After | Epilogue to Passion

"You can't."

"I have to."

"Giles, you can't go back there tonight. There's plenty of room at our place, or I'll get you a hotel room—"

"No!"

Buffy pushed her hair back and scrubbed the dampness from her face with her sleeve. "Giles—"

"No. Just…don't," Giles said in a harsh, emotionless whisper. Despite the ragged face, the bloodshot eyes it was as if all feeling had been drained from him.

Buffy watched him walk slowly back to his car. He looked over his shoulder after he opened the door.

She shook her head.

He nodded, climbed in and drove away.

For a couple of hours she walked around, trying to deal with everything that had happened, to make sense of the chaos, the destruction Angelus had wrought in all their lives. In the end she found herself on Willow's doorstep, hoping she was home.

Willow didn't look any better than Buffy. And now there was fright in her eyes.

"Is Giles—?"

"He's not dead," Buffy said flatly. "I had a chance to kill Angelus again, but he almost killed Giles. There was a fire. I had to get him out," she explained as she followed Willow upstairs to her bedroom.

"So…where is he now?"

Buffy looked away. "He went home."

"Home? But…Buffy you let him go home…alone?"

"What did you want me to do? Hit him again?"

"You hit him? I can't believe you hit him!"

"It's a long story."

Willow's eyes were too large and too luminous. "We have to do something. We can't just leave him there like that. Nobody should have to face that alone."

"He's going to get mad."

"I don't care," she said, pulling a jacket from her closet. "Even if you don't go, I have to. He's my friend too, Buffy, and I can't bear to think of him in that house on his own. I—If he throws me out, then I'll…I'll—"

"All right," Buffy interrupted. "You think I wanted to leave him alone? I'll go with you, but if we upset him, I'm dragging you out of there by your hair if I have to."

Willow giggled but two large tears slipped over her lashes and tracked down her cheeks.

"Oh God, Buffy…" she whispered.


* * * * *

"Do you think we should knock?"

Buffy frowned. "Why not?"

"Well, if we do he might not answer. And if he does he might tell us to go away."

"He can do that even if we go straight in. It's not fair to surprise him, Will'."

Buffy tapped on the door. It didn't answer. After a long moment the two girls looked at each other, then Willow opened the door and went in.

There was a large, half-full plastic garbage bag by the door. There was water on the floor and the ice bucket was lying on its side below a nasty dent in the wall. For a moment they thought no one was home. Then Buffy heard a noise, very soft, and turned toward it. Both Girls drew a sharp breath.

Giles was sitting on the floor near the fireplace, shirtsleeves rolled up, tie gone, and Angelus' drawing of Jenny crumpled in his hands, his head bowed in silent, agonised grief.

Willow, struggling to choke down her own pain, watched Buffy instinctively go to him, kneel and put her arms around him, holding him as his world disintegrated around him. Then she turned deliberately and began picking up everything Angelus had touched, had used to hurt Giles with, along with anything the police had left, shoving it all in the plastic bag with a rage she'd never known before.

It was some time later when Buffy looked up at the sound of the other girl's footsteps on the stairs, and blinked at the change in the room. It now looked exactly as it always had. Willow was picking up candles and roses and throwing them into a new plastic bag, oblivious to the sounds of glass breaking as she went. When she reached the top she stopped. Buffy saw her look down, then start to lose it. A moment later she was kneeling on the floor and picking pieces of something up.

Giles had stopped trembling and the sobs had stilled to a rigid, hurt silence, but he'd hadn't made any attempt to move, or to raise his bowed head. Buffy checked a tremulous sigh of her own, rested her cheek against his hair and drew him closer.

Willow had reached the doorway of Giles' room, shaking, not so much from grief as from deep, frightening rage. It remained exactly as the police had left it. The bedcovers had been thrown back, but there was still the indentation in the pillow, more roses on the floor.

As she worked the tears started again, this time hot and choking and secondary to the anger that drove her to finish a job that would have horrified and frightened her any other time.

When the bed was finally stripped it took her some time to find new linen, but when she was done there was no trace of Angelus, not one single reminder left in the room. She looked down at the crumpled pile on the floor and hated it. It filled the bag almost to overflowing but Willow pummelled it ruthlessly until she was able to conceal the linen completely in the sack.

When she came downstairs again Giles was sitting on the sofa, staring almost catatonically at the fireplace and Buffy was in the kitchenette. Willow could hear the kettle boiling. She opened the front door and hauled out the bags she'd filled, all the way to the complex's trash enclosure, where he'd never have to see any of it again.

She came back just as Buffy was sliding a tray onto the coffee table.

She looked up. "Will'," she said in as normal a voice as she could manage. "I made tea." She held up the teapot. "I even made…tea. Come and have some with us."

Buffy sat alongside Giles and Willow knelt on the floor on the other side of the table.
He accepted the hot black tea silently, sat back and stared at it for a long moment before he began sipping it. Following his lead, the girls sipped the hot chocolate they really didn't want and continued to do so until Giles eventually put his empty cup and saucer down and ran an unsteady hand over his haggard face.

"Thank you," he whispered.

He was in so much pain it was almost more than Willow could bear, but she clenched her fists under the table and fought the urge to cry…or scream.

Buffy, too, was now so close to him again it was as though she was riding herd, trying to protect him from the one thing she couldn't fight, couldn't defeat for him.

"I—Is there anything…anything you want us to do? Anything we can get for you?" Willow asked timidly, afraid her voice would crack.

Buffy held her breath. If he asked them to leave now they'd have no choice but to go.

But he shook his head slowly and closed his eyes. There was only one thing he wanted. The one thing he would never have again…

Buffy took it as a cue to clear the tea things. When she took the tray away, Willow got up off the floor to go and help and spied a piece of paper under Giles' writing desk that she'd missed.

She slipped away and picked it up, expecting it to be a bill or something from the library. But it wasn't. She turned it slowly around the right way and stared at the single word scrawled across it.

Giles heard her startled, in-drawn breath and looked around when only silence followed. His brows drew together. Willow was staring at something, her shoulders rigid with shock.

The word blurred, then wavered on the page. Then she was tearing it to shreds, the sounds of her rage punctuated by her sobs as she threw the pieces on the floor and stamped and stamped on them.

By the time Buffy reached her Giles was already there, a gentle hand turning her into his arms and holding her as the tantrum continued.

"It's not fair," she sobbed, finally stopped pummelling him and hugged him tightly, like a little girl.

Buffy watched Giles wrap Willow in a gentle bear hug, close his eyes and rest his head on her hair as she wept.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "Sorry you had to grow up so fast, sorry any of you should have had your childhood stolen so cruelly."

Then, as though he'd suddenly sensed Buffy's presence, Giles lifted his head again, and looked at her.

She smiled at him reassuringly and his eyes smiled back, as though the mask of pain he'd been wearing was too heavy to lift all at once.

And then, suddenly, there was a rattle on the door-knocker. Buffy jumped, then rolled her eyes. Willow let go of Giles as if bitten and he swung toward the door as though ready to fight.

Buffy went and got the crossbow from Giles' chest, loaded it, then went back to the door. She opened it carefully, weapon poised.

Xander put his hands in the air, one of which was holding a bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch whiskey. "Don't shoot. I come in peace."

Buffy closed the door as he went self-consciously to Giles.

"I thought…ah…I didn't know…" He handed the older man the bottle. "Somebody gave this to my dad a few years ago but he only drinks beer. I thought…"

Giles managed a tiny smile and a nod of acknowledgement. "Thank you, Xander. It will do nicely."

Xander relaxed a little and his drawn face softened into a relieved grin.

Giles turned to Buffy, a meaningful look in his eyes. "More supper, I think, don't you? There are chocolate chip cookies in the top cupboard."

"My turn," Willow announced, watching Giles like a hawk. "And Xander can help me."

"Are you okay?" Buffy asked softly, coming to his side as Willow dragged Xander off to the kitchen.

"No," he replied simply, but there was a world of pain in the small sound.

Buffy's eyes grew very bright. "I'll take them home."

For several moments they watched Willow instructing Xander in the art of tea making, his ravaged face gradually softened by affection.

"No," he said again.

Her blue eyes flicked up and searched his face. Then she smiled and leaned against his arm, warmed by the hope that they might yet get him through this night.

Giles quietly nursed a scotch on the sofa while they ate and drank their way through the second supper, Willow next to him and Buffy and Xander sprawled on the floor by the table. He watched them all deal with the day's demons, eventually clearing the entire contents of the tray.

Xander, as always, overcompensated with silliness, even occasionally wrestling with Buffy, and Willow was allowing herself to be distracted by it, giggling and teasing. And as always, Buffy was riding herd on both of them.

He smiled to himself. In some ways she was so old, in others so young. He watched her feeding Xander straight lines and teasing and joking with Willow to prevent both from having time to think about…anything. And then the smile was gone.

One of the last things Jenny had said was about Buffy—about Buffy worrying about him missing her.

He swallowed the inevitable wave of grief and clenched his jaw hard in his fight to keep it at bay. He wanted to stay where he was now, somewhere between reality and the soothing refuge of friendship. A moment later he looked up.

Buffy and Xander were arguing about who was going to do the dishes. Willow did a rapid fire 'dib, dib, dab' and settled the dispute by winning it. Xander ungraciously accused her of cheating and was instantly cuffed and assigned the drying up by Buffy.

The moment they'd gone Willow deflated like a pricked balloon and for the first time Giles noticed how tired she was.

"That went well, don't you think?" she asked quietly.

"Quite," he agreed wearily, not surprised that Willow might have been playing the same game as Buffy. They were very special young people.

She leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes. "I wish…" she began but she never finished the sentence.

"What are you going to do about sleeping arrangements? I don't know if you noticed but Will' is just about dead on her feet and so is Giles. And nobody is going to sleep in that bed tonight, least of all Giles. I mean, we are staying, right?"

Buffy put a soapy cup on the sink. "Yeah. Will' and I covered for each other, but I hadn't thought that far ahead. Giles has camping gear somewhere. Sleeping bag, that kind of stuff, and there's bound to be spare bedding."

Xander stacked another plate. "You're forgetting something: something to put the bedding on."

Buffy slammed the last teaspoons on the sink and pulled the plug, her eyes flashing. "Just go with it, okay. Either that, or go home."

Xander wiped the spoons then started to put all the clean plates away without replying. He was bending over a low cupboard putting away the teapot and the tray when Buffy realised why he hadn't answered.

She touched his shoulder and he pulled away, straightening and picking up the tea caddy then opening the door of one of the top cupboards.

"Xander, I know how much you liked her. We all did. And I know how much you care about Giles…"

His shoulders hunched as the cupboard door clicked shut. "It's not just…it's everything…" he whispered brokenly, looking up at the ceiling and gesturing toward it with unsteady fingers. "It's everything…"

Buffy went to him and leaned against his back. "I know," she said tremulously and felt him finally let go. "I know…"

It wasn't until they were on their way back to the living room some time later, that either of them noticed how quiet it was. They moved swiftly and then stopped abruptly.

Giles was fast asleep, half sitting, half lying in one corner of his sofa, a softly snoring Willow tucked under one arm, her nose nestled into his shirt.

Buffy and Xander looked at each other and smiled, then backed away toward the stairs where they chuckled softly.

"Well, that solves that problem," Xander whispered, his tired eyes still flashing with amusement and affection.

"So, sleeping bag or floor…?"


* * *