Not belonging to me. Belonging to Joss and the folks at Fox and all related and fiscally involved corporations. No profit, no foul, no lawsuit, okay?

All blame goes to Mir and kt and Lisa and Becky.... they know why. And thanks to Carol, for being such a wonderful packrat when it comes to files...

Warning: character dies. Another character grows up...

The Perfect Ceremony of Love's Right
by suricata

Buffy Summers had seen the inside of County General Hospital too many times since moving to Sunnydale. But today she was thankful for that familiarity, for it meant that she didn't have to stop and ask directions, which also meant that nobody had the time to stop her.

Not that they could have, anyway.

Skidding down the last acre of tiled hallway, she pushed open the door to a post-op ward and stopped dead just across the lintel. Her mother was already there, and Will too. But she barely spared them a glance, all of her attention was focused on the body in the narrow bed, white sheets and gleaming machinery making the body they cocooned seem too slight, too fragile.

"Oh god..."

"Buffy.." her mother's voice trailed off, not knowing what to say. They had promised each other total honesty after the events of the summer, at least when it came to Slaying stuff. And while this didn't exactly fit those parameters, Joyce knew that soothing platitudes were not called for. Not here. Not now.

"What happened?"

She had been dealing with the mop-up of a particularly nasty nest of bug-uglies when her spidey sense had tingled. Not like vampires, which was good since it was mid-afternoon. But something shot through her, like acid running through her veins.

"What happened!" she demanded again, when nobody answered her.

She had gone to the school first, seeking reassurances. But had instead encountered chaos. Sirens wailing, crowds milling, newsvans spewing more camera teams than she could ever recall seeing outside of Los Angeles.

And the blood. Splattered all over the hallway, on the green-painted walls they swore calmed students down. On the door, leading into the library...

"He heard the shots," Willow said, finally, her voice thick with tears. One hand curled around the pale, motionless hand of the body in the bed, clenching it as though her warmth alone could jumpstart it. "We didn't even know what happened, but there was screaming, and then all of a sudden he was out there, grabbing people, dragging them out of the, you know, out of the way."

She stopped to sniffle, the mucus in her system making her voice almost unrecognizable. "We didn't know he'd been shot until after, when.. When we saw all the blood..."

Buffy took a step towards the bed, then another. " he gonna make it, mom?"

Joyce closed her eyes, hating the fact that once again, her daughter was forced to shoulder yet another dose of pain, and grief.

"They don't think so, baby."

"Oh god. Oh god, I'm so sorry I should have been there..."

And she went to her knees by the side of the bed, and stared, eyes dry and red, at the body tied to tubes and wires trying to keep the last bit of life from flickering out.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'll be good. I'll show up for all my training sessions. I'll read those dusty old books. I'll do anything. Just...just don't go please don't go..."


Three days passed. Three days of no change: of Giles lying flat on the bed, unmoving. Of the machines breathing for him, the machines pushing blood through his veins, taking what little waste developed from his system. Sixty-plus hours of pacing and panic, talking to the motionless form, coaxing him, begging him to come back to them.

But there was no response.

After several painful confrontations, the nurses had finally accepted the fact that no rules or regulations were going to keep Buffy out of Giles' room. All they had asked was that she try to observe some kind of semblance of visiting hours. So when she snuck past the nurses' desk half an hour early, she wasn't expecting to hear voices coming from the small, private room he had been moved to.

She opened the door, interrupting an intense, if one-sided conversation. Giles wasn't saying much, as usual, but the woman perched on the side of the bed, carefully arranged so as not to disturb any of the life-sustaining machines, was talking in a steady monotone.

"And there's another thing, you stupid pain-in-the-arse. You still owe me that trip to Malta. Remember? We were going to spend all day climbing around the ruins, and all night drinking ouzo and arguing battle tactics. Don't think you're getting out of it this easy." Her voice was soft, with the faintest hint of an accent. Not British, like Giles', or Irish, like Angel's, but sort of like both. Her hair was long and a muddy brown, with a curl at the end where it brushed her waist.

"Who're you?"

She turned at Buffy's words, and the Slayer took an involuntary step back. The face was long and peach-skinned, with high cheekbones and a wide, narrow mouth. A stranger. But under sculpted eyebrows a darker shade from her hair, painfully familiar blue-green eyes stared back at her.

"Hello. Buffy, yes?"

"Yes." Her voice was cautious, but she was reassured by the obvious connection to her Watcher. Kind of. Maybe not. She dropped her jacket on the chair and nodded.

"I'm Marie. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, the consulate was unable to find me right away, I was on a dig."

Marie LeRone. That had been the name listed in Giles' papers, as the person to contact in case of -- in case of death.

"You a relative? Okay, that was a dumb question. Obviously, you're related." The face was familiar, once you looked. A little too much inbreeding going on in the Watcher compound, Giles. There, see? I did too do my bio homework.

Marie almost smiled. "He's my cousin, yes. We kept in touch, after... well, we kept in touch."

"After Eyghon."

The smile faded. "Yes. He told you about that?"

"I had the displeasure of encountering him. Also Ethan."

"Ah." Marie turned back to Giles, resting one fine-boned hand against his cheek. The disparity between her healthy color and his pallor was so strong, Buffy had to turn away. "I'll be back, dearling. You rest easy, and don't you dare go anyhere, yes?"

Then she looked back up at Buffy. "I need a drink."

Leaving the room, a man came down the hallway, stopping when he saw the two of them together. "Buffy, this is Dennis. Dennis, Buffy."

Dennis was an older man, at least 60, but with a full, unlined face that made him appear at least a decade younger. Short and stocky, he reminded Buffy of a boxer pup, a resemblance emphasized by his oversized brown eyes that looked dolefully at her.

"A pleasure, m'amselle. Or it would be, were the situation not so much a painful one."

"Dennis was Rupert's mentor," Marie said.

"His -- oh!" And she looked at him with new eyes. "So you know.." and she made a wide, all-encompasing gesture that was meant to take in all of Sunnydale.

"Yes. But I am here for him, not that. I am, thankfully, quite retired from" and he mimicked her gesture.

"Lucky you," she said dryly.

"We were just going to find a bar to pour our sorrows into," Marie told him. "Join us?"

Dennis shook his head. "Marie, ma petite, you are in the States now. Buffy would not be allowed in a bar here."

"Oh. Right. Knew there was a reason I asked to be fostered someplace civilized. Coffee, then. Is there a cafe within walking distance that serves something other than sludge?"

"Yeah. Um, kinda. Starbucks okay by you?"

Marie sighed dramatically. "One of the signs of the coming Apocalypse. Yes, I suppose it will do. Dennis?"

"I will join you in a moment. I wish to...speak with him."


Marie started to talk down the hallway towards the ext, when Buffy realized that she had left her jacket in Giles' room.

"I'll be right back, okay? Meet you in the lobby."

The hallway seemed to close in on her as she walked back. Her fear of hospitals had faded since the shooting. Since she had practically taken up residence here herself. Now she just hated them, with an intensity she used to reserve for undead bloodsucking creatures of the night. And history finals.

Sighing, she pushed open the door, and was struck by an immediate kind of deja vu. Only this time it was Dennis sitting by Giles' bed, talking to the comatose Watcher.

"Now, mon cher, no more of this. A vacation is one thing, but you are scaring the jeune fille." He sighed then. "Ah, Rupert, if you could see the chaos back home. They took you for granted, as they ignored you before. And now they reap the wind. Would you be horrified? Or would you be amused, hmm?"

She stopped in the doorway, listening.

"They don't know what to do, you see. You have thrown them so many, how do you say it, for a loops, they are turned around and cannot find their way home." Dennis sighed, reaching out to touch the Watcher's forehead. "All their answers are in here, and still the hidebound fools cannot admit it. Even as it changes everything, still they cling to What Was, and not What Will Be."

Buffy could almost hear the capital letters in his voice, and her curiosity, never dormant even under grief, surged to the fore. This sounded like it had to do with Watcher-ly stuff, which in turned meant it had something to do with Slayerage. And, more to the point, it was about Giles. And right now, she realized, she needed to hear about her Watcher. If she --

Her throat closed for a moment. If she was never going to hear his dry attempts at scolding, his quiet humor, the pride in his voice when she whomped some supernatural ugly's butt -- then she needed to hear about him. Something to fill in the dark nights coming.


Buffy managed to hold her questions until the three of them had left the hospital, and settled at a table at Sunnydale's lone Starbuck's. But then, all bets were off.

"Okay, spill."

"I beg your pardon?"

That was Marie, turning guileless eyes up at the blonde.

The Slayer shook her head. "Nice try. But I'm way better at that than you are, and this is Giles we're talking about. My Watcher. So start over and go into the itty bitty details, okay?"

Marie looked at Dennis, who in turn looked at Buffy. "I do not know what you mean, ma petite."

"What you were talking about. In Giles' room. What's going on?"

The other woman opened her mouth to say something -- what, Buffy would never know, because Dennis placed his hand on her arm, shaking his head. "No. She has the right to know."

"Dennis..." She broke into a flurry of French that had Buffy wishing she had paid more attention to Madamoiselle Steuben's class back in Los Angeles. Dennis merely waited her out, his hand still resting on her own, his squat fingers twining with her own more slender ones. When she ran out of words, he raised his shaggy eyebrows at her until she sagged in defeat, then turned back to Buffy, picking his words carefully.

"I have known the Giles family for fifty years, ever since I first came to stand before the Council myself. Rupert... Rupert was a bit of a prodigy as a child. Bright, eager to learn, and quite sensitive to the nuances of the supernatural even then. It was common knowledge that the Council thought highly of him. And that they expected a great deal of him. But when he was twenty or so -- how much of this do you know?"

Buffy blinked, leaning back and taking a sip of her cappachino. "He burned out. Dropped out. Went to London and got in with Ethan's merry band of misfits. Lots of major ugly mojo. Tattoos, demon raising, people dying -- all great training for life on the Hellmouth."

Her flippancy didn't mask the bitterness, and Dennis nodded. "That sensitivity turned on him, in a way we had not been able to predict. He took to magiks with a fierceness that had before been reserved for his music, and his studies. And perhaps they were all one and the same, for him. At least at first. But passion is a double-edged sword, and he -- being a Giles -- grasped it with both hands to the blade.

He hurt himself very badly then, on that blade. So badly, in fact, that we did not think he would recover."

"But he did. Right?" Buffy looked from one adult to the other. "Right?"

Marie flinched. "You must understand, Buffy. The Giles family... they have been Watchers for a great many generations. Never once have they shirked from their duty, never once turned ..."

"Never once played in the Dark Side, is that it? So they just turned their backs on him, is what you're telling me."

"Non!" Then Dennis slowed his words. "Not...officially. But those expectations, once shattered, were difficult to rebuild. It was my opinion, as his mentor, that he was in fact a better man -- a better Watcher, than he had been before. However, the Council was uncertain as to how much weight Rupert could handle, once he had returned to us."

Marie snorted, draining the last of her coffee. "What Dennis is trying to say, in his own delicate manner, is that they built my cousin a nice, deep, dark little cave where he could hide. Where they could hide him, the repentent black sheep. Let him do the research they needed, fufill his destiny in a nice, non-visible fashion, and never once summon him to stand before the Council and give him the name of a Slayer to guide. Never once let him do what he had been born -- and bred -- to do."

"But...but they did." Buffy looked at them, her eyes wide and confused. "I mean, didn't they?"

Dennis looked down, and Marie closed her eyes against the entreaty on the Slayer's face.

"Yes. They did." Dennis's voice was the weight of lead, and as colorless. "They gave him a Slayer whom had gone unrecognized, untrained. They gave him a Slayer who had already managed to get her Watcher killed. A wild card, who could not be counted on, who was not expected to last long enough to make a difference. And that way, they avoided wasting a ... another "good" Watcher."

Buffy's color had gradually left her as Dennis spoke, the words slamming into her like stakes into the heart.

"They expected you both to fail, Buffy. But they miscalculated. Badly."

"What, because I managed to survive? Managed to get other people killed along my way?"

"You really don't know, do you? How remarkable you are?" Dennis shook his head "Buffy, most Slayers begin their training when they are very young. They train and they study... and still they fail, most of them within their first year. And their Watchers, those repositories of wisdom, those paragons of virtue and discipline? They -- we -- move on to the next Slayer -- heartbroken, mostly, don't get me wrong, but we do move on. Because we don't know how to do anything else."

Marie reached out with her free hand and took Buffy's cold fngers in her own. "But you and Rupert -- you've created something special. Something that broke rules, found new ways... Something that the Council, in their narrowmindedness, never expected. And it came about because of those things they disparaged."

Dennis laughed, a rusty sound, as though he had almost forgotten how. "The Watcher cadets, our next generation... they hear about Rupert, and he is a hero to them. A role model, if you will. They see his past, his damage, as something he learned from, not a fatal and fundamental flaw."

"What the Council saw as flightiness, as irresponsibility, the cadets claim as flexibility. Adaption. A welcome change from the fusty old rules and regulations of time immemorial."

"Giles? Flexible?" It was an instinctive reaction to scoff. Giles was a sweetie, but not exactly up on the flex-o-meter. In fact, he was pretty much what you would expect a Council like that to approve of. But then Buffy recalled her Watcher's gentle admission that he had thrown the handbook away after meeting her. The times he had given his reluctant permission for her to actually have a life. The way he had held her, after Angel... The way he had never blamed her, never turned his back on her. How he had always had faith in her, his Slayer.

And she put her head down on the table and, for the first time since the shooting, she wept.


"Hey there." Buffy sat down on the side of the bed, carefully rearranging the wires to give herself room. She picked up one slack hand, curling her fingers into his.

"I know you can hear me, Giles. All those lectures you gave me about paying attention, you wouldn't dare not be listening now."

She sighed, the sound much older than any she could have made the day before.

"You wouldn't ever have told me, would you? You would have just kept on, stiff upper lip, and all that total bullshit. Damn you, Giles...."

Her voice caught. "We're a team, remember? Anyone disses you, they diss me. Of course, it sounds like they were doing a pretty good job of that already, huh?" A squeeze of his hand, to show...something. "I don't mind, actually. I guess I should -- the Council and everything, but y'know, if they can't see how good a Watcher you are... well then, they don't know a whole lot, do they?"

The only response was the slow beep-beep of the machines.

"Come on, Giles. Hey, did you know you're like, a role model? Yeah, Marie says some of the cadets are even trying to convince the Council that they should get, like time off, before they're assigned anywhere. Sort of a Spring Break for Watchers. It's not going over real well, but Marie thinks they'll get it. Mainly cause they're threatening to take it, anyway. They call it kicking the traces' or something. You're gonna have to explain that one to me. It's probably in one of your books. One of the dustier ones."

*Beep. Beep*

"I'm babbling. I know I'm babbling. Bad sign. Come on, Giles. Wake up. You don't wake up, they win. I get stuck with another Watcher. I don't want another Watcher. I just want you to wake up..."

A sound behind her. "I'm sorry. I heard.. I came as soon as I could."

Buffy had felt him coming down the hallway, had known who -- and what -- it was. Another thing Giles had taught her -- to sense danger. Even when it wasn't dangerous.

"He was a good man, Buffy."

"He still is," she said fiercely. "Why is everyone trying to bury him before he's dead?"

Angel stood behind her, not touching her, and the hair on the back of her neck rose in response. They hadn't had much to say to each other lately. She looked in his eyes, and all she felt was regret. And fear. And all he saw was his own darkness.

"Buffy... "

"No!" she said. "If you're going to be all negative, then just go, okay? We don't need you. We don't need anyone."

"You know where I'll be..."

When he's gone, was the unspoken ending. When you need someone else to hold on to.

She didn't nod, didn't indicate that she had heard him. But when his presence disappeared from the room, she leaned forward until her blonde hair fell against Giles' too-pale skin, and her fevered skin touched his cool flesh.

"We don't need anyone else. Just us. Slayer and Watcher. That's the way it's always been."

*Beeep. Beeep. Beeep.*

"Come on, Giles. Come on...."

*Come back to me, Giles. Come home. I told you, I can't do this alone..."

tired. So tired

"Giles?" Her head came up, and she stared at him, eyes tear-bright. "I heard you..."

so tired.

"I know. But hang in there." She put all of her need, all of her dispair, behind the thought, as though her will would be enough. No way to tell if he heard it.

"Come on. You're always on me about duty. So get off your tweedy butt, and get back here to do it!" She paused. "I know you want to rest. I know... you want to be with Jenny again. And I wish you could. But not yet, okay? Jenny'll wait. She'll understand."


That gentle thread, the exhaustion and pain carried in it, cut her heart open like monofiliment through flesh. And the sharp sting of guilt turned her tears to acid. How could she demand yet another sacrifice of him, after all this? Hadn't he given enough? Hadn't they taken enough already, in the name of duty?

Didn't she know that he would be there for her if he could?

"I'm such an incredible bitch. Oh Giles, I'm so sorry..."

Curling up on the bed, she fit herself against his motionless body, as though trying to merge herself into him, to deny any separation between their two forms. Listening to the gentle whir and beep of the machines, the forced rise and fall of his breathing, she slowly drifted into slumber.

And, eventually, the beeps slowed. Then stopped.


There had already been a funeral ceremony. Traditional Watcher regalia, pomp and duty, done with a disapproving frown. Or so Marie had reported. Buffy hadn't gone. This -- this was where she would say farewell to her Watcher.

The horizon seemed to stretch out forever, the ground sere and flat. It should have seemed forboding, but the knowledge that Giles had loved it here made it welcoming. The dawn sky was pale, pale blue, and the wind crisp, and somehow soothing.

In the distance, a thundering nose predicted the dust rising, hammered out of the ground by a dozen unshod hooves. Moor ponies. Sturdy, tough little beasts, with incohate poetry in their soul. She had found that line in his journal -- the personal one which he had willed to her, not the stiff, prosy ones the Council had already reclaimed.

At the sight of them, Willow faltered in the final words of her goodbyes, and Oz put his arm around her. Together, they shuffled back to where they all huddled: Will and Oz, her mom, Xander, Cordelia, Dennis and Marie. Plus a scattering of strangers, people who had known Giles, loved him for the gentle, caring person he was. And, in the near distance, the lean form of Ethan Rayne. Buffy had looked into his eyes, and felt a pain that could almost equal her own. Pain, and loss that could never be replaced.

They had all said their words of leavetaking, some more coherent than others.

And then it was Buffy's turn.

She stepped forward to the slight rise of turf, her hands cold in the summer sun. So much she could say. So much she should say. But in the end, it had already been said for her, in one of the well-loved, much-handled books which filled Giles' apartment. Her books, now. Her inheritance. All she had to do was repeat the words.

Gripping the scrap of paper in her hand, she closed her eyes, and recited from memory:

"As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Those strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's right,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
and dumb presages of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath expressed.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ.
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine writ."

As she fell silent, Dennis stepped forward to stand next to her. He lifted the lid of the simple pewter canister in his hands, and raised the contents to the wind.

As though called by some remnant of magery, the breeze rose, even as the sun lifted itself above the edge of the moors and cast a slow golden light into the shadows. A flick of the wrist, and the mortal remains of Rupert Giles were taken into the air.

"From dust we arose, and to dust we return." Dennis said solemnly, his hands steady on the now-empty canister.

"Watcher are always cremated. To ensure that they cannot arise undead. No matter how they die. It is that predates the Council, predates anything except the Watcher-Slayer bond itself..."

*Free. Finally,'re free...*


oh, the sonnet is from this guy named William seemed one that Giles would resonate to. it's also about as close as I get to songfic. *grin*