Giles’s insistent knocking was answered by Dawn. Her eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed.
“How are you?” he asked gently. Dawn sniffed. “I’m coping.” Giles pulled her into a comforting hug.
“If you need anything…” he said, rubbing her back in a soothing motion. He felt Dawn nod into his chest.
“Thanks.” She withdrew from his arms and hugged herself, sniffling slightly. “But I have Xander and Willow coming over.” Giles nodded.
“Where is she?” he asked softly.
“Upstairs. She locked herself in the bathroom. Or she barricaded the door or something. She won’t let me come in.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” He started for the stairs, but stopped when Dawn grabbed his arm. He looked at her questioningly until she spoke.
“Giles…I know it’s not my place, but…she loves you.” Giles felt hope rising inside of him at her words. “She never said anything to me, but I figured you should know. In case…I figured you should know,” Dawn finished. They both knew why she left the previous sentence hanging.
Giles smiled softly. “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand and dashed up the stairs. Dawn watched him and sent a mental plea up to her sister. C’mon Buffy. Don’t push him away. I couldn’t stand it if we lost one more person I love. Don’t screw this up.
Slowly, Giles approached the bathroom door. All he heard was silence. And silence worried him. He tried the doorknob and found it not to be locked. Buffy must have unlocked it when she heard Dawn go downstairs, he thought. He slowly opened the door and poked his head in.
Buffy was sitting on the floor in front of the hamper, her knees brought up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them. She didn’t glance up as he came in, but he knew that she knew he was there.
“Dawn called you didn’t she?” Her voice was raspy and dry. Giles nodded and silently sat down beside her. There was silence for a long time between them, tears occasionally rolling down Buffy’s cheeks.
“She was worried about you, Buffy. I—we all are. It’s not everyday that—”
“I broke down today,” Buffy interrupted. “In front of Dawn.” Giles shifted and looked at her.
“Is that so wrong?”
“I’m not supposed to cry, Giles. Not now.” She turned her head towards him, but avoided his eyes.
“Why?” Giles unconsciously moved closer to her. “Why isn’t it alright? You just lost your mother, Buffy. It’s only natural for you to want to express—
“I’m supposed to be the strong one!” she suddenly cried out, shooting her legs out. “I’m not supposed to break down!” She stood quickly and began pacing in the tight space. Giles simply watched her. “I’m supposed to arrange everything, and I’m supposed to take care of Dawn now. I’m supposed to take Mom’s place, and I can’t!” She began to cry, the tears a never-ending waterfall down her face. “I can’t do all that I’m supposed to do! I can’t protect Dawn from Glory, I can’t not cry anymore, I can’t be the strong one anymore. I can’t do it anymore!” With that, she picked up a jar, and threw it against the wall. It shattered on contact, sprinkling fine dust particles around the room. Giles stood and watched his Slayer break. She trembled as she realized what she had done, bringing her hand to her mouth. Giles slowly moved towards her and enveloped her in his arms. She turned into him and began to sob.
Her body wracked as she finally surrendered to her grief, letting go of everything that she felt since her mother died. Her legs gave out and she sunk to the floor, Giles going down with her. He stroked her hair as he comforted her. “Ssh. It’ll be alright Buffy. It will be ok.”
“I can’t do it all,” she sobbed.
“And no one’s asking you too,” he replied softly. He waited until her sobs had subsided dramatically until he continued, pulling her closer to him. “No one is asking you to be the strong one. No one is asking you not to cry. And no one is asking you to take your mother’s place.” He tilted her chin so that she was looking up at him. “You can’t, Buffy. You can’t be your mother. She’s…she’s gone.” Silent tears ran down Buffy’s face.
“I know that Giles,” she whispered. “But I don’t want Dawn to grow up without a family.” He stared at her.
“She has a family, Buffy. Dawn has Willow, Tara, Anya, and Xander. And she has you. She’ll always have you. You already have a family.”
“And you? Where do you fit in, Giles?” Buffy asked.
Giles’s brow furrowed. “I’m…not really sure how to answer that, Buffy.” Buffy frowned. She reached up and traced his forehead with her fingers. “Did I put those there?”
Buffy smiled. “Those worry lines. Did I put them there?” Giles didn’t answer. She dragged her fingers down his face, lingering over his lips. After a minute, she replaced her fingers with her lips. Their first kiss was slow, gentle and a little bittersweet. Giles pulled away and leaned his forehead against Buffy’s.
“I know, Giles.” There was silence for a beat.
“I love you.” Buffy’s head snapped up to look at him. “Y-you do?” Giles nodded. “For a while now. I can’t explain how, or why, or even when. But I do know, that one day, I just looked at you and realized I was head over heels for you.” Buffy smiled.
“Good. Because I love you too.”
“I know.” Buffy sighed.
“Dawn told you, huh?”
Giles held Buffy tighter against him. “Yes.”
“That’s ok. Wanna know when I finally realized I loved you?” Giles looked down at her expectantly. Buffy smiled up at him. “Remember that spell we did to defeat Adam? I could feel all of you inside me. I know that sounds a little off, but I could feel you guys. Xander as my heart, Willow as my witchy power, and you as my bilingual prowess.” Giles grinned and looked away. “But I knew I loved you, when I realized that I could feel you. And I knew that we were going to be okay.
“And with Xander being my heart, he knew that I loved you. And he knew that I knew he knew. Did that make sense?” she asked shyly.
“More than enough,” Giles answered.
“Good. Because loving you makes missing Mom a little bit easier. It helps to fill that hole I have inside of me.” Buffy burrowed further into Giles’s embrace.
Giles’s smile slowly faded at these words. He looked down at the petite woman curled up in his arms, and sighed.
Buffy was surprised when he stood, picked her up and carried her out of the bathroom. He took her to her bedroom, and gently laid her down on her bed.
“You’re tired,” he whispered. “Go to sleep.” He kissed her forehead and started for the door.
“Giles?” He turned to look at her. “Could you…could you just hold me? Until I fall asleep?”
Giles smiled. “Of course.” He shut her door, and climbed onto the bed with her, taking her in his arms. Buffy curled up against him and kissed him sweetly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” She closed her eyes, and drifted to sleep.
Giles held her while she slept. He heard the front door open, and voices drifted upstairs. He listened to Anya, Willow, Tara and Xander comfort and keep Dawn company, until after a while, their voices lulled him to sleep.
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