Characters: Giles, Buffy (and Craig), 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.
Buffy was not asleep when it happened. Giles’ sloppy leather couch was surprisingly comfortable when layered with sheets and a duvet, and she had snuggled down with the lights off with every expectation of sleep, but it hadn’t come. Instead, in the darkness, she had re-lived and reworked her memories as the mantle clock ticked the hours by.
She had hidden Angel from the others on his return from the demon dimension and spent a lonely vigil containing his rage, waiting for his soul to reset its balance against his suffering. She’d chained him like an animal and tossed him comforting bags of blood until she knew he wouldn't rip her throat out on instinct. The others would have interfered, would have tried to stake him - or demanded she do it - and that, she knew, would have been wrong, so she kept him to herself. And the strategy had worked because Angel did recover. Only with Giles, though not exactly posing the same threat, things had worked out very differently. His suffering had seemed only to increase as he’d isolated himself from the Scoobies. She’d thought she’d understood. Thought it similar to her own feelings on being resurrected, and that with time he would put his traumatic experiences behind him as she had done. And she thought she alone could be the one to guide him, that she alone should help him by hiding from the others. That maybe she’d thought wrong, physically hurt her, but her introspection did at least mean she was not asleep when it happened.
At first there was a shout upstairs, followed by painful, lung sucking screams, in the middle of which was the sound of a bedside lamp smashing. Buffy threw off her duvet and sprinted up the stairs only to find she had finished second in that particular foot race. The other bedroom door was wide open and Giles’ new Australian housemate, Craig, had beaten her to the bedside.
“Hey, Rupert, look at me. Come on, look at me.” Craig was young, early thirties, dark haired and trim. He sat on Giles’ bed, without a hint of self-consciousness, in just his boxers and a tight black sleeveless tee-shirt with a red stripe. His arms were comforting, his hands soft and his Australian accent gently insistent. “That’s right, yes. Shhh. It was just a dream. It’s over now. Try to breathe naturally. That’s it.” Giles was crying in his arms and Buffy felt displaced and isolated like she was watching something uncomfortable on TV.
“What happened? Are you OK, Giles?” she asked, but perhaps a little too loudly because the spell was broken and Giles sniffed, snorted and snapped away from the younger man. Rising quickly, he grabbed a robe, brushed past Buffy in the doorframe without making contact and bolted the bathroom door after him. She heard the shower start almost immediately.
Craig smiled at her. “He’s just a bit embarrassed. Don’t let it worry you.” And then he yawned and stretched his long arms above his head. “Put the light on and we can see the damage. I think I heard breaking glass so be careful with your feet.”
She flooded the room with light and stooped to inspect the broken bedside lamp. Giles’ glasses were on the floor but undamaged so she put them safe on top of the chest of drawers. Craig disappeared briefly and returned with a dust pan and brush and between them they worked quietly until they had all the fragments. “Do you know where he keeps his spare sheets?”
“Oh.” Buffy looked at the jumbled, sweat-stained bed and saw Craig had a point. “Bottom drawer I think.” She pointed to the airing cupboard just as the bathroom door opened.
Giles shouted, “I’m making tea.” And they heard him head down the stairs.
Craig stripped the bed and Buffy busied herself retrieving fresh laundry.
“I’ve never seen him like this before,” she confessed. “I mean, the doctor told me he sometimes gets nightmares, but he’s never had one when I’ve stayed here before. He’s been weird in other ways, just not like this.” Craig tilted his head on one side to look at her. She couldn’t tell if it was in amusement or interrogation. Eventually he reached for the corner of one of the fitted sheets and pulled up the mattress.
“It’s a pretty common thing,” he said as his strong hands looped a second corner. “I don’t think you should read too much into it.”
“Really?” Buffy darted to the opposite end and fitted the rest of the sheet. “How come?” she began, slightly ashamed at having just admitted Giles had never confided in her about the nightmares and wondering what else was he keeping from her, “How come you know what to do?”
They worked a pillow case each.
“Oh, common sense mainly. And my dad used to have freak outs like this when I was growing up. It was scary at first, but kids adapt.”
“Your dad was a…?”
“A soldier. He served in an armoured regiment in Vietnam.”
Buffy stopped plumping to look at him. “He was American?”
“No. Australian 3rd Cavalry,” he responded brightly. “They were in it too. I guess he saw plenty of things none of us today wants to imagine.”
Craig tossed out the fresh duvet cover to air it. “He was actually ok most of the time, you know? A real together guy. He still runs his own business, selling and maintaining lawnmowers. Don’t go thinking he’s a basket case or anything. It’s just sometimes he'd get these real ripping nightmares and wake up half the neighbourhood.”
“Did they stop?”
“They got less frequent maybe. I came to the conclusion that his memories were like some awkward Tetris piece that drops in out of nowhere, then doesn’t slot in properly and just messes the whole game. And then you have to reset and start again.”
She dropped her chin and frowned. “That’s your theory?” It didn’t sound like something that would get the backing of the American Psychiatric Association.
“Pretty much. Oh I did all the reading as a kid. Researched all the popular theories. Guilt at inadequate self-conduct in a crisis, feeling let down by others, old psychological wounds that are re-triggered. Survivor guilt has pretty good PR in popular circles and I lapped it all up. I read them because I thought I could find the answer. I thought I could find the right words, and have that special magical moment that fixed everything. But it doesn’t work that way. Life is not like an episode of M*A*S*H, all sorted in twenty-three minutes. Instead, it takes an awful lot of patience, so I gave up wanting to be a psychiatrist.” He grinned. “And I discovered I loved mediaeval European history a whole lot more.”
“But Giles has been through bad experiences before and he didn't react like this.”
“Really?” He seemed intrigued and about to ask her more but thought better of it. Buffy knew there were some wild rumours flying about campus about Giles’ past and she wondered how much Craig had been told or if he subscribed to any of the abundant Secret Agent Rupert theories. “Sometimes, shit just happens,” he reasoned in answer to her question. “My old man was regular army, and even now I’d back him in any kind of fight, but I know lost his APC and six of his buddies on a single night and that never sat right with him. He once told me he didn’t know how to grieve for them, because when he mourned one, he felt guilty about not missing the others as much. So there's always something. It's never clear cut.”
“We had such a good day today though. I mean a nice, normal day. We were laughing. He was laughing. Do you think I brought him home too soon?” she asked earnestly. “Should I be calling his doctor?”
“I dunno.” He stretched again, clasping his wrists high above his head, pulling his chest muscles taut. “Why not go downstairs and find out?”
He smiled boyishly and she felt relieved this man had moved in and could be relied on to help with Giles. She had failed to cure him all by herself, but now with Craig, maybe the two of them could work this out.
“OK, what do we do next?”
“Whatever you like.” He picked Giles’ glasses from the drawers and handed them to her. “I'm going back to bed.”
“You don't want tea?” She felt rising panic at being left alone.
“Never touch the stuff.”
“But he’s down there. Making tea,” she emphasised. Her vision of the two of them having a long heart to heart chat with Giles and fixing things didn’t hold up if her new partner in therapy was just going to leave her to it. After all, she’d spent almost a year failing to get Giles to even admit he had nightmares about what had happened.
Craig tilted his head again and this time it was definitely amusement.
“It was just a nightmare, Buffy. Don’t assume it means anything more than it does. Go and talk to him. Better yet, go and listen to him.”
“But I’m not cut out for this. I’ll just screw it up. I'm sure he'd much rather talk to you.”
“I may be as cute as a button, but I’m not the one he’s waiting for down there.”
“Good night, Buffy,” he said cheerily and closed his bedroom door.