Aftershock | Epilogue to Becoming

Xander stumbled out onto the street with Giles, almost leg-less, trying to support his weight, to put as much distance between them and the mansion as possible. He was trying to stop shaking, and to focus on what he had to do. Listening to the older man's cries of pain as he'd hauled him up the stairs had shaken him almost as much as the first sight of the librarian, bound and broken in that chair.

He parked Giles in the garden of the first house he saw with lights on and banged on its door. It was fortunate for them that they agreed to let him use their phone…

And Oz must have set records getting the van there. An ambulance had been out of the question until the Angel issue was definitively resolved.

If it was resolved, he thought bitterly as Oz helped him lift Giles into the back of the vehicle. The trip to hospital was mercifully brief, Xander holding his friend, who'd slipped back into a concussion and shock induced torpor, trying to protect the damaged hand and arm from any bumping or jolting.

Worse for the boy had been listening to Giles' tormented delirium. His quiet, if muffled, appeals to Angel for mercy on the basis of their friendship tore at Xander even more than the cries of agony as he relived the breaking of his arm, his fingers, or the quiet weeping as he periodically uttered Jenny Calendar's name.

The nurse in ER tried to banish both boys but folded in the face of their stubborn refusal to even blink, let alone budge so that she settled for admonishing them to stay out of the way as attendants flew into action around Giles.

"That 'rescued from a gang' story is getting way old," Oz muttered as they watched.

Xander nodded blankly. "We'll have to work on a new one. How about: 'tortured for hours by a sadistic, soul-less bastard who also happens to be a vampire'…?"

Oz raised an eyebrow at the brittleness of Xander's tone. "Works for me," he said as Giles was being wheeled out of ER.

Xander rushed forward. "Where are you taking him?" he demanded.

The orderly looked up and blinked, holding the IV bottle steady as a second orderly turned the gurney. Giles was still out of it, but there was now a dressing on his forehead, and a canula in his good hand for the drip.

"X-ray, Orthopaedics. It'll be a while," he said. And then they were gone.

"I better go tell Willow," Oz said quietly.

Xander nodded jerkily. "I'll wait," he whispered.

When they finally brought him back Giles was more or less conscious and trying to ask questions. His fingers were set and splinted and there was a fresh cast on his arm.

Xander immediately went to his side, touched his shoulder. "Giles, man, I'm here," he said softly, ignoring the admonishments from the orderlies to step back.

"Buffy?" he muttered.

Xander's eyes glittered. "No, it's me, Xander."

"Xander? Where is…?"

"She's coming. Everything's gonna be fine. Just rest, and she'll be here," he called as the gurney was wheeled back into a cubicle in the ER.

The attending nurse was watching him. "We're going to ward him shortly," she said gently. "Your friend did the paperwork, and organised a private room. If you'd like to wait—"

Xander turned a damp face to hers. "I'm not going anywhere."

"I know," she said softly, "but there's a chair in the cubicle. If you sit quietly while he's waiting to go up, you can stay with him. He's going to be okay, you know. Twenty-four hours to recover from the dehydration and the shock, and some time for the concussion to settle down and you won't know him…"


*******


"Giles is here? I want to see him," Willow demanded. "Is Buffy with him?"

Oz shook his head. It had been hard enough leaving her right after the spell, when she was so weak and exhausted, without hauling her around the hospital in her condition. He wondered where Cordelia was.

"He hasn't been admitted yet. They said it could take up to an hour." He wasn't sure what to say about Buffy, who still hadn't surfaced.

"How is he? Is he all right?"

"Yeah…pretty much…he has a concussion and his hands are kinda busted up, but he's going to be okay," he said as lightly as he could manage. "Maybe tomorrow we could steal a wheel chair," he offered. "Where's Cordy?"

Willow, already pale, frowned. "Home—parental." Her eyes locked with his.
"Tonight," she announced, and when Oz would have argued, pointed to her face. "Resolved face, remember? Help me, or I'll go on my own."

Oz half-smiled. "Blackmail. I can deal. But if you so much as swoon, you're back here, pronto, you got that?"

She grinned and nodded, then the smile washed off her face. "Oz?"

"Yeah, baby?" he said softly.

"Go see how he is…a—and tell Buffy I'm sorry if the curse didn't work…"

He looked away. "Buffy isn't here," he said softly, unable to lie to her. "But I'm sure she's on her way…"

*******

"Xander, I'm going back to the mansion to look for Buffy. She should have been here by now, and Willow's looking for her."

"Buffy…" Xander said softly, rising from the plastic seat in the ER cubicle and sliding a glance at the sedated Giles. "I didn't even think…"

Oz's shoulders hunched. "Yeah, well, we're all used to her taking care of herself. I just assumed…you don't think…?"

Xander shook his head too quickly. "We're still here, aren't we? That means either Will's spell worked or she…she killed him, right?"

Oz swallowed. "Yeah, right," he said, because it was what Xander wanted to hear. "I'll be as quick as I can. If she's not at the mansion, I'll try her house."

But the mansion was deserted. All that remained were Giles' glasses, bent and broken on the floor, broken pottery, and a butt-ugly statue. Oz sighed and did a room to room search anyway, before heading for Buffy's home.

Joyce Summers was in no condition to find out they didn't know where Buffy was, and Oz regretted asking the moment the words were uttered.

"She isn't with you? With the others?"

Oz shook his head, wondering if she'd been drinking. "Willow and Giles are both hospitalised and Xander is with them. We were worried…I mean, Buffy can take care of herself…but she hasn't been to the hospital yet…"

Joyce closed her eyes, a tear squeezing under a strained lid. "I told her not to come back," she whispered. "It's my fault…"

Oz, aware that he probably wasn't meant to hear, remained silent until she opened her eyes again.

"We'll find her," he said quietly and turned to go. "She's probably on her way to the hospital now. One of us will call when she gets there."


*****


Xander was sitting in an armchair next to Giles' hospital bed, his face in his hands, when the door to the private room opened and Oz pushed Willow in, tucked into a hospital wheelchair and looking much the worse for wear. He parked the chair right next to the other side of the bed.

Nobody spoke, because Giles was sleeping peacefully, but no one moved either.

Willow looked across and met Xander's gaze briefly, before his hollow eyes slid away again. Then she studied Giles, his face, his hands, the splints, the cast, then back to his haggard face again, her eyes growing large in her small face, her mouth trembling.

Eventually she reached out and gently lay her hand on his shoulder. Oz looked away and Xander went to look out the hospital window.

It was another twenty minutes before Giles stirred, calling out in his sleep.

"Buffy!" He jolted awake, his eyes springing open, then closing again against the light, his brow furrowing as it became evident that his medication had all but worn off. He tried to move his bad arm and groaned.

The sound was enough to send Xander looking for a nurse.

"Giles," Willow said softly, "it's okay, you're safe."

He opened his eyes very slowly and turned his head toward her, wincing as he did so. The green eyes widened when he saw her dressing, the chair. "Willow…what…? You…all right?"

She nodded slowly. "They said my brain's not mooshed."

"G…Good," he said, almost to himself. "Buffy…?"

Willow's fingers moved from his shoulder to his good hand, squeezed it. "She's not back yet, but we're still here. No sucking into hell…so she's gotta be okay, right?"

He closed his eyes again. "God…" he said softly.

She bit her lip. "Giles, I tried the curse again. I think…I don't know…but I think it might have worked. Something happened. The orb disappeared. She might be with Angel…"

His face screwed up against the pain, and he took several deep breaths. "Perhaps…" he whispered, but his eyes, when he opened them, said otherwise.

It hurt Willow's tender heart to see the depth of the trauma in them, the worry for Buffy. It made her angry that the other girl hadn't shown, despite her own growing fears.

Then Xander was back with a nurse. Giles was given more painkillers and made comfortable, before the nurse slipped away.

"Calling 'time' now," Oz said gently, when Willow would have settled in again. He could see how pale and tired she was.

Willow's fingers closed more tightly around Giles'.

His eyes slid to her face and he smiled weakly. "I'm all right, Willow…Oz is right. You must rest, or you'll make yourself ill."

Her eyes held his for a long moment, then she nodded and let go of his hand. "I'll be back in the morning," she promised as Oz withdrew the chair.

Xander closed the door and went back to Giles. "Can I get you anything? Water? Pizza? A movie?"

Giles smiled half-heartedly. "My own bed, a cup of tea and…" The smile faded.

Xander looked inquiringly into the green eyes, looked away quickly and closed his own.

"She'll come," he said roughly. "I know she will."


*******

It was after two a.m. when Giles stirred again, despite a third dose of painkillers at midnight. He opened his eyes in the half-light of the hospital room without really knowing why, the glow of a nightlight enough for him to make out Xander's sleeping profile in the chair next to the bed.

There was a small noise, like a foot shuffling. He turned his head the other way and his drug-glazed eyes widened in surprise.

A shaking hand reached out and moved stray hairs away from his dressing, off his brow, then stroked it gently.

"I was worried…" he whispered, drowsing again, his eyes closing.

"I'm sorry."

He felt soft lips brush his temple, pause, tremulously, for a moment, then withdraw, almost reluctantly.

"I'm sorry I can't stay…"

The door clicked.

His brow knitted and he tried to open his eyes again, failed. Instead his good hand reached up very slowly to his cheek, one finger touching a single drop of moisture that had fallen on it, before sliding bonelessly to the pillow, to rest alongside his head.

After a beat his eyes finally flickered open and his head turned toward the door, but the room was empty.

"Buffy…" he whispered.


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