Dawn Summers poked her head into the kitchen and then back out. She then went over and checked her sister’s forehead for a fever. “Buffy, are you cooking?”
Buffy stuck her tongue out in response. “Yes. I’m cooking. It’s not like I’ve never cooked before.”
“Well if you count boiling water or making pancakes cooking,” Dawn screeched as she ducked the thrown dishtowel.
“Very funny, Dawnie. You know I’ve been taking that cooking class.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you actually paid attention. I thought you were just going for the cute guys.”
Buffy pouted. “Maybe I’m just tired of everyone making fun of my culinary skills.”
Dawn held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll stop teasing.” She sniffed. “It actually smells kinda good. What are you making?”
“Really? You think so?” At Dawn’s nod she continued, “I’m making lasagna.”
Dawn looked at the counter tops. “Uh, isn’t there usually meat?”
“Well, yeah, but I’m making a vegetarian lasagna.”
“Wow. Well, I’ll leave you to it. When is dinner?”
“The noodles and veggies are cooked, I just need to add the cheese and bake it until it’s all melty.”
As much as Dawn loved their apartment in Rome, the kitchen really wasn’t big enough for two people. When the weather cooperated like today, they usually ate out on the veranda. “Do you need me to set the table?”
“Uh, you might need to add an extra place. I kinda figured as it was Friday you’d be going out.”
Now that got Dawn’s attention. She looked out at the veranda and saw that the table had been set with real plates, wine glasses and even candles. For two. Seems like Buffy was expecting someone. Please don’t let it be the Immortal. Dawn had nearly jumped for joy when her sister had come to her senses and ditched the wanker. She plastered on an encouraging smile and asked, “Buffy, do you have a date tonight? Is it the Immortal?”
“Oh please. I dumped him, remember? And well, it’s not really a date, exactly.”
“Well who is it? Do I know him? Or her?”
Someone knocked on the front door. Dawn, figuring it was Buffy’s mystery date, rushed to answer it.
Buffy put the lasagna in the oven and went out to greet her visitor.
“Giles!” Dawn launched herself into his arms and hugged him for all she was worth. “When did you get in? Did Buffy know you were coming? Why haven’t you visited? How long are you staying?”
Buffy’s watcher chuckled in response to the barrage of questions and attempted to answer them all as he extracted himself from the excited teen. “Hello, Dawn. My plane landed about an hour ago. Yes, Buffy knows. She’s the one that asked me to come. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get away before now. Setting up the new Council has taken up all of my time. And as for how long I’m staying, I’ve no idea as Buffy didn’t want to go into whatever it was on the phone.” He offered a tentative smile towards his Slayer, “Hello, Buffy.” Buffy greeted him much in the same manner as Dawn, but without all the questions.
Buffy finally released him and then frowned. “Where are your bags?”
“I stopped off at the hotel before coming over.”
“Hotel? You’re not staying with us?”
“Well, uh, I wasn’t sure if there was room. I didn’t want to put you out.”
Dawn held out her hand. “You’re staying with us. Which hotel?”
Giles looked over at Buffy, unsure of her feelings on the matter.
“This couch actually pulls out into a bed. I’ll take the couch and you can stay in my room.”
“Buffy, I am not going to put either of you out of your beds. I can take the couch.”
“We can figure it out later,” Dawn said. “Now which hotel?”
“Dawn, I” he was interrupted by the pouting teen. “I’m going out anyway. It’s no trouble.”
Giles held out his room key in surrender. “It’s the St. Regis. Are you sure, Dawn? I’m quite capable of retrieving my own bags you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure, Giles. Otherwise you’re gonna get all stuffy on us and tell us you don’t want to put us out.” She snatched his room key to prevent any further argument and grabbed her purse and cell phone.
Giles reached for his wallet, “Uh, Dawn do you need money?”
“Nah. I got it Giles.” She stunned the Watcher by kissing his cheek as she headed for the door. “Don’t ever change, Giles. They don’t make them like you anymore.”
He was further shocked when Buffy took him by the arm and led him towards the kitchen. “C’mon watcher-mine. I’ll get you some tea.”
“That would be most appreciated.” He sniffed when they entered the kitchen. “That smells wonderful. What are you cooking?”
“Vegetarian lasagna.” She opened the oven door to check on it. “It’ll be done in about a half hour. Why don’t you go and sit on the patio? I’ll bring our tea out in a minute.”
He watched her for a moment. He hadn’t had much time to talk with Buffy since she and Dawn had settled in Rome. If he were honest, it was only partly due to his work at the new Council. Things had been strained between them in Sunnydale and as much as he hoped that they would be able to get things back on track, he wasn’t sure that Buffy shared those feelings. That was the real reason he had taken a hotel room. He was roused from his thoughts by the elegantly set table. For two. Wine glasses, candles in crystal holders. He closed his eyes and called himself all kinds of stupid. Of course an attractive young woman like Buffy would have a date on a Friday night. And now Dawn had his hotel key.
“Giles? Something wrong?”
Giles jumped having not heard her come up behind him.
“I’m sorry, Buffy. I should have called first. I, uh, I can come back tomorrow.”
“What? Giles? Why?” Buffy asked in confusion.
He indicated the elegantly set table. “I should have realised you’d have plans. I’ll just go so you can enjoy your date.” He tried to squeeze past her but she stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Chill, Giles. I’m not expecting anyone else tonight.” She almost laughed at the total confusion on her Watcher’s face.
Buffy sighed and pulled him onto the patio. She handed him his cup of tea and sat down. After a moment he sat down as well. “When I first got to Rome, I did all the things that I always thought I wanted to do. Ya know, normal things, like shopping and dating. I didn’t patrol, I barely acknowledged Dawn, I didn’t talk with Wil or Xan. Or you.” She looked at him to gage his response.
“You deserved it, Buffy. Truly. And as for Dawn, she’ll be off to university soon. She doesn’t appear to have suffered and I’m sure she understood.” He stared into his teacup. “You were grieving.”
Buffy reached over and touched his hand to get him to look at her. She needed him to see her face for this next part. “I guess I was, but it wasn’t all about Spike.” She blew out a frustrated breath. “Things with Spike were complicated.”
“You don’t have to explain, Buffy. You loved him. Its only natural that you would grieve for him. Just as you grieved for Angel that summer in Los Angeles.”
“What? No. Well, I don’t think so. Maybe. So you’re saying this was just like that summer after I sent Angel to hell? That I cut myself off from all my family and friends and ran away again?”
“You didn’t run away, Buffy. And you hardly cut yourself off. You had Dawn and you spoke to Willow on occasion.”
“But I ran away from you.”
Giles shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He started to speak and then closed his mouth. “You didn’t run away from me, Buffy. You were quite adamant back in Sunnydale that I was no longer of use to you.”
Buffy gasped and covered her mouth. “NO! No, Giles. Oh, god. I thought after, when we, oh god.” She started to cry silently. “That’s why you didn’t come visit or call?”
“I thought I was doing what you wanted. You don’t need a Watcher anymore, Buffy. And Dawn sounds happy. You have your whole life ahead of you. You can do whatever you like. In fact,” he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I was going to send this by courier before I received your call. We’ve finally sorted the old Council’s accounts. I know this won’t make up for all the times you had to struggle, but you and Dawn won’t have to worry about money ever again.”
Buffy ran from the patio, leaving a bewildered Giles holding the envelope with a very large check in hand. He heard a door slam and after twenty minutes when she hadn’t returned he set the check on the table and quietly saw himself out.
When Dawn arrived home an hour later, she found her sister bawling in the kitchen, the untouched tray of lasagna still on the counter. She tried to find out what had happened, but all Buffy kept saying was she was sorry and that she didn’t mean it. When she didn’t find Giles upstairs in one of the bedrooms, she went out onto the patio. The first thing she noticed were the untouched glasses and plates. Then she spied the envelope sitting next to a cup of cold tea. She only hesitated for a moment before ripping it open and finding a very large check, along with documents for a couple of trust funds for her and Buffy. She pulled her distraught sister into a gentle hug. “Buffy, please tell me what happened? Where’s Giles?”
Between sobs, Dawn managed to piece together what had upset her sister. She sighed. For two people that could be so in sync sometimes, they didn’t always communicate very well. After putting Buffy to bed, she grabbed her purse and returned to the Watcher’s hotel.
Giles refilled his scotch. He’d largely given up drinking since that disastrous year in Sunnydale, but he needed it tonight. To say he’d been surprised by Buffy’s reaction would be an understatement. At one time he would have said they were close but things had been so strained between them since her resurrection. Well before that really, ever since he’d told her she’d have to kill Dawn if Glory opened the portal. It didn’t help when he’d left her after her resurrection and then left her again to take Willow to the Coven. Not to mention all the issues with Spike during the battle with The First. After the destruction of Sunnydale, Buffy had taken Dawn and moved to Rome. He gave her space she said she wanted and stayed away despite her taking up with yet another vampire, the Immortal. He had resigned himself to the idea that his Slayer no longer needed, nor wanted him, and was trying to move on. Tonight he’d upset her again, and he didn’t have a clue as to why. He’d thought she’d have been pleased not to have to worry about finances ever again. He was so lost in thought that the loud knock on his door startled him and caused him to slosh his drink. Ignoring the mess, he flung open the door ready to berate whomever dared disturb his sulk.
Dawn pushed her way past him. When she began to pace and ran her hand through her hair she looked eerily like Buffy. She glared at the drink in his hand. “Are you dying?”
“Then what are these?” She thrust the check and trust fund documents at him.
“These are moneys recovered from the old Council. I know it doesn’t make up for Sunnydale, but you and Buffy won’t have to worry about money ever again. You can attend any university without the burden of wondering where your tuition is coming from. It was supposed to be a good thing.”
“Well Buffy thinks you saying goodbye for good.”
Giles furrowed his brow, but his brain shied away from what the teen was trying to tell him. “Dawn, I,” he paused as a memory of holding a Buffy in shock as her mother lay dead on the living room floor pushed its way into his thoughts. He crossed the room and took Dawn into his arms, “Oh, no sweetheart. I’m not sick. I’m sorry if I frightened you. I had planned to send these by courier, but then Buffy called and said she needed me to come to Rome. I thought it would ease any concerns about paying for university.”
Dawn pulled out of the hug and grabbed the Watcher’s hand. He protested as she dragged him towards the door. “Dawn. Where are you taking me?”
“Home. Buffy’s been crying her eyes out. And the nice dinner she made for you is getting colder.”
“But, What? Wait? She made that for me?”
“Duh! She wanted you to see her as a grown-up. See that she could take care of herself.”
He looked dubiously at the little Italian car Dawn was shoving him into and asked the question he’d avoided until now, “Are you sure she didn’t make that for the Immortal? You did say that you were going out. Perhaps Buffy had a date.”
“Of course she had a date. With you, stupid!”
“Me? Dawn, Buffy doesn’t, no. You’re mistaken.”
“I am not!” She would have stomped her foot if she hadn’t been driving. “And before you ask, it’s because she told me, in between crying her eyes out over you. And she ditched the Immortal months ago.”
Giles tried to absorb the information. He opened his mouth, but apparently Dawn knew him well.
“She doesn’t care about the age difference. You’re younger than most of her ex-boyfriends. You know she can be a real bitca when she’s hurt and you hurt her with that thing with Spike. But she never wanted you out of our lives. “
Giles sighed. “Dawn, although I’m relieved to know that she doesn’t hate me, I’m fairly certain she has no romantic interests towards me.”
“Well then you’d fairly certainly be wrong.” She sighed, “Look, I know things have been bad between you two for a long time, but can’t you just give her a chance?”
“Dawn, I “ he was cut off by the frustrated teen.
“Please. Just talk to her? She’s changed, Giles.” Dawn showed Giles to Buffy’s room and excused herself to the kitchen.
He knocked tentatively on the door. “Buffy, may I come in?” He heard the sound of covers rustling, a closet door shutting and then the bed springs squeak before he heard her muffled reply, “I guess.”
He stepped into the darkened bedroom and left the door ajar to allow the light from the hall in. His Slayer looked miserable in rumpled pajamas and clutching her beloved stuffed pig Mr. Gordo the second. “Buffy, I’m sorry if I upset you. I, uh, thought you’d be relieved not to worry about how to pay for Dawn’s university. I didn’t mean to imply anything by it.”
Buffy shrugged but wouldn’t look at him. He took a hesitant step towards the bed. “When I saw the table set, I feared that I was interfering with plans you’d made as I hadn’t called with my flight information. I’d meant to but then I’d gotten tied up on a call with Robin and had to rush to catch my flight.”
She shrugged again. “Caroline gave it to me. She figured you’d forget to call me.” She picked at her duvet cover. She mumbled almost too soft for him to hear, “She didn’t know you didn’t want to call me.”
“Oh, Buffy. That’s not true. Please believe me.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “You were so angry with me in Sunnydale, and deservedly so, that I thought you wanted your space. You no longer need a Watcher. You proved that in defeating The First. And I’d failed you so many times in the last few years, I feared that after this last incident with Spike that you’d not be able to forgive me again. It broke my heart to stay away, but I thought that was what you wanted.” He removed his hand and looked down at the ground.
Buffy nearly bowled him over when she launched herself into his arms. “Giles, we’ve hurt each other. Maybe some if it was even necessary. I needed to grow up. I needed to stop dumping my problems onto you for you to fix. And you always would fix things. In a way, you were an enabler.” When he didn’t deny it, she continued, “You’ve almost always trusted my decisions as the Slayer, now I need you to trust my decisions as Buffy.” She blew out a breath. “And I made so many uber bad choices, particularly with boyfriends and vamps and vamp boyfriends, so I realize it’s hard for you, but I’ve changed. When I noticed that I was falling back into the same bad Buffy behaviors with the Immortal, I dumped him. And these last few months have been incredible. I finally believe that it is better to be single than to just settle. Of course, I’m kinda hoping that one day I’ll have it all, but now that there are other Slayers to share the work, I can wait.”
He pulled her into a warm hug and kissed the top of her head. “Buffy, you never cease to amaze me. From the very start you shook your fist at your destiny and fought for what you wanted. You suffered so much, sacrificed so much for the world, only to have your just reward stolen from you. It’s understandable that you were angry and distant. I only wish I could have found a way to help you, rather than making it worse by leaving you. It pained me to my very soul to see you in so much agony and realize that there was nothing I could do to take it away.” He loosened his grip and tried to pull away but Buffy held tight. “I couldn’t stand to watch you suffering, so I took the coward’s way out and wrapped it up in a half-baked excuse about it being for your own good, certain that the Buffy that I loved, the one that shook her fist at destiny, would never surface again. But, you’re here, and strong again, and still a miracle.” He gently cupped her cheek with his left hand and Buffy leaned into the caress.
“Buffy! Giles! C’mon. Dinner is getting cold and I’m starving!” Dawn yelled from downstairs shattering the moment.
Giles chuckled and turned towards the door, “Well, we’ve been summoned. I’d best let you get dressed. I’ll go downstairs and make sure Dawn doesn’t eat it all.”
“Are you staying here tonight? After dinner?” She chewed her bottom lip, a nervous gesture Giles remembered from his time as her Watcher.
“If you want me to …”
“I do. Really, really do.”
He smiled at her then. Not his usual quick, half smile, but a full blown smile that lit up his face and then shut the door behind him.