Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two, Part Three , Part Four, Part Five, Part Six , Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine and Part Ten
Especially since, now she was actually awake, she could make sense of the muffled sounds drifting through the apartment. She sprang from the bed, grabbed her dressing gown and ran out to the hallway. The miserable, gut wrenching coughs and heaves gulped to a halt as she got there, and she found Giles in the bathroom, his hands once again splayed for support on the washbasin and his head bowed as he struggled to regain his breath.
“You okay?” she asked anxiously. He didn’t answer for a moment, reaching to operate the taps instead.
“I will be,” he decided, over the rush of the water. A quick twist of his wrist silenced it again and he turned, finding her a weary smile. “I’m sorry, Buffy. Did I wake you?”
He looked thoroughly disreputable – clad in nothing but his pyjama pants, a full days stubble darkening his chin and his hair tousled into little spiky clumps. His nose was noticeably red and his lips were cracked. But his colour was better. Much better.
“Nah,” she assured him, stepping forward to feel his cheek. “The dream did that … I think your fever’s broken.”
“Yes – I … I believe so.” He looked at her for a bleary moment, then frowned. “You had a dream?”
“Yeah.” She waved him back towards the bedroom. “A real doozy too. All … dead Watchers and primal Slayers … and,” she grinned, “I get to do the whole ‘Oz’ bit, ‘cos Xander was in it, and Willow and Dawn – and you.”
“Good Lord,” he exclaimed, sitting rather heavily onto the edge of the bed. “The stairs at HQ? And too much paperwork ..?”
“Blood for ink and demons for secretaries …” She tailed off, staring at him. “Did we just have the same dream?”
He considered the possibility for a moment. “Perhaps not – the same dream,” he said, reaching for a tissue so he could blow his nose. “Although it sounds remarkably close. Was it – “ he hesitated. “Prophetic?”
“Nope.” She shook her head and moved round to pour him out a fresh glass of the fizzy orange stuff. “At least … no. Not prophetic. More – significant. You think someone’s trying to tell us something?”
He shrugged, looking grateful as she handed him the glass. “Thank you. I don’t know – perhaps. Or … perhaps my fever … The perils of using magic,” he explained at her puzzled look. “Once raised the power never entirely leaves you. It’s possible – with your Slayer sensitivities – that you simply picked up an unintentional broadcast on my part.”
“Whoa,” she breathed. “If that’s your subconscious, Giles, remind me not to visit it too often.”
“I would prefer,” he said pointedly, “that you didn’t visit it at all … “ He paused to sip at his drink and then sighed. “I suspect,” he said, “that someone may be trying to tell me something. I have become … a little chained to my desk, just lately.”
“Yay for literal dream imagery,” she quipped. “Although I could have done without the ‘Slayers feasting on dead Watchers' thing. That was gross.”
“Yes, well …” He put the glass down, carefully. Buffy had a sudden suspicion that, had he been wearing his glasses, he’d have been reaching to start polishing them. “Buffy … in my dream, I was the Watcher they were feasting on …”
“Oh,” she said, then: “Ohhh …” She reached for his hands impulsively, crouching down so she could look him straight in the eye. “Giles, I won’t let that happen, I won’t. You’ve done so much – given so much already … I’ve been away too long, haven’t I? Left you to carry everything, while I …”
“I let you go,” he said softly, his hands clenching around hers. “It was what you wanted. What you needed. It would have wrong for me to chain you down. You didn’t ask for any of this. You deserve a life of your own.”
“So do you,” she countered firmly. “Only you never had one – because of me. And – yes, you let me fly free. But now I’m flying back. All by myself. Because this – this – is where I want to be. I want to help.”
“Do you?” His look was challenging. “This is still a war, Buffy. We may not always be on the front line, but we are still fighting. Every day. Is that what you want? Week in, week out, training brave young men and women to face the dark? Sending them out to fight - and never knowing if they’re going to come home again ?”
She paused for a moment, knowing that he wanted her to think about it – although, really, after the dream, she had no more reason to think. She knew what she had to do. He needed her. Just as much as she needed him.
“I’ve seen the world we fight for,” she said softly. “It’s a wonderful place. Children play in the sunlight. Young lovers stroll under the cool of the moon. Old men play chess in the afternoon and share memories of long and fruitful lives. There is art and there is music and there is love – all soaked into the stones where people live and life is good.”
“And I’ve seen the dark that threatens it. I’ve had demon gunk on my hands and vampire dust in my hair. I’ve witnessed death and torment and foul, bloody murder – and I know … I know, that I have the power to keep the dark at bay. That I can keep the blood from the beaches and the murder from the streets … not all of it, and even one failure can seem too many, but it can be enough. Enough to know we tried. Enough to know we can go on fighting. Because there is something worth fighting for.”
He slid from the bed and onto his knees, reaching out to gather her into a determined hug. “My dear, dear, girl,” he murmured, his voice cracking. She hugged back – gently, because he was sick. He was shaking too, but she suspected that had nothing to do with the flu.
It should have been weird, the two of them wrapped in each other’s arms like that – she in her nightdress and dressing gown, he in almost nothing at all – but it felt right, and it felt safe, and it felt like coming home …
“Yes,” he croaked after a minute or two – minutes in which neither of them had moved because doing so would have been to abandon the comfort of their embrace.
“Yes, what?” she murmured, her eyes closed as she savoured the feel of loving arms. Holding her close.
“Yes, I will be your Watcher again. If that’s what you want. Hell,” he added, with a sound half laugh, half sob, “I’ll bloody well Watch you every minute of every day, if that’s what keeps you at my side. Will you stay with me, Buffy? Will you be my slayer again?”
She leaned back – reluctantly, since it meant he had to let go of her, even if only a little bit – and she smiled. “I swear,” she said, a sure and certain vow. “I’ll stay. In sickness and in health.” The smile turned into a grin, since she was well aware of what she was saying – and what she wanted it to convey. He returned the grin with a wary I hope I haven’t read this wrong look.
“’Til death do us part?” he countered wryly and she laughed.
“Longer,” she promised – and, leaning in again, ever so gently, she kissed him.
Completed in the Epilogue ...