Title: The Arrangement
Setting: Post series, no comics
Summary: Watchers and Slayers lead lonely lives and share a common destiny. Sometimes they share a little more. Upon returning from a grueling assignment in the Amazon, Buffy finds that it isn’t enough anymore.
Beta: il_mio_capitano, with my heartfelt thanks.
Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Buffyverse and make no profit playing with Joss’ toys.
A/N: LJ says it's too large to post in one go, although I have posted larger fic, so I don't really know what is up with that. I think I found a natural break in the action to make it a little less jarring.
Rising from the fog of sleep, Buffy let out a small sound of contentment as she nuzzled into her lover’s chest, taking in the mingled scent of his cologne, her perfume, the fresh linen, and sex. His breathing was relaxed and even, indicating he was still asleep, but he instinctually tightened his arms around her, drawing her closer. Their morning routine would invade the sanctuary of the bedroom soon enough and she closed her eyes for a few more moments of bliss in the comfort of his embrace.
When she awoke again, she was alone and she rolled over to face the middle of the bed, circling his pillow in her arms to make up for his absence. As was his custom, he’d laid out his robe for her on his side of the bed, and her clothes from the previous evening, which had been strewn along the way from his foyer to his bedroom were now all neatly folded up and sitting on the chair in the corner of his room. His thoughtfulness made her feel all tingly and warm and she took in a deep breath, smiling at the smell of eggs and bacon wafting through the air. Definitely time to start the day.
Donning the robe, she wandered down the hall and joined him in the kitchen. “Good morning,” she greeted as she hugged him from behind. He was solidly built and strong and she enjoyed the warmth of him. He smelled of sandalwood and his spicy cologne and was dressed casually in faded jeans and soft green henley.
“Morning. Did you sleep well?”
“Mmm. The best.”
“I’m glad,” he said warmly. “Why don’t you pour yourself a coffee and I’ll finish getting breakfast for us.”
He must’ve heard her stirring in the bedroom because the press was ready for her. She forced down the plunger and poured herself a cup, doctoring it with milk and a little sugar.
He joined her at the table with their plates of eggs, bacon and toast and gave her a shy smile, “Sorry there are no sausages. I forgot to go to the butcher’s.”
“That’s okay. We probably don’t need the additional fat and cholesterol anyway, although I’m sure we worked the equivalent off last night,” Buffy teased, running her foot up his leg.
He blushed from his collar to his hairline and she loved that about him. “Yes, well, I can’t have you wasting away on me, can I?” he asked, his green eyes twinkling as he tucked into his eggs.
“Hardly,” she laughed. “Last night you insisted on a four course Italian meal with the pasta carbonara.”
“You looked half starved,” he countered in playful protest.
“You do remember where I’ve been for the last several months, right?”
“All the more reason to celebrate your return,” he answered with a wide grin before shoving a fork full of eggs into his mouth.
Buffy had been on assignment in the Brazilian rain forest for three months leading a team of Watchers and Slayers to track down a particularly evil sect of demons who were preying on the local tribes. It had been one hell of an assignment, taking months to find them. Their guides had been helpful to a point, but they needed the cooperation of the indigenous peoples, who, for the most part, did not welcome strangers of any kind, preferring to handle matters on their own, and it was quite the struggle to even find them, much less communicate successfully to get a lead on the demons.
Roughing it had never been one of Buffy’s favorite activities and while getting covered in demon goo was gross, it was a part of her job she had come to accept. Coming to terms with the Amazonian heat and its bug life were entirely new additions to the skill set she wasn’t willing to add to her CV, and she swore she would delegate the next jungle expedition to one of the other senior Slayers in the organization. Maybe she’d skip out the next several expeditions regardless of destination.
“What would you say to me not taking on any more special assignments?” Buffy asked, giving voice to her thoughts.
“As your Watcher, the Head of Field Operations, or as your friend?” Giles replied, setting down his knife and fork to give her his full attention.
Buffy looked down at her breakfast, suddenly not hungry anymore and set down her own fork. She knew the terms of their arrangement. In fact, she had been the one to talk him into it and dictate those terms. They were coworkers and friends who occasionally came together to release tension and ease the loneliness of their lives. It didn’t mean anything. Only things had changed for her. Somewhere deep in the heart of the Amazon river basin, she’d come to understand the depth of her feelings for him. She’d yearned for him, missed him desperately, needing his comfort during the bleak times and his warm smile to celebrate the hard fought wins. It had been quite the revelation and totally unexpected, but she had fallen in love.
And now, here she sat, the morning after a wonderfully blissful evening in his company, and it wasn’t supposed to mean anything. He’d picked her up from the airport and whisked her away to a very posh restaurant, treating her like a queen, and then capped it off with an unbelievably hot and steamy night, where she had lost herself in him and loved him with her entire being. It had been amazing. But, greeted by a new day, reality had set in. They weren’t anything more to each other than friends, best friends perhaps, but she really couldn’t expect anything more from him. Watcher, Head of Field Operations, friends - apparently those were the only roles Giles saw in her life.
She hated it.
“I just want to know what you think,” she answered a little more forcefully than she had expected.
Giles pulled off his glasses to clean them on the edge of his shirt, looking a little uncomfortable.
Buffy stood up. “Nevermind, I’m going to go shower.” She left him sitting at the table to finish his eggs and bacon.
With the water raining down, it was easy to let go of the tears, she just needed to hold back the sobs. It was best not to upset the status quo. She certainly didn’t want to lose him entirely. They had a deal, but the terms were too harsh now, too constraining and left her feeling alone despite his company. After getting dressed, she stepped back into the bedroom and started packing her things.
“I thought you were staying here for a few days.” She heard him say as she stuffed her dirty clothes into her duffle bag.
She didn’t lift her head for fear she’d start crying all over again, but she could see him in her peripheral vision leaning against the doorframe, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.
“Yeah, well, I’m exhausted and likely to be bad company.”
“Buffy, let me-“
“Giles, please,” she begged. “I’m… I can’t do this right now. Forget I said anything. It’s been a long, tiring three months and I just need to sleep for a week. Please… just… just call for a taxi. We can talk on Tuesday when I come into the office.”
Dropping his head in resignation, he left her to finish collecting her things.
She sat in his room trying to hold herself together. When the doorbell rang, she took a deep breath and picked up her duffle bag before heading out. The driver stood outside the car as she approached the front door.
“May I take your bag, miss?” he asked, calling up to her.
“No, it’s fine, I’ve got it thanks.” Turning to Giles, she said, “I’ll call you this weekend after I’ve gotten some sleep and settled in.”
He nodded and went to kiss her cheek, but she carefully avoided his advance and hurried out the door without looking back. From the back seat of the taxi, she could see him standing on the steps looking very confused and profoundly unhappy. She almost felt sorry for him.
Buffy didn’t call him. And she didn’t show up for work on Tuesday, deciding instead to stay at home and mope. She had never told the others of the arrangement she had with Giles and it wouldn’t be good to bring it up now and have to explain her actions when she was an emotional wreck, but she wished she had someone like Tara to confide in these days.
Opening up her laptop, she found an email from Giles and grimaced at the notion of opening it, not wanting to face him or reality just yet. Still, they worked together and it could be details to a new assignment. Knowing Giles as she did, though, she doubted it. She’d left his place in too much of a state for him not to notice there was something wrong, and now she was noticeably absent from work. Sighing, she clicked the icon and read the message.
I’ve tried phoning, but it goes straight to your voicemail. I take it you’ve changed your mind about coming in to the office today. We need to talk. I’ll be at The White Stag at 2pm. Please come.
She looked at the clock, it was noon and she was still in her pajamas. In fact, she’d been in the same pajamas since she had come home from Giles’. God, she hated herself, sitting there pining over a man, wasting the long weekend, while her body and soul craved his touch and his very presence. Why did she have to go and ruin the illusion that morning? Why couldn’t she just be happy with the status quo? It was her own damned fault she yearned for him like a brooding teen. And goddammit, why did her tummy have to rumble at the thought of great pub fare at The White Stag?
A block away from the pub she steeled her resolve and sped up her pace. She was forty-five minutes late so with any luck, he’d have given up on her fifteen minutes ago and headed back to the office… or home.
The White Stag was a beautiful traditional pub. Dark wood and brass, tables with either chairs or benches that created a very cosy atmosphere. The place was deserted, but she found Giles sitting in the back corner with a pint of porter. He looked up and caught her eye as she made her way over to the table. Ever the gentleman, he stood when she approached.
“You look lovely,” he greeted, leaning in to kiss her cheek. She’d worn the flouncy skirt with the peasant top she knew he liked.
“Sorry I’m late,” Buffy apologized as she took off her jacket.
“No matter, it’s a rather quiet day in the office.”
“Yeah, about that. Sorry I didn’t make it in.”
“Buffy-“ Giles began.
“I’m hungry, you hungry? I can’t remember when I ate last.”
She could tell he was slightly irritated by her interruption and subsequent babble, but he let out a soft sigh and relented. “What would you like?”
Taking a quick look at the menu, she said, “Umm, just a ham and cheese sarnie and coffee.”
He then excused himself to go place the order at the bar. Upon his return he found her fidgeting with one of the rings on her right hand. He placed the hot beverage down in front of her and took his seat, looking her in the eye.
“How have you been, Buffy?”
The truth? The truth was she was more exhausted now than upon her return. The combination of jet lag and trying to sort out what to do about him had caused for lots of tears and sleepless nights. Though she had done her best to hide all that underneath her makeup, Giles always had a way of seeing through the mask.
She tried to look away, to keep herself hidden, but the intensity in his green eyes held her captive, and she opted for a half truth. “Evidently not adjusting well to the time difference, but otherwise okay. Yourself?”
“Admittedly, I’ve been worried about you.” He was cutting right to the chase, and she’d ordered food, making it difficult for her to cut the visit short if she needed. Could she have been more stupid? Taking a moment to add milk and sugar to her coffee, she slowly stirred the liquid until it turned a rich ochre in color, giving herself time to think of a response.
“I’m sorry about the other morning. I just hit a brick wall. I slept well, but apparently not enough and I just needed to crash out and recharge for a few days.”
“You said you’d phone.”
Her hands circled the cup for warmth and she looked down at them, keeping herself hidden from his gaze. “I know. I’m sorry.”
He leaned back into his chair as the bartender approached and placed her sandwich in front of her. “You’re not eating?” He shook his head and she suddenly felt very self-conscious. Pushing her plate to the side, she asked, “What did you want to talk about?”
Taking off his glasses, Giles set them down on the table next to his half empty pint glass. “There’s more to it than you being tired, Buffy, this all started when you asked me my thoughts about you taking on a role with less travel.”
“Look, think nothing of it. I’ve just come off a very demanding assignment. It was hell and the demons were only a small part of that. I promise you’ll have a full report in your inbox by the end of the week. Most of it is already written, I only have a few things more to add. I just need a few days to decompress, but I’ll be fine. In fact, just this morning I read about the increased vamp activity in Kazakhstan and I’ve already got a team formed in my mind. The only thing left is to hand out the assignments and we’ll take off first thing Sunday morning.”
“I won’t authorize it,” he answered with a strong hint of finality. She opened her mouth to protest, but he raised his hand to stop her. “You said yourself you need to decompress, and right now, you are coiled up tighter than a spring.”
“Okay, you win. I’ll stay put for a week or two,” she agreed half heartedly. Lowering her eyes, she swallowed the lump in her throat and gathered every ounce of courage. “But we need to stop seeing each other. This… thing we have… it’s gone on long enough.”
He was quiet and she was desperately trying to keep it together. Finally he whispered, “Why?”
“I’m sorry I can’t… I can’t do this anymore. It’s just too hard.”
“Hard? Buffy, this is the most uncomplicated piece of our lives.”
“I need… uh… I… I’ve just done a lot of thinking lately and with all the travel and the demands on my time, I just can’t keep seeing you… like that. I’m sorry, Giles.”
“Have I… done something?” he asked quietly, his voice hitching in the middle.
She heard the disquiet in his voice, the anguish that it might be his fault. And she needed to reassure him. Lifting her red rimmed eyes, she saw the turmoil of emotions play across his face and she wanted to reach across the table and kiss his fears away.
“Giles, no! I’ve just had a lot of time to reflect and… we can’t keep doing this. It’s me. I’ve changed and I need… more.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what she might have revealed, and a tear spilled down her cheek. “Excuse me.”