Truths | Epilogue to Helpless

Buffy watched Quentin Travers with a rage that burned with the white-hot incandescence of a star. It was not a lie to say that, had she her strength back, she truly might have killed him.

Part of the reason stood behind him, lost, bewildered, guilty. She wanted to hate him, too. Wanted to hurt him, as he had hurt her. Of all the people in her life, he was the only one whom she'd always been certain would never let her down…

Another tear rolled down her cheek and then she realised what Travers was saying. Giles was fired. Fired? The shock of that turned her insides cold. It couldn't be happening. Not again...

"…A father's love for the child…"

Buffy felt pummelled. Love? How could any of what had happened be construed as love? She thought despondently, trying hard to ignore the memories of Giles locked in combat with that second vampire, his face when he'd confessed about the drug, the desolation in his voice.

She trembled at the thought of the drug, that syringe, rage blotting out the embryonic moment of reason, and leaving her emotionally raw and bleeding again. And then Travers was in her face.

"Bite me."

And then he was gone.

God, it hurt so much. She picked up the damp cloth and tried to ease the pain in her forehead. And then Giles was there. She'd have given anything to be able to smack his face, but he was taking the cloth from her, dampening it and cleaning her wounds, so carefully, so gently.

She looked up at him, because she had to, then looked away again, unable to meet the bleak despair in his eyes. She didn't want to care about him, didn't want to forgive him.

He went on cleaning her wounds until he was satisfied that it was done properly. "I'll take you home," he said softly, his voice trembling at the last.

"No," she said vehemently. "I'll walk."

"But—"

Buffy eased herself out of the chair and turned without speaking. Her progress was stilted and her gait stiff. The door closed quietly.

Giles slumped into the chair and covered his face with his hands. He was too devastated even for tears. And angry; so angry, with the Council, with Quentin, and most of all with himself. Everything Buffy had said to him in the last few days had been a trusting cry for help, for friendship.

His body trembled with the strength of his feelings, his self-loathing. Blindly following orders like some half-wit foot soldier with no independent thought and no free will…

He should have had the courage to make the choice before it could destroy his relationship with Buffy, before she could be so badly hurt…

For a long time he just sat, staring into the emptiness of the library, not thinking, not feeling; not allowing himself to feel. Finally, he dragged a hand across his face, his eyes two wretched portals of shame and pain, and drew a long, jagged breath. He had to go. He had to be sure she made it home safely.

There was little traffic on the road as he motored toward Joyce Summers' house. He'd been keeping half an eye on the roadside as he drove, when something caught his eye. Someone was sitting on one of the swings in the playground Buffy often patrolled.

Instinct prompted him to pull the car into the kerb. The moment he got out he could see that it was Buffy. He was within a few feet of the swing when she spoke.

"Don't come any closer," she warned.

He swallowed. "I—I had to be certain you got home safely."

"Be certain," she said through her teeth. "I'm fine. It must be a vampire public holiday or something. Go away."

Even in the halo of the streetlight Giles could see how wretched she looked, not only from her wounds. She was so alone, so hurt…

He swallowed again and a tear welled in the corner of his eye and sneaked down his face, unnoticed.

"I was wrong," he said quietly. "And I can't change that."

Buffy sobbed. "He said you loved me. But you hurt me. You violated me. I trusted you!"

Giles swallowed the emotion that threatened to choke him. "I know," he whispered. "God, I know. And I valued that trust above even my own life. I still do."

"Oh yeah, you valued it enough to stick me with a needle, to poison me!"

"To prepare you for their stupid bloody test," he qualified half-heartedly. "I have always believed in what I do, in being a Watcher. It didn't occur to me to question the legitimacy of a millenia old rite of passage, only the morality of it."

"Don't!" She shouted. "Don't try to justify yourself to me! Go away, Giles. I hate you! Just go away!"

He stared for a long moment at the fury in her small, betrayed face, choked down a surge of misery, turned and left.

Buffy watched the dear, familiar back depart and her rage was gone, leaving utter, desolate emptiness. She shivered, then sobbed again.

A figure stepped out of the darkness. "You're wrong," Angel said quietly.

Buffy jumped. When the terror had subsided she looked up at him. "Don't ever scare me like that again," she rasped, in as angry a tone as Angel had ever heard her use.

"You're still wrong," he repeated. "He loves you, maybe even more than me."

"He violated me. He...he…I hate him!"

"Do you hate me?" Angel asked quietly.

Buffy blinked. "Not any…Of course not," she retorted angrily.

He stepped closer. "Then how dare you hate him? How dare you condemn him?"

Buffy blinked, the little colour left draining from her face.

Angel wanted nothing more than to hold her until the colour returned, to take away her pain, but he owed the other man a debt he could never repay. The least he could do was to make Buffy grow up enough to understand what Giles had sacrificed for her.

"You too?" she said flatly.

"You didn't answer my question. How dare you hate someone who loves you so much, when you can forgive someone like me?"

"But it's different…" she protested.

"No it's not!" he shouted impatiently. "Don't you see? He's never once condemned you because of me, not when you didn't kill me, not even when you didn't tell him I was back. Even after that, after everything I did to him, he still helped me when I needed help."

Buffy left the swing and came to stand in front of Angel. "Don't you think I don't know how good Giles is, how fine? It only makes it worse. I love him so much, and he hurt me so much—"

Again Angel resisted the desire to put his arms around her. "And I didn't?" he pushed. "He made a mistake. One mistake. "

Her eyes flew to his. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because it's truth time, Buffy. You're so angry, so hurt you can't see it, but it's right there, in front of you."

"What truth?" She demanded doubtfully.

"You need him."

"Don't you think I know that?" she sobbed.

He nodded. "But he needs you more."

Her lips parted and she stared.

Angel touched her face. "Time to grow up, Buffy. I've watched Giles protect you, teach you; I've watched him suffer for you and because of you and never complain. We should all be loved like that at least once in our lives. You've been blessed twice, and you can't even see it."

Buffy leaned her cheek into his palm. "You really care about him, don't you?"

Angel nodded, his dark eyes tortured. "He—all of you—were the first family I'd ever really had, ever really…loved. I hurt all of you, and I almost destroyed him."

Buffy stilled, comprehension dawning on her pale face. "I really am a child," she said tremulously, and kissed his fingers. "I have to go."

He drew the hand away. "I know," he said gently.

Giles' apartment was almost in darkness. Just one table lamp glowed in the living room window. Buffy knocked on the door.

It was some time before it opened.

Giles was still in his day clothes, though the suspenders were gone and his shirt was half-undone. He had a five o'clock shadow and his eyes were red and haggard. He was carrying a half-poured scotch in his left hand.

He stared down at her for a moment, then spoke. "Go home, Buffy," he said roughly.

Buffy swallowed. "Aren't you even going to offer me a cup of tea?"

"Oh, God," he growled and turned his back, but left the door open as he retreated. She followed miserably. He was topping up his drink, his back still to her when she saw the small, brightly wrapped parcel and an envelope on the coffee table with her name printed neatly on it. Lying next to them were ice show tickets.

She choked on a sob, trying to hold it back, and failing.

The sound pierced Giles like a knife. He turned, leaving the drink on the sideboard.

"Buffy…?" The word was torn from him involuntarily.

"I—I can't do it without you," she whispered.

"So you've said, on more than one occasion," he agreed wearily.

"Giles, what happened—it doesn't matter any more."

"Doesn't—?" he exclaimed, moisture glittering in his eyes. "I almost got you killed. I violated every tenet of friendship, of trust!"

She could no longer control the tears. "And how many times have I almost gotten you killed? How many times have I let you down? You were wrong, Giles. But I was wrong too."

Her forgiveness was more than he could have asked for, and more than he could bear. He turned away.

At first Buffy was hurt, then she realised that he was trying desperately not to lose control. Wordlessly she walked up to him and put her arms around him, leaning against his back.

He made a noise then, and was lost. Buffy held him tightly as he wept silently, her own face leaving a soggy spot on the back of his shirt.

Then he was turning blindly and taking her in his arms. Their embrace was fierce, and long. Neither wanted to let go. For one brief moment there was no past, no present, no loneliness or grief.

For just a flicker of a candle there was only comfort and love.

And then the flame snuffed out. Giles let Buffy go suddenly and stepped away.

"I'm sorry," he said awkwardly.

"O-oh, Giles," she said softly and took his hand. "Don't you get it?"

He cleared his throat. "G—Get it?" he stammered, regarding his shoes uncomfortably.

"Someone a lot wiser than you and me told me some truths tonight. One is how much I need you—how much I…" Buffy swallowed.

He looked up, curious.

"And the second?" he prompted.

"Your secret," she said softly.

His eyes widened, startled. "I don't—I'm not…"

She smiled and shook her head. "You've spent way too much time around Xander," she teased gently.

At that a smile flashed momentarily across his face, and he relaxed just a little.

Buffy leaned her head against his shoulder. "It's not a crime to need someone, Giles. I need you so much it hurts sometimes."

The smile vanished.

Buffy could feel that he was deeply moved…and utterly unable to articulate it. She moved away, to the table.

"Is this for me?"

Aware of what she was doing, and grateful, Giles looked at the package in her hand. "Y…yes o…of course."

There was a small, very old, velvet case inside. She opened it carefully. The earrings were exquisite, tiny. Even Buffy could tell that the delicate silver crosses set with diamonds and rubies were real. She looked up to find him watching her.

"They were my mother's."

Buffy put them down very carefully and went back to him. "They're beautiful," she told him, her eyes glowing.

He met her gaze, his colour high. "Happy birthday, Buffy."

"Thank you," she said softly, smiled, reached up, drew his head down and kissed his cheek. Then she turned back to the table, knowing he would be embarrassed again, and picked up the ice show tickets.

"I love you too."


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