Title: The Coldest Winter We Ever Spent... (Part VI: Where Does the Summer Go?)
Pairing: Buffy/Giles; hostile:Giles/Angel, Joyce/Original Vampire Character; background: Buffy/Angel, Giles/Jenny, Willow/Oz, Lily/Ricky; slight hints at others
Rating: Explicit/ NC-17
Word Count Part VI: 2770
Trigger Warnings: RAPE, torture, underage sex, intergenerational sex, miscarriages, hostile sexual activity, extremely graphic violence
A/N: Ratings, Pairings, and Warnings apply to the work as a whole, and are added as soon as I know they're coming.
Beta: (Although there is only so much even she can do for a stubborn old thing like me!)
Legal Notice: This non-commercial artistic activity meets Fair Use requirements
A/N: Giles: "Joyce, you mustn't blame yourself for her leaving." Joyce: "I don't. I blame you." BtVS 3.1 "Anne"
Steeling herself, Gale grasped the knob of the library door firmly, ready to slid her key in. It turned in her hand, not locked after all. The Slayer, slouching boredly at her side, perked up just a little, hoping for trouble.
She was quickly disappointed. “Ah, Ms... Calendar, is it?” Gale correctly guessed the identity of the intense, almond eyed woman typing away on the new computerized 'card catalog'. The woman nodded and rose politely to present herself, forcing a look of casual welcome onto a face that scant seconds ago had been almost brooding. “I'm sorry,” Gale excused herself, “I wasn't aware that there'd be anyone here.”
The Kalderash woman favored her with a reasonable facsimile of a smile. “You must be Ms. Marylbone,” she noted as their hands met in the brief, obligatory grasp of stylized ritual truce, a social form harking back into the mists of time immemorial, long stripped of any meaning.
“Yes, looking forward to working with you,” the Watcher intoned, just as meaninglessly. After an awkward fragment of a moment she added, “May I present my niece, Ms. Faith Lehane.” Faith stood with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes. At a stern look from Gale, she uncrossed them and shook hands, sparing no more than a grunt of greeting for the woman that, not one hour ago, her Watcher had been lambasting as 'a Goddamn Gypsy' who 'ought to learn to mind her own bloody business.'
“I thought you might be able to use my help,” Ms. Calendar pressed forward, trying to keep the faltering conversation from sputtering to a stop. “In getting the library ready. I know you have your own class room to take care of, too, so....”
“I sorted out my room over the weekend,” the English teacher informed her stiffly. “And I am actually quite handy with a computer, despite my age. I'll gladly take matters from here. I'm sure you needn't strain yourself after... all you've been through. I should have the place humming right along by the time this... Mr. Giles returns to duty.”
“Oh, then he definitely is coming back this year?” Jenny asked, trying hard not to let her—well, whatever this was she was feeling—show.
“So I'm told,” the Watcher replied, if possible becoming even stiffer than before. In a way, Jenny sympathized. This conversation must be difficult for her, having to pretend to have only recently heard in sketchy detail about someone whom she'd actually know all her life, trying to judge how much information she could reasonably be expected to have, and to remember to be consistent about it.
This might well have been the woman's first real undercover assignment, Jenny supposed, remembering what that had been like in the beginning, how it tied your stomach in knots, to live a lie. Of course, any lie you lived long enough came to have its own truth, its own solidity. It got easier. And then again, it got harder, especially as you came to “know” people who thought they really knew you. It was so tiring to be constantly on guard with everyone all the time.
Jenny had hoped it was a condition they could share, and therefore be somewhat relieved of. But every millisecond of this conversation piled evidence upon evidence for the realization that Ms. Marylbone was never going to let that happen. It might have been because of her association with Rupert, or it might have been more directly related to her history with Buffy, about which she supposed the Council might know a little or a lot. Then again, it might just be the Watchers' equivalent of Boundary Law. They were, after all, a people unto themselves, just as her own people were.
Whatever the reason, it was clear that her help was not wanted in this library. Jenny sighed, made polite excuses, and left. It didn't have to be this way. But this was the way it was.
“You're sure this is no trouble?” Giles asked for the fiftieth time at least.
“No, no,” Joyce assured him as convincingly as she could. “No trouble.” But of course he could see that she was troubled. Any idiot could see that, she guessed.
“Because,” he offered, “though I can't yet drive, I could certainly take a taxi if I'm putting you to any—”
“I said, it's fine.” Joyce cut him off shortly. She fought the urge to apologize, and for once she prevailed. “Hurry up,” she said, instead. “I had to park in a loading zone.” Joyce had nothing to be sorry for, she reminded herself as the orderly pushed the button for the elevator. She'd been nothing but nice to this man. Polite. Solicitous. Accommodating. She had sat by his bedside, read aloud to him, later brought him magazines to read, and asked after his progress. Waiting for him to recover.
Well, five days out of an eighteen day coma, he might not be what anyone would call fully recovered, Joyce argued with herself. He was still weak; still, quite literally, getting back on his feet. He was sitting in a wheelchair at the moment in fact. But he was recovered enough, Joyce told herself firmly. She was getting a little better at being firm, with herself at least. Being very angry helped with that a little, though she wished it helped a little more. Nevertheless, ready or not, today was the day. They were going to have a Talk.
Silence reigned for several interminable minutes as Joyce stared straight ahead at the road and Giles winced at every bump but refused to cry out. Joyce switched on the radio, hoping it would get in the way of her thoughts and delay the inevitable conversation just a minute longer. ♫...Wonder this time where she's gone. ♪ a plaintive voice lamented from beyond the grave, ♫Wonder if she's gone to stay. Ain't no sunshine when she's gone, And the house just ain't no home—♪ Hurriedly Joyce switched the radio off. Mr. Giles stiffened and avoided eye contact. This next silence lasted only seconds, but they were unbearably long seconds.
“Do you... um do you have any plans for... next weekend?” Joyce asked. Giles gave her an odd look and tried to think of a polite response. Joyce was annoyed both with him and with herself. Alright, so it was a stupid question, she admitted that. He was a man married to his work... so to speak, without family and almost without friends in what was still, to him, a foreign country. One who's customs he paid as little heed as possible, from what Joyce had been able to gather. And he was just getting out of the hospital (where she had been his only adult visitor) following a coma. Of course he didn't have any plans for Labor Day Weekend! But he didn't have to look at her like it was a stupid question.
“Not as such,” he managed at last. Well, it was a start, Joyce tried to tell herself. Maybe they weren't quite 'having a Talk'. Yet. But at least they were talking. Of course, it was the same kind of meaningless talking they had been doing for the last five days.
“You still don't remember anything?” she asked, beating the bush a little (but not a lot) nearer the point.
“Nothing,” he confirmed. “I was getting ready for my flight to Spokane... and then I awoke in... in hospital. I only know the trip was unfruitful because of the notes I'd already made in my diary on the flight back. Thank you, by the way,” he added after a moment, “for fetching it for me. It was very... very kind of you. I... well, there's nothing like being alone and unwell to make one truly feel a stranger in a strange land. I don't know what I'd have done if not...” He let his voice trail off and averted his eyes once more. He was suitably ashamed, realizing, Joyce surmised bitterly, that he was describing Buffy's likely circumstances at that very moment. Except, Buffy wasn't suffering from a blow to the head.
“I read it,” Joyce said simply, as she parked by the curb in front of his condo. “The diary volume that I brought you. All of it.” He turned to face her at last, looking suitably shocked and dismayed. His hand fell to his lap, abandoning its plan of opening the car door. “I couldn't stand not knowing what happened in Spokane.” she explained, as frankly and unapologetically as she could. “And then once I started....” His mouth worked for a moment more, as though he meant to say something in response, then he cast his eyes down at his lap, saying nothing.
“I suspected anyway,” she went on, “from a lot of things. Especially... from what Buffy did to that woman.” Joyce fought to keep the shame out of her voice at that, reminding herself for the millionth time that he was the only one who ought to be ashamed. “But, well—and especially after I'd heard the 'logical explanation' for that—I thought maybe I was being paranoid. Or trying to simplify the situation, to justify the way I felt about you taking Buffy away from me.”
“I didn't...”Giles started to argue. But he could not look Joyce in the eye and make that argument. Not after all the things she had done for him. Particularly knowing the circumstances under which she had done them. “That... wasn't my intent,” he finished haltingly, realizing his glasses were in his hands without having a clue how they had gotten there.
Joyce engaged the parking brake with a little more force than was actually necessary and turned to face him, the kind of head turning that made her hair flutter emphatically. “And what, exactly, was your 'intent',” she demanded. Her tone was harsh but calm, her voice quiet.
“I... don't know,” he admitted, rubbing and polishing. “It's all... was all... I suppose, more to do with feelings than intentions. As terrible a position as that is for a man my age to take. As if I didn't... I have no valid excuses, of course. Naturally, I knew better.”
Joyce shook her head, “Oh, I'm certain of that!” she assured him thinly, tightly, “But that isn't what I meant.” She took a deep breath and plunged in. “Even if you'd never laid a hand of Buffy, even before you had, you took her away from me. You and your 'Council', but especially you. You came here under false pretenses. You lied to me from the minute I met you, 'the concerned teacher'. You made me trust you so that I wouldn't interfere with the whole... relationship you were having with Buffy behind my back!
“I mean,” Joyce was trying to be calm, rational, knowing that she was in the right, but all of her emotion was threatening to come flooding out, “You've been this huge influence on her, shaping her, guiding her. And did you ever once think that that was my job? That that was my sacred duty!?! That God or the Universe or whatever gave Buffy to me, not to you! That maybe there was a reason for that! That I had a right... that Buffy had a right, whether she saw the need or not, for me to know what was going on in her life, to be there to help her!”
“Help her how?” Mr. Giles challenged, cool over hot, finally putting his glasses back on and looking her in the eye, looking surprisingly angry himself, in fact. “By confining her to a mental institution? Again. Have you the slightest idea the damage you've done, the fear, the anguish, the insecurity you've—!”
“Ohhhhhhhhhh, no you don't!” Joyce insisted fiercely, shaking her head in angry disbelief. “You're not going to sit there and tell me—”
“No, I'm not,” he cut across her icily. “This conversation is finished,” he tried to unlock his door. When he found he couldn't, he continued speaking as though he'd merely changed him mind about getting out of the car, not willing to ask Joyce for anything at that precise moment. “I'm prepared to answer for my own misconduct,” he informed her, his voice heavy, quiet and infuriatingly patient, “To be punished to whatever extremity you feel is necessary. But I didn't make Buffy who she is. And I can't change who she is. And neither can you. And neither can she. No matter how far she runs away. She is still the Slayer, and she always will be.”
“No,” Joyce corrected him firmly. “She was the Slayer. That's Faith's job now. When I get my daughter back, I'm not letting you anywhere near her. When I find Buffy, I'm taking her back home to Illinois.”
Giles sighed. She actually thought it was that simple. Her powers of denial were extraordinary. “It won't be up to you,” he explained patiently. “Or to me either. No matter where she goes on her own or where you take her. No matter what becomes of me. Buffy has a sacred duty. A duty that she is shirking, for which there will be hell to pay, one way or another. For her as well as for everyone else. Someone has to bring that fact to her attention, to call her back to task. If I can't do that, if you succeed in keeping her from me, or if she simply refuses to listen, the Council will send someone else. And if they aren't able to bring her back in line, by some other means, fate will. One way or the other.”
Buffy sat, last of the pay check Spaghetti Os in one hand, can opener in the other. One, of course, was supposed to open the other. But making them do that seemed like a tiring amount of trouble. Buffy felt disheartened and ashamed for not being able to manage such a simple task, but she couldn't manage it. She had already waited until the very last minute to leave for work. If she sat here another five minutes, she would be five minutes late. Wanting to groan but not bothering, she left the can and the opener lying on the bed and went to work.
Buffy walked like a Zombie through her shift, barely reacting when Pete yelled at 'Anne.' Everyone here still called her Anne, but somehow, over the past few weeks, it had become increasingly clear to her that she was Buffy. Whatever Buffy was. And still, again today, like always, Giles didn't come.
More than three weeks had passed since the panicked moment that she had gleaned—from the wrongheaded, misinformed conversation Karen had tried to have with her about her 'ex' who'd come looking for 'the kids', whom she seemed to assume were in foster care somewhere—that Giles had talked to Helen and gotten more than enough information that didn't match Pete's to know, or at least to suspect, that this must be where she was. If she'd had two dimes to rub together, she would have fled right then. But after a day or two of reflecting while she waited to get paid, she had realized, that was no plan at all, no kind of life. Giles wouldn't give up just because she had rabbited. He'd keep looking until he found her again. Sooner or later, she would have to face him, to tell him that she was her own woman and that he could go 'Watch' some other girl. Sooner seemed better, along the lines of getting it over with.
And so she had waited. Patiently. A week. Two weeks. Three. Now going on a month. And still. He didn't come. Maybe she wasn't the one thing he could never give up on after all Buffy realized. Maybe he had decided to let her go once he knew she had a job and wasn't living on the street somewhere. Maybe he was relieved to be shed of such a burden. To be able to move on.
Buffy tried to be happy for him, tried to feel the same way. But it hurt. Sometimes she swore she could feel the pain physically, in waves shooting up her lower back. But mostly she just felt tired. The thought of living another sixty years, 720 months, 3131 weeks, 21,915 days.... Well, hopefully she wouldn't live quite that long. Maybe she should take up smoking, Buffy reflected, as she noticed (but failed to care about) the hash browns burning at what was not her station. Or Slaying.