"Yeah, Giles, but I don’t think so," Buffy says brusquely, and the meeting falls silent.
Giles doesn’t know why Buffy’s rejection of his concern about the new sorcerer in the First’s employ should get such an extreme reaction – Xander and Willow a united front of crossed arms and frowns; Spike and Faith fidgeting on the Summers sofa; Dawn slipping out of the living room without looking back. It isn’t as if Buffy has taken any suggestion of his for years, but true, after the recent debacle with Spike’s trigger....
He doesn’t know why his hands have grown so cold, why his heartbeat resounds like a bad drum solo in his ears, why the lamplight fades and flares for a moment. He should sit down, he thinks. He really should sit down.
"Anybody else have a suggestion?" Buffy says. "Because I’m not liking what I’m hearing so far."
Willow says, "Okay, Giles has a point. We could always try to scry, and can I ask you just to ignore the accidental rhyming thing–"
"No, the veto’s still a go. And ignore that rhyme."
When Buffy glances at him, he can feel again the bite of her words not so long ago. You’re not a Watcher any more. Just give up.
He should sit down. He really should sit down.
Or – the Potentials are making a great deal of noise somewhere. Upstairs, or downstairs, or in the kitchen where Anya is supervising Andrew’s baking of various... things. Perhaps he could check on that, since he has no place here.
Before he can make his numbed self move, however, there comes an explosion of sound, high heels clattering on wood and the wave-beats of air. "Okay, Rupert, ready to leave?" Anya is saying, even before she stops in the doorway, Dawn a shadow behind her. She has his coat in one hand, her purse and a paper sack in the other.
"We’re having a meeting, Anya," Buffy says.
"I get that." Anya swings her burdens lightly, smiling – but he knows her so much better now, and he knows the sharp edge the smile disguises. She’s furious about something. "But I understand Rupert’s part is done. No more patrolling tonight, right? No more kick-punch-slice training until the morning, no impossible magicks to be cast? We’re not on the schedule for Potentials-sitting until tomorrow night, unless apocalypse blows up unexpectedly in the next twelve hours. And since the baked goods for tomorrow’s breakfast are made, I’m taking him home."
Buffy glances at him again, then at Anya. "All right. See you two tomorrow. Watch out for First Evils on the way."
It’s desert-chilled evening outside, but his first breath on the porch seems to take in summer. He’s likely just foolishly sentimental because Anya’s holding onto him, he thinks. He stands on the top step and breathes in more deeply. He tries not to look at the two bandages she still has on her face and neck, which always make his chest hurt with the memory of that night in the Summers basement.
"Come on, honey," she says, still sharp behind the smile, and she all but drags him to the car. He’s too tired to fight her.
Once in the car, however, he slouches into the still too small front passenger seat, manages to arrange his legs somehow. The paper sack she’s put on his lap smells wonderfully of – "Are these some of your cake-things?"
"Yep, fresh from the oven. We’re also stopping for coffee on the way." She revs the car with what he can only consider a vengeful turn of hand and foot. As the motor growls, so does the CD already in the changer – Bonnie Raitt, a useful midpoint between their rather different types of music, singing something about speed and wanting....
Hang on. "Don’t we have coffee at the flat?"
"Yep," she says again. "But we’re not going there yet."
The car leaps forward into a ring of light. Sunnydale is losing more and more services by the day, infrastructure crumbling, old holes revealed by the First’s manoeuvring, but at least the streetlamps still work.
"Where are we going, might I ask? You told Buffy you were taking me home." The warmth of the word, he thinks, even if it currently refers to that bloody small flat of hers, no, it’s theirs–
Let me take you on a slow ride, Bonnie Raitt sings, as Anya zooms them around a corner. "You’ve been kidnapped. Just hold on," she says. "And don’t question me."
He briefly considers telling her that she’s channelling Joanna Lumley’s character from Absolutely Fabulous again– they often watch the cable reruns together in bed, drinking wine while she keeps up an approving commentary on the slapstick aspects of Edina and Patsy falling about. He briefly considers telling her he hates when she uses that phrase. But he is too tired and aching, and Anya is his treasure despite the odd irritating habit here and there, she’s his warmth, and....
He slides into sleep thinking of her. But that’s when the nightmare comes, as always.
The dream, one that has visited him all too often since December, is stronger this time. It starts off with a familiar image – even asleep, Giles identifies the source as that strange vision he’d been given after Adam was defeated, when the First Slayer had hunted through the Scoobies’ minds. Dark and carnival music, an enormous topiary elephant shot through with fairy lights, noise and people and mirth: walking with his beloved who pushes a baby carriage, he shepherds young Buffy through the maze of booths. It is no longer Olivia but Anya who walks with him, however. This part of the dream hurts for some reason.
When Buffy tugs at his other hand too hard, begging to fight the ridiculously fake creature on her own, it hurts too. But he lets go, and as she throws the weapon she falls, she falls too hard.
He reaches out to catch her, but he can’t. He calls her name, but she says to him coldly, You can’t teach me anything, just give up, and the world grows too big for him to protect her, or maybe he’s too small.
"For God’s sake, Rupert, go easy on the girl," Anya says in the dream. "Even if she’s really annoying."
"This is my business, darling," he says to her, voice honed by pain. "Blood of the lamb and all that." Which always means loss, it’s always the same end....
But then he dreams on into a new darkness. "Business? I don’t know for sure, honey, but I think you’ve got this completely messed up," dream-Anya says, and then she’s gone, everyone’s gone, he’s alone and cold at the fair, and the elephant made of twinkling lights lifts up his trunk and trumpets the end of the world....
"Honey! Honey, wake up!"
Anya needs him – that truth finds him even though the ice is forming, and he struggles awake. Dark and road-silence, a jolt over rutted earth, a shaft of moonlight through lace.... "Where are we?" he says thickly, pushing himself up.
"Are you okay?" she says, without answering him. Her face is sharp in the dim light from the dashboard, and when another moonbeam flashes in and out, he sees such loving concern that he has to lean over and rub her shoulder. "You were making pain-noises in your sleep. They’re very distinct from your usual light snores."
"I’m... I’m sorry." His hand falls away.
"Good grief, don’t apologize. Is it the nightmare again, or something else?"
"Er, yes." Because he doesn’t want to talk about it, he turns his head to gaze out the window. Dark and road-silence, moonlight through lace – oh, he knows where they are. Smiling, he turns back to her. "Anya, are we going to see the laceprigs?"
"Yep!" The affirmative rings merrily in the dark. "Lace’s Clearing straight ahead."
The night air is brighter up here, richer, clearer, filled with the scents of pine and water breaking on rocks. When they get out of the car, laden with blanket, food, drink, sword, and torch, he drinks it in, and the horror of their daily life dissipates for a moment. "What a good idea for a break, darling," he says.
"I’m a good-idea machine," she says without modesty, and nudges him forward.
They dispatch the Kizzyoit guards quickly enough, stunning them into insensibility with reflected moonlight and wrapping them up in a sack, and then position the blanket underneath the laceprig web. The threads drape like a light-shot curtain, sparking and rustling in the wind, and he hears an odd sound of distant horns.
He remembers the topiary elephant and the cold of his dream. He takes the first bite of cake to forget.
After he stretches out on the blanket, his head pillowed on his folded jacket and his boots kicked off, Anya stretches out too – although his stomach is her pillow. They listen to the nearby coursing of water, they watch the twinkling insects light the dark, they share bits of excellent cake, they pass the coffee back and forth. Despite occasional sloshing and regrettable crumbiness, despite the hell down in Sunnydale, he feels more at peace.
At least until Anya says quietly, "Really, are you okay?"
He puts down the cup so that he can brush back the hair from her forehead, tease at her ear. "Why wouldn’t I be? Other than the possible end of the world rushing at us, of course." He thinks about the portents and the losses, the way the First has been moving in and out of their lives. Half the demons in town have already left, the others are preparing to flee.
He looks up at the laceprigs shining away. Still here for now.
Anya flips over, and then in a swift graceful move straddles him. Her hair hangs down as it did that first night, a scented curtain in which to hide, except there’s never any hiding from her – "Nice try, honey. Let’s just say I’ve tackled you like before, and you have to answer my question honestly. Are you okay?"
"It’s so bloody infuriating when you do this," he says, playing for time he knows he doesn’t have.
"Get over it. Talk before the volcano erupts again."
Smiling reluctantly – a month ago she had shared the Krakatoa image she had of him their first night here, albeit characteristically choosing to do so during a hand-job – he says, "Anya, it’s just... it’s just the dream again. I told you."
Her gaze is all suspicion, but she says only, "The dream, huh. Us walking, Buffy throwing something and failing–"
"Whatever. And then I tell you you’re too hard on Buffy, which makes it very clear that you’re making this up, and then there’s something about business and sacrifice. This is the dream, right?"
"In its broadest strokes, yes." He cradles her face in his hands, threads his fingers through her hair. The sparks of the laceprigs seem to be caught in the blonde strands, but that’s illusion. "I dreamed something new, though. The end... it’s the end of the world, but you tell me that I’ve messed it up."
"You sure?" She turns her head, kisses his wrist. "I might say that, but it doesn’t sound right. Tell me exactly."
"Oh, fine, if I must." He forces himself to isolate the memory and focus. "You say, ‘Business? I don’t know for sure, honey, but I think you’ve completely...’ No, wait. It was, "I think you’ve got this completely messed up.’"
"And this is why we don’t paraphrase!" she says. "Because that’s a whole ‘nother ball of beeswax. Even within the dream, I’m just telling you you’re crap at dream-analysis."
He bursts out laughing, albeit a little hysterically. "Thank you, darling. I’ll never think too highly of myself with you around to catalogue my faults."
Her kiss is slow and concentrated, to shut him up, to calm him down. He can taste cake and coffee, all Anya-sweetness. He still sees sparks, even though he’s closed his eyes for a moment. Then she whispers, "Listen, honey. You’re wonderful despite your faults, and you’re not responsible for ending the world, okay? You’re just...."
"Crap at dream-analysis."
"Well, yes." This time her smile is sadder, and then she lays herself down on his chest. As she kisses his neck, as the laceprigs shine like stars: "I love you, Rupert. Please don’t let Buffy, real or dream, get to you."
"Anya, Anya...." Because he has no words, he kisses her in earnest. Because that takes her words, he doesn’t stop.
He rolls her over, pinning her to the blanket. Her bandages gleam in the light, and he touches his lips to white-bound forehead, to white-bound neck, whispering protection and love too late. She murmurs something, rakes her fingernails along his spine, and then brings his hips into the cradle of hers. She arches up, smiling -- "Frottage tonight?"
"Oh, I don’t think so. It’s warm enough out here to do what I wanted our very first night together," he says, and he bracelets her wrists above her head with one hand before moving down with the other.
When she’s bare to the night, however, he stops to savour her skin drinking in sparks, all luminescence in dark. Lace above, lace below, light-shot.... Protection and love too late, too late. It’s all loss. That’s his business.
Only when he slides inside her does the nightmare fade.
Late Summer 2006
Those dumb wish-candles of Anya’s flare when Buffy and Dawn stumble inside the front door of Giles and Anya’s house.
"Be still, Buffy," Dawn hisses, and she makes magicky motions to settle the flames.
Buffy’s never sure what to make of Dawn’s competence with these things. It hits her like a bad punch every time she comes here to London on a visit, worse than in Cleveland because here Dawn seems at home – her tall little sister, beautiful, mostly grown up, and, well, Watchery. Buffy seems to have missed every step along the way....
Dawn closes the door. "Hey, Anya?" she calls softly.
"In here," comes that sharp voice, which somehow makes Buffy’s headache worse. If she’d known Anya would still be awake and downstairs, regardless of any pain she’d have stayed at the party with Spike and Dawn’s boyfriend Jack, and the other Watcher-Slayer team from Cleveland, and Andrew and his boyfriend, and... oh, this hurts like a head-butt from a really big demon.
She peeks around the corner into the kitchen, where Anya’s messing with herbs and a boiling kettle. "Hi, Anya," she says.
"Hi. Keep it down, please." Steam rises from the kettle on Anya’s words. "Rupert’s taken David outside for a moment, we’re trying to get him back to sleep."
Dawn’s arm comes around Buffy’s shoulder. "Is he sick? Because Buffy’s not feeling good either. That’s why we came home early."
Anya looks up at that, inspects, frowns. "I see. There are nasty circles under your eyes, Buffy, and you look all pinched. More so than usual." Before Buffy can snap back, she adds, "Rupert has a little headache too – I’m making him a soothing tisane. I’ll make another for you after we get David settled."
"Ooh, an Anya-special. That’s primo stuff," Dawn says. "But what about David?"
"Nightmare. He’s his father’s son -- bad dreams jump them both at the most inconvenient times." Anya’s words are matter-of-fact, but Buffy can hear the fear and pride and joy underneath. Buffy always feels a twinge when she hears Anya and Giles talk about their child, she doesn’t know why.
She leans her aching head on Dawn’s shoulder and sighs.
Anya finishes her special-tea preparation and then, mug in hand, heads off toward the French doors at the other end of the hall, right by the guest room Buffy and Spike always have. The air is heavy there with the mingled scents of magic from the Potions Room across the hall – Buffy’s not sure if she likes it or not, but it makes Spike smile, calms him as much as the soul does.
Buffy sighs again.
Anya’s silk nightshirt – well, it looks more like Anya’s appropriated Giles’ pajama shirt, which evidence of their couple-ness still weirds Buffy out after all these years – flaps around her thighs when she opens the doors and slips out into the warm night. Dawn laughs under her breath. "Even if Giles does have a headache, David must have interrupted them having sex – Anya usually does the robe thing unless she’s distracted. It’s so cute... but wait, Buffy, are you okay? Do you want to lie down?"
"I’m fine. Headache-hammered fine, I mean. But I think I’ll put my purse away in my room."
"I’ll help, Slayer Queen," Dawn says, and holding onto each other they follow Anya’s footsteps down the hall. Dawn’s hair smells like the Potions Room, Buffy thinks. This weirds her out too.
After they toss the purse in the guest room, Dawn stops at the open French doors and looks out at the garden. Quietly: "Boy, I love to watch them together."
Buffy doesn’t. It’s a harder, deeper if still undefinable twinge to see sleepy, glasses-free Giles in T-shirt and pajama bottoms holding his son, see red-faced unhappy David with his head on his dad’s shoulder and his little hands full of his dad’s shirt, see Anya reaching up to give Giles a sip from the mug even while she rubs circles on David’s back. The dogs silently circle the three of them, guarding them, and the laceprig web behind them throws sparks into the night.
Then Giles starts to sing, that soft voice Buffy hasn’t heard in years but would know anywhere drifting in through the doors. The tune is familiar from her childhood, watching old movies with her mom in a darkened room, but the words aren’t quite right. "Laceprig, laceprig, measuring the web you made, you and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far...."
David makes a kid-noise, Buffy can’t really tell what, and snuggles deeper into Giles’ hold, wraps more of Giles’ shirt in those small star-fists.
"...Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful you are," Giles sings.
Maybe it’s the headache prompting it, maybe it’s something else, but Buffy asks something she hasn’t asked in years. "Dawn, do you ever... do you ever think about Dad?" Who’s somewhere in Spain, the last Council report on Slayer connections said, although Buffy’s never pursued it, never so much as picked up a phone to call the villa where Hank Summers has retired without his children.
Dawn looks at her, then looks back outside. "No. I don’t even think of him as Dad any more. The memories weren’t real anyway."
That really stings. "I’m sorry... I’m sorry we’re Dad-less."
"Oh, sure, because it’s so your fault he’s a loser. God, Buffy, you are totally self-absorbed."
"Bitch," Buffy says, but she smiles, eased despite the worsening headache.
"Bitch twice," Dawn returns, then says in a different, uncomfortably Anya-esque voice, "Sweetie, you do look awful. You want to lie down?"
"Bitch thrice," Buffy says, even as she leans more heavily on Dawn’s shoulder. It’s so nice to have her sister at this moment, she can let herself rest. "No, I think... I think I’ll go hang out in the kitchen, wait for that herbal magic Anya promised."
"Good call. I only wish I could make it for you, but Andrew got all the potions skill in this generation." Dawn leads Buffy back down the hall and into the kitchen, dimming the lights even before Buffy can wince, putting her into a chair at the table. As Buffy folds her arms on the table and puts her head down, Dawn jumps up to perch on the counter. Then, quietly again: "You know, you got it wrong before. I’m not Dad-less at all."
There’s that twinge again, but it’s more clearly defined now, and more familiar-- that feeling of aloneness, of not-good-enough, of needing too much. "Lucky you," she says, and it’s more bitter than she intends.
"Hey, hey! You’re not Dad-less either."
Old words, old rejections, echo in her head. "Oh, I think I kinda am."
Dawn rolls her eyes. "Still the same old stupidhead, even if you are the Slayer Queen."
"Stop calling me that. Either or both of those names."
"Can’t make me, stupidhead." But Dawn’s voice is so loving that tears unaccountably needle Buffy’s eyes. She buries her head in her arms, but she can still hear Dawn’s feet hitting the floor, footsteps, the scrape of another kitchen chair. She can feel Dawn’s arm, heavy and real, settle across her shoulders. And weirdly, she can hear their mother in Dawn’s gentle, "I have two stories for you, okay?"
"Okay, because it’s not like I can stop you." She sighs. "Tell me two stories."
"Great. So, story the first – last year I had to choose my Watcher-track, right? My area of Council concentration while I’m also working on my official university degree? And I couldn’t decide at first between archivist and Slayer-management."
"Like you could manage a Slayer," Buffy mumbles, and then winces at a sharp, transitory ouch. She should have remembered Dawn’s a hair-puller.
"Let me tell the story," Dawn says. "So, it was choice time, and I went to Giles, laid out everything I was thinking. He got all quiet and...achy, really, and then told me I’d be a great Watcher for a Slayer, I could do anything I set my mind to. But, he said, to live with the job, I’d have to live with the reality of losing her. It was inescapable, he said."
Hidden in the depths of her arms, Buffy remembers an evening long ago in the Magic Box, and Giles refusing to look at her when she made some joke about priggish Watchers and their bad record-keeping of Slayer deaths. She remembers the swing of the lamp under his hand and the crack in his quiet voice when he said "Too painful."
Her headache seems to reverberate: pain, pain, pain, just like the memory.
Dawn pets Buffy’s hair. "Okay. Story the second. Did I ever tell you about the night David was born?"
"Little bit. Not much. Scary, you said."
"Well, then I was understating, because it was terrifying. We were all a little worried about Anya in the last trimester anyway, but then the contractions came too early, and when we got to hospital her blood pressure went way up, and the doctor announced they were going to do a C-section, and they took her away from us. So Giles was just sitting there in the waiting room, staring at nothing with his arms wrapped around himself. You remember that last year in Sunnydale, when he came back and was all weird until he and Anya got together?"
Buffy’s memories of those final months resurrect old hurt, even though she’s always told herself she’s gotten past it. She can barely manage, "Yes. Go on."
"Okay. So..." Dawn exhales, a shaky whoosh that tells how hard this is for her. "So he was much worse than that, kind of hollowed out, like the summer after...after you jumped. But I was trying to be Cheer-Girl, and I told him Anya’d be fine, David would arrive with no problems, and it’d be all good. It was like he didn’t even hear me. He just stared at nothing, and then he said in this ripped-apart voice, ‘I’ve never been good at loss, even though it was my business. I just... Christ, I can’t do this again,’ and he got up and went out of the room."
Never been good at loss, never been good, never.... God, Buffy’s head hurts. "Yeah, he leaves."
"No, see, the thing is he never really left. Not really. I went out into the hallway and called for him because he’d scared me so much, and even though he was still hollowed out he came back around the corner and hugged me, and we went back in, and then David was born and Anya woke up all fierce and happy and it was great, it was awesome."
Buffy opens her eyes again, and there’s Dawn, smiling in the dimness. She makes herself smile back and say dryly, "Okay, Dawnie. What’s the moral of these two stories?"
"Work it out for yourself, stupidhead," Dawn says, and she pets Buffy’s hair again.
They sit like that until a phone rings, faraway and tinny, somewhere in the house. "Oh, that’s the attic line!" Dawn says – she’s already getting up, already moving away. "Maybe it’s Jack. He’s probably forgot what he’s supposed to bring for breakfast tomorrow."
"Do we need to have a Talk about your having your boyfriend stay overnight?" Buffy says.
"Dunno. Do we need to have a memory-fest about the first time you had Riley stay overnight on Revello Drive? Remember how Mom yelled and stomped and then totally gave in?" Dawn grins before disappearing into the hall.
Buffy can hear her sister’s footsteps all the way as she runs upstairs, and even with her aching head, she smiles. "Bitch," she says to the empty room. "You are such a sneaky Watcher already."
Then she sits there, eyes closed, while Giles and Anya and David and the dogs come back inside and pass quietly upstairs, while false and true visions of her mom and her dad swirl around, melting into how many times she’d tried to tell Giles he wasn’t her Watcher any more even though that was how he saw himself, how many times she’d meant she needed him to be her dad instead. They’d both been so mixed up, she thinks.
It’s not too long until soft footsteps come back, and she opens her eyes. It’s Giles, not Anya. He smiles wearily at her. "I hear you have a headache, Buffy. Anya’s getting David situated, so you’ll have to deal with my less skilled brewing of the tisane."
"That’s okay–" Although she doesn’t know what she means, she’s just talking.
"Good." He comes over and puts a finger under her chin to lift her head, looks at her in that old, warmly detached way. In a voice she hasn’t heard in too long, he says, "All right. Tell me where it hurts."
Everywhere, she wants to say. Fix it for me. But she’s the senior Slayer, she’s saved the world a dozen times, she knows better than to ask for that impossible comfort any more. Her eyes needling with more tears, she mutely points to the pressure-aches behind her forehead.
"Ah. I know just the herbs," he says.
When he goes back to the counter he goes right to work, getting the kettle on, putting the ingredients all together as smoothly as if he’s organizing his reference cards or prepping a package at the Magic Box, and she’s losing track of time somehow. She says without meaning to, "So, Giles, do you think you’ll ever come back to the Watchers Council? Be an official Watcher again?"
He doesn’t stop what he’s doing, the rhythm of his movements sure and steady just like his unembellished answer. "No. No, Buffy."
She doesn’t know why the tears overflow at that, and she wipes them away with her sleeve so he won’t see. Spike always tells her she’s beautiful when she cries, but she knows better than to believe that.
When Giles has made her tea-thing, which smells of flowers and summer and sleep, he brings it over and puts it on the table in front of her. "Here you go. Drink as much of it as you can, all right?"
"All right. Thanks," she says. The mug is warm in her hand, the drink soft on her tongue.
But Giles doesn’t move right away, and as she drinks, she leans her aching head against his side and gathers his T-shirt in her other fist, holding on, holding on so hard. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t leave until she lets him go.
The first thing Giles sees when he goes back into his bedroom is his wife sprawled naked across their bed, her creamy skin drinking in lamplight and candlelight as if she’s covered in lace. "Ah, darling," he says. "Is this lovely pose to suggest you want me to finish what David interrupted with his nightmare?"
"No, no," she sighs, and she rolls over and captures his pillow, curves it into her belly so that her C-section scar is hidden. "I’m too tired now, and I bet that the tisane hasn’t quite dispelled your headache yet...."
"Not quite, no." The ache is almost gone, however, reduced to a distant percussion behind his eyes. Despite exhaustion and, all right, a little sexual disappointment, despite worry about David’s dreams, he’s feeling much better. Still: "Did you get David settled?"
"Yep. Sound asleep about thirty seconds after his head hit the pillow." She rolls onto her back and lets the pillow fall, lets her eyes close. "Memo to us: don’t let him watch programmes about sharks again until he’s, you know, at least four or five."
"Yes, he had got a bit confused about the difference between land and water. When we were outside I told him that laceprigs couldn’t live underwater and sharks couldn’t live outside water, however, and that seemed to make him feel safer." He takes his T-shirt off and throws it on the chair, then strips off his pajama bottoms. If Anya’s going to sleep naked, he sodding well wants to enjoy it too.
When he looks back up, she’s smiling at him, one of those weary grins he adores. "I think he felt safer because you were there, honey, not just the pretty, non-aquatic demon-insects," she says, and in a characteristic change of topic, "Is Buffy all better?"
"Yes, I think so." He blows out the wish-candles and turns out the lights, then gets into bed on his side. After a brief but intense power struggle with her, he retrieves his pillow and puts it in its rightful place. She stretches herself in her usual position, one smooth leg over his, her hand on his chest; he tickles her C-section scar before shifting his arm to better accommodate her. "Anyway, Buffy... She seemed to be feeling more herself after the tisane, and then Spike, Andrew, Ian and Jack came in, so I assumed she was in good hands." He frowns up at the ceiling. "Do we need to speak to Dawn about Jack’s sleeping over so often?"
"Speak to her about what? She’s fully informed about STDs and contraception, she’s had the discussion about respect for oneself and one’s partner, and I’ve given her an annotated copy of the Kama Sutra. Oh, and you already threatened Jack’s life if he screws up with her, and the threat was very convincing. What did we forget?"
"I don’t know. Never mind." He lets himself sink into bed and her embrace–
Until she yanks two fingers’ worth of his chest hair. "Honey. Honey, before you go to sleep I just want to make sure.... Are you okay?"
"Why wouldn’t I be, other than your sudden need to render me hairless? Also, bloody hell, you pulled too hard." He smacks at her hand. "Stop it."
"God, you are oblivious sometimes. But okay, sorry." She wriggles up for a kiss, slow and concentrated, and he sends his free hand through her hair, caresses the nape of her neck. When she lets go, she says, "So you’re really okay, then. No volcano? No nightmares brewing?"
He knows now what she’s asking. "Anya, it’s fine. Buffy and I... I think we’re all right."
Another kiss, slower still, tired-sweet. "That’s what I was hoping. Good night, honey."
"Good night, darling," he says, already fading. He covers Anya’s hand with his own, and drifts warmly into sleep, thinking of her.
The old dream comes to him one more time, but it’s shifted shape. Dark and carnival music; an enormous topiary elephant shot through with fairy lights; noise and people and mirth, as always. He walks with his Anya, who’s pushing David in a stroller he’s already almost outgrown, and they’re shepherding young Buffy. Dawn’s around here somewhere, Giles knows, even if he can’t see her.
As they walk, however, Buffy sees a shadow somewhere ahead. "I want to, I want to!" she says.
"Go on then," he says, "you’re ready," and he lets go of her hand. She leaps out into the dark, running, then sailing.
No more blood-of-the-lamb business then, Anya says, and he echoes, No more business.
Around them the booths shape-shift into topiary animals made of fairy light – a deer, a horse, a fox, an eagle, a shark on dry land. He holds Anya and David closer, protecting them as the music changes too, becomes the blues, guitar and bass and drum. One more thing left, just one more....
In his dream the elephant made of stars lifts its trunk and sounds a trumpet voluntary, its clear and bright notes running, then sailing into the dark, and all the green, light-shot animals begin to dance.