The drinking started almost as soon as the door closed behind her.
Giles had turned off the oven, but it was too late for the pilaf. The toasted smell of burnt rice filled the apartment, coating his nostrils and tongue with a bitter reminder of what had happened.
He swallowed the last of the scotch in his glass and poured another one.
What in the bloody hell had happened?
It had been a good day. He'd been looking forward to a quiet evening of spoiling Joyce rotten. Ethan teased him often about being a woman, and sometimes maybe he was right. But Giles had enjoyed shopping for just the right ingredients, the perfect accompaniments to treat her with, had enjoyed taking care in every step of the preparation. Ethan had shown up around noon looking for guidance in Willow's training, and they had spent a companionable afternoon talking food and magic and teaching. He'd let himself be lulled into a sense of comfortable normality.
He hadn't been prepared for Joyce's reaction.
He had felt her distance from the moment she mentioned Ethan's name. And resented it. She spent so much effort being angry at Ethan, she seemed to have nothing left for him. He tried to control it, but she kept pushing at him until finally he'd snapped, letting Ripper have free rein.
What had he been thinking? He never treated Joyce like that. Ever. God, he hadn't even seen to her needs, had just kicked her out of the bed and sent her on her way. But all the frustration and powerlessness had risen up in him, triggering the automatic responses he had developed decades before. His heart had cried out against it, but he hadn't been able to stop it.
The fact that she'd enjoyed it only shamed him further.
The fact that he'd enjoyed doing it made him ill.
He tried to pour himself another, but only a thin amber trickle ran out of the bottle before giving up the last few drops. But he wasn't drunk enough by half, so he dragged himself up out of the chair to find another bottle.
He wasn't quite surprised when the door burst open, impelled by the force of Buffy's kick. What surprised him was that she stopped there, frozen in the doorway.
He set the glass down deliberately on the desk. "Hello, Buffy."
"You hurt my mother," she said flatly, her eyes a confusion of emotion.
He sighed, turning away from her pain. He only seemed to have room for his own tonight. "If you insist on discussing this, at least come in and shut the door. No need to broadcast our troubles to the neighborhood."
She didn't move.
He turned toward her again, leaning back against the sofa table and crossing his arms. "You've come all this way, you might as well come the last few steps."
His words goaded her into motion. She didn't look back as she closed the door, didn't quite look at him as she stepped down from the foyer. "I thought you cared about her." Her voice was quiet, almost childlike.
"I do. I care about her very much."
She passed the desk. "Then how could you hurt her? You don't hurt people you care about."
"Of course you do, Buffy." Frustration rose at her naive statement, but he shoved it down. "The people we care about and who care about us are the ones we always hurt most. They've made themselves vulnerable to even the most unintentioned injuries simply by trusting us."
"You were the one who was supposed to take care of her, you son of a bitch!"
He caught the slap bare inches from his face by sheer dint of surprise. She hadn't expected him to stop her.
Her coat sleeve slid back, and for the first time he saw four oblong bruises the size of quarters in close line along the inside of her wrist, each topped with a faint red crescent where a scab had recently been. Suspicion dawning, he caught the collar of her coat, jerking it back to reveal a collection of bite marks and bruises along the base of her neck and shoulder. He raised his eyes to hers. "Is this about me? Or about you?"
She pulled away, covering her injuries, unable to meet his gaze.
He wanted to ask her who it was, but he had the sick certainty that there was only one being it could be.
Instead he stepped around her, picking up the glass on his way to the kitchen. "Sometimes things get out of hand."
"Mom said she wanted it." He thought she was trying to sound accusatory, but it came out sounding more uncertain than anything.
He hesitated, bottle half tipped into his glass. Then he continued pouring, needing the sweet burn of the alcohol in the worst way. "Maybe she did. Ethan says she likes it rough sometimes. I don't usually like doing that to her."
He shrugged. "It takes me too close to being Ripper again. I don't want her to see that."
"Even if she wants you to?"
"A relationship is two ways, Buffy. You have to feel safe asking for what you need. You also have to be able to say I can't do that. She knows I'm not comfortable going there, and she doesn't push me. Tonight just . . . got out of control."
"Out of control?" The quiet confusion gave way to indignation. "You think? You slapped her, Giles! And tomorrow everyone is going to know it."
He slammed the glass down on the counter. "I am not going to apologize to you about this! It's between your mother and I and no business of yours."
"God, Giles! I used to think I knew you."
"I'm sorry I'm more than just a dried up old librarian, Buffy," he answered snidely. "I know how that confuses your sense of order."
"Just stay away from my mother," she demanded, holding back her own tears.
"That's for her to decide, not you." She turned to storm out the door. "Oh, and Buffy?" She paused, barely turning her head in his direction. "If you're going to continue playing bondage games, I suggest you get a safe word. It will prevent any confusion in the future."
Her head whipped around, green eyes glittering with hatred. When she slammed the door behind her, the whole apartment shook.
Giles checked the level of the bottle. There definitely wasn't enough to get him through the night.