In the hall, Giles sat with the rest of his platoon listening to Captain Mainwaring drone on about tactics. He knew more about tactics than this man could ever hope to learn, but said nothing. The Captain, for all that he was a pompous, jumped up little snob, was a man with a very kind heart and firmly believed he was doing his utmost for the war effort. It wasn’t in Giles to embarrass him in front of men who did respect him—or at least, had to work with him daily. He turned as he heard some commotion at the entryway.
Looking more closely, he could see a pretty girl dressed in men’s garments trying to push her way past the sentry. She wasn’t being rough, but she was determined. He thought she looked familiar.
Captain Mainwaring stopped his lecture and turned around with a fierce frown on his face. “What on Earth is going on there? Jones, Frazer, go see what’s happening.”
The two old men made their way to the door and stood talking to the girl for a few minutes. As one, they turned to look at Giles, then back to the girl. They conferred with her for a few minutes and then came back to report to the Captain.
“The lassie says she knows our Giles. Wants to talk to him, she does,” Frazer said with a glower.
“She did say that, Captain Mainwaring,” Jones contributed.
“Private Giles! Do you know this woman?” Mainwaring demanded.
Giles stood. He took a couple of steps closer to her, puzzlement on his face. “B, B, Buffy?”
“Giles!!!” Buffy slipped around the sentry like he was nothing. She ran at full tilt heading straight for the librarian.
He started moving and they met in the center of the room. Buffy leaped into his arms and he clasped her to him, holding her as closely as he could.
She hugged him tightly and then leaned back to run her hands over his beloved face. “I missed you. I was so worried when you didn’t come home.”
“I lost my memory. I landed in the ocean and something hit me in the head. I couldn’t remember myself, but I remembered you. The sight of you seems to have restored me.” He ran his hands hungrily over her features. “I missed you dreadfully, dear. How did you find me?”
“We’re joined, you and I. I followed my heart.”
They would have said more but Mainwaring and the rest of the platoon gathered around them.
“Who is this girl, Giles? How do you know her?” the Captain demanded, put out that something was happening over which he had no control.
Giles turned to him, slipping his arm over Buffy’s shoulders. “This is my Buffy.”
“How come she’s dressed so funny, Uncle Arthur? She’s wearing trousers, just like a man.” Pike goggled at the site of the beautiful, but very strangely dressed girl.
“Not now, Frank.” Arthur Wilson studied the girl, an idea so outrageous he couldn’t quite get his mind around it forming in his brain. Frank was right about one thing, this girl wasn’t dressed right. It wasn’t just the trousers. The shirt was like nothing he had ever seen a woman wear. And little things he had noticed about Giles began lining up and falling into place. How the younger man didn’t know how to do even the most basic things like dealing with his ration book or live in a blackout. He hadn’t known what the air raid sirens meant either. Wilson narrowed his eyes and looked at Giles carefully.
“And just who is that?” Captain Mainwaring inquired hastily. He felt like something was being put over on him, a trick at his expense.
“Buffy and I…” Giles trailed off, not really knowing how to finish that explanation.
“Giles and I love each other. We take care of each other. He went missing and I came to get him. Now, we’re going home,” Buffy explained simply.
“You’re American!” Mainwaring all but shouted.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “And we really need to go home.”
“How did you get here? There’s a war on, you know,” Jones pointed out.
“I was sent by the Powers to find Giles. He’s needed elsewhere,” she prevaricated.
“What powers, what are you talking about, you silly girl?” Mainwaring did shout that time.
Buffy watched Giles’ eyes turn cold as ice. “Never speak so to my Buffy again, Captain.”
Mainwaring took a step back at the look on the librarian’s face. He suddenly realized he was facing a very, very dangerous man. Prudently, he took another step back. He glanced at Buffy. “Begging your pardon, miss. It’s simply that I’m in charge here and I’m very confused.”
Buffy smiled at him and Mainwaring felt like he’d been given a gift. “No harm done. It’s important to understand what’s going on in a given situation. Giles and I are soldiers of a sort, ourselves. We understand what it means to fight. I’m really sorry I can’t give you more information, but I’ve been away from this man for over three months. He and I need to talk.”
Mainwaring nodded as if it had all been his own idea. “Of course, of course.” He looked around. “Sergeant Wilson will take you back to the flat he’s been sharing with Mr. Giles, then he can report back to me here. We can arrange some transport for you.”
Buffy nodded. “Thank you. We have our own transportation taken care of, but I appreciate the offer.” She didn’t know why she did it, but she stepped back so that Giles’ arm fell from her. Squaring her shoulders, she snapped to attention and gave the Captain the crispest salute he had ever received. “Captain, your cooperation and care of Rupert Giles have been noted by higher Powers. You have my thanks and that of our superiors.”
Mainwaring drew himself up and returned the salute. “Thank you, ma’am. We all try to do our part.”
“And you do it most ably,” she nodded. “Now, if we could trouble you for that privacy…”
“Of course! Sergeant.”
Arthur Wilson stepped forward. He swept into a gentle bow. “Arthur Wilson at your service, ma’am.”
“Take me to where we need to be, Sergeant Wilson,” Buffy told him, softening the order with a smile.
He led them back to the flat he had basically given over to Giles. Turning slightly he asked Giles if Buffy was really the Slayer.
Giles goggled at him. “How did you know?”
“I told you I had a bit of training as a young man. And it just seems right, somehow.”
“Then, I’m going to trust you Arthur. Yes, my Buffy is the Slayer, but she’s not the Slayer for this time. We were living in the future, the year 2000. Buffy is facing a rather strong enemy and a bit of research turned up indicating that an amulet that would stop our enemy was last seen in Walmington-on-Sea during the war. I volunteered to come back here and retrieve it, but, as you know, I was injured and lost my memory. Seeing Buffy restored that memory, intact, as far as I can tell. Now, we need to retrieve that amulet and go back to our own time.”
Buffy must have made some invisible gesture because Giles turned to her. “What is it, dear?”
“Um, we don’t need the amulet anymore. I just came to collect you and go, really.”
“But, Glory?” his voice was a question mark.
“Ah, she’s gone.”
“Then you managed to defeat her.” He had a sudden, painful thought. “Dawn? She’s, she’s all right isn’t she?”
“Yes. Everybody is all right. Now.” She looked down at the ground then off into space, refusing to meet his gaze. “I’ll tell you the whole story later.”
He gave her a sharp look but nodded. “Later then.”
“I’ve never met the actual Slayer,” Arthur told her. “I wasn’t anywhere near high enough on the ladder to be allowed such a privilege.”
Buffy grinned. “I don’t know how much of a privilege it is, but for what it’s worth, you’ve now met a Slayer.”
“Not just a Slayer, either,” Giles said fondly. “Buffy is the best Slayer I have ever read or heard of. She has survived five years, four of them on the Hellmouth.” He didn’t understand why Buffy looked so deeply uncomfortable at his words but decided that she must simply be embarrassed to be praised so.
Arthur nodded, his eyes wide as he stared at her. “Are you really as strong as they say?”
Buffy shrugged. “I’m strong, but there are limits. I can’t lift a car over my head or anything like that.”
“This is a very difficult concept for me. I was given minimal training as a lad so that I understand that vampires and demons are real, but…”
“But the actual knowing is different, isn’t it?” Giles smiled at him. “I was a very much more naïve man when I arrived in Sunnydale—our base of operations. I honestly thought, well, I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I thought things would be quite different.”
“He thought I was going to be happy about being the Slayer. I wasn’t and I was pretty loud about it. Luckily, he never held that against me.”
“Buffy, nothing you do…”
She held up her hand and placed it over his lips. “Giles, I treated you terribly. I’m just glad I have a chance to make it up to you now.”
He enfolded her hand in his own and placed a soft kiss on her fingers. “Nothing to make up, beloved.”
She smiled sadly but allowed him to have the last word.
“You said the amulet you are looking for was last seen here and now. What happened to it?” Arthur asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Buffy looked at Giles in some surprise. “I guess we never wondered that.”
“Perhaps that means we take it with us.”
Buffy nodded. “Good reasoning. I suppose we need to find the thing then.”
“What does it look like?” Arthur asked.
She reached into the front pocket of her jeans and drew out a photocopy of a drawing and showed it to him.
“Why, I know this! My uncle gave this to me when I went off to school. I thought it was a particularly unattractive watch fob.”
“Do you still have it?” Giles asked eagerly.
“Yes, just a moment.” They watched while the other man went to the dresser and pulled out a small jewelry box. He opened it and pulled out the amulet. “Here, take it with my compliments. I never did like it.”
Giles took it and put it in his pocket. “Thank you, Arthur. Not just for this,” he patted the pocket holding the amulet, “but for all that you have done for me since I arrived. For the record, I think you would have been a very good Watcher.”
Arthur laughed lightly. “Ah, well. I was rather too light-hearted for the job. Water under the bridge now, after all these years.”
Buffy stepped up to him and gently placed a kiss on his cheek. “I name you friend, Arthur Wilson. All Slayers will know you on sight. My word to you.” Her eyes glowed briefly and she stepped back.
Giles looked at her, wordless with surprise. She blushed. “There have been a few little changes while you were away, Giles.”
“So I see. Have you been dabbling in magic?”
“Not me, no. I’ve been…away.”
He gave her a stern look. “We will talk, Buffy, but now is neither the time nor the place.”
“No, Giles. You’re right. We need to go home now.”
She had Arthur step well away from them as she pulled her Watcher close to her body. He hugged her and Buffy fixed a picture in her mind. “Return.”
They felt the wind pushing at them again but it was behind them now, pushing them home, no longer fighting their desires. They landed with a thud in Giles’ living room. He blinked in surprise.
“I had to think of home and this place represents that for me. Also, I’m…unhappy with Willow and the others and I really don’t want to see them for a while.”
“We should talk,” he told her, but his words were overlaid by a gigantic yawn.
It must have been contagious because Buffy echoed it. They grinned at each other. “How about we catch some Z’s, Watcher-mine? We can talk after since none of the others knows we’re home.”
“That, as you would say, sounds like a plan.” He glanced up at the loft. “You may have the bed.”
“I don’t want to be in it alone, Rupert. I need to be with you more now than I have ever needed anything in my entire life.”
“Buffy, are you sure?”
“Just hold me tonight, Giles. Let me wake up wrapped in your arms. We’ll talk in the morning.”
He bowed his head. “As you desire.”
She trailed her hand across his cheek. “Oh, Giles. I desire so very much, but for tonight, just comfort and sleep.”
“That is what we shall have, then.” He looked around. “Er, would you care for something to eat?”
She chuckled. “You’ve been gone for more than three months, Rupert. Willow said she cleaned out your fridge before all your vegetables turned into slime. I doubt there’s anything here that isn’t canned.”
He looked surprised. “I didn’t think of that. Well, then, let’s go to bed. We can eat out in the morning.”
She nodded and yawned again as they walked slowly up the loft stairs.
Buffy had thought that sharing a bed with him for the first time might be awkward, but it was like coming home. She belonged with him like her hand belonged on her arm. He dug around in his drawer and tossed her a T-shirt to sleep in, before stripping down to his own underwear and crawling into the bed, exhausted. She forwent modesty and undressed herself sliding the soft comfort of the shirt over her body with a shimmy.
Giles thought with a smile that if he hadn’t been so blasted tired, he would have made her a little less comfortable with his presence as she undressed. As it was, he could only smile softly at the sight of her beautiful body. He sighed softly as she cuddled up next to him in the bed. “I believe I could get used to this.”
“Good, because I’m planning to. Goodnight, Rupert.”
“Goodnight, my love.”
Buffy woke as soon as dawn touched the sky. She lay in bed reveling in the warmth and comfort of the man sleeping next to her. He smelled good: more Gilesy than usual. She liked it and was smiling at that thought when his eyes opened.
Giles looked down at Buffy. For some reason, she was smiling at him. It caused him to smile back, a sweet and happy feeling engulfing him at the feel of her in his arms.
“Did I wake you? I didn’t mean to,” she apologized.
“No, you didn’t wake me. I almost always wake at this time of day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.”
“Really? That’s kind of weird. I do that too.”
“In the journals I’ve read that most Slayers and Watchers do it. I believe it is an instinctual recognition that the sun has risen and we are relatively safe for another day.”
She thought about that and finally nodded. “Yeah, I could see that.”
He rolled over till he was looking directly at her. “Now, tell me what has been happening here.”
She sighed. “It’s sort of a long story. Well, maybe not that long. We waited for you to come back until the last possible minute, then we went with Plan B. We got to the Portal site and Glory had Dawn on this huge tower built of scraps of whatever her minions could find. We sent in the Buffy bot to give us a little breathing room and Glory fought it for a few minutes. She was really surprised when it turned out to be a robot.” Buffy giggled. “You should have seen the look on her face!”
He smiled. “Go on.”
“Then I walked in and we got into the meat of the fight. I beat her with the troll hammer till she couldn’t move. She tried to save her life by morphing back into Ben.” Her face grew somber. “I killed him, Giles. I broke his neck so she couldn’t ever come back.”
“You did the right thing, Buffy. There was no other way to stop her.”
“I know.” She stayed silent for so long he thought she might have drifted off to sleep again, but then realized she was merely marshaling her thoughts.
“Anyway, I ran up the tower to get Dawn, but this demon guy called Doc was up there too. He wanted the portal open for reasons of his own. He cut Dawn and started the ritual. I got there in time to kill him too, but the Portal was opening. I could see…things…on the other side, waiting to come here. The monks had made Dawn out of me so I knew that my blood would stop the gate from opening. I told Dawn that I loved her and…”
“And?” He didn’t realize how tightly he was gripping her arm.
“And I threw myself off the tower into the portal. It sucked me dry: my strength, my warmth, my life. I died. The battle ended and the guys took my body back to the house. They buried me in Restview. Picked a really nice spot. You should go up and see my tombstone sometime.”
“But, but if you died, how is it that you’re back?”
“About a week ago, Willow found a spell. She brought me back with the help of the others—except Dawn. At least they kept her out of it. They,” she started to hyperventilate as the story grew more intense. “They didn’t even dig me out of my coffin, Giles. They left me there buried alive. I had to break out and claw my way through the dirt. It got in my face and in my mouth and I couldn’t do anything because if I screamed it would have suffocated me. I got out eventually and there was this group of demons on motorcycles terrorizing the town. I dealt with them. Then I went home.”
“Oh my God, Buffy. Oh my God.” He pulled her tightly against him and held her while her body shook with spasms of remembered terror.
“That wasn’t the worst, Giles.”
“There’s more?” He sounded incredulous. How could there be something more awful than what she had already revealed?
“I was in Heaven. They ripped me out of Heaven.”
He held her while the enormity of the crime that had been perpetuated against her rocketed through his body. “Oh my dear girl. I’m so sorry. I should have been here.”
She stroked his face tenderly. “Not your fault, amnesia guy. I just wanted you to know. While I was…gone, I picked up a few interesting, um, tricks. Like the mark I placed on Mr. Wilson. I can sort of see into people now, read their auras or something. I didn’t know I could mark him till I did it. I talked a lot with the other Slayers while I was gone. Learned a lot of things. Willow pulled me out, but the Powers that Be allowed it. We aren’t done fighting and they wanted me to be the Slayer to do it. Something big is coming. From what I could gather, it’s going to change the world.”
“Oh.” He simply didn’t know what to say. “How, how are you?”
“I’m…physically I’m fine, but mentally…I don’t think I’m in a good place at all.” She trembled against him. “I’m so angry, Giles. So very angry. I wanted to kill Willow and the rest of them. She’s so happy, gloating and smug about how she pulled me back from death itself. She didn’t even ask where I had been.”
“Buffy, love…I’m speechless. I don’t have any platitude to tell you that things will get better, that you will overcome your feelings about your friends, that you will heal in time. I could say them and mean them, but I don’t think that is what you are looking for. I think you need some time away from Slaying and from this place.”
She let out a shaky breath. “Yes. Yes. I need that so much. What about the Hellmouth?”
“I’ll call the Council. Let them deal with it for a change.”
She nodded and he continued.
“Will your father take Dawn for a while?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure I should be away from her. She didn’t have anything to do with bringing me back. In fact, she was pretty horrified.”
“Then we can take her with us.” He thought for a few moments. “Give her a call. Tell her to pack for both of you. Just one case each. We can buy more as we need it.”
“OK. What if Willow answers the phone?”
He thought for a moment. “Hang up. She’ll just think it was a wrong number.”
Buffy nodded again. She sat up and crawled from the protection of his arms. It was like pulling a tooth without Novocain. Leaving the bed, she padded over to the phone and dialed the familiar number.
The plan went like clockwork. Dawn, who was angry at Willow for Buffy’s sake, was glad to leave the witch in the dark. She packed the two bags and got them downstairs to the front hallway without anyone being the wiser. Willow and the others were off doing something at the Magic Box and Dawn hadn’t been invited so escaping undetected was easy. The Scoobies wouldn’t come home till late anyway.
While Buffy and Dawn moved their luggage to the car, Giles penned a note to leave on the refrigerator. He didn’t feel like Willow and the others deserved an explanation but couldn’t leave them thinking Dawn had run away. Willow would have simply tracked her down magically anyway.
Dear Willow, et al,
We arrived back safely earlier this evening but found we have some unexpected business in England. Will get back to you when we can. Taking Dawn with us. We will be maintaining a low profile so do not attempt to contact us.
He thought that was vague enough to drive them crazy without giving them anything concrete to go on. They didn’t deserve to know where Buffy was or when she would return. Pinning it to the refrigerator with a magnet, he turned and left the house without a second glance.
They caught a puddle-jumper flight out of Sunnydale to LA and from there, a direct flight into Heathrow airport. All three of them were exhausted, so Giles rented two hotel rooms. If Dawn was surprised to find she had one to herself, she didn’t say anything.
Buffy, though exhausted from the long flight, slept fitfully, waking several times gasping for air. Giles woke each time she moved and held her gently, stroking her back till the shaking stopped.
“It will get better, love. I promise, it will get better.”
She sighed and cuddled against him, not replying but taking comfort in his presence, nonetheless.
The next morning, they rented a car and drove to the country estate of the Giles’ family.
“Wow. It’s really beautiful here,” Dawn gushed.
He smiled at her. “Yes. This land has been in my family for about seven hundred years. It’s home.”
“You must have really missed it when you were in Sunnydale,” Buffy said softly.
“I had you. Where you are is my heart’s home,” he told her gently.
She turned to him and placed her cheek against his shoulder. “Thank you, Giles. Thank you, Rupert.”
He gazed down at her, stroking back her hair from her face. “You are most welcome, love.”
Dawn looked at them curiously. “So, are you guys like, a couple now?”
Buffy glanced at her sister. “Yes.”
Giles was a little less abrupt. “Does it bother you, Dawn?”
“No. I think it’s great. You guys belong together.” She let her eyes roam the paddocks and fields. “Ooooo. You have horses. Can I learn to ride, Giles?”
He smiled that she was so accepting of his relationship with her sister. “I don’t see why not.” He turned back to Buffy. “Would you like to learn to ride as well, my heart?”
“I already know how. I went through a horsey phase when I was about twelve. My folks were really glad when I outgrew it.”
“I love horseback riding. When I was a lad, it was the most fun I was allowed to have. I could ride for hours because my father thought that a Watcher needed to know. You never know where your duty will take you, after all.”
Buffy smiled. “Yours took you to within a hundred miles of LA. Not really horse country. You’ve given up so much for me, Rupert. How come you never told me?”
“I gave up things and found my heart. Not a bad trade, in my opinion.”
Dawn, who had been standing close by listening to this, rolled her eyes. “Geez, are you guys going to go on like this for much longer because, I’m gonna yark if I have to hear much more.”
Buffy ruffled her sister’s hair. “No yarking. It’s not easy finding your other half with your baby sister making comments from the peanut gallery.”
“Oh, all right. Say, are you going to tell Dad?”
“Not yet. There’s nothing he needs to know about now.”
“Yeah, but we’re probably closer to him now than anytime over the last couple of years. You knew he was in Spain, right?”
“No. I guess I don’t care very much either.” Buffy took Giles’ hand in her own. “Show us your place, Rupert.”
Giles sat on the stoop looking out at the land. He loved this place. It was in his blood. He smelled the green perfection of the pasture, relished the light rain that sometimes fell, and thoroughly enjoyed not being hot all the time. He felt Buffy come up behind him, resting her hands on his shoulders as she breathed in the healing air.
“I love it here, Rupert. I love you.”
He reached up and pulled her hand over his shoulder, dropping a kiss on it as she wrapped her arms around him from behind. “I’m very glad, beloved.” He was silent for a long moment. “Would you mind very much if I took a short trip soon?”
“I was thinking of taking a day trip down to Walmington-on-Sea. I, I think I’d like to lay some flowers on some graves there.”
“Of course, Rupert. I should have thought of it myself.” She hesitated for a few seconds. “Can I come too? I’d really like to pay my own respects to Arthur and the rest of them. They saved you and took you in. They made you one of them. I read a book about the Home Guard not long after we came here. Those people…those brave, valiant people, Giles.”
He swung her around so that she was perched on his lap. “I would be honored if you would come with me, dear heart.” He rested his head on her shoulder as he stroked her back comfortingly. “They were warriors and the descendants of warriors. It makes me proud to be British when I think of their courage. It was like that all over this country. Old men and children armed with kitchen knives and sticks prepared to give their lives to repel the Nazi invader. That the invasion never came doesn’t negate their sacrifice one jot.”
“They were heroes.”
“Of the truest sort.” He sighed. “The privations they lived with on a daily basis…the rationing, the waiting horror of the bombers flying over, never knowing if today was the day they would have to fight an armed invader to the death…yet, they were happy.”
She nodded. “They were brave. I think it must be bred in the bone. You Brits come through in the end. Look at how you always fought for me, no matter what. For that matter, look at how Wesley turned himself around. That takes courage. Your country breeds heroes, Giles.”
He cleared his throat. “We’re just people, dear.”
“Some of us might have a smidgeon of bravery, yes.” He smiled down at her.
“If a smidgeon is measured in buckets full, then yeah, just a smidgeon.” She kissed him gently. “Let’s head down tomorrow. Dawn can stay with her friend Karen in the village.”
They left in the pre-dawn of early morning because the trip would take several hours and they wanted to have time to explore the town. It was nearly lunchtime when they arrived. Giles drove the car carefully through the narrow streets looking around in amazement.
“It hasn’t changed a great deal. A few new buildings, some of the older ones gone, but for the most part, it’s very similar to the town I knew.”
“Small towns don’t change much, as a rule,” Buffy said, looking around with interest.
“Look there, it’s the block of flats I shared with Arthur.”
Buffy nodded her remembrance. “Should we find the cemetery?”
“In a bit. I think I’d like to just drive around for a little while, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind. These people saved your life. There should be a monument here, if you want my opinion.”
He laughed. “Not for my sake, love. Maybe for their war effort.”
She sniffed but said nothing. He wasn’t going to change her mind. They drove down the street and he pointed to the undertaker’s, the bank, and the meat market where his companions had earned their daily bread. He showed her where the Godfrey’s cottage had been, now totally eradicated by the expanded airport that had sprawled over the countryside. “This used to be a very beautiful little cottage. Godfrey and his sister lived here. They had roses.”
She put her hand on his back to comfort him.
He led her through the town pointing out the things that were new and the things that he remembered. He saw the little teashop where he and Arthur often stopped for a bit of sweet biscuit and tea. Pointing it out to Buffy, he impulsively suggested they go in and have a bite to eat.
“They used to have the most delicious currant buns here.” They walked in, the only customers at this time of day except for one old man sitting in a corner. He glanced at them as they came in, then simply stared.
Buffy and Giles sat down and he ordered a pot of tea and two currant buns for them. They chatted for a few minutes before Buffy felt the old man’s gaze on them. “Geez, take a picture, why don’t you?” she muttered under her breath.
Giles’, taking note of her discomfort, turned slightly in his seat to look back at the old man. Apparently, that was invitation enough because the man stood up and made his way over to them.
“I know you,” he told Giles, still looking at him intently. “You’re him! That man that washed up on the beach back in ’41. I recognize you!”
Giles looked around, noting their isolation, then nodded. “I am.” He looked closely at the man. “Frank? Frank Pike? Is that you?”
The old man grinned. “Didn’t recognize me in my disguise as an old coot, did you, Mr. Giles?” He laughed. “I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my time. I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me how you came to be there and here and not look a day older?”
Giles smiled. “Actually, I might as well, if you promise not to tell.” He waited for the other man’s nod of compliance. “I’m what is known as a Watcher.” He told the story of Earth’s origins, finishing with the story of why they needed to go back in time. “I went to Walmington-on-Sea to look for a specific item. When I found it, Buffy and I returned home again.”
Frank nodded. “Interesting. Captain Mainwaring just about had a fit over your ‘disappearance.’ Got very snippy with Uncle Arthur over it. We had GHQ sending blokes down here for weeks after trying to track you down.”
“You don’t seem very surprised,” Giles mentioned.
“Well, I am and I’m not. As I said before, I’m old and I’ve seen a lot. Knew there was something odd about you, but didn’t know what. Uncle Arthur vouched for you and when it all came right down to it, that was good enough for me.”
“He was a very good man,” Giles noted softly.
Frank Pike smiled. “Yes, he was. I can’t believe he and my mum were an item for years and I never guessed. I was a very sheltered youngster.”
“Times were different then.”
“That they were, Mr. Giles. That they were.”
“I came here to pay my respects to the others. It never occurred to me that there would be anyone left here.”
“I’m older now than almost all of them were then. It amazes me how active they were, how ready to fight if necessary. They were good men.”
“The best,” Giles agreed.
Frank stood up and slowly popped his joints. “Come with me and I’ll show you their graves. They’d like to think of you visiting, I’m sure.”
Buffy and Giles followed him slowly out of the shop and down the street. Luckily, the old cemetery wasn’t that far away. They made it without undo strain on the old man.
He led them to a small corner lot. “Here’s Godfrey. He was the first to go. Died the year the war ended. His sister had passed on the previous year and he didn’t really have much to hold him here.” He stepped to another grave not very far away from the first.
“We buried Frazer and Jones three years after the war. They died within six months of each other. Mainwaring’s over here with his wife.” He showed them the plot. He lived another fifteen years and became a worse braggart with every one of them. By the end, you’d have thought he was running a full squadron of soldiers instead of a few old men and a boy. He tried though and he was no coward.”
“Here’s Walker’s grave. He went away for a while but came back here about twenty years ago. He had cancer. Even at the end, he was trying to cut a deal,” Frank chuckled, shaking his head at the memory.
“Over here, we have Hodges. How he and Mainwaring despised each other! They always had some sort of rivalry going on.”
“Where’s Arthur Wilson?” Giles asked quietly.
“Uncle Arthur went down to Eastbourne for a few years, but he and my mum came back here at the end. He died quite unexpectedly, in apparent good health. Just keeled over one day at the bank. He was the only father I ever knew. I miss him to this day.”
“I miss him too. He was a very good man and helped me tremendously. They all did, even you, Frank.”
“Did I? I really was a tiresome boy when I think back on it.”
“Just a youngster learning to be a man. You had good examples to learn from.”
“I did at that.”
Retrieving the flowers from the back seat of his car, Giles laid small bouquets on each grave and on Arthur Wilson’s Buffy placed a red rose. Frank waited quietly for them to say their goodbyes.
“I suppose you’ll be leaving now?” Frank asked.
“We have a long drive ahead of us,” Buffy explained gently.
“Well, if you want to talk over old times, Mr. Giles, I’ll be here in Walmington-on-Sea. It’s my home and I’m not leaving it after all these years.”
Giles stepped up to the old man and put out his hand. Frank took it and then pulled Giles into a hug. “Stay well, Mr. Giles.”
Giles and Buffy got back into their car and began the drive home. Giles was very quiet.
Buffy wondered if he would say anything, but he finally spoke.
“I never thought about all of them being dead. In my mind, just a few weeks have passed. It doesn’t seem right.”
“They were old men sixty years ago, Rupert.”
“I know. I know. It’s just…hard.”
“You’ve lost men who were your friends, I understand.”
“It’s not just losing them, really. I know intellectually that they have been gone for decades, but I knew them. I liked them and they cared about each other and about me.”
“Now you have me and Dawn to care about you. I know it’s not the same, but I love you so very much that my heart sometimes stops when I think about how close we came to missing each other.” She smiled slightly. “I know the others care about you too, when they aren’t too busy being pains in the butt.”
“That’s the first time you’ve mentioned the others since you told me what they had done.”
She shrugged. “They are still my friends, even if I’m mad at them. I don’t know why, but this trip to Walmington has sort of given me some closure.”
He nodded. “I know what you mean. I felt that there was something I had to do, and now that I have said goodbye, I feel…eased somehow.”
“Then I suppose we should start thinking about heading back.”
“Only if you want to. The Council has things well in hand.”
“I’m not quite ready, but it won’t be long.”
“When you feel up to it.”
“There’s something I want to ask you before we go back.” She flushed unexpectedly and looked at her hands.
“What is that, love?”
“We’ve been lovers for a little while now, but it’s been long enough for me to want more with you. I’ll understand if you don’t want this, really, but I guess what I’m asking is, would you, um, would you want to get married before we go back?”
He pulled the car off the road and pulled her into his arms, oblivious to the stares of passing motorists. “Buffy Summers, it would give me the greatest pleasure on this earth to be able to call you my own. Are you sure, dearest? I’m so much older than you…”
“You are the man I love, Giles. I just wish I had seen it sooner.”
“Perhaps if you had realized it sooner, we wouldn’t be together now. These things happen in the fullness of time. Had you fallen in love with me when you were sixteen, we would have had two years of misery whilst we waited for you to reach adulthood.”
“You are one special man, do you know that?” she laughed.
“Not so special as my true love, Buffy Summers.” He kissed her till they were both convinced.