Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two, Part Three , Part Four, Part Five, Part Six , Part Seven and Part Eight
If that was a construct woven from his subconscious, then he was going to have to have some serious words with himself …
“Are you suggesting …?” He found his voice, along with a note of indignation and she giggled.
“Only a little. But I heard how it works – all that time you spend shuffling paper at your desk, and less than an hour a week watching the girls train in the gym. And you just watch – you advise from the sidelines and you never spar …”
“It’s hardly appropriate – “ he began and she frowned at him.
“It’s totally appropriate,” she said, then relented a little. “Well, okay, so maybe the Head of the Council shouldn’t have junior Slayers pounding him into the exercise mats on a regular basis – but he should be showing them how things can be done. Teaching their Watchers how to defend themselves in the field, how to fight alongside their Slayers, demonstrating that whole ‘use your opponents strength, not your own’ stuff … Giles, you’re the best swordsman I know – and then … Girecokox demons, remember? You’re going to lose your edge chained to that desk and … I don’t want to lose you. Not over something as stupid as that.”
He stared at her for a moment, then lifted his hand to rub at his aching eyes. This conversation was important, and he ought to be able to rally some kind of response, muster some kind of argument with which to unravel her motives and determine the right thing to do. But his thoughts were fuzzy and his emotions unbearably skewed; heart and soul were busy singing yes, yes, yes - while the more sensible part of his brain, the experience scarred cynic that had survived rejection and disappointment alongside bitter grief and loss, was equally busy trying to shout sour notes into the hallelujah chorus.
“You won’t,” he promised, then sighed, realising how hollow and defensive it had sounded. “Buffy, I’m sorry, but … I really need to think about this, and … right now …”
“Fire bad, tree pretty?” she suggested and he nodded, glad that she’d understood.
“Something like that.”
“S’okay.” She slid to her feet and collected his empty tea cup from the table. Her smile was warm and sympathetic. “I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that. Take your time – sleep on it – let me know what you think when you’re ready.”
Ready? He groped for another tissue while he worked his mind around the concept. Was there such a thing as ready where he and Buffy were concerned? He’d certainly not been ready that day she’d walked into the library and turned his world upside down. This felt a little like being there all over again; settled in his life, certain in his causes and his calling – until the perfect fantasy of his Slayer collided with the reality of one Buffy Summers, stubborn, forthright, self determined and self determining …
His life had never been the same since.
He dabbed at his dripping nose, finding a sudden irony in the comparison he was making; had he really slipped back into those staid, comfortable habits of expectation and conformity? What – and who was he, these days? The respectable Head of the Council of Watchers - seeking refuge in presenting the image of a man he’d never really been and had never actually wanted to be? How long had it been since he’d shucked the suit and sought the taste of excitement in his life? How long, for that matter, had it been since he’d done any serious research, caught in the adrenaline of knowing that his Slayer’s life – and that of the entire world – might depend on what he found?
It was true that being Head of the New Council carried a certain amount of responsibility with it – but that didn’t mean he had to turn himself in Quentin Travers in order to deal with it …
“Here.” Buffy was back, with a fresh cup of streaming honey and lemon tea. “I’m gonna tackle those sheets of yours – you want something to read, or shall I just turn on the TV?”
He stared at her – really stared at her, forcing himself to see past the lingering memory of the teenager he’d once known so that he could look with determined honesty at the young woman she’d become. Her face was achingly familiar and yet somehow alien and strange; the subtlety of her make-up, the artistry of her hair style, the confidence and character of her wardrobe … they all combined to present a sophisticated, self-assured image that was both challenging and breathtaking – and then she grinned, and the illusion dissolved, leaving nothing but Buffy behind. His Buffy, albeit a little older and little wiser, the Slayer grown into her destiny, the warrior poised and balanced in her power, his perfect fantasy made flesh …
“Buffy?” he croaked, suddenly feeling adrift and disconnected, displaced from his sense of self as if he too were an illusion, revealed to be nothing but smoke and empty memories. “When did I get old? Where did I go?”
“Oh, Giles.” She was beside him in an instant, catching at his hands, staring at him with desperate distress. “Don’t. Please don’t. You’re not old. You’re not – and you’re here. Right here. With me.” The look in her eyes was like a life line; deep, intense and filled with an honesty that was almost blinding in its intensity. His hands clenched convulsively around hers, seeking an anchorage in her strength, in the certainty of her presence. He wasn’t dreaming – but he still felt as if he were made of smoke, as if the slightest move would swirl him out of shape and make him drift away. “It’s just the flu,” she was saying, untangling one hand so she could press her fingers against his cheek. “You’re burning up here …” Her touch was cool and comforting; he closed his eyes and leaned into it, letting the contact restore him to solidity.
“Burned out,” he murmured. “Burned away …”
“Never,” she responded with determined certainty. “You and I are too alike for that. Watchers and Slayers - we go out in a blaze of Glory …”
He opened his eyes. She was smiling at him, despite her obvious and anxious concern, and he found his lips twisting in a matching curl because – really – that was funny. Bleak, bad black humour, but … from her? Funny.
“We do indeed,” he said. “That sundering from the flesh, the flight from time, The judgements stern, the clear apocalypse …”
“Yeah,” she half laughed. “Those too … Come on,” she ordered, gently pushing him down into the support of the sofa. “Lie down. Get comfy. Just relax … that’s it.” She pulled the blanket up and carefully tucked it in around him. “I’m gonna get those sheets and then you, mister, are going straight back to bed. Capisce?”
He sighed, sinking wearily into the leather. “Capisco. I’m sorry, Buffy, I …”
“No, no,” she interrupted. “No sorries. You’re sick, and I’m here throwing life choices at you. So not of the good. Buffy bad.”
“Buffy good,” he corrected, already halfway back to sleep. “Far too good. Much more than I deserve …”
Continued in Part Ten