Well, this is it. I hope you enjoy the end, and I can't wait to hear what you think. :) Thanks so much for reading and reviewing, all of you!
Also, I just uploaded the first chapter of my new Buffy story last night, and it is title "Still Here" as I said it'd be, so you can go look for it. :) I've only gotten one review, so I wanna hear from ya'll so I know if I should keep going! :) Thanks, and good night. :)
The next couple of weeks were...something. Buffy was more than glad to be firmly back in the real world and unspeakably relieved that Giles was going to be all right, but reality hit a little hard here and there. She realized fall was here and school was coming, and her training would begin anew sometime soon as well. Once Giles was recovered. Not the idea of training with him wasn't the bad part. In fact, she was looking forward more to that then the school year. It was the he-had-to-recover-first part.
Buffy still hated hospitals, and visiting her Watcher there in the days before he was finally released didn't improve her feelings for them—not when it reminded her of why he was there. Occasionally she couldn't help wishing she'd had more time to really hurt Sohlehk, before she'd killed him. Bit dispatching the threat and getting Giles taken care of had been more important at the time. She didn't regret that, but a girl could fantasize.
Once Giles was home, the Scoobies took shifts keeping an eye on him—when all of them weren't already there at once, anyway. He still needed some taking care of, and they were perfectly willing to do it. The only thing Buffy had a problem with was seeing him hurting and knowing that everything he'd been through this time was because of her. Maybe it wasn't exactly her fault...but it was still because of her. They'd wanted her, and Giles had gotten hurt. He'd been hurt badly, and in more ways than one.
The nightmares didn't help. These were normal nightmares—the kind that ended when she woke, safe and in her own bed or Riley's—but still, they only made things worse. Most nights she barely slept, and she knew her friends were concerned. She got the most vocal of it from Riley, who was often there to know she wasn't sleeping.
This had to stop, one way or another.
Usually she was adept enough at keeping herself under control when coming out of bad dreams. She'd certainly had enough of them since being activated as the Slayer to learn that without really trying. But when she finally woke one night screaming, and couldn't calm down until Riley had held her for what she was relative sure had been a damn long time, Buffy knew the time for trying to bury it all and just move on was over and done with.
Willow had the morning shift, but Buffy was due to check in on Giles that afternoon anyway. Anxious to get there, she made it early, and Willow hadn't left yet. She found them in the one bathroom the apartment had, perched on the edge of the tub while Willow helped him replace the bandages around his chest before she left.
Buffy knocked on the doorframe. "Hey."
They both looked up.
"Hey," Willow replied brightly. She carefully pressed the last piece of adhesive into place and stood. "There. All done. Watcher sandwich, ready to go.
Giles gave her a not-quite-amused look and pulled his t-shirt back down with his good arm as he made it to his feet himself. He only wore the sling sometimes now, and his left arm was free at the moment, though he still held it at his side. "Thank you."
"No biggie. Well anyway, Buffy's already here, so I guess I'll go. Oh wait, do you want that tea first? It's probably about done."
"I can get it, Will. Thanks. You're probably headed to meet Tara anyway."
Willow grinned sheepishly. "Well, yeah. I mean, hey, weekend."
"Get out of here before I boot you out," Buffy smirked.
Her friend complied ready, giving a wave and a smile before she left. Giles smiled in return, and then she was gone. The Watcher went slowly for the couch, and Buffy reached for his arm to help.
He sidled away. "It's all right; I'm perfectly capable of walking on my own, thank you." He wasn't annoyed. He was just just letting her know. "Honestly, I don't know why the lot of you insist on keeping someone here anymore. I'm well on my way to being healed, and I'm doing just fine." He made it to the couch and sat, grimacing on the way down.
As he sat back, tired, Buffy crossed her arms and crossed to stand in front of him. "Uh huh."
"Look, I know you'd be okay on your own by now, but what's wrong with sticking around and making it a little easier on you when we can? Stop complaining; if we didn't love ya, we wouldn't bother."
Giles smiled at that. "When you put it that way..."
She nodded firmly. "Damn straight." Buffy went around the coffee table and took the other end of the couch. "So what was that about how you're doing? No fudging."
He sighed. Carefully. "Buffy, you've been here nearly every day; you know how I'm doing. I can get around all right. Perhaps it is still a bit painful," he admitted, "but that will pass. I'm going to be fine. I do appreciate everything all of you have done, but all I meant was that...well, as Willow said, this is a weekend, and you're a young woman. Don't you have better thing to do than look after me?"
She shrugged and leaned forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped lightly. "Nope."
Giles gave her a disbelieving look. "Buffy..."
"Uh-uh. You don't get to 'Buffy' me after the hell we've both been through," she said, much more seriously.
He blinked at her for a moment, and then seemed to realize what she meant. His eyebrows went up slightly. "Oh." He looked away briefly. "It's uhm...It's time, isn't it?"
"We need to talk, Giles."
He nodded slowly, and shifted where he sat, to face her a little more. Buffy watched him warily, frowning at the grimace and the soft grunt of pain when he moved. It was nothing to be alarmed about, on any level, but she didn't like it, and then she remembered what else she'd wanted to ask him about. It had been in the back of her mind for a long, long time, and everything that had happened recently had only been a painful reminder that they'd never talked about it.
She was still debating inwardly whether or not to bring it up at all, and if by any chance so whether to do it before or after the talk they needed to have anyway...when she heard herself speak.
"Giles, is this what it was like for you?"
He looked at her quickly when she voiced the tentative question. "What?"
Buffy's eyes went wide. "Nothing! I mean...no. Nothing." She stared at her hands, but she felt him looking at her, and she couldn't just sit there. She took a deep breath and let it out, but it didn't stop the lump that formed in her throat. She couldn't look up, but she backtracked and answered his question.
"I mean, this isn't the first time you've been...you know...and...I meant...what with the...recovering...a-after Angelus..."
She heard him pull in a breath in surprise, and grunt when it hurt. "Oh..."
Buffy grimaced and glanced up at him. "Yeah. See? Nothing. We don't have to talk about that."
She blinked, and this time when she looked at him she didn't look away again. Giles was looking back at her steadily. He seemed uncomfortable, but not unwilling.
"It's been much longer in coming than the discussion you came here to have," he said gently.
Buffy swallowed. "I know, but..." She wanted to forget she'd ever said anything, ever brought it up, but another part of her knew he was right. She huffed. What the hell.
"It's that I don't know. I don't know how badly you were hurt, or how long it took you to heal. You, or Willow, or Xander...Giles, I left. I mean sure, I made sure you were all alive, but I didn't make sure you were okay. I remember that you of everybody were the one not to give me any crap about it later, and you have no idea how grateful I was for that, but...that doesn't change what I did. Willow was in the hospital and Xander had been hurt too and you were—were tortured, and I just...I left...."
"But you came back."
"I know," she answered shakily. "But I should have stayed in the first place. I should have been here for you after all that, and the others too; Willow...all of you went through hell too, especially you and-and I just ran."
Giles nodded. "Yes, you did, Buffy, but you had things that you needed to work out on your own. I didn't know all of what they were until later, but still I understood that. It's true that I would have preferred if you'd stayed...let us help you...but I was never angry."
"I know," she whispered.
"Good." He paused a moment, and then spoke again. "I have a confession to make." When she looked at him curiously, he continued. "Do you remember when you returned, and I asked you for the details of the fight with Angel? For a binding spell for Acathla?"
"Yeah...That went okay, didn't it? I mean, I told you everything, so..."
"Buffy, there was never any danger of Acathla not remaining dormant. There was never any spell," he admitted quietly.
She stared at him for a long moment. "There...was no spell."
Buffy crossed her arms and sunk back into the couch. It took a while to process that. "You just wanted to know what happened, didn't you?"
"I was concerned. I knew there had to be more to what had happened, and that you wouldn't begin to heal until you'd told someone. I'm sorry."
It took a few more seconds, but finally a small smile tugged at her lips. "No...it's okay. I mean yeah, I would have been furious about that if you'd told me much sooner, but...it's okay. I get it. And I guess you were right anyway. I told you and Willow as much that day, didn't I? I did need to get that out—what had happened with Angel."
Giles smiled a little in return, tentatively, and as she ran it all over in her mind again she swallowed and blinked back a bit of moisture that had creeped into her eyes.
"God, that just makes me feel so much worse about the whole not being around for you thing. You had to recover from that too, and I wasn't there to help."
He tried to brush it off, obviously still uncomfortable with that particular part of the subject. "I was hardly hurt as badly then as this time. If it makes you feel any better, Oz and Xander saw to it that I was all right; it even became annoying after a while."
"No, it doesn't help."
"Oh, well...I'm terribly sorry."
Buffy shrugged and sat forward again. "It's a guilt thing, Giles. It's been around a while, and it'll be around a while longer. There's not a lot you can do about it, and you don't have to. I don't expect you to. It's a me thing."
"As long you're certain there's nothing else I could say to—"
"No. Thanks." She took a deep breath. "It'll be okay. I just...I guess that's something else I've been needing to get off my chest. I wanted you to know I was sorry."
He smiled again and reached to squeeze her shoulder briefly. "I know, and I knew it then." He chuckled. "And I think you've more than made up for it, with the amount of hovering about here you've done since I came home."
Something whistled, and she stood in surprise. "Crap! We forgot about the tea!" She ran around the back of the couch and weaved into the small kitchen, and heard Giles back in the living room.
"It's all right; that means it's done. Nothing's gone to ruin."
"Right..." Buffy called back. She pulled the pot off the stove, and was back in the living room a few minutes later with the tray that had been waiting on the counter already filled with everything else. Willow must have done that when she'd put the tea on in the first place. Buffy set the tray on the coffee table, poured a cup and handed it to Giles.
"There. Hope it's okay, but remember I didn't make it."
Giles laughed once. "Willow generally does an adequate job." He took a sip and sat back again. "Yes, it's fine. Thank you." He glanced back at the tray. "You're more than welcome to some if you'd like it."
Buffy settled back into her spot on the couch and shrugged. "Nah. The last thing I need right now is sugar."
"You don't have to put so much in it."
She smiled appreciatively. "Giles, I'm fine for now, okay? Thanks." She crossed her arms and sighed. "And we still need to have that talk—about what happened with Sohlehk."
Giles had agreed earlier, and he didn't disagree now, but he was silent at first, drinking his tea.
"How long was it for you?" she asked finally. Giles started to set his tea aside. "When we were in there you said months, plural, but you never said how many. Was it just two or three, or...?"
"Seven," he said quietly. "Or eight, perhaps. By the end I wasn't exactly sober often enough to keep very good track of the passage of time."
Buffy gaped. "Oh my god..."
He winced. "It's...beginning to seem more distant. Less real."
"I know, and that's a good thing. But it's not happening fast enough."
They shared a look. "No," he agreed eventually. "It's not."
She swallowed hard. "Giles, we said we were gonna be okay. That's...that's still true, isn't it?"
He sighed. "I believe it can be."
Buffy faced him on the couch, sat against the wood arm and pulled her knees up to her chest. "Tell me what happened."
Slowly, Giles nodded again. "If you'll tell me."
She gave him a facial shrug of agreement. "Okay."
Buffy needed him. She wanted him here. That was the fact that seemed to make everything else all right, for Giles. It was the thing he rmembered most, from when she'd come to rescue him. The talking later, too...it had helped. A good deal. He hadn't been sure he wanted her to know what had happened when he had been trapped in the nightmare world, and he hadn't been sure he wanted to know exactly what had happened to her, either. But in the end, getting it out had been best for both of them.
Now he knew. He'd heard much of it when she came into his nightmare to pull him out, but it was good to hear it again. He knew she hadn't asked him to take his place as Watcher again merely because she was frightened. He knew he meant something to her...to the rest of them. It wasn't that he hadn't known it before, to some extent, after being here for fours years, but...it really meant something to be told in no uncertain terms.
He also knew now that the others had all been told about his previous plan to go back to England. He knew that Buffy knew. What Buffy hadn't told him was that, the morning he'd been discovered missing, the Scoobies had been planning to show up at his flat to throw a celebration that he wasn't leaving.
No, that he'd learned a couple of days ago, when they'd shown up to finally do it.
It had been another couple of weeks since then. Rupert was feeling much better, and the gang finally wasn't checking up on him as often. Not that he didn't enjoy their company, but the surprise party two nights ago had been company enough for a while, and it was good to see that they had stopped worrying about his condition so much.
He was well enough to drive, in fact, and this morning he was picking up Buffy from her house. Giles would have gone to the door, but she must have seen him coming; she was outside by the time he pulled into the driveway of the Summers home. He was trying not to think about the last time he'd been this house...It hadn't been real. Joyce didn't hate him. Everyone was safe and happy and still in Sunnydale, and things were slowly but surely settling again.
Buffy all but skipped to the car, her smile not faltering even at the horrible creaking the door made when she got in. "So," she said, and closed said car door. "Where are we off to, Mr. Watcher? All I got out of that phone call yesterday was this morning, something about Slayer stuff, and then it was just bla bla bla..."
Giles raised an eyebrow. "So wonderful to know things are getting back to normal."
She shrugged. "We talked, we know we both care, I don't want you going anywhere, and now you are officially, as far as I'm concerned, my Watcher again. There are still the bad dreams at times, and I would certainly be entitled to do more moping, but I've tried the being-mopey-for-a-really-long-time thing. More than once. It wasn't fun."
"So you're choosing not to be...mopey."
"Well I suppose that's one way of going about it."
"See? I can be smart."
"I never thought you weren't."
Buffy grinned warmly at him and sat back in her seat. "Okay. Where to?"
"Actually, I did, ahm...fib, a little. This isn't exactly Slayer business, but I have decided that if I am, in fact, staying, I ought to get rid of this..." he trailed, glancing around at the car itself. "It's been rather unreliable since Spike managed to crash it a few months ago, even after being fixed."
She sat up immediately. "Are you serious? You're getting a new car?"
"I'm not certain about new, but I imagine it will need to be newer. I thought you might be interested in coming along."
"Oh my god!" Buffy gaped. "Giles is getting a new car! Where are the others? They should be here for this. I mean, if you mean that's we're going. That is where we're going, right?"
He chuckled at her enthusiasm. "Yes, well, I did call Willow and Xander, but I didn't get to mentioning it before I discovered they both have plans for today. Tara and Anya, respectively, I presume. I didn't want to bother them. Summer is drawing to a close, after all."
"That much is true. Oh! Yeah. Riley and I are going to the movies tonight, so I have to be back, but this isn't gonna take all day, right?"
"Seeing as there's only one used car dealership in Sunnydale, I should say not."
"Then good." She sat back again. "Let's go. I cannot believe Will and Xander didn't ask before passing this up...but hey, more joke material for me later that I don't have to share!" She glanced over at him as he pulled out of the driveway finally, and got them on their way. "Little surprised you actually called any of us, though. Things in your life not related to the books or the Slaying or whatever we don't always know about."
Giles smiled a little. "Perhaps some of that should change."
"Yeah. I mean come on; we're a family of sorts, right? And we've got you to be all patriarchal, which I've gotta admit you do pretty well, and..."
Rupert didn't hear everything, exactly, that she said, but that wasn't unusual. When she went off chattering, often he wouldn't have understood every word even if he'd tried. But that was all right. He knew she didn't expect him to catch everything, and they were comfortable that way. Or they had been. In the past. But in the weeks since everything with Sohlehk, things seemed to be going back...settling there again, where they'd been before. Yes, everything was going back to normal, but normal was better now. Normal was where it should have been before.
Giles didn't know what lay ahead for his Slayer, but he knew he would be there to help her through it, whatever it was. Buffy was here, and she was all right. He was here, and he was all right.
They really would be okay.