"All we need is the truth in our hand. Someone to call a friend. Never fear the darkness. All we need is just the sun in the sky. And the hope of a summer to come with the meaning of love."
In the end, Giles bought a house in Bath, only a few blocks away from the place he'd grown up. There were practical reasons for the choice, of course: it was just a moderate drive away from both the new Council building (which he spent nearly all his time at anyway) and the airport, and it was just secluded enough that there were no pesky neighbors to inquire into the odd guests he would undoubtedly be receiving at all hours of the day and night. The house had more room than he needed; he converted most of the extra space into guest rooms, expecting them to be filled by whomever needed them. He also took the time (and considerable finances) to make the old parlor into a fairly up-to-date fitness room. Even as he looked at the plans, he tried to convince himself that the room wasn't really for Buffy, and utterly failed.
The real reasons he bought the place, though, were far less logical, even if he would only admit it to himself. The house was lovely. It had an old, familiar worn feeling that he quite liked. It was homey, but in a cheerful way, and he found himself looking forward to whatever time he could find to spend at home. Perhaps most importantly, there were the remnants of a remarkable garden in the back that he spent hours (hours that he should have been using to make Council calls and read reports) restoring to its former glory. By the time summer came around, the climbing roses on the back wall were starting to bloom. The sight of them made something stir deep in Giles' chest, and it took him almost a full day to realize it for what it was: peace.
For what might have been the first time in his life, Giles suddenly found that he was living life. Months after Sunnydale's permanent demise, the Watcher could sleep entire nights without a single dream. He went on long walks just to enjoy the country in early summer, patrols and late nights researching far from his mind. His work at the Council was tiring, but it was largely enjoyable, not to mention vitally important. He found with some surprise that he enjoyed being the one in charge.
It was the day after this revelation that he woke up to yet another realization, one that he stumbled across unexpectedly as he wandered past the hallway of empty rooms.
Giles was lonely.
The longing for company hit him all at once, an almost physical blow that actually made him stagger for a moment. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that he had been in shock for all this time. It was like he'd been sleepwalking for months, only to suddenly wake and realize that the people he loved were absent.
He knew where they were, of course; as the head of the new Watcher's Council, he was perhaps the most informed person on the planet. Still, he found himself hesitating, until another week of almost unbearable solitude forced the phone into his hand.
He paused a moment as his eyes scanned the list of numbers before him, printed out from the Council records.
Xander was the obvious choice to call first (Giles wasn't quite sure why that was true, but it was), but the young man was somewhere in Africa rounding up new Slayers, and the chances of contacting him were minimal at best. The reports he sent back to London were short and to the point, the tone far removed from the young man Giles remembered him being long ago in the Sunnydale library.
He's grieving, Giles realized, and then he understood all at once that Xander would have to come back on his own. Giles had been there; he'd give the younger man the chance he never had to deal with pain on his own time table.
Next he thought of Willow, and his hand actually made it halfway to the receiver before he stopped to wonder whether his call would be welcome there, either. It wasn't that he and Willow didn't get along anymore, per say; more that she had grown so much over the past few months since the Calling Spell that she had been badly needed elsewhere, and thus they had lost what little closeness they had managed to gain back in Devon last year. As one of the new Council's more powerful (if not most powerful, if he was being honest with himself) spell casters, Willow had circumvented the globe more than once in the last few months. Now that she and Kennedy had finally settled in South America for a more permanent stay, he feared butting in.
Or rather, if he was going to stick to being honest with himself, he feared that Willow would pick up the phone, and he just wouldn't know who she was any more.
With the feeling of defeat building in his stomach, Giles gave a sigh and flopped into his desk chair, staring moodily at the wooden surface. After a while, he reached for the stack of postcards on the far corner and spent a minute flipping through them. Despite his mood, a smile formed as he traced the lines of Dawn's writing on the back of each one. His finger lingered on the over-sized cartoon heart she invariably used before her name at the end. Not for the first time, he felt a pang of loss that he wasn't there to see the expressions on her face as she saw the wonders of the world, and instead had to settle for imagining it through her words.
Buffy had finally made good on her promise to show her sister the world. Giles had postcards from Egypt, London, Greece, and even Disney World. The most recent ones were from Rome, and Dawn's tone seemed to suggest that they were considering settling down there, though she never said the words.
He only heard about his Slayer indirectly; mostly through Dawn, and occasionally third-hand news from Willow. He missed her, but that emotion at least was a familiar one, and he had long grown used to suffering the dull ache in his chest that surfaced whenever he thought of her. Still, he took some comfort in knowing that she was off seeing the things that he'd always wanted her to see.
But he could still hear her voice in his head on particularly lonely nights; the many arguments they'd had in those last months in Sunnydale weighed heavily between them.
He knew better than to call.
So instead he sat there, and all at once he felt very old, and very far away from those he loved.
Giles roused himself and stood. There was no point slipping back into the pall of resignation; he'd lost his taste for it. Determined to make the best of the remainder of his day, the Watcher scooped up his jacket and his keys and headed for the door. He could get his grocery shopping done now, instead of waiting until tomorrow morning.
A fraction of a second before Giles reached the door, someone knocked on the other side. For a moment he stood there puzzled, until the visitor rang the bell.
Four times. In rapid succession.
Giles had the door open before the smile had even finished forming on his face. For a beat, he couldn't believe his eyes.
His Slayer was standing on his doorstep.
He shook his head slowly. "Buffy," he breathed. It was the first time he'd spoken aloud in nearly two days.
She smiled weakly, giving him a small wave. "Hey."
He took a half step towards her, but before he could even get out the door, a brown-haired blur slammed into him from the side.
Giles stumbled back a step, laughing as Dawn's embrace knocked the wind out of him. He returned the hug happily, tucking her head under his chin and just hanging on for a few long moments, letting her excited chatter wash right over him as he closed his eyes.
Finally, he pushed her back a bit so he could look at her. She was tan, her hair cut shorter than he remembered with highlights from the sun. There was a sparkle in her eyes that had been lacking since Joyce's death. "You look marvelous," he told her with a smile. "Travel agrees with you."
"Thanks," she said quietly. She looked him in the eye and he could see the shadows of Sunnydale on her face; all at once, she seemed very grown up to him. Then she smiled hugely and bounced on her toes, giving him another quick hug as he led them inside. "So, wasn't that like the hugest surprise ever? Buffy made me promise not to tell you we were coming, even though we were planning to since like last month. I even faked the last post card so you'd think we were in another country. It was totally spy-like."
"Yes," he managed through his shock. "Yes, I'm rather blown away. It's lovely that you're here." He caught Buffy's eye over the teen's shoulder. "Both of you."
Dawn stepped out of the way, leaving Giles and Buffy standing with two feet of distance between them, just looking at each other.
She looked good: healthy, fit, and tanned. There was a stillness to her form and a real warmth to her smile that made the tension in his chest unwind. "Hey," she said again, like they hadn't been interrupted. Giles could feel the old familiar awkward feeling creeping into the silence between them. She opened her mouth to speak again. "Um, listen..."
He held up a hand to pause her. "Wait. I'm sick of this getting interrupted." He strode forward and, with only a second's hesitation, he embraced her like he'd been wanting to do ever since he showed up on her doorstep in Sunnydale with a gaggle of potentials at his heels.
He caught her up in a bear hug, stoically ignoring her stiff frame. He silently willed her to let him bridge the distance that had been between them for too long. He felt her give a shuddering sigh, and then all at once she leaned into him. Giles squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that threatened and rested his cheek against her crown, holding her tight against him. For a few moments, the rest of the world faded away and all of life was just this: an embrace.
He never knew how long they just stood there in the sunlight, the front door still wide open as they held each other. Finally, Dawn cleared her throat from across the room and Giles reluctantly let go, his embarrassed little smile a match for Buffy's.
He looked down at his Slayer and cupped her cheek affectionately. "I've missed you."
She knew what he meant. "Do you have room for us?"
Giles looked at her seriously. "Always." He went and closed the door, picking up their bags as he passed them. "Come on. I'll show you around the place."
Much later, Giles found Buffy in the garden. She was sitting on the old stone bench near the back that faced the house; her legs were folded beneath her, her shoes discarded in the grass. He paused for a moment, just watching her in the mellow summer sunset. The golden light reflected off her hair, lending her a radiance he thought she quite deserved. Hesitantly, he sat beside her, one leg crossing naturally over the other. He let the memories of all the others times they'd sat this way wash over him for a few heartbeats.
"They're beautiful," she said softly.
"Hmm?" Giles broke out of his thoughts, turning to look at her, and then following her gaze to the wall of the house, where the blooming roses climbed. "Ah. Yes, they're doing quite well." He kept his gaze on the yellow flowers as he let out a long breath. "They were my mother's favorite," he admitted softly. Buffy turned to look at him in surprise, but his own gaze was set past the house, in a time far removed from where they were sitting.
He continued, almost to himself, though she listened with rapt attention. "She always had something of a gift for gardening. This is the first time I've ever been able to keep one growing. The roses came with the house." He looked over at her, and a small smile formed. "Part of the reason I bought the place, honestly."
"I wish I could've met her," Buffy said with a sad kind of sympathy in her eyes. "I mean, she is-"
Giles nodded to spare her saying it, eyes drifting back to the flowers before them. "Yes. For years. Long before I came to Sunnydale, actually."
"You never talk about her." There was no accusation in her voice, just a statement of fact.
He considered this for a moment, and then answered, quite honestly, "It never seemed like we had the time."
Buffy made a small noise of agreement. "Eight years," she said with something like awe in her voice. He turned to look at her again, finally giving her his full attention. Her expression was somber, now shadowed as the light began to fade. "Giles, I've known you almost half my life."
He remembered that first meeting in the Sunnydale High library with equal parts fondness and foreboding. "Just as long as the others," he pointed out.
Buffy leaned back so her head was resting against the bench, turned towards him still. "Seems like longer."
He knew what she meant. He tilted his head as well to make up for their sudden height difference. "Can you ever forgive me?"
The little smile she gave him meant she remembered the last time they'd done this. "For what?"
Giles gave a long sigh and shifted to look up at the darkening sky. "Oh, for so many things, really. For not knowing." He glanced over at her and said the words that had been building in him for years. "I could have done better. Done more. For you. All of you."
To his great surprise, she reached out a hand and laid it on his arm. "No, Giles. You were great. More than great." She met his eyes squarely, and all at once he felt a weight lift off his shoulders that he hadn't been without since that first moment they'd met eight years ago. Buffy's smile was more full of memory than actual happiness. "You gave me a life, Giles. We won. I won. Sunnydale is toast, the Hellmouth is gone, and I get to sit in a garden in England with my Watcher, and watch the sun set. I get to have a beginning." Her mouth twitched with real amusement. "Maybe I'll even get happily ever after this time.
They both sat up, and he covered her hand with his for a moment before she returned it to her lap. Giles took a deep breath, his emotions running freely across his face. They sat there in silence for a long time, until the sky really did grow dark and the garden was cast in shadow. The light from the kitchen spilled out, and they heard Dawn moving about, banging things in the cupboards. Still, neither of them moved.
Buffy's voice was soft and hesitant when she finally broke the quiet. "Giles?"
"Hmm?" he responded contentedly.
"Would you tell me about your mom?"
He smiled, even though she couldn't see it. They had time for this, now. Time to heal, time to talk, time to find a new beginning. Time to wait until their other friends came home. And so, the Watcher took a deep breath of the warm evening air...and began to speak.
Author's Note: This is my attempt at getting a little closure for our beloved characters, a little slow healing after the damage they got on the show. There's more to come; each season will focus on a certain character. I started with Giles because I find him easiest. Buffy will probably be next. I'm finally indulging in my love for slow-paced character-driven moments. Drop a line, tell me how you liked it!