"I imagine you hate me right now."
Buffy took a deep breath, her lip trembling uncontrollably for a moment. She didn't hate Giles at all - and that's what made this hurt so much.
"I love Dawn." He said softly, stepping a little nearer to her back.
"I know." She did know that. Giles was third in Dawn's heart, only after Buffy and Joyce. They were like a weird little family of their own, within the Scoobies.
Or at least, they used to be. Buffy wasn't sure what was and what wasn't, anymore.
"But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing... what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to."
As much as Buffy knew it pained him to say it, Giles really didn't see any other options. The problem was, in her mind, this option shouldn't even be on the list. She turned around to face him, showing him how serious she was as she told him,
"You try and hurt her, and you know I'll stop you."
"I know." He nodded, and then he dropped his head.
Buffy didn't want to fight with him anymore. She forced her shoulders to relax, and walked over to the couch, settling down on it as she grabbed the towel from the arm and wiped her sweaty hands dry.
"This is how many apocalypses for us now?" She wondered lightly, and he slowly maneuvered closer, eventually settling on the cushion next to her when she didn't make an overt gesture against it.
"Oh," Giles sighed and removed his glasses. "Uh, well... six, at least." He crossed his leg over his knee and leaned back. "Feels like a hundred." He sounded wearied, in a way he wouldn't have allowed the others to see.
"I've always stopped them." Buffy replied, facing the wall opposite them. Her comment during their argument, earlier in the main room, got her thinking, and she was speaking somewhat distractedly now. "Always won."
"Yes." And he still sounded so impressed by her. If she wasn't still feeling hurt by his earlier words, she might've teased him about it. As it was, her current train of thought didn't put her in a teasing mood, either.
If Dawn's blood opened and closed this thing... and Dawn was made from her...
Buffy knew what she had to do.
It didn't matter what Dawn was before. She was her sister, now, and she was innocent. Buffy was the Slayer. Buffy had a duty.
"I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much." She murmured, blinking against the tears that gathered. "But I knew..." Killing Angel had hurt, but somehow this was even worse. "I was right." Standing in front of Angel, seeing his soul in his eyes, and Acathla's portal behind him, everything had been clear. She had hated it, but the decision had been an obvious one.
Now, it was either kill her sister and break her own heart... or sacrifice herself, and break his.
She couldn't dare look at him.
"I don't have that anymore," Buffy admitted. "I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world, if these are the choices, if everything just gets stripped away."
"We're still searching," Giles said, though it was obvious to her that his encouragement was halfhearted; he was exhausted and he didn't believe there was anything more to find. They knew everything there could be known about the situation. "Perhaps there is another choice,"
"There is." Buffy stood, wringing the towel between her hands, standing and taking a step toward the door. "Me."
"What?" His tone was suddenly sharp again, and when she turned to face him, both feet were planted on the floor and he was leaning forward on the cushion, glasses forgotten on the armrest beside him.
"The spirit guide told me that death is my gift," She reminded him gently.
"You're wrong." He informed her, on the verge of angry, and stood quickly. "That isn't a choice. You are not a choice."
"Her blood is my blood," Buffy pointed out, relaxing her hands by her sides. She wasn't fidgety about this. Her decision was made. It hurt her, hurt more than she could ever put into words, but she had to save her sister.
She couldn't live in a world with Dawn dead, and hating Giles, at the same time. She just couldn't.
"If we don't get there in time, if Glory manages to open the portal... than I will close it." Buffy informed him quietly.
"You bloody well will not!" Giles shouted incredulously, his eyes wide and bright with... with a lot of things, terror being just one of them.
Buffy blinked at him calmly, not quite smiling, but giving him an understanding look. He wouldn't be changing her mind.
She turned to leave the room, unable to bear the breaking of her own heart in his eyes.
"Don't leave, Buffy, please,"
She continued for the door, but with a quick murmur of Latin behind her, it slammed closed with the force of a magical energy. She clenched her jaw as she reached for the handle anyway, intending on powering through his spell.
The knob, the door, the frame - nothing budged.
"Giles," She spoke carefully calmly, trying not to get uncontrollably angry at him again, "If you don't open this door right now, I will make a new one." She clenched her other fist, raising it about waist high, and pointed it toward the brick beside the door.
"You've told me, more than once, that you can't do this without me." Giles wasn't quite shouting again yet, but his tone was firm, and when Buffy turned to face him again he was a little bit closer to her. "Has it ever occurred to you that I can't do this without you, either?"
He was angry, but his emotions were clear and honest. Buffy blinked, momentarily stalled by this. She'd never seen him so unkempt.
"You can." Buffy assured him gently. "The Scoobies will need you. Dawn will need you."
"Dawn needs you!"
"And there will be another Slayer," Buffy continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Maybe. Or, there's Faith. Either way - you'll have work to do. You're the best Watcher there is, Giles."
"I don't care about- " He looked annoyed, and hurt. "Being your Watcher was never just about work Buffy, and you know that."
"That's what makes you so good at it." She gave him a small, sympathetic smile, then reached back to put her hand on the doorknob again. "Remove the spell, Giles."
"No!" There was a chaos in his eyes; a wild look she hadn't seen in quite some time.
"Giles!" She was mildly appalled by his obstinance, but it seemed all of his logical arguments were being pushed to the side in the undertow of his roiling emotions.
"I love you!" He yelled at her, frustrated, and Buffy blinked at him. She knew this.
"You just said you loved Dawn, as well," Buffy pointed out.
"Not... the same." He sighed, and considered, or perhaps needed to gather himself before speaking again, "I do love Dawn, and the thought of... losing her, pains me, deeply." He was earnest, and Buffy believed him. "But you- " He stopped, looking at the floor. "I... would be beyond pain. It would- " He stopped again, blinking quickly, and his breath hitched.
Buffy's eyes widened as he half turned away and ducked his head, clenching his jaw against his emotional loss of control.
- Why didn't the Watchers keep fuller accounts of it? The journals just stop.
- Well, I suppose if they're anything like me, they just find the whole subject too-
- Unseemly? Damn, love ya, but you Watchers are such prigs sometimes.
- Painful... I was going to say.
"Because you're my Watcher." Buffy said softly, gently.
"Because I- " He lifted his eyes to glance toward her, and what she saw there made her heart stop in her throat.
It was beautiful, and it was horrible.
"Don't," She shook her head, her own voice near-shaking and thick with emotion again. "Don't make this harder,"
"If you insist on sacrificing yourself," Giles pressed his lips together as he straightened his head, wearing his emotions on his face with determination now, "I will absolutely do everything in my power to make that more difficult for you."
"Giles, I'm the Slayer!" Buffy stared at him. "You've sworn to protect this 'sorry world', well, my whole job is to die for it!"
"Not if I have any say in it!" She blinked incredulously at his outburst. "We'll find another way, Buffy. I won't... I won't hurt Dawn. But it can't be you. It could never be you! I wouldn't let you face the Master alone - you think I'll let you walk out that door now?" Giles pointed toward the door behind her.
“What other options are there?” Buffy folded her arms across her chest. “Out there you seemed to have given up,” She accused, gesturing her head in the direction of the main part of the shop. “You’d read all your books and called all your connections,”
“We still have Willow.” Giles admitted quietly, and Buffy furrowed her brow. “She has... extremely high potential,”
“Potential she can get a hold of in,” Buffy cocked her head at the clock on the wall, “four hours?”
“She’s... been working on something for a few days now,”
“And you’re only telling me this now?” Buffy exclaimed, angry with him all over again.
“She wasn’t confident she could succeed!” Giles defended. “I’m not sure that she even is now. But I’ve insisted she continue trying,”
“Oh, you’ve insisted?”
“I don’t want to kill Dawn, Buffy.”
“But she’s not really my sister, right?” Buffy sneered, and he winced, and dropped his eyes again.
“Technically.” He muttered. “I just... want you to keep a clear head.”
“Like you are?” She raised her eyebrows, and didn’t need to gesture to the locked door again.
“I’ve never been able to keep a clear head when it comes to you, Buffy.” Giles replied immediately with a shake of his head, and Buffy furrowed her brow at his earnestness. “I’m not as repressed as you lot think I am!” He protested defensively, even though his discomfort was obvious.
"What is this thing Willow's been working on?" Buffy asked with a tired sigh, heading toward the counter in the back corner as she began to remove the wraps from her hands.
"A way to close the portal, without killing Dawn - without killing you," Giles added, taking a few steps after her. "Buffy..."
She jerked to a halt when his voice sounded closer to her than before, and she heard him immediately pause as well.
"As you said," He murmured softly, "we can do nothing but wait right now. Until the time is right."
"Time isn't exactly on our side." Buffy grunted, yanking at the wraps harder than necessary.
His hand came over hers, halting her movements, and she turned her head to look up at him, realizing he'd taken his coat off, having draped it over the exercise bike. He wasn't going to unlock that door, anytime soon.
"When the time comes..." He took a breath, as if it physically pained him to say this, and stepped around to face her directly, "I won't- I won't hold you back. Do what you need to do to save Dawn - just please, I beg of you, don't take her place. Anything but that."
Buffy gave him a long look, knowing there was nothing else to be said on that particular topic. They'd already voiced their differing opinions.
"You love me more than you do Dawn, huh?" She joked very carefully, wanting to smooth things over a little. She didn't want to be at odds with him, not if... not if this was the last time they'd be alone together. "She'd have something to say about that, you know."
Gently, Giles began to remove the protective wrapping from her hand himself, and she lowered her other hand to let him.
"I love you more than anyone, Buffy." He murmured, his eyes focused on his task. "More than my self."
Her heart swelled in her chest and she could feel the heat rising through her, up to her eyes, threatening tears again. She breathed shallowly until she was sure she wouldn't cry, but said nothing as he finished unwrapping her wrist.
When he let her go, she lifted her other hand in offering, and he dropped the wraps to the floor before he put just as much reverence in removing these as well.
She knew he would see that gesture as enough, as acceptance of his love, but Buffy wasn't sure it really was enough.
"Giles?" She whispered, and she saw his brow shift though he didn't stop the methodical movement of his hands. "I love you, too."
His fingers trembled a little, but he said nothing and he didn't look up until he'd dropped the fabric on the floor to join the other.
He held both of his hands around hers, rubbing his thumbs against her reddened knuckles. His hands dwarfed hers almost comically, at least visually, but Giles had never made Buffy feel small.
"Promise me something." Buffy requested softly, and slowly he lifted his head to meet her gaze. "No matter what happens... don't stop. Don't stop loving me."
His eyes looked oddly pained, for a moment, and then he knelt down to his knee, still holding her hand within his.
"Never, Buffy." He assured her seriously. "Never." Then he lowered his head slightly, and leaned forward, touching the center of his brow against her knuckles. For a moment, she weirdly thought of the trashy romance books her mom used to read; with the knights in armor and the fair maidens and the long elaborate quests away from the one they loved...
Slowly, Buffy moved her free hand toward his head, hesitantly touching the soft strands, and when he released a shaky sigh she pushed her hand more thoroughly into his hair, letting the waves fill the spaces between her fingers.
His lips touched her knuckles, then, warm and lingering. Then he turned her hand over and kissed her palm, next. And then the inside of her wrist. She knew it wasn't about gratification - it was devotion.
She drew her other hand across his shoulder, down his arm, to gently take one of his and guide it to her waist. She curled his fingers around the hem of her shirt, and when she returned her hand to his hair, he kissed the inside of her elbow and slipped his fingers underneath her tee.
He lifted it slowly, but without hesitation, his hand hot on one side of her body and his mouth hot on the other. When the shirt was up above her bra she removed it entirely herself, dropping it to the floor already forgotten as his hands drifted down her arms and over her chest. He reached around to unhook her bra as he kissed her sternum, and she let him do that too, closing her eyes and drifting into the warm nothingness he was dragging her into.
No, not nothingness. Because he was there, too.
Her boots and her leather pants were all removed with the same reverence her boxing wraps had been, all followed by the brush of his lips, the ghost of his fingers. He laid her down on the mats beside of the pommel horse and he left no part of her body untouched. The only thing he didn't do was kiss her mouth, which she didn't mind so much at first because of every other way he overwhelmed her senses.
He kept the focus resolutely on her, in a way she could only describe as worshipping - just like those old romance novels - touching and kissing her arms and her legs, finding her erogenous zones, both of them discovering new ones, softly tickling her in a way that didn't make her laugh but just felt good... when he peeled off his long-sleeve shirt, it was only to lay it out beneath her, so her skin wouldn't stick to the mats. It was such an odd, sweet thing, that a tear fell from the corner of her eye, down into her hair before he could see it.
Giles loved her, and she let him, until her whole body was flushed and quivering, and touching his chest hair with her fingers wasn't enough - until eventually, she forced him to sit up on his knees and she unbuttoned his jeans, pushed them down his thighs, kissed a faint scar over his ribs as she lowered his boxers next - until she took his cock into her mouth and made him groan in ways she'd never heard him groan before - until he finally urged her onto her back again, guided her legs around his waist, and slowly pushed himself inside of her until there was no space left between them.
There was nothing left between them, except their selves.
"My love," He whispered, resting his forehead atop hers, his arms under her shoulders. Giles, everywhere she could see and feel. They could've been the last two people on the planet, for all she knew.
She pressed her palms on either side of his face, giving him a long look before she tilted her chin up to kiss him. She imagined she could feel his heartbeat in his mouth, matching the beat of hers perfectly. She stroked her tongue inside of his mouth as he stroked his cock inside of her, and she returned his love wholeheartedly.
... ... ...
Buffy smiled softly as she gazed out at the warm sunrise breaking over the horizon, and glanced back toward her sister.
"Be brave, Dawn. And tell Giles... tell Giles that I figured it out."
She remembered how it felt to be beloved, and she jumped.
... ... ...
... ... ...
Buffy opened her eyes with a gasp of air, and heard cries of surprise and shuffling feet before she recognized Giles' hands clutched around hers.
"Buffy?! How- " Giles choked, squeezing her hand against his chest, kneeling on the ground next to her.
"I saw... a hand. Coming through the..." Buffy blinked her eyes clear; it was as if the world around her was a brightly exposed photograph, and sunspots filled her vision. "And I knew it was yours. I knew I would be okay, whatever... whatever happened."
"Oh, Buffy, you- " Giles squeezed his eyes closed, then pressed her hand against his mouth. "You jumped and I- " His eyes widened, his terror slow to fade. "I don't understand," He furrowed his brow, trying to latch onto something he could think about to otherwise hide his uncontrollable emotion. "You saw me up there?"
"Maybe it was... another dimension." She guessed, not really caring. The sun had risen and the sky behind Giles' head was clear. There was no portal, and there were no demons. Buffy felt lighter than she'd felt in months. "Another universe, maybe. Another Time."
Her mind felt a bit odd, like it wasn't all her own. Like a part of her was aware of things that were now carefully being tucked behind a veil, for her to discover openly at a later date. She stopped looking around, and met Giles' eyes again, the photograph setting and coming into full vibrant color.
Green. The color of love.
"We gave each other our hearts... our souls." Buffy slowly lifted her free hand to rest her palm against his tear-streaked face. "I could feel you with me, just like I feel you now... you kept me tethered, Giles."
"Buffy!" Dawn wailed, sliding to her knees beside Giles, and he quickly let go of Buffy to wrap his arms around the girl to keep her from collapsing on top of Buffy.
"Be careful- "
"It's okay, Giles," Buffy gingerly pushed herself up onto her hands, and reached for her sister, whom Giles slowly let go and sat back to watch the sisters clutch one another fiercely. "I'm okay." Buffy assured them both.
When Buffy opened her eyes over Dawn's shoulder, Giles had fallen back onto his butt, his glasses in hand and disbelief on his face, and the other Scoobies slowly gathered around him, their tears of shock turning into that of relief.
"Don't ever do that again!" Dawn sobbed. "Don't ever!"
"Dawnie," Buffy gently leaned back, and brushed Dawn's hair back, and rubbed the tears from her cheeks. "What did I tell you up there?" She asked softly, and Dawn sniffed and took a deep breath before answering,
"I'll be brave. I promise I'll be brave, and I'll live, and- but you need to, too." Her lip trembled, although she tried to put her brave face on. "Just don't do that again."
Buffy smiled gently, and kissed her sister's forehead. As Dawn shuffled back a little, ducking her head and swiping at her tears, Buffy glanced toward the others. When she tried to get up, however, she stumbled.
"I've got you," Giles caught her elbow, and helped her up from the pile of broken pallets, keeping a firm grip on her arm when she continued to lean heavily against him.
"Is everyone... alright?" She asked, her gaze lingering briefly on Spike, who was slouching a bit with his arm tucked against his side, and Tara, who appeared to be holding Willow up as much as Willow was holding her. Anya, also, was unconscious in Xander's arms, but Xander didn't seem panicked about it.
"Buffy," Willow gasped, "I felt it. I felt you go,"
Buffy reached her free hand out and Willow closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms as tightly around Buffy as she could.
"Ow," Buffy grimaced, and Willow immediately pulled back.
"Are you sure you're okay?" She worried, gripping Buffy's shoulders almost as firmly as Giles had been holding her.
Buffy nodded, smiling a little as she stepped back and tucked her hand within Giles'.
"Death was my gift," She reminded them, and he furrowed his brow at her. She squeezed his hand tightly, but only human-tight. "The Slayer, is... gone." She looked toward the others again. "Dead. Just Buffy, left."
"Is that... possible?" Xander wondered, re-securing his grip on Anya. She mumbled something, and he quickly knelt to lay her on the ground and guide her awake gently.
"That's what I felt," Willow realized with wide eyes as Tara curled her arm around hers again. "That's why I felt it, isn't it? It was magical." She hesitated, and glanced toward her love. "Not magical in the oo-la-la way, but, you know..."
"What's that mean?" Spike wondered, wincing as he attempted to limp closer but couldn't because of the sunlight piercing through the broken structure around them. "There'll be a new Slayer called?"
"Well, there's still Faith..." Giles murmured, staring at Buffy. "This... I've never heard of this happening, before." He whispered in amazement, and disbelief. "For you to... but the Slayer part of you to..."
"It was the Powers, I think." Buffy admitted. "Their gift, to me. Because I had been willing to give up... everything..." She looked around at her friends, smiled warmly at her sister, and then pressed her palm against Giles' cheek when she met his eyes again. "Our bond, it impresses them."
She smiled a tiny grin, cocky, and Giles blushed. He ducked his head to hide his smile, rubbing the end of his dirty shirt against the lenses. Buffy let him and lowered her hand, watching Anya and Xander for a moment before stepping closer to Spike.
Willow was staring between Buffy and Giles with a curious furrow of her brow, but Buffy ignored that. There would be time for explaining later.
"I could smell him on you. When we were at the house." Spike didn't quite sound completely disgusted; mostly exhausted. "You don't need to explain yourself to me. Knew you'd wake up and smell the roses sooner or later."
"Huh?" She was a bit thrown off, having been about to ask him about his injuries.
"Look, I'll keep my promise, alright?" His assurance was serious. "Demons might not be seeking you out since you don't have the Slayer mojo anymore, but I'll keep looking out for the Niblet. That won't change."
"Thanks, Spike." Buffy murmured, and she reached out to touch his hand. He held it for a moment, regret in his eyes, but then he grimaced and tugged himself away.
"Need to get out of this sun and lick my wounds. I'll see you." He avoided her eyes and slunk off into the meager shadows, disappearing around the corner.
"Will he be alright?" Giles wondered, stepping up beside her, and she reached for his hand without looking.
"Yeah, he'll be alright." Buffy carded her fingers between his, and looked up at him. He had his glasses back on, and his stoic armor of Britishness covering up anything more wildly emotional within him. "Hungry?" Buffy wondered perkily. "I'm starving."
"I could eat," Anya muttered from Xander's lap, where she was now sitting up drowsily. "The world isn't falling apart anymore. That's good, right?"
"It's good." Xander murmured, stroking her hair back from her face, smiling happily at Buffy before turning the look to his lover and kissing her forehead gently.
"What's open at this hour?" Giles frowned, looking around the group. Buffy could see him cataloguing their injuries, their state of dress, the weapons scattered around that needed gathering.
"IHOP?" Tara offered hopefully, which was followed by noises of agreement all around. Giles sighed loudly.
"Save the world, go to IHOP?" He muttered, rolling his eyes toward the sky, and Buffy leaned against his arm.
"And then sleep." Anya grumbled as Xander carefully helped her to her feet. "For a week."
"I don't know," Xander worried, "You might have a concussion,"
"By the time we collect our weapons, and eat, if her symptoms aren't any worse she should be alright," Giles offered, crouching to pick a sword up off the ground before straightening again and resting his arm around Buffy's shoulders.
"He would know," Anya told Xander helpfully. "He's got to be the most informed concussion expert in Sunnydale."
"If not in all of California," Xander teased, glancing at Giles.
"Hmph." He grumbled, but his expression was soft and almost hinted at a smile.
As the others began shuffling around, gathering what was theirs to return to the Magic Box, Buffy held Giles back to give them a moment of relative privacy.
"Are you mad? For the choice I made?" Buffy asked him, and he cupped his empty hand against the side of her face.
"No, Buffy, I'm not angry." He promised her. He stroked his thumb against her cheek, then pressed his lips against her forehead, lingering there for a long minute. "I'm relieved," He murmured, "Just relieved."
When he eventually pulled away, she gave him a tired smile, and the two of them joined the others.
As they carried their armloads of weaponry back to the store, grateful that the rest of Sunnydale wasn't awake yet to see the odd group that they made, Buffy couldn't help but ask Giles a question that she tried to play off as a joke,
"What are you gonna do, now? I'm not a Slayer anymore."
"I'm not going anywhere." He promised her, giving her a sincere look, seeing right through her lighthearted tone.
She smiled again, widely this time, and bumped her shoulder against his as they walked together. He smiled fondly, and leaned into her in return.