Anchors | Epilogue to Innocence

Giles finished his gentle lecture and hoped it would be enough. She was so hurt, so fragile and she was looking at him now as though he'd done something bloody marvellous, when he felt completely useless.

How much more was the child supposed to take? He hit the steering wheel and Buffy jumped as though it was a gunshot.

He closed his eyes for a split second, then turned to her. "I'm sorry. I—it's just…"

"I'm sorry about Miss Calendar," she said softly, dragging a hand across her eyes.

"Be sorry for nothing," Giles said vehemently. "None of this was your fault. You have been terribly let down by a lot of people, including me."

Buffy looked at him with great tenderness then. He was hurting too, but hiding it in true Giles fashion. She sniffed and scuffed at her eyes again.

"Giles, I can't go in there like this. I can't face mom's questions…and I don't want to be alone with nothing else to think about, but..." her voice faded and her colour ebbed again.

He stared at her for a long moment, then started the car.

They drove slowly through town, Buffy staring silently out the window and Giles stealing glances occasionally to see how she was doing. When they left the city limits and took the turn off for the forty-five minute trip to Breaker's woods the rain had contracted eastwards and Buffy's eyelids finally succumbed to gravity and exhaustion.

A moment later Giles looked across, nodded to himself and half-smiled.

She continued to sleep right through the outward journey, and his thorough meander around every mile of road in the park. It was deserted and he didn't have to worry about dipping the headlights, or the invasive glare of on coming traffic as the Citroen cruised around the narrow roads at a sedate enough speed to stop for any animal lacking enough in judgement to run on the road.

He'd been around the park three times when she made an anguished noise and sat bolt upright out of a nightmare.

Giles pulled the car off the road into a deserted campsite. "Buffy? Are you all right?"

She turned frightened, brutalised eyes to him then sobbed and scrambled out of the car. By the time he reached her she'd been well and truly sick and was struggling to contain the sobs that wracked her body, as though she hated herself for grieving.
Without speaking he took out his handkerchief, put a comforting hand on her bent back, leaned forward and wiped her mouth very gently.

Buffy became very still until he was done, then she pulled away, putting several paces between them.

"I wish I'd never come to Sunnydale," she said suddenly. "I wish you'd never come here either. I hate this place, I hate what it does to people. Who decreed that I have to be this freak, this person who can't even have a birthday, much less a life?" Her voice had risen to a strangled shout.

"I'm sorry," he said helplessly. "If I could undo what has been done, if my leaving would make things right—"

In the darkness he didn't see the momentary fear in her eyes at the idea. Then Angelus' taunting face floated before her and the fear turned to anger. "Did you tell your precious council yet how your stupid slayer made a new monster? Did you tell them how he humiliated me? Taunted me? How he took the only real, true thing I had to give him and used it to tear my heart out!"

Giles stood very still. Betrayal was something he did understand. His hands curled into fists. As bad as he felt about Jenny, as much effort as he needed to control the hurt and anger inside himself, he knew Buffy's pain was ten, even a hundred-fold.

"No answer?" she shouted.

"Should there be?" he said quietly. "Or should I just let you rant a little longer?"

She made an anguished sound and rushed at him.

He was startled, but he held his ground. "I won't lea—" The breath was knocked clean out of him as he sailed backwards and landed on his side in the mud. He scrambled to his feet, gasping for air. "Buffy—!"

She hit him again, this time a blow to the mouth. He stood his ground and swore, then caught her fist as it swung again. He was well aware that she could wipe the floor with him if she chose, but he didn't care.

"That's enough!" he roared. "You can beat me until I can't stand up, but it won't make you feel any better than you do now. I'm not Angel and I'm not Jenny. All you will accomplish by hurting me is a very long walk home!"

Buffy wrenched her fist away. "I don't want to feel better and I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to feel anything!" she retorted, and started back toward the car.

Giles released a long, unhappy breath and lowered his head. He didn't know how to help. He was barely able to deal with his own emotional problems, let alone those of a teenage girl going through trauma no adult should ever have to deal with…

Buffy watched him from alongside the car, eyes still flashing. He was right. He wasn't Angel. Even now she wanted Angel; wanted to run into his arms and stay there forever; wanted him to tell her he loved her and that everything else was a just a horrible nightmare. She looked across at the figure slowly walking back to the car and sobbed again.

How dared he? How dared he not be Angel…

"Are you all right?" Giles asked flatly, when he reached the driver's side door of the car.

She nodded tightly without looking up.

"Get in."

The drive was silent and tense. Buffy was convinced that he would want to be rid of her as quickly as possible, that he might even speed to get back, but he didn't take the road back to the highway.

They had been driving about twenty minutes when she ventured her first look up at his profile. There was a bruise spreading at the corner of his mouth and blood had dried there and on his chin.

Suddenly the rage deserted her. Not even thinking about the nightmare, about Angel's unforgivable speech, made her angry now, only empty and aching and raw. She stared out the window, willing herself not to give in to the pain, but unable to stop the tears that rolled relentlessly down her face, blurred her vision and blocked her throat.

Then she felt, more than heard, a tiny movement. Giles' right hand was stretched out toward her, but his eyes were on the road. She stared at it for long moments before sliding her left hand into it and feeling the strong fingers close reassuringly around it.

His green eyes softened in the shadows of the night, but he didn't look at her.

Buffy turned slowly back to the window, losing her battle against Angel's legacy of pain, only the tightening of Giles' fingers when she made a sound or couldn't stop a sob, keeping her from sliding completely into the hell the vampire had created just for her.

He didn't release her hand until he had to turn off the main road, which required shifting gears. Buffy found that she didn't want to let go and that once that anchor was gone she felt even more alone, more adrift, than she had before.

Then they started to climb, which required more gear changing and continued to do so for several minutes, until Giles pulled the car into a deserted lookout, obviously designed for tourists.

"Where are we?" she croaked in a tiny voice.

He looked up at the roof. "A private place of mine. When I can't sleep, or if something…that is if I'm…"

"Hurting?" she filled in softly.

He nodded. "I come here. It somehow brings things back into perspective, to look out there, and up there, and see how much bigger things are than my own small grievances."

Buffy slipped out of the car and looked out. From there Sunnydale at night was a spider web of coloured, jewelled lights, beautiful and innocent of the pain and horror that haunted its streets. The air was cool and crisp and the stars brighter than she could ever remember them, the rain clouds now only a receding blanket on the horizon.

She hadn't noticed Giles get out of the car, but she heard his footfalls and saw him go to the rails to look out. He looked so alone, picked out by the halo of the solitary floodlight that lit the parking area…

For the first time it occurred to her that he, too, was alone, again. The rift with Jenny Calendar wouldn't heal any time soon, either.

And in the next moment she realised it had been fully ten minutes since she'd thought about Angel. Her face crumpled again at the mere thought of his name, but she refused to succumb.

Instead she walked down to the rails, stood next to Giles and looked out. When the silence of the night remained unbroken she stole a glance up at his face. The familiar profile was blanch-white and his jaw was clenched.

Buffy looked away then, ashamed. Punishing him for everything that had happened, and worse, just for not being Angel, was about as low as she could remember getting. And these last few days had been about as low as it got…

She looked up at the stars.

He was right. There were bigger things out there. She let her gaze slide to his battered profile again. And some far closer to home…

Un-soothed by the peaceful vista, Giles was struggling to banish the image of Jenny from his thoughts. She had, almost as much as Angelus had, done this to Buffy. Yet all would have taken was simple trust. He couldn't believe, after everything they'd been through, she still didn't trust him enough to confide in him.

He closed his eyes. He'd have given anything not to ever have to see Buffy suffer as she had these last few days…as she was suffering now. He wondered how long she was going to stay angry with him; how long she would grieve for Angel; when if ever, he would hold Jenny in his arms again, and shuddered at the enormity of it all.

He looked down a moment later at the touch of the slender hand now covering his, profoundly moved by the gesture, then swallowed hard when her tousled head leaned silently against his arm.

Ultimately he had to look away, his brow furrowed against the strength of the emotions playing across his face. Then, a few moments later, it cleared and he looked up with glistening eyes at the myriad stars shining down on them…

…And smiled.

* * *