Chapter 7 - My Eternal Ward

Buffy pounded into the bag, losing herself to a rhythm that she'd learned long ago on a library floor.

Each hit that she landed made a deep thudding sound, echoing her innermost thoughts. Every blow was a balm to her soul and she was able to draw comfort from the familiarity of it.

Her mind wandered back to the times where Giles had shown her how to do the moves that she was doing.

As her mind wandered, her moves became less focused and had less impact against the bag. She realized that she was losing interest in the physical activity. She pulled away from the bag, unwrapping the ace bandages from her hands and wrists, putting them back where they were supposed to go.

As she put them into the drawer, she caught a glimpse of the drawer beneath it. The one where Giles kept the daggers.

She pushed the open drawer closed and reached for the handle of the other one. Buffy ran a hand across the hilt of one of Giles' favorite blades. It had a solid weight as she lifted it in her hand, and for a brief moment she thought she could feel the residing warmth of his hand from so long ago, from when his fingers had last grasped it.

She gripped it tightly, feeling the textured grip dig slightly into her palm.

The weight made her wish that he was there with her. God, how she wished that he was there at that moment.

As though a silent answer to her wish, she heard the door, through which she had walked through only ten minutes before, open.

"Buffy..."

She held a bit tighter to the blade, not wanting to let go, not believing the voice that she was hearing. It couldn't be him...no. It couldn't be. She turned around slowly, her hand not letting go of the dagger, but as soon as she saw her Watcher's face, she heard more than felt the blade clatter to the floor.

"Gi...Giles..."

Without another word being spoken, they moved towards each other, gripping each other tightly, neither wanting to let go, both of them afraid of what might happen if they did.

Buffy had an unnatural fear that if she let go, he would disappear as though he had never even existed. Little did she know, the same thought was in his mind as well.

She wanted to tell him the truth of where she'd been, but she couldn't bring herself to it. How would he react? Would he even want her there, would he do the whole noble, self-sacrificing thing that he always did? She hoped not, but at the same time she had a feeling that he somehow already knew. How he would know, though, was beyond her.

They ever so slowly lessened their grip on the other person, both of them needing to see the other's eyes.

Keeping her hand on his arm, she tried not to let the tears fall. She could feel them building up, and they had been ever since she'd heard him speak her name. She swallowed, keeping her emotions at bay.

He reached out a gentle hand, placing his fingers on her chin and lifting her face so that he could see her eyes...and she broke down.

As she cried in his arms, he moved them both toward the couch, knowing that they would both need the stability. Both of them were emotionally fragile at the moment, and they needed some sort of stability beneath them. He kept his arms tight around her body, maneuvering them so that they sat on the couch side by side.

Buffy was aware of how tightly she was clinging to him, and in the back of her mind it occurred to her that the two of them had only touched each other this way once...when Jenny had died.

It wasn't in the least bit uncomfortable, and that's what was bothering her.

When had this become comfortable? She then realized... It had become that way the instant that she'd known that he was coming back. She'd been wanting to hold onto him for so long, and it scared her. The strength of her emotions was as subtle as a freight train, and she inwardly flinched at the severity of it.

He was everything that she needed…and wanted…in a single person. And that was what made it so frightening.

He continued to hold her, one of his hands absently running across her back, attempting to comfort her in the only way that he knew how.

She dug her grip into his shirt, needing the contact to believe that he was really there. He was really there.

Her tears finally stopped and she found herself still not wanting to let go of him. It was more than the fact that he was there for her…it was something else, and she knew it. She would never say the words out loud, but they lingered there, just beneath the surface.

Buffy was well aware that he knew what the words were, but that he would never speak them, either.

Finally, she managed to break the silence that filled the room.

"So…how'd you get here?"

As soon as the words left her lips, she mentally hit herself on the head. She slowly pulled out of the embrace, unable to look him in the eye.

He chuckled slightly and responded with, "Well, I pointed myself west and flapped my arms as hard as I could. It was a lot of work, but I made it."

She began to giggle, and soon it turned into side splitting laughter. Soon, both of them were laughing hysterically, perhaps a bit maniacally, trying to ignore the other emotion that filled the room. The laughter seemed to make things less tense, and it was obvious that he'd made the comment just for that purpose.

Their' laughter died down, and she smiled as she was still able to see a broad smile on his lips. Behind his eyes there was a seriousness about him, but they both ignored it.

She gave him a shy grin, trying not to betray the turmoil she felt inside.

"It's…it's good to see you, Giles." She paused for a moment, looking at his face, and he tried not to squirm under her searching gaze. "I…I missed you."

A hint of a smile graced the corner of his mouth at her admission. This was part of the Buffy that he knew. The uncertain woman still trying to find her way in the world. The look didn't have any expectations, just a hopefulness about it that made his heart swell just a little.

"I missed you, too."

There was a long pause between them, during which he reached out and gently gripped her hand with his own.

There were words that needed to be said, but neither of them was willing to start. Giles knew that it would have to be him. For all of Buffy's skills at fighting, she was truly a pacifist and not one that liked to confront. He would have to break the silence.

"Buffy…I know where you were."

Her eyes snapped up from where they had been staring at their joined hands.

"What? How?"

He hesitated, not sure of how to explain it. He was still fuzzy on the details himself, and this wasn't exactly the best time to admit his true feelings for her, so he pushed forward. Knowing that he was treading on unsteady ground, he chose his words carefully.

"Just an hour ago, I woke up from a dream. There…there was a field…and a tree. You walked down to a fence that crossed the field, and you were told by a young man, in a roundabout way, that you had received your reward. Just as you started to open the gate, you were, you were…"

He found he couldn't finish his sentence. To wake up in a coffin was probably every Slayer's worst nightmare, and the fact that she'd had to go through that…he inwardly shuddered.

Buffy gave him a serious look, obviously aware of what his next words were supposed to have been.

She gently squeezed his hand, trying to silently reassure him, but inwardly she was frozen stiff at his words.

No. It couldn't be possible. That had been her dream. How the hell had he seen it? How the hell had he been able to see what only she knew and no one else did? Suddenly, she remembered when she'd shared dreams with Angel. No…it couldn't be like that situation. Could it?

She chanced a look at him and found him doing what she'd been doing only moments before…staring at their joined hands.

Did she…love him? Was it possible?

She carefully thought about it, absentmindedly running her thumb across the back of his hand.

She already knew that he was her safe haven, her shelter from the storms of life when they got too intense. But was he someone that she could fall in love with? The thought ricocheted around in her mind, giving her pause.

Giles pulled her slightly closer once more, so that they were side by side, legs flush against one another, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, needing the contact.

He then returned her unconscious gesture and brought his other hand up and ran his thumb over her knuckles.

That was when it hit her.

She was already in love with him. Desperately, deeply, and irrevocably. It hit her with all the subtlety of a freight train, and she felt her heart expand in her chest at the realization. How had she never seen it before? It was so blatantly obvious, that she felt as though she'd been blind for years.

Every single time that her world fell to pieces around her, every single time she thought that had nowhere to go…he was there.

Silently, but steadily.

He had given his support for her and stayed for her even when she gave him every good reason to simply leave her.

And then he had left her…but now she understood why. He loved her, too, and the person that initially came out of that grave had not been her. She had been a broken shell, trying to find her way back to where she had been torn from. It must have been torture for him to see her there, but know that she didn't even want to be there.

Silent tears now ran down her cheeks, and without even thinking about it, she lifted their joined hands and placed a soft kiss on the back of his fingers.

Startled at the unexpected gesture, Giles looked down at her and was surprised to see sparkling tracks of wetness down her cheek.

"Buffy…?"

She simple shook her head, and he fell silent. They sat there for a long moment, the only sound in the training room the sound of their breathing.

She tilted her head slightly, moving it so that her ear rested over his chest. She heard the steady thump-thump of his heart and she felt her own heart slow down to match his. He was much like his heartbeat was; steady, unerring, and constant.

"I've really missed you, Giles."

The room was silent.


Part 7/?