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Step in Time

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This story is No. 4 in the series "Practically Perfect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The morning after the Christmas Eve before. Santa's not the only visitor used to climbing down chimneys ... (Buffy/Giles)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > ClassicspythiaFR1337,6811112,8916 Jan 096 Jan 09Yes

Part Three

Disclaimers in Part One

"I know. Well, I’m beginning to know. I-I’ve never … before, I … I gave, they took. Giles just …” She threw an almost helpless look in her Watcher’s direction.  "Gives,"   she concluded, realising that that was exactly what he did. Even back when he’d been handing out orders, rather than advice, they’d been offered with patience and the hopeful expectation that she could and would learn from them. She had, too – although sometimes the lessons had been hard to take, and her frustrations at her destiny had often blinded her to the truths he was so carefully drawing to her attention.

It was his eyes that held her attention now; they were watching her, echoing the twist of wry denial that creased his features. 

“Can’t give up the gift to a selfish heart,” she heard Bert say with a hint of laughter in his voice. “The times I had to tell my Mary it was right for me to pamper her ..."

“Nana never had time for sentimental foolishness,” Giles murmured, his eyes still fixed on Buffy’s wide- eyed gaze. “She also believed that generosity was its own reward. Giving what was needed,” he added in an even softer tone. “She had a real knack in knowing exactly what that was .”

She gave you her gift …

There were just too many implications behind that thought; patterns of destiny, twists of fate, choices and inevitabilities. Buffy had no wish to disentangle any of them. She let a soft smile curl onto her face instead, recognising her Watcher’s words for what they really   were – an attempt to dismiss the compliment she’d offered him, to side- step the implications of praise and refocus her attention on someone else. Not that Giles didn’t appreciate a little praise – but he was English enough to be embarrassed at being given it.

Especially if he didn’t feel entirely deserving of it in the first place.

“It obviously runs in the family,” she teased and he snorted, just as she’d expected him to.

“Yes,” he observed, “and the … umm … questionable events of my youth are clear evidence for my excellent sense of judgement. Really, Buffy. My grandmother was an exceptional woman and … while I will make every effort to live up to the expectations of her legacy, I seriously doubt that I will ever be as confident or as competent as she was.”

“I don’t,” Buffy countered confidently. “Bert’s right. I’ve lived as long as I have because of you – and I intend to go on living a lot longer with   you. If …” She hesitated for a moment, suddenly realising how bold that had sounded. “If that’s okay with you? ”

The comfortable curl of his arm tightened around her, pulling her in against his warmth. “Buffy,” Giles said softly, “I’m a stuffy, repressed Englishman, over twice your age. I prefer the company of a good book and a cup of hot Bovril to a night out on the town, and I keep the most questionable company at the most questionable of hours. Are you sure that’s the kind of match you want to make?”

She stared down at him with astonished affection. Astonished, because she couldn’t quite believe how comfortable she felt about all of this. She’d thought love was hard, something you had to fight and wrestle with, something that would rear back and bite you if you didn’t struggle to control it. And here she was, discovering that – if you simply trusted it – love just curled itself around you and settled there, as easily and as comfortably as putting on a coat.

A very expensive and ‘last you a lifetime’ kind of coat. One that warmed you, protected you, and made you feel like a million dollars from head to toe and back again.

“Let me see,” she mused, winking at the sepia figure who was watching them both with a broad and cheeky grin. “Lonely White Slayer – female of course – “

“Of course,” Giles acknowledged dryly.

“-seeks practically perfect partner for lifetime commitment. Preferably … male – “

“ Willow will be very disappointed.”

"Mature," she went on, giving him an arch look. “Highly educated, literate in several languages, skilled in a range of ancient weaponry. Must be – Watcher trained, experienced in demon hunting and the magical arts … and preferably a competent cook, talented musician and stuffy ex-librarian. Ownership of a magic shop essential, possession of a fairy godmother’s gift an appreciated

extra.” She grinned down at his _expression. “Did I leave anything out?”

Giles gave it some serious thought, his eyes twinkling a little as he looked up at her. “I think the word … umm … stevedore   … might be missing in there somewhere,” he said, managing to keep a straight face as he did so. Buffy couldn’t. She collapsed into a fit of giggles, wrapping both arms around him and giving him a happy hug.

"Giles,"  she admonished, in between snorts of laughter. “Not in front of your grandfather ..."

“He’s just a memory, Buffy.” Giles disentangled himself – with some reluctance, it had to be said – brushing her palm with his lips as he caught and then released her hand. It was just a casual affectionate gesture, but it sent a tingle right through her. She glanced across at the desk, and found that it held nothing but the little bundles of books and papers – and an old, sepia photograph, propped up against a pile of journals.

“A good memory,” she decided, moving away so she could, once again, pick up the picture and study it. “And a … good man, I guess. I liked him.”

“So did I.” Giles’ _expression was pensive as he watched her run a finger down the frame. “You can keep that, if you like. I have another of him. Nana too.” He nodded towards the wall; Buffy turned to look – and found herself face to face with Mary.

Mary – and Bert, the two of them smiling out of what looked like a much more recent photograph. The old soldier’s hair was grey and his face was wrinkled, although the wrinkles looked a lot like laugh lines and the twinkle in his eye was just as bright, and just as mischievous. Mary’s hair was still dark, with only a suggestion of silver lingering in its neatly caught back lines. There was a wisp or two escaping at the back, suggesting that there might just be a little rebelliousness to her; her face also carried a few lines, although nowhere near as many as her husband - and her blue eyes held warmth, immeasurable wisdom and a quiet hint of laughter.

“Wow,” Buffy said. “They look so happy. But …” She turned back to stare at her Watcher with anxious concern. “Bert said … your mother …” She tailed off, unsure of how to express what she was trying to say.  They lost so much, was what sprang to mind – but it had been his mother, not just their child, and surely he’d lost so much more …

“You never really lose the people that you love,” Giles said, giving her a somewhat haunted smile. “It can be … hard, when they move on. But Nana and Grandad had each other. Three strapping sons to keep their eye on – and seven grandchildren. They didn’t have much time for dwelling in the past.”

“Seven?” Buffy blinked at him. “That’s a lot of birthdays and Christmas …  Oh," she realised. “I have to go. Mom wanted me to make sure everybody was coming over tonight, and I said I’d pop in to see Willow and Tara before lunch, and then I have to make sure Xander and Anya actually got out of bed today …” She started to put the picture back on the desk and then stopped, hugging it back in against her chest. “Can I - really keep this? I- I never knew my grandfather.   Can I … can I borrow yours?"

Now he grinned, an expression just as warm and as mischievous as Bert’s had been. The resemblance was uncanny .

“ You can’t borrow family,” he said. “But you can adopt it. I don’t think Grandad would object. Especially if we intend to make it more … official at some point. No,” he went on hastily as her eyes widened at the thought. “That wasn’t … umm … well – it probably was,   actually, but … there’s … no hurry. We … umm … still have to … umm …”

“ Tell Mom,” Buffy completed with a gulp. “I know. And we will. I guess. Somehow.” She paused for a moment. “She’s gonna have a fit.   Can we – um - wait until after dinner tonight?”

“That might be … umm … advisable.”

“But we will tell her.”

“Of course we will.”

“ When she’s far away from the weapon' s cabinet .”

“Of course.”

“And not in the kitchen. Because of all those knives and things.”

“That might be a problem.”

“Maybe I should phone her from here …”

“Buffy!” His tone wasn’t sharp, but it grounded her sudden panic with life- saving certainty. “We will tell her.  After dinner. And don’t worry. If there’s one thing I’m learning about this gift I’ve been given? It’s that … it tends to take care of the important things in life.”

White flakes drifting through the air. Delicate figures drifting and dancing across the ice …

Buffy relaxed with a smile, reassured - and reminded that, these days, there was more to her Watcher than met the eye.  Much more. The smile became a grin.  Stevedore, huh ?

One day soon, he was going to have prove it to her …

“I gotta go,” she realised, taking a step towards the door. “You will be there? This afternoon?”

“I will.”

“And … Giles?”

“Mmm?” He’d begun to turn back to his grandmother’s things, and he looked up with distracted bemusement.

“ Can I … would you mind if … I-I can’t …I don’t think …” She took a deep breath and said what she wanted to say, all in a rush. “It’s silly that I call you by your last name all the time, but I’m kinda used to it and Rupert just isn’t gonna be any better - and I wondered, that is, if you don’t mind, can I - call you Ru? Like Bert did? When it’s just us?” she added anxiously, suddenly thinking that Giles and pet names didn’t really sit together. Unless it was English, but that was what Miss Calendar had called him, and no way was she going to remind him of that .

His bemused expression had been deepening into a vague frown, but her final words turned it into a moment of astonishment – and after it, quiet delight.

“I think I could … umm … live with that,” he declared, looking at little embarrassed at the admission. “Maybe even … umm … publicly.” He didn’t look entirely happy at the thought. “Eventually.”

Buffy nodded. “Okay. Trial run first. I get that. Ru?” She tried it out, surprised at how easy it felt to say it.

“Yes?” His response was wary, but that was okay. The last person to call him that had probably been his grandmother.

She smiled. “Love you.”

He rose from his chair and closed the distance between them in two determined steps. They didn’t need the mistletoe – and the kiss was just as magical this time round.

“I love you, Buffy,” Giles whispered, pulling away with decided reluctance. “Now go.   Before I succumb to temptation and start abusing the gift to stretch time, or wreak a magic that will keep you here forever and a day.”

“You could do that?”

“I could. But it wouldn’t be very sensible of me – and we’d definitely 
regret it in the end. Besides,” he added, stepping back and letting her hand slide from his. “It’s Christmas … and I really ought to ring my father before it gets too late.”

Every moment he sees you, he sees her ...   Bert’s words echoed in Buffy’s head, and her heart turned over to see the sudden haunted look that touched her Watcher’s eyes .

“ Yes,” she said with loving sympathy. “I really think you should. I’ll see you later,” she concluded, standing up on tiptoes to press a quick farewell kiss to his cheek.

She left him standing there, knowing that he watched her as she made her way out into the late morning sun. She hugged Bert’s picture to her chest, carrying it with care, treasuring the time she’d spent in the old man’s company. She’d learnt more about her Watcher in those few short moments than she had learned in all the time she’d known him – and the more she’d learned, the more she’d come to appreciate the depth of his heart and the strength of his soul.

And … wait a minute!

All that stuff about adopting families and making it official …

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed, stopping dead in the middle of the street and tipping the photo frame down so she could stare at the man it contained. “Was I dreaming?” she asked. “Or did Giles ... Ru … just ask me to marry him?”

Bert said nothing.

But she could have sworn his picture winked at her.

The End

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