Uncertain Ground - Chapter 10
Giles watched as the French countryside whizzed by. It had been almost two and a half months since he had said goodbye to Buffy on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport and he couldn’t help but think back to the kisses they’d shared during their mission to rescue Dawn and Ethan. There had only been the three, but they had been enough to make him long for more and had fueled his hopes for a future with her. He wondered how she would greet him, if he would sweep her off her feet and kiss her senseless after finding her on the platform waiting for him. It seemed a bit dramatic, but the fantasy was nice.
He stared in disgust at the partially eaten sandwich that sat on its wrapper before him and reached for his soda to help calm his stomach. The nerves were getting to him and his heart pounded in his chest as his palms sweat and his leg bounced in anticipation of seeing Buffy again. Glancing at his watch, he had about half an hour before the train arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris.
He’d spoken with her almost every day on the phone, but work had interfered in their plans to see each other every time they’d scheduled a weekend to meet. This time when an emergency had come up, though, Giles refused to take lead on it, saying someone else needed to step up and deal with the issues. There was absolutely no way he was going to miss Dawn’s graduation, nor the chance to see Buffy again.
Dawn watched Buffy restlessly paced the platform as they waited for Giles’ train to arrive. Every few minutes the Slayer would pull out her mobile phone and look to see if she’d missed a call, expecting him to cancel his visit at the last moment as both of them had done several times over the last couple of months.
“Relax, Buffy. He’s coming,” Dawn reassured her sister as she took her arm in hers.
Buffy took in a deep breath. “You’re right.”
“And if he doesn’t for some reason, I get to kill him. It’s my graduation after all.”
Buffy smiled her first easy smile in days and hugged her sister. “He’ll be here. He always is for you.”
“So are you,” Dawn returned, hugging Buffy to her tightly. “Thanks for finishing what Mom started.”
The Slayer reached up and dabbed at her eye with her middle finger, not wanting the tear that threatened to fall to ruin her makeup. “Stop, you’re making me cry and there’s going to be plenty of time for that tonight at the ceremony.”
Dawn laughed, “Sorry, I can’t help it when the sappy escapes.”
As the train pulled up to the platform, Giles grabbed his suitcase and his messenger bag and made his way to the door. Peering out over the crowd, he didn’t immediately see either of the two Summers women and, once he was on the platform, he got swept up in the crowd heading for the exit.
“Giles!” Dawn cried, pushing her way through the throng of humanity. “Giles!”
The Watcher turned his head in the direction he heard his name coming from. Within moments, he found himself with an armful of exuberant eighteen-year-old as she threw herself into his arms, the sea of business commuters and tourists parting around them. He laughed and kissed the top of her head as he held her tight.
“I’ve missed you!” Dawn declared.
Looking over the top of her head, searching for the woman who held his heart in the balance, Giles said, “I’ve missed you as well. I am sorry I couldn’t come visit earlier.”
“It’s okay, I mean, I was studying and all. It was a tough term,” Dawn shrugged as she took his hand. “Although you’ll probably have to make it up to Buffy. Come on, she’s waiting for you.”
The horde of people had mostly cleared out when they reached the bench by which Buffy nervously stood. She wore a white patterned sun dress with her hair casually pulled back in a ponytail, wisps of hair framing her face. She stole his breath and he let go of Dawn’s hand, stopping for a moment as his Slayer held him in thrall.
She smiled shyly at him as their eyes met. For all their conversations, they’d avoided the topic of being together as a couple, spending most of their time just talking about what they would do and see the next time they were together. Places Giles wanted to show her and places she wanted to take him just to relax and forget the world for a while - though neither wanted to go hiking or camping anytime soon.
Her heart thudded wildly in her chest as she took in the man she’d waited months to see again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him in a suit, much less a tailored one. It was navy pinstripe, worn with an ivory-colored shirt which was perfectly offset by a tie patterned through with royal blue. It seemed weird to see him without his beard even though he’d told her he had shaved it off after he’d gotten home and slept for sixteen hours straight. In a way, she missed it. When she’d kissed him before, his whiskers had tickled and scratched at her, and she wondered what it would be like to kiss him without it.
Giles returned her smile, set down his suitcase, and walked towards her, opening his arms. She rushed into them, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her cheek against his heart. All the nerves they had felt leading up to that moment seemed to vanish in the embrace.
“Okay, you two,” Dawn interrupted. “I’ve got a ceremony to attend in a few of hours and, Giles, you promised lunch at my favorite little bistro in Montmartre. It’s like five minutes from here by cab and I am starving.”
“Right you are, Dawn,” Giles answered the teen, but he only had eyes for the blonde woman in his arms. He loosened his embrace, but was unable to pull his gaze away from her. “You look stunning, Buffy.”
“You clean up pretty nicely yourself,” she answered with a pleased grin as she ran her index finger over his smooth chin. “No more Giles of the North.”
“No, I need to look respectable,” he answered, looking over at Dawn. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass Dawn on such an important day.”
The younger girl rolled her eyes for effect, though she was happy to see them finally getting along. But god, they must be the two most emotionally repressed people she knew, why they didn’t just do the whole running into each other’s arms in slow motion thing, she didn’t know. It was clear to her that they were crazy about each other.
The couple ended their hug and Dawn picked up Giles’ suitcase with one hand and passed the other through his elbow. Smiling at her, he reached for Buffy’s hand and the three of them headed out of the train station together.
Buffy watched as Giles and Dawn deftly ordered lunch in French at the bistro. Her French was passable, but Dawn and Giles had a way with languages that left her behind. Three years of high school French certainly hadn’t prepared her for living in Paris, but she picked up what she could and got by.
They shared a bottle of wine and ate their meal, the conversation flowing freely as Dawn told Giles of her graduation present from her sister - a trip to Spain with two of her friends to lounge out on the beach and enjoy the Spanish nightlife for a week before coming home and packing her things for college.
“I wish you weren’t going so far away,” Buffy asserted.
“It’s just New York,” Dawn said excitedly.
“Just New York,” Buffy said with a shudder.
“It beats LA or San Francisco,” Dawn countered.
“What was wrong with the Sorbonne, or Oxford?” Buffy asked in a huff. “At least they are on the right side of the Atlantic.”
Dawn laughed, “Neither offered the full ride, Buffy. Plus, I mean, hello, New York City!”
“Oxford will be waiting for her when she’s graduated from NYU,” Giles noted with a wink, pulling out an envelope and handing it to the graduate. “For you. Congratulations on your achievement.”
Opening the envelope, Dawn looked at the contents in confusion.
“You have three open ended airplane tickets. Use two of them to come home when you need to, and I expect you to use the third one to enjoy Spring Break someplace warm,” he stated. “And the last is a ticket to bring you home for the winter holidays. Can’t have you spending Christmas in New York by yourself.”
“Giles! This is the best present ever!” Dawn bounced out of her seat and gave him a huge hug.
Buffy laughed as she watched her sister’s antics with her Watcher. Giles blushed, his neck and cheeks flaring to a beautiful shade of red, still not used to Dawn’s demonstrative displays of affection, especially in public. If he weren’t pinned down, he’d probably have removed his handkerchief and polished his glasses.
“Yes, well, go finish up your dessert, Dawn, we have to get you to the ceremony soon,” Giles dismissed, clearing his throat as he awkwardly hugged her back.
“Yes, Dad,” she teased, heading back to her seat. “But first back to the apartment where you can drop off your suitcase and I can change into my dress.”
“What’s wrong with what you are wearing?” Giles asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
Dawn looked down at the lilac dress she wore. “Oh, it clashes with the cap and gown,” she dismissed. “School colors are burgundy and grey.”
Giles and Buffy escorted Dawn to the gym where the graduating students were to get ready for the commencement ceremony. As they walked down the hall, Ethan pushed himself off the wall of lockers and greeted them with a smile, “Quite the touching family scene.”
Letting go of his grip on Dawn’s hand, Giles tensed up and stepped into Ethan’s space, “Why are you here? You said all debts were paid. Get out!”
“Don’t worry, mate. I’m only here to give my congratulations to Dawn.”
“Go away, Ethan, before I kick you out.”
“You’re going to draw a crowd, Ripper, and security will escort us out and you will miss Dawn’s valedictory speech.”
Giles stepped back and folded his arms over his chest. “What do you want, Ethan?”
The sorcerer pulled out a rectangular box and attempted to hand it to Dawn, but Giles stepped in front of the teen while Buffy grabbed her sister’s hand, ready for any tricks the chaos mage might play.
“Rupert,” Ethan sighed. “I’m the one who left you the clues. I could’ve left Dawn to Riley’s devices anytime by teleporting myself out, but I didn’t. I even allowed myself to have my magick ripped from me, which was excruciating I might add, to make sure you and your Slayer would find the Key. Why, after all that, would I want to cause her harm?”
“Why do you do anything you do, Ethan? I still haven’t figured it out after all this time,” Giles muttered in exasperation.
Dawn stepped out from behind the Watcher and put her hand on his shoulder. “Giles, he took care of me. Riley would’ve forgotten to feed me, he was so busy with his plans, but Ethan was there, making sure I was okay and keeping me from being too scared.”
Ethan smiled and cautiously handed over the box, his eyes never leaving those of his former friend’s.
“Dawn,” Buffy started.
“No, Buffy, it’s okay. I trust him,” she stated. “It’s like he said, he could’ve left at any time, but he stayed. For me.” After opening the box, Dawn pulled out a delicate gold chain with a silver Denarius coin set in gold hanging from it. “It’s beautiful, Ethan, thank you.”
“What’s your game, Ethan?” Giles growled, his teeth set, recognizing the image of Janus struck on one side of the coin.
“No game,” the sorcerer sighed. “Have you so forgotten your mythology, Ripper? Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He looks to the future and the past. Dawn embarks on a new stage in her life today.”
“Why do you even care, Ethan?” Buffy asked, seeking her Watcher’s hand as she felt his anger rise.
“Because, my dear, I am Dawn’s godfather of sorts. You see, and I must say, Rip, I am disappointed in you,” he chided, crossing his arms over his chest. “Janus is also the god of gates, doorways, and portals-”
“And I’m... the Key,” the teen finished, her eyes widening in recognition.
“Yes, your mystic origins belong to the god. After a fashion, you are his daughter and he’s taken great interest in protecting you from evil. He had the Order of Dagon transform you from energy into flesh, made from your sister’s blood, so she and her Watcher would protect you from Glorificus. This time, when your energy was threatened, it fell to me to help you escape Riley, and I enlisted the best help I could find.”
“And this necklace?”
“A token from Janus, as you cross the threshold into adulthood. It is charmed, of course,” Ethan said smugly, yet was quick to explain, “but only so that you can’t lose it. Nothing more, nothing less.” Shifting his attention back to Giles he continued, “I’m not going back on my word, Rupert, all debts were paid in Iceland.”
Giles nodded and squeezed Buffy’s hand in reassurance. Of course, now that he thought about it, Dawn’s origins made sense, and her ties to the god ensured that Ethan would keep his word. They were all safe from his chaotic whims. It still didn’t change his feelings towards his old friend, though, there was too much history between them.
Dawn gave the medallion back to Ethan and turned around, sweeping her long hair out of the way. “Would you please?”
A look of delight spread across the sorcerer’s face. “It would be my honor.” He fastened the chain around her neck and she fingered the pendant.
“Ah, there you are, Miss Summers,” A balding man holding a clipboard in his hands said as he walked down the hallway. “We’re just about ready to start.”
“I gotta go get my cap, gown, and chords, and prep one last time for my speech,” Dawn said grinning, turning to the three adults. “I’ll see you guys after I’m no longer a high schooler, ‘kay? Thanks, Ethan, for this,” she smiled, lifting the pendant before she turned and ran towards the gym.
“Right, well, I’ll be off then,” Ethan stated, turning towards the exit.
“Ethan, wait,” Buffy called to him, squeezing Giles’ hand once more. “Dawn would be disappointed if you didn’t stay to hear her speech.”
Ethan smiled and gestured to the Slayer and Watcher before following them into the auditorium. They joined Andrew, Willow, and Xander in a row of seats in the center of the hall. The two Scoobies’ eyes went up questioningly at the presence of the chaos mage, but Giles just shook his head and took his seat.
Dawn was one of sixteen seniors receiving their diplomas and brought her graduating class and their guests to their feet with her valedictory speech. She had such poise for someone who’d faced hardship so young, and Buffy had never been more proud of her sister than when she watched her move the tassel from one side of her cap to the other before throwing it in the air. And, in the tradition of seniors decorating their mortarboards, Dawn had very cleverly decorated the top of hers with a red apple, an Eifel Tower, and Big Ben, places she now called, or would call, home.
On to the final chapter