Whispers in the Night

Chapter 1

Cool night wind swept in from the Pacific and skittered down the streets of Sunnydale, California. It whispered past closed doors and shuttered windows in the form of dewy mist, clinging to rafters and leaving a sparkling sheen on the quiet streets. A humid, blatantly chilly breeze blew through a stone courtyard, chased several empty wrappers around the old fountain in the middle of the space, and then carried on straight towards the Spanish-style apartment only a few feet away. The solid form of a man standing in its path blocked it from the apartment's door.

Rupert Giles cursed softly and pulled the collar of his long coat up to cover his neck, setting down the leather suitcase he carried and rubbing his gloved hands together. He stared at the door to the apartment before him with a mix of melancholy and regret. This had been home, once. He was oddly glad to see the "Renters Apply" sign still taped to the darkened window, and he couldn't help but wonder if the people who had been shown through the rooms within had sensed the inordinate sorrow about the place. Did his tears still stain the air of the loft? Did his pain still linger on the cushions of the sofa, and could they smell the scent of rose petals on the stairs even now, just as he could?

Part of him scoffed that he was being overly sentimental. The other part of him said it wouldn't be surprised, seeing as this was an apartment on the Hellmouth.

He had been here less in the last year or so he'd rented the place, at first because his time had been dedicated to the Magic Box, and later because he could barely stand to be around the memories that lived there.

Memories of her. Of Buffy, his Slayer, who was suddenly, miraculously back from the dead yet again. Well...half of her anyway. The Buffy he had once known, taught and even taken for granted would never appear again. His shattered heart broke a little more at the memory of her face when he'd told her he was leaving. Leaving her, and what was left of his heart with her.

Why didn't I let her talk me out of this? He wondered. He knew the answer, in his brain if not in his heart. Because she will never be the person she used to be. And if she depends on me for everything, how can she learn to live again?

It had been impulse that brought him here to his old home one last time before he left for England. Aware that the cab out on the curb was charging him by the minute for this unexpected stop, Giles gave one last look at the home that symbolized everything he was giving up tonight. And then he heaved a sigh, picked up his bag again, and turned to leave Sunnydale—to leave his Slayer—behind for good.

He nearly had a heart attack when he realized someone else was standing there.

Buffy Summers stood at the opposite end of the courtyard, half-hidden in the shadows cast by the fountain. Giles closed his eyes a moment. "How did you find me?"

"Lucky guess. I almost missed you." She took one step forward and the moonlight hit her face, reflecting off the drying tears still lingering on her cheeks. Her blond locks hung in bedraggled curls around her shoulders. It took every ounce of strength he had to keep from breaking down and embracing her and never letting her go again so he could protect her from the big, cruel world. Where on earth were all these urges coming from? He'd never been such an emotional wreck in his life. He had to get out of here.

"Buffy," he murmured, and his voice cracked dangerously. "I can't--I can't do this again. I won't justify myself to you." He stared at her for a long moment, his green eyes stormy with a mix of desperation and hurt. "My cab's waiting. I'll call you from Bath," he finally managed, starting to walk towards the exit behind her.

She remained silent and unmoving until he came abreast of her. It was only then, as he stopped less than a foot from her, that she looked him in the eye for the first time. "I'm sorry, Giles." Quiet resignation filled her voice and her hazel eyes.

He blinked at her in confusion. His brain was slow, and he felt like he wasn't making the connections between her words and the meaning behind them like he normally did. "Whatever for?"

"For screwing up my life so royally that you have to leave to get away from me." She looked away again, her arms crossed over her chest in a defensive gesture. The blunt statement had obviously cost her quite a lot.

Giles hated this. He absolutely could not handle the distance between them, the idea of leaving Buffy in this state without another word. It went against his training, his very natureto cause her pain. He put down his suitcase and put a hand under her chin, trying to bring her gaze back to his. "Buffy." She determinedly avoided his eyes until his second plea brought her face up. "Buffy, please."

When her hazel eyes met his green ones Buffy gasped at the emotion she saw there. She'd had no idea until now how much this abandonment was costing Giles. He looked absolutely miserable, and it wasn't an expression Buffy was used to seeing on him. It was even worse when he began to speak; his voice choked and barely controlled, just louder than a whisper. "What is left of my heart when I leave here will be utterly destroyed if you believe that I think so little of you as to leave just because you're making a right mess of your life."

Her mouth opened and closed a few times as her mind scrambled to find a response. Well, when he put it that way…he had a point.

Maybe he'd always had a point. She was too tired for righteous anger after the day they'd all had.

Shame pricked at her as she looked at this man who had always been with her, even when he should have walked away. As the resentment that had been building in her ever since she regained her memory began to fade, new realization dawned. And for the first time that night, she let herself wonder if Giles was right to leave.

He saw the change come over her face and waited for her to say something. Finally, she did, and her voice was full of realization. "Oh Giles, I am so sorry." He moved to speak again but she shushed him with two fingers over his lips. The contact silenced him far more effectively than her words. "I treated you like crap," she continued matter-of-factly. "No, worse," she said with a wince. "I treated you like my Dad, which you totally didn't deserve. And you really didn't deserve getting Dawn dumped into your lap like you were the one who was supposed to raise her." He stayed quiet, his eyes not refuting her words. She nodded at his unspoken agreement as guilt overtook her.

Like her conscience was trying to pour salt on the wound, her mind flashed back to what she'd been doing only an hour before. She'd been kissing Spike, of all people. She had never been more thankful that she had run from something.

And since Giles was already running away from her… "Not that you need another reason to hate me," she choked out, looking away again, "but you should know before you leave. I kissed Spike."

Buffy removed her hand from his mouth and stepped back to let him think, fully expecting him either to yell at her or just pick up his bag and leave without another word. She snuck a look at his face to find him staring at her in complete and total shock. OK, she'd sort of expected that too.

"Why?" he finally managed in a voice so lost that her heart ached.

"Because I'm an idiot," she replied, giving him the short version. "And he…" she looked him in the eye again in desperation as she tried to make him understand. "He made me feel, Giles. And the only other people to do that since I've…since I've come back were you and Dawn. But Dawn's scared of me and I can't make it better because I can't figure out what's wrong and if you're leaving, then who else do I have?" She realized she was crying and she angrily brushed her tears away.

The helplessness in her voice finally tore away the last supports that had been holding up the dam in his heart. As his last barrier gave way, emotions came flooding out of him so fast he couldn't process which one to cope with first. He hadn't slept in days, his life had gotten turned upside down, his heart had gotten smashed to bits for the second time in two months and he was still jetlagged.

Buffy was completely unprepared for the bone-crushing embrace Giles swooped her into. As her arms impulsively went around his shoulders, his arms circled her waist and pulled her off her feet to level their heights, forcing her to wrap her legs around him to keep from falling. One of his arms stayed around her waist and the other moved so his left hand could bury itself in her mussed hair. It was the first time since she'd descended from heaven that someone alive had treated her like she wasn't made of glass, and she relished the feeling.

It didn't matter that this was Giles and that at any other time she would have been completely wigged. Now it felt safe and right and it was such a relief to feel at all and she wasn't letting go. The hand in her hair pressed into her scalp, pushing her head down onto his shoulder so Giles could hold her tighter. Despite the overwhelming display of emotion, he had yet to speak.

Finally the Slayer felt a soft puff of breath next to her ear and then his words came softly, with almost unbearable intensity. "You silly, stubborn, short-sighted, amazingly wonderful girl."

His harsh tone totally clashed with the hug, but Buffy thought they actually kind of made sense together. She didn't know what else to say that hadn't already been said, so she repeated it. "I'm sorry Giles," she whispered fiercely into his neck. "I'm so, so sorry."

He eased his hold a bit and she slid to the ground again. His left hand came to cup her cheek and forced her to meet his eyes. "You really do understand, don't you." It wasn't a question, more an awed statement of fact.

Buffy felt relief again, strong enough to make her slump a little. The whole repressing emotions thing was really bad for her; now that she could feel again everything was too strong. "That I've been treating you like everything except what you're supposed to be? Kinda getting the idea, yeah." She sighed the last of her sorrow away and got herself under control a little. "I really am sorry, Giles."

"Don't be," he said warmly. Buffy was amazed by the smile on his face; he went through emotions so fast she couldn't keep up. "You understand now. That's all that matters."

She shook her blond head in disbelief. "How can you do that? How can you just forgive all the crap I put you through?"

"The same way that you forgave me three years ago for sticking you with that cursed syringe. Loathe as I am to remind you, Buffy, I'm hardly an innocent party in this relationship."

Buffy opened her mouth to protest, the words "this isn't the same" already on her tongue. She realized with a start that it really wasthe same. He'd gotten their relationship mixed up then, too. He'd treated her as the Slayer instead of his Slayer.

They had hurt each other because they were people and people just did that. And they forgave each other and moved on, because what they had was more important…and because they would have gone insane if they hadn't.

Slowly, she nodded her understanding. There was just one last thing that she had to know. "Are you still leaving?" Her voice sounded surprisingly calm to her own ears compared to the hollow ache building inside of her again as she waited for his response.

Giles had wondered when she would ask. To give himself thinking time more than anything, he pulled her into another embrace, amazed that is was so easy to do as he rested his cheek on her golden crown. "What do you think I should do, Buffy?" Half of him prayed with every fiber of his being that she would ask him to stay…and the rest of him begged to be given leave to go. As always, he waited for her to answer.

The Slayer took a deep breath as she considered, pulling back to sit on the cold stone edge of the fountain. Giles sat next to her and they both stared forward for a long, silent minute, not daring to look at each other.

Finally, Buffy spoke. "The selfish part of me wants you to stay. And as much as I do…" she looked up to meet his eyes and her words nearly died in her throat. No, she cajoled herself sternly. She would do this. She had to be strong for him. "The rest of me thinks that you should have your chance to be done with this." At his confused expression she explained, "Well when I died, that was supposed to be it for you, right? You're the Watcher, the Slayer dies, you go on with your life. And then I came back and you had to give up your chance at doing something else to come and take care of me." Her eyes softened with understanding. "To take care of all of us." She blinked quickly and looked away, staring off into a dark corner of the courtyard as she finished. "So I think you should go. You should go get that life away from all of this, because you deserve it." After another moment she hesitantly raised her head, risking a glance at his face. "…Does that make any sense?"

Giles stared at her with something akin to awe. His expressive eyes shone as they traced her face. Still, though, he did not speak. His entire form was utterly still as his gaze swept over her, watching her like he had never really seen her before. Perhaps he hadn't. With a slow shake of his head, a smile began to edge the corners of his mouth. "You do realize that after all of that, I could never actually leave."

She smiled then, and it was the first truly joyful expression he had seen from her since the weeks before she'd died. "That was the plan," she affirmed with twinkling eyes.

For the first time in months, Giles laughed. He laughed until he could barely breathe, a spontaneous outpouring of joy that he couldn't--and didn't want--to stop. Then Buffy began to giggle as well, for no reason other than that his laughter was contagious. Soon she was laughing helplessly too, and they had to lean against each other for support. When they finally got themselves more or less under control, Giles stood and offered Buffy his hand. She took it with a smile and let him pull her to her feet, watching him with new appreciation as he stooped to collect his suitcase. He turned to her with a smile of his own and offered her his arm in a dramatic gesture. "Shall we?

Buffy smothered another laughing fit, mocked a curtsey and threaded her arm through his. She felt giddy, and after the stark darkness of her recent weeks in the land of the living she wasn't totally sure how to do deal with the feeling. "Let's shall."

Before they left the courtyard, Giles stopped and looked back at the apartment. Buffy read his mind and looked back as well. "Do you think this place is still for rent?"

"I might have to look into it," he replied with twinkling eyes, gazing down at her. "But for now, I am quite content to survive on your sofa a bit longer." She raised an eyebrow at him and he gave a modest shrug. "Just to make sure you and Dawn are settled in, before I find my own place." A new thought occurred to him and he groaned as they headed towards the cab waiting on the curb.

"What?" Buffy inquired.

"How am I ever going to explain to Anya that I'm not leaving again?"

"She'll probably wreak horrible vengeance upon you," Buffy stated matter-of-factly. "But deep down inside, she'll be glad you're staying. They all will."

He opened the taxi door for her and handed her inside. "And what exactly am I staying as, Buffy?" He needed to hear her say it out loud, just once.

She looked up at him and smiled again. Her face was beginning to remember the muscle contractions that accompanied the movement. "The highly successful owner of the Magic Box. My Watcher. The patriarch of our little family…and my friend, who I need close by to get back on my feet, and to come to for advice at any time of the day or night. You're a member of the family, and we want you home where you belong."

Giles smiled one of his rare, full-blown smiles. "That sounds like the kind of life I could get used to." He slid into the cab next to her and shut the door against the cold outside.

"Good," Buffy replied with a satisfied sigh. She snuggled into his side, and after a moment of surprised hesitation he put an arm around her shoulders. With one last look at the misty courtyard outside, he turned to the driver. "Revello Drive, please."

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Author's Note: This was an idea that just wouldn't leave me alone, so I wrote it. I was challenged to find an authentic way of getting Giles to stay. Tell me if you think I pulled it off or not.