This Time Series
Part 2 - Next Time
written by GylzGirl
Buffy watched the chilly January night air make ghosts of her breath as she paced the lawn in front of Giles' apartment building. She had almost forgotten and barged right in, having called it home herself for ten years. She questioned her reasoning for the hundredth time since she'd arrived there.
Willow had been killed mere hours before. 'I should give Giles some time and go back to the dorm room...that I haven't seen in a decade. Where I'll be surrounded by Willow's things.' Buffy sighed, wiping at a tear then putting her nearly frozen hands in her jacket pockets. 'Giles shouldn't have to deal with this tonight too.' She started to walk to the street and then turned and walked to his door. She remembered all too well how waiting to tell Giles something important, no matter how good the reason she felt she had, always led to trouble. More than that, she'd waited ten years to be with him again. The only place in the world she wanted to be was inside that apartment with him. Home.
She knocked lightly at first, then a little louder. As she heard his footsteps approach, her heartbeat sped up. Even grieving for her best friend, she could not suppress her happiness at simply knowing Giles was alive and breathing on the other side of the door.
The door opened and Giles peeked out. He looked haggard, eyes red rimmed from hours of crying. Still, at seeing Buffy, he managed a weak smile. "Is everything all right?"
Buffy bit her bottom lip to stop its trembling and shook her head. Giles pulled the door wider and held his arms open to her. She choked back a sob and rushed into his embrace. He pushed the door shut and brought his arms around her, supporting her as her small frame shuddered under the weight of her tears. He whispered quiet soothing words until her weeping became a silent torrent.
Buffy was overwhelmed by everything she was feeling. Grief and guilt for Willow's loss, intense joy in Giles' resurrection, and utter bafflement at how to explain to Giles the decade long saga that led to this moment, battled for control.
After a few quiet minutes in each other's arms, Buffy cleared her throat and pulled back a little. Giles smiled down on her and offered her his handkerchief. She took it and wiped at her face as she made her way to his sofa. "Giles?"
"Yes?" He came to sit beside her.
Buffy was momentarily distracted by the way his eyes caught the light. They were such kind eyes, so strangely colored and beautiful, so full of his caring for her. She was almost amazed at how much clearer she saw at 30 then she had at 20.
"Giles, I have something...major to tell you. I don't want to keep it from you...I've learned that lesson. But, it's big. Really big, and I don't know that tonight...with everything that happened...I don't know that now is the best time to broach this." Her eyes were wide as she looked up at him. "What do I do?"
His hands came to cover her own. "Perhaps you should tell me. Perhaps it will take our mind off of things...for a little while."
"But it won't...and I'm afraid you'll hate me. I couldn't bear that. Not after all this ti...not after everything." Her lower lip began to tremble once more.
Giles swallowed around the lump in his throat and moved closer to her. "I will never hate you." She lowered her head but he lifted her chin to force her to look into his eyes. "Never. Talk to me Buffy. Tell me what's wrong."
Buffy took a deep breath and stood. She paced the floor near the couch for several minutes before she looked at him again. She inhaled deeply once more and began. "This is the second time I've lived this night. Ten years ago, it was you that was killed by the crossbow arrow."
"Buffy," he breathed.
"I moved in here after it happened. I wouldn't sleep, eat...all I wanted was to die to be with you. And three months later I was going to kill myself, shoot myself in the head, upstairs." Her eyes drifted up to the loft. "Willow knew somehow. She found me maybe five minutes before I was going to pull the trigger. She..."
Giles leapt up off the sofa and grabbed her by the arms. Tears burned in his eyes as he began to lightly shake her. "Buffy you can't do this. Y-you have to pull it together. Losing Willow...it's almost inconceivable an-and it's hitting you hard I realize, but you couldn't have saved her."
"That's just it, I could have! I will!"
"Buffy stop! We can't lose you too! You have to calm down and you have to listen to me."
"No!" She pushed him away until he landed sitting on the couch once more. "You have to listen to me and you have to believe me."
Giles sighed as he watched her. He felt like he was idly sitting by as her sanity slipped away. It wasn't as if one could take a Slayer to the psychiatrist. They didn't take well to tales of demons and vampires for some reason.
"Willow came to me with a spell. A way to get you back. She said I'd have to survive for ten years so that I could go back to this night and save you. And I did it Giles. I did it all for you. I-I kept myself strong and I fought hard and I made it. I got my degree in Mythology at UC Sunnydale a-and I became a witch. And I never forgot. I lived for this night. For the chance to save you, to get you back. I performed the ritual to transfer my 30 year old soul back into my 20 year old body. So that I could rescue you."
Giles wiped at a tear.
"And I did it. But Willow died." Tears began to fall from her eyes. "You have to believe me. It never entered my mind that anyone but you was in danger. I never wanted Willow to die. I..." She broke down crying. Her body looked as though it were on the verge of collapse.
Giles stood again, his arms coming around her. When he felt her legs buckle, he swept her up and moved to the couch once more. He sat, cradling Buffy on his lap, whispering soft comforting sounds to try to calm her. His own tears came faster now. His fear seemed confirmed. The grief of losing her best friend had cost his Slayer her mind.
"Buffy, it's going to be all right. W-we'll take you down to Sunnydale Psychiatric and they'll keep you safe until I can get you some real help. I can...I can try to contact the Council..."
She moved from his lap and backed away. "Giles for Christ's sake I'm not crazy! Oh God, how do I make you believe me?" She began to pace again. After a moment or two, hope returned to her expression. She knelt at Giles' feet and held his hands in her own.
"Upstairs...i-in your hamper. You have three shirts, a white with blue pinstripes, a blue with white pinstripes and a plain white one. You have two sets of pajamas, one blue, one green."
"In your closet, above on the shelf in a yellow shoebox, you have pictures of all of us. E-even pictures of you when you were a little boy. Your family home was an estate. It had great big gargoyles in the front of the house at the bottom of the stairs."
Giles' expression changed slightly. Buffy was trying to read it but found she could not tell if he had begun to believe her or if he was becoming more convinced she was insane. Then she saw his eyes glance up toward the loft. She smiled, feeling sure she had started to get through to him.
"Behind the shoebox is a locked metal box. Inside in a velvet burgundy case is your mother's wedding ring and you have a small picture of her." Buffy smiled and tightened her grip on his hands. "She's very beautiful. You look a lot like her, especially your smile, and your eyes."
"That's funny. For some reason, you've always reminded me of her." Giles cleared his throat and allowed her to continue.
"You also have a large sealed envelope marked "Private". Inside of that is a bundle of really bad songs you and Ethan tried to write a long time ago."
Giles smiled. "They weren't that bad."
She rolled her eyes. "You're my sanctuary in a storm of night. Serpents on the move. Baby baby baby? It sounds like something by Spinal Tap."
He laughed. "All right, so it's not The Beatles."
"It wasn't even Bay City Rollers," she smiled briefly and then her expression became serious again. "Go upstairs and check Giles. The envelope is still sealed. Your box is still locked."
Giles stood and ascended the stairs. After a few minutes, he came back down and sat again. "Do you believe me?" Buffy's voice was nervous.
Giles nodded his head slowly and then met her eyes. "I believe you."
Buffy grinned widely and embraced him. "God you don't know how I missed you. How much I regretted not telling things I always should have, things I didn't realize until you were gone."
"Like what?" Giles stroked her hair.
"Like how important you are to me. I was so selfish; so blind. Watcher and Slayer, no matter what that moron Travers said." Her eyes met his. "You're the other half of me. I...I don't know why I didn't realize that; why it took losing you to make that clear to me." Her fingers brushed away the tear that fell from his eye. "This time, things will be different Giles. I promise you that."
He smiled as his thumb stroked her cheek. "So what happens now?"
Her smile turned sad. "In ten years, I have to go back again. I have to go back to save Willow."
He nodded his head solemnly in agreement. "I don't think we should inform Xander. Much as I hate to foster secrets between any of us, especially now."
"No, you're right. Xander's a feeler, not a thinker. Like me...well like I used to be at that age." Giles quirked a smile at the strangeness of hearing that phrase from her. "He wouldn't understand the broader ramifications. He'd just be hurt. Angry at me. And at Willow."
"Yes." He cleared his throat. "We should...call it a night. The next few days are going to be difficult. There's arrangements to be made tomorrow." He shook his head. "Our poor Willow." He stood.
Buffy's eyes followed him. "Giles?" He looked at her. "Please can I stay here tonight? It may not be rational, but I am so terrified of going to sleep and waking up to find myself in that damn warehouse ten years in the future; of finding out the spell didn't work after all and this is some kind of dream."
His smile was gentle. "Of course you may. You can stay here as long as you like. As you said, this was your home. I guess...in a way, it always has been." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Goodnight Buffy."
Giles climbed the stairs to his loft bedroom. He changed into his pajamas and got into the bed, only relaxing enough to go to sleep when he saw the light from downstairs finally shut off. He shut his eyes and let the gravity of everything that had happened that day pull him into slumber.
When he had just drifted off, he felt a weight depress the mattress behind him. He opened his eyes and rolled over. Buffy's eyes sparkled at him in the near-darkness. She slid her arm over his stomach and gently kissed him on the lips. "Goodnight Giles." With that, she lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes. He smiled and shut his eyes once more.
* * * * *
Willow's funeral was two days later. Giles kept his arm around Buffy during the entire ceremony. Xander kept his distance, standing a few feet away. As they began to lower the casket, Buffy couldn't help but think of the friend she was saying goodbye to. She thought of the shy little thing she first met 14 years ago. The girl that turned into the young woman who saved her life when she would have thrown it away out of grief for Giles and who was now lying in the ground because she had given him back to her.
Buffy bit her lip as she thought of Gillian and Jesse, the children Willow and Xander would now never have because she had blown it again. "I'll make it right Willow. I promise. I'll fix it. I'll get you back," she whispered.
Giles squeezed her tighter. "She knows Buffy. She trusts you. She always has."
"Buffy, can I see you for a minute?" The sound of Xander's voice made Buffy pull herself together. They hadn't spoken since that night in the warehouse.
"Sure Xander." She looked to Giles who smiled gently, released her and stepped back a few feet to give them some privacy.
"I'm sorry. About what I said. About it being your fault."
"Thanks. It means a lot to me tha..."
He held up his hand. "Let me finish. I need to get this out. The truth is Willow is a big girl...was." He swallowed around the lump in his throat. "And really I talked her into going because I was. So if this is anyone's fault..."
She put her arm on his. "This is not your fault Xander."
"Buffy, if it had been me that died, I wouldn't have wanted you to blame yourself. I knew the risks when I signed up as a Scooby. Willow wouldn't have wanted that either."
"She wouldn't have wanted that for you either Xander."
His smile was sad. "I know that," he touched his forehead, "up here." He moved his hand over his chest. "It's just in here that it's going to take awhile to sink in."
He pulled her into his arms and hugged her as he started to cry. "I love you Buffy. You're one of...you're my best friend. Just...just give me some time."
At his last word, Buffy broke down crying. She held him tighter, slipping her hands into his hair and kissing his cheek.
Xander looked to Giles who walked over with tears in his eyes. As Buffy and Xander broke their embrace, he pulled Giles into a hug. Buffy's hands covered her mouth, trying to keep the sobs at bay. After a few moments, Xander released him and without another word or look to either of his friends, he walked away.
Giles slid an arm around Buffy's waist. She leaned against him, clinging for support. They walked back to the graveside and watched as it was filled in with earth.
* * * * *
Buffy sat in her room in Giles' apartment, brushing her waist length hair in her vanity mirror. Her eyes traveled down to the slightly faded picture of Willow. It was taken ten years ago, just days before Willow's death. Giles came up from behind her, his hair still mussed from their earlier activities. He smiled at her in the mirror and kissed her neck. "I'm just going to have a shower Love." She grinned and lightly smacked his bare backside as it retreated from her down the stairs.
The two of them as lovers had been a recent development in their eternally complex relationship. He had continued as friend and mentor as she attended UC Sunnydale one more time. This time, she had majored in archaeology with her previous field of mythology as a minor. At first, that choice was simply to please Giles but she found herself falling in love with the digs and dirty work involved. The highlight of which had been a trip to the Valley of the Kings with Giles the year before.
The latest Slayer in Kendra's line, Miranda, had come to Sunnydale on the advice of her Watcher; one of the few men left on the Council who had been friends with Giles before and so did not vilify him now. He had told her the Hellmouth would be good proving ground. Miranda and Buffy hit it off amazingly, though Buffy would admit on her part it was because Miranda was a shy, sweet redhead that reminded her of the girl in the faint picture on her vanity.
One night when they were patrolling, they talked about the things only another Slayer, or possibly their Watchers could understand. Buffy had mentioned always wanting to go on a real dig and Miranda had insisted she book it right away, before it was too late.
She had never seen Giles so happy as when he stood before the pyramids for the first time. She had never remembered being so happy herself. Watching him be so content day after day made her realize how in love with him she was; how in love with him she'd been for such a long time. The dig lasted three months. On their last night there, in a tent along the banks of the ancient Nile, Buffy and Giles made love for the first time.
The year since they'd come back had been the most perfect in her entire life. Sure there had been the usual close calls and hospital visits that were routine in the Slay biz, but she'd had Giles' strong arms to hold her in the bad times. She'd had solidity, security, constancy and an all encompassing love to hold on to. It was more than she'd ever dreamed of having; more than she had thought she'd deserved.
And now in two more days, she was to perform the spell again, this time to save Willow. She knew by the way Giles held her every minute that he could and barely let her out of his sight, he was unhappy about it. But Buffy was excited. Willow had given her this amazing chance to uncover her soulmate. Willow had sacrificed her life to allow her to experience Giles' love. Now she would be able to give Willow back the future with Xander that had been taken away from her and Buffy would be able to be with Giles from the day she went back.
She smiled, kissed her hand and touched it to the picture, as she had almost every night for ten years. And once more, she made the same promise to her best friend. "I'll fix it Willow. I promise I will." With that, she turned off the light and made her way to the bed to wait for Giles.
* * * * *
The next morning found Buffy making her annual pilgrimage to Willow's grave. Buffy could see in the distance that, as usual, Xander had beaten her to it. He busied himself with throwing away the older wilted flowers and pulling the long grass that would have normally obscured the name on the stone. Buffy often came and sat on that stone during her patrols, sometimes spending hours "talking" to Willow, waiting for a new vampire to arise. She knew that Xander visited often as well but it had become a kind of unspoken rule between them that only on this one day a year, they came to visit their fallen friend together. The day chosen by Xander on the first anniversary of her death, telling the Slayer that Willow wouldn't have wanted this sad ritual to interfere with Buffy's actual birthday. So every year after that, on the day before, they would meet first thing in the morning and stay till well after noon.
Buffy greeted Xander with a hug. The two sat beside each other on the grass and lay the flowers they brought all around the stone. This year, Buffy studied him instead of the granite before them. Her sadness not for Willow this time, knowing her plans for the next night, but for Xander.
When he'd had Willow before, he'd eventually joined the police department and been the best dad in the whole world. Without her, he was still so much like he'd been when he'd lost her. Still drifting between menial minimum wage work where he could find it, sabotaging himself whenever a success or real happiness tried to present itself. He'd always called her "his Will" and now that seemed almost prophetic because when she'd died, that seemed to be exactly what he'd lost.
His soulful brown eyes smiled sadly up at Buffy and he put an arm around her shoulders as he began to tell "Willow" of the monsters they'd vanquished in the past year. He'd been happy for Giles and her when he'd found out about them but that was also the time when he started to become scarce. He could still be counted on for any Scooby duty they required of him, but gatherings and occasions left him no where to be found. Buffy was tired of counting the number of times she'd told him Willow would have kicked his butt for withdrawing like that. He'd always agree and shine her on a bit, but nothing ever changed and Buffy resigned herself to respecting his decisions about it. After all, had she done much better when it had been Giles who'd gone?
When they left the cemetery, Xander and Buffy went to the Nickelodeon Diner. It had been many things in the past decade; Rudy's pub, Sunnydale Deli Company and Pizza Corral to name a few but had started out its life in Sunnydale as the Espresso Pump. As was part of the ritual by now, they'd select a back booth and over their meal Xander would regale her with tales of his and Willow's adventures before they'd met Buffy. He never remembered that they were the same stories he told her every single year and she never let on that it was anything other than the first time she'd heard it. Besides, after listening to them so often, she could remember them almost like she was there herself and in a way it felt like he'd given Buffy more time with her two friends. A gift she planned to return to him the very next night.
After the check was paid, Xander hugged her tightly and wished her a happy birthday before kissing her on the cheek and walking away. Had it been any other normal year, it would be a month before she'd hear from him again. But of course, that was not the case. And this time more than any of the others, she wished she could have told him the truth. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she walked back to the cemetery.
Once again, she sat, this time with her back leaned against the stone that marked her friend's passing from this world. "This year was the hardest of all Will. Not to tell him I mean. I know why I can't. When it's not Giles telling me for real, I can hear your voice in my head telling me the same thing. And you're both right. He just wouldn't understand it. It would only hurt him more. Still, sometimes, I just wish...you know?"
The breeze played across her face and for a moment, Buffy swore she could smell Willow's scent on the wind. "What's really funny is tomorrow, I'm turning 40! Can you believe that? The big 4-0. Me. When I go back this time, Giles is only going to have a few years on me. That oughta really blow his mind when I tell him huh?" She giggled. "Well that and the fact that his 20 year old Slayer is going to throw him down and shag the living daylights out of him!" Her laughter grew louder and she would have sworn she heard it echo except that it sounded more like Willow's than her own. "Can't you just see his face?" She clutched her stomach until the nearly-painfully funny image subsided. "Last time I was so scared the spell wouldn't work. This time, I know it will. And I'm gonna get you back. We're all going to be together again and..." her hand rubbed across the letters of Willow's name. "It's going to be so wonderful."
* * * * *
As the sun set on her birthday, Buffy gathered the last of the things she needed for the spell and packed them into what was normally her weapons bag. When she looked up, Giles stood leaning against the front door. He looked horribly sad. Buffy smiled at him gently and walked to him.
"Don't Buffy. Please? I-I know I have no right to ask this..."
She touched his arm. "You have a perfect right to ask, but you have to understand that I still have to go."
"Shh. I know that you're afraid for me. But I owe Willow this."
"No, you don't owe Willow this. I do. I owe her my life." He took her hand and pressed a kiss to it. "I owe her for everything we've come to mean to each other. Let me do the spell Buffy."
She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him, trying to impart all her love for him in this one last gesture. She pulled back to look into his rapidly tearing green eyes. "It has to be me Giles. Have faith in me. I can do this." He nodded half-heartedly and she released him.
Buffy bent and retrieved the bag at her side. She walked passed her lover and touched her hand to the doorknob. Her shoulders tensed in anticipation. "Buffy no!" As he reached his hand to her shoulder to stop her, she spun with the speed of a Slayer and connected her fist with his jaw. She knew him so well.
Giles was unconscious before he hit the ground. Buffy once again set her bag down as she removed her jacket and rolled it into a makeshift pillow. In an action that reminded her of something he'd once done for her not long after they first met, she gently lifted his head and placed the jacket beneath him. She ran her hand through his hair and kissed him for as long as she dared to. "You're my whole life Giles," she told the sleeping man. "Rest now and when I see you again, we'll all have another chance." Forcing herself back onto her feet, she grabbed her bag and left the apartment.
* * * * *
"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.
Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, then her face went blank and became very pale. Her eyes rolled up and her knees collapsed. "Buffy?" Giles caught her, holding her up. She recovered quickly, and remembering the history of this night, grabbed Giles' lapels, shoving him to the ground with her on top.
As her ears picked up the sound of the crossbow bolt being fired, she yelled, "Giles stay down!" while she rolled off of him and into Willow's legs, knocking her down like a bowling pin. The arrow imbedded itself in the wall just to Xander's side. Buffy jumped to her feet, stake in hand, ready to confront the vampire on the catwalk. Instead of her opponent, only her crossbow remained on the high metal walkway.
She had known every inch of this night for twenty years and now she was in unfamiliar terrain. That knowledge simply terrified her. "Everybody out!" she yelled to her companions. As soon as Giles had helped Willow to her feet, she led them in a full run toward the door.
"Buffy look out!" she heard Xander scream from behind her. She turned around in time to see him jump into the air before her and fly back against her hard, taking her to the ground. Willow screamed and Giles pushed her down quickly, diving on top of her and covering her with his body. Buffy rolled from under Xander and blindly threw the stake in her hand toward the direction Xander had been facing. She heard a masculine grunt and looked up to the ladder that lead from the catwalk just in time to see a humanoid formation of ash before it dissipated.
Eyes wide with adrenaline and panic, She turned to her friends. Giles had just started to disengage himself from Willow when Buffy's eyes fell upon Xander's prone form lying still on the ground. His eyes stared blindly up at the ceiling as the shining silver edge of the throwing star that protruded from his throat seemed to sink under the ocean of blood that rose from the fatal wound.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" Buffy screamed wretchedly as she dropped to her knees by his side.
"NOO! XANDER NOOO!" Soon Willow had crawled to his other side. Xander's broken body lay cradled between the two inconsolable women who had meant the most to him in the whole world. Giles, breathing heavily around the constricting emotion in his throat, reached a shaking hand out to shut the boy's eyes. His tears fell in silence as he found himself stroking Xander's hair in a comforting gesture quite lost on the dead.
As Willow's heartbreak vocalized in her sobs, Buffy released a wail of both loss and defeat. She now knew in her heart that fate was determined that one of them was to die this night, it was only impartial as to who. There was only one thing left in her power to do; relive this purgatorial night one more time. And if the same destiny that had condemned her to be a Slayer demanded one of their lives be sacrificed, she decided that she herself would be the one to die.
Read the next part: Last Time