After Everything
by Kessica

It was after everything. After high school, after college. It was after the First, the spell that had made every potential a Slayer, and after Sunnydale. It was after the Immortal and after Rome. It was then that Buffy packed enough clothes for maybe two weeks into her rolling suitcase and knocked on Giles' door.

In all of his Buffy related fantasies, whenever he thought of her, it started with her showing up unannounced at his door, a suitcase in hand. And so when this happened, he stood gawking at her for an amount of time that made her uncomfortable.

"I know that I didn't call," she said, snapping him out of his gaze.

"So it really is you," he murmured, stepping aside to let her in. She was a little damp and less put together than he was used to. Still, her smile was sincere and he always had room for her because she would always be his.

Inside, she left her suitcase by the door and he made tea. She went to the bathroom and used his hand towel to dry off her hair. She'd been here before, once, when he'd first purchased it but even still, she expected it to be familiar and it wasn't. It looked nothing like his Sunnydale home for all his possessions, all everyone's things, had been lost in the destruction. There were new lamps, new tea cups, new end tables. A cordless phone, even. He didn't immediately ask her why she'd come. Usually she came in and spilled everything in the first five minutes, and usually everything meant the end of the world, but there didn't seem to be a tragedy on her lips this time.

"Mind if I stay for a while?" she asked.

"You're always welcome, Buffy," he said.

She tried, at first, to stay out of his way. He went to the new council building daily -- it was more of an Academy these days. It was meant to teach the girls, not guide them from afar and those who wanted to truly learn came and lived in the dorms like a proper school. He was, for lack of a better word, the Headmaster and she respected that. She had nothing much to do while he was away. The council -- Giles really -- paid her for her years of service and so she had no need to be a guidance counselor or burger flipper. He offered to take her with him but she declined. Maybe later, she'd told him.

She left during the day, and got to know London, she learned the city. But she always came back around the same time he arrived home and she usually came back with a paper bag full of groceries. She liked to make dinner, one proper meal every day. He let her because it made her happy and they sat at his small table and ate together, quietly. He read the paper, after dinner, and she went out with a stake in her pocket.

She usually found one or two things to kill while she was out. She wasn't used to hearing the sound of fighting in alley ways and finding a girl holding her own, staking the vamp. Of course, there was a high population of Slayers in London because of the school and the girls she encountered didn't seem to know who she was, nor care that someone saw them stake a vampire. It didn't really have to be a secret anymore with the score evened.

Three months into her two week stay, Giles asked Buffy to lead a training class. Buffy suspected it wasn't only to help him out but to keep her training as well. She was nervous about it, at first. There were thirty young faces staring at her from the training mats, looking both awed and bored.

"I'm Buffy," she said, with a little wave.

"Buffy Summers?" One of the girls asked, squeaking. She looked like she was thirteen. She didn't even have breasts yet but Buffy didn't doubt her ability to throw a vamp across the room.

"The one and only," she said. "You ready to train?"

When Giles came by later to stick his head in and make sure they were training and not just painting each other's nails, he was surprised to see them not pummeling punching bags or each other, but in the poses Angel had once taught her. All moving as one, focused and silent. She saw him in the window and winked which made him blush and rush away.

After the session, one of the girls -- Buffy wasn't sure she wanted to know their names in case they all died, suddenly -- raised her hand.

"Can you tell us about the Headmaster?" she asked.

"Giles?" Buffy asked. "He was my watcher."

"He never talks about you, even when we ask," another girl piped up.

"Giles is the smartest man I know," Buffy said, looking at them with unwavering eyes. "You'd do well to just do as he asks of you and not question it." It obviously wasn't the answer they wanted but it was what they expected and they quietly moved on to their next class.

More time passed, and finally, Buffy told Giles she was going to go apartment hunting.

"Why?" he asked, surprised.

"Because I came to visit, not permanently cramp your style," she said. "I'm an adult; I should have my own place here."

"But you'll stay? Stay and teach?" he asked, relieved.

"I like it here," she said. "With you, but we both don't fit here. I've completely taken over your bathroom."

"What if..."

"What?" she asked.

"What if we just moved into a bigger place?" he asked.

"You mean buy a house?" she asked.

"Not exactly. I bought the Academy building because it had been a former school and I wanted everything to look proper." he said. "The campus came with a house for the headmaster and I've just been using it for storage."

"You already have a house and you've been paying rent here?" she asked.

"Well, it was too big for me alone. We'll have a look tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay," she said. The truth was she didn't want to stop living with Giles. They had a nice routine together. Breakfast, and then Giles would drive them to the Academy for classes. The students had all warmed to Buffy extensively and the staff Giles had hired -- all former Watchers or people who were as knowledgeable about the subjects taught as Giles himself -- had so many questions for her. She had her training room and an office and taught three different class sessions. Then, they would drive home together and fix dinner and read (or watch the telly) until it was time for bed. It was comfortable and safe. Buffy still went out at night and occasionally took her more advanced students with her.

The house was cold and dusty and filled with boxes but it was big and had two bathrooms, and so they moved. They went through all the boxes and kept what they needed and tossed what they didn't. Giles found a crate of books he thought he'd lost and Buffy carried it over to the Academy's library for him, where the librarian, an ancient woman who'd also served as the Council's librarian, integrated them in. The house needed a good cleaning and a few fixes but inside a month, they moved in. The routine was the same, except they could walk to work.

For Buffy's 25th birthday, Giles took her out to dinner. They went to a nice restaurant with linen table clothes and expensive champagne. Willow and Xander both called, and Dawn sent a package from Italy where she was going to university. It was strange to have all her friends scattered across the globe but Giles was there and she felt okay. He gave her a beautiful cross necklace to wear with a dark ruby set in the middle.

"It was my grandmother's," he said. "She was a watcher and she always wore it and I've been waiting to give it to you since I met you."

"It's beautiful," she said, taking off the necklace she wore and replaced it with her gift. "Thank you,"

"It's nice on you," Giles said, sipping his wine. "I'm sorry your sister couldn't come."

"Oh, well, she's happy where she is. She's much better at being independent then I ever was." She shook her head. "That isn't why I came here, though."

"I know," he said. "I didn't think that."

Walking to the car, he put his hand on her back. They almost made it to where they were parked when they heard the yell from behind the restaurant. Buffy took a stake from her purse and Giles was right on her heels. The vamp was in a suit and covered with dirt -- a new vampire. Giles pulled him off the waiter who'd come out for a break and Buffy punched him a few times before pushing him against the dumpster and turning him to dust.

"Nicely done," Giles said, panting. Buffy frowned, seeing how ruined her dress was.

"Do you ever think that we'll out number them?" Buffy asked, later, in the car.

"No," Giles said. "But what we have is a start," Buffy put on boxers and an old t-shirt when they got home and took her pink dress to the laundry room where she tried to scrub the rubbish out of it with a stiff brush and stain remover. It wasn't a bad birthday, really, and she'd never thought she'd actually make it to 25.

Dawn was in Italy and her mom long dead -- she wondered if her father thought of her, if he thought she'd died in Sunnydale, if he cared. Part of her wanted to write to him but she knew he was safer out of her life. She fingered the ruby in her cross. She'd made a new family for her self.

She laid out the dress to soak and went to her room. Neither Buffy nor Giles had taken the mater bedroom. They'd left it full of training equipment and took the smaller rooms across the upstairs hall from each other. When they both had their doors open, they could see one other lying in bed, reading. Buffy had purchased a computer, a laptop, because Willow e-mailed more than she called. Giles had the internet installed so she didn't have to go to her office to e-mail. But Buffy wasn't e-mailing at the moment.

"Buffy, will you talk to my demonology class tomorrow during the fourth session?" Giles asked, sticking his head into her doorway.

"Sure," she murmured.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Taking all my old diaries from when I was the Slayer and putting them into my computer." she said. "I leave out the stupid and embarrassing stuff, of course."

"Really?" he asked, intrigued. He came in and sat on the bed next to her.

"Yeah, in case the actually diaries get lost. It's my story, you know? I had to risk life and limb just to get these suckers out of Sunnydale."

"May I read it when you're finished?" he asked.

"I guess," she said. He smiled and leaned over and kissed her forehead.

"Happy Birthday," he said and went to his room, shutting the door behind him.

At the Academy, there weren't grades, there were skill levels. The youngest allowed to attend was twelve and when most left they were usually around eighteen when they went to fight. They were sent somewhere they needed, or, if they chose, they went home or to a University. Few stayed, but there were some. Faith was in Cleveland and she requested girls all the time and Giles sent her the best. Even the best died, though.

In Demonology class, Buffy merely recounted all of the different demons she'd fought over the years and briefly spoke of the first.

"Buffy is your best resource," Giles said, placing his hand on her arm. A girl raised her hand.

"Mr. Giles, Miss Summers always tells us that you are our best resource," she said, smiling.

"We'll try to get our stories straight, Natalie," Giles said. "Dismissed,"

Girls came and went. The school grew and new staff was hired every year. Willow came for a visit, Dawn came when she graduated and stayed for a summer. Five years into her two week stay, Buffy took the title of Deputy Headmistress. The girls who'd been allowed to just call her Buffy had all graduated. One of the new staff members, Charlie Humphrey, asked Buffy out and she gracefully turned him down.

"Why?" Willow had asked in an e-mail.

"I'm with Giles now," she typed but her fingers paused over the keyboard. That read in a way that could be easily misunderstood. She was not his girlfriend, not his daughter. She saved the e-mail for later and went downstairs to find Giles asleep on the couch, a book on his chest. She shook him awake, removing her own (relatively new) reading glasses -- she'd turn 30 not so long ago.

"Oh, is it late?" he asked, pushing a few strands of white hair off of his forehead.

"Not too late," she assured him. "I have a question."

"Ah, well, go ahead." She sat next to him, placing his feet across her lap.

"I turned down a date today," she said.

"That isn't a question," he pointed out.

"I thought it was obvious, you know?" she said and he looked at her confused.

"What was obvious?"

"That I love you,' she said, her voice a tone of practicality.

"Buffy, I... of course I love you too, but we don't..."

"I know we don't have a romantic relationship, Giles, but I can't imagine being with another man anymore." she said. "I'm not asking you for anything, I don't expect things to change, I just thought you should know that this is as happy as I ever have been." She stood, patting his warm belly. "Goodnight," she said and climbed the stairs again.

Later, when she was sleeping, he tiptoed into her room (they never locked their bedroom doors, in fact, Giles had removed the locks) and sat in her desk chair. He watched her sleep.

Giles wasn't a young man anymore. He had made it past the 60 year mark. He was more white than gray, had bifocals, and was slowly falling out of shape no matter how often he and Buffy trained. He was too old for her, twice her age. Still, he loved her and he always had and it was gratifying to know that in some way, she returned his love. When the sun started to rise, he rose out of the chair and went back to his own room to catch a few hours of sleep before she rose.

Growing up, Buffy had never known what she'd wanted to be when she finally became an adult. Then, she became the Slayer and future plans had never really mattered. Now, she was almost glad her calling had ruled her life because she was still fighting for the good and she loved teaching. She couldn't imagine what she'd be doing if not working at the Academy.

As she got up, she realized Giles must have been in her room during the night as her chair wasn't where she'd left it. She stumbled into the shower -- Giles took the hall bathroom and she'd usurped the master bedroom's bath because of the claw foot tub and greater area of counter space. The shower curtain was clear with big pink dots but if anyone were to walk in, they'd get a big eyeful of Buffy. This was not as exciting as it once might have been. She still healed fast but not quite as fast as when she was 16. She still had a deep purple bruise that flowered across her left hip from class a few days ago. She'd landed on the corner of the weapons trunk and the girl -- Celia -- had apologized profusely, and mid-sorry, Buffy had floored her and held a stake to her heart.

"Never apologize," she'd said, and then limped out. In her office, she'd cried as she pressed a bag of ice to her hip. She worried that countless injuries and two deaths were beginning to take their toll -- she worried that she wasn't supposed to live this long.

She put on slacks and a blouse -- usually she wore exercise clothes to work for easy movement but today she would make the girls spar against each other and she would just watch.

In the kitchen, Giles came in as she was reaching up to get a box of loose leaf tea from a high shelf.

"What in the world happened?" he asked, seeing the bruise peek out.

"Corner of trunk -- very pointy," she said. "Last week." He made a concerned noise in his throat. "I don't heal like I used to," she admitted.

"Well you are the oldest living Slayer," he pointed out. "I have a salve upstairs that may help."

"All right," she said. "How did you sleep?"

"Oh, um, well," he lied and went up to get her salve. In her office, she found a package from Willow. Inside was a strengthening crystal.

"Mediate with this, it may help," the note read. Willow always seemed to know what was going on. Instead of sparring, Buffy carried a crate of crystals into her classroom and spent ten minutes setting them up just so. Her students trickled in.

"Today, we study meditation." she said. "I know you like to beat up stuff, but this strengthens your focus," There were narrow blocks of wood all around the room. "Focus your strength. Balance on the wood." she instructed. All the girls jumped up on the wood, a few balancing smugly on one leg instead of two. Buffy, however, got up on her hands. Pushing the noise of the room out of her mind, she straightened out her body until she was completely balanced. She focused only on the crystals as she lifted one hand away until she was balanced only on one palm. All she could hear was her own breath. Finally, she relaxed, righted herself, and opened her eyes. Her class was watching in awe. She smiled; glad she could still impress someone. That night, she slept with Willow's crystal under her pillow and in the morning, her bruise was gone.

Eleven years into Buffy's two week stay, Giles got sick. His bed was replaced with a medical bed and Buffy hired a nurse to stay with him during the day while she was at work. The chemo made him sick and weak and vulnerable and he spent his time watching the television or writing in his leather bound book.

"I'm writing for you," He told Buffy, "But wait until I'm gone to read it." She often slept on the couch by his bed, tending to him in the night.

Everyone came for the funeral. Willow, Dawn, even Xander who rarely visited anymore. Faith came from Cleveland, leaving her Slayers to guard the hellmouth for a few days without her.

Buffy wept the whole time which left her students unsettled -- they had never seen her cry. Willow and Dawn held her hands. Faith placed a rose on his coffin.

"So long, G," she said.

Giles left all his worldly possessions to Buffy -- including all the money that had once belonged to the council and now funded the Academy. It was millions of dollars. The money didn't soothe Buffy. She cancelled classes for a week of mourning on behalf of the Headmaster. Xander left, Faith left, Dawn went back to teaching Italian at an American Embassy school in Naples. Willow stayed, though.

"I'll stay as long as you need me," she promised and sent for her things from Mexico. She taught Giles' classes. She moved into the Master bedroom. She helped Buffy sort through Giles' things. He really didn't have much. Clothes, some photographs, his Watcher Diaries. Some jewelry that Buffy kept.

She had his leather book but couldn't read it just yet. She wasn't ready and maybe she would never be. She barely remembered life without Giles.

"He broke my heart," she sobbed while Willow rubbed her back. "He broke my heart when he left,"

"He doesn't hurt anymore," Willow reminded her. "He's in heaven. Remember the feeling? And then, one day, you'll be there together."

"Isn't there a spell?" Buffy asked desperately, "To ease the pain?"

"No," Willow said sadly, "This is the pain that never goes away," And Buffy could see that she was remembering Tara.

Time passed. Eventually, Willow left. She loved Buffy but she was always needed and she couldn't stay in the Headmaster's house forever. The girls were polite around Buffy at first but as the months and years went on, memories faded and things fell back into place. Learn, train, kill, die.

It was the life of a Slayer and Buffy taught them well.


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