Grand Total: 28300 (crikey)
They returned to the Westbury Farmstead a rather subdued party. Giles had taken Ms Harkness into the conservatory to explain what they had learned and Buffy had watched as the Coven’s representative first put her hands to her mouth and then touched Giles' cheeks before pulling him into a commiserating embrace. Buffy stopped watching when it was clear they were both crying.
There were phone calls, emails and even some telepathy but to no avail. The Coven confirmed that Giles’ situation was immutable. Curses from gods could not be countered or uncast. Buffy tried to focus on something she could do. The past five days had been a difficult lesson to her. Take Charge Buffy had rushed and charged whilst the whole story had unfolded around her regardless. Her promises on the ferry to protect Giles and keep him safe were ultimately useless. She felt numb as she watched everyone else commiserate with him. It was as if she no longer had any connection at all.
Given that they at least understood the present, Xander volunteered to act as envoy to the Council and it was later in the evening when he returned bringing Dawn and the good news that ‘You’re off the Wanted posters,
In response to her growing number of house guests, Ms Harkness had opened a couple of her holiday let cottages and Giles had swiftly moved his stuff to the one furthest away from the house. It had only one bedroom and his demeanour was pretty clear that he didn’t want Xander or anyone else sleeping on the couch, but otherwise he was stoic, Buffy watched him interact with the others; helping them deal with it with smiles and hugs, reassuring them he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. She seemed to be the only one to notice he was on his third scotch and had thrown the bottle top away.
They regrouped in the kitchen for another hearty late dinner, but in contrast to the previous evening they ate relatively quietly. Giles sat protectively flanked by Xander and
Buffy had had a hard time getting Giles to look at her over the meal. She reached across the table for his hand but he eyed her warily.
“The important thing is to keep you safe from harm till we figure out how to reverse this,” she said.
“We can’t reverse it,” Giles said negatively.
Buffy didn’t like the idea. “With respect to Robin. I’m not leaving this to anyone else.”
“I used to be the one protecting the Slayer,” muttered Giles.
She squeezed his hand. “You can’t be an active Watcher again. That’s silly.”
“It’s too risky,” agreed Dawn.
Giles fell quiet as Buffy, Xander,
“I don’t relish having Faith as my jailor,” commented Giles, who’d risen to pour himself another large scotch.
“Not jailor, no,”
“No,” said Buffy. “I don’t want to involve Robin at all. It’s best if Giles stays with me.”
“That’s crazy,” argued Xander. “You can’t be there all the time. We need to keep him out of harm’s way. We need to keep him alive and you’ve got a high risk lifestyle.”
Giles put his scotch tumbler down in the counter. “I need a cigarette.”
“You should probably give those up too,” offered Dawn.
“Thank you, Doctor Summers,” he said sarcastically as he left the kitchen.
Buffy waited until she heard the outside door close again. “Guys, I’m not sure I like this idea of finding a secureplace for Giles. I don’t want him to become Robin’s valuable research tool. If you keep him ‘safe’ in the facility at what point does it become ‘necessary’ to keep him there. The knights of
“I don’t think anyone is suggesting that,” said
“No. It’s totally different,” argued Xander, “and
“No, Giles stays with me,” Buffy declared.
“And does he get a say in this?” asked Xander.
“Of course he does, but his judgement is a little off at the moment. We have to take some decisions for him that’s all.”
Xander rankled at little at that. “He’s not ill. He’s still Giles. He can look after himself.”
“I know that, but you haven’t seen what he’s been like this past week. He needs me.”
Xander looked at her suspiciously “Needs you? One week and your Nurse Buffy all of a sudden? He’s not a pet project. He doesn’t need your pity.”
Buffy flushed. “It’s not pity. I want to look after him, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Is this just about comforting him? Or is it guilt? Are you making up for all the times you left him to rot?”
Buffy felt her defensiveness change to anger. “And you know best I take it?” she said sharply.
“When it comes to Giles I know more than you do. You don’t really care. Now he knows he’s not a threat he’ll go wherever you say. You just have to snap your fingers.”
“That’s because Giles loves Buffy,” said Dawn.
“He’s got a funny way of showing it recently,” responded Xander.
“Yes but that’s because she’s the Closest to him.” The others stopped their bickering and looked at Dawn. “It’s the curse that’s making him act this way around people, around Buffy in particular.”
“Because she’s his Slayer!” reasoned
Buffy wasn’t confident about that but Xander spoke up before her.
“All the more reason you shouldn’t treat him like he’s your pet puppy.”
That was too much for Buffy. “I do care about Giles. I love him,” she blurted out.
“Don’t you dare.” Xander was on his feet, shockingly angry. Dawn and
“I want to look after Giles. What is so wrong about that?”
“Because it’s Angel all over again and whereas dead guy suffering was fine by me, you will not treat Giles like that. He’s not your pretend boyfriend. Tell her.” Xander directed the last shot at
“You think?” Buffy said sarcastically but her friend had already left. Only Dawn remained, calming finishing her cup of tea. Buffy eyed her. “You got an opinion?” she asked.
Dawn shrugged. “It’s cool. We’ve all been riding the Giles Lurve Train for sometime now. I’d welcome you aboard but typically you are barging your way up front to drive.”
Buffy laughed and smiled. “When did you get to be this smart?”
“I’ve always been this smart. You were just too dumb to notice.”
“OK, Smart girl,” Buffy fetched down the strange Slayer painting that had been puzzling her ever since Robin had shown it to her. “What do you make of this? Tell me what you see.”
Her sister studied it for a while before pronouncing. “Old and weird.”
Buffy wondered if she’d overstated the smart. “Specifically,” she prompted.
Dawn pointed to the three threatening figures on the right hand side. “Bad guys obviously.”
“Slayer equally obviously.”
“Guy on the ground, I’d say that’s her Watcher.”
“Whoa. What do you mean he’s the Watcher? You don’t think he represents the Council?” The Record Keeper had told her that, it had to be correct.
Dawn looked at her with studied patience. “Well a Watcher is the Council’s Representative isn’t he? So in a way he does. Besides you can tell he’s her Watcher. Look at the way he’s looking at her. Giles looks at you that way too sometimes.”
Buffy was a little stunned at the new interpretation. She’d thought the Record Keeper had all the answers but everyone seemed to have different opinions on this allegorical work of art. It was hard to understand what was going on but she knew the painting was trying to tell her something. Giles had a curse that meant he couldn’t know peace with whoever was Closest but she didn’t understand what that meant. How was she closest to Giles? The Council sacked him for being paternal towards her. Was that how he felt now? She began to wish she hadn’t dropped out of college. Giles and his feelings were a degree course all of their own.
“Are we done now?” Dawn had been watching her for five minutes. “Are we done because I’ve promised Peggy I’ll go to the village green with her for the New Year celebrations. They ring in the New apparently. Singing, fireworks and stuff. It will probably be lame.”
“Peggy Harkness. This is her house we’re in.” Dawn rolled her eyes “You really need to work on your observation skills, Buffy. You just don’t see what’s under your nose sometimes.”
Dawn got her coat and left her sister alone with her thoughts. Buffy looked at the picture again and focused on the Slayer at the centre. Dawn had said the man on the ground was looking at her like a Watcher, so who was this Slayer and why didn’t she have any weapons? It wasn’t very practical of her, standing there holding a length of chain connected to the Watcher on the ground. Buffy looked more closely: whilst the girl held a fistful of chain, it looked like it was with the lightest of touches. Buffy rifled some drawers and found a magnifying glass to study the girl’s face. The brush strokes obscured some details but it was clear that the confidence stemmed from her eyes and radiated outwards. This was what made her the Slayer. She was also smiling very faintly which hadn’t been noticeable before. And she was smiling, Buffy could have sworn now she could see more clearly, at the man on the ground.
She went outside to Giles’ cottage but there were no lights on so she went round the back and began to climb up the hill behind the farm. It was late but there was enough moonlight to pick up the track. She congratulated herself on owning sensible footwear. She knew she was stalking him again and she hated having to do it but they needed to talk without the others. She had no idea where he was but the track was inviting and might provide a good vantage point across the farm and to the other hills and valleys beyond. She trusted to instinct and headed for where she wanted to be.
The footing was a little rocky in places, a little slippery in others. She remembered how she’d run up the crazy people tower to save Dawn from the portal opening ceremony. In that night sky she’d defied Giles and reasoned her own way of saving both Dawn and the World. Funny. She’d forgotten how much she’d wanted to explain it to him at the time. She’d wanted to tell him she forgave him and that her death was her gift to him. That his duty could be at an end and his life could begin properly. Find Olivia, find someone, start a family. It was what she wanted for him; to be happy with someone. She kept on climbing upwards.
He was there of course. Giles was sitting on a wooden bench at the very top of the Tor looking out across the skyline at the villages and surrounding hills. It was very quiet. In the very far distance there was a road with white and red car lights travelling but the sounds didn’t make it this far away. She sat next to him saying nothing until she felt his breathing return to normal. She was the one that was Closest to him, that was pretty clear.
“What do you want to do, Giles?”
He flicked his cigarette lighter nervously but showed no intention of producing his packet of cigarettes.
“Travelling again would be nice. I enjoyed the time we spent together. Just the two of us.” His lighter flicking increased in pace giving her his panicky answer. “But someone needs to stay and keep an eye on the New Council. Robin may be getting out of his depth.”
Giles sniffed. “There always were competing factions in the Old Council. Different agendas.”
“It should be you in charge, not Robin.”
“Better the devil you know?” he mocked gently.
“You’re hardly the lesser of two evils, Giles. I wish I could make you understand that. You’ve done far more than he has to keep a Slayer safe. It should be you in charge.”
“Too dangerous. One of two of those Old Council people could quite literally stab me in the back. Robin is a good man though, he’ll be fine.”
She shivered slightly and Giles displayed his some of his old concern for her. “Cold still?”
“I’ve been cold ever since we got off the ferry. Aren’t you?”
He considered the night around them. “No. It’s quite a mild really. Maybe I’m just used to it.” He took his jacket off and laid it around her shoulders. “We can’t even agree on the bloody climate,” he said sadly.
“Hey, there’s something on fire over there. On top of that hill.” Buffy pointed in alarm.
“No that’s alright. It’s a just a beacon fire. See -,” He pointed, “That top over there has lit one too. A lot of the villagers hereabouts take to the hills tonight to celebrate and pass on the New Year.”
It was New Year’s Eve, Dawn had mentioned that, and it was getting close to midnight. Two more beacons were lit, surrounding them. “Fire pretty,” Buffy said. Giles smiled.
They suddenly heard strange music. The bells in all the surrounding churches had begun to chime in chirruping patterns. Each church belfry seemed to take turns in producing beautiful discordant music. It was eerie being up on a hillside as bells chimed around them in a full panorama. The bell ringers took it in turns or sometimes worked in tandem, producing triplets of notes in counter, or sometimes in pitch. Ghostly harmonies came and went. The crisp notes soared to the stars.
Buffy had never heard anything like it. “It’s so beautiful. Why do they do tunes that way? Why don’t they play ‘When the saints go marching in’ or something?”
“In bell ringing circles it’s called Change Ringing. It’s all about patterns and mathematical progressions. There’s only six bells in this particular change.”
“Knowledge guy,” she gibed.
He giggled briefly. “Ex-choir boy with spare keys to the belfry so I could have a sneaky smoke.”
She watched the fires burn. Everyone had told her different things about the Watcher Slayer Bond. It was dangerous, it was natural, it was meaningless, the Council opposed it, the Council tried to enforce it. It had seemed the most complicated thing but Giles’ curse was nothing to do with him being a Watcher. It would be nothing to do with her but that it distorted their relationship. He was uneasy, uncomfortable with her ever since her death, no, ever since he’d killed Ben and brought the wrath of hell gods on himself. That was what had changed everything. Why he’d left Sunnydale, stayed out of her way, antagonised her over Spike. He couldn’t know peace with the Closest. Not because she was the Slayer and he her Watcher, but because he was Giles and she was Buffy.
“I know what I want,” said Buffy. “I want to find how we stop this curse. But most of all I want you to be safe.”
This bond was not a Slayer thing, it was not magick. The need to be with someone, to care for them, that process touched everyone’s lives. Some Watcher and Slayers had developed such feelings in the past. Some had not. The initial relationship was forced. A Watcher appointed by the Council to protect or die with their Slayer. A Slayer teamed with a Watcher with no choice in the matter. She’d never resented Giles. She’d liked him, simply from the off, she’d liked him. She’d trusted him to be on her side always and she cried when he’d cried. He was older when they’d first met and understood more about the world. She’d never expected him to not be a part of her life and yet for the past two years she’d spent so much time alone. She missed him. She wanted to be around him. She wanted to protect him, to laugh with him, to love him, to be with him. She’d been looking for the weapons in the painting and her greatest asset was sitting there right next to her all along.
And to tell him all that would be to hurt him.
“Safe,” he repeated glumly. “The
“No. I think now that Robin is OK with this and no longer sees you as a threat, we should set you up a salary, access to some contacts, emergency funds and legitimate travel documents. I want you to be safe, but I don’t want to make things worse for you. And locking you up for your own protection isn’t going to help you.”
He looked thoughtful. “What about you?”
“I’ll stay here. I’ll be the responsible one and keep an eye on Robin. You should go. Do what you have to. Travel where you must. I’ll always be on the end of telephone line if you need help. And
He looked at her intently. She’d barely seen his eyes the past week he’d been ducking her so much. Now it felt like she could see into his soul. “Giles: you’re fired. You are hereby not my Watcher anymore but my friend. And as my friend you are free to go where you want.”
His hands started to shake and she fought the urge to stop them “It’s OK Giles. I know what will happen if we stay together. I’m not entirely stupid.” He nodded; they would not speak of the nightmares her proximity had triggered in him. Buffy reached for his face and touched his cheekbone as gently as she could. Her fingers drifted to the hair above his ear. She gave a sudden tug. “However, if you get yourself killed. I will personally kick down the gates of hell and drag your sorry ass out of there, understand me?”
He exploded into laughter and she let him go.
“Yes m’am. Actually Xander offered me a lift to the airport tomorrow but I turned him down.”
She narrowed her eyes in a playful glare. “Did he now?”
She sat back on the bench to watch the skyline. Giles did his best to relax next to her. She was dropping the chain, giving him his freedom in the hope that one day he’d find his way back to her. He was cursed to suffer around her and she couldn’t be selfish and keep him even if it meant he might get killed and suffer the hell fire damnation part of Glory’s brother’s deal.
“Cold still?” he asked.
“No.” She wasn’t. Everything felt right at last. “Maybe I’ve finally got the hang of this country of yours.”
“I think maybe my country approves of you.”
The church bells stopped their tuneful ringing and a single treble bell intoned the passing of the year. Buffy counted to twelve and then it stopped. The world stood silent. From one of the beacons a single firework was lit, then others across the skyline joined in. Buffy sat in a panorama of bright lights and explosions. It was magical and beautiful and she never wanted to lose the memory of that moment.
“Happy New Year, Giles.”
“Happy New Year, Buffy.”
End of Part Two
Thank you one and all for reading this. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you all next December.
January 2013 update: Part three A Watcher's Word starts here
I’m awarding the inaugural Capitano Christmas Fic Best Commenter Prize to lynnylou for her outstanding work in commenting daily and encouraging me. You’ve been great.The prize consists of a fanfic written to any prompt you care to make lynnylou. PM me and I’ll write something especially for you in the New Year.