Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money.

By a Thread by Coast2Coast

Chapter Four: Cautious Rapprochement

Giles charged out the door and came to an abrupt halt. Buffy hovered on the lowest stair of the porch dancing from foot to foot, which were clad only in socks, staring at the morass of mud that stretched from the cabin to the road without a dry patch in sight.

Giles lifted her off her feet before she could make up her mind to brave the wet terrain and deposited her on a wicker couch. He leaned against the porch railing, gasping in lungful after bracing lungful of cool, fresh pine and cedar scented air as his heart rate slowed and Buffy's sobs trailed off into quiet weeping. When he approached the couch to comfort her, she raised her tear-streaked face to him. "Please, Giles," she implored. "Just let me get it out of my system." As she pulled her feet up, wrapped her arms around her legs and tucked her head down, Giles went back into the cabin. He returned a moment later having added a shirt and jacket to the clothing he was wearing and carrying a blanket and two handkerchiefs. He paused by Buffy long enough to offer her the handkerchiefs, which she accepted, and to drape the blanket around her. Giles seated himself at the opposite end of the couch and, when Buffy offered no complaint regarding his presence, he produced a book from his jacket pocket and began to read.

For two hours Giles tried to lose himself in his book but found that the only thing on which he could concentrate was the smallest sound from Buffy. He waited for some sign that he could be of help or comfort but, failing that, wanted her to know she needn't feel alone.

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"What's the worst thing you've ever done?"

Although it was voiced softly and he had been expecting to hear something from her for some time, the question still startled Giles. He set his book aside and turned toward her. Buffy was now sitting cross-legged and had shifted her position to face him, her attention focused wholly on his face.

"You already know the worst thing I've ever done," he answered quietly, subdued by the seriousness in her expression and the subject matter she had broached.

She nodded slightly to herself, as though this was confirmation of something she had already guessed. "Eyghon," she said.

"Yes, Eyghon."

"You didn't want to tell us… you didn't want to tell me what was going on; even though there was danger. You said you didn't want me to know about that part of you," Buffy remembered.

"I was afraid you would lose respect for me. That you wouldn't…" he sighed. This was going to require honesty on both sides. Quid pro quo, old man; don't let her down. Giles met her patient, but watchful and expectant gaze. "I was ashamed of what I had done. I was afraid you wouldn't care for me anymore."

Buffy nodded, understanding his concern. They had been new in their relationship then, though their bond had been tested by fire and battle. "It actually brought us closer, though, didn't it? My knowing something that personal about you, your history. Something you wouldn't want just anyone to know. And you knowing that I knew it."

Giles had to smile at her phrasing. "Yes, it did," he agreed.

Buffy lapsed into silence again; Giles waited patiently for her to go on. Come on, Buffy. You can do it, he silently encouraged her; fully aware that he was expecting her to be more courageous and selfless than he had been in her position.

"Do you want to know the worst thing I've ever done?"

No. "Yes, tell me."

"I condemned someone I love to eternal torment in Hell."

In sympathy for the distress that showed on her face, Giles reached out to her but Buffy intercepted his attempt at a hug and instead clasped his hand in hers and locked gazes with him.

"Angelus pulled the sword out of Acathla. There was brief glow of light, then nothing. I thought… I hoped he somehow missed a step, that, okay, he had a sword, which was bad, but he didn't do everything he had to do to open the vortex. Everyone but the two of us was gone by then; Xander got you out and Spike escaped with Drusilla and I had killed the other vamps. We fought and finally I disarmed him. I was going to kill him, Giles; honest. I was just about to behead him and … he… a light flashed in his eyes and he staggered and fell to his knees. He looked up at me and said my name. It was Angel."

Giles gasped– a harsh intake of breath that communicated his dismay at this revelation to her without the need for words. Buffy paused for a moment and a deep breath and when she resumed speaking it was barely above a whisper. "He… I… we…" she clamped her eyes shut and pressed her lips into a firm line, clearly struggling for control. Her hands gripped his more forcefully and Giles returned the pressure in acknowledgement of her distress.

She took another breath and when she spoke it was clear she had decided to censor what she had been about to say before. "The vortex was opening." Buffy opened her eyes and met Giles gaze. "I picked up my sword and ran him through."

She inhaled sharply and tears sprang to her eyes. "Oh God, Giles; I'll never forget the look of fear and betrayal on his face! He held out his hand to me, but I didn't move. He fell back into the vortex and it closed."

Now severely agitated, Buffy let go of Giles' hand and leapt to her feet. She stepped over to the porch railing and gazed off into the distance. Giles rose and moved to stand behind her and she responded, as though to the tidal pull of his solid presence, by leaning fractionally back toward him. Giles spoke, hoping to alleviate the distress he could sense radiating from her in waves. "I know this is little consolation, but you did the right thing. The only thing you could have done. If you hadn't, Angel would still be in hell; along with all the rest of us. And our world would be filled with only demons."

"I know. But every time I close my eyes I see him holding out his hand to me and hear him calling my name. And when I dream I see him in hell," Buffy confessed. She turned to see Giles regarding her with sorrow and deep compassion.

"I can't go back, Giles," she told him gravely. "I sent Angel to hell, I wasn't there to save Kendra's life or to keep you guys from getting hurt, the police are after me, I've been expelled from school and my mother wishes I'd never been born."

Giles reached out and squeezed her shoulder, encouraging her to continue to meet his eyes. "Most of those things are not true, no longer the case, not your fault or all of the above," he gently chided her.

Buffy leaned her head against his chest. "I ran away so that I wouldn't hurt any of you anymore," she said. "If I was gone the new Slayer who came after Kendra might go to Sunnydale and you and Willow and Xander could have regular lives; and maybe I could, too."

Giles stroked her hair in a sympathetic gesture. "I'm afraid that's not our destiny, Buffy," he commiserated.

"It was bad without you, Giles," Buffy admitted, in a tone reminiscent of a child declaring his terror of what lurks in the shadows once the bedroom light goes out. "I didn't think… I didn't know I would want…" she trailed off, unable, as yet, to articulate the aching need that had punished her during her flight.

"I know," he replied, thinking of the depravation and injuries she had suffered and his downward spiral of guilt and despair during her sojourn away from him.

Buffy pulled away from him and looked up into his face in entreaty. "Do we have to go back, Giles? Isn't there any way…"

Giles knew it would ultimately be nothing short of cruelty to pretend for even a short while that they could shirk their duty. As he cast about for the words to dash her wistful hopes in the gentlest possible way; his innate honesty and the openness of his expression betrayed his thoughts to her.

"No, huh?" she said; accepting his unvoiced pronouncement of their fate. She sighed in resignation and rested her head against his chest once more.

Giles wrapped his arms around her and bore silent witness to her grief while the twilight gathered under the trees and a mist crept up from a nearby but unseen body of water.

Soon, he would take her inside and feed her and insist that she sleep. And tomorrow they would head south to face their shared destiny.

~ The End ~