the unrequited welcome home
It was all an emotionally overloaded blur of activity for Giles. From the initial reunion in the hospital lobby to the car ride to his new home, everything seemed a jumble of information that he should know but couldn’t retain. Names came and went with the breeze and Giles found himself wondering whose he should try to remember first. It was all too much. He already missed the hospital and his friend. These strangers were supposed to be his family, the people that meant most to him. It bothered him that even though they were friendly, he felt no connection with them. He felt alone. Oddly enough, Buffy sat beside him, eyes staring blankly out the window, looking much like she felt the very same way.
The moment they walked through the door, Buffy disappeared and with her, the only thing he’d gotten somewhat familiar with. The others quickly took to showing him around. The tour of the house was a muddle of conversations that Giles listened to but didn’t participate in. He was simply trying to keep up and absorb all he could. The discussions flowed like the current of a stream, branching out into brooks of topics he didn’t know or understand. He would listen and nod, all the while lost in the tide of their words.
The bold youth, Dawn, discussed her misadventures in high school. Giles found it hard to relate, having no recollection of his own, if he’d even attended. Xander, the funny, stout one, discussed the trials and tribulations of construction. Judging by the blank stares on most of his companions faces, he wasn’t the only one having trouble following the tale. Anya, the blonde, direct one, spoke of her adventures in retail. Willow, the bright-eyed red head, told of her lack of adventures with her hobby, whatever that was. She was careful to avoid saying, only making Giles more curious as to what all the mystery was about. The only other one there was the quiet one with gentle eyes, Tara. Her silence made Giles feel a little better about not participating.
Though they were all trying to be welcoming, it was intimidating, being surrounded by people that knew him and that he couldn’t remember. For all he knew, they’d seen him at his worst, his best, and now, his most vulnerable. He didn’t benefit from such intimate knowledge and it left him feeling left out.
They quickly marched through the living room and then the dining room. The gang headed up the stairs to the second floor, still talking amongst themselves, as if taking on the burden to fill the void of silence left by Giles. The train of people came to a stop at one door.
“...and this will be your room.” Willow swung the door open and gestured for him to enter. He followed his youngest companion‘s lead, watching as Dawn crossed the room to open the curtains.
“This is Buffy’s room,” Dawn explained. “She had me take out all the girly stuff so you wouldn’t feel emasculated by a stray glimpse of pantyhose or her lame boy band posters.”
“E-emas-culated?” He repeated anxiously.
“Joking, just joking… um… not important. Anyway, if there’s anything you need, just ring,” Willow said with a smile.
“Ring?” Giles took a quick look around to the knickknacks on the shelves and dresser. “What should I ring?”
“I meant that you should just ask, okay?”
“Okay. Thank you,” Giles responded, his eyes searching the comfortably decorated room. The bed was large and liberally pillowed, blanketed with a floral patterned comforter and a few toy animals. Beside the bed perched a handsomely framed photo of Dawn and Buffy with a pleasant looking woman, all smiling and cuddled together.
“Will Buffy sleep here, too?” He asked expectantly.
Dawn snickered at first then in seeing that Giles was awaiting an answer, she restored her straight-faced resolve. “Buffy doesn’t do too much sleeping,” she explained, traces of worry along her fair features. “Especially lately.”
“Um... let’s get you all settled in first,” Willow urged. She gave Dawn a not-so-subtle look to change the subject.
Giles nodded, disappointed at yet another subject that was being avoided with him. But with a sigh, he let the feelings pass. They probably knew best.
“What do you say to some lunch? I think Xander is ordering pizza,” Willow suggested.
“With extra mushrooms, just the way you like it,” Dawn added cheerily.
“Is that the way I like it?” Giles asked, his eyes shifting from face to face, uncertain.
Dawn started biting at her bottom lip, suddenly embarrassed. “Um... well... I mean, you used to like it.”
“Knowing Xander, he’ll order enough for a f-fleet of delivery boys,” Tara offered. “You’re sure to find something you like.”
“Okay,” Giles responded cooperatively. He couldn’t help but have the feeling he’d done something wrong. If only they’d tell him so he could stop doing it.
“Come on, we’ll show you where the kitchen is,” Willow waved for him to follow. He stepped towards her, his suitcase still in hand. Everyone paused, exchanging bothered glances.
“Um, why don’t I take that...” Dawn carefully tugged the case free from his hand and set it down on the bed. “It’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.”
Giles nodded and followed along as the rest continued on down the stairs. His eyes darted nervously back at his suitcase sitting alone on the bed.
until it’s gone
“It’s good to have him home,” Willow mumbled, nibbling mindlessly on the crust of her pizza slice.
“It really is,” Xander nodded, wearing a vacant stare. He was lost in thought as he pick aimlessly at the minuscule crumbs of meat still adorning his slice.
“He looks different,” Anya observed, snatching up a breadstick and dissecting it before dipping it in the remaining droplets of marinara sauce. “More rumpled and casual but still healthy and strong and in no way an invalid which has to be a relief.”
The gang’s eyes shifted to her and she bobbed her head uncertainly, trying to choose whether to continue the thought or stop before reaching that point where voices got gruff and faces became stern.
“I’m pleased we won’t need to trade in our sporty mid-size sedan for a handy-capable equipped cargo van of a drab shade of white and bearing the confusingly merged wand of Pluto and Uranus. Though the designated parking spots are quite appealing considering their convenient proximity to a variety of retail establishments,” she concluded, finally nibbling at her bread.
“Oh, I get it,” Dawn said victoriously. “You mean the little handicapped symbols thingy people hang on their mirrors. I don’t know if I should be proud or seriously scared.”
A heavy sigh drew everyone’s attention to Xander as he flopped his naked crust slice to the wadded napkin lying on the table.
“I thought I knew what to expect,” he shook his head, eyes focused soberly on the stake sitting atop the living room table. Beneath it sat the imposing list of instructions scribbled hastily by the doctor on how to care for their friend. “I got the memos; heard Buffy’s review of her visits at the hospital, read the diagnosis. But he’s... man, he’s just so...”
“Different,” Anya finished. “Much quieter, much less wordy.”
“Yeah, I know. Not really the book guy we all know and love. Not that I don’t love him anymore, it’s just...” Dawn paused and sighed in relief as the others nodded their understanding. It was reassuring to know she wasn’t the only one feeling that way. “I keep expecting him to break into the business-as-usual banter of the latest creature feature.”
“Lucky for us there isn’t much badness lately,” Willow said with a hint of relief.
“He’ll warm up, guys. This has to be kinda scary for him,” Tara said. “Not remembering... well, anything.”
“Yeah, now that he’s back in the Watcherly flesh, it’s hard to remember that he’s...” Xander gestured regretfully to his head. “You know...”
“Mentally disabled. Cognitively disenfranchised. A few bottles shy of a...”
“We got the picture Anya, thanks.”
“I miss Giles,” she declared, much to the mutually dismal response of everyone. “Though this one isn’t as irritatingly pompous, I miss the old Giles.”
“We all do,” Willow agreed. “But it’s good to have him home.”
Perhaps if she continued to say it, they would begin to believe it.
Giles stared in awe at the numerous gadgets positioned along the kitchen counter top. He examined each one carefully, trying to remember what each did. However, not one recaptured the memories eluding him. With a curious flip of a switch, a yellow light flickered on and gurgling sounds came from somewhere within the strange machine. Soon, steam billowed as more sputters sounded.
“Rupert,” a whisper called from behind him and when he turned, he saw Buffy peeking in from the back door exiting the kitchen.
“Oh, h-hello,” Giles responded uneasily, quickly flipping the switch to turn off the strange appliance. He straightened and shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, returning to the picture of innocence. Buffy smiled, amused.
“Wanna break from the all the excitement?”
“Come on.” Buffy motioned for him to join her outside and with a guilty glance back to the living room where the others had retired to, he stepped outside.
The sun was high in the blue, cloudless sky and he squinted at the stinging brightness shining down. He noticed Buffy was also squinting, as bothered as he was by it. Her eyes looked dark and heavy.
“How’re you holding up?” She asked as she took a seat on the sun-bleached wooden bench.
Giles’ head cocked askew as his brows creased with confusion. “I’m not holding anything up, am I?”
“I meant, how are you doing? So much to absorb, you gotta be wigging at least a little.”
“Um, stressed,” Buffy clarified, giving the vacant spot beside her an inviting pat.
“It’s all quite... rushed,” Giles concluded.
He didn’t seem to notice or understand her invitation. “Wanna sit with me a while?”
“Um, alright.” He took a sliver of a seat at the furthest point he could manage on the bench. After a long moment of silence, he said softly, “Thank you.”
“No problem. This bench is intended for twosome use. My mom liked it because she said it was like an outdoor version of a love seat only no one ever sits in it so there isn’t so much love... um... happening.”
“I meant your room,” Giles correctly softly, sitting painfully rigid, ready to bolt from the seat. “Thank you for your room.”
“Oh, right… the room.” She shrugged. “Again, no problem. Not in there much.”
“They said you don’t sleep anymore.”
“Yeah, not so much.”
“Can I ask why?”
“You can ask,” she smirked, glancing playfully at him.
“Why don’t you sleep much anymore?” He asked again, anticipating an answer.
That widened her smile. She bowed her head forward, her eyes staring at her folded hands resting in her lap. “I have nightmares.”
“I have those, too,” Giles said sympathetically. “I don’t like them.”
“What happens in yours?”
She thought for a moment, uncertain how much she should share. Everyone else was being so cautious, avoiding any uncomfortable subjects in an attempt to protect him from the ugly truth. She could tell it was bothering Giles; the lines in his forehead would darken, his pout thickened. But now, he sat beside her, eyes hopeful for answers, his stiff posture gradually relaxing as his body inched in closer and to a more comfortable position with every word exchanged between them.
With a nervous sigh, she revealed, “At first, I’m in a place of peace and comfort. Then suddenly, I get taken away, put into a place of chaos and pain and I feel... I feel so alone.”
“I know the feeling,” Giles said solemnly. “Not the pain part, really... but the other part.”
“Seems like we have something in common, then,” Buffy suggested with the hint of a smile.
“And that we aren’t so alone after all,” Giles added, sitting back and relaxing against the backrest of the wooden bench as he let his gaze wander the landscape. They sat quietly, letting the noise of nature continue the conversation for them, eyes squinting at the brilliant sun reveling the days passing above.