Transformations - Chapter 6

"So, Giles," Buffy said, standing just inside the doorway as he shut the door behind her. A sudden wave of shyness washed over her, something she hadn't experienced since the first time she'd come back to him after running away.

Knocking on his door that night had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done. She'd rather have gone off and staked a hundred vamps instead, but when she looked up into his face, all she'd seen was tenderness and understanding. She'd wanted to cry with sheer relief, and Giles--he hid stuff well, and he hadn't let anything show in front of the others--but when he'd gone into the kitchen and taken a little too long making tea, it came to her that he wasn't really waiting for the tea leaves to steep, he was standing behind the cupboards trying to suck back his own tears. They were all gone by the time he'd returned, but she could tell. Funny thing was, when she took time to look, she could always tell.

"Buffy," he said, in a soft voice, welcoming, but giving nothing away. "I didn't expect you. Everything went well with your patrol?"

"Two little ones for the Slayer, one great big one for the Watcher. She's pretty amazing, your friend."

Giles stepped away from the door. She realized, all at once, how he was dressed: button-fly Levis, a blue polo shirt, boots. Of course, he'd been trying to deal with the boxes, and even Giles would hardly do that in a suit and tie--but the knowledge suddenly hit her that it had been him she'd seen, at the ruins of the library, yesterday and today. She'd been waiting for Giles, and seen what she thought was a stranger, and...ohmigod...checked him out. Buffy put hand over her mouth, trying to hold back a giggle. She'd checked out her Watcher, just like a guy.

He looked alarmed. "Buffy, are you all right?"

"Yeah. Thank you for asking. I'm fine."

"Would you like to--" He waved a hand, vaguely, toward the couch, backed up against its looming cliff of boxes. "Does your mother know where you are?"

"Mom's out of town again. And, umn, I'm not sleepy. But maybe you are. So I should go. I guess." But instead she came all the way inside and sat cross-legged on his sofa. "You know, we are in California. If there's so much as a little bitty earthquake, anyone sitting here would be toast."

"Toast?" Giles wondered, sitting next to her. Not way over at the other end, as he had earlier when Moira was there, but right up close, so that when she moved even slightly, her knee brushed his thigh.

"You know: 'Ex-librarian and Recent SHS Grad Found Crushed. Coroner says, 'I blame the occult.'"

Giles pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

"You are tired," Buffy said. "I should go."

"No, not at all. In fact," he continued, in a sudden burst of chattiness, "I'm a little keyed up. Everything's starting to sink in, I suppose, but I feel, at times, that I've nearly retreated to my own version of 'Fire bad, tree pretty.' You, however, seem to be making progress."

"I'm doing okay. I slept, I talked to Will. I had breakfast with the guys at four p.m. I slept more, ate waffles, went looking for you."

He smiled a little. "And found me. Here."

"After a lot of looking, Mister. And what? You don't return my calls?"

He shrugged. "I must confess: I've been remiss in checking the machine."

"No kidding. Actually, I saw you at the library yesterday--and this afternoon, I just didn't know it." She touched his denim-clad leg, letting her hand rest there, halfway up his thigh. "Kind of a different look for you, Giles."

Giles stared down at her hand, but she didn't move it. "Yes. Well."

"I have to tell you, I had a visit from the big green-eyed monster tonight."

"Really?" He sat up straighter. "Can you describe..." His voice trailed away. "Again, too long on the Hellmouth. This would be a metaphorical monster, wouldn't it? Also known" Giles shifted away from her touch. "So, Angel's returned after all."

"God, I hope not. `Cause I sure don't want to go through yet another episode of My So-called Angsty Life."

Giles's eyes flashed at her--green, but in no way monstrous. He got what she was trying to say, all right, but didn't trust that he got it. Buffy decided to back off for a little, move onto another topic.

"So, you've known her a long time? Moira, I mean."

"Nearly all my life. Since we were--ah--younger than you."

Ouch. She didn't want him thinking about her age. "I thought you went to one of those all-guy boarding school places."

"And so I did."

"Then when did you meet?"

"Buffy." He turned to her, a slight flash of something like irritation in his eyes. "It's rather personal."

"Oh, great, so it's all right for you to know every little thing about my life, but every time I want to know the smallest bit about you, it's personal? What's next, break out the scotch? Lost weekend? Can I join you?"

Giles rose and walked away from her, looking like he would have gone straight to the window if a dozen or so boxes hadn't been in the way. Instead he prowled around the perimeter of the room, looking more like Ripper than Rupert, but not exactly like either. "When you ran away, last summer, Buffy," he said at last, in his measured, familiar Giles tone, "I worried for you terribly, because I know first-hand what can happen to children on the streets. Children alone are so vulnerable, not only physically--your Slayer abilities would protect you from that--but emotionally, spiritually, if you will. Children are meant to have people who love them, to have family and friends. All the things I was ordered to deny you, but could not. Alone, one develops an armor, a shell, a hardness that lets nothing real out, and nothing in."

First-hand? Buffy wasn't sure what he was talking about, and couldn't think what to say, but at last she got up and put the kettle on for tea. Giles glanced at her, intensely, one of his unreadable looks.

"Ah, yes, the universal remedy." He waited until the tea was brewing to continue. "I told you--oh, years ago now--of my father's tiresome speech, how I'd wanted, at ten years of age, to be a fighter pilot, or a grocer?"

"But he said you had to be a Watcher instead." Buffy grinned. "Though I can just see you, cross-referencing the groceries." She put the teapot with two cups on a tray, and added a little pitcher of milk. She was learning to drink hers without sugar, because Giles grimaced every time she spooned it in. Sweet tea gave him a wiggins.

"Yes, I was to be a Watcher." He used his feet to shove a box or two aside, and made it to the window after all. "But my father barely lived six months beyond that day. He died trying to protect his Slayer, during Cruciamentum, and my sisters--um--died as well. My mother remarried shortly after." Giles pulled open the heavy curtains, leaning his hands against the glass. Buffy could see him reflected darkly on the pane. "With my father's...ah...death, and events that followed..." He got quiet for a long time, so long it made Buffy nervous. "Over the next four years, my life changed. Very much so. Moira comes out of that time. Like you, she was a very stubborn and self-reliant girl."

"Aw, I'm not that stubborn," Buffy said.

"Aren't you?" Giles left the window and started prowling again. He really was in a funny mood, and it wasn't just the clothes--it was like he'd all of a sudden started to shed concealing layers of Gilesness, so that Buffy couldn't predict anymore what he'd say or do. Even the way he paced--well, he often walked around the edges of their circle, if he was upset, or thinking deeply, or feeling protective. She wasn't exactly sure how this differed, since she knew it wasn't Ripper she was seeing--but then again it sure wasn't Mr. Tweed either, the guy she'd referred to as stuffy more times than she could count.

Instead, this was the man who, quicker than thought, picked up a foil and drove it straight through Dick Wilkins's chest, a bare second after the creepy mayor dared to threaten her. Buffy knew she couldn't have made that particular move faster herself, and the whole thing had given her a weird feeling--excited, scared, and something else, too, something that came from a place she wasn't sure she wanted to go. It made her feel like the sweet, bumbling, not-too-thrilling Giles she'd taken for granted had been gone for a while, and for some reason--maybe an Angel reason--she just hadn't noticed.

"I wish you'd sit down," Buffy told him. "Your tea's gonna get cold."

"Tea," Giles repeated, an odd expression on his face.

"C'mon," Buffy teased. "You know you want it." She held up his cup. "Tea junkie."

Giles gave one of his completely soundless laughs, and dropped down onto the couch, again so close it surprised her.

"Hey," she joked, "What happened to Mr. Don't Stand So Close to Me?"

"Did you want me to move?"

Buffy looked into his eyes: weirdly, the irises looked like polished steel. "Nah, just...wondering."

"I'm no longer either your Watcher or a faculty member at your school. I'm merely--" His eyes flashed at her and the look so unnerved Buffy her hands jerked and she spilled tea all over his lap. Despite her earlier words, the liquid was still pretty close to boiling hot, and the sudden contact with his skin caused Giles to make assorted sounds of pain and consternation.

Buffy grabbed a wad of napkins and started to pat him dry, then realized where her hands were and began to laugh instead.

"It's not funny," Giles said in an aggrieved tone.

"No," she answered, choking back giggles. "Are you okay?"

"Except for the third degree burns? I'll live." Giles got to his feet. "I'm going to change." He climbed the stairs, obviously trying his best to hold onto his dignity.

When he'd gone, Buffy continued to clean up, giggling all the while. Okay, now, in addition to checking out her Watcher, the guy who supposedly had 'a father's love' for her, she'd scalded some very sensitive areas, then groped him for a chaser. She hoped he wasn't upstairs right now, dying of embarrassment. She had to fight the urge to go knock on his bedroom door.

The unnerving thing she'd seen in his eyes, though, hadn't been a father's love.

Giles returned without her hearing, dressed in the same softly-pleated charcoal slacks and sweater he'd worn the day of the foil incident. He was the only person Buffy had ever known who actually looked good in gray. Cautiously, he sat beside her once more.

"Ooh, you did get burned, didn't you? I'm really, really sorry."

To her surprise, he began to smile, and then to laugh, silently--but Buffy thought his eyes still looked sad, and suddenly she couldn't remember when they hadn't. Even at the prom, all grins, proud as he was of her, his eyes had looked like winter.

"That nearly sounded like a heartfelt apology," Giles said.

She wasn't sure what to say to that, but at last came up with, "Was that a joke? `Cause, speaking of things sounding like, it didn't."

"No." Giles looked away from her. "No, it was not. An observation, at most."

"You are in a funny mood."

"No," Giles repeated. "That I am not." He pulled the sweater over his head, revealing the gray t-shirt underneath, then leaned back into the corner of his couch, arms crossed tightly and defensively over his chest. "I'm just a bit..."

Buffy waited for him to go on, but he didn't. His shoulders got tighter, and his eyes sadder, but he didn't say a word.

After a while, Buffy couldn't stand it. "You're tired. I can tell. I really should go." She got to her feet.

"No. Please." His hand, large and strong, curled around her wrist. His eyes, again, flashed up at her.

"You know I could break free any time I liked," she said. "You can't hold me."

The hand snapped away from Buffy's wrist as if she'd burned him again. His whole body turned, facing the mountain of books instead of her.

Uh-oh, Buffy thought. "Giles, that was a joke. C'mon." She rested a hand on his shoulder, feeling the knotted muscles through the soft brushed-cotton of his shirt. "Whoa, you really are the tensest guy on earth."

"I know I can't hold you," he said, in the same quiet voice he'd used before. The six simple words held so much meaning it made her dizzy all over again.

"I don't know what's going on," she confessed. "I don't know what you're trying to say to me. Giles, you're way, way smarter than I am, and you know I can't keep up with you."

"You aren't stupid," he answered, "And you aren't a child."

Buffy surprised herself when she sat down behind him again, wrapping her arms around his chest, leaning her cheek against the hard broadness of his back. She'd done the same thing with Angel, many times, and felt nothing, smelled nothing but a faint, bitter absence of scent, a coolness that reminded her of ice, masked by the fragrance of the vampire's cologne. Angel had been very still, no heartbeat, no breath, only a smooth, chill expanse of skin beneath the silk of his shirt, sensual, yet always, in some way, vaguely disappointing.

Giles's back rose and fell as he breathed, his muscles made small random movements, adjusting to her weight, and his heart beat faster than she expected, a strong steady rhythm, but with little missed beats now and then. She didn't know if it was supposed to do that or not. The heat made his skin smell salty and male--whatever that meant: it was a little like the smell after a fire dies down, something warm anyway, nothing at all like ice. He smelled very clean as well, as if he'd showered just before her return, but hadn't gone to bed afterward. It came to her that Giles actually had waited up for her; he knew her so well that he'd suspected she'd come back.

She ran her cheek over the curve of muscle that defined his shoulder, her chin lightly down the hollow over his spine. She could feel his hand drift over her crossed arms, barely touching her skin.

"Oh, Buffy," he said at last, with his voice full of regret and pain, the vibration of it flowing through her, making her shiver.

"Is Moira here to take you away from me?" she whispered at last. "You told Cordy and Xander that I don't need a Watcher. Are you going home?"

"I can't take this anymore," he said, answering her question--or maybe not. She didn't know what the "this" referred to, and she wanted him to explain, but he didn't say another word.

After awhile, leaning against him, she started to feel sleepy, her eyelids heavy, and Giles turned back to her at last, so that her head lay against his chest. His hand stroked over her hair, his fingertips very lightly traced the contours of her face. Buffy hardly woke when he lifted her, and carried her up the stairs to his bed. The sheets felt very crisp, as if they'd actually been ironed, and his hands incredibly gentle as he untied her shoes and slipped them from her feet.

The comfort and the gentleness reminded her of when she'd been a kid, and her dad tucked her into bed--but only a little. This felt different, and Giles wasn't her dad. She didn't want him to be her dad. Not as a surrogate father. Not as her mom's boyfriend. Not at all.

After he'd folded up the top sheet to cover her, and the light comforter too, Giles did a surprising thing: again, his fingers touched her hair, and his body bent low over her. She could feel the weight of him above her, his masculine strength, the shadow of him blocking out the dim light from downstairs. He stooped lower, and kissed her--not on the forehead, or the cheek, the way he never had but she might have expected--but softly on her parted lips. She felt his breath, the velvet of his mouth against hers.

Buffy opened her eyes, looking up at him, suddenly able to read his face perfectly. She thought for a moment of reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck, to pull him so deep into the kiss he couldn't break away.

She missed her chance. Suddenly, he'd gone.

Buffy watched his shadow flicker away, wanting to call him back. She needed him to explain what the kiss meant, the way he always explained things, but that wouldn't have been right: she knew; she didn't really have to ask him.

She'd captured, heart and soul, a proud, solitary, brave, passionate, tender man. A living, breathing man, not a two hundred-plus year old undead creature with whom she could never, never be happy, and to whom she must never, on the pain of a whole lot of deaths, make love.

She'd loved her demon, and time and again, had pushed that big, ugly fact in Giles's face. She'd been willing to die for her Angel and, being herself, had made a huge big deal of it. No wonder Giles wanted to go back home. No wonder he said he couldn't take any more. She'd captured him, meaning to or not, and like most captured things that aren't taken care of right, he wasn't doing well.

The way she saw it, she had two choices: she could fight his leaving, or send him home with love. If she intended to fight, then she needed to figure out why, and if the reasons were only selfishness and her own convenience, then shame on her--better and fairer to let him go. If she fought because of the other thing, though, the thing she kept thinking around and around the edges of, then...

Then she needed to let him know. If she figured out that the other thing meant what she thought it meant, she needed to make Giles believe it, and not to think he was just her rebound-guy, a second-best to Angel, someone to lean on because she could always ask that much of him and Giles would never say no.

God, she thought, almost laughing, What would Willow say? She should get that printed on a t-shirt, like the religious kids with their WWJD shirts.

Her mom would wig, Buffy knew that, and probably Xander too. But what would Willow say, if Buffy told her she thought she was falling for Giles? That Giles was too old? Angel had a bicentennial on him. Giles wasn't her Watcher, he didn't work for her school. She'd never, if she made it to a hundred, find a man who understood or loved her more. She'd never find a man who'd treat her better. For all the semi-tacky and downright inconsiderate things she'd said and done to him, Giles had only really hurt her that one time--the thought pulled her up cold, the way it always did. That one time had been a big one.

While they'd walked and talked, though, Moira had told her about Cruciamentum, the test that had almost broken them. Moira said that refusal to administer the drugs was grounds for instant dismissal, and that the Council taped the whole ordeal. Buffy knew that they'd had cameras at the boarding house, and at both her and Giles's places, and in the library too. Giles had known about them, and known, too, that the moment he'd told her the truth he'd been doomed. Buffy had blushed, thinking again of the things she'd said, and that Moira and Travers and all the old gray men (Moira's words) had heard them as well. "One wants to think of us as the white hats," the older woman had told her. "As the forces of good. But we aren't, you know, and I should watch my step very carefully from this point on."

Lying there, though, she felt safe. Worn out by her thoughts, Buffy shut her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The thought of Buffy upstairs in his bed tormented him, taking away from Giles the slightest possibility for peaceful rest of his own. He paced, traveling back and forth amongst the mounded cartons, her name repeating over and over in his head.

Dear God, he'd thought she'd been asleep when he kissed her--that she wouldn't know. What on earth had possessed him? To do such a thing without regard for consequences--to commit the sort of act that ought to belong to Ripper alone. Thoughtless, thoughtless. These emotions, though, that troubled him were not Ripper's. They were his own, and they made him nearly desperate. It hardly mattered that the kiss had been gentle, and kind.

He loved her as he'd only once loved before, his love magnifying her beauty, her warmth, her strength--and that, in itself, created danger. How could he love her in such a way and yet allow room for Buffy's own feelings? He'd no right to pursue her just now, especially just now, emotionally vulnerable as she was. He'd no right to destroy the real affection that lay between them in pursuit of what might well amount to nothing but a dream. And what right had he to love anyway?

His blood called to the darkness. Buffy had never known, and he hadn't been able to think of a way to tell her--it wasn't the Hellmouth alone that summoned evil things to this place, but something inside him as well. That ability, or curse, existed in all the old Watcher family lines, whatever idiots like Travers might think, and strongest of all in those that called themselves Giles. Each repetition of his name reminded Giles what he must be, and what he must do--never become complacent, never release his control. Evil lay around many corners, waiting to devour all he loved most. He may have long since put Ripper to rest, but the violence and the Wild Magic lay only shallowly beneath his skin, and the potential for both existed in each second, waking or asleep.

Randall had been lovely, and loving, innocent and good, and the evil had taken him from the inside out, until he could not be saved. Giles had spent time with Moira, and they'd given each other what passed for love, but they were too alike, and too aware of their likeness, to surrender everything in the way they both craved. Eva he'd loved once, sweetly and blindly, in a few months of weakness that could not help but end badly--at least he'd left her bitter but alive, safe in another country. Jenny, who'd seemed so balanced and secure, had died in darkness and fear, evil drawn to her both by her own deeds and the traces of himself he'd left like some phosphorescent dye upon her skin. Giles would never know precisely how much for her death he was to blame, but blame could never, truly, be weighed and measured--any small bit must be equal to the whole.

That night Buffy touched him as she so rarely had before, and both the physical contact and the accompanying emotions had gone through him like flaming arrows--like the arrows that had killed so many vampires on Graduation Day, or those numerous darts that were said to have pierced the skin of St. Sebastian, for whom he'd been given his Confirmation name.

These past months, Buffy had tasted deeply of the more bitter fruits of knowledge, but Giles felt certain she would, and should, let some of that darker awareness slip away. She was too young to hold on to such thoughts very long, and though sorrow might be part of her essential nature, deep brooding was not. She would go on to put her more questionable deeds behind her, and once more walk and take pleasure in the light. Could he ever, possibly, do the same?

Perhaps he ought to try. Whatever became of them, Buffy did not need a second Angel, going about with a large dark cloud of guilt above his head. All men, and all women too, whatever their heritage, possessed within themselves the potential for both good and evil. Reasonable caution was one thing, descent into a pit of despair quite another, and Giles knew that inside him lay a still nearly untapped ability to enjoy life, and to appreciate what it had to offer. He wasn't Ethan: there was no need for him to take what was innocent and pure and twist it to his own devices, and not the least inclination within himself to do such a thing, either.

Above him, Buffy slept--not like the princess in a fairy tale, beautiful and helpless--but strong, determined, brave. Deeply intelligent, for all her small, amusing ways and her quirky use of the English language. She was all he'd ever wanted in a partner, all he would ever want. He remembered the time of their first meeting--how he'd thumped that great book down on the counter with such foolish eagerness, and Buffy, in terror and disgust, had backed away.

How greatly the two of them had changed since that day.

Loving her had been the last thing on his mind, but now it was too late: having loved her, having given in to that emotion--that with his dear girl could not be avoided--he could never, never love another.

You're doomed now, old man, Giles told himself, and shook his head.

He moved quietly below her, guarding her rest.

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