A Richer Dust
written by Athenae

Rating: FRC
Spoilers: Mild Season Six, up through Tabula Rasa.
Summary: Giles returns to England.
Thanks: Endless thanks to Ruth for the beta and quick tutorial in All Things British.
Author's Notes: The title comes from a poem called "The Soldier," by Rupert Brooke.
Feedback Author: Athenae
Author's LJ: To All The Ports Of Call

You go on living. This is how.

You leave, first and foremost. Distance is essential, so you get on a plane, and you do it alone. No airport scenes this time, you don't make that mistake twice. You drink Glenlivet on the flight and fall asleep. You claim your bags, hail a taxi.

You go to your flat, in Bath.

You take another cover job, at the British Museum. You spend every night of the first three weeks staring at your offce walls. You resist calling to check in.

No one calls you.

One night, your co-workers invite you out for a drink. You say no, but the next time they invite you, you say yes.

You sit in the pub that night listening to loud, crude Anne Marie tease myopic little Bernie about his phone calls to his wife, overheard by everyone in the Sumerian Antiquities department.

"Oh, hello, darling sweetheart snookie-wookums!" she falsettos, and Bernie blushes, and you smile.

You allow T.K. to draw you into one of his fantastical, paranoid conversations about the real meaning of the curious absence of squirrels in the parks of late, and even though he's nine parts insane, you want to hug him, because it's everyday insanity and you can laugh, because the worst thing T.K. dreams up can't compare with what you've seen.

And the next week, when you finish an article for submission to the scholarly journals and Malcolm praises it, instead of thinking what a pillock he is, you feel a small flush of pride. That after all this, you can do something simple and well, and earn your boss's approval.

And the week after that, when black-haired brown-eyed Sarah is ranting inebriatedly about the manipulation of public opinion polls during the Gulf War, and giving you a look that suggests she's thinking about manipulation of another kind, you look at her straight and you smile. The only thing you feel bad about later are the scratches in your new kitchen table, and her bruised elbows.

If you can't sleep without Radio 4 on in the background, well, surely she doesn't think it's all that odd.

When three months go by and no one has called, you decide to stay up one night and put a call in yourself. But when the machine picks up, you choke at the familiarity, the little intake of breath you can hear before she starts speaking on the tape, Dawn's giggle in the background, and you hang up quickly. You call Sarah instead, and talk about Iain Duncan Smith, because that's easier than talking about why you're awake at 2 a.m.

One day you wake up to the sound of a cat's yowling, amplified by the dustbin beneath your bedroom window. You go out back and extricate a small gray kitten from the rubbish, and bring it inside. You bathe it, and it scratches you and mews pitifully. You name it Patches, give it a saucer of milk, and think of Oz and Cordelia, and how she would be pleased at how "regular" your life is now.

You realize that your new friends are becoming dear to you, and you begin refusing their invitations, and they're hurt and confused. You can't tell them that you have to, that it will fall apart, this camaraderie. You can't tell them what it will be like when that happens. One more loss will break you, and you can't say that out loud.

The parts of you that were amputated still throb with pain in the middle of the night.

The next weekend, you go back to the Council HQ. Quentin Travers opens the door, and says nothing, but stands aside to let you come in, and you think there's still a part of you that would love to knock his teeth down his throat, for being right.

He gives you projects, and you accept them, and he tells you your work isn't what it used to be.

And you know. You know.