No one had expected him to ever die. He was clearly mortal, of course, but such an imposing and important figure in their lives that no one could have ever suspected that one day he'd leave them behind. When he did it was devastating to the whole of the Scooby gang. It was the circumstances of the death that made it particularly horrifying, killed in the same manner as his love Jenny back so many years ago. The same monster that took her from his life also ended it which, to quote the man himself, was rather poetic.
No one was thinking about such poetic irony at the moment.
They were all gathered in the study of his family home in Bath at the behest of his attorney. Not many of them had been through the funeral of someone they loved before. Not since Joyce had they been gathered this way, all in black, sober and somber together in mourning. The service was beautiful in its own way. Simple. He would have found it fitting. He never believed himself to be the man to need pomp and circumstance. He was a man with a mission, a calling, like his Slayer. The funeral had been short and the wake tiring. With the Council building gone and no few of the Watchers dead or in hiding there hadn't been many to mourn. Only those few left had come.
Both Slayers sat in front of the desk now, the dreary English day a backdrop to these tidings. That, too, seemed fitting. Mr. Winkle sat in front of them. Normally a name that would have drawn a snicker from Xander at least failed to make an impression with any of them as the lawyer introduced himself. He shuffled through a few papers and found what he was looking for, leveling his gaze as the blond and brunette Slayers in front of him. He looked sympathetic.
"Let me start by saying I'm sorry for your loss. I worked with Mr. Giles for many years and he always seemed to be in such excellent health. No one could have foreseen…"
"Don't." Buffy raised her hand, unable to handle another speech about his sudden death. She'd kept the circumstances of his death hushed for a reason. She didn't want to have to listen to the condolences of yet another person. She didn't think she could bear it.
Willow had pulled her aside earlier that day and got her into a corner to speak with her. Of course the redhead would be concerned for her best friend. It was only natural in times like these.
"Are you ok?"
"Yeah." Short one word answered seemed to be the thing to expect. Willow wasn't deterred.
"When's the last time you talked to him?"
"I don't know. A while ago."
It was no secret the Slayer was estranged from her Watcher, off doing her own thing in this new path she'd created. It was no secret, too, that she disapproved of his living with Faith and working with her as he used to do with Buffy. What used to be a natural bond was now warped and strained like a rubber band pulled too tight by time and trial. Perhaps Faith had the right of it. Maybe it should always have been one Watcher to one Slayer. Maybe they didn't need an army anymore. But she couldn't take back what she'd done in desperation. At the time they'd needed help and strength. They'd needed to awaken that spark inside all of the potentials, sleeping, just in case.
"It's not your fault."
Buffy blinked. Had Willow been speaking all this while? She didn't remember and the witch looked concerned, the puppy dog look in her eyes. This was hard on them all.
But really, she didn't. Was there a sign she missed? Could she have put the pieces together faster? Worked harder? Gotten to the point sooner? Could she have saved him somehow?
She'd never know.
"I'm here for you Buffy."
She moved away after that, keeping her calm until she was out of sight and then bolting down the hallway into the rest of the enormous house. He always joked about coming from wealth and none of them ever imagined how much wealth he was talking about until they saw this place. "The Cottage" everyone called it. To the blond it was more like a castle, a mansion. She wove through the labyrinthian passages without a destination in mind until she picked a door at random. She put herself in the room and felt the dark wash over her as she leaned against the solid wood and closed her eyes, panting. Her breathing was hard and erratic and the Slayer found herself consumed in tears before she knew what hit her, great wracking sobs shaking her body.
She buried her face in her hands and sobbed for her lost friend. He was practically like family though he never permitted her to say aloud how she thought of him, insisting on being in the fringes, an uncle, instead of the father he was to her and Dawnie. Her cries echoed through and filled the room she was in, bounding back to her until she was consumed by them body and soul. She hadn't really given herself a moment to cry since seeing him and knowing he was gone.
Now she looked at the lawyer and didn't know what to say. Of course she couldn't hear one more person tell her how sorry they were for his passing. They all knew. Every one of them in the room with him now felt the sting of Giles' loss without any help or condolences from anyone. If Mr. Winkle was offended he didn't show it, clearing his throat again and nodding his head.
"It seems you were his family, named after his mother passed just last year. He came to me and changed his will a few months ago."
"He did?" Buffy couldn't imagine the reasons why he would.
"Yes. He did. I saw to the revision myself. All in due time, Miss Summers. You are Miss Summers, are you not?"
"Buffy." She corrected. Miss Summers felt too young and she felt far too old to answer to it. Let Dawn be Miss. She'd go by name.
"I have a letter for you in that case to be given into your keeping once the Will is read." He nodded and looked around the room at the assemblage. "Unless anyone has objections I'll read the will as stated and then allow for questions at the end. Yes?"
No one said a word.
"I, Rupert Giles, being of sound mind and hale body do bequeath my worldly possessions in the following way in the event of my demise:"
How much more legal could something sound, Buffy wondered, staring at the lawyer reading as if she was no longer able to interpret words.
"To my dear Willow Rosenberg," the redhead looked up as she heard her name. All of them knew they were mentioned but no one actually believed they would be. "I leave all of my books and other interesting trinkets and artifacts. I know you will use them wisely."
"To Xander Harris I leave my baseball cards, comic book collection, and all of my records in the hope that he will learn to appreciate music that is not simply mindless noise."
That was Giles all right. The young man smiled from the back of the room. No one knew Giles had ever collected comic books. It seemed like such a childish hobby for someone like him. None of them had ever been able to conceive of Ripper, either, but learned better along the way.
"To my darling Dawn I leave enough to cover the housing and costs of four years in the university of her choosing. Find something you love doing. I know you will make me proud."
The youngest of them all let out a small sound and Buffy instinctively reached up to take the hand waiting beside her. They both knew it would be Oxford in the end, his alma mater. She shifted helplessly in her chair, restless, knowing that she and Faith were the only ones left. She glanced over at the brunette who was wearing a dress, much to everyone's surprise, and looked as forlorn as the rest of them. She'd been living with him for some time by the time he died and no one knew what she was thinking. She didn't talk about it. About him. About herself. She stayed quiet and stoic about all of this.
"To Buffy Summers I leave all of my weapons, my family estate in Devonshire, a yearly allowance of fifty thousand dollars, and the hope that you will find your happiness. You deserve it my dear."
Her eyes shrink wrapped with tears again and she squeezed her sister's hand, glad to have it in her own for the moment. She didn't care about the money. She'd probably give it to Dawn anyway. She cared that he thought of her and wanted her happiness and was sorry she forgot that even for a moment.
"To Faith." That was all. No preamble. No title. No endearments. "To you I leave everything else I own. It has ever been a regret that I could not help you in your time of need and with this perhaps you can stop fighting and find yourself at last."
"What do you mean everything else?" She sounded suspicious and the lawyer looked baffled by it.
"Why, his estate." He supplied, shuffling through more papers and speaking as he did. "The house we're in now, the townhouse in London that he was living in and," he consulted his paperwork, "the bank account of his family amounting to well over forty million dollars."
"What?" Both Slayers managed the single word in unison, both standing from where they sat. Only Faith managed to knock her chair backwards in the commotion. It clattered to the floor behind her. She was ready to be knocked over by a feather, never imagining that anything like this could happen to her. Forty million dollars? Was he serious? What would she do with all that money?
Buffy turned and stared at the brunette, accusing her of something with her eyes as they stood rigid side by side. It was a shock to everyone, surely, but Buffy felt betrayed. It wasn't about the money. She didn't care about that. But he'd been like a father to her and yet he left nearly his entire legacy to the one person that was never close with any of them? How could he do such a thing?
Since she couldn't turn her anger and confusion toward the person that spawned it she did the next best thing. Her eyes latched onto Faith and would not let the girl go.
"What did you do?"
"What I did?" Faith responded, surprise still clinging to her voice. "I didn't do anything!"
"Then why? Why would he leave it all to you?"
"Maybe you aren't the golden girl anymore, Buffy. Did you ever think about that? You weren't there in the last few months. You didn't see him." She trailed off, getting quiet. She hadn't meant to be that mean but she couldn't help but attack. "You kept away with all the other Slayers you created."
Long story short was that in her eyes Buffy had created her own path. Faith still needed someone to stand with her and help her along. He'd been happy to provide that. No matter how relaxed Faith became over time she was always reminded that she and Buffy would always be at odds. There was never a chance for peace between them. A bridge, maybe, here and there over troubled waters but what lay between them was too wide and muddy to ever be forgotten. Her guard was instantly up again as she was attacked.
Mr. Winkle, for his part, stayed quiet not knowing the history between them or the significance of what he'd read. He hadn't expected such a violent reaction for what should have been good news, if a bit grim. He hoped they didn't come to blows. Americans…never any class.
Faith hadn't meant to be stand offish. She was trying, really, but Buffy just made it so hard sometimes! She sighed and the blond didn't seem to be at all comforted. She was fuming. Willow came forward and put herself between the two girls. Xander, wisely, stepped in too. His eye patch looked perfectly in place now as mediator and human shield. The witch raised her hands and tried to calm the blond down.
"She might be telling the truth."
"No! Willow!" But Buffy couldn't pinpoint what she thought Faith had done, exactly; only that she'd caused the rift between Watcher and Slayer to get wider.
"Buffy…" Xander grabbed Faith by the shoulders and steered her toward the door quietly, not letting her make eye contact with the blond. He wouldn't have gotten away with it and knew it if the brunette wasn't completely shell shocked by this entire ordeal. He led her out into the hall and shifted restlessly, looking like he wasn't sure what to think of it, either. Of all of them this was the most surprising thing Giles could have done and evidently none of them were prepared for it.
"What did happen with him? With you guys?" He was quiet when he spoke and nonjudgmental. Just curious how someone who effected them all spent the last few months of his life. She sighed, pacing like a cat.
"It's hard to explain."
"Try, Faith. We all loved him, too."
She stared. Xander was the only one who ever seemed to acknowledge that Faith had cared for Giles, too, in a way that was as significant as the others. He saw it in her, she guessed, and didn't balk at his order.
"He was calm. Happy. He never liked what we had to do but he always did what had to be done. I think he enjoyed feeling needed again. The one on one thing. He liked that."
She gave a half smile and the boy nodded. He could see that. Buffy was part of a well oiled machine of slayage. At the helm she had little time for anything else, even her own feelings and life. How could she have incorporated him into her schedule? Faith, on the other hand, had no one. She wasn't the leading type and didn't want to be a general like Buffy. She was tired of fighting and killing and the things that go bump in the night. She just wanted to retire and hand the world over to any one of the hundreds or thousands of would be Slayers out there. They didn't need her anymore.
Buffy emerged and tried not to look at the brunette as she passed, an envelope in hand. The lawyer had given her the letter he mentioned. She took it with her alone down the hall. Giles' script was on the front of it, Buffy's name neatly flowing. She carried the letter to her room and slammed it onto a table, wanting to burn it or shred it hoping that somewhere, somehow, he knew how conflicted she was feeling inside. Not only was she hurting but she was at a loss to explain this, too. She glared at the letter as if it were the man himself and she could send to him all of her hurt.
The letter failed to respond.
Buffy then tried ignoring the thing and going about her business. Every few seconds her gaze slid across the room where the letter sat unassuming on the table. Finally she gave up with a growl and went over, breaking the wax seal on the envelope to remove the contents. There was no doubt he wrote the thing himself who knew how long ago. Had the lawyer mentioned it? She couldn't remember. Her eyes teared to be holding something of his that he wrote just for her and she silently cursed him for leaving.
My Dearest Buffy,
You won't understand my choices, I expect. I told Winkle to wait until he'd read the will to give this to you; I hope he didn't bugger it up. If you are reading this then you know full well I am gone. It's hard to imagine as I write. The idea of leaving you, all of you, frightens me but I know I will have served my purpose in creating a strong and capable Slayer and helping to guide an extraordinary woman. You are an extraordinary woman, Buffy, and it has been my privilege to be involved in your life.
The simple fact of the matter is that you stopped needing me a long time ago. You have always been strong willed and sure in your instincts. There was terribly little for me to do but be there to point to the danger. When I left you it was because I saw you relying less on yourself and more upon me and as much as I wanted to be useful I could not stand in your way.
I'll admit the allure of doing things the way I was taught has been a bit of a relief for me. I did not always agree with the Council, I agreed with them seldom if ever, but it is what I know. When I found Faith and she agreed to help me it felt good to be doing things the way I know again. One Slayer and her Watcher. I think she needed that, too. She hasn't had that in a long time. Not since her Watcher died at the hands of Kakistos. I found I began to understand her as we spent time together.
Faith has never been you, never could be. She needed someone to be there for her and to help guide her though she'd never admit to it aloud. With everything that's happened in her life she needed me to help her learn what you did long ago – self reliance. She has good instincts and she is a wonderful girl but she doesn't trust herself to be good. She's learning, but it will take some time. Help her, Buffy. She needs you now if I am not there. She is not your enemy but a girl still searching for a life beyond the battle. You thrive on it. I believe it weakens her spirit. If it hardens her long enough it will become all she can be.
It is not that I don't love you, my darling girl. I always have. In death let me finally say what I would never have allowed in life. You are the daughter my flesh never gave me and I loved you even in the darkest of our times. Being in your life has been rewarding in a way I could never have imagined. Through you I developed a family and felt what it was like to have children and watch them grow. You lot have made me so proud. Continue to hold onto each other, Buffy; it is the most important thing.
He didn't sign it. It trailed off there and she turned the page over looking for more but there was nothing to be found. No extra words of wisdom or explanation. She heaved a sigh and sank into the chair beside her, grateful it was there. She felt drained and shaken. As she stared into the fire across the room she turned his words over in her head, letting them stew for a long while. When she got up she moved through the house and knocked on Faith's door.
She answered it and immediately was on guard to see who it was. Buffy shook her head slightly, indicating that she came in peace.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"I loved him."
When the blond moved to hug her the brunette didn't resist.