Giles held on to his last modicum of cool until he was safe in the privacy of his office; only when the door was shut behind him did he let the breath he’d been holding escape in a frustrated growl. Who did that absolute ponce think he was, believing he could replace him? Even his name was poncy, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. What pretentious boys’ boarding school had the Watchers Council dragged him from? He couldn’t be more than a year or two older than Buffy and Faith. Was the Council trying to insult him with the most untried, untested, unqualified choice they could send?
Probably, Giles admitted, sinking into his chair and cleaning his glasses with the hem of his shirt with enough vigor that the lens popped out of the frame with a soft snap. Defeated, he sighed and tossed the broken glasses onto the desk. It was going to be that sort of day, wasn’t it?
He yanked open the bottommost drawer of the desk and pulled out the bottle of Glenlivet that had dwelt there untouched for months. His heart twinged painfully at the sight of the handwritten note from Jenny taped to the label: “Live a little, ya fuddy-duddy!” She’d often tried to get him to bend the rules when she could; well, now was as a good of a time as any. He took a smudged glass from the same drawer, poured himself just a swallow, and tossed it back.
He shouldn’t be angry with Wesley, as the fellow had probably had as little say in his assignment as Giles had had upon Buffy’s calling. But loathing coursed through him with every glance at that twattish, bespectacled face of his, whether Giles was justified in his feeling or not.
A crash sounded from the library, followed by the thudding of several books hitting the floor. Clearly training had commenced—or something like it anyhow—and the idiot hadn’t the slightest idea of how to block a punch from a Slayer. Giles smirked a little and poured himself a slightly larger dram. Either that or Buffy wasn’t holding back for her new Watcher, determined to keep him in his place. An odd sense of pride swelled in his chest, but it quickly dissolved into cold fear when he realized that the boy’s incompetence could easily get her killed. But perhaps, he realized, draining his glass once more, that was what the Watchers Council had in mind all along.
It the end, it wasn’t Wesley who got Buffy killed.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” Angel said quietly. “I’ve seen a lot of Slayers over the centuries, and she lived longer than most.” But Giles only half-heard him, grief shrouding him like a fog. His small flat was crowded with people he knew and cared for, people who had loved Buffy as much as he had, but he felt like a stranger in his own home.
They had buried her with little fanfare at night, partly so that Angel and Spike could attend without discomfort and partly so that the ne’er-do-wells of Sunnydale wouldn’t know the Slayer was dead. None of them had wanted to be left alone with their misery after, so they had all trudged to Giles’s flat where Cordelia had promptly opened the liquor cabinet and proceeded to help them numb their pain. Now she was slumped in one of his chairs, staring blankly into a jade green coffee mug full of a substance that was certainly not coffee, and Angel regarded her with sympathetic eyes.
“You should be proud,” he said in a tone that suggested he was trying to convince himself of that fact just as much as Giles; Giles, for his part, gave a noncommittal grunt in reply. Whether he should or not, he didn’t feel proud, just empty. Seeming to understand, Angel clapped him on the shoulder and said softly, “Sláinte,” and sipped at his drink. Giles likewise knocked back his glass and swallowed the last of whatever it was Anya had poured him—tequila, he realized, as it burned the back of his throat, and cheap from the taste of it. Why did he even have such a thing? Judging by the state of everyone there, they had managed to drink through most of what he’d had in his cabinet, and now they were down to the dregs.
He went to the kitchen to rinse his glass and found the room blessedly empty. He realized as he watched the water swirl down the drain of the sink that he hadn’t had a moment alone since Buffy’s death. Every other space in his home was occupied. Tara and Willow were curled up together on his couch, Willow crying silently into her girlfriend’s shoulder while Tara stroked her hair and stared blankly into the space in front of her, seeming lost in thought. Xander’s sobs were audible through the closed bathroom door, and Giles politely pretended he couldn’t hear him or Anya’s murmuring soothing platitudes. Spike was out cold under his duster, asleep in the hallway with his head resting on his boots; he had been beyond drunk, far worse off than the rest of them, and had slurred some nonsense about it only counting as “passing out” if he forgot to take off his shoes. Dawn, exhausted since they had left the cemetery, had fallen asleep on top of the comforter in his bedroom loft almost immediately after they arrived—or by Spike’s standards Giles supposed she had passed out, since she hadn’t bothered to remove her sneakers first, a detail that would have bothered him if he could muster the give-a-damn to care about anything at all. But here in the kitchen he was alone at last.
He knelt down and opened one of the kitchen cabinets where he knew he had hidden a bottle he hadn’t touched in years—the Glenlivet, Jenny’s faded, handwritten note still taped to the label: “Live a little, ya fuddy-duddy!” What an odd phrase, “live a little.” He had lived a lot, but what had he to show for it? Not nearly as much as Buffy, who had certainly lived a little, barely twenty years old and sacrificing herself for the world. Finally, for the first time since his Slayer had leapt from that tower, tears stung Giles’s eyes, and he sank to sit against the kitchen wall as he clutched the neck of the bottle with a vise-grip.
But before his tears could fall, a figure darkened the kitchen doorway, and the last voice Giles wanted to hear stammered, “Oh, I’m—terribly sorry, I just…I didn’t realize you were in here. I thought I’d, er, hydrate a little…”
Wesley had made the trek to Sunnydale from L.A. with Angel and Cordelia, and Giles was surprised to discover that he couldn’t even summon enough feeling to be annoyed at the man’s presence. Perhaps it was progress, at least; though he doubted the two of them would ever be friends, he supposed mutual tolerance could be adequate.
He let his head fall back against the wall and blew out a resigned sigh, then said grimly, “Why hydrate when you can obliviate?” He held up the bottle of scotch.
Wesley lingered in the doorway with a look of befuddlement on his face that under other circumstances would have been amusing. “Are you…inviting me to join you, Rupert?” he asked tentatively.
“There’s plenty of linoleum for the both of us,” Giles replied.
Wesley seated himself on the empty patch of floor next to Giles, and the absurdity of two grown Englishmen huddled on a kitchen floor together nearly made the older man burst into laughter, certainly a sign that he was losing his mind—or that the alcohol had gone to his head. Either way, it was better than the cold numbness he’d been feeling up until now, so he may as well help it along. He poured a shot into the tumbler Wesley held and another for himself, then set the bottle in the space between them.
The two of them sat silently for a few minutes, neither of them daring to speak or drink. Giles was just beginning to contemplate how very strange it was that every kitchen in America seem to have the same atrocious flooring as his when Wesley broke the silence.
“I was always jealous of you, you know.”
Giles turned and tried to make his eyes focus on Wesley’s profile and was only partly successful. Either his glasses were very smudged, or he was more intoxicated than he realized. “Come again?” he asked; drunk or no, Wesley’s remark was entirely non sequitur.
Wesley smiled grimly. “Jealous of you and Buffy,” he explained. “I’d have never admitted it, of course, but I always wished she had admired me the way she did you.”
Giles scoffed; he’d have normally made a big to-do of cleaning his glasses, but he didn’t trust himself to manage it with one hand in his current state and risk spilling a drop of his precious scotch. “She doesn’t…didn’t—”
“She’d never say it outright, but if you could see the fire in her eyes anytime I said something she thought was a slight on your honor, you’d know what I mean,” Wesley continued. “I was always trying to be you for her, but I could never measure up. Foolish of me to think I ever could.” He swirled the amber liquid in his tumbler. “It was almost a year before I learned why the Council had fired you, and when I did I just felt…profoundly inadequate. I couldn’t imagine caring for someone so much that I’d sacrifice my career for it, and the fact that you could, well…just another way I’d never be as outstanding as Rupert Giles.”
Giles stared at him while he spoke, and after a moment he realized that behind his spectacles Wesley’s eyes had the puffy redness of someone who had recently been crying; he didn’t fully understand why, but that small detail was enough to break him.
Wesley had been Buffy’s Watcher, too, and had fought the forces of evil at her side—albeit with less skill than Giles had, but with equal zeal. He had just as much reason to mourn her as Giles did. His heart ached with longing for a chance to go back and try again, to treat that nervous young man in his library with some understanding and offer him advice rather than animosity. Maybe then things would have turned out differently for Buffy.
Wesley chuckled mirthlessly at himself. “Oh, listen to me growing maudlin. Never mind my ramblings.” He lifted his glass and murmured, “To the Slayer.”
Giles raised his glass as well and offered Wesley the first smile he had managed since he’d seen Buffy’s broken figure at the foot of that tower. “To her Watcher,” he replied softly. Confusion crossed Wesley’s face for half a second before he realized who Giles was referring to, and his eyes glinted with grateful tears.
“To her Watcher,” he agreed. Their tumblers clinked together, and Giles felt tears of his own sting his eyes as he sipped the whiskey and welcomed whatever oblivion awaited him at the bottom of the glass.