Characters: Giles, Buffy in this one
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this).Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own.
“So how does it feel to be a free man?”
Walking at her side, Giles tugged his canvas grip further over his shoulder and looked at his watch before answering.
“As it has only been ten minutes and we haven’t made it to the car yet, I can’t really say.”
“But it’s good isn’t it?” Buffy persisted. “You’ve been discharged without a stain on your character.” She smiled to underscore her joke. “I mean, you are feeling better aren’t you?”
“I’m feeling exhausted. Where exactly did you park?” he huffed. “We’re not walking all the way home are we?”
Buffy opened her mouth to remonstrate that she wasn’t responsible for the landscape planning of the hospital grounds and that she’d had to make this walk every time she’d visited him without complaining, but she found Giles was amused and smiling at her, and she'd always found that smile charmingly infectious. She sucked her teeth and pointed to a row of cars.
“We’re the black one at the end.”
“Good, let’s get out of here before they change their minds.” Giles quickened his pace, leaving Buffy to scramble in her purse for the keys.
“Are you worried they might?”
“Of course not. Stop fussing and boot up.”
“Pop the trunk. So I can put my bags in.” Buffy worked the key fob and the locks chomped and the tail lights flashed. Giles slammed away his luggage and produced his cell phone. “Have you got a charger for this? They wouldn’t let me use it, understandable I suppose, but it’s got horribly run down, well dead actually.”
She had, and Giles plugged in and starting clicking buttons as Buffy drove them out though the main gate and onto flat country roads. She had become an expert at the local narrow geography and soon cut through two hamlets and a tricky blind corner before joining a larger dual carriageway and mixing with other vehicles.
“Giles?” He was reading his discharge papers but murmured to indicate she had his attention. “I’ve been thinking. I just want to say how sorry I am about this. I think I might have waited too long before I got you the right help.” She flicked her eyes from the road to his face but couldn’t read his features. “I think maybe because of my own experiences with psychiatric hospitals, I might have been biased against them.”
“Well, that’s perfectly understandable. Don’t give it another thought.”
His words were soothing but he didn’t look up from his papers and Buffy felt a slight pang that several nights spent crying her guilt down the phone to Willow had just been rather breezily dismissed.
“Oh hello, this is Rupert Giles. I need to book a call with Dr Daniels, please.” It was his best telephone voice, crisp and precise and caught Buffy off-guard.
“Why? What’s wrong?” she asked. The brake lights of the cars in front began to swell in numbers and she took her foot off the gas pedal. In the distance, everyone had come to a complete stop.
“Nothing is wrong, Buffy. I’m just supposed to arrange some follow up sessions.” He broke off. “Oh hello, yes I’m still here… As soon as that? No, I’ve nothing planned for tomorrow. Well, no, that will be fine then. OK. Eight a.m. it is then. Thank you.”
Buffy gestured to the traffic as he hung up. “Do you think there’s a problem up ahead?”
Giles shrugged. “Hard to say. Might be an accident. Might just be some chickens on the road.”
They ground to a halt and Buffy wondered if it was entirely normal to have a follow up call within twenty-four hours of being discharged. If they were worried then surely they wouldn't have let him go? And she was also acutely aware that she had only a short time in England to get Giles settled back in his house and through his first night before she had to fly back to Paris. She was rather looking forward to just hanging with him in private and maybe talk about some stuff that was on her mind.
Giles’ phone rattled on the dashboard and started playing what Buffy recognised as the theme to one of the CSI shows.
“Good gracious,” Giles said before Roger Daltrey could begin to sing earnestly about his life in the fields. “My own house is calling me. How impressive.” He took the call. “Ah, hello Craig. I wondered if it were you. Yes, I’m out, a free man and without a stain on my character. ” As they were stationary, Buffy propped her elbow on the side window and gave him a mild ‘I have that joke copyrighted’ glare. The car in front crept about two inches, but she felt no compulsion to close such a small gap. “I take it you’ve already moved in? Excellent….Oh you Philistine!” Buffy looked quizzically but Giles was lost in his conversation. “I hope you've got some beers that aren’t in the fridge.” He chuckled at the response. “No, I don’t know how long we’ll be. We’re stuck in traffic at the moment. Yes… No. Buffy is driving. Yes, I said Buffy... No, she’s American. Have you not met Buffy? No? Oh well she’s my…er...my...er...” Words gallantly failed him and he began to blush.. "My...er...er..."
“I’m his Ex!” Buffy interjected before Giles could stammer his way to a stroke, and her comment, fuelled by insecurity and hurt pride, was rewarded with explosive laughter from the handset.
“Sort of ex,” Giles added ruefully. “It’s a bit more complicated than that. But um…anyway, yes. Buffy will be staying over tonight. You’ll like her….” He tilted the phone away from his mouth. “Craig says he likes you already.” Buffy nodded coolly and turned her attention to the traffic. The furthest cars had already started to move and the vehicle in front had crept forward another thousandth of an inch in incontrollable excitement.
The phone call was over by the time Buffy had her foot on the gas and was moving at speed again. There was no evidence of there having been an accident, nor even signs of jaywalking chickens, nothing at all in fact to indicate why they had been brought to a standstill but Buffy was counting her blessings just to be moving again. She had known Giles required a flatmate as part of the condition of his release, because Dr Daniels was insistent he shouldn’t be living on his own. She had even known a young Australian academic called Craig had agreed to move in. She just hadn’t realised he would be already there and waiting, with cold beer in the fridge and cheery ‘g’day mates’ in his heart. She hadn’t been prepared to share Giles quite so soon and what if it was too much for him? What if he bottled it all up and waited for her to leave so he could…
She became aware Giles was contemplating her as she dug her nails into the steering wheel.
“Are you alright, Buffy?”
“Me? Sure.” She decided to overtake the three cars ahead and swung out, her foot down. Giles nervously checked his side mirrors.
“Have I said something wrong?” he asked as she slammed back into the inside lane.
“My…er…my…er..” she repeated in her best approximation of his accent. “What was that all about?”
“Ah. Sorry. He caught me on the hop. It used to be so much easier when I could introduce you as my Slayer. I don’t know what to call you now.”
“Don’t give me that,” she countered. “You never introduced me as your Slayer to anyone.”
“I did to my parents.”
Buffy felt herself being so close to saying ‘they don’t count’ that the hot breath of embarrassment still stung her despite her managing to hold back. Gripping the wheel, she checked her mirrors for an opportunity to overtake, but there was no gap and she was stuck.
Then Giles spoke again, mumbling, “Sorry. That was unworthy. Sorry.” And she felt bad at having had any anger.
“You’re allowed to talk about them,” she said gently but Giles was chaffing at the way his seat belt dug into his shoulder.
“I don’t want to bring them up in arguments though.” He stopped fidgeting and drew a sigh. “And I do talk about them. Just not to you. Sorry.”
“No, I should apologise. You just caught me off guard with the 'my...er...my...er' thing. My whole lack of a credible label in your life sucks.”
“We need better labels,” he agreed, shifting to the practical. “’Ex’ doesn’t work. It implies more of a relationship than we had - more than just sex anyway - and also a relationship that is over, sometimes bitterly so. We’re no longer sleeping together, but I don’t look on our relationship as in the past, nor bitter.”
“Not bitter, no. How about ‘friend’?” she suggested. “It’s safe and honest isn’t it?” Giles nodded. “Hi, I’m Buffy. I’m your friend who sleeps on the couch.”
He frowned. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Now you’ve got Craig staying I think I do. I can hardly sleep in the spare room.”
The penny dropped.
“Bugger. I hadn’t actually thought of that. Sorry. I’ve not had to be practical these last few weeks, dear Lord, I’ve become institutionalised. You read about such things. Idiot! I need to get it together before I need someone to tie my shoelaces and bring me cocoa. Damn though." A new thought struck him. "I wonder if he’s got any milk in? Or tea? Maybe I had better call him back?”
“Chill, Giles. It will all be OK. He’s a big boy. He will have groceries other than beer.”
“He is Australian,” he reminded her but her logic held and he didn’t hit speed dial. “What would I do without you?” He smiled fondly at her. “Best friend even?”
The Who interrupted them before Buffy could make any reply Giles barked a frustrated ‘What?’ into his phone before relaxing at the sound of a smooth, honey dripping voice. “It’s not really a good time to talk.” He swapped the handset to his ear furthest from Buffy but she had already guessed.
“I thought he was in Thailand,” she griped.
“Buffy says hi.” There was a long monologue from his caller, during which Giles giggled, smiled and tried to hide his laughter as a coughing fit. Eventually he managed to summarise in a neutral voice. “Ethan says he hopes you are well.”
“I bet he does," she growled before shouting, "Talk to the fist, Rayne!” To which Giles beamed and felt licensed to pick up his conversation.
“Yes, I’m a free man, Ethan. As of today. Released without-” He caught Buffy’s eye. “Without any problems. When are you coming over to visit? I’d love to see you.”
Buffy ground her teeth but decided all she could do was focus on the road ahead.
Author's note:For the curious, Giles' ringtone is Baba O'Riley by The Who, though I daresay someone else had to set it up for him.