Notes: This takes place post-Chosen for Buffy. Slight spoilers for Season 1 of Merlin.
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I have borrowed some direct quotes from Buffy.
Rupert Giles is not the man he once was. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is not the man he will be. He is not the man he should be, but he has a son, a kingdom, and a mission, and for now it's enough.
They were the lucky ones. The ones who had had a hand in bringing her back from the dead. She would have stayed dead after drowning when she was 16, if not for Xander and Angel. She would have stayed dead after diving through Glory's portal—and she should have, she should have—if not for Xander, Tara, Willow, and Anya.
They were the lucky ones, not he. Giles was a Watcher. It was his duty to train her, to prepare her, to harden her, and then it was his duty to send her out to die. He was never the one to bring her back.
Then she died for the third time. This time it wasn't quick. It was long and slow and painful, and when they found her she was unrecognizable.
His thoughts are often not as clear as he would like them to be. Or rather, sometimes there are other thoughts, thoughts that are not, cannot be, his, which seek to test his resolve, to tear him away from his terrible purpose.
Almost always, these thoughts are easy to ignore. When he looks at Arthur and it is not Ygraine he thinks of, but her, he must simply watch a moment longer, waiting to catch his son in a carefree, unguarded laugh, to see the resemblance disappear. In all the time he knew her, she was never carefree, and she learned early on that to let down her guard could mean someone's death.
Ostensibly he was the head of the new Watchers' Council, but in reality he still took his orders from her, as he had since she was a teenager. The slayer safe houses were her idea. Since the defeat of the First, the demon community had focused all its attention on the single goal of exterminating the plague of slayers that had risen up.
They arranged for the purchase of safe houses all over the world. Each house was staffed by at least two watchers or watchers-in-training. They had sufficient room for anywhere from two to twenty slayers at a time. They all had powerful magical wards, large supplies of stakes and holy water, enough junk food to accommodate a slayer metabolism.
Their locations were recorded nowhere on paper. Instead, they were divided up among the Scoobies. Giles knew where all of the North and South American safe houses were. Willow knew about those in Europe, Xander those in Asia and Africa. She was the only one who knew the location of all of the safe houses, at her own insistence that some redundancy was necessary.
She did not reveal a single location to the warlock who took her in the three days before he finally killed her.
There are other thoughts which are not so easily disregarded. These are the thoughts that speak rapidly, urgently at the back of his mind, tripping over themselves in their desperate bid for his attention. They always come at the worst moment: when he is watching another sorcerer's execution; when he observes Morgana's increasing defiance and begins to wonder whether she is too defensive of those with magic, whether he might need to take care of her; when he tells them to take no prisoners.
These thoughts say: This is not what she wanted/she was ready to die/she lived ten years longer than she should have/this is wrong/you are not the man you once were/Giles, please.
Last time there was an Urn of Osiris. Willow sacrificed a deer. And afterwards he chastised the witch, called her a stupid girl—and she was, oh she was—and when she'd protested that she'd done what nobody else could do, what was it he'd said?
There are others in this world who can do what you did. You just don't want to meet them.
This time, there were no Urns of Osiris left. Willow reminded him that she'd made a promise—they'd all made a promise—that when she died again, as was inevitable, they would leave her in peace.
This time, Giles was the one, the only one, willing to do what nobody else could.
This time, Giles gave in to the deep, dark part of him that always lurked beneath the surface. He gave in, and he embraced it, and he chose to become the kind of person Willow would not want to meet.
There are things he notices about his son's manservant. The way he is always there, just when Arthur is miraculously saved or miraculously overcomes an enemy. The way he sneaks about the castle at night, stealthy enough that no one without Watcher training would notice him. The way he looks at Giles in fear.
There are things he notices about his son's manservant. If he gives the boy a moment's thought, things will become clear. But whenever such a moment presents itself, those urgent, desperate thoughts spring up again, and, willingly or not, he is distracted.
There was magic, and then there was Magic. Giles had dabbled with the former in the past, but in his grief it was the latter he reached out to. He didn't know what he intended to do, just knew that he had to make things better. Had to find a way to save her. And perhaps it was the Magic that made up his mind for him, that said, No, you're right, you can't break your oath to her, can't bring her back, but there's another way, you can go back, you can prevent all this from ever happening.
It was certainly the Magic that took him back, that whisked him through centuries and across thousands of miles to drop him in his own country. It was the Magic which said, No, this won't do, you're too old, how will you change anything if you die in a mere decade? and tore years away from his body as one might tear away a band aid. It was the Magic which filled his mind with details about this place in which he found himself, which gave him history, and a sense of home, and a name. It was the Magic which led him to a castle and gave him a mother and father and brother who suddenly no longer remembered a time when they were just three.
He had expected to find himself further back, far enough that he could stop the shamans who thought they had the right to rape a girl's essence and make her the Slayer. He had envisioned a future in which his other self, the self that would be created by his meddling with time, would be a fighter pilot, or maybe a grocer, and she would be…he wasn't sure, but something, anything, other than a doomed warrior. And they would never meet, but that would be all right, because she would be alive, and happy.
Instead he was here. Camelot. And when he asked the Magic for an explanation, it was gone.
He dreams of her often. In his dreams she is always serene, at peace with her fate. She looks at him in mild curiosity and calls him Uther.
The dreams are nightmares.
Once, he'd said to Jenny Calendar, I'll be back in the Middle Ages, and she'd asked, Did you ever leave?
Camelot suited him. In his younger body, with all the skill he'd learned in his training as a Watcher, being a knight was easy. He went forth on quests and fought dragons and rescued maidens. And when his brother, the Crown Prince, was killed by a gryphon, and when his father, unsteady with grief, appointed Giles the new Crown Prince some days later, he could not help but think, This is right.
Once, he went on a quest to rescue a maiden from an adjacent land and found himself being rescued instead. She was blonde and glorious and she made him forget the things he did not think he could. Her name was Ygraine, and he asked her four times before she agreed to marry him.
Morgana reminds him of her, but not in the pleasant way that Ygraine did. She reminds him of noisy arguments, of angry words said that could not be unsaid, of the one who could not—perhaps cannot—be saved. She reminds him of tearful embraces, of indestructible courage, of love that persists even when like does not.
It was Ygraine's death that clarified everything. Magic. That was the cause of all the pain and suffering she—not Ygraine, but she—had endured. It was the reason she'd died. Could he forge a world without magic, make her a safer future? He would try. He would try until the day he died to cleanse humanity of the cancer that would seek to rip it apart. And he would teach Arthur to do the same, all in the name of a woman Arthur whose name Arthur would never know.
He wonders, sometimes, about causality and time travel and the Grandfather Paradox. He wonders whether anything he does now can change the future. He wonders whether all of his attempts to save her are only creating the world that will ultimately destroy her. He wonders whether she would miss him, if she'd never known him, as he misses her every day, though in the years that lie so far ahead he may never know her.
When his father died, he became King, and he was a good king. His people loved him. They loved his wife. Under his watchful eye, Camelot thrived and grew and he knew he was making the world a better place. For a time, he was happy.
The day comes when Arthur's servant must expose himself or Arthur will die. In Giles' own court, in front of everyone, the boy conjures a storm that batters only the four assassins who have decided to seek vengeance on Giles by killing his son.
"Lock him in the dungeon," Giles says coldly, unmoved by the pleas of Morgana, Arthur, Gaius, those whispered thoughts in his own mind. "Tomorrow he dies."
Tell Giles I figured it out, and I'm okay, she'd told Dawn. When he first came to Camelot, when he sometimes questioned his decision, he thought of that declaration often.
He dreams of her the night before Merlin is to be executed, but this is not the usual nightmare. She isn't wearing a white gown, she does not glow with an unearthly light, she does not call him Uther.
She wears jeans and a halter top and she holds a stake and glares at him so hard that he wishes he had glasses to clean.
"Giles," she snaps. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I'm fixing things," he protests.
She rolls her eyes. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Things turned out the way they were supposed to, you big idiot."
"No," he says fiercely, taking a step towards her and gripping her arms. "No. You were not meant to die, not again. You should not have had to live the life you did."
She shrugs off his touch and he remembers that he is not her king, that if one of them is going to manhandle the other, she's the one who will be tossing him around.
"Yeah, there were a lot of bad times," she says, hands on her hips. "We all messed things up pretty bad and there was a lot that was unresolved when I died. I wish I could have learned to trust all of you again after those horrible last days in Sunnydale. I wish you and I could have figured out how to be friends again. But, Giles, I was and am okay. I'm in Heaven again. I made my peace with my life and my death, and what you're doing here—it's disrespectful to me. It's saying that everything I was, and did, shouldn't have happened and doesn't matter."
"That's not—" His voice breaks. He wants to hug her but is afraid to be rejected. "That was never my intention."
Her sea-storm eyes shine with sorrowful understanding. "I know. But you're making things worse, not better."
He can't help but smile. "Even dead, you're still trying to save the world."
"No," she says. "I didn't come here to save the world. I came to save you, Giles, because you're hurting yourself and I can't bear to watch. You have good things going for you here, but if you do what you're planning to do tomorrow, you'll lose it all. Everything. And the connection you and I share? It'll be gone as if it'd never been."
"I'll call off the execution," he promises, without a further thought. Whatever she says about not being able to trust him, he trusts her and always will. And he is not so far gone as to ignore the advice of his Slayer. "I'll stop hunting magic users. I'll be a good king. I'll make you proud of me."
She pulls him into a surprising, powerful hug. "Oh, Giles," she sighs in his ear. "You are a good king. I've always been proud of you. I love you, Watcher mine. I never said it often enough."
If he had any doubts that she is really here, they are gone now, because he can feel his ribs creaking from the strength of her embrace. "I love you, too," he gasps. "Even if you're still incredibly strong."
"Sorry." She flushes and steps back.
"Will I see you again?" he asks, hopeful.
She bites her lip and shakes her head. "I wish you could, but Giles…you don't know what I had to give just to be here this one time."
He feels cold at the thought that she has made another sacrifice to save him from his own folly, his own madness. "Thank you for coming," he chokes out.
She laughs, and her laughter is carefree, unguarded. "As if I could stay away." She smiles and clasps his hand in hers. Her eyes say everything that neither of them had ever had the chance to say. "Goodbye, Giles."
She disappears before he can reply, only the warmth of her touch lingering.
"Goodbye, Buffy," he whispers.
"Oh, and Giles?" he hears, a whisper of thought at the back of his mind. "Love the chainmail."
He was her Watcher, once. He hoped and feared that he would someday have that responsibility, that privilege, again.
Rupert Giles is not the man he once was. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is not the man he will be. He is not the man he might have been, but he has a son, a kingdom, and a mission, and for now it's enough.