dramady of errors
The gang had worked throughout the night trying to clear the debris and return some semblance of order to the shop. Anya’s gloomy mood improved with every inch of floor that was revealed. Xander assured her that the damage was mostly cosmetic, the store front windows were easily replaceable as well as the door. When Dawn’s grumbling tummy chimed in with its opinion, Xander decided to live up to his title of errand boy, fetching some healthier fast food for everyone to feast on while they worked.
Willow checked in on Rupert from time to time, alleging that she was only seeing if he needed anything. Everyone knew the real motive was to make sure Giles didn’t run off again and make matters worse.
Tara continued with her role as the chaos sorcerer’s shadow, making sure Ethan didn’t skip town before Buffy returned to give the all clear or beat him senseless, whichever she chose to do. Tara preferred the first option seeing as how the sorcerer didn’t seem all that bad, just egotistical and grotesquely self-serving. Much to Willow’s dissatisfaction, he spent most of his time lounging at the round table, browsing through the supply catalogues and criticizing Anya’s choice of suppliers and stock. No moments of silence managed to endure long with the constant bickering between the ex-demon and chaos mage. It was as if peace was too much of a burden for him so he continually provoked an argument. Anya seemed to enjoy it, though, muttering something under her breath comparing Ethan to her former boss.
Using her feminine wiles, Dawn managed to talk Xander into forging a note dismissing her from school. The entire gang enjoyed the inappropriate pleasure of cooking up a believable excuse and countering Rayne’s comment that school ‘is a bloody waste of effort’.
Everyone was in fairly good spirits when Buffy returned at day break. She pivoted the pitiful remains of the detached shop door out of her way. Once inside, she returned it as best she could to its proper place. The gang tried to act casual, as if forgetting about what had occurred only a few hours before. No need to stir up trouble again. Buffy dragged herself toward the sales counter, the all too familiar symptoms of distress apparently permanently imprinted on her face.
Ethan practically jolted to his feet, eager to be dismissed by the Slayer but a subtle look from Tara told him to hold off for now.
“How was patrol, Buffy?” Tara asked, as she retrieved the queen-size Cobb salad Xander had squirreled away for Buffy until she got back.
“Uneventful,” she shrugged and in seeing the food, said quietly, “I’m not hungry.”
“You mean for greens, right?” Xander asked. “No problem. I was thinking donut run for dessert. Who’s up for some jellies?”
“I think Rupert, in particularly, would appreciate that,” Ethan agreed. “He’s quite partial to chocolate as well. Preferably dark.”
“Of which you’re an expert,” Willow commented.
“Why are you still here, Rayne? Haven’t you got other lives to interfere with?” Buffy grumbled as she tiredly slumped into a seat at the table.
“You’re irritatingly loyal friends thought it wise to wait for your blessing in regards to my departure. It’s a rather poor excuse to give you the chance to see me off.” He grinned.
“And on that note, I think I’ll be running along to get some doughy goodness and coffee chasers,” Xander grabbed his jacket and marched quickly to tangle with the make-shift door.
“I should have bribed the cops into arresting you.” Buffy sank forward, resting her face on her forearms laying flat upon the table. “I’m surprised you didn’t tuck tail and scurry out of here like the rodent you are. I mean, why break with tradition?”
Ethan bit back a harsh response, settling for the milder, “Permission to get the bloody hell out of here, sir?”
“Go away, Ethan.”
“Right, I’ll just go collect my things.”
Buffy tried her best to ignore the sorcerer as he retreated into Anya’s office. Willow took a seat next to her, bringing the rejected salad along with her. “If it’s any consolation, I think you’re showing incredible restraint with him. You’ve really grown as a Slayer,” she teased.
“Don’t be too hasty. I’m seriously considering hog tying him and making him my new training dummy. Think he bruises easy? That would be nice.”
Willow removed the clear bubble top from the container and popped a cherry tomato into her mouth, making it a point to display her approval of its tastiness. “So, annoying sorcerers aside, how are you, really?”
Buffy shrugged. “The usual; I’m here, I’ll deal.” She reached over, picked a black olive from the leafy heap and tossed it into her mouth as she returned to her previous mope position.
“New day, new outlook,” Dawn said as she took the seat on the other side of her sister, reached across and helped herself to the hardboiled egg. “Extra points on the healthy attitude, though you could use a bit of a polish on the execution.”
“Why am I seeing you? You should be getting ready for school.” Buffy’s eyes narrowed to interrogation mode. “You weaseled Xander out of another pity note, didn’t you?”
“I refuse to answer for fear it might incriminate me… and him.” Dawn grinned. “Besides, I promised Anya I would help her do an early spring cleaning on the rest of the store. We’re already halfway there anyway.”
“I guess that’s one way of looking at the bright side of it,” Buffy approved, snatching another olive from the edge of the salad.
Willow grinned with the subtle progress she’d already made. Bad mood Buffy had little defense against tag team Willow and Dawn when it came to getting the stubborn Slayer to eat. She stabbed the fork through a generous chunk of blue cheese and waved it temptingly before her friend.
“Yeah, maybe we should have one of these every year. A plunder, pillage and raid cleaning day where we can invite all of Sunnydale’s evil elite for a good time of frolicking, destructive fun,” she said.
“It would certainly make my job easier, one stop Slayage and vacation the rest of the year. Sign me up.” Buffy accepted the forkful of cheese and swallowed it down. She eyed the salad speculatively for a moment then pierced a cheese-coated leaf clump. She was eating and both Dawn and Willow shared a victorious look.
“I, for one, am solidly against it. And seeing as how this is my…” Anya paused with the pathetic jingle of the temporary bell she’d dangled with duct tape from a hook on the ceiling above the shop door. Everyone watched as a tall, handsomely suited man entered the shop. He carefully maneuvered the unattached door aside and then placed it back as he found it, leaning against the door frame.
“Can I help you?” Anya perked up, falling right into her well-practiced salesperson role.
“I’m looking for the owner of this shop.” The man said and smiled weakly, a bit preoccupied with the damaged surroundings.
“Oh, you must be from the agency. I’ve saved us some time and prepared the required forms in advance.” Anya came out from behind the counter, swiped up a tidy file and outstretched it towards the stranger as she approached him. “It’s all there in my claim report, everything that happened. The totally honest and exact account of the amazingly concentrated earthquake that struck my humble...”
“I’m sorry but there seems to be some misunderstanding. I’m trying to find a Mister Rupert Giles who’s listed as proprietor of this establishment.”
Dawn’s eyes went wide with realization and she leaned in to whisper to Willow, “He must be from the Council.” Willow nodded in agreement.
Buffy’s appetite evaporated with the hypothesis. She nudged the salad away, scooted her chair back, got to her feet, and leaned against the edge of the table, arms crossed before her.
“This just keeps getting better,” she sighed.
“Giles is owner by name only,” Anya corrected. “The shop is actually run by me so if you have any questions…”
“Ah, you must be Miss Anya Jenkins, Mr. Giles’ partner, pleasure to make your acquaintance. Is he available?” The gentleman returned the file to Anya and stepped further into the shop, scanning the curious oddities filling the shelves nearby.
Dawn jumped from her seat and responded nervously, “That depends. Who can we say is… um, calling?” She shrugged when receiving a raised brow from Willow.
“Name’s Douglas, Todd Douglas.” The gentleman approached her and offered his business card.
Dawn read the card and whimpered “Touchdown” when seeing the panic-inducing words ‘Council of Watchers’ inscribed there. She discarded the card to the table and assumed her sister’s unwelcoming posture.
The Councilman ignored the comment. “As you can see there, I’m a representative of the Watcher’s Council, here to evaluate Mr. Giles’ progress. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d very much like to speak with him?”
“No!” Anya said bluntly.
“Might I ask why?”
“Because we said so,” Buffy responded curtly, supported by a firm nod from her little sister.
“What they mean is that he’s not available at this present time,” Willow explained. “But if you come back later…”
Just then, Ethan returned from Anya’s office with a hasty stride, eager to escape his current company. “Thank you oh so much for the warmth of your undying hospitality. Let’s never do this again, shall we? Buffy, be a dear and give my regards to Ru--.”
“Rupert!” Dawn hurried to the sorcerer’s side, triggering a curious glance from him.
“I thought you said you were inventorying the stockroom, Giles.” Dawn shuffled in close, gripped Ethan’s arm and gave it a tight squeeze. She leaned in and whispered discreetly through clenched smile, “Play along or I’ll feed you to Spike.”
Ethan’s confusion cleared with another ungentle squeeze of his arm and he responded with a welcoming smile.
“One can only take so much root and charm inventorying before you need a breath of fresh air, a spot of tea and a full frontal lobotomy.” He pried himself from the young lady’s grip and wrapped his arm around her, giving her an overly friendly hug. “Didn’t know you’d miss me so quickly, luv.” A quick glance to Buffy suddenly made him aware of his grave error. He immediately drew back, seeing the threat of serious injury in having breached the Slayer’s sister’s personal space.
“So you are Rupert Giles?” The man asked, more than a little confused.
“Apparently. Though to be honest, I’m not quite feeling myself these days.” Buffy’s glare narrowed in warning.
“I guess that’s to be expected. But even so, I must say it’s quite remarkable to find you in such good health so soon after your unfortunate incident.”
“We’re taking excellent care of him,” Willow responded quickly. “So why don’t you note that down in your field guide and report back to command central. No Council necessary. Off you go.” She shooed him with a gesturing hand.
“I only wish it were that simple. I’m afraid there’s a bit more to it than a quick drop in. Mr. Giles, my name is Todd Douglas and if you don’t mind, I have some routine questions.”
“Ask away, my good man. We’ve nothing to hide.”
“That’s right, Giles.” Dawn continued to smile as she pivoted around to face him, keeping her back to the Councilman. She whispered harshly, “What are you doing?”
Keeping his toothy smile intact, he muttered through clenched teeth, “Being Rupert.”
“From where, the Twilight Zone? He never acted this way!”
“Like I have a bloody clue…” His words were cut off as the man approached and Ethan brainstormed for a distraction. “I have a brilliant idea.”
“What’s that, Giles?” Dawn replied, quickly returning her attention to Douglas.
Buffy rolled her eyes at the contrived exchange. This was never going to work.
“Why don’t we have Willow give Mr. Douglas a brief tour of the shop while Buffy and I finish up our business in the training room?” He nodded sharply with his head toward the back.
“That sounds like a fantastic idea!” Dawn said a tad over enthusiastically.
“Buffy, c-can I talk to …” Everyone turned to see Rupert standing at the training room door, still dressed in the previous day’s grimy and wrinkled jeans and t-shirt, hair messed, and looking overall very unkempt. “W-who is that?” He asked, staring at the stranger.
The man stared for a long moment before glimpsing down at his notes and answering with a suspicious look, “Todd Douglas, and who might you be?”
“My name is…”
“Spike!” Anya blurted out, her eyes wide with panic. “That’s Spike.” She jogged over to Rupert and started nudging back towards the training room.
Rupert’s head tilted with confusion. “Anya, you know my name is…”
“William the Bloody, I’ve read about you in the Council archives. My word, this is fascinating. I thought I might have the privilege of meeting the closest of Mr. Giles’ associates, but the infamous vampire as well.”
“I-I don’t understand.” Rupert looked to Buffy who seemed worried.
“Spike, why don’t you go back to the training room and Rupert and Buffy will join you in a second.” Dawn urged.
“But I’m Rup…”
“Okay, let’s stop for a moment.” Douglas sighed, finally losing his patience. “I may not be as well prepared as perhaps I should have been in coming here but I know enough to recognize that things aren’t quite right. Anyone care to enlighten me as to what’s going on here or should I venture a guess?”
Buffy pushed herself back from the table and walked up to Ethan. “He’s not Giles.” She indelicately shoved Ethan out of the way and gestured to Rupert. “He’s Giles.”
Dawn, Willow, Tara and Anya all stared in disbelief at Buffy.
“My name is Rupert,” Rupert corrected grumpily.
Ethan regained his composure and glared at the rude Slayer.
“I see,” responded the Councilman.
“I’m afraid you don’t. If you did see, you would know we don’t want you here. We don’t need you here and we would prefer it if you just went away.” Buffy said bluntly.
“Sorry,” Willow added.
“Despite what you assume my intentions to be in visiting here, Miss Summers, the Council’s concern rests solely in what’s best for Mister Giles.”
“Yeah, right, and we know what that means,” Dawn responded skeptically.
“I’m afraid you don’t. You see, Mr. Travers himself has been overlooking the expenditures budgeted for Rupert’s care and compared them to the documentation of costs provided by you.”
Dawn groaned as she addressed the gang, “This is the part where Big Brother Council questions our every...”
“And it’s far below all estimates,” the Councilman interrupted, quickly bringing young Summers’ argument to silence. “Buffy can’t possibly be supporting her family and Rupert’s medical requirements on such a meager sum, even with the help of her charitable friends.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you here?” Buffy asked.
“Miss Rosenberg, I presume?” He grinned. “Like you, we only want what’s best for Mr. Giles. When the Council got word of his injury, they quickly implemented a fund specifically aimed in helping lessen the brunt of his medical expenses.”
“So you’re not here to take him away?” Dawn asked, needing to hear those words.
“I won’t lie to you, the thought had occurred to us on more than one occasion.” Douglas looked over at Rupert, nodding respectfully. “It would certainly be easier for us to see to his care since we have specialized facilities for just such a circumstance. We even went as far as making arrangements for his return if he chose to. But in all our dealings with Mr. Giles, one thing has remained unflinchingly clear, that he first and foremost supports Buffy in everything she does.” He looked at Buffy, offering an amenable grin.
“You… you are a Watcher?” Rupert asked as he approached the stranger.
The Councilman’s expression grew humbled. “I’m afraid not, Mr. Giles, though I am currently undergoing the training in hopes of achieving that title someday. I’m simply a Council assistant whose been assigned the task of seeing to your well being.”
“And if I want to go home?”
The man smiled patiently. “Of course, you and your friends can go home at any time. I’m here as an observer and to help better things for all concerned here in Sunnydale.”
There was a sigh of relief from Willow, Anya and Dawn and they exchanged pleased glances, muttering happily amongst themselves. Ethan stood with his arms folded before him and a knowing grin curling along his lips. And then there was Buffy who stood alone, separate from the celebration. She watched with tired eyes as Rupert stepped in closer to Douglas.
“I meant England,” Rupert corrected softly. “What if I want to go home to England?”
All focus immediately returned to Rupert, mutual expressions of shock on the three prematurely celebrating ladies’ faces.
“Erm… I suppose… well yes, of course you can.” Douglas’ glanced uncertainly to Buffy who looked as if she’d been physically wounded, the pain plain on her face.
“Giles?” Dawn gasped. “What are you doing?”
Rupert shied back a little, his lips parting a few times as if battling to find the words. With a deep breath to strengthen his resolve, he admitted, “I want to go home… my real home.”
“But you are home,” Anya argued. “Your place is here, with us.”
“It was once,” he replied. A gentle smile, one of sentimental pride, lit along his face as he finally braved a look at Buffy. She stared back at him, her face sullen. “When I was your Watcher, I belonged here. When you needed me, I belonged here. But… but now…” He winced, restraining his grief to avoid making it any harder than it already was.
“Rupert, what are you saying?” Buffy asked sadly.
“You don’t need me. I’m not your Watcher anymore. I’m not anything anymore.”
“That’s not true,” Willow spoke with a small voice, barely above a whisper.
“Buffy, I can’t be what you want me to be and I can’t be what I want me to be. It’s time I go. I need to find my place now.”
“Wait, this is all happening too fast. Can we pause a moment and talk about this?” Anya urged.
Rupert shook his head regretfully and with a hopeless shrug said, “I’m not so good with the talking.”
“Rupert, I…” Buffy choked back her emotions, finding it impossible to say what her heart ached for her to. “I understand. You should go.”
“When can we leave?” Rupert asked Douglas who seemed lost in watching the awkward moment.
“Leave… yes, well… the Council has its own private jet. With a few calls and unforeseen interferences aside, we could presumably leave in a few hours time.”
Rupert turned to face Buffy, his chest tight with sorrow, heart thundering, head throbbing. It was as if the room had fallen into shadows and the people with it, all except for her. The thought of leaving was terrifying; another new world, another new life and new rules. But it was for the best… for her.
“I’d like to go pack my things now.”
Douglas nodded apprehensively before speaking, “Certainly, I can drive you by the house where I’ll contact the Council and make the necessary arrangements for your arrival. Afterwards, we can return here, give you a chance to… to finalize things, let your friends see you off.”
“Thank you, Mr. Douglas.”
Throughout the exchange, Rupert’s gaze had never left Buffy’s. Everyone in the room stood motionless and in quiet desperation for her to stop him, to say anything. But all she did was stare back, her face wrought with unspoken grief, lips nearly quivering with strain to remain speechless. After a moment, Rupert smiled sorrowfully, as if somehow getting the response he’d expected, and followed Mr. Douglas out.
A second later, Buffy turned around and disappeared into the training room.
“What just happened?” Dawn gasped.
“I don’t know but I’m sure as hell going to find out!” Willow growled.
“What was that out there?” Willow demanded, slamming the door severely behind her as she marched after the Buffy.
“I thought it was pretty clear. Rupert wants to leave so he’s leaving.” Buffy crossed the room to the punching bag and gave it a hard right. It jerked away and returned. She steadied it, preparing for another strike.
“You can’t let him do this!” Willow squeaked.
Buffy sighed. “He can make his own decisions.” She landed a solid kick to the bag, sending it swaying before her. She connected with a series of quick jabs, slowing the motion and sending it spinning awkwardly.
“I thought we were good here. What happened to new day, new outlook?”
“I gave it my shot, Will, I really did. But you heard the suit; Council’s better equipped to help Rupert. They have the funding and the resources…”
“That’s not the issue here. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you wanted Giles to leave.” Willow’s expression hardened with further consideration. “Do you want him gone?”
“What, was this all just some little experiment to see if you could do it? Just another test for the Chosen One; a selfish training exercise?”
“A little stammering here, a little confusion there and you’re ready to pack the bags and send him away because he’s become inconvenient to you?”
“That’s not it and you know it!”
“No, I don’t know it, Buffy. Tell me the truth. Tell me anything instead of running away like you do every time the going gets tough lately. This is Giles we’re talking about here, not some nobody.”
“No it’s not him, Willow. It’s not Giles. He looks like Giles, sounds like Giles but it’s not him.”
“Why, because he can’t do all the things Giles used to do? So what if he can’t translate inscriptions or cast magicks or fight? All that stuff doesn’t matter. He’s still Giles in every way that means something. He’s the stripped down, no extras version. He’s passionate, devoted, motivated, insightful, thoughtful, and an all around incredible guy. All he wants to do is please you and be there for you and you shut him out just like you do all of us. Only he doesn’t understand why because you won’t tell him anything.”
“He wouldn’t understand anyway.”
“How do you know that? If you haven’t noticed, what he’s going through is kinda in the same ballpark as you. I’ll admit it’s not resurrection-ish, per se, but he’s having to reorient himself to life again, just like you. He’s learning to deal with complicated emotions and piecing back together relationships. And no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to help, he feels alone… just like you. Of all of us, you are the one person he reaches out for and yet you push him away.”
“He’s better off away.”
“How can you say that? He cares for you, cares so damn deeply for you, more than you seem capable of seeing. Or maybe you don’t want to see it.”
“I care for him, too, but that doesn’t change anything.”
“It should, Buffy.”
“It’s not enough.”
“What are you saying, you don’t want him here?”
“I’m saying I can’t keep him here.”
“Open your eyes, Will! He can’t protect himself and I can’t protect him. Every second he spends on this Hellmouth brings him one step closer to the grave and I can’t have that on my mind and do what I need to do.” Buffy shook her head. “Besides ongoing terror and pain and living nightmares, what can I offer him? What kind of a life can he really have here?”
“The same as you; whatever kind he wants, whatever kind he makes for himself.”
Buffy sighed. “And what if it kills him?”
“Maybe he should get the chance to make that choice, just like he did the day he accepted the assignment to be your Watcher. Just like the day he decided to be your friend and so much more. You say you want to let him make his own choice, Buffy, then let him make an educated one. Go to him and tell him how you really feel. Tell him the truth. You owe him that much.”
“And what if he still wants to go.”
Willow shrugged and smiled weakly. “New day, new outlook.”
Buffy thought and thought hard, so much so Willow swore she could hear the inner workings of the Slayer’s mind calculating risk and failure like a seasoned general. But this wasn’t a battle. This was life. More specifically, this was one of the biggest challenges Buffy would have to face since her resurrection, to not only face her feelings but admit them. The witch held her breath, waiting anxiously for Buffy’s next move. All her hopes died as the Slayer walked over to the couch and took a seat. Willow stared in disbelief as Buffy folded her hands in her lap and stared off into empty space.
“I don’t know you anymore, Buffy.” Willow sighed and left the Slayer to wallow in her own pity.
once more, with feeling
Rupert had rushed to take a quick shower. He didn’t want to make a bad first impression with the Watchers and worried he’d already ruined it with his awkward introduction to Douglas. As he browsed his meager wardrobe, he cursed his preference for casual wear, wishing he had at least one suit and tie. On second thought, he didn’t know how to tie a tie.
Rupert stared down at the overstuffed suitcase sitting open on the bed. Mercifully, there wasn’t much to pack, just a few trinkets he’d collected in his many months with his new family. He tucked the simplistic booklets Dawn had used to teach him how to read beneath the personalized Certificate of Achievement Willow had made for him. The flash cards he took delight in challenging and defeating Anya with were nestled between his balled up socks. Hidden deep beneath layers of clothes lay a few of Xander’s special magazines, the ones his friend had marked passages in and told Giles to read carefully but not to take too seriously. Giles wondered how someone could manage reading them at all with the abundant collection of nude photographs of pretty women inside. Still, Xander said it was more important than he could possibly realize but that he would understand when the time came. A selected few of his journals were the last of his possessions to be packed.
Upon seeing the final article placed carefully inside, Douglas paused in his tidying of the room to help Rupert close the case tight and fasten the latches.
“Thank you, Mr. Douglas.”
“Pleasure, Mr. Giles.”
“You can call me Rupert… if you want to.”
“I’d like that very much.”
“Is… is this okay?” Rupert stepped back and held his arms out from his sides.
“What’s that sir?”
“Do I look okay? I mean… for the Council?”
Douglas examined the sneakers, black jeans and loose-fit grey sweater. “You look fine, Rupert. No need to worry about appearances, you’re somewhat of a hero back home.”
“Sure, they study your field reports at the academy. You’re required reading for the next generation. The compound is already abuzz with word of your homecoming, I assure you.”
“Oh… that sounds… sounds nice, I guess.” The thought of so much attention immediately sent Rupert’s heart racing and palms sweating.
“If you don’t mind me asking, sir, what’s it like?”
“What?” Rupert responded absently, lost in thought.
“Not remembering. What’s it like?”
Rupert considered the question as his gaze wandered his borrowed room. Buffy was everywhere here, from the rose stained curtains to the ice skating trophies to the stuffed toy pig placed perfectly amongst the many pillows of the bed.
“It hurts sometimes. Not because I can’t remember, but because I’m beginning to.” Rupert stared for a long moment at the closed closet before continuing quietly as if to himself. “Not everything. Flashes mostly, of little things, things I don’t understand. But she’s always there.”
“Buffy, sir?” Douglas clarified. Rupert blushed with the question, suddenly remembering his companion. Douglas offered a sympathetic smile. “I think I understand.”
“Am I d-doing the right thing by leaving?”
“It’s not really my place to say.” Douglas hefted the suitcase off the bed and walked to the door. “I’ll be waiting for you downstairs. Take your time.”
Once alone, Rupert walked the short distance to the closet and pulled open the folding doors. He reached up high on the top shelf and took down the picture of Buffy, Dawn and Joyce he’d stashed there. It was newly reframed and wrapped within a perfect bow. The young lady at the frame shop had taken three tries to get it up to her expectation. Rupert didn’t have the heart to interrupt her craft to say it was unnecessary. At the very least he appreciated it, knowing that no one but his sponsor, Xander, would ever know the truth. He gripped the ribbon, ready to remove it and forever wipe clean the tragedy of its injury. But he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he carefully returned the picture where he’d originally found it, beside the bed, with the mystery bow proudly intact.
Rupert shut the closet doors and gave the room one last scan. Buffy was here and he would miss this place. His eyes moved to the journal sitting lonely on the bed. He’d packed the ones he wanted, ones filled with a history he needed to learn and remember. But one passage was much too hard to read. He sat down on the edge of the bed and opened the book to the warped and stained page that still haunted his dreams. It was an ugly, desolate page of few words but ones that hurt entirely too much. He took up the pencil from the night stand and slowly etched the letters he’d been studying in secret. The curves were awkward, the lines jittery, but with his patience and perseverance, the words began to form. Right beneath the end of his former passage, “I failed her.” He added, “I’m sorry.” He folded the journal closed and sighed.
“You were leaving,” A familiar voice called from behind him and Rupert turned to see it was Buffy, her forehead damp with perspiration and face red from exertion.
“Buffy?” Rupert asked, surprised. She stepped nervously into the room as he got to his feet. “W-what are you doing here?”
“The night you were wounded, the night you almost died, you were leaving me.” Buffy couldn’t look at him for more than a second before seeking escape in examining the startlingly clean room.
“Buffy… I… um…” He stared at her for a moment, confusion shadowing his brow. Then his curiosity got the best of him and he asked softly, “Why was I leaving?”
“Good reasons,” she said with a regretful smirk. “Painstaking contemplated, completely valid, logical, and right reasons; none of which mattered to me at that moment.” She thought for a second then mumbled, “Stupid reasons.”
“Don’t be. It was my fault. You were leaving me and I was letting you. No, it was more than letting you, I practically ran you out of town. God, I was such an idiot… still am… Megaton idiot-girl.”
“Were you a-angry?” He hesitantly asked, “Angry that I am… was leaving?”
“I was way past angry. I was pissed, as in fuming mad with a capital FU.” She shook her head, ashamed. “Spike said I was selfish because I couldn’t let you go and damn him for being right.”
“Spike talks like he fights, all fury and h-heart; at least he does when he talks about you.” Rupert’s face bowed shyly.
“Spike’s mouth is the only Big Bad about him anymore and he continually uses it for evil.”
“But he’s not evil. He’s your friend, your special… close friend.” Rupert peeked up for a reaction, any reaction.
“Spike is… I don’t even want to call him ‘friend’ because it’s a gross exaggeration of the term. He helps when it serves some twisted motive for him and I let him. He’s like a tool, handy at times then you just want to put him away in that Spike-shaped tape outline on the peg board wall of the tool shed.”
“Still, it must be nice to be handy.” Giles smiled faintly then grew bolder. “Why was it selfish for you to want me to stay?”
“Because I wanted you to stay for all the wrong reasons. You were my security blanket, my fallback plan when everything else blew up in my face. I could always count on you. Then suddenly my security blanket gets holes in it and I panic. All I could do was hope you’d be as good as new with treatment. But you’re not good as new, Rupert. You’re a new you.”
“I-I don’t want to be.” He sighed.
“I know and that’s why I’m selfish. That’s why Spike was right. Ever since the accident, I wanted you to be who you were. Then it hit me that you may never be him again. Me being the total spaz I am, I wigged and I went to the other extreme, keeping the knowledge of who you were away from you. But there’s nothing wrong with you being who you are rather than who we expected you to be because we like the you you’ve become.” Buffy’s head fell back with frustration and she moaned hopelessly. “I’m sorry, I’m not known for my great verbal discourse. This probably makes no sense at all to anyone but me.”
Rupert grinned. “I think I understand.”
“What I’m trying to say as inelegantly as is humanly possible is that living here is dangerous. It’s always been that way. But that doesn’t make it fair or right for me to decide for you how you live your life.” She heaved a sigh. “I want you to stay, Rupert. I really, really, with all my heart do. But for the right reasons… not just for me. I want you to stay because *you* want to. I want you to stay because you need to for you.”
His brow crinkled with doubt. “I can’t be what you want me to be.”
“That’s just it, Rupert, I don’t know what I want you to be anymore. Everything’s airborne now. You’ve changed so much in some ways… good ways. And God knows I’ve changed too, not necessarily for the better.” She wandered off in her thoughts for a moment before shaking herself back to reality.
“But all that doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter. Because it’s not about this, anymore,” she gestured to her head. “It’s about this,” she patted her hand to her chest, covering her heart. “I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. I just know that I almost let you walk out of my life once before. I almost lost you without telling you how much I … how much…” She faltered, scared of speaking those words with a meaning so entirely different than before. “God, this is hard! Why is this so hard?”
“It’s the words,” Rupert answered sympathetically. “They make it hard. The right ones come out wrong or don’t come at all. Sometimes I think if it would be easier to show instead of say how you feel.”
“Easier said than done.” Buffy sighed, staring up at him with a helpless expression.
“Maybe if I show you how I feel?”
Rupert closed the space between them with apprehensive steps, stopping only a few inches from her. She watched dumfounded as he leaned in, his face nearing hers, making her breath hitch. Then thick, rough-textured fingers wrapped around hers and lifted her hand between them. Buffy looked down to see him place a book there, one of his journals. He carefully curled her fingers around it as his remained around hers. She looked up to see his striking green eyes staring down at her as he held her there, bound to the book and bound to him.
“That’s what I want to be, Buffy,” he said in a gentle plea to be heard. “Can I?”
She pulled back, dazed. “Rupert, I… uh, I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t.” He waited, patient and hopeful.
She swallowed hard, yet again struggling to find the words. But words weren’t the answer, not this time. Instead, she listened to her heart, stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him.
“Don’t leave me,” she said and held him close as if to never let him go. After a moment, his burly arms lifted to encircle her. It felt like home, the feel of his warmth, his unconditional love embracing her.
“I don’t want to,” Rupert admitted softly. “I want to be here with you.”
“Then stay, please stay.”
He took in a deep breath and pulled away. Buffy could see the sudden soberness in him and held her breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was she too late? Had she lost him?
“Train me,” he said.
He took her hands back into his, gesturing with them and the book as he spoke. “Like b-before, like I did you only now, you do me.”
Buffy smiled, almost giggling at the phrasing. “Why Rupert, are you asking me to be your Watcher?”
He released her hand to cup her cheek. She leaned into it so naturally it made him smile. “I’m asking for you to show me how to be yours.”
And that’s when the words finally came to her easily. “You always have been, Rupert.”