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Watch Out For That Tree! (Or, Five Times Things Accidentally Rekindled Between Giles and Joyce)

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1.

The summer after graduation, Giles comes face to face with the ugly reality that he is unemployed.

Buffy, Xander, and Willow make a point of coming ‘round for tea at least once a week, and despite their claims that this is only because they’re “totally and completely bored,” he can tell it’s largely out of pity. The saddest part is that he cannot muster the courage to point this out and instruct them to go out and enjoy their summers like normal teenagers, instead of wasting their time sipping tea that they obviously don’t enjoy in the stuffy apartment of a similarly stuffy old man.

When July rolls ‘round, Xander’s departure for his road trip provides Giles with the opportunity to inform the girls their visits really aren’t necessary. It doesn’t go quite as planned: Buffy just invites him to dinner.

“That’s very nice of you, Buffy, but—”

“Nope!” she cuts in briskly. “No buts. This is a but-free zone. You’re coming.”

“Buffy, I hardly want to inconvenience you or your mother—”

“Well, then come,” she orders. “Because the only way you can inconvenience us is by not coming. Otherwise, you’re ininconveniencing us. And – and besides, you know what they say about inconveniencers!”

“No,” he responds wryly. “What do they say?”

“Something ominous and catchy,” she responds after a moment’s faltering. “It probably even rhymes.”

“How intimidating.”

“Quit trying to distract me with all the disdainful Britishness,” she commands, swatting him on the arm. “You’re coming.”

He really has no choice in the matter; of course there’s no possibility of conveying to her just how awkward it will be to sit across from her mother at the dinner table. After, well, erm. The slight . . . candy incident.

He goes. It is, in fact, awkward, and Joyce looks inconveniently lovely in an off-white sundress, and Buffy leaves as soon as the meal’s over when Willow calls to inform her that the child she’s babysitting has suddenly sprouted fangs and a tail.

Wine becomes immediately necessary.

+


“I can’t believe she graduated,” Joyce reflects perhaps a tad more emphatically than usual, finishing another glass. “Time goes by so fast.”

“It does,” Giles agrees wistfully. Things are becoming pleasantly hazy. “It seems like only yesterday she was barging into the library for the first time, babbling on in that way she has—”

“She’s incomprehensible sometimes, right??”

“God, yes.” He’s thankful to have someone who gets it and isn’t Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. “It was something akin to learning a second language.”

Joyce laughs; it fades quickly into a wistful smile.

“I’m so proud of her,” she says softly.

“As am I.”

“You’ve been a wonderful presence in her life,” she continues, meeting his eyes.

“Well,” he responds, feeling his face go red, “I—”

“No, you have,” Joyce insists. “She’s had a harder time than she admits with . . . well, with everything that happened with her dad, and I know she’s so thankful to have you. She doesn’t say it, because she’s Buffy, but – she is.”

“I’m glad,” Giles says after a moment. “She’s very important to me as well.”

“I’m glad,” Joyce echoes, then cringes. “Which you just said, but . . . thank you.” She reaches across the table and places her hand atop his. It is not entirely unwelcome. “Rupert.”

“Of course,” he manages.

“This was nice,” she observes, smiling at him. “You know, you should come over more often.”

“I suppose I should,” he agrees, returning the smile. “I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive after – well, er, the—”

“Sex on the police car?” she volunteers, then winces, letting out an embarrassed laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m not usually that blunt.”

“Well, yes, as it were,” Giles says, laughing along with her and wondering whether uncharacteristic bluntness followed by immediate embarrassment is supposed to be so charming.

“It’s okay, though,” she insists, clearly fighting for briskness. “Because we’re both adults here, and it was the candy, and the whole situation was out of our hands.”

“Yes,” Giles agrees, nodding perhaps a few too many times. “Yes, precisely.”

“Good,” Joyce says, mimicking his excessive nodding. “Well, now that we’ve got that behind us, we can just . . . be friends.”

“Excellent,” Giles agrees. He ought to stop nodding now. “Capital idea.”

She frowns. “We’re still holding hands, aren’t we?”

“A bit, yes,” he confirms gravely.

“Huh,” she says thoughtfully.

She then proceeds to lean across the table and kiss him. Giles understands, technically, that this isn’t the best of ideas. But technicalities just so happen to pale next to the fact that she is kissing him. And so he decides that he’ll be better off not thinking at all.

The not-thinking goes on for a good five minutes and becomes increasingly thoughtless, when suddenly a very unwelcome thought accompanies the sound of the front door.

“Oh, God,” Joyce mutters, pulling away. “Buffy—”

“Oh dear,” Giles mumbles. Joyce attempts to straighten his tie, while Giles hastily uprights the wine glasses on the table. Buffy’s merrily oblivious voice seems to mock them all the while.

“False alarm, you guys! Halloween costu— Oh . . . my God.” Buffy freezes. “Were you guys just—?”

“No!” Joyce exclaims quickly.

“No,” Giles declares. “No.”

“Okay,” Buffy says, her eyes roughly twice their normal size. “I’m just gonna choose to believe that. I’m really, really believing that. As in . . . right now. Um, Giles, maybe you should go. Like, now.”

“I concur,” Giles says, and retrieves his jacket from the back of his chair. “Erm. Goodnight.”

“Night,” Joyce returns anxiously.

Bye,” Buffy says in a manner so pointed that it could very well be called vicious.

“I am never leaving you two alone again,” he hears her snapping as he pulls the front door closed behind him. “Never!!”

It’s probably a good plan. A good, good plan.

Still, he can’t help smiling a bit as he climbs into his car.


2.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Joyce stops by Mr. (Mr., she reiterates sternly to herself) Giles’s apartment to thank him for having Buffy over for the holiday.

“It was no trouble at all,” Mr. Giles assures her after inviting her in. “We had a lovely time.”

“So nobody almost died?” she asks with a laugh, in an attempt at totally normal, easy small talk between two people who haven’t ever maybe had sex on top of a police car. Twice. And then accidentally sort of made out.

His face falls. “Well.”

“Ah,” she says awkwardly.

“There was a slight problem with, er – Indians,” he says, uncomfortable. “But it was all sorted out with no – well, with minimal bloodshed—”

“Indians?” Joyce repeats blankly.

“Native Americans,” he quickly amends.

“What?”

“Never mind,” Rupert – Giles – Mr. Giles says, looking vaguely pained. “Overlooking the, erm, near-death experience, it was perfectly pleasant.”

“Well,” Joyce says, deciding that it’s best to just let it go. He’s got more experience with that sort of thing than she does, after all. “Thank you again. I know Buffy was upset about me being gone. I felt just horrible about it, but her aunt’s going through a divorce, and she needed a little company.”

“Oh,” (Mr.) Giles says, “Perfectly understandable.”

“I really haven’t been seeing much of her this year,” Joyce says, and can’t help sighing. “It’s hard, not having her around.”

“She seems to be doing quite well,” (Oh, screw it) Giles responds. “There was a bit of trouble with her roommate at the beginning of the year, but—”

“AAAUUURRRRGHHH!”

Joyce jumps, her hand flying to her heart.

“Oh, God,” she gasps. “What—”

“LISTEN HERE, WATCHER BOY. IF YOU DON’T LET ME OUT OF THE RUDDY BATHTUB IN THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS, SO HELP ME GOD, I AM GOING TO RIP YOU LIMB FROM BLOODY LIMB.”

“Is that Spike?” Joyce asks, fear ebbing away.

“. . . JOYCE?”

“Yes,” Giles confirms, clearly pained. “It is Spike.”

She can’t quite resist. “Can I talk to him?”

+

“Well, Spike, I don’t know if you want to hear this, but it sounds like this Harmony is a rebound,” Joyce informs him, perched on the side of the bathtub.

“’Course she’s a rebound,” Spike responds glumly. “Silly bint doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together. You think I got with her ‘cause we were so right for each other?”

“I’m just saying that being with Harmony isn’t going to make your feelings for Drusilla go away.”

“I know,” Spike admits miserably. “But it’s not like there’s any good in dwelling on Dru. Tied her up. Tortured her. That didn’t work. What can I offer her, if not an eternity of pain and sweet, sweet torment?”

“Well—” Joyce hesitates. “I don’t exactly know the answer to that, Spike.”

“S’not your fault, Joyce. It’s over, Dru and me. I just gotta . . . face it like a man.” His face seems to threaten to crumple.

“You’re not going to cry again, are you?” she asks anxiously.

He seems to contemplate it for a moment.

“Nah,” he answers, a look of great resolve on his face. “I’ll ride it out.”

“Be strong,” she instructs kindly, reaching for one of his shackled hands. “It’ll get easier.”

“Thanks, Joyce,” Spike says, struggling to pat her hand. “Tell you what: when I figure out how to escape from this bloody bathtub, I’ll drop by. We’ll have a cuppa hot chocolate or two.”

“Of course,” Joyce says. “I always keep the little marshmallows around the house, just in case.”

“No kidding!” A grin breaks out across his face. “You’re a fine lady, you know that, Joyce Summers?”

“Well, thank you, Spike,” she responds, attempting to quell the urge to wish Buffy would find a nice boy like him. Vampire. Vampire. “You’re a very nice young man.” Er. “Vampire.”

“Don’t know how you wound up with a bloody psychopath for a daughter,” he adds in a grumble. “Must get it from her dad.”

Joyce smiles. “Bye, Spike.”

She leaves the bathroom to find Giles in the living room, hunched over a book and murmuring to himself. He looks up.

“Ah. You survived.” He sounds a little surprised.

“I thought you said he wasn’t dangerous.”

“Oh, he’s not. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean he’s not dreadfully annoying.” He closes his book and stands. “Thank you for keeping him occupied.”

“It was no trouble. I’m sorry I interrupted your evening.”

“Oh, on the contrary,” he assures her. “I’m just thankful to have had a bit of peace and quiet. He’s been singing The Ramones all day in protest. Under other circumstances, I’d feel compelled to join right in, but I suspect one isn’t supposed to partake in singalongs with their hostages.”

“Probably not,” Joyce agrees, laughing.

“Thank you,” he says. “Again.”

“No problem.” Leaning in, she adds, quieter, “Honestly? I kinda like him.”

“Yes, well.” He casts a wary glance in the direction of the bathroom. “You’re more than welcome to take him off my hands.”

She smiles. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She glances at the book on the sofa. “What were you reading?”

“We’ve been looking into some spells to find a way to get information from Spike. Ever so surprisingly, he’s not willing to cooperate. I believe the key may be to attempt some sort of spell that works in accordance with what the caster most desires at the given moment. A matter of lowering inhibitions. Ideally, I would be able to will Spike to talk.”

“Was that what you were working on?”

“Er, attempting it.” He frowns a bit.

“And?”

He announces, rather grimly, “I resulted in conjuring a bagel with cream cheese.”

She’s not really sure how she’s supposed to respond to that. “Oh.”

“Well, in my defense, I did want one.”

“One step in the right direction, then,” she observes with a smile.

“Something like that,” he agrees pleasantly. “So, er, I suppose I’ll see you around, then?”

“Yes,” she agrees. “I’d better get home. It was nice seeing you. And Spike.”

“You too,” he says, escorting her to the door.

She’s a few steps out the door, readjusting her purse over her shoulder, when—

“Joyce?”

She turns around, and he wastes no time in pulling her to him, dipping her back, and kissing her in a way that’s probably not really appropriate when you’ve got an emotionally fragile vampire chained up in the next room. It turns out that he’s still an inconveniently wonderful kisser. She tries to remember Buffy’s reaction to finding out about the band candy incident. It becomes unhelpfully fuzzy.

And then, very abruptly, he pulls away.

“Um,” she says slowly. “Okay.”

“Erm,” he says, a violent shade of scarlet, “sporadic kissing spell. Probably the wrong direction to pursue. Which I, erm, realize now. Goodnight.” He ushers her outside.

“Goodnight, Rupert.” The door closes in her face.

“Mr. Giles,” she corrects to the shut door.

Damn it.

3.

He’s in the middle of Freebird when he spots her walking in, smiling and quite unsurprisingly lovely, with a group of perhaps five other women. He is immediately overwhelmed with the urge to kill himself.

Thanks to his impeccable luck, she spots him at once, and her smile widens. He has to tear his gaze away quickly so as not to forget the words.

He leaves the stage as quickly as he can afterwards, and rushes forward to the counter to order a coffee. He doesn’t like coffee, despite Jenny’s countless efforts to convert him, but feels the need to do something drastic, and perhaps a bit suicidal.

“Hey, Ripper.”

“Excuse me?” He glances over to see Joyce standing to his left.

“Sorry,” she says with an apologetic smile. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Ah, yes,” he says, wondering if they’re now to the point where they can openly joke about their very past, very public sexual exploits. “And what brings you here?”

“My book club. We decided it was time for a night on the town.”

“How festive.”

“Actually, it’s sort of driving me crazy,” she confesses in a whisper. “It’s one thing to sit in a circle talking about J.A. Jance for an hour, but actual socializing is pretty different, it turns out.”

“J.A. Jance,” Giles repeats, not quite capable of masking his distaste.

“Pretend I said Proust.”

“Will do.”

“You know, they were all pretty impressed with you,” Joyce informs him slyly. “They’re probably jealous of me right now.”

“Oh really?” Giles asks, casting an uneasy glance back at the book club’s table. One of them waves at him, and then the whole group dissolves into giggles. No better than a silly group of adolescents, he thinks, scowling.

“I’m sure they’d love to meet you,” she continues teasingly.

“At which point they would promptly realize just how mistaken they are. I’ll pass, thank you.”

“If you insist. But they were pretty thrilled to find out I knew Rupert Giles, Acoustic Rock God.”

“You can hardly blame them,” he answers dryly.

She leans in a little closer and whispers confidentially, “So. The one who waved?”

“Yes?”

“That’s Betsy.” Her feelings toward Betsy are made very clear by the tone of her voice. “She’s been trying to fix me up with someone for months. Apparently, being single at this age is a crime.”

“Then I suppose the both of us are in trouble,” Giles responds.

“Yup,” Joyce confirms gravely. “In fact, I think this whole lovely evening was planned in hopes that I’d meet somebody.”

Giles scrutinizes her. “Are you attempting to hint at something?”

“Would you?” Joyce asks, making a face. “Normally I wouldn’t ask, but, well, you’re a man, and I’m pretty sure that will be enough to satisfy her at this point.”

“Very charming.”

“Pretend it was?’

“Right then,” he says, and kisses her. It’s perfectly prim and respectable – the sort of kiss you’re supposed to give your Slayer’s mother in some façade of romance in order to save her from the harping of her highly annoying fellow book club members.

Except then he realizes that he hadn’t exactly parted on good terms with Olivia, and it doesn’t seem that much more of anything remotely like this is in his immediate future. He might as well take advantage of the situation at hand.

He is a temporary (acoustic) rock god, after all.

“Thank you,” Joyce says a little breathlessly when she pulls away.

“Um,” he answers, very much unlike a temporary (acoustic) rock god. “Yes.”

Giles tries not to stare too unabashedly as she walks back to the table.

He fails with magnificence.

“Sir,” the young woman behind the counter says, “do you want anything?”

4.

Joyce is on the second-to-worst first date of her life (the label of ‘worst’ still goes to Hank, which probably should have tipped her off) when Rupert Giles abruptly bursts into the restaurant.

She’s bewildered, but, as it turns out, not entirely upset. In fact, she hopes a little bit that he’s here to rescue her.

Her date John, who works in real estate and doesn’t really seem to be interested in women or anything else (except her scarf, which he keeps sneaking glances at – she’s beginning to think he’s gay), looks up in surprise.

“I demand to know what you’re doing,” Rupert announces with a rather impressive amount of fury, “a—at once.”

“Me?” John asks in a dramatically lacking monotone.

“Yes, you!” Rupert verifies, clearly attempting to keep the impressive amount of fury going. “Damn you! How dare you take my fiancée—”

“Fiancée,” Joyce repeats faintly. She guesses this is one way of getting her out of her date, although she’s not sure how Rupert knew she wanted out of it in the first place.

Maybe it’s another spell.

“Yes – fiancée out to dinner!” Rupert exclaims. “It’s reprehensible! Deplorable! Very – very bad to do!”

“Uh,” John says. “Sorry.”

“I demand to see you outside at once, sir!” Rupert shouts, before virtually dragging him out of his chair.

Joyce can only stare for a moment before hurrying out after them, trying not to feel the eyes of everybody else in the restaurant on her. She gets outside just in time to see John disappear into a cloud of dust.

“Ah,” she says weakly.

“Erm,” Rupert says, brushing the remnants of her date from his coat, “yes.”

“Is it bad that I’m sort of relieved?” she asks, leaning back against the wall and taking a couple of deep breaths.

“I don’t think so,” Rupert responds, joining her. “It would have been rather worse if you’d actually liked him.”

“I guess so,” she agrees with a sigh. After a moment, she glances at him and adds, “Nice diversion.”

“Oh, erm, thank you. It was the only way I could think of to get him outside, and time was of the essence.” He’s quiet just long enough for it to be a little awkward. “Buffy ought to be here any minute, by the way.”

“Good,” Joyce says with a nod that’s probably unnecessary.

“Yes,” Rupert agrees.

“Thanks for saving me,” she adds.

“It was my pleasure.” He smiles slightly.

It’s probably not smart to kiss him on the cheek, but she figures it’s a perfectly innocent expression of gratitude. Except then he turns to face her right as her mouth is about to brush his cheek, and somehow her innocent kiss on the cheek turns into an actual kiss.

She pulls back right away, hoping it’ll still be able to keep the ‘innocent’ label regardless of the technical difficulties.

“I swear, that one was just supposed to be on the cheek,” she says in a sheepish whisper.

“Yes, well,” Rupert says, laughing a little, “We seem to have rather bad luck with this, don’t we?”

“We do.” She’s not exactly sure whether she’s complaining, but she decides it’s probably smartest not to tell him that.

At least they’re a good couple feet apart by the time Buffy shows up.


5.

“Buffy, how many times must we tell you?” Giles demands, irritated.

“It was a spell!” Joyce insists.

“Hey,” Buffy interjects violently. “That worked the first time. Not again. There’s a one-time rule!!”

“Buffy, you’re being stubborn,” Joyce scolds.

“You’re being gross!” Buffy retorts, clearly on the verge of hysteria. “Stubborn is allowed!”

“And what about the time I had to listen to you and Spike snogging merrily away for hours?” Giles demands. “That was hardly a picnic, thank you!”

“Keyword being hear!” Buffy yelps. “Totally on a lesser plane of disturbing. Also, Spike? Not your mom!”

“True,” Giles concedes. “And thank you for opening that whole new portal of highly disquieting possibilities.”

“I am so never speaking to you guys again,” Buffy declares. “Or looking at you. Or . . . well, anything with you. Ever. Bye.”

She spins with flourish and storms up the stairs, apparently putting a bit of her Slayer speed to use.

Joyce sighs. “Sometimes I still don’t know what to do with her.”

“Surely she’ll understand once she’s . . .” He realizes halfway through how unlikely his current statement is, and finishes, quite lamely, “. . . calmed down a little.”

“Right,” Joyce agrees, not at all convinced.

They sit side by side on the sofa, an awkward silence hanging in the air.

“Er,” Giles ventures after a moment, “Sorry about that, by the way.”

“Oh, don’t be,” Joyce instructs, reaching over to pat him on the arm. She pulls her hand back very quickly afterwards. “It was, you know, the spell.”

“I meant the, er, coffeetable.”

“Oh,” Joyce says, her eyes darting down to what had been, an hour before, a perfectly whole, unharmed coffeetable. “Don’t worry,” she says after a moment’s consideration. “We were thinking of getting a new one anyway.”

“Ah,” Giles says. “I suppose everything is quite all right, then.”

“I suppose so,” she agrees. What could potentially be a far more peaceful silence begins to surface, when—

“Is it safe to come downstairs, or are you guys making out??” Dawn yells.

“Oh, honestly,” Giles mumbles.