Stages of Understanding~ Chapter One
A/N: See prologue for disclaimer.
4 ½ months later....
Giles looked out at the London streets as he did every morning. He sipped at his tea and watched the people from the window of his flat. He looked on not really seeing anything in front of him. It was raining like it was most days and for Giles, it was like the sun was gone, the rain was like a reflection of himself. He never saw the sun anymore because the sun was simply gone. Giles shook his head and turned away from the window. He sipped his tea and looked around him.
There was nothing really special about his flat. Bare walls, one bedroom, one bathroom and a small kitchen. There were no decorations on the walls and he wasn't even unpacked. Giles had no desire to really furnish it either. He sighed. This wasn't home and he knew that. He has lived there for one-hundred and forty-three days and still felt no need to unpack anything. Giles sat his now empty mug in the sink and looked at it. That mug with the wording “Kiss the Librarian” was the only thing he allowed himself to have from Sunnydale. Other than his clothes and books, everything else was left in his flat back in California.
Giles simply couldn't bring himself to get rid of the flat there. Something told him that he might need it later. Although, he couldn't understand why. He had no intention of ever going back to California, unless the reasons were extreme. There was nothing left for him there. Granted, he loved those he left in Sunnydale but without...her....he had no reason to be there. They had their weekly phone calls and for him that was enough.
At first he thought about staying for awhile. He had the store and he was going to stay for a bit to get everything settled. Giles was going to give Anya the bulk of the ownership of the store while he stayed a silent partner. However, after the funeral he simply couldn't do it. Perhaps if Dawn hadn't cornered him and hadn't passed on.....her.... message, he might have been able to stay.
Yet, learning that....she... loved him in return was to much for him too bare. He was gone the next day. He left a note but of course, they met him at the airport. He handed the keys to the flat to Willow and said he left a good portion of his library for their use. The rent was paid up well in advance and when that ran out, he would send them money for it or transfer the lease into Willow's name. He wasn't sure what to do yet and he wasn't ready to deal with it. He would deal with that later.
He moved to England and stayed with his aunt for awhile, before he went to London and rented the first flat he looked at. He talked to an old friend at the British Museum and got a small office job, nothing special. He didn't know if he would stay there long because he was still unsure of a lot of things. The only real clear decision he was proud of was leaving the Watchers Council. He just couldn't belong to such an organization when his reason for living is.....
Giles shook his head again. He couldn't think about that. He needed to stop dwelling on....her. Wherever she was, he knew she was okay. He could feel it. She wasn't suffering and was at peace. That was really the only thing that kept him going. Willow mentioned once about her being in Hell and that was something he couldn't imagine. No. It wasn't possible. The idea that she was suffering was just unimaginable to him. That idea would kill him.
He walked away from the sink and wondered what to do with the day. He wasn't needed at the museum and wondered about having lunch with his aunts. Yet, that didn't seem appealing especially since he was due for Dawn's phone call. Perhaps after that, he might venture out or maybe even try and unpack a few things (although unlikely). Until then he decided on a old book of his father's to read for the day. The only books he brought with him from Sunnydale were the non-demonic ones. The others he left in Sunnydale. He had no use for them anymore. He was done fighting. He lost too much. What he wanted was gone and now he just needed quiet. He felt he was owed that.
Giles settled down on his sofa and opened the book. He fell into the gripe of the pages, one of the few things that haven't changed since he moved back to England, and time flew. There were times when he couldn't sleep because of his dreams and he would get up and read late into the night. He either didn't sleep because he couldn't stand the dreams while other times, that was all he did. Sometimes falling into a fantasy was easier than reality. Books were his release. It didn't take away the pain but made it numb for a while.
It was about mid-afternoon when his phone rang. He knew it would be early, very early in Sunnydale but it didn't surprise him in the least. From his conversations with the gang, none of them were sleeping well either. The only one who wasn't accounted for was Spike, who from what he knew left around the same time he did.
As conversations go, it was always Dawn he talked to. He would talk to her as she got ready for school and then he would talk to either Willow or Xander if he were there. While his conversations with Dawn were long, his conversations with Willow and Xander were always on the shorter side. He felt as though they were hiding something but he honestly didn't really want to know. He knew Willow was misusing magic but he couldn't bring himself to really put in the effort to help her. He just didn't have it in him anymore. He didn't have the strength. Bu...she was his strength and now she was gone. If it wasn't for Dawn he wouldn't even have any contact at all. She was the last piece he had left of......
Giles put his book aside and rose from the sofa. He grabbed his phone and answered it, knowing who would be on the other line. He smiled slightly.
“Hello Dawn.” His voice was gentle as it always was with her. He leaned against the counter and placed his free hand in his pocket. He waited a second for a reply but it wasn't from who he was expecting.
“Giles, its me Willow.” Suddenly, his heart sunk. Willow hadn't called him herself other than the first week he had been in England. She wouldn't call him herself unless something was seriously wrong. Her voice was tentative and small. She only used that voice when she had done something that she knew that Giles wasn't going to be to pleased with.
“Willow is everything all right?” Giles rushed out. His mind going wild with everything that could have gone wrong. He did that, it was a bad habit but he couldn't help but picture every horrible thing that might have happened when he left Sunnydale. If he were a stronger man, he would have stayed but he couldn't.
“Yeah. Everything is fine...but...,”Willow trailed off and Giles held his breath. Whatever was coming he knew it wasn't good. It couldn't be good. There was simply no way for it to be. Willow only got shy and scared when something was wrong and when she was scared of punishment. “She's back.”
“Whose back?” Giles asked. His mind went to Glory. He killed Ben, something he had to live with, but that didn't mean she couldn't find another way back. Has she risen and taken Dawn? Was Dawn dead now too? No, he couldn't think of that. If Glory had risen, he would have been called and on the first flight to Sunnydale. While he knew that Sunnydale was hell on earth for him now, he would have gone back if it meant to protect Dawn, the only piece of.......her....that was left.
“Buffy.” Giles sucked in a breath. That was the first time he heard her name since the funeral. The last person he heard speak her name was Dawn, and he words where to bittersweet. He never even allowed himself to think her name because it was too horrifically painful. “I did some research and found a spell. It took some time to prepare and find all the things I needed but..I did it. I couldn't let her rot in Hell Giles. I couldn't. She doesn't deserve that.”
“Oh dear lord.” That was all he could say. He honestly didn't know what to think. A part of him thought he was dreaming. It wouldn't be the first time he dreamed of her being alive. Yet, the dreams were never in this context. Normally she was standing in front of him. He could never touch her, but she was there. Other times he simply dreamed of her jumping off the god forsaken tower. It was another reason why he left Sunnydale. No matter where he was in that town, all he had to was turn and he could see that damned tower.
“I know it is a lot to process, for all of us but she really is back and alive. Last night was her first night back. She is really tired and confused. She just wants to sleep, I guess that is smart. I think Dawn is in there with her, she isn't going to school today.” Giles didn't respond. He didn't know how to. He did the only think he knew how to. He pulled off his glasses and cleaned them. “I should have called earlier, maybe last night but it was crazy here. I mean biker demons and everything and don't take this the wrong way but I probably wouldn't have called you for a couple days but she asked after you.”
“Yeah. One of the first things she really asked when she realized she was back, you know because she was confused and all, was were you where. Actually her words were 'Giles. I really need Giles. Were is Giles?' I had to explain that you left and she looked liked we kicked her puppy. I told her that I would call and I'm sure you will come back, I mean its Buffy and-”
“Oh, Willow what did you do?” She didn't hear him.
“She is back Giles. I brought her back. I just couldn't leave her in Hell. I mean, she is confused and I think after awhile she will get back to normal. It will be an adjustment for sure but at least she isn't suffering in Hell anymore. When you get back I'm sure she will perk up. I mean the two of you always had this connection and I get why you left. Tara and I were talking and-”
“Willow! I'm coming home.” With that, he snapped his phone shut.
Buffy looked at the back door that led out into the alley way. Part of her wanted to go out there but she held back. She had just told her friends that she was in Hell, a blatant lie but its what they needed to hear. She couldn't really look any of them in the eye and she was slightly angry with them. She knew they had her best interest at heart. Yet, it still didn't make the ache go away.
She felt as though she simply had a hole inside of her. Like she came back wrong. There was something missing inside of her. Not only that but everything she was experiencing now was just to much. It was too loud and too violent. Every night she had to go out and kill and hunt and it was just too much. These emotions she was feeling were filling her up inside and it was as though she was suffocating. She had nothing to breathe for.
Buffy turned away from the door and looked around the training room. Memories were still coming back to her and she suddenly found herself flooded with them. Giles and her training, sparing, joking, having serious conversations and so much more. This was their space. It belonged to only them. Looking around it had a small layer of dust as though no one had come in here for some time. It was a reminder that Giles wasn't here. Again, that ache grew bigger.
Willow had said she got a hold of him that morning and that Giles was flying back. That made a small bubble of hope swell up inside her. After she dug herself out of her coffin and was sitting in the living room listening to her friends bicker, she realized that Giles wasn't there. That confused her. Now, other than the nightmares and thoughts about her situation, all her focus was on Giles. At first, before the memories started coming back, she knew that she loved a man named Giles. It was the only thing keeping her sane. She didn't know who he was or what he was to her, only that she loved him. Walking through the street, seeing the fire and the demons, wondering if this was hell, she knew that he wouldn't be there. It wasn't until after, when she calmed down, she really started to remember him.
Buffy walked around the room almost in a circle. She was soaking everything up, every memory of him that she could. If anyone could restore any sort of heaven inside of her, he could or at least, she hoped. It was in that moment that she realized that the only thing wrong with heaven was that Giles wasn't there and even that was okay because, one day he would be. It wasn't that she wanted him to die but to simply see him again. Now, after being cast out, she was still waiting.
A few days at max, was all she had to wait. If she could keep it together until then, perhaps she would be okay. With a new determination Buffy headed back into the shop. She smiled slightly at Willow as she passed noting that the other women wore a smile. Buffy only wished she could return it. With that she left the Magic Box and went to pick up Dawn. She told them what she need to tell and now she wanted nothing more than to get out of that shop.
Holding it together was easier said than done. By the time she returned home with Dawn, she received a less than stellar realization that she
had no money. This came from Anya. Less than tactful Anya. They had gone over her financial situation when she felt as though she was about to break. She excused herself and all but ran up the stairs. She found herself in the bathroom looking at herself in the mirror. She gripped the sink until her knuckles went white.
She inhaled deeply and counted to ten. Her heart was racing and she couldn't breathe. Soon her knees gave out and Buffy sunk to the bathroom floor. She gripped her stomach in pain and she found herself crawling to the toilet. She vomited inside the basin. She could hardly hear the knock on the door or someone call her name. She didn't realize that someone was with her until her hair was being held back from her face.
“Buffy, are you okay?” It was Dawn. Her voice was calm and gentle. Her touch was just the same. Out of all of them, Dawn was the easiest to be around. She had no involvement in her resurrection and she was the only one who really seemed to care that she was in pain. Dawn had always been one to notice things when other people didn't. While she could be a pain in Buffy's life when they were growing up because of her being clumsy and sometimes self-centered, Dawn always did have a compassionate side.
“I'm fine.” Buffy stated in between dry heaves. When she finished, Buffy leaned back and allowed Dawn to rub small circles on her back. She sat down and rested her head against the side of wall. Dawn sat down across from her and crossed her legs underneath her. The younger sister placed her hands in her lap while she watched Buffy with a critical eye.
“If you were fine you wouldn't be vomiting in the toilet.” Dawn stated and Buffy shot her an annoyed looked. That only made Dawn smile. How she missed that annoyed older sister glare. “You're not getting sick are you?” That caused Buffy to chuckle.
“No. I'm certain that I'm healthy as a horse.” With that, Buffy broke out into a complete laughing fest. She clutched her stomach and all but fell over. It wasn't one of those happy laughing fest but more of 'I'm at the end of my rope and don't know what to do' laughs. Dawn's eyes were wide and watched her sister fearfully. “I'm so healthy that I can't even stay dead.”
“So that is what this is about.” Dawn stated in a low voice. Her eyes held hurt but tried not to show it. Out of everyone in the house, she understood that her sister was hurting. Everyone just assumed and pushed Buffy to snap out of her funk but Dawn realized that it wasn't that simple. Being pulled out of hell was going to take time to adjust to. She recalled how hard it was on Angel when he returned and it was naive to think that Buffy would fair any better.
“Obviously. What else would it be about?” Buffy snapped and regretted it when she saw how hurt her sister looked. She may be angry but not at Dawn. It wasn't Dawn's fault that she was back and she didn't blame her. Her little sister had nothing to do with it. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. It's not your fault I'm here.”
“No. It's okay. I understand.” Dawn stated and reached out her hand. Buffy allowed her hand to be held by her sister's. She was quiet and didn't say anything at first but her mind was reeling. How could Dawn understand? There was no possible way for her younger sister to understand what it was like to be ripped out of heaven. As though she had read her thoughts, Dawn spoke again. “Okay, maybe I don't know what it's like to be brought back from Hell but I know what its like to have to adjust to something huge. So, I understand a little.”
“What are you talking about Dawn?”
“I'm the Key. Learning that I wasn't always a Summers girl or that I wasn't always a girl was possibly the most difficult thing I ever had to deal with. I mean I felt like I wasn't......real-that I didn't belong here and that I wasn't wanted. I felt as though I wasn't human and that I didn't have a soul.” Dawn looked down at their hands. Buffy was squeezing her's pretty tightly and when Dawn looked back up, Buffy had fresh tears falling down the side of her face. “I don't know if this is how you feel but.....” Suddenly, Dawn felt herself be pulled into a bone crunching hug.
“Oh Dawn, you have no idea how close you really are.” Buffy released her after a moment. They sat and looked at each other but their hands were still clasped together.
“If it helps, I missed you.” Dawn stated and Buffy realized that she had indeed missed her sister. While heaven was...heaven, it still lacked those she loved. It was enough to know that they were well and safe but it didn't help that fact that she missed them.
“I missed you too.” With that, Buffy stood up and helped Dawn up as well. Buffy went to the sink and washed out her mouth. She could feel inside her that her walls were clicking back into place. They were fragile and it was only a matter of time before they cracked again. She glanced up in the mirror and could tell that Dawn was still watching her. “What is it that you needed?”
“When you came up here, what is it that you wanted?” Buffy asked her sister and Dawn looked down at her hands. She took a few moments before she opened her mouth. However, she had no idea what to say and closed it again. She was nervous and whenever Dawn was nervous, it scared Buffy. Dawn was like Anya in a lot of ways. She wasn't the most tactful person, spouting out whatever popped into her mind.
“Well, see, Willow made a call and..-” Buffy turned and looked at Dawn with wide eyes. Hearing that Willow made any type of phone call sent chills down her spine. Her mind flew into overdrive about everything that could have gone wrong. And of course her mind went straight to-
“What? Oh. No! It wasn't Giles. Willow hasn't heard anything from him yet.” Dawn drew a breath and looked at her sister again. “Willow called Angel. He wants to see you.” That was a whole avenue that Buffy didn't want to go down. She hadn't even thought of Angel since she has been back. Granted its been less than forty-eight hours but she thought of many things and Angel wasn't even on her radar.
“Oh.” Buffy turned back around and avoided her sister's gaze in the mirror. She shook her head. “No, I don't think I want to see him. I'll call but, I don't want to see him.” To her, Angel was part of another life. It was so long ago that Angel didn't matter to her much anymore. She wished him well but she wanted nothing to do with that part of her life. That part was dead and gone.
“Are you sure?”
Dawn nodded. She pursed her lips together and started to ring her hands. She did this whenever she wanted to broach a topic that she knew her sister wouldn't like. Buffy looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Dawn would never admit how much she missed her sister doing that even though it used to infuriate her. “What is it? Dawn?”
“Well, I just wanted to let you know, that...well...Giles knows. You know. About what you told me....what you said to me on the day you.....what I mean is that Giles and I-”
“You told him that I loved him.” Buffy stated and a sudden piece of dread filled her. It wasn't that she didn't want him to know, mainly because she was sure that he wouldn't feel the same. It wasn't possible in her mind. Now she was terrified how he would react around her. Would he push her away? Or simply let her down gently? Each option would be extremely painful to her. It wouldn't help the pain she was already in.
“Right after your funeral. He didn't want to hear it. I all but had to restrain him. When I told him, and I only told him because you asked me to....remember?” Buffy nodded but couldn't look at Dawn. Her heart was pounding and she didn't know if she would be able to stay upright any longer. “When I told him, he lost it. He just...broke down and cried. He didn't cry once during your funeral or after. But when I told him you loved him it was just like he lost you all over again only ten times worse.” Dawn was quiet after a moment. “He said things.”
Buffy turned around. She was desperate to know what Giles had said when he learned that she loved him. Granted, she told Dawn to tell him because she was going to die. It was her last dying wish for him to know of her love. She would never have to face his rejection. Now it was a different story.
“What did he say?!” Buffy stated in a much more urgent voice but still Dawn faltered. The younger of the two sisters took a deep breath before she began to speak. All the while, Buffy held her own breath waiting for either rejection or something else. What she got was neither.
“Look, Buffy I love you. I love you more than I expected and not just because you're the slayer or my big sister. I love you because you are who you are. It took you dying for me to realize that but now you're back. I love and respect you and I want to see you happy.......”
“There is a 'but' coming isn't there?”
“Yes. Look I respect you but there is no one I respect more than Giles. I can't betray his trust. Please don't ask me too. He will tell you himself if he wants. I'm sure he will.” Dawn's eyes pleaded with her to accept that decision. It was hard for Buffy to do so but she nodded. Her heart ached for so many reasons and the possibility that Giles may not love her was all the more reason to crave heaven again. She knew that Dawn was more than likely letting her down easy, not wanting to cause her more harm.
“Okay.” With that Buffy went out the bathroom door, leaving a bewildered Dawn behind. She went down the hallway, pausing momentarily at her mother's, now Tara and Willow's, bedroom door. She peered inside but closed her eyes quickly. She remembered a moment of being in her mother's presence and then she wasn't. It was like she was being torn from it.
Buffy shook her head and walked away from the room. It seemed that everything around her reminded her of what she lost. She couldn't handle that. If she had the choice, she would simply forget. She thought that maybe she could ask Willow. Surely her best friend would know a spell to make her forget that she was ever in heaven. If she didn't know, then maybe she would feel better. They always did say that ignorance is bliss. Then she remembered that she would have to tell Willow that she pulled her best friend from heaven and away from her mother. No. That would simply not due.
Buffy may be hurting because of Willow's, Xander's, Anya's and Tara's actions but she didn't have it in her to cause them harm. No, telling Willow was out of the question. Perhaps Giles would help her. It was certainly something worth asking. Giles had no part in her resurrection and would do anything to help her, as he had proven in the past. He knew magic even if he didn't use it very often. He could help her. Then in the back of her mind, she decided that if he didn't love her, she would ask him to erase the fact that she ever had been in love with him at all. Because she didn't know if she could handle his rejection.
She walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. It was about time to start dinner and she thought they had some meatballs in the freezer. When she walked into the kitchen, her four friends where standing around the island talking. They stopped the moment she entered the kitchen. They all looked guilty and it didn't take Buffy long to realize that she had been the topic of conversation.
“Smooth guys. Hardly noticeable at all.” Buffy stated in what sounded like a chipper voice. She was trying to be the old Buffy, the one with the witty retorts and sarcastic comments but they were simply not coming easy. Willow, Xander and Tara had the decency to look sorry and concerned but Anya just rolled her eyes. “Is this a conversation I can join in on or is it unBuffyish?” She saw both of her oldest friends wince and she felt a twinge of regret. They were all silent for a moment before Xander nudged Anya in the side. She gave him an exasperated look before rolling her eyes again. She gave a loud sigh before speaking.
“I have been told that I spoke harshly, which I don't agree with. I was being honest. You have no money.” Anya stated while Xander coughed. Anya huffed again before starting over. “I'm told that I should apologize and assure you that your financial situation, while horrible and crappy, isn't hopeless. You have several options open to you. Like bankruptcy. You could file and settle everything! All of your debt would be wiped clean like nothing ever happened! Of course your credit would go down hill and you could never afford anything but on the brighter side-”
“Or you could sell your mother's gallery!” Willow chimed in hopes of overturning Anya's less than stellar approach. Buffy had gone pale and Willow noticed that her friend didn't find bankruptcy a viable option. Buffy looked at her best friend in surprise. “Some people seem interested and are willing to give a pretty decent price for it.” Willow looked bashful and Buffy didn't really know how to respond. She hadn't even given her mother's gallery a thought.
“Yes. That would work too. If you could get a decent price for it.” Buffy could see the wheels in Anya's head turning. The ex-demon may not be the most tactful person but she was good with money. If anyone could help Buffy dig herself out of her money pit, Anya would be the one to do it. Buffy smiled and thanked her. Anya basked in the appreciation. To her, everyone should be thankful for the things she did. “Good, we can go over everything-”
“Later.” Xander chimed in. Anya deflated. She was hoping for more praise but she knew that by the sound of Xander's voice that the decision had been made. Anya was hoping for orgasms later in the night so she knew better than to cross him. Buffy looked at her friend and thanked him. Xander just nodded. Buffy moved toward the freezer and pulled out the frozen meatballs before going off to find some canned sauce. She knew that her friends were watching her. She knew that they were walking around on eggshells all the while trying to push her into normalcy.
She made dinner on auto pilot. It wasn't long before her friends took up friendly banter. They teased and joked around all the while trying not to openly stare at Buffy. She only spoke when asked a direct question. Dawn joined them shortly after. She stepped up to help Buffy with dinner, something the older sister could never remember Dawn doing when she was alive before. Buffy took a moment to really notice the difference in her sister. She had grown up during the time she was dead. Before, Buffy never would allow Dawn to use the stove, afraid that she would burn the house down. Now, Buffy handed her the spoon and told her to stir the sauce and to watch the noodles.
Buffy went to pull out some dishes and headed into the dining room. She listened to the banter in the next room as she sat the dishes down on the mahogany table. She started to clear away some of the papers that littered the table there. She stopped when a paper caught her eyes. it was an application for admissions to Sunnydale University. Buffy picked it up and simply looked at it.
"Willow, can you bring me the silverware please." A few seconds later, the Wicca entered the dining room with enough silverware for all those in the house. Buffy turns and hands Willow the application. "What is this?" Willow looks at it and smile hesitantly.
"I know it seems soon but I picked it up for you. I wasn't sure if you'd be interested or not but it seemed like a good idea. I wasn't going to bring it up tonight or tomorrow but I thought school might be something you want to do. I know you left because you had to care for Dawn and with Glory about but you don't have to worry about that. Glory is gone and Dawn can care for herself while you are in class." Willow rambled with a bright smile on her face and for a moment, Buffy could see the old Willow showing through. The Willow she became friends with so many years before.
"Willow this....thank you but how could I afford to go to school?" Willow bit her lip. It was a whim to pick up the application. She honestly hadn't thought it through. It was just that she was deliriously happy that Buffy was alive and wanted nothing more than to help her get back into her normal routine. At the time it seemed like a good idea but looking back, it might not have been practical.
"Well, if it something you would want to do, we could figure it out. I mean there are options. Financial aid and what not. Loans plus some other things." Willow smiled eagerly and while she knew her best friend was only trying to help, it made Buffy want to yell and scream at her. She just couldn't help but wonder why she was pushing so much. Did she honestly expect her to simply just bounce back and rejoin the living. Buffy was trying but she found it to be far too difficult.
Buffy looked at her best friend and smiled. Willow beamed at the small lift in Buffy's lips. It was obvious that while Buffy was dead, Willow had forgotten what the slayer's real smile look like.