Title: The Innocent Sleep
Butt-kicking beta: littleotter73
Characters: Giles, Buffy (not romantically, this is Watcher Slayer fic.)
Setting: First night after the events of Chosen and tensions are high. Buffy sets out to tell Giles exactly what she thinks of his shitty behaviour the past few months.
The innocent Sleep
Buffy woke with a sudden jolt and the rather disorienting sense of not knowing where she was. It was dark, it was night, but there were no sheets on her bed, in fact she wasn’t even in a bed. She blinked and remembered how, instead of bunking down in the road side shack, she’d opted to stay with the smaller group aboard the school bus. She felt a little stupid to have woken in such alarm when there was clearly no danger nor threat to the young Slayers who were sleeping around her. She rubbed her eyes to push aside the dying embers of a dream and to wrap her brain around the recollection that they’d actually succeeded that day in defeating the First Evil, even if they’d destroyed Sunnydale and lost Spike in the process.
Now fully awake, she looked around the school bus lit only in blue shadows by a low hanging moon. Having dropped off the wounded at a small medical centre, they had headed out again with handwritten directions for a motel complex that boasted rooms and showers for all. All had been happy chatter and excitement, not least at the prospect of clean linen and hot water, but that was before Giles had gotten them lost in the desert. At that point it was fair to say the happy atmosphere of the survivors had become somewhat strained. Night had already fallen by then, and Buffy had sought to gain control of their bearings by consulting the map that had been sketched on the back of a napkin, and by pointing out to her ex-Watcher where he’d clearly taken several wrong turns. Eventually Giles had pulled over and invited Buffy to take the wheel if she thought she knew any better and everyone on the bus had had a couple of unpleasant minutes listening to the heated exchange that had ensued. It took Xander to break it up by pointing to the old road house building some two hundred yards in the distance and declaring that was going to be the night’s resting place, no more arguments.
There hadn’t been enough space for everybody in the abandoned shack and those who’d opted to sleep on the bus had spread out awkwardly across its seats. Everyone was a little too tall at first but fatigue had won out over the uncomfortable billeting and now everyone in Buffy’s immediate world was fast asleep. She dipped her shoes back on, opted to leave her jacket, and then climbed carefully past Andrew and Xander to slip out of the open bus door. There was no sign of Giles at the front which was odd, but then he’d been hovering restlessly about between the shack and the bus to such an annoying extent, she had suggested he should sleep like a guard dog between two, and ignored the disapproving looks that had emanated from Xander. Giles hadn’t replied, he’d just taken his glasses off and sat on the bus steps, casting a gloom over the place as everyone decided where to get comfortable.
As Buffy stepped into fresh air, the door of the shack swung open and Faith emerged, yawning.
“Can’t you sleep either, B?”
“Guess not,” she answered, looking around the dusty compound. “Is everything quiet in there?”
Faith nodded. “Is something up?”
“You feel it too?”
“I dunno.” The other Slayer took a deep breath and considered their situation. “Something spooky maybe, but not a vamp or a demon. Just something making me uneasy. Want to break out the weapons and some of the girls?”
“No, let them sleep. They will have some rough nights ahead now they are Slayers. I guess we should figure out tomorrow how to get them back to their families, if they have any left.”
“A lot of them still do, I think. The ones staying with their Watchers say it was wholesale massacre on toast, but otherwise the Bringers seem to have left the civilian families alone.”
“That’s something I guess.”
“Not if you’re a Watcher,” Faith said wryly. “Speaking of, have you seen Giles?”
“Why?” Buffy stiffened. “I thought he was staying with you guys?” She was being disingenuous. There had been yet another row when they’d tried to figure how best to split the sleeping arrangements. Giles had risen from his gloom to suggest they should keep ‘all the children together’. Buffy had had to sharply remind him that they were Slayers now and didn’t need his patronising ‘I know best’ attitude. He’d looked hurt for a split second but then countered it with his irritating ‘I no longer care about your opinion of me’ shrug, before taking himself off for another stroll around their perimeter.
“He was around a couple of hours back,” Faith confirmed. “We’d found a bottle of dusty booze and he confiscated it. I figured he’d be sleeping on the bus?”
“I’d have remembered had I stepped on him,” Buffy said to which Faith smiled ruefully before her eyes were distracted towards the desert in the distance.
“What’s that over there?” Faith pointed to a small red glow and a thin trail of burning that arrowed up towards the stars.
“Well, speak of the devil.” Buffy folded her arms tightly across her blouse. “That will be our Mr. Giles blowing smoke all by himself.”
“He’s kind of a long way off.” Faith looked hesitantly at her.
“And he can stay there!”
It was typical behaviour of Giles these days. Going off to do his own thing at a time when anyone normal wanted to stay together. The First was cut off from the Hellmouth so wouldn’t be paying any disturbing visits, but nevertheless, everyone normal had wanted the unity of companionship. Only her arrogant sonofabitch ex-Watcher could still want to be alone. For the last few months, he’d been pretty prissy about sleeping in the house with all the girls around but she’d had more important things on her mind than his feelings. She’d assumed he’d crashed with Xander and Andrew but it turned out he was too good for that and had been sneaking off most nights to who knew where. It was so typical of Giles. Patronisingly better than everyone else, and treating them all like children. She was so done with him.
After all, he’d demonstrated in the last few weeks all too clearly that he did what he pleased and to hell with her feelings. His betrayal over Spike still constricted her throat. That the vampire had proven him wrong just added fuel to the fire. Giles had been wrong about Spike and he hadn’t had the guts to admit it or to apologise to her about it. She’d been punishing him the past week but he was beyond her power to repent. She could never forgive him for what he’d done in siding with Robin. No, Giles could rot out there as far as she was concerned and she turned back to the bus. Surprisingly, Faith reached a hand and stopped her.
“I don't know, B. A lot of Slayers are in need of a Watcher about now.”
“You want him? Be my guest.”
Faith gave a brief flirtatious smile but said, “Not exactly what I was thinking. Are you sure you’re done with him?”
“Oh, I am way beyond done with him and his superior attitude. Acting like he’s too good to be with the rest of us.”
“Well, OK then.” Faith persisted. “But he’s still the nearest thing to a Watcher we got left, and a lot of these girls will need someone who knows the ropes, even if he does prefer his own company.” She had made an excellent point to Buffy's mind. Giles’ selfishness could not be allowed to continue.
“That is what he wants, isn’t it? You’re right. He has responsibilities to everyone else.” Buffy struggled to suppress her anger. “Right, Faith, I’ve got this. You keep an eye on the others. Giles is out there sulking and maybe it’s time he learned how I feel about his high and mighty attitude. He doesn’t get things his own way on this or anything else.”
Faith looked slightly alarmed.
“Um, B, you are going to bring him back alive aren’t you? I mean I don’t know all that’s gone on with you two, but I wouldn’t want to drive past a Giles sized mound by the side of the road tomorrow morning.”
“Got it.” Buffy gritted her teeth. “Further away from the road.”
She strode out confidently in the direction of Giles’ camp. There was no obvious track but the scrub land was flat and the rocks and stones were small and gritty. The only hazards were the tenacious plant life that acted like foot snares but she got to recognise their outline and began to skirt confidently past. The sky above her was magnificently clear with more stars than she’d ever dreamed possible. Night in the desert came with an unexpected purple colour that was beautiful to behold. Even the moon hanging low and watchfully was showing all its best features. Everything would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for the reason she was trudging out like that.
Giles. He'd looked so much older to her when he’d turned up with the first group of potentials, and as the months had past, his appearance had not improved. His hair had gone greyer, his eyes seemed permanently open and his lips never smiled. He’d put on weight too, which she’d attributed to too much junk food at airports. Giles had seriously stopped caring about his appearance, about her, about everything except dumping teenage girls at her house and then being on his own. Buffy realised she’d quickened her pace just thinking about him. He was so often alone even in their overcrowded house of potentials. The youngest of the group, Chloe, had stuck to him for a time, but she was homesick, shy and missing her father. Giles had even reluctantly taken her with him on one of his trips, though Buffy had never thought to ask why because the girl can’t have been anything but a hindrance. It didn’t matter anyhow, the girl was dead now. Lots of the girls who’d made it to Sunnydale were dead now. There was a chill in the night air that made her break into training run pace and the strange sensation that something was wrong returned.
He’d travelled a couple of miles in order to set up a meagre camp behind some large rocks, probably to shield the light of the fire from the bus and she felt nervous at the distance. The air was chilled under the starlit sky as she rounded the outcrop in inexplicable apprehension as to what she was going to find. But there were no surprises. Just Giles, sitting with his back to the rocks, and staring into the fire. She was about to step out when he took an almighty swig from a whisky bottle and slumped it back down. In that single moment, she didn’t think he could have done anything that could have disappointed her more. She resolved to turn back and leave him to it when his voice rang out.
“Would you care for a drink, Buffy?”
She moved into his view swiftly, rounding the fire and balling her fists slightly. He pulled up his knees a little but didn’t stand so she walked round him, snatched up the bottle and, very deliberately, threw it far away. After a couple of seconds there was the satisfying sound of glass breaking.
“That would be a ‘no’ then,” he muttered.
“What do you think you’re doing out here all alone?” she demanded. He didn’t look up.
“It’s called privacy, Buffy. We’ve all been living on top of each other for quite some time. And now I expect you to let me have some privacy.”
“No it’s called wallowing in your big fat, stupid mistakes.”
He looked up at her then, and was puzzled for a moment before he guessed her meaning, “Ah, you mean the Bless-ed Spike.”
“He saved us all,” she admonished to which Giles waved a hand in a mocking salute.
“Oh, Hallowed be his name.”
Buffy didn't care for the tone in his voice, demanding, “You can cut that attitude right out.”
“Amen,” he mumbled to himself.
“You blew it, Giles. Admit it. You were wrong. You were wrong about Spike.”
He was stung by that and sprang angrily to his feet.
“Oh, I happen to I think I was right about Spike. I just hadn’t factored in your appalling streak of luck in getting men to fall over and sacrifice themselves for you.”
Buffy took a step closer to him and he didn’t back away.
“By god, you’re a mean drunk,” she hissed.
He took his step nearer to her and replied, “I’ve barely got started.”
“You lied to me, Rupert Giles, you went behind my back and I will never forgive you for that betrayal.”
“Yes, I get that message, Miss Summers. And guess what? I don’t care.”
They were practically toe to toe when an incredible roar from a big cat echoed about the rocks, forcing them to snap side by side and look desperately around them. High above them, a large mountain lion roared again, its eyes shining with anger. Giles produced an automatic pistol from his pocket and pointed it professionally. Buffy recognised it as the one from the weapons bag, the one Willow had bought when she’d been confused with Warren. Seeing Giles with it worried her more than she could articulate.
“Why have you got that thing?”
There was another roar, but this time it came from behind and caused them both to swing round.
“Good god. There must be more than one,” Giles gulped. “I don’t want to have to shoot them all.”
“Why did you bring a gun out here?” Buffy pressed.
“Because in case you haven't noticed, we are in the middle of the desert,” he snapped. “And it can be dangerous out here. Did you bring any weapons?” he added hopefully as they swung round a third time to another deep growl, that this time seemed to emanate from the very rocks all around them.
“Well, no,” she admitted. “I didn’t think I’d need any.” Giles rolled his eyes despite their precarious situation.
“God, you never listened to me, did you? That was lesson one, day one.”
Buffy felt her blood boil in turn. “Was that before or after we covered honing?” she huffed.
“This is serious, Buffy. We’re in the middle of no-where and surrounded by hungry lions. How could you not bring any weapons?”
“I didn't know there were going to be hungry lions. I only came out here to kick your butt and I haven’t needed weapons for that since lesson one, day one. Do you even know how to fire that thing?”
He gripped the handle tightly. There was no evidence of drink dulling his senses now; adrenaline had sobered him up in a heartbeat.
“I don’t want to shoot anything unless I have to. It belongs here. We don’t.” He dived into his coat pocket with his free hand. “Here, take my pen knife to use as a weapon.”
Buffy looked at the offering in disbelief because it was the biggest multi-tooled instrument she’d ever seen - a typical piece of Giles over-precaution. She flicked at the bulky tool, opening its contents, trying to find something sharp but everything just seemed to come up screwdrivers and nail scissors.
“This is not a pocket knife. It’s a field kitchen,” she grumbled.
“I can only see the one on the rock opposite. Can you see where any of the rest went?” Giles looked around anxiously.
“Why? Does this thing have a flashlight? Is there even a blade in here?” she said in exasperation.
“Give it here.” He turned to her and snatched at it, pulling sharply at one of the edges but meeting with no more success than she had done.
“Corkscrew? Very suave, Giles,” she mocked. “Offer it a glass of pinot noir and see if it wants to take in a movie.”
He angrily waved the gun at her, momentarily forgetting the threat of the wild animals. “I am sick and tired of your constant, childish-”
The distraction was enough for the creature which launched an attack as soon as Giles turned his back. The force of the impact threw all three of them to the ground, Buffy unhappily underneath the other two. She could hear the lion’s claws ripping into the back of Giles’ neck and jacket and smell its breath and Giles’ panic. She tried pushing her former Watcher off and shouted at him to roll, but her cries were lost under the animal’s roars she continued to be alarmingly pinned under their combined weight. It was time to dispense with the niceties. She kicked Giles ferociously and pushed her power through her arms and threw the watcher and attacker off and away from her body. The lion yelped in surprise and sprang away in retreat until Buffy lost its outline against the rocks.
Giles was breathing heavily and got to his knees. “Christ. Did you get it? Where did it go?” He waved the gun groggily.
“I don’t know. Are you hurt? Show me,” she ordered and jumped above him to inspect the back of his neck. His suede jacket was badly mauled across the shoulders but it seemed to have deflected a lot of the assault. There was blood from somewhere but Giles only seemed to have a few scratches on his neck and nothing that had gone really deep. It was remarkable given the seeming ferocity of the attack and the animal’s clear advantage and it puzzled her to express an "Oh".
“Oh? Oh, what?" he picked up, sounding panicky. "Oh god? Oh what? Is it bad? Buffy, is it bad?”
“Yeah, real bad.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m afraid this is going to need stitches.” She thought she heard him whimper. "Yes, this jacket needs serious medical attention but you...” she broke off and abruptly pulled on his hair, tilting his head further to make absolutely sure. “But you seem to be completely unscathed.” She let go and lightly smacked his head to make her point.
“Ow.” This was in response to the smack. “But I can’t be unscathed. It really hurt. I felt it. I felt its claws dig into me really, really deeply.” He gingerly felt his neck and shoulders and checked himself for blood. Buffy folded her arms in a display of amused impatience, until he finally conceded. “It really hurt at the time,” he added abashed.
They got up warily, Giles fanning the gun, as they both looked into the gloom for signs of their attacker. There was a low predatory growl that seemed to rumble up from the ground. “It’s still here,” she whispered.
“Yes, thank you, Buffy. I had noticed. Where though? Is there more than one? It sounded like we were surrounded but we can’t be or they would all have pounced on us at the same time.”
“Maybe it is just the one then, and it can throw its voice,” Buffy said and Giles rewarded her with a mild glare over the top of his glasses that was straight from the High School Library. She smiled and continued playfully, “We should see if it can roar while drinking a glass of water next.”
The animal itself appeared in view and cut her levity. It was abnormally large and dark in the dim light of the moon and cast a huge shadow that touched their fire. It walked with a deceptive laziness, confident it was the centre of attention, and then arched itself up onto a rock formation to be above them and settled itself down comfortably, all the while, never taking its eyes off its prey for an instant. Buffy and Giles inched backwards till their backs met with the solid rock behind them. The animal responded by resting its head down on its front paws to watch them languidly. Buffy remembered to breathe and nudged Giles’ arm to make sure he hadn't forgotten either. He looked at the gun in his hand.
“Doesn’t seem right to shoot it if it’s just going to sit there,” he said.
“Of course it might be waiting for the fire to die down.” He passed her the .45. “I’ll try to build it up some more while you cover me.”
The gun felt heavy and awkward in a way that swords and axes never did to her. She watched as Giles cautiously scuttled to gather more twigs and shrubbery. The mountain lion paid him no heed whatsoever. Its eyes were firmly fixed on hers. It was like it was telling her something. And suddenly, the desert, the fire, the rocks, all seemed very familiar to her, like part of an old dream.
“Giles,” she called. “You know when you did the hokey pokey that time, so I could talk to the first Slayer? The guide that came to lead me to the sacred spot was a mountain lion.”
“That’s nice,” he muttered, pulling up some scraggy vegetation to act as fire wood.
“I think this is the same one.”
He stopped and looked at her incredulously.
“You don’t perhaps think that all mountain lions look the same?” Giles could get a lot of disbelief in a Sunnydale library head tilt but Buffy wasn’t going to rise to his bait. The rocks and even the fire were all starting to look like deja vu to her. “Because I certainly didn’t summon any Slayer guides,” he challenged. “I doubt I even could anyway as I’m not your Watcher anymore, so it wouldn’t respond to my calling even if I did.”
“The way it’s staring at me, though. It’s super funky in some way. It would explain all that noise and movement. How it could seem to be in two places at once.”
His spirits seemed to lift at the idea of the supernatural reducing the enemy to just a single foe and he eyed it thoughtfully. “If it is a Slayer thing, then perhaps it’s here to protect you?” he suggested.
“From what? From you? Don’t make me laugh.”
“Animal spirits were often used to protect warriors when they rested,” he said primly. “If this is a sacred spot then you being the Chosen One would mean it was here to guard over you. After all, I’m the one it attacked.”
“But it didn’t hurt you. It was more like, it just wanted to interrupt us. To stop us from arguing.”
“So where’s it been these last few months?" Giles griped, causing the animal to snarl its displeasure at him. "And if that’s the case it’s going to be in for a damn long night." In response to his words, the beast gave a warning growl of such considerable menace that both Buffy and Giles actually leaned backwards from the blast.
“Oh, now don’t provoke it,” Buffy said.
“Because it understands English?” he replied with disbelief. But the growling increased in intensity and the lion made to rise and Giles, still on his knees, shuffled quickly backwards towards Buffy and the relative safety of the rocks.
“It seems to understand your version of English,” she gloated. “It's clearly got a snippy meter, Giles, and you’re off the scale. Sarcasm is not going to be your friend tonight.”
He stopped in his wary crouch to consider but finally shook his head, reasoning, “It’s far more likely to be real than supernatural.”
“Yes, Scully, because that’s how our lives have always panned out.”
“In which case, you might want to watch that sarcasm yourself there,” he pointed out as the animal was clearly getting agitated again with the both of them. Buffy found herself pointing the gun and hoping she wouldn’t have to use it.
“Shut up, Giles, and let me think.”
He shrugged and their silence did indeed seem to quiet the animal. Giles resumed his task of building up the fire, feeding it his gathered kindling with professional care. Buffy meanwhile was thinking furiously. Something had woken her up and drawn her out there. Some sense of foreboding that she’d blanketed in comforting anger towards Giles. Had Giles been called here too or had he really set off into the desert to be alone? And was it really healthy of him to bring only cheap whisky and a loaded gun? Was that the warning?
The creature had broken off its attack when it had the advantage and yet Giles hadn’t been injured at all. What if it had misconstrued Giles waving the gun at her as a genuine threat? And if it had attacked when it was worried Giles might shoot her, did it work both ways she wondered?
Giles, still kneeling, finished adding twigs to the fire and sat back on his heels to admire his handy work. Buffy shifted quickly to her feet.
“Stay where you are, Giles,” she ordered. He obeyed but then stiffened as he saw the gun pointed not at the lion but directly at him. Buffy moved cautiously to her right, keeping Giles between her and the big cat. He shuffled round to follow her movement, instinctively keeping his hands out to his sides, his back now to their potential attacker.
“What are you doing, Buffy?” he asked with obvious apprehension.
“Testing a theory. I say our friend behind you isn’t real and will intervene if it thinks I’m going to hurt you.”
His eyes widened. “I think that’s a terrible theory! I think it will rip me to shreds before you can get a shot off at it.
“I don’t intend to shoot at it. I want it to think I’m going to shoot you.” She watched his expression as puzzlement, realisation and then a tiny bit of panic etched across his face.
“Buffy, please don’t do this. Think this through and please, be very, very careful with that gun.”
“I’m telling you, Giles. It's a Slayer thing.”
“But we've got a truck load of Slayers back there. Why aren’t they all out here?” he pleaded.
“Because only Faith and I were woken up. Officially, you used to be her Watcher once.”
“Happy days. At least she never pulled a gun on me.” Giles risked a glance over his shoulder. The big cat had moved closer in its interest to watch them. “Buffy, please don’t do anything rash. I am quite literally on my knees here, begging you.”
“Don’t you trust me with your life?”
“Well, you were pretty mad about Spike,” he joked nervously and bit his cheek. “But I suppose so, yes.”
She took a step nearer to him and levelled the firearm at Giles’ head. He looked in horror as she made to squeeze the trigger and execute him. The suspense was agonising. “Oh bloody hell, woman,” he exclaimed and closed his eyes.
She wanted to laugh but didn’t get a chance because in a split second, the big cat sprang from its perch, bundled past Giles, knocking him over and flew straight for Buffy instead. It sank its teeth into her arm and pulled her savagely until she let go of the gun. Its eyes were blazing heat and Buffy felt she was going to lose the arm for certain. Giles ran forward and stuck his pen knife into the animal’s pelt as high in the neck as he could reach. The animal let go of Buffy to roar and then swung a big paw to swipe Giles away effortlessly. He flew three feet and crashed ignobly into the rocks. Buffy poised herself for another attack but found it was over just as quickly as it had begun. The animal was no-where to be seen and the frenzy of the sudden assault seemed a distant memory. She lay very still and listened to the silence.
Giles dragged himself up quickly and rushed back to Buffy’s side.
“Buffy, oh god, Buffy? Are you alright?”
She realised she’d been motionless for some time and was alarming him. “I’m fine. I’m fine, Giles.”
“You can’t be.”
“I’m way hard to kill.” She picked herself up to her elbows. “And even then I bounce right back.”
“But I saw it happen. It took a huge bite out of your arm. There’s blood.”
Buffy frowned at her arm which didn’t hurt at all. She saw her blouse had been badly ripped because unlike Giles and his jacket, she hadn’t opted to wear layers. But she herself was unmarked; her arm was completely fine, though the blouse was beyond repair.
“It’s not my blood though. You got it, slugger. You must have stabbed it with your bottle opener or whatever and done it some damage.”
“Maybe.” His voice sounded strained and Buffy looked to see that, gallantly, he had turned his head away as she inspected her upper body. The blouse damage wasn’t actually all that revealing, but it was sort of sweet of him all the same.
He slipped out of his jacket automatically and held it out to her, still with his back turned. Once she’d taken it, he busied himself on the ground, looking to retrieve the gun she’d dropped. His coat practically drowned her in suede and she wrapped it around her tightly before joining him to see what he’s stopped to stare at: the gun had been inexplicably broken to a pile of useless pieces and springs.
She nudged his arm and said, “Account for that one, Sherlock. Come on, how did that happen? Don’t you get it? It is a Slayer thing, but it’s not just protecting me. It wouldn’t let me hurt you either. It’s both of us. It’s a Watcher thing too.”
“In the circumstances I find that mildly ironic.” He stooped and picked up the gun parts. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not your Watcher anymore.”
“Slayer Kitty over there thinks you are.”
“Slayer Kitty has a sentimental streak.”
“Either way, Giles, let’s not provoke it again.”
“Agreed,” he sighed and then morosely added, “For the clothing damage alone.” They walked around the fire and back to their best defensive position in front of the large outcrop of rock. Wordlessly, they both put their backs against it and sat down.
The mountain lion appeared on its perch of rocks across the fire from then and yawned, oblivious to the scowls both Buffy and Giles shot at it.
Giles had a hopeful thought. “Do you think the others will come looking for us soon?”
Buffy considered the fraught atmosphere their arguments had fostered in the group. It didn’t seem likely anyone was going to rush to come and join their little party of fun.
“They were all asleep,” she said diplomatically. “Wanna play I-Spy?”
His look clearly said he did not, instead, he started fiddling with the pieces of the gun in the hopes he could repair it. She was laying 10-1 he couldn’t, but recognised his primitive British need for occupational avoidance and let him continue. Neither of them spoke for ten minutes and Buffy realised she regretted tossing the whisky away quite so rashly.
“If you want to sleep,” she began. “I can keep an eye open for our friend.”
He bit his cheek. “No, I’ll keep the watch, you should sleep.”
Buffy puffed out her cheeks in minor irritation but said nothing. It was so typical of Giles these days to act superior and think he could stay awake longer than she. He never used to be such a jerk. Another ten minutes passed as Giles tried different ways to slot the .45 back together and Buffy brooded on the ridiculousness of their situation. The lion diligently licked a paw and paid them scant regard.
“Faith and I were saying we’ll have to get the Slayers back to their families,” Buffy finally said, needing to find some neutral topic on which they could agree. “Now the danger from the First is over, they can go home to their families.”
Giles grunted his approval just as a spring pinged free from his repair. They both watched it fly inevitably into the fire where it glowed briefly and began to melt. Giles shot it a withering glare for good measure and flung the whole contraption down and crossed his arms in frustration. Boy, was he a fun companion on a camping trip. Buffy tried another harmless topic.
“Do you have any family, Giles?”
“What?” He stiffened noticeably but she ignored him and carried on.
“Sending the potentials to their families has got me thinking that in seven years I hardly know anything about you. We’re not going anywhere and we’ve got all night, so tell me something about your family.”
He still looked annoyed but eventually answered with studied care. “My father was a Watcher and his mother before him.”
“See! I actually did know that about you. Are they still alive?”
“No. My parents died before I left for California to become your Watcher, and Gran died even longer ago than that.”
“Line of duty?” Buffy sympathised. Giles closed his eyes and nodded. It was clear he wasn’t about to go into details and she respected that. Buffy looked at the night sky and the wonder of the stars before a new thought struck her.
“Got any brothers or sisters?” she asked.
“One sister,” he replied immediately, before cautiously adding, “She’s a few years younger than me.”
The idea that Giles had living family was fascinating to Buffy. She swung her legs round to face him better.
“Is she a Watcher too?”
“Lord, no.” He actually scoffed in his answer. “She hated the Council and never wanted anything to do with it.”
Buffy beamed. “Sensible woman, I like her already.”
“Yes, well, you’ve a lot in common,” he responded sadly.
“Is she married? Got any kids?”
“Two boys aged eight and twelve,” he said sharply. “Is this really relevant to our getting out of this situation?” Buffy reacted to his harshness in kind, sharply resenting the feeling of being excluded from his personal life when hers was such an open book to him. Typical Jackass Giles strikes again.
“It’s like pulling teeth with you,” she said hotly. “Normal people share stuff about themselves. Do any of these people in your family even have names? ”
He turned his body to her, his anger made him look big and imposing. “You want names? I’ll give you a name. Tom, Tom Armstrong,” he stressed heatedly. “Tom was an architect who was married to my sister. He built bridges and access roads and supermarkets. And no doubt, bridges and access roads to supermarkets…. Or at least he did until the night he was killed by Bringers. Happy now?”
“Oh my god...Giles…I’m so sorry,” she spluttered in shock and put a hand on his shoulder, guessing, “Looking for you?”
“That’s the general supposition,” he said coldly.
Buffy moved closer to console him. “I’m so sorry.” But he merely shrugged and slipped his body away from the contact.
“Don’t be. We weren’t particularly close.”
He’d tacked from righteous anger to being inexplicably cold and unfeeling and she reeled to understand what was going on with him.
“But your sister is alright?” she hazarded.
“In as much as she’s never going to forgive me either,” he replied, and then with the anger returning, he scrambled to his feet. “This is absurd! I refuse to be held captive by a figment of Slayer mythology. Some flea-bitten animated hearthrug does not frighten me!”
The creature, which had been remarkably indifferent to their conversation, sprang up on full alert and snarled at him.
Buffy remained calmly seated. "Right, go ahead, call it names,” she said. “That will help."
Giles waved his fist at the creature angrily. "Either it’s going to maul us to a grizzly pulp or it’s not. I say not, so I'm heading back to the bus."
He took two steps before the night sky seemed to wrap itself around them and burst up out in flames. The lion appeared to be around ten feet high and orchestrating the effect, it howled and roared its disapproval at Giles. Sparks snapped and fizzed furiously around them as the creature displayed its full power. Giles stood transfixed by fear until Buffy hissed at him to sit down, finally pulling at the knee of his pants until he complied. As he hit the ground back at her side the fires and roaring stopped immediately and Buffy held her breath.
"On the other hand it might not be familiar with the concept of bluff.” he conceded.
There was a giggle in her voice as the tension ebbed and she offered, “It clearly wants us to have our Oprah moment.”
“Terrific.” He put his head against the rock behind him, closed his eyes and sighed. Buffy thought she’d never seen him look so tired.
“Look, Giles, we’re clearly safe so long as we don’t go anywhere or argue about anything, so why don’t you get some sleep while I keep our friend company.”
“I can’t sleep.” He kept his eyes closed as he spoke. “I haven’t slept properly since all this started.” She regarded him in surprise.
“But it’s been months. That can’t be healthy.”
“Probably not,” he conceded flatly. “But it’s amazing what you can get used to.”
And now that she thought about it, Buffy realised she couldn’t remember ever seeing Giles ever asleep in the house after the potentials had taken root. He'd always been on the move and ducking company. She’d never even considered his sleeping arrangements, aside from the privacy problem, but then he was often reading when she came back from a patrol, and he went out of the house a lot during the day. Xander and Andrew reluctantly shared a room but she’d never actually thought about where Giles slept. He really hadn’t been on her radar as someone she needed to look out for. He’d been so business like and so capable if thoroughly annoying about it. And now the crisis had passed and the apocalypse had been averted, now when he’d chosen to go off into the desert to be alone, he had a snarling mountain lion keeping him awake.
“Have you seen a doctor about it?”
“I don’t think averting an apocalypse and taking prescription medication mix. I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s just wait till morning when either our friend will leave us or the others will come looking.”
“Fine,” she agreed and snapped to silence. If he still wanted to be the King of Jerkland, she wasn’t about to pay homage in his court. Instead she pulled the borrowed suede jacket around her and snuggled in. It was warm and smelt of Giles. She rolled the sleeves and wondered how it would look on her if she took the sleeves up permanently and pulled in the waist. The blood and tearing from the earlier attack was a downside but she’d had years of practice getting bloodstains out of clothing. The shoulders were too broad and would need some adjustment too. Giles watched her tailoring motions shrewdly.
“Don’t get too attached to it,” he warned. “I'm fond of that jacket and I’ll want it back. Besides, it makes you look...”
“What?” she challenged.
“Impossibly young,” he said firmly.
She pulled the collar up and smiled. “I'll grow into it.”
“Lord, I hope not.” His look of horror was mocking and almost playful and Buffy had to admit there was probably enough material to make two coats in her size. She stuck her tongue out and after a brief sparkle, his eyes turned away from her and focussed in the far distance. Buffy contemplated their fire for five minutes before speaking again.
“So answer me just one more question, Giles.”
“Won’t that just lead to us arguing?” he said gloomily.
“Not if you tell me the truth.”
His chest rose and fell. “If I must.”
“Why Robin Wood?”
He pursed his lips. “How do you mean?”
“You went behind my back on a plot to kill Spike.” She spoke quietly, quashing her hurt in the matter for the risk of antagonising the situation. “And in doing so, you actually chose someone else over me, something you’ve never done before. You may have wavered over that stupid test with the Council but you turned your back on them for me. Hell, you even cut yourself off from Miss Calendar because of me. But you conspired with Robin Wood, some guy you'd only just met. Why him?”
“Spike was a weapon the First could have used against us. You wouldn’t listen and Robin Wood had a plan.”
“A totally lame plan. What made you think he could pull it off? What made you think this guy could kill Spike? Chip or no chip.”
“I don’t know.”
“Because I want to understand this. Would you have backed anyone else over me? I don’t think so. But you’d barely met Robin and you threw away seven years of trust for him? I don’t get it. Help me out here, Giles. He wanted revenge for his mother but you're too sensible to sacrifice our relationship for that sort of agenda. So it has to be something else.” He shrugged so she continued, “Watchers were supposed to stand by their Slayers, even if they are wrong.”
“Technically,” he corrected. “Watchers are supposed to train and protect their Slayers. So they don’t make the wrong decisions.”
When she’d first met him, Buffy had found Giles quaint in expressing that his job was to protect her. Physically, the idea was absurd, but clearly Watchers took the responsibility to the children in their charge very seriously. They were taught to look after potentials and Slayers.
“Either way, you didn’t support me.” Buffy swivelled, raised a knee and rested her elbow on it to study him better. “So I still think there is something about Robin. Something you’re not telling me.” His impassive face revealed nothing. “His mom was a Slayer. Was that it? The old Watcher instincts kicking in, respecting the pecking order. I wasn’t giving you what you wanted and he turned your head?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Oh, now I think I’m on to something. I think you saw the little boy that had lost his mom and needed help and you found a nice new Watcher role for yourself. And you would be rid of Spike and show me who’s the boss.”
Her last line was provocative and scored a bullseye.
“Oh for god’s sake, not everything is about you, Buffy. Look, I saw what the First was capable of making Spike do, against his wishes, against his free will and in spite of his having a chip and a soul… We couldn’t just hope for the best,” he exclaimed. “You were putting everyone’s lives as risk and something needed to be done.”
“And you were the one that needed to do it?” Her voice was incredulous.
“I seemed to be the only one that could see the devastation that could have been wrought in our house had he been let loose among the children…”
There he was again, patronising, superior Giles and Buffy snapped, forgetting their need to be civil.
“Stop calling them children,” she cut in, irritated that he still stood aloof despite the girls proving themselves in battle. “They’re not….what?” He’d stopped so suddenly and shrank from her gaze that Buffy was genuinely alarmed. The big cat hadn’t moved but Giles looked terrified. She was angry, yes, but no more than before and yet Giles suddenly looked frightened and licked. “What?”
His breathing had become rapid and he was grinding his jaw.
“Tell me,” she implored more softly. “What is it?”
She hadn’t seen him grind his jaw since…Chloe. It had been his reaction on learning about Chloe’s death. He’d been away, having not taken her with him that trip, and after the business of learning about the shadow men, Buffy had been angry and distracted. Giles had come back with new potentials and asked after Chloe and Buffy had been quite harsh in telling him the girl had been weak and had hanged herself because the First had played on her fears. He'd nodded, appeared unmoved but for the jaw grinding, and left the house to go do...something…somewhere. Buffy really hadn't paid him any heed. Chloe had been too young for the pressure she was under and with everything happening Buffy hadn't been able to protect her the way a Watcher would. Watchers and children. Why did she keep returning to that idea? Giles had two nephews he’d said. Eight and twelve years old and a father murdered by Bringers.
And Buffy suddenly felt hot air block her windpipe as a terrible thought gripped her. He’d resented being Mr Full Disclosure with his personal life and she knew in that moment that he’d made a blatant omission of horrifying importance. She was appalled at the direction her mind had taken her. It was a sickening thought she didn’t want to make true by asking, but the words threatened to choke her breath unless she gave them air.
“Oh god. Tom. Your brother-in-law, Tom…Did the Bringers attack the house? Your nephews, Giles…. Were they…were they there too?”
He lent forward thoughtfully, his elbows on his knees and rested his chin on his knuckles. It was a long time before he spoke but Buffy already knew the answer. His words were clinical at first, betraying no emotion.
“My sister was lucky.” The irony fought across his features. “She’d been out for the evening – a PTA thing at school –Tom was looking after the boys because they couldn’t get a sitter. She keyed the latch,” he swallowed hard, “and found Tom, and then she went upstairs...” Giles paused, swallowing again to keep him in check. “The boys had been asleep in their beds you see. They were no threat but… but the Bringers were nothing if not thorough.”
“Oh god. What did your sister do?”
He shrugged and even half smiled. “She shouted quite a lot of obscenities down the phone at me.”
"Don’t.” he said sharply. “There really is nothing you can say to me. I don’t want your sympathy.” She knew he hadn’t wanted to ever tell her, wouldn’t have ever told her but for the present circumstances. Buffy looked at his profile in the moonlight: a solid and reliable man who’d found peace with himself in middle age, who’d suddenly been forced to flee and trawl the world for potentials. Gathering children, trying to protect them and keep them safe. “It just happened,” he murmured a little more softly. “It was awful but I can’t get upset about it anymore. I can’t close my eyes and cry for them anymore.”
“And you can’t sleep?”
“Not since then,” he admitted. “It was my fault you see. Their link to me was well known but I didn’t take enough precautions. I didn’t anticipate the savagery...”
“I really am sorry for your loss. Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”
“You didn’t know them. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the work we had to do.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
He looked at her for a very long time, clearly disagreeing but refusing to voice it, before finally shrugging. The bottle of scotch made a lot of sense for a man who was looking for peace. And the gun.
“I think you need to hold me now,” she instructed softly. He turned his head quizzically. “I’m cold,” she added. “So put your arm around me. The fire is dropping and I’ve just heard the most heart breaking story of two small boys, who I never knew existed, but wish to god I’d been there to protect. And of a good man, a good friend, who wanted so much to be there and who needs to forgive himself for not being able to protect them. So just put your arm around me and don’t say anything.”
He did as he was told but remained impassive as she rested her cheek on his chest and wept into his shirt. Buffy thought of this man, who was frighteningly out of his depth, gathering kids, and delivering them to her care. She’d resented the imposition, the lack of a plan, the way he’d thrust them upon her and expecting her to deal. She’d hated his melancholy, his defeatism, his gory flashcards, his anger in telling them to take things seriously when they’d tried to make jokes – when they'd always gotten through apocalypses with jokes. She should have realised there was something special about this one for Giles.
“I’m sorry we’ve lost Spike,” he murmured and she felt the words rumble in his chest. “I know you two shared something. I suppose I um, possibly could have handled things a bit better.”
“Boy, ya think?” She felt him shift into a small smile and relax as she spoke again. “I get it though. Watchers are supposed to train potentials, to safeguard the Slayer with their very lives. Looking out for the children is what you do. Watching over the children is what you do.” As she spoke she felt him tighten his grip. She’d been so angry at him for dumping them on her doorstep and leaving things to her. Now she understood it was a desperate act of the last Watcher, putting his trust in her to come up with a plan whilst he saved as many of the children he could.
They relaxed and sat back against the rocks, Giles with his arm still round Buffy’s shoulder, as the fire played and spat. Taking a grip on some tight, dry foliage, the flames popped some seeds and emitted a pleasant lavender odour.
Buffy took a deep cleansing breath and said softly, “I forgive you, Giles.”
He grunted, but rested his head on hers and she tilted in for comfort. Opposite them, the mountain lion that had held them captive, rose, stretched its paws to arch its spine, and then padded away into the night’s silence.
And suddenly, though battles had been fought and won, and casualties had come at a high price, suddenly now things were as they should be. Buffy opened her mouth to suggest going back to the others, but realising the significance of the comforting, shallow breathing from Giles, she smiled, closed her own eyes, and also succumbed to sleep.