Buffy walked outside after searching throughout the entire house for him. She found him quickly, sitting on the back steps…a cigarette held between his fingers as he stared at nothing. She felt an ache in her heart…a sadness that threatened to drop her to her knees right there. Instead, she took a deep breath and walked over to him.
His jaw clenched as she got closer to him, but he didn’t look at her. He took another drag from his cigarette as she sat down next to him. She looked up at him and sighed.
“I can’t, Buffy.” He interrupted softly. “I can’t continue where we left off in there.”
“I didn’t come find you to continue anything. I came to talk.”
“Haven’t we talked enough for today?”
She wiped her eyes and then shook her head. “A lot of yelling, very little talking. We need to sort this out.”
He closed his eyes briefly, exhaling a lungful of smoke. “I’m tired. We’re falling apart and I just need a minute.”
“Are we? Falling apart?” She asked, a tone of bewilderment mixed in with her sadness.
“Aren’t we?” He countered, turning to look at her for the first time since she sat down. “We argue more than talk these days. And it’s been months since -- ”
“Let’s go away, Giles.” She interrupted, eyes bright with unshed tears.
“We need to regroup, reset. We are not falling apart, Rupert. We just need a minute – for us, without all of this.”
“All of this…” He waved his hand vaguely and sighed heavily. “…is part of all we are.”
“We’re more than this, you know that.”
He lowered his head, flicked the ashes from his cigarette. “Do you still love me?”
“That’s why I’m asking you to go away with me. I don’t want to lose you.”
“My love. I don’t want us to fall apart – but, we can’t fix us here. We need a breather, Ru. And we can’t have that here…it’s too -- ” She blew out a breath and twisted a ring on her finger. “Do you still love me? I mean…do you want to sort this out?”
He looked at her for a long moment, then lifted his left hand to the side of her face. He rubbed his thumb through the moisture on her skin and sighed.
“I love you, Buffy.” He whispered. “I don’t want to lose us.”
“Then come away with me. Let’s go pack a bag and just…go. Now.” She sniffled and leaned into his hand. “Please, Giles.”
He nodded slowly, leaning into her and pressing his forehead against hers. “Okay, love.”
* * *
Giles had willingly handed her the car keys after they’d thrown their bags into the boot of the car. Normally, he drove…but, this was her idea, obviously she had a plan. And he had no idea where they were going. And so…she drove while he stared out the side window, trying to figure out when and how things had changed so drastically between them.
“You okay?” She asked after he’d been uncharacteristically quiet for longer than she was comfortable with.
“Where are we going?”
“Currently, west.” She answered, hoping to make him smile a bit.
Instead, he gave a silent nod. “I’m not really sure what’s happening between us, Buffy.”
“I know.” She whispered. “That’s the hardest part.”
“Do you know what’s happening? How this has happened to us?”
“We’re going to be fine, Giles. We just need some time.”
“Time for what? Rehashing old arguments? Arguments that lead to screaming and a sick feeling in my heart and…” He swallowed and cast a quick glance at her. “How long has it actually been since we’ve made love?”
“It’s not about sex, Ru. It’s never been about sex.”
“What’s it about then?”
“Do you honestly think it’s about sex? Do you think if I pull over right now and you fuck me in the back seat that everything is going to be all peaches and cream?”
“I…” He started and then stopped, staring at her as she pulled over.
“What the hell is going on?” He whispered painfully, tears filling his eyes.
Her eyes softened immediately and she lifted her hand to the side of his neck. “Hey…”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. That’s why we’re going away. We needed to leave home, okay? We need to go somewhere new, neutral…just to sort this out. Then, we can go home. Do you understand that?”
He shook his head slowly, staring into her eyes. “No, not at all.”
“Please trust me.”
“Please tell me what’s going on.”
“When I figure it out I will, but for right now you need to take a deep breath and close your eyes.”
“We’re not falling apart? Because this very much feels like we’re falling apart.”
Buffy’s eyes glistened as she exhaled a deep breath. “Yeah, it does. But, I’m not going to let that happen…not without one hell of a fight.”
“Where are we going, Buffy?”
“To a cabin a friend owns.”
“A cabin? A cabin where? What friend? What the fuck is going on?”
“Giles, please…if you have ever trusted me, trust me now. I have a theory, but…I need help, okay?”
He stared at her for a long moment and then shook his head slowly. “Ethan? Seriously, you’re getting help from Ethan?”
“I didn’t know who else to go to for this.” She whispered.
“For what? What could Ethan possibly help you with concerning me?” He asked, genuinely confused.
“Can we just talk about it when we get to the cabin?”
He unbuckled his seat belt and clenched his jaw. “No.”
As he opened his door and moved to get out of the car, she grabbed his arm. “Please don’t go.”
He turned his eyes back to her, anger flashing in his as he glared at her. “Please let go.”
“I can’t, Rupert.” A tear rolled down her cheek as she shook her head. “Please…close the door and buckle your seat belt.”
“Fuck this.” He growled, pulling his arm away from her.
“Krpaya sutna, prema.” She said quickly, tightening her hold on him and pulling him back.
“What the…” He started, but was unable to finish the thought as his eyes closed and he slumped against the seat.
Buffy sighed and reached over him, pulling his leg back inside before closing the car door and buckling his seat belt. “I’m so sorry.”
She quickly pulled out her phone and dialled a number before starting the car and looking over at a deeply sleeping Giles. She tapped her fingers against the steering wheel impatiently.
“Ethan, I need you at the cabin when we get there. We’re halfway there now.”
“You had to use it, didn’t you?”
She nodded, wiping the tears from her face. “Yeah, he…he was going to leave.”
Ethan sighed heavily. “Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
“Thank you.” She whispered before ending the call and shifting the car into gear.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Giles opened his eyes, then furrowed his brow as he focused on the ceiling. “What the fuck?”
He turned towards Buffy and stared at her. “What the hell is going on, Buffy? Where am I and…what did you do to me?”
“We’re at the cabin…you’re in bed because you were still sleeping. And…I put you to sleep because I needed you to calm down – which you totally weren’t.”
“How? How did you ‘put me to sleep’?” He asked, frustration and confusion heavy in his tone.
“I gave her a spell.”
Giles turned sharply towards the voice, narrowing his eyes. “Why would you do that, Ethan?”
“Because I care.” Ethan replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “And you’re doing it again.”
Giles stared at him, but didn’t move a muscle. “Doing what again?”
“Burying things so deeply that you block all memory – and you know what that does to you.” Ethan smiled softly. “It makes you lash out, causes you to be irrational, damages your relationships with people. You can’t do that now, Rupe – not to Buffy.”
“Block what out? I haven’t buried anything.” Giles argued, his eyes darting towards his chest when Buffy grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled it up. “What are you doing?”
“What happened here, Giles?” Buffy asked, gently tracing a fairly recent scar on his abdomen with her fingers.
“A scuffle with a demon on patrol…”
“What kind of demon?”
“I’m sorry?” He asked, staring into her eyes.
“What kind of demon did this to you? What was the circumstances of the ‘scuffle’? When did it happen?”
“It, uh…it was a…a…” He tilted his head slightly and then looked away from her. “I…don’t know.”
“I know.” She whispered. “I know that you don’t know. I also know what happened.”
She placed her palm over the scar and sighed. “What I don’t know is why you’re blocking it. But, you need to stop…it’s hurting us.”
“How can I stop if I don’t know I’m doing it?” He asked quietly.
“And that’s what I’m here for, mate.” Ethan replied, the corner of his mouth quirking into a small smile.
“That makes me feel so much better about the situation.” Giles grumbled, turning his eyes back to the ceiling. “Why can’t anything just be simple?”
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked, sliding her hand to his hip before lifting it away from him.
“Why can’t we just be…in a rut…or something? Or going in different directions, but not wanting to go – those things are simple to work out. If I’m blocking memories, then…something happened. Something too hard for me to deal with. And, setting those free? What does that do to us?”
“It gives us something to work through.” She blew out a breath and brushed her fingers through his hair. “As it stands right now…we can’t work through anything – and we’re not going to come out of this together.”
He met her eyes and swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I love you. I’m in love with you, Rupert. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But…that can’t happen if we can’t work through this. You’re pushing me away – whether you want to or not. You kind of need to decide what you want…and if I’m on the list of things you want – we need to get to the bottom of this.”
He was quiet for a long moment and then closed his eyes. “Okay.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. He wasn’t overly surprised that she looked a bit blurry to him…unshed tears tended to have that effect on him.
“I don’t want to lose you, Buffy.”
“What if what you’re hiding is bad enough that you’ll lose her anyway?” Ethan asked without thought.
“Well, Captain Sunshine…” Buffy started, pausing when Giles turned his head towards Ethan.
“I’d never stray from her – that’s always been the one thing that would end what we have.” He licked his dry lips and exhaled a deep breath. “But, I’d rather try and find out that what I’m hiding is insurmountable for us – than to continue on this path that I’ve created and end up alone.”
Ethan considered his words and then gave him a nod. Giles turned back towards Buffy and offered her a nervous smile.
She returned his smile and leaned down, placing a warm kiss on his lips.
* * *
Ethan walked into the room carrying a bowl full of some concoction that looked disgusting, but smelled not half bad. He smiled as he looked over at the bed.
Giles rolled his eyes. “Oh, perfectly.”
Ethan chuckled and placed the bowl on the nightstand before taking a closer look at Giles’ bare chest. His smile faded as he took in the scars. “Fuck, mate…”
“Perks of being an active Watcher on a Hellmouth.” Giles mumbled, casting a quick glance to Buffy.
“I never knew you to scar like this…”
Giles stared at him. “Well, when you were privy to my injuries, they were mainly cuts and scratches from jumping fences or climbing through broken windows. Demons, lances, and letter openers tend do a bit more damage…”
Ethan’s smile returned. “There you are.”
“Sod off, Ethan.”
“Okay…so, how does this work?” Buffy interrupted, slipping her hand into Giles’ as she knelt next to his hip. “And – should we really be doing this here?”
“He needs to be lying down. A bed is more comfortable than the floor…and, the sheets can be changed, love.”
“Don’t call her that.” Giles grumbled.
“Sorry.” Ethan grinned at him before looking back at Buffy. “The sheets can be changed, doll.”
“Jesus Christ, Ethan…why do you have to be so fucking infuriating?” Giles complained.
“It’s in my nature.” Ethan responded, chuckling softly as Giles shook his head in frustration and stared at the ceiling. Then he returned his attention to Buffy. “You’ll need to ground him. I’ll spread the herbs over the scar, chant a little chant, there will be some sort of disturbance and then the block will be removed. What happens after that…don’t really know. It’s different each time.”
“Well, that’s helpful.” Buffy replied sarcastically. “What if there hadn’t been a scar?”
Ethan exhaled slowly. “There’s always a scar…sometimes they can’t be seen, but there’s always a scar.”
Buffy thought about that for a moment and then sighed. “Yeah…yeah, that’s true. So…herbs, chanting, weirdness, enlightenment. Sounds a lot like our first…”
Ethan arched an eyebrow as she stopped suddenly. “Your first what?”
“Never you mind.” She replied before meeting Giles’ eyes. “You ready?”
“Not in the slightest.” He said, gripping her hand. “Do you know what I’m hiding?”
“No. I really don’t. Nothing happened that night that I would have thought hide-worthy. I mean…bad shit happened, we lost people – but, we also disposed of the demon before that number grew. We did everything we could. We’ve had bigger losses in smaller battles, so…I just don’t know what’s upset you so much that you’d have to bury it.”
“That’s what scares me.”
“Listen…after we get this sorted, we really need to talk about your compartmentalising issues. Because…it’s not healthy a lot of times, yeah?”
“I love you.” He whispered, lifting his hand to her cheek.
“I love you.” She whispered back, covering his hand with hers.
Ethan rolled his eyes and reached over to the nightstand for the bowl of herbs. “Fucking hell, can we just do this before it turns into…whatever you two tend to turn things into.”
Giles and Buffy held their gaze for a few more seconds. He gave her a slight nod and she smiled softly at him.
“I’ve got you.” She said, gently pulling his hand from her face.
He curled his fingers around hers, lowering their hands to the mattress between them. He looked at Ethan and swallowed thickly.
“Just get it done, okay?”
Ethan nodded, whispering a few phrases in a language Buffy was sure she’d never heard before. The contents in the bowl glowed briefly and Ethan knelt on the bed next to Giles.
“Okay, here we go.”
Giles closed his eyes, but squeezed Buffy’s hand tighter.
* * *
Giles grimaced as the mixture caused his still-healing wound to glow. Buffy placed her hand on the front of his shoulder and gently stroked his skin.
Ethan looked at her. “He’s fine, but he’s trying to hold the walls up instead of letting them collapse. It’s normal, Buffy.”
“Nothing about this is normal though, is it?”
“Well, no…” Ethan agreed, gesturing towards Giles. “But, right now it’s up to him. I’ve done my part, the magick has done it’s part. He needs to do his…and he will, but not without a struggle. He’s always put up a fight.”
“Fuck you…” Giles muttered, opening his eyes and glaring at Ethan. “You have no fucking clue how hard this is.”
“Well, no…I don’t. I’m an open book. You are an enigma. Always have been, always will be.” He offered Giles an understanding smile as the herbal mixture’s glow began to dull. “Okay now?”
Giles swallowed and slowly turned his eyes to Buffy. “You were late.”
Buffy’s brow furrowed. “Huh?”
“You were late. You were supposed to be there and…you weren’t. Rosa was the first to die…her head landed at my feet.”
Buffy’s eyes widened and she straightened. “You blame me?”
Giles’ eyes glistened as he shook his head. “No. I was trying to protect you. If I didn’t know you were late…it wouldn’t go into the report.”
“Except for how you nearly got killed and Bishop compiled and submitted the report…” Buffy shook her head in confusion. “It was in the report, Giles. Didn’t you read it?”
“No.” He said quietly. “I’ve made excuses for not reading it – mental anguish due to my injuries. Not exactly an untruth. I told the Board to accept Bishop’s report as a true account of what happened.”
“It was a true account, Giles.” She licked her suddenly dry lips and exhaled a deep breath. “I was late because I was coming around from the south and ran into three Jakolytes that needed to be taken out.”
“You disposed of three on your own?” He asked, completely bewildered.
“Yeah…and by the time I got to you guys, Rosa was gone. So was Enoa and Jackie.” Sudden tears filled her eyes. “And you were bleeding and I could see…inside of you. Literally. And I thought you were going to die.”
“I…don’t remember anything after seeing you enter the clearing.” He whispered. “I saw you and…everything went black.”
“If Bishop hadn’t been there, you would have died too.” She said, wiping the tears from her face. “He was able to close your wound while the rest of us took care of the Jakoltian. Jesus, he was huge and so fast and strong. It took all of us to take him down.”
“Yeah…good thing he knows magick too, huh?”
“So…he saved my life?” Giles asked, furrowing his brow. “That’s interesting.”
“Why is that interesting? You’re friends as well as you being Head…why wouldn’t he? If he could, I mean…”
“It’s just…” Giles shook his head and carefully pushed himself up to a sitting position. He leaned back against the headboard and sighed. “He never once mentioned that. I just assumed it was…well, you.”
Buffy thought for a moment and then shook her head, obviously confused about something.
“What is it?”
She exhaled a deep breath and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know. I guess…okay, so I understand all of that. You trying to protect me or whatnot, but…that doesn’t explain the frustration you’ve been throwing. That doesn’t explain us arguing over every little thing.”
She bent her legs and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knee. “It doesn’t explain how we went from super tactile and affectionate to…nearly breaking up.”
“That was extreme frustration caused by an internal battle he was waging with himself.” Ethan replied softly, placing his materials back onto the tray he had brought them in on.
Buffy looked over at him curiously. “Huh?”
“Purely a theory, but…he wanted to protect you. Deep inside, he knew what he was trying to protect you from – but, because he’d compartmentalised everything…and put a lock on the door…he didn’t know why he was protecting you or from whom. He knew there’d been an incident and that lives had been lost…and that he’d been injured. He knew that he was annoyed, possibly even angry over the fact that he was protecting you…but, when you lock up important details, things get lost in translation. He transferred that frustration he was feeling about you to you. Because he’s a fucking idiot at times.” He smiled coyly and picked the tray up. “Again…just my theory.”
Giles blew out a breath and rubbed the back of his head. “Decent theory, actually.”
“I have them at times.” Ethan chuckled and gestured towards the door. “Look, if you two are okay…I’m going to head out. Stay as long as you need, work through all of this…and call me if you need me.”
“Thank you.” Giles offered, meeting his old friend’s eyes.
“Last thing you need is to fuck up another relationship because of shit like this. So, you need to stop.”
Giles nodded slowly as Ethan bade them both a goodbye and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him. Buffy looked at him, her obvious question in her eyes. Giles sighed and leaned the back of his head against the headboard.
“It was a long time ago, Buffy. Before Ethan fell into Chaos.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Not particularly.” He chuckled, rolling his head towards her and gazing into her eyes. “But, I will if you want to hear about it.”
Buffy took a deep breath and shook her head. “Not right now. Can you just…hold me?”
“I, uh…yes.” He whispered, slipping his arm around her and pulling her against him. “Of course, yes.”
“I love you, Rupert.” She sniffled, curling her fingers into the front of his shirt.
“I love you, too.” He closed his eyes, wishing not for the first time that he could go back in time and just…make a different choice in whatever predicament he was in that was causing him grief. His brow furrowed in confusion at his own thought.
She felt the change within him and looked up at his face, instantly recognising confusion on his features. “Hey…what’s wrong?”
He relaxed, chuckling as he opened his eyes. “Just a train of thought that confused me. Everything is fine, love.”
“You confused yourself with your own thoughts? That doesn’t sound ‘fine’ to me.”
He laughed…and for the first time in a long time, it sounded genuine. One of those laughs that never failed to make her smile. His eyes glistened lightly as he looked into hers.
“Sometimes, when something goes awry…I wish that I could go back and make a different decision – something that would change the outcome. This is one of those times.”
“Well, not this as in right this moment…but, this as in a few months ago.”
“I regret the decision to lock my concerns away…even if it was an effort to protect you. I caused us so much pain and turmoil…for no good reason. I nearly destroyed everything we have…everything we are…because you were late and I didn’t wait for an explanation. And…I’m sorry for that. I’m so sorry, Buffy.”
“Well, you know it’s bad when I’m willingly teaming up with Ethan to figure something out.”
“I think you like him more than you let on…”
She smiled, lifting her hand to run her fingers through his hair. “Don’t tell him that. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“He’s somewhat endearing…when he’s not being a complete horse’s arse.”
Buffy laughed before leaning into him and brushing her lips across his. When she pulled back, she looked into his eyes and sighed.
“Don’t be sorry, Giles. Let’s just…not go there again, okay? If you’re concerned about something I’ve done, or not done, or should be doing…fucking talk to me about it, yeah? We can work through it, no matter how bad you think it’s going to get.”
Giles nodded slowly, gliding his thumb along her jawline. “What was your theory?”
“In the car…you said you had a theory. What was it?”
“I thought you were mad because I’d taken on three Jakolytes on my own. Because you’ve told me more than once to call it in, wait for backup – you know, the whole ‘there’s no longer the need or expectation for you to do this on your own’ speech that you’ve given me? I thought maybe…you had gotten so angry over that that you pushed it down, covered it up…but still had some sense of frustration with me lingering. Or…something…”
“Not a bad theory.” Giles said softly.
“But a wrong theory.”
“Plausible, though.” Giles corrected. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“Just don’t do it again. Not like that.” She replied with a smile. “Are you hungry?”
He tilted his head slightly, considering her seemingly oddly-timed question. “I am, actually.”
Buffy snorted a laugh and placed a quick kiss on his lips. “Don’t act so surprised. You’ve barely eaten since this whole thing started.”
Giles watched her as she slid off the bed and walked towards the door. She paused and looked back at him when he didn’t make an effort to follow her.
He nodded slowly, looking into her eyes. “Can we stay here for a few days?”
“You heard Ethan. He said we could stay for as long as we wanted.”
“Yeah, but…I’m asking you. Can we stay for a few days?”
A slow smile appeared on her face as she understood his meaning. “Yeah, we can.”
Her smile faded as Giles grimaced when getting out of the bed. “Hey, you okay?”
“You keep asking that.” He said, sliding his right hand across his body to rest over his ribs.
“You keep doing things that are going to make me ask. Getting lost in thought, showing obvious signs of pain…I’m going to ask, Giles.” She walked over to him, carefully pulling his hand away and replacing it with her own. “Did it cause more pain?”
He shook his head slowly. “No, it just feels…odd.”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been that scared of losing you before.”
“I’m not sure you’ve ever been that close to losing me before.” He replied, lifting his hand to the side of her face when her eyes filled with tears. “But, you didn’t. We’re here now…no secrets, no compartments. Let’s have something to eat, talk…regroup. It feels like it’s been months since we’ve really talked.”
“It has been.” She whispered, tears spilling over her eyelashes. “And we were having discussions back then that I’m not sure if you want to continue…”
He took a deep breath, doing his best to hold back his own tears. “I still want everything, Buffy.”
He nodded, giving her a smile as his best turned out to not be good enough and a tear escaped the corner of his eye. “Everything.”
“I’ve missed you so much.”
He pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly against his chest. “I’ve missed being me…having you. Christ, I love you, Buffy.”
“I love you too.” She whispered, sniffling against him.
As he held her, he knew that as much as he wanted everything…he’d give her everything. And as he held her, she knew that she already had everything she wanted.
She had him back.
Everything else was just a bonus.