Grabbing her pocket book, Buffy quickly made her way to the ladies room and turned on the water, folding her arms around herself and letting the tears fall again. It was better this way. It would hurt even more to wait and do it later. She would just need to keep taking those special assignments so that she would minimize the amount of time she had to spend around him. And that thought caused an even greater outpouring of grief, one that she’d been trying to keep at bay for several days.
After a while, she heard a knock at the door. “Buffy, are you alright? It’s been ten minutes.”
Pulling a paper towel from the dispenser to wipe her eyes, she called back, “I’ll… I’ll just be a few moments longer.”
“May I come in?”
“This is the ladies room, Giles.”
“And you’re the only lady in there.” Buffy didn’t answer and the silence between them lingered until he finally asked, “Do you… do you want me to have Willow come over?”
“NO!” she protested quickly. “No.”
“Then please, Buffy, let me in. You’re upset and I can’t fix this unless I know what the problem is.” His voice held an air of desperation.
She leaned against the wall, squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “There’s nothing to fix, Giles. Just go, please. We both promised that if one person wanted to break things off, the other would honor it.”
“And I will, but saying things have changed doesn’t tell me anything. Tell me what you need,” he reasoned. “Please talk to me. If there is nothing I can do to dissuade you from ending that aspect of our relationship, then I will be on my way, I promise. I… I just want to understand.”
Buffy looked in the mirror and wiped her face. She looked awful. Her eyes and nose were red and puffy, her face flushed and tear stained, and she didn’t have time to really touch up her makeup. Turning off the water, she took a deep breath to compose herself as best she could before opening the door.
“Oh, Buffy,” he whispered upon seeing her so distressed and reached for her as the door closed behind him.
Against her better judgement, she walked into his embrace and took solace in his strong chest as his arms wrapped around her, immediately providing her with his support.
“Nothing you could tell me is worth this misery,” Giles said, pulling back to look at her and cupping her cheek with his left hand.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she repeated, avoiding his eyes.
“So you’ve said.” Giles moved his hand to her chin and gently lifted her head. “Tell me why. Have you met someone?”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head.
“Have I hurt you?”
“What? No! You’re a god among men, Giles.” He didn’t look relieved at that, the concern never left his face. “This past year has been wonderful, but…” Buffy let go of him and put some distance between them, leaning up against the sink and letting the thought die. Her repetitiveness was beginning to annoy even her.
“What’s changed, Buffy?”
She averted her gaze and took a deep breath before finding his eyes and offering him the truth, “My feelings for you.” Giles didn’t say anything or offer any sort of reaction. He just kept his gaze trained upon her, so she continued, “And it’s not fair to either of us. I’ll expect more from you, things I don’t have a right to, and you’ll get frustrated with my moodiness because of the inequality in the relationship, and then things will go south really quickly. Neither of us wants that. Sleeping with you… it’s just not enough anymore, Giles, I’m sorry.”
A single tear escaped her eye and she turned away, unable to look at him any longer. Panic spread through her waiting for his answer, and she tried to calm herself.
“That… does change things,” he finally agreed.
“I know. Just don’t tell me you’re flattered or any of that crap. I… I… can’t take that.” Buffy’s body shuddered and she started to cry again when she felt him come up behind her and pull her close, enveloping her in his arms. “I didn’t expect it to hurt so much.”
“Shhh. It’s alright,” Giles whispered and she turned in his embrace.
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated over and over again into his chest.
The door opened and a woman walked in, her eyes going wide at the presence of a man in the ladies restroom. “Uh… you can’t be here,” she said to Giles.
He nodded in acknowledgement before gently taking Buffy’s head in his hands and bending his knees to face her on her level. “I’ll be at the bar, take your time to freshen up and we’ll go some place where we won’t be interrupted to finish our conversation, alright?” She nodded and gave him a sad, watery half smile.
When he left the woman asked, “You okay?”
“No, but I will be… someday,” Buffy responded as she turned towards the sink to wash her face and reapply her makeup.
A few minutes later, the stranger joined her at the sink as she applied blush to her cheeks and sniffled miserably. “Sorry to interrupt, I just couldn’t hold it.”
“No, you had every right… and I shouldn’t have come to meet him here in the first place.”
“You want me to cause a distraction? You could run out the back.”
Buffy chuckled. “No, he’s really a great guy. He just doesn’t love me.”
“You’ve got to be joking!” the lady exclaimed, her eyes wide with incredulity as she grabbed a towel.
“Not the way I want him to, anyway,” Buffy clarified, putting her makeup back in her purse. She still looked a wreck, but it would do. No doubt she’d mess it up again before the day was done. “Thanks for the support.”
She took a cleansing breath and joined Giles out in the pub. He stood waiting for her at the bar with her jacket and her lunch packed up in a bag. “Better?” he asked and she nodded. “Let’s go, then,” he said, gathering their things and escorting her out of the pub to a waiting taxi. “Yours or mine?” he asked opening the car door.
“Yours. Mine’s a disaster at the moment.”
“And I have tea,” he joked, giving her a small smile as she moved past him and got into the cab.
“I also have tea,” she countered as he climbed in, taking comfort in their normal playful banter.
Giles looked mortified. “The wrong sort of tea.”
“I picked up the wrong brand the last time, but it’s still the same kind.”
“And do you like bargain brand Oreos?” he asked, with a satisfied smile.
She conceded the match. “Point taken.”
Buffy sighed and rested her head against the frame of the window, closing her eyes to the bustle of the city. Her heart hurt and her head pounded from all the emotional upheaval and the lack of consistent sleep she’d experienced over the last several days - and the trauma wasn’t over yet. God, how did she let things come to this?
The time and distance from Sunnydale had allowed them to come together and heal, and she loved how effortless her relationship with Giles had become. They’d been able to talk about everything and anything without fear of losing the other. He was her best friend and she loved him. Their arrangement had always been built on open communication, mutual respect, and affection; and he never pushed or asked for more, letting her take the lead. But this, this was different. How can you remain friends when one person wants more? And that thought of losing him, well, that was more than she could bear.
Buffy made her way to the couch in the lounge while Giles turned on the kettle in the kitchen and set about making tea. They hadn’t said a word to each other since leaving the pub and she stole a peak into the kitchen where she saw him leaning against the counter, arms crossed across his chest, deep in thought right before the kettle boiled. He startled at the sound of the click as the kettle turned itself off before moving to the cupboards and out of sight.
She hoped they could get past this, but she knew she would need some time away, to not see him every day and have her heart break all over again. Maybe she would go visit her sister in New York City for a while. That city was always in need of some demonic clean up and she could work out of the Council offices in Manhattan.
Giles walked into the lounge and handed her a mug of tea and she quietly thanked him. Apparently he was too wigged out to prepare a proper tray and serve the little biscuits she liked so much. Sitting down next to her, he crossed his legs and took a sip from his own mug. Then, leaning forward, he placed it down on the coffee table, his forehead wrinkled in thought.
“Buffy, as the Head of Field Operations, I think you not taking anymore assignments would be a huge loss for the organization,” he started.
“I was just burnt out, Giles, forget I said anything.”
“Hear me out, Buffy, please,” he entreated, and she nodded miserably, looking down at her hands trying to quell the emotions that were rising within her again. “As your Watcher, and mind you, I haven’t really acted in that capacity in a long time, but as your Watcher, I agree, you are burnt out, and you need to take some time away.”
She raised her eyes and looked at him. “I was thinking of visiting Dawn for a few months and I can patrol and fly a desk job while I am there, helping train or whatever.”
Giles took a deep breath. “It’s a thought, certainly, but I also wanted to say that as your friend, I think you need time away from the Council, a sabbatical and, as your Watcher and my role within the organization, I would approve it immediately.”
Buffy stared at him in disbelief. She had admitted she was in love with him not half an hour or so ago and he was talking about vacations. It seemed as though he couldn’t get rid of her fast enough. Indignation replaced her grief, accompanied by a rising tide of anger.
Placing her mug down on the table before her, she stood and said icily, “I’ll… um… make the flight reservations. I’ll be out of your hair by the end of next week.” She picked up her purse and turned to storm out.
“Buffy,” he called, his tone lower and with a quiver of fear behind it. She stopped but didn’t turn around and she heard his intake of breath before he began again, “As your lover, I am asking you to spend your sabbatical with me. We’ll go anywhere you like. Just us. Away from the chaos, the slaying.”
She moved to face him. He was standing now. “I thought I made it clear to you. We’re not lovers, Giles. We’re friends who love each other and come together for sex and companionship. And the sex, it was… the best I’ve ever experienced and I get why you don’t want to give that up, but I… I want more than that… with you. Don’t you see? Jeez, we haven’t even told our friends or family about us the entire year we’ve been sleeping together. I get that that was one of the terms of the arrangement, but I can’t even talk to Willow about any of this…
“I spent three months in the Amazon jungle facing some of the most extreme and dangerous conditions I have ever faced outside of an apocalypse,” she continued. “Leading a small team and wondering at times if we would get out alive, and all I could think about was you. Coming home to you. And I realized that I wanted more from our relationship, that somewhere along the line I fell in love with you. You were my beacon. All I wanted was to feel your arms around me, and when I saw you standing there at the airport waiting for me with the bouquet of flowers, it was easy to believe that we were something more. And it didn’t end there, you wined and dined me and we came back here and, my god, what a night! It wasn’t just sex, Giles, not for me. I made love… with my heart and my soul, worshipping you, wanting to claim you as mine. And then the sun rose and we’re back to eggs and bacon with a heaping side of… of… harsh reality.”
Staring at her with wide green eyes, Giles stood rooted in his spot, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
Sighing, she concluded, “We’re just friends, Giles. Granted, best friends, and I hope we survive this, but we’re not lovers. And this is why I have to end this… arrangement. My heart broke the other day and it’s not your fault, it’s mine, but I can’t keep this up and have my heart shatter into even tinier pieces whenever a new morning dawns after one of our nights and the illusion fades.” Her voice broke and the tears started to fall. “I won’t survive it.”
Giles drew a hand through his hair, his expression sympathetic and heavy with emotion. “Buffy, I’ve… I’ve spent the last year defining and compartmentalizing our relationship. Repressing any sort of feeling I might have towards you that would signify an end to our time together. No strings, just sex, just like we agreed. We could see whomever we wanted, but if it became serious, we’d let the other know and it would be the end of our encounters. I haven’t seen anyone since because I have found no one else that I want to be with. And yes, the sex is mind blowing, and I’d be out of my skull to want to give that up, but it’s the quiet times with you that I find the most satisfying. The ones where we lie in each other’s arms and pretend the world doesn’t exist.
“You know the worst part of all this?” he asked and she shook her head. “The worst part is dinners with the family. Willow has her new lover and Xander is finally seeing a nice girl with whom he is happy, and even Dawn brought home that young man from university for spring break. Watching them be affectionate with their significant others while maintaining a distance from you was almost unbearable. I wasn’t just envious of their freedom and their happiness. I wanted to show them that we were also happy together, even if only for those stolen moments.
“And I realized today, as I sorted through my feelings that I am happiest when I am with you and I don’t want you to go, but I don’t want this arrangement anymore either, Buffy.”
Her breathing shallow, she asked, “What are you saying, Giles?”
As he removed his hands from his pockets, he answered, “Simply, that I am completely and utterly in love with you, Buffy Summers.”
For the first time in days, a genuine smile graced her face and she wiped the tears from her cheeks as she crossed the room and into his awaiting arms. They clung to each other desperately as they both rode out the surge of emotions.
“Don’t ever do that to me again,” she muttered from his soggy chest.
“Do what, love?”
“If you ever have something to say, just cut to the chase and say it. You don’t have to impress me by being word guy anymore.”
Giles chuckled and pulled away to look at her tear streaked face. “I don’t think words are necessary right now,” he answered, bowing his head, his lips lingering a hair’s breadth before hers as he whispered, “Do you?”
“No,” she breathed the instant before he claimed her lips.
And for Buffy, it might as well have been their first kiss because for the first time, she felt him give her his love. He didn’t hold back and she opened up to him letting him deepen the kiss. His tongue found hers as his right hand threaded through her hair to hold her firmly to him as he pulled her body flush against his.
When it ended, his forehead touched hers and he stared into her dark green eyes. “Yes,” he murmured, “That’s a start.”
Leading her back to the sofa, they both sat down and he gently pulled her into an embrace. They both were emotionally spent and Buffy, while extremely happy with the turn of events, was riding a wave of extreme exhaustion.
Yawning, she snuggled up against him, “Maybe after a short nap we can discuss a different arrangement.”
“What are you proposing?”
“Nap first, but it involves us coming out to our friends.”
“I like this arrangement better already,” he replied with a contented sigh.
“I do too,” she answered with a dreamy smile before dropping off to sleep.