Title: These Foolish Things
Characters: Giles, Buffy (and Dr Carole sorta), 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.
It was just a dream. He knew he was in a dream but young Rupert still couldn't break free. He tried punching walls and banging his head to wake up. He began to shout, to scream, but there was no sound, only laughter from somewhere distant, and the constant twisting pain as the nightmare folded around and squeezed once more. Then suddenly, mercifully, there was a light, warmth, soothing words, and a way back.
“Hey, Rupert, look at me. Come on, look at me.” His mother's voice, full of concern, her arms pulling him up from the sweat stained bedclothes. He knew he shouldn’t look at her, only hug her to make her real. “That’s right, yes. Shhh. It was just a dream. It’s over now. Try to breathe naturally. That’s it.” He wanted to look at her, to see her, but a small part of his brain told him it was impossible for her to be there.
"What's happened, here?" The new voice was formal and angry. Briefly he thought he saw his father standing in the doorway of his bedroom, pulling at the belt of his green dressing gown, irritated at having his sleep disturbed before an important day at The Office. Disappointed by weakness once again.
"What happened? Are you OK, Giles?" Giles recognised Buffy's voice in an instant and snapped fully awake. He was embarrassed to find it was his young Australian house mate, Craig, who he'd been hugging like a baby. Shit. Shit. Shit. Giles grabbed a robe hurriedly on his way to the bathroom, locked the door and turned on the shower to mask his confusion.
He was more than half way through his second whisky when Buffy came down the stairs. The shower hadn’t really helped but he recognised the need to quit it before Craig and Buffy became concerned enough to break down the bathroom door, so he’d left them chattering upstairs and seated himself at his dining table with a glass and the bottle. So far he’d resisted the urge to throw away the cap but was still manfully intent on putting as big a hole in the bottle as he could muster when Buffy shot him some mild censure.
“That’s not a cup of tea,” she observed.
“It’s easier.” He drained the glass after answering and waited for the lecture. Surprisingly, she silently headed to the kitchen where he heard her filling the electric kettle. After further sounds of cupboard doors, mugs, teaspoons from the cutlery drawer, Giles rose and stood in the cramped kitchen doorway to watch her.
“Only two cups?” he queried.
“He’s gone back to bed,” said Buffy as she dropped a tea bag into each mug.
“I shall have to apologise to him in the morning.”
“Maybe. He’s pretty chill about it though. You’re not the first person he’s pulled off a ceiling.” She stopped looking at him, preferring to watch the kettle as she asked, “Want to talk about it?”
She nodded and they finished making tea in a silent joint effort, Buffy pinching out the used tea bags into the bin as Giles applied milk and carried them back to the table in the living room. His ‘nope’ had been harsh, designed to shut her down and it had worked. She sat at the corner and stretched up one knee on the chair, avoiding looking at him as much as he was avoiding her. Neither of them touched their mugs and Giles thought back to his previous session with his therapist, Dr Carole Daniels.
“When you get home, it could be useful to talk to other people.” She’d cut off his argument before he’d even had chance to voice it. "To people other than me.”
He’d harrumphed at her suggestion - “Telling colleagues my family was killed in a vampire attack isn't likely to provide reassurances as to my sanity.”
“I was thinking more about Buffy.”
“Buffy just wants to hear everything is OK.”
Buffy nodded to the whisky bottle and broke into his thoughts. “Was it a bad one to justify that?”
“Mm? Oh, no, not really,” he said. “It’s just good to be at home and be able to pour alcohol. Not so much an option at the hospital.”
He disliked her analysis, disliked having to justify his behaviour in his own home, and he really disliked the word ‘brood’.
“It was just a nightmare,” he retorted. “It was even about…” He stopped before he betrayed himself. “About anything in particular.” Buffy dropped her eyes to the untouched tea and remained silent.
“Rupert, it’s natural she wants the best for you, but I don’t think she wants you to lie to her. Give her a chance to listen.”
“I’m not brooding.” He felt the childishness of his words, their pointless defensiveness against a woman who’d been to worse places than he had, and who was now patiently waiting for him to talk to her. He was painfully aware she would be flying off the next day, out of his life again, and he was keeping her from her made up bed on the sofa. Giles fidgeted in his chair and pulled his robe a little tighter. “The thing is, no matter how many times I tell myself to be rational and go back to bed,” he paused with a weak smile. “I can’t seem to be able to.”
Buffy tilted her head thoughtfully and asked, “If Dr Daniels were here, what would she say?”
That was easy. “Oh, she’d be all practical and ask if I followed my routines. There are things we’ve agreed I should do to calm down after any episodes,” he explained.
“And did you?”
“I’m home now. I shouldn’t need them.” Again, Buffy made no challenging response, leaving Giles with his thoughts, until he continued, “And she'd say ‘That's not the strategy we agreed upon. We talked about having too high expectations at the start ’. And I'll say, ‘I thought I was over this stage, I didn’t think I had unreasonable expectations’ .” He paused. “It's not as if it were a particularly bad nightmare. I can’t even remember what it was about now.”
“So why can’t you go back to bed?”
It was a good question and one worthy of his therapist. He looked at his sofa and Buffy’s messy duvet and pillows. She’d accepted his need to put space between them at night, to resist falling into desire and comfort pattern that just made him feel so dirty the next morning. He’d wanted his freedom back from her expectations even if Carole had advised checking first what Buffy’s expectations actually were.
“I think it’s because at night, sometimes when I’m alone, there are too many memories. Oh not of what happened,” he clarified quickly. “But memories of her come to me. Memories of bedtime stories, or looking after me when I was sick. Childish things like reassuring me there were no monsters under the bed." He studied the grain on the table as if it might move. "When I was very young, before I learnt to read even, I would make her check for monsters while I waited at the bedroom door. And when she gave me the all-clear, well, I knew everything would be alright.”
Buffy smiled. “Would you like me to go upstairs and check?”
He judged her offer to be worth a mild glare. “This thing is alarmingly Oedipal enough as it is without you turning into my mother.”
Buffy grinned and even Giles smiled but then another session with the doctor floated up from his memories. He’d misspoken something and she’d pulled him up on it.
“You didn’t kill him. Your father was killed by a vampire. He was already dead when you staked him.”
“Yes.” Giles had stammered, “Yes, I know this. I know this.”
“You just said you killed him, but you've been the one at great pains to explain the difference to me, so what is this?”
“I know I didn’t, I know... but… but... it was like him though,” he’d confessed. “It was like how he used to be. Before the dementia made the sweet old man I could forgive."
Giles groaned at the memory, pushing away the painful conversation.
“My father, by contrast, was never very reassuring,” he said at last to Buffy. “But then, his life was all about monsters, although I didn’t realise that at the time.” The black irony of his next thought wasn't lost on him. “He was the one that brought them into the house.”
He reached for the mug but he’d lost track of time and the tea was stone cold. A solution to the problem presented itself to him
“Perhaps if you came to bed with me?” he asked hopefully.
She looked him in the eyes. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Well, yes. I mean, just to sleep. I always sleep better when there’s someone else there. It’s calming I suppose. Not being alone. Childish maybe, but I just sleep better with company.”
Something he’d just said appeared to wrench all the warmth from the room because Buffy was folding her arms and giving him only cold eyes.
“When you say someone else... You mean not just me?”
It was a terrifically important point for her– he saw that - but he held back from clarifying any differentiation.
“Not just you. No,” he said, and watched as she made small pacing movements about his living room. She wanted more from him but he held his tongue.
“You were the one who was uncomfortable with us sleeping together.” Her pacing became small rapid triangles. “We’re friends, not lovers. That was what you wanted. But now I find it’s not just me. Maybe you should call Ethan?”
“I only meant to sleep.”
“We never just sleep.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” He made for the whisky bottle and glass and fractionally realised in time that he didn’t want a drink, his actions had been instinctive and designed to hurt her, it all felt horribly like he was playing for her pity and that was the last thing he wanted from her. Resolved, he put the bottle back on the shelf and took the glass and tea mugs to the kitchen to rinse through. He had to be stronger, had to at least look stronger. On his return, she had taken to the couch and wrapped the duvet around her, making her answer abundantly clear.
“Not even to just sleep, Giles. Besides,” she softened her tone a little. “I can’t stay every night with you. I have to leave in the morning. What do you do tomorrow night? And the night after? Just how obliging is Craig?”
“Alright, I get the message.”
“But you can stay down here. If you want to read or something quiet.” She pulled the duvet tightly around her like a bob under her chin, and stretched out her legs, leaving no room on the sofa.
“No, it’s OK. I’ll go up. Good night.” He didn’t hear if she answered him.
“And how did Buffy take your decision to end the physical side of your relationship?”
“I don’t know. OK, I think. Probably a bit upset, no-one likes to hear that do they?”
“Have you explained all your reasons to her?”
Giles heard the click as Buffy switched off the lights behind him. “Oh I can hardly do that.”