Tomorrows | Epilogue to The Prom
The last stragglers wandered out the door even as the clean up crew were already hard at clearing away the remnants of what had turned out to be a successful evening.
Rupert Giles got up from the chair he'd been sitting in for the last hour and stretched. He was looking forward to going home. Wyndham-Pryce had allowed himself to be talked into taking Cordelia Chase home a half an hour earlier, Xander and Willow had left together with their dates and he'd seen Buffy and Angel slip out not a quarter of an hour before.
It hadn't surprised him that they'd continued to dance long after the music finished. It hadn't surprised him that Angel had chosen to come to the prom after all. Love was something he understood only too well. And whatever else Angel might have been, he did love her, almost as much he, himself did
The evening air was brisk. Giles fished in his pocket for his car keys as he headed for the Citroen. He caught a glimpse of colour in the shadows of the park across the street when he looked up.
His eyes narrowed and he walked toward it. It wasn't safe for the students to linger in the shadows at this time of night, prom or no. He was within a few metres of the figure when he stopped again. He recognised the dress.
It was Buffy, sitting on the grass a few metres from several hell-hound corpses, looking like a lost child. It wasn't until he'd almost reached her that he could see the blank, shuttered expression, the paleness of her face.
"Buffy?" he said gently.
She turned and looked up at him. "Shouldn't you be chaperoning?" she said dully.
"It's all quite over. I was on my way home. I'll give you a lift."
She shook her head.
"Buffy you can't stay here like this. For one thing it would be extremely difficult to fight in that dress," he teased. "And you don't have a shovel."
"I can't feel anything," she whispered. "It hurts so much."
Giles' heart constricted. "You can't escape from your own heart, Buffy. But that doesn't mean you can't still fight the pain," he told her softly, remembering. "Eventually Eventually it will lessen and you'll be able to function, most of the time. And then, one day, you'll discover that the pain has retreated to a small corner inside you, where"
Buffy looked up at him again. "Giles, don't," she said tremulously, the moisture in her eyes glittering in the moonlight. "Not for me."
His eyes grew very gentle and he extended a tuxedoed arm.
She stared at the hand for a long moment, then reached up and slid hers into it.
"Ice cream?" she asked damply as she gained her feet.
He smiled. "Ice cream."
He could feel the tension in her, but said nothing. She was a remarkable childremarkable young woman, he corrected himself, but in all their time together Buffy had rarely shared any of her own pain with anyone. It was a flaw, but one he understood only too well.
The ice-cream parlour was closed. Giles looked down at his passenger, at the look of resignation on her face.
"Jelly donuts," he said suddenly.
She looked up at him, bemused, and saw the concern in his eyes, despite the lightness of his tone.
"Jelly donuts a whole box to ourselves," he explained.
Warmth sparkled in the hollow eyes. "And hot chocolate," she added.
The donut store was warm and aromatic, but the late hour meant it was empty of customers. A bored, middle-aged attendant slid out of a chair at one of the tables and stretched, then sauntered over to the counter.
"What can I do you for?" he asked, obviously amused by their attire. "Had a big evening?"
Giles shot a look at Buffy, who was pointedly studying the merchandise.
"Quite. A box of mixed jelly donuts, to go."
The man folded a box and began filling the order. "You two look good together. Don't let anyone tell you different. Love don't know from age. Take my wife and me. Thirty years we've been married. She was seventeen, I was thirty-five. Nobody gave us a chance "
His voice faded as Buffy abruptly turned and left the store. "I'm sorry," he said, handing Giles the box and taking the money. "Did I say something wrong?"
"I'm afraid so," Giles said tightly, turned and went after her. He was relieved to see her sitting in the car.
"I'm sorry" he began as he slid behind the wheel.
Buffy shook her head. "It's funny, really," she said in a brittle tone. "There's over two hundred years and a lifetime between Angel and me, and people would be more shocked if "
"Yes they would, wouldn't they?" Giles agreed in as light a tone as he could manage.
Buffy looked up at him sharply, searching his profile for any sign she'd hurt his feelings.
"Giles, I didn't mean"
He looked down at her. "I know," he said softly, and started the car.
Giles unlocked the apartment door and put on the lights, took off his jacket and put it on the coat rack. Buffy curled up on the sofa and eased her sandals off as he crossed to the kitchenette.
She felt the tension going out of her neck in spite of herself. There was something comforting and homey and reassuring about Giles' place, with its eclectic collection of bits and pieces, the vague scent of herbs mixed with the mustiness of old books and a trace of after-shave, and the familiar sounds of Giles making tea.
It didn't take long to put a tray together. He decided to open the donuts but leave them in the box. They always did in the library and familiarity, he knew, was a universal comforter.
A moment later he slid the tray on to the coffee table and straightened.
Buffy was drowsing, curled up, barefoot on the sofa, oblivious of her beautiful, but completely spoiled dress. It had been a very long, painful day.
He looked up at the ceiling, déjà vu a little too overwhelming all of a sudden. Moments later he swallowed and looked down again. Buffy was watching him.
"It doesn't really go away, does it?" she asked hollowly.
Giles looked away. "It's not the same."
"Giles, they're both dead. Neither of them is coming back to us. I don't see the difference, except maybe you have closure, and I never will."
He laughed, but there was no humour in it. "Closure? Is that what you call it?" He looked into her eyes. "Did you enjoy your dance?" he asked bitterly, and immediately wished the words unsaid.
Pain lanced across her face and she looked away.
"That was unpardonable. I I'm sorry," he stammered, and half turned, angry with himself for letting his own feelings interfere when she was in so much pain, and at a loss to know how to retrieve the situation.
"No it wasn't," Buffy said slowly, tears tracking slowly down her cheeks. "No it wasn't I'd give anything in the world for her to have been there tonight, with you."
Giles stood very still.
"It's just I feel like I'm dying inside." She looked up when he didn't answer, an edge in her voice as she continued, the tears blurring her eyes now. "Do you know how terrifying it is to look into a future without him in it? To go from knowing exactly how things are going to be to nothing just big, empty, horrible nothing?"
Giles didn't trust himself to look at her. "Yes," he whispered.
Buffy's eyes widened in horror when she realised what she'd said and worse, that there was no way to take it back, to make it right. She choked down a sob, clutched her shoes and made for the door.
Giles was there before she could open it, his hands on her shoulders, warm, strong.
"Yes," he said again as she sobbed. "And you will survive, just as I have."
She dropped the shoes and turned. "Giles, I can't," she managed between sobs. "I'm not you."
"No, you're not, thank God," he told her tenderly. "But you are the centre of my universe, and the only thing that kept me from going mad, after..." He felt her tense and took his hands away swiftly. "You won't ever be alone, Buffy, II promise you."
Buffy's eyes reached his and held them, overwhelmed by the realisation that it was true. No matter how much it was going to hurt, or how long, she really wasn't alone. Then she caught her breath, struck by the sudden revelation of just how important this dear, strong, wonderful man was to her, had always been.
She smiled then, despite the tears. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?" she asked and saw the colour flood into his cheeks.
"NNo I don't believe you have," he replied, reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Not in so many words."
She reached up and touched his cheek. "Words? Who needs words?" she said shakily, leaned against his waistcoat and put her arms around his waist.
For a split second Giles wavered, then his arms enfolded her and her embrace became a bear-hug matched fiercely by his own. Then, for the first time in a long time, he relaxed. She was there, protected and safe in his arms, not out somewhere in danger, at risk, again.
At the thought of losing her he bent his head and rested his face against her hair, wishing with all his heart that he would never have to put her in danger again. Overwhelmed suddenly by the impossibility of that he closed his eyes and shuddered.
Buffy's hand instinctively rubbed his back comfortingly for a moment.
He exhaled and smiled just a little, then followed an impulse and kissed the top of her head. A moment later he was releasing her, overcome with self-consciousness.
Buffy leaned back without releasing him entirely, her face looking weary but almost free of the misery of the day. "What happened? Did the meter expire?"
He half smiled, looked up, looked around. "I don't I'm not good at these things, Buffy"
She smiled at him then, a wide, loving smile. "That makes two of us. I'm the slayer, remember? When I reach out and touch someone, it's usually with Mister Pointy."
His green eyes came back to hers, self-consciousness forgotten, despite his acute awareness of the loose circle of her arms around his waist.
"I have wanted to do that a thousand times," he admitted quietly. "Every time I thought I'd lost you, every time you've been hurt every time I sent you into terrible danger."
"But you didn't? Giles, I know you're not really hug-challenged. I saw you with and I've met Ripper, remember? Was it me?"
"No." He touched her face without realising he'd done it. "Oh, no. It was me. I suppose, ultimately, I've been waiting for you to grow up. I've loved you since the first day you walked into the library. I thrust that book at you and you stared at me. I'll never forget the hurt look in your eyes."
Buffy tilted her head to one side. "You were in love with me?"
Giles shook his head. "You were a child, and I loved you. I have been truly in love," he whispered, "only once."
Buffy withdrew her arms then, but didn't move away.
"Besides, you have and always will belong in your heart to Angel."
Pain flashed in the blue eyes, then was banished again. "You said I was a child. Emphasis being on 'was.' What am I now?"
He put his hands in his pockets and moved away a little. "YYou're a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her," he said.
Buffy's eyes clouded. "Don't remind me," she muttered, then stepped in front of him again and pulled his hands from his pockets to hold them in hers.
"You didn't answer the question. What am I now, to you, Rupert Giles?"
He coloured to his ears. "The ttruth? I don't honestly know. Until the moment you told me Angel was leaving you all I had ever wanted to do was protect you, guide you "
" Love me?"
"But not in the biblical sense?"
Giles withdrew his hands and coloured to the roots of his hair again. "Buffy!" he scolded. Then he saw the amusement in her eyes. "Sometimes I think you just enjoy seeing me squi " His voice trailed off.
Buffy watched his eyes drop to his shoes. "Giles?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing, just a memory. HHow are you feeling now?"
"Me?" A world, a future without Angel yawned before her again and twisted her heart once more into the pretzel it was when Giles found her. She looked up and held his gaze with her hurting blue one. "The hills are not alive," she said softly.
"Would you like me to take you home?"
Buffy shook her head. "It's prom night. Would it be all right if I stayed here tonight?"
Giles' eyes widened, and then narrowed. "Buffy, I won't"
She smiled, a smile full of love and affection. "I know. I was thinking less biblical, more donuts and chocolate," she teased and rested her brow against his chest. A moment later she shuddered.
He rested a hand on her nape. "It will pass," he said gently.
They stood in silence for several moments before Buffy finally looked up.
"It will," she agreed, reached up and touched his face. "And when it does, when the hills are at least breathing again, I'll ask you again about who I am now."
He took the hand in his, pressed her fingers very briefly against his lips and nodded.
Buffy was startled at the effect that touch had on her and it showed in her eyes.
Giles saw, and smiled reassuringly. Then he was sliding an arm around her shoulders and turning her towards the coffee table.
Buffy slid an arm around his waist. "Starving."
"Dibs on the blackberry ones."