A few hours earlier….
There had been rumours all over Slayer Central over the past couple of weeks. Giles was missing for non-work related reasons and this was so unlike him; he was known for his dedication to the job and perfect timekeeping. Buffy had a bad feeling in the pit of her belly. Something was wrong. She pulled into the driveway of Giles apartment block and parked in one of the visitor spots. She noticed that Xander's pick up was already there as was Willow's mini cooper. She took her key out of the ignition and took a steadying breath. Giles had requested that she call over for dinner and told her he had invited the whole Scooby gang as he needed to discuss something with them all. Heart jerking like a jackhammer, she got out of the car.
She turned at the sound of her sister's voice. "Hi Dawn."
Dawn's glum expression matched her own disposition. "This can't be anything good, right?" she asked.
Buffy tried for a smile. "Let's hope we're wrong, huh?"
"Alice staying with Angel tonight?" she asked as they made their way into the lobby.
"Yeah," Buffy replied.
The pair lapsed into silence as Giles' apartment came into view. Dawn knocked on the door and Giles opened the door almost immediately and the pair walked inside. Willow and Xander were sitting on the sofa, drinks in their hands.
"Hi Giles," Buffy said. "It's been a while."
He coughed nervously. "Well um… about that. That's why I wanted you all here. Let's have some dinner first though."
Xander rubbed his hands together, "It's about time. I'm starving."
Buffy rolled her eyes.
"Can I help?" Dawn asked Giles as he headed towards the kitchen.
"It's ready but I could do with an extra pair of hands to dish it out."
Buffy went over to Xander and Willow. "Has he said anything to you about why he called us here?"
Willow shook her head.
"I've a bad feeling about this," Buffy confessed.
"Come on, guys," Xander reasoned. "Just because the guy invites us over for dinner doesn't necessarily mean something is wrong." He stopped suddenly. "Oh crap. You're right."
Their hushed conversation quickly ended as Giles and Dawn came back into the room. This was going to be a long dinner.
Once dinner was over Giles served his visitors some coffee. The meal had passed with inane conversation about their lives. This had done little to settle Buffy's nerves and she knew she wasn't the only one. Dawn was biting her nails, Willow was being overly cheerful and Xander was louder than normal. Buffy had enough.
"Don't you think it's time you tell us why we're really here?" Buffy asked.
Giles was little taken aback at her outburst.
"Sorry," she said. "I know something's up and I'm imagining all sorts of things. Please tell me it's something good like you've found the love of your life or something."
"You're not leaving the Council are you?" Willow interjected.
"Guys!" Dawn chided. "Leave the man tell us in his own time. Peppering him with questions isn't helping."
"It's quite alright, Dawn. I did bring you all here for a reason." He took off his glasses and he was rubbing at them furiously. "I wanted you to find out from me."
Buffy's stomach plummeted. She looked at Dawn, who looked equally worried.
"I'm ill," Giles announced. "I've been diagnosed with cancer and I need to take a break from the Council for a while. I start treatment next week."
Buffy's world was spinning. "No!" She reached for her sister's hand and Dawn squeezed it tight.
"The prognosis is good," Giles continued. "They have diagnosed it early. There's a good chance I'll be fine."
Despite his words of reassurance she was still worried.
Later that evening when the others had left Buffy stayed behind needing to speak with her Watcher.
Buffy's eyes were filled with tears. "I don't want to lose you. I've lost too many people."
Giles took her gently by the shoulders and looked her in the eye, "I'm telling you now Buffy, I'm going to fight hard to beat this."
She threw her arms around his shoulders and sobbed. "I want you to know that I love you. I hope you know that. You do know that, don't you?"
"I do, Buffy, and I love you too."
"You've always been there for me and I know I'm not always grateful. You're like a father to me."
Buffy looked up and she could see Giles appeared to be overwhelmed with emotion. She was glad she managed to tell him how much he meant to her, because it was clear that he never realised.
"And you're like a daughter to me," he managed eventually.
She grabbed him and held him tight.
"Ribs, Buffy," Giles reminded her.
"Sorry." She loosened her grip, allowing him room to breathe.
The following day, Buffy and Dawn were having their weekly visit and two mugs of steaming coffee were sitting on the table but both women were too preoccupied in their own thoughts to think about their drinks. Both women's thoughts were on the news they had been given the previous day.
"Had you any clue something was up?" Dawn asked softly.
"Not exactly," Buffy said. "I had no idea it was something like this."
Dawn nodded. "It wasn't like him to miss work."
"I just hope he gets through this, Dawnie."
"It was caught early and that's good news."
"Yeah," Buffy said.
"I rang Spike to let him know," Dawn said.
"I never thought that he and Giles would get on so well. It's kind of scary. I mean Spike and I were together for years, but it wasn't until we broke up that they started to get all friendly."
Dawn picked up her mug and drank deeply. "You know, Giles asked Spike would he get back with you."
Buffy's mug nearly slipped from her grasp. "What? When?"
"Just before he left for Moscow." Dawn eyed her sister beadily. "What did you say to Giles?"
"I didn't ask him to," Buffy snapped. "That's what you're asking."
"Well, whatever you did say prompted him to harass Spike twice when he was here."
"That's not my fault. He asked me how I was feeling and I told him. How is that a crime?"
Dawn sighed. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I just worry about you two. You know thinking about it now I wonder if maybe it was just because he is ill and worried and wanted you to be all settled and happy."
Buffy shrugged, "Who knows what was going through his mind? What did Spike say?"
Dawn shrugged, "I don't know, Buffy. All I know is Spike told him off at the time. He was pretty pissed off."
The sisters lapsed into silence.
"Dawn, I know I fucked up, but we're both trying to move on." Buffy sighed deeply. "Some are doing a better job of it than others," she added sadly.
There was a flicker in her sister's expression Buffy couldn't quite discern. What was Dawnie hiding from her? Had Spike got a new girlfriend? That wouldn't really be surprising as they had been over for over a year now. Buffy berated herself for thinking about Spike again. Besides there were much more important things to think about now like helping Giles and looking after Alice.
Buffy didn't know how she had been convinced that going to Mother and Baby group were a good idea. A lot of the mums had been frosty at first, because Buffy had gotten her figure back quickly. How were they to know it was her Slayer metabolism? Still, she managed to make one or two friends within the group. Maybe friends was too strong a word? Jenny and Mandy were friendly and although they had invited Buffy to meet them outside the group she had made excuses every time knowing her life was a mile away from theirs. How could she explain away her complicated life?
Buffy walked from the building pushing Alice in the stroller along with the other mothers.
"Come on, Buffy," Jenny said. "Are we really lepers that you can't take the time to have a cuppa with us?"
She couldn't possibly say no to that without offending the women. She looked down at Alice, who had fallen asleep.
"Okay – one couldn't hurt," she conceded.
The local Costa was just around the corner and to tell the truth she was dying for a caffeine fix. Buffy ordered a skinny latte and a croissant. The three women found a table in the corner with enough room for all three strollers.
Jenny smiled at her, "You know Buffy we're all really curious about you. We've been going to this group for a few weeks now and this is the first time we've ever had a chance to talk."
Buffy nearly choked on the piece of croissant she was chewing. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all?
"You should hear the gossip," Mandy teased.
"There's gossip? I'm, I'm boring. Nothing to know about little, old me.."
Mandy laughed. "Relax, Buffy. It's just you don't say much."
"Well, I keep myself to myself, really," Buffy said. "Being a single mother is pretty time consuming. The dad helps. He's great even… but it's not the same as having somebody to share the load with.. you know."
Jenny patted her hand. "I guess some of us are luckier than others."
Wanting to turn the conversation to a more frivolous matters Buffy said, "Where did you get Molly's stroller? It's lovely."
"Mothercare," Mandy replied.
Buffy took a peek at Alice, who was starting to stir. She hoped she would be able to finish her coffee. At that moment the door to the coffee shop opened and Angel walked in. He quickly spotted her and Alice and made his way over. Jenny and Mandy exchanged meaningful looks.
"Hi Buffy," he said. He paused, clearly expecting to be introduced to the other two women.
"Angel – this is Mandy and Jenny."
The two women flashed big smiles.
"Interesting name," Jenny remarked.
"Thanks," Angel mumbled. He turned to Buffy. "I heard about Giles. You okay?"
"Yeah," Buffy said.
"If you need to talk, let me know," Angel said.
He looked down at Alice. "How's my little girl?"
Alice gurgled happily delighted to see her Daddy, who scooped her up.
"I'll just go order my coffee," he said, taking Alice with him.
The two women turned eagerly to Buffy.
Mandy raised an eyebrow. "We're finding out a lot about the mysterious Buffy Summers today."
"Why did you let that hunk go?" Jenny asked.
Buffy laughed. "Angel and I are complicated."
"Complicated?" Mandy echoed. "That's code for you shagged like crazy bunnies."
"Not exactly," Buffy replied. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"He still likes you," Jenny said. "The way he looks at you speaks volumes."
"And Buffy if you don't nab him, someone else will."
"I'll take my chances," Buffy replied.
Angel returned with Alice. "I've got to get back to work. It was nice to meet you."
"Likewise," Jenny said.
"I hope we'll see you again," Mandy added.
Angel kissed Alice on the forehead and placed her back in the stroller. "Bye stόr mo chroi."
"Bye Angel," Buffy said.
As Angel left the café Buffy looked at her watch. "I guess it's time for me to go too. I enjoyed this. We should do it again."
Mandy smiled. "The rest of the girls won't believe we managed to get you to come for a coffee."
Buffy wrinkled her nose, "I hope no one thinks I was being standoffish."
"No, Buffy, I don't think anyone thought that." Mandy said.
"But we thought you maybe had an over protective or controlling boyfriend," Jenny added.
"Nope - no boyfriend. Very much boyfriendless."
"What about Angel?" Mandy smirked.
"No comment." Buffy stood up and grabbed her handbag stuffing it into the stroller. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you I'm not interested anyway."
She pushed the stroller out of her way and got to her feet.
"I'll see you two next week," Buffy said over her shoulder as she made her way to the door.
Her life was a lot more complicated than the two women could have realised. Her history with Angel was a lesson in heartbreak. Yet, there was something there that had never gone away. But that was the legacy of first love, wasn't it? Angel was calling over more frequently and she was glad to see him. She had thought that as a human, he would have let go of some of his inclinations to punish himself. Spike, even when he was just after getting his soul, never seemed to bask in the guilt the way that Angel did. Angel let it lie like a blanket over him, either to protect himself or keep others out. She didn't know which. The Shanshu was supposed to mean that he was forgiven for his sins; Angel didn't seem to think so. For all his foibles Angel was a wonderful father and she really had grown to rely on him. However despite what Jenny and Mandy may think, hooking up with Angel was the last thing on her mind especially when she hadn't quite let go of Spike yet. She needed to move on - be single and happy about it Buffy.
A month had passed since Giles was diagnosed with cancer, Buffy and the other Scoobies frequently called over to Giles apartment. He was still out of work and the Council was in the capable hands of Willow and his assistant Stephen. He demanded to be kept apprised of all developments and he was given weekly reports. On one of her weekly visits Buffy announced her plans to get back to work.
"I have to start getting back out there patrolling again. As much as I love Alice, I need the release. Don't worry I'm not going to take any stupid chances, not with my little girl at home waiting for me."
Giles didn't look surprised, just resigned. "And what if one of them was to follow you home?"
"Angel already asked that. When I do go on patrol Alice is going to stay with him."
"I hoped you would decide to leave the more hazardous work to the other Slayers. I should have known better. Spike was right."
"Spike?" Buffy asked.
"He warned me that as a Slayer, you couldn't ignore your calling."
"Spike often told me things about myself I didn't even know," Buffy mused. "He certainly thought he knew me better than I knew myself."
"Sounds just like him," Giles said.
"Speaking of Spike.. How is he getting on in Moscow? Dracula dust yet?"
The Watcher groaned. "No, and Spike's not happy about it."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "I heard you asked Spike to get back with me."
Giles looked a little chagrined. "I was a little upset when I was first told I could have cancer, and the first thing I thought about was your welfare. Of course, I shouldn't have intervened. Are you angry at me?"
Buffy laughed. "Angry?" She shook her head, "No. More like exasperated."
"I won't do it again," Giles promised.
"I know you meant well, but I'm a big girl now. I need to make my own mistakes and clean up my own messes."
"I know that, Buffy, but I can't help wanting to protect you."
Buffy had a lump in her throat. What would she do without Giles? Please let him be okay.