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The Meaning of Heroes
Book One: Chapter Twelve (9,267 words) 
24th-Mar-2006 12:30 pm
wes/fred/giles OT3!, heroes

The movie had just ended when Buffy heard a car turning into the driveway. Shifting, she pulled open the curtain to look out and saw Giles’ BMW coming to a stop.

“They’re back,” she said with a smile, happy to see Giles when he got out of the car.

“Daddy and Giles are back?” Connor asked.

“Yes.”

“Yay!”

Fred grinned as she pushed herself off the couch and looked out past Buffy. They had the trunk opened, and it looked like they had a ton of bags in there. “Dawn, can you keep Connor corralled for a minute?” Heading over to the door, she opened it up and stepped outside.

Giles leaned against the car, the exhaustion from Quor’Toth catching up with him. He hadn’t even realized until that moment that he and Wes hadn’t had a chance to sleep since they returned.

“How’s your leg?” he asked Wes.

“Bit sore, but I’ll live. Do you think Buffy would mind if we slept in tomorrow?” the younger man asked, looking at the daunting pile of groceries in the trunk and on the back seat. Both were packed to the gills, and that didn’t even include the three he had stuffed between his feet on the floor in the front. He looked up with a smile when he heard Fred’s voice.

“Hey, you two need some help?”

“Please!” both men responded at the same time.

“One Slayer, coming through,” Buffy’s voice came from behind Fred, and before she could even move, the younger woman was hurrying down the walkway to the car. As she approached, Giles and Wesley stepped aside without a word to allow Buffy to lean into the trunk. She gathered up all the handles of the plastic bags in both hands and pulled them out.

Wes looked at his lover, chagrined. “Now why didn’t we think of that?” he asked Giles, gathering the few remaining bags from the back seat and passing some of them to Giles.

Fred, meanwhile, watched in amazement as Buffy lugged pretty much everything from the trunk into the house, not even looking like it was bothering her. Shaking her head, she turned to Giles and Wesley as they joined her on the porch. “I knew Slayers were strong, but I didn’t know they were that strong.”

“This is nothing. She can probably bench press all of us without breaking a sweat.” Chuckling, Giles allowed Wes and Fred to go ahead of him.

“Slayers are just as strong as vampires. And as Rupert said, Buffy is the best of all of them in sixteen generations of the Watcher’s Council,” Wesley explained as they headed into the kitchen and deposited their bags with the others that Buffy had already put down.

“Thank you, Buffy,” Giles told the young woman with a genuine smile. He was glad she was back, but he could see the trauma in her eyes, and he believed that the price she may have paid in coming back was too great. He only hoped he could pull her back. “Everything go where it used to?” he asked. “Or do we need you or Dawn in here to act as foreman?”

Buffy looked around the kitchen as Dawn came in with Connor and shrugged a bit. “As far as I know, everything still goes in the same place,” she said.

Dawn jumped in. “We haven’t moved anything. Wasn’t really any need to.”

As they started putting the groceries away, Giles considered what they had bought for a moment before looking around at everyone else. “In light of being home with my Slayer and Wesley’s first foray into solid foods in a month, I was thinking of a variety of flavors. Curry Honey-Glazed Chicken breasts, Pasta with Pesto Sauce, and a kitchen sink salad.” He smiled at the confused look on their faces. “My mum used to call it that because it contained everything but the kitchen sink.”

“Oh...that sounds great. We haven’t had anything like that since...” Dawn stopped and thought about it, her brow wrinkling for a moment. “Well, in a while. Tara’s a decent cook, but nothing like Giles.”

Fred grinned in agreement. “Tell me about it. Don’t tell my mother, but Rupert has definitely become my favorite cook.” Suddenly, her eyes opened wide. “My mother! I promised her I’d call her once we got here. She wanted to know that we all arrived safely.”

Giles passed Fred his cell phone before shooing everyone out so he could work. He watched sadly, though, as Buffy went out to the back porch. He wished he knew what to do for her. For now, all he could do was make sure she ate, and try and talk to her later.

Wesley watched Dawn take Connor back into the living room, intending to put in another movie. Fred was calling her mum. He knew Rupert wanted to go after Buffy, but he also knew he wouldn’t even though – or more probably because – she was so fragile. His own conscience wouldn’t allow him to leave her out there alone, however. Rupert had posed an interesting point to Willow, and he had to admit, even if it was to himself, that he was curious. Following Buffy outside, he saw the blonde Slayer staring out at the sky, not really looking at any thing. He hesitantly sat down next to her.

“I know this seems like a foolish question, but are you all right?” he asked sincerely.

Buffy glanced over at Wesley, still unable to believe he had changed so much. Of course, the scar across his neck was the most obvious, along with the spikier hair, but it was more that the arrogant and bombastic attitude that had driven her nuts and made her want to stake him was nowhere to be seen. Now, he seemed a bit older, a bit wiser and a bit world weary.

He was a father. He was getting married. And he was sleeping with Giles as well as Fred. She never would have pegged him for the type. Guess it showed how different he really was...or how much she really hadn’t known him to begin with.

Shrugging, she looked back up into the sky. “As all right as I can be, I guess. It was enough of a shock when I died the first time, and that was only for a few minutes. This...shock not quite the term to cover it.” She shrugged a bit and tried to change the subject. “I’m glad that you and Fred got your son back and you weren’t—that you’re all right. Connor’s a cute kid. Fred’s sweet.”

“Fred is an amazing woman,” Wesley remarked with a smile. “Everything she endured in Pylea, and she still has an amazing capacity to love. She saved my life. I was lying on the ground, bleeding to death, unable to call for help, but she never gave up. She found me.”

“Sounds like she really loves you,” Buffy responded softly. She couldn’t imagine finding someone she loved like that.

“I think she does,” he replied. “Despite all the bad things looming on the horizon for all of us, I know how lucky I am. I have two people that love me as much as I love them. Two phenomenal people that anyone would give their right arms to have. And now I have my son back as well. Holtz was insane, but he kept Connor safe and relatively healthy. For that fact, I am grateful.”

He paused for a moment with a sigh, knowing full well she had been trying to change the subject, and tried to decide how to broach the subject of her and her welfare again.

“I...um, I thought you should know, Rupert thought it best if Willow didn’t come here for awhile. He’s worried about you.” He paused again – he had to do this delicately. “He....Rupert posed an interesting idea to Willow. He’s furious that she didn’t try to find out where you were. He asked her how she would feel if you were someplace happy, and peaceful,” he said, his voice gentle as he watched her closely, wondering how she would react.

When Wesley mentioned what Giles had said to Willow, Buffy suddenly felt like her chest had been wrapped in steel and jumped on repeatedly. He had told her that? How could he—? Did he know? Or had it just been a guess? He couldn’t know. He couldn’t know that. She glanced over at Wesley briefly before turning her head away again, unable to meet his eyes. “That—he’s probably right...I mean about Willow. It’s been...since I’ve come back...I love Will, but it’s just been...hard, you know. She wants me better already, and I’m...not.”

He noted how her breathing picked up slightly when he mentioned what Rupert had suggested. And then her slip of the tongue... My god, Rupert was right.

“Buffy, I know you were never fond of me, and I don’t blame you. When I was here before, I was a prat. You and Rupert, you were fighting a war that I had no idea about. But one thing I did do well was get to know you.” He turned to face her. “You traded the Box of Gavrok to make certain that Willow got back to you alive despite knowing that the Mayor having it would make your job ten times harder. You have a devotion and a love for your friends that is unrivaled. Willow said you told her you were in hell.” Hesitantly, he reached out and touched her arm. “Buffy, did you lie to Willow to prevent her from being consumed by guilt?”

She felt her chin begin to tremble as he asked her that, suddenly unable to keep in inside anymore, to pretend anymore. She couldn’t lie anymore. “Yes,” she said, her voice catching. “I didn’t want her to—I...” She looked down at her hands, seeing that she was wringing them tightly, and the words came out in a rush, unwilling to be held inside anymore. “I think I was in heaven, Wesley. I remember that I was safe, and I was warm, and I was loved. I was—I felt...I was finally at peace. Finished. Done. And then I was ripped from my mother, and I was back here, and it wasn’t...it wasn’t right.”

“Oh, God.”

Without thinking, he drew her against his chest and wrapped his arms around her tightly. He knew she might well kick his ass for it, but right then, what she needed most of all was comfort. She needed to feel safe and protected.

“I suspected,” he whispered into her hair. “If you had been in hell, being here wouldn’t have been so traumatizing. You had to have been in a good place. I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t needed Rupert, he would have been here to stop her.”

“It wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself,” she whispered, appalled to think that he could be blaming himself in all this when he had been so badly hurt. At least he had still been alive. She hadn’t. She couldn’t have expected Giles to put his life on hold for her when she was dead, and she was glad he hadn’t, no matter how much she needed him now and was glad he was there. She looked up at Wesley with tears in her eyes. “I can’t—I can’t tell them, though. I can’t tell Will, and Giles...he’ll...I don’t want him to hate Will. She thought she was helping me. She didn’t know. But she tore me out of there. My friends tore me out of there...and everything’s too hard and bright and violent, and knowing what I lost...” She finally trailed off, unable to say anymore.

He shook his head. “Buffy, I can’t keep this from Rupert. But I don’t want him to hate her either. He loves all of you so much, and I don’t want him to say something to her in the heat of anger that he can’t take back. Or worse.”

When he told her, she closed her eyes, wrapping her arms tighter around him. She knew – he was in a relationship with him now. She couldn’t do that to him. Was that the reason she had spilled to him? Because somewhere deep down, she knew he would have to tell Giles and she wanted him to know? “I know. I...I don’t think I ever thought I could keep it a secret for long. It hurts too much.”

He sighed, grunting when Slayer strength compressed his ribcage a little more. “I’ll figure something out. But he’ll have to know. You’re the most important thing in his life; he’d never forgive me if I kept it from him.”

He was terrified to hold this information, but a small part of him was relieved. At least now, Buffy wasn’t holding it in, and trying to do this entirely alone.

“Until I figure out how to tell him, without blowing this family apart, just know that if you need someone to talk to....any time, any where, just ask. I’ll be there. Shared burdens don’t seem so daunting.” he pointed out, offering her a sad smile. “I think for now, Rupert’s instincts are correct. Willow shouldn’t be here, not until you’re ready. I’ll also do what I can to make certain your exposure to Xander is limited as long as he is here to make the alterations to the basement.”

“Xander...he probably just wanted to believe what Willow told him,” Buffy said with a sigh. “He doesn’t know the first thing about magic. Took him forever to get how the whole Slayer line works. But...thank you...” She lifted her head to look at him. “I feel like I can finally breathe some again.”

He met her gaze and smiled warmly. “You’re quite welcome, Buffy. Just remember, no one is pushing you. You do this in your own way, in your own time,” he instructed, keeping his voice gentle. He then chuckled when a thought occurred to him. “I bet if someone had said to you two years ago that you might actually hug me without feeling the urge to vomit, you would have beaten them within an inch of their lives,” he teased, trying to coax out a smile – even a small one.

A smile did cross her face for the first time since he had come out to talk to her. It seemed amazing that she and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce were actually able to have a talk and that he was actually able to comfort her without her wanting to push him off the nearest cliff. “Well, you’re getting braver, you know. I would have thought you’d be worried about me breaking your arm or something.”

At her own teasing, Wesley returned her smile fondly. When he was here before, he would have given anything to be included in this part of the Scooby gang ritual. But he knew in his heart, at the time, he didn’t deserve it, the way he had come in, acting like such a pompous ass. Now, during his time spent with Angel, he had grown, and he understood all of them a lot better.

“Yes, well, you and your friends aren’t the only ones who have grown up.” He shrugged after releasing her. “Besides, you looked like you needed it. It was worth the risk.”

“I did. Thank you, Wesley,” she responded, giving him one last hug before pulling away and standing up. As she did, she looked back toward the backdoor and could smell what Giles’ was cooking, even though the door was closed. “What Giles is making is best thing I’ve smelled since I’ve come back.”

Wesley chuckled and nodded his head. “Yes, Fred and I have become very spoiled in the last nine days,” he commented. “I’m really looking forward to this. It’s the first solid food I’ve been allowed in a month for me.”

Slowly draping his arm over her shoulder, he led Buffy back inside.

*****

Fred hung up the phone after finishing speaking to her mother, who had been over the moon to hear that Wesley and Rupert had returned safely with Connor. It seemed like both her parents were looking forward to getting to act like grandparents.

Since Dawn and Connor were totally involved in the movie they were watching, Fred headed into the kitchen, where she put Rupert’s phone on the counter. “My mom said to tell you that she’s glad you and Wesley are back. She was worried.” She took a seat at the island.

“I’m glad,” Giles replied, leaning over the oven and withdrawing the two trays of chicken breasts. He thought it might be wise to make extra. Between Buffy’s Slayer metabolism, Fred’s hollow legs and Wesley finally able to join them, they would need to cook in bulk.

“Do you need any help with anything?”

“Not quite yet. So are your parents going to be able to make it for your wedding?” he asked, setting the trays on the cooling racks, and began plating the chicken for serving just as Buffy and Wesley entered the house.

“Rupert?” Wes arched an eyebrow in amusement. Giles was wearing a large apron with a distinctive floral pattern.

He looked up, recognizing the look in those blue eyes. Why that cheeky little... “What? Just because you wouldn’t wear it, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.” He shrugged. “So, despite having a male lover, I’m comfortable enough with my own masculinity to not be phased by this one bit.” He smirked, waiting for Buffy to clasp her hands over her ears and run screaming from the room. “Besides, it was Joyce’s. And I can think of no finer tribute than wearing it to feed a family in this house once again.”

Buffy looked at Giles for a moment, a knot in her throat. She hadn’t seen her mother’s apron on anyone since she had died. It had stayed on its peg in the pantry, not moved and not touched. She hadn’t wanted to. It let her pretend that things hadn’t changed as much as she knew they had.

Walking over, she reached out and touched it, running her finger along the edge. Giles held his breath when she did, nervous about how she would handle him wearing it. He knew he was taking a chance. Would she take it as he had meant it, as a genuine tribute to an amazing woman? Or run crying from the room?

She hadn’t been able to bring herself to wear it. She hadn’t wanted anyone to ever again. But now that he was in it and was cooking food and was making things better...it seemed all right. “It—it looks good on you,” she said. “I think Mom would have approved.”

He released the breath when she gave him a half smile. “I’m glad you think so,” Giles smiled. “Your mum...”

“Rupert, the sauce is bubbling,” Wesley interjected, wanting to change the subject quickly. Giles had no way of knowing where Buffy had been. He didn’t want the other man to inadvertently cause his Slayer any pain.

Reaching over, Giles quickly turned down the hob and pressed a wooden spoon into Wesley’s hand. “Here, stir that while I put the finishing touches on this salad. We’re almost ready in here, so Fred, Buffy, if you wouldn’t mind setting the table?” he asked. “I think we’ll excuse Dawn for tonight, since she seems able to keep Connor occupied.”

Nodding, Buffy gave him a brief hug and then turned to show Fred where the plates and silverware were located. Together, they carried everything into the dining room and began setting the table.

“Fred?” Buffy suddenly said.

“Yes?”

“You’re probably the luckiest person I’ve ever met.”

Fred looked up and saw that Buffy was looking past her back into the kitchen, so she turned her head to see Rupert telling Wesley something before turning finish the salad. She immediately realized what she was talking about. “Yeah. I think I am too.”

While they set the table, the men finished cooking the food, which they plated up and started bringing out to the dining room.

“Dawn, dinner’s ready!” Giles called out.

“Connor! Come on, son. It’s time to eat. We can turn the movie on again after dinner,” Wesley added, smiling when he caught the small blur in his arms and hoisted him up on his shoulders. “You all right up there?” he smiled.

“Yes! Look at me, Mommy. I’m so high up here!” Connor exclaimed. “I’m tall like Daddy!”

“I can see!” A huge smile spread across Fred’s face as she looked up at the little boy. He looked so happy. And so did Wesley. They looked so much like father and son that it made her heart flutter with pride. It was so easy to forget the truth and believe that this was truly their son.

She looked down at the chairs around the dining table and realized that he was going to be too short for them. They should have taken the booster chair from McDonalds. Well, that was something to go on the list when they finally had a proper shopping spree for him. She was going to need a few things herself.

“Buffy, do you mind if a steal a couple of the throw pillows from the living room?”

The younger woman shook her head although she was clearly confused as to why she would want those pillows at that moment. “No, that’s fine.”

“Be back in a sec.” Running into the living room, she grabbed two of the pillows and then hurried back in, setting them down on top of each other on one of the chairs. “There we go. Makeshift booster chair.”

“All right, little man, time for dinner.” Wesley smiled, gripping Connor around his midsection and flipping him off of his shoulders. He set the boy in the chair on top of the pillows.

“Awwww, Daddy!” Connor complained, having fun with his father. Wesley chuckled and tickled the boy.

“Awww!” Wesley countered, smiling at the giggling, squirming Connor. “We’ll play some after dinner. But you have to eat if you want to really be tall.” Wesley moved to his own chair on the other side of Connor, next to Rupert, who had set the last bit of food on the table and took the seat at the head, putting him Wesley on his right and Buffy on his left.

“Everybody dig in,” he prompted. He had prepared salad, honey-glazed chicken and pasta with pesto sauce made with heavy cream and, as an afterthought, had added green beans and corn for some other veggies. He suspected with Connor’s sweet tooth, he might fight them on the vegetables. So he decided to start with something simple. Besides, the boy deserved a little spoiling. Turning, he smiled warmly at Buffy before filling his own plate.

Buffy smiled back before looking at all the food and actually feeling hungry. She couldn’t remember having felt hungry at any time since getting back. Anything she had eaten had been more to placate Will, Xander and Dawn than out of want for food. Taking the dish of pasta from Giles, she spooned out a good portion onto her plate and took a moment to smell it, the way she had when she and Wesley had been standing outside.

On the other side of the table, Fred started spooning a bit of everything onto both hers and Connor’s plates, starting with the corn and green beans. He looked at the two piles with a wrinkled nose. “Look like what...Holes made me eat.”

“I don’t care for veggies either,” Dawn said as she took some pasta for herself. “Too u—.” She shut her mouth for a moment when she saw the looks all the adults shot her, then put the pasta bowl on the table and reached for the green beans. “Actually, I love veggies. Mmmm...beans.”

Giles’ glare changed to a grateful look as she served herself some beans. Dawn had always been fond of the oddest concoctions, vegetables having never been part of them. But for Connor, she was caving without argument.

Shaking her head a bit, Fred looked down at Connor. “They’re good for you, and I bet they taste a lot better than what you had to eat before. If you want to grow up to be like your daddy and Giles, you need to eat your vegetables, so will you at least try them?”

“You want to grow up tall like your dad,” Giles smiled at the boy. “He’s the tallest one here.”

“I’m taller than you?” Wesley asked, not really having noticed before. Even in his time in Sunnydale before, Rupert Giles seemed a bit larger than life.

“You always have been. What are you, about six two?” the older man asked, nodding when his lover did. “You’re about an inch and a half taller. Now all we have to do is get some meat on those bones.”

“You’re bigger than Giles, Daddy? That’s so cool!” the little boy exclaimed. Wesley looked at Giles chagrined.

“You know you’re going to regret revealing that,” he smirked, digging into his own food. He took a bite of his chicken and slowly worked it down. “Jesus, Rupert. This is delicious.” He sighed happily.

Fred, in the meantime, found her mind going places it shouldn’t have been with the talk of who was bigger and felt her cheeks heating up very rapidly. Something that did not go unnoticed by Dawn, who elbowed her sister.

“Fred, are you okay?” Buffy said with a barely suppressed laugh.

“Oh...fine...” She felt herself turning a bit more red and tried to ignore it by cutting up the chicken she had just placed on Connor’s plate. She wasn’t sure how he could handle utensils, so it seemed safest to cut the meat into pieces and let him eat with hands if he needed to. “If Wesley’s reaction to your cooking is any indication, we should have any probably with getting him to bulk up a bit. In fact, you keep cooking like this, and I’ll probably put on weight.”

Giles was happy Wesley seemed so thrilled with his cooking. He really did need to put on some weight. It wasn’t that the man was unattractive. Quite the contrary. Wesley was beautiful – one look from those blue eyes, and he would harden instantly. But he was just too thin. Giles couldn’t help but think that he would look even better with an additional thirty or forty pounds. He looked up when he heard the smile in his Slayer’s voice, and followed her gaze toward Fred. Her cheeks were colored with an embarrassed blush. Why? Mentally, he replayed the conversation, his eyes going wide when he realized how it could be interpreted. Apparently, by Fred. His own face colored as he ducked his head.

“Well, all of you are extremely beautiful, undoubtedly. I just think you could do with gaining a few pounds.” Giles grabbed on to the subject change desperately. He meant what he said. Fred, Wesley, Buffy, Dawn....all of them could be breathtaking. But really only Dawn was in what could be considered the normal weight range.

“Do you realize how much I have to eat in order to gain weight?” Buffy pointed out. “I doubt even your cooking skills can keep up with Slayer metabolism.”

“I doubt Doublemeat Palace could keep up with your metabolism,” Dawn said and received a kick under the table. “Oww! Hey!”

“Mommy, what’s meta-blism?” Connor asked.

“It’s what helps your body turn the food you eat into energy,” Fred answered

“Is that why you can eat so much?”

Fred started laughing, remembering his reaction to finding out that she could eat Giles and Wesley under the table. “Yes, it is. But from the sound of it, I think even Buffy could eat more than I could.”

“Really? Wow. And Mommy can eat a lot.”

“That sounded distinctly like a challenge.” Giles smiled a bit devilishly at his Slayer.

“I really don’t eat that much,” Buffy stated.

“Even so, I like cooking for you.” He shrugged. It went beyond just a Watcher looking after his Slayer. Buffy and the others, they were his family. It was fulfilling doing things as a family, even something as simple as dinner.

Connor seemed to sense a tenseness coming from the young blonde woman. “Buffy?” he called her, waiting until she looked at him. “Can Giles help you?” When she nodded a little, he continued. “Can my daddy and mommy help you too?”

Buffy’s eyes widened as she looked at the little boy, her mouth opening for a moment in uncertainty. She glanced from Giles to Wesley to Fred, and it was as if a silence like the one that had settled over her the moment she had fallen through the rip had come over the entire room. Swallowing, she set her fork down. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say when she opened her mouth again.

“If they can,” she told him. “I—they’ve already helped a lot, just by being here.” And she realized they had – Giles had immediately made her feel more normal and protected her, Wesley had listened to her and shared a burden she had been carrying since she had come back, and Fred had made her think that maybe she could also get her life back together after talking to her a bit about her and Connor’s experiences. “Actually, you being here has helped as well.” She took a deep breath. “I—I don’t know...being back’s been hard. But I’m glad you’re here. All of you. Makes things a bit better.”

“Me too?” Dawn asked.

“You too,” Buffy said with a smile.

Connor’s eyes grew wide. “Me? I didn’t help, but I want to,” he said, his little brow furrowing. Connor ate a few pieces of chicken, a little mischievous smile playing on his face.

Wesley and Giles both looked at the little boy, wondering what he was up to. Not that they minded. The refreshing nature of the little boy might be just what all of them needed. Wesley nudged his lover when Connor finally looked at Buffy, little blue eyes honest.

“You should eat more, Buffy. You’re the second prettiest girl I know. After my mommy,” he told her with a sincere smile.

Buffy looked at him amazement, feeling tears welling in her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she had gotten a compliment like that because, of course, no one would ever compare with a four-year-old boy’s mother, so him saying that to her said a lot. “Tha—thank you, Connor. That’s so sweet. You’re definitely the best young man I know.”

Fred looked down at her son with pride. Those words had done so much for Buffy, she could tell. Reaching over, she took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze to let him know that he had done good. A part of her was also giddy at how he saw her as his mommy. They were obviously doing something right so far.

“Welcome,” Connor replied, understanding that the tears in her eyes were happy ones. He turned his attention to his plate, finishing the last of his chicken. He now looked at the two little piles of vegetables on his plate as if they were demonic.

“They’re not evil, Connor; they’re just plants.” Chuckling, Wesley leaned over to scoop up a bunch of beans on his fork and put them in his mouth. He chewed them silently, but his blue eyes were lit with amusement. He knew Connor was watching.

Connor’s little brow furrowed. His daddy was eating the green things. He seemed okay with them. Maybe his mommy was right; maybe they weren’t as bad as what Holes tried to make him eat. Hesitantly, he reached out and picked up a single bean in his fingers and slowly slid it past his lips, which didn’t seem to want to let the green thing in. Slowly, he chewed it, ready to spit it out if he didn’t like it. He looked up at his daddy then over to Giles. He giggled when both men arched their eyebrows.

“Don’t do that!” he managed between giggles.

“Do what?” Giles asked, not having seen Wesley echo is own motion.

“The eyebrow thing. It’s funny!” The little boy schooled his face, trying to mimic their action, but couldn’t pull it off. “I can’t do it.” His little head snapped toward his mommy. “You were right, Mommy. Those are better than what Holes gave me.” Nodding, he reached for more of the beans.

“That’s because Giles knows how to make them the right way,” Fred told him with a grin. “And because the vegetables here are much better than the vegetables were in that place. I’ve found that nothing tastes as good at the food you can get here. And don’t worry about the eyebrow thing. I can’t do it either. I have to raise both. See.” She showed him. “You can do that instead.

Buffy ate silently for a few moments as Fred said that. She was certainly right – Giles did know how to make food the right way. The chicken was wonderful, and the pasta was amazing, and it tasted right, and it tasted good. Was that maybe part of the trick? Finding little pieces of heaven and peace here on Earth. If so, she had found a bit of it – a moment where things weren’t harsh and ugly and too bright.

Giles was pleased with the way dinner had turned out. Buffy was still looking beleaguered, but she seemed to be settling slightly. He wasn’t sure if it was his presence, the absence of Willow, or Connor’s enchanting presence. Whatever it was, he didn’t care. He just needed to make certain his Slayer got better.

*****

Dinner passed pretty much the same as it started, the family atmosphere serving to soothe Giles’ own anxieties. “Well, if you’ll all bring your dishes to the kitchen, I’ll clean up,” he offered, standing once everyone had finished off what was on their plates, several of them having gone for seconds.

“You don’t have to do that, Rupert. Since you cooked, I can clean up,” Wesley told him. It was nearly bed time, thank god. He realized that he and Rupert hadn’t had a chance to rest since they returned from Quor’Toth. “And make certain Fred looks at your arm before we turn in.”

“We’ll all help,” Buffy said, standing up from the table and picking up her dish to take into the kitchen.

Just at that moment, the phone rang in the other room. Dawn immediately got up and ran to get it. “That’ll be Janice!”

“Okay...so looks like those of us who are left and aren’t of the munchkin variety will be helping with the clean up,” she amended.

They all set to work clearing the table and taking everything into the kitchen, where Buffy set to work washing the dishes – the hot water felt good on her hands, making them tingle and feel alive – while Wesley and Fred dried and Giles put things away. Connor was distracted by the magnets on the refrigerator, moving them around and asking his parents how they managed to stay stuck to the sides.

After a bit, Dawn came in with the phone in her hand. “Janice wants to know if I can stay at her house tonight. Please, can I? Since Connor needs my room and the basement won’t be ready, can I go over? There’s no school tomorrow.”

Giles looked between Dawn and Buffy, seeing that the younger Summers girl was asking him. “That’s up to your sister,” he said, not wanting to undermine Buffy in raising her sister. He couldn’t be certain if she wanted something else for Dawn tonight. If he had to hazard a guess, she probably didn’t, but the decision was still hers.

“If...if you’d like, I can walk with Dawn down to her friend’s to make certain she gets there safely,” Wesley offered.

Buffy was comfortable, and he was glad that a lot of it was due to his lover’s presence. He still felt bad, leaving Lorne in charge of moving all of his things, since it wasn’t really his friend’s responsibility to play mover. But now, knowing what he knew, and seeing Buffy reacting so positively to Rupert’s presence, he didn’t regret leaving LA so suddenly. He never would regret it. That feeling of peace, despite the fact that the world was raining down on you, was a feeling he knew well. The peace embodied in his green-eyed lover that made you want to wrap yourself in it like a blanket. He didn’t want Buffy to be obligated to leave that peace so soon. Hence his offer to be Dawn’s escort, as long as she trusted him to protect her sister.

Buffy suddenly realized that she was being expected to be in charge again. No, not in charge, actually. Just making the decision regarding her sister. She wasn’t sure for a moment, as her mind tried to figure out what her mother would have done and what Giles would think of whatever decision she made. Letting Dawn go over would solve the rooming situation for the night, but should she still...?

Then Wesley offered to walk Dawn down to Janice’s house, and she realized that Giles wasn’t going to judge whichever decision she made. He was just leaving it up to her. “Well, since Wesley said he’ll go with you...all right. But I want Janice’s number left on the refrigerator and the name of her mother.”

“Eee! Thank you, thank you!” Dawn said, rushing forward to hug her sister.

“Name and number,” Buffy repeated.

Her sister quickly grabbed the pen for the writing board on the refrigerator and jotted down the number and name, then gave another squeal before rushing out of the room to go get things together for the night. Buffy watched her go, realizing that whatever the others thought of the decision, she felt good about it.

Watching Dawn bolt from the kitchen, Wesley looked back toward Buffy, and arched an eyebrow. “Are you ever tempted to keep a tranq gun nearby, just to get her to slow down?” he teased.

“Dawn only has two speeds. Hyper, and that progresses into Jittery,” Giles chuckled. At times, Dawn’s excitement could be exhausting

Shaking her head with a laugh, Buffy gave both men a smile. “No...no tranq gun. The idea of one definitely has its appeal. Thank you for walking her over, Wes. Made the decision a lot easier.”

Giles smiled gently and looked over at Wesley, letting the younger man know how appreciative he was of his efforts to make help Buffy with her decision while still letting her make it.

“You’re quite welcome.” Wesley gave Buffy a reassuring smile. “Is your weapons chest still by the front door?”

“Yes.”

As Wesley nodded his head with a grin and left, Giles reached out a hand, seeing that Buffy had just got a rather thoughtful look on her face. “You all right?”

Buffy turned her attention to her Watcher...her friend. “I’m okay. I just realized, though – that was the first real decision I’ve made since I...came back, and you know what? I feel good about. I decided well. Go me. I’m being all responsible guardian and stuff again.”

“I’m ready!!!!” Dawn yelled as she came bounding down the steps. “Wesley, you ready to go?”

Fred laughed, shaking her head as she finished wiping the last plate that Buffy had washed before they were interrupted. She put it down on the counter with the towel. “I can see why you might want that tranq gun.” She then looked over Connor, who was sitting on the floor in front of the fridge, struggling to keep his eyes open. “Although there’s someone here that doesn’t need a tranq gun, it looks like.” Walking over, she picked up her little boy and cuddled him close. “C’mon, little guy, let’s take you upstairs to bed.”

“But, Mommy...” he started to protest.

“You’re falling asleep, baby,” she told him gently. “C’mon, say goodnight to Giles and Buffy, then we’ll say goodnight to your father before he takes Dawn to her friend’s.”

“Goodnight, Connor,” Buffy said with a smile.

“Night Buffy,” Conner said. Giles thought he might have wanted to say something else, but it was cut off by a huge yawn.

“Goodnight, young man,” Giles said with a smile, leaning forward and placing a kiss on the little boy’s forehead. He felt a feeling of contentment wash through him when Connor returned his smile, settling back into his mother’s arms.

“Night, Giles. Get some rest,” he chided before his little face turned serious. “You and daddy look tired.”

“We will. Off you go,” he chuckled, then leaned forward and kissed Fred. “I’ll be up as soon as Wesley returns.”

Fred smiled and returned the kiss, not noticing Buffy turn sideways a little bit to give them a bit of privacy. “See you up there in a bit then.”

Taking Connor out to the living room, she found Wesley still arming himself as Dawn waited, hopping from one foot to another while her overnight bag dangled from her hand.

“C’mon, Wesley. It’s only around the corner,” she told him, trying to get him to hurry up.

Wesley nearly rolled his eyes at her impatience. He was seriously rethinking the fact that Buffy refused to tranq the girl. Getting his gun from his bag, he tucked it inside his jacket, then moved to the weapons chest, pocketing three stakes.

“Bear with an old man,” he joked, passing Dawn a stake. “You have your cell phone?” When she shook her head, he withdrew his own from his pocket, and passed it to her. “Then take mine, for tonight. If there’s any problems, no matter what time, call.”

“Can I cut in briefly?” Fred asked. “Connor’s heading up to bed, so he wanted to say goodnight to his daddy before he left. Sorry, Dawn. It won’t take too long.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” she answered with a shrug. “Goodnight, Connor. Sleep well.”

A smile crossing his face, Wesley held his hands out, and Connor crawled into them.

“Night, daddy!” he said, hugging his father tightly. This was his favorite place to be. He knew as long as he was in his daddy’s arms, nothing would ever hurt him. He looked over his daddy’s shoulder at his new friend Dawn. “Have fun, Dawn. Thanks for the movie!” He smiled, but the smile quickly turned into a yawn.

“I’ll be home shortly. Dawn says it’s just around the corner,” Wesley promised, kissing his fiancée. He passed Connor back to her and looked at the boy a bit sternly. “Be good for your mum, Connor. I’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, son.” He stepped back, allowing Dawn to lead the way out the door.

“Night, Giles! Night, Buffy! Night, Fred!” she called out as she hurried out the door with Wesley in tow.

Fred stood at the door, letting Connor watch and wave tiredly after them until they had disappeared down the sidewalk in the dark. Then, with him in one arm, she shut the front door and took her son upstairs to Dawn’s room, where they had put everything Wesley had purchased for him at Wal-Mart. She set Connor on the bed then found the set of pajamas and changed him into them, having to hold him up as his head lolled while he was falling asleep.

Down in the kitchen, Buffy turned back to the remainder of the dishes. “Guess we should finish these off,” she said as she turned the hot water on to heat up the washing water again. “Giles...I meant what I said earlier. I’m really glad that all of you are here. I’m glad you’re here.”

Giles moved to put away the dishes in the rack, his Slayer’s words touching him more than he thought possible. He looked at her, his green eyes incredibly gentle.

“I never want you to think that I regret that you’re here. I just...I just wish things could have been a little different. What they did to you, it was wrong. They knew it was wrong, but they waited until I wasn’t here to do it anyways. And now you’re suffering for it.” He sighed, tamping down on the surge of temper he felt. “But no matter what, I will always be here for you when you need me.” Setting the plate down, he drew her close and hugged her. “Nothing could have kept me away.”

Buffy snuffled a bit as she rested her head against Giles’ chest. “I know. I know what you said wasn’t because you didn’t want me here. They—they meant well, but...today’s been the first day since I came back that I’ve actually felt...normal, like I’ve thought everything might be okay. I didn’t realize how much I really wanted you here until you walked in the door.”

“I’m glad.” He leaned his head down, resting his cheek down on top of hers. “I talked to Willow. I think until you find your feet again, that it’s better if she and Tara stay at my flat. There’s no hurry, though, so take your time. We’ll take as long as you need, and I’ll call her when you feel you’re ready.”

“Wesley said,” she murmured softly. “I think you’re right. I love Willow, but...it’s been hard to...look at her sometimes. Thank you for thinking of that.”

He tucked a finger under her chin, lifting her eyes to meet his. “No one is going to judge you Buffy. Everyone here cares for you. Besides,” he smiled, his voice taking a teasing edge. “Not everyone can be ‘Watcher’s Pet.”

“Really? I think I count at least four or five of us, especially the two you brought home with you.”

Giles smiled and shook his head. “No. Wesley and Fred, I love them, but they know your place in my life. Neither of them would ever attempt to infringe on that. Wesley tried once, remember? And he realized how futile it was. You are the greatest Slayer in history, you’re my Slayer. But above all else, you are Buffy.”

*****

Fred finally finished getting Connor out of his clothes and into his pjs. She pulled the bed covers down and moved him back before helping him to lie down and covering him. He murmured what sounded like “Night, Mommy,” which made her smile.

“Goodnight, little guy,” she whispered, leaning over to kiss his forehead. “Sleep well.”

She sat there for a moment, watching him until she was sure he was fast asleep, his little hand that held the t-shirt he had claimed from her curled up next to his cheek. He looked peaceful and happy, and she was glad that they had managed to find him before any permanent damage had been done to him by living in that place, being raised by Holtz. Reaching up, she brushed a lock of hair back from his head, then got up and walked over to the door, shutting off the light before walking out. She left the door slightly ajar, not wanting him to feel shut in and wanting to be able to hear him if he needed them.

Crossing over to the master bedroom where they would be staying, she pulled out the first aid kit, knowing she would need to look at both Giles’ and Wesley’s injuries before bed. Then she got her own things to start getting ready for bed.

*****

Buffy felt her eyes tearing up a little as she listened to Giles calling her his Slayer while still remembering she was a person. That was what had made Giles so different from the others on the Council – he always realized that she wasn’t like that stupid bot Spike had hired Warren to make. She wasn’t just someone to boss around and train and treat like an object. That was why what had happened with that horrific ritual on her 18th birthday had hurt her so much because she had never expected that from him. He was the most important male figure she had ever had in her life. But she had forgiven him for that a long time ago – after all, she had made her fair share of mistakes too that had hurt him as well.

“And you’re my Watcher. Always have been, no matter what happened,” she said softly. “I wouldn’t still be here without you and the others.” She shook her head at that, realizing that wasn’t exactly what she meant. “I mean...you know what I mean – I couldn’t have done so much of what I did without you.” She paused for a moment once she said that. “As for Wes and Fred...I know it’s not what I ever expected you to be doing – hell, I had enough trouble with Olivia originally...but I’m glad you’re happy, Giles. I really am. Wesley’s changed so much – it—he’s great, and Fred seems like a wonderful woman.”

“Honestly, I never expected to find myself with two lovers,” Giles admitted ruefully. “I knew how much Wesley had changed and that his feelings for Fred ran deep. When he went missing, I had to go. I needed something to do other than training that bloody bot. I felt like a boat without a rudder. The most important thing in my life was gone, and I was useless. At least, when Fred called, I had someone that needed me. Fred is half my age just about. Never did I think someone like her could be interested in me. She’s so much different than my previous relationships.”

Listening to him talk about how he felt while she was gone, she realized she had never even thought that a Watcher could be lost like that. Sure, before he had gotten the Magic Box, he had been a bit the same way, but he hadn’t actually been an official member of the Watchers Council then. He was now, and she had always thought Watchers simply moved on to other things when a Slayer died.

She looked down at the sink and saw she had finished the last of the dishes, so she reached in and pulled the plug from the sink. Of course, she should have realized it wouldn’t be that way. Not with the way Travers ran things. Not with the way Giles was so different from other Watchers. Most others probably did just move on, but not him.

Meanwhile, Giles shook his head and continued, “For some reason, they both see something in me that they want. I...I’m happy. I have two phenomenal people that love me and allow me to love them in return. And I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, quite the contrary. Wesley and Fred, they don’t want to take the place of my family; they just want to join it. The people they have become, I believe they offer a lot to all of you. And I want to thank you for including them.”

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel bad. I’m glad that you found what you needed.” She suddenly found herself letting out a short laugh. “It...it actually wasn’t that hard to include them. A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I could accept Wesley again like this, but it really wasn’t difficult at all. I guess he’s not the only one who’s changed, huh? And you trust them, so that’s always good enough for me.”

“Wesley was the one that got me through things after you died,” Giles told her before taking a deep breath to calm his nerves as familiar memories washed over him. “You asked me once why the records in the Watcher’s journals were always short and vague after the death of their Slayer. It’s because upon the death of those girls, the worst possible thing had happened to the Watchers. And there was no way they could relive the event in detail enough that wouldn’t make them want to kill themselves immediately after. I remembered how the idea bothered you, so I forced myself to write everything down.”

Buffy looked up at him. He had done that? He had written down everything liked she had asked?

His green eyes became haunted momentarily. It had nearly destroyed him, seeing her jump night after night in his dreams and in his memories as he tried to record every detail of what had happened.

“Everyone was looking to me to get them through it, and only Wesley kept looking after me. He had contacted me several months after he had settled in Los Angeles, and once we managed to put aside what had happened, we became friends and spoke often. He couldn’t get to Sunnydale immediately at the time, but he called twice, sometimes three or four times a day. He kept me talking about you, about the diaries. Wesley made it all right to grieve, and you got your detailed account,” he explained.

Putting her arms around him, she hugged him again. “Thank you for doing that. I’m...I’m glad he helped you to do it. I’m glad you did it.” She looked up at him. “Giles...I’m...I’m sorry that I didn’t...didn’t...I didn’t know what I was going to do until I was up there on that tower and I saw that it was too late, that the tear was open. I couldn’t sacrifice Dawn. I couldn’t sacrifice any of you. So...I jumped. I’m sorry – I didn’t want to hurt any of you, but it was the only thing I could do.”

“It doesn’t matter; it’s in the past,” Giles promised her.

No matter how much seeing her jump still haunted his memories, it didn’t matter a whit. She was here now, healing. They had so much to deal with now that they couldn’t afford to look back.

“Despite the way it was done, I can’t say that I’m not glad you’re here,” he confessed, offering her a gentle smile.

*****

Wesley waited until Dawn was safely inside Janice’s house before starting back to what was now his home as well. His leg was bothering him, but all he had to do was get back, and he could rest.

It was odd being back in Sunnydale, to say the least. He hadn’t expected Buffy of all people to be so welcoming. Wesley wasn’t a fool – he knew that her acceptance was more for Rupert’s benefit than his – but he firmly believed that he and Buffy had made some progress on their own, even tonight.

Upon reaching corner of Rovello Drive, he felt his muscles tense as a young man approached him.

“Hey, Mister, got a light?” he asked. They boy was so proud of his plan that he didn’t even notice Wesley’s hand slip inside his jacket.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t smoke,” Wesley replied, walking past.

His fingers closed around the stake as he heard the familiar change. It was the one of the main advantages of working so closely with a vampire. He could pick up on the subtle noises that occurred when they allowed their demons to surface. Wesley spun quickly, bringing the stake up just as the vampire leapt.

“Not today,” he rasped into surprised yellow eyes before the creature crumbled to dust. Placing the stake back in his pocket, he continued back to the house.

*****

Comments 
25th-Mar-2006 03:49 am (UTC) - *squee*
It's so good to see a new chapter of this. I don't reply often, but I've been following this 'verse for awhile now; it mashes all sorts of buttons for me with the Connor storyline, the Wesley/Fred romance that failed on the show, the deteriorating characterization of Giles in the later seasons of Buffy, and the lack of care Buffy encountered upon her return in canon S6.

*hugs story* Excellent work.
25th-Mar-2006 06:43 am (UTC) - Re: *squee*
Hey! Thanks so much! Glad you're reading and enjoying the storyline - we feel the same way as you with a lot of this, which is why we're writing this, so it's great to see that we're hitting chords with others as well.

I know part of the problem with Giles and his interaction with Buffy after she returned was because ASH wanted to cut back his time on the show to be with his family, but it really did impact the way his character and his relationship with her came across.

We have a lot planned for this, so we'll continue to do our best with this. Thanks for leaving this wonderful comment!
25th-Mar-2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
*dances*. An update... an update!!

A full proper update, not just hints and latest news.

This was an awesome chapter by the way. Now... to whom should I send the kleenex bill? Because, I really didn't expect to be teary so soon. That scene at dinner time, first with Buffy and Giles and the apron, then with Connor and Buffy at the dinner table had me sniffly and teary.

I'm glad to see another perspective on the whole "Willow is being a right brat" story. Please update soon... Please?
26th-Mar-2006 07:28 pm (UTC) - Twirls self til dizzy...
ANOTHER CHAPTER!!! WHHOOOHOOOOO!!
Thanks, it's great to see this continue...just, please, does Wes make it home before EvilAngel! shows up???
Bites fingernails....
Tia, Mel
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