Title: Their Hour
Characters: Giles, Buffy
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this), but on the mend.Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own.
Considering the intense physical battle with which she had put the devil pigs of Iowa to bed not twenty-four hours previously, Buffy felt remarkably fresh as she parked her rented car in the hospital parking lot and walked the lengthy access path to the main building and onto Giles’ ward. Getting back to England had taken a long time but hanging out with regular soldiers had taught her a most basic survival skill – sleep whenever you can – and she’d deployed it to excellent effect, both at Des Moines and Chicago airports, and then again on the plane to London Heathrow. A flight that had found Buffy clipped in, sleep masked, and seated in an upright position before the cabin crew had even secured the doors. Only rookies run the risk of getting woken up in turbulence, or look forward to eating the food, or think watching a tiny movie screen in a dark pressurised cabin is a novelty worth maintaining consciousness for.
There was a buzzer system to get access to the ward, but it was hardly Fort Knox, and she knew Giles hadn’t really been trying when he’d walked out three weeks ago. He’d just waited for a change in shift at a time when not all the staff knew him by sight. They’d probably wised up since then, and Buffy felt a little pang of guilt of not being able to visit him since that time. She waved at the little camera and when the door clicked open, she suddenly felt incredibly nervous. She was after all, actually twenty-four hours late for this visit and she hoped he’d understand about the pigs - though should she even tell him about the pigs or would that only worry him? Maybe she should have bought him a present at the airport to make up for it? The ‘Keep Calm and Fly Away From It All’ tea towel hadn't really seemed appropriate in the circumstances.
Giles was seated in the ward’s reception area, fidgeting with fluff on a scarf and coat on the chair next to him. He rose and shyly smiled as she entered through the double doors, and the guy manning the reception desk smiled expectantly at her too.
“Buffy Summers to see Rupert Giles,” she announced to which the Reception Guy nodded and said, “We've been expecting you, haven't we, Rupert? One hour, now.”
Giles, looking a little tired round the eyes, but otherwise fit and healthy, quickly pulled on the coat and scarf, before swiftly leaning forward to touch her elbow.
“Hello, Buffy.” She felt a brief kiss on the cheek, the kind reserved for elderly aunts and family Christmases.
"Hi," she began but his hand had already left her arm before she'd had a chance to respond to his contact.
“I just need to sign out,” he mumbled and bent away from her to write in the large black book on the desk, checking his watch as he did so. “Right, let’s go.”
Buffy was alarmed. “Go where?”
He looked amused. “Well as we’ve only got one hour, the options are a bit limited. I was thinking we could take a walk round the grounds?”
She looked to Reception Guy who nodded again and explained, “Dr Daniels okayed him to take a daily walk by himself over a week ago.”
Buffy felt incredibly bad she didn’t know that development and blustered, “Oh, right, yeah, sure” unconvincingly, as the doors buzzed open to let them, and her embarrassment, out.
They walked in silence through the corridors and out into the fresh air. The hospital was nestled in a gully of land and flanked by woods on two sides. Giles took her hand and confidently led the way to the northernmost tip of trees where Buffy saw a track with smart wooden benches that had been laid out to picturesquely flank the hospital perimeter. Autumn had occasioned the trees to shed their leaves to a pulpy sludge on the path edges, forcing them to walk in single file in places. Buffy wondered if they were just going to route march, hand in hand, for 58 minutes, when Giles led them off through an overgrown side path, and to a rather dilapidated bench overlooking a shallow green pool.
“You’ve been here before,” she observed.
“I’ve explored a bit,” he confirmed and they sat together, Giles crossing his legs and Buffy contriving to maintain contact by looping her arm through his and leaning her body towards him. He neither pulled away or pushed back, because seemingly having achieved this destination, Giles lost all sense of purpose and they sat in awkward silence for a while, foolishly looking at the stagnant pool for signs of fish that couldn't possibly flourish there. Buffy put her head against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get here for your case review meeting yesterday.”
“It was the day before yesterday actually, but it doesn’t matter.” His voice was neutral but she assumed he must be upset. Changing time zones was still confusing to her and she kicked herself for being even later than she thought.
“Are you disappointed?”
“Not really. Carole – Dr Daniels that is - made it clear that I shouldn’t expect to be released quite so soon, so you didn't miss that. Actually we had quite a full house. Sir Stuart and Lady Sophie drove over to attend.” Sir Stuart was Master of the College that employed Giles. Buffy had met him and his wife a couple of times, and when she’d called them to explain Giles’ indefinite leave of absence from work, they had both been very sympathetic. “Turns out, I haven't been fired,” he added, light amazement present in his voice.
“Well, duh,” she responded, and squeezed his arm.
“Not news to you then, but I was surprised. I thought there would be some question of my bringing the college into disrepute, not to mention the theft of college property part, which is usually grounds for dismissal, but apparently not.”
“You were ill, Giles.”
“Hmm. Everybody seems to be making allowances.”
Having known him for fifteen years, Buffy knew better than to react to his more gentler bouts of irony so she enquired if there was any other news.
“Hmm. Yes." He checked his watch. "Carole also wanted to talk with them about my living arrangements. She doesn’t want me to live on my own, when I’m released, not at first anyway, and as the house belongs to the college and is linked to my job, so there was a conversation around moving me into shared halls and generally having more people around.”
“That might be good for you.”
He shrugged. “I refused to budge.”
“She wasn’t going to release me and I see no point in pretending to go along with things I dislike just to get out of here. I'm not going to lie, and besides, the woman has an uncanny ability to see when I'm sucking up to her.” Buffy conceded his point though she wished to God she’d been present at the meeting to help him make it. “Anyway,” he continued with a smile. “I won out in the end. They agreed my house is just about big enough for two people, so I’m staying put.”
“Oh.” Buffy thought rapidly about her ability to relocate. Dawn was settled and didn’t really need her to play mom. Her sister spoke the better French anyway. Did she, Buffy, need to keep the office in Paris? Could she co-ordinate with NATO via a telephone line? People did. People worked from home all the time, would it matter if that home were in England? She would still need to travel and be away from time to time, so would it be acceptable to the doctors if she weren’t there all the time?
Giles interrupted her thoughts. “So Craig is moving into the spare room.”
“Craig McCullen. He's doing his doctorate and has some part time tutoring hours. He's going to pick up the warden duties I had for the students in that area.”
“And be your new flatmate?” she couldn’t keep the dismay from her voice and Giles picked up on it.
“Yes. Why does this bother you?”
“You've never mentioned him before.”
“He's Australian. You don't have to mention them before.”
“But he's someone you know?” She covered her disappointment rapidly. “He’s not some stranger moving in?”
“Oh I see.” Giles seemed to accept her concern at face value. “Yes, I know him to talk to in the Common Room. He's very bright. His thesis is quite interesting too it’s about-.”
“Is his thesis relevant?” interrupted Buffy somewhat tetchily.
“No.” Giles was momentarily stung. “Just explaining that he’s not a complete stranger - as you asked. Besides, the other alternative was to put me in some supervised halfway house and I really can’t stomach the thought of that.” His snappiness increased. “By the way, there’s another case review in two weeks, if you’re in this hemisphere and can be bothered to attend.”
“Of course I am. It's already in my day planner and I will be here for it.” She sucked her teeth to contain her own irritation.
“Or I could ask Ethan to come.” He was being prissy now and fishing to provoke her, but fortunately she knew the signs, and even more fortunately, could counter him on this occasion.
“Isn't he back in Thailand?” she answered sweetly, causing Giles to look mildly astonished at her. “We text,” she explained, and when he still didn’t look convinced she added, “About you of course, dope.” She watched as he processed the implications – in turns horrified, amused, horrified again, and then finally reconciled. They’d been pretty much her own reactions at being buds with a man she’d always considered a thorn in her side and a burr under the saddle of humanity in general. Still, whilst she’d always known that Ethan came with his own character restrictions, at least he was tolerable in byte size text messages and his concern for Giles seemed genuine enough. Sensing her advantage she emphasised, “Anyway, I promise I will be at your next review. And I have a catch up call booked with Dr Daniels tomorrow, so I’m totally on top of this.”
"How are you two getting along?"
"Alright I suppose." Giles looked at his wristwatch.
"Has she prescribed anything?"
Giles looked at her over the top of his glasses. "We discussed the medication your friend Dr Clarke prescribed. Carole said they all seemed appropriate. I said maybe so, but that her point was moot as I wasn't going to be taking any of them anytime soon. She said fine, she wouldn't prescribe them anymore then."
"And that was it?"
"You've definitely skipped the sucking up part then."
"She doesn't try to humour me either," he griped defensively. "And ok, I may have relented on the anti-depressants but only because they seem to help me sleep."
"Are you having trouble sleeping?"
"It can get a bit noisy here at night." He kicked a little mud from the heel of one shoe. "Frankly, I'd sleep a lot better in my own bed." There was a hint of reproach and sadness in his voice which Buffy sought to counter with a little flirtation.
"Not all the time." But he didn't share the sparkle in her eyes, in fact he positively shrank from her playful intimacy and she kicked herself again for being out of step and changed the subject back. "So what else do you two talk about?"
He detached her from his arm by leaning forward, and, putting his palms together, he stopped motionless, inspecting the ground that could have been a thousand miles away. He was so still that Buffy grew worried he was having one of his temporary blackouts again.
“Hmm.” He was still with her.
“Giles, is everything OK? I mean, I know this isn’t a great situation, but are you OK?”
He took a deep breath.
“There’s something you should know, Buffy. Something I have to tell you.”
Mentally, she braced herself. If someone was hurting him in there or he needed another doctor she would kick butt and sort the situation within the hour.
“I've been doing a lot of thinking since I’ve been here,” he continued. “Carole has me keeping a journal again and making two lists at the back of it. The first list is of things I like and enjoy, the second is for things I hate or that make me uncomfortable. And you see, I've been thinking a lot about us, about what we do, and where we are on these lists.” He took a deep breath. “Hmm, specifically where we are on the second list.”
It was like a cold slap and Buffy couldn’t breathe.
“What we do, physically,” he clarified, “What we do physically, is wrong of us. They wouldn’t approve, you see. My family. My mother, my father especially. Watchers, my boy, that’s not what Watchers do. Olivia. Oh god, Olivia would not approve...” He became aware he was rambling and stopped briefly to compose his thoughts. “So you see, it isn't right that this has happened as a consequence of their deaths. It’s mocking them and it has to stop.”
“We’re not mocking anybody.” Her words seemed small and futile and he turned to face her.
“Watchers and slayers are not supposed to sleep together,” he declared.
“Oh.” Buffy nodded her head and found her whole body was shaking with it. “Is that an actual rule? Because I never got to read the handbook.” The words were catty and she regretted the tone but he was being so oddly self-righteous about his declaration that she distrusted it instinctively.
“No, but it's always been, erm, somewhat frowned upon, by the Council,” he argued, but he couldn’t hold her eyes as he said it.
“There is no Council anymore. Look, Giles, most slayers don't make it out of their teens so yeah, gross, but you and I are way past the Watcher Slayer stuff, now. I mean, I'm twenty-eight years old for Pete’s sake.”
His voice was soft and stricken, barely a whisper. “You say that like it's a lot.”
She moved quickly to hug him again, forcing past his attempts to shake her loose. He permitted one hand on his shoulder, the other, gently around his waist as they sat side by side.
“What's this really about?” she asked.
“I don't know but we have to stop,” he stressed. “I have to stop. I don't like who I am for sleeping with you. I don't like that I can't remember how we started. I don't like how shabby I feel afterwards. I don’t like that at twenty-eight, you shouldn't have to take pity on an old man twice your age by...”
“Hey! It's not like that." That suggestion hurt like a knife. For Buffy, it had been an indescribable pleasure not pity and she'd thought he'd been experiencing it the same way. "You know it's not. When we...I mean you are there with me, aren't you?”
“Not all the time,” he admitted. “And that frightens me and I don't understand, but I have to make this change in my life. I can't explain it. I'm sorry.”
She wanted to fight, to argue, to make him understand that it wasn't pity, that they could work through any problems if he would only talk to her, but how could she argue? Having sex with her bothered him, made him unhappy he was saying, so it needed to end. She knew it wasn’t entirely true, that a part of him craved and desired her, but here he was saying ‘No More’ to her face and that counted for something. She knew he'd been conflicted about her for some months, trying to avoid contact, shunting her into the spare room at night but then making love in the lounge by day, but he hadn’t actually plucked up the courage to end it before. Until now. And now, she thought sadly, now she had no choice but to respect his decision.
"Ok." She withdrew her arms from around him and Giles straightened a little at the freedom. “But I’m still coming to your case review in two weeks," she warned. "And speaking with Dr Daniels tomorrow. This doesn’t change anything else about our relationship.”
He sniffed back his emotions. “Understood.”
“You can’t shake me off that easily.”
“I should bloody well hope not.” Giles actually laughed and produced a white handkerchief from his pocket to blow his nose. Buffy would have paid cold hard cash to watch him clean his glasses but he didn’t. “Our hour is almost up. We should be heading back.”
They walked quickly and in silence, Buffy, suddenly feeling incredibly tired and brooding with her thoughts, Giles, grimly determined but happier in his step. Both of them with hands firmly in pockets to shield their fingers from the cold snap in the air. As they reached the main entrance, Giles, recognising the end of their privacy, stopped to speak.
“It wasn't just the second list, you know,” he said gently. "I never want you to think that."
“Well, duh,” she responded. "I would hope not." And they both smiled, sadly in synch for a brief moment, knowing that for now, their time was over.