Pairing/Characters: Giles and Illyria, implied Buffy/Giles and Illyria/Wesley if you squint.
Warnings: I killed some people off. I killed most of the people off, come to think of it.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not even a little.
A/N: Years post-Chosen and Not Fade Away. Libraries, lies and stories.
Huge thanks to starcrossed for beta. All remaining mistakes are mine. Feedback and concrit welcomed. So is chocolate and hugs.
She walks into the library.
Giles had been expecting her for quite some time now. Outside, teenage girls flock and laugh and gossip, but the library itself is peaceful, like it should be. It's not the biggest nor the best library Giles had seen. It has too many YA novels and too few Sumerian manuscripts for his liking, but a library is still a library.
It's preferable to slacking in his flat, and more productive than sitting in his office - no one ever visits his office anymore. Most of the Slayers don't know him, and even the ones that do never approach him. They all have their own Watchers now... the way it should be. The Council had become an efficient support system for the girls, and he takes pride in that, but on some days he misses the old days, when he still had something to do. Now, everyone considers him too important to deal with trivial matters, and the definition of trivial matters is wide, and after a while, covers everything.
"You reek of self-pity and melancholy," she says matter-of-factly, sitting down and folding her hands neatly in her lap. "It offends me."
He laughs humorlessly. "Hello, Illyria."
She nods and he watches as her eyes turn ice-blue. Outside, she wears the mask and the smile and surrounds herself with laughing babble. She says people find comfort in the illusion of happiness, and she has had enough of grief. Inside, with him, she's as much herself as she can be, in a foreign body, in a foreign world, having lost everything.
He wonders, sometimes, how on earth he had ended up with her. She just arrived on his doorstep, years ago, with the news of Charles Gunn's death, and then decided to stay. With Charles gone, she really had no place to go to, not anymore, with everyone she had known gone. She looked like someone he thought he should have known, and he recalled Angel's phone call, long ago. She might have been his penance, though in theory, he still stood by his decision. She might have been an inheritance from someone who could have been a friend but wasn't, and he supposed Wesley might be amused by this, somewhere. Then again, he might be not.
On a rainy day, close to the second anniversary of Willow's death, Illyria finds him in his flat and frowns at the empty bottle of scotch on his desk.
"You poison yourself with liquid grief, a failed attempt to wash away your guilt," she mutters, but makes him a cup of coffee anyway. It's an awful cup of coffee, and she curses the kettle and its ancestors in the meantime, but he still appreciates the thought.
After he drinks it, under her watchful gaze, she tilts her head and offers her demand. "Read to me."
He's glad he's not drinking anything anymore. He thinks he might have drunk too much. "Excuse me?"
"You find comfort in lies, in stories," she offers, and he supposes she means 'you humans', not him personally. Sometimes it's hard to tell. "Your tiny minds are full of them, and yet you invent new ones all the time. They make your pathetic existence bearable. Read to me."
"Fine!" he says irritably, and picks up the first book he finds.
"You could let me lie to you," Illyria offers unexpectedly one day, after two hours of almost companionable silence.
It's Saturday, but then again, with nothing to do, every day is the same and it might be Tuesday for all he cares. They're sitting in his flat, and he had explained the heroic couplet and blank verse, and frankly, wishes she'd get back to prose, because she acquired the occasional tendency to speak in alliterations and he fears she might start rhyming soon, and that would be too much to take.
"What about?" he asks absently, curious of her new idea.
"This," she makes a slight gesture at herself, "is not a fixed form; I can change the shell if I desire so. Eyes, skin, hair, bone structure, these are but simple alterations."
He doesn't think he likes where this is going. "Illyria..."
"I could become her."
He shakes his head. "You never could. You won't."
She nods. "Watchers," she mutters under her breath, cross between a curse and an insult. "You and your truth."
"Lie to me," Buffy said, her voice so weak it was barely audible.
He looked up, confused, and then remembered, long ago, lifetimes ago. "You will be okay," he said gently. "The treatments will work, and you'll live a long, happy life, buy a dog and a house, and die at the age of 98, surrounded by your grandchildren."
"Liar," she muttered fondly, reaching out to touch his cheek. He covered her hand with his. "Take care of Dawn for me."
"I..." he started, but the promise hadn't quite formed on his lips. Promising this would mean accepting that she was dying. "We will find a way, Buffy. We always find a way."
She shook her head. "No. This time, Giles... this is the last time, you know that. I died when I was sixteen. Everything since then, that was borrowed time," she smiled. "Fifteen years of borrowed time, it's not bad." She laced her fingers through his, and lowered their hands onto the covers, her eyes closing already.
He watched her sleep for hours, until the room was surrounded in darkness, until Xander came by and threatened to wake her up if Giles didn't go eat something and rest for a while.
She died four days later, peacefully in her sleep.
Giles arranged the funeral, the memorial service, provisions for Dawn, then he kept on organising, the Council, the Research Division, the search for the new Slayers...
At some point, it was hard to stop.
"Read to me," Illyria demands, curling up in one of the library's chair.
He doesn't even pretend he's too busy for that. He hadn't been doing anything but reading for years now. Anything but paperwork for years before that. They have an excellent Research Division, so his help is not required there. They have thousands of Slayers, and he hadn't held a sword in... he can't remember.
Sometimes, around 3 am, three glasses of scotch gone, he thinks that maybe it was better when the world was almost ending every other day, when they had to fight for every new day to dawn. It's foolish, but...
"What would you like me to read?" he asks pleasantly, and she hands him the book. He must have read it to her dozens of times, and will never understand why she enjoys it so much. It certainly is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Illyria. He clears his throat and starts at a random page. "Anyone who has been at school with a teller of stories knows what the wonder means - how he or she is followed about and besought in whisper to relate romances..."
Her eyes might be a tad bluer.
She walks into the library.
It is a story of sorts, and for him, this is the beginning, and a recurring dream. She walks into the library, where he's already awaiting, eager, excited, and utterly foolish.
She walks into the library and into his life, into his heart, and then she dies. Oh, there is a lot in between, happy times and times full of sorrow, but the ultimate conclusion is the same.
She dies. No second chances, no more borrowed time, no miracles. A headstone, and a story, whispered among the Slayers and Watchers.
And at the heart of the story, a girl.
"You reek of grief," Illyria tells him, and he laughs.
He thought he might.