Not One Day Longer | Epilogue to Living Conditions

The playground was almost like an old friend. Buffy had spent so much time in and around it these last few years it was as familiar as her own back yard. She sat down and pushed herself off gently, the swing creaking as it moved backward and forward.

Patrolling all her old routes had been soothing in a way nothing else had been since the beginning of the semester. Except for Cathy, it had been quiet too, since she'd taken Sunday and her gang out…no vampire or demon activity, and no complications.

Complications…

She sighed. Everything was different, strange, and a little scary. Everyone was different. She half smiled to herself. Well, maybe everyone except Oz…

Then she grew sombre again.

She didn't really know the new, 'we're in my world now' college Willow any more, or even the quieter, wiser Xander…

God, even Giles …She sighed again. And he still hadn't explained his sudden attempt to clear the nest…or the sudden about-face afterward.

Buffy didn't know where she was with him anymore, or where he was now, for that matter. His gentle jibe about her lack of interest in his life came back to her and left her just as uncomfortable as the first time. She really hadn't…in three years she really hadn't given any real thought to his existence outside of school, or slaying…still it wasn't as though he…

Her face dropped and she paled a little, as her traitorous mind flooded with reminders of just how much he'd once been involved in her personal life, how affected by her mistakes, her choices…

“Self-involved, much,” she muttered to herself and left the swing almost impatiently
to resume patrol.

Twenty minutes later she was standing opposite Giles' apartment, wondering if the dull glow in the living room window meant that he was still up, working. She knew Olivia was gone, but visions of Giles in his Hugh Hefner robe, Giles making out with someone, anyone, still gave her pause.

Eventually she chose to knock. Within seconds the door opened. He was fully dressed, in a sky-blue polo shirt and jeans, and looked as though he'd just emerged from a pile of books in the library, his glasses dangling from his fingers, a faraway look in his eyes.

He focused. “Buffy? Is something wrong?”

She scowled. “Why does something always have to be wrong? Can't I just visit? I just want to visit.”

He stood aside to let her in, wondering when he was going to be told what the problem really was.

She sat on his desk and twiddled her stake. “I wanted to say thanks…for the thing with …y'know, getting my soul back and everything.”

Giles half-smiled. “You're welcome. Still setting precedents, Buffy?”

“Me? Oh…Hey, it's not nice to pick on someone who just thanked you.”

He laughed. “What's troubling you? And don't get uppity on me. I know you too well. You should know me well enough by now to just tell me whatever is on your mind. You certainly did when Olivia was here.”

Buffy looked away. “Yeah, well, I don't like surprises. I never have. I'm sorry…I didn't mean to act like a spoiled six-year old, but I wanted…”

He sobered and sat forward. “You wanted what?” he asked gently.

She turned back to face him. “Are we friends?”

“Of course,” he replied instantly.

“No, I mean, really. Not just slaying, researching and stuff. I mean friends, as in talking to each other…being…being there for each other.”

He sighed. “We always have been,” he said softly. “But I suspect you've been rather too preoccupied with other things to notice…up 'til now.”

She looked into the soft green eyes. “You've never not wanted me around before.”

His expression changed to one of dawning comprehension. “Buffy, I always…want you around. I'm just out of my depth when it comes to knowing how best to handle your transition from…from someone needing my protection, guidance and support, to…well, a young adult who must needs learn to be more independent and to make their own decisions, to move in directions of their own choosing.”

Buffy frowned. “It still sounds like you don't want me around,” she said flatly.

“Buffy,” he said tersely. “Of course I want you around. You're being deliberately obtuse. If you must have it on a plate I've been trying to tell you that I made a mistake. I tried to do what I believed was the right thing…and it wasn't. Not that you don't need to do all those things…but in time, not in one fell swoop.”

“One what?”

“All at once,” he translated. “Do you understand what I'm saying?”

She nodded slowly. “Now. Not then. I just wanted everything to be the way it was. I wanted at least something to be like it used to be. Giles, everything's changed. Not just school, but everything…everyone. Willow…she's…and Xander's…and even Cordy's gone. And,” she looked away. “And there's Olivia.”

“Olivia?” he asked gently.

“Who is she, really?”

He smiled wearily at the back of her head. “She's my friend, Buffy. An old friend.”

She looked around, searched the amused green eyes. “Then…but that was your shirt?”

He nodded. “Ye-e-s. I don't keep a supply of women's nightwear here and she was travelling…er…light. Anything else?”

She scowled. “You weren't dressed.”

He laughed. “I didn't have to be. Part of not working, is not having to keep to a schedule. I'm rather enjoying the lack of structure actually. You do realise that none of this is actually any of your business?” he reminded her gently.

Her blue grey eyes looked into his. “I thought we were friends,” she asked, a tinge of bitterness in her voice.

His eyes dropped and he sighed. "For three years you have, with few notable exceptions, taken little or no interest in my life outside the library or patrolling. You don't think it's a little presumptuous of you to begin telling me how to live it now?”

Consternation chased confusion across Buffy's face. “Are you mad at me?” she asked in a very small voice.

He looked up slowly. “Exasperated, perhaps. I know you feel disoriented, and perhaps even a little lost at the moment, but it will pass, just as it did when you started at the high school. That isn't all of it, though, is it?”

“You've changed,” she said quickly. “It scares me…”

“It shouldn't,” he said, surprised. “We all change, Buffy.” He smiled. “Would it help if I dig out some tweed?”

Buffy giggled, then sobered, looked into the green eyes. “Giles, I'm sorry about…I've always cared about you…I just never got around…I'm sorry I haven't been a better friend,” she stammered, wondering why it was so hard all of a sudden to talk to him.

His eyes lighted with affection. “I know,” he said, amused. “But I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to 'get around to it.'”

“Are you making fun of me?”

“Most certainly. Are you going to tell me you don't deserve it?”

She shook her head silently. “Was it really a mistake?”

“Was what a mistake?”

The blue grey eyes lifted to meet his. “Quitting.”

Giles' eyes widened for a moment, and he opened his mouth to disagree with her interpretation of recent events, then closed it again and sighed.

“I don't know.”

That hurt. Buffy bit her lip.

“Buffy, you're a young woman now, with her whole life ahead of her…a life about as far from this place as it gets, and I literally can't be there every time you need my help, anymore. Those days are gone, like my library, like the high school. Of what earthly use a broken down ex-Watcher is going to be to you now, I don't know. We haven't trained together since we killed the mayor, you don't even talk to me about your patrols anymore…and, with my books, Willow is more than capable of doing any research you might need…”

Buffy ran a hand threw her hair. “Okay, one, I've got a whole lot of nothing ahead of me. I'm the Slayer. Remember? One girl in all the world who gets to have no future…kinda the reason you were sent to hand-hold me in the first place… Two, despite what you think, I can't do this alone…”

He opened his mouth to object again, tired of hearing those words, but she raised a hand to stop him.

“…I can't do this alone, because I need you, Giles. Not just as my Watcher and my advisor about the badness. I need you because you're my refuge…you're where I go when I'm scared, when I need help, when I just need to know I'm not alone…”

His mouth fell open. “Willow…Xander…your mother…” he whispered.

She nodded. “They share scared with me, and sometimes hurt.” Her eyes bored into his. “You make it go away.”

“You make me sound like a doting parent,” he said, continuing to stare back at her.

“Hardly. I need another father figure like I need a boyfriend right now,” she drawled. “You, of all people, should remember I don't have much luck with either.”

Giles looked away suddenly. “I-indeed,” he managed.

Buffy frowned. “If you still want me to be independent…I can learn,” she told him. “I can be whatever you want me to be…”

Giles head snapped back, his expression surprised, but Buffy's expression was one of rare vulnerability.

“I just need to know that when I need someone…when everything else has gone, when the world is all screwed up again and totally upside down, I'll be okay…because you'll still be here,” she said softly.

He closed his eyes. “Does this mean I'm to go on getting regular early morning visits and possibly even a running commentary on my private life from now on?” he asked softly.

Buffy giggled. “All you want,” she said, sobering, emotion in her voice, her eyes. “Just…don't leave me…”

Giles held her gaze, his own growing bright with a combination of emotion and sadness.

“For as long as you need me, I'll be here,” he confirmed, his heart warmed by her dazzling smile.

“I better get changed,” she added, and jumped up.

As he watched her move to the bathroom, the sadness overwhelmed the warmth. He looked away and closed his eyes.

“But not one day longer…”


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