“How are you holding up?” Giles handed Buffy the cup of tea, searching her face for any indication that she was breaking down under the pressure.
He could see the stress fractures—she had lost weight, there were circles under her eyes, and the lines around her eyes and mouth were too deep for a girl her age. She had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Giles could do nothing about that.
“I’m okay.” Buffy stared down into her cup. “I’ll be glad when this is over.”
She didn’t specify what “this” meant, and Giles didn’t ask. It could be her mother’s sickness or surgery or the situation with Glory. It might be all of that, with the added difficulties of dealing with Riley’s departure or Dawn’s often unruly behavior.
Giles knew he didn’t need to tell her that it might never be over. She was the Slayer; there was bound to be an emergency at all times. Buffy was unlikely to know peace, at least in this lifetime.
He resolutely determined not to think of such things. He well knew that train of thought led only to madness. As Buffy’s Watcher, it was his job to keep her alive, and the love he felt for her only intensified the desire to fulfill his duty.
As her Watcher, it was also his job to send her into harm’s way.
“Is there anything I can do?”
He asked knowing the futility of the request. Buffy would shake her head and attempt a smile, and she would insist that she had everything under control. It was a ritual at this point, but one he was loath to give up.
“No,” she replied, and Buffy gave him the smile he’d expected. “I’m okay, Giles, really.”
Normally, he would leave it at that. Giles couldn’t have loved her more than if she was his own daughter, and yet he found it impossible to put those feelings into words. He was rarely able to put it into action.
He wondered if she knew that as hard as this was for her, it was also difficult for him. Hank Summers had apparently put all thoughts of his ex-wife and daughters out of his mind, and even notification of Joyce’s illness had not brought him around. With Joyce’s illness, and the responsibility for her family and the world squarely on Buffy’s shoulders, Giles knew that he was the closest thing to a parent she had.
His training as a Watcher told him that Buffy had to stand on her own; his love for her told him something else altogether, but his impulse to be her support wasn’t one he found easy to address.
This time, however, he knew that he must, for her sake, and perhaps for the sake of the world that depended upon her to be strong.
Slowly, gingerly, Giles put an arm around her shoulders in a display of affection he knew was awkward at best.
Buffy shuddered under his touch; she was clearly struggling to hold it all together. For once, however, Giles wanted to be the father figure that she needed. He tightened his grip and gently removed the rapidly cooling cup of tea from her trembling hands.
She grasped the lapels of his jacket tightly, the emotion coursing through her in waves that he could feel. Buffy didn’t cry—at least, he couldn’t hear her, and he almost wished she would. This terrible, silent storm was worse than tears would be.
Wrapping both arms around her, Giles held her close, keeping silent. He didn’t know what to say, and he feared that he would only make it worse with whatever platitudes he might be able to offer.
“Lie to me.”
He closed his eyes tightly, remembering the last time she had made that request. At the time, his promises had been almost facetious. Buffy had known better when he made his grandiose pronouncements.
Now, however, he didn’t want to lie, because he wanted the words he spoke to be the truth. Giles just couldn’t promise anything.
“It might not be a lie.”
“You are going to make it through this, Buffy.” He fought to keep his own voice perfectly even; she mustn’t know the depths of his own fear. “Dawn will become a model teenager overnight and never whine again, your mother will make a complete recovery, and you will defeat Glory so handily that she will be completely humiliated.”
Buffy pulled back to look at him, a real smile pulling at her lips. “Wishful thinking, Giles. There’s no way that Dawn is going to be anything but my bratty little sister.”
“All of us grow up, Buffy,” he corrected her. “As you have.”
It was as much as Giles could say. He wanted to tell her that he was proud of her, that he loved her, but the words wouldn’t come.
He dared to think that she could read the emotions in his eyes, however, because her smile grew, and the tears in her eyes were no longer solely from sadness and strain. “Thank you.”
“I only wish I could do more.”
“I know.” Buffy rested her head on his shoulder, and Giles sat with her silently, grateful that he could give her a respite, even if only a short one.