Greater Good Part 16/27: Please
Black and silent, the basement felt like a tomb.
And though confident she could easily escape the improvised jail, Buffy still felt trapped. After a worrisome minute, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness and she searched the room for him. Surely he’d heard the commotion. She was surprised to see him sitting motionless on the bunk, apparently unaffected by the noise.
At first glimpse, he seemed somehow smaller. Vulnerable, even, as he sat hunched over and absolutely still, looking much like a thoughtful statue. She found herself wanting to know what he was doing. Hhow he was wasting his time there in the dank basement, shutting himself away from the others and her.
Giles remained unmoving as she drew nearer, a slumping figure masked by shadows. But then she noticed the subtle quivering of his hands, the lone indication of his false life. She almost preferred the idea that he’d been turned to stone rather than facing her fears, facing him. She suddenly craved the comfort of more light as she gathered up her courage and took another step closer towards the figure lit only by a flickering candle threatening to extinguish with the slightest draft.
Buffy recognized the fragrant scent the candle gave off as it burned. It was a gift from Giles to her, a familiar mix of herbs and perfume that he'd concocted specifically to aid in her meditation exercises. Sadly, she'd never used it herself, only recalling its tranquil smell from the time he’d demonstrated its proper use. The fond memory brought a pained smile to her face as she reflected on the man she still grieved for.
She'd never have admited it back then, but she was always impressed with how Giles put up with her. No matter how much she tested his patience with her merciless teasing, he would simply excuse her glib remarks as a necessary part of the routine. Focusing on the task at hand, he would sit down before her on the hard wood floor of the Magic Box training room. Positioning himself with legs crossed, relaxed arms draped along his knees, he’d offer her a mild-mannered smile coupled with an authoritative motion to regain her attention. It was his way, always allowing her the frivolous moments to lessen the gravity of training. But the lessons would always come, eventually, when she’d expelled all of her sarcastic energies at his expense. Then she would settle down and simply watch as he showed her how to sit, how to breathe, how to be. Amidst the peace of that protective setting, she could almost hear his thoughts as he meditated. So quiet and calm. His chiseled features would soften, lips curling ever so slightly to a natural smile that revealed a faint glow of the undisciplined youth normally veiled by his semblance of responsibility. How she missed those quiet times, the comfortable calm he inspired within her.
And now he used such techniques in a futile attempt to ward off the beast lying in wait within him.
With a distressed wheeze, Giles wrenched over more, grasping at his stomach. Buffy knew what he needed. He required it more since he was injured. She flashed back to Spike’s efforts in overcoming the hold blood had on him while under the First’s control. He’d only fed when weak or wounded. But Giles flat out denied it, denied himself the nourishment he needed to survive and she wondered why.
Buffy approached guardedly, her eyes never leaving him as she moved closer. She was momentarily startled when he shifted upright, his face finally coming into view with eyes strained shut. A speckling of sweat glistened along the creases of his brow. She watched as a stray droplet streamed downward, following the defining lines of his clenching jaw. It continued a path along his neck, traveling along the ashen skin of his exposed chest and settling deep within the forest of scattered hairs adorning his torso.
The uncharacteristic clothes he wore showed no hint of the man she’d once known, except for the well worn-in Levi’s. Giles had always seemed more himself in those, more comfortable. She wondered why he’d punished himself for years wearing the more familiar stiff tweed suits. But the demon he’d become seemed to prefer darker colors, suggesting the absence of light and perhaps abandonment of hope. A gasp of superfluous breath parted the sleek, black unbuttoned shirt further, revealing his upper body, gleaming with perspiration. He appeared almost human.
Another jab of pain and his features twisted, displaying his clenched teeth as another spasm ran though him. And there it was, the sight of those elongated fangs and her pulse quicken. If anything reminded her that Giles was a demon, it was the scene playing out before her. The pitiable, trembling beast helpless before her wasn’t the man she’d once held close to her heart. It was a vampire.
No…never helpless. Bitter images filled Buffy’s mind, reflections of torture and pain and how it pleased him to watch her suffer. She could understand that, some sick part of her took pleasure in viewing his torment and she accepted her involuntary memories as a harsh reminder of what such beasts were capable of. With a resentful sigh, she turned back toward the stairs, determined to tear the basement door from its hinges rather than spend another minute with the creature that had hurt her and her family.
“Buffy?” His hollow voice was just a whisper, barely heard over her departing footsteps. Her breath caught at the unexpected sound of it and she paused, waiting. “I didn’t hear you come in.” She kept her back to him, listening as he rustled with the bunk sheets and struggled to his feet.
“You seemed… preoccupied,” she mumbled quietly, knowing he’d have no trouble hearing. She wasn’t prepared to face him but an insatiable curiosity made her turn. As she slowly spun around, her anxious gaze locked with his and she couldn’t move. He stood there, heavily shadowed as the flickering candlelight worked from behind to give him shape. But one feature dared to defy the darkness, his extraordinarily jade eyes, which seemed to silently call for her to return.
“I was just…”
“Meditating… I know.” She glanced away.
“Guess it was working.” He gave discomfited little smile as he gazed anxiously at her, unable to accept that she was truly there. But she was, Buffy was standing in front of him and he didn’t know what to say or what to do. Then he noticed the wounds.
“You’re injured,” he’d said it with such familiar concern, gesturing toward her face. He was obviously troubled by her bloodied lip and the angry slash over her brow. “Are you alright?” He took a cautious step forward, watching regretfully as Buffy flinched from his movement. He immediately retreated back a few paces to give her space, damning his careless actions.
“These are nothing… I’ve had worse,” she paused, oddly regretting the implication of her words. “The others are almost gone, except for my…” she glanced down at her handicapped hand. ‘Show no weakness,’ she thought. “I’m fine.”
He took notice of her bandaged limb and choked back a remorseful sigh at the cruel memories inundating his mind.
“I should go,” Buffy turned toward the stairs to leave and Giles hastily shuffled forward.
“Please don’t,” he paused when she glimpsed back, uncertain.
“Don’t have time right now. Got things to do. The others are waiting… the Potentials need…”
“I’m sorry.” The humble phrase lingered in the fusty atmosphere of the cellar and Buffy felt her heart sink with the declaration. “Buffy… please…” he risked another slow step and outstretched a timid hand, pleading for her to hear him. “Please forgive me.”
At long last, the monster begged for forgiveness and Buffy sighed with frustrated satisfaction. She turned to face him but avoided the sensitive stare of those potent green eyes. It was what the others wanted, some celebrated reunion where all is forgiven and forgotten and they could all move on, but she wasn’t willing to let her anger go… not yet.
“Forgive you for what?” Her voice turned severe, filled with bitterness and anger. “Forgive you for Wood, for Chao-Ahn, for Dawn…” Her eyes met his and she struggled to keep her heart cold, determined to evade the warming of his persuasive gaze. “Forgive you for… for this?” Buffy lifted her bandaged hand, drawing his attentions to his handiwork, and then let it fall disappointedly to her side. “What exactly are you sorry for?”
“Everything, every moment after my death… and many before.” Giles understood her anger, expected it. But when he heard the underlying fury searing her words, he felt she would never forgive him and it hurt worse than the pulsing hunger shooting through him. The burden of her stare was too heavy and he lowered his tired body to sit on the bunk, burying his face within his hands. “I’m sorry I can’t erase what happened.”
“So am I.” She wanted so badly to leave, but something unexpected made her stay. She wasn't sure if it was pity or something more, something she couldn't admit to. But she couldn't leave him to suffer his loneliness just yet. With a contrived breath to regain her composure, she moved closer to the bedside of the sickened vampire. Giles bowed forward, his arm wrapping across his abdomen in fierce discomfort and Buffy knew the hunger had returned.
“Does it hurt?” The question sounded more like the curiosity of a child than that of an experienced Slayer.
He lifted his head back, just enough to give the Slayer a contented smirk. “Brilliantly,” his face returned forward, buried back within his large, tremulous hands.
‘Good!’ was her immediate reaction but after witnessing a minute of Giles’ anguished efforts, she felt something she hadn’t predicted and wasn’t ready for… sympathy.
“Spike said you won’t feed.” Her delicate voice broke the deafening quiet. “You need blood."
“And I will go on needing it.”
“You’re weak… sick. You’re no good to me like this!” Her tone was much harsher than she’d intended. “Why are you doing this?”
“To remind me of what I’ve lost.”
He pulled back and offered her a wistful look, “You.” He held his stare, as if waiting for her to refute his assessment. She remained quiet.
He’d said it so plainly, unemotionally that Buffy had to take a moment to absorb the single word he’d spoken. ‘He lost me? What about me losing him?’ She had to look away, his sad green eyes hurt too much. The difficult silence returned and the estranged duo paused to take in the sound of their thoughts. After a moment, she had to speak, no longer able to hold back the feelings overtaking her.
“I hated you,” she said it like a whispered curse and Giles’ eyes closed once again, preparing his heavy heart for another battery of unforgiving phrases.
“You made it so easy to… ” She took a seat on the farthest edge of the bunk and focused on the cracked cement of the basement floor as she continued. “I’ve suffered loss and pain; it came with the territory and I learned to deal with it. Or at least I thought I had, until what you did… what you took. I watched you rip little pieces away from me with a smile on your face, all the while knowing it would be over soon, that you would finish it. But you never did. I didn’t understand.”
“I told myself to hate you because it would be easier than the truth. So I did. And I was good at it, good at separating myself from my emotions, so much so that I found myself unable to care anymore… for my friends and for myself.” She hesitated to take in a ragged breath.
“Without warning, without goodbye, you were gone… but then you weren’t, not really. There was nothing left of you to put into the ground. After what I’d gone through with my own death, I needed to see you at rest, to know you were at peace.” He could see Buffy nervously biting at her bottom lip as she struggled to contain her emotions.
“I wanted you dead and I hated myself for it. I hated the others for not letting me bury you, for not letting me grieve. And I hated you for coming back.”
It had been said without needing to be, Giles knew her feelings all too well. Gone were the days of the self-assured champion, replaced by the troubled times of an emotionally crippled shell of a Slayer. The little tokens of punishment he’d presented couldn’t afford her what she justly needed.
He glimpsed the wounded young woman sitting solemnly beside him and considered what she meant to him. She was his only source of light and now his very presence was smothering her. Her stern profile had softened and he saw the glimmer of a tear perched and ready to fall from her weary eye. She seemed so frail and vulnerable, it broke his heart. Hers was a pain he couldn’t bear.
With a deliberately gentle motion, he slowly reached beneath the bunk and pulled out the stake Dawn had presented to him on his miserable homecoming to the Summers’ house. Slipping down to the hard cement floor and crawling the slight distance she’d kept between them, he took his rightful place kneeling submissively before the Slayer. He gathered his strength and looked up into her questioning eyes, trying to read her heart as it sounded out to him.
For all her claims of hate and all her displays of anger and disgust, she was still beautiful to behold. He allowed himself the slightest touch of her palm as he placed the stake within the frayed, bandaged hand. Much to his surprise, she didn’t withdraw at the contact and he was appreciative of it as he gently curled her fingers to grip the weapon and tenderly cupped her hand within his. Buffy’s indecipherable gaze was fixed on his exhausted stare as he guided her equipped hand to his chest, positioning the sharpened wooden point over the bare skin of his lifeless heart, offering her the cold support of his own dead hand to finish the task and end their mutual pain.
“Please...” it was a blameless request, spoken in an undemanding tone.
Buffy was breathless, her hand quivered within his hold, barely able to steady the stake over its intended target.
“It’s what you want… what you need. I see it every time I look into your eyes,” she watched in disbelief as the tip began to sink within his skin, releasing a trickling stream of burgundy, tracking along the lines of his tensing muscles. “I never asked for this, Buffy. I never wanted to hurt you or Dawn. And it kills me to know my existence brings you pain.” The gentle pressure of his touch grew and Buffy found herself working to prevent the wooden dagger from plunging further into his flesh. “You spared me from oblivion once… I’m asking for you to gift me with it now.” Giles insistent grip brought her uncertain hand closer, helping her slowly drive the stake toward his heart. “Let me rest…”
The blood from the wound spread over the stake, staining her bandages as she wondered. It would be so easy, to merely give in and let the beast destroy himself. After all, it wouldn’t really be her fault if her hand slipped or if her arm gave out. Within a storm of emotions, the incredible claims Caleb had made came flooding back to her and she suddenly recognized Giles actions for what they were, the final act of atonement and love. And in that moment, amongst the agony of Giles’ pleas for death, it was his unconditional love that gave her strength.
The persistent tear was finally released, trailing down her cheek as she glanced down at her handicapped hand. 'To forgive is an act of compassion', Giles words from long ago echoed in her mind and she stifled an unwanted sob.
“I won’t,” she whispered and struggled to pull her hand away. With a devastatingly compassionate smile, he held firm and leaned forward, following the retreating weapon as it moved away. Buffy’s grip intensified, resolved to prevent him from impaling himself but Giles continued toward her with every tug. He held such peace in his eyes that Buffy could see he didn’t intend to fail.
‘Stop him!’ her mind screamed the order and without another thought, she forced the stake back, losing balance with the passionate motion, unintentionally pulling Giles toward her and herself towards him with the abrupt movement.
It happened in the blur of the moment; an accidental touch and time stood still.
They froze as their minds tried to comprehend the position they’d tumbled into. Buffy was still seated on the bunk and Giles continued kneeling before her but they’d been thrust together in an unlikely semi-embrace, cheek against cheek and hand in hand. Confused by the strange emotions surfacing with the inadvertent contact, Watcher and Slayer were speechless, keeping their bodies absolutely motionless, neither one wanting to go beyond some imaginary line they’d set for themselves so long ago.
Though strange and forbidden, the closeness seemed so right. And the drama of Giles’ attempted suicide and Buffy’s attempted manslaughter faded under the stir of feelings long denied. They accepted the moment as some fated permission to experience the minimal intimacy of their shared skin.
An undeniable spark and Buffy was lost within his touch. For once, she moved without reason, letting instinct guide her to nuzzle deeper to his shapely jaw. Her mind went blank with the tender stoke of his skin. The apprehensive connection with him sent her to that place of calm she utterly longed for. Not knowing or caring where or when her odd feelings developed, she gave into the comfort he offered and just let it happen.
Buffy was still there, closer than ever before and he cherished it for the gift it was. Giles remained still, taking in the strange sensations rippling through him. He gave himself freely to her as she continue with her soothing caresses, growing more adventurous with every snuggle. She was so soft, so delicate and after a moment of restraint, he gave in to the welcoming heat of her face. With his objective long forgotten, he responded to her inviting strokes, pressing tenderly against her delicate skin, unable to neither understand nor care what was happening between them.
Neither one eager to rush the experience, they took every second as if it were unending; contented to savor the simple closeness they’d never before permitted for themselves. Their grip of the stake lessened until it fell discarded to the floor. But their hands remained together, both reluctant to surrender even the slightest touch.
With a spontaneous shift, their mouths brushed for the briefest instant. It was an astounding but fleeting glimpse of the possibilities that lay ahead for them. Giles’ head swam with the sweet scent of her and he unconsciously glided his tongue along his lips to taste the innocent results of their encounter, blissfully unaware of the freshly bloodied lip presenting him with what his body so feverishly craved for.
And with the first tang of blood on his tongue, the demon roared.