Title: Step One
Timeline: The day following the events of Downpour.
Synopsis: Can Buffy and Giles find a way to heal?
Author’s Note: Special thanks to A again for looking over this fic for me.
Buffy smiled softly as Giles placed a mug of coffee in front of her. “You seem…better…this morning.”
“It’s, uh…” He gestured towards the window. “No downpour.”
He cleared his throat as she blew across the top of the mug. “I actually thought that last night was a dream.” He took a sip of his tea when she looked up at him. “You being here. And then I went out to get the paper this morning…and your car was in the driveway, and…um…”
She tilted her head as he trailed off. “And…what?”
“I…had a panic attack.” He chuckled nervously and sat down across the table from her.
“Funny thing is…” He continued, staring at his cup of tea. “My first instinct was to call you.”
“I’m surprised you still have my number.”
“You’re still number one in my speed dial.” He replied softly.
Not really knowing what to say, she looked over into the living room. “You cleaned up?”
“Hm?” He looked up and followed her gaze. “Ah, yes. Well…glass on hardwood floors…not ideal.”
“We should probably talk about that, huh?” She said, turning her eyes back to him. “The alcohol…problem…you have going on?”
“There’s no…” He sighed and reached up, carefully removing his glasses and placing them on the table. “I’m not an alcoholic, Buffy.”
He rubbed the back of his neck as she stared at him, disbelief showing in her eyes. “At worst…there’s an issue with situational alcoholism…”
“Situ –” She shook her head. “Giles, that’s not even a thing. Situational alcoholism?”
“I beg to differ, Buffy.” He replied. “I don’t want a drink right now.”
“It’s nine o’clock in the morning!” She stated, her tone bordering on frustration.
“Yes…and in times of my issues arising…” He answered carefully. “I have scotch with my toast for breakfast. And here I am…drinking tea. And I’m quite okay with that.”
She was quiet for a few seconds, fingers idly rubbing the handle on her coffee mug. He watched her silently, waiting for her to continue.
“Drinking and driving? Since when is that a thing for you?”
He furrowed his brow. “Never. I don’t.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “Last night, you were going to.”
“No…I was going out. We do have cabs here, Buffy.”
“You were taking your keys…” She offered, confusion in her voice.
“Yes. My house keys are on the same ring…”
She opened her mouth, then closed it slowly, obviously picking through the thoughts in her head. She leaned forward slightly and looked into his eyes.
“But…you gave me your keys, so you wouldn’t drive?”
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I…I gave you my keys because you asked for them. Um…I rather think that perhaps I didn’t really want to…go…”
“Where were you going?” She asked softly, in a tone that held more uncertainty than she was comfortable with.
He regarded her carefully, knowing that there were two roads he could take at this point. One had elements of gentleness. The other…decidedly did not.
“I…uh…obviously I haven’t been dealing with our situation very well, Buffy. The pain doesn’t go away, but for a brief moment in time…I can push it aside.” He shook his head sadly. “It’s not something I’m proud of.”
“So…you go out, bring someone back, and – ”
“No.” He interrupted swiftly. “I don’t bring…not here. Never here.”
“Oh…” She placed her finger on the handle of her mug and turned it around absently. “How many have there been?”
“I don’t know.” He answered truthfully.
“I don’t remember their faces. I probably don’t even get their names half the time. And if I do, I certainly don’t remember them a few hours later.” He swallowed, watching her eyes dart away from him. “It’s not about anything more than – ”
“We probably shouldn’t talk about this anymore right now.” She said on a whisper and glanced back at him. “Is that okay?”
He nodded slowly. “Of course, Buffy. It’s not something I’m particularly wanting to discuss…”
“Good.” She answered quickly, taking a sip of coffee.
He glanced at his watch and pushed his chair back. She watched him as he walked into the kitchen, opening a cupboard and pulling down two medicine bottles.
“What’s that?” She asked as he popped the lid on one.
He smiled as he shook out four tablets from the bottle. “Ibuprofen. Because situational alcoholism still causes headaches.”
She chuckled softly and gestured towards the second bottle. “And that one?”
When he hesitated in answering her, she bit her lip and then asked a question she wasn’t really sure she wanted to hear the answer to.
Hearing the tone in her voice, he turned to look at her. “No. Well…not really.”
“What does that even mean?” She asked, her concern clearly showing in her eyes.
He picked up the bottle and walked back to the table, handing it to her as he sat back down. “Apparently, I have…issues…”
“Issues?” She read the label and then met his eyes. “Depression?”
“You know…when the high school blew up, I went through a fairly deep depression then.”
She nodded, handing the bottle back to him. “Yeah, but that was situational.”
She rolled her eyes as a smirk appeared on his face. “Situational depression is a thing, Giles.”
“According to a couple of medical professionals, I don’t…cope.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “No shit.”
He shrugged lightly and shook a tablet out, swallowing it dry.
“Do they work? I mean, are they helping?”
“Considering last night, I’d say…no, not really. However…” He offered a smile, replacing the lid and sliding the bottle away from him. “I can’t actually say that I’ve been taking them properly.”
His smile faded. “Because it rains here…a fair bit. And…those and alcohol aren’t to be taken together.”
“Situational alcoholism trumps depression?” She asked seriously, shaking her head when he met her eyes. “And you don’t see the problem here?”
“I see all sorts of problems.” He replied softly, lifting his cup to his lips and grimacing when he took a sip of the lukewarm liquid.
It took Buffy less than half a second to notice the tremble in his hand.
“What’s wrong? Your hand is trembling. Withdrawal? Or – ”
“Withdrawal?” He narrowed his eyes as he lowered his cup. “Bloody hell, Buffy…how many times do I have to tell you – ”
“Then what’s wrong?” She repeated, frustration in her voice.
He stood up and walked into the kitchen, pouring the rest of his now cool tea into the sink. She followed him and leaned against the refrigerator, crossing her arms as she stared at him.
“Giles, what’s – ”
“It’s been two years since you’ve been in my home.” He interrupted, turning to face her. “And I’m doing everything in my power not to…touch...you.”
He sighed heavily when her eyes widened slightly. “Hug you…not…touch you. For years after Sunnydale, whenever you’d walk into my home…or my office…or if we ran into each other on the street…we’d hug. And…we haven’t, even though you’re here now.”
She pushed herself from the refrigerator and took a step towards him. He shook his head quickly and stepped to the side, walking past her.
“I’m sure it’s some sense-memory…thing. It’ll work its way out. Nothing to concern yourself over.”
Confusion shone in her eyes at his sudden change of demeanor. “Giles, what the hell?”
“What exactly do you want me to say, Buffy?” He asked, exasperation in his words.
“How did this escalate so quickly?” She asked gently.
He shrugged his shoulders silently, obviously at a loss for words. She moved to stand in front of him and raised her right hand. He shook his head and took a step back, bumping into the lamp table next to the sofa.
As she lowered her hand, he noticed the flash of sadness in her eyes.
“It’s not that I don’t want to hug you, Buffy. It’s…it’s more that I just…can’t. It’s been too long…and it’s too soon and – ”
“Too soon for a hug?” She asked, searching for any bit of information that might clear up her confusion. “Is this about you not wanting to forgive me?”
His eyes narrowed slightly. “What? No. I don’t want to stay angry and upset with you. But, it’s also not as if one hug will just make that anger and pain magically disappear.”
“But, what if it starts to help us…heal?”
He licked his dry lips and shook his head. “But, what if it hurts more?”
Understanding finally hit her. “Giles, I’m not here to hurt you.”
“You never are.” He whispered sadly, turning and walking towards the back door…pausing briefly to pick up the pack of cigarettes from the desk in the corner.
She stood motionless as he walked outside and softly closed the door behind him. She felt as if she’d just been punched in the stomach, those three softly spoken words ripping into her heart. She watched him through the window, watched his hand tremble as he lit his cigarette, watched as he closed his eyes against the sun.
She fought the urge to follow him, to go to him. It was obvious that he needed to take a moment to himself. And if she were being honest, she probably needed a moment to herself as well. She blew out a breath and walked down the hall towards the guest room.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
She was in the middle of making the bed when she suddenly stopped and stared at the headboard. She had been so tired when she’d gone to bed the previous night that she hadn’t noticed. She sat down on the mattress and ran her fingers along the smooth wood, stopping at the fourth spindle. She sighed softly, fingertips grazing over the small indentations in the wood.
Indentations that her nails had caused two years ago.
Giles leaned against the doorframe, hands in his pockets as he watched her. “I switched the beds.”
Buffy jumped and turned towards the door, clearly startled by his soft voice. “Shit, you scared me…”
“Sorry.” He offered a gentle smile and stepped into the room, leaning against the wall next to the light switch. “I nearly took a sledgehammer to it.”
“The bed.” He exhaled slowly. “I was going to completely demolish it.”
“But, you…changed your mind?” She asked, staring into his eyes.
“Not exactly.” He gave a quick chuckle and shook his head. “I was…somewhat intoxicated. Missed the bed, smashed a hole in the wall instead.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Somewhat intoxicated?”
“Or blind drunk, however you want to look at it.” He pushed himself from the wall and moved towards the chest of drawers. “Figured it’d be…less destructive to just switch the bed with the one in here. So…I did.”
“It’s just furniture…”
He nodded slowly and gestured towards the headboard. “That’s why you were so preoccupied with the nail marks, yes? Because…it’s just furniture?”
When she lowered her gaze and didn’t respond, he cleared his throat. “That’s why it’s in the guest room now.”
She looked up after a few seconds, just in time to see him silently leave the room. She shook her head, frustrated with herself.
“Just furniture…” She whispered to herself. “Jesus, Buffy…”
She took a few minutes to compose herself before standing up. She took a deep breath and ran her fingers through her hair, exhaling slowly and deliberately. When she felt like she could see him without bursting into tears, she left the room and closed the door behind her.
She found him relatively quickly. In the kitchen, leaning against the counter, staring at the kettle.
“Hm?” He murmured, continuing to stare at the kettle.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for the kettle to boil.” He answered, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I, uh…I really messed a lot of things up, didn’t I?” She hesitated for a second before continuing. “I mean, your…head. I really messed it up.”
He slowly turned his head to look at her. “You are not to blame for the status of my mental health, Buffy. I dealt with the situation badly…or not at all, I’m not sure which. Don’t put this on your shoulders.”
She tilted her head slightly, waiting for him to continue.
“You asked me last night who I was really angry at – you or myself.” He moved towards the kettle as it came to the boil and pulled two mugs from the top cupboard. “I’m fairly certain that most of the anger I hold is directed towards myself.”
He continued to speak as he went through the motions of making tea.
“The pain…well, while caused by you originally, I’ve made it exponentially worse by being unable to let it go and move on. And that infuriates me – because...I should have known better. A Watcher should never fall – ”
“Fall?” Buffy whispered, shock clearly sounding in her voice.
“Fucking hell.” Giles muttered, closing his eyes briefly.
He coughed gently and then continued. “Falling into bed with you was...”
“Wrong?” She quietly supplied when he trailed off.
“Amazing, I was going to say.” He replied softly, sliding one of the mugs along the counter towards her. “But, I shouldn’t have. I was careless…or foolish…or arrogant enough to think I could handle it.”
He glanced at her briefly, lifting his mug to his lips. “Obviously, I couldn’t handle it.”
For a few moments, the only sound in the house was the gentle tick-tock of the clock in the living room. Buffy finally broke the silence, knowing there was no need to dance around the question in her head.
“How long have you loved me?”
He hesitated for just a moment, debating on whether to stall the answer with the explanation of there had always been some type of love for her in his heart…as evidenced by Quentin Travers on her eighteenth birthday. But, he quickly came to the conclusion that there was no point in that. That wasn’t what she was asking.
“Since you died.” He replied, a succinctness to his admission that surprised even himself.
A soft smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. But there was a sadness in his eyes as he looked at her.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked softly.
He took a long sip of his tea and sighed. “It wasn’t me you needed when you came back, Buffy.”
“Maybe you would’ve saved me…”
He shook his head slowly. “It would have pushed you further into the darkness. Further into…him.”
“You don’t know that.” She replied, narrowing her eyes slightly. “You can't know that.”
He placed his mug on the counter and lifted his left hand, gently pinching the bridge of his nose. “Well…we’ll never know, will we? At the end of the day, I didn’t tell you – which is probably a blessing, considering I wasn’t strong enough to handle it when we did briefly come together.”
“You’re the strongest person I know, Giles.”
“Only in the sunlight.” He responded softly. “And even then…I’m not as strong as I once was.”
She watched him as he flexed his hands, shaking them gently in an attempt to stop the trembling that had suddenly returned. Taking a tentative step towards him, she waited until he looked at her.
“Giles, can you just…can we just hug each other?”
The muscles in his jaw tightened and released. He turned away from her quickly, shaking his head. “Buffy, I…can’t.”
“Why?” She whispered, taking another step towards him.
“Because…” He stared out the kitchen window and took a shaky breath. “I’m frightened.”
“I am too.” She admitted quietly. “But…we can’t stay where we are, Giles.”
“I know.” He closed his eyes, keenly aware that she was moving closer to him. “I just…don’t know where we go from here.”
“Is that a decision we have to make right this second?” She lifted her hand, pausing when she noticed the muscles in his back tense. Lowering her hand, she moved to his side and looked up at him. “Giles, I’m asking for nothing more than to hug you. I’ll respect your decision if you say no, and I’m not going to push you. But…I honestly believe that if we don’t at least try…”
“We’ll be irreparably…broken.” He finished for her softly, opening his eyes and looking down at her. “Seems we’re at a crossroads, as such.”
She could see everything in his eyes – anger, pain, resentment, fear…love. “I’m sorry that the noise in my head…and heart…was too loud for me to hear you.”
She offered him an understanding smile as he furrowed his brow, a silent question in his eyes. “I never meant for any of this to happen, Giles.” She continued quickly when she realised that her statement could be easily misconstrued. “Except for making love with you. That, I meant.”
“We can’t just turn the clock back two years, Buffy. That can’t be what this is about.”
“It’s not.” She lifted her right hand slowly, not bothering to hide the tremor in her fingers as she gently touched his chest. “It’s about taking that first step towards…healing. Because we both have a lot of healing we need to get through.”
His breath shuddered and a tear slipped down his cheek as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to his chest. “I can’t do this on my own anymore, Buffy.”
“Me neither.” She whispered, her own tears soaking into his shirt. She wrapped her arms around him, holding on to him tightly. “I’m so sorry, Giles.”
He nodded, not trusting his words to come out as anything intelligible, and tightened his hold on her. She felt his arms tremble against her and she gently rubbed his back.
“Baby steps, Giles. I’m good with that.” She whispered, knowing that he’d have no trouble hearing her. “What we’re working towards is too important for a marathon.”
He cleared his throat softly. “Yes.”
Long minutes passed before they each reluctantly released their grip on one another. She offered him a gentle smile as he quickly wiped his eyes and took a step backwards, reaching for his mug of tea on the counter behind him.
He sighed heavily, another cup of tea too cold to drink. “Damn…”
She chuckled quietly and moved forwards, reaching around him to flick the switch on the kettle. “I think we’re wasting more tea than drinking…”
He answered her chuckle with one of his own and emptied his mug into the sink. He turned slowly and met her eyes again.
“Why did you leave?”
“Buffy, please…why did you leave?” He asked again, a tinge of urgency in his tone.
“Because…” She looked up at him and exhaled deeply. “I was afraid to stay.”
“Why on earth would you have been afraid to stay? I don’t underst – ”
“It wasn’t ‘nothing’ to me…” She interrupted, crossing her arms over her chest. “It was very much something to me. But, how could it have been anything to you…anything more than what it was?”
Confusion shone in his green eyes. “But…I loved you then.”
“I loved you more.” She admitted, glancing at the kettle as the water began to boil. “But, the only reason anything happened was because I kissed you. If I hadn’t kissed you, you wouldn’t have taken that step…so it couldn’t have possibly been anything more than opportunity.”
“What?” He asked, genuinely confused.
She shrugged a shoulder and looked up at him. “Buffy logic.”
“Flawed logic.” Giles replied, reaching up to brush a strand of hair from her face. “Very…flawed.”
“Yeah, well…” She chuckled sadly and stepped away from him to retrieve her mug. “My track record’s never been great, so…yeah.”
She emptied her mug into the sink and handed it to him. “Could you make me another one too, please?”
He nodded slowly. “Of course, Buffy.”
He turned, pulling down the jar of tea from the shelf. “Your…pain…has been deep, as well?”
Hearing her pause, he turned to look at her. He hesitated for a moment, unsure of how to ask the question that just went through his mind.
“How are your coping mechanisms?”
She laughed. A genuine laugh that reached her eyes.
“Better than yours.”
“I’ve missed you.” He whispered, not surprised when her laughter came to an abrupt halt. “I’ve missed this…us…”
“I’ve missed you too.” She reached out and placed her hand on his forearm. “We’re here. We just need time to heal, a bit of understanding…and a lot of open communication. We can do this, Giles. We’ve come back from the brink before, but we have to let go of the anger, the pain…”
He regarded her carefully when she trailed off, her hand slipping from his arm. “Buffy?”
“Do you really regret it?”
“I…” He shook his head slowly. “I regret the aftermath. I regret what I’ve done since. Do I regret what happened with us? The night itself? No. I’ve tried to regret it. But, no…no, I don’t.”
They fell into silence as he prepared their tea…again. And for the first time in two years, they both felt a sense of peace that had been alluding them. Both of them knew that they had a very long way to go in this process, but they had each felt the shift in the re-awakening of their bond.
All was not lost. They just needed to find their paths back to one another.
Return to Fic Index