snapped. "Only Dawn would want to fly towards the horror."
"It's a Summers trait, I assure you," he said.
"I make an army and still, somehow I know that by the time this is all over, I'm going to be the one covered in demon goo," Buffy said. She glanced at the backseat that was piled high with weapons and last minute magical ingredients. Most of the supplies had gone ahead with the girls but the books and these last weapons, including the scythe, had come with Buffy and Giles.
"I'm still not certain we can do this without Willow. I mean, I've memorized the spell but…" Giles trailed off.
"Relax," Buffy said for maybe the hundredth time. "She'll be there."
"I don't understand how you can be so sure," Giles said.
"It's Willow. I don't even have to try to find her anymore. I just have to throw up the mental bat signal and she appears," Buffy explained.
"Bat signal?" he muttered but she just put her feet up on the dashboard and pretended to rest.
Buffy was right, though. Willow was already at the castle when they pulled through the gates. Buffy and Giles let the Slayers do the unloading while Buffy wrapped her arms around her best friend.
"Hey Mother Earth," Buffy said, her face aglow in pleasure at seeing her oft-absent friend. "Long time no anything."
"I know," Willow said sincerely. "It's been crazy. Hey, Giles."
Giles dipped his head in greeting.
"I suspect the others have filled you in?" he said and she nodded.
"Everything's all set up inside. Xander is making sure none of the girls mess up the sacred space," she said.
"Xander is here!" Buffy squealed and rushed past Willow into the formidable building.
"It's not really saving the world unless all the Scoobies are here," Willow said, poking her elbow into Giles' side.
"Quite," he said. "Dawn is not happy that she's missing it."
"I bet," Willow said, walking with him into the building. She led him through the dark hallways to where Xander and Buffy were embracing and talking.
"G-Man!" he called and Giles grimaced.
"Hello," he said. "Shall we save the world and then have pleasantries?"
"He's been grumpy all day," Buffy whispered loudly.
"I have not! I just seem to be the only one who is taking seriously the gravity of the situation," he said. "Per usual."
"We're totally aware," Willow said, schooling her features into a more serious layout.
"Right," Buffy said, mocking her seriousness. "Let's do it the old fashioned way. We fight, I slay, we party."
"Go get the girls," Giles snapped. "I want them all in here to watch this."
"Yes, Sir," Buffy said and went to go round the troops before all the nervous Slayer energy destroyed the castle. He turned to Willow.
"How is this going to work?" he asked.
"I can open a portal to the demon's dimension," she said, all trace of humor gone now. "It won't be very big so she can only take one other person with her. We don't know what's over there, exactly, because the only way these demon-y types can enter our realm causes the ultimate kablooey so she needs to go in guns blazing."
"Well if they destroy our world, what happens when we go over there?" Xander asked.
"I'm not quite sure," Willow said. "Here's the rub. Buffy's going to want to take you, Giles."
"Me?" Giles asked.
"She's going to want her right hand with her but you can't go. She needs to take a Slayer and you need to act as her anchor," Willow explained. "We need a way of pulling her back if something goes wrong."
"Giles is the best man for that job," Xander said solemnly. Giles nodded his agreement. He'd been anchoring Buffy the entire time he'd known her.
"Is there any preparation for me?" Giles asked.
"Some," Willow said nervously. Giles raised an eyebrow and waited for her to continue. "The best anchors are usually lovers – someone with that sort of intimate bond…" She trailed off looking at him with a sort of strange hope but he shook his head.
"Never?" Xander asked, but it sounded like the question escaped without his permission. Giles glared at him severely and he shrugged. "I'm just saying, all those sweaty training sessions,"
"Don't say," Giles said.
"In that case, the best bet is some sort of physical bond," Willow said. "Is there something that the two of you share? Like matching scars from the same battle or matching jewelry or anything? The same colored socks?" Willow's voice was tentatively hopeful – she knew Giles was close with Buffy but not on a fashion sense level. Giles was relieved though, because he had just the thing. He pulled up his sleeve and showed Willow his tattoo.
"Aww!" she squealed, startling him.
"Watcher-love, all right!" Xander said. Giles blushed a little.
"That's really sweet," Willow said. "But unless Buffy has a matching one I'm not sure it's going to be enough to anchor her."
"Don't worry Wil, we're two peas in a pod," Buffy said from the doorway. She held up her wrist and walked through the door, allowing the other Slayers to fill the large room behind her. They created a large circle around the sacred space and watched the Scoobies talk quietly. Each girl held a weapon or a stake and looked ready. They'd all shared the dream – they knew what could come out of the tear. In the dream, it had been snowing with the end of the world had arrived and they'd waited too long in preparing. Outside the sky grew cold and gray.
"Tattoos and then sex? We can't do anything normal," Xander griped.
"Who's having sex?" Buffy asked.
"Never mind," Giles snapped. "Let's get started. How do we activate the anchor?"
"I'll go start on the fresh ink," Willow said. She glanced outside. "I'll hurry."
"Fresh?" Buffy asked. "You're going to tattoo me again?"
"Sorry," Willow said. "I need to infuse the symbol with a more magical base. And if I were you, I'd find out which of these girls is the best artist because I don't think I should be the one to do it."
"It hurt like a bitch the first time," Buffy muttered.
"Yes," Giles said. "But you know what might hurt more?"
"The end of the world?" she asked and he tapped his nose as if to say precisely. "Fine. Xander, go find me an artist who can spell. Giles, if you aren't coming with me, then go help Willow. I'm going to find a traveling companion."
They all went their separate ways. Buffy had hoped that Faith would show because there wasn't anyone else she'd want to kick alternate dimension ass with, but Faith had declined to attend this specific Apocalypse. Buffy had called.
"You got it, B," she'd said. "Besides, all the talk of the world ending has made the demon population in Cleveland like quadruple. The nasties are just lined up at the hellmouth, waiting for it to open. I can't leave now."
"Fine," Buffy had said, somewhat petulantly. "Maybe I'll just take Giles."
"Yeah right," Faith had said. "Take Sasha or Portia, or maybe even Mai Ling."
"You know Portia?" Buffy had asked. "She seems sort of… severe."
"She's an ass-kicker. Hey look, I have to go kill something. If the world ends, I'll catch you on the flip-side."
And the connection had ended.
Portia was sparring with one of the younger girls, barking orders and mocking flaws in fighting and technique.
"Hey," Buffy said. Portia looked up. They'd been somewhat wary of one another since Buffy had come back to England and to Giles. She could tell that Giles had been working with Portia extensively – she recognized his training style in the girl's fighting, and ever since Buffy had returned, she'd been usurping Giles' time completely. Maybe Portia was bitter at the loss of her adopted Watcher but Buffy didn't care about that.
"Hey," Portia said, nodding her head. She respected Buffy, that much was clear.
"Want to take a road trip?" Buffy asked. She saw the gleam in Portia's dark eyes. Portia was about four inches taller than Buffy, much bulkier, and had skin like rich dark coffee. She was beautiful in a way that made Buffy feel pasty and cultureless but Buffy knew that she could still kick her ass and it was a soothing feeling.
"Yep," Portia said. She followed Buffy back to the center of the room, the other girls' envious glares on her back.
Willow was just finishing the new ink when Buffy returned to her side. Xander came back with the young Slayer Buffy had seen crying back at the council office.
"This is Kira," Xander said. "She's your artist."
"Let's go," Willow said. "Who is first?"
"Giles," Buffy said, pushing him into a chair. He rolled his eyes but stuck out his wrist gamely. Kira looked terrified.
"How comforting," Giles said, reacting to the girl's expression.
"It's easy," Buffy said. "Just go over the lines that are already there. And if you screw up, I'll kick your ass!"
"Um…" Kira said.
"Gallows humor," Xander said. "Go for it."
Kira reluctantly sat down across from Giles and took the hollow needle Willow offered to her.
"I'm going to chant, so just ignore me and focus," Willow said.
"That's a clean needle?" Giles inquired.
"Only infection you're going to get is magical," Xander quipped.
"Xander, go away," Giles said. Xander looked about to argue but instead went to talk to the Slayers at large. Willow started her chanting and Kira dipped the needle into the bowl of new ink. Buffy squeezed Giles' shoulder.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"Always," he responded. He grimaced at the first few pricks but soon the warmth of the magicks overcame any pain. When Kira was done he could hardly even see a difference. This ink was more brown than green but the hand had been steady.
"Good job," Buffy said and slid easily into the chair that Giles had vacated. Giles pressed his handkerchief over his tender wrist and watched Buffy. Kira seemed a little more focused now and when she started on Buffy, Giles could feel the heat grow stronger.
"I can feel it," he said, lifting the handkerchief to inspect his wrist. The air around the tattoo seemed alive. "I can feel Buffy."
"Then it's working," Willow said. "Think of it as a magical rope tying you together."
"It's weird," Buffy said, her eyes faraway. "Like a bracelet you never ever want to take off." Everyone watched Kira finish the final flourish on the 's' and Giles refolded his handkerchief to the clean side and pressed it delicately against Buffy's wrist. She gave him a grateful smile. While his wrist was still oozing blood slightly, when she removed the cloth, her wrist was already well on the way to healing. Still, she tucked it into her pocket. "Good luck charm," she said. He nodded.
"Perhaps you should start, Willow," Giles said. She moved to the center of the circle. Xander and Buffy moved to flank her. Giles pulled Portia aside.
"I know," Portia said. "Just like training."
"No," Giles said. "This is nothing like your training." Portia's face blanched – he didn't often see the girl look frightened but Giles' grave tone was doing it. "This is life and death. This is the world Miss Williams. If you lose, we all lose." Portia's mouth opened and closed a few times.
"What do I do, Mr. Giles?" she asked.
"You do your best. You follow Buffy's orders. If it looks like it's too much, you keep fighting. You come back victorious or you die trying," he said. "She did it alone for seven years and now she's decided to take you with her. Don't let her down."
"Yes, Sir," she said, tightening her grip on her sword.
"Portia," Buffy called. In front of Willow, the air wavered and burst open with a bright, yellow light. The portal was opening. "Let's roll."
Giles moved to where Buffy was and she impulsively threw her arms around him. He hugged her tightly. He wished he could be going with her, weapons blazing like the old days but he was just as happy to anchor her. "If you feel me calling, make sure you're in contact with Portia because she isn't anchored," he whispered.
"Okay," she said, not letting go.
"Come back to me, Buffy my love. I cannot do this on my own," he whispered. She gave him one final squeeze and a firm nod.
"I will be back in no time. Light a candle for us, because we're going in," she said. Giles watched her jump through the portal with Portia and got the same feeling he always got when she ran headlong into danger – a roiling in his gut that whispered cruelly that he wasn't going to see her alive again. He knew if she died, it would be for the last time.
But she wasn't exactly gone. It was odd – he knew that if he really wanted her to come back, all he had to do was yank on the mystical line that tied them together. He could feel echoes of her emotions – the adrenaline, the smidgen of fear, the overwhelming sense of power and authority. The swell of energy as she begun her battle. He could tell when she landed a well-placed blow or a perfectly executed kick. He felt the blossom of pain when she was kicked in the gut, or knocked off her feet. In essence, he was fighting the battle with her.
"Giles?" Willow asked, watching his face display what he was feeling. The Slayers were closing in on him, eying the open portal warily. It was already unstable – flickering and the magic made everyone edgy and tense. The Slayers gripped their weapons and when Giles bent over in phantom pain, Mai Ling moved to jump through after Buffy but Giles grabbed her arm to stop her.
"No," he groaned. "If you go through, no one is coming back."
"He's right," Willow said. "The portal is too unstable."
"This is horrible," Xander said. "How many times have we waited for Buffy to come home? It never gets easier."
Long minutes passed – maybe an hour. Giles stood in the same position the whole time, ducking and weaving blows that weren't aimed at him. He was unconsciously mirroring Buffy's movements. His arm shot out in a long arc and he knew it had been a final blow.
"That's it," he said. "Come home, Buffy. The portal is not stable, come home." He used all of his mental and magical power to tug on that line, to tug hard and when Buffy finally came flying out of the portal, she had Portia in her arms. The portal closed behind them and Buffy landed on her back with a large thud.
"Willow," she cried. "Portia is hurt."
Willow and Giles rushed over. Portia was unconscious with a large gash across her back from what looked like a sharp sword – maybe her own for she'd returned without it. She was bleeding profusely and Willow jumped into action. She held her hands over the wound and managed to stop the bleeding but she was tired from opening the portal.
"Girls!" Xander called and two slayers rushed over to help carry Portia to a bed to have her wounds dressed. Her toes drug on the stone as they carried her away. The other girls all followed, some looking disappointed they didn't get to fight anything.
Buffy looked exhausted – Giles could still feel her emotions rippling at him. She was filthy, covered in dirt, grim, and other substances Giles couldn't identify. She was bleeding from several places as well and had a black eye already forming. She stood up, favoring her entire left side. Giles was just relieved to see her alive.
"Well?" Willow asked. "Where did you end up?"
"Hell," Buffy said. "Portia was freaking amazing. There must have been fifteen demons there, twice our size and faster, too."
"And the threat?" Giles asked.
"Portia crushed the power source. That really pissed them off," Buffy said.
"Excellent," he said. "It's always the power source."
"I could feel you, I could almost hear you," Buffy said. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," he said. Willow grinned – another disaster averted.
"Now, I'm going to take a shower because whatever is on me kind of burns," she said and limped away.
"A couple thousand slayers and Buffy still has to do all the heavy lifting," Willow lamented, cleaning up the remnants of the spell. "Not very fair."
"Life isn't fair," Giles said absently. "Willow, this anchoring spell…"
"The effects should go away in a day or so," Willow said. "It isn't permanent but you might have some side-effects for a little while. Shared emotions, proximity issues…"
"Ah. Yes, thank you," he said. "I think we all deserve some rest but I'd like to catch up in the morning."
"Of course," Willow said. When she smiled, she was still the same old Willow, young and fresh faced in the library. He bid her a goodnight and went in search of an unoccupied room and perhaps some tea.