Four times before. Before this floating summer at the Hyperion. There were times when he found it a weight upon his heart, to see her indifferent to him, and remember when she had not been. Though now, now lying quiet with her, stroking her hair as she slept, Giles was at peace.
Four times. Watcher recall is ever green.
“You had something you wanted to say?”
“No… it’s nothing.”
Giles picked up his teacup, to give himself something to focus on. His throat had constricted with emotion too complex for words, and he needed a moment to control himself.
She wanted him to be her Watcher again.
He’d been about to crawl back to England defeated. Five years ago he’d abandoned a career and a nascent relationship to fulfill his vocation; he had decided to return with vocation and career and relationship all shattered, alone in all ways. No partner, no Slayer, no center to his life. His Slayer was still alive on a Hellmouth, still alive and effective and not in need of him at all. He must find his consolation there. Nothing he valued from his life remained to him otherwise.
Or so he’d thought when he sat down and poured tea for Buffy. In two minutes of conversation she’d overturned his world. Now, he swallowed, and attempted to get command of his face. He looked down at the cup in his hands, at the quivering surface of the tea.
Buffy’s hand closed over his. She steadied him, then took the cup and set it on the tray.
“Are we okay?”
“Yes, yes, why wouldn’t we be?”
“Oh, I dunno. Just, the whole last year of me ignoring you? I’m gonna screw up again, Giles. I’m going to make mistakes. But I’m not going to make that one again.”
In another breath she’d straddled him and was sitting on his lap, facing him, hand on his shoulders. Giles opened his mouth, but she laid her fingers across it.
“This calls for serious hugs, Giles. Major hugs.”
“All right, then.”
He closed his arms around her back and pulled her to his chest. It had been so long since anyone had touched him, in this or any other way. Giles shivered, and tightened his arms for a moment, unthinking. Her breath was hot on his ear. She kissed it. He mirrored her, nuzzling into her hair. He breathed in her light floral scent, faintly sweet, and below it the scent of Buffy. Slayer. Something in her blood, that hereditary Watchers could sense. He wondered if there was something in his blood she could scent. Romantic nonsense, perhaps, both ideas. He gathered her hair behind her back and ran his fingers through it. He would never, ever be able to touch her as much as he needed to just then.
Buffy pulled back. She was smiling. Then she kissed his nose. His shoulders shook with a laugh. He returned the kiss, just a quick brush across the tip of her nose. She was smiling at him, and his chest ached to see it. A sweet ache, one that had tears threatening, though he was laughing with her, and rubbing his nose against hers.
Which one of them kissed the other first, he wasn’t sure, though he would have sworn it was she and not he. He would never have dared. So Buffy kissed him, then, and again, and something tore free in his chest. He kissed her, and handed himself over to her. Let her remove his glasses and ruffle his hair. Let her kiss him, long and slow, eyes closed, hands clasped. Let her tug his shirt free from his trousers and run her hands over him. Watched her undress herself, revealing a taut and tanned body. Raised his hips and let her slide his trousers down to his knees. Let her claim him.
When she touched him he shivered.
He gripped the arm of the sofa, struggling to stay passive, to take only what she wished to give him. He wouldn’t push, couldn’t push. She was his Slayer again, and if she needed something he would give it to her. They’d warned him, his one-time employers had, in dark voices, that this was always a temptation between Watcher and Slayer, but something he must never allow her to do. Her instincts were not to be trusted, on this or any other issue. Fools they were to try to keep them separated; fool he was to have listened to them.
This, now, with Buffy astride him, sinking herself onto him, it was inevitable. It was right. No thoughts of bureaucracy or rules or assignments. It was the way it had been through all the long years since the birth of humans and demons. His dream: it had shown the way. Men and women, behaving as they always had. The Slayer claiming her Watcher, becoming one with him, taking from him what she needed.
And giving him what he needed: tender fingers stroked the tears away from his face, until he was smiling up at her, until he was able to give himself over to the pleasure of her body, her sweet body so warm and slick, moving over him with such power and grace. His Slayer again.
“What’s this one?”
“Algiz. It means protection.”
“You painted these?”
“Mm. And did a warding ritual, to dedicate the space.”
Giles didn’t often like to do magic, but the cleansing and sanctification of their training space had seemed to him to be a worthy use of the power. And the ritual had felt good to perform. He’d buzzed for hours afterward, but not with the sick dizzy-spin of a selfish working. He’d had a sense of well-being and groundedness the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years. The echoes were still present in the room. An opportunity for a lesson, perhaps.
“You might,” he said, in his Watcher voice, “try reaching out with your inner senses to feel the boundaries of the space. Close your eyes. Find your center.”
Buffy had closed her eyes on his first words. Her face cleared. She drifted a few paces to her left and came to rest in the exact center of the room. He watched her face as she moved herself down into a light trance. They’d been working on that technique, and she was becoming comfortable with the basics. He’d teach her next to be able to use her senses without needing the trance. He was pleased with her progress. She was, as ever, the best Slayer he’d seen.
Giles closed his own eyes and let his consciousness shade out into the room. He found her there with him, a bolder and more powerful presence than he. He was aware of the places where he’d marked the walls with runes of power, of the blessing of the Powers, asked for humbly and received. Of her, stalking from corner to corner, measuring out the space he’d prepared.
His Slayer spoke his name. Giles opened his eyes. She grinned at him and leapt up at him. He caught her. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. She weighed nothing.
“Thank you. It’s the best present a Slayer can get from her Watcher.”
“Oh? Better than a new sword?”
“This is even better. It’s huger, for one thing. Plus swords don’t come with pommel horses. It must have cost a bundle, Giles.”
“I found a deal,” he said, evasively. He resettled his arms around her, to hold her closer.
Dared he hope? She had given him no signs since that afternoon in his flat. She’d been affectionate, far more physically casual with him than she’d been before, but she had said nothing. And she was still dating Riley. Giles didn’t dislike the man, but neither did he like him. He mattered to Giles only as much as he mattered to Buffy.
Giles set thoughts of Riley aside easily, and focused on Buffy’s grinning face. He was content, so long as she gave him her smile this freely. Kissed him this deeply. Their partnership was better than it had ever been, tighter, warmer, with a deep mutual trust they’d shared rarely before. Buffy had been right to act. He had thought long about the Council’s policy, and found himself furious over, of all things, the word “instinct”. Buffy was no mute beast. She acted on intuition, perhaps, but more often on finely judged tactics. Her post-patrol debriefings had made this abundantly clear to him. His Slayer knew what she was about, and if she wanted him, she had a reason.
Giles pinned his heart to his sleeve, and kissed her back with all he was.
She pulled away with a little pout.
“I gotta run,” she said to him. “Gotta do the homework thing. No time now.”
She raised her eyebrows in a question, and he nodded. Message heard. There would be time later. She kissed him again and he released his grasp. She slid down to the floor and bounced. She gave him that bright, happy smile again, and sped away. Giles remained in the center of their training space, and contemplated the rune next to Algiz. Wunjo. Joy.
The voice was Buffy’s and it was coming from right next to his bed. Giles sat up, instantly awake. He reached over and clicked on the bedside light. He examined her anxiously, but she seemed physically well. His heart slowed. He reached a hand out, but stopped short of touching her.
“What’s the trouble? Is anyone hurt?”
“No. It’s Riley. He just flew off on a helicopter. Took an Army post in South America or some place as far away from here as he could get.”
Giles scrubbed at his face while parsing through this. She meant permanently. “Oh, Buffy, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not sure I am. Xander said he was my once in a lifetime guy, but I think Xander was full of it. Riley is a nice guy, kinda screwed up right now, but nice. And not the guy for me.”
She sounded resigned. He sat up straighter, and pulled the blankets around his waist. He patted the side of the bed. Buffy sat down next to him.
“He never, ah, seemed to be comfortable with your Slayer abilities.” Giles essayed this tentatively. He didn’t like to criticize Riley at the best of times, and he distrusted his own motives just now. The feeling in his chest was relief. A selfish emotion. Likely not what his Slayer needed from him.
But she nodded. “I know. It got bad when he lost his own supercharger cyborg thing. But really, it was over when I found out he was going to that suck house. I can’t-- Man. Could he have picked anything more annoying and stupid to do?”
Buffy sighed. Giles watched her face carefully, searching for his cue. She was sober, a little sad, not wildly unhappy. She had many things on her mind, with her mother ill and her sister not truly her sister. Taking Riley off the list had to be a relief. Even if he was biased, he knew it to be so.
He cast about for a gesture he could make safely. “Would you like some tea? Cocoa?”
“Nah. Just a big long snuggle, if you got one of those.”
Giles lifted the blanket. “Well. Get in.”
“Gimme a sec.” Buffy stripped herself down to camisole and knickers, tossing her clothes into a pile bedside. She slipped in next to him and moved close. “You sleep in boxers?”
Giles cleared his throat. She had to have noticed the erection inside the boxers, but perhaps she was being polite. If she wanted him, she’d let him know. “When it’s warm, yes.”
“Why not nude?”
“Oh. Ah. Too many unexpected visitors in the small hours.”
“Point taken,” she said. Then she slid her hand down his belly to the waistband. “Take 'em off. No visitors after me tonight.”
Giles flushed. “Of course,” he murmured. The chorus in his chest sang hallelujah as he stripped.
They lay next to each other. Giles returned her soft kisses. He held her close. If all they did was touch this way, bodies entwined, he could be content. He stroked her gently in ways he hadn’t had time to touch her before. Along her flank, her thighs, a tentative touch on her breast. When she gave a little gasp, he became bolder, and lifted her camisole to run fingers over bare skin, to tease her nipple into wakefulness. He shimmied down in the bed so that he might alternate lips and fingers, rousing her further, until he had succeeded in wildly exciting himself as well. Her knee was between his thighs, and he shamelessly rubbed himself against it. He rolled onto her and cradled himself on her, nudging himself against her.
“Let me-- may I-- God, Buffy, I need you.”
“Stay chill, tiger,” she said. She extracted herself from him and nudged him over onto his back. Off came her camisole and her knickers; he would have liked to have removed them himself, but he was grateful they were gone. Grateful to see her sweet body bared to him at last. Tanned, slim despite the muscle, confident. He caught that scent again, and wondered once again if there was something to the rumors, if Watchers and vampires might have something in common. He reached to touch her sex, but she batted his hand aside.
“Lie back. Let me do the work for a while.”
Buffy climbed over him and knelt between his thighs. Giles spread his legs to give her room to do whatever it was she wanted. She studied him. Her eyes were on his penis. Would she touch him? Giles felt himself tighten at just the thought. He wondered if he could reach orgasm from imagining how she would touch him. Her tongue flicking against the head? Licking along his shaft? Swallowing him down? He tightened further. Any touch from her would be enough.
But she did not touch him. Instead she met his gaze and grinned. “I like the way it comes out of hiding when you’re excited. And it twitches when you gasp like that. It’s cute.”
Giles burst into startled laughter. His excitement eased. “Don’t think it’s ever been called cute before.”
“What has it been called, if I dare ask?”
“Hmm. ‘My God’ is a popular name. At least that’s what they all seem to–”
Buffy smacked his thigh. “You, you guy, you.”
The rejoinder on his lips turned into a gasp when she bent without warning and licked him from root to tip. She did it again, more slowly with wandering tongue, and he flung his arms out and moaned.
“Wow. You’re usually so quiet.”
“Do that again and I’ll–”
“See that you do.”
She did, and he did. He watched himself slide into her mouth. Wide-stretched lips, hollowed cheeks, eyes closed in concentration. She took what she wanted into her mouth, and grasped the rest with a hand, and Giles screwed his eyes shut and struggled to hold out, not to pop like a schoolboy at the first taste. She was too much, too beautiful, too desirable, too intense, and he cried out his delight.
Much later, with the favor returned several times over, the room was quiet again. Giles drifted to sleep with Buffy in his arms. He hoped he would find her here when he woke, and again the next night. Perhaps now that her boyfriend was gone, now that she was truly free.
He awoke to more silence, and a sweet note on his refrigerator, signed with a line of hearts, but she herself was gone.
“A hellgod, to be precise.”
“Giles, I am not thinking that the exact adjective in front of it matters all that much. We’re talking god-sized. Like, total orders of magnitude bigger than anything we have any clue about.”
The shop was long since closed up for the night, shades pulled, doors locked. The Councilmen were gone. Giles poured himself a tot of the single malt they never had got round to drinking, then poured a second one for Buffy. Just a taste. She sat down next to him at the tarot table and sniffed at it. Then she drank a little.
“How do you kill a god?”
Giles had no answer. The Councilmen had had no answer to that question either. “It’s beyond me, Buffy. I haven’t the power to kill a god. You don’t, and you are so much more powerful than I.”
He tasted his whisky. Peat, dust, ashes. He put it down again.
Buffy drank hers off. “So the answer is, we don’t. We need information. My job is to prevent her from getting my sister. Your job is to find out why she wants her.”
“You know I’ll give it my all.”
“You always do.”
Buffy toyed with her empty glass. She seemed deep in thought. Giles stood and paced. Bookshelves to table, table to counter, back. He stopped at the wall where Buffy had thrown the sword. It was there still, embedded a foot deep into his wall. She’d done something similar with the throwing axe as well. Hit the training dummy in the gold from clear across the room, while blindfolded. He had once thought her the best Slayer he’d ever seen. He knew now that she had risen far since that moment, that she would rise still further if she wished.
There was satisfaction in this, in knowing that he had fulfilled his own destiny as fully as a Watcher might, by training the greatest Slayer in the long line of Slayers.
He tugged the sword out with a grunt. He examined the blade. Distinctive markings. A starting point for research. He returned to the table and laid it down. He sat across from her again.
The greatest Slayer. Calling her merely a Slayer was denying the reality that was Buffy, the whole human being she was. A student, daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover. Sometimes, his lover. Not merely his Slayer. She had ambitions for a degree in psychology, for a career, for a life far richer than the one circumscribed by nightly patrols and demon-fighting. He would do anything to ensure she need not give up those dreams.
But what if research or translation were not what was required? What if laying his own life down would not help? What could these poor hands do?
What would happen if the hellgod found her key? He supposed it all depended on that. And therefore it would, as always, depend on knowing one’s enemies. The fate of humanity rested on those slim shoulders. And therefore it also rested on him. Giles removed his glasses and rubbed at the divots on the sides of his nose. He felt as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. And if he felt that way-- When had Buffy last taken a break? He put his glasses back on and examined her professionally. Yes, she looked done in.
“It’s late,” he said.
Buffy gave him a half-smile, as if she could see through his clumsy maneuvers. She stretched her arms over her head and rolled her shoulders. “Hey. Giles.” Her voice was tentative. “Can I come home with you tonight?”
“Buffy. Of course. Always. You are always welcome in my home.”
“No, I meant–” She trailed off.
“Always welcome in that way as well. Or any way you wish,” he said, quietly. His chest ached, and he was half-aroused already, at just the hint she wanted to come to his bed. Oh, Rupert, you poor fool. She doesn’t love you that way, not the way you want her to.
“I just want, God, something. To feel good.”
He watched her press her neck muscles with a hand and wince. “Let’s go, then. I’ll give you a massage. Help you relax.”
“I should go home. Guard Dawn. It isn’t right to, to, waste time, have fun, while things are so scary and apocalyptic and all–” Buffy waved her hands.
“Buffy, you mustn’t wear yourself out. You need to let yourself live. Enjoy things. You don’t have to be on guard always. Let me help.”
Buffy sighed. “Hard to turn it off, you know? I’m used to killing vamps, but when it gets this serious, I just, well. Don’t know how to stop.”
“Even the Slayer must rest, Buffy. Come. I’ll take you home with me. We’ll take a bit of a break together.”
He held out his hand. She stood, slowly, and took it, and he led her out, and took her to his bed, and gave her surcease, if only for one night.
Giles set the kettle on the stove and reached up to the cabinet for the tea. He knew where everything was, now, where Joyce had kept everything from dried pasta to loose tea. He’d tried moving something once, to a more convenient location, but Buffy had silently returned it to its original place. He understood what the trouble was. He’d had similar issues when his father had died: his filing system, no matter how outmoded, had to be preserved. Giles had felt for years that he might appear at any moment to observe the innovations and tut.
So the tea remained up and in the back, and the sugared cereal in pride of place, and Giles quietly worked around it. Grief took strange paths in the human heart, and might wander its maze for years before its course was done. And Buffy had been allowed so little time to grieve undisturbed.
He leaned back against the counter and watched her pace. Round and round the kitchen, circling the island.
“Giles, I’m scared. It’s been kinda grim, all this year. Been grim before, back when we had no clue what the Mayor was up to. But this. This is scaring me like I’ve never been scared.”
He said nothing. Buffy continued to move. The Slayer paces; the Watcher watches. He could see the stress in her body, in the way she held her shoulders. Her face. The circles under her eyes.
“I’ve gone from a family to just her in five years. I used to have a mom and a dad and a sister. Now I have just her. I can’t lose her. But I don’t know how.”
“Buffy,” he said, and nothing further. She knew all he knew, and she knew that everything he had was dedicated to this search for information.
“Glory, social services, everything. It’s just too much. I can’t deal with any more.”
“Buffy, I’ll offer again. Let me move in. You needn’t cope with Dawn on your own. It’s a difficult time for both of you.”
“No, Giles, I can’t-- I can’t let this ruin your life, too.”
He opened his mouth to protest. Didn’t she realize this was his life? Then he closed it again. The message was clear, though she seemed unaware of what she’d said. He’d failed. She was reduced. No college degree, no career. A glorious warrior, nothing more. An overburdened single parent to a sister who was, perhaps, not truly her sister. Giles wondered, not for the first time, what Dawn’s parentage was. But it could not be said aloud.
“Buffy,” he said. “Please. Let me help. I’m here to help you.”
The kettle went. He turned off the gas and poured water. Fussing with the tea things distracted him from disloyal thoughts. Trust Buffy. Trust her decisions, which might be instinct but were more likely intuition. Sound intuition from a trained tactical mind. Trust her, though something inside Giles screamed that things were going wrong, there was something he’d missed. Some connection he’d failed to make.
He poured two mugs and sweetened hers the way she liked. Milk in both. A single spoon to set both spinning, then to the sink to wash it clean immediately. No tray with service and little cookies tonight. Just a quiet cup, standing in the kitchen. He drank, and tried not to fix his gaze on failure, but instead look at whatever it was Buffy was looking away from.
His jaw was tight. His dentist had told him he was grinding his teeth in his sleep.
“Giles. Make love to me.”
“Now. I have a hunch. Don’t ask. Just a hunch. We aren’t going to get any more chances. Now. Or never.”
Giles was frozen in place for a moment, thinking. As propositions went, blunt, heartbreaking, utterly grim. But his body had heard what it wanted, though his heart had not. And he suspected it never would. Poor fool Rupert.
Poor fool Rupert took off his glasses and set aside his tea and drew a deep breath and stepped over to her. And crushed her against his chest and took her mouth. She made a sound of satisfaction.
Giles lifted her to the counter top and sat her down. She weighed less than he remembered. He bunched up her skirt around her waist. His hands found her sex. He caressed her with his thumbs. She spread her thighs for him and threw her head back and let him be rough. He removed her knickers and stuffed them into his trouser pocket. He unzipped himself and entered her without preliminaries. She was ready, he was ready, and they had little time. He moved hard, fast. She slipped a hand down between them to touch herself, and he urged her on, begged her to come for him. Told her he’d come in an instant if she were to come around him. He said things he’d never said to her before, about sex, her body, how she felt around him, what he wanted to do, how he would make her feel. How she would shake for him.
And she did, over and over, to his immense and selfish gratification. Ripper knew how to please, men and women both. She’d walk away satisfied, if she could walk after this. Giles thrust, and felt her shudder again, and heard her cry his name. Rupert.
His own orgasm caught him by surprise. It was hard and swift and merciless. His knees failed him, and he would have fallen, but she caught him and held him up effortlessly, held him tight against her, inside her, while the aftershocks eased and his breathing slowed. Her grip on him was painfully tight, but he didn’t mind. He held her just as desperately.
I love you, he thought, but did not say. I don’t want you to sacrifice yourself for her. I’ll never love Dawn as much as I love you.