Buffy is almost used to being separated from her Watcher. Really, the amount of miles (or, since becoming a fairly permanent resident of Great Britain, kilometers) between them isn't as much as it once had been. There is not an ocean and most of America parting them, but in the end, it feels just the same. Giles runs the Council from the New Building in South London and Buffy trains the girls north of Aberdeen at, what Dawn nicknames affectionately, Hogwarts.
Mostly it's rewarding. Sometimes, she misses her freedom. She hears about demons – Dawn reads them out loud from her books and Buffy wants to go kill them all.
"It looks really big," Dawn says, turning the book vertically and holding it away from her with eyes like saucers. "Maybe you should call Giles and ask what he knows before you go rushing off, sword half cocked."
"You can't cock a sword," Buffy says, inspecting her cuticles rather closely.
"When is the last time you called Giles?" Dawn asks, setting the book down and crossing her arms.
"I don't really think talking about Giles is going to kill fuzzbunny," Buffy says.
"Futzbornis," Dawn corrects automatically. "You hardly spoke at Thanksgiving."
"Maybe we should stop celebrating that holiday now that we live here," Buffy says in another evasive attempt to change the subject.
"Aren't you happy?" Dawn asks softly. "It isn't like you to chase after murderous demons. Usually you just, you know, wait for them to come to you."
"Well, maybe the lack of Hellmouth is making me proactive," Buffy says, leaning against the edge of Dawn's desk. In the fall, Dawn will go back to school and Buffy will be alone again. Of course, she is never alone. The place is always teeming with girls. Giles sends a new one almost every month with either a phone call or a note. Xander has been gone all summer finding girls and nests and mystical monuments for Buffy to train, slay and… well, she isn't sure what she is supposed to with mystical locations, but now she knows where they are.
"Maybe you're getting restless," Dawn says. "And it's going to get you killed."
"Call Giles if you want," Buffy says. "You're a grown up."
Dawn is nineteen now and every time Buffy realizes that, she gets the wiggins. But, Dawn looks pleased that Buffy called her an adult and nods as she closes the text.
"I am," she says. "And I will."
Buffy doesn't stick around for the phone call. She doesn't really care about the fuzzy bunny demon. She's just so… bored. Training girls is fulfilling. She gets to pass on her knowledge and make the world a safer place at the same time and that's great but it's just that she could, theoretically, do this forever. When she looks into the horizon of her life, she can't see what's coming next except for more girls.
Is this it? Is this all that's left? Teaching girls how to fight demons instead of fighting them her self?
Dawn's voice cuts into her pitiful revere and Buffy looks up to see a phone in her face.
"I said he wants to talk to you."
"Um." Buffy looks at the phone and feels her stomach drop. Dawn wiggles the phone and she smiles wanly at her sister. She takes the phone and presses it to her ear. "Hello?"
"Buffy, you can't slay Futzbornis."
"I'm fine, how are you," she says, tilting her body away from Dawn slightly. She doesn't want her sister to see how uncomfortable she feels at this moment. Dawn, of course, isn't real big with the hints and stays put.
"I'm sorry, hello," Giles says, his voice softening. "I just mean to say, there are some demons that are not meant to be taken on by a Slayer."
"What?" Buffy says, slightly surprised. "I'm supposed to kill evil things."
"Yes, of course, but there are some demons that are… well… too much."
"Are you saying I can't handle it?" Buffy says, turning her back on Dawn completely.
"I'm saying that the old ones are old for a reason," Giles says, his tone sharpening. Buffy knows this tone – this is the tone he takes with her now. The tone he perfected after she informed him that he had taught her everything she needed to know. She hates it; she deserves it.
"But I killed the mayor in his old demon form!" she says.
"And you had to destroy a building to do it. Why do you want to jump into a pit of hell to find something like that?" he says.
"I don't!" she says. Now Dawn jumps and backs out of the room.
"I don't understand," Giles says. "Why did Dawn call me asking for information about this demon, then?"
"We were just talking," Buffy says. "I was just saying that I haven't killed anything in a while. I train girls and send them out and then I train new ones. We were just… I was just talking."
"Ah," says Giles. All of a sudden she remembers him like he was before – when all he wanted her to do was to be honest with him.
"Do you, I mean, you knew that you were going to be a Watcher when you were just a kid. Did it ever bother you knowing that you didn't have anything else in front of you?" she asks carefully.
"You know it did," he says.
"How did you deal?" she asks.
"When I met you, Buffy, that feeling went away."
They are both silent for a time. She doesn't know what to say or how that statement makes her feel. Her heart feels like it's fighting to get out of her chest.
"I thought you wanted to train the girls," he says, finally.
"I did! I do, I mean," she says. "I'm just a little…"
"Bored?" he says with what sounds like a laugh.
"Perhaps you should take some time off, then," he says. "You deserve a vacation."
"I guess," she says. "Maybe."
"If you want something to kill, however, there are plenty of vampires for you to take your aggression out on," he says.
"I'm sorry I haven't been… you know, with you." She completely loses her ability to articulate anything around him and yet he always knows what she means.
"And I as well," he says. "Hang in there, Buffy. When all else fails, trust your instincts. We'll figure this out."
"We always do," she says. When she hangs up, Dawn is leaning against the doorframe.
"So are we going killing?" she asks.
"Not today," Buffy says.
Dawn wishes Xander would come back. There were three days of overlap between her coming home for the summer and him disappearing into the great unknown to round up more girls. She always misses him though she tries not to let anyone in on that particular heartache. But on a day like today, when most of the girls are out or occupied and Willow is M.I.A. and Buffy is in Watcher-moping mode, she misses Xander like she would miss a severed limb. It's an intense ache, something fierce and unrelenting.
She goes outside around the back of the manor house to where the land turns to sand, turns to sea. She can hear voices carry to her on the wind, but there is no one in her sights and so she walks out a few more paces, the bottles in her bag knocking against her hip. When she sits down, facing the water, she can almost feel alone. She draws a map in the sand and sprinkles some things and chants some and waits.
When the little light appears over her badly drawn South America, she feels the tiniest bit better. At least she knows he somewhere. At least she knows he's alive.
Buffy lies in bed and watches her ceiling. Giles got the manor house cheap and she hadn't thought to ask how or where he found it. She'd just accepted it and moved the girls and really hadn't looked back. Now, contemplating her brown ceiling, she kind of regrets not doing a little decorating before moving in and starting this new and routine life. They've been here a little over a year now. For the first six months, Buffy was thrilled.
And now? Well, now she didn't know what she was. Old fruit in a sea of ripe, red apples it seems. Willow sits on the edge of her bed and Buffy rolls over to look at her. Willow comes and goes as she pleases but always seems to show up when Buffy needs her most. Willow lies down next Buffy on the bed and her hand finds Buffy's across the comforter.
"How ya holdin' up soldier?" Willow says.
"I feel all oogie," Buffy says, with a heavy sigh.
"In your tummy?" Willow asks.
"In my heart," Buffy says. Willow squeezes her hand.
"Is this trauma in any way, oh, I don't know, Watcher induced?" Willow asked. She watches Buffy's face close. Things haven't been right between her two friends for a long time – since before the end of Sunnydale even and every so often, usually coinciding with Buffy actually talking to Giles, Buffy gets this bout of melancholy.
"No," says Buffy petulantly.
"Okie dokie," Willow says. "I'm going to go check on Dawn."
Out by the water Willow plops down next to Dawn. The map is gone, but Willow can feel the remnants of the locator spell quite distinctly.
"How ya holdin' up soldier?" Willow asks.
"Fine," says Dawn, shrugging. "I'm fine. Things are fine."
"I usually find that you saying you're fine three times means things are all good," says Willow.
"I thought that moving to Great Britain would be all exotic and different than America," Dawn says. She's learned to pivot the conversation so drastically from her sister.
"You don't think it's different?" Willow asks.
"I think it's gloomier," she says. "I mean, I like Oxford and I like learning Watcher stuff from Giles on the weekend, but it's just, you know, still my life."
Dawn kicks at the place where her map was and sand sprays out.
"It doesn't quite feel like home," Dawn says. "Do you know what I mean?"
"Maybe," says Willow.
"I know Buffy is my sister and Giles is my Giles but being with them doesn't make it feel like home like I thought it would."
"Who do you need to feel like home?" asks Willow. Dawn stiffens a little and then smiles widely.
"I was thinking of making gnocchi for dinner. I found the mixer yesterday and I think I can get them nice and smooth," she says hopping up. "Are you going to stay?"
"Not tonight," Willow says. "But it's getting late. If you're going to make gnocchi for twenty people, maybe you should get started."
"My thoughts exactly," Dawn says. Willow watches her walk away. At her side, Dawn's fingers curl into fists.
Giles is brooding like the best of them when Willow knocks at his door.
"What a surprise," Giles says without enthusiasm and steps back to let Willow in.
"Haven't stopped by in a while," Willow says, sitting on the love seat across from his wingback chair. He resumes staring at the fire. "Wanted to see if you needed anything while I was around?"
"Hmm?" Giles says. "Oh, not that I can think of at the moment."
Willow watches him carefully and probes gently into him. She can feel his stress, his worry and frustration, and underneath all of that, his sadness.
"You really ought to ask," Giles says and a wall comes up. "You know that." Willow does know but she smiles placidly.
"Can I crash here?" she asks and he nods. She's slept in his spare room several times. So have Xander, Andrew, and Dawn. The only person who has never stepped foot in this flat is Buffy. She doesn't like London; she doesn't like the Council even when her own Watcher is the head of it.
"The bed is all made," Giles says standing. "As for me, it's late."
"Yeah," Willow says. "Goodnight."
In the morning, Willow finds him at the kitchen table, drinking tea and stabbing at some scrambled eggs.
"There's more," he says, motioning toward the stove. "Help yourself."
"I think we need to take a trip," she says.
"A trip?" he asks.
"When is the last time you've been to the school?" she asks.
"It's a ten hour drive," he says shaking his head. "I can't just pop in and out once a week." Giles is looking at his hands, tight and white around his teacup. The faucet drips and in the silence; the water hitting the porcelain is loud and distracting.
"Something isn't right up there," Willow says as delicately as possible. "I think she needs you."
Giles scoffs and pushes his plate away from him. The fork falls off the plate and clatters on the tabletop. They are both hurt, both so bitter. Neither is willing to make the first move. Buffy has spent her life as a Slayer hurting Giles and he's done taking the high road.
"There is too much space between us," Giles says. He says it with finality is his voice.
Willow has read a lot of books about demons. She's read about prophecies, about Slayers, about vampires and hellmouths. She's also read a lot about Watchers and she knows from books and the computer and every scrap of information that she has ever retained that Watchers and Slayers are better together. That apart, they are weak and inefficient.
"You never let me read the Watcher's diaries when I was still in school," she says now, trying a different tactic. "What didn't you want me to see?"
"They don't matter anymore," Giles says, tiredly. "Not in this world."
He leaves for work, leaves Willow alone in his flat to ponder what kind of world, exactly, it is that she has created.
Buffy's room has French doors that open to a little patio that faces the sea. In the winter, the rain beats against the glass in angry sheets but in the summer, she throws open the doors to the fresh air. Xander, when he was last around, build her a wooden chair and she sits in it now. She is whittling stakes.
When she was still in high school, Giles used to make most of her stakes for her. He used good pieces of wood and sharp knives. They were always better that her own stakes and the ones Xander made half-heartedly. Giles' stakes always felt right her in hands. The slid home easily and she rarely lost her grip. They felt like the belonged to her.
She looks down at the one in her hand, still dull but beginning to take shape. She will take it, and a few others, into Aberdeen with her tonight. They don't patrol every night but vampires are everywhere and they always find one or two.
Giles meets Faith in a pub – the same pub he always finds her in. She sits at the same corner table. There are three pint glasses on her table and two of them are empty. Faith is the opposite of Buffy in so many ways, and her ability to hold alcohol is just one more. Giles has seen Faith drink enough to topple an elephant and never once lose her balance. She doesn't smile when she sees him, but she kicks out the chair across from her in an offering.
"What's up?" she asks.
"Do you feel that something is wrong?" he asks, not bothering with pleasantries for someone who doesn't care for being pleasant.
"Something is always wrong," she says. This is not untrue and Giles can't argue, but they both know this isn't what he meant.
"I mean with the Slayers," he clarifies.
"No, you mean withyour Slayer," she snaps and this is exactly what he means, but because she knows this means she knows that something probably is wrong. Faith decides to have pity. "Slayers aren't supposed to stay in one place for so long."
"How do you mean?" he asks.
"Why do you think Sunnydale fucked her up in the head so much? And now she's been out in the boonies for a year. Of course something is wrong with her," Faith says, downing the last of her beer.
"I see," Giles says. "No one is forcing her to stay there."
Faith rolls her eyes.
"What is it that you want from me, exactly?" Faith asks, crossing her arms. "Want me to go rescue the princess from her dark castle for you?"
"She isn't exactly speaking to me," Giles admits. "Not in any words that matter."
"Why do I always have to clean up your most bloody and terrible messes?" Faith asks.
"Does that mean you'll go?" Giles ask. Faith glares at him but nods once.
Buffy is jogging back and forth across the sand by the water when she sees Faith appear. Faith appearing unannounced is never accompanied by good news. Buffy slows her pace and waits for Faith to approach her.
"What's up?" Buffy asks. She is secretly hoping for a war to fight, an epic battle, something that she can really sink her fists into.
"I'm supposed to come get you," Faith says.
"What? And go where?" Buffy asks, confused.
"Look, just… put a pink dress in a little bag and lets go," she says, crossing her arms. "God, I hate it here."
"I'm… why are you here? What's happening?" Buffy asks.
"Please don't make me say it. Then I'll have to kick your ass and drag you and it won't be pretty," Faith says. She sounds so bored.
"Oh my God," Buffy says. "Did Giles send you?"
"You're coming," Faith says.
"I am so not," Buffy says.
"I can force you."
"You and what army?" Buffy asks. Just as she says this, of course, Willow crests the hill sending off her witchy vibe. "Oh, come on."
"Just go make up," Willow says. "Please?"
"You can't force me," Buffy says, knowing she can. Buffy means that Willow won't force her, won't side with Faith, won't make her forgive her watcher after all this time.
"Are you going to come peacefully?" Willow asks.
"No!" Buffy says. In a moment, she feels the world around her begin to spin wildly and she's pretty sure she's about to barf when she lands hard in the middle of Giles' library. She is sweaty, angry, and covered with sand. Giles is staring down at her in horror, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, a book in hand.
A few seconds later, Faith and Willow arrive with a pop, and in not such a heap. Faith looks smug and Willow mildly apologetic.
"Sorry about the bumpy ride," she says. "It works better when you're willing."
"Noted," says Buffy from between clenched teeth.
"Here you go, boss," says Faith. "Can I go?"
"Yes," Giles says, softly.
"I hate you," Buffy says, but no one is quite sure whom the statement is directed toward. Faith smiles, like Buffy's hatred is a soothing balm and leaves. Willow looks like she wants to say something but decides against it and leaves through the door, like a normal person.
"Buffy, I didn't expect them to kidnap you," Giles says.
"If you wanted to see me, you could've just come to the school," Buffy says, picking herself up off the floor and leaves a little pile of sand when she brushes herself off. "This is too dramatic, even for you."
"I agree," he says. "I thought you two would, I don't know, drive down and we could talk."
Buffy stares at him with big eyes dry as a bone. It seems silly now that he's said it aloud, Faith and Buffy on a road trip.
"Can I use your bathroom?" she says. He points the way and she's in there for at least twenty minutes before she reemerges, looking about the same.
"All right?" he asks.
"We're sealed in," she says. "Willow sealed us in the house."
"What?" he said, and they go to the front door together but it doesn't open. The knob won't even turn.
"See?" she says. Something occurs to him.
"Did you try to go out the loo window?" he asks. She at least looks slightly ashamed, a flush of color.
"I probably wouldn't have gone far," she offers but it doesn't help at all. Gone is still away.
"Maybe," Giles says, rubbing his hair into disarray, "Maybe we aren't meant to make up."
"What?" Buffy asks, surprise evident on her face. She's too skinny again and her features look a little hard.
"We've been distant for almost two years, maybe longer. I… I can't even remember why you're punishing me anymore," he admits.
"Because you tried to kill Spike," she says, immediately. He rolls his eyes.
"You were mad long before that," he says.
"Because you left, Giles. Because I woke up and you weren't there. Because you didn't stay. What do you want me to say?" She crosses her arms against her chest. She doesn't usually look so defensive. Then it occurs to him that he doesn't know how she usually looks, anymore.
"I'm going to…" He leaves the room; he can't stand to look at her in this moment. There is too much pain, too much dishonesty between them. The history they share could fill a canyon and it's keeping them apart. He simply doesn't know how to bridge the gap. He needs a miracle.
Two hours later, she has not come to find him and he has not given in to the urge to return to her side. Two hours and fifteen minutes later, the ground beneath them begins to shake. Earthquakes here are just the movement of plates, the earth relieving its pressure. He reminds himself that every natural disaster isn't a precursor to the end of the world.
In another room, Buffy is 95 percent sure that her fight with Giles has just triggered the end of the world. Things are really moving. Everything tumbles off the shelves and soon piles of books surround her. She crawls under the desk and waits it out. There are loud crashes from behind the closed door and it lasts nearly 45 seconds.
When things stop their shaking, she crawls out and makes her way to the door. She can't open it; something has fallen to block her in.
"Giles?" she yells. "Are you okay?"
He either can't hear her or can't answer and a hot coil of worry unfurls in her stomach. He's had more concussions than anyone she's ever met and the doctor told her, when there was still a Sunnydale, that he could be one knock in the head away from being a vegetable.
"GILES," she yells, but there is nothing. No cry of pain, any crunching glass or moving furniture. "Oh my god," she moans and throws herself at the door. It takes her several attempts to open the door enough to get through, but soon she slips out. Glass crunches beneath her feet and she realizes she has no idea where in the house he is, that she hasn't spent any time here, that she doesn't know anything important about him anymore.
"Dear God, or Jesus, or Diana, or Buddha or someone," she says, sticking her head in every room she passes. "If you let Giles live through this, I'm going to be like, the best Slayer ever."
She navigates the stairs and finds him on the floor of a bedroom. There is a purple bruise blossoming out from his temple and she fights the urge to gag, to vomit on the rug. If he is dead she has no idea what she will do. She kneels next to him afraid to touch him. Will he be clammy? Will he grow cold and still like her mother? She gathers her courage and pushes fingers into his neck.
There is a pulse, strong and steady and the feeling of her hand against him wakes him. He opens his eyes and she bursts into tears.
"I'm sorry," she sobs and presses her face into his sweater, her shoulders shaking.
"Oh," he says. "There now."
"I don't want to be angry anymore," she whimpers, her words muffled but still intelligible. He moves his arms around her.
"You're my girl," he says over and over again. He pets her hair; he touches her face. She stops crying relatively soon, but makes no attempt to leave his side.
"I thought you were dead," she says, finally, her voice still thick with tears.
"I'm fine," he assures her. "I would never die without consulting you first." She smiles a little.
"What happened to us?" she asks, finally, her fingers worrying the hem of his green sweater.
"I'm not sure," he says. "But whatever it is, I feel we can overcome it, as long as we stick together."
"Yeah," she says.
Later, when they try to open the front door, it swings open easy and free.