Title: In the Morning Sun
Length of chapter: 3,300
Setting: Post Chosen but AU straight away. So no comics and no Angel Season 5.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Joss characters but I would if I could
Warning: This is BUFFY/GILES but fasten your safety belts because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
“I’m afraid you have to wake up now.” Her head was lightly rocked. “Buffy?”
She came to against Angel’s shoulder, a little disorientated at first as to where she was and what had happened, but the harsh artificial lights and the antiseptic smell of the hospital shocked her to full consciousness. Having caught a cab to follow the ambulance and after having been forced to wait on plastic chairs, she, Angel and Dawn had been led to a more private waiting room where she’d just sunk onto a couch and dreamt of Sunnydale and happier times.
Buffy hadn’t spoken since she’d seen Giles lying so alarmingly still on the sidewalk. She hadn’t needed to. There were witnesses aplenty who had seen the knife and were chattering in endless, excited circles. Dawn had worked tirelessly until the paramedics took over, and then cops showed up and dutifully took statements at the scene, but that was all blurred in her peripheral memory. Her starkest focus was on Giles’ lifeless body. She’d seen him peacefully asleep before, and even not so peacefully unconscious, but this time had been different and she knew it.
Angel had spoken with the cops on her behalf. She’d heard bits of his explanation - how he and Buffy had given chase until the guy had dropped Dawn’s purse and gotten away. No, they hadn’t realised the severity of the assault. Yes, it was risky of them. Yes, that was what the police were there for. No, they probably couldn’t recognise the perp again. Yes, they would like to go to the hospital now. Yes, she did look to be in shock but he’d make sure she was OK. Buffy hadn’t really listened to the words, just the sounds they made.
Angel nudged her again on the couch and spoke. “I think there’s news.”
There was indeed: Robin Wood was walking along the corridor rather purposefully towards them. He’d changed into jeans and a dark t-shirt outside of the office and his sneakers squeaked on the polished floor as he drew nearer. Dawn uncurled herself from an armchair and all three rose to hear him.
“They did everything they could, but I’m afraid it wasn’t enough.” Robin’s words were soft and tender and directed as much to Dawn as for herself. “They couldn’t get him back. I’m sorry.”
“No.” It was Dawn that spoke. “He can’t be…”
Buffy spoke flatly. “Giles is dead.” She wasn’t sure herself if it was a statement or a question.
Robin looked with tired eyes at her and reached a hand to her shoulder in comfort.
“I’m afraid so, yes.”
She shrugged him off, not yet willing to accept his invitation to share her emotions. Instead she dug her nails into the linings of her coat pockets and asked, “Can I see him?”
“Not just yet. I gather they need to tidy things up a bit. They…” He lost the words but Dawn gasped in understanding and even Buffy had a vision of the doctors having had to butcher open Giles’ chest to get to his heart and stop the bleeding, and how that would have created something of a mess. It was cowardly given she had seen far worse as a Slayer, but she did not want to see Giles so cruelly exposed like that. It hurt to think of him laid out on a mortuary slab like a side of beef.
Angel was next to her, offering his presence and his silent support. He reached his fingers for hers and she allowed her hand to be gently tugged from her pocket, but she couldn’t return his grip.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She swallowed down the breath that had been blocking her throat and said, “We need to call Xander and Willow, they should know.”
“I’ll do that now.” Robin turned. “Obviously the Council will pick up the medical expenses.” He looked embarrassed at having brought up the economics so soon when his intention had been to be consoling. Buffy let him go. Robin may have had his suspicions about Giles, may have even been jealous of him on one level, but he was a solid Council leader, never letting pettiness get in the way of a tragedy.
“I should call Wes,” Angel said.
He shrugged, embarrassed too at having moved to practical matters so quickly. “It’s what I do when things like this happen,” he explained.
She nodded distantly, understanding the impulse for someone reliable to come make things easier.
“That’s funny,” she said. “I usually call Giles.”
With Robin and Angel punching numbers on their respective cellphones in the corridor, she turned to Dawn. Her sister had been distrusting and resentful when their mom had died, but then she’d been at school that day and hadn’t witnessed events for herself. This time, Dawnie had been in the thick of the action and she looked pale and impossibly young.
“Are you OK?” Buffy asked.
Dawn shook her head. “This is all my fault,” she said. “I couldn’t stop the bleeding.” Buffy went to her and hugged her. “And I tried so hard.”
“I know you did, honey.”
“And he’s there now. They have him. Glory’s brothers have him, and we don’t even know where that is.”
Dawn collapsed slightly, and Buffy, though she could support her weight easily, dropped to her knees with her. “It’s not your fault, shh, shh,” she said, trying to comb Dawn’s hair out of her eyes.
“But it's so horrible.”
“I know, but you did everything you could. Shh.” she pulled her closer and rocked her sister gently, being strong for Dawn as their mom would have been. There would be time for her own tears later.
That though was the start of an unexpected twist on the grieving process, for one by one, they had all come to her to cry at their personal loss. They sought her out because she was the strong one, not realising her stony exterior hid her own distress, and each forced her to share their grief afresh. Largely, they came to rail at the horror and the shock of an outcome they had always known would happen one day, but which felt raw and fresh and soaked in salt just the same. Xander wanted the mugger to be some vampire plot to give him some perspective. Willow wanted to fix what couldn’t be fixed and was twisting herself inside out at not being about to get the final A+ from Giles. Even Faith had called and unexpectedly opened up a little about the death of her first Watcher and how much it sucked. That Giles had died a natural death went unspoken between them all because the consequences of that death were far from natural. So Buffy had let them all grieve and talk of their own loss because mostly she was too numb to even begin to articulate her own.
Then the efficient Mr Henman flew over from London and she at least gained something to actively dislike. Wesley had made inquiries and the family had sent their lawyer to act as executor for Giles’ estate. Mr Henman was in his thirties, keen and smooth, he looked after his hair, wore a very sharp suit and had a mouth of perfect white teeth that he wasn’t afraid to show off. No, he hadn’t known the deceased personally but he was very sorry for her loss. And then, having dispensed the requisite amounts of sympathy and charm, he displayed his ruthless efficiency by promptly arranging for the body to be shipped back to England for burial. The family had a prior claim it seemed; all his possessions, even his dead body were theirs by rights. Buffy may have understood their position but it still felt like they were stealing Giles from her piece by piece but there was nothing she could do about it.
Within five days of that terrible night, she was back in England and attending his funeral. Fittingly, it was a cold and rather dark afternoon. The sun hid behind large black clouds that bannered across the sky. Wesley, Xander and Willow were sitting with her at the back of a somewhat chilly 11th century English church. Angel had flown over with herself and Dawn but was not attending the church service given the circumstances. Vampires may often rise from sacred ground but they still dislike entering churches themselves. Dawn had also expressed the view that Giles would not want Angel to be there anyway, which left an uncomfortable silence in the air on the flight over.
Robin and Faith couldn’t make it. He’d had a crisis to attend to and she’d been injured on her last patrol possibly due to carelessness. Ms Harkness from the coven was there though. She wore a wide brimmed black hat and veil and had asked Buffy with keen incisiveness how she was holding up. It was as if she alone understood the depth of Buffy’s feelings despite her stoic appearance, but Buffy had just nodded and given her the briefest of hugs in return, fearful that if she started crying, she might embarrass herself during the service by never stopping.
The church was full and eager and the Sunnydale contingent had been forced to the back if they wanted to sit together. Wesley explained that like most Watchers, Giles’ family split into the small section that were Watchers themselves, and the larger part that had no idea that demons and vampires existed, much less that their kinsfolk were on the frontline in the battle against such things. Giles’ family had taken notable losses when the Old Council had been obliterated so the majority, indeed possibly all, the congregation present that day, would be clueless as to his life and the true horror of Giles’ eternal resting place. Because it very definitely was not ‘the better place’ that nondescript cousins and friends, who’d not known of his role in the Council, kept promising each other with every handshake.
As the pews filled out, people had stopped being interested in her loss and had merely looked at the Sunnydale contingent with curiosity, they didn’t, of course, know her relationship to Giles. They just thought he’d had some American friends, who had flown over specially, and what a ‘nice thing’ that was.
The service began and the congregation sang hymns with a certain gusto.
I will not cease from mental fight,
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
till we have built Jerusalem
in England’s green and pleasant land
Then they belted out another that threatened to choke the Sunnydale friends where they stood.
If you stand before the pow'r of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you, through it all
Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.
These were Watcher family hymns sung by non-Watchers. Dawn had to sit down and Willow dipped to be with her.
The vicar made his entrance in a white smock and seemed to know most of the congregation personally as he’d smiled and pressed a lot of hands on his way to the pulpit. However, he didn’t seem to have known Giles terribly well if at all. He called him Rupert a lot for one thing, presumably because that was how the family knew him, but it served to create a glass barrier between what was happening and Buffy’s grief. Then the vicar embarked on some amusing stories from Oxford and one or two absent minded moments from Rupert’s career at the British Library, but of course, nothing dark or sinister was mentioned. He even spoke lightly of Rupert’s emigrating to America and running a successful magic shop 'to the delight of the local school children'. Buffy already felt she shouldn't be there, but at that comment felt as if she was attending entirely the wrong funeral. The priest was on a roll though and there was even some giggling as he spoke of Rupert’s more recent time as a freelance researcher on his return from 'the Colonies'. Buffy gripped the hymnbook in her hands feeling like she could shatter it. This guy didn’t know Giles. This distant branch of his family didn't know Giles, her Giles, none of them did.
Suddenly everyone was standing again but not to sing. This time the pall bearers went forward to gather the casket. They hoisted it to their shoulders. Wesley and Xander were among the group of six, and then walked down the centre aisle and out to the graveyard as the organ played and the congregation stood in respectful silence. It was a heavy box that held all that was left of Giles on this earth. She thought of him trapped in there, not wishing to be so contained and easily defined. Soon they would bury even that and he would become only a name on a piece of carved stone. Xander was on Buffy’s side of the aisle, staring grimly ahead. She knew he was focussing on his task, determined not to screw anything up for Giles’ sake.
And suddenly they were all outside in the pouring rain. The skies had darkened even further during the service, as though the sun hadn’t dared to show its face to her, and even the vicar left his jokes inside and proceeded to the solemn end of the business. Buffy held a large black umbrella over herself and Dawn and watched in disbelief that they were actually doing this thing. They were actually lowering Giles’ body to the ground and covering it with earth and she would never see him again. Her last funeral had been her mom’s. Giles had stood next to her that day when the sun had shone and Angel had been there for her as darkness fell. It hadn’t seemed any more real then, but at least she’d known her mother was at peace. Here, the vicar was trying to be sincere when he said Rupert was in Heaven now and at Rest, but she knew it was horribly untrue. That Buffy and her friends had no line on exactly where Giles was and could only imagine the hell he was suffering, was totally beyond the scale of what the man of God could possibly imagine.
The sky was so dark now that Angel could probably have attended, and the rain grew fiercer, cutting short any impulse the mourners had to linger. Giles’ so-called family sped to their cars with an air of ‘well that was that duty done’ about them. Umbrellas flapped and shook and engines started brightly. The ever efficient Mr Henman had booked the wake at the hotel they were all staying at. There would be food and an open bar and an opportunity for all his family and friends to reminisce and be at peace with his death. Buffy thought she’d choke on any buffet food offered her so she slipped to the archway of the church entrance and watched as her friends were shepherded into taxis and cars, and she was left on her own. The rain formed pools of muddy water into the cracks of the broken path back towards the graveside but she paid scant regard for her shoes.
Giles had been buried in the same village church he’d been baptised in which, according to one overheard comment, was another ‘nice thing’. There were graves of members of his family going back two hundred years and a plaque to commemorate those that had been lost without trace in the recent London gas explosion. Buffy touched the brass plate. These were the secret Watchers that not even the bulk of the family knew about. These were the people she would have preferred to have met and consoled with.
The men who filled the grave cuts had not yet arrived, probably waiting for drier conditions and had left his casket still shamefully exposed. A green carpet of fake grass covered the mound of soil next to it. It would not take very long to fill and flatten the earth. Buffy could not bear to think of the short distance between herself and his dead body and the huge chasm between her soul and wherever his was.
She walked around the graveyard, reading the names and dates on other weathered stones. It wasn't real. The rain only served to emphasize the strange and rather gothic dressing of the older stones. The grass grew a little longer, the paths less well maintained, and the ivy had been allowed to thrive. Here and there she saw vestiges of the overblown Victorian flair for death: winsome statuary in ringlets and curls that had nevertheless crumbled and cracked under the onslaught of nature. Perhaps the stonemasons had cut them to look serene but now they looked sad and rather tortured as the ivy strangled their weather ruptured limbs down to the earth.
When she circled back she found she was no longer alone. Now intruding at Giles’ resting place was a blurry figure, twirling a very wide red umbrella over one shoulder. He wore a full length black wool coat and carried a leather messenger bag over his other shoulder. He slipped down to his haunches and ran a hand under the green plastic carpet for the freshly turned earth and pocketed some. Then he stood and paid such attention to the headstone as though it might have been the Rosetta stone itself. His features sharpened in her focus as she drew near into those of Ethan Rayne.
If Buffy had ever wanted to hit something, he couldn’t have presented himself at a better moment. She tore forward but he looked up suddenly and she saw the momentarily flicker of grief in his eyes before he could completely hide it. He and Giles had been friends once. He'd know him longer than any of them. She marched up quickly and he stepped back a pace. As she closed in, certain only that she wanted to hit him, the anger in her died and she flung herself impulsively forward and into his arms. If he was surprised, he adapted quickly and hugged an arm around her, protecting both of them with the umbrella. The noise from the rain became phenomenally loud. It bounced and complained off the canvas, but she hung on to the strange reassurance of someone who, like herself, had a piece of Giles. Her cheek was on his chest and she allowed herself a few tears as the rain cascaded off the umbrella above them.
“I only came to steal the collection plate, but this is much better,” he murmured, causing her to remember something of her usual animosity. She disentangled herself, rubbed her eyes and folded her arms tightly to her body.
“Why didn’t you come to the service, Ethan?”
“I’m not terribly fond of being inside churches. Bad things tend to happen in places like that.” Buffy knew that vampires and demons avoided such places and wondered if perhaps Ethan had made one demonic deal too many. He had always played off both sides.
“So farewell, Ripper.” He actually smiled at the headstone as he chided, “Rather a plebeian way to check out, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“If you’ve just come to gloat…”
“Hardly, my dear.” He looked squarely at her, confronting her with his own stance. When Ethan took things seriously, he took them very seriously indeed. “I've come to ask what you are going to do about this mess.”
She narrowed her eyes at his challenge. “There’s nothing I can do,” she began hotly. “He’s gone and we don't even know where he has gone to.” A tone of helplessness crept into her voice. “There are hundreds of hell dimensions and we don’t know how to find him.”
“Ah,” he chuckled, his good humour returning in a flash. He patted the soft leather messenger bag with his elbow and said, “But I do.”on to chapter three...