in Part One
They sat together for a long time, with the soft whispers of summer rain drifting in from the garden and brushing them with the scents of flowers and greenery and the distant echoes of woodlands and wild hills. Buffy kicked off her shoes and tucked herself up on the windowsill as if she were a teenager again, her arms wrapped around her knees; he leant back in a mirror of her casualness, one matching bare foot up on the sill and the other resting on the ornate tiles. Victorian ones, he told her, laid down in the year of Albert’s funeral and replacing the medieval ones which had been scorched and cracked when the demonic essence they’d been imprisoning finally broke free. She’d smiled at that – not at the tale, which sounded fairly typical of Watcher’s Council stuff – but at the way he’d meandered into lecture mode without realising it, the curse of his true tongue unravelling simple fact and weaving it back up again into history and meaning and a lesson that might be worth learning.
“You know,” she’d interrupted, trying not to laugh at his expression, “unless it’s busy trying to leap up and bite me, to me, a tile is just a tile. Pretty
, but – still just a floor thing. For walking on. But feel free to warn me if any of them are
going to start leaping up and biting me, because I like to know that sort of thing …”
“Duly noted,” he’d said, and leant back and let her talk instead; rambling stuff about trips to Europe, her time in Rome with Dawn and what Xander had shown her in Africa. Chatty, inconsequential things – nothing about business, or dealing with renegade slayers, or even the odd apocalypse, because all of that could wait. This was the family
stuff, an inundation of three missed years; tales of delayed birthday parties, Christmases gatherings and thanksgiving turkeys eaten in the strangest of places; the story of a joyful graduation for Dawn, and the tearful stresses of letting her sister fly the nest so she could go to his
old University; and her delight in being able to visit the sort of places she’d once thought only existed in text books and travelogues. Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Venice.. Egypt and Israel. Hong Kong. Beijing. Tokyo … She rattled them off with blithe confidence, sagas of late night airports and lost luggage, of hotels and hostelries, tourist traps, and the real places that lurked beyond them. He listened with rapt and what seemed to be amused attention, clearly trying hard not to leap in with too many corrections for place names and pronunciations, and smiling, or expressing sympathy in all the right places.
By the time Willow appeared with the tea tray Buffy had talked her way around the world and back again, arriving home with a much lighter heart than she’d had at the start of the journey. She’d not unburdened her soul – that was going to be a much harder conversation, and would wait until he’d settled back into himself and gained a little mastery of his new gifts – but she’d reached out, and he’d gladly drawn her in. While neither could deny that time had opened up am uncertain gap between them, those few short hours began the restoration of their relationship, spanning the chasm with slender threads of hope and forgiveness and friendship.
Anchored, of course, in the solid and certain foundations of a love that had never failed, no matter how badly it might have been shaken.
“Tea up!” A clattering, rattling rumble accompanied the announcement; Willow arrived in a flurry of swirling skirts, steaming pots and the bump and squeak of an antique trolley, which she barely managed to guide down the wooden ramp that covered one end of the stairs. Buffy leapt to her feet in instinctive alarm, dropping into a defensive stance; Giles did much the same, the two of them scrambling from relaxed companionship into a determined partnership, poised to deal with whatever threatened. Willow pulled the seemingly out of control trolley to a halt on the flagstones, looked up, and burst out laughing.
“Relax, guys,” she called, waving at them both to sit down. “It’s only me. And tea. Well, tea and coffee, and some cake, and a few cookies and stuff. The group are having their break in the great hall, but I’d thought we’d leave them too it and have something a little quieter in here.”
There was a magical study group using the retreat over the weekend, a dozen or more trainee witches gathered to explore their skills and talents while more experienced practitioners provided tutelage. One of the Devon coven and a white warlock from Scotland were helping Willow guide and encourage her students, who were decidedly quieter and a lot better behaved than an equivalent group of young slayers would be. Buffy had left her two current trainees to join in the ‘game’ of spin the bottle that had appeared to be the main exercise of the afternoon, smiling at their confidence over being the winning team long before the game began. It was one of her fundamental lessons, and she was sure they’d both learned the first half of it pretty well by now. Never underestimate a witch.
The second part was ‘or a Watcher,’
but that half generally took a little longer to sink in.
Then again …She smiled at Giles and went to help Willow with the trolley. Her girls hadn’t met him yet. They’d heard stories
, of course – hearsay and rumour, along with the official history, and the unofficial stuff that was slowly transforming itself into myth – but it was unlikely that either of them believed more than half of what they’d heard. They’d dine tonight with a legend; she had every confidence that he’d live up to it, and more.
“Coffee in the big pot,” Willow was saying, “and this smaller one is tea … it’s that Darjeeling and Tanzanian blend Foxfire brought with her. Good with cake, apparently. It’s her cake, too.” She pointed at the plate that was loaded with slab-like slices. “ There’s walnut and raisin, this is the – ah – cherry and chocolate. And that’s the plum bread. Which isn’t actually cake, but bread, but it’s like
cake, because it’s all fruity and stuff. Even though it’s buttered,” she added, and Buffy laughed.
“There’s enough here to feed an army,” she said, reaching for teapot. “Tea first, then milk, right?” She threw the question over her shoulder and smirked at the small pout that blossomed on Willow’s face.
“Well, Giles is still making up for three years of no cake – and I
was going to do that.”
“Slayer’s privilege,” Buffy shot back, carefully pouring tea into the nearest cup. “He’s my
“Witch’s prerogative.” Willow snapped her fingers and the milk jug tipped up to splash just the right amount of milk into the tea. “He’s my
friend. And mentor. And magic sponsor. And – “
“Ladies, ladies, please.
Good Lord,” Giles sighed behind them both. “There is absolutely no need for the two of you to fight over me. Flattering as it is,” he added with inevitable honesty. “I am perfectly capable of pouring my own cup of tea. If you want to butter someone up, then put out some milk for the Brownie.”
Buffy gave him a puzzled look, and then frowned down at the trolly. Cake, plum bread, cookies … nope. No brownies.
Willow was grinning at her.
“Not the edible sort of brownie,” she said. “The
Brownie. The house elf. Like the Harry Potter ones. Only – not. And I already put down a jug of cream outside the kitchen door. Away from the hedgehogs – and away from the cat,” she added, with the note of someone who’d learned that particular lesson only too well.
“He’ll appreciate that.” Giles stepped in between them to collect his tea – and a slice of plum bread which he bit into with obvious relish. “He’s a family to feed …”
Brownies?” Buffy queried, having finally caught up with the idea of the house having its own elf. Giles laughed.
“No, no, just foxes. Their mother was killed by a car a few nights ago. He’s taking care of the cubs.”
“Oh. Okay. That’s good. I guess. So …” She paused to blink at what she was about to say, then said it anyway. “Fairies are real, you
can see them, and we have a house elf raising fox cubs at the bottom of the garden …”
“Exactly,” Giles said, with the kind of pleased look he’d always reserved for when she’d managed to figure stuff out for herself. “But there is still
no such thing as a leprechaun.”
“Pity.” Willow picked up the other pot so she could pour Buffy a cup of coffee. “We could have sent you out to track them down and dig up all those pots of gold.”
“Fairy gold’s just sand and glamour.” Giles tucked his half slice of bread onto his saucer and stepped across to the open windows so he could stare out at the drifting rain over the rim of his teacup. “My pockets were full of it when I came home …”
Buffy felt a shiver run down her spine, hearing the suddenly haunted note in his voice. What had he said? I have danced in the moonlight with the Queen of air and darkness …
How much had
he given up? What had she offered him, to tempt him to stay? And what price had he really
paid for her to set him free?
“Giles,” Willow said softly. “Fox was wondering … would you lead the pathworking tonight? Take us to visit the Stone King on his throne of granite and bones? We need a male voice to do it justice – and Edward’s hopeless at guided meditation. He always loses his place …”
Giles went on staring out at the drowning world, his teacup halfway to his lips and long forgotten in his hand. “The Stone King?” he questioned, right at the point when Buffy was wondering if he’d even heard Willow speak, let alone what she’d said. “Yes. Yes, I can do that. Over the water and under the hill. He sat when they crowned him. He sits there, still …
Buffy looked at Willow. Willow looked back. They’d both felt it; the stir and stretch of magic under his words, the echo of places where few men had been – and from which even fewer returned. Is that going to be safe?
Buffy mouthed, and Willow shrugged. It’s Giles
, she mouthed back. What do you think?
“How about you, Buffy?” he asked, finally taking his next sip of tea. “It’s been a while since I guided you through a meditative exercise.” The smile he turned towards her held echoes of memory. Memories of better times in far worse places: meditations on the Hellmouth, his voice filling her attentions, driving away the rest of the world – and that sense of inner stillness, the focus of total control … “Do you want to join us?”
He could open every lock and every door. See every secret. Reveal only the truth. If he were any other man, she’d be backing away in panic, terrified of what his gifts might expose. But Willow was right. He was Giles
“You know,” she said with a smile. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”