The coach seat was just as comfortable as he had remembered. Giles shifted and bumped elbows with the young woman on his right. She smiled thinly at his polite apology and then pulled up her earphones and closed her eyes.
The world outside the small window was still. The palm trees stood rigidly, their fronds offering minimal shade from the pale waxy sun. The world appeared plastic, artificial, not quite alive. Like Buffy, he thought, and his stomach churned.
He had left Sunnydale the first time because he couldn't bear the reminders of his failures: the unrelentingly cheerful California sun, the young blondes who strolled casually through downtown, the still playful witticisms of Xander and Willow—her friends, his other charges. He had driven past the old high school late one evening and almost crawled through the rubble just to see if maybe Buffy was left behind. It had felt like she should still be there under his watchful eye, trusting his judgment, just beginning to learn that he could make mistakes.
He was getting comfortable back in England. His flat, his friends, there were days when he could forget that he had ever left, had ever lived in California, had ever considered three high school students as his family. England was perfect for forgetting. In some ways, time stood still in England. Of course, when time stood still, people couldn't change, couldn't grow. Couldn't heal.
The engines started, rumbling from a few rows behind him, the powerful turbines startling Giles out of his thoughts. The plane rolled forward, the movement threatening as it took him away from California. Giles closed his eyes. It was for the best.
Buffy was back from the dead, but she wasn't living. She had leaned on him, falling back into their old routine. Giles had never pretended to be a parent. A Watcher was supposed to be detached, dispassionate. He had pressed his relationship with Buffy—pushed the bounds between Slayer and Watcher (he suspected others before him had pushed those same bounds, but their transgressions were covered up just as he assumed his would be in later years). She was his friend, his charge. He had allowed himself to form an emotional attachment because she was special—kind, warm, funny, smart, Buffy. He loved her like a daughter. But he had never before presumed to be her parent.
Joyce Summers had died.
Hank Summers was unreachable.
Buffy Summers was not an adult.
At least that was what she vehemently proclaimed.
She looked to Giles as a father figure. She looked to him to raise Dawn. She looked to him for things he didn't know how to give, couldn't give, was afraid to give. He had taught Buffy how to fight vampires, how to focus her mental faculties, how to deal death with her bare hands—but everything that was Buffy: her sense of love, devotion, bravery, strength, honor, passion, intelligence—that had been cultivated by her parents.
Dawn was sneaking out at night, having trouble in school, and possibly shoplifting. Aside from having done all those things in his youth, Giles had no experience in this arena. What did you say to a teenager to make her settle down? How did you help a girl become a young lady? How did you make another Buffy?
Giles didn't have the answers to these questions, but he suspected that Buffy did. She denied it; she couldn’t see it herself, but Giles knew Buffy. She had this capacity within her; she needed only to believe it.
Giles swallowed, opening his eyes as the plane stopped its taxi, his stomach fluttering, his skin sweating, and his hands over-polishing his glasses. He loved her as much as any father would love his child, but he wasn't her father, he didn't know how to raise children.
It didn't help that he was certain Buffy was an adult.
She just needed to stand on her own feet. Once she did that, she'd understand; she'd see. Buffy could do this just as competently as she slew vampires. It would take dedication and work, but she was capable. She was the most capable girl Giles had ever known.
Giles leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. The plane lurched forward, gaining speed until physics took over and the plane lifted into the air.
If Giles could buy a one-way ticket to England, Buffy could realize that she could handle life.