Stay | Epilogue to Checkpoint

They were gone. They were finally all gone. Buffy emerged from her training room, where she'd more or less hidden since Quentin had told her about Glory.

It was more than she wanted to deal with…that revelation, and the wall-to-wall Watchers. She rubbed her arms. The workout she'd just put herself through had helped, but not much. What she needed was to talk to Giles…about Glory, about what had happened there today, and most of all about what was bothering him. Because something sure as hell was…

She slipped back into the main part of the store, surprised to find the place in shadows. They wouldn't have left her here alone…

There was a clink.

“Giles?”

“They've all gone home,” he said quietly.

“What are you doing?”

“Playing darts with the Queen,” he retorted in a ridiculously reasonable tone.

Buffy came to the table and took the bottle. It was half empty. She felt close to bursting into tears, until she looked down. There were two glasses in front of him, one clean, one empty, but soiled.

“Quentin need a lot of fortification after his visit?” she asked quietly.

“Not nearly as much as me,” Giles said even more q        uietly.

“But you didn't…yet?”

He looked up at her sideways, once again without his damaged glasses. The lens had obviously decided not to stay in after all.

“Does it matter?”

“Why did you have that bottle in the shop?”

“It was only…just in case I…”

“Giles, you've never…I mean, I know why Eyghon…and then the Spike thing…but you're not…you don't need this.” She threw it angrily but surely across the room, where it shattered against the training room door.

He snorted. “Bravo.”

“Giles?”

“What do you want from me, Buffy? You saw me today. Great useless pillock.”

“Is that what you think?”

“That's what I know,” he said harshly. “Thank you, by the way, for the job and the money.”

“You're welcome,” she retorted. “Sure you don't want to hit me or something?”

“Does it ever really matter…what I want?” he said softly, almost to himself, fingering the clean class.

“Giles, we have to fight a god. Do you have to get all introspective now?” she teased, trying to goad him out of whatever this destructive mood was about.

“No, I suppose not,” he said wearily. “Quentin didn't say she was omnipotent, just another godling.”

“Godling?”

“Yes, rather like Cordelia's 'Powers that Be.' Powerful, but not without an Achilles heel or two.”

“Then…then I can beat her?”

“Perhaps.”

“Giles!”

He sighed and stood up to face her. “What?”

“What's wrong with you? I thought you…I thought…” She stopped suddenly, unaware until now, of just how profound her disappointment was, how hurt she felt that after everything that had happened, she couldn't share it with him. She knew something had been wrong with him, from the moment he announced that they were coming, but…

“You thought I should be thrilled to be reinstated and…somewhat overwhelmed with my newfound wealth? Well I am, thank you.”

Buffy stared. “What is wrong with you?”

“Oh, good lord, what could possibly be wrong with *me*?” he demanded sarcastically and turned toward the counter. “Nothing is ever wrong with me, is it?”

“I'm sorry,” Buffy said softly.

He stopped in his tracks.

“For what?” he asked, not entirely steadily, and without turning.

“For whatever it is I did. However I failed you this time. I'm sorry.”

Giles moved the short distance to lean, palms down, on the counter. He was silent for a long time. “You didn't fail me, Buffy. Never think that…My God, you were magnificent, today.” His head dropped a little more, his rage faltering. “I failed you.”

Buffy took several steps towards him out of sheer reflex then stopped again.

“How? How could you have failed me? You were here. You got me through this.”

“I bumbled through this. Last time I damn near got you killed. This time I was so paralysed with my own inadequacy I could barely look even you…or anyone else…in the eye,” he said quietly.

Buffy's lips pressed together. Giles was supposed to be the strong one. The two times the situation had been reversed were two of the most terrifying of her life. They had eventually gotten through the Eyghon debacle, together, and the Spike incident had resolved itself with blessed speed, but both times would remain etched in her mind forever.

She couldn't lose him…even to the bottle. Life without him was…inconceivable.

Her brows drew together. “I noticed that,” she said softly. “Since when have you not been able to look at me? When…when I told you I couldn't lose you, before…you looked happy…for about a second. Then you looked…I don't know…tense…again.”

He didn't turn. “I spent the last twenty years of my life in service. I gave up everything… everything, for this calling.”

“I don't understand,” Buffy whispered, frightened.

“No…I don't suppose you do. I never wanted any of this. I never wanted them…but I became them. I am them. I proved that with the Cruciamentum, didn't I? I never stopped being them, really. I'm the one who went back. I'm the one who brought them here…”

“So…you're ashamed of being a Watcher…or of not being Watcher?”

Giles made a noise that was halfway between frustration and despair.

“Look around you, Buffy. This is me, now. Shopkeeper Giles.”

“But…didn't you want to be a grocer once?” she offered, lost.

“When I was ten years old,” he said hoarsely. “Before I understood the nature of the world and the bastards who populated mine.”

“So retail definitely somewhere below tweed now?”

He rubbed a hand over his face and pushed his hair back. “Do you really have any idea what I'm talking about?” he asked sadly.

She moved up until she was standing in front of him. “Sure I do. They made you feel like a loser and a failure. They make you remember stuff you'd rather forget. You tried to deal so you could help me and now all the mad is coming out whether you want it to or not,” she said softly, then half smiled. “I liked it when you yelled at Quentin, by the way. Arrogant old bastard.”

“Buffy!”

She tilted her head at him and spread her hands. “Lookee, all grown up now,” she teased.

He half smiled, despite the pain in his eyes. “Yes you are. And yes, I did rather enjoy it.”

“But you'd rather have used something that left a mark…or two?” she teased.

He actually laughed a little. “A two by four would have been satisfying.”

“A crossbow,” she added, joining in.

“A bloody good, heavy baseball b…” he began, but his voice shook in the middle of it.

Buffy knew why, and had to bite her lip to stop it from trembling.

“You're the strongest, bravest man I know,” she told him, ignoring the colour rising from his collar, the disbelief in his eyes. “You were, even then. I told you then that I couldn't do this without you. I still can't lose you, Giles. Don't you know that yet? Don't you know it's not because of what you can teach me or train me to do, or research for me? It's not even for tea or donuts or your sage advice.”

“Then what?” he asked roughly. “My good looks?”

Her eyes glittered with moisture. “You really don't know? You're really going to make me say it?”

Giles closed his eyes. “Well, it obviously isn't something world shattering. All that's left is home, the car and this store. Other than that I'm not worth a damn to anyone.”

“You are *to me*,” she said angrily, her tone forcing his head back up and his eyes to find hers, startled. “You're so busy wallowing in your self pity and your…your wasted life, you're not listening to me.”

“Listening to what? You telling me you *need me* again? Fine. You need me. I need you to need me. We both win,” he retorted, suddenly wishing she hadn't smashed that bottle.

“I need you,” she confirmed and stepped close enough to look up at him fiercely. “I've always needed you, “even when you didn't think I did.”

“Like you did last year? I thought Maggie Walsh and young Finn and his toy soldiers were all you needed then,” he observed harshly.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked helplessly. “We won today…we should be celebrating, together.”

“*You* won today,” he qualified. “You did it. You finally understand who and what you are. You don't need me any more.”

Buffy drew a sharp breath. “Have you been listening to a word I said?” she demanded angrily. “I need you now more than ever…you can't leave me.”

She saw the shudder go through him at the memories those words recalled and instinctively took his hands with hers. They were warm and strong, and not quite steady.

Buffy was shocked to realise she'd never held them before…In fact, except for him helping her up occasionally after sparring…and that horrible, horrible day, after Angelus…they'd never…

She drew the hands up to her throat and held them there. “You can't leave me,” she said again, when his eyes found and held hers.

“You don't need me.”

“Yes I do!” she argued.

He loosed his hands and pulled away. “Buffy, this is ridiculous. You are now, arguably, the finest Slayer who ever lived, if not the oldest. You're a grown woman, and you've just taken down one of the most powerful bodies in the world. You hardly need a broken down ex-librarian for anything, except weapons storage and research materials.”

“What happened to 'Watcher' and 'friend'?” she demanded angrily. “They don't count for crap any more?”

He refused to look at her.

“I don't understand. You can't do this…Not now…is it another test?”

“No,” he said quickly. “No more tests,” he told her wretchedly. “J…just me r-realising it's time to let go.”

“Let go? Giles, Riley let me go. Angel let me go. God, Parker let me go!” Her voice broke. “D-don't. Please, God, don't do this now.”

Giles clenched his fists. If he had learned anything from this day it was that she had grown beyond him. She was now in control of her own destiny and he was only going to be in the way.

“I'm sorry, Buffy,” he whispered. “I will always be there if you need me, but I don't expect you ever will again, not truly. Not after today.”

“No. You aren't doing this, you bastard! Not now…you can't!” she cried and set upon him, beating and beating at his arms, his chest, anywhere she could hit him with her fists.

At first it seemed he wasn't going to stop her, until, finally, he did catch her fists, one at time.

“Stop it,” he said softly. “You're not a child any more. You have a destiny you have to face…”

“Giles,” she sobbed, forcing him, finally, to look down. “Don't do this. You can't go,” she repeated, fighting to wrest back her fists.

Giles tried hard to keep hold of them. “For your sake, I have to,” he told her miserably.

“You can't!” she shouted.

For God's sake, why not?” he shouted back, tortured by her pain.

“Because I love you, God damn you! I can't lose you because I love you…I need you because I love you. Are you getting it yet, Mister touch-me-not, I know what's best for everyone except myself, Giles?”

He let go of her hands and stumbled back.

“Buffy, I…” But he couldn't speak. His eyes searched her flushed face, her angry, flashing grey eyes. They locked with his, everything that was in her heart pouring out to him through those soft portals. His breath caught.

For all the time they had been together, he knew both of them had recognized a connection, a need for each other. Certainly he knew he could not live without her. No matter how close, or how far away he might be, losing her would be like losing a part of his soul…

And yet in five years neither of them had ever spoken a word about feelings, about… love…until he'd begun to wonder if, outside of their shared destiny, Buffy in fact had no such feelings for him…that any affection was no more than she afforded Xander or Willow…or indeed any of the other members of the gang.

“Giles? Say something!” she begged, a little desperately, a little harshly.

He opened his mouth automatically to speak, but he had no idea what to say, despite his heart swelling and almost bursting with the need to say something. Instead the overwhelming surge of emotion found escape via another route.

Buffy's eyes widened as the gentle green ones filled with moisture.

Only once had Buffy seen him weep, and that a dry, rasping grief, not this. Not the suppressed emotion that now burned in his eyes, meeting her declaration and embracing it with all she could have ever hoped to see in them…

In a heartbeat she was moving, a blur that leaped into his arms and threw its own around his neck, his wrapping with equal fervour around her, his eyes closing as she wept quietly against his hair.

For long minutes, as though both were afraid this was the only moment of truth they might ever have, they held on to each other, unwilling to let go, to face the reality of being alone again.

Finally, reluctantly, Giles set her down, only to have her lean against his chest, sniffing a little, but not ready to move away. He kept his arms loosely around her waist, unsure what to do next.

“Will I be able to win this time, Giles?” she said quietly. “Or is this going to be my time? I can't fight a god…even a little one…can I?”

He closed his eyes for a moment then bent his head to kiss the top of hers. “You can, and you will,” he said firmly. “We'll fight this one together…perhaps even all of us, this time.”

“Like Adam?” she murmured into his shirt.

“Like Adam,” he confirmed. “Only this time we shall have to find a way to appease the first slayer before we borrow from her. I'm not sure any of us want to confront her again, if it can be avoided.”

She chuckled a little and pulled back to look at him. “True. I like your hair. I want it to stay where it is.”

His face grew very gentle as she pushed one of his lengthening locks off his ear and gently stroked it behind.

“Thank you,” he said, and this time the words were tender and amused. There was no regret, no doubts in his eyes, only contentment.

At first Buffy smiled back at him, then her face slowly grew serious again and she looked up at him intently.

“Stay with me?” she asked again. “Please?”

He released her, but didn't move away. “I said we would fight this thing together,” he reminded her.

She didn't even blink. “Stay with me?” she asked again.

He tilted his head a little.

“You're right. I can do this now,” she rushed on. “Maybe I can even do it alone. But I don't want to. I want to do it with you…and with the others…but nothing, none of it matters without you. I don't care about any of it, if it means losing you.”

He shifted a little, not normally by nature, a tactile or particularly expressive man in tense emotional moments, and more than a little overwhelmed.

Buffy watched him, knowingly, a little afraid, a little hopeful.

“I almost left once before,” he admitted unexpectedly.

She blinked, stunned. “You did?” She blinked again. “Oh, right. Last year…when the…the…Spike thing happened, right?”

He shook his head slowly. “It was when Dracula appeared. I'd already made my decision, long before…during the summer, in fact. I tried to have Willow transcribe all my texts to her laptop. I even financed a hard-drive or whatever it is, big enough to store it all. She was going to make you a library of um…those little disk things…”

“CD-Roms,” Buffy supplied numbly. “Why?”

“It was pointless, my staying,” he said quietly. “It had become painfully obvious that you neither needed or particularly wanted me in your life. You had Riley, the others. I was adrift. Not that I-I wasn't very proud of the way you've matured, accepted your destiny…”

“But you were still going to leave?”

“You didn't need me any more.”

Buffy searched his face. “You didn't go…” she said finally, revelation lighting her face.

He looked down, self-consciously, at his shoes. “No.”

Her eyes grew very bright. “Thank you,” she said in a voice that trembled.

The handsome head came back up, and he smiled a little, self-consciously.

“You didn't answer my question,” she said softly.

The green eyes filled with puzzlement.

“Stay…?” she asked, and the word had a hundred meanings, none of them separable or needing to be separated.

His face cleared and his smile grew as bright as his eyes. Once again, however, his voice failed him. He simply didn't have the words, but her response told him that he didn't need them.

Buffy's smile grew radiant, joy in her own overbright eyes as she read the answer in his and nodded.

“Stay…” she whispered, content.


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