Chapter 4 pt. 4 cont.


Rupert nodded in resignation as he slowly moved further into the house, trying to prepare to face the redheaded witch. Much to his surprise, Willow greeted him with a warm hug, welcome in her green eyes. "Giles, I really missed you," she exclaimed, then pulled away to smack him on his shoulder in irritation. "But I'm still mad at you!" Giles watched, half resigned, half-delighted as Willow paced, building up a full head of steam. She was always surprisingly concise and to the point on the rare occasions she truly lost her temper, but he was uncomfortable finding himself on the receiving end of her coming tirade, no matter how expected or deserved.

"Giles, you were always 'Mr. Don't Lie or Keep Secrets-They Just Come Back to Haunt You Guy!'" Willow finally started "You were supposed to be the Dad type person that set a good example and would always be there for us, but not only did you let Buffy run away and keep that little girl, who apparently is Buffy's daughter, a secret, but you kept it a secret as well!"

"Breathe Will," came Oz's quiet voice as he rejoined them.

Giles briefly turned his attention to the werewolf, relieved and surprised to encounter a sympathetic, curious gaze rather than more anger. Willow had calmed a bit with her fiance's presence, and Oz suggested, "Give him a chance to explain Wills. I'm pretty sure this wasn't exactly his idea."

"Indeed it wasn't!" Giles said firmly, straightening both his glasses and his shoulders. "I did not approve of Buffy's decision to leave Sunnydale or keep her pregnancy a secret, but she was in no mood to listen to reason when she came to see me. She was panicking and told me in no uncertain terms that she was leaving, with or without me. I knew that she was in the throes of an emotional crisis, and I had no intention of letting her cut herself off from us completely. Though looking back, it seems that Buffy might have returned earlier without me around to support her, she also might not be survived her pregnancy. Buffy was extremely vulnerable, and unable to protect herself for months. She needed as much help as she could get, but for some reason I was the only help she allowed herself. She made me promise not to let anyone know what was going on, and watched me like a hawk to make sure I kept my word."

Willow was silent for several minutes, then said quietly, "Giles, there had to have been a way. Maybe after she was safe..."

"Don't be a fool Willow."

The trio in front of the fireplace turned to face Buffy as she hovered in the doorway, a few stakes in her hands. She began concealing them in her clothing as she stood before them. "Don't be a fool," she repeated quietly, no malice in her eyes or voice, just stating facts. "There *is* no safety for me, and there won't be until I die. I am the target of every evil being on Earth and that will never change. I've only been safe twice in my life; once was an illusion created out of my ignorance about what's really out there before I was called, and that was destroyed when the council found me. The other time was my seventeenth birthday, in Angel's arms, and that safety has been denied to me ever since then. So, in a way, that safety was an illusion too. Angel can't keep me safe from everything either; all he can do is ease the load a little." Buffy dropped her eyes during the last sentence, shifting uneasily in the doorway. She glances warily up the stairs behind her, concern clear on her face.

"It's OK Buffy," Oz offered quietly. "I can hear her breathing from here. It's deep and even, so I'm pretty sure she's asleep."

Buffy smiled at him gratefully before continuing. "Don't be too hard on Giles; remember this is all my fault. I was pretty much on a rampage. I made him promise to do things he didn't want to do, and was pretty much a full time problem that first year. I don't know for sure why he didn't let the news slip when I stopped being a paranoid lunatic, but I figure it was just Giles keeping his promises like he always has. I had, have, severe trust issues, and I needed Giles badly, especially after I cut myself off from everyone else." Buffy fidgeted with a stake for a minute before meeting their eyes. "In a way, I'm kind of glad he didn't tell. This was my mistake; I should take the heat for it. But, I don't think I'm up for it right now. I'm going to stake those last few vamps I sensed before they spread the news that I'm back in Sunnydale. I'll be back to explain anything that Giles might have missed. But believe this-I don't think Erin and I could have made it this long without him." With that, the Slayer slipped quietly through the room to the courtyard, then out the doors and into the shadows.

Silence filled the room after Buffy left, her words sinking in. Oz nodded thoughtfully; his guess had been correct. He pulled a couple of boxes together to lean against and pulled a confused Willow down next to him. She curled up against Oz, leaning on his shoulder as she realized that, given the right frame of mind and circumstances, she may have panicked as Buffy had, and may even have given into the urge to run as well.

Giles was encouraged as he watched Willow and Oz react. He was touched by the way Buffy tried to take all of the responsibility on herself, and by the way it seemed her friends wouldn't let her. He had the feeling that Willow knew as well as he did that Buffy felt guilty for making him leave his home and friends when she'd left town, but in the end it had been his choice.

After a few moments of contemplation and awkward silence, Giles could tell that Willow still had questions. "OK Giles, I understand why you left with Buffy and kept her baby a secret. I'm still hurt because you just disappeared on us. I mean, you left us a note, some books and some contacts, but that was it for six months. But," she forestalled the explanation and apology Giles desperately wanted to offer with an upraised hand. He returned to his seat on the hearth, letting Willow have her say first. "I'll leave the hurt until the worst of the fallout has calmed. In a few weeks we'll sit down and talk it all out, but for now I *do* have a few questions."

"As expected," Giles answered, wondering uneasily about the fallout Willow had mentioned. Perhaps things would be tougher than he'd hoped. "Ask me anything and I'll answer to the best of my ability," he assured them, pushing the unpleasant thoughts of confrontations aside. Rupert had a feeling that the next few months would be awkward enough as they all adjusted to the changes everyone had been through without borrowing trouble.

"Well..." Willow started shifting uncomfortably and refused to meet Giles' curious gaze in a way that made Giles uneasy. Giles was fairly sure he wouldn't like the coming questions. "No offense Giles, but why you?" He was right; Giles didn't like the question. He knew he was older than most of the group, and that the 'Scooby Gang,' as Xander called them, looked at him as a father figure rather than a heroic one, but the Watcher had thought that he had proven his abilities several times. Willow continued, "I mean, I would have thought that Buffy would have run to Angel when she panicked. I'm still surprised she wasn't begging to see him in the hospital the morning Oz found her."

"She was."

"She couldn't."

Oz and Giles spoke simultaneously, startling all of them. Willow pointed to Oz, indicating that he should go first. "Well, not at the hospital," he allowed, pulling Willow closer under his arm. "When I found her, Buffy was just staring off into space, asking for Angel. She kept saying 'Angel will make it better. He'll find me, keep me safe, and kill him. I just have to make it to sundown.' She repeated it until I could catch her attention, and then she asked me if Angel would come and keep her safe." Oz paused, eyes darkening with remembered pain; the memory of the usually strong Buffy, battered and hiding in a basement, her eyes hazy with repeated druggings and pain, firing a fierce anger to life deep in his soul. Buffy, of all people shouldn't have been made to suffer even more than she already had. Not that any woman deserved to be degraded in that way, but Buffy had already suffered so much... Willow softly kissed his cheek, and Oz calmed enough to continue.

"I knew that Angel would be trying to find a way to get to Sunnydale as soon as he heard what had happened, so I felt pretty confident in telling her yes. Buffy grabbed onto my arm and wouldn't let go until the paramedics arrived to take her away. She just let go and was out cold all of a sudden. I think she wanted to avoid all the questions. The police were grilling me, and she knew that they and the doctors would want to know what had happened. I got busy dealing with the police, the doctors, calling all of you, and I hadn't found a quiet place with a phone where I could call and break it to Angel so anyone overhearing wouldn't get suspicious. I mean, his first instincts would be to either come to Buffy, or spread that guy's entrails all over his house. I figured that I'd have to calm him down so he could get here in one piece, and assure him that at least one other person would back him up when the time came for entrails. Anyway, by that time Buffy came out of it, and then made all of us promise not to tell Angel what had happened. I so much wanted to go with my first instinct, to get him here as soon as possible, but I couldn't go back on my promise, or directly disobey her."

"I guess the brain damage was a delayed reaction thing," muttered Willow, distracting Giles from trying to decipher what Oz had meant by his last statement. He and the young musician both stared at Willow in confusion until she said defensively, "She should have gone with her first instincts."

"I quite agree," sighed Giles. He was lost in the painful memories of the horrible emptiness in Buffy's eyes those first few days after the attack, and when he remembered where he was Rupert found himself the object of scrutiny. Willow was frowning, and Giles had the feeling he was in for more uncomfortable questions. The Watcher sighed and bowed to the inevitable as he tried to explain. "I just mean that Buffy's instincts were correct. She needed Angel to be there for her; his absence was certainly part of why it took her so long to heal."

"I'm not healed Giles, you know that," commented Buffy quietly, again startling them. The trio turned to face the Slayer as she entered from the courtyard and locked the doors behind her. She managed a strained smile for Willow and Oz, but had no trouble meeting the Watcher's eyes. Giles swallowed nervously when he saw the sparks still in Buffy's hazel eyes. Apparently her recent foray into the surrounding woods hadn't gotten rid of all her adrenaline, and Buffy was now free to focus on him. The fact that Giles' surprising early arrival had, however unintentionally, placed Erin in danger, and that he'd forgotten the rules he himself had set in place, was not a good thing.

At best Giles was looking at a lecture about him about taking chances with her daughter, trying to surprise Buffy with their early arrival and, if the Slayer was on a roll, maybe even pushing her into returning to Sunnydale. Though they both knew that returning was the best thing to do in the long run, Giles had to admit that Buffy looked ragged around the edges. The whole day had been an emotional mine field for her.

Feeling more than a little guilty, Giles bravely faced his still bristling Slayer. He was mildly surprised when she apologized to Willow and Oz, saying that she wanted to stay with Erin in case their little adventure disturbed the child's sleep and promising to answer as many questions as she could while they waited for the moving van the following morning. Giles felt slightly relieved until she turned to him, a small, almost evil, smile on her face. "Don't worry Giles," she said sweetly. "I'll be sure to make time for us to train tomorrow. After all, with who knows what kind of evil brewing, I'll need to stay on top of my game." With that parting shot, Buffy slipped up the stairs, leaving Giles wincing behind her.

"Ouch," commented Oz, as he and Willow both stood and stretched.

"I'm afraid so," Rupert agreed. Apparently, Buffy was going to spare the lecture in favor of making her point with physical punishment. And the way she'd phrased it as training made it impossible for him to back out. Aching in anticipation of the coming workout, and honestly exhausted from the car trip and subsequent attack and grilling, Giles managed a wary smile for Willow and Oz. "Please, find a place to bed down for the night," he said, nodding to the sleeping bags Oz had brought in from the van. "We'll talk more in the morning, and you'll be wanting to meet Erin, so it will save you a trip and me some worry if you don't have to go home tonight."

"Good night Giles," responded Willow as she started folding her jacket to use as a pillow while Oz unrolled their sleeping bags. Evidently, she had decided to delay further questions to another time, for which Giles was grateful. It had been a long, exhausting day dealing with Erin all alone, and with the added 'bonus' of a vampire attack, the exhaustion was catching up with him.

Giles nodded wearily to the pair as he collected his own suitcase and blankets. He reluctantly headed up the stairs, his unease at being in the mansion suddenly returning. He forced the unpleasant memories away just as he overheard a comment from Oz. "Look at it like this Will. Buffy's been back a whole day and the only casualties were vampires." Giles smiled slightly as he settled down for the night in an empty bedroom. Once he'd settled in and relaxed, unpleasant memories returned and the Watcher hoped that the casualty list would remain undead only, literally and figuratively, when the fireworks started.



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