Title: Partial Derailment
Characters Buffy/Giles. Post Chosen. Giles has a new life. Buffy won't let go.
Companion pieces (Chronology unclear. Please arrange in any order that works for you) Keeping in Touch : Barricades : Spread My Wings : All At Sea : Relative Pin : Telling : Push and Pull : Morning Glory
The sleepy rural train station hadn’t seen such activity in a long time. The trains from London usually whistled through contemptuously on their way to the more honeypot towns that surrounded the great academic city, but now the unmanned station like every dog, was having its day.
Bemused passengers dribbled out in twos and threes, carrying and wheeling their luggage awkwardly and looking bewildered to find themselves so obviously not where they expected to be. Tourists and day trippers mingled with backpacking students in their confusion at having been thrown off their train so presumptuously. There was much indignant and repetitive chatter. A coach across the road from Giles’ prime position in the car park, tooted its horn impatiently and gradually the travellers got the message and snaked their way over. Every small group stopped to ask the driver if she was their replacement to the rail service – to which she nodded curtly and gestured to them to load their luggage in the side trucks, not the main carriage of her spotlessly clean vehicle.
Giles climbed out the sports car and stood so Buffy could spot him. It was a warm sunny day and he’d left the top down. The sunlight caught her golden hair as she followed the others and he smiled shyly. She in turn treated him to a beaming grin and detached herself from the others.
“I wasn’t sure you were coming to pick me up.”
They never hugged in public. Giles moved to open the boot for her small carry-on bag. “The news has been full of the landslip under the rail tracks and the partial derailment this morning. That coach is taking everyone to the next station down the line, but I did get your message, so here I am.”
“And here you are indeed, and OH MY GOD, this is the most sexiest car I’ve ever seen you with.” Buffy eyed the powder blue 1967 Lotus Elan with undisguised pleasure.
Giles shut the boot. “It’s Ethan’s. I just borrowed it to pick you up.”
“Ethan’s?” Buffy’s enthusiasm noticeably soured. “Have you checked the brake cables?”
“Come on. If we don’t get out of here before that bus, we’ll be driving behind it for the next twenty miles.”
They vacated the one good parking spot to a noticeable scowl from the coach driver and Giles began to lazily tickle the car around the narrow country lanes. Buffy struggled with her hair and the wind over the top of the windscreen. Giles gestured to the glove box where she found an old baseball cap. It was a tight fit and made her ears stick out. Giles thought it made her look disturbingly young and kept his eyes on the road.
“We don’t have to go straight to your place, do we? I mean, couldn’t we stop at a pub and have lunch or something? It’s just such a beautiful day to be outside.”
“I have to get back. I’m expecting a phone call.”
A brace of lapwings took flight from a hedgerow as they drove past a little too close on the near side.
“Giles, I got a really odd email from our finance department the other day. They asked about Dr Clarke’s bills. Apparently he’s stopped sending them.” Giles slowed the car to negotiate a blind corner. “Do you know why he might have done that?” Buffy persisted.
“Some sort of admin hiccup?” he offered. They reached a T-junction and Giles put all concentration into his observations, leaning forward to look past Buffy’s obstruction.
He pulled out onto a wider straighter road and worked up through the gearbox.
“I don’t know. I don’t work there.”
“Maybe you could ask them at your next appointment?”
Giles grunted and picked up more speed. The wind draft made it hard to hear for the rest of the journey.
He waved to the attendant and parked expertly in the small secure parking area two streets from the courtyard house he rented. Buffy fought her way out of the seatbelt and darted to retrieve her bag. When Giles slammed the boot a little too fiercely Buffy giggled.
“Wow, I expected the back seats to explode with glitter and the doors to fall off.”
Giles worked the canvas hood over and secured it and muttered, “It’s a perfectly safe car. It used to belong to Ethan’s father.” He locked both doors manually and they walked to his house in silence, Buffy carrying her bag over her shoulder and Giles with his fingers tucked into his jeans pockets. They maintained their customary distance as they walked, giving no clue as to the nature of their relationship.
It was only when they were inside, and Giles had carefully locked the front door, did their arms snake around each other greedily in the hallway.
“Hello, Giles,” Buffy said playfully.
“Good morning, Buffy,” he replied and then spread his fingers across the base of her back and nuzzled her neck. Buffy caressed his shirt collar and played a thumb and finger over the top button. “Are you tired after your long journey?” he asked.
“Yes and no,” she teased. She pulled him closer as he gently worked the base of her tee-shirt to feel more of her back with his hand. “Tell me,” she giggled involuntarily and then regained her focus. “Exactly when is your next appointment with Dr Clarke?”
Giles kissed her ear and hid in her hair. “Oh I don’t know; end of the month or something. Do we have to talk about this now?” he asked soothingly.
“Yes, we do.” She tugged his shirt and pulled his head back to look at her. “It’s important we figure out what’s happened to his invoices.”
Giles took a very deep breath, broke off the embrace and walked into his living area. He’d piled up various worn clothes on his desk chair and scooped up the newspapers and magazines haphazardly on the coffee table. His desk could barely be seen under the choppy seas of essays and exams papers waiting for his attention. With his back to Buffy, he poured a small whisky into a glass. His hand shook slightly but she couldn’t see.
“With respect it’s really not important. In fact it’s pretty bloody pointless, if you must know. Nothing ever happens. I still don’t remember anything and frankly I don’t want to. It’s a complete waste of time and the Council’s money and Ethan thinks so too. He thinks…” he broke off hesitantly having said too much. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Buffy walked around to face him and asked carefully, “Ethan thinks what exactly?”
Giles focused on her shoes as he spoke. “Only that maybe with magick we could find a way to-“
Buffy interrupted him. “Oh because that worked out so well for Willow and Tara!”
“I said you wouldn’t understand,” Giles grumbled and began to pace the living room with his drink.
“Giles, are you and Ethan? Are you doing spells?” she asked timidly.
She was stifling, trying to take control. Giles gripped his glass. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Well, you and he…” It was her turn to break off uncertainly. “He’s not making you do things you don’t want to is he?” she said softly. “He’s not hurting you in some way?”
“No he’s not. He’s my friend; he’s looking out for me. He lent me his car so I could pick you up this morning.”
“Giles, I…” She approached in conciliation but Giles suddenly needed his distance back.
“You’re not my mother, so drop it.” He clumsily tried to put his drink on the desk but misjudged the mound of overflowing exam scripts. The glass toppled and crashed to the floor and the waves of paper splashed untidily with it. He kicked out angrily and started to prowl again. “I can take care of myself, Buffy.” And he added with an incredibly bitter tone he normally managed to keep in check, “I thought we had at least established that.”
Buffy took a predatory step nearer but Giles shot up the stairs to duck her. He closed the bathroom door quickly behind him. It didn’t have a lock, because he’d never needed such a thing before, so he leant his back to it and studied the floor tiles, and the towel rail, and the slight damp patch over the shower, and most of all, he studied his breathing.
He heard her come up the stairs after him, very slowly. She creaked the floorboards near the bathroom and stopped, waiting for him. She said nothing but he knew she was there. Some minutes passed. The window was still open from clearing the steam from his morning shower. He could hear his annoying student neighbour with the drum kit, and only two minutes worth of rhythm, begin his morning practice session. He was sorely in need of practice but Giles was going to go round and make him eat that hi hat cymbal one of these days.
“I said no to his offer,” he finally admitted. “There’s no magick. There are no spells. I said no.”
“And Dr Clarke?”
Relentlessness was good in a Slayer, he thought gloomily, and beat the back of his head very slowly on the door.
“He’s on vacation. Scuba-diving somewhere I think,” he answered.
After what seemed like an unseemly amount of silence, he heard her retreat downstairs and hung his head at the absurdity of his life hiding in bathrooms from a woman more than half his age. What was her spell? Maybe she was the one that was making him do things he didn’t want to? She was part of his madness, bound up to the hole in his head and all the things he didn’t understand. He closed the window and washed his face, trying to recognise himself in the mirror. Buffy had a power over him that wasn’t about being the Slayer. A power that he thought in his darkest moments might just kill him.
Outside, the drumming had stopped to be replaced by tentative birdsong. As he dried himself, Giles realised with some shame, it was the same hand towel he’d put out for her last visit. He tossed it to the laundry and hung a fresh one. That the only preparation he’d remembered was to change the sheets made him feel slightly sleazy.
When he went down he found her sitting very upright on the couch, one leg hooked under a thigh, with her travel bag ominously on the seat next to her as if ready for departure. She had collected up the broken glass and mopped the scotch but left his papers where they had fallen. With an ache he realised he didn’t want her to go but he didn’t know how to stop her. He felt she would have left already had it not been for the derailment on the train line.
She was holding her elbows to her side very tightly, looking straight ahead if a little glassily. Giles walked past and knelt at the desk. He carefully separated the fallen example papers and essays into three piles – urgent, next week and overdue – and placed them neatly on his desk. He spotted, with some embarrassment, an old Chinese takeout carton sitting on his laptop and scooped it hurriedly into the kitchen trash. He thought about making tea but she preferred lemon and he hadn’t remembered to buy any groceries.
“I’ll call his office tomorrow and check the appointment,” he offered flatly. He saw her eyes rise in a smile and he repeated “tomorrow” to be absolutely clear on his limits in the matter.
“Do you want me,” he began hesitantly, “do you want me to drive you back to the train station now?”
She uncurled her legs and rose quickly to him, touching him gently on the jaw as if unsure of her welcome. Giles didn’t buck and her smile broke free of her eyes and reached her lips. She reached up and kissed him softly at first and then with a tenderness that hinted at their former urgency. And Giles knew he was lost in the power of her salvation. Because in his truly darkest moments, he knew that this was all that was keeping him alive.
He shook his head sadly. “I wish I knew what it is you do want.”
Buffy trailed a fingernail across his lips. “One day you’ll figure it out.”