This is how it is: his memory is there one moment…
… and gone the next.
This is how it happened: slowly.
That is the way his memory slips away: slowly, piece by piece; fracturing into tiny piece. Slowly slipping away, like water slipping through his fingers. He’d tried to hold on to them, tried to stop them from disappearing but in the end they’d just faded away. Once it had started there was no way to stop it and once they were gone there was no real way to retrieve them.
Perhaps in a world where things hadn’t happened this way everything would be different .Perhaps if it had been fast, a sudden shock: there one moment and gone the next. (They way it is now, the way it will always be: there, and then suddenly not.) If he had just noticed and understood sooner perhaps then he would have….then he would have what? There was no saving him, not really, there was no way to stop it once it started. Like Joyce Summers long before him: it was just the way thins were and that was it.
That’s the human mind: fragile and lost and unsavable in the end.
This was not some magical attack against which they could fight, it was not something from which he could be saved. It just was. It didn’t matter how strong he seemed, how many times he saved the world, or all the things he’d learned to do over the years. There would always be one undeniable truth about him: he was only human in the end.
So, this is how it happened: slowly.
His memories faded away, slipped through his fingers, and by the time he understood – by the time they all did – it was just the way things were.
In the beginning it was nothing.
Just a slip of the mind, a memory lost in time. A wrong turn left when he should have gone right, the realization he’d gone the wrong way, a laugh. Key’s that he could never quite remember where he left – but then he’d always lost his keys. Books he couldn’t find because he’d forgotten where he’d put them, books he’d forgotten he’d read. Knowledge he knew he’d known at some point but could no longer recall.
It was nothing.
He’d always been absent minded after all, lost in his thoughts – a true British Librarian Buffy had called him once upon a time. At times he’d explain something to them and he’d forgot they were there. As he was telling them something he’d realize there was something he’d need to look up and more often then not he’d forget they were there. In time they’d gotten used to it: Buffy would laugh, sometimes drag his attention back to her if she’d truly needed him; Willow would be interested in whatever he was reading and Xander would roll his eyes and go off to do something else. He remembers that.
So when it started it had just seemed so normal.
Just another absent minded moment in his life.
Except of course it wasn’t.
Willow had noticed it first.
Or perhaps it had been Dawn: Dawn to whom he was so important, Dawn who still needed him more than the others. Dawn who’d noticed how lost he seemed sometimes, how alone. The way he would sometimes look at her as if he could remember her and at the same time he couldn’t. As if he was trying to fit her into his memories. Or perhaps it had been Xander who noticed first: Xander to whom he’d always been unchanging, stoic, so very British. (It was not Buffy, because she was gone by the time it started. Or perhaps she wasn’t – Giles can’t remember, doesn’t know, if his memory started to go before or after she left this Earth behind. He’s not sure it truly matters.)
Dawn was worried but had thought he would go back to normal eventually.
Willow had dismissed it, convinced herself it was jut the way Giles had always been: absent minded.
Xander had honestly thought it was just the grief over the loss of Buffy.
(It was and it wasn’t. It was all that they didn’t allow themselves to think it was and so much more.)
Willow hadn’t realized the extent of it until a cold January morning.
It wasn’t the lost keys or the knowledge that had slipped away – honestly she though that was normal, Giles had probably forgotten far more than others had ever learned. It wasn’t the weird things he would sometimes say or do, or the moments from long ago he suddenly felt the need to talk about. (Some she remembered in detail and some she did not, who remembers every second of their life after all?)
It was the morning he’d asked for Buffy and she’d realized, to her absolute horror, that he wasn’t joking – not that he ever did – or in some kind of denial.
He had truly, honestly, not remembered that she was dead.
Somehow, and to this day – years later – Willow still does not know how, she’d managed to remain calm through the conversation. Managed to keep him calm too.
But after? After she had sobbed on Xander’s shoulder for an hour.
(He had cried too, as he’d held her, because what were they supposed to do now?)
At times Giles’ mind is clear.
Sometimes he knows who he is, and where he is, and what year it is even. He remembers all the things that happened to bring him to this moment. There are times when he’ll see them – Xander and Willow, Dawn and even Riley – and he’d truly see them. Those moments don’t last long – they never will – but they do happen and they are important.
It will creep up on him – the way the loss of it did – and he’ll remember it al.
It’s like waking from a long dark dream.
His memories are so clear in those moments, so real, that he cannot phantom that at times he forgets.
But of course he always does.
Most of the time his memories are a complete mess.
He’ll remember but in fragments, parts of moments from long ago. Sometimes he is studying, sometimes he is with Ethan casting spells left and right. Sometimes he is training to be a watcher, sometimes he is here and now even if he doesn’t remember how he got here.
He’ll wake sometimes bathing in sweat, convinced the world will end soon. That some great evil will come and destroy the world. Sometimes he remembers that they’ve already saved the world, that there is nothing to fear, that Buffy has destroyed all those evils long ago. And sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he spends hours looking up everything they need to fight of these evils long since defeated, expecting Buffy to walk through the door at any moment. She never does.
(Sometimes, though not very often, he remembers she no longer can, that he will not see her again until after he dies. Assuming he’ll go wherever she has gone.)
His clearest memories are of Buffy, the time he mostly goes back to is those years he was her watcher.
Those years spend in that library training, the demons they fought together and the ones they had to fight alone. Most of the time it’s what Willow has to turn his house into: that old library in a high school none of them can go to again; Buffy’s house as it had been during her high school years. Sometimes it’s later: the college years and the house he had lived in then, or, sometimes, the magic shop he had once own.
He never truly remembers that Buffy is dead.
Even when he does, even when they tell him, he can’t retain the memory. Can’t process it. Can’t manage to properly mourn her the way she deserves.
Sometimes Giles knows he has forgotten things.
He knows there is something missing but he can’t quite tell what it is. It’s like he knows it’s there but it’s just out of reach. There is something he’s supposed to know, understand, do but he can’t quite figure out what it is.
It’s there one moment, gone the next.
Those are his worst moments.
(Those are the moments he wants to scream the most.)
At times he goes looking for the truth.
In those moments when he really knows something is missing. Then he’ll flip through old photo books left behind, through books Willow just leaves lying there. Of course it doesn’t help. The pictures are of moments frozen in time that he can never remember and while Willow’s books are always interesting, he can never remember if he’s already read them.
It’s his watcher diaries he always ends with.
And those memories always flood back to him, in detail, when he starts reading.
(But then it’s his time with Buffy and those have always been his clearest memories.)
He’d remember the Harvest, that moment they met; their trainings, Samhain rising on Halloween, a puppet fighting a demon. The master’s rise and her first death; Kendra, Spike and Drusilla; Angelus and Acathla. Jenny’s beautiful smile. Buffy’s heart-breaking ‘I’m sixteen years old Giles I don’t want to die.’ And her anger at him, her almost hatred for him when she’d realized what had happened to her powers. ‘you poisoned me!’
Her graduation diploma he’d searched for specifically.
The smile she gave him when he handed it to her.
The jump from the tower, the grave from his nightmares.
Everything that came before, everything that came after.
And all those moments that brought him here.
And he’d know it all happened because he remembers it.
He’d know it all happened because it was written down in his own handwriting.
They always tell him Buffy is coming but she never does.
(Sometimes he notices this, sometimes he does not. Sometimes he asks, sometimes he dares not.)
The answer is in his Watcher diaries of course, he just has to go all the way to the end.
And there he would find her final moments on this earth, written black on white.
He used to write in it daily but then, well then he’d been fired. And then she’d gone off to college, to better things, and he’d stopped writing in it daily. He’d switched to just the important ones, the ones he knew about anyway. And her final moments, well, those were important weren’t they?
The first time he’d read it he’d cried, by the time that Willow had found him he’d been shaking.
When he woke in the morning he’d forgotten all about it.
Every time he reads those words he cries.
At times it’s because he remembers that Buffy is dead, that she is never returning and it hurts.
At times it’s because he can’t remember any of it.
Somehow that’s worse.
Every now and then Giles knows Buffy will never come.
He remembers without being told, without reading those words. He just knows she’s gone forever, lost, but the actual memory will be gone. Sometimes he thinks it’s the master, that moment she drowned alone underneath the city. At other’s he thinks it was some other monster: Samhain’s rise at Halloween, Angelus wearing the face of a loved one, Drusilla who also killed another slayer, the mayor rising high above them. Glory and her final jump from that tower to save her sister. Or other things that happened before and after.
It hardly matters how she died, just that she did.
All that matter is that she won’t come.
She no longer can.
Giles remembers in pieces.
Just random moments of his life, snapshots, woven together in a mosaic of his life that doesn’t quite make sense. They don’t fit together and there are things missing, but at least he remembers some things.
Until they too fade away that is.
There is something familiar about it:
He’s translating something, Willow is reading a book on magic. Riley is walking trough the door. But it’s unfamiliar too, there is something off about the scene even if he can’t quite put his finger on it.
Perhaps it’s not important.
‘The human mind – ‘
Willow’s words cut through the fog in his mind and suddenly everything is so clear.
‘ – is delicate. Too much can go wrong.’
The words come and he remembers, he knows where he is, he knows when it is. His eyes take in the room and he knows this is all an illusion: this is not his home, Willow does not look this young, Buffy will not be coming through that door.
Willow looks at him with tears in her eyes.
‘I’m still here.’ He tells her, or himself, he doesn’t quite know. ‘Sometimes.’
He doesn’t say ‘ I wish I could be here always.’ He doesn’t say ‘I’m sorry for going away.’
She laughs and sobs and answers: ‘yeah, you are.’
She doesn’t say ‘I wish you’d stay.’ She doesn’t say ‘I’m not sure how long I can keep doing this.’
And then he turns away.
His memory slips away again, suddenly, there one moment and gone the next.
Once it started happening there was no stopping it.
Giles would remember and he would not – though most of the times his memories slip away, leaving him in the past where life is easier.
He’s here one moment, his memories intact.
And he’s gone in the next.