Part Three: Proportion
“What? I’ll wind up in a downward spiral after I develop a taste for the stuff, then sell myself on the streets for a bottle?”
This earned her an exasperated look from Giles, which, she realized, didn’t make her feel the way it used to.Funny how that happens. Once, she’d have at least kept up the pretense of obeying him, while resenting it, and feeling rather miffed. Now she soaked up his disapproval, and felt the earth slowly resume a comforting level beneath her feet.
Well, sort of. Actually, what it meant was that the linoleum was leveling beneath her feet, because they were in the kitchen, and metaphor with kitchen appliances was not her forte any more now than it had ever been. Giles, she noticed, did not take her look the same way he’d once have taken it, before the whole death mess. He gave her another one of those English looks, composed of wry disagreement, shreds of patience, and a suppressed spectacle-polishing tendency. She sighed happily, then eyed the flask again with her patented lower-lip out thrust maneuver.
“What are you doing?” She enquired.
He was rummaging in the cupboards. “I know your mother had some…” At Buffy’s expression, he shrugged, smiling shyly.
“Don’t even think about saying one thing.” Buffy ordered.
“I’ve read Freud.”
He raised one eyebrow and she retreated an inch. “Cliff’s notes.”
He returned to the cupboard, but not before she heard a mutter beneath his breath: “Americans.”
“I might be American, but I’m not deaf.” Buffy said dryly.
This time, the glance he tossed over his shoulder was fond, and once again, Buffy felt the very air pressure change around her, lessening till her heart didn’t seem to be pressed in by the weight of the ocean.“You know I read once…”
Giles laid a hand on his heart like a virgin spinster seeing Elvis for the first time.
“Shut up.” Buffy said warningly.
“Ah, yes. Habit.” He placed two little crystal shot glasses on the central island. She nodded at the glasses.
“Isn’t that what they call addiction? Habit?”
“Oh, God, Buffy…” He took off his glasses and polished them. “There’s a proportion to everything.”
“Hey, I’ve seen…” She searched frantically for any movie she might possibly have seen, then realized that in the whole of last year, she had not once gone to a movie in a theatre. And had she even watched one on the television? Had she so much as glimpsed one while rushing out the door? “Stuff.”
“Yes, I suppose you have.” He unscrewed the top of the flask, and set the flask itself down on the counter. “My grandfather gave me that.”
“See? It does run in families.” She tried another look on him; the Buffy Summers, ‘damn, I’m cute look.’ Who was the last person she’d tried that out on? Not Spike, that was for sure. “Ahem.” She said for him. “So? I guess grandparents really do spoil the grandkids.”
“In the best way.” He sat down across from her, looking at his hands. “I shouldn’t have left.”
“I shouldn’t have slept with Spike.” She shrugged, then sighed at his wince. “Forget I said that.”
“I suppose….I have to ask, don’t I?”
“I clawed my way out of my grave, Giles.” She said softly. “And there was nobody there but demons invading Sunnydale. It was nighttime, it was dark…it was….there was fire.” She stared down at her hands. “They ran away and left me to claw my way out of the grave.”
He looked down again.”You said that you were in…?”
“Yes.” She whispered. She reached out a hand for the flask. Maybe Giles was right, maybe there was something to be said for…And Giles intercepted her, sliding the flask away.
“Buffy,” he said gently. “Not like this.”
“I’d suggest…” He covered the hand that had reached out for the flask with his own. “Cry it out, Buffy. That’s what you need. Then, it’s a restorative. But now it will make you more depressed, and that’s not what I’m here for.”
“What are you here for?”
“For whatever you need.”
Her throat closed, and the world blurred. He watched as she concentrated in staring at the counter, her chin trembling without artifice. Spike, he thought. All my fault. If I hadn’t left…
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Ha! I saw that, Mr. Stiff Upper Lip and Think of England.”
He blinked at her. “Buffy!”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “You know,I have watched PBS now and then.”
He poured out a shot, and tossed it back. She sighed at him, partly triumphant, partly disappointed. “What about not when you’re depressed?”
“I’m not depressed. I’m…Buffy, I’m so sorry. All that’s happened, all the things you did.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re referring to Spike?”
“It’s interesting that you keep mentioning him.”
“I have to explain, don’t I? You keep looking at me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Buffy, in all seriousness, I don’t.”
“Well, then, what are you going to say?”
“Buffy, you’re an adult. There is very little I can advise you on.”
“When did that stop you? Besides, aren’t you supposed to disapprove of it? Isn’t that your job?”
“No, it’s not.” He said severely. “My job is to protect you, and I failed.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, had I stayed, would…?”
“Spike and I?” How odd to say that out loud. Would it have happened if Giles had been around? The chip failing, the disconnection, the isolation---would Giles have made it better?She looked at him, and still couldn’t imagine telling him about the chip malfunctioning. He would have instantly staked Spike and….”I don’t know.” She said.
He squeezed her hand again. “Yes, you do, Buffy.” She glanced up at him, startled. “If I’m going to be here for very long, you have to stop doing that.”
“What you just did. I think you do know, but you don’t want to say it to me, make it real. It’s very difficult, isn’t it?”
She stared at him for a long time. “Yes.” She said finally. Her hands took up her attention, then; she blinked at them. “I do think something would have happened, but there were things pushing us together.”
“And those things would be called….Xander? Willow?”
“Yes.” She whispered. “I just…I want Mom, Giles. I miss her so bad. I’m not grown up enough for this.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.”
She took a deep breath. “I don’t mean I can’t talk to you, you know that, right? But there’s stuff I…I want to talk to a woman about. And Willow’s gone.” She finished mournfully. “I never had a chance to say goodbye, Giles. I wanted to. I wanted to be there. I wanted to build up to it, get used to it, but then…she was gone.”
He got up and sat down next to her, hugging her close. She sniffed a bit, determined not to blubber, but it was a struggle.
“Buffy,” Giles said quietly. “I understand you don’t like to, but I meant what I said earlier. Let it out. Cry if you have to.”
“And make everybody feel bad?” Buffy scoffed.
“I think,” Giles said tightly. “That when people make one feel bad, it’s perfectly acceptable to consider whether or not they should feel bad.”
“They’re my friends.”
“Where were they, then?” He demanded. Somehow, his precise accent made it sound worse. “Maybe you wouldn’t have wound up with Spike…”
“It wasn’t..totally….like that, Giles.” Buffy said.
“Still…You didn’t talk about it with them, did you? And why not?”
“They hate him.”
“At the moment,” Giles said, “I’m rather on the opposite side.”
She leaned back, staring at him, absorbing the shock. “Giles?”
“You’re scaring me.”
“I’d like to scare them instead.” He caught her dubious look and raised his chin at her. This gesture, the opposite of the fussy spectacle-polishing habit, had once stricken terror in the hearts of teenage girls’ parents all across England, and indicated he was about to do something not to be put on his resume. “As a matter of fact…” He started to get up and she grabbed her arm.
“Not now, Giles, really, please?Tomorrow, we’ll kick ass.”
“Literally, I think.” He said severely. It sounded like he was correcting Xander on his grammar, and for one second, she was back in the library.
“Ha. You don’t fool me.” She nodded at the flask, sitting proudly alone in expanse of the kitchen island like some ornamental centerpiece. “You’re just getting cold feet at the thought of turning me into a drunk.”
“Buffy.” Once again, he gave her a wry look, and she looked around and expected to see comforting library books all around her, a cocoon not against vampires and beasties, but impermanent deaths and oblivious friends. With that, he poured out a bit in the second shot glass and handed it to her, but stopped her when she lifted it to her lips. “Stop.”
“I beg your…. huh?”
“There’s an aroma to good Scotch.”
“Ugh. Also, Eeewwww.” You and Spike, she thought. She sniffed at the glass tentatively. “Cough syrup.”
Another Giles look, another comforting frisson of familiarity. “Well, it does.”
“That’s good Scotch, I’ll have you know.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“No, don’t do that. I want you to close your eyes, and consider what it is you’re…experiencing.”
She rolled her eyes at him, but took a breath and did it. With her eyes closed, the medicinal scent modified into sharpness, clarity, and soft tones of scents she couldn’t immediately identify. Ah. Smoke, she thought. Smoke and spice. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Now take a sip, but don’t swallow it. Hold it in your mouth. And close your eyes again.”
Obediantly, she did so. Rolling it around on her tongue, she listened to his voice, and tried not to grimace. “Did you know there are very different taste buds scattered throughout your mouth?”
“No, that’s true.” She could hear the thoughtful tone in his voice. “It’s just that I forget where they are, precisely. I know, for example-----“ Only Giles talks like a footnote, she thought-----“that they’re sweet and salt, and, oh, dear, I’ve forgotten the rest. Now open your eyes.” She did so, and gave him a perky look. “Still think it’s medicinal?”
“Uh..high class cough syrup,” She amended. This time, he rolled his eyes at her, and she beamed at him, feeling as if her world had undergone another little adjustment toward normality. “Giles?” She said suddenly.
“Why do people always think it’s good for them to leave?”
He stared at her, then slowly raised his hand to his forehead to brush his hair aside. He didn’t remove his glasses, didn’t polish them, didn’t dither. He looked away for a moment, then up at her again.“Buffy…” He took a deep breath, then picked up her shot glass and downed everything she hadn’t.“It’s not whether they leave that’s important. It’s whether they come back.”
Continued in Part Four: Day and Night