Stages of Understanding~ Chapter Two (2?)
A/N: Okay, this is the unbeta version. Once that is done, I will make the changes that need to be made. All disclaimers can be found in the prologue.
Sunnydale was bright as it always was. The sun showed no mercy and Giles found that highly ironic. At night the southern Californian town was over run by vampires, demons and anything that children fear lives under their bed. It seemed like the sun wanted to shine as bright as it could to make up for the damage the night caused. England, while still held demons, it was nothing compared to the ones that lived here. Perhaps that is why it felt safe to hide behind the clouds there.
Giles stood outside the Sunnydale airport looking in each direction. He froze at what he saw. Nothing. The tower that haunted his dreams was gone. He has expected that to be the first thing he saw but it wasn't. Something had happened that caused that massive, unstable, metal tower to fall. He briefly wondered if she had anything to do with it. It was an omen of some kind but he wasn't sure if it was good or bad. It could go either way and that scared Giles more than anything else.
He sighed and put his bag into his new silver rental car. He briefly wished he had his sporty red car back and wondered if it was still parked in his space at his apartment or if it had been toed for some reason or another. He never thought to ask Dawn about it. He would know soon enough he thought. Giles opened the door and sat down on the seat only to realize that he got in on the passengers side. He stopped for a moment. That had never happened before. It was a full realization that he moved to England permanently. He never intended to come back to Sunnydale. He may have thought, in a brief off handed way that he would return when his wounds healed but now he realized that he never would have. He was going to settle in to some half life in England. He was going to settle into some habits and set down roots. Slowly his time in Sunnydale would be a distant memory. His phone calls with Dawn would become less frequent and only happen on birthdays and holidays. He most likely would never speak to either Willow or Xander again. He would move on. They all would move on and that seemed positively horrible to him.
Giles got out of the car and moved to the other side and got back in. He paused again. Where to go? He could go to his apartment and get settled but he knew the moment that thought entered his mind he shot it down. Not only did Willow still have his key but he needed to make sure....she was indeed alive again. He needed to make sure that this was real and that he could touch her, feel her, talk to her....be with her. He also knew that if she wasn't and this was some sort of sick joke, it would break him. It was a last ditch effort and his last hope. If it turned out to be fruitless....well, there was no coming up from the deep end. It would be like reliving her death all over again because he allowed himself to hope. Giles didn't know if he could survive that twice.
Should he go to her home? He was certain he knew the way because he could drive there with his eyes closed....hypothetically of course. No. It was just before sundown. The chance of her being home was slim. Then where? School? No, he was certain she had enrolled yet. To soon for that. The Bronze? Was it even open at the moment? Shopping? Patrolling? The Magic Box? That was it. The most logical place to look for his slayer would be the Magic Box. When she was alive that is where she spent a good portion of her time. Giles smiled and turned the car on. He knew the drive and as he grew closer and closer to his destination he became nervous. Everything he ever wanted could be moments away, or not. It was a gamble and he didn't know if he would come out a winner or not.
The drive to the Magic Box was only about fifteen minutes however, it seemed much longer. When he parked outside of the shop he had to take several deep and long breaths. His hands shook and for what seemed to be the first time in years, he wished he still smoked. Giles needed something to calm his nerves and he wasn't sure if anything else would do that, other than seeing....her. When he was able to collect his thoughts, he stepped out of the rental and looked at the shop. He took on last deep breath and started to move on foot in front of the other. He reached the door and opened. He heard the familiar ding of the bell.
“I'm sorry but we're about to.....close.” Tara's voice sounded but drifted off when she saw who it was.
There had been movement in the shop but it stopped once they heard the bell as well. He saw all the normal faces. Anya was standing behind the counter at the cash register, counting the money she had made for the day. He almost cracked a smile when he saw her do her money making dance. His eyes shifted to Xander, who wore a broad smile. His hands were stuffed into his pockets and he rocked on his heels. Willow stood next to him with excitement in here eyes and an expectant look on her face. Tara stood beside her lover with her arms wrapped around the red-head's middle. Dawn was sitting at the table with a book opened in front of her. Giles assumed in was school related since she had a notebook opened beside the text book. She smiled widely and waved at him. He noticed how Dawn's eyes shifted from him to the women who stood in front of her. Giles allowed his eyes to follow her gaze.
There she stood. Her hair still had the same golden tint to it and her skin was sun kissed. She wore a white tank top and a pair of jeans. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her head turned and when she noticed him it was as though the world had paused. She sucked in a breath and she saw his shoulders relax. He smiled that small smile that made his laugh lines show. He took a step further as did she. Nobody said anything as the two came closer. Nobody even breathed until they heard Giles's voice.
“Buffy.” It came out almost like a prayer. There was relief in the name. It was the first time he allowed himself to say her name. When she had died he shined away from anything that reminded him of her. When he would talk on the phone with Dawn, the teenager learned not to even simply breath Buffy's name. The first time he heard her name was when Willow called him to tell him she was back. However, her name had not left his lips since the day of her funeral.
“Buffy, that’s me.” Her voice was light and timid and Giles just smiled wider. He reached out his hand and placed it on her shoulder. He gave it a tight squeeze. Buffy reached up and placed her hand on top of his. Their eyes were locked and suddenly Buffy rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him. Giles held her close and kissed the top of her head. Buffy squeezed him around the middle and Giles sucked in a breath.
“You're still remarkably strong.” He said breathlessly. With that Buffy pulled away and looked at Giles worriedly. Her eyes were wide and she touched his chest quickly to make sure she didn't break anything valuable. Shock and a small bit of desire rippled through him as he felt her small hands touch his chest. Giles raised his hand and took hers into his. His thumb rubbed over her knuckles gently before giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I'm all right. It's incredibly good to see you, despite the pain.” He joked but both could see between the lines. That was when he got a real good look at her. There were dark circles under her eyes as though she hadn't been sleeping. She was thinner than he could recall before and there was a certain nervousness and fear in her features. However, before he could comment, Dawn popped up beside them and threw her arms around Giles.
“Giles! I've missed you.” Giles blushed at the affection that the young teenaged girl was showing him. He opened his mouth to speak but Dawn wouldn't allow that. “Well, I'm sure you have loads to tell us but I just finished my algebra homework and Xander offered to walk me home. Isn't that right Xander?” Dawn said with a smile plastered on her face.
“You're going to walk me home, right Xander?” The brunette said through clenched teeth. Xander took the hint and smiled. He grabbed Dawn's backpack and textbook. He swung the blue bag over his shoulder before walking up the single step and over to the trio. He held out an arm and gave Giles an one armed hug. “It's good to have you back.” He whispered and gave Giles's shoulder a squeeze. Giles smiled that sheepish smile again and Xander saw his embarrassment before turning to Buffy. “Don't worry Buff, I will make sure that young Dawnie here gets home safe.”
“Thank you.” Buffy looked at Dawn and gave a small stern look. “Behave.”
Dawn rolled her eyes but could wipe the smile that was plastered on her face. She had been waiting for this moment since Willow told them that Giles would be returning. She knew here sister wasn't happy and would give anything to see the light in Buffy's eyes again. She knew that the two of them loved each other hopelessly. Before they were both too stubborn to admit it until it was too late, now they have a second chance. She could only hope that they didn't waste it and she fully intended to give them a nudge in the right direction.
“You girls coming?” Xander asked over Buffy's shoulder to Willow, Anya and Tara. Anya shook her head in the negative while Tara pulled her arms from her lover and smiled gently.
“I'm in. Willow?” The redheaded witch nodded. Tara grabbed their bags and walked over to were the others were. Willow followed. Tara stepped slightly in-between Buffy and Giles to give the British man a hug. “Welcome home.” Giles smiled gently at her and gave his thanks. Buffy stood back and watched her friends greet her watcher. She wanted nothing more than to be alone with him. She wanted nothing more than to hear his voice and his words of comfort. Buffy knew she had missed him but her heart was about to burst with just home much she really had yearned for him.
Once Tara stepped away, Willow took her place with a look of expectation written all over her features. Giles took a moment to really look at the young women who he knew since she a mere teenager. Willow had changed so much in those few years and Giles honestly didn't know if he should hug her or shake some sense into her. He was grateful that Buffy was alive and that there was a change to have her in his life again, because his life was less meaningful without her. However, what Willow was getting herself into was dangerous and he knew that she had far to fall and most likely break herself upon the landing. He knew this because he took the plunge in his youth and it ended with the death of a dear friend. Yet, it wasn't only the damage that Willow could cause herself but the damage that has already been done to Buffy that worried him.
“Hello Willow.” His voice was gentle and affectionate. She gave him that small Willow wave and he could still see the old Willow behind the magic. He stepped forward and gave her a small and gentle hug. “We'll talk later.” The witch beamed and nodded. She looped her arm through Tara's arm and gave Buffy a small hug. The group of four headed toward the door before Giles turned back and looked at them. “Willow? Do you have the key to my flat on you?”
“What? Oh! Yes.” She took her small bag from Tara and dug through it. It was a couple seconds before she found what she was looking for. She took the small cold key off of her key ring and walked back over toward her best friend and Giles. She handed him the key with a wide smile. “The place is exactly same as you left. I went in once a week to dust and make sure everything was okay. The books we used for, you know, the slayage were put back in their proper place, all alphabetized and categorized accordingly.”
“Yes, thank you.” Giles stated and Willow beamed. She waved again and walked over to her friends. The four of them left the store. There was a point of awkwardness between Buffy and Giles, manly because they could still hear Anya behind them. She was the only one of their friends who didn't seem overly pleased by Giles appearance. Buffy tore her eyes away from Giles and pointed to the table. He smiled and nodded. She went over and grabbed her jacket and bag. Giles stepped down the small step and went to greet the shopkeeper, however he kept Buffy in his line of sight the entire time. “Hello Anya.” The ex-demon looked up and narrowed her eyes slightly.
“I'm not leaving. I still have things to do. You know, shop related things. Things that I have to do. Not you. You can't have the store back. You left it to me. You became a silent partner, as in silent and away. As in overseas away. You can't have it back.” Anya ranted and it caused Giles to smile slightly. He missed her ramblings.
“I'm not here to take the shop back. Although I'm sure we can figure out the legality of it all at a later date.” Giles stated but Anya still looked at him as though she didn't believe a word that he was saying. He couldn't blame her, he never did intend to return and had basically given her the entire ownership of the shop. On paper they were partners but in reality, Anya ran the shop. Giles had always been more behind the scenes than working the front line. Buffy walked to the counter and indicated that she was ready to head out. “We'll see you later Anya, and I need not remind you to be careful?”
“You're not my boss. You don't have to tell me anything.” Anya stated and Giles looked down and gave her a small smile. He placed his hand on the small of Buffy's back and began to lead her to the door. “Hey Giles?” Anya called and Giles turned back. “It's good to have you home.” With that the British man offered her a gentle smile and nodded. The two of them headed out of the shop. The sun had set completely and the only light that could be seen was those created by the light posts. He walked her over to his car and her brow creased.
“This isn't your sporty mid-life crises.” Buffy stated and Giles laughed somewhat. He was still getting used to the sound of her voice again and the odd phrases that she sometimes sprouted off. Their eyes locked for a moment before he unlocked her side of the car. He opened her door and allowed her to step inside before walking this own side. The small smile that had been on his lips since he opened the door to the Magic Box slipped when he was suddenly turned and pinned up against the car.
A man with dark hair and a lumpy face with fangs smiled menacingly. The patronizing growl hummed through the cracked lips and the yellowed eyes narrowed. Giles could feel his blood run cold and his heart speed up. He distantly heard the slam of a car door and the putter of feet running. Just as the vampire was about to lean in for the kill, the yellow eyes widened and the face full of lumps slowly turned to dust. Behind the dust was Buffy with a stake held high. Giles slumped against the car and Buffy rushed to him. The stake she had been holding dropped to the ground. She found herself wrapped in his arms and his thumb rubbing gently against her forearm. He leaned in and kissed the top of her head.
“Are you okay?” She whispered to him and she could feel his smile against her hair.
“I'm in Sunnydale for less than two hours and I've been attacked by a vampire. Nothing communicates 'welcome home' better.” He joked and Buffy pulled away but didn't withdraw completely. She leaned against him and looked up into his eyes. There was a moment that passed when Buffy was tempted to kiss him. She wanted to and from the looks of it the same thought was going through his mind. Yet, their lips never met. Instead Buffy looked away and pulled back.
“We should go before some of Mr. Dust's friends come out to play.” Buffy moved toward the other side of the car but stopped when she felt Giles's hand grab hers. He gave a gentle squeeze before pulling her toward him again. It wasn't like the embrace they shared before and wasn't as close. They weren't holding each other but they were close enough to feel the body heat.
“We never discussed our destination, I assumed my flat but.......Where would you like to go?” The question was simple and if not implied. Her home was out of question because there would be too many people there. She loved her sister and friends but wasn't in the mood for them. Places that where public were less than ideal because she couldn't exactly be alone with him. That and the only places that were really open after dark were the movie theater, Espresso Pump, a few shops and the Bronze. None of them were to her liking.
“Your apartment. I'm in serious need of some Giles-overload.” The British gentlemen laughed gently and fondly. The got into the car and headed toward his apartment. The drive was silent, both dwelling on what would have been their first kiss. Buffy was thinking about why she pulled away. She wanted nothing more to lock her lips with his however, she was scared that he would turn away. She was terrified of rejection. On top of everything, she could not handle that.
Giles was, while not happy, glad that she pulled away as well but not because he didn't want to kiss her but because he knew that it was far to soon. It was nice to dream about sweeping in and kissing her passionately but when he saw how fragile she seemed, he knew that it was too soon. There would be time for love, flowers and all types of romance later because now there was a later. He loved her and he wasn't going to miss the chance of showing her. Of course now that he knew she had loved him before her death made him less scared of admitting his feelings.
When they arrived at his apartment, Giles opened the car door for Buffy and then opened the trunk to retrieve his luggage once she climbed out of the car. He paused at the front door before unlocking it, savoring the moment. The last time he was in this apartment was a time of grief and pain. He vowed never to step foot in it again but here he was about to open the door and doing so happily.
“Geez Giles, I know you've been in England for a few months but I'm sure the locks are similar enough to open your own door.” Buffy joked and Giles turned to look at her. All night he had been doing that. He had simply been looking at her in a way that was complete disbelief. It scared him how used he got to her being...dead. He shivered. Giles hated that word. Before, he never really had given it a second thought even though he faced down death so many times. It wasn't until Buffy died that he really took notion to the word. Even Randell's death hadn't hit him as hard.
“Yes, well. I thought I'd never be in this flat again. The moment is....surreal.” Giles's tone was bashful and Buffy relaxed. She reached out and placed her hand on her Watchers forearm. She squeezed and smiled gently at him. The tension that he wasn't aware he was carrying released. From that gentle squeeze, all the months she had been away evaporated. His body was finally realizing that she was back, alive and well. Now he could let go and learn to live again.
“Well, it's good to be back?” Her voice was unsure and scared. Giles gave her a warm kind smile and nodded.
“Yes, you have no idea how good it is to be home.” With that, Buffy lost it completely. She had been trying so hard to keep her emotions in check. The moment he had walked through the Magic Box door, Buffy almost broke down completely. However, she had to check herself. In the Magic Box, it wasn't time for to lose it. Now however, standing outside his apartment door, hearing that he was home, caused the floodgates to open. Suddenly she found herself shaking. She felt a pair of strong hands on her shoulders. “Buffy, are you alright?”
“No, Giles, I don't think I am.” With that, her knees gave out and she fell directly into Giles's arms. He dropped his bags and caught her. With his hip, he pushed his already unlocked front door open and all but carried her into the apartment. He kicked his bags inside before shutting the door. He walked Buffy over toward his old leather couch and sat her down. He didn't even bother taking in the scenery because all of his focus was on her.
“Buffy, please tell me what has you in such a state.” His voice was gentle but Buffy could hear the frantic worry behind it. She looked up at him with blurred eyes but she could still see the worry etched on his features. She reached up and traced the lines on his face. She could feel her heart begin to slow down and her tears begin to stop. Buffy pulled her hand away and then looked down at her lap. “Buffy?”
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to freak out on you like that.” She paused before speaking again. He let out a breath before speaking again. “It's just so hard Giles, being here. Everything is so bright and loud and violent. It's just so hard and I don't know how to survive it.” She leaned into Giles's arms and he welcomed her gladly. It was soothing to be in his arms and it helped the emotions that were scratching to the surface. “I was happy.” She whispered.
“Happy? Buffy, I don't understand.” Her statement puzzled him. When had she been happy and why was it in the past tense? Giles assumed she must have been talking about before she died. He could understand how being brought back from the dead had been traumatizing. From the way she looked physically and how she was sobbing now, he could safely assume that her happiness didn't come from any time after she had been resurrected. “Love, please talk to me.” Her breath hitched and she looked up at him.
“I was in heaven.” Giles stilled and looked down at her. Their eyes locked and neither of them were able to move. Buffy had spoken the words she had been holding back since she had risen and something Giles had been dreading had come to pass. He hadn't known that he dreaded it until that very moment. It had always occurred to him that Buffy could have gone to heaven because he could never fathom her in hell. “Wherever I...was...I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time...didn't mean anything....nothing had form...but I was still me, you know? And I was warm...and I was loved....and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about theology or dimensions, or...any of it really...but I think I was in heaven. And now I'm not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out...by my friends. Everything here is...hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch....this is hell. Just getting through the next moment and the one after that...knowing what I've lost....They can never know. Never. Promise me.”
“Oh Buffy.......” Giles faltered. Buffy looked up at him with watery eyes. He could tell that behind those eyes was determination. His Buffy was in there just lost. He made a vow to find her. He didn't know how but he was going to help her. “I won't say anything but you my dear will have to at some point.”
“No. I can't.” Giles nodded and Buffy felt the sudden urge to back track. She focused on his eyes. Giles was always good at hiding his emotions behind an expressionless face. However, when he was turned into that demon by Ethan she leaned that his emotions were reflected in his eyes. When she looked into those green eyes she saw several emotions, hurt, desperation, disbelief, love, anger and....fury. Buffy pulled away. “I'm sorry. You traveled all this way to see me and all I do is cry.”
“Buffy, it's quite alright. You crying is one of the more pleasant outcomes I've envisioned when I decided to come back here.” The slayer looked at him with confusion. She was alive and that was what most people seemed to be happy about. Everyone was happy to see her back and didn't hold back in telling her. They all knew that she was struggling but assumed she would move past it. Yet, here Giles sat stating he wasn't sure what he would find.
“I don't understand.”
“When Willow called me I thought a variety of situations. Everything from you being zombie or a vampire to this being some sick practical joke on Willow's part.” The slayer looked at him with wide eyes. While Willow may have changed somewhat, she couldn't believe that her best friend would simply call Giles, drag him back for some sick and twisted game. She pursed her lips that where chapped from crying before being able to speak again.
“You're really angry with her?” Giles bent his head. He didn't want it to appear obvious but he was indeed very angry with Willow. Part of him he wished he could just let his emotions out but he knew that it would only complicate things. Before he had every intention of lecturing Willow but now seeing how fragile Buffy seemed, he thought a confrontation with Willow might just rock the boat. A small talk perhaps, when Buffy was occupied or something but not scolding. He would watch her and her use of magic.
“I won't lie and say that I am glad you're alive. That I get to hold you, see you and speak to you. I thought that I would never get that chance again and I won't tell you have losing you wasn't the most painful thing I've ever had to bare because it was. I've never felt as much suffering and despair when you died. I felt as though I lost a part of me. However, knowing where you have been and what you have lost, it kills me just as much to learn that she took that from you. So, yes I am angry with her.”
“Was it really that awful for you? Me being gone?” Buffy's voice was gentle. She could see in his eyes that losing her had been painful. Buffy felt selfish for a moment. She never gave it a thought to what it was like for other people when she died. Since her resurrection, her focus had been on her pain and not on the others.
“Buffy, please don't make me discuss it. Let me enjoy you being alive and let me help you.” She nodded at his voice and looked down. Giles had never been one to express his emotions but he never really pushed her away unless it was of some type of deep pain. What he must have suffered because of her death must have been beyond anything she could imagine. She remembered when Jenny Calender died and how much that hurt Giles. Yet, he didn't leave his apartment were her body was found. When Buffy died, he left the entire town because it reminded him of her. A sense of hope swelled up inside of her. Perhaps, there was a chance he did love her. It took everything Buffy had not to act on that small scrap of hope. It was far to soon.
“Okay.” Giles smiled and leaned in to put a kiss on the top of her head. Buffy inhaled and found comfort in his scent. She missed this. When Giles pulled away their eyes locked. It was like the moment after Buffy staked the vampire. They could feel the tension and it would be so easy for Giles to simply lean in and take her lips with his. Yet, he pulled away. She was far to fragile and it was far to early for any of this. She needed to heal. “Well, I'm beat. I should go home and get some sleep. Plus you have to be jet lagged.” Buffy stood but Giles grabbed her hand. He wasn't ready to let go of her yet.
“Stay.” The slayer looked down at her watcher in surprise. Never before had Giles ever stopped her from wanting to go home. “I can take the couch. I would just feel better knowing you were here.” Buffy sat down but kept her hand still clasped in Giles's. He was running his thumb over her knuckles and it sent chills down her spine.
“Giles I can't take your bed and have you sleep on the couch.” She looked down at their hands that were still tangled together. “Is your bed big? I mean, we could share.” Her voice was timid and shy. She bit her lip like she did when she was pouting. That look made Giles smile. That was something he missed and that look haunted his dreams. It was the dreams where she stood in front of him but could touch him. It was a tease. It was a tease of something he could never have. Now she was sitting in front of him and he could touch her.
“Yeah it is. I mean, we could.”
“Good.” Buffy stood and pulled him up with her slayer strength. He stumbled slightly but Buffy caught him. She pulled him toward the stairs that lead to his loft. They walked hand in hand up the stairs and toward his room. Both knew nothing would happen but it was a start and Giles knew this would be the last time they shared a bed. It was also the first time that he slept soundly.