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FADE TO BLACK

AUTHOR: PhenDog

AUTHOR E-MAIL: PhenDog@hotmail.com

RATING: PG-13 (Buffy-ish)

SUMMARY: When Giles becomes trapped in the world of his mind, Buffy becomes his only connection to the outside world, and his only chance to find his way back.

Written for sonneta in allthejellies Angst-a-thon. Details below.

PAIRING: B/G

DISCLAIMER: I don’t own Buffy, Giles, or anything else except my beloved computer named “Slate.” (Obviously I don’t own them, or I’d own a lot more than Slate and you’d have to pay to read this.) The Buffyverse belongs to Joss, ME (yes I know, old joke), and a whole bunch of alphabetical TV networks, ‘specially now that it’s gone into syndication. Please don’t sue, I know I don’t have permission. Bad me. All my money went to bootleg X-files and Buffy episodes and Slate doesn’t want to leave me!

WARNINGS: Angst, Moderate Darkfic, Tissue Warning, Not the Happiest of Fics, Unhappy Ending…see a trend here? My intent is to turn you into a quivering mass of snot and tears, so be forewarned. Also mild termination of life issues. Character death doesn't quite fit...but there isn't really a standard warning that fits better...

Just so you know, my beta needed her own little paragraph just to make it though…you can find it here: ElizaBuffy's Ending *shrug* Whatever it takes.

DEDICATION: To sonneta…this is your fic! Hope you enjoy. Also to ElizaBuffy…for not only being my friend, but for surviving the grueling task of betaing this as well…I know it hurt a lot, but thanks for doing it! Special thanks as well to beadtific for her suggestions on the medical details of this! Very much appreciated...

FEEDBACK: PLEASE!!! Lay it on me at PhenDog@hotmail.com Good feedback will be treasured, printed, and taped on my wall. Flames will be treasured, printed in large typeface, matted, framed, and hung with care on my door for all to see. Either way, you’ll be encouraging me to write more! Constructive Criticism treasured above all else.

DISTRIBUTION: allthejellies, www.buffygiles.com/efiction, GRB, TweedyBookGuy, WatcherGirls, Together_BG, The BG Zone

A/N: Answer to sonneta’s challenge in All the Jellies LJ B/G Angst-a-thon. Requirements: Should take place in Season 7, and be rated PG-13 (Buffy-ish). No Redeemed!Spike, but must include 1) alcohol, 2) Buffy finds out Giles killed Ben, and 3) Buffy realizes too late she was wrong about something.

Don’t ask me where this came from…I don’t know either. While it does answer the challenge, an entirely original plot snuck in and took over as well; it took a direction I’m sure sonneta never expected! I know I didn’t… Still, I hope it doesn’t disappoint…you’ll find your challenge points answered if you look hard enough for them.

As far as Redeemed!Spike, don’t worry. I don’t think Spike makes an appearance in this at all, redeemed or otherwise—in fact, Kennedy gets more airtime, which, considering I am often known to refer to her as “that skanky ho-beast” (ElizaBuffy’s phrase actually-an entirely a personal opinion…which I wholeheartedly share) in Real Life, is saying something.

Also, I cheated a bit: it doesn’t take place in Season 7, so much as after it. Still w/the whole battle w/the First, it was hard to find a time to shove this in without interrupting a lot of that and having to deal with it…so I conveniently didn’t. Though it would take place before a Season 8 if there was one, so you’ll let me get away w/it, right?

This fic has been nominated in the Chosen Awards. Check it out!




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“Are you sure you want to do this?” Willow asked softly. “I warned you that I don’t have any idea what you might find.”

Buffy nodded as she stared down wide-eyed, transfixed by the form on the bed, peacefully displayed as he lay under the thin hospital sheet. Giles had always seemed so strong…indestructible. The only other time she’d seen him so close to death had been after he’d taken the lance when they were running from the knights, just before they faced Glory; and she hadn’t been able to deal with it well, then, either. But this…this was worse. Then he had talked to her, reassured her. Now he looked so fragile, frail with the various respirators and monitors, devoid of his armor in the thin short-sleeved gown, and it scared the hell out of her. Even his eyes were taped shut in an effort to keep them from drying out. This didn’t even look like sleep; death had more dignity. When she found her voice, she had to force it out to avoid squeaking. “I think I have to, Will. He would for me.”

Willow chewed her lip, but didn’t argue. Originally, Willow had thought she would do it herself, but when Buffy had heard the idea, she had insisted on the right to be the one. Of all of them, if Giles were to respond at all, he most likely do so for his Slayer. Still, mindwalking was dangerous for a case like this. “Okay. Remember, I’m going to anchor you, but I need you to pull out if it gets dangerous, or…if there’s, um, nothing there.”

The witch’s words washed over her, but she ignored them, understanding the pain that would come from letting them get to her. If there wasn’t anything left of his mind, then Giles would truly be lost to her. There would be no waking up—no coming back. “It should have been me. He shouldn’t have even been there.”

In her mind, Buffy couldn’t shrug the guilt. Giles should have been in England by now, piecing together what was left of the Council—gathering anyone who’d had any experience at all and trying to figure out how to deal with the new overabundance of Slayers in the world before that became a problem in and of itself. Instead, he was here, in some sort of mystical coma which the doctors didn’t understand, and the local coven wasn’t strong enough to break, all because of her, she thought, as she hesitantly stroked the hair on his forehead back into place and ran a trembling finger along the cool skin of his brow.

Buffy needed the contact right now, just to reassure herself that he was still alive at all, but it felt like such an invasion of his privacy to touch him. Save in training, physical contact had always been rare, though in the past, Giles had been quick to give her shoulder a reassuring squeeze when she needed it. Since he’d returned from England over the ordeal with Willow though, it had been even less, signifying the still unforgiven chasms which lay between them. It still made her ache to recall the hurt in his voice after they had suspected him of being the First, all because not a single one of them had bothered to so much as give him a hug to welcome him back. He tried to hide it from them, but Buffy didn’t blame him in the slightest for his emotions over that; it did suck.

After all that, he’d stayed around, taking her abuse and rants and slammed doors, all because he knew he was needed, even if she herself hadn’t realized it. It had hurt terribly when he’d taken Faith’s side and when he’d paired up with Robin to rid the world of Spike, but once she managed to get past the hurt and anger of it, Buffy understood why he had. She hadn’t quite forgiven him, and she didn’t agree with it, but she understood.

“Buffy, you can’t blame yourself for this,” Willow tried to reassure her, breaking through her reverie.

“Why not? I should,” she whispered back.

After the last few days of this, Willow’s tolerance was growing thin. “Buffy…”

Buffy’s frustration turned to anger and her eyes flashed as she spun around and snapped back, “Like hell, Willow! Just…just SHUT UP. It is my fault. He was distracted, and it was all because I was being stupid, arguing with him when I should have been watching his back. I mean, I’m the almighty Slayer…or at least the original copy anyway, and it should have been my job to, to…” she trailed off as her vision cleared enough to process what she was seeing. The redhead had her head down and was trying to bite back her own tears as she stood in the way of Buffy’s onslaught. The Slayer immediately felt the wave of remorse and let her voice grow quieter as she held back the next onslaught of her own sorrow which she’d thought was just about cried out. “Willow, I’m sorry. It’s just…”

“Yeah.”

After Sunnydale had fallen into the giant pit of hell—an ending that seemed strangely fitting, really—they’d been struggling to find a place for themselves. Somehow, going to the next Hellmouth had made sense and they’d found themselves in dreary Cleveland, doing what they could to find new Slayers while Giles made countless phone calls and flew around the world to try and find anyone who’d had the slightest bit of Watcher training or experience in demonology or demon fighting. To that end, Wesley had joined them as well, bringing with him the sassy and quirky brunette, Fred, another of Angel’s little group, to help them in their efforts.

Dawn had gone back to school, Willow had taken up with the local coven, once she and Kennedy had gone their separate ways, Xander had found a job as a construction advisor and was doing a correspondence course to get a degree in architecture since he could no longer work with the heavy machinery given his disability, and Buffy had found a position teaching self-defense which was a perfect cover while she was busily training dozens of newly minted Slayers. Their world had started to settle into a level of normalcy—or at least as normal as one’s life could be when it was filled with demons and hundreds of girls with amazing superpowers who needed direction in order to fight them.

But now…now everything in Buffy’s life seemed to be spinning wildly out of control. After everything, she’d allowed her Watcher to become the anchor in her life once more, directing them, helping them adjust after the seven-year trauma that had been Sunnydale. Now that anchor was suddenly very nearly gone.

Willow let out a long breath. Finally, she spoke again. “Ready, Buffy?”

The Slayer let her finger trail down along the clean-shaven surface of chin and when she looked up again, her eyes were clear and focused, devoid of the hollow look they’d held for the past several days. “Let’s do it.”

Buffy forced herself not to flinch as she gently took her Watcher’s hand between hers, feeling the limp, nerveless fingers that made no move to tighten on her own. She tried to ignore the cold feel of the blood pressure clamp on the middle digit, and grimaced as she noticed once again that his pinkie ring had been removed, kept elsewhere with the rest of his personal effects.

Wordlessly, Willow pulled up a chair and directed Buffy to sit, knowing that her friend could hardly do what she needed to do standing. Then the witch stood behind her and put her hands on her shoulders. “Now don’t forget…”

“Yeah, I know. Don’t get lost. Don’t get dead. Don’t forget to come back when I feel you tugging,” Buffy recited the rules impatiently.

“Right. And don’t try too much, or both of you could get hurt. This is only the first time…we just need to know if there’s anything there, and then, if you can find him. Try to bring him back, but don’t worry about it if you can’t…I mean, we don’t know what we’re dealing with here, and I know I already said that, but still. Once we know what’s going on, we can always try again if it doesn’t work, okay?”

Buffy brought up the hand and quickly kissed the knuckles in silent promise. “Gotcha.”

Willow gave Buffy’s shoulder a squeeze in acknowledgement. “Alright. Now close your eyes and clear your mind.”

The Slayer took a deep breath and tried to do as she was told.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Buffy opened her eyes. Then she shut them and opened them again to a world of black—not the familiar dark of the night, but simple blank, empty, vacuous space. She found that the only way she could even tell the difference was that she could look down and see herself clear as day. Immediately the panic hit.

She called out to him and began to run, the ground oddly firm beneath her feet considering the entire world was a solid sheet of nothingness. When he didn’t answer, she ran faster and faster, but still there was no sign of consciousness anywhere in the mind of her Watcher.

Finally, the Slayer fell exhausted to her knees. Willow had told her to come back if he wasn’t here, but he had to be. “Giles? Giles!” she called, her voice dying in the darkness. “Where are you? If you’re here, you need to let me know! I’m scared Giles…”

Buffy hugged herself, waiting for something to happen, anything at all. Finally, she bit her lip and tried to hold back the tears as she picked herself up. He was truly gone…but it was so hard to accept! She’d never have the chance to see him again…to apologize.

She hadn’t even realized she was pacing, but suddenly Buffy turned sharply on her heel and just about smacked face first into the door that had appeared in the seamless blackness.

Afraid it would disappear, she reached out a hand and let her fingertips brush cautiously against the grain. It was the door to his old apartment where he’d lived so many years in Sunnydale. A slow smile whispered at her lips, as the joy of finding the promise of him at last presented itself. Recalling what Willow had told her about the rules of this, she knew only he could have generated this for her…a way in. Still she had to wonder who had chosen what shape it would take, his mind or hers. After all, in high school she would have sought him out in the library, but following its destruction, his apartment had taken over that role; it was the one place she knew she could always find him…until he’d let it go and left her for England. Since then nothing had been certain.

The thought also made her a sad, and shoving it aside, she gathered her courage and opened the door.

At first she was completely disoriented. The scene that met her was anything but familiar, certainly, and definitely not Giles’ Sunnydale flat. The floors were dark hardwood, but almost entirely covered by rich red rugs with some sort of vaguely oriental designs and, although the room was dominated by the huge baroque walnut dining table centered beneath the fabulous crystal chandelier, she couldn’t help but notice the fantastic array of art and relics which filled the shelves along the walls. The cultures reflected were far too diverse for her to name, even though the vast majority were weapons—and therefore her specialty.

Cautiously, she picked up a sword with delicate inlaid gold filigree scrollwork along the blade. Buffy assumed it was more for display than anything else, but when she ran her finger along the edge, it was sharp and the balance of the blade when she hefted it in her hand told her it was a thing of danger. The Slayer in her had a momentary vision of how it would look, the filigreed engraving channeling blood that she instinctively knew had to be human so that the design would show against the silver blade in brilliant red rather than its current burnished gold. Buffy set it down like it was on fire, knowing she had to have touched on a memory of some sort and sensing it was darker than she cared to explore.

Still, it was a reminder of where she ultimately was. This had to have been a place manufactured by Giles’ mind—a place he’d been or imagined, but it was a place that was definitely not part of his life in Sunnydale. Actually, it seemed vaguely familiar…then Buffy realized she remembered it from Willow’s description of his ancestral home in Bath. The witch had tried to tell her how large and amazing it was but still…wow! Buffy found herself excited to be seeing it at last.

“Giles?” she called out, eager for his response. “Hey, you there? It’s Buffy…” her voice had been light when she called out, but the words fell flat, unreal on the silence, and it scared her. She called out again, louder and more shrill, but when there was still no answer, she let it go. The very fact that this world existed at all was proof that he was around somewhere, and Willow had warned her it might be a struggle to get him to recognize her and acknowledge her presence. Given her own recollection of when Willow had needed to enter her mind to find her and bring her back to fight Glory, she knew it was true.

Buffy looked around the room searching for clues, but finding nothing of importance, she settled on the doorway at the far end of the room. It seemed to lead to some sort of sitting room beyond, but the instant she stepped through it, the scene changed again, and she found herself disoriented once more.

This time the room was much smaller, with sharp white washed walls. The room was quite clearly divided in two with a twin bed and a desk on either side. The left half of the room was messy, clothes thrown about, a half eaten sandwich and the bed covers tossed about. That side she ignored, for something told her that wasn’t the side that needed her attention.

The other half was neat, picked up, with the only thing out of place being the books that were scattered about. Buffy looked at them and smiled. Some were clearly textbooks while others were occult collections of demonologies and still others were regular adventure novels. She picked up the one on the bed that seemed to be the one that the occupant had been reading last. It was a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo and when she cracked the cover there was an inscription on the inside cover.

To my darling Rupert; may the adventures of others inspire you to a few of your own. Love, mum

Buffy found herself smiling as she touched the words, though she’d known who occupied this space even before she’d seen the physical evidence. It was weird to think of her Watcher as a boy, and yet surely he must have been at some point, the logical part of her brain informed her. How old had he been at this point in time, she wondered; judging by the belongings of the two boys, maybe between twelve and fourteen?

Without understanding why, she found herself drawn to the trashcan beside the desk. It was nearly empty, save for a few papers in the bottom, but whereas most were just crammed in, the one on the top had been crumpled up first into a tight ball. Curious, she plucked it out and uncrumpled it, smoothing out the wrinkles.

As she read it, a tight ball formed in her stomach. It was a letter from a “Robert Giles,” his father, she assumed, even though she realized that she knew next to nothing about his family and had no idea what his parents’ names might be. The letter started out chastising him for a low mark in fencing of all things, telling him how important any form of weapons training was, particularly since he would be starting his Council training in the fall. As she read it, she could feel the boy’s pain at disappointing his father, as well as an enormous pressure and desire to please so strong it almost crushed her.

The final part of the letter was an apology informing Rupert that, because his father was busy with Council business, he would be expected to stay at the boarding school over the Christmas break. The wave of sorrow at that hit her so strongly she almost staggered; she was filled with the sudden knowledge that this was to be the first Christmas without his mother, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea how she knew. Then she realized it was the same phenomenon that had occurred with the sword. These things were evoking false memories in her because that’s what he would have felt if he encountered the same objects.

It was a scary thought, and Buffy suddenly felt dirty, as if she were prying into something intensely private, which, since she was in his mind without invitation, she truly was. Embarrassed and slightly disturbed, she crumpled up the painful letter once more and tossed it back in the trashcan.

Suddenly, she found herself not wanting to look around further, too afraid of what else she might find. Giles never talked much about his past, and quite possibly, he had his reasons. Hugging herself, Buffy looked for a way out of the room, but the only door was the one through which she’d come and instinctively she knew the only way to find him would be to keep moving forward.

Briefly, she considered the window, but as she looked down into the abandoned courtyard below, the trees adorned with their fall colors, she realized she was three stories up. If she was to walk out the window and the scene didn’t change…Willow had warned her that injuries in this world could manifest themselves in the real world as well, and that if she died…

Then she saw the wardrobes on either side of the room and had strong flashbacks to the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. She shrugged. Why not?

Feeling slightly silly, she opened the door of the one that belonged to her Watcher and stepped inside with the hanging shirts and pants, carefully pressed, most exact copies of each other, which seemed to represent pieces of what must have been the school uniform. She tried to touch them only briefly if at all, afraid of what she might learn if one of them were to impart another memory. Crouching in the small space, she closed the door behind her and turned around hoping the back of the wardrobe would open up and reveal the next scene, as it had in the books she recalled from her childhood. When it didn’t, she found herself vaguely disappointed and opened the door once more, only to find herself in the old Sunnydale High library.

Her own nostalgia washed over her so strongly, Buffy couldn’t help but smile as she looked around eagerly, her eyes lighting up as she recognized the scar in the wall from where she’d hit it with the mace and the mess of Scoobie snacks and books from a late night research party. How much of her high school career had been spent here? Without even thinking, she found herself heading over to the table to check to see what demon or apocalypse they’d been researching, but stopped herself just in time, deciding she didn’t really want to know. It could have been a happy memory this time, but there was always the chance it wouldn’t be, either. Considering this was part of his life she was familiar with, if there was something painful here, Buffy wanted to stay well away from it.

Taking one good look at the place that meant so much to her, personally, she finally turned and let herself walk through the doors, knowing that time was limited, and she needed to keep moving if she was going to find him. Unfortunately, the door simply lead into the empty school hallway, but she pushed onward, opening doors and peaking through until finally she decided to try upstairs. As her foot hit the top step to the second floor, she found herself emerging from the basement of the Magic Box and allowed herself another moment of wistful reminiscence.

So many memories had been lost over the years. The high school during the Ascension, the Magic Box during Willow’s rampage, and finally the entire town of Sunnydale in their final big battle against the First.

Buffy walked through until she reached the door to the back room that Giles had converted as a place for her to train. She reached out for it, hoping to walk into the next scene and closer to him, but the minute her hand touched the knob, she nearly bent over with the pain that overwhelmed her. This time it was more than a feeling that assailed her—it was almost an actual vision. She saw him standing at this very door, quietly trying to hold in his sorrow as he realized that never again would he hear her sarcasm and laughter, the ringing of the weapons as they sparred, or her complaints as he made her put the weapons away. She was dead, and his purpose in life was gone.

This was NOT a vision she wanted; she turned away from the door and ran until she flew out of the front door of the shop and into a dark alley where she briefly sat panting, trying to push aside what she’d just felt even as it evoked her own feelings over her death—memories she definitely didn’t want to be reminded of right now.

Finally, her heart rate slowed and she picked herself up, now desperate to find him. The alley, filled garbage, smelled strongly of spilt beer and whiskey. Walking out onto the street, she found herself in front of a pub, clearly somewhere outside of the US, judging by the configuration of the older car models that were parked outside, and she found herself assuming it must be England again, and quite possibly London.

Pushing her way through the doors, she found herself…back in the Magic Box. She was about to flee back out into the street when suddenly something made her stop in her tracks. The store was slightly different, decorated now and advertising sales for the upcoming witch’s Sabbath. Surely this must have been a happier time, she thought cautiously as she peaked around. As if to prove it, Anya suddenly appeared talking about the latest shipment of chicken feet. Buffy could feel a mixture of mild irritation at the babble mixed with admiration for the ex-demon’s dedication, and knew that this feeling was also one from Giles—one which made her smile faintly until she recalled that Anya also was a causality of their endless fight against evil. Thank God the sight of her wasn’t evoking memories of that!

“Hi Anya!” she spoke up, trying to get her attention, but Anya’s monologue never stopped.

“Anya?” Buffy questioned again, as she walked up to her and tried to tap her on the shoulder. Unfortunately, her hand slipped right off as if there were some sort of invisible field keeping her from interfering, even as she called out her friend’s name once more.

Anya looked up briefly as though she’d heard something, but when Buffy tried again to get her attention, Anya just shrugged it off and then huffed that no one ever listened to her as she shoved the chicken’s feet back into the box and headed back into the storage.

Still, Buffy took it as a good sign. Anya was the first person—or animate object even—that she’d seen. Hopefully that meant she was getting closer? It wasn’t a hard decision to follow in the direction the ex-demon had left.

Anya vanished, but as Buffy hit the next scene, she found herself in an unfamiliar training room filled with young men and women sparring with a variety of weapons. A sharp British voice called out instructions to the nearest pair, and the Slayer found herself assuming that this had to be somehow part of Giles’ training a the Council. She could smell the sweat and hear the clack of the various battles taking place around her. Buffy took that as a good sign as well, since she suddenly realized the previous scenes had been completely devoid of smells and incidental sounds. Looking around though, she realized that these people were still little more than window dressing, completely oblivious to her presence.

Giles himself was no where to be found, and even though she knew she had to be close, Buffy knew she was both getting frustrated and running out of time. She had no doubt Willow would be pulling her out if she didn’t find him soon.

Unfortunately, the doors leading out of the room were many, and she wasn’t sure which one would take her closer. Crossing her fingers, she chose one at random and walked toward it, carefully sidestepping the various combatants, lest their weapons prove less insensible to her presence than their wielders.

This time when she stepped through, she was bathed with the cool night air, but could clearly hear the sounds of battle that continued on, only more distant this time. Buffy turned just in time to catch a glimpse of…herself, as her thin form in the ribbed white sweater with its long blonde hair raced up the rickety stairs of the skeletal metal framework, and her blood ran cold. She knew exactly where she was.

There was a coughing sound, and Buffy looked down at the grated metal to see Ben sprawled out and dressed ridiculously in the black dress Glory had been wearing the very last time Buffy had seen her. He held his hand to his chest as he coughed a cough that was obviously quite painful—probably due to the internal damage she, herself, had inflicted.

Buffy had no desire to watch this. When she’d been brought back months later, she had asked and been told that Ben had died that night; that he had been dead when Dawn had made her way down from the tower after Buffy herself had performed her act of sacrifice. It had haunted her that, in the end, it had been Ben lying there. The injuries had been meant for Glory, a hell-god, evil and far from human, but Ben…Ben was human, and he had even helped them, saving Giles’ life in the desert when they’d run from the knights. Still, as hard as she tried to turn away, sick fascination seemed to rivet her to the spot.

Ben coughed again, and let Glory’s insane smile creep across his face. “I guess we’re stuck with each other, huh, baby?”

Buffy felt the fear wash over her. Dawn had told her that near the end, Ben and Glory had almost been the same person—that Ben had aligned himself with her—but it was so hard to believe. Now, however, seeing the hell-god’s expression on the man’s face…

He closed his eyes just before a shadow fell over him. Buffy looked up to see exactly what Ben himself was seeing and just about staggered in shock, not expecting that any of her friends had witnessed this. Giles, in his overcoat and jeans loomed over him. He was not wearing his glasses, she noticed idly, still trying to process what she was seeing. Of course she should have expected that he must have been a part of this somewhere—these were his memories, after all, but still, that he had seen what she had done mortified her. Surely, this was not a happy memory for him—the memory of the man his Slayer had killed. The joy at having found him at last was strongly overshadowed by her shame.

Head cocked, her Watcher leaned over her victim, his face haggard but impassive. “Can you move?” he asked, the light emanating up through the metal grate playing across his features.

“I need a minute,” Ben replied, even as his expression lit up, conveying his impression that aid was close at hand. Buffy flinched at his next words. “She could have killed me.”

“No she couldn’t. Never,” Giles said quietly and firmly as he shook his head in the negative, then broke eye contact and looked away. Buffy shivered. But she had killed him in the end, hadn’t she? He’d died all the same.

Giles surprised her as he continued speaking in that casual deadly-calm tone of voice. “And sooner or later, Glory will re-emerge and make Buffy pay for that mistake. And the world with her.” He reached for his jacket pocket. “Buffy even knows that; still, she couldn’t take a human life.”

Buffy’s mind raced as she tried to process what was happening, but she found she couldn’t. Whatever was going on what not what she had expected.

“She’s a hero you see,” he commented as he placed the glasses on his face, completely devoid of emotion. “She’s not like us.”

“Us?” Ben said in confusion. He didn’t have time to say a word more before the hand slapped down across his face covering his nose and mouth. As a doctor, Ben would have had no doubts about the lethalness involved in lack of oxygen. Buffy watched numbly as he struggled quietly, trying to grasp at Giles’ arm but found that with his injuries he could accomplish nothing in the way of self-defense. Instead, his last painfully burning breath was spent looking up at the serene face of her Watcher. Giles looked calm; as if he could have been doing nothing more than reading something in one of his books.

Buffy tried to race forward, and stop the horror she was witnessing, but found herself frozen in place. Whether her inability to move was a product of his mind or hers she didn’t know, but she was forced to look on as Giles waited until he was sure and Ben ceased his struggle, his eyes going blank as they stared sightlessly upward.

“Giles! Oh God, Giles!” she called out as the spell was broken and she surged toward him. She pounded on his back, willing him to see her, even as she tried to ignore seeing the third body that occupied the space with them.

He looked up as she practically knocked him down, and a look of horror filled that expressionless face as he stared into the terror and accusation he read on hers.

“Buffy? But how? You should be…” His eyes flicked to where he’d seen her disappear up the steps even as he took in the fact that this Buffy looked different somehow—older, different clothes, more worldly with a permanent sadness about the eyes—but somewhere in his mind, he recognized this woman as well.

“You never told me. You never told me it was you,” she accused angrily, but her blows lost their force.

He reached out a hand to her wrist to still her movements; unfortunately, it was his left, the fingers of which were dipped in blood from the gashes on Ben’s face. She jerked away from his grasp and stared down at the red marks that remained on her wrist and palm, thinking the strange thought that now the blood truly was on both their hands—literally.

“Buffy? Buffy, why are we here?” his voice wavered slightly, and Buffy realized he was beginning to remember—to become aware of her rather than the world he’d created in his mind. The tone of his voice scared her, though, because it was so uncertain and childlike—telling her that he was scared as well, but in a way she, or anyone else, seldom saw him. Her emotions warred, and the scene of what had happened so long ago lost to the more immediate concern. Any anger she felt about Ben drained out of her…it would be dealt with, but later.

“Giles, this isn’t real. We’re in your mind,” she told him, not really sure how else to introduce the idea. “Do you believe me?”

Giles was having trouble processing what was going on, even as the memories of the years after the incident with Ben continued to flood into him. Still, what Buffy was saying would explain a lot, he realized, and he doubted she’d be likely to make something like that up without good reason. He nodded. “How?”

“Um, why don’t we…go somewhere else,” she suggested.

Giles wasn’t certain what his Slayer was talking about, but all of a sudden a series of very painful memories seemed to slam into him.

Buffy could see the change in him, and instantly they found themselves in a grassy clearing. The moment she recognized where they were, her stomach turned. Somehow, this wasn’t an improvement.

“You died,” he whispered, as his fingers trailed across the letters in the stone that marked her grave…the grave out of which she would later crawl. “I’m so sorry, Buffy.”

She grabbed his arms and forced him to look at her, realizing that she was truly going to have to guide him through this. “Me, too. But I’m okay now. I’m alright, see?” She held gave the arms a squeeze to prove her solidity. “This isn’t real either…or at least not anymore.”

He closed his eyes and remembered when she had come back—how she had been and where she had come back from—and felt the wave of sorrow again.

“How much do you remember, Giles? Do you remember…” Buffy’s voice trailed off thinking it might be best to leave off mentioning when he had left or when Willow had gone evil. “Do you remember fighting the First? And then moving to Cleveland because Sunnydale kinda bit it, and then helping out with all the new Slayers?”

“New Slayers?” his brow crinkled momentarily. “Ah yes. It is…coming back,” he admitted, as he forced himself to deal with the pain of even more memories as they came to him. With force he wrenched himself away from the gravestone and faced her so that it was out of his range of vision. Buffy noted with surprise that when he did so, it promptly disappeared, leaving the clearing unmarked as if he had willed it out of existence. It was obvious that he had more control here than he realized if he could do such things consciously, but she decided she’d wait to point that out later.

When his Slayer didn’t start talking again right away, Giles felt the need to ask once more for information—something to process and maybe understand. “Buffy, um, do you know…you say we’re mindwalking in, ah, my mind. Why are we here? What caused this?”

Buffy sighed, knowing it was a conversation that was inevitable. “Where do you want me to start?”

“The beginning is generally a good choice…particularly as the last few years are still coming back to me.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. They kinda sucked.”

“Which was partially my fault, it seems.”

Buffy diverted her gaze. “Yeah, but we talked about it after the Sunnydale crater-making and I think we’re okay with it. Let’s not worry about it right now, okay?”

“Alright,” he agreed, but he caught the undercurrent in her words that told him some of the wounds remained unhealed on her side, and perhaps his as well.

Buffy slowly revealed the story of how they’d been in the process of training some of the new Slayers when a new demon had appeared on the scene. He’d argued with her that they weren’t ready to go after it until they’d done some more research, but she’d insisted that the demon would be great practice for the group she was working with and that they already knew all they needed to know. After all, a little decapitation would do the job and then they’d be done.

At the last minute, Giles had found out about the demon’s ability to create rather lethal energy projections. He’d followed after and managed to warn them just in time. Unfortunately, just as Jessica had killed the demon, it had let loose one final projection, larger and of a different quality than the others, that had hit Giles solidly as the demon breathed its last.

Giles had fallen, and they had taken him to the St. Augustine Memorial where he’d remained in a state of prolonged coma ever since, relying on the feeding tubes and respirator to cling to life. Still, there was no medical explanation for why he couldn’t wake up, much less breathe on his own. Then, weeks later, Willow had mentioned the possibility of perhaps bringing him back by seeking him out in his mind…

He could see the pain and tension that was evident in her form as she bared the story to him, forcing herself to be frank and hide nothing. Still, as her telling of it clarified his own recollection, he couldn’t help but feel his own sense of anger and betrayal that, once again, she had sought to cast him aside, even after everything they’d gone through in the year before that.

Buffy held back the hot tears that threatened as she bit her lip, but she couldn’t force herself to take in his expression whatever it might be. His pain wasn’t something she could deal with and his sympathy wasn’t something she deserved. “I’m so sorry, Giles. You never should have been there in the first place…against that…thing.”

The yawning silence afterwards indicated that she expected some sort of response, but he was at a loss what to tell her, the magnitude of his situation nearly crushing as he struggled to absorb it. “What would you like me to say, Buffy? I’m certain you didn’t intend this, but would you really want me to just forgive you for putting everyone in danger?”

“No,” she whispered. “I was afraid you would, though…”

He nodded and sighed. “As I’ve always told you, people make mistakes, Buffy. Lord knows, I’ve made mine. The key is to learn and to do what you can to fix your messes.”

“Giles, I…”

“You’re here.” He reached out to give her hand a little squeeze before releasing it again, letting her know that was the important thing. “So how do we get me back, hmm?”

“Willow’s anchoring me and she’s going to try pull us out together, so I guess we just kinda wait until time’s up, since I don’t really have any way to tell her I found you. We weren’t even sure if I would find you this time or if I’d be able to get you to recognize me and realize the sitch.”

“I recall she had a rather difficult time with you.”

“Right, and that wasn’t even magic related. But…but I’m glad I found you,” she told him, at a loss for how she could adequately even begin to describe how much she had feared the alternatives. “The last few weeks? Not so fun.”

“Perhaps not, but I’m rather glad you found me as well,” he commented, and she looked up just in time for them to share soft smiles.

“So, what’s it like in here?” she asked idly. “Seems like your brain ought to be a pretty big place.”

“I’m just now becoming aware of it, but mostly just memories and fantasies, I suspect.”

“Well, at least I avoided the fantasies,” Buffy giggled, then turned serious. “I think I saw some of the memories, though…I tried not to pry and just find you, but…”

Giles suddenly felt his stomach clench at some of the things she could have seen. It occurred to him exactly what it might mean that Buffy was allowed to mindwalk while he wasn’t aware of her presence. “Nothing too upsetting, I hope?”

Buffy felt her face turn red at what she had seen, but knew that there were probably far worse things she could have walked in on than she had. “No, mostly just places—people didn’t start showing up until I got close to you and I couldn’t really talk to them or anything. And…I have to be careful when I touch things sometimes or I’ll pick up your feelings about them…but no, nothing too bad,” she assured him.

“And Ben?” he asked quietly, remembering the horror on her face. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Buffy felt the surge of anger return. “I just can’t believe you never told me.”

“You weren’t ever supposed to know about that, Buffy. I thought it would be easier…”

She forced her voice to calm down, but this was a topic her mind forced her to pursue. “What? To let me think that I killed him? To let me agonize over that for the past two years? He was an innocent Giles! He didn’t deserve to die.”

“Perhaps not, but Ben was almost gone, Buffy. Soon, all that would have been left was Glory, and I couldn’t afford to let that—”

Buffy cut him off. “But you killed him Giles, like it didn’t even mean anything to you! You murdered him…and, and…” she trailed off. When she started talking again, the vehemence was gone and her voice was much softer. “And I’m glad you did.” Her eyes were full of questions when she met his gaze. “What does that mean?”

“It means…it means that you’ve learned sometimes keeping the world safe means doing hard and horrible things.”

“Of course by that logic, you would have had me kill Dawn, too.”

“I never wanted—”

Buffy realized she wasn’t being fair. “I know. Duty just sucks big sometimes. I still wish you would have told me, though.”

“Perhaps I should have,” he told her honestly, surprised at how well she was taking it. “Does knowing make you think any differently of me?”

His Slayer didn’t answer right away. Instead, she took his left hand and curious, he let her. The blood was gone now, forgotten by his psyche, she noticed as she uncurled the fingers. As if she was seeing it for the first time, she ran her index finger carefully across the palm, following its lines before turning her attention to the calluses and multiple faint scars. He was a scholar and a mage, perhaps, but he was a warrior too, and this was the hand of a master of the sword and so many other weapons, learned so that he might fight against the evil that hid in the shadows of the world. Futile as it may have been, he’d thrust that sword through the mayor so long ago, and fought for her so many times before that and since. He’d also taught her the skills to fight for herself; the skills that kept her alive far beyond the standard Slayer expiration date.

Buffy took her own hand and placed her palm against his, splaying out the fingers so they matched, the tips of his extending slightly beyond hers. It was also the hand with which he’d tended to her wounds, given her shoulder the occasional, much-needed reassuring squeeze, and handed her the ever-present and comforting cup of tea when she’d visited him late at night. She’d missed those things so much after he’d left and in that horrible year when they’d battled the First, but in the months since, those things had gradually begun to return.

This was the hand of the man who dedicated his life to fighting evil and to protecting her, and when that hand had killed Ben, it had been for those exact same reasons. Buffy turned the palm down and placed the hand back on his knee.

“Nope, same Giles,” she told him as she gave him a smile that earned a crooked one in return. “Next time you need to tell me though. Almost everything bad between us has been because one of us was holding out on the other. Talking can be of the good.”

Giles was about to say something in agreement when all the sudden Buffy tensed and looked around quickly before relaxing once more.

She’d momentarily forgotten where they were, but that had almost certainly been Willow’s tug. “Ready to go home?” she asked.

“Lead the way.”

Trying to remember Willow’s instructions, Buffy closed her eyes and mentally followed the thread which pulled at her mind. When she opened them again, there was a cobblestone path that lead to the far side of the clearing and directly to…the front door of 1630 Revello Drive.

“You did say home,” Giles reminded her wryly, as he swayed slightly.

“Um, yeah, but I didn’t think my mind would make it literal. You okay?”

“Just a little nauseous. I rather suspect it’s an effect of having your mental machination superimposed on my consciousness, but in this case I’m quite sure I don’t mind.”

“Machination? English is a very nice language too. Feel free to speak it sometimes…you being English and all,” Buffy commented as she rolled her eyes at his explanation, and they both grinned. Giles could see the old Buffy showing through more and more, and it was nice to think things might finally be getting back to normal. “Come on.”

He followed her as she walked up the path, pulled along by Willow’s tug. Briefly Buffy paused at the doorframe, running her fingers along the wood which bore the scars of the many times her work had followed her home. There were a lot of memories in this house that had been just one more victim of the First.

Forcefully, she tore herself away and reached out for Giles’ hand even as she opened the door, finding it unlocked.

As she intertwined their fingers, she spoke. “Okay, now I’m going to concentrate on pulling you through, and you need to concentrate on staying with me if this is going to work.”

“I’m familiar with the theory.”

“Good. Here goes nothing.” Buffy squeezed her Watcher’s hand and started to step through the door, drawing him along after her.

Giles thought about pushing his mind outwards, along her arm, using Buffy as a conduit and out into the real world. Buffy had crossed the threshold into the yawning darkness beyond and was looking back at him. He allowed his arm to pass through the door and though there was a slight resistance, he found he was able to do so quite easily until he was up to near his shoulder. He took a step and his foot started to follow when his world seemed to abruptly explode with searing pain as fire and ice traveled along those parts that had crossed the doorway.

The Watcher screamed as reflex forced him to release the hand that pulled him toward the white hot agony and jump back, just in time to see the giant black shadow, wings outspread like some terrifying bird, slide down the white front of the house and rush toward him, seeking to envelop him in its monster embrace.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Damn it! Come on, Giles,” Buffy raged as she found herself returned to the hospital clutching the hand of the figure of the bed in front of her. “Come on!”

When he showed no sign of awareness, it became obvious that willing him to wake was useless. She’d failed. Realizing how tightly she was grasping the hand and knowing it’d probably be painful, she released, even as she felt Willow’s hands remove themselves from her shoulder.

“Buffy?”

“I had him, Willow! I had him…but something happened. At the last instant, he let go.”

“Buffy! Calm down. We can try again, later, okay?”

“Now? Can I go back now?” Buffy asked, desperate for the second chance. She’d thought for sure she had him…

Willow shook her head in the negative. “No, I don’t think so. You were in there for over two hours, Buffy, and both of you are probably exhausted from it, even if you don’t realize it. You found him?”

“Yeah. And I talked to him. He was trying to come back with me, Will.”

The witch could feel her friend’s pain and let it add to her own. She’d been hoping Buffy would succeed as well; one thing Buffy had been right about—Giles didn’t deserve this. “That’s still good though, Buffy. That you found him…It means he can be brought back. Maybe next time.” She produced a crystal from her pocket and whispered a spell over it. “Here. When you can touch this to both of you and it turns blue, then you can try again, okay?”

Buffy instantly tried it out and winced when the clear center of the crystal swirled with red as if a drop of dye had hit the water. “Great.”

Willow frowned at the color herself, but shrugged it off. “Now tell me what happened.”
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