Author's Note: This is an older story of mine reposted here for a new audience – or one that is old enough that they might not remember having read it before…

Disclaimer: Don't own them, not making money, please don't hurt me.

Déjà vu

by Coast2Coast

"Why did you come here? This isn't your fight!"

The punch she delivered to his jaw was as much a surprise to him as having found himself being dragged out of the burning factory, his quarry gone.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed!" Raw anger and panic.

Yes. No. What does it matter? Giles struggled to bring himself to a crouch on the wet pavement; crying so hard he thought he might retch.

She threw herself at him, sobbing as well, and clutched his body to hers. "You can't leave me. I can't do this alone."

As they wept brokenly in one another's arms, Giles barely heard the soft entreaty, a child's prayer to an unforgiving and heartless world over which they had no control. "Please don't leave me alone again."

He was being watched; and followed.

In the two weeks since Jenny's death he had been under observation almost constantly. He wondered when she found time to sleep. He knew she only went to class when she was sure he would remain in the library, or at least on school grounds. Giles didn't think she had enlisted the help of the others, but she clearly took every possible advantage of opportunities when one or more of them, usually Willow, would be around him for a while. She would find some pretext to step out of the library and return in less than an hour, freshly showered and wearing different clothing. She would make what she probably thought were offhand comments to solicit information from him about his plans for the afternoon and when he would be leaving for the day. He found himself pitying her and dropping hints as casually as he could manage to allay her obvious fears.

When they were together at school, she focused on him with an intensity he hadn't known she possessed. She listened carefully to anything he said - not just to her but anyone - watched to see what he was reading, followed his every move with her eyes. Sometimes she would appear in the stacks if he was out of her sight for more than a few moments. What did she think he was going to do, bolt for the rear exit? Jump out the window?

Her exercise regimen was beginning to alarm him as well. She pestered him constantly with questions about techniques with various weapons in which she had previously shown no interest. She adamantly refused to spar with him and after demolishing every set piece and dummy was left fighting imaginary opponents with a ferocity and barely restrained violence that left her breathless and shaking.

Giles began to worry in earnest when he noticed the change in the manner and frequency in which she patrolled. Whenever she seemed convinced he would remain at the library for a few hours after dark, Buffy would announce her intention to patrol - never without mentioning that she would return to report to him before 'going home'. He didn't know what she would do if she ever returned to find him gone; and he didn't want to find out.

Occasionally, Xander would accompany her; more often she went alone. From information he had extracted from the boy, Giles knew these patrols were serious and deadly affairs with his estimate of her nightly take rate above what used to be her weekly count. Gone was the girl who had to be goaded into spending an evening picking off a vampire rather than hanging out at The Bronze with her friends. Giles knew she also hunted at night, after she had followed him home and watched for his light to go out. The next morning he had often seen bruises, cuts and scratches on her neck, arms or hands that had not been there when she had checked in the evening before.

Xander ultimately abandoned his attempts to keep up with her. He returned to the library one evening to pick up Cordelia, complaining that if he wanted to join the 'Sprint and Stake' biathlon team he would have had to be born a Slayer. She had raced all over town and he had seen her kill four vampires before exhaustion had forced him to let her go off on her own.

"It's scary, Giles," he had exclaimed. "She's... she's dust-thirsty. If Angel doesn't show himself soon she's going to spontaneously combust. Or forget her promise and go after him," he warned, grimly.

That was the one and only point on which Giles had insisted in these days since the incident at the factory. Although they had been walking on eggshells around each other in the aftermath of that night, he could not allow her to pursue Angel into a situation where he would be on his home turf and have Spike and Drusilla, and likely other vampires, at his back. Giles had argued and pleaded and finally dragged Buffy bodily into his office, away from the audience in the library, and demanded that she promise not to track down and hunt Angel in whatever den he now occupied.

"I'll promise you, Giles," she had growled. "If you promise to do the same. Remember that I'm the Slayer and you're the Watcher. We're clear on that, right?"

He had readily agreed, telling himself that he had no intention of going after Angel on his own, at least not again, and that his acquiescence cost him nothing and gained him her solemn vow.

When the change in her behavior had not receded but become more pronounced, Giles had spent some sleepless hours mulling over her final comment on that awful night. What did she mean, "Please don't leave me again"? He had never left her. At first he suspected she might be referring to her father, but rejected the idea. It just didn't seem to add up, especially given the overall pattern of her actions. The only other option he could come up with caused him to make a call to the Council and convince them to send all the documentation they had on Buffy Summers to him by overnight parcel.

He spent every moment in which he knew himself to be unobserved to study the reams of information they had sent. He read Merrick's journal, withheld from him before so as not to give him any 'preconceptions or prejudices', as the Council put it, about his new assignment. Giles found himself smiling as he read, amused at the similarities between this document and the earliest of his own journal entries when he had become Buffy's Watcher. Merrick recorded that Buffy had been resistant to accept her destiny at first - willful, flippant, sometimes downright obstinate and disobedient; but he also observed her incredible raw talent for the job and mentioned more than once that she performed on a physical level far beyond any new Slayer, and some fully trained ones, he had seen or read about. What captivated Giles most was what he could read between the lines, especially toward the end of the journal when Merrick had become more familiar with his charge. He had been enamored of the youngster; proud of her ability and achievements and happy that she seemed to share an apparently unspoken but genuine affection with him. It was clear from the entries that were less about Buffy and more about their shared mission that Merrick was apprehensive about her having to face Lothos.

Giles had studied Lothos during his Watcher training, and could easily understand Merrick's concern. Lothos had been a vile creature - seductive and cruel; in a way, more dangerous for a young and mostly untried Slayer than the Master. Much as Giles wanted information on that confrontation it was not contained in the journal, in which the last entry was dated the day before the events the Council agreed had resulted in the death of 'the Vampire King'. As there had been no official record of Merrick's fate, it was assumed he had fallen in the battle with Lothos.

Was this what troubled Buffy? That Merrick had perished while aiding in the destruction of Lothos? Did she feel guilty that she had survived her first real test as a Slayer and her Watcher had not? Possible, or rather, knowing Buffy as he did, likely. But what had she expected of herself when little over a month earlier she had been an innocent civilian?

Giles huffed in frustration as he tucked the journal away and dug back into the box, hoping for something more concrete that would either support or disprove his suspicion.

He was familiar with much of the material but there were surprises as well; some offering a little insight, some only distracting him from his purpose. Inside one of the many innocuous looking folders he found an 8-1/2" by 11" photograph that was heartbreakingly beautiful and left him staring while his tea grew cold and silent tears dripped from his chin.

It had been taken from a distance, but with a telephoto lens, producing a close up of head and shoulders. The date in the corner told him it had been taken the day before Merrick had made contact to inform her of her destiny. Although that date was less than a year before Giles had, himself, first made her acquaintance, he had to admit he would not have recognized her immediately. This was the bright, happy, innocent child she had been before that doom was pronounced. She was smiling a smile Giles had never seen. There was a light in her eyes brighter than even the most cheerful expression Giles had ever known from her. He had thought her to be, for the most part, a cheery, positive, bubbly personality; at least before the problem with Angel. He had had no idea. This was the girl she had been before she became the Slayer. Although he remained rooted in the firm belief of the sacred calling of both Slayer and Watcher, the image of that lost child haunted his dreams and conscience. It had taken a day and a half before he could bring himself to return to the information he had yet to review. When he had finished, he had as many questions as before; if not more.

Now, as he left the dry cleaner's on a sunny Saturday afternoon and set a leisurely pace toward his flat, he sensed his shadow following along as she had for the past fifteen days. Over that time, he had become preternaturally aware of her; sensing her even at a distance. It was both eerie and comforting at once and was driving him to distraction. He suspected, almost feared, that she was even more aware of him than he of her.

It was beginning to wear on him. It was getting them nowhere; in fact might actually be harming what was left of their relationship. Giles felt himself becoming 'prey' to her 'hunter' and she was becoming more silent, withdrawn and exhausted with each passing day. He continued on to his flat, let himself in and waited for her to settle into one of her observation posts; then he returned to the door, stepped outside and called to her.

He couldn't see her, but knew where she was. He addressed himself to the shrub at the corner of the building, up a shallow flight of stairs from his patio. "Buffy, this has passed all reason. Come inside, please." He turned and went in, leaving the door ajar for her. He sensed her entry and heard her close the door as he put the kettle on. "Sit down. We need to talk."

One good look at her changed his mind about how urgent that talk was, however. She had perched on the edge of his desk chair, not flung herself carelessly on his couch as was her habit. The circles under her eyes could be mistaken for bruises and her eyes darted from window to door and back again, ceaselessly; as though danger might explode at them from any direction, at any moment. Giles could almost feel her rapid heartbeat, sense the adrenaline running through her veins. When had it gotten this bad? She was sitting in his flat, the late afternoon sun shone through the window, he was the only other person there and she was in full blown 'fight-or-flight' mode.

He returned to the kitchen and poured some milk into a saucepan. When it had warmed to his satisfaction he poured it into his largest mug and returned to the living room. Buffy had relaxed, marginally, but tensed once more when he halted near the stairs and tilted his head in their direction. "Come on, follow me," he instructed, then turned and ascended, trusting her to follow.

By the time she reached his bedroom, Giles had set the mug down on the bedside table and retrieved pajamas from his dresser. He tossed them to her. "Put those on, drink that," he indicated the mug of warm milk. "And get some sleep," he pointed to the bed for emphasis. The look of wary confusion she gave him, while standing there clutching his pajamas to her chest, took all the fight out of him.

"Please, Buffy. I can't abide seeing you like this. I swear to you I won't set foot out of the apartment, even to get the paper or take out the trash." He saw she was weakening slightly; she glanced at the bed with what could only be longing. "If someone comes to the door I'll ignore it." She glanced back at him, still hesitant. "You can tie me up in that chair," he pointed to the corner of the loft. "If you let me use the facilities first and promise not to sleep for more than four hours," he hastily amended when he saw she was actually considering the offer.

There, the tiniest ghost of a smile. "We'd better skip the bondage scenario. If I can fall asleep I might not wake up for a week."

"Ah, good," Giles nodded, relieved. "No bondage. Should I call your mother? Or would you like to? I believe you hellions have a standard procedure for hoodwinking your elders, yes?"

Was that embarrassment? Giles suspected she was about to grind a divot out of his rug with her toe.

"Um, she left for L.A. this morning and won't be back 'til next Tuesday." Now she looked up and met his eyes. "That 'nice Mr. Giles' agreed to check up on me from time to time and make sure I'm doing my homework and staying out of trouble."

"Did he?" Giles inquired, in a deceptively mild voice. "How nice of him, although I doubt he would recall such an arrangement."

Buffy had the grace to look sheepish and Giles relented.

"Well, all for the best, I suppose," he observed.

Fifteen minutes later, just as he had settled onto the sofa with a pot of tea at his elbow and a book in his hand, Buffy reappeared carrying the empty mug. Giles repressed a snort of amusement at how large his pajamas were on her tiny frame, although she had folded and tucked and tied with abandon. She padded across the living room into the kitchen and he heard her rinse the mug and set it in the drainer.

"You didn't need to do that. You should have left it and gone to sleep."

Buffy shuffled into the living room and hesitated near him. "I, um, was thinking... Uh, you're way too tall to try and sleep on that couch and I feel sorta guilty about crashing in your bed, you know..."

Giles waited, wondering if she was thinking he would break his promise and leave if she slept. Then he considered what she had said upstairs about 'if I can fall asleep' and realized this was not just about him being, admittedly, too tall to get a proper night's rest on the couch; or the possibility of him slipping out of the apartment without her knowledge.

He snatched up a throw pillow, angled it against his leg and patted the sofa cushion beyond it. "Come on, then. Have a lie down. Who am I to argue with such a considerate house guest? I promise not to drop my book on your head or spill tea on you."

Both of them studiously ignored the fact that he could have shifted his seat to one of the chairs.

Buffy let out a quiet but relieved sigh and joined him on the couch, fitting into the remaining space by tucking her knees up only slightly. Giles lifted the afghan from the back of the couch and settled it over her and she drifted off with the scent of him and his surroundings lending her a sense of peace and security.

Giles had the most relaxing afternoon and evening in recent memory. The sight of Buffy sleeping so deeply and peacefully and the weight of her head resting on the pillow against his side was entirely conducive to the leisurely perusal of his book and silent contemplation which composed his activities until it was time for him to go to bed. He rose carefully, easing her into a more stretched out position and tucked the afghan securely around her. She barely stirred and did not wake, for which Giles was thankful. He left one small table lamp burning on the lowest setting, against the possibility that she might awake in the night and be disoriented, and climbed the stairs to bed.

The sound of the shower woke him in the morning. Since his bathroom was directly below the loft, he could hear her activity clearly through the floor. Just when he thought the almost constant sound of running water might force him to interrupt her routine in order to answer his morning call of nature she appeared at the top of the stairs carrying the borrowed pajamas, neatly folded. She was dressed in yesterday's clothing, her hair still damp but beginning to curl as it dried, her skin pink from the shower, her eyes wide and alert from sixteen hours of sleep. She smiled at him and Giles could imagine the picture he presented, sprawled there in his bed, pajamas and bed clothes wrinkled and askew, hair wild and no glasses; so different from his usual buttoned-down, reserved image as to hardly be believed.

She had to have been biting her tongue hard enough to draw blood not to let loose one of her impudent remarks, but "Morning, Giles. Sleep well?" was all she said; aloud, anyway.

"Yes, thanks. You?"

"Wonderfully," she said, giving the word enough emphasis to include dreamless, uninterrupted and all the hours she had needed; all of which he understood without clarification.

Giles swung his feet out of bed, stood and stretched. He pulled on his robe and followed her downstairs. As he crossed the living room he noticed the steam emerging from the doorway into the bathroom. "Any hot water left?" he asked plaintively, looking down at her from more than his usual height advantage since she wasn't wearing shoes with three inch heels today.

She pulled a face at him and said teasingly, "I'm the considerate house guest, remember? But," she hurriedly added, "I am, well, a girl, after all and um, you might want to give it another few minutes."

Giles nodded, knowingly, and headed into the mist.

After a light breakfast eaten primarily while puttering around the kitchen (neither of them being in the habit of eating much in the morning) Giles had just finished brewing a pot of tea and was calculating how best to keep Buffy from bolting for the door she kept eyeing when the phone rang.

He set the tea tray down, hooked the receiver up to his ear, sent a glare at Buffy, who was inching toward the door, and thrust an index finger eloquently in the direction of the couch before answering. "Hello?" He kept his eyes on Buffy as she settled onto the edge of the couch, watching him watching her.

"Hello, Giles? Did I wake you? Sorry if I did but, um... have you, I mean has Buffy, um... she was supposed to come over last night, or this morning at the latest and she's not answering at home and I was wondering if maybe you've..."

Giles took pity on them both. "She's here, Willow."

"Oh. Um, good. Oh. Okay, she's there but, um, do you mean, like, inside your place and, you know, visible and all, or..."

Giles smiled but managed not to laugh at her expense. She was often more shrewdly aware and observant than any of them.

"Yes and yes, Willow. Here she is," Giles handed the phone to Buffy and seated himself to begin pouring out.

"Hi, Will. Sorry if you were worried but..." then a long silence while Buffy rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and listened patiently until she exchanged the receiver for the cup of tea Giles was handing her. Giles took a breath to say goodbye before he realized Willow was still talking to Buffy.

"...and you stay right there until you guys have worked out this I'm-not-Buffy and I'm-not-Giles thing you've got going on. It's just... it's just oookie and wrong and makes me want to cry. You guys just talk and yell and... oh, I don't know... Don't, like, hit each other or anything... at least not, you know, hard. But don't you dare run off until you two have, you know, fixed everything. Between you, I mean." Giles handed the phone back to Buffy when Willow stopped to catch her breath.

"Okay, Will. 'Bye now." Buffy hung up the phone and leaned back with a sigh. "I'm surrounded."

"Yes," Giles observed. "Yes, you are. Let's talk about the night Jenny died."

"When I found your apartment trashed and you and your best weapons missing I just... I went ballistic." Buffy made eye contact with him and Giles was somewhat alarmed to see a gleam of, what was that? Anger? Challenge? "You didn't think I was ready to kill Angel, and you couldn't wait for me to get ready while he killed more people." She paused, perhaps to allow him a chance to refute her conclusions.

Her stare became even more intense and Giles felt an involuntary chill run up his spine. As he remained silent, she went on. "I knew that if you couldn't manage to kill him you would kill yourself so he couldn't use you as bait to lure me. Or... or turn you into a vampire, too, and have you come after me." She looked down at her overalls, picking at a loose thread at the hem of one leg.

She knew? She had known then that was what he had planned? "Buffy," he began in a placating tone, "as Watchers, we all vow to..."

"I so don't want to hear it, Giles," Buffy cut him off abruptly. "That's the same crap Merrick handed me, to keep me away from Lothos until I was 'ready'. He told me to run away, and I did."

Giles felt a stab of sympathetic pain at the grief in her voice and the unshed tears of shame welling in her eyes.

So it did have something to do with Merrick. "What happened, Buffy? Tell me," Giles asked softly, but urgently.

She gave him a confused, piercing look, but answered nonetheless. "I... I went looking for him an hour or so later when he didn't come back to his flat. I... found him there, shot in the head. He killed himself before Lothos could touch him; turn him against me. And... he, Lothos, had done... things... to him."

Giles eyes slid shut in compassion for the child's voice to which she had reverted. Of course Lothos would desecrate the body, livid in his anger at failing to turn the Watcher into a weapon against the Slayer's resolve and confidence.

She paused for a shuddering breath, then regained some of her earlier anger. "That was my first lesson in unquestioning obedience to my Watcher's orders. Your little Watcher's Guidebook of Dos and Don'ts needs a serious rewrite if it still says it's better to off yourself and let a fifteen year old kid face a thousand year old vampire king and close to a hundred of his undead buddies all alone than to let her 'endanger' herself trying to rescue her Watcher!"

Her tears had spilled over and she brushed them away angrily, settling back to scan his face; waiting to see if he would try to justify Merrick's actions and their effect on her.

Giles sat speechless, trying to fully absorb what she had told him. His mind flashed back to the picture that had wrenched his heart so painfully. That child, so blissfully ignorant of true evil; she had had a few weeks of training, a hard won kinship of trust and affection growing between them and then Merrick had snatched himself out of her world and left her to face abject terror on her own. Unlike now, Merrick had been the only one in her life who had known her true identity as the Slayer. Giles both marveled at and was horrified by the courage and perseverance Buffy must have had to face that creature only hours after losing her sole confidante and support.

"What did you do?" As soon as the question left his lips, Giles silently berated himself for asking. That question was almost two years late in coming, you prat!

From the expression on Buffy's face, she had not anticipated this question either. "He... Merrick told me if anything happened to him I wasn't to tell the police or... anyone. Just to send his book to an address he said he'd leave for me to find. I buried him under a tree in a field where there are flowers in the spring."

"I beg your pardon… you... you buried him?" Good God. His voice hadn't cracked that badly since he was a teenager himself.

"I couldn't leave him there, Giles! In that awful place. Hung up there," here she seemed to choke on her own voice. "Where... things... would get at him," her voice trailed off and she lowered her head. "I had to... I..."

"You loved him," Giles finished for her, softly.

"Yes, I loved him," Buffy nearly growled, lifting her head again. "And I killed every vampire that got between me and that... monster. I don't know how many. I started with twenty stakes and didn't have any left when I finally got to where he and that nasty little sidekick of his were lurking. And then I hit them and kicked them and whacked them and stabbed at them with whatever I could lay my hands on until they were dead, too. Then I trapped the rest of them in the gym and I burned it down to the ground."

She was gasping for breath now, reliving all that anger, violence and destruction. None of it was her fault, but was at her hands. She stilled and met his eyes. In her face he could now clearly see that young, abandoned child, frightened as much by the damage she had wrought as by the loss of her Watcher.

"Please, Giles. Promise you won't leave me alone like that."

Buffy had gone for a run. Telling the story of Merrick and Lothos had been a catharsis, yes; but it had also brought up a gushing well of repressed anger and grief that would be better spent on the pavement of Sunnydale than the bric-a-brac in Giles' flat. He had agreed almost too quickly when she had first asked, then mentally chastised himself for not having made her reasonably swift return a condition of her release. Buffy sensed his concern and hurried to reassure him that she would be back in two hours at most. Giles gave her a grateful smile as he closed the door behind her and took her offered concession as a sign of their healing relationship.

Giles himself, although he thought briefly about going out for some fresh air, did not want to take a chance that she would return early and find him gone; so he paced his living room floor in anger and frustration.

"Those filthy, dirty, self-satisfied pillocks!" he shouted slamming his open hand down on the counter between living room and kitchen. "How could they have left her alone there like that!" Giles clutched his throbbing hand to his chest, using it as a touchstone to connect, even slightly, with her pain. He thought back to the second and third hand reports that made up the bulk of the information the Council had sent to him that covered the period between the death of Lothos and Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale.

The next day, no one had remembered anything about vampires. As usual, people needed to rationalize what they could not or would not allow in their world view, so demonic activity had been told off as something more mundane. The story upon which everyone seemed to agree was that Buffy had sparked a rivalry between two gangs by using her 'feminine wiles' to set the leaders off against each other. It had been pretty much universally accepted that she was a troublemaker, a delinquent; perhaps a borderline sociopath. She was expelled from school and convicted of arson, with a suspended sentence on condition that she see a therapist four times a week and check in with and show progress to her parole officer.

Giles had a suddenly vivid picture of what this would mean for her. Any friends she had not already lost due to her abrupt change in routine that was the natural result of her Slayer training would now disappear as well. Her parents' marriage, not in the best shape before, crumbled and ended in divorce. Buffy would certainly blame herself; however much her parents might try to dissuade her, if they had even tried.

They should have pinned a medal on her and carried her on their shoulders through the streets. Instead she had been ostracized, vilified and handed a juvenile police record that had followed her here to blacken what should have been a fresh start.

And the Watcher's Council; in Giles' eyes, their crimes were especially loathsome because he had believed they, at least more often than not, did what was right and best for the Slayer. They had been thrilled with the severe drop off in vampire activity that accompanied word of Lothos' death. No need to send another Watcher to the Slayer right away. Let them consider and plan her future while they enjoyed the most dramatic lull in demonic activity in a century. Never mind that said Slayer had no one with whom to confide the truth or support her as she bore the shame and humiliation that was now heaped upon her, even as she silently mourned the death of the one person she should have been able to lean on.

When he had read the dry, factual reports days earlier, he himself had not considered this; only glad that she hadn't had to face more vampires until she moved here - and had a Watcher to look out for her again.

Giles felt an urgent need to vomit.

Small wonder she had panicked when confronted with the sure knowledge of his anguish over Jenny's murder, his empty apartment and missing weapons.

I went looking for him an hour or so later when he didn't come back to his flat.

And he had challenged; no, almost accused, her.

Why did you come here? This isn't your fight!

No wonder at all that she had decked him.

Are you trying to get yourself killed!

Perfectly understandable, since the danger was still out there, that she was unwilling to let him out of her sight; all the while training and patrolling, doing everything she could to be ready - to convince him she was ready - to face the challenge so that he would not put himself in danger in an attempt to shield her.

He told me to run away, and I did.

Shield her! From the torment of an agonizing choice, perhaps; but not her greatest fear.

I found him there, shot in the head.

Alone, she had buried him. Under a tree. In a field, where there are flowers in the spring.

Please don't leave me alone again.

Buffy stepped through the doorway and dropped the bag she had packed at home after purging herself in a flat out sprint across town. She turned to find Giles standing motionless at the window on the other side of the room, his back to her and his hands tucked into his armpits.

"Why didn't you kill me the moment you met me?" Giles asked in a subdued tone.

Buffy laughed. Laughed. Giles couldn't believe it. He turned sharply and stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment. Buffy came over to him, took him by the arm and led him back into the center of the room.

"You look like you should sit down, or something." She gave him a gentle nudge toward the couch. He dropped onto it and covered his face.

"What did you do to your hand?"

Giles snatched his hands away from his face and gazed at them as though they were new and unfamiliar appendages, one of which was swollen and a bit red. Probably broke a bone, you idiot, he mentally chastised himself. "Er, um I ahhhh..." he waved vaguely toward the counter he had assaulted earlier.

"Maybe you should have gone for a run, too," Buffy observed.

"Why didn't you kill me?" he queried again, showing her a confused and guileless face.

"You mean when you bounced up to me all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and 'aren't we lucky to be living on the Hellmouth' and 'aren't you thrilled to be the Slayer' and 'let's get busy putting a severe dent in the local vampire population'?"

Giles nodded. "Precisely."

"Incredible self-control," she answered, almost as sparklingly impudent as she had been months ago.

"No, really," Giles countered.

Buffy sobered a little and became thoughtful. "It wasn't your fault. You meant well. It was kind of... endearing."

Giles snorted. "Ludicrous, you mean."

"No," Buffy insisted. She gripped his forearm and forced him to meet her eyes. "You gave me the chance to believe in myself again. It was so hard. I almost started to believe, maybe..." She dropped her gaze, unable to finish.

"That you were crazy? That you deserved what they did to you?" A nod. Giles enveloped her in a hug. "I'm sorry, Buffy. So incredibly sorry. For everything you had to endure and everyone who let you down or hurt you. You didn't deserve it and I would take it all away if only I could."

"You really didn't know about any of it, did you?" she asked, face pressed against his shoulder.

"No. No, I didn't. But I don't know how I'm going to forgive myself, or what I can do to make it up to you, for not asking until now."

"Just keep holding me for a while, okay?"

He smiled and gave her an extra squeeze. "Okay."

"And don't think you're doing me any favors by not holding me responsible for my duty."



~ The End ~