rough replacements
by august

i. I have no secrets I have no lies

Giles can speak with authority on more subjects than most. He's as comfortable with a sword, with a stake, with hand-to-hand combat as he is with dead languages. He sees things in fractals and reads histories in the sky; he sees the lean in the trees and knows the wind behind it.

They buried his mother in London and it rained, of course it rained, but Giles is English so he had an umbrella and dry eyes. The last time he stood before a hole in a ground, it was the wide gaping crater where Sunnydale used to be. His mother's grave was nine feet by five, was six feet under. He couldn't work out which was the more formidable.

He meets his lover at his mother's grave. She's smart, almost as smart as he, and she doesn't believe in demons or werewolves or vampires. She buys him a pint of Guinness and a packet of crisps at the pub. He doesn't ask how she knew his mother. He sits across from her at the pub; the table slants slightly and has deep grooves, like worry lines on a face. He runs his fingertip over one as she peels off her jacket and jumper. She wears a wedding ring and he doesn't ask about that either.

He tells her he is a historian. It's partly true because for the longest time he's been concerned with other people's stories more than his own. She says she knows, his mother had e-mailed her when he moved back to the UK with his new job. Lies are disseminated down family lines even in the digital age. He hadn't known his mother knew how to e-mail.

He asks her what she does. He supposes this is what conversations are like with grown-ups. He realises how out of practice he is. Sunnydale's been gone now for two years and he is still surprised at the lack of "totally", "like" and "you know" in his day-to-day conversation.

"I'm a tax solicitor," she says. His finger is running back and forth across the groove in the table. She's watching this as she leans two beer coasters against each other to make a triangle. "I've just moved back home as well, actually."

"Where were you living?"

"Chicago." She stabs the lime at the bottom of her glass with a black straw.

He thinks of the time he caught a flight to Chicago to try and find Buffy. He lost a pair of sunglasses there. He says, "What were you doing there?"

"I was trying to help a very rich man pay very little tax."

"Sounds rewarding," he says and she laughs.

"It was, actually. It was a very complex, very beautiful capital gains tax calculation. It took me almost two years to write. It was my best work. It reduced a three hundred million assessment to four hundred thousand dollars." The ice clanks against the glass as she finishes her drink. "You'd find it impressive if your life was capital gains tax."

At that moment, Giles decides that all women who speak with passion are beautiful. He wants to pretend he's seventeen again, or that he's the type of man who reaches across a table to touch a woman's arm.

He says, instead, "I am impressed, mostly that someone trusts you with three hundred million dollars. I'm not allowed petty cash."

She laughs again and he thinks, fuck it, he can be this type of man. He reaches across the table and touches her hand.

They meet again on Friday, then on Sunday. She stays at his house the following Wednesday. He finds her delightful, finds falling in love at his age delightful. No one in his recent history was ever relaxed enough to fall asleep in front of the television.

>From time to time the children come to stay with him. His lover never asks him how Xander lost his eye or when Willow's hair turned white. She says nothing about the endless house guests, girls who introduce themselves to him when they arrive on his doorstep with broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders. She watches as he pops sockets and sews superficial cuts. In time, she disinfects instruments without his asking. She takes a first aid course, then other, then other. She asks, jokingly, "You're not in the IRA, are you?"

The ring on her finger disappears.

They have a local pub. He puts his arm around her when they walk home. She kisses him under street lamps. He thinks of her when he passes gardens with flowers, thinks how he'd like that for her, with her. He sits in the back of courtrooms and watches her work.

He doesn't tell her where his office is. She doesn't ask. He can't explain it, this unspoken tacit agreement. He keeps telling himself he'll pull out before it gets too serious; he'll stop things before she gets hurt.

It seems impossible when they celebrate an anniversary.

He has one arm around her and holds an umbrella in the other. She's leaning against him, she staggers a little and it makes him laugh. She's singing happy birthday under her breath and he smiles into her hair, says, "Silly woman, it's an anniversary not a birthday."

He doesn't have to see the attack coming. He's been training for moments like this since he was eleven years old. It's instinct that makes him grasp hold of the mugger's wrist and flip him to the ground. The first kick is delivered to the stomach and the second to the groin. The boy on the ground doubles in pain and Giles breaks the arm in one, two, three places. He stands with the point of his umbrella at the boy's throat.

He says to his lover, "Pick up your bag."

He says to the boy on the ground, "We're walking away now."

He takes his lover's hand and they walk in silence. It's a long time, several stretches of streets and turns of corners before she says quietly, "Where exactly does a historian learn how to do that?"

 

His father dies exactly two years after his mother.

The lies he tells are disseminated down family lines. They're not his lies, not really, not to begin with. He was seven when he first heard his father say, "I'm a historian." He was twenty-seven when he first repeated the lie. The Council is gone but there are still a hundred black suits and wordless handshakes at the funeral and they all remind him he is duty bound to this lie. Your Father would be proud, they say with their firm handshakes and period drama stoicism.

His lover puts her arm around him as they stand in front of his grave. He thinks his father wouldn't have been proud, he would have been scared of him. His father served the Council until he needed a machine to breathe. His father was content to serve the Council his whole life: servitude, slavery. Giles was different. Giles outlived the Council and then built it again.

Buffy comes, ostensibly for the funeral. His lover, used to only seeing wounded girls arriving on their doorstep, sees her with suitcase in hand and says, "Where are you hurt?"

Buffy is tanned from the Tuscan sun. She says, with all the entitlements of their history, "I'm Buffy."

 

The other slayers that come to stay do so because they are injured, they need to recoup. Buffy is the first healthy slayer that he's laid eyes on in months. And even if all that weren't true, Buffy is the one he trained for seven years. Buffy is his.

He had thought she'd leave shortly after the funeral. He wouldn't have been surprised if she had left straight after the funeral, caught a cab from the cemetery to the airport. But she walked back to the carpark with steps exactly matching his. He wished he could explain to his lover the pride he feels when his slayer fights like him, walks like him. Of course he can't, so he looks out the window of the hearse and says, "No rain, then."

 

That night, he finds his lover in bed, highlighting a court transcript. She sees him in the doorway, takes off her glasses and caps her highlighter. "Is she your child?"

"Buffy? No. She's a, a family friend."

"Which family?"

"Pardon?"

"You have no family, Giles. Which family?"

He starts to say something and she interrupts, "If you can't answer my questions honestly, please don't answer them at all."

He perches next to her on the bed. He doesn't remember buying the bedspread, the pillows, and the sheets. He likes them. "I don't, I don't want to lie to you."

"I don't want you to lie to me." She sighs. "I had thought, truthfully Giles, I had thought you were in Scotland Yard or the CIA. Because of the training you do, because of that night with the mugger. And the kids from all over the world who come and go. I didn't, I knew." She puts her head in her hands and it makes him reach out to her. He's never seen her with her head in her hands. "I knew you were different; that things were different, with you."

He's stroking the back of her head when he says, "I'm not it's something like that."

"Can you tell me?"

Angelus had turned Jenny's face to the door. He drained the blood from her body and left her like a trophy on Giles' bed. "I don't want you to know. Are we possible, is this, this possible, without me telling you?"

"I'm already involved; if it's about protecting me, I'm already involved. I sew up these kids; I share a bed with you." He doesn't answer and she looks up at him. "I knew something of what this was before we started. I think it's possible. I hope it is."

 

Some time later Giles overhears his lover on the phone: "I wish he were unkind. I wouldn't feel this confused if he were unkind."

He catalogues this information. Giles is a Watcher before he's anything else and he knows things in case of emergencies. And now he knows to expect the end.

 

On the second day Buffy stays with them, she says to him over breakfast, "Let's train."

They run in the morning, longer and faster than Giles has run since he left California. Giles is fit for his age, fit for a man half his age but Buffy is a slayer and in her twenties and he's surprised he keeps up with her for as long as he does.

In the early evening, they fence. His backyard is small but there have been enough recuperating slayers staying with him over the years that it's well equipped for training. It's been a long time since he's fenced, since Sunnydale maybe, and her aptitude with the sword reminds him again that before there were slayers there was a Slayer and it was her.

Buffy says, "Your girlfriend's watching us."

Giles stops, looks over his shoulder and sees his lover at the window. "She hasn't seen me fence before. No doubt it's a surprise."

"You haven't told her who you are."

Giles volleys easily and shifts back on his left foot. It wasn't a question but he answers, "No."

"She should know what's about to come."

It's the fourth time in two days she's said, "what's about to come." Giles takes off his face-guard, smooths down his hair and says, "Sit down, Buffy."

She takes off her face-guard and sits automatically.

"Why are you here?" He presses the end of his sword into the grass; it arcs under his weight.

"I came for the funeral."

He corrects himself. "Why are you still here?"

"I didn't know you had a girlfriend. I didn't know you were all domestic Giles. I mean, I wasn't expecting domestic Giles. You've made a life here, a television drama life not a sitcom life. Oh my god, you're like, a HBO nine-thirty time slot life. Without the sex."

"Buffy."

The look on her face makes him think of Glory, makes him think of Anya. He thinks no one else in the world has ever had the power to upturn his life that this small thing sitting in front of him has.

She says, "I've had the dream for three weeks now. I've spoken to twenty eight other slayers, it's all the same. Everyone dies. It can't be fought, this thing, it can't be stopped. I know this, already. I know we're already too late, we've always been too late."

He looks over his shoulder again; his lover is no longer at the window. He doesn't look at Buffy when he says, "You're sure of this?"

She doesn't answer; she puts on her face-guard and picks up her sword. "We'll have to leave soon," she says. "We need to get Xander and then we need to go to Florida. Willow has Dawn, they're meeting, everyone is meeting in Florida; there are people who'll be alive there."

The sun's down and his lover waits inside. His heart beats fast and he's happy for a moment that his parents are already in the ground. Buffy's sword swipes him easily on the chest.

 

He leaves Buffy outside with her sword on the grass and her face-guard in her hands. He finds his lover in their study. When he sets a chair next to hers, her hands still on the keys of her laptop. He studies her knees and when she looks at him, puzzled, he sees the life he was never supposed to have.

He's had a speech planned in his head that goes something along the lines of, "I'm the head of an international organisation that trains young girls with mystical powers to fight evil." He waits, has been waiting, for the right time to tell her. As if such a thing exists, as if he lives the life of other men.

He's had a speech planned in his head but then his father dies and his slayer arrives on his doorstep with a head full of dreams.

His lover puts a hand to his face and says, "Honey, what's wrong?"

"We have to leave London, now, tonight."

His lover takes her glasses off, passes her hand over her forehead. She looks straight at him and says, not angrily, "Are you in trouble?"

We all are, he thinks, in his head ticking down the list of things they need: passport, books, weapons, food. He's planning the route to the airport when she closes the lid of her laptop and rests her hands, palms down, on its lid. She says again, "Giles, are you in trouble?"

"Not in the way you're thinking."

She says with a laugh, hand running through hair, "I can't imagine you know what I'm thinking."

He can hear Buffy opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen. His mind is skipping ahead of his words, of this conversation. If she doesn't come with him she'll stay here, if she stays here she'll die. He can't keep her safe. He could never keep his lovers safe.

He says, "There are things I have to tell you. And I can, I will, I mean. But right now, there's not time."

She's facing him now, her hands on his knees. "Giles, there's always time. Just slow down and tell me what's happening."

There was a half-smile on Jenny's face when he found her. His lover is stroking his hands and he hates that he let himself want these things again.

"You told me you thought I was in Scotland Yard. It's, it's something like that. I work for, well, I used to work for and now I run, an organisation. The girls that come here work in that organisation. It's very violent, often and it gets dangerous." He leans forward. "That's what's happening now. It's very dangerous for us to be in London right now, right here. There's a place in Florida, we need to go there. The other people I work with will be there."

When she doesn't answer, he says, "I know this is a lot to digest. My priority, at the moment, is keeping us safe. I'm not leaving without you so I need you to stand up, pack your things and get in the car."

"Don't leave."

"What?"

"You said you're not leaving without me? Then don't leave."

"Please listen to what I'm saying."

"Don't talk to me like I'm, are you in trouble? Is it money? Is it; are you in trouble with someone? I have money, it's yours, Giles, we have this life together, everything I have is yours. Just tell me what I can do to help."

His voice is tight, thin when he says, "You can stand up, pack your things and get in the car." He looks at her, realises she's going to stay, thinks he might cry, one day, with all of this. Instead he says, "Please, love."

"This is not a normal life you're asking me to lead. I can't just pack my things and leave the country. I'm not twenty, I have responsibilities, I'm an officer of the Court. This is not a life I can have." She kind of shakes her head and says, "Do you know the power I have as an officer of the Court? To compel someone to tell me anything I want?"

He's had the same kind of power, he thinks, although it meant tying someone to a chair and breaking their cheekbone.

She looks up but not at him. "Tell me anything I want?"

She doesn't believe in vampires or werewolves. And he doesn't want her to know, he doesn't want her to have to know. There's not a single one of them that hasn't been changed, for the worse, by the gift of that knowledge. He thinks of her with her head in her hands and wants to protect her from that, at least.

He's silent and he thinks she's probably right to interpret that as an answer. She looks at him and nods, says, "For a long time I've been, it's not just that I deal in exactitudes, which I do. I mean, that's not why I'm leaving you."

He had catalogued the information well. He had known the end was coming.

 

ii. I have nothing to offer but the middle of the night

The people from their old life, the people they knew, died. They drove with Xander's corpse across two states before Buffy would let him bury it in a shallow grave on the side of the road. There was dirt in Giles' nose and in his eyes but when she tried to take the shovel from him, he pushed her away. There were things; these were the things he could do for her.

Her hand at his elbow and "I'm stronger than you Giles, let me dig."

He shook her off and the shovel hit the ground. "Go and look around. Find somewhere for us to stay tonight."

He can speak with authority on more subjects than most. Now he can add what it's like to bury his almost-son: the knowledge that the teeth of the dead pop out of jaws like grapes in gelatine desserts. Graves, even shallow graves, are harder and take longer to dig than he could ever have imagined as a child. It was a lesson he learned years ago.

When Buffy returns, his back is cramping and his eyes are watering. Some day, one day, he might cry with all of this. She hands him a bottle of water from the crate they stole at the last abandoned gas station.

"There's an old motel a couple miles from here. We should leave the car here and walk."

Giles nods; there's no question, he knows it's too dangerous even in this abandoned world to leave a car by the building, like a sign saying to all that don't live any more, "Here we are, here we are."

It's the end of the world and there are really no questions left at all.

He drains the bottle of water and throws it to the side of the road, rabid conservationist no longer, not this world, not any more. He takes hold of Xander's hands, ready to drag him to his grave.

"Wait," she says as she swings open the trunk of the car and pulls out a machete. "I have to do this; he can't rise again."

Giles could, did, used to converse in four different languages with his lover. She was the only person he met who could speak about Kandinsky in Russian. The girl before him didn't finish college, doesn't speak about the weight of a machete in the palm of her hand. They have death, survival in common. He watches her hack Xander's head from his body.

Maybe she's crying, he's not sure, but Xander's head is in the ground and she puts the machete back in the trunk of their stolen car. In Giles' life, with everything he's seen and everything he's lost, he never imagined it would be another hole in the ground that would bring him to his hands and knees, back arcing as the bile rises in his throat.

Most men, he thinks, probably don't spend their life fighting, fucking fighting, to stay alive.

 

The motel Buffy found is a lot like the ones he stayed in the summer she ran away. Slapped down across the countryside, formulaic and familiar: room, pool, mini-bar. It's been almost a month since he left London (his lover) and he's slept in the back of cars, on the floor of a gas station toilet and in a dozen motels that look exactly like this. Some nights he sat with his back against the wall, wide awake asleep, thinking about his lover, wanting to cry when he thought about his lover.

They leave the car by Xander's grave and walk to the motel. The room she broke into has two beds, a television, a mini bar and a bathroom. She drops the bags she is carrying on one bed and he begins to unpack their weapons, lining them like a display on the dresser.

She's wearing clothes that are stained with Xander's blood. She says, quietly, looking at herself in the mirror, "I need to change."

He remembers a life in London with hot running water, newspapers with crisp folds and a lover who cried when characters married on television. The girl in front of him bites her lip as she washes blood out of her clothes.

 

They sleep for two days and two nights. Giles rises to use the bathroom, to drink bottled water, to take a turn about the room. In ten years, he'd never had a chance to get this much rest. He laughs, thinks all it took was the end of the world, and laughs again. Trench humour, he knows, but no one in a trench ever saw the things he has.

He finds her on the third day; hair wrapped in a blue towel, lying along side a slightly stagnating pool. There's no sun, no-one to bring her drinks but she lies still, face up to the sky like she's on a package holiday for twenty-somethings, just finished college. She left the room while he was in the shower. He's surprised at how her absence makes the panic grow inside him and at how it dissipates as soon as she's settled in his line of vision.

She doesn't open her eyes from her recline on the cracked white deck chair, "Please don't ask me if I'm okay."

It isn't pessimism when he says: "It's never going to be okay."

She glances at him like she's surprised. He's silent and it's a long time before she looks back out over the pool and says, "We need to stay here. For a while. A few days, a week maybe."

"You're tired."

"So are you."

He tries to skim a pebble across the surface of the pool. "Yes, of course."

"Florida could be all ghost-towny by the time we get there."

"I know."

"Don't go Silent Bob on me, Giles."

Giles sighs, thinks he was foolish for believing he'd left this world of popular culture behind, and sits on deck chair next to her. "We have to get more food. And we both need to start training again."

"Yeah."

"Okay," he says.

"Okay," she says.

He pretends he doesn't hear her when she says, much later with her eyes closed, "I'm sorry she's not here."

 

He wakes that night with her in his bed and her fingers on his wrist. Two of her fingers, exactly, tracing a line back and forth across his veins. He holds his breath when she turns into him, when she exhales on his neck.

Her body is warm against his; he's about to say something, about to say, "This is not" but he stops. He's never known what this is so he has even less idea what it isn't.

Her fingers still rest against his wrist, press firmly against it. The pressure of blood pushing through arteries creates a pulse. He watches her as her eyes close and she sleeps, listening to his blood.

 

She steals a guitar for him during her next patrol. She leaves it on his bed like a cat presenting a bird carcass for its owner. He stares at it for a long time before picking it up. The wood is cold and everything about the instrument seems unfamiliar.

There were times; he remembers times, when he sang about love and the colour of a girl's eyes. Now he holds the neck of the guitar and thinks only that it's weighted perfectly to be a weapon.

 

He wakes the same way he has for the past ten years: shocked and breathless with the flood of memories. He opens his eyes every morning and remembers his hands were tied behind his back as Angelus carved into his skin. That Jenny's face was turned towards the door to greet him. That he let his lover leave. Every morning, like it was the first, he remembers.

He wakes in the middle of the night and she's in his bed again, her hand tangled around his wrist. He wakes and her fingers are tracing small circles on him. He's shocked, breathless with the memories but can still name the shapes she traces on his skin. He shifts his weight. He thinks he means to shift away from her but there are squares and triangles and straight lines that draw him closer.

Her fingers move in slow, growing circles on his skin. He shifts again and he's closer still. She runs a hand over his face, closing his eyes like a corpse. He kisses the palm of her hand. He tells himself it's an aberration, it's about proximity. He knows it's about death.

His lips are at her collarbone and he says, "Concentric circles" against her skin.

It begins with his pulse but ends with his tipping the balance between the dead and undead who have taken her to bed. It's easy, too easy, to kiss her neck, her shoulder, her breast. To let her curl into him: an exhalation against his skin. He touches her cheek, her forehead, her fingertips. It's slow and unending; it's grief, like the curl of wallpaper, like decay.

 

iii. And I think you need a little poison

Days and weeks and they never leave for Florida. He wrote poetry when he was younger, wrote once, "these endless days of autumn" but it's not now what he means.

She comes out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around her. He rests the book he's reading on his knee, watches her sort through her suitcase for clothes to change into. Their room is small and they've been here too long without room service.

She holds up two outfits for his inspection. "Am I feeling apple green or stealth black?"

She looks at him and something like desire twists in his stomach. It's a new enough thing that he feels guilty about it. It's a new enough thing that he almost can't think beyond it. She must see that because she's dropped the clothes on the bed and is staring straight at him. He says, low voice and intent: "Come here."

She looks for a second like about to start laughing at him. He closes the book on his knee and lets it drop on the floor. He shifts in his chair slowly. There are all the wrong types of power relationships running between them. He was her teacher, her Watcher. He knows she still thinks of him as the adult and herself the child and there's danger in that. It's not the world they live in any more.

He's holding her gaze and everything is slow and thick as he says, "I said come here."

She's staring, puzzled maybe, but she moves to him without question.

"Take your towel off."

"Giles-"

"-Take your towel off."

He's commanded things of her before, things without reason but always as her Watcher, her teacher. He's neither here, now, and this command is plaintive, is based in trust alone. He wants to ask something of her that has nothing to do with vampires or saving the world. He holds her gaze and says quietly, quietly, "Take your towel off, Buffy."

She eyes him with wariness as she drops the towel to the floor. He scolds himself for looking for answers in this gesture, for proof that he's not just the last person she knows who's still alive.

He meets her across the room. He spans one of her shoulders with his right hand; her is skin catalogued by scars from the life behind them. She reaches out and takes his free hand, weaves her fingers with his. She grips his hand tightly and it's unexpected as she says, "You've never touched me in the daylight before."

He thinks about it and realises he can't remember touching her in the daylight, can't properly picture his hand against her back, her face beneath him and not in shadows. He tries to pull his hand away but she's stronger than him, always has been. She holds him in place and says, "I've wondered whether, I thought this was, not your first choice."

His nights are full of her breath on his face, bruising fingers and a constant fear of a life where she never comes back from a patrol. When he wakes next to her each morning he feels like he's been granted a reprieve, like he's been loaned something a little longer. She's the only thing that's keeping him from having lost everything and he can never let himself fully believe she's chosen and chosen him.

It never occurred to him that she might feel the same.

He says, "Get on your knees."

Her fingers at his belt and she's on her knees in front of him.

(She chooses, and she chooses him.)

When he kneels behind her on the floor the sunlight is dull, filtered through dusty, faded orange curtains. But he can see his hand against her shoulder, against the back of her neck. And she's on her knees, gripping the edge of the bed in front of her. He thinks of his lover in London and the television shows she used to watch; thinks of warm water and crisp newspapers.

Buffy says, over her shoulder, "Kiss me, Giles" and he does, because there's sunlight, and because there's no one else who could cut through Xander's neck and wash his blood from her clothes. There's something like desire twisting in his stomach and he wants this, his hands on her hips and his lips at her ear, how can he want this?

He reaches for the condom that isn't there, clutches air, remembers weeks before when he'd thought less of Buffy for loitering in front of the condoms at an abandoned 7-11. He sighs, kisses her shoulder and sits back.

She glances over her shoulder and then turns to face him. "No condoms, right?"

"It appears, uh, yes. Right."

"It's okay. We'll get some tomorrow."

He's wearing a shirt and socks and she's naked, staring at him with a too-trusting gaze. He brushes a hand across her shoulder, an apology; he strokes her hair slowly.

In his life, he's only ever known these rough replacements.

They sit on the motel room floor and he says, "If I don't ever tell you I'm in love with you, it's because we began like this."

His lover had wanted to be a judge. His lover once cried when she spoke about not having children. Giles gets scared, sometimes, that he'll forget his lover's face.

Buffy looks confused, maybe hurt, and she says, "Because we survived and they died."

He doesn't say, "And how can love come from that?"

She puts a hand to his face. "I'm sorry for bringing you here. For making you come to Florida with me."

He has no reply for the things she says. He looks at her again and sees her shoulder, sees the arc of her neck. He leans into her, thinks about circles in circles and her hands are in his hair. He may be crying as she whispers to him, "You don't understand why you're alive, Giles."

"I'm alive because of you," he says and it's an accusation.

"And I know that people shouldn't always be thanked for keeping others alive." She kisses him, on the lips. "It doesn't get easier, being here. But you care less, after a while."

There's something like a laugh between them and he has to choose between putting his head in his hands and drawing her to him. He choses, awkward limbs unwinding and winding, and his hand moves slowly, purposefully between her legs.

"No," she says, her hand stilling his, "let me, I want to. It's okay."

Her hand moves around his cock and he groans. He closes his eyes, breathes with her movements; doesn't want this, can't help wanting this. It's not okay; he knows, he wanted, wants, to give her so much more than hand-jobs on hotel room floors.

He comes under her touch and she's staring at him, saying, "In my dreams it never rains again. And you die before me." She takes his face in her hands. "But dreams end. It's time to go to Florida."

 

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