Sturm und Drang
A desperate yelp of “No! No way!” comes from the room next door and Giles nearly falls out of bed reacting to the noise. He’s a light sleeper usually, but since their first night at the beach house, he’s been sleeping more soundly and deeply than he can remember in a long time. When he finally gets his bearings, he squints myopically at the clock until he can read it. It’s almost ten in the morning.
“It’s not gonna happen! Not ever!” Dawn’s voice is loud and bordering on hysterical, and despite this, Giles relaxes slightly knowing that the world is not erupting around him. It’s just the anticipated fall out between the Summers sisters about their father.
Tossing off the covers, Giles throws on a t-shirt and pulls on a pair of sweats over his shorts. As he makes his way down the hall, he stops outside Dawn’s bedroom. The door is slightly ajar and he can see the Buffy and Dawn sitting on the bed. Dawn is closed off with her arms crossed tightly across her chest. Buffy’s body language is open and sympathetic.
“I’ll tell him you said no,” Buffy says. “That you don’t want to live with him.”
“And what if that isn’t good enough for him?” Dawn is panicking. “Can he take me away?”
“I have legal custody of you, Dawn. Mom made provisions in her will and dad wasn’t around to contest it.”
“But he could contest it now, can’t he? If he wants to… if he doesn’t get his way? God! Why does he show up now when he’s not wanted or needed? How come he wasn’t there when we needed him? After mom died? Or even before she died, when she got sick?”
“I don’t know, Dawnie,” Buffy replies as she reaches out to move a strand of hair behind Dawn’s ear, trying to console her sister with a comforting gesture. “I suppose I’ll know more later today.”
“I can’t lose you!”
“You’re not going to lose me!”
“And I can’t lose Giles again! We’re all finally together again. You, me, Giles, Willow, and Xander. I can’t do this! Hank can’t take this away from me!”
Giles’ heart breaks. Dawn’s voice holds so much fear and anger and sorrow.
“I promise that no matter what happens, I’ll be with you. I’m not going anywhere without you.”
Buffy’s voice is resigned. “I can’t speak for Giles, Dawn, you know that. Not anymore than I can for Willow or Xander.”
Crossing her arms across her chest, Dawn turns and stares out the window. Giles wants to go in and console her, but he has no place there. The conversation is solely between the sisters. He turns and heads to the bathroom.
After finishing up his morning routine, Giles opens the door as Dawn runs down the hall yelling, “Leave me alone!”
Buffy rushes behind her, calling her name, but Dawn ignores her and heads out front the door, slamming the screen door behind her.
“You couldn’t have said anything?” Buffy asks him accusingly as she passes him in a huff. “I know you were in the hallway listening.”
Giles follows her into the kitchen, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his sweats. “I… I’m sorry,” he says, not knowing what else to say.
Buffy stops and turns towards him. She’s upset, but her expression is remorseful. “No, I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair,” she apologizes before she pours herself a cup of coffee. “I just… don’t know what to say… or do to make this any easier on her.”
“I know. It isn’t easy for you either.” Giles reaches over her to grab another mug from the cupboard and pours himself a cup as well. He leans against the counter after adding milk and sugar to both their cups. “I’ll go check on Dawn.”
“Thanks, Giles. Clearly she’s done talking to me right now, the bearer of bad news and all that,” she says running a hand through her hair with a sigh of exasperation. “I’m going to jump in the shower and get ready to meet Dad. I’ve got a long drive ahead of me and I hate driving the 101, so I am going to leave a little early.”
As Buffy passes him to head back to her room with her cup of coffee, Giles gently grabs her free wrist. She quickly glances down at his hand before raising her eyes in question to meet his. He quickly lets go as the color rises to his cheeks in embarrassment and he looks away for a moment before composing himself and meeting her eyes again.
“I’ll drive you. No matter the outcome, this will be an emotional meeting and I don’t want you to endanger yourself, driving in that state. I’ll speak to Dawn and then grab a quick shower. I’ll be ready to leave when you are.”
“Thank you,” Buffy states gratefully. She is clearly relieved to have his help. “Willow and Xander should be back within the hour. I didn’t know how the talk was going to go and I wanted some privacy, so they offered to go to the farmer’s market this morning for more food.”
“I am sorry. You could’ve woken me up, I would’ve gone with them.”
Buffy reaches out and places her hand over his. “No, no, I… I wanted you here… for Dawn’s sake. She… uh… she needs you.”
There is a long pause as their eyes meet. He understands what she is trying to say. That she needs his support as well. The shorthand and non-verbal language that had existed between them before her death is easing slowly and quietly back into their vocabulary. “Of course,” he replies. “I’ll go to her now.”
Giles walks through the luscious garden with his coffee mug in hand, the evidence of the night’s deluge puddled up in the leaves of the plants and on the ground in the uneven pathway leading around the house. The air is clear and there is a sweet bouquet to the nose as the flowers rejoice in the wake of the storm. It’s quite the contrast to the uncertainty and angst he will face talking with Dawn.
He finds the teen sitting on the edge of the hottub, her legs and feet dangling in the hot bubbles. Taking a sip of coffee, he quietly turns and leans against the ledge next to her. He has a spectacular view of the ocean.
“I’m not going,” Dawn declares quietly. She is calm, her hands folded in her lap as she watches a lizard scurry over the stone wall across the yard. “Not with him. Not ever.”
“I wouldn’t expect you’d want to,” Giles replies neutrally.
“You know… he had his chances. Hundreds of them.” There’s a slight pause as she takes in a ragged breath, betraying her outward appearance of calm. “I used to dream that he would come for a visit and decide he’d want us again, and he’d just pack us up and take us back to LA.” She scoffs and looks up at the sky. “I was like ten or so, but I thought he could fix everything. He’d show up and punch you in the nose and tell you Buffy wasn’t allowed to be the Slayer anymore and that you’d just have to find someone else - like it was that simple.” She laughs bitterly and then states, “It’s stupid, but I didn’t know any better then.”
Giles doesn’t say anything. He just stands there and waits, knowing Dawn has more to say.
“But... he was my dad,” she continues. “He was supposed to be my knight in shining armor. My hero. And he… just never showed up. Not after that second summer in Sunnydale anyway, and before that, it was only a couple times and for a few hours. I probably should have figured it out, but I was a stupid kid.”
Giles gives her a an empathetic smile and places his hand over hers, giving them a good squeeze. “You were so very young. Don’t beat yourself up for it.”
"And then you started hanging around more and more and I would come with Buffy to library… and you just sort of filled in.” Dawn’s quiet for a few moments, but then adds in a forlorn tone, “But it wasn’t really like that, was it?”
“No,” he responds quietly.
“Because none of that ever happened. So… it’s not like Hank Summers was really ever my dad.”
“No! I mean, I didn’t even exist back then. I was just created two years ago… a bundle of green energy made real with Buffy’s blood.” She pauses a moment, a look of horror on her face. “God, what if Angel is my real dad? Because technically Buffy is like my mom, right? What if… ugh… I think I am going to be sick.”
A wave of laughter hits him hard and Giles is unable to hold it in. “Oh, Dawn,” he finally manages after he removes his glasses and wipes the moisture from his eyes. “There is no way you could be Angel’s daughter.” He lets out another guffaw. “You are far too bubbly despite a bit of broodiness at the moment, but you could never sink to Angel’s level of broodiness. Besides, you don’t have an unnatural affinity for hair styling products.”
Dawn can’t help but laugh too. “I guess not. And it better not be Riley either, cuz ugh!”
“The monks only mentioned Buffy. I imagine, my dear, that much like Athena, you sprung forth fully formed and ready to do battle.”
“With some extra memories on the side.”
“Pretty crappy thing to do.”
“Still having problems coming to terms with it all?”
“Not sure I ever had time to really deal. And now… my life is in jeopardy once again.”
“That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“Ok, fine,” Dawn agrees, rolling her eyes. “But you know what I mean. I don’t need him. I have a family. One that loves me, has been there for me, and has accepted me and protected me since I showed up.”
Giles shifts uncomfortably. He’d not always been her protector. There had been a time he’d threatened her life when faced with the choice of letting the world perish or saving her.
Dawn pulls her legs from the water and turns around so that she too is facing the ocean. Leaning her head against Giles’ shoulder she says, “I know about that conversation in the Magic Box between you and Buffy before the fight with Glory. Spike told me about it after the badness that went down with Robin because he wanted me to hate you.”
Giles subconsciously crosses his arms in defensiveness and raises an eyebrow in question.
“He was spying on you and Buffy that night in the training room. Probably because he was jealous. He always was of you and your relationship with Buffy.”
“I highly doubt he was jealous,” he protests.
“Whatever.” They are quiet for a while, watching the whitecaps hit the shore before Dawn says, “You were right, you know, to sacrifice me if it came down to it, and I know how much that had to have hurt you.”
There is regret in Giles’ voice when he finally answers. “Family wouldn’t have thrown you to the wolves, Dawn.”
“You didn’t, Giles. It was the only option left when all else failed…” Dawn reassures him. “I tried to... you know... when the portal opened,” she confesses quietly. He moves to face her as an errant tear escapes her lashes. “I… I was okay with it, but then Buffy-”
She throws herself into Giles’ arms and he doesn’t hesitate to hold her tightly to him. He’s overcome by his emotions too. There are two whole years worth of grief they are processing, survivors’ guilt coupled with the fact that they both had lost the person who had played the most pivotal role in their lives, but his grief wasn’t something he could have shared with her in those days and months following Buffy’s death. It had all been too personal then and Dawn had been a constant reminder of his failure to find a solution to save his Slayer.
“I am sorry,” he murmurs as he takes a deep breath and looks out over the ocean. “For not finding another way… for leaving when I shouldn’t have… twice. Just know that whatever happens now, I’ll always be close by.” He leans back and looks her in the eye. “I promise,” he stresses with conviction.
“Thanks, Giles,” Dawn replies, giving him one last squeeze before releasing him and wiping her eyes. “I just keep asking myself why now, you know?”
“I imagine Buffy will find out when she meets with your father later this afternoon.”
“Not my father,” she says with emotion. “You’re way more my dad than he ever will be.”
He gives her an affectionate smile. “And you are the closest thing I have to a child of my own.”
Dawn beams at him before furrowing her brows in thought. “Do me a favor?”
“What do you need?”
“Just… can you go with Buffy today? She shouldn’t be dealing with all this alone.”
“I have already offered my services as chauffeur and emotional support.”
“Thanks, Giles, you’re the best!” Dawn declares before jumping down from the hot tub and heading towards the house. “Oh and take care of her, please,” she calls back as she reaches the door.
“Always,” he vows, but the girl has already disappeared into the house.
Finding Buffy standing by the Jeep, her nervous energy evident as she fidgets with her hands, Giles’ heart goes out to her. He knows she wants to present herself as the capable, strong woman she is, one who has been taking care of Dawn as best as she can, despite the challenges of her calling, not to mention her death and subsequent depression upon her resurrection, three apocalypses, and a sister who is just as stubborn and independently minded as she is.
“You look lovely,” he says, greeting her on his approach. She is wearing a beautiful light blue sundress with white wedge sandals, and her long, blonde hair cascades over her shoulders in large curls. The only thing that he laments is that her wonderfully expressive green eyes are hidden behind a pair of aviator sunglasses, though he admits to himself that they are a charming addition to her ensemble.
“Thank you. You ready?” she asks him as she tosses him the key.
He nods and walks over to her, offering her his hand as he gallantly helps her into the vehicle. “Are you?”
“Not really, no, but let’s get this over with.”
He makes his way to the driver’s side and climbs into the vehicle. The weather is perfect and he’s removed the roof and doors to take advantage of the conditions on their drive.
As they pull onto the main road, Buffy says, “Thank you for talking to Dawn this morning. She’s a lot calmer now. What did you say to her?”
“I assured her that I am not going anywhere.”
A little of the tension leaves her body as she settles back into her seat. “Thank you.”
The next hour and half is spent in near silence as Buffy prepares mentally to meet with her father. At one point she plays with the radio, but it’s hard to hear the music above the road and wind noise with the open cab and she gives up after half a song, choosing instead to watch the scenery go by.
As they near their destination, Giles notices her knee is bouncing in response to her nerves. He reaches over and places his hand over it in a comforting gesture. “It’ll be all right,” he says, turning his head towards her before glancing back at the road.
Buffy covers his hand with hers and laces their fingers together, and he can’t help but curl his fingers around hers in response. He tells himself it’s to reassure her of his devotion and loyalty, but he’s in need of reassurance too, that somehow this new closeness of theirs will hold fast once the current crisis is resolved.
When they finally arrive at the seaside town that is the halfway point to Los Angeles, Giles finds a parking space along the main street near the coffee shop Buffy is meeting her father in. As he shuts off the engine, he glances at his companion. She is as ready as she ever will be at this point. He climbs out of the Jeep and heads around to the passenger side.
“How do you want to handle this?” he asks, taking her hand and helping her out of the vehicle. “What would you like me to do?”
“I um… I don’t expect this meeting to last long. Maybe give me half an hour and then come to find me at the shop?”
“All right. If you need me before then, call or text. I have my mobile on me.”
Buffy looks up at him, her eyes full of gratitude. “Thanks, Giles. I don’t know if I would’ve made it this far without your offer to drive,” she says graciously.
“Of course you would have,” Giles professes with an encouraging smile. He knows the depths to which she will go to protect her sister, having experienced her wrath and resolve first hand.
Rolling her neck and shoulders as if she is going into battle, Buffy tries to psych herself up a bit more. “Okay… I can do this,” she tells herself.
Usually Giles would say something like, ‘I don’t have to remind you to be careful,’ but she’s not putting herself into harm’s way. Instead he grabs her hands and looks her in the eyes. “I believe in you!” he affirms.
Buffy gives him a wide smile. “I’ll see you in thirty.”
He nods and blinks his eyes in a show of solidarity and affection before turning around and walking down the main street to investigate the town.
Upon finding an old used bookshop, Giles decides to check out what the place has to offer. It’s tiny and mostly filled with old paperbacks of dime store novels and well-thumbed copies of New York Times Best Sellers, but there are a few old gems hiding amongst the banal, some first or second editions of classics. Nothing, from what he can tell, of interest to collectors with more… esoteric interests.
His interest is piqued by the collection of spy novels. He’s a fan of John Le Carre, but he’s only ever read a handful of his books, so he picks up a few he hasn’t read to keep himself occupied over the next week. The proprietress is a lovely woman in her early forties with honey brown eyes and rich, mahogany hair. As she rings up his purchases, she flirts with him and comments on his refined British accent. He blushes brightly at her compliments and wishes her a pleasant afternoon before continuing on his way. He might have stuttered a little from the unexpected attention and he tries to convince himself that when he returns to London to get out more, but he knows he won’t for so many reasons, the least of which will be the amount of time he will need to dedicate to rebuilding what is left of the Council.
The town is quite charming, with several mom and pop shops thriving in the center, quaint little restaurants, ice cream and sweets shops, tatty tourist traps, and a few art galleries peppered in between. From what he can tell through the storefront windows, most of the art, whether paintings or sculpture or other forms of media, is beach themed and priced to sell to tourists. Not that the pieces aren’t nice or well done, they just aren’t to his taste.
Despite the distractions, Giles can’t help but worry about Buffy and how her meeting with her father is going. He pulls out his mobile and checks for any messages, but, as expected, there are none. After a quick glance at his watch, he finds that only fifteen minutes have passed. The town isn’t big enough to warrant thirty minutes worth of investigation, and it’s still way too early to head back to the coffee shop.
He curses under his breath, venting his frustration at the situation. It’s not his fight, though he’d love to give Hank Summers the thrashing of a lifetime. All he can do is provide his unwavering support to Buffy and Dawn as they navigate this new development in their family dynamics. He just hopes that the sisters come out it without too much emotional trauma. God knows their father has caused enough angst throughout the years.
Curiosity finally gets the better of him and Giles crosses the street before heading back towards the coffee shop. If he shows up a few minutes early, what will it matter? He can order a cup of tea and sit at a table across the room and start on one of his new books. At least then he could assess the situation between Buffy and her father and he’d know what sort of support to offer her once her meeting ends.
Being mid afternoon, the cafe is sparsely populated with only two other patrons seated by the front window. Buffy and her father are seated at a table in the back corner. From her body language he knows that their chat is not going well. He feigns disinterest in what’s going on around him and orders a strong black tea blend from the barista at the counter. He’s pleasantly surprised to find a scone more similar to the ones he’s familiar with back home rather than the overly large, sweet things typically found in the States. They even have homemade strawberry jam, though there is a distinct lack of clotted cream. Two out of three isn’t bad and he sits down at a table out of Hank’s line of site. Buffy’s upset and agitated, just as he expects her to be. Her father, on the other hand, acts as though his abandonment of his daughters never happened, as if he could just waltz right in and take his place as their father and the head of their family.
Reaching into his bag, Giles pulls out his book and places it on the table before slathering the right amount of jam onto his scone and pouring himself a cup of tea from the lovely little pot the barista had given him. He doctors his tea just so with a splash of milk as he keeps an eye on the situation that appears to be escalating at the Summers’ table. There are a lot of harsh words being uttered through whispers, though he can’t quite make them out. He picks up his book and tries to read… tries to mind his own business, but their exchange is strengthening in intensity and he can feel Buffy’s anger from across the room.
The two patrons by the window are finished and they leave a tip on the table, waving to the barista on the way out. Clearly they are either locals or regulars during the tourist season. Giles returns to his book. He’s not even through the first paragraph, though he’s probably read it three times by now. His mind is too distracted to focus on anything other than what is happening between father and daughter.
Buffy suddenly stands up, knocking over her chair with a bang. She’s had enough of Hank’s bullshit. “Oh no you don’t! You don’t get to barge into our lives after everything and try to play the hero!” Her voice is an elevated whisper, but Giles can hear every word.
“Well, I’m certainly no villain!” Hank barks back, trying to keep his voice low.
“No,” Buffy states emphatically. She’s no longer concerned with keeping her voice down. “No, I’ve known enough of those. What you are is the loser in the story who comes along after the dust settles and tries to take advantage of the situation… to insinuate himself as some sort of savior in the end. But the reality is that you are a coward! If you had any balls at all, you would’ve been there for us when mom died! You would’ve come home and you would’ve just... been there!”
“Sit down!” Hank growls, trying to cow his daughter into compliance. “You are making a scene!” Clearly he doesn’t know her at all anymore. Buffy doesn’t intimidate easily. She has faced every conceivable threat out there at this point. The only wildcard Hank holds is that he is still her family, and family means everything to Buffy.
She scans the shop. Her eyes meet Giles’ and he holds her gaze, hoping she can sense his support before looking back down at his book, trying to portray the disinterested patron. Hank turns to see what or who his daughter is looking at before turning his attention back to her.
“I’m doing this for you… and for Dawn,” he hisses, reiterating his position forcefully. “I don’t understand why you are trying to fight me on this.” He pauses a moment to regain his composure before adding in a calm manner, “You are young. You don’t need to be a parent of a sixteen-year-old when I am here. Go back to school and enjoy your twenties and all the freedom that comes with that.”
Buffy scoffs and rights her chair to sit down again. “That isn’t what I want and it certainly isn’t what Dawn wants. What part of that don’t you get? Five years is a long time, Dad, especially for her. She was nine when we moved to Sunnydale and eleven when we saw you last. So much has happened that you weren’t there for, so many times when we needed you and you... just weren’t there… when Mom got sick and especially after she died, but we made it through and we did it without you.”
“Dammit, Buffy, I am trying to make things right!” Hank yells. He refuses to feel guilty.
Giles’ knuckles turn white in his clenched hand.
“This isn’t the way to do it,” Buffy says with an air of calm. Her eyes meets Giles’ again, and he relaxes, seeing she is in control.
“Then I will fight you for custody,” her father states belligerently.
“Why?” Buffy asks, her jaw clenching. “What would that possibly do other than drive the wedge further between us?”
“It’s the right thing to do,” he replies.
“How do you even begin to figure that?” she asks incredulously.
“Dawn needs stability.”
“She has that!” Buffy counters in protest. “I’m the one who’s been there for her. I’m the one who has wiped her tears and held her through the nightmares all these years. I’ve taken on the parent role since mom died. Dawn relies on me to make sure she is housed and fed, to love and support her. To keep her safe.”
“To keep her safe?” Hank barks incredulously, his voice booming throughout the cafe. “According to the Red Cross, you two were some of the last people to leave Sunnydale. Your irresponsibility put her in danger!”
“Are you kidding me?” Buffy yells back. “When was the last time you provided any stability for either of us? When you refused to return from Europe to help us when mom died? Or when you stopped sending child support payments?”
Hank is rankled, his face red and full of indignant anger. “I have the resources to fight for custody. I can get the best lawyers in the country,” he threatens, blatantly ignoring her questions. “Don’t make me do this, Buffy.”
Giles is furious. He’s waiting for a sign from Buffy to jump in, but none comes. Instead she stands up and grinds out, “Do your best!” before storming out of the shop.
It takes all of his willpower to calmly place his book back into the paper sack, take a sip of his tea, and follow his irate Slayer out. By the time he steps onto the pavement and out into the late afternoon sun, Buffy is nowhere to be seen. Giles knows she needs time to think, but he’s not so sure it’s a good idea for her to be alone at this time. He walks down to the beach to look for her, as has been her habit at the house they are sharing with Dawn, Xander, and WIllow, and when he cannot find her amidst the sun worshippers and the surfers, he pulls out his mobile and phones her. The call goes straight through to her answerphone and he rings off before heading back to the Wrangler, hoping that she is waiting for him there.
Returning to their rendezvous spot to wait for her return, Giles is thankful that Hank Summers is long gone. He’s not sure whether he would’ve been able to control his temper around the man and not beaten him within an inch of his pathetic life for treating Buffy the way he did.
Three long hours pass and Buffy hasn’t returned, nor has she tried to contact him. Giles has only made a little headway in his book, although he’s remembered every face that has come through the door, counted all the tiles on the bar, and has the entirety of the cafe’s menu memorized. He hates to admit it, but he’s starting to worry. Not that Buffy can’t handle herself, it’s just that he knows she could probably use a friendly ear and some time to vent before heading back to the beach house to a frantic younger sister who is now the center of a custody battle.
When his phone vibrates on the table, Giles sweeps up his things and is partly out the door before he reads the message.
At the Jeep.
As he approaches the vehicle, he sees Buffy leaning against it and waiting for him.
“Hey,” she says.
“How are you?” Giles asks with concern.
Buffy looks down at her feet and shrugs. “Not great,” she finally admits before looking up at him again. “But I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Fair enough,” he replies, tossing his book into the vehicle. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
“I passed a great little place when I was walking along the beach,” Buffy replies, her mood lifting at the thought of food. “Fresh seafood. Fish tacos. Margaritas.”
They sit through most of dinner in companionable silence, enjoying a couple adult beverages and their seafood tacos.
Finally Buffy says, “Dawn’s called twice.”
“I turned my phone back on right before I made my way back to the Jeep. I saw you called too. Sorry about that.”
“No, no. You needed time. I understand that.”
“Thanks.” She’s quiet and takes a sip of her margarita. “I don’t know what to tell her. Not yet anyway. All I know is that I’m going to I need a lawyer.”
“I have a suggestion,” Giles replies, sitting back in his chair, holding his glass of beer.
“Am I going to like it?”
He shrugs. He doesn’t exactly know.
She finishes her drink and contemplates her glass before saying, “I can’t slay him, he’s my dad... and he showed up in daylight.” Buffy’s eyes are shining with amusement and it’s the first time he’s seen her smile since their arrival.
Her smile is contagious and he says, “I’d noticed that too. I’m afraid we have to go in another direction, tempting though it may be, and believe me, I was a little more than tempted to knock him on his arse.”
“Yeah, me too. So what’s this plan?”
“My father was chief solicitor for the Council before he retired. He’s an expert in international and family law-”
“Wait…” she interrupts before looking away in disgust.
“It’s... not what you think, Buffy. The Council has done its best since the end of the First World War to keep Potentials and Slayers with their families, but there have been times when guardianship needed to transfer to the Council or a Slayer needed to be emancipated.”
“Like Faith?” she asks, but really it’s more of a statement.
“Like Faith,” he confirms. “Her parents were abusive alcoholics and they interfered with her training. The Council stepped in at the behest of her Watcher and had her emancipated.”
“The Council would also step in when Potentials were found in orphanages or in foster care systems to provide adoptive families for them. And sometimes, if a Slayer found herself afoul of the law, her Watcher might need to consult the legal department and perhaps even have a Council lawyer represent her.”
“Did you call the Council after Ted or Kendra?” she asks.
“Those cases were resolved rather quickly so I didn’t need to, but admittedly after Drusilla murdered Kendra and the police were going about their investigation, I did consider calling my father. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.”
“Sorry I jumped to conclusions.”
He reaches across the table and places his hand over hers. “Neither of us are fans of the Council and it’s easy to assume the worst with the way both of us have been treated over the years, but there have been some pockets of good.”
“Yeah,” Buffy concedes, her eyes softening as they hold his. “They sent you to me.”
“I feel the same,” he answers quietly. Their connection lingers a few heartbeats too long and he clears his throat before releasing her hand and looking at the bill the waiter dropped off some time ago.
“So, uh, you think your dad can help?” she asks, her cheeks still sporting a little more red than normal.
“He’s retired and, of course, he was never licensed to practice law in California, but he still has his contacts. I’ll phone him in the morning if you like.”
“I need to win this, but if I don’t, I need a long term strategy. My dad can afford expensive lawyers and... well, I can’t. If the state decides to award him custody, I want to either win on appeal or tie up the courts until Dawn turns eighteen and I need to know how to go about doing that without totally bankrupting us. Hopefully your dad can help with that.”
He pulls out his wallet and pays for their meal and drinks. “Consider it done,” he replies. “And don’t worry about the expense.”
“The Council owes you this, and even though it is in shambles at the moment, I’ll see to it that any legal expenses are covered.”
She gives him a genuine smile as she gets up from the table. “Has anyone ever told you, you are a god?”
“Maybe once or twice,” he responds with grin of his own.
“Well don’t let it go to your head then,” Buffy says as she playfully bumps her shoulder against the upper part his arm.
Leaving the restaurant, they walk along the shoreline, carrying their shoes as the waves gently ripple over their feet before retreating back into the ocean. Buffy takes his elbow with her free hand. It’s a welcome surprise and he closes the gap between them.
“Is it bad that I don’t want to go back to the house?” she finally says as they near the entrance to the beach closest to the area of town he’d parked the car.
“I am sure your sister is waiting up with bated breath to find out what’s happened today,” he responds in a wistful tone. He’s enjoying the time out with Buffy, reconnecting, even if it is working together through the latest crisis. It feels much like the closeness they’d shared before her death, when she’d first come to him and confided to him about Dawn, and he doesn’t want to give that up. Ever.
Buffy lets go of Giles’ arm and turns to face him. “If I call her and give her an update, do you think we could stay?”
“And what?” he asks, also disappointed that their evening has come to an end. “Camp on the beach?”
“It’s an idea, but there are some nice hotels around.”
Giles notices her earnest look and it hits him. She needs more time. She needs a strategy to go up against her father, and going back to the house and to Dawn would only clutter her thoughts and create more issues.
Shoving his free hand into his pocket, he says, “Call your sister.”
Buffy lets out a happy little squeal and throws her arms around his neck. It takes a moment for him to get his bearings to hug her to him, but she releases him before he can, mumbling a quick apology before excusing herself to call her sister.
He watches her pull her phone from her purse as she walks back along the shore. She is stunning in the moonlight, strong yet approachable, her natural grace on display as she deftly dances out of the reach of the waves, and he can’t help but notice how the light blue sundress emphasizes her femininity, nor how the ocean breeze has endearingly tousled her long, blonde hair just so.
Giles has spent years watching her fighting demons at night, in awe of her strength and skill, but it’s different now. Suddenly, there’s a softness about her. In the last twenty-four hours he’s witnessed her relax with him and trust him in a way she hasn’t in years in spite of the threat her father has brought into her life.
Buffy is animated on the phone, but doesn’t appear tense. The sisters must be having a fairly good conversation. Dawn, despite her youthful exuberance and tendency towards drama, has matured a lot over the last year, and in the wake of the activation spell, she knows that Buffy is free to choose her own destiny now and she wants to make sure that they stay together. Whatever she needs to do to ensure that, she will do, even if it means trusting Buffy to take care of the situation.
Giles is lost in his thoughts when she greets him softly, “Ground control to Major Tom.”
“Sorry,” he replies, the corners of his mouth pulling into a tight, embarrassed smile.
“Quite,” he says running his left hand along the back of his neck. “How’s Dawn?”
They begin walking in step again and Buffy answers, “She’s… okay… still freaking, but I told her we’re working on a plan and to trust us.”
When they reach the elevated wooden path to leave the beach, they wipe the sand off their feet and put their shoes back on. Giles offers Buffy his elbow again as they walk back towards the center of town and the Jeep.
“Are you okay with all this? I’ve sort of hijacked you.”
“I volunteered my services, whether I am needed as a chauffeur, sounding board, or just someone to lend an ear.”
“Thank you,” she murmurs.
They continue on for a few blocks in silence, the only sound ringing out in the sleepy tourist town are their footsteps.
“I’ve missed this,” she finally says, her voice wistful. “The two of us, together.”
He wants to tell her that he’s been there for her all this time, but he knows he hasn’t. Even when he’d returned with the Potentials in tow, something had been off between them. Of course, it hadn’t helped that the First had visited him in her guise several times before he’d realized it actually wasn’t her he’d been verbally sparring with, but by that time, things had deteriorated so badly between him and the real Buffy that he’d decided that he was only staying for the fight against the First, not for her anymore.
Instead he places his hand over hers and replies, “I’ve missed this too… missed you.”
Buffy tightens her grip on his elbow and leans her head against his shoulder as they turn onto the street where the Jeep is parked, and Giles can’t help the wave of contentment that washes over him.