The characters and world of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel are owned by Joss Whedon, Fox Television and whomever else has a stake (heh — stake, get it?) in the programs. I own a set of four new tires for my car, and given all the white crap that's been coming down in the last 24 hours or so, I'm pretty darn happy about that.Author's Note:
I have no
idea where this one came from. I had a plot bunny that refused to leave my garden, and this is what tumbled forth.Losing Touch
Rupert Giles, late of Sunnydale, late of London and late of Cleveland, opened his eyes, discovering to his dismay that he wasn't the late Rupert Giles as he'd planned. Instead, he was distressingly and depressingly among the living, a fact made certain by his rather prosaic discomfort. Worse, it wasn't even the pain of a fight, but rather a headache and dry mouth.
He mumbled, "Why aren't I dead?"
"Because Buffy would have put me in an ashtray if I killed you." The voice came from behind, but Giles had no intention of turning to face him.
"Not bloody likely. What the hell did you use on me?" He tried to curl into a fetal position, but his legs were caught in the bed linen, and he was too weak to pick a fight with a sheet and duvet.
"Some kind of gas Wolfram and Hart came up with. Not too clear on the specifics other than it knocks out humans," he said on a sigh.
Eyes shut tightly against the world Giles said, "Should have killed me."
Sitting down on the bed behind Giles, he replied, "At the risk of repeating myself, Buffy would have dusted me if I let you get killed."
"Pillock. Is age finally affecting your brain, Angel? I told you — not bloody likely. Buffy wouldn't have given a damn one way or the other," he said, forcing the bitter words past the lump in his throat. He'd survived the attentions of Angelus for several hours without breaking, and he'd give Xander Harris a blowjob before he'd allow himself to be vulnerable in front of Angel.
"What makes you think Buffy wouldn't care?" Giles wondered why in the name of all that was unholy Angel had to sound so damned compassionate. Everything he'd heard over the last few months indicated that he was allowing his demon out to play more often, that he was reconciling it to his soul. The vampire sitting behind him was closer to the Angel he'd known before Angelus came to town, and it was almost Giles' undoing.
He clenched his jaw for a moment against the threatened tears, then said, "She barely noticed when I was there. The day I left, she couldn't even be arsed to say good-bye to me."
"Hm." That one syllable was almost enough to make Giles turn to Angel and open his eyes just so he could roll them at him. "When I talked to her, she was desperate to find you."
At that, Giles snorted before saying, "She's desperate to find the Council's bloody bank accounts. She should talk to Willow."
Giles felt the mattress move as Angel stood, then he heard, "We'll talk again when you aren't so steeped in self-pity. There's food in the refrigerator. You have access to Wolfram and Hart's library through the computer in the living room — it's a pretty simple system to use."
"Sod off," he muttered into the pillow, knowing full well Angel could hear him.
After a pause, he answered, "I'm not sure why you wanted to commit suicide by vampire, but don't bother trying again. It won't work."
At that, Giles finally turned around and directed a glare at Angel, saying, "If you won't take care of it, I'm sure I can find another vampire to take me out."
"You're assuming I'll let you out of here so you can," Angel said with a whisper of a smile before he turned and left.
He'd been alone for three days, left to stew in his own anger and despair, before another visitor finally showed up. Not that he was particularly overjoyed to see him. "Wyndam-Pryce."
Smiling at Giles, Wesley said, "It's good to see you again. How are you?" He pushed past Giles and into the apartment.
He looked at the younger man in disbelief. Wesley was speaking to him as if they'd just met at a sodding afternoon tea. "Disappointed that Angel is still among the walking dead, actually."
"Hm. If it's any comfort to you, there are any number of people who will commiserate with you on that score. Out of curiosity, why choose now to go after him?" Wesley put the bag he carried in on the counter, and Giles heard the tell-tale clink of bottles within.
"I don't drink anymore. I stopped three months ago," he said, eying the bag with a great deal of mistrust.
"Yes, I know," Wesley said, unperturbed by Giles' attitude.
"You couldn't possibly," he said, inching closer to Wesley. Because Angel had been right about him not leaving. The door to his — apartment? — opened easily enough, but he couldn't leave. He suspected a witch or sorcerer had put up a variant of the Ringgold barrier to keep him in place. Had he the necessary ingredients on hand, he could make an attempt to break the spell and leave. Since Angel hadn't been thoughtful enough to provide him with the keys to his jail, he would have to look for another way to get out.
"Don't try it, Rupert," he said. Giles never saw Wesley draw his gun, but he did see the gentle smile still on his face, and he knew he was fucked.
"You've grown up a bit. About time." He turned and went back to the couch, sitting down to show his peaceful — nonhomicidal — intentions. "How did you know I gave up drinking?"
"Buffy told me when I spoke to her last night," said Wesley as he put his gun away. He pulled several bottles of IBC root beer out of the bag, putting most in the refrigerator before opening two of them and taking them to the couch.
"Liar." Giles accepted a bottle and took a long drink before saying, "She'd no idea I'd given it up."
Wesley sat on the other end of the couch and said, "She did, actually. Told me Willow wanted to throw you a party to celebrate."
Giles looked down at the words. Willow wanted. Not Buffy. Willow.
"Buffy vetoed the idea, though. She thought it would embarrass you to no end," Wesley said before taking a drink. "Granted, I don't know you as well as the children do, but even I would have understood not to throw you a party for any reason, let alone for giving up alcohol."
Ignoring for the moment Buffy's apparent and wholly unexpected empathy — because he wasn't sure he believed Wesley's version of the conversation — Giles said, "I didn't want anyone to think I'd been drinking when I went after Angel."
He nodded, a speculative look on his face, and answered, "I can see why you would want everyone to believe you were stone sober. It would be easier, after all, for Angel to kill you if you were in your right mind when you attacked him."
Feeling that he was being played somehow, Giles cautiously confirmed Wesley's guess. "Right. Now that that's been settled, when do I leave?"
Looking faintly apologetic, he answered, "At this point, I wouldn't count on seeing the outside world again before you turn eighty."
Outraged, Giles said, "I'm grounded!?"
Shrugging, Wesley explained, "While Angel is a bit put out that you came after him the way you did, his larger concern is that you're still suicidal."
"Then put me in a bloody mental hospital," he said, clenching his fists to keep from wrapping his hands around Wesley's throat.
"I suggested that, but Angel thought you'd be able to convince a doctor that you were in your right mind whilst you were still eager to get yourself killed. He doesn't trust a hospital to keep you safe," he said, taking another drink of his root beer.
"I beg your pardon?"
Giles turned to Wesley with murder in his eyes and repeated, "Out. Leave. Don't fucking well come back until you're ready to take off the spell."
Wesley lost his composure at that, and Giles was pleased to see him look so disconcerted at being dismissed. He blinked before putting his bottle on the coffee table and standing up, then said, "Should you wish to talk, my extension is 2498. You can dial direct from the phone in here."
Giles didn't respond. He just glared at Wesley until he finally left.
He came awake suddenly, some innate sense of danger telling him he wasn't alone. When his heart rate calmed down, Giles said, "What the hell do you want?"
"Thought I'd see if you were awake," Angel said. "Figured we could talk."
It had been three weeks since he'd last seen Angel and two and a half weeks since he'd seen Wesley. No one else had been to visit Giles in that time, and he was fine with that. It fed nicely his conviction that no one gave a damn about him.
"In case it missed your notice, you fuckwit, I was asleep," Giles said. He didn't bother turning on the light. The sound of Angel's voice was bad enough without adding the sight of him to the mix.
"Yeah. I know. Figured if I stared at you long enough, you'd wake up," Angel said. Giles felt the bed dip as he sat on the bed. "Have to say, I'm pretty impressed with your survival instincts. I hadn't even settled against the door frame for a nice long brood before you realized I was here."
"I passed the bloody test, now leave so I can get my sleep," he said, irritated beyond all reason that Angel had pointed out he wasn't quite as suicidal as he'd thought he was.
"I know Ethan is dead."
The statement came out of nowhere, and Giles gasped at the pain of hearing it said out loud for the first time in months. Up until that moment, he'd hoarded his grief, not letting anyone see even a hint of his pain. And then Angel — he of the bad hair and the Cro Magnon forehead — had the gall —
Giles flipped suddenly, pouncing on Angel and wrapping his fingers around his throat. "You bastard! How dare you come in here —"
His rage increased by leaps and bounds, and in very short order, Giles was reduced to inarticulate noises as he throttled then pounded him. At no time did Angel make any effort to defend himself. If anything, he made it easier for Giles to target his more vulnerable spots.
When he eventually stopped, it was partly due to the fact that he'd broken his hand on Angel at some point and partly because he was crying too hard to put any effort into his blows. Still straddling Angel's hips, Giles curled in on himself as he allowed himself to mourn one of his oldest enemies and dearest friends. He didn't notice when Angel lifted him slightly so he could sit up again.
And had Rupert Giles been sufficiently coherent to realize that Angel was the one offering comfort, he would have surely gone to the farthest corner he could find in the apartment in an effort to get away.
When he awoke again, it was to find himself wrapped up in a blanket and tucked under someone's arm. Giles experienced the brief comfort of a blank mind before his early morning memories came tumbling in again. A doctor must have been brought in to see to him, because he felt a heavy wrap around his broken hand. It throbbed in time to his heart, but there was no pain to speak of.
Before he could decide whether or not to fall asleep again, Angel said, "I was beginning to think you weren't going to wake up before tomorrow."
"Aren't you Wolfram and Hart's head wanker now? Shouldn't you be working? Or fighting evil? Or brooding or something equally pointless?" Giles squirmed to get away, but he had no say in the matter. Angel just drew him in closer and tightened his hold as if Giles were little more than a squirming puppy.
"It's Sunday." Giles was a bit surprised by that. He must have lost a day or two somewhere along the line, because he could have sworn it was only Friday.
But the day of the week wasn't the issue tearing Giles apart inside. No. That had more to do with — "How did you hear about Ethan?"
"Buffy told me. I don't think she realized how much it affected you, or she would have mentioned it earlier," Angel said.
"Right. Buffy told you. Tell me, was she still giggling hysterically when she mentioned it? Because she couldn't contain her glee when I told her about it," Giles said. He wasn't sure what hurt more — the fact of Ethan's passing or the fact that Buffy couldn't see just how much it affected him.
"No giggles. It took her a while, but she finally figured out it was probably the last straw for you."
Giles couldn't work out just how he was trussed up in the blanket, and his muscles ached too much for him to continue fighting for the moment, so he gave up trying to worm his way out of Angel's embrace. And if that wasn't a phrase designed to make a former Watcher shudder, he didn't know what was.
"I don't believe you," Giles said after a moment. "I don't believe Buffy figured it out on her own. I think you had to point it out to her." For all that he despised Angel, Giles could and did admit that he had a higher degree of compassion than most humans. Given how myopic Buffy had proven herself to be with regard to her loved ones, he had no trouble at all imagining that Angel was the one who'd had to set her straight.
After a few moments, Angel said, "I'll admit I had to lead her to it, but I didn't tell her. She worked it out on her own."
"With you leading her, it was hardly on her own," Giles said, a bit of his old sarcasm coming to the fore.
"She was pretty upset when she remembered laughing."
Giles had to work to get his jaw unclenched before he could say, "And did you comfort your poor, beleaguered Slayer in her ecstasy of guilt-induced grief?"
Angel shifted slightly, bringing Giles in even closer. "No. She pretty much deserved to feel guilty, so I let her."
"Let her feel the guilt," Angel said again.
"And when can I expect her to show up on my doorstep crying mea culpa?" It galled Giles to realize that of the two of them, he'd rather talk to Angel than to Buffy.
"She won't. She's not allowed to come visiting." He spoke as if he were talking about an annoying relative, not the woman he'd lost his soul for, and that, more than anything, was enough to make Giles struggle enough to be able to look Angel in the face.
"What are you talking about?"
Angel looked Giles in the eye and said, "I've forbidden her from coming to Los Angeles for now. You need time to grieve, and I'm not just talking about Ethan. Tell me, did you ever mention to any of them just how much it hurt when the Watcher's Council was all but lost?"
"I liked you better when you brooded quietly in the corner," he answered, put out by the fact that not one of the children had ever bothered to ask him how he felt about the destruction of an organization he'd been associated with his entire life. They simply assumed he felt as they did — that it was a good thing. Granted, the organization itself had been rotting from within for centuries, but people he'd known his entire life had been killed in that blast. Friends and even a few distant family members were still waiting to be identified by Scotland Yard, and more than a year later, Angel was the first to mention it to him.
"It's kind of late for that, and you pretty much have your Slayer to thank for me getting involved," Angel said.
Too quickly, he said, "Didn't you hear? She's not my Slayer anymore. I have nothing to offer her."
"Heard about that. Thought the two of you patched things up." Angel spoke quietly and reasonably. Giles, who felt anything but quiet and reasonable, would have preferred screaming.
"We did. Until I started talking about the need to rebuild the Watchers' Council. At that point, I was told in no uncertain terms that I — that it was unnecessary." Giles wanted to kick himself for his minor slip, because he knew full well Angel would pounce on it. Unless, of course, he managed a diversion. He snapped, "Is there some reason we're attached at the hip? You made damn certain I couldn't leave the apartment, so holding me like this is redundant."
Angel tugged on Giles, bringing him into a sitting position so he could look at him more easily, and said, "Xander told me how they thought you were The First because no one could remember touching you last year."
Giles felt his jaw drop open, then he said, "What has that to do with anything?"
"I read somewhere about how people need at least four hugs a day to feel psychologically healthy," Angel said with a deadpan earnestness.
Staring at him for a full minute, Giles still couldn't decide if Angel was having him on or not, so he repeated, "What has that to do with anything?"
"I figured you might not have tried to commit suicide if you'd gotten touched enough, so I'm touching you."
"You're a stark raving lunatic," Giles said, a hint of wonder and awe in his voice.
Two weeks and one hundred eighty-nine hugs later, Giles was beginning to wish he'd just taken a gun and shot himself in the head. Surely Hell would have been better than having to submit to Angel's clumsy attempts to make him feel better — especially considering the fact that the bloody vampire may well have been onto something. The constant physical contact had been discomfitting at first, but Angel had gotten him to the point where he felt — off — if he didn't get held several times a day. It annoyed the hell out of him. He'd spent years getting used to little to no physical contact, then suddenly, all that work was for naught.
"Why suicide by vampire, Rupert?" Angel had dropped by with takeout from some Greek restaurant in the area.
"Police officers kill themselves with their gun, so why shouldn't a Watcher kill himself with a vampire?" His tone was flippant, but the words weren't.
"Makes sense, I guess, if you're into soap operas." Angel took a small bit of stuffed grape leaf, frowning as he considered the tastes in his mouth.
"When are you letting me out of here? I've already promised not to kill myself, and you with your vaunted vampire senses should be able to tell I'm sincere," Giles said, putting his fork down, his appetite suddenly gone. Because Angel was right. He'd picked a stupid, melodramatic way to kill himself, and now that he'd managed to get a bit of perspective, it was all too depressing to realize his actions had been nothing but a cry for help. His choice of Angel as a savior didn't bear consideration.
"Maybe never," Angel said, much the same way he might have mentioned the color of his favorite car.
"Excuse me?" Giles was torn between outrage and disbelief, with disbelief having the slight edge.
"I'm not really interested in having to put bodyguards on you twenty-four hours a day just to make sure you don't try to kill yourself again. It's easier to keep you here," Angel said, looking up from his plate.
"You have heard of mental institutions, haven't you? They have doctors there who, odd as this may sound, have actually been trained to work with people who are suicidal," Giles said with more bite than he'd had in years.
"True. But how many of them are going to have a clue how to deal with someone who's faced seven — eight? — near apocalypses?" Angel took a small piece of lamb from Giles' plate and sniffed it thoroughly before putting it on his tongue.
"I'm sure Wolfram and Hart has at least one qualified psychiatrist on retainer," Giles said, batting away Angel's second attempt to steal a piece of meat. He tried very hard not to think about how horrifyingly domestic the two of them had become.
"It's still an evil law firm. We've rooted out the worst of it, but there are still a few holdouts — mostly in the area of mental health." Angel cast one last longing look at the meat on Giles' plate, then tried another taste of stuffed grape leaf. "Besides, if I let you go now, Buffy will just track you down and start crying about how badly she feels. I'm not sure you could handle it."
Giles opened his mouth to dispute that then reconsidered. Angel was probably right.
Four months, countless hugs and fifty-three chess matches later, Giles opened his door to find Buffy standing outside it. She looked like hell.
"Hello." Giles continued to stand in the doorway, offering her no clue as to what he was thinking.
They stood there for several minutes, each lost in silence, before Buffy said, "Angel told me I could come visit."
His lips tightened briefly before he said, "It would have been nice if Angel had asked my opinion on the matter."
She shrugged, saying, "That's my ex for you — tall, dark and overbearing. So. I was thinking we could take a walk."
"That would be lovely, except for one tiny detail. Angel has me locked in," Giles said, his sarcasm at full throttle.
"He had the spell canceled this morning," she said, continuing to look at him. "I told him I wanted to talk to you outside, and that if you decided to take off, I'd let you."
"And he agreed to that?"
"I had him pinned to the floor and a stake partway into his chest, but yeah. He agreed," she said. "Come for a walk?"