Watcher Mine | Epilogue to Prophecy Girl
Rupert Giles brought the drinks and put them on the small table he and computer teacher Jenny Calendar were sharing in the midst of the chaos that was the Bronze. He had a headache, the intensity of which hadn't been helped by Jenny's refusal to take no for an answer when, in a tiny lull in the cacophony, a slow song was played for the otherwise endlessly energetic patrons.
Is it bad? Jenny asked as he slid onto his stool.
Uh ? he turned back from watching Buffy on the dance floor. Oh yes, actually. I daresay it's a hangover from that rather impressive right cross Buffy presented me with earlier today.
I daresay, Jenny said dryly. You still worried about her?
He frowned. She seemed extraordinarily fragile after everything. He turned back to the dance floor, and the rumpled figure dancing now with Willow, since Angel had slipped away over an hour earlier. Even now she doesn't really seem to be with us. Something is wrong.
She died, Rupert. That's going to affect anyone. Buffy is sixteen years old. Slayer or no slayer, she's doing extraordinarily well to even be functional right now.
Perhaps I should take her home, he said absently.
Jenny looked at him fondly. She'd watched his relationship with the girl grow and change even in the few short months that she'd known him. He was a good man, but absolutely clueless about teenage girls, or women in general for that matter and even more clueless about just how much he cared for the gutsy young Slayer.
I'll take the others home when they're done. I think it's a good idea to get her out of here. She looked across to where Buffy, Xander and Willow were coming off the dance floor as the dance music faded, at the slumped shoulders and vacant stare of the usually vibrant, larger than life Buffy Summers. What she needs, she's not going to find on the dance floor.
Giles looked at her with eyes that glowed with affection. I know, he said softly. I just I'm afraid I don't quite know what she does need.
Jenny leaned across and kissed his sensuously curved mouth. You'll work it out as you go along. Now go, take her home.
Buffy looked up blankly.
I've about had all I can stand of this noise, Giles repeated. My head is threatening to explode, so I'm off home in search of a paracetamol or perhaps several. I thought perhaps you might like a ride.
She blinked. Miss Calendar ?
Is staying for a while longer. I believe she might want to dance rather more than I did, he responded, smiling gently. She will give the others a lift home if they want one.
He made a concerted effort to hide his concern. Buffy looked like hell, and her normally mischievous blue-grey eyes were dull and lifeless and still rimmed with red.
I could, perhaps, arrange some training, if you prefer?
Buffy's eyes flashed at him, and her mouth pulled into a reluctant smile. Teasing, Giles? I didn't think you had it in you.
His flashed back. There's a great deal you don't know about me, he said softly. Home?
She nodded and slid off her stool, said her good-byes to the others and followed him through the throng and out into the night air.
Once they were both settled in the car, Giles paused, wanting to tell her how proud he was of what she'd achieved, how much it meant to him that she had survived, but couldn't find the words. Instead he half smiled self-consciously at her enquiring look and started the car, not looking at her again until she finally spoke some time later.
Giles, I don't want to go home. I can't right now, she whispered in a shadow of her normal voice. Mom will ask questions I can't I don't want to answer
He frowned and pulled the car over to the side of the road. I'm not sure I understand, he said helplessly.
It wasn't as though he could take her to a bar to get drunk, or even to his home for a bracing cup of tea. She was so young
Ice cream? he asked, knowing that, if he knew nothing else about women, he knew that ice cream and chocolate seemed to be a female panacea for all ills.
Buffy looked at him, her lifeless eyes filling with a fond glow, and actually giggled.
Giles, I'm sixteen, not six. I'd even settle for tea right now. Why does the stupid Hellmouth have to be at the library?
It surprised him, but, he decided a moment later, it shouldn't have. The library was their headquarters their refuge
I believe my office and possibly even my teapot is still standing
I thought you said you didn't much like the library anymore?
Don't, he said almost gruffly. Bloody Hellmouth. But I can at least offer tea
How's your jaw?
Bruised, he said ruefully. You didn't pull your punch.
I didn't want anything to happen to you. Her voice was almost inaudible.
He swallowed. I had to t-try. I just I couldn't bear to lose you, he managed, finally, and restarted the car.
Buffy studied his comfortingly familiar profile as he checked the street, and felt a surge of affection for him, stuffy Englishman that he was, buried in books and tweed and never quite seeming to get it. And yet
Giles slid the car to a halt and they went in through the exit behind the stacks. The place was a mess.
Buffy wouldn't even look at the Master's bones as they passed by them. Giles, a little to the right and behind her, frowned at the visible balk in the small body.
When they reached the office he deliberately closed the door behind them after he turned on the light.
Buffy watched him fill the kettle and lay a tray, all familiar scents and sounds, and felt the tension begin to ease out of her. With the door closed, it was as if nothing had changed. She couldn't stop the moisture from blurring her vision again, but remained silent until he turned and brought the aromatic tray to his desk.
Do you want to talk about it? he said gently, without looking at her.
I I don't think so, she finally managed.
Then you don't have to.
Buffy swallowed hard and took the mug he handed her when he turned. He'd taken his glasses off, not something he did very often, and for a moment she looked into the gentle green eyes, not through the flashing or annoyed lenses for once, but for real.
I died, she said simply, unexpectedly.
His gaze didn't waver. You're here. You won. Whatever happened, you prevailed, Buffy. Remember that.
It was still a gentle voice, and the words were softly spoken, but Buffy could hear the conviction in them.
Affection softened the strain in her features as she nodded and sipped at her tea, but she didn't smile, or relax.
I died, Giles, she repeated, her hands beginning to tremble around the mug. She moved one of them unsteadily to her throat.
Giles didn't know what to say, how to respond.
Buffy's eyes had filled with unshed moisture. H-he violated me used me
He is no more, Buffy. You defeated him, Giles offered softly, feeling helpless.
She closed her eyes. I defeated the body but he still won.
Giles stood up. No, he told her vehemently. He did not win. He failed on every level. Even his attempt to use you failed, because of you because of who you are. He has made you stronger.
She looked up, her eyes flashing. Then her lip trembled in spite of her temper.
I I don't feel strong right now, she whispered tremulously and rose suddenly, taking the cups back to the cupboard. She put them down and stood for a long moment, trying to collect herself so that she wouldn't rattle her poor stuffy Watcher too much.
Buffy, a voice said a few moments later, very close to her. You don't have to be strong all the time. You just have to believe in yourself
Her shoulders hunched. I can't, she said bitterly. I don't want to spend the rest of what's left of my life pushing people away, not getting too close, because I might might lose them.
The green eyes closed for a long moment then he moved a little closer.
Sometimes we have to take risks, he told her. You can't always keep yourself cut off from the people you care most about. It isn't natural and it will only hurt you in the long run.
Like us? Like you telling me I had to die, because I'm the Slayer?
Giles froze. I I am your Watcher, Buffy. I have a duty. A duty I hold sacred. I'm not only to guide you a-and train you, but to also make decisions for the greater good.
She stepped away from him, still hunched.
I know I failed you, he continued steadily, and I will regret that for as long as I live.
It was Buffy's turn to close her eyes.
The big British dufus was apologising, even after trying to get seriously killed, in her place
As angry as she had been at him and she was still profoundly angry she knew what he'd tried to do had almost done, before she interceded and knocked him cold. She opened her mouth to tell him so, but only a sob came out. It wasn't planned and she was mortified, hunching even more.
Giles watched, cursing his wretchedly inadequate understanding of women in general, and teenagers in particular.
It'sit's all right, he said finally. Slayers, believe it or not, are allowed to cry.
A laugh escaped Buffy in spite of herself. It wasn't even funny. What was funny was that her stuffy Watcher was teasing.
She turned, and finally burst into tears.
Giles extended a hand, helplessly, hopelessly out of his depth.
Go away! she sobbed when he stepped closer.
He obediently stepped away. I-I'm sorry, he said awkwardly. W-would you like me to leave?
When she didn't answer immediately he started to turn.
When Buffy realised he was actually going, she panicked.
He wheeled, fully expecting disaster. What? he exclaimed, back at her side in seconds.
You big dummy, she muttered soggily, slid her hands around his waist and buried her face in his jacket.
Stunned, Giles stood for several beats with his hands still flung out in surprise, still blinking, still trying to catch up.
I'm a big dummy because you wanted me to leave and I was actually going? I-is that the gist of it?
Buffy giggled but didn't lift her head. It was bad enough she was silently saturating his shirt, but he didn't have to see her in a total sopping mess. He was wigged enough already
Then she squeaked suddenly because his gentle hands were lifting her away, the matter taken out of her hands before she could react or object.
His eyes flared widely when he saw her face.
Dear lord, Buffy what ?
She looked away, soggier than ever.
Then a look of comprehension finally crossed his handsome features, followed by one of great tenderness. Wordlessly, he drew her back into his arms and enfolded her in a protective hug, her arms almost reflexively closing around him again and holding tight as she wept.
He cradled her patiently. I'm not very good at these things, and I know I've fumbled this horribly, he sighed, but it really will be all right. You'll see. He drew his arms tighter. It's going to take time for you to deal with everything that's happened, and to come to terms with it, but I have every confidence in you.
By the time he fell silent again, Buffy was resting quietly against him.
When he didn't say anything more she sniffed and leaned back to look up at him. You really aren't any good at this stuff, are you? she chuckled. 'I have every confidence in you,' she mimicked, and giggled again, then smiled at his crestfallen expression.
I knew you were just a big softie under all that Watcher stuff, she said tenderly.
Giles brightened and his eyes glowed. I am not, he retorted in mock indignance. Watchers are made of far sterner stuff.
Oh way sterner, she teased then grew quiet. He's dead, right? Not coming back. No encores for the big ugly ?
Not coming back, Giles interrupted firmly. I promise. He is, and will remain, nothing more than dust and bones.
She exhaled and her shoulders relaxed visibly as she rested her cheek once more against the rough tweed.
Are you are you going to be all right? he asked a few moments later, when they hadn't moved.
I am now, she whispered, calmer, but with the whisper of nightmares still in her voice.
She shifted her cheek almost uncomfortably then frowned.
Yes? he asked, tightening his embrace, relaxing a little himself.
Can't they make tweed with like, angora or something?
Angora? he snorted.
Or cashmere she added mischievously.
He made a funny Giles noise of disapproval. I'm a Watcher, not a lounge singer.
At that a wave of warmth and security enveloped Buffy and she smiled widely before closing her eyes wearily and leaning against him a little more.
Of the sternest stuff, she agreed in a voice blurred by exhaustion. Moments later she was asleep.
Giles picked her up very gently and carried her to the couch in his rest area.
She stirred briefly, moments later, to find herself snuggled under a blanket, her head on the pillow Giles kept handy for research all-nighters.
Oops she said blearily.
Indeed, a voice said. Giles was suddenly hunkered down next to her, looking her in the one half-opened eye. Go back to sleep.
Anything you say she smiled drowsily and drifted off.