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She was lying on top of the bus when he found her, staring at the stars. The other girls had left hours ago, climbing wearily from the bus and into the lobby of the motel, before heading to the rooms he'd managed to appropriate for them. In the confusion, he hadn't realized until he had everyone else settled that she hadn't come in with them.

He briefly debated leaving her alone, unsure how she would respond if he were to go to her, but found he couldn't. For one thing, it was night time and even though the First was gone, it didn't mean that all the other evils that went bump in the night were. For another, despite everything that had happened between them over the last few months – the harsh words, the angry silences, the absence of friendship – she was still, and always would be, his primary concern. What that said about him, he really didn't know. All that really registered was that she was alone, and had been alone for far longer than he probably realized.

"Are you going to stand there all night, or are you coming up?"

Her soft voice broke through his reverie, and he took an involuntary step backward before he gathered his wits about him and responded. "Up, if that's alright with you."

He took her non-response as an invitation, and moved agilely from the ground to the hood of the bus and from there to the roof. She didn't glance at him as he slid down beside her, but she didn't push him off the bus, either.

"You have a room waiting for you, Buffy. I'm sure it will be much more conducive to sleeping than the top of this derelict vehicle."

She shrugged her shoulders at his words, but otherwise didn't move. She was lying on her back, and he could barely make out her delicate features in the dim moonlight. With a sigh, he stretched out beside her, ignoring the feel of the hard metal against his back as he looked up into the night. "What are we looking at?"

"I don't know about you," she finally offered softly, "but I'm looking at the stars."

"Why?"

"Because I've never really seen them without the lights of the city polluting the view. It's so dark out here, and they're so very bright. I never realized how beautiful they were before. They're beautiful, Giles."

"Yes, I suppose they are," he agreed. "It's been – years – since I had a good stargazing myself. However, it still doesn't explain why you're lying out here, by yourself, when you could be inside, with the others, sleeping in a room free of anyone else for the first time in months. What's going on, Buffy?"

She shrugged again. He could see the slight movement in his peripheral vision, but she didn't respond. Instead, she twisted to her side and propped her head on her hand, and looked at him. "I'm not alone. You're here, with me. You always are, aren't you Giles?"

He didn't respond to that right away, because he didn't really know what, exactly, she was asking him. After a moments silence, when he realized she wouldn't speak again unless he said something, he twisted his head and looked at her. Even though it was dark, he could see her face clearly in his mind's eye – the sallow skin, the hollow eyes, the dark circles under them. He wondered what had happened to the beautiful, vivacious girl she had once been, and wondered if that girl would ever return to him. "You need to start eating more," he finally offered.

"You need to answer my question," she retorted. "You're always – here. Why is that, Giles?"

He turned away, gazing back up at the stars, and tried to blink away the sudden moisture behind his eyelids. "You wouldn't have said that last year. I don't think you would have said that yesterday. What's changed?"

"Nothing. Everything." Silence reigned for a moment as he felt her shifting until she was on her back again. "I realized something today, when…when everything was going down. I realized I didn't want to die again." Buffy slid over slightly, until he could feel the slight weight of her body against his side. "It's the first time since I've been back…since Glory…I don't want to die anymore, Giles."

"I don't want you to die either, Buffy."

"But it's more than that, though," she continued, as if she hadn't even heard him. "It's so much more than that. I don't know…I don't understand where I've been the last two years, but I know I haven't been me. I was so angry, and so hurt, and I blamed you. That wasn't right, I know – you were one of the only ones blameless in the whole plot to bring me back, but it didn't matter to me. I still blamed you. Because you didn't stop them, Giles."

"Buffy, had I known…"

"I know why you went back to England, and I understand. You weren't leaving me, Giles, you were trying to save me, only I didn't want to be saved. I just wanted…I wanted what had been taken from me…and I think, if you hadn't left when you did, I would have ...had it. Only, with you gone – I couldn't give up, could I? Someone needed to look after Dawn. I hated you for it, because you forced me to live when it was the last thing I wanted, but you never really left. I would do things, or say things, and ask myself 'What would Giles do in this situation? What would he say if he could see me now?' Sleeping with Spike…that was my way of punishing you, for forcing me not to die and punishing myself, for not being able to live the way I knew you wanted me too.

"And then, you were back, Giles. And even though I was glad you came home, I hated you for it, too, because having you with me made me think that maybe living wasn't all that bad. And you could see…you saw me, saw what I was, and instead of hating me for it, I think you loved me more than ever." Buffy was crying now, her tears making silver tracks on her face as they slid from her eyes and down her cheeks. "How could you do that? How could you love me, despite everything? I've been so awful to you since you came back – awful to everyone, but the worst…the most…"

"Buffy, it's okay." He didn't know what else to say, really. Buffy had never been one for introspection, even prior to her being ceremoniously ripped out of heaven, and Giles was stunned by what she was saying. She pressed closer to his side at his words, and buried her face against his shoulder. He could feel the heat of her tears through the thin material of the shirt he was wearing. Hesitantly, almost afraid that she would jump and run from him as she had so many times before, he twisted slightly to his side and lifted the arm she wasn't leaning against to pet her hair tenderly. "Buffy…"

His gentle touch seemed to release the flood gates, because Buffy started crying in earnest, her free arm wrapping around him as she sobbed against him. He continued stroking her hair softly, occasionally letting his hand to rub against her back as well, and murmured soothing nonsense words against her crown. They lay there like that for what seemed like hours before she finally stopped crying and pulled away from him slightly, to look up into his shadowed face. "I'm so sorry, Giles. I never meant to hurt you." She frowned as soon as she said it, and quickly recanted. "Well, yes, I did mean to hurt you, but only because I was so angry and so hurt and so…"

Giles smiled tenderly at her. "No need to recap," he murmured. "And I won't deny that it didn't hurt, because it did…but I always, always, understood, even when I didn't want to. Despite your relationship with Spike…do you think you're the only person in the world to make bad decisions? And in the end, it didn't turn out to be such a bad decision after all, did it? He saved us all, Buffy – because he loved you. It's I who should apologize, for not trusting you in regards to him…for going behind your back…I should never have questioned…"

"You had every right to question," Buffy protested softly. "You're the onlyone who had any right to question, because you know me. Better than anyone else. Better than I know myself. When I was trying to catch up with the bus today, it wasn't just because I wanted to see Dawn, or Willow or Xander, or any one else again, really – it was because I wanted to see you. I needed to tell you that you were right; that you've always been right. And that I was wrong to treat you so badly, but it was the only way I could deal with the way you made me feel. I don't think I can ever be the girl I was before, Giles – she's gone, but I do think, maybe…if you show me the way…I might be able to find the best pieces of her and live again."

He couldn't respond to that, either. Instead, he lay flat on his back again, adjusting the arm pressed against his side so that it pillowed her head against his shoulder, his free hand reaching down to grab the one she had wrapped around his waist. "You already have the best pieces of her," he whispered. "You might have gotten a little lost along the way, but you've never lost what you are…my brave, beautiful girl."

"Promise me you'll never leave me again. I mean, physically leave me – no more going off to England for months. We're a team, you and I. I need you, Giles. All of you...as my Watcher, my teacher, my friend…my lover, if you can be that for me too. I love you so much. Now that we've destroyed the Hellmouth, now that I know what I really want, teach me how to live again?"

Giles smiled into the night and squeezed her hand just a little tighter, before placing it over his heart. "Whatever you wish, Buffy. I love you too. I always have." He was silent for a moment, before he continued. "So, to borrow from our past history, where do we go from here?"

Buffy sighed happily against his chest and rubbed her hand over his heart. "Can't we just stay here for a while longer and star-gaze?"

"As you wish, my love. As you wish."

fin