The cut felt deep. She hoped it wouldn't need stitches. The cloth stung, even though he was trying to be gentle....
God. That Council bastard had fired Giles. And why?
Because he said Giles cared too much about her. Loved her, even.
But how could someone who...who loved someone else...how could they knowingly do what Giles had done? Done to her?
That hurt, too, worse than the cut on her head. Far worse. Far deeper. Oh, God, he'd....
She shuddered and brushed away the tear which slid down her cheek.
"Shh, shh," he soothed as he gently dabbed at her wounds.
And that only made it worse. In her weakened state, she felt her fragile control slipping, felt another tear escape. He was so gentle, but he'd hurt her so much....
Maybe almost as much as I hurt him.
The thought came unbidden. She hadn't trusted him with the news about Angel's being back. She knew what Angel had done to him, knew he'd be angry, so she'd kept it from him.
Like he'd kept this test from her.
But this was different. She hadn't...violated him. She hadn't stuck him with needles and made him lose his....
No. She'd only proven to him, again, that she didn't trust him. She'd only lied to him again. Maybe it was his way of getting back at her.
Except that he'd told her. He hadn't gone through with it. He couldn't go through with it. And his.... His what, exactly? Loyalty? The council guy called it his affection. That affection had gotten him fired.
What was a watcher when he had no one to watch?
He rinsed the cloth in the water, tinting it pink, and wrung it out again, applying it to the cut next to her eye, his actions so gentle, so caring. And the look on his face....
He was bruised, too. His cheek, his eye. He'd fought a vampire, defeated it, when he knew the test required him to stay out of it.
Of course, there wasn't supposed to be a second vampire, just the big, crazy one. The other one must have joined the party when psycho-vamp escaped. Would Giles have interfered if it hadn't gone wrong?
She shuddered again, looking up at him. She didn't know him anymore.
Had she ever?
He set the bloody cloth down. "Let me drive you home."
She wanted to refuse. She wanted to tell him to get the hell out of her life, to take his goddamned watchers and shove them.
But he'd already done that himself. He'd already cut the ties that had brought him here, that had made him what he was. He'd already done all that.
She swallowed and nodded, uncurling her legs, getting to her feet and wobbling as her weakness and injuries took their toll. His hand was there, steadying her. Its grip was strong, sturdy, but gentle, too. She looked up at him, grateful for his support, and he quickly withdrew, looking away almost guiltily. As if he didn't have the right to offer it, after what he'd done. Or that he wasn't sure how she'd react.
She swallowed and looked down. They should have headed out of the library, but neither of them moved. So they stood in silence for...for longer than she could have imagined being silent.
Finally, she looked up. He was watching her.
Of course. That's what he did. Watch her.
Or it was.
"What will you do now?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
He glanced away. "Whatever I need to," he answered simply. "I..it's probably for the best that...that they give you a new watcher. Especially since I.... Since I violated your trust, and that trust is paramount between watchers and slayers." He didn't look at her. Couldn't look at her.
She thought again about what he'd done and felt sick. She shuddered on a breath. "It hurts," she whispered. "I know you thought you had to, but...but God, Giles.... It hurts, that you could do that to me." Her eyes filled with tears and she bit her lower lip to keep from sobbing.
"I know," he answered softly. "And I can offer you no...no excuse, no explanation except to say that I did what I was told I had to do. I should have told them right from the start what they could do with their bloody test, but I..... Didn't." He took a deep breath. "Too many years of indoctrination, of thinking that the Council is always right because that's the way it's always been done."
He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, stopped uncertainly, then pulled his hand back. "I don't think I can fight the Council, and I'm not sure it would be in your best interests for me to try. But I won't abandon you. They can stop me from being your watcher, but they can't stop me from continuing the fight. And God knows they can't stop me from caring about you."
Caring about her.
Which is what got him into so much trouble to begin with. They fired him because he cared about her. Because his affection, they said, clouded his judgement. The affection that had sent him charging into dangerous situations again and again in order to help her.
The affection that had saved her life.
She looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks, stinging the cut there. "I want to be so mad at you.... I am. So mad at you. At what you did. At your stupid council and their stupid tests that almost got my mother killed...almost got me killed and I wasn't strong enough to stop it.... I want to hate you for what happened, what you did to me, but I.... Oh, God, I...I don't want another watcher. I couldn't do it with another watcher. I just can't." She hiccupped a sob. "I can't do it without you. Oh, God, Giles, I need you...."
Her vision blurred with tears, so she didn't see him, couldn't see his face. Only felt his hands as he reached for her, touched her hair, put his arms around her and gathered her close. She put her arms around him, wanted to hug him tight, but didn't have the strength. So she relied on his strength, the comfort of his embrace, the soft murmur of his voice whispering gentle assurances she didn't really hear but it didn't really matter. A hand smoothed her hair, soothing her. She buried her face against his chest. She was probably bleeding on his shirt front. She wished she had the strength to care.
"Shh, Buffy, hush my dearest child. Shh." His voice was soothing as a lullaby. "You'll be fine." He eased the embrace, cupping her face in his hands. She blinked up at him. His eyes were wet behind his glasses. "You'll do fine, just like you did before. Before I became your watcher."
She wiped a hand across her nose, sniffing. "I didn't do fine. I didn't do fine at all. And this will be a hundred times worse."
"You'll do fine," he countered, "because you are the strongest, bravest, most talented girl I have ever known. You are exceptional, even without your special strength. And I know that you can handle any situation, or any watcher, which is thrown your way. In fact, I suspect whoever they send to be your watcher will be absolutely...slumguzzled by you."
His smile was so gentle, his eyes were so kind. She really wanted to still be mad at him. And when she stopped and thought about it, she still was. His actions had violated her trust, and then his actions had gotten him fired.
But he was so.... So Giles.... It was hard to stay mad at him.
"Slumguzzled?" She managed a little smile. "Where'd you come up with that one?"
"I've noticed my vocabulary deteriorating quite badly since I've been associating with you lot," he commented wryly. "I seem to recall my telling Quentin at one point I didn't give a rat's ass about the Council."
"You didn't!" Her smile widened, trying to imagine Giles saying "rat's ass." The only Giles she could imagine saying that was the one in the t-shirt whose English accent had lowered with the application of spiked candy.
He shrugged, then his smile faded. He touched a gentle finger to her forehead. "That cut's still bleeding. I think I've got some butterfly closures in my first aid kit, if you'd like me to take a look at it."
It was an offering of sorts. He wanted to take care of her, to look after her, as he'd always done. He no longer had the right. He was asking for the privilege.
She nodded and he led her to the circulation desk where he put his hands on her waist and lifted her up, sitting her on the counter, like a child. He got the kit out from behind the desk and set to work cleaning and closing the wound.
She watched his face as he worked, saw the concentration, the contrition, and the caring. Quentin said Giles loved her like a father. Buffy thought of her own father, who'd so disappointed her by canceling their planned outing. Maybe disappointments were part of what happened between parents and children as the children grew up. She wondered if she'd ever totally trust Giles again. Or whether that implicit faith was gone, one more illusion of childhood shattered.
She knew that despite her disappointment in her father, she still loved him. Watching Giles tenderly bandaging her wound, she realized that despite everything that had happened, despite everything he'd done, how he'd hurt her.... In spite of it all, she still loved him, too.
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