Family | Part Three | Epilogue to A New Man

Buffy dropped the letter opener. God, that was a stupid question. She looked down at Giles again.

“I'm so sorry,” she said again.

He grunted and closed two huge hands around her waist, lifted her off his torso and pulled himself painfully into a sitting position.

Kneeling alongside him, Buffy looked up at Ethan as Riley propelled the sorcerer towards them. “You did this, didn't you, you bastard?” she said through clenched teeth.

The Giles demon turned and growled again, this time menacingly. He was still battling the rage and the gradual erosion of his humanity, both of which had left him far more demon than Giles.

Buffy reached out and put a staying hand on his alien shoulder. He turned back to her and sought her gaze. It seemed to calm him, slow his breathing, to anchor him somehow.

She looked back deeply into the familiar green eyes and smiled reassuringly before looking back up at Rayne again.

“You have to be able to reverse this…”

Ethan shrugged. “Perhaps, but why would I want to? He's so much prettier and cuddlier like this…besides, what do you care, Slayer? You don't need him or want him any more, do you? Don't really give a Tinker's damn about him, do you? You've got pretty boy here, now, and his mummy and her clever little operation.”

Buffy paled and found herself looking into the demon's face once more. He didn't make any sound, but his eyes shifted from obvious annoyance at Rayne to self-consciousness and then sadness when they finally met hers again.

After a beat she scowled up at the other pair. “Do the spell, Ethan, or I'll kill you myself! And you know how much I can hurt you before that, don't you?”

“You wouldn't,” he sneered.

Buffy had to use all her Slayer strength to convince the Giles demon not to try to get up and strangle him where he stood.

Try me,” she hissed angrily. “Riley, if he doesn't start the preparations for the spell in the next sixty seconds, break his arm, or I will.”

Riley very convincingly took hold of Ethan's long arm and twisted it up his back until it was almost popping out of its socket.

“All right, all right,” Ethan gasped. “It wasn't meant to work out like this anyway. I was always going to change him back.”

What the hell are you talking about?” Buffy demanded as Riley dragged him to his half-packed bags for what he needed. “You told me to kill him.”

Ethan looked up. “To save my arse. Originally he was supposed to kill you, you silly little cow. Why do you think I picked such a powerful, inherently stupid demon? Only Rupert couldn't let go of his humanity, or his bloody attachment to you, and it failed.

“Pillock.”

Ethan's eyes widened at her seemingly unconscious use of the word, but she didn't see. She was looking down at the demon, whose shoulder she still held.

“Giles?” She looked up again at the sorcerer. “What's wrong with him?” she demanded angrily. “He's trembling.”

Ethan walked back and picked up the letter-opener, Riley close behind. “It's expensive. Not heavy enough to be solid silver, but there's an awful lot of it nevertheless. He may be dying, or possibly just feeling rather sick.”

“No…!” Buffy moved back in front of the demon. “Giles, can you understand me? Nod if you can. Are you sick?”

He nodded very slowly.

“Could the silver in your letter opener be enough to kill you?”

He seemed to consider for a long moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and nodded slightly.

He wasn't sure. “Oh God,” Buffy whispered. “Do it, Ethan, before it's too late. If he dies, I'll make you wish you were never born.”

Riley shadowed a suddenly industrious Ethan to a clear space on the floor where he swiftly constructed a circle and set up the accoutrements for the spell casting.

The demon's trembling was worsening.

“Hang on, Giles. Please don't die,” she begged in a tiny voice when he swayed a little.

He forced his pounding head up to look at her then, the green eyes smiling as only his could, despite his distress.

Buffy's eyes grew overbright as she smiled back, wishing there was something more she could do. Then the big head dropped again and he slumped forward, Buffy only just catching him before he toppled sideways.

“Ethan!” she screamed.

The spell seemed to take forever to recite, the stink of Ethan's burning herbs filling the hotel room as Buffy held the huge demon in her arms, too terrified to let Giles go until she knew he was going to be safe.

Eventually, though, Rayne's mesmerizing voice halted its chanting and the fumes seemed to subside. Ethan shifted as though to rise and Riley stepped forward to push his knee menacingly into the other man's back, as much a threat as a warning.

Ethan immediately froze then sat down again.

“Giles…” Buffy whispered as the demon stirred in her arms. “Oh God, please let it work,” she whispered.

Something was happening. She could feel the heat radiating from his body, the almost vibrating resonance of active sorcery as the morphing began. She watched in amazement as he began to shrink and blur into something, someone else, the revolting demon scales giving way to the soft pink of human flesh, the horns to the blessedly familiar light brown of Giles' hair.

He still hadn't moved when it was done. Buffy shifted so that she cradled his head and shoulders, her hand seeking a pulse at his throat, her own trembling starting to subside only when she found one.

“Giles…please…” she whispered. The mark was still there on his chest where she'd stabbed him, but it was healing. Part of the magic, she supposed, relieved that it was working, and that she didn't have to kill Ethan, much as part of her still wanted to.

The green eyes finally fluttered open. “Buffy…” he whispered, then closed them in relief at the normal sound of his own voice. “I'm sorry…”

A sob caught her by surprise, wrenching itself painfully from her throat. He was the last person who needed to apologise…for anything…

“It's all right,” she said softly. “You're back. That's all that matters.”
        
He opened his eyes again slowly. “Ethan…?”

She nodded. “Yup. Him again. Bastard. Don't worry. Riley won't let him go anywhere.”

Something else flickered in the green depths then, something almost painful. “R…Riley's here?” he rasped.

She nodded again, wondering why she suddenly felt so bad about that. “He helped us find you. We…we thought they'd hurt you…or…”

Giles appeared to suddenly realise exactly where he was. His colour high, he tried to sit up, gasped at the pain in his chest and reluctantly relaxed again.

Buffy, however, understood, and silently helped him to a sitting position. “How could Ethan do this to you?” she asked quietly. “I mean I know he's a total creep, but…”

Giles looked away, still breathing hard from the exertion and the pain. “He put something in my drink,” he said reluctantly.

”You were drinking with Ethan Rayne?

He shrugged. “He said he had some important information about the Initiative, about serious trouble…imbalance, between us and the demon world.”

“And you couldn't have just kicked it out of him?” she retorted angrily.

The eyes that met hers were not amused. “I was going to, but I thought you might need accurate information more than I needed the exercise…” His eyes narrowed when she seemed unmoved, even annoyed. “I thought you'd be pleased…someone my age spending time with someone their own age for a change instead of hanging about with a bunch of teenagers…” He looked away again.

Buffy's face drained of colour. In the same instant the rest of her conversation, and Riley's, with him at the party, replayed itself in her head. She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them again. Giles' breathing was still a little laboured and he was still staring into space or at the lousy décor…whatever, apparently, as long as it wasn't at her.

She scrambled to her feet, automatically extended a hand to him.

He looked up, surprised, saw the stricken look and sighed, his expression softening in spite of himself. After a beat he took the hand and pulled himself painfully to his feet, grabbing at the silk pyjamas when they threatened to slide off, stretched as they had been by his alter ego. He spent a moment pulling the cord very tight and tying an impressive knot in it, before looking up, self-conscious once again, this time at his semi-nakedness and the less than reassuring opacity of the pyjama fabric.

Buffy looked around, deliberately ignoring the view of his still impressive physique, her eyes lighting on Ethan's luggage. “He must have something you can wear,” she muttered and went to dig through the sorcerer's questionable selection of shirts and slacks.

“This is the only thing that isn't either dirty or crushed,” she said a moment later and handed Giles a shirt which gave him a headache just looking at it.

“That's bloody nice, isn't it? Giving away my clothes,” Ethan muttered. “It won't suit him.”

Buffy scowled and stormed over to him, looming over his shoulder and smacking him in the back of the head as Giles gingerly put the shirt on.

“You just made him a gift of it, so shut-up, butthead,” she growled, grabbing his collar and shaking it. “You want me to flush the rest of your stuff down the can? Why you bother to come back to Sunnydale at all, I'll never know.”

He sighed. “I've really got to learn to just do the damage and get out of town. It's the 'stay and gloat' that gets me every time.”

He was such a creep. She knee-ed him in the back and went to where Giles was checking himself out in the mirror, probably making sure that Ethan had restored ALL his bits and pieces…

“You okay?” she asked softly.

“Oh…um ...embarrassed, mostly…Ethan's wardrobe isn't helping any.” He turned to face her. “How…how did you know it was me?”

She smiled at him, painfully aware now of the vulnerability in his voice. Only she didn't know what to say…how to tell him. Finally, she met his gaze squarely.

“Your eyes…it was your eyes. You're the only person in the world who could look that annoyed with me,” she teased, realising immediately how inadequate an explanation it really was.

But Giles' eyes lit up, and Buffy realised with a shock how much he needed to hear even that. It caused her almost physical pain to realise that she could have hurt him that much and not even be aware of it.

He was about to speak again when Ethan interrupted, demanding to know when he could go.

It wasn't until after the Sorcerer had been bundled out to a military vehicle and Giles had gone to watch, that Buffy had a chance to focus again on Riley. She managed to stay focused through their entire conversation, until Giles came back inside looking tired and in pain.

Her heart contracted. “Riley, could you drive us back to Giles' place?”

“Are you sure? The place was pretty trashed…”

Buffy nodded. “We'll improvise. It wouldn't be the first time. You should have seen what a few zombie gate-crashers were able to do at the last party at my mother's house and how good Giles' improv' was.”

Riley looked bemused but agreed anyway, watching her curiously as she went to the older man. He really didn't know what to make of their relationship, only what he sensed. And he sensed a great deal…

“Not so okay?” Buffy asked when Giles looked up, holding his ribs.

He chuckled and then grunted. “I seem to have retained some residue of the rather spectacular beating you gave my alter-ego,” he observed, wincing.

Buffy stepped closer, worried. “The stab wound…should we go to the hospital?”

He shook his head. “Hurts like hell, but it's healing, I think. No point really. Blast Ethan's sadistic heart anyway.”

“Riley is taking us home,” she said quietly, wishing there was something else she could say.

He looked at her for a long moment before surprising her by nodding quiescently and turning with them for the door.

*******

“Much better,” Giles said with satisfaction as he came back downstairs dressed in his own clothes…or almost dressed. He had on a pair of rumpled, but tight, blue jeans and a denim shirt Buffy hadn't seen before, still unbuttoned, but obviously clean, unlike the pants.

“Very you,” Buffy teased. “I don't remember that shirt.”

He looked up then grinned sheepishly. “Nor should you. I bought it for that retreat last year and haven't needed it since…until now. My laundry is so far behind it gives me a headache just thinking about it.”

“So that's why all those weird sweaters,” she mused, continuing to tease. It had been so long since they'd had any real time for…

“ 'Ay, I like those sweaters,” he retorted, his accent wavering a little, then a lot. “Don't bag my sweaters.”

Buffy giggled. “Uh, Giles, too late for that.”

He looked bemused for a second then his eyes narrowed. “Oh, ha-ha,” he growled. “And if you must know the limited wardrobe compliments the limited income very nicely.”

”Oh,” she said, sobering again. It seemed as though she couldn't stop finding ways to hurt him. “Do you want tea?”

Giles stared at her for long seconds, as though trying to read her. “Cookies in the tin on the top shelf. New tin of coffee in the refrigerator for you, if you want,” he said slowly and went to sit down on the couch.

She nodded awkwardly and went to make the tea, and to collect her thoughts. They'd cleaned up the apartment between them and managed, together, to re-hang the front door with some hinges Giles had left over from the last time the door needed to be re-hung.

When she came back he was sitting awkwardly down one end of the sofa with his elbow resting on the armrest, his face in his hand.

She slid the tray on to the table. He looked so…so like he did after the demons hurt him so badly when they came for the Word of Valios. She swallowed. She still didn't know why she'd pulled back that day. She'd been so scared when she saw him…She shivered, remembering that one moment of blind panic, of believing he wasn't going to be okay…and then the sudden dead calm when she realised she wasn't going to lose him.

Two small drops welled up and slipped over the carefully darkened lashes. It was either that… or just plain dead.

She'd tried to tell them all before that she couldn't do both…couldn't let her heart rule her head and still be of the cool, the rational, with the Terminator calm that was needed to get the job done without disintegrating into a screaming heap. She loved them all too much…too much to be anything but the best Slayer and protector she knew how to be, even if it meant being a truly lousy friend sometimes, or a lousy daughter… She looked down at Giles and sighed. Or an even lousier…

She was about to turn and leave him alone when he finally looked up. Their eyes held for a long moment.

Eventually, he gestured to her to sit.

After a moment's hesitation, she came around the table and curled up a small distance away from him on the sofa.

“I can't,” she said eventually in a very small voice. “I can't be both.”

He seemed to understand what she meant without asking. “You do understand though, that there are some responsibilities from which you cannot withdraw? He asked, his eyes gentle.

She nodded. “I should have told you about all of it. I think I would have, if things were like they used to be.”

He seemed to understand, and, despite everything, to accept that too. “But they aren't, and they never will be again. Buffy, if I'm to continue to help you, I need you to trust me, and to…” his voice trailed off, hurt back in his eyes.

“…Respect you?” She whispered. “You and me, we don't…we're not…” She stopped and thought for a brief moment, found the words. “I've never stopped, not since the day you saved my life…when Amy Madison's mother tried to kill me. Not even when you thought I had…when Angel came back…”

Giles swallowed, but said nothing, his eyes searching her face, trying to understand what she was trying to tell him.

She looked up at him again. “We've always kidded each other, ragged on each other…and I always knew, even when you were totally angry, that it was okay, that you cared, even if you never said it. And I was so sure you knew too…”

“I…? Knew…?” he prompted softly.

“That I care about you, that when I say dumb, stupid, hurtful things it's because I'm dumb and stupid, not because I don't care. Don't you think I know how smart you are…how much smarter than Maggie you are? Don't you get it? I take us for granted, Giles. When I was running off at the mouth about Maggie, you weren't even in the picture, because you're a whole other picture.” She ran a hand nervously through her blonde tresses. “You're the smartest, bravest person I've ever known. You're a part of my life, a part of me. She isn't, so that stuff about her, about being smart, is in the context of outside the people I care about most.”

“I…I thought you didn't need…or want me any more, that I'd let you down somehow,” he said quietly. “I know you thought I was going to leave you…back at the beginning of the semester. Buffy, I wouldn't leave you…I never intended to, whatever you might have believed when you came to see me that day, before facing Saturday, or whatever its name was…”

She smiled. “Sunday,” she corrected fondly. “I did think you were planning to leave, or at least, leave me, maybe even with her...er… for her. Whatever. At first I was scared, and then when you finally came, after the fight, I was relieved, then mad because you scared me so much.”

“Is that what all of this has been about?”

Buffy searched his face, trying to read the sadness in his tone, to understand what he was really asking.

“No,” she said finally, truthfully. “It was it at first…and then it was about me. I didn't notice…I was so busy trying to replace Angel…to make all of it go away…first with Parker, then the beer and then Riley, that I didn't care about anything else. The only time it even crossed my mind that you weren't really happy was when I saw you in that doofy hat at Halloween, and after…well, after those Vahrall demons…” she stammered.

He closed his eyes and nodded. “Yes, them,” he said tersely. “Go on.”

Her hands clenched. “Giles, I'm trying.”

“To do what, exactly?”

She looked away. “To tell you…”

Giles sighed. How often had either of them tried to tell the other anything, and failed? How alike they were…both emotional cripples, victims of their own pasts, their own guilt and their own failures, both ransomed to their enforced destinies. It was so easy to forget how young she was, how much she still didn't know about life, about people…about love. And yet after more than three years together

“Tell me what?” he prompted, his colour high as all the hurt flooded back. “Suddenly remembered that you and young Finn are getting married, perhaps? That you're moving to bloody Indiana, or Iowa or somewhere? Or perhaps you've just remembered to tell me that Spike can kill demons now, that he tried to kill himself, that you threw yourself into the bloody Hell-mouth, or that Riley is a part of Professor Walsh's private army…? Do you know what that…that…harpie…said to me? She said you didn't have a—” He stopped, horrified at what he was going to say, at how much the hurt had built up inside him, so that once he started he almost couldn't stop.

Buffy blinked. “You talked to Maggie?”

He stared. “A demon was about to rise. I was trying to find you. She didn't even tell you I was looking for you?”

She shook her head. “What did she say, Giles?”

He swallowed and looked down at his hands. “I-It doesn't matter,” he muttered.

“It matters to me,” she said, her tone as harsh as his had been earlier.

He looked up slowly. “She said that I'd allowed you too much freedom, that I'd put too much on your shoulders too early…Th-That…that you lacked a….a strong male role model.”

Buffy leaped up and prowled, as though she would explode if she had to sit still. “How dare she! How…? God, it's so none of her business…” She made a frustrated, angry noise. “I can't believe she said that to you.” She wheeled to face him again. “What did you say to her?”

“I told her you were unique, and that I hoped she wouldn't push you too hard,” he summarized, not sure what Buffy was leading up to, and not appreciating her tone.

His eyes widened then, when the anger flashing in her eyes, the colour in her cheeks, suddenly dissipated and her lip actually trembled as she turned away.

When she didn't turn back, or speak for several long moments he rose stiffly, every muscle in his body aching, and went to her.

“Buffy?”

“I'm not good at this stuff,” she whispered. “I don't know how…” She stopped and closed her eyes when two warm hands rested comfortingly on her shoulders. “Neither of us do.”

“I know,” he said gently, then smiled wearily. “But Xander and Willow have been tutoring me.”

It made Buffy giggle, a soggy sort of giggle that ended in a small sob. “I can't undo what I've done,” she said tremulously, still without turning, “or even make it up to you, but I am so sorry…about all of it. I nearly lost you today…and I can't lose you, Giles…I can't.” Her voice splintered at the last and she fell silent again.

He sighed again and drew her back against him very gently. “It doesn't matter. None of it matters, if we're still a team, you and I.”

Buffy's eyes opened. His voice was as unsteady as hers, yet warm and tender, as warm as he was…warm and comforting and solid. For perhaps the first time in their long history, she finally let herself really lean against him; let herself trust him not to let her fall…

Giles felt the shift, the weight of her against him and looked down. “That's right,” he said softly. “For as long as you need me, I'll be here.”

Buffy's eyes closed against the emotion that swelled like a physical pain in her chest.

For a long time neither of them moved, neither willing to relinquish the exquisiteness of that single moment of perfect certainty in their relentlessly uncertain lives, until they absolutely had to. In the end it wasn't clear who moved first.

They found themselves facing each other in awkward silence.

Eventually Buffy found her voice. “It works both ways.”

Giles stared at her curiously.

“For as long as you need me...” she quoted very softly, then raised her eyes to the soft green ones. “No matter how many stupid things I do…or say…and you know I will, because I'm kinda challenged that way, one thing won't ever change.”

The tawny head tilted to one side, and a small furrow appeared above the bridge of his nose.

Buffy resisted an urge to deliberately make him angry, or annoyed, just to drive that bewildered, vulnerable look from his face; a look he'd worn far too often lately… thanks to her…

A flashback to the library and a flushed, scowling Giles whipping off those large-framed glasses he used to wear and dragging back his tweed coat to put his hands on his hips in patented Giles annoyance while he read her the riot act about something, yet again, made her insides twist. In that moment she would have given anything to be sixteen again, to have all her dreams, her illusions still in tact…to know that every day he was going to be there, ready to train, to research, to fight…to be where the buck stopped.

For all the freedom she now had, the one thing she truly hated was being where the buck stopped

“Buffy…?” Giles said softly.

She stirred from her reverie. “Oh…I was just…” She opted for honesty. “I was just remembering us…how it used to be with the library…when you were the boss.”

He stared at her for a moment then laughed aloud. “In whose rosy dreams?” he asked, genuinely amused. “Never once would you allow yourself to be told anything, nor did you ever take any notice of my instructions or my advice…”

“Oh yes I did,” she replied looking at him steadily. “Why do you think I'm still here? Who do you think kept me alive…because I sure as hell didn't do it by myself. God, let's look at my big decisions: I died, Angel turned, Jenny died, Kendraa died, you got tortured…I killed my boyfriend…how am I doing so far? I almost took up permanent residence in a demon dimension and drove you, my mom and everyone else to distraction for a whole summer…and let's not even get started on Faith…”

Giles held up a hand, half smiling. “No, let's not. I think…I think you've made your point.”

“My point…” she repeated softly. “Oh yeah…there was a point, way back there, somewhere…” She frowned in thought, then looked up. “Got it…the one thing that will never change.”

“Yes, well, while you're getting to the point, shall I put the kettle on?” he asked, turning for the kitchen.

“Sure,” she agreed, following him and helping herself to a chocolate chip cookie while he worked.

“No sign of your point yet?” he asked once the kettle was going.

“Oh…yeah…that…It arrived way long ago,” she replied just as facetiously, watching him lay the tray.

He put down the teaspoons in his hand, turned and crossed his arms.

It was so a Giles-of-old gesture that Buffy couldn't help grinning, or the gleam in her eyes, or the colour that rushed to her cheeks.

“No matter what happens,” she said slowly, still smiling, “including me being blind and stupid, and your playboy activities—”

Buffy,” he growled.

“Do you want to know, or don't you?”

“I'm not at all sure I do any more,” he drawled, turning to fill the teapot and pick up the tray.

Buffy made a face at his back and followed him out to the sofa again.

She picked up her mug and sipped at it as he sipped his, then turned her head to look at him mischievously.

“You really do want to know, though, don't you?”

He laughed in spite of himself. “All right, for God's sake get it over with. What won't ever change? Our friendship? Your hair? My tie…?”

“You don't wear ties anymore. I miss them too—”

“Buffy!”

“God, Giles, chill.”

“That's it,” he growled, taking another slug of his tea, unable, however, to keep the corners of his eyes from crinkling in telltale fashion. “I don't want to know.”

“Fine,” she retorted, her eyes glowing with affection. “It wasn't anything important anyway…just that no matter what happens, or how much things change, I will never stop loving you.”

Giles put down his tea, mistimed and hit the table with a clunk, his green eyes wide.

Buffy grinned. “Not exactly the reaction I was looking for, but it'll do.” She returned his still dazed gaze. “I have ever since you tried so hard to get yourself killed in my place when the Master rose.”

Giles' eyes slipped to her hands, both of which were wrapped around her mug, to unsuccessfully try to stop them trembling, then back up to the blue eyes.

He deliberately picked up his drink again. “Yes, well, it certainly was a point worth getting to, but as you say, not terribly important.”

Buffy sat up straight, her coffee slopping over onto her hands, the sofa and her clothes.

“Giles!” she wailed.

He casually took a sip of his tea and looked up again. “To any one else…” he finished, his eyes resting tenderly on her flushed, annoyed face, then put the cup down once again, his brilliant smile drawing a lop-sided grin from her in spite of herself.

“…But to me there will never be another that matters quite as much …”



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