Buffy ended up missing the Ice Capades. She wanted to feel bad about it, in that same way she’d felt bad when she’d found out her dad wouldn’t be able to make it to the Ice Capades, but the Ice Capades felt supremely unimportant after the terrible mess that had been her eighteenth birthday. Her seventeenth hadn’t been a picnic, either, but Giles had been there for it, blowing a little party streamer and roping his girlfriend into driving Buffy to a surprise party. She remembered feeling all warm and mushy, then, seeing him there—because wow, Mr. I-Never-Shut-Up-About-Destiny Giles had supported some cheesy birthday fun for Buffy? Something just to make Buffy happy, not for the fate of the world?
So, like, Buffy couldn’t really feel bad about the Ice Capades when she was thinking about Giles hiding behind a table in the Bronze, popping up a little sheepishly, and how that had been a really wonderful memory right up until Giles had—
What had Giles done?
Buffy didn’t like any of the words that could be used for what Giles had done to her. Buffy didn’t like thinking about any of those words. Buffy liked thinking about you have a father’s love for the child and the look in Giles’s eyes, worried and loving, as he had pressed that cloth to the deep cut at her temple. So she thought about that, the night she was supposed to be at the Ice Capades—she thought about Giles pressing a cloth to her temple, and didn’t think about how Giles was the reason she’d gotten cut in the first place.
Giles acted like nothing had happened when Buffy came into school the next day. Sort of. Actually, what he said was, “Are you feeling any better?” and for the first time ever, Buffy imagined what it would be like to grab him and shove him through a window. Or throw him through his bookshelves. Or maybe just punch him, once, in the face, and pull back and see his glasses cracked from the force of the blow.
The strength and violence of her anger frightened her. Even back when he was an annoying Watcher she barely knew, she had never once wanted to hurt him. Maybe it was that, even back when he was an annoying Watcher she barely knew, she’d never once thought he might be capable of hurting her. And here he was, looking at her all furtive because he knew he’d done something wrong, but smiling tremulously like he wanted to pretend he hadn’t.
“No,” said Buffy flatly.
Giles’s smile quivered. “Yes,” he said. “Well. We’ll resume your training when you do.”
They both stood there for another few seconds. Giles couldn’t seem to meet Buffy’s eyes. Buffy had so many things she wanted to say to Giles, but all of them meant making herself vulnerable, and—and she couldn’t. She’d trusted him once. She didn’t want to trust him again, not all the way.
“Buffy,” Giles began.
“Save it,” said Buffy, almost involuntarily. The look of genuine pain on Giles’s face hurt to see, but it also helped, a little bit. “You can’t fix this, Giles.” She liked the way his face twisted at that. She hated herself for liking it. “I just—please stop,” she said, and her voice cracked, and she hated it. The last time she’d felt really, honestly comforted was with Giles, that night in his car where he told her you have my support and my respect. And now they were here, where it felt like too much of a weakness to shed a tear in front of him. He might hurt her if he knew she wasn’t a good enough Slayer. He might leave her to die.
But he didn’t, said a small part of her, the same one that had wanted Giles at the Ice Capades not to replace her dad, but instead of him. He came back for you. He loves you.
You didn’t once think he was capable of hurting you like this, said the rest of her. You don’t know him as well as you thought you did if he could do this to you. You never once saw this coming, and you should have. He’s your—
Watcher didn’t seem enough, suddenly. If he was just Buffy’s Watcher, like Merrick had been once upon a time, it wouldn’t hurt this much.
Giles was still just standing there. He hadn’t taken off his glasses to clean them or anything, he was just…standing there. Looking at her, with this tired resolve. “Anything I can do,” he said quietly. “Anything at all. To make this up to you. I will do it, Buffy.”
“Sure,” said Buffy. Some small, awful part of her wanted to start crying really hard and have Giles hug her really tightly until she was all cried out. Another part of her didn’t even want to be in the same room with Giles, ever. “Because you’ve proved yourself so trustworthy, lately.”
Giles nodded, a stiff, jerky motion. If Buffy had been all-the-way looking at him, she might have been able to tell whether or not there were tears behind his glasses. “I deserved that,” he said.
Buffy didn’t like hearing him say that. She didn’t think she ever had before. Giles wasn’t about concessions when it came to Buffy lashing out at him, and the fact that he was now…that meant that this was something really terrible, what he’d done.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to ever trust you again,” she said. It was more honest than she wanted to be with him, but she didn’t know how else to get him to understand how much she was hurting. If he thought he could make it up to her, he seriously had no idea. “I would have trusted you with my life, Giles, and you threw that in my face.”
Giles swallowed, hard. “Right,” he said. “Right. Yes.” His voice was thick with tears. “I don’t—I’ll just—”
Buffy couldn’t handle being in this library anymore. Tightening her hands around the straps of her backpack, she turned, heading quietly away from Giles without looking over her shoulder.
“So hey, Giles said you got your powers back!” said Willow the next day, bright and chipper.
Buffy found herself a strange kind of glad that Giles hadn’t told them. She didn’t like the thought of Willow and Xander having to know what Giles had done. She didn’t want to think about Willow’s worry, or about Xander’s anger, or about the horrible possibility that they might just end up siding with Giles. Willow had worried herself sick over Giles after Ms. Calendar’s death, talking about how sad he must be, how hurt, how angry—that kind of sympathy seemed like it might extend to Giles’s visible, tired guilt right now.
“She has,” said Giles. His voice was quiet and measured, but still with that soft note to it that made Buffy feel sick. “She’s bouncing back quite nicely.”
“Do we know what caused it?” Xander asked.
“I—” Giles began, looking up.
“Some demony thing on patrol,” said Buffy, keeping her voice light and chipper. “No big. Giles and I neutralized the threat pretty quickly once we knew what it was.”
Giles gave Buffy a Look. Buffy gave Giles a Look back. I was the one drugged, she tried to convey, and then realized that this was the first time she’d really labeled it as such. It had been easy to say poisoned when she’d been angry and near tears, but this was—
Giles had dropped his eyes from hers. “Yes,” he said. “Buffy is quite right.”
Two years ago, Buffy had always really liked the concept of him saying that. It felt all kinds of wrong to hear it now.
Buffy’s mom was still recovering from the whole vampire attack. She triple-locked the doors and got home before sunset every day and refused to open the front door after dark. Xander and Willow had to call ahead if they were coming over, and Buffy had to answer the door for them when they did. So when Giles dropped by and knocked on the door, Buffy’s mom’s shoulders went all stiff until Buffy caught sight of Giles by the window.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “It’s just Giles.” The words didn’t feel honest anymore. Just Giles was the whole reason Buffy’s mom was so scared in the first place.
“Oh,” said her mom. “That’s okay, then.”
Buffy got up off the couch and opened the door, looking steadily at Giles until he stepped over the threshold. “You left your jacket in the library,” he said awkwardly. “I’d have called, but I wanted to—that is, how is your mother doing?”
Buffy didn’t know what the hell she was supposed to say to that.
“Rupert!” Her mom looked that same weird kind of embarrassed she always did around Giles lately, but she did at least look glad to see him. She stepped around him, shutting the door resolutely, then locked all three locks. “I don’t really like leaving the door open, these days,” she said, “and if you came around to have dinner, or—”
“Buffy left her jacket,” Giles offered somewhat awkwardly. “I was just on my way out, actually.”
“Oh.” Her mom gave him a sheepish smile as she headed to unlock the doors again.
Buffy snuck a look at Giles. He was looking at his shoes. Something about that, about him having the audacity to feel uncomfortable, made her feel ridiculously angry. “No, I think Giles should stay for dinner,” she said acidly. “Don’t you think Giles should stay for dinner, Mom? I think he should stay for dinner,” and without waiting for anyone to answer her, she turned on her heel and stormed upstairs, stalking into her room and slamming the door shut hard enough to rattle the hinges.
She could hear the worried murmur of voices downstairs. She sat down on the bed, hard, and buried her face in her hands.
There was a knock on the door. “Buffy?” said her mom.
“No,” said Buffy.
The door opened anyway. Buffy heard the soft padding of footsteps on her nice white carpet, and then felt the mattress give as her mom sat down next to her. “Mr. Giles implied that you had a very good reason to be mad at him,” she said quietly. “Is everything okay?”
Buffy took a shuddering breath in and raised her head, still unable to look at her mom. “He shouldn’t be upset about us asking him to stay for dinner,” she said. “He doesn’t get to be upset or feel bad. That’s not fair. He did this to himself.”
She felt her mom’s hand on her shoulder. “Do you want me to go punch him in the face for you?” she said, in that playful-maternal way that made something settle in Buffy’s chest. “I may not be a Vampire Slayer, but I pack a mean right hook.”
Buffy sniffle-laughed. “Okay,” she said, resting her head on her mom’s shoulder. “Yeah. You punch him really hard.”
Her mom hesitated. Then: “Buffy, did he hurt you?”
Buffy took a moment to consider her answer. “The stuff with the vampire,” she said carefully, “the one who grabbed you—that was his fault.”
“Oh,” said her mom, like she understood, even though she really only got part of it. “Oh, sweetie. Well, I’m fine now, okay?”
“Maybe I’m not,” said Buffy, but she said it quietly enough that her mom might have missed it. A little louder, she said, “Is Giles staying for dinner?”
“Do you want him to?”
The question threw Buffy for a loop. Did she want Giles there? She could tell herself that it was because she wanted to remind him how badly he’d screwed up, but under all that hurt and anger was a simple, quiet yes. And that made her feel angry, too, and she had no idea how to express that—
“Wrong question, I guess.” Her mom kissed the top of Buffy’s head. “How’s this one: do you feel like seeing him right now?”
“No,” said Buffy. It felt nice to say.
“Okay,” said her mom. “I’m going to go down and yell at Rupert for upsetting my baby. You stay up here and I’ll let you know when he’s gone. How does that sound?”
“Really good,” said Buffy quietly, and watched her mom leave the room. Her mom shut the door, but a few seconds later, Buffy could still make out the muffled sound of her mom’s raised voice. She thought her Slayer-hearing was picking up on quiet, semi-panicked interjections from Giles, but she couldn’t really tell what either of them were saying, so she just fell back on her bed and stared up at the ceiling for a while.
“So how did you deal with him when he was being dumb?” Buffy asked the tombstone, sitting down criss-cross-applesauce on the wet grass, tracing the carved letters that said JENNY CALENDAR. “You knew him better than me, probably—or, I don’t know. Maybe you just knew him differently. But whenever you were mad at him, you’d just yell at him, and once you guys had gotten together he always listened to you.”
She swallowed. The thing that upset her, though, was that Giles had chosen her over Ms. Calendar. She’d known it, and Ms. Calendar had known it, and even Giles had known it. Which meant that Buffy was the person that Giles cared about most in the world, and he’d still—
“You’d have been so mad,” Buffy said. Her voice wobbled. “At him. You’d have been so mad at him, and maybe he’d have listened to you.” She was almost crying. “And maybe he wouldn’t have—maybe he wouldn’t have done all that stuff to me.” She remembered Ms. Calendar in fragments of painful memory, but clearest to her in this moment was Ms. Calendar’s blazing fury. Ms. Calendar would have been mad at Giles for doing something like this. Really mad. Buffy wished Ms. Calendar were here, because maybe if Ms. Calendar was mad at Giles, Giles might start understanding that he couldn’t just fix this with half-baked apologies and a wet cloth to clean her cut.
Buffy looked up, and saw Giles, and suddenly felt very very bad about everything. He was carrying a small bouquet of daisies and a bag of that gourmet coffee Ms. Calendar had always liked. Looking at him made her feel like she was the one intruding, this time. She didn’t like it at all.
But then Giles said, quietly, “I think I’ll come back later,” and he turned to go.
“No, I was—already leaving,” said Buffy, and accidentally ended up falling into step with Giles. She’d assumed that he would turn back when he saw that she was going away, but he just kept walking towards the exit. God, Buffy wished that they’d buried Ms. Calendar in a cemetery with more than just one exit. Should she just make a break for it and jump the fence? Would that keep Giles from trying to talk to her?
Giles didn’t say anything, though. That was weird. Usually, when there was silence between them, Giles filled it with Watcher wisdom or weird monster facts or questions about the colleges that Buffy had applied to. She hated that he’d broken so much stuff between them. She hated that she somehow felt responsible for trying to fix it.
“I was talking to Ms. Calendar about how much you suck,” she said, a little childishly.
Giles looked up at her, mouth twitching. For a second, he looked like he wanted to laugh, but then he seemed to remember that Buffy was still really mad at him. She hated the way his face kind of crumpled a little, in the middle. But she hated it when he was smiling, too. She just—she just kind of hated—
“I really, really hate you right now,” said Buffy.
“I’m aware,” said Giles.
“I want you to be worse about this,” said Buffy. She felt her voice break. “I want you to be—I mean, god, Giles, I’ve got a daughter’s love for you. I love you. But you did something so crappy that it retroactively ruins all the other awesome stuff you’ve done.”
“People aren’t black and white, Buffy,” said Giles quietly.
“Don’t give me a stupid moralistic lecture—”
“I’m not trying to absolve myself,” said Giles. He was looking ahead, and not at her. “I’m only trying to impart upon you that if you expect people to be perfectly good, or perfectly evil—”
“Fuck that!” Buffy shouted.
Giles stopped, eyes wide. He really did turn to look at her.
“Fuck that!” Buffy shouted again, and goddamn it, she really was crying. “You don’t get to turn this into a moment of Watcher wisdom, Giles! I trusted you, and that’s not—that’s not me believing that you’re good, or perfect, that’s just me trusting you, okay? Because I love you. And what the hell am I supposed to do with really loving someone who would do something like what you did to me?”
“I don’t know,” said Giles. He sounded hollowed out.
“It’s your job to know!” Buffy wiped her face, roughly, with the sleeve of her jacket. “It’s your job to fix this! What else are you good for, Giles? Drugging me? Throwing me in with a vampire to die?”
“But you almost did.”
Giles looked almost dazed, and so thoroughly miserable. He swallowed, hard, and said, “Buffy, if there’s anything—”
Buffy hit him. Hard. Slayer strength, no holding back, just like she’d done that night when he’d tried to burn down Angelus. In the single moment that her fist connected with his face, it felt good, it felt right—and then Giles fell, hard, head connecting with a tombstone before he hit the ground. She’d cracked the lens of his glasses. There was a splatter of blood on the grass.
“Giles!” sobbed Buffy, now fully in tears, and raced forward, pulling him up to prop him against the tombstone. Behind the spiderweb-cracked lenses of his glasses, Giles’s eyes were closed—god, god, this had been the dumbest thing Buffy had ever done—she’d just wanted to hurt him like he’d hurt her, and that was so terrible of her. That was awful of her. What was she doing—
She felt tentative, shaking hands on her shoulders. She looked up, and saw Giles looking at her, and all she saw in his eyes was concern and care and love. “It really is all right,” he said weakly, and gave her a small, lopsided smile. “I rather think I deserve worse. Lucky I got assigned such a gentle, caring Slayer such as yourself—”
“Don’t even joke about that,” said Buffy in a wobbly tone of voice, raising a hand to his head. It came back sticky with blood. “Oh, Giles—”
“You know I’ve had worse,” said Giles. He reached for her hand and laced their fingers together. “I meant it, Buffy. Anything you want of me, anything you want to take out on me—I know the mistake I’ve made. I’d die before I did it again.”
“Don’t die,” said Buffy, sniffling. “Just don’t do it again. Please don’t do it again—” And then, suddenly, she couldn’t stop crying. She fell forward into Giles’s arms, burying her face in his scratchy overcoat, and he wrapped her up in a hug. And maybe this was what Buffy wanted, really, not to hit him, just for him to know how much she’d been hurting from it, from having to not trust him, from having to rethink everything in her life, because everything in her life was a mess but at least she had a Watcher who understood her—
“Shh,” Giles whispered. “Let’s get you home.”
“You need to go to a hospital,” wailed Buffy, “I hit you!”
“I’m all right—”
“Don’t be dumb, you’re being so dumb, I want to go to the hospital, you’re bleeding all over the place—”
Wisely, Giles seemed to realize that Buffy was not going to calm down until she was sure he was okay. Which was true. “All right,” he said. “Hospital it is. I think you’ll probably have to drive.”
Giles did kind of have a concussion. “Sorry,” said Buffy, touching the little decorative Band-Aid at his temple. “Does it hurt?”
“A bit more when you do that,” said Giles through gritted teeth. When Buffy removed her hand, though, he smiled a little, then tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “How are you?”
“Uh, not concussed, so pretty good,” said Buffy, shrugging.
Giles gave her a Look.
Buffy exhaled. “I feel bad about hitting you,” she said. “Like, I did it at the time ‘cause you hurt me so much, but I don’t think I ever wanted you just as hurt as I was. I thought I did, for a second, but I…really don’t.”
“Because it hurt a lot, Giles,” said Buffy seriously. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
Giles swallowed, and looked down.
Buffy hesitated, then sat down next to him on the bed, resting her head on his shoulder. She felt Giles start a little, but he didn’t push her away, which felt like an okay sign. “You’re gonna take the day off tomorrow, right?” she said. “Take it easy?”
“I really don’t know how to do that,” said Giles.
Buffy considered. “I’ll make my mom take care of you,” she said decisively.
“Buffy, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Giles in a strangled tone of voice.
“At some point,” said Buffy, “I will figure out why you and her have been weird about each other ever since, like, October. And you can bet on that.”
“I really wouldn’t like to,” said Giles.
“C’mon, Giles!” Buffy persisted, turning her head a little so that she was looking up at him. He had that look on his face—the pursed lips that meant he was uncomfortable, but the warm eyes that meant he liked seeing her happy—and it made her feel like maybe, at some point, they might be able to figure out how to be okay with each other again. “I’m your daughter! That’s why you got fired from the Council, right? And family doesn’t keep secrets from each other.”
Giles opened his mouth, and then stopped, and Buffy saw that his eyes were bright with tears. He pulled her into a crushing hug, and she had to remind herself—Slayer strength, Slayer strength—because all she wanted to do was hug him back as tightly as she could. She let out a breath, instead, hiding her face in his overcoat, tightly gripping his lapels. It felt like she was a little kid again.
Giles pulled back, hand cupping her face. “I will never again prioritize my skewed beliefs over your welfare and your safety,” he said, quiet and solemn, the same way he always made the promises they both knew he would die before breaking. “Never, Buffy.”
Trembling, Buffy bumped her forehead against his. I love you, she thought, but was almost too scared to say it—and how messed up was that? That the only way she could admit Giles’s importance to her was when she was aiming to hurt?
“I love you very much,” said Giles.
Buffy let her face fall forward, hiding it again in the crook of Giles’s neck. The jagged, painful ache in her chest—it wasn’t gone, exactly, but his words had dulled it. Softened it. “Don’t ever do something like that to me again,” she said quietly, even though he’d already promised he wouldn’t. “Never, okay?”
“Never,” said Giles again. “Not ever. I swear it.”