Title: Healing

Author: Coast2Coast

Timing: Season 3 - starts near the end of 'Helpless'.

Spoilers: 'Helpless'

Rating: T - Some bad language and angst.

Synopsis: Buffy and Giles both took a beating in 'Helpless'. They definitely need to help each other pick up the pieces.

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all characters belong to Joss Whedon. I'm making no money by using them.

Author's Note: I have taken a couple of liberties with dialog and costuming from the actual episode before wandering off into my domain.

Healing by Coast2Coast

Giles stood framed in the entryway that connected the library, the checkout counter and his office. Buffy had remained silent since they had returned. She had completely ignored him, refused to allow him to see to her injuries, had not once met his eyes, had avoided his touch - even his close proximity. Now she sat slumped in a chair at the central table; her arms were stretched out on the table before her, as though to prevent herself from slipping to the floor. Giles wondered if this were more practical consideration than appearance.

Quentin Travers stood between them, perpendicular to their positions; heedless of their apparent inattention.

"This was not just a test of the Slayer's progress, but also of her Watcher's commitment and competence. While she has passed the test," the Council member shifted his focus to Giles, who was still regarding Buffy with remorse, "you have not. You're fired."

The cold remorselessness of the statement, in addition to its content, commanded Giles' attention. "On what grounds?" he managed to force from his tight throat.

"You have a father's love for the girl. It is unacceptable. It clouds your judgment and impedes her training. Another Watcher will be sent to replace you."

A cold rush of fear ran through Giles' veins. Replaced? Not to be Buffy's Watcher? Not to protect her and oversee her training? How could he trust another to do her justice?

"You will conclude your duties here and when the new Watcher arrives you will return to England for reassignment."

Giles stared, incapable of speech. Leave? Not just to be supplanted in his role of Watcher, but to leave her... A voice from across the room disrupted his frantic thoughts.

"No."

Travers, unused to being interrupted, much less contradicted, rounded on her. "What did you say?"

Buffy looked up at the man. "I said 'No'. Meaning don't bother to send another Watcher. There's no point. I won't let him get anywhere near me."

"You still have much to learn, girl," Travers said in a condescending tone. "And your ex-Watcher was clearly not getting on with the job."

Buffy rose from her seat and as she stepped towards him she crossed her arms, tossed her hair back, planted her feet and squared her shoulders. Although her back was to him, Giles could picture her face. He knew that stance, that attitude; she was absolutely furious and maintaining a grasp on her temper by the last thread of her control. He stifled a knee jerk reaction to warn the man to run, while he had a chance.

"You underestimate your ability to clearly communicate your lessons."

"And what, in your limited understanding of our purpose, are these 'lessons'?"

"Let's recap, shall we?"

Giles bit his tongue. He recognized that combination of sarcasm and sweet, seemingly innocent, tone and many a vampire or demon had heard it moments before their demise; but Giles doubted Buffy would go so far as to kill Travers so he let her continue without interjecting.

"You sent my first Watcher. He blew his brains out and left me alone to fight Lothos and his undead buddies. I do my 'duty'," Giles cringed at the sheer amount of venom she managed to inject into the word. "And what's my reward? The loss of all my friends, my parent's divorce over their arguments about whose fault it is that they can't control me, expulsion from school, mandatory therapy - where I certainly can't be forthcoming about my 'issues' - and a juvenile police record for arson."

Travers shifted his eyes away. "Yes, well, while Merrick's death was, of course, unfortunate..."

If Buffy hadn't cut him off Giles would quite probably have flung himself bodily at the man for his sheer callousness.

"So not the point; but I can understand your disappointment that I didn't learn my lesson the first time. My second Watcher managed to gain my confidence and my trust. Then he betrayed me."

The bleak desolation in her voice cut Giles to the quick. I'm sorry, he wanted to shout. I was wrong. I know it was unforgivable but...

"I get it now," Buffy continued. "I can never let my guard down or trust anyone. I have no life, no feelings, no rights, no friends and no family - only my duty. In short, I'm not a human being anymore; I'm the Slayer."

She waited for some reaction, but only silence met her recitation. "No argument, huh? Okay, then - the way I see it, you have a choice." She turned back to the table and picked up a short sword, one which Giles favored for its superb balance and keen edge. She turned and handed it, hilt first, to Quentin. "Option One: You agree that I'm the Slayer. I stay here and do my duty and Giles reports to you about my effectiveness. He already knows the score and can judge my work ethic from a distance better than someone who won't even catch a glimpse of me."

The Council member tilted his head slightly and regarded Buffy with some curiosity and, however belated, a small amount of respect. "And Option Two?"

Buffy lifted her chin and threw out her arms at shoulder height. "You decide I'm a lost cause and kill me now."

"Buffy!" Giles managed to choke out, taking a step towards her.

"Stay out of this, Giles," Buffy snapped harshly, not moving; not even turning her head. She held Quentin's gaze. He stood before her, holding the sword uneasily, ineffectually. "Make your choice, but get this: if you don't kill me now, don't try it later. Anyone, demon or human, who comes after me from now on is fair game."

"Killing a human being is automatically grounds for termination for a Slayer," Travers reminded her.

Buffy knew he meant death, not job loss, by termination. "Then don't send anyone else into harm's way."

The Council member considered her closely for a few moments, then gave her a sharp nod and dropped the sword onto the table. Buffy dismissed him from her attention as she resumed her seat.

Quentin fixed his gaze on Giles, giving a jerk of his head toward the library doors. He turned and lifted his coat and briefcase off the counter as he exited the library. Giles shot Buffy a concerned glance, but followed.

"Well, that ended much better than I expected; or dared to hope, truth be told," Travers asserted heartily, as he and Giles started down the corridor together.

"How can you consider anything about this... this... monstrous situation acceptable?" Giles asked, incredulous.

"Completely unable to recognize a win-win scenario when you see it, eh?" the man shook his head. "Either her frame of mind makes her the most committed and ruthless Slayer in years or she gets herself killed and we get a new, more tractable Slayer to train - properly."

Giles, more dumbfounded than ever, simply stared at him.

"Well," Travers said, stopping to hold the front door of the building open, clearly not expecting Giles to follow him any further. "My work here is done; although yours, apparently, is not. If we cease to receive reports from you we'll know that you failed to stay out of her way and she's killed you. Can't say whether that would prompt the dispatch of a new Watcher or an assassin. Something for me to consider on my way home." He strode jauntily away without another word.

Giles returned to the library. He let the door swing shut behind him and moved to lean against the checkout counter, observing Buffy from a distance to see what her reaction to his presence might be. He could barely resist the demanding need he had to go to her. He knew she was injured, but not how badly. He knew she was heartsick and exhausted both mentally and physically. Her threat to kill him if he touched her gave him little pause - he would risk injury or death to answer her needs. What truly held him rooted to this spot was the fear that any approach from him would cause her more pain.

How could everything have gone so wrong, so completely, so quickly? He thought back over this hellish week. As the images and voices of the recent past revisited him, he realized he was less preoccupied with the anguish he had felt at his role in and inability to prevent the Cruciamentum than he was with what he had observed Buffy enduring. At the time, he had been trying so hard not to react to Buffy's worry over the symptoms caused by the injections that he had overcompensated and ignored everything related to her. Now he recalled the subdued look on Buffy's face when Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia spoke animatedly about their post-graduation plans, her poorly masked disappointment at the cancellation of her father's visit and the wistful, then fading, hope when she hinted that Giles might want to help celebrate her birthday.

He also remembered several partially overheard conversations between Snyder and Buffy in the hallways. The man had been taunting her about the slim chance Buffy had of graduating. He made it clear that he would be watching her and that one little slip up on her part would mean expulsion. Giles had developed an unconscious habit of avoiding the little troll and his anti-student sentiments; now he realized that Buffy had not the option to walk away when the obnoxious man confronted her.

All this in addition to her confusion and fear about losing her Slayer powers; the near disastrous encounter with the vampire she had barely vanquished, the boy who had manhandled her so easily and Giles' own apparent indifference to her plight.

His internal reverie was interrupted by a movement from Buffy. She pulled herself more upright in her chair and Giles thought, for a moment, that she would stand. Instead, she leaned forward and rested her forehead on the surface of the table between her outstretched arms. Stillness settled over her again.

What a complete ass I've been!, he berated himself. Even without his active participation in the Cruciamentum he deserved every bit of derision and anger she had directed at him. Perhaps Quentin had been right. God, he didn't want to even consider the possibility but how else could he explain having utterly failed her? If he had not been doing his duty as her Watcher he could have offered his comfort and support in everything else she had faced. If he could have set aside his affection and concern for her and not subverted the Cruciamentum, she would not have had to face the potential loss of him as her Watcher.

A soft, indistinct sound caught his attention. He couldn't identify what it was, but knew the source: Buffy. He couldn't stand here, purposeless and ineffectual, any longer. Watcher or not, welcome or not, he had to go to her. He prayed silently that he would at least do her no more harm. Giles stepped to her side and set one hand down on the table next to her arm. He leaned over and stroked her hair back, the movement of his hand causing the back of her head to tilt away from him. Her eyes were closed and she was crying silently. Her cheeks were wet and tears had pooled on the table.

"Oh, Buffy," Giles breathed, as he drew his warm, dry hand across her face to wipe away her tears.

Buffy blinked and opened her eyes. "Hey, Giles," she greeted him softly, with no look of recrimination or even anger, just calm acceptance. "So... how was your day?"

Giles choked on a surprised chuckle. "Horrid. Yours?"

"Very unpleasant," she agreed pushing her upper body into a vertical position. She watched Giles seat himself around the corner of the table from her. "We need to start associating with a better class of people."

Giles gazed in wonder at her open, almost relaxed, appearance. "We?" Was it even possible that she could forgive him, so quickly and completely, for what he had done? He didn't dare hope. "Er, please don't misunderstand my asking this but, well, after the last conversation we had I, uh, got the distinct impression that..."

"I would just as soon kill you as look at you?" Buffy finished for him.

"Not precisely how I would have put it but, yes."

"That was before I met Mr. Wonderful," she said, hooking a thumb toward the doors which led out of the library. "What was he going to do to me if you refused to cooperate with this 'test'?"

Giles looked down at his hands. "Well," he began to answer slowly. "It would have involved..."

"You know what?" Buffy cut him off. "I don't want to know." Giles looked up at her, relieved. She leaned forward and wagged a finger at him. "I'm really disappointed in your choice of friends, young man," she intoned in a serious voice. "You might think they're the cool kids to hang with but they've had a very bad influence on you."

"Yes," he smiled ruefully at her. "I'm afraid I have to agree." He sobered and leaned forward, reaching out to take her hand. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I don't know what I can do..."

Buffy squeezed his hand. "You can be Giles."

Tears of relief sprang into his eyes at the reminder of another time he had underestimated her capacity to accept him for who he truly was. He lowered his head and reached under his glasses with a finger and thumb to squeeze the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ward off more tears. As his glasses settled back into place he noticed a splash of bright color on the drab floor.

"Buffy, you're bleeding," he said, looking back up at her in alarm.

"Oh yeah," she said in a bland voice. "That's my main concern right now."

Giles knelt next to her and stopped himself just before he touched her in an attempt to locate and assess her injury. He glanced up at her and received a tight almost-smile and a nod of tacit approval. He lifted the edge of her black tank top to see that her entire side was smeared with blood and the sticky liquid had soaked into her top and the near side of her dark athletic pants from the waistband to a point below her hip where a sluggish drop would occasionally fall to the floor. He found the wound; a jagged gash which curved below her ribcage from front to back on one side of her body. It had bled freely at one point and was still oozing blood and serum.

"This needs to be looked at," Giles said, his forehead creasing in concern.

"And you're doing exactly... what?" Buffy asked.

Giles huffed in frustration. "I mean professionally." He rose and offered Buffy a hand up. "I'll drive you to the hospital."

Buffy accepted his assistance out of the chair, but she was shaking her head. "Uh uh, no can do."

"Buffy, your usual healing abilities have been suppressed by the injections..."

"Which might show up in any blood tests they do." She raised her right arm up for his inspection and tapped the inside of her elbow with a fingertip, indicating three easily visible and one or two fading injection sites. "Even if they don't find anything, these track marks will be enough for Snyder. I can see him celebrating now. He can expel me for drug use and maybe even get you fired if he finds out you're the one who took me to the hospital."

"Damn!" Giles barked, turning away and running his hand through his hair. "Sorry," he apologized; realizing that rebuking himself for having put her in this situation wasn't going to be of any help now. "Do you have any other injuries?"

Buffy gave herself a cursory pat down; her lips pursed, considering. "Nothing as bad; nothing worse than other stuff you've fixed up for me," she answered.

"All right, then. How is your supply of bandages at home?"

"I have a pretty good stash. Do you think butterflies will work on this?" she asked pointing at her side.

"I think so."

"Then we're good to go."

End of Chapter 1