DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, Lazy Dave, Kuzui, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2017 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Misery Loves Company
The night was neither dark nor stormy, but felt like it should have been both. Houston had the irrepressible humid heat of a swamp, and the summer sun seemed reluctant to set. Giles sat in the rented apartment he'd taken out for himself and whichever slayers happened to cycle into town, and threw back tequila he'd only meant to sip.
They'd lost another girl. Every death weighed on him.
He heard a key in the door, pushed the shot glass away, behind a book and a menu for Chinese take-out. Buffy walked in, her black tank was covered with dust and she had a nasty bruise on her chin.
"You all right?"
She tried to brush the vamp-dust off her shirt, then gave up. "See, this is why we can't have nice things." Her smile was hollow, her eyes flat and...not cold, exactly, but the light he was so used to seeing was absent. She swallowed hard and said, "You heard about Dahlia?"
"Willow call you?"
He nodded again.
She didn't meet his eyes, but she walked toward him, reaching into his not-so-great hiding place and pulling out the glass. "Empty."
He laughed softly. "I'm afraid so."
"That can be remedied." She held the glass out and he reached behind him for the tequila.
Meeting her eyes, he asked softly, "Are you sure?"
"I told her she'd be great before I put her on the plane and sent her out to die." She shook the glass at him. "Fill it the hell up."
He did as she asked and she threw back the drink much the same way he had.
"I'm sorry, Buffy."
"Me, too." She surprised him, leaning in, a half-embrace, her free hand going around his neck as she buried her face in his sweater. "I hate this, Giles."
"I know. I do, too." He pressed his cheek against her and felt the silken softness of her hair, her warmth. She was alive and every day she went out hunting he worried he would not be able to say that by the end of the night.
And yet every time she came back. The Slayer, not just a slayer.
She let him go. "Good night."
"Good night, Buffy." He watched her until she disappeared into one of the bedrooms.
He woke in the hospital. Buffy was watching him, curled up in an armchair she'd probably pulled next to the bed. There was a chair-sized empty space near the window, and he could imagine the nurses trying to get her to put it back, to use the hard plastic chair that was so much more portable.
He laughed imagining her answer, then a shock of pain ran through him. "Oh, bloody hell."
"Yeah, I've been stabbed by my own stake, too. Hurts like hell. Laughing makes it worse."
"Now, you tell me."
She let out a breath, audible and shaky, and he studied her as much as he could given the IV tubes that snaked down between them.
"Buffy,” he said, trying to put some of the watcher back into his voice, “have you slept?"
"I'll sleep when I'm dead."
She gave him a smile he couldn't imagine her younger self being capable of. Hard and tired and just a little bit mean. "It never is, is it?" She stood and leaned over him. "I thought I was going to lose you. You bled a lot."
"I'm too stuffy to die. Heaven won't have me."
She laughed softly. "They took me. I'm sure they'll let you in, too." Then her expression changed, the darker one that often haunted her taking over. "Or maybe neither of us can get in now. Too much blood on our hands."
"Who died now?"
He gave her his best "I'm waiting and I shan't be put off" look.
She sighed. "Tamika. In Cleveland. Faith said she went down fighting." A laugh, then another, slightly hysterical. "Don't we all? Go down fighting? Wouldn't one of us love our headstone to say, 'She died in her bed'?"
He reached for her hand, felt the pull of the IV, and grimaced.
"Giles, don't. If you pull that out, I'll have to call the nurse and she pretty much hates me."
"You need to sleep. Go home."
"Not a chance." She laced her fingers with his gently, and he closed his eyes at the contact.
"Then sleep in the chair. But sleep you will or I'll call Dawn."
"Ooh, pulling out the big guns." She didn't let go of his hand, even squeezed it a little. "I didn't really like Tamika. Does that make me bad? That I'm glad it wasn't Rona or Vi?"
"That makes you human. An exhausted human. Sleep."
"Okay." She let go of him and sat back in the chair.
He watched her until she fell asleep, then he let himself relax and drift, the pain meds making him feel safe and warm: a false sense of security, he knew, but a nice break, nonetheless.
Giles was dreaming. He knew it, which made it worse. It was the same dream he’d had for years. Buffy. On the tower. Her swan dive to eternity.
Her body crumpled on the ground.
“No,” he said to the dream, to try to control it the way he’d read about but had never managed to pull off.
This time, though, it worked. This time Buffy’s swan dive ended differently.
She didn’t plummet; she floated.
“What now, Giles?” Her smile was the one he loved most. The sweet one that he thought was only for him.
Because he was her father.
Well, like a father.
Or more an authority figure. Oh, hell, it’d been years since he’d been that.
In his dream, she was laughing and he realized they were back in his old apartment in Sunnydale. It was like the dream the first slayer had brought. The apartment was empty except for the chair Buffy was sitting in—and the bed upstairs—as he waved a pocket watch in front of her. But this Buffy was no child. This Buffy stood and took the pocket watch away from him. “Don’t you think this is a little old fashioned?”
“It’s not the way women and men have behaved since the beginning.” She moved closer, her expression changing. “Men and women, Giles. Not men and little girls.”
And then she kissed him.
His phone going off jarred him out of sleep. He reached for it, saw it was Willow, and took a steadying breath before answering. “Willow? Is everything all right?”
“Giles, I don’t only call when things are bad.”
“Oh, so things aren’t bad?”
“No, they are. But I don’t always call when they are. But I need Buffy and she’s not answering her phone.”
“It fell into a fountain last night.”
Willow laughed. “Where are you?”
“Oooh, have you met the Immortal yet? He’s soooo handsome.” Willow’s voice was the teasing one that always made him smile. “Not that I’d notice, of course.”
“I’ve not had the pleasure. Buffy doesn’t seem keen on tracking him down.”
“Yeah, bad break-up.”
He’d wondered about that. Buffy hadn’t actually seemed too broken up over the chap, and Giles felt like he’d seen her moods around ex beaux enough to know what she looked like when she’d been rejected.
He’d always assumed that she’d done the ending. From what little he’d been able to glean from Andrew, the Immortal had been a bit of a control freak—and controlling Buffy was not something a sane man tried to do.
He knocked on Buffy’s half-open door, then saw she was outside on the balcony, doing some sort of yoga. She looked up and he tapped the phone, their universal signal for “this one’s for you.”
She got up—gracefully, he couldn’t help notice. But then it was his job to notice. Agility and flexibility were part of a slayer’s arsenal. He was responsible for ensuring she was fully trained. It was his sacred duty to look for form breaks and correct—oh bloody hell, he was watching her in a way the council would have very much frowned upon.
“It’s Willow,” he said, handing her the phone as she came inside.
“Thanks.” She stretched and he tried not to notice the way her body curved. She was still slim, but she was a woman now.
God help him—he should not be looking at her like this. He turned and fled back into his room, and sat on the bed, trying to put thoughts of Buffy out of his head.
A little while later, Buffy came back in and handed him his phone. “I have to go to New York.”
“Yes? All right. Safe trip.” He could barely meet her eyes. Thank God Willow’s call had come when it did—he hoped the dream would have stopped there.
With a kiss.
He’d been kissing Buffy.
What was wrong with him?
“Are you okay?” She crawled onto the bed.
He backed up so fast his elbow hit the wooden headboard hard enough that he winced. “Yes. Fine.” He slid off the bed and began to pace. “Willow asked about the Immortal.”
“Okay, that’s random.” She studied him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Oh, such an excellent question. He stopped pacing. “I never met him. Willow was flippant about him and I didn’t ‘get’ the joke because, well, I never met him.” Wouldn’t he have met the bloke if Buffy’d been serious about him? She’d always made it a point to bring her boyfriends around.
Well, except Spike, of course. Who was alive again, if Andrew was to be believed—something he had not told Buffy yet, although Andrew might have. The boy marched to his own drum and keeping Giles in the loop often seemed a bridge too far.
“The immortal. Meh. You didn’t miss much.” She walked toward him and made a face as he backed up the same amount of space. “What is your problem, Giles?”
She looked hurt that he was wouldn’t answer, that he was keeping his distance, and he realized how tactile she was with him. He normally let her in. That was probably all this was—all the dream was.
It wasn’t that he was attracted to this girl he was practically a father to.
He stepped forward and patted her on the shoulder. It came off frightfully awkward.
“Really?” She pulled him into her normal half hug, her hand snaking up to rest on the skin under his collar. “Don’t get killed before I figure out what’s making you out-weird Andrew.”
She laughed, the sound breathy in his ear. “Do you want me to come back here when I’m done in New York?”
“Yes.” It was out before he could think better of it. “I mean, if that’s the best thing.”
She backed away and seemed to be studying him. “I need a home base. Dawn’s safely away at school. The rest of the gang have their places pretty much settled. I need a home base.”
“And you’d like it to be Rome?” Was it because of the Immortal? Had Buffy never gotten over him?
“No, dipshit, I want it to be with you, and you’re in Rome, ergo...” She rolled her eyes and walked out.
She wanted to be with him? But...as what?
She was gone before he could ask. To be precise, she was gone before he could work up the courage to ask.
“Keep your guard up, Annie.” Giles winced as one of his newest slayers missed on a high kick. Fortunately the vampire she was fighting was newly turned and not much of a fighter.
Giles would never put her up against a vampire he thought would hurt her.
But then he saw the vampire grab the stake Annie was holding too far in front of her. He brandished it like a dagger and Annie backed up. Oh, bollocks, just the luck to get some sort of knife fighter when he thought he’d picked a nice, safe one.
Giles waded into the fight, knocking the vampire back, pummeling him more than was strictly necessary.
It kept him from having to beat himself up. For missing Buffy. For missing Buffy...that way.
“Well, someone’s inner Ripper is showing.” Her voice, making him smile, making him stop punching and grab the stake and shove it into the vampire’s heart.
He turned as the thing exploded into dust, and saw Buffy pull Annie into a quick hug.
“I’m Buffy. You may have heard of me. Welcome to the life of a chosen one, blah, blah. Listen to Giles, blah, blah. Don’t however beat the shit out of vamps for fun like he just did. Kill quick, move on, live to fight another day.”
Annie was nodding earnestly. Giles thought she would take notes if she had anything to write with.
“You hungry? They served nothing on the plane that even resembled food. And I say that after serving time at the Doublemeat Palace.”
“I love that place.” Annie’s eyes shone.
“You won’t when I get done telling you about it.” Buffy shot a silly look at Giles, and he grinned back.
Good God, he was happy to see her. Too happy. Bad happy. Bad, bad happy.
Then she took his hand as they walked, the gesture so natural he decided she was doing it as if he was her father. The older gentleman who might need a hand after his robust walloping of the undead menace. He mustn’t think her holding his hand was in any way a romantic thing.
Annie, pointed at a place with a big “Pizza” sign. “Can we eat there?”
“Some other day. Mom and Dad want pasta.” Her hand tightened on his. “At Morengiano’s.” Their favorite place.
Mom and Dad? That lovely café? Was she torturing him?
No, of course not. They ate there all the time, and she’d joked this way before, hadn’t she? Early on, when they had so many slayers. After Spike had stopped being a constant problem between them. Before the round of losses, the non-stop deaths. Before they stopped joking and started using whatever bottle was handy to numb the pain.
“Are you all right, Buffy?”
She smiled. “We didn’t lose anyone in New York. We beat the big—well, medium—bad, and Willow found some accounts that once were Sunnydale Mayoral funds but now are liberated.” She let go of his hand to do a bit of an impromptu cheer. “We have money, Giles. Money to finance homes that aren’t cheap and gross for our slayers. For us here.”
Had she been worrying about money this whole time? She hadn’t said a thing to him. He frowned. “I didn’t realize we were low on funds.”
“You have enough to worry about. Willow was on it.”
“And you didn’t tell me.” So much for Mom and Dad.
“Actually, she didn’t tell me. Not until she knew for sure the money was really the Mayor’s and stealing it would be more like diverting bad to good. She just told me and now I’m telling you.” She stopped. “Aren’t you happy?”
“Of course.” He realized that Annie was watching them with more than a little interest. “Little pitchers...”
“Hold weak margaritas?” Of course she didn’t get it. But then she laughed as she motioned Annie to walk on. “Little pitchers hear way too much. Got it. No airing the financial underwear in front of the children.”
Oh, of course. There she went again with the parental theme. He closed his eyes.
The universe definitely had a sense of whimsy, and it seemed to be a mean one.
He stepped through the door, laden down with groceries and a bunch of narcissus he’d bought for no apparent reason. Buffy was at the table, not even trying to hide her rather full glass and the bottle of scotch. She looked up at him, seemed to take in the flowers, and her expression didn’t change as she said, “Pretty.” Then she went back to her study of the ice in her glass.
He put the groceries away quickly, stuck the flowers in the tallest water glass he could find because they didn’t have a vase, then carried them out and put them on the table, pushed to the side a bit, so he could see her expression from across the table.
Without asking, she pulled out another glass from their latest hiding place, and poured him a less generous amount.
“What are we mourning?”
“We’re not. Or you’re not, anyway.” She took a long sip, and he thought she looked like she’d been crying.
“What’s wrong? Is it Annie?”
“No, it’s not slayer stuff. It’s...it’s Angel.”
“Dead? No. Shacking up with a werewolf? Yes.”
“That was not going to be my next question.”
She started to laugh. “She’s blonde—big shock there, right? Really pretty. He has a type, I guess. Oh, Giles. It shouldn’t hurt.”
“But it does. And it will. You and he—your relationship was unique and complicated and much of the time very beautiful.”
“Even if he did torture you?”
“Even if he did torture me.” He reached over and took her hand. “But great loves often don’t stay in our lives.”
“None of my loves do.” She took a healthy swallow as he attempted to hide any trace of hurt or disappointment. But he did try to let go of her hand. She held tight, then turned her hand so they were palm to palm and twined her fingers with his. “Are you going to leave, too? Is that why you’re acting so crazy? No love for Buffy.”
He sat frozen for a moment, trying to figure out if he’d really heard what he thought he had. By the hurt look she shot him, he realized he had.
“I think this discussion is best held sober.” He moved their glasses away, near the flowers.
“How drunk are you?”
He tried to make his smile as gentle as he could. “Because if you’re very drunk, then I’m not going to have this conversation with you right now.”
“Why, Giles? Afraid I’ll lose my shit if you reject me?” She kicked her chair away from the table and began to pace. “Buffy, surely you know I consider you a daughter and I would never be able to think of you...”
She was talking very loudly and he looked toward the rooms where Annie and the two newest slayers slept.
“They’re out, Giles. Jesus, do you think I’d be drinking by myself in the dining room if they were here?”
He frowned, not sure if she meant that she’d be not drinking at all or would have invited them to join her.
She rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t be drinking—or I would, but in my room.” It was uncanny how often she and he were on the same wavelength. She went back to pacing.
He watched her. No weaving or wobbling. Her hand hadn’t been shaking when she held her glass. Her hand-eye coordination seemed fine when she reached up to run her fingers through her hair the way she did when she was frustrated.
She wasn’t that drunk.
“Do you know why I bought Narcissus?”
“Because after Easter they’re wicked cheap?” She rolled her eyes again, but it was a more dramatic gesture than the first one—put on a bit. The way she used to when he’d said something stuffy or overly British.
“Because they remind me of you.” He touched the white petal, avoiding the bright yellow center and the pollen inside it. “They’re happy and bright, and when I see them, I know the cold times are over and the sun will be out.” He looked over at her. “Why do you think I’d reject you?”
“You bizarre behavior in your bedroom for one. Way to make a girl feel special, Giles. I was worried I hadn’t gotten all the loegathan demon stench off me.”
He laughed. “Come back and sit down.”
She did, but she took the seat next to him instead of across, and moved it so she was facing him. He slid his chair out to face her, and they sat knee to knee.
He reached out and cupped her cheek. “Buffy, don’t make romantic decisions when you’re sad over a previous lover.”
She put her hand over his and said, “That’s crap advice, Giles. And it’s not like this is new. Not for me, anyway. But you...you’re just the same old Giles. Hugs don’t move you. Holding your hand on the way to our favorite café didn’t move you.”
“Oh, believe me, it did.” He decided not to tell her he wished she hadn’t added “old” to his name.
He nodded. “Buffy, everyone you love is somewhere else. The man who just might be your soulmate is living with another woman. It’s normal to be upset.” He took a deep breath. “You know, Spike is alive. Maybe you should find out where he is and—”
“Been there. Done that. Was fun for a while.” She gave him a weak smile. “He was working with Angel. I was weird with the whole Nina thing, and Spike got jealous. He wants to be first—and only.”
“Yes. I can see that.” Giles thought that, sadly, he’d settle for being loved for a little while by her if it meant seeing her smile again, feeling this...hope that seemed to be pounding somewhere between his gut and his racing heart.
“I can’t not love Angel. I can’t just put it away in a box for Spike because he’s jealous.” She pushed her knees against his. “Would I have to do it for you?”
He smoothed back her hair. “Would I have to forget Jenny?”
“Of course not.” She looked appalled that he’d even ask it.
“Then there’s your answer.”
She leaned into his hand. “I feel safe with you.”
He drew his hand away. “That’s not a ringing endorsement for changing the nature of our relationship, you know? You may feel safe with me because I’m your watcher—and your father.”
“You’re not my father. I have a father. I even saw him in Spain a few months ago.”
Good God she’d been busy. Where was he when she was revisiting her past? “And how was he?”
“The same. Distant. Not too interested in Dawn. Or me, frankly. Has a new, young wife. They have a son. The normal story. He’s moved on, but he’s still my father, sucky as he is. You’re not.”
He nodded. This was the very logic he used to make himself feel better about how he felt for her—far be it for him to tell her to abandon it if it helped her rationalize whatever she was feeling.
“When I say I feel safe with you, I mean that I feel safe to be myself. Do you think I drink like this when I’m with Dawn? Or let Willow or God forbid Faith see me weak? Xander looks at me like I’m some prize he might finally get, so I really have to watch myself with him. No down time when I look like I need some TLC. No hugs that aren’t hello or goodbye.”
“He’ll get over it. He always does. But...It’s there. And I don’t want it from him. I love him—as a friend. But that’s all we’ll ever be. But when I come here, I relax. The minute I walk in the door and hear your voice—or just smell your cologne—I can feel all my defenses melting. I meant it that home is with you. It could be in Hell but it would be with you.”
“You’ve already been to hell—or one of them.” And escaped it, while killing the proprietor. His marvelous slayer.
“And I’ve been to heaven. Or one of them.” She smiled sweetly. “This is the closest I get to feeling warm and peaceful.”
He smiled and squeezed her hand. “I’m much older than you, Buffy.” There. It had to be said.
“If you average the age of my previous boyfriends, you’re going to get triple digits, so actually I’m dialing back.” She grinned. “I know how old you are, Giles. I know you.” She eased her chair back. “But you don’t seem convinced. So...maybe we’ll revisit this some other day.” She leaned over and smelled the flowers. “Pretty.”
She glanced back at him. “Thanks.” Then she pushed her chair in, careful not to hit him as she did it, and he thought she was being too careful—too controlled. She grabbed her drink and took it with her into her room, shutting the door again too quietly. A slam would have made him feel better.
He grabbed his glass, took a quick sip but then poured out the rest and washed it. He hid the bottle, then walked slowly to her door, wanting this to be a deliberate choice not a desperate reaction and knocked softly. When she didn’t answer, he said, “I don’t want to table this discussion, Buffy.”
She opened the door. She had her shirt partially unbuttoned and didn’t seem in any hurry to do it back up. Her drink was sitting on the nightstand and didn’t look like she’d drunk any more of it.
“I want you,” he said softly, because saying it any other way seemed wrong. “So, so much.”
“But I could give you a hundred reasons why this is a bad idea.”
She seemed to think about that, then nodded slowly. “And if you or I die tomorrow, will those reasons mean anything to the one who’s left?”
He knew his smile was a helpless one. “No.”
“Then we shouldn’t wait. We should grab life while we still can. I don’t mean while we’re not dead. I mean before we get so cold and lifeless inside that we can’t reach out anymore. I know you’ve been happier with me here.”
“I have. So much happier.”
She moved closer and twined her arms around his neck in a totally new way, a very sexy way. “Then let’s not talk ourselves out of this, okay?”
“If this doesn’t work, I want you to promise to tell me. I don’t want you to be afraid you’ll lose my support and love if we find we need to go back to what we were before.”
“And you do the same. But Giles, we haven’t been anything for long. Our relationship has evolved from the moment we met. And through it all, you were what I needed. I’ve thought this through. You know the life. You know the costs. You know the little victories—and a few huge ones. You’ve been there for all of them. And now, we just evolve a little more. Yes?”
She looked so beautiful pressed against him, her face shining up at him, her fingers running through his hair that all he could do was say, “Yes.”
And kiss her.
He was kissing Buffy, his slayer, his...love. And she was kissing him back. And it felt like coming home, and the short step it took to evolve from whatever they just were to this new arrangement was painless and exciting and tender.
And dear God she was limber. A gym membership for him was in order if he wanted to survive sex with her.
She lay cuddled against him in her bed, the covers pulled up over them, and he kissed her hair. “Thank you for saying yes, Giles.”
He laughed. “Yes, such a hardship this will be.” He tipped her chin up so he could kiss her again, then stroked her hair. “I have always loved you and I will always love you, and I don’t know what that love will look like in the future. But I know right now, it makes me very happy.”
“Me, too.” She leaned up to kiss him. “I’m so tired.”
“Sleep. With me.” He found himself yawning. “You’re safe.”
She traced his lips, a sweetly sensuous smile on her face. “So are you.”