by Wolfling

(Rated PG)


He should be at home, Giles knew, if not still in hospital. He should be resting and not making his slow, careful way down the school hallway towards the library. But lying in bed at home just made him feel antsy and out of the loop, and the hospital was an even worse isolation. Lord knows, this wasn't the first time such feelings had driven him from a sickbed.

It was still early enough that the halls were mostly deserted, so Giles was able to make it to the library without making too much of a spectacle of himself. He had a mirror; he knew he looked almost as bad as he felt, and the more stares he could avoid --not to mention the hushed whispers speculating on what had happened to him -- the better as far as he was concerned.

When he finally made it to the library, Giles breathed a sigh of relief as the doors swished closed behind him, shutting the world out of this private sanctuary. Unsurprisingly, given his injuries, his head throbbed; even the short walk through the nearly empty hallways was enough to make the pain worse.

He started for his office, the large open area of the library seeming even larger this morning, and Giles wasn't surprised when he found he needed to pause halfway. Leaning on the checkout counter, he waited for the dizziness to pass enough to continue.

He was still waiting when he heard the library door being pushed open, admitting Buffy.

She'd taken a few steps towards the counter before she seemed to notice he was there; when she did, she slowed to a stop, looking uncertain.

"You're here," she said, sounding surprised.

"Yes," Giles said, replying with the obvious.

A tense awkwardness seemed to fill the space between them; aside from the vague memory of trying to impart information to her while he was being taken away by the paramedics the night before, the last time Giles had spoken to her had been... unpleasant to say the least. He'd lost his temper, spoken to her in a way he never had before, his words carefully chosen to smash through her self-absorbtion to actually see others' -- his -- pain the situation had caused. There was a lot more he could've said, and Giles remembered how the words had piled up at the back of his throat before he managed to choke them back down again.

Buffy had left without saying anything else, but the words, both said and swallowed had seemed to hang in the air long after she'd gone. It had taken Giles hours to push the anger and hurt and worry that the revelation of Angel's return had engendered down enough that he had been any good for researching how to dispose of the glove.

That potent mixture of emotions was still there now, when confronted with Buffy again, although muted under exhaustion and the pain of his pounding head. And yes, the fact that, when Willow had called to check on him, she had informed him of Angel saving her life did soften his feelings somewhat as well.

Giles tried to push what remained of the bitter feelings aside; it wasn't Angel he was dealing with right now after all, it was Buffy.

His Slayer.

Who had lied to him.

He let out an irritated sigh, as much at his own brain's unwillingness to let this go as at Buffy's actions.

Buffy meanwhile had continued to stare at him as if uncertain of her welcome. Or, Giles thought as her eyes focused on his face and the bright white dressing that he knew seemed even brighter against the still darkening bruises surrounding it, perhaps what she was uncertain of was his ability to remain standing.

Her next words confirmed it was the latter as she asked, "Should you be? Here, I mean. What with the..." She gestured at his face as her voice trailed off. "Shouldn't you be in a bed somewhere?"

He drew himself up, intending to answer with an "I'm fine," but the movement caused his head to throb more, and he winced, which made it even worse as it pulled on the muscles directly connected to the areas that were throbbing. Giving up, Giles slumped back against the counter again. "Quite possibly," he finally admitted in a wry tone.

Eyes bright with worry, Buffy closed the distance between them and took his arm, letting him lean on her as she wordlessly let him steer their progress toward his original goal of his office. Once there, he sank down into his chair with something like a welcome groan, and closed his eyes briefly to wait for everything to settle down again.

The silence continued on long enough for Giles to open his eyes again to see why.

Buffy was staring at the floor beside his chair; Giles turned his head slightly to see what she was staring at and saw the bloodstain marking where he'd fallen the night before. It wasn't that large, but it was shockingly red against the pale floor.

"I'll have to see about getting that cleaned up," he said, though he had no intention of getting up from his chair just then.

Tearing her eyes from the stain on the floor, Buffy looked at him worriedly. "You should still be in the hospital. The paramedic said last night that you would die if they didn't get you there fast."

He vaguely remembered words to that effect being bandied about above him while he had been drifting in and out of consciousness. "The young woman in question was being overly dramatic," he told her. "Would they have let me go home if I had been as seriously injured as that?"

She looked at him doubtfully, but seemed to accept that. When she didn't immediately say anything else, Giles closed his eyes, raising a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose under his glasses. It did nothing to relieve his headache, but at least it gave him the illusion of doing something about it.

"Giles?" Buffy's voice was small and hesitant.

Opening his eyes, Giles looked up to see her looking at him but seemingly not wanting to meet his gaze. "Yes?"

"Are you still mad at me?"

Giles sighed, closing his eyes again. "I'm too tired to be angry right now." He suppose he should be -- he probably was, underneath the heavy cloak of exhaustion and pain that muffled everything else.

"That answer was a bit more luke warmy than I was hoping for," Buffy said ruefully, moving to half lean/half perch nervously on the edge of Giles' desk.

"I'm afraid luke warm is about the best I can manage at the moment."

Buffy frowned. "I'm not sure if that makes this a really good time to talk about this then or a really bad time."

She didn't need to elaborate on what "this" was. Giles thought about it. Really, he didn't want to get into the whole Angel discussion just then, but he didn't foresee himself wanting to get into it later either. "I don't know what there is to talk about," he finally said. "Why don't we leave it and just go on?"

"But you-" Buffy cut herself off and got up, heading out into the library proper. Giles barely had time to wonder if she was leaving when she was back, holding a blood stained axe, which she held out to him.

"Peace offering? I was going to give it to you last night, but you were all..." She trailed off. "It was the Lagos demon's. I killed it."

Giles recognised the gesture for what it was: a way of saying the things that Buffy couldn't put into words -- that Giles hadn't allowed her to put into words. Reaching out, he closed his hand around the proffered axe's handle, accepting both weapon and the apology it represented with a quiet, "Thank you."

It was like those two words unlocked the restraints that Giles' rebuke had put on her tongue the day before. "I really am sorry I hurt you, Giles. I do respect you, and what you do -- I couldn't do what I do without you. Seeing you last night and not being sure if you were going to..." Buffy met his gaze and Giles could see the real emotion in her eyes. "I didn't think about what Angel did to you. I can't think about it; I hate the thought of you being hurt like that. I think about it and I start to imagine it and... I can't handle that. I don't want to know the details -- I don't even want to imagine the details -- so I don't think about it. Even maybe when I should."

Avoidance. Giles could understand that. The amount of trauma and loss they had all been put through last year was staggering even for him; how much more so for a teenage girl -- even if she was the Slayer? He needed to keep that better in mind; she wore her destiny so well, even when it chafed, that he sometimes lost sight of how young she still was.

Buffy continued. "But you have to believe me, Giles. I never would let that happen again. Even if it meant-" Her voice cracked as she choked on the rest of the sentence, but Giles didn't need to actually hear the words to know what she was trying to say. Even if I have to kill Angel again.

"I know," he said softly, saving her from having to utter that painful sentence. And he did know -- he realised when he looked within himself that he did believe she would do what had to be done, no matter what the cost to her heart and soul. They were alike that way, no matter either of their protestations to the contrary.

"I should've told you Angel was back," Buffy admitted, her gaze falling away from his as she spoke. "I know that. But I was scared. And... it had to be me that helped him recover. It was me that sent him to Hell in the first place, and then he was suddenly back and I had to fix it. It was mine to make up for."

Giles could understand that as well. What would he have done back when he was young if Randall had come back? And Angel was much more to Buffy than Randall ever was to him.

That didn't completely banish the feelings he had about what Buffy had done, or his worries about the potential of Angel to be dangerous, but it did lower their intensity to something he could more easily live with. "What's done is done," he said, willing to let it go for now as a result. "We acknowledge our past mistakes and we move on." Giles leaned forward a little and caught and held Buffy's gaze again. "But no more secrets."

Buffy nodded enthusiastically. "Absolutely. No more secrets. From now on I'll be an open book Buffy, I promise," she said, holding up her hand as if swearing on it. "You can count on me."

"I know I can," Giles replied, allowing himself a faint smile that, happily, didn't seem to make his headache any worse. "You did well last night." At Buffy's questioning look he explained, "Willow called and filled me in on everything that happened. That was quick thinking, severing the glove like that."

Buffy shrugged, but Giles could tell that she was pleased by the praise. "Ms. Post was babbling on about how the glove was the power, blah, blah, blah. Seemed logical that if you take away the glove, you take away the power. Can't say I'm upset about what happened to her, considering what she did to you. See? You should've listened when I asked if we could kill her. I'm the Slayer, I can sense these things."

"I'll take it under advisement for next time." The mood had lightened considerably and Giles found that though his head still ached abominably, he didn't mind it so much.

Nothing had really changed, save for the fact that Buffy and he had taken the first steps to regain the ground in their relationship that had eroded due to her hiding of Angel. It seemed like they had been spending a lot of time since Buffy returned repeatedly rebuilding their connection, but Giles didn't begrudge the time or effort.

It was about more than the responsibility he'd been given or even the destiny that she'd had thrust upon her. It was about a bond that went far deeper than he had ever imagined it would.

He was her Watcher. She was his Slayer.

It was as simple and complicated as that.




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