Giles remembered stumbling out of his clothes, he remembered her warm hands on his body, soothing and directing him, and then… nothing.
“Lie down and rest,” Dawn was telling him again.
He didn’t move. His mind reached and searched for what happened next, but it wasn’t there. This sweet, young friend had told him she loved him, had promised to take care of him. She said she’d make everything better. But how had he responded? What kind of things could a drunken old man ask her to do for him? Giles shuddered. If it was anything like the requests of the drunken young man he once was, it was nothing he wanted to imagine Dawn involved in.
Her gentle hands cupping his face to bring his attention back up nearly made him jump out of his skin.
“What’s wrong?” she asked with worry in her eyes.
Giles stared at her kind face, his heart pounding in his ears. Finally he whimpered, “Bathroom?” Clearing his throat, he managed a more respectable tone, “I… I need to use the restroom.”
Her laugh was soft and musical. “Of course, you do. With how far gone you were by the time you got here last night, this is probably a totally dry campus today. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to pee like a racehorse.”
“Dawn, please,” Giles gave her one of his suffering grown-up sighs. “If you could just direct me…”
“Hold on a minute and I’ll make sure the coast is clear.” She got up and headed to the door of her room.
“You haven’t one of your own?”
“Um, no,” she rolled her eyes. “I know you told Andrew to find me one of the apartments when I got here, but I wanted the college experience. Well, as near as possible at a school training people to save the world. Anyway, he put me in one of the upperclassmen houses as a compromise. There are only six of us on this floor. And most the girls should be gone to class by now. Just hold on and I’ll be right back.”
Giles was sure his eyes must have glazed over at some point during her explanation. His problem, however, was becoming rather demanding. It was an amazing thing. No matter how intelligent or philosophical a person was, their entire existence could, at times, be narrowed to the basic needs of the bladder.
He couldn’t wait much longer. Getting unsteadily to his feet, he gathered the quilt around him, covering as much of himself as possibly. At this point he did make the discovery that he’d managed to keep his boxers in place. It was something. However, neither reassuring as his modesty went nor conclusive in exonerating him of anything he might have done the night before. But that was a sin to repent for later. Now, there was only one goal.
He started forward, propelling himself in what could only be described as a waddle. Dawn re-entered the room, took one look at him, and nearly collapsed in a fit of giggles. At Giles’ exasperated sigh, she did her best to calm herself.
“Sor- Haha, um- Sorry. It’s just, with the big puffy around your head and having it wrapped like that around your legs… You look kinda like a big manatee trying to get up and escape the ocean.”
“Dawn, please. The ocean might not be what you want me thinking about at the moment.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. The bathroom’s clear. Come on.” She opened the door, checked the hallway, and motioned him forward. They managed to sneak across the hall, Dawn stifling her giggles the whole way. When Giles entered the restroom, she whispered, “I’ll stand guard. Oh and, locker number four.” At his confused and somewhat stricken gaze, she clarified. “Four is mine. The red toothbrush is new, and you can use anything in there you want to freshen up. Might help you feel better,” she grinned.
“Thank you,” Giles sighed sincerely and disappeared inside.
He was loath to admit it, but Dawn’s racehorse description wasn’t far off. About five minutes later, the Watcher was stumbling to the small bank of sinks. He looked horrible. In fact, the only morning he could remember waking up and looking worse, he had been an actual demon. Pulling open locker number four, Giles quickly found the new toothbrush. Although, with the wall of growth he could feel in his mouth, a pair of hedge clippers or chisel and hammer might have done just as well. Slowly gathering the things that would be useful to him, he returned to the sink… and froze.
“You don’t want to go in there,” Dawn’s voice bled in through the door.
“Come on, Dawn, quit playin’ around. I just need to grab my lip balm before I go. I’ll hold my breath, I promise.”
“Ha ha, funny. You can go one day without having pretty lips. Aren’t you gonna be late for class?”
“Yes, I am. And you know this British weather is tearing my skin up. If I don’t put something on my lips they’re going to chap and split. That hurts.”
“All right, I get it,” Dawn relented. Giles glanced around for a place to hide… hide and have his heart attack in that is. “You mean you need to get the small, round, disk-like container of pinkish gel out of your locker… number two.” She was saying this very clearly and deliberately. It took a second, but Giles’ brain finally ground into gear and he ran to the noted locker.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. You’re freaking me out a little now.”
“I’m just trying to be clear,” Dawn shrugged, and open the door just enough to slide her arm inside. When she pulled it back out, her hand held the needed item.
The other girl squealed. “You have a guy in there, don’t you!?!”
Giles could feel the heart attack coming on again.
“You’d better go. Strict rules around here, you know.” Dawn tried to dodge.
“I knew you were gonna be trouble,” her friend shouted excitedly. “Is he cute?”
“Would I sneak any other kind of guy around this place?” Dawn giggled conspiratorially.
The girls laughed and Giles knew he was on the verge of passing out.
He finally heard the other girl whisper. “Just don’t let Poppy catch you. She’ll get all on your case, and then report you Mr. Giles’ office.”
“Oh, Mr. Giles,” Dawn replied with exaggerated awe. “You mean the guy I like to call my big Rupert-bear? All I have to do is give him the pouty face and he’ll let me get away with anything.”
“You are horrible,” the other girl squealed. “Having you in the house is gonna be so much fun.”
“You’d better get going. Don’t want to get in trouble… unless it’s worth it.” After a few moments, Dawn cracked the door open and peeked inside. “You all right in there?”
Giles raised an irritated eyebrow. “Rupert-bear?” Much to his dismay, he found that his stern gaze could not hold up against the girl’s innocent pout. “Oh, for crying out loud,” he grumbled.
“You’d better finish up,” his young friend chuckled triumphantly before shutting him in again.
The Watcher decided to waste no more time and went quickly about making himself the least bit presentable.
The motley pair made it back into Dawn’s dorm room with no further excitement. After locking her door, the girl again gently directed him back to bed with light, soothing touches. She made sure he was comfortably propped on the pillows and proceeded to tuck him in.
“All right, sweetie?” she whispered, running her fingers through his newly combed hair. “Now you just rest and let the drugs do their work. I promise to be quiet while you sleep.”
She was leaning forward, her lips coming closer and closer. Giles couldn’t take anymore. Everything inside him had already run away. It was just his body that was stuck in this situation… uncomfortable, and tense, and unable to see any way out.
“Dawn, please!” It came out louder than he’d anticipated, making them both jump. “I,I,I,I,I… You need to know you’ve done nothing wrong. But whatever I said to you last night. Whatever I might have promised…” Giles sighed heavily, holding her gently by the upper arms. “Oh God, I can’t remember anything after… Buffy will kill me. And Xander… Xander.”
“Phone call for you, Mr. Giles!”
The Head of the Council groaned, tossing his glasses onto to his desk. “It’s late, Andrew. Is it anything that can wait until morning?”
His assistant stepped all the way into the office. “I would have handled it, but it’s Xander and I thought you might like to talk to him. He doesn’t sound very good, to be honest.”
“Yes, you were right. I’ll always talk to Xander. Thank you. And, Andrew, make sure everyone else has gone home for tonight. That includes you.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Sir,” the boy smiled and retreated, closing the door behind him.
Giles caught up the phone with a small grin, “Xander, it’s so good to hear from you.”
“The intelligence was wrong. We were wrong.” His young friend’s voice was rough with grief and slightly slurred.
“Tell me what happened,” Giles said as calmly as he could. “Are you injured, Xander?”
“Me?” came as a harsh snort. “I’m just fine. The pink of health.”
The older Watcher relaxed the tiniest bit. “All right. Tell me everything.”
“We thought we had it figured out. You guys researched, we researched. I had a solid plan and the girls were ready.”
“But we missed something,” Giles whispered, afraid of the answer.
“Everything,” Xander nearly shouted. “We were in the wrong place, with the wrong weapons, fighting the wrong demons. There was nothing I could do. My slayers, my girls were champions. They looked after each other, pulled me out. But it wasn’t enough. And then… Shay was fearless. She made sure to cover the retreat. Oh God , Giles, I was holding her. She… she told me we did our best, that I did all I could, and then she died right here in my arms.”
Giles waited quietly as the young man broke down at the other end of the line, tears pricking at his own eyes. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a tumbler and a bottle of Scotch. Hearing Xander gulp down a drink, he poured one for himself.
“Shall we drink to her memory?” he murmured softly after a long while. “To a fallen slayer, warrior, and friend.” Xander swallowed hard and downed another gulp with him.
“I’m sorry, Giles,” his voice rattled. “I know I should be stronger than this. I shouldn’t heap all of this on you.”
The elder Watcher gave a mirthless chuckle. “Of all the people in this world, I can truly say that I understand what you’re going through, Xander. You were there. You watched as the loss of Buffy shattered me. We… we do our very best, but even now it’s the curse of the Watcher to remain, to survive.”
“But you were always so strong. You never broke down into a blubbering mess like this.” Xander groaned, “Now I’m disappointing you, just like always.”
“How do you know?” he replied gently. “I’m sure that you have remained a beacon of strength and hope for the rest of your team. Did you never consider that I did the same as you are now? All of you were still so young and had each other to take care of. You needed me to be as you always saw me. The adult… the stalwart Watcher. But, behind closed doors, I also wept on the distant shoulders of peers and friends who knew the same pain of loss.”
The young man sniffed and chuckled slightly. “Does that mean we’re peers and friends? Wonder when that happened?”
Giles gave a small smile. “We became friends when you started to speak in sentences I mostly understood, I think. And we were peers when you chose to put your own life aside and never leave the Slayer’s service.”
“Does it ever get any easier, Giles. Being a Watcher.”
“No, it doesn’t. And, honestly, I think I dread any day that it might.” Both men silently took another drink. Though separated by thousands of miles, each took solace in the quiet companionship of the other.
After a long pause, Xander spoke quietly, “Dawn wants to be one, you know. A Watcher, like us.”
“Yes, I know. She started here at the Academy this last term.”
“I… Is it the best thing for her? I can’t stand the thought of her going through… of her feeling like this.”
The older man sighed. “I dare say Dawn has already been through more than her share of pain in her young life. We have never been able to spare her that, no matter how hard we tried. But it’s her choice and her path now. I think it would be entirely unfair to take that from her, even with the best of intensions. And, of all the young people here, she truly is the one who comes to this with her eyes most open.”
“I know,” Xander groaned. “She’s so special, so extraordinary.”
“Yes. And she will be a magnificent Watcher.”
There was a small chuckle. “Can you believe it? Our little Dawnie is eighteen now.”
“Well, yes. I do recall the celebration several months back. Do you know… I had to threaten to not accept her into the Academy at all, just so she would stay with Buffy until then.” Giles sighed, “You all grew up so fast.”
“She’s beautiful, you know. I didn’t let myself think about it before because she was still just a kid. But she’s grown into a wonderful woman.”
“I do know. Of all the students here, it is a bit nice to finally have one who treats me like… Well, like a fallible human being. Even a silly, old git sometimes. Now, don’t you dare tell her I said that. She’ll never leave me be.”
The younger Watcher laughed at that, but it faded quickly. “Maybe she’ll do better than us, huh?”
Giles poured himself more Scotch and settled into his chair for a long night. “Tell me about Shay, Xander. What was she like?”
“Oh Lord, no… Buffy’s not going to get the chance to kill me. Xander will have Willow turn me into the beast that I am and keep me around to beat… I deserve it,” Giles groaned.
“What is wrong with you?” Dawn asked gently, twisting out of his desperate clutches. “Why would Buffy? Or Xander? Tell me how I can help, sweetheart?”
He winced at the endearment and looked pleadingly into her beautiful eyes. “I am so sorry. But whatever happened last night… Whatever we did. It can never, ever…”
Dawn’s face suddenly registered a look of pure shock. She had finally found her way to the dark, little corner his mind had been cowering in. When she saw her friend try to duck away from her gape, taking it for disgust or even rage, her shock quickly melted into sympathy. How could such a good man never fail to think the worst of himself?
“Giles,” she said sweetly to get his attention. Before he could stop her again, she leaned forward and place a solid kiss directly in the middle of his forehead. Then she pulled back and thumped him with the heel of her hand in the exact same spot.
The Watcher grunted at the brief, disproportionate pain and rubbed his head absently. The comical look of confusion on his face nearly broke the serious expression Dawn had put in place.
“Now listen,” she began with an edge to her still low and controlled voice. “I want you to know that I can see you for what you are. You are a kind, caring, generous man, who is still very handsome and dashing no matter what your age. Any woman on Earth would be lucky to have you. I want you to know that before I say this… EWWWWWW!”
So many emotions flood Giles’ face, it was hard to tell what he was thinking. So Dawn continued.
“I love you so much. And it’s because you’re like a father to me. No, you’re more of a dad than my fake dad ever was, even in the false memories. You did your best to always take care of me and help me grow up. The only reason I don’t just call you ‘dad’ is because you’d probably think I was making fun of you. Now, I don’t know about you, but incest really isn’t one of my kinks. How could you think…?”
“I,I,I don’t know,” Giles finally let a relieved sigh escape. “I just remembered being in your bedroom, and taking my clothes off, and you saying you would make me feel better, and… I can’t remember anything else.”
“That’s because you managed to get out of all those wet, muddy clothes, and I barely had time to get a towel over your head before you collapsed on the bed and passed out. We’re just lucky you made it that far, because, if you went down on the floor, that’s where you would have woken up. You are one big dude and I’m no slayer.”
The hoped for smile appeared on his slowly relaxing face. “But, what about the pet names, and the little touches, and the taking care of me...?”
“Why wouldn’t I want to take care of you? And I was practicing my bedside manner.” Dawn laughed. “You’re the one who helped me sign up for the Slayer Medicine Program along with my Watcher training. When I was sick, mom used to call me ‘Sweetie’ and stroke my head and all that. I was just trying to help you feel better. I guess it wasn’t working very well, was it?”
A touch of pink tinged his cheeks. “It would have worked better if you weren’t dealing with a damned old fool. You will be an excellent doctor.”
“Giles,” his young friend whispered sadly. “Why do you always assume you’ve done the worst possible thing? I can’t imagine you trying to get anyone to… Trying to get a girl to do anything she didn’t really want to.”
The Watcher shook his head slowly. “The bleakest self-image is often the one that dies hardest, luv. I guess… Well, I’m not a saint, and I know it all too well.”
“If you don’t trust yourself, then maybe you should trust the ones who love you. Even if you had made a suggestion like that, or it had crossed my mind, what kind of friend would I be if I let you do anything that I knew you would torture yourself over later? I’d never let that happen to you.”
Giles sighed deeply. “I never thought of it that way. Part of me still sees the innocent, little girl I once knew. I forget sometimes that you truly have become a wonderful young woman.”
A wide grin spread across Dawn’s lovely face. One just for him. “Will you freak out if I hug you right now?”
“Perhaps,” Giles chuckled. “But I think it’s worth the risk.”
She flung her arms around his neck, squeezing him tight. And he unashamedly held her close.
“I think you should get that rest you need now,” she whispered in his ear as she released him. “I know last night was rough. I know what you did for Xander. Thank you.” The girl left a soft kiss on his cheek as she pulled away.
“Just part of my duty as…” he cut off the automatic self-dismissal when she shook her head.
“It’s part of you being you.”
Giles settled back into the bed, this time allowing himself to find comfort there. He let Dawn tuck him back in and watched through half closed eyes as she wheeled her desk chair up next to him and began reading in one of her textbooks. He didn’t even flinch when she gently slipped her hand into his.
The last thing Giles was aware of as he drifted to sleep was Dawn answering her phone again. “It’s fine, Andrew. We’re doing perfect here.-- Finish everything you need to. He’s finally sleeping peacefully now anyway.-- Nope. I’ll keep him safe here. His image in the school is secure. Nobody will find out he’s not really a stuffy, old rulebook with arms.-- Of course, how could he not be all right with friends like us to take care of him?”
Dawn felt a tender squeeze from the hand she held before it completely relaxed.