Tomorrow

Buffy stood at the door, as she had a hundred times before. She knew the likelihood was that they'd all be gone—hoped they'd all be gone. Even he might be asleep, or still unconscious. But after several hours of walking around when Riley couldn't be found, passing by her own home, Willow's, even across to Xander's…she knew she had nowhere to go…not even here, by rights.

But right had never stopped her before from coming back, before…

She clenched her fists for a moment then opened the door. The place was dark and silent. She padded around from room to room, finding nothing except pristine cleanliness. Willow must have tidied the place before they left…guilt again…maybe…

Eventually she climbed the stairs. He was asleep, half obscured by the darkness, the light coming through the window catching one side of his face and highlighting the dark circles under his eye, the deep lines running from the corner of it to his cheekbone.

Buffy stood silently on the landing and watched him for a long time.

So much had happened to put such a distance between them…and not just today…
She closed her eyes. She'd said some unforgivable things…

A few moments later she wrapped her arms around herself. For all the yelling and the hurt, this was still the one place she felt completely protected, completely…safe…

She looked at his profile again as he stirred restlessly.

…And yet at that moment she still felt more vulnerable, more alone than she'd ever felt in her life. Even Riley had deserted her…

A wave of guilt suddenly washed over her. Giles was drunk, and in all the time she'd known him he'd only been drunk twice. Both those times he'd been in terrible pain…and yet the first thing she thought of was Riley…

After a beat she turned to go.

“Buffy…!” The sound was one of loss and confusion.

She froze then turned very slowly…then stopped again. He was still fast asleep.

Puzzled, she inched into the loft until she was only a couple of feet from the bed. His fists were tangled in the blankets now and his brow was furrowed, but he was definitely not awake.

At that distance she could smell the fresh smell of shampoo and the lingering aroma of minted breath, combined with only the slightest hint of whisky. He wasn't wearing a pyjama top and there were clothes scattered all over the floor. He must have recovered enough to get cleaned up…or else he had help.

That idea made her uncomfortable. It jolted to realise that she didn't want anyone else getting that personal with him…and the sudden memory of Olivia wandering around in his shirt still made the hackles rise on her neck.

“Buffy…?” he moaned again.

Her eyes widened and she stared as he moved restlessly.

Why…?

The word pierced her like a sliver of steel. It was so full of pain, loneliness…hurt.

She wanted to wake him, to stop whatever nightmare he was having, but a part of her just wanted to run. Instead she remained frozen to the spot.

“I don't know,” she whispered unsteadily.

His arm swung across in an arc and his fist hit the bed before he quieted again.

Unable to stop herself, Buffy gathered the covers that were almost off the bed and pulled them up to cover him again. She wasn't sure why she was doing it, only that she needed to do…something.

She was only inches from his face when he made a noise in his throat. Her eyes flew to the haggard face. He was still asleep, his eyes flicking frantically under his lids as his REM sleep pattern intensified. The noise had almost been a whimper.

Just as she was about to pull away it happened again, only this time it was more like a wrenching sob.

Her hand darted out, paused right above his shoulder.

“You don't need me…”

The words were barely audible, but the pain in them throbbed.

She swallowed.

“I do need you,” she whispered hoarsely, admitting it to herself for the first time in a very long time.

He made another noise and curled up into a tight foetal ball.

Again Buffy had to fight to overcome the overwhelming urge to flee. She was frightened, not least because she believed she was the cause of whatever was hurting him, but even more so because she didn't know what to do about it…didn't know if she wanted to do anything about it. He was supposed to be stronger than her, more in control…older, wiser…

She looked down at him again and sighed. And Buffy and personal issues were so of the bad…

She always made everything worse…witness today… witness her life…

Her lip trembled and she bit it hard, wishing she were a better person. A better person wouldn't want to run away; a better person wouldn't have driven him to drink in the first place…a better person would know why he was hurting…

Giles had grown very quiet. A cold shiver ran down Buffy's spine and her stomach turned over when she realised it was because he was weeping.

Before she could stop herself she knelt beside the bed and took one of his clenched fists in her hands, her own vision obscured by tears.

The touch was enough to disturb him. It took a few moments for his eyelids to flicker open but when they did he drew a sharp breath and started badly, staring disbelievingly at her for a moment with bloodshot eyes, before swallowing hard and turning away.

The desire to escape was suddenly so strong that Buffy's fingers clamped onto his fist like an anchor, choking on a stifled sob until Giles made a noise, this time of real pain. She let go her steel grip as if bitten.

“I—I'm sorry.”

“Get out,” he whispered. “Just…get out.”

She choked again. “Giles…?”

“Go…!” he said between his teeth, his anger louder than any shout.

As white as a sheet, she got to her feet and backed up several paces before stopping again. Now she had permission to run…and she couldn't do it.

“No,” she said defiantly, the effect spoiled more than a little by the wobble in her voice.

“Don't you have any number of better things to do?” he rasped. “Leave me.”

“No,” she repeated. “And you're being an asshole.”

His ragged eyes flicked to hers momentarily, then pulled away again. “And you've just been a real princess, haven't you?” he snarled.

“I've been doing my job,” she shouted. “The one you told me I had to do alone. The one I'm supposed to handle by myself…the one I'm not supposed to bother you about especially while you're busy scr—”

“Shut up!” He roared, forcing himself onto one elbow. “Just shut up. You never needed me. You always knew best…always wanted everything your own way. I've never been anything but a fucking book repository and punching bag to you, so don't you dare question my personal life. Jesus Christmy personal life…? And what a pitiful bloody excuse for a life it is,” he rasped.

“But…” she whispered. “You…we…you care about us.”

He blew out an exasperated breath. “Of course I care. I'm just tired of it.”

“Of caring?” she ventured, frightened.

The green eyes bored into hers. “I'm sick of the whole bloody lot; of caring so much, of being taken for granted, when I'm remembered at all, of not knowing…of wondering if you're going to survive another day…and who the bloody hell you're going to bring home next…” He closed his eyes again and covered his face with a large hand.

Buffy was still trying to process what he was saying. He didn't sound anything like the Giles she knew. There was no gentleness, no reassurance in the rasping, angry voice that spoke to her. He was still drunk, that much was obvious, but there was clarity in his thoughts, his tone. He meant every word.

She raised a hand to her brow, as though sheltering from his verbal battering. “I didn't mean to—” she began wretchedly.

“Oh no, you never mean to do any bloody thing,” he retorted before she could finish. “You never meant to run away; you never meant to conceal Angel's return from me and you certainly never meant to use me to baby-sit your vampire while you risked everything you stood for to save his sorry arse. And I'm sure you couldn't possibly have meant to forget I even exist…I know you had far better things to do…with Maggie fucking Walsh and her toy fucking soldiers. God forbid I should have interfered with your step up in the world!”

She stepped forward again. This wasn't the man she knew. The combination of rage, brittleness and vulnerability frightened her even more.

“Giles, please…?”

But it had been too long and he hurt too damned much. He swung up and out of bed without warning, black silk pyjamas hanging loosely on his hips, swayed and screwed his face up against the pain that shot through his head.

I don't want you here. Is that so difficult to grasp? Get OUT!”

Buffy backed up again then stopped. “Why are you doing this?” she demanded tremulously.

He stepped toward her threateningly but the truth was he didn't know why. The anger and the hurt had taken over.

“Just…just leave me alone!” he half shouted, half sobbed and stepped forward again, looming almost menacingly.

Startled, Buffy back-pedalled even further, missed her footing and tumbled backward off the landing.

For one nightmare beat Giles stared disbelievingly at the empty space, then he was racing down the stairs, sobering fast.

She was sprawled on the last few steps, unconscious. Terrified, he ran a hand over all of her limbs in seconds, thanking God, the fates, anyone he could think of that none of them were twisted or broken. As to the rest…his gut twisted. There was no way to know for certain…

Finally, he dragged himself up, forced himself to leave her to go and call the emergency number but was stopped several paces from the bottom of the steps by a low moan. He was back at her side in moments, heedless of his own fragility, of the headache that had threatened to explode his head earlier, or the stomach that had been doing the cha-cha only minutes before.

“Buffy…?”

The blue eyes flickered open and she groaned again. “I'm sorry,” she whimpered. “I'm…”

“Hush,” he whispered and took her limp hand with a trembling one of his own. “Tell me. Your back…can you feel—?”

She frowned then slowly moved her feet, whimpering with pain, and deliberately squeezed his fingers.

“I think…I think it's all working,” she managed. “But it…hurts.”

For a moment Giles's head dropped, his brow resting against her fingers. She heard him sob quietly then he was lifting her, so very gently. Within moments she was resting in his bed, every bone in her body aching.

Buffy watched his haggard face as he stroked stray blonde strands off her brow.

“Are you still mad?”

Moisture glistened in the bloodshot eyes. “As hell,” he whispered and forced himself to smile. “But it'll keep.” His face grew haunted. “I…I thought…Are you sure…?”

She nodded gingerly. “All in once piece…dented pieces…but all…there. Giles—”

“Do you want a doctor?” he asked before she could continue.

She frowned. “I don't think so. I'm guessing the bruises will be gone by morning. It just…”

“…Hurts. I know,” he said impatiently, self-consciously. “I'll get you something for the pain. I won't be long.”

Giles closed the bathroom door and leaned against it. He felt like death. Who knew one could have such a hangover so soon after tying one on? His condition was made worse by the racing of his heart rate, the throbbing of his head and the misery that threatened to engulf him. Never had he wanted a drink more…and never was there a worse time to have one.

He looked up at the ceiling. For so long he'd wanted her to actually give a damn…to grow up enough to recognise that there might be something…

And what did he do? Half kill her the moment she showed the first sign…

He snorted; first sign of what? What possible reason could there be for Buffy being back…? Unless the Nancy ninja boy was AWOL… He closed his eyes. Of course

After that row downstairs, he'd be the one she'd run to, and if he wasn't there…who was left to pick up the pieces? The rage surged again and he moved to the medicine cabinet, ripped it open and found some left over medication from some of his worse injuries. He had to squint to focus without his glasses, but the bottle was still good. A lot of what he had didn't even bear looking at any more. Three years worth…so many wounds. He slammed it closed again, the glass rattling, and stalked out.

When he reached the loft again with a glass of water Buffy had shifted enough to be under the covers and dozing lightly.

He was about to leave when her eyes opened. “Oh God, aspirin? Anything…” she moaned. “Cyanide would even be good right about now.”

He sat down close to her and put the pills in her mouth, lifted her head and supported it while she drank enough water to swallow them. She took a few extra swallows and then allowed her brow to rest against his chest.

“I'll be downstairs if you need me,” he muttered, wanting badly to escape.

She had never been quite so close to him before. It felt…strange, but she didn't want him to go anywhere. “No…please…don't go.”

He stared at her for a long moment, and then his face fell, as though he was searching for something and hadn't found it.

“Why? When exactly did I suddenly become 'someone you can count on,' again?” he asked softly, the gentleness in his eyes in direct contrast to the hurt and anger in his voice. “I thought I was 'the funny drunk, drooling on your shoe.'” He was gone before she could answer.

Buffy cringed into the pillow. It smelled like Giles's hair, just as the covers smelled of Giles…of his cologne, of him. She moved her arms, despite her aching shoulders, and pulled the pillow against her, wrapped her small, aching body around it, and let the tears come.

Giles sat in his chair in the living room, an unused glass in his unsteady hand. The bottle was still in the kitchen where he'd left it. For the last few minutes his mind had been resurrecting images, memories…things to hurt…

Buffy asking him to lie to her; Buffy asking him to take her out for her birthday; Buffy trying to tell him how to conduct a date with Jenny… A smile flickered on his lips, then died as the memory of Jenny led him straight to the moment when he discovered the prophecy about the Master…and worse, when he'd come round, only to find that she'd taken his place, and marched off to her death alone…just as she'd ultimately faced Angelus alone…

…Just as she would almost certainly now face Adam…

He put his elbow on the chair and buried his face in his hand. Despair washed over him. What exactly did he want…? He didn't want her to die. He didn't want her to be alone. He didn't want to be alone…

A sob rose in his throat and tore itself jaggedly from him. He didn't want to live without her…

On the stairs, Buffy stood unsteadily, still clutching his pillow to her, watching him. The sound tore through her. And again, and again, as she walked gingerly, painfully across to the living area, her bare feet making no sound as she moved.

Only when he felt trembling fingers rest on his head, then a perfumed brow against his hair, did Giles realise he wasn't alone. He sobbed again and heard hers mingle with it, and then felt her arms moving around his shaking shoulders.

“I'm sorry,” she whimpered like a frightened child. “I'm sorry…”

For long moments neither moved, Buffy holding him until he grew quiet and his head rested wearily against her.

“What happened to us?” she whispered. “God…what did I do to us? What did I do?”

Giles lifted his head then, much as he would have preferred to stay as they were… perhaps even forever. He touched her face gently and waited until she smiled tentatively before drawing himself from the circle of her arms and rising to gather her in his.

Buffy wasn't prepared for that…for the way it felt, the way she felt as she sank into the shirtless warmth of him and the way his arms felt as they closed around her and folded her bruised body against him. For several long moments they held each other in silence, each somehow slowly blending into the other until all either of them could feel was the heat, the comfort of the other.

Giles drew his arms tighter. He couldn't speak, couldn't do anything but hold on…hold tight to a moment that might never come again.

Time stretched into eternity…until, finally, Buffy made an involuntary noise that reminded them both how bruised and battered she was. Again Giles impulsively put an arm under her knees and lifted her, his head thumping violently as he bent, straightened and carried her back up stairs.

When he would have straightened after putting her back to bed she reached out swiftly to touch his face.

“Please don't go.”

He closed his eyes, sighed, and sat down on the side of the bed.

“Tell me,” she said softly.

He opened them again and sighed resignedly. “I've missed you,” he said hoarsely. “Terribly.”

Buffy didn't answer immediately. Finally the blue eyes found his.

“I didn't…I thought you wanted me to be independent…to…”

“I didn't want you to die simply because I wasn't there to support you,” he whispered. “I handled it badly…telling you…but I couldn't be near you…no library, no cover…you had to be able to make decisions instantly if necessary…” He looked away. “You had to be able to do it without me.”

“But…it's not really how you wanted it to be?” she guessed, her voice cracking.

He shook his head without looking at her. “Is it so hard to understand…?” He paused for a beat, swallowed, squared his shoulders and turned his head so that his green eyes looked straight into hers. “Is it so difficult to believe that an old man like me could possibly love you…even a little?”

Buffy's eyes widened and grew very bright and she made a noise in her throat without letting her lips part.

“I'm sorry,” he whispered, reddening. “I shouldn't have told you that. It's just the grog talking,” he added self-consciously and looked away again. “I…I'm not getting any younger, Buffy. I have no future…no life…and no prospect of ever having one. I've no family, no career…and none of you have any use for me beyond using my apartment as some kind of neighbourhood hangout. You don't even need me to research. You all know how to use the books…Willow and Tara seem to be more than capable of handling the rest…”

Still stunned, Buffy stared at the pale, lonely profile, anger at his self-pity warring with the knowledge that he was right, that they'd all neglected their friendship shamefully for far too long…that she'd withdrawn so far she'd pretty much cut herself off from him in every way that truly mattered. In the end the fallout of her anger, colliding with the sudden surge of sorrow and guilt, built a knot in her stomach that rose and almost choked her.

Giles turned at the sound and searched her face, the blue eyes now hopelessly cluttered with moisture.

“God, who…who ever said we were supposed to have a future?” she asked tremulously. “Families, lives, careers…they're for other people…for Will and Xander…not for us. You taught me that.” He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off. “Oh, not with words…I know you wanted me to go to college, to have a life, but you're the one who told me I have a destiny…An obligation, you said…I'm the Chosen One…and I have to live with that. No worrying about wrinkles or being twenty-nine forever or stretchmarks or…kids…” she sighed. “No building a future for Buffy,” she added bitterly, reached out and let the backs of her fingers slide down a roughened cheek. “And none for Rupert either,” she added sadly.

Giles' heart leapt at her first ever use of his name and a tremor went through him at her touch, but he didn't speak.

She continued. “It may not say anything in the books about a Chosen One and her friends but there are two words that even I know are never separated: Watcher and Slayer, Giles; you and me.”

He drew a pained breath and blinked several times so that he could see through the blur. “Always,” he whispered. “Oh, God. I should never have…”

But he got no further, overwhelmed for several moments by her sudden embrace, before returning it just as fiercely.

“Don't leave me again, Giles,” she whispered near his ear. “I can't do it without you…I'm not supposed to do it without you.” She kissed his bristly cheek and leaned back a little. “And besides,” she added, her mouth trembling as she brushed the moisture from his cheeks, his lashes. “If…if we live through this battle with Adam, I don't ever want us to have another year like this one…”

“Nor I,” he managed in a hoarse, broken whisper.

She managed a damp but tender smile. “I've never told you…I never knew how…I love you, Giles. You should know that, before…well,” she stopped, hunched her shoulders awkwardly. “A-After all the bad this year, I wanted you to know.”

Colour suffused his pale cheeks, made his green eyes sparkle and glow and the slow smile that lit his face changed the aura of misery around him to one of warmth and pleasure.

Buffy couldn't help but smile back, just as radiantly.

But it was too much, too fast, and their faces fell just as quickly. The very real impending prospect of each other's death shook both of them to the core. Neither could either stop the surge of emotion that followed, nor the instinctive reaching for each other.

“I won't let you die,” Giles whispered vehemently against her hair. “I won't.”

Buffy shifted then, from burying her face in his chest, to circling his neck again with her arms and laying her cheek against his. “If you get yourself killed I'll never forgive you,” she warned. “A Slayer should never outlive her Watcher.”

He drew her away a little and looked at her despairingly, holding her face in his big hands.

She tried to smile, but neither of them could quite manage it. That truth was one both of them had tried valiantly to avoid for a long time…

After a beat Giles rested his brow against hers very gently. “She will this time, if I have anything to say about it,” he told her softly. “But first there will be a long and satisfying intermission within which to thumb our noses at both prophecy and convention.”

Buffy's arms tightened around his neck. “Nose thumbing at prophecy sounds totally of the good,” she agreed in a teasing tone. “But what exactly does 'convention' mean, Watcher mine?”

He lifted his brow and kissed hers, sending a shudder through the slender body before the gentle green eyes found and held hers.

“Depends on what you want it to mean,” he told her quietly.

Another shudder went through her. The softness of his voice was belied by the intensity of his tone. Her eyes dropped. Something had shifted between them in the last few minutes. Something irrevocable.

For a moment that became an eternity, she didn't move, didn't speak…simply continued to hold on to him without looking up, as though she might spin off into oblivion if she were to let go.

So many things collided in her thoughts, past loves, past mistakes, the first day she ever saw Giles…and the first time he ever saved her life; the first moment she saw him as person, a flawed, vulnerable, ordinary human being. A man. The day the Hills stopped being alive…

So many more memories all blurred together with the passion, the terror and the pain that was Angel, the mistakes that were Scott and Parker and the comfort of Riley…and out of all of it emerged only one constant, one face whose visage never changed, whose faith never wavered…until now.

Slowly, very slowly, she lifted her face, bringing her mouth so close to his that he could feel her breath on his cheek.

“Show me,” she whispered.

His fingers trembled against her cheeks and his breath stilled. He could barely form the word. “Buffy…”

“Show me,” she repeated, moving her face even closer to his.

As though handling the most fragile porcelain he touched his lips to hers, brushing them as softly as a butterfly's wing, and felt her tremble again beneath his fingertips.

“Again,” she sighed, and when the velvet lips touched hers once more, moaned very softly, and again, as he responded by covering her tender mouth with his.

And then he was kissing her with all the passion and fire he'd kept locked away for so long…so long he was almost afraid to release it again. A fear soon banished by the warm body that moulded itself to his, the tender lips that gave themselves so wholly, so passionately, to his.

He lifted his head, breathing raggedly, and stared at her disbelievingly. “Buffy…? I thought…?”

She looked up at him, her face rosy and her eyes glowing. “Don't think,” she said softly.

His hands slid away. “But…”

Buffy's smile widened. “I thought I'd lost you,” she said wonderingly. “I thought we were done…and it hurt so much a part of me wanted to die…but you…” She couldn't help lifting her fingers to touch his hair. “…You love me.”

Giles couldn't help smiling at the disbelief in her voice. “Am I so old and creaky that it's such a terrible shock?”

She couldn't help but grin. “Oh God, you're never going to let me live that down, are you?”

He shook his head. “Is there a reason why I should?”

Her expression sobered. “No…there's really not,” she agreed sadly. “But you're not old. You never were. I just wasn't ready to see it…not then, not while…”

He sighed, the rest of the sentence already completed in his head. “And if he were to return tomorrow, wanting to carry you away forever?”

She smiled radiantly and shook her head. “He'd be way too late,” she said emphatically. “Forever is already taken.”

“Riley?” Giles asked, because he had to.

Buffy shook her head. “Angel was yesterday; Riley is today.” She leaned against him again and slid her arms around him. “And I've only just discovered tomorrow.”

Giles closed his eyes and enveloped her as an enormous wave of relief, amazement and love swept over him.

“No matter what happens,” he whispered into her hair, “I promise you all the tomorrows you want.”


* * *