None of these people are mine. Buffy et al belong to Joss and the rest of those guys, and Kipling’s tale of True Thomas (along with the original ballad that inspired it) has been around a lot longer than I have!Notes:
A followup to ‘Seeking the Rhymer’s Gift.’ And ‘The Rhymer’s Return.’ All pieces written for the Summer of Giles 2010 event. Illustration posted at the end of the story "They come wi' news of the groanin' earth,
They come wi' news o' the roarin' sea,
Wi' word of Spirit and Ghost and Flesh,
And man, that's mazed among the three."
“He’ll be in the library,” Willow had said, and it had made Buffy smile, if only for a moment or two. Because where else would Giles be, if not surrounded by books and mellowed wood, sequestered in a quiet world of his own, a constant centre in a whirling, chaotic world?
Except this wasn’t Sunnydale, and the building she was in wasn’t a high school, built over a Hellmouth. This was a country retreat, a sprawling estate hidden deep within the Cotswolds, a place where Watchers had been seeking refuge for centuries. There’d been a house – or a building at least – standing here since before Roman times. The magic that surrounded it, that had soaked into its stones the way the Italian sun soaked into the roofs of Rome, was a good magic, the lingering of centuries of study and contemplation. This – this
– was the place of kayaking and rock climbing, of studious seminars, and outlandish team building exercises; a place where people came to recharge, refocus and regroup - and it was the place where Giles had come to re-centre himself, to try and reconnect with the world after three years away.
Buffy had been dead once. Well, three times, really, if you want to be accurate, but only dead
once, dead and buried and somewhere else entirely. She’d only been gone a few months before Willow had reached out and brought her back. It had taken her a long time to catch up with her life, to fill in the gaps between the then
of her memory and the now
of her restored life. Months missing; news and sports results, fashion trends and celebrity gossip, the blooming of flowers in the yard and the all the little shifts and changes in the world that said time has passed
She hadn’t come back wrong, as she’d feared for a while, but she had come back changed
– in subtle ways, inside herself, more confident in this, more wary about that
, less afraid of death and more afraid of living – and that had taken time to recognise too. Even now she stumbled over the occasional echo of her old self, and wondered what had become of the Buffy she’d once been.
Three months adrift; three months that would always be missing from her life.
Giles had been gone for three years
She couldn’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.
She’d asked Willow how he was coping, and Willow had laughed and said you’ll see
, in a tone that Buffy suspected meant she wouldn’t see at all – or perhaps see too much, and she wasn’t sure she was ready for that. Because the last time she’d spoken to him she’d been begging him, once again, not to go
– and he’d left her, the way everyone she loved left her, leaving her bereft and heartsick and unable to understand. Wanting to know – so desperately
to know – why her love was never strong enough to hold on to the people she cared so much about.
Buffy shivered, drawing her jacket a little closer around her. There’d been a hint of rain in the air when she’d arrived, and the tops of the hills had been brushed with cloud, painting patterns of light and shadow across the world. It was mid-summer here, but the house was cool, chilled by centuries of English winters. She’d only been here once before, in a late February; her memory brought back the sharpness of snow touched air and the bitter cold of a place locked up too long and left to shiver all alone. Giles had dispelled most of that with a few blazing fires and the comfort of mugs of hot chocolate, but she’d not repeated the visit, despite the lures of summer camp training, Willow’s extolling the beauty of the rolling hills, and Andrew’s tales of late night summer bonfires. She was a California girl. She didn’t like the cold.
Maybe I would have come, if he’d been here …
They’d never had the time to reconnect, the way she’d managed with the rest of them. Her travels in Europe had done her, and Dawn, a world of good, replacing old rivalries with determined sisterly affections. She’d come back to spend time with Willow, seeking out awakened slayers and recruiting witches to their cause. She’d even travelled with Xander for a while, coming to understand the depth of the heart that lurked beneath his reckless smile. She’d fought side by side with Faith, and been there to support her through her greatest trial and triumph. Robin had named their son Nicholas Crowley to honour his mother and the Watcher who had cared for him after her death – but Xander, and then Dawn, and everyone else now, simply called him Scrappy
. He was turning out to be a cute kid.
But Giles had left before they had a real chance to talk, had walked out of her life and left her heart aching with things unsaid and old wounds festering without a chance to truly heal. He’d sacrificed himself to her cause, choosing to pursue a dangerous quest, to risk his soul for something that might – just might
– give her and her sister slayers an edge they desperately needed … but it didn’t help that he’d been right, that his actions had helped convince a entire alliance of neutral demons that the reformed Council were sincere in their desire for a treaty. She hadn’t wanted him to go. She’d needed him here
And she hadn’t expected him to come back.
She wasn’t sure how she was going to react, now that he had. There’d been a great love between them once, then anger and bitterness, and a sense of betrayal … and beyond it the tentative stirrings of a more mature friendship, a quiet fondness that had crept into her, soothing old hurts and rekindling the embers of an affection that had never truly died. She had just begun to reach out to him again – and he had gone, leaving her almost without warning, just as he had done before. She’d lived through a year of regret, another of grief, and had spent the third trying to hold onto to something that kept slipping away from her, something she knew she couldn’t bear to lose – and yet which had begun to fade and grow dim.
A lot of things had happened since he’d gone. Would she recognise him? Would he even recognise her?
There were steps down into the library; wide, shallow ones, with undulating dips worn into them by centuries of passing feet. She descended with care, wincing a little at the way the room picked up the click of her heels and echoed it back to her, sharp and staccato against the library’s mellow silences. The room took up most of the west wing of the house, standing two storeys high, with lines of supporting pillars and an arched ceiling like a miniature cathedral. It had probably been the chapel once, but generations of Watchers had turned it from a space dedicated to God into a sanctuary sacred to knowledge. There were carved reading desks and seemingly endless bookshelves, all coloured with the soft light from stained glass windows, left in situ so that the damaging rays of the sun would never touch the valuable volumes within. Only the far wall – the end of the space that overlooked the terraced garden – held real
windows; a sweep of them, weighted with heavy velvet curtains. The ones on either side had high wide sills designed to be sat on like couches, with wood panelled risers and hand stitched tapestry cushions spilling across the stone. The middle set went all the way to the tiled floor, and all the way up too, with an arched top and more stained glass at their apex. They were buffered away from the books by a reading area filled with dark leather chairs and sturdy coffee tables. In the winter the chairs had been turned towards the deep hearth and the copper hooded fireplace it held, but now they’d been pushed back and round to face the central windows instead.
They were open, letting in the soft, warm scent of summer rain. A casually dressed figure was sitting on the edge of one of the wide window sills, his back supported by the carved stone and one bare foot propped up, so that he could rest the book he was reading against his knee. He looked up as she approached and he smiled.
“Hello, Buffy,” Giles said.
It felt like coming home.