Giles sighed and pulled off his glasses, rubbing at his tired
eyes. He'd been reading for hours, until the words on the pages in
front of him blurred one into the other, until one demon name looked pretty
much like another, until he felt queasy from eyestrain.
It didn't matter. Even if he did find the answers, there was no one left anymore to do what needed to be done. To kill the monster, the horrible, primal vampire that had killed Buffy.
There was no sense skirting around the issue anymore. Buffy was dead. She wasn't coming back this time. And the new Slayer, who'd appeared at his door six weeks ago . . . He sighed again. Whatever power was choosing these girls had slipped up this time.
He closed the book. There was nothing in it he didn't already know. Weary, he pushed himself from his chair and went to the kitchen. It was nearly midnight. He should go to bed. Instead, he made tea.
He was so lonely, these days. He'd spent so much of his life devoted to Buffy, and now that she was gone he had very little. Xander and Willow had visited him from time to time after Buffy's death, but now even they were gone, taking their families with them. Without an experienced Slayer, Sunnydale was no place to raise children.
A knock on his front door interrupted his careful ritual. Leaving the tea to steep--it would sit too long, he thought, and get too strong, but he left it anyway--he went to the door and looked out through the peephole.
A man stood on his front porch. Well, not strictly a man. A tall, wide-shouldered figure with dark hair, a face he hadn't seen in a very long time. He felt his heart lurch a little and smiled at the irony that the lurch was one of anticipation rather than fear or anger. These days any familiar face was a good thing. Even Angel's.
Giles opened the door. "What brings you here?" he said mildly.
Angel looked drawn and intense, and for a split second Giles thought he'd made the fatal error of mistaking the nearly-human Angel for his demon counterpart. Then he saw the pain in the vampire's eyes. Angelus did not feel pain.
"I'm here for Buffy."
"Buffy's dead," said Giles bluntly.
He just stood there, saying nothing else. Finally Giles stepped aside. "Come in."
They sat across from each other in the living room. Giles poured his tea, which had, indeed, steeped too long. Angel sat with his fingers interlaced, staring at the floor. "I heard what happened," he said, his voice dead. "I waited. I listened. I thought she might come back. She didn't."
"No, she didn't." It had been hard for Giles to accept, too, especially after the last time, when she'd returned much altered, but also very much alive. "I don't think she will."
"She won't. I'm sure of that now. I can feel it."
"Then why did you come?"
"I've come to take care of your problem."
Giles studied his face for a time, until Angel looked up at him. "I've never seen anything like this before," Giles said.
"I have. A long time ago. I know how to kill it."
"Absolutely. I have what I need. I can take it out tonight."
"Angel . . . the new Slayer. She can't handle this."
Angel's face softened, just a little. "I know. I've been hearing about that, as well. She'll learn. I want to be sure she has the chance."
"You would do this for her?"
"No. I would do it for Buffy." There was a long pause. Angel's eyes went distant again, then came back. "She was only twenty-seven. It's not right."
"No," said Giles softly. "No, it's not."
Angel pushed himself to his feet. "I'll be done in a few hours. Will you be here?"
Giles waited. Slept. Finally, he was awakened by another
knock on the door. He sat up blearily. It was still dark.
The clock read five a.m. He went to the door.
Angel stood once again on the doorstep. A gash down his right cheek wept blood.
"It's done," he said. He came into the house, his gait uneven, and sat stiffly on the couch.
"Can I do anything for you?" Giles asked.
Angel shook his head. He sat silent for a time, lost in his own thoughts. Finally Giles sat, as well, waiting.
"I miss her," said Angel finally.
"I know. So do I."
"I loved her."
"So did I."
Angel smiled a little at that, a soft, sad smile. Then, much to Giles' surprise, he began to talk.
He talked for a long time, about Buffy, how he had tried to put her out of his mind, out of his heart, but had never been able to. They reminisced about adventures shared and friends absent or gone. Giles began to feel hopeful again, remembering his early days training Buffy. Maybe this Slayer would also rise to the occasion.
Finally, Angel stood. "Thank you, Giles."
"For what?" If anything, Giles should thank Angel, for giving him and his new Slayer half a chance to survive.
"For finally forgiving me."
Giles nodded. He had forgiven Angel a long time ago, though he'd only just now realized it. Angel smiled a little and walked toward the door.
"Wait," said Giles suddenly. "It's nearly six o'clock. The sun's up."
Angel's smile turned sad. "I know," he said. He went to the door and went out, into the morning, into the light.