Coming Home | Epilogue to The Body
The red BMW slid to a halt outside the neat Revello drive home. A tall man in an elegant dark suit emerged and came swiftly to the passenger side, shepherding the young women who emerged from the car protectively toward the house.
The trio approached it in silence, the youngest going ahead to unlock the front door. The others reached it just as it swung open.
Dawn stepped inside, relieved to be home, comforted by the familiar. Then her face dropped as the silence closed around her.
Buffy froze suddenly in the open doorway. Giles cannoned into her from behind and knocked her to the floor, momentum overbalancing him so that he fell a split second later.
Buffy! he exclaimed, turning over and sitting up.
She was on her knees, shaking silently.
Dawn looked from one to the other, her lip trembling, her eyes filling.
Giles gave the girl a look of silent reassurance and nodded. She turned and ran up the stairs.
Stiffly, he shifted himself so that he was hunkered next to Buffy.
Are you all right?
She shook her head.
Let me help.
She shook her head again.
Then at least let me help you inside. I'll get you some tea something.
She shook her head a third time.
Tentatively, Giles reached out and touched her rigid shoulder.
I won't leave you, he said softly, and bit his lip when her trembling worsened. I promise, he added softly.
Buffy forced herself to look up, to find his eyes, her glance sliding to the once comforting harbour that was home, then back to Giles. I I c-can't.
Giles nodded. You don't have to. He helped her to her feet, but released her when she remained stiff and tense. We we can I can take you to an hotel. I'm sure the novelty would be a distraction for Dawn, he suggested.
Buffy closed her eyes for a long moment. N-no. She needs to be here. She needs to feel safe s-secure. I-I have to stay here with her, but I She stopped and looked desolately through the front door. I can't go in there.
Giles closed his eyes. Christ, of course how stupid can a man get ?
Yes you can, he said softly. This is your home. R-regardless of the shock, what happened was a part of the process of life, as much as it is a part of you now. I know your heart, Buffy, and your courage. You can do this, for her, and for Dawn. You must do it for yourself.
She looked up at him forlornly, no colour in her face, dark circles under them and fine spidery lines of red all around the soft blue-grey irises of her eyes.
Giles could see her crumpled spirit in them. It was all he could do to contain his own rage at fate, life, whatever it was that chose to keep testing his Slayer, over and over, until any normal mortal would have given up, screaming, long before.
Let me help, he said softly, and held out his large fingers.
After long, tension filled moments, Buffy seemed to force herself to reach out and grasp them, almost like a small child balancing itself before attempting to walk.
Together they crossed the threshold, Buffy's fingers crushing his unconsciously, until they were numb. Giles remained silent until they reached the stairs.
Do do you want to go to Dawn, while I make some refreshments for you both? he asked, trying to ignore the pain.
Buffy finally released his hand, her eyes closed and her fists clenching as she spoke. I-I'll talk to Dawn. H-hot chocolate. She l-loves
Giles watched the tired eyes fill with tears and roll up to look at him again. She l-loved to h-have it with mom w-w-with the l-little marsh marshmallows.
He moved instinctively closer, but she stepped back. No, she whispered. I'm okay. I'll have tea...w-with you b-before you go.
Giles' eyes widened a little. Buffy, I won't leave either of you, tonight. I will sleep on the couch, if necessary.
She tried to smile a little, but the movement faltered and died on her lips, despite the momentary light in her eyes. Instead, she reached up and touched his face for the briefest of moments, before turning and starting up the stairs.
Giles turned from watching her go, to close his eyes against the moisture that had risen in them, his own fists clenching for long moments before he made himself go to the kitchen.
The kettle was boiling. The microwave hummed as the milk heated for the hot chocolate. Giles looked around. Her presence filled the endearingly familiar room. He closed his eyes again. Buffy would have to embrace the memories, the imprint of her mother's spirit on the place, or she would never be able to stay in the house.
The microwave pinged and suddenly he could smell popcorn again, hear Xander bantering with Joyce and Willow and Buffy giggling about something that had happened during their battle against Adam. A crease appeared between his brows. Such extraordinary young people they could find normality in the most hideously abnormal situations
His hands shook as he assembled the mugs and cups on a tray and began a hunt for cookies.
When the tray was complete, he stopped and drew a deliberately long, deep breath before taking it and heading for the stairs.
I don't want to talk about it.
Dawn looked up from the corner of her room she'd curled up in with her doll a favourite once upon a time when she was three years old.
I-I Giles is making hot chocolate.
Dawn's lip trembled again. Why?
You haven't eaten
I'm not hungry.
Please, Dawn. You don't have to be hungry. Drink it for me, so you don't make yourself sick
Dawn rolled her eyes in a pale imitation of her trademark expression of disgust. All right. But only because mo she would have made me anyway.
Buffy half smiled, part of her screaming inside. Y-yeah, she would, she said gently. Thanks kiddo.
And then, in an unconscious imitation of Giles, she stepped toward her sister and held out her fingers.
Shifting the doll to her left arm, Dawn's fingers reached out and slipped around Buffy's.
They were out in the hallway when Giles reached the top of the stairs.
There you are, he said in as normal a voice as he could manage. Where would you like to have this?
Buffy took a very deep breath. Downstairs in the living room, she declared, and met Giles' gaze determinedly.
After a long moment, he nodded and they went back down stairs together.
The room was heart-breakingly normal, even to the teenage magazines Dawn hadn't put away, still under the curtains by the sofa and the videocassette laying on the floor by the television, next to its box.
Giles led the way, sliding the tray onto the coffee table and turning as the pair came silently into the room behind him.
Dawn seemed oblivious to her sister's distress as they reached the sofa and she slid onto it. Giles watched Buffy follow, watch-spring tense, forcing herself to play-act at rationality and calm, for her sister's benefit.
He pulled a chair closer to the table and poured the tea before handing Dawn her chocolate.
They all drank in silence. Long, charged minutes of emptiness, in which there was only the sound of each of them trying to sip drinks that were too hot and the crunch of cookies no one really wanted to eat.
Finally, Dawn lowered her mug and swallowed the last of a cookie so tasteless she couldn't remember if it was chocolate or pecan nut.
When ? she managed then cleared her throat. When will they when is the f-funeral? What's going to h-happen to us?
Buffy almost dropped the cup she was holding with both hands.
Giles swallowed. We um we're still trying to arrange a date. There are a lot of things to consider, he tried to explain. People who who want to come to the funeral details arrangements. A-as soon as we know, we'll tell you, I promise.
Nothing's going to happen to us, Buffy said, surprisingly fiercely. I promised to take care of you, and I will.
We will, Giles corrected, very gently.
Buffy's eyes flew up to his, held them, the flicker of light back in them for just a moment. We will, she agreed, just as softly.
Dawn looked from one to the other. I don't want to sleep tonight. Don't make me sleep.
You have to sleep, Buffy snapped instinctively, then winced. Her tone softened. I mean, you'll make yourself sick if you
I can't, she insisted. I don't want to be alone not in my room not even in my head. You can't make me!
Giles nodded and put his empty teacup down. It's all right, Dawn. We weren't intending to leave you alone, in any case. You can sleep in Buffy's room, or perhaps you'd like to stay here and watch something on the television?
Three hours later Buffy eased herself out from under her sleeping sister's head, disturbing her soft snores as she eased the pretty head onto a couch cushion and Giles handed her the blanket he'd found, to tuck around her.
They turned the volume down, but left the music video show Dawn had chosen playing in the background so as not to leave her in lonely silence.
When they reached the stairs, Buffy stopped and looked back at the sleeping child, took a step towards her.
Giles lay a hand on her shoulder. She'll be fine, he said. I promise.
Buffy's head dropped and she nodded slowly, before following him into the kitchen.
Perhaps you should consider letting her sleep with you tonight? he suggested as soon as they were able to talk.
Buffy shrugged. If she wakes again. I don't want to disturb her now.
He nodded. You should try and get some rest yourself. Why don't you have a shower? Put on something comfortable try to get some sleep. I'll stay down here and read.
Buffy's reddened, tired eyes flicked towards the doorway and the not-so-faint sound of Metallica filtering through from the living room.
Won't your brain start trickling out of your ears again? she teased shakily.
In spite of himself, he chuckled at the memory. Probably, he said ruefully, and smiled at her.
Buffy wasn't sure why, but it was the most beautiful thing she'd seen in a long time, probably because, unlike most of his self-conscious smiles in the past, instead of being flashed momentarily at her and then obscured by a swiftly dropping head, he was steadfastly holding her gaze.
She felt his spirit embrace and hold her as she slowly smiled back. Good callisthenics music, she observed.
More like screeching demons, he muttered and smiled again. Try and get some sleep, Buffy. I'll be here if you need me. If we need you, I'll call you.
She looked doubtful, uncertain.
I promise, he added, in a tone that left no doubts.
Giles watched her go with a leaden heart and a knot of unshed tears in his throat. He looked at the sleeping child on the couch and pushed it back down. His time would have to come later
It was very peaceful for the next hour or so. Dawn slept on, the music program slipped into a mercifully quieter segment of retro-music. It allowed his nerves to begin to settle as he tried to absorb the events of the day, outside of their own personal hell, from the newspaper someone had brought in, presumably Willow or Tara. The others had all gone ahead to make certain the Summers residence was completely free of any distressing evidence of Joyce's death before Dawn reached it.
Somehow even the headlines seemed trivial, the sports section obscenely pleased with itself and the magazine pages tiresomely cheerful. Eventually, he put it down and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his pinched finger and thumb, pushing his glasses up, rather than removing them.
Then he frowned. He could hear water running, or at least the resonance of the old plumbing in the house. That couldn't be right. He'd heard the clunk of changing water pressure as Buffy started her shower, not more than ten minutes after he sat down
After a few more minutes his intuition drove him to his feet, and with a last look at the exhausted Dawn, he crept from the room and started up the stairs.
Steam was seeping from under the bathroom door. Giles frowned again and walked right up to it, called through it.
Buffy? Is everything all right?
When there was no answer he cracked open the door and peeked in. The room was a sauna, condensation trickling down steam obscured walls and mirror, the shower pumping out a full-pressure stream of water behind the pretty shower curtains.
Giles hesitated, then dragged a huge, soft blue bath sheet from the towel rack and moved toward the shower.
Buffy? he said again. It's only me. I-I was worried. Is everything all right?
When there was no answer his heart raced with sudden panic. Buffy! he cried, and dragged back the curtain. He didn't know what he was expecting, only that it might be terrible, whatever it was.
In a way, he was right.
Without hesitating he stepped into the blast of water, shut off the faucets and wrapped the bath-sheet around the crumpled figure sobbing in heart-rending silence in the corner. He lifted her into his arms and carried her, oblivious to the water dripping off them, out into her room.
After the slightest hesitation, he sat on her bed and cradled her tightly in his arms, clenching his jaw against the ball in his throat, the feel of her violent shaking and the sound of her pain reverberating through the wall of his chest, where her face was pressed into it.
Buffy was aware of very little, except that she was no longer alone. As her body rocked from the grief and her mind clouded, only the iron of his arms around her and the strength of his solid torso as she leaned against him, penetrated the storm. Nothing could truly break through the release of the relentless avalanche of repressed shock, pain, and fear of the past twenty-four hours.
Giles held her until she fell into an exhausted, limp silence, clinging to him, yet not really aware that he was there.
He stroked her damp hair almost unconsciously with trembling fingers, as helpless as she in the aftermath of despair.
When the darkness finally lifted, Buffy gradually became aware that she was in Giles' arms, her face buried in the crook of one of his elbows, and separated from him only by a sopping wet towel.
She lifted herself awkwardly, clutching at the towel, and Giles helped her to a sitting position next to him before sliding off the bed.
I-I should get dressed, she said, but it came out only as a hoarse, feathery whisper.
Giles nodded and moved, unbidden, to her drawers. Pyjamas?
Third drawer, she said mechanically.
When he brought them to her she laughed brokenly. Of all the lovely lingerie silky and lacy, and satin nightwear, in that drawer, Giles had seized upon her Yummy Sushi pyjamas.
Her lip trembled despite the smile, and the affection in her eyes. Thanks, she croaked.
I won't be far away, he told her. I'll pop down and check on Dawn, then I'll be back.
Buffy nodded shakily and watched him slip away, reluctantly.
When he returned, she was standing in the doorway of her mother's room. She was brushed, combed and wearing the pyjamas. Her hair was pulled back in a damp ponytail. Without looking up, she seemed to know he was there.
How is she?
Fast asleep. If she doesn't stir any time soon I shall carry her to your room. It won't hurt her to stay in her clothes, as long as she gets a good night's sleep.
Buffy nodded without taking her eyes off the big bed in the centre of the room.
I used to sit in it with mom and watch late night movies. We'd have candy or waffles or popcorn and just be really, really bad. We'd snivel our way through all the old weepies, boo the evil guys in the black hats and hiss at the super-bitches, she rambled quietly. Mom loved Ingrid Bergman Her voice cracked. Giles, what am I going to do ?
He moved quietly to her back and put his hands on her shoulders. What you always do, he said softly: Overcome. Go on.
What what if I don't want to? she whispered.
Giles' fingers tightened unconsciously. You must, he said fiercely.
Why? she asked flatly. Who'd really give a rats ass? Spike? Xander has Anya, Willow's got Tara. Dawn's got my dad. And you you there's Olivia a-and the others, she stammered. If I'm gone, they get a new Slayer, everyone moves on. No big
He turned her slowly, but she didn't lift her head. I would give a rat's ass, he said quietly, but definitively.
She still didn't look up.
I can't lose you, either, he added, quoting her own words, his tone very, very gentle.
Buffy's head lifted slowly until her startled eyes found his, her mouth slightly open in surprise.
The soft green ones grew tender. Is it so hard to believe? It's true, he told her, the slightest tremor in his voice. I need you too.
Moisture again rose to Buffy's eyes, only this time it wasn't hurt, or grief or pain. The smile started slowly, but grew into a radiant thing, despite the growing dampness.
And when Giles tilted his head endearingly, puzzled by the contradiction, she even managed a watery chuckle, before stepping into his arms and hugging him hard, closing her eyes as his strong arms enveloped and held her just as tightly.
God, I love you so much, she said into his chest
His chin resting on her crown, Giles opened his eyes, emotion filling them, his cheeks burning with the intensity of his feelings.
So much so you're saturating my best shirt, he teased, not a hint of the struggle on his face to keep his emotions in check, in his voice. He smiled widely when she chuckled again at least until the chuckle got very soggy again.
As she wept softly he dropped a kiss on her temple. I'm sorry, love. So very, very sorry.
Buffy's arms tightened for a moment, then she leaned back to look up into his face. I know, she managed tremulously. I couldn't do this without you. I meant what I said.
He half smiled in the midst of the emotion plainly visible on his face, and in his tender green eyes.
You're not going to say it, are you? she teased, distracted momentarily from the larger issues.
Pleased by that fact, Giles' smile widened a little more. I'm supposed to be stuffy, British, insufferably stoic and anally retentive something to do with flags, he quoted, making her giggle in spite of herself.
No fairs quoting Willow and Xander, she complained.
That was only the last two, he pointed out. I think you hold the honours for the first two.
Buffy stopped chuckling and clamped down on a trembling lip. You're everyone of
those things. You're also the bravest, most honourable man I've ever met, she said with conviction. Next to my mother, you are the single most important person in my life.
Giles sucked in his cheeks and looked away.
Big mush guy, she teased damply.
You should check on Dawn, he said hoarsely, cleaning his glasses again rather than look up.
For a moment Buffy watched his profile speculatively and with great affection, aware that he was moved, then turned to go and check on her sister.
I do, you know. his voice said quietly behind her.
Her pace checked and she smiled slowly to herself for a moment.
Buffy ? Dawn's voice croaked sleepily from the other room, ending a whimper.
The smiled faded and she hurried towards it, Giles close behind...