Revealing Pictures
written by Adrienne


Rating: FRAO for adult themes, m/m sex, language and references to rape.
Spoilers: Takes place between 'Bargaining I' and 'Flooded'. Spoilers up to "Helpless", especially "Hallowe'en", "Dark Age" and "Earshot".
Summary: Takes place ten days before "Helpless". For purposes of this story, "Earshot" has already happened.
Author's Notes: This is the third story in a series about the relationship between Giles and Ethan.
Feedback Author: Adrienne



"I can't believe it," Buffy said blankly, as she lifted the heavy cover off a crate and dropped it on the floor. "I can't believe that I got outsmarted by Giles."

"Nah. Can't see how that could ever happen, considering that Giles is a total genius and you're a..." Xander began, stopping abruptly as Willow smacked him. "Ow. ...not."

"Okay, so he's a mental Cadillac and I'm running on a hamster wheel, but still," Buffy griped. "I thought I was better than that at seeing when grown-ups are setting me up."

"Please remember that youth and cute shoes are no match for age and treachery." Joyce smiled.

"You conspired with Giles? Mother, you are a sneaky, conniving, underhanded old woman."

"Yes, I am, aren't I?" Joyce said smugly.

"I wanna be just like you when I get too old to wear cute shoes."

"Just unpack the crates, Buffy."

* * * * *

Buffy and the rest of the gang were at the gallery, helping unpack for an upcoming exhibition. Joyce didn't normally ask Buffy for help, but the pictures shipped from England had been delayed at Customs, due to the rather adult nature of their content, so she had very little time to unpack and hang the works before the opening.

Despite Buffy's loud grumbling, they were all enjoying themselves. Xander was enthusiastic about helping; as soon as he heard that the exhibit was rather risque, he was right there. The fact that Cordelia was working for the gallery was a huge bonus. He didn't like to admit it, even to himself, but he liked having her near.

Cordelia had approached Joyce for a job earlier in the year. Cordelia claimed that she didn't need a job, but she wanted to make contacts with the arts community. Joyce wasn't sure if she was telling the truth about the money part, but she found Cordelia to be a very good employee. Cordelia had taste, was surprisingly knowledgeable about modern art, and a fine hostess for openings. Somehow, her artless tactlessness, combined with her stunning looks, charmed cranky artists and art patrons out of the doldrums.

Willow was just happy to be with her friends. Her taste in art did not run to the sorts of things Joyce put in her gallery, but she liked being part of the chaotic, behind the scenes atmosphere. She and Oz agreed that it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

"So. When do we get to see the naughty pictures?" Xander asked, looking around the room. The pictures, still wrapped, were carefully propped against the walls, and he and Buffy had hauled the crates to the storage area.

"Not so fast, Xander. Once we make sure that all the smaller pictures are here, then we can unwrap them," Joyce said, waving a clipboard.

Willow nodded and called out the numbers as Joyce checked her printout.

"Okay, they all seem to be here." Joyce ticked off the final one. "Cordelia, are the brochures here yet?"

"Not yet." Cordelia was leaning against the wall, looking out the window. "They were supposed to deliver them an hour ago." With that, she pulled out her cell phone and started to berate the printing company.

"So what's so risque about these pictures, anyway, Mom?" Buffy took a sip of soda.

"Some of the drawings are nudes," Joyce said absently, carefully peeling off the tape on one of the smaller pieces. Unwrapping the bubble wrap, she lifted out a simply framed pencil sketch. "Oh, my."

"What?" Buffy went and leaned over her shoulder. The picture in her mother's hands was a finely drawn sketch of a young man asleep on a bed, his nude body hidden only marginally by a corner of sheet.

"Wow." Buffy looked at the picture with interest. The sketch contained a wealth of detail. The room was untidy and cluttered, with clothes in heaps on the floor, books flung casually on and around the bed, a mug on the side table with the cheap, broken shaded lamp. The covers of the bed looked stirred and she felt somehow that the bed hadn't been made in a month.

The young man had one arm curled around his head and the other covering his eyes, so she couldn't see his face, but the rest of his body was on full view.

The picture was simple enough, but the detail gave an immediacy to the work and breathed life into it. The glimpse of window, with rain streaming down, gave Buffy the impression that, if she tried hard enough, she could hear the rain.

"It's really good," Willow said, from Joyce's other side. "Can we open the rest?"

Joyce put the picture down carefully and went to the next one. It was another picture of the same man, this time standing just outside a pub, attempting to light a cigarette in the rain. The cupped hands around the cigarette again obscured his face, but the rest of the picture was as finely detailed as the first.

The street was dirty and the paint on the pub's door was peeling in spots. The young man was dressed street tough, in leather jacket and tight, faded jeans.

"They're all of a guy?" Xander asked, disgust in his voice.

"I'm not sure if all of them are," Joyce answered. "This is a series of Rayne's earlier works and he tends to use the same model for a series of pictures."

"Rain?" Buffy asked sharply. "Rain, as in stuff that falls from the sky?"

"Rayne, as in the artist's name," Joyce replied, then paused. "I wonder..." She got up quickly and went to take a look at some of the papers on her clipboard.

"Rayne? As in Ethan Rayne?" Buffy followed her. "The guy with the candy? And the Halloween costume shop? The guy with the... the..." She choked back the rest before she mentioned the demon Eyghon.

"I'm not sure." Joyce frowned, flipping through the pages. "I'm not even sure if Rayne is a first or last name. He doesn't go by anything else."

"What else does it say?" Buffy demanded.

"Rayne is an internationally recognised artist. English, mid forties. There isn't much personal information on him in the press kit."

"Not even a picture of what he looks like?"

"No." Joyce looked through the papers again. "He never attends the exhibits of his work, not even the vernissage."

"The verni-who?" Xander put in.

"The opening," Joyce answered, absently. "Buffy, I know you don't like the man very much and I admit I'm not keen on Ethan Rayne myself, but there must be lots of people with that name. It's coincidence, nothing more."

Buffy exchanged glances with Willow. Neither of them believed in coincidence on the Hellmouth.

Joyce continued to unwrap the pictures, with everybody watching her. Everyone, that is, except Cordelia and Xander. The brochures had finally arrived and she was checking them for errors. Xander, loudly disappointed that the promised rude pictures were of a guy, decided that sniping at Cordy was more fun. Since their breakup, both of them found that they missed their daily battles and, almost without realising it, they had gone back to their bickering.

Buffy and Willow kept exchanging glances, mildly uneasy. Joyce was placidly unwrapping and propping up pictures that showed far more of the young man than they were entirely comfortable with. Willow kept looking at Oz, to see his reaction. Oz, sitting on the floor with his back to one wall, simply watched. Every now and then, he'd glance at Willow and give her one of his sweet, inscrutable little smiles.

Buffy had to admire her mother. Mom was being very cool about letting her seventeen year old daughter and her friends see these pictures.

"Oh, dear." Joyce looked at the last of the sketches and blushed faintly. A tiny smile lurked around the corners of her mouth. Too bad the young man was so young and that he was only a sketch. This picture was a blow to the gut.

The young man, lying on an old sofa surrounded with beer bottles and overfull ashtrays, was propped up on one elbow, and the smoky invitation in those finely drawn eyes leapt out of the picture. He was almost angelic in that debauched pose and surrounding. The picture just screamed sex and seduction.

"Mom?" Buffy tried to look over her shoulder, and Joyce immediately pulled it to her chest. "Mom?"

Slowly, Joyce let her daughter see the picture. Buffy gave an odd strangled noise, which brought Willow over. Willow's eyes grew huge.

"My God," Willow whispered. "These are Ethan's work."

"How do you know?" Buffy asked, unable to take her eyes from the scene.

"Look." Willow pointed a shaking finger to the exposed arm of the young man.

"What?"

"The tattoo."

Buffy tore her gaze from other parts of the figure's body and looked. She gave another strangled noise.

"Buffy?" Joyce glanced over her shoulder.

"The model," she stammered. "It's Giles."

* * * * *

It was hard to believe that the tweed clad man was the same person as the laughing, insolent young man in the pictures. Buffy wondered if she had made a mistake, but the tattoo - the Mark of Eyghon - was very clear in more than one of the pictures.

Yet, Giles was calmly examining each one with clinical disinterest. He had said nothing after Buffy had met him at the door, babbling about the exhibit.

Finally, Giles stopped, pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and polished his glasses. Putting his glasses back on, he looked at Joyce.

"And the paintings?" he asked, in a tone that Buffy had never heard before. Joyce pointed. Four large canvases, still wrapped in paper, were propped on the wall. Joyce had decided to wait until the youngsters were gone before unwrapping those; she had seen reproductions of them and they were definitely not appropriate for young eyes.

Giles strode to one of them and tore off the paper with an abrupt gesture. Buffy shuddered at the sound of ripping paper, harsh in the silence of the gallery. Giles kept moving until all the paintings were revealed.

Buffy was white with shock. The four paintings were near life sized and exquisitely detailed, each showing an aspect of the man she now realised she barely knew.

The first one showed Giles, half dressed, sitting crosslegged in a magical circle, surrounded by books and magical paraphernalia, reading. John Lennon glasses perched on his nose, the figure was thrumming with magical energy. In the haze of incense smoke, a vague, haunting figure of a demon - Eyghon - hovered over his left shoulder. She could almost smell that incense, and the mustiness of old books. The faint blue lines of magic nearly leapt out of the canvas.

The second was highly disturbing. It was captured violence; rage poured off the young man in waves. The swollen mouth and blood on the knuckles did not contradict the unholy joy in the eyes of the painted figure. There was no one else in the picture, but the pool of blood at the booted feet and the cornucopia of weapons - most of which looked hauntingly familiar - spoke volumes. The sword she had seen Giles wield more than once was strapped to his back, the hilt visible over his shoulder, and his bloodied hands held the crossbow that she had held not two days before. The bolt had been shot, and the triumph in Giles' expression made her shudder.

The third one soothed her against her will. Giles was playing the guitar. His eyes were closed and the way the painted hands caressed the instrument spoke much about his love for music. The rehearsal space was littered with sheet music, microphones, recording equipment and, somehow, dreams. It took a few moments before Buffy realised that the studio setting also contained a great many less innocent items, like the burning joint in the ashtray, the half full bottles of whisky and some suspicious white powder on the top of a speaker and around Giles' nostrils.

The last one gave the reason why the exhibit had been held up at customs. It was unabashedly erotic. Giles was half sitting, legs sprawled to expose his half-erect penis, wet with semen. One hand was toying with a nipple, the other resting on his upper thigh. Littered around him were opened condom packets and sex toys. They - and he - looked well used, and ready for more. His lips were swollen as if he had been kissed within an inch of his life and there were marks all over his body. His eyes looked out of the canvas as if seeking the next worshipper of his flesh.

Buffy had thought the sketch of Giles at twenty something was inviting, but this painting... She blushed even as she felt herself twitch with arousal.

She bit her lip and looked away. At Giles, wondering about the dichotomy of the man she knew and the man in the painting. Ethan Rayne was a magician, and not just with rituals.

Giles stared a long time at the last painting, his expression growing more and more pinched. When he spoke, everyone in the room jumped.

"I'm going to kill him." The tone was reasonable, rational, calm and it scared the hell out of Buffy. She had heard that implacable, measured tone far to often to mistake it for anything than what it was. A statement of irrefutable fact.

"That... might not be a good idea," Joyce replied, striving unsuccessfully for a light tone. "It would increase the publicity for the exhibit." Giles appeared to think about that for a moment.

"When is Ethan arriving?"

"His agent didn't say anything about him being here. I mean, Rayne doesn't..."

"He'll be here." Giles cut across her words, confident. "I know Ethan. He won't miss this for the world."

"So..." Xander wasn't quite sure what was going on. "You mean, these pictures... They really are... you?"

"Yes." Giles' voice could not be any more clipped.

"You posed naked?"

"Not as such, no." The look Giles gave him would have scorched paint. "Joyce, if you would be so kind as to let me know where Ethan is staying when he arrives, I would be grateful."

Joyce gave a short nod and Giles left, without looking at any of the others.

"Wow, is he pissed," Cordelia commented, watching the older man leave.

"Thank you, Cordelia, for once again stating the patently obvious," Xander replied. "Man, I can't believe that is Giles. I'm gonna be in therapy for the rest of my life."

"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Oz said softly, in a bemused tone. "There's more to Giles than meets the eye."

"I'll say." Xander looked at the last painting warily. "Rayne had to be exaggerating. I mean, is Giles really that... uh..."

Buffy could have very comfortably lived without catching her mother's soft sigh.

"Oh, yeah..."

* * * * *

Giles did not give a good goddam what bloody time it was in England. He did not give a good goddam how angry Ethan's agent was at being roused out of bed at four AM. In the anger contest, he was winning hands down.

Having gotten absolutely nowhere with Ethan's agent, he called his lawyer. That exhibition had to be stopped. There was no way in hell - or on the Hellmouth - that he was going to allow Ethan to humiliate him with those pictures. Not again. The last time those pictures surfaced, they had nearly destroyed his life. He was not going to let Ethan do that to him again.

Having done all that he could, Giles sat down heavily in his desk chair. Once again, Ethan had managed to get to him. After years of trying to shut Ethan out of his life, Ethan kept popping back with an alarming knack of making him lose his temper, each time more provocative than the last.

He had tried hard to forget about the existence of the paintings. The sketches, annoying though they were, weren't so bad. None of the sketches were easily identifiable, unless one knew about the tattoo. The paintings, on the other hand...

He hadn't changed that much. Blessed or cursed with very distinctive bone structure, especially on his face, it wasn't hard to figure out who had posed for those paintings. He was older now; his hair was shorter, his face thinner, his body thicker and scarred, but he really hadn't changed much at all. During his stint at the British Museum, he had been recognised by quite a number of people from his Ripper days.

If the exhibit went on, everyone in Sunnydale would make assumptions - assumptions that were definitely not appropriate to his current position as a high school librarian.

Ethan had to be stopped, by whatever means necessary. That's all there was to it. Ethan would not stop his campaign to get under his skin, and he couldn't put up with it anymore. Ethan had to die.

Giles sat back and sighed, trying to tell himself that he did not feel an acute stab of pain through the heart at the thought of a world without Ethan in it.

* * * * *

"He did what?" Buffy took the letter from Joyce's trembling hands and scanned it. The legalese baffled her.

"He's applied for a court order to stop the show," Joyce said flatly. "Buffy, I can't afford to have this exhibit shut down. I just can't..."

"I'll talk to Giles," Buffy said hastily, trying to soothe her. "I mean, he was really mad about them, but he'll calm down. Really, he will."

"Buffy, the show opens in two days." Joyce frowned. "Even if the court order gets refused, it's still going to take time. And the show has to be in Phoenix in two weeks."

"I'll fix it, Mom." Buffy hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. Giles was stubborn and, frankly, she could see his point. She wouldn't like to see paintings of herself in those poses by anyone. Then again, she would never have posed for them in the first place.

She felt a little dizzy, still majorly wigged out by the pictures. She knew a little bit about his background, but she never expected this. She could deal, sort of, with Giles having once been young and wild, but she still couldn't wrap her mind around her tweedy Watcher as desirable. And, God help her, in those pictures, he was. In Ethan Rayne's eyes, he was.

Buffy sat down quickly, shocked by her own thoughts. Had he and Ethan...?

She'd always seen Giles as somewhat asexual. Okay, he and Miss Calendar had indulged in major smoochies, right in the library. And her mom... No, she wasn't going there. That was Hellmouthy weirdness, and magic.

Okay, so Giles wasn't dead below the waist. That was a more than faintly disturbing thought, but the thought that Ethan knew that was worse. Then again, it was probably experimentation. Guys did that, didn't they? Experimented? And Giles had experimented with black magic, so...

"Buffy?" Joyce was looked at her with a concerned frown. "I don't mean to push, but you were going to talk to Mr Giles...?"

"Mom, do you think that Giles and Ethan ever... y'know...?" Buffy asked in a hesitant voice.

"Buffy, I have no idea," Joyce said gently, seeing her daughter's distress. "Look, Buffy, I know it's hard for you to grasp, but Mr. Giles did have a life before he became your Watcher. Those pictures are pretty explicit, but artists have been drawing nudes for centuries without there being any relationship between artist and model."

"Yeah." Buffy nodded. She realised that her mother had not looked at the pictures the same way she had; that her mother saw them as art, not as a narrative of Giles' youth.

Then again, Mom was probably right. From what she knew of Ethan Rayne, he had an uncanny ability to anger Giles and he loved playing games. He probably needed a model and then drew Giles in the most embarrassing and provocative way possible, just to irritate him.

* * * * *

"Giles, I know you don't want those pictures shown and I am cool with that. I understand." Buffy tried to ignore the angry glare, and gamely continued on. "But Mom needs this show. If it gets closed, she's out a lot of money. And... and she'll be the laughingstock of the art world. She'll lose the gallery and she'll have to get a job at the burger joint to pay the bills. She won't be able to pay the mortgage. She'll have to sell the house and she'll be out on the streets. I'll be out on the streets, sleeping in a cardboard box. And you know how dangerous it is in Sunnydale after dark."

"I daresay you'll survive," Giles said dryly. "You are the Slayer, after all. I doubt your mother's financial situation is quite that dire."

"No. But it's not fair that you're doing this. This is Mom's first major show of paintings. Everything else has been native art thingies."

"How much?"

"What?"

"How much does your mother stand to lose?"

"Dunno. A couple of thousand?"

"Fine. If this isn't enough, tell her that I'll make up the difference." Giles took something out of his desk drawer and scribbled for a moment.

Buffy took the cheque he handed her and looked at it, her eyes going wide.

"Fifteen thousand dollars?"

"I know what Ethan's work is worth. That would buy four or five of the smaller pieces. It isn't nearly enough for the paintings, but those aren't for sale."

"How do you know?"

"I've tried to buy them before. Ethan won't sell."

"Can you afford this?"

"Just take it."

"Giles, you're serious about this, aren't you?" Buffy said quietly. "You really don't want those pictures shown, do you?"

"Again you amaze me with your perception."

"Okay, Giles. What's the deal? It's not like the pictures haven't shown all over Europe. So why wig out now?"

"I - to use your appalling vernacular - wigged out the first time they showed in Brugge. And the time they sat at the Bankside Gallery for nearly a year. This is yet another round of a very long fight I've had to keep those wretched canvases out of the public eye."

* * * * *

"Buffy?"

Buffy dropped her bag by the door and slouched into the living room.

"No luck. He won't budge."

"I could have told you that," a new, familiar voice said.

"Ethan?" Buffy glared at him. "What are you doing here?"

"Making sure that the show goes on. It isn't like I didn't expect Ripper to try to stop the exhibit. How much did he offer?"

"What?" Joyce looked puzzled as Buffy pulled out a small, folded slip of paper.

"Well. He's getting generous in his old age." Ethan handed the cheque to Joyce. "So you have a choice. Cave in to this tiresome attempt at bribery or allow me to clear up this little legal contretemps."

"Is this for real?" Joyce stared blankly at the cheque.

"Quite. And I can assure you that Ripper's good for it." Ethan smirked. "It is more than you'll get from the show, but the loss in prestige would be more expensive in the long term."

"Not if you just announce that the show is cancelled and move on," Buffy objected.

"And what would the fun be in that?" Ethan smiled. "A word here, a word there..."

"Bastard."

"Buffy!"

"Now, Joyce. I've worked hard for that title. Allow me to bask in the recognition."

"Can you stop the court order?"

"Of course I can. Ripper doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. The show's been travelling around Europe for over three years, after all. He lost the battle about model releases ages ago," Ethan said soothingly. "Don't worry. You'll get your show. And just imagine the stir when Rayne is actually at the vernissage."

"If Giles doesn't kill you first," Buffy put in darkly.

"Ah, the sucess de scandale." Ethan put a hand to his chest and gave a theatrical swoon. "How delicious."

"No, Ethan. Giles really does want to hurt you for this."

"My dear, I've lost count of the number of things Rupert Giles wants to hurt me for. It's sweet of you to be concerned, though."

* * * * *

"I'm not sure I can do this." Willow clutched the books to her chest as she, Buffy, Xander and Cordelia walked toward the library. None of them were entirely sure how to face Giles, after what they had seen.

"That's my line," Xander replied, too brightly. "Xander Harris. Library. Not a match made in heaven. In fact, if it weren't for you, Buff, I wouldn't know the Dewey Decimal system from the Dewey-Truman debates."

The three girls stopped in shock.

"What? I actually paid attention in American History class last week." Xander defended himself, then looked panic stricken. "God. I really have been spending too much time in the library. I'm turning into Giles."

"Trust me, Xander, you've got a long way to go before you'll look that good in leather." Cordelia shook her head. "What? I know a good looking guy when I see one. Giles was hot when he was young."

"You think Giles is hot?" Buffy choked.

"Well, not now. Okay, the accent's a plus, but he's, like, ancient, and that whole tweed and tea thing... Eeewww."

* * * * *

The tweed and tea were in full view when they walked in, a little hesitant. Well, Buffy, Willow and Xander hesitated. Cordelia walked in with confidence and approached Giles.

"So, what's all this about you shutting down the exhibit?" she demanded. "How am I supposed to meet cultured and sophisticated people if you insist on destroying my chances? I could have met the artist."

"You'll have other chances, Cordelia," Giles said stiffly, not lifting his eyes from the massive tome in his hands. "Besides, you've already met him."

"Yeah, but that was when he was creepy magic guy who helped you summon demons."

"He hasn't changed any."

"Yes, he has," Cordelia insisted. "He's a famous artist. Giles, I have to be at that opening and if you don't back off, I won't be able to."

"Yes, I've arranged this to maximize your inconvenience." Giles shut the book with a loud thump. "Live with it."

Cowed by the tone of voice and the fire in Giles' eyes, Cordelia slowly sat down.

"Jeez, try and make something of yourself and look what happens," she muttered.

"So, Watcher mine, what's up?" Buffy turned up perkiness to full volume. "Some badness? Something Hellmouthy to deal with? Some obscure prophecy of death and destruction that we can thwart?" For the first time, she was rather hoping so. Giles in librarian/Watcher/research mode was far preferable to Giles in pissed off Ripper mode.

"Well, as it happens..." Giles removed his glasses in such a characteristically Giles-ish way that she nearly cheered. "There is a prophecy, but it isn't a bad one. It's rather good, in fact."

"There is such a thing?" Buffy frowned. "Spill, Giles. What's the sitch?"

"Well, according to Ospensky, the next two weeks are supposed to be pretty much disaster free." Giles opened the book again. "Apparently, every twenty one years, about this time, the Hellmouth is rather torpid."

"Torpid?" Xander frowned. "That doesn't sound good."

"It isn't." Ethan Rayne walked in. "It's frightfully dull. Hello, Ripper."

"Ethan."

"You don't seem happy to see me."

"Am I ever?"

"There was a time. But that was long ago in a faraway country."

"To finish what I was saying..." Giles glared at Ethan, then looked back at the book. "The Hellmouth goes dormant for about a fortnight. Ospensky says it has something to do with the astronomical cycles around that time. He doesn't go into details, but looking at the last couple of centuries, it appears to be consistently quiet around here during the period in question."

"I could look into why it happens. Maybe it's sun spots or something," Willow said eagerly, her fingers already flying across the library's computer keyboard.

"That won't be necessary," Giles told her. "In fact, I would appreciate it if you would all leave and put the closed sign on the door. I have a few things I want to say to Ethan."

With cautious looks at each other, the four of them gathered their books and bags and started to drift toward the door.

As she passed him, Cordelia gave Ethan the sort of smile that melted men's hearts.

"Hi. I'm Cordelia Chase. I think we've met."

"Yes, but not under the best of circumstances." Ethan smiled back. "I would love for you to stay and chat, but I believe that your Mr. Giles would like to beat the living daylights out of me. Perhaps later. You could bring me chocolates at the hospital if you like."

"That'd be great." Cordelia flashed another brilliant smile, undimmed by Xander's grabbing her arm and dragging her out.

* * * * *

Buffy put the sign out, then took off down the hall at a rapid rate.

"Buffy, where are you going?" Willow ran to catch up to her.

"Outside." Buffy slowed a fraction so Willow could keep up. "I'm going back in through the stacks."

"You're going to eavesdrop?" Willow looked shocked. "I think Giles wants privacy."

"I don't care that he wants to be alone with Ethan. I care that he gets arrested for murder."

"Murder?"

"He's gonna kill Ethan."

* * * * *

Buffy and Willow peered around a bookcase and took in the tableau below them. Ethan was leaning against the library table and Giles was facing him, about three feet away. Both of them had their arms folded.

"I don't have all day, Ripper," Ethan said. "Get on with it."

"No matter how much I would enjoy it, I'm not going to hit you."

"Really? How out of character for you. And I thought you had lost the ability to be unpredictable."

"Why, Ethan?" Giles barked out the question.

"Why what? You'll have to be more specific if you want an answer." Ethan unfolded his arms and idly opened the cover of one of the books on the table.

"Why the exhibit? Why did you bring it here?"

"It's a business decision," Ethan replied immediately. "A North American tour is good for business. It had nothing to do with you."

Giles just glared.

"Okay, yes, the decision to bring it here was about you," Ethan admitted. "I don't suppose I could convince you to come to the vernissage?"

"No. If I set foot in Joyce's gallery while those paintings are hanging, I'll destroy them."

"Well, that'll bring in the crowds. Not that I'll let you do it, of course. Those paintings are the most valuable pieces of my early work."

"You can't stop me."

"Oh, yes I can. I've already stopped the court order. And between a restraining order on you and a few judicious wards, I can keep you away from the gallery," Ethan said seriously. "It's nothing personal, Ripper. Not this time."

"Like hell, Ethan. It's always personal between us," Giles retorted. "If it isn't, why did you show those works in the first place? You gave me your word that you'd never show them."

"And you know what my word is worth, Ripper," Ethan said easily, then looked away. "I needed the money."

"What?"

"After the Genoa exhibit, I needed a new show and those works were all I had. A ritual involving a Darwahl demon went pear shaped and I couldn't paint for nearly a year. I was contacted to do an exhibition in Brugge, and I couldn't afford to turn it down."

"What in God's name were you doing, summoning a Darwahl demon?"

"Was that a note of caring, Ripper? I'm touched," Ethan mocked. "Suffice it to say that it's not a ritual I will try again."

"I should think not."

"Between the medical bills and the magical supplies, I needed money. The offer would pay off everything and leave a little left over. So I took it," Ethan finished. "I didn't do it to irritate you, although that was an unexpected bonus. I didn't think you'd even notice."

"I didn't. The Council did."

"The Council knows what you did back then."

"Not all of it. Do you have any idea what the consequences of your show had on me? Why the hell didn't you just contact me? I would have helped."

"I won't be a charity case, Ripper."

"I would have bought the paintings at full market value and you know it."

"You'd be willing to put that large a dent in your trust fund for a few canvases? The Council was that upset about it?"

"You cannot imagine what the results of your artistic career has had on mine."

"No, but I suspect you're going to enlighten me."

"Ethan, when I returned to the Council, I didn't tell them anything more than they already knew. They knew about the music and the magic and the fighting, but they didn't know everything. They assumed that the paintings were a chronicle of my life in London and they were honestly shocked."

"Good God. They're more prudish than I would have thought. Surely they've seen that sort of thing before?"

"Yes, but not about a Watcher about to be put in charge of an active Slayer."

"What?"

"I was supposed to be Buffy's first Watcher. Merrick was retired, living on a beach near Santa Monica. I was packed and ready to come to America when I got called on the carpet and asked to explain why a series of pictures drawn by my ex-lover were making the rounds on the Continent. And, while I was at it, could I please explain about the drinking and the drugs? And did I really fancy playing with those toys?"

"I still don't see the problem. You had strayed off the straight and narrow for a while."

"The Council was understandably concerned about sending me alone to southern California, to a high school where there are nubile young men and women, legal handguns and easy access to drugs," Giles said bluntly. "So they activated Merrick. We had to get to Buffy before she had time to access her powers on her own. His heart wasn't in it and it showed."

"But you got the job anyway."

"After Merrick died. By the time I arrived, Merrick's half assed methods nearly ruined her. I had to throw out the manuals and feel my way around. Buffy's a remarkable girl and she's done well, but her way would have been easier if I had been able to guide her from the beginning. And Merrick deserved to enjoy his retirement, not spend the last eight months of his life training an anomalous Slayer that he couldn't hope to understand."

"And you spent eight months successfully convincing the Council that you really were suitable for the post. I fail to see a problem."

"I spent the first three months of it in a mental institution," Giles said sharply.

"A mental... Ripper...?" Ethan pushed away from the table and took a step forward. Giles gave a humourless smile.

"For tests. I took every damned psychological test they could devise. Thank God for Phillip's psych texts or they would never have let me anywhere near Buffy."

"You foxed the tests? Good for you."

"Yes, good for me. I came out of those tests with pronounced stammer and an inability to play any part but that of a stuffy, tweed wearing British pedant. I don't dare. I can't even play music anymore without being terrified that they'll take me away from her."

"Ah, that explains it, then. But why didn't you just leave? You did that before, when they tried to force you to be someone you're not."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Can you put down your paintbrush, Ethan? Can you stop picking up a pencil and doodling on cocktail napkins?"

Ethan paused for a long time before he answered.

"No."

* * * * *

Willow meeped as Buffy grabbed her arm and dragged her swiftly and silently out of the library the way they came. Buffy didn't stop until they had reached the fountain in the courtyard.

"Well, at least they were talking," Willow offered as Buffy dropped down and buried her face in her hands. "I mean, it's not good what they were talking about, but Giles didn't kill Ethan and that's good. Isn't it?"

"Giles was supposed to be my first Watcher." Buffy lifted her head, her eyes filled with tears. "Dammit, Merrick didn't have to die."

"Buffy, you don't know that it would have been any different with Giles," Willow said gently. "All that stuff in LA might have happened anyway."

"No, Giles is right. Merrick was... He was strange, Will. He would tell me stuff and not tell me other stuff and... Giles tells me why. Merrick never did, not like Giles does," Buffy replied. "And he didn't have the books or the weapons or the other stuff Giles has. I guess being sent in at the last minute threw him for a loop."

"Giles is your Watcher now, though, Buffy." Willow rubbed circles on Buffy's back. "It's all worked out okay. Well, okay, not okay for Merrick, but okay for you. Right?"

"At the expense of who Giles really is," Buffy said bitterly. "I've fought with Giles for years to be able to keep a little piece of Buffy Summers. The Buffy Summers I used to be, that is. And he gave up the Rupert Giles he used to be. For me."

"But... Wasn't that his choice?"

"To give up part of who he is or to be denied his Calling? Hmmm. Some choice."

* * * * *

"You do understand that I won't stop the exhibit," Ethan said slowly. They were now both sitting in chairs and drinking tea that Giles had brewed. "It's my reputation and Joyce's on the line. However, I give you my word that I won't do anything to embarrass you regarding the show."

"And I know what your word is worth, Ethan, remember?"

"That's harsh, Ripper. Fair comment, but harsh. Would you feel better if I told you that I am not willing to do anything to jeopardize my only source of reliable income? Should you choose to make use of some of your contacts, I could find myself unable to hang anywhere."

"Damn. I never thought of that."

"Don't think it at all, if you would," Ethan admonished. "The Council already knows about the paintings, Ripper. They can't hurt you now."

"May I remind you that I am a librarian at an American high school? Any hint of impropriety on my part could get me fired."

"Oh, come on. I mean, we hear about American prudishness, but that's ridiculous."

"You haven't met Principal Snyder, have you?"

"The short, officious little troll who insulted me and, by the way, you, when I asked him for directions to the library?"

"You've met."

"Met, cursed, and felt ever so much better."

"You cursed him? How?"

"Nothing too serious. Incontinence is inconvenient, not fatal. Ah, now I get a laugh. I do miss your laugh, Rupert."

"I find it hard to believe that you miss anything at all about me."

"I miss a great deal more than just your laugh," Ethan said softly, reaching over to rest the tips of his fingers on Giles' right hand. Giles moved his hand away.

"I think we should move this conversation somewhere more private."

"More private? Ripper, we've been talking for nearly two hours and not a soul has come near. Are you sure this is a public school?"

"I put the closed sign out, but that won't stop the children. I expect them to show up any minute now to see if they can help dispose of your dead body."

"Ah, the sign of true friendship. You've got a loyal bunch there, Ripper. Your flat, then? Sunnydale's finest hotel is not as fine as all that. The walls are shockingly thin and the room service is appalling."

* * * * *

Willow and Buffy crept quietly towards the library, only to see Xander and Cordelia coming from the opposite direction doing the same thing.

"Do you think the bloodbath is over?" Xander asked Buffy, concern wrinkling his brow.

"I'm not sure there was a bloodbath," Willow said, with a significant rise of her eyebrows.

"Good. Xander had me thinking that we'd be wading in Ethan's guts or something. And that would totally ruin my shoes," Cordelia said. "Not to mention the ick factor."

"You were the one who was sure that Giles wouldn't do anything violent." Xander looked at her.

"Well, I was. Until I remembered the last time we saw Ethan Rayne. You know, that whole Ripper thing. I mean, there has to be a reason why he's called Ripper."

"Maybe it's the fact that Ripper sounds a whole lot cooler than Rupert. Then again, anything is cooler sounding than Rupert."

"Would you guys shut up?" Buffy hissed. "If they're still talking, I don't want to disturb them."

The others subsided. Buffy went first, creeping into the library on tiptoe.

"Giles?" she called softly. "Giles?"

"They're not here," Cordelia said, after a swift look around.

"They had tea," Willow said, pointing to the two empty cups still sitting on the table. "They had tea, Buffy."

"And they didn't even tidy up," Xander added. "I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you."

"Maybe they're friends again," Willow said hopefully.

"Whatever made you think they were friends in the first place?" Cordelia had scorn down to a fine art.

"Maybe the fact that Giles posed for Ethan? Posed naked, I might add?" Xander retorted, then paused in horror. "That means Ethan's seen Giles naked. Oh, my God."

"Xander?" Cordelia looked at him with an exasperated expression. "What's with you? Yeah, I think it's pretty obvious that Ethan's seen Giles naked. So what?"

"Oh, God. And I showered with Giles. I mean, not showered with him, as in showering with him, but showered in the locker room at the same time. You know, after that Jehar demon sprayed us with orange goo?"

"Yeah. So you showered with Giles. I showered with Willow and Buffy," Cordelia pointed out. "I even let them use my shampoo. Get your mind out of the gutter, Harris."

"It's not in the gutter, Cordy," Xander protested.

"Oh, puleeze." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Like you didn't have weird, sick adolescent fantasies about it."

"I didn't," Xander insisted, to an audience of feminine disbelieving stares. "Okay, I did."

"And I can assure you that I, at least, did not have any weird or sick fantasies about you and Giles," Buffy added.

"Me, neither. Then again, I don't have any fantasies that involve you, Xander." Cordelia turned her back on him and began to walk out. "Even if you did share a shower with Larry."

"Hey. Every guy in school shares showers, okay? There's nothing weird or sick or perverted about it."

"Then why did you bring it up?" Willow looked obviously confused.

"No reason."

"He's just being paranoid." Cordelia tossed the comment over her shoulder. "I mean, why would Giles even look at someone like you?"

"Cordelia, just what are you implying?" Buffy asked her, in a low voice. Her stomach sank. God, if Cordelia thought that...

"I'm not implying anything," Cordelia replied. "I think it's pretty obvious that Ethan and Giles had something going once upon a time."

"No. Cordy, you're completely wrong. No way. Never." Xander stated. "Not possible."

"Xander, grow up. It's none of our business whether Giles is gay or not." With that, she marched out. Buffy and Xander exchanged glances and followed. Willow remained rooted to the floor, her eyes wide.

"Giles is gay?"

* * * * *

"Now, wasn't that better than indifferent food with bad service?" Ethan dabbed his lips on a napkin.

"Your ability to cook is one of your virtues, Ethan. Possibly the only one. Thank you."

"It was nothing," Ethan said, falsely modest, and moved into the living room. "I like your flat. It's a small taste of home."

"I intended it to be." Giles went to fetch after dinner tea. "It's small, but it suits my needs."

"Since you have an entire library in which to shelve your massive collection of books."

"Most of which are still in England. This is only a fraction of the set."

Ethan accepted a cup of tea and looked suspiciously at Giles' hand.

"Whatever happened to your fingers, Rupert?" he asked, seeing the slight crookedness of Giles' left hand.

"Nothing. My line of work does tend to lead to getting hurt on occasion."

Ethan was not to be dissuaded. He was good at picking up on body language and he sensed that this was something that Giles did not want discussed. He took Giles' hand in his and pulled him down to sit next to him.

"It looks like you broke the first two fingers." Ethan pored over the hand. "They've mended well."

"Yes, they have. I still have full mobility," Giles admitted.

"And how did you break them?"

"It was nothing, Ethan." Giles could not keep the sharpness out of his tone, but he did not move his hand.

"You're lying, Ripper," Ethan warned. "I thought a Watcher was supposed to watch."

"Simply watching while being jumped by a vampire is not a road to a long and healthy life, Ethan."

"And, knowing you, you rather enjoy getting into a scrap every now and again."

"I'm too old for such foolishness." Giles snorted. "Why do you do this to me, Ethan?"

"Do what?" Ethan's face was the picture of amused innocence. "What have I done for you to always suspect me of something underhanded and sordid?"

"Shall I give you a list in alphabetical or chronological order?" Giles retorted. "Why? I told you why I object to your paintings of me. You owe me the same courtesy."

"And I do have proper manners. You have to grant me that, Ripper," Ethan remarked. "Are you sure you want to know?"

"If I didn't want to know, I wouldn't have asked. Just tell me and perhaps we can call it quits and have it over."

"It will never be over between us, Ripper," Ethan said seriously. "All right. I'll tell you, but don't blame me if you don't like the answer."

"Talk, Ethan."

"Very well." Ethan nodded and leaned back, cup in hand. "As you well know, I am not overly fond of most people. In fact, people are rather interchangeable to me. They are, for the most part, subjects on the canvas of life."

"Poetic. Total bollocks, but poetic."

"Not bollocks. Truth. I see the world from an artist's perspective and a magical one. I like to look at people, and to draw them, and to play with them, but I don't feel a great deal of connection with them. Note, Ripper. Them. Not us."

"So you're sociopathic. I could have guessed that. What does your pathology have to do with me?"

"You fascinate me." Ethan sipped his tea. "Since the moment I met you, I found you utterly fascinating."

"Oh, please."

"I do. When we first met, on the playing fields of Eton, I thought you were another of those football hooligans. You know the type - Ripper Giles, who would as soon tear your head off as look at you. And then I discovered that you were the one to beat in academic exercises as well. Yet you never quite fit the profile of the star athlete with perfect marks, either. You were too dangerous for that. And the magic. Oh, Ripper, the magic you knew."

"I'm the son and grandson of Watchers, Ethan. It is rather inevitable that I would have some knowledge of and talent for magic."

"In London, I discovered something else about you. I watched while you beat the shit out of a bloke for insulting you, then cry like a baby when you found an abandoned kitten. I discovered that you had an infinite capacity to care. A renaissance man and white knight, all rolled into one, with a dash of genuine malice for flavour," Ethan continued. "I could never reconcile all the parts of your personality. All I could find was a man who, when he made up his mind what he was going to do, he'd do it with his whole heart. I had once thought that your Watcher persona was a mask, but it's not, is it, Ripper?"

"No. It's not."

"And that is what fascinates me so, Ripper. You are what you appear to be, but there seem to be no limits as to what else you are, or can be. You are, to me, the perfect embodiment of chaos."

"And your point? Fascinating as your take on my character is, I would really like an answer."

"I always have and always will worship chaos."

"You're talking in riddles."

"Which you can decipher if you care to," Ethan replied evenly. "You should not ask questions when you aren't prepared to hear the answers."

"If I were talking to anyone but you, Ethan, I would decipher that as you telling me you love me."

"So I do."

* * * * *

"No, no, no, no," Willow said for the fourth time. "Giles and Ethan?" She took a drink of her mocha and the others winced. Willow and caffeine was not a good combo.

"Wait a minute." Buffy held a hand up and glared equally around the table. "We're walking on the wiggin side for nothing. Giles likes women. I mean, he moped for weeks over Miss Calendar when she wasn't talking to him. And my mom..."

Buffy stopped abruptly as three pairs of eyes turned to her.

"Your mom?" Xander echoed, then shook his head. "The noise in here is something awful, Buff. I thought I heard you say something about your mom?"

"Mom. Candy. Police car," Buffy snapped out. "Deal, okay? They got it on. Twice."

"Twice?" Xander blinked.

"Police car?" Cordelia gave a moue of disgust.

"Buffy, I can't see your mom doing anything like that," Willow said.

"She did. He did. They did," Buffy replied, flustered. "And I really don't want to discuss that any further."

"Twice." Xander sounded impressed. "So I think we can rule out Giles in the Lavender Hill Mob."

"Not necessarily." Cordelia sipped delicately at her cappuccino, somehow managing not to leave a trace of foam on her upper lip. "Maybe Giles likes both. I mean, if he were strictly gay, he'd have much better taste than he does."

"That is such a stereotype, Cordelia," Willow protested.

"Stereotypes exist for a reason, Willow. And it isn't like you guys don't stereotype Giles all the time. He's British and wears tweed, so he's automatically stuffy and uptight."

"But he is, Cordy."

"Yeah, but everybody assumes that even before they find out that he really is as stuffy and uptight as he seems."

"No, he's not," Buffy said softly. Everybody stared at her. "He posed for those pictures, right?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "And I'm kinda not calm about it. Man, I can't believe it."

"He could have just posed for them. It doesn't mean he actually did any of those things," Willow ventured.

"Right. And we all know what Ethan's like. Anything to stir things up," Buffy declared. "And I think we can count on Ethan having a good imagination."

"Right." Willow nodded. Xander nodded as well and relaxed.

"Denial much?" Cordelia lifted an amused eyebrow. "I still think that Giles and Ethan were once Giles and Ethan. And, you know what? I don't care. Giles is old enough to do whatever he wants to whoever he wants, as long as I don't have to think about it."

The others, while still unconvinced, agreed wholeheartedly with her last statement.

* * * * *

"Just when I think you can't do or say anything to surprise me, you come out with something like this." Giles pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes.

"Surely you already knew." Ethan frowned.

"I knew you were attracted to me, but..."

"You had to have guessed that from the number of times I crawled into your bed when it wasn't already occupied."

"And sometimes when it was. You'd shag anyone who'd show an interest."

"And you didn't? I seem to recall you were less than fastidious about who you'd take to bed," Ethan replied, without a trace of accusation. "Phillip and I would take bets as to whether you'd remember his or her name in the morning."

"There were mornings when I didn't remember my own," Giles admitted ruefully. "Our nocturnal activities were not exactly proof of eternal devotion."

"You wanted a declaration?" Ethan raised his eyebrows. "Very well. I love you. Always have, always will."

"Ethan..."

"You weren't ready to hear it then and you're not ready to hear it now. Be careful what you wish for, Ripper."

"I never wished for this."

"No?" Ethan leaned towards him and took the cup out of his hand. "How about this?"

Giles knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ethan was going to kiss him and he knew, as well, that he would do nothing to stop it.

He knew Ethan was telling the truth. He knew - had always known on some level - that Ethan loved him. And he knew, deep down in the place where he put all the other parts that didn't fit in, that he loved Ethan back.

Kissing Ethan was always an adventure. Ethan was good at it; he had, after all, had a lot of practice and liked to be the best at everything he did. Ethan's tongue insinuated itself between his lips, and he welcomed it eagerly. He had forgotten - deliberately - just how much he craved kisses from this man. Ethan knew him better than anyone ever had, and he knew exactly how to taste and touch, how to arouse and soothe.

He felt himself falling helplessly under Ethan's spell. He knew, with certainty, that Ethan would be sharing his bed very soon, sharing his body with his own full and eager cooperation. The only question left now was who would give and who would take...

With a shudder and a sudden rise of nausea, he pushed Ethan away and leaped to his feet, breathing heavily. Good God, he had nearly forgotten what he thought he would never forget.

"Ripper?" Ethan was there beside him, hand touching his shoulder. He flinched away. His left index finger ached with intense memory of past pain.

"Rupert, what's wrong?" Ethan asked again, softly.

"I can't..." I can't make love to you. I can't have you touch me that way. And I can't explain. Not to you. Not to anyone.

"Who hurt you, Rupert?" Ethan asked, gently taking his hand. His finger still hurt like hell. "Who broke your fingers?" Who broke you? - the question was unspoken, but hung in the air.

"No."

"Tell me, Rupert." Still, Ethan's voice held that gentle note, the one free of mockery, the one he only used when they were alone, and safe. He shook his head. "Can you show me, then?"

Giles allowed Ethan to unbutton the Oxford shirt, to draw it down off his shoulders, to see the marks inflicted less than a year ago. They were faded and indistinct, but they marked him as surely as the Mark of Eyghon on his arm.

He could feel Ethan's fingers tracing the scars. Most of them were burns; Angel had not cut him up that much. Angel had not been out for blood; Angel had been seeking pain.

"These were done by someone who knew what they were doing," Ethan observed, never lifting his hands from Giles' skin. It was oddly soothing. "Demon?"

"Angelus." The word slipped out so softly, Giles wasn't sure if he had said anything at all. He certainly hadn't intended to.

Ethan said nothing, for which he was profoundly grateful. Ethan just steered him back to the sofa, and sat them both down. The embrace was neither too familiar or too formal; it was exactly what he needed. It was what he had needed since that dark, bright day of spring when he knew that he wasn't going to die at Angel's hands; that he had to live with what had been done.

Burying the pain for the sake of the slip of a girl he served had been far too easy. And those bright faces, filled with hope and trust, needed him to be strong and unshakeable.

Ethan was right, he thought with a sudden flash of self-illumination. He could be whatever he needed to be; dig deep down inside himself and find the strength to carry out what his heart demanded. He loved his Slayer, and he loved the young people who had given so much to her. So he had buried his own lesser needs.

Ethan still held him gently and touched him with his usual casual affection.

"Do you need to talk?" Ethan asked softly.

"No." He shook his head. "I need... I need someone to listen."

* * * * *

Buffy left home early, wanting to talk to Giles before school. The opening was tonight and she knew he'd be more uptight than... Well, than Giles normally was.

Giles didn't answer to her soft knock, but his car was still in the driveway and the door was unlocked. She smiled to herself. Only Giles would have his nose in a book at seven in the morning. Well and good, though. It was early enough that she could grab a cup of tea before school.

"Giles?" She sauntered in, then stopped when she saw Ethan Rayne sitting on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table and a large sketch pad in his lap.

"Good morning, Buffy," he greeted her warmly. "There's fresh coffee in the kitchen. Help yourself."

"Where's Giles?" she asked immediately.

"Still asleep," Ethan replied, switching pencils. "He doesn't have to be at work until eight thirty, so he's having a bit of a lie in."

Buffy almost asked how he knew that, but she had been under Giles' tutelage long enough not to ask questions when she didn't want to know the answer.

"If you're getting a cup for yourself, would you be a love and fetch more for me?" Ethan continued. "I take it black." Buffy growled under her breath, but marched into the kitchen anyway.

"Here." She stuck the cup under his nose and, when he gestured with the end of his pencil, set it on the table next to his foot. She hoped he'd knock it over and soak his socks.

"Thank you," he said, with a smile. "Is there any particular reason why you're here at this hour?"

"I wanted to talk to Giles." Buffy folded her arms defensively. "And you?"

"The same," Ethan said, offhandedly. Buffy watched him for a moment or two. Ethan seemed perfectly at home, his hand steady as he continued to draw.

"What are you drawing?" she asked finally, curious. "More pictures for Giles to get embarrassed about?"

"Yes," Ethan replied promptly. "Would you like to see? They're not finished yet, of course, but I'm rather pleased with this one." He flipped back a couple of pages.

Buffy leaned over and looked. The picture of Giles had no details in it yet, just the vague outline of the school library, but the portrait was true. Ethan had perfectly captured Giles in research mode - sleeves rolled up, glasses dangling from his mouth and a large tome in his hands. Buffy was unwillingly impressed.

"That's good," she said, grudgingly. Ethan gave her a sly look and flipped the pages forward. There were four pictures in all, each capturing Giles - the older, mature Giles - in everyday poses.

"I'm not quite sure about this one, though." Ethan smirked, flipping to the one he had been working on when she came in. "What do you think?"

Buffy looked. The likeness was, as all Ethan's drawings of Giles were, astonishing, but there was something very wrong about it. This wasn't Giles. This was a broken, battered man, with pain and shame written all over him.

The conceit of the pose - Giles looking at himself in a mirror - displayed both his face, which was filled with despair, and his back, which was criss crossed with whitened scars and shiny, burned patches. And the hand resting lightly on the mirror had two crooked fingers, knuckles slightly out of alignment. Buffy recoiled in horror. Ethan's smile grew.

"This is... obscene," Buffy whispered.

"I agree," Ethan returned, suddenly looking very serious. He threw the sketchbook down and sat up, taking his coffee.

Buffy waited for Ethan to say something else, but Ethan simply sipped and looked disgustingly at home. She tried not to look at the picture, but it drew her in. Was that really Giles? Or was Ethan playing yet another game?

It had to be a game. Giles did not have scars like that. Giles never had that bleak an expression. It was a drawing, nothing more.

Still, the drawing fascinated her almost as much as it repelled her. She was half tempted to ask Ethan to draw her, to immortalize her - her pain - on paper. It might ease some of the anguish in her soul, to have it acknowledged. The pain of loving Angel...

She doubled over with sudden distress, her stomach cramping painfully. Angel. Angelus. Angelus had done this. She straightened slowly and looked at Ethan Rayne. Ethan met her eyes unflinchingly. A small smile played around his mouth and it was hideously pleasant.

She had to get out of here. There were emotions and undercurrents that she did not understand, or want to understand. She rose and was halfway to the door when a gentle voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Buffy?"

She took a deep breath and plastered on a perky smile. Then she turned, noting that Ethan had swiftly picked up his sketch book and closed it.

"Giles."

"What are you doing here?" Giles was fully dressed, except for the ubiquitous tweed jacket, and he was rapidly approaching the kitchen.

"I... thought I'd cadge a ride to school," Buffy said rapidly. "I mean, Mom's going haywire and I really hate taking the bus, so I came here." The words tumbled out of her mouth and she mentally kicked herself. Giles' apartment was farther from her house than the school was. Dumb excuse. Then again, she couldn't exactly explain with Ethan right there.

"Of course." Giles smiled at her. She knew that he knew why she was there and she felt her smile turn genuine. "I'll be ready in a minute."

"No hurry," she replied, with a shrug. She watched as Giles looked at the half full pot of coffee, then put the kettle on for tea.

"Did you want more coffee, Buffy?"

"No, thanks."

"I would." Ethan unfolded himself from the sofa and walked over to hand his cup to Giles. With a longsuffering sigh, he poured and handed the cup back to Ethan.

"Don't you have somewhere you need to be, Ethan?"

"I have to be at the gallery at nine. I'll leave with you, if that's all right."

"We can drop you off, if you like," Giles offered. Buffy suppressed a sigh. She wasn't sure which was worse - sharing a car with Ethan Rayne or being alone with Giles right now. She wanted, more than anything, to be alone to sort out her feelings.

"Lovely. I meant to ask, Ripper - that copy of the Grimoirum Varum, may I borrow it while I'm here?"

"Roman script or Theban?"

"Theban, please. And the Secret Lore of Magic as well? I've lost mine."

"No. That one's out of print and I can't get another copy easily."

"Don't you trust me with your books, Ripper?"

"I trust you with my books about as much as I trust you with anything else," Giles replied, dryly, as he poured boiling water into the teapot. "Ask Steve at Atlantis when you get back to London. He bought out all the old stock from Skoob and they had several copies a few years ago."

Buffy only half listened while the two men talked about sources of magical books. She was too busy trying to process what she had learned. And she was amazed at how easily they were talking.

Just why was Ethan here at seven o'clock in the morning? Had he been here all night? Was Cordelia right? Had they been a couple? Were they still?

* * * * *

I should be happy, Ethan reflected, as he watched Sunnydale go by. Seeds of discord had been sown successfully, if the look on Ripper's Slayer was anything to go by. The girl wasn't stupid, by any means, but the way she was trying to gather shreds of denial around herself was highly amusing. She was going to have quite the job in regathering her equilibrium vis a vis Ripper and she didn't even have the advantage of being a Sunnydale native and their capacity for self delusion. Yes, between her confusion and the opening tonight, he should be basking in satisfaction. And he hadn't really had to do much to achieve this little maelstrom of chaos.

Yet, he was not happy. Not happy in the least, and it was all Ripper's fault. Why hadn't Ripper just attempted to extract his intestines through his nose, like he usually did? No, instead, he had to once again twist him into knots, making him aware of his heart and, damn it, force the truth out of him.

Listening to Ripper last night had been easier and harder than he expected. It had not been an easy tale to hear and, God knows, it was even harder to tell, but Ripper had made it so easy to stay. Ripper didn't want sympathy or kind words or platitudes. He didn't want more than Ethan was capable of giving; he just wanted someone to listen. And he had listened.

By the time Ripper had fallen asleep, drained, he was ready to take on the Hellmouth all by himself. He wanted to find this vampire and curse him with every spell he could think of. He wanted to hurt Angel and hurt him badly.

Ethan was not a violent man. He disliked physical violence and much preferred more subtle methods. In years gone by, he had never really understood Ripper's penchant for using his fists when he was angry. Now he knew and he wasn't thankful for that bit of knowledge.

He also knew now that Ripper would never leave that little blonde chit's side until the day she died. No man or woman, no matter how dear, would ever come between the Watcher and his Slayer. That was a rather depressing thought.

Still, there was the opening tonight and he was anticipating the looks on the faces of Ripper's friends and colleagues when they realised who the model for his oh-so-naughty paintings was. Although he had changed his mind about dropping some rather nasty innuendoes about it, it still promised to be a highly amusing evening.

* * * * *

Robert Snyder was not a happy man. Barb wanted to go to the gallery opening that evening, and he had been forced to agree to go with her. Barb thought of herself as cultured and sophisticated and, as Sunnydale standards went, he supposed she was right. She went to the laughable excuse for a symphony and did fund raisers for the local theatre group. Barb was happy playing the part, so he let her go her own way.

Normally, he would not be caught dead at a gallery opening, but Barb really did deserve some consideration. She had been very supportive about his little, um, problem.

At fifty six, prostate problems were not entirely unexpected. Uncomfortable as the exam was, it was better than putting up with the embarrassment of the damn dribbling. Barb had been sympathetic and discreet and very, very understanding about it. He owed her.

He marched into school with his head held high. He wasn't about to let anyone know about his private fears for his health. He wasn't Fred Hawkings, with his bulk and his moaning about his cholesterol levels. He wasn't Alicia Banning and her damned hot flashes, or Mitzi Johnson and her vitamins and organic foods. He was above whining about his personal problems.

The faculty lounge was quite full and Snyder did a mental head count. Yes, everybody who was supposed to be here was here. Morons, the lot of them. They were like locusts, scarfing down the cookies that Marilyn brought and guzzling the school's coffee.

The one faculty member that he had to admit was not a moron was, as usual, not here. Mr. Giles, their librarian, rarely joined in on the morning feeding frenzy. Then again, why would he spend time here when he had the peace and quiet of the library, which had its own kettle?

Rupert Giles. Now there was a puzzle Snyder had yet to solve. The man was staggeringly overqualified for the post. Snyder had seen his academic qualifications and knew all about the Masters in Library Science, the Doctorate in Ancient History, and the certification in Museum Technology. Why would a man with those kind of credentials be working here, in Sunnydale, at the local high school? There was something very fishy there.

Even more suspicious was the fact that Principal Flutie, the malignant oaf, had been told to hire him by the California Department of Education. Maybe they wanted the bragging rights to having a former curator for the British Museum on their payroll, but Snyder highly doubted it.

Perhaps it had something to do with the man's bizarre friendship with that Summers girl and her gang. He had yet to catch Giles doing anything he could do anything about, but there had to be some reason why a middle aged man spent so much time with young and impressionable students. Despite the half assed romance the man had with Jenny Calendar, Snyder just knew there was something not right going on. Was his school a dumping ground for one over educated, morally bankrupt man with connections?

He had to tread carefully, since Giles had some powerful friends at the state level, but he was sure that someday, somehow, he would catch Giles and have his pompous, sarcastic, British ass thrown out, if not from the country, at least from his school. That was a fantasy that gave him almost as much pleasure as telling Summers that she was expelled.

* * * * *

Buffy grabbed Willow and Xander at lunch. She had tried to talk to Giles before school, but it was hard to pump Giles for information about himself at the best of times. It was even harder to find anything out when she wasn't sure what to ask or whether she really wanted her suspicions confirmed. In any case, Giles was distracted and distant.

The trio had just sat down when Oz sauntered by and dropped a kiss on the top of Willow's head. Willow grinned at him, but he simply waved and continued on.

"Oz has band practice," she said, with a fond look at his retreating back. Buffy opened her mouth to start, but was interrupted by Cordelia and her little band of followers.

"...So the opening is tonight," Cordy was saying. "Part of the exhibit is adults only, but the rest of it is open to everyone. Rayne, who, by the way, is a close personal friend of mine, will be there. Anybody with any taste will show."

"We're there." Aphra nodded, enthusiastically. "Right, Harmony?"

"Yeah, I guess." Harmony looked doubtfully at Buffy and her friends. "But I don't have to sit with Summers and the loser patrol, right?"

"No, Harmony." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Be as shallow as you like. It's a natural look for you."

"And we'd prefer it that way," Buffy stated. Cordelia glared at her and sat down.

"God, Buffy. This is your chance to finally get some of the cool factor and you don't seem to care."

"Not caring is the essence of cool, Cordelia. I mean, I don't care. And that make me cool. Uber-cool, in fact." Xander leaned back, away from his tray of stew of unidentifiable origin.

"Xander, the closest you can get to being cool is standing next to me," Cordelia replied witheringly. "And you do care."

"Cordelia, have you been encouraging people to come to the opening?" Buffy cut across Xander's retort.

"Well, duh. I do work at the gallery, you know. I would think you'd want your own mother's business to be a success."

"Yeah, I do." Buffy sighed. "But Giles is going to be so embarrassed."

"Giles. Embarrassed. Well, that's a stretch," Cordelia retorted. "If he's that squeamish, he shouldn't have posed for the pictures."

"Twenty years ago," Buffy replied. "He should be allowed to live down some of the things he used to do."

"Says the girl who burned down her high school gym. Over-identify much?"

"Buffy, what did you want to talk to us about?" Willow asked, playing peacemaker.

"Giles gave me a ride to school this morning," Buffy said, opening her juice bottle.

"That's your big news flash, Buff?" Xander took a forkful of stew, examined it closely and put the fork down.

"Ethan was there. Drawing. At seven in the morning."

"You were up and about at seven in the morning?" Willow's eyes grew wide.

"Mom's a basket case." Buffy told her. "Anyway, Giles was still in bed, but Ethan was there. Don't say it." Buffy glared at Cordelia. Cordelia merely smiled.

"Thank you for that mental image, Buffy," Xander said sarcastically. "I'll put that in the gallery along with the rest of the pictures."

"Ethan showed me a picture he'd drawn," Buffy said slowly. "Xander, when you got Giles out of the mansion, how bad was it?"

"What?" Willow frowned in confusion. Xander straightened and all good natured humour fled from his face.

"It was bad, Buffy," he said quietly.

"How bad?" Buffy leaned forward, intent.

"Bad. Leave it at that," Xander said harshly. Buffy fell back in her chair and blew out a breath.

"Buffy?" Willow reached out a hand.

"Giles never said a word about what happened at the mansion," Buffy said slowly. "By the time I got back, he was fine."

"He never said anything to any of us, either," Willow put in softly.

"Angel hasn't said anything," Buffy continued. "I had to find out from Ethan Rayne."

"Find out what, Buffy? That he'd been tortured?" Xander replied. "You knew that."

"Yes, but..." Buffy swallowed, fighting back tears. "I didn't know how bad it was."

"What did you expect? That Angel was going to ask nicely? He broke Giles' fucking fingers, Buffy," Xander hissed. Willow and Cordelia exchanged glances, unnerved.

"Enough," Cordelia said firmly. "Both of you. If Giles had wanted to share, he would have said something. God, give the man some space, okay?"

"Cordelia..."

"No. She's right." Willow spoke up, resolve face firmly in place. "Whether it's what happened with Angel or this thing with Ethan, it's none of our business."

"He's my Watcher," Buffy whispered. "It is my business."

"No, Buffy. It's really not."

* * * * *

Joyce was a bundle of nerves as she unlocked the gallery. The show was ready; she knew that. The paintings and a few of the sketches were in the back room, with a badge checker to make sure that no one underage got into that room. The rest of the works were properly displayed in the special events area and the small gift shop, with the 'Let it Rayne' totebags on prominent display, was open for business. Everything was fine. So why did she have this horrible sense of impending disaster?

She had mixed feelings about this show. She wanted it to do well, but part of her was horribly embarrassed and distressed on behalf of a man who was such an important part of Buffy's life.

It hadn't helped any that Buffy had come home from school subdued and unhappy, then fled to Willow's house after pretending to eat dinner.

"Everything will be fine." Ethan Rayne sidled up to her, wineglass in hand. "Trust me."

Joyce looked at him sharply. Trust wasn't the first thing that came to mind when she thought of Ethan Rayne. He merely smiled at her and took another sip of wine.

As people started to arrive, Joyce relaxed a little. Smiling and making small talk was automatic, and there were enough art aficionados to make her comfortable.

And Rayne was charming and affable, talking easily to people who remembered him as the proprietor of the costume shop, even if the shop had been very short lived.

The gallery was comfortably full, with more out of town attendees than she expected. The admission take was higher than she'd budgeted and the gift shop was doing brisk business. Everything was going incredibly well. She smiled to herself; she had been worrying for nothing.

"...Is that?" The shrill voice of Annie Deshan, the local PTA president, could be heard above the murmur of voices. Joyce felt her heart sink and the sense of disaster returned full force.

"...I'm sure it is..."

"...School librarian..."

"...English, you know. They're all like that..."

"...Disgraceful..."

"...Delicious..."

"...Librarian, you say? Is he single...?"

Joyce closed her eyes, trying not to panic. The back room was getting crowded, and the voices getting louder.

"Yes, it is." Rayne's voice, amused, was heard above the babble. "Rupert and I shared a flat in London years ago and I couldn't afford a model. He graciously agreed to provide a figure for me."

"You know Rupert Giles?" Frank Fanshawe, Sunnydale High's history teacher, asked blankly.

"Oh, yes," Rayne replied carelessly. "We go way back. He's very interesting to draw. Some people are and some aren't, you know. I found it most amusing to draw him in some rather disconcerting poses. He, being much more concerned with dignity than I am, didn't find it quite so amusing."

* * * * *

Snyder pushed his way through the crush of people. Barb had already latched on to her friends, and he was damned if he'd stand there making small talk to some artsy fartsy housewife. He didn't do small talk. He'd take a look at the pictures, drink one glass of bad wine, then leave.

He had to admit, he rather liked Rayne's style. None of that surrealist, impressionist crap. These were real pictures. He stopped at the one of the guy in front of the pub and gave in to a mild twinge of envy. Whoever this guy was, he had it. He was cool in a way that Snyder had never been and had always wanted to be. Snyder could easily imagine a girl or three hanging off this guy's arm, with him treating them like trash and the girls just lapping it up and begging for more.

With mild interest, he wandered into the back room, expecting something more explicit in that whole bad boy lifestyle. He wasn't disappointed, nor was he shocked. The weapons, the drugs, the sex; it was all part and parcel of a youth he had never had.

He stopped suddenly. There was something familiar about the model. Very familiar. He narrowed his eyes and looked, mentally adding about twenty years, thirty pounds and heavier glasses.

Rupert Giles. It was the damned librarian. He stepped closer, examining each painting intently. Yes, nose in a book. Check. The violent brawler, the eyes reminiscent of the way the mild mannered stuttering idiot had threatened him in September. Check. The music and drug scenario. No parallel, but all too plausible. Check. The nude... God, but Giles was hung. Something else to hate the guy for. Check.

Snyder tried to hide the huge smile threatening to emerge. He had the British bastard now. It was all right here. Rupert Giles - druggie, queer, violent, Satan-worshipper, and all around bad news - was going down. Going down hard.

* * * * *

Willow wasn't quite sure how to break the silence. Buffy was brooding and Xander was fidgeting, each dealing with their own thoughts in their own way. She wasn't terribly angst free, either. She wasn't at all sure what her parents were going to say about the exhibit, or whether they were going to notice that the model was her helpful, kind school librarian. Willow comforted herself in the secure knowledge that her parents rarely paid any attention to anything not directly under their noses. She glanced at Xander, who was braiding her hair into cornrows, and he gave her a half smile. His parents wouldn't set foot in the gallery, so he didn't have to face any awkward questions.

Willow looked at Buffy, who was hugging her battered old teddy bear with a blank, bleak expression on her face. She wanted to hold Buffy and tell her everything was going to be okay, but she knew she'd be lying. Willow knew that there had been more to Giles' encounter with Angel than he was willing to let them know. And Xander had gone tightlipped and angry when she asked him about it.

"I think Cordelia's right," Buffy said suddenly. Xander and Willow jumped.

"It's official," Xander stated dramatically. "Living on the Hellmouth has finally sent the Buffster off the deep end. Cordy?"

"Giles told Ethan," Buffy said, without seeming to notice Xander's comment. "He wouldn't tell me or you, but he told Ethan."

"Buffy, Giles has known Ethan a long time," Willow said, fumbling for words. "And they're the same age. Maybe they're like me and Xander. Y'know, old friends."

"Gee, does that mean I can look forward to you beating the crap out of me when I get to be forty?" Xander put in.

"Depends on what you do," Buffy replied, with a half smile. "No, there was something in the way Ethan looked at me, as if he wanted me to know."

"And how does that make Cordy right about anything?"

"I think they're... intimate," Buffy said. Xander and Willow tried not to squirm. "Giles was naked in the picture. Just like in the paintings. And Ethan was there this morning, feet up on the coffee table, looking right at home."

"No." Xander shot to his feet, causing Willow to yelp, as he had forgotten to let go of her hair. "No, that's totally wrong."

"Xander?" Willow exchanged looks with Buffy. Xander was acting oddly, even for him.

"No, it's wrong, Will. Giles likes women, okay? He hates Ethan. He cheered when you hit him, didn't he, Buff?"

"Yeah. Giles was really, really into having me beat up on Ethan. Held a gun to his head, even."

"A gun?" Willow sat up, startled. "Giles hates guns. I mean, he does know how to use a crossbow, which is sort of like a gun, except with arrows. But I can't see Giles with a firearm."

"He seemed pretty damned comfortable with it," Buffy replied. "Guys, I don't think we really know Giles at all."

"I know enough," Xander said stubbornly. "Giles is not gay or bi or whatever the politically correct term is. He's not."

Willow frowned and glanced at Buffy again. Buffy had lapsed back into brooding. Xander, on the other hand, was crackling with energy, most of it negative. Okay, the idea of Giles with a guy was seriously weird, but not so far out to lunch that it warranted such a strong reaction. Unless...

Unless Xander was having issues with his own sexuality. Willow bit her lip, uncertain how she felt about that. This wasn't something she could talk to Xander about, ever. Even if she did sort of understand. She, too, had been having disturbing thoughts about her own feelings. Sometimes she found herself admiring other girls. At first, she thought she might be looking to see how she could fit in better, how she could have some the appeal other girls had. Then she realised that she wasn't looking at their clothes or makeup or overall image; she was checking them out.

Her mother's psychology books reassured her somewhat. It was normal to have thoughts like those. Perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Xander, on the other hand, had no such reassurance and, as a guy, was less secure in his masculinity than she was in her femininity.

Xander really needed to talk to somebody about this, but the only person she could think of who he could talk to was Giles. And Giles had suddenly, abruptly and irrevocably become a sexual being, and a more than slightly attractive one at that.

Ethan Rayne had, once again, stirred up trouble. Damn him.

* * * * *

The opening should be over by now, Giles thought. And he placed a mental bet that, first thing in the morning, he would be called into the principal's office for a little chat. The only question would be how fast Snyder could put together an official inquiry.

He knew Snyder wasn't going to let this slide. Snyder had been suspicious of him from the very beginning of his tenure as principal. Flutie hadn't cared to look too closely, but petty minded as he could be, Snyder wasn't entirely stupid.

Damn Ethan, anyway. He had always been meaning to sort out his feelings about Ethan someday, but he thought it could wait until after his time as an active Watcher ended. He had some vague notion that when Buffy died - hopefully many, many years from now - he would be able to find a new life for himself.

Most Watchers with an active Slayer died very soon after their Slayers did. Poor Sam Zabuto was still hanging in there, but he was consumed with grief and Giles expected to hear of his death at any time. He hoped to beat the odds, though.

He had not trained his Slayer since childhood. He had lived outside the Council and its rules and regulations for a time. He knew that Buffy's death would hit him hard, but he had some hope that he could survive. He had, after all, survived so much already.

Jenny. Sweet, delectable Jenny. She had disrupted all his neat, tidy little plans with one of her bewitching, crooked smiles. She had come into his life too early, dammit, and she had paid the ultimate price.

For a very brief time, she had been his hope and salvation. She was everything he had postponed and denied himself since he had picked up the mantle of a Watcher. She was his talisman that, someday, somehow, he could escape this bizarre life and the destiny with which he had been born. That someday he could have someone of his very own, of his own choosing.

It was now nearly eighteen years since he could not deny that destiny. Nearly eighteen years since he had left the man he loved - yes, no matter how much he denied it to the Council and to himself, he had truly loved Ethan - to immerse himself in the life he now had.

Eighteen years was a long time. Time enough to find other lovers, which he had. Time enough to fall in love with a beautiful colleague with a sharp wit and a sharper tongue, which he had. Yet, underneath it all, there had always been an awareness of an infuriating, exasperating man, who angered him and bewitched him in equal measure.

Ethan was not good for him. He knew that. Ethan knew exactly which emotional buttons to push to get him to react. But Ethan also knew exactly what he needed. When he left to return to the Council and his studies, unable to deny the soul deep ache, Ethan had helped him pack and wished him Godspeed.

Ethan loved him. Love hadn't stopped Ethan from doing his damnedest to screw up his life, but then again, nothing had ever stopped Ethan from making malicious mischief. There was a time when he enjoyed Ethan's games almost as much as Ethan did. It was only when the innocent and undeserving got hurt that he would step in and try to stop Ethan. Usually that meant hitting Ethan until he bled.

So why hadn't he hit Ethan this time? God knows, he wanted to. The moment he answered the frantic, incoherent phone call from Buffy about the paintings, he had longed to feel the crunch of Ethan's nose cartilage under his fist.

The soft knock interrupted his mental musings and he went to open the door. It was, as he expected, Ethan. He briefly contemplated hitting him, then decided not to. It would solve nothing.

"Sitting in the dark, brooding about my deficiencies as a human being?" Ethan said lightly, walking over to the lamp by the sofa and turning it on.

"More or less. How did the show go?"

"Splendidly. Would you like to beat me up now or wait for the reviews in the morning paper?"

"I'm not going to hit you, Ethan." He was surprised to find he meant that quite sincerely. He was too tired to get into yet another round of hating Ethan. Ethan's crimes were mere bagatelles compared to what Angelus had done.

"Why not?" Ethan sounded genuinely puzzled. Was he really that predictable and prone to violence?

"What you've done only hurts me. No one else."

"So you're willing to defend the world against my perfidity, but not lift a finger to defend yourself?" Ethan mocked. "You really do need to work on those self esteem issues."

"My self esteem is fine."

"Considering the number of people who were ogling my painting of you, it should be," Ethan replied.

"Ethan, do you want me to hit you?"

"Certainly not, but I would rather get it over with," Ethan replied, seriously. "It makes me nervous to have you so calm. I know just how devious you can be."

"You taught me well."

"Piffle. You have a natural talent for it, just as I do. We were good together."

"We were bad together, Ethan. In all senses of the word. We still are."

"Indeed." Ethan's eyes gleamed. "You do realize you've just given me the perfect segue into an indecent proposal?"

"Are you offering one?"

"Always, love." Ethan moved cat like to stand next to him, one hand resting lightly on the small of his back. He tried not to flinch and almost succeeded.

"Ethan, I..."

"We don't have to go any further than you want, Ripper," Ethan said softly. "I just want to touch you. Surely that isn't too much to ask for over twenty years of fidelity?"

"Fidelity? You?"

"Emotionally speaking, of course," Ethan amended. "I haven't truly cared for anyone else."

"Except yourself."

"Well, yes. How can I honestly expect anyone to love me if I don't find myself worthy of love? I freely admit I am the centre of my own universe..."

It was times like this when he wanted to either kill Ethan or kiss him. So he turned and kissed Ethan and, in the process, cut off whatever he was about to say.

"You are far too fond of the sound of your own voice," he said, taking Ethan in his arms. Ethan grinned and leaned forward to capture his lips again.

Eighteen years melted away as if they had never been. He was in Ethan's arms, his tongue in Ethan's mouth and his hands all over Ethan's body. It was astonishing how easily he could be aroused by Ethan, and how eagerly Ethan responded to him.

They kissed for a long time, their easy familiarity with one another negating any need to hurry. There was no question this time as to where they were going to end up. Giles trusted Ethan enough to know that he wouldn't push further than he was prepared to go. Ethan, for all his faults, wanted willing lovers, ones who would be seduced by his mercurial charm. Besides, Giles thought hazily as Ethan explored his jawline with his tongue, he was physically much stronger than Ethan had ever been and could stop him at any time.

After Angelus, he wasn't sure if he could ever want anyone ever again. Jenny/Drusilla's kisses had been hot, and sweet, but they were an affirmation of his heart. There had been no physical response.

It wasn't until the damned candy that he had found that his body was, indeed, still capable of sexual response. The memories of Angelus' torture had been hazy at best and in his own mind, he was the teenage hooligan he had once been. The Ripper part of him had always been exceedingly interested in immediate, physical gratification, but that part of him was so rarely seen these days. He wasn't sixteen or twenty two and ready to challenge the world on his own terms; he was middle aged, scarred and scared.

Ethan seemed to be aware of the fear. Gentle Ethan, the Ethan he liked the best, seemed to be at the forefront tonight. Gentle hands and gentle caresses, treating him like the fragile object he knew himself to be.

* * * * *

Much as he liked his flat, the biggest problem in seduction was finding a graceful way to move from the living room to the loft. Ethan solved that problem by simply taking him by the hand and leading him up the stairs, letting go only long enough to turn out the lights and lock the door.

"This is so much nicer than our first flat," Ethan commented as they undressed and slipped into bed, with a remarkable lack of awkwardness.

"That was a horrid little squat in North London. The crypts in Restfield cemetery are nicer than that."

"It wasn't all that small," Ethan objected, taking hold of his glasses and setting them on the bedside table. "Squalid, yes, but it was the best that Phillip and I could afford. At least we had enough room for you and Deirdre to move in."

"Did I ever thank you for that?"

"You paid for nearly three months rent right off. Thanks enough, I think." Ethan snuggled down next to him. "Do you have condoms, love? If not, I do."

"I think so. I rather miss the old days when such considerations were not necessary."

"That was before the era of incurable, socially unacceptable diseases and God alone knows who you've been with."

"Joyce Summers. Olivia. Nothing to worry about on my end."

"Mmm. My list isn't a whole lot longer. Sarah and Lisette, of course. A rather strange young man who wanted me to humiliate him."

"And you obliged."

"Of course. Once. He was a little too strange, even for me."

"Who are Sarah and Lisette? Art groupies?"

"Wives." Ethan pressed a kiss to his chest, still gently caressing.

"You got married?"

"Twice. Sarah left when she discovered that I didn't fancy living in an artist's garret and indulging her rebellion against her family. Got a nice bit of alimony off her," Ethan said, carelessly. "Lisette got religion and things were never the same after that. Her little Bible study group really objected to me summoning a Garuda."

"Garudas are harmless. A bit on the repulsive side, but nothing to get upset over."

"That's what I said, but I don't think she heard me over the panicked screaming." Ethan grinned. "Next thing I know, I'm served with divorce papers. Has anyone told you it's not polite to want to discuss previous lovers while being seduced?"

"Not recently. Perhaps you could give me a refresher course?"

"All right." Ethan sighed. "Lesson one, Ripper - shut up."

* * * * *

As a general rule, Ethan preferred to be on top. Ripper, he recalled, didn't particularly care one way or the other. It had been a shock to discover that Ripper was even less inhibited than he was; that Ripper simply enjoyed sex. In the nearly three years they had together, Ethan discovered that it simply didn't matter who did what; it was all part of the erotic adventure of loving Rupert Giles.

There was very little of that Rupert in the man in his arms. Ripper wasn't being coy or self conscious; he was, despite the evident desire, frightened. If he hadn't spent the six months after Randall's death dealing with Ripper's near total breakdown, he would never have guessed that the man making him writhe was scared shitless.

Ethan knew that Ripper would allow him to fuck him and would give every indication of enjoying it, but he also knew that Ripper was slipping into one of his damned personae, this one the eager lover. It wasn't quite forced, but it wasn't quite real, either.

A sudden surge of irrational anger shot through Ethan and he pushed Ripper away.

"Fuck, Ripper, stop it," he snapped. Ripper grinned at him and reached for him again.

"I thought that was what you wanted."

"I want you, dammit. Not some hand drawn facsimile of the man you used to be," Ethan retorted. "Don't pretend that this doesn't bother you. Don't pretend, Ripper. Not to me."

"What makes you think it's pretence?" Oh, God, the calm, hurt voice. Ethan closed his eyes for a moment to pray for patience. He had forgotten that Ripper knew him as well as he knew Ripper.

"And stop with the hurt puppy voice, too."

"Puppies don't have voices," Giles immediately objected.

"Smart arse. Tell me what you want, Ripper. Don't even think about trying to tell me what you think I want to hear, either," Ethan replied. "The point of this is for both of us to get laid, not for you to play martyr."

"I'm not, Ethan."

"But you're not comfortable, either, are you?"

There was a long silence.

"What do you want, Ripper?" Ethan spoke softly, in a tone that he rarely used, the one that almost automatically came out of his mouth when he was with Ripper and not playing games.

"I want..." Giles stuttered for a moment. "I want you. I want to do all the things we used to do. And I want... don't lean over me like that. You're looming."

"Sorry." Ethan shifted so he was leaning on the pillows, flat on his back. "Sit up, love. Yes, there. On the end of the bed."

He could tell that Giles was a little bit puzzled, but he obeyed easily enough. Pushing the bedclothes away, Ethan waved his hands and they were bathed in a soft light.

Then he started to speak, running his hands over his own body.

"I always liked having you touch me. Your hands running over my shoulders and down across my chest. You have such lovely hands, Ripper. Big and warm and slightly calloused from playing guitar. Those callouses feel so good on my nipples, love," Ethan said softly. "I liked it when you'd kiss me until I could no longer think of spells, far less chant them. You would talk to me in Latin and the spells you wove were far more powerful than any demon we could conjure."

He kept talking, telling Ripper things he once swore to himself he'd never reveal. Although the words were sexual, intended to arouse - and they did - he was acutely aware he was making himself as vulnerable as Ripper felt. There was more than words and actions in his vivid descriptions of the acts they had both enjoyed; there was an undercurrent of the deep, abiding love he felt. And he knew that Rupert could read those undercurrents.

He ventured a look at his lover, unable to resist seeing how his words affected him. In the soft magical light, Ripper's eyes had darkened with arousal, and his body had reacted potently. Yes, Ripper knew, as he did, the power of words. And the greater power of words backed by emotion.

He was shaking a little as Ripper reached forward and touched him. The first touches were harsh, almost painful, and he arched towards those strong hands.

He had almost forgotten how it felt to have a warm, male body pressing into his; Ripper was the last one to do this. And he had forgotten how wonderful it felt. Then again, few of his previous lovers had Rupert's skill and enthusiasm for sensual pleasure and none had made such a thorough study of what he liked and didn't like.

Softly, he reminded himself. Ripper couldn't handle the wild, untamed sex that they used to enjoy; Angelus had taken care of that. But the sweet seduction of skin against skin, and the slow, leisurely exploration with hand and mouth was good, too.

The sudden respite from the weight on top of him resulted in decidedly mixed feelings. Ripper had never been small and he had gained weight since they were in their twenties. However, disappointment at the loss of his lover's skin on his was sharper than the sense of relief.

The disappointment changed abruptly to all encompassing pleasure as he felt Ripper's mouth engulf him. Oh, dear Lord, but he had forgotten how good that felt. And those big, warm hands lifting him easily, adjusting him to just the right angle... Good to know that Ripper hadn't lost his touch.

A tidal wave of pure sensation washed over him and he arched into that mouth, a groan coming deep from within. After a few moments, he looked down to see Ripper grinning at him, a very large canary who had just swallowed some... um... cream.

He grinned back and pointed vaguely to the chair where he had draped his trousers.

"Front pocket, love," he said and shifted, spreading his legs further. Ripper leaned over and grabbed the trousers and rummaged in to front pocket.

"Let me." Ethan took the foil packet from him, along with the small tube of lubricant and prepared his lover, then lay back down.

"Ethan, I'm not sure..." Ripper sounded nervous. "I mean, you already..."

"You haven't. And I do like the see things to the end. You know that," Ethan purred, running a hand along a naked flank.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Why do I find that hard to believe?" Ethan lifted an eyebrow. "Get on with it, Ripper. I feel rather silly posing like this if you aren't going to fuck me."

"And if I am?" The sensual lover was back, Ethan was glad to note.

"Then I won't comment on how silly you look, with that white condom on." Ethan laughed. "Come on, love, let's look silly together, shall we?"

"To quote my young friends, let's shall." Ripper smiled. Then, he carefully, too gently, proceeded to lower himself on Ethan's body.

* * * * *

Waking up next to Ethan was a little odd. Giles had been alone for so long that waking up next to anyone was a rare occurrence, although not nearly as rare as Buffy and her friends seemed to think. He had shared this bed with others, but none of them felt quite as natural as having Ethan snuggled deep into the pillows. Then again, in the last year of their living together, they had given up the pretence of having separate beds in the ramshackle flat. That Ethan could so easily fill the spaces in this bed after so long was what struck him as peculiar.

Ethan always contorted himself into the oddest positions when he slept. This particular iteration was a favourite; head under a heap of pillows, arms outstretched and bent downward at the elbow, hips canted to one side, with the lower knee poking out from the blankets. Ethan's sleeping mind was every bit as twisted as his waking one.

With a final glance at his bedmate, Giles grabbed a tie and went downstairs. Pouring a cup of tea from the pot he'd made between showering and getting dressed, he pondered the upcoming day.

Work was going to be a bitch and a half. Even if Snyder didn't call a meeting about the pictures - which was unlikely, since Snyder called him on the carpet for such heinous crimes as eating lunch and calling Miss Calendar "Jenny" during school hours - he still had to contend with the entire school knowing about the exhibit. If nothing else, Cordelia would have told her coterie about the restricted pictures and Harmony Kendall was Sunnydale High's answer to Nigel Dempster.

To top it all off, Ethan would have access to his flat and God alone knew what Ethan would do with some of his more esoteric belongings.

All things considered, the day did not hold much promise, but he still felt better than he had since Jenny's death. It's amazing what getting laid can do for one's disposition, he thought.

* * * * *

Buffy and Willow met up with Xander near their lockers and, before they had exchanged more than a quick hello, Snyder had pounced.

"Miss Summers. Miss Rosenberg. Mr. Harris," Snyder intoned, looking meaningfully at each of them. "I want to see the three of you in my office in five minutes."

"But... English class...," Willow protested.

"Five minutes," Snyder repeated, then turned to cross the hall. "Miss Chase..."

"What was that?" Xander shook his head, then lowered his voice. "Something happen on patrol, Buff?"

"No. A couple of vamps. Nothing I couldn't handle." Buffy shrugged.

"Xander, you haven't been cutting classes again, have you?" Willow frowned. "You know Snyder blames Buffy for everything."

"No more than usual," Xander replied. "Hey, G-Man."

He waved a hand toward Giles, who had just arrived and was walking rapidly through the halls toward the library.

"I can't talk right now and don't call me that," Giles replied, not slowing down.

"Giles!" Buffy caught up, easily matching his long stride. "What's the deal? Snyder wants to talk to us in his office, like, right now. What's going on?"

"I daresay he wants to talk to me as well." Giles slowed a little. "Look, Buffy, now is not a good time for you to be seen talking to me."

"What?"

"I'm sure Principal Snyder will be happy to explain." With that, Giles lengthened his stride and was gone. Buffy frowned.

"O-kay...," Xander said, coming up beside her. "Is everybody on weirdness medication this morning?"

* * * * *

"Miss Summers? Would you please come with me?" Buffy looked at Snyder, then at Giles, then at the woman who was now smiling at her with professional niceness. She scowled.

"Why?"

"I would like to talk to you for a few minutes, okay?" The niceness didn't falter. Buffy, with another glance Giles-ward, nodded and followed the woman to an empty classroom.

"I'm Nancy Graves, from Child Protection Services," the woman smiled reassuringly. Buffy was not reassured. "I just want to talk to you for a few minutes."

"About what?" Oh, God, let this not be about the little incident in the courtyard last week. She hadn't hit Larry that hard. Barely enough to bruise. Really.

"You spend a great deal of time with Mr Giles, don't you?" Nancy said, with another of her creepy smiles.

"Um. Yeah," Buffy admitted, every fibre of her being going on alert.

"Does Mr Giles ever touch you?"

"Touch me?" Buffy frowned, her mind automatically going to the number of times she'd trained with Giles, and the number of times she'd kicked his ass.

"Buffy, I'm going to be perfectly honest with you," Nancy began. "And I want you to be perfectly honest with me. There's no reason to be frightened. I'm here to help you."

"Help me with what?" Buffy widened her eyes. What was this woman going on about?

"Has Mr Giles ever touched you in an inappropriate way?"

"Hunh?"

"Has he made any suggestive remarks to you, or looked at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable?" Nancy waited. "Buffy, has Mr Giles sexually abused you?"

Buffy stared at the woman for nearly a full minute, then burst into peals of laughter.

* * * * *

"Oh, please." Cordelia looked bored. "Giles is definitely not interested in schoolgirls."

"You sound very sure." The social worker, Lisa Meddows, looked keenly at Cordelia.

"Trust me, I know when some old letch is coming on to me," Cordelia replied. "Mr. Hennessey, the guidance counsellor? Totally creepy. I swear - eyeprints all over my butt. Giles? If I were, like, twenty years older, maybe. If he ever gets over what happened last year."

"Last year?"

"He planned this romantic evening with his girlfriend. Gave her the key to his apartment and everything," Cordelia said blithely. "He came home to find her murdered in his bed. I think he got a bit gunshy after that. Not that he was ever Mr Smooth Moves to begin with. Everybody in school knows that Giles is shy and kinda geeky, so what's with the third degree?"

"There was some concern, after the exhibit at the gallery last night."

"Concern? That Giles was suddenly going to volunteer to model for art class? I don't think so," Cordelia said emphatically. "Can I go now?"

* * * * *

"Of course. Giles touches me on the shoulder sometimes... Oh! Touch me as in... No, of course not. Well, there was that one time when everybody thought I was a va..., um, dead. He hugged me right after Xander let me go, and that wasn't the kind of touching you were talking about, right?" Willow bit her lip to stop the flow of babble.

"No. Willow, some people are concerned about the amount of time you and your friends spend with Mr Giles."

"The library is a great place to hang out," Willow said, enthusiastically. "It's nice and quiet. I used to hang out in the library even before Giles. It's even better with Giles, though. He has the coolest books and knows so much about everything. Except computers. If it was up to him, computers would be banned from the library."

* * * * *

"No."

"Could you elaborate on that, um, Daniel?"

"I could." Oz shrugged.

"Daniel, you can talk to someone else, if you'd feel more comfortable."

"No, I'm cool."

"Daniel, I am trying to help you. You say that Mr Giles has never made any sort of inappropriate advance to you or any of your friends, right?"

"Right. You were asking if Giles was screwing any of us. I said no. He isn't and he wouldn't. End of story."

* * * * *

"What?! No way. No way, no how, unh-hunh," Xander protested when he realised what was being asked. "Giles? Some kind of pervert? No. Absolutely not."

"Are you sure?"

"What do you mean, am I sure? Yeah, I'm sure. I'd know if anyone touched me that way, wouldn't I? And Willow and I are best buds. She'd tell me if he was some kind of touchy-feely-gropy guy," Xander said, emphatically. "In fact, I kinda resent you for even suggesting such a thing."

"Principal Snyder was concerned..."

"Snyder? You believe Snyder? Man, that guy is out to get Giles. And Buffy. Snyder still hasn't gotten over Giles making Snyder let Buffy back in school."

"Pardon? Mr Giles made Principal Snyder take Buffy back?"

"Yeah. I dunno what Giles said, but Giles can be pretty intimidating when he wants to be."

"Intimidating?"

"Yeah. He gets this glare and this little smile that is..." Xander suddenly realised what he was saying, and clammed up.

* * * * *

Buffy put her hand hard over her mouth, trying to stop the last of her giggles from escaping. She used her other hand to wipe away a stray tear or two.

"I'm sorry, but..." She let out a giggle that insisted on making an appearance. "Giles? Sexually abusing anybody? God, when he was sweet on Miss Calendar, he practiced for days on how to ask her out. It was so funny."

"And I understand that Miss Calendar is now deceased?"

"Yeah." Buffy felt no urge to giggle now. "He found her, you know. It was... I don't want to talk about it."

"Why not?"

"Because it was horrible and it's private. He loved her and she's dead and now you're trying to tell me you think he's some kind of a sicko because he spends time with me? Giles is... Giles. He helps me with stuff and he lets us hang out at the library, which is way better than having us hang out where there's drinking... and... and smoking. He's a good influence on us."

"And, yet, you're still not performing up to your potential academically."

"I said he's a good influence, not a miracle worker."

* * * * *

Snyder sat back in his chair, a look of true contentment on his face.

"Dr. Lyttle, this is Rupert Giles, our librarian," Snyder began, oozing good cheer. "It has come to my attention that Mr. Giles may be an inappropriate choice for unsupervised access to minors." He paused to savour the moment.

"I attended a very interesting art exhibit last night and it motivated me to look a little further into Mr. Giles' background," Snyder continued, with a grin. "It would appear that Mr. Giles left a few things out of his application to the school board."

"Dr. Giles," Giles said coldly, tired of Snyder's games. If he wanted to play it that way, so be it. "If you have investigated my background and are insisting on formalities, you may as well acknowledge my credentials."

"Oh, I'm well aware of your academic record, Dr. Giles." Snyder smiled. "But you neglected to mention your criminal record."

"I've never been convicted of a criminal offense," Giles replied stiffly. That was true enough, although it had taken a certain amount of unorthodox persuasion on his and Ethan's part to avoid a lengthy stay at Her Majesty's pleasure.

"Breaking and entering, 1978. Charges dropped when the plaintiff refused to press charges," Snyder read. "Grand theft auto, 1978 and 1980. Charges dropped for lack of evidence. Possession, three charges in 1979 and 1980. You copped a plea on those. Six police raids on your place of residence between 1978 and 1981. Numerous counts of drunk and disorderly and public mischief." Snyder was enjoying this way too much.

"I think that will be quite sufficient." Giles cut in coldly. He was beginning to get a little nervous, as well as angry. So the Council hadn't expunged his record with the police in London, as was policy for exactly this sort of situation. He suspected they had left the police files intact as payback for not telling them everything about his adventures.

"And to top it all off, there was the death by misadventure of one of your friends. Randall James fell, jumped, or was pushed off the roof of your apartment building during some kind of drunken revel." Snyder sat back, his hands clasped over his stomach. "Would you care to explain that?"

"I don't owe you any explanations," Giles said, ice coating the words. He tried, with some success, to quell the hot flood of rage running through him.

"Principal Snyder?" Lyttle finally spoke. "I'm not sure how that relates to your current concerns. When did this happen, Dr Giles?"

"November, 1980," Giles replied, grateful for the intervention.

"And you returned to Oxford for the following fall session, correct?"

"Yes."

"And there have been no incidents involving the police since?"

"None, unless you count the extraordinary number of times I've been attacked since moving to America," Giles said, with a touch of asperity. "This is a remarkably violent country, Dr Lyttle."

"Yes, well..." Lyttle let that trail off, then shuffled the papers on her lap. "Principal Snyder, I admit, I am still a little puzzled why this has suddenly become a concern. Of course, we do have to investigate any possibility of abuse of minors, but I don't see why such suspicions would fall upon Dr Giles at this time."

"You don't?" Snyder spluttered. "Have you seen the pictures at the gallery?"

"No, I have not," Lyttle replied calmly. "I really must go see what all the fuss is about, though. Shall I tell you what I have seen? These reports indicate that Dr Giles had a rather wild youth and appears to have learned a lesson in responsibility and maturity when his friend died. That's a common enough pattern and certainly not anything to be concerned about at this late date."

"But he's naked in the pictures," Snyder practically whined.

"You posed for nudes?" Lyttle favoured Giles with a sidelong glance.

"Ethan was constantly drawing me. Quite annoying, really." Giles strove for a vaguely amused tone. It must have succeeded, since Lyttle smiled.

"I think we can safely put the issues of the pictures aside, then," Lyttle said, putting the papers back into her briefcase.

"Thank you, Dr Lyttle." Giles tried to hold back a smirk at Snyder.

"I find nothing suspicious about the existence of a few pictures of you in your youth, Dr Giles," Lyttle continued. "However, the amount of time you spend with Buffy, Willow, Alexander, Cordelia and Daniel does concern me. Three very pretty girls and two attractive boys spend an inordinate amount of time alone with you. You are, according to your transcripts, extraordinarily intelligent, resourceful and, despite a tendency to stammer, very articulate. You left an extremely lucrative and prestigious position at the British Museum, with every indication of success and promotion in your chosen field, to become a high school librarian."

"My career choices are not at issue here."

"Oh? I believe they are," Lyttle countered. "You have gathered around you a group of young men and women who all, in one way or another, have less than ideal home lives. Buffy moved from LA to come to a small town high school, after her parent's divorce. Willow's parents give her constant pressure to conform to their own ideals. Cordelia is the stereotypical poor little rich girl. Alexander's parents have substance abuse problems and Daniel has been left alone to fend for himself for months at a time. All of this information is easily accessible to anyone on the faculty."

"Perhaps your agency should have stepped in long before this, then."

"We can do nothing without a complaint, Dr Giles, and parents have rights regarding their children that you do not," Lyttle reminded him. "Dr Giles, are you sexually attracted to adolescents?"

Giles counted to ten in his head. In five different languages. Backwards. Then he took a deep breath.

"Not since I was one myself," he said slowly. "I have never at any time abused children or abused the position of trust and authority I hold as a staff member of this school."

"You can't tell me that you don't think those girls are attractive," Snyder growled.

"They are, as are a number of other girls in this school," Giles said carefully. "Southern California has a reputation for pretty girls, I believe."

"And boys," Snyder sneered. "And you like boys, too, isn't that right?"

"My personal preferences are none of your concern," Giles snapped back.

"But they are mine," Lyttle cut in smoothly. "Dr Giles, from where I sit, I believe there is some cause for concern. Are you aware that strings were pulled to get for you the position you currently occupy?"

Oh, yes. Giles knew that the Council had found him as unobtrusive a position as was possible so he could be near Buffy on a daily basis. He marshalled his thoughts, preparing to lie through his teeth.

"I did ask some friends to help me find a position here in California where I would have time to work on some research projects without isolating myself completely," Giles explained. There. No lies yet. "They told me about this position. Although I am somewhat overqualified, I can perform my professional duties and still have time to study."

"Which friends?" Snyder butted in.

"My friends at the British Museum, and at Oxford," Giles permitted a small, condescending smile. "I have contacts in the academic community. Some of them are on the Board of Education here in California."

"And what is the research?"

"I am writing a book on mythology. Specifically on mythological creatures. Demons and the like." Giles marvelled that he still wasn't exactly lying. Surely the meticulous Watcher's diary counted?

"And coming to California? I doubt Sunnydale has anything to compare to the libraries and research materials in England."

"No, there is nothing like the Bodleian here in America," Giles replied. "However, there is nothing like California weather, especially when compared to England."

"You came here for the weather?" Snyder exclaimed.

"There aren't that many other attractions for me," Giles replied. "Dr Lyttle, I've spent a lifetime in old places with rather stifling atmospheres. Is it so surprising that I would want to spend some of my career where I don't have to carry an umbrella constantly? I have all the research materials I need for the moment."

"So you deny any inappropriate behaviour on your part towards these young people?" Lyttle asked sharply.

"Yes," Giles bit out.

"Principal Snyder, I will have to speak to the social workers who have been talking to the children. Their reports will determine whether there are grounds for a full scale inquiry," Lyttle said briskly. "In the meantime, Dr. Giles, you will be assigned a chaperon while in the company of the children until our investigation is complete."

"What? That's uncalled for," Giles protested.

"It is necessary."

"I could suspend Dr Giles for the duration," Snyder offered, with a sideways glance at Giles.

"Innocent until proven guilty, Principal Snyder. This is a delicate matter and needs to be handled with the utmost discretion. I trust I can count on you for that?"

Snyder didn't look too happy, but he agreed.

* * * * *

"Buffy, would you please explain to me what is going on?" Joyce looked at her daughter with ill concealed impatience.

Buffy took a deep breath and faced her mother. She had called Joyce as soon as that Graves woman had let her go, barely able to speak because she was shaking so much. She'd been calm enough through the interview, but now the reaction was setting in.

"Mom, Snyder's accusing Giles of abuse," she blurted out. "It was awful. This woman kept asking me if Giles had touched me and stuff and I think they asked Willow and Xander and Oz and Cordelia, too."

"What?" Joyce blinked and took Buffy by the arm and led her to one of the benches outdoors. "Now, Buffy, explain. This time without the hysteria, hmm?"

"Okay." Buffy took another deep breath and squared her shoulders, the way Giles had taught her. It helped. "This morning, Snyder ordered us - all of us - to his office. Giles and some scary people were there. Then one of them asked to talk to me, then accused Giles of molesting me. I didn't know what she was talking about at first. I laughed. I mean, it's totally ridiculous to think that Giles would do anything to me. Well, except forcing me to actually learn how to dust vampires properly. Plunge and move on, he keeps telling me. And not to drop my elbow. I mean, what's so suspicious about that?"

"Let me get this straight. Principal Snyder called a meeting with some social workers to find out if Mr Giles had molested you?"

"Un-hunh. And Willow and Xander and Oz and Cordelia." Buffy nodded. "And I tried to talk to Giles after and he was still in a meeting with Snyder and this scary woman and I'm so scared he's going to lose his temper and do something to get fired and..."

"Buffy." Joyce cut in firmly. "Take a breath."

"Giles is my Watcher. I can't do this without him."

"Maybe... that's not such a bad thing, Buffy."

"Without my Watcher... Without my Giles, I won't last a week, Mom," Buffy replied. "I can't not be the Slayer. I need my Watcher."

"Calm down, sweetie." Joyce pulled Buffy into a hug and stroked her hair. "It'll all work out."

"How? I mean, I'm almost eighteen, but that doesn't matter, since Giles is kinda a teacher and an authority figure," Buffy responded. "Mom, I know how these things go. I know Giles did nothing wrong, but even an accusation like this could ruin everything. I'll never be able to be alone with him in the library to train and to research and I can't tell anyone what we really do in the library."

"I know, honey," Joyce said soothingly. "I'll talk to Principal Snyder and we'll see."

"You will?"

"You bet. How dare that slimy little fascist leave me out of the loop like this? I am your mother and he is supposed to call me about anything to do with you."

Buffy snuggled close to her mother, glad to have warm, loving arms around her. It wasn't until she had soaked up as much Mom vibe as she could and Joyce had gone on the warpath to Snyder's office that she remembered that her mother had said nothing about defending Giles.

* * * * *

Giles was about ready to unpack the crossbow from the library cage and go Snyder hunting, but he decided that sullying his crossbow bolts or his sword with the likes of Snyder was really a waste of good weaponry. His fists would do just as well, and the parking lot wasn't that well lit this time of year.

His temper was not improved by the number of people in his nice, quiet library. That horrid Lyttle woman had parked herself at the table, and there was a gaggle of girls congregating around the desk, including the Cordettes, minus Cordelia herself.

"Mr. Giles." Harmony Kendall simpered at him and he barely managed to restrain himself from snarling at her. He locked his anger behind a wall of bland, British reserve.

"May I help you with anything, Harmony?"

"Um, yeah. Do you have any books on birds? I have a paper for class on killing birds. What is a mockingbird, anyway?"

"I believe you're looking for Harper Lee's _To Kill a Mockingbird_. It's a novel."

"Oh." Harmony flashed her dimples. "Do you have it?"

"Up the stairs, third stack on the right."

"Could you show me?" Harmony was eyeing him the same way a vulture eyed a nice, rotting carcass. He pushed the mental image away and sighed.

"Right this way."

After Harmony left with the book in hand, he found himself helping over half the senior girls and a couple of the boys. Everyone seemed to be in the library today and it was irritating him to no end. Normally, the scholar in him would have been delighted in the sudden interest in literary pursuits, but he knew that this influx of students had nothing to do with education. They were checking him out, which he found deeply embarrassing.

It wasn't until two of the teachers came in that he could flee to his office. Unfortunately, fleeing didn't help.

"Rupert?" Margaret Barton poked her head around the door with a smile and a wink. "Getting to be a bit much, isn't it?"

"Uh... Yes. It's quite... unnerving," he stammered. He liked Margaret and wanted to keep her high regard.

"I'll bet. I just wanted to let you know that I saw the exhibit last night."

"Um." He couldn't think of anything to say to that.

"Don't worry about this. It'll die down soon enough. Mind you, if I were ten years younger, Rupert, I'd be after you in a minute."

"If you were ten years younger, Margaret, I'd have no chance at all," he replied, with a smile.

"Flatterer." She smiled back. "The coast is clear and I think Frank wants to talk to you."

Frank Fanshawe was sitting at the table and Lyttle was gone. Giles frowned. Frank was obviously the chaperon of the hour.

"Rupert." Frank got up. "Snyder asked me to help out in the library for a bit, since it's so busy."

"Frank, I know what's going on," Giles said shortly. "I know why you're here. I am sorry to take up your free period for this nonsense."

"Not a problem. I can do prep anywhere," Frank replied, not even pretending to misunderstand. "Look, Rupert, I know that Snyder's witchhunt is utter crap. I'm just surprised that it took him this long. He's been out for your blood since he got here."

"Which makes no sense to me."

"Hey, Snyder knows that you're far more qualified for his job than he is."

"I don't want his job," Giles denied, surprised.

"Yeah, well, he doesn't believe that," Frank replied. "I offered to baby sit while the state people are here. It's temporary and I'll be quiet as a mouse when your kids come in."

"They aren't my kids...," Giles muttered, going to a random shelf and reindexing it.

"And I wanted to ask you something about that exhibit."

"What?" Giles mentally cringed.

"That guy, Rayne - did he make up what he painted or did he paint from life?"

"Ah..." Giles hesitated, but Frank kept on talking.

"Those weapons in the painting - were they real or props or figments of Rayne's imagination or what?"

"They're... real." Giles was confused. Frank wanted to know about weapons?

"Were they yours? Do you still have them?"

"Um. Yes."

"Yes what?"

"Yes to both questions. They're mine and I still have them."

"Cool. I couldn't get you to bring them in one day, could I?" Frank was practically salivating. "Where did you get them? Are they replicas?"

"No. The crossbow was my father's, hand made for him in 1960. He gave it to me on my eighteenth birthday. The sword was made for me when I worked at the Tower."

"The Tower? As in the Tower of London?"

"Yes. I worked at the armoury on contract when I was in my twenties." Giles replied, sitting down across from Frank and launching into a most interesting discussion of weapons of times past.

* * * * *

"Mrs. Summers. How nice of you to drop by." Snyder gave Joyce an insincere smile and gestured to a chair. Joyce forced down her irritation and smiled insincerely back.

"Principal Snyder, when were thinking of informing me that you suspect one of your staff of abusing my daughter?" she asked sweetly.

"This afternoon," Snyder replied promptly. "The social workers wanted to talk to Buffy and the others before contacting parents. It's all according to protocol, Mrs. Summers."

"Crap," Joyce said rudely. "Your protocol, perhaps, but not according to the law. Parents have a right to be present when questioned by social workers regarding accusations of abuse."

"You seem to know a great deal about it. Now, why would that be?"

"Cut to the chase, Snyder. What makes you think Buffy and her friends are being abused?"

"Pictures, Mrs. Summers. Pictures hanging in your gallery. Nude pictures. Nude pictures hanging in your gallery of a man who spends far too much time alone with your daughter and her friends," Snyder said, with a gleeful undertone. "Rupert Giles. A bachelor in his forties. Leaves a good job in England to work in a small town high school. Doesn't that sound a little suspicious to you? And then your daughter, not one of the most diligent students in the California educational system, starts hanging out in the library at all hours. Add to that the pictures which show what sort of man Rupert Giles is like, you come up with a very unsavoury... picture."

"Let me paint another picture for you, then," Joyce shot back. "My daughter comes to a new town and a new school, looking for a fresh start. The first friend she makes is a very bright girl who actually cares about academic achievement. For the first time in a long time, Buffy has started to care about school and Mr Giles has played a part in that."

"Oh, yes, I am sure Mr Giles is a big part of her life now," Snyder said, agreeably, with a nasty undertone. "And Miss Rosenberg's as well. It's there in plain sight for anyone who cares to look."

"Shall I tell you what I see?" Joyce bared her teeth in an unpleasant smile. "I see Buffy caring about her grades. No, she is not the best student ever to walk these halls, but she tries harder now than she ever did. She actually studied for her SATs. A year ago, she was sure she wouldn't even sit them. And a large part of that is due to Mr. Giles' influence. And he's been a good influence on the others as well."

"In what way? Tell me. I'm fascinated."

"Willow has blossomed socially since making friends with Buffy and hanging out at the library. She's gone from a shy, introverted computer geek to a very pretty young woman. She's dating and gaining confidence in herself without compromising her intelligence. Having an adult in her life who accepts her as she is has made a huge difference. And Xander? Xander reads something other than comic books these days. And he dated the most popular girl in school. Again, a positive role model is at work here and I don't think it's his alcoholic father. Cordelia Chase came to me for a job a few months ago, looking to make contacts in the art world. She's trying to make something of herself outside this little world of high school, and I think her current social circle has encouraged her to look outside herself. I don't know Oz very well, but I do know that he's stuck around school more than he ever has in the past.

"Principal Snyder, I can't say that Mr Giles has been responsible for Buffy and her friends becoming a little more mature, but I can say that having my daughter and her friends hanging around in a library, supervised by a man with breeding and intellect is not a bad thing in my eyes. God knows, you're certainly incapable of providing an example of either."

With that, Joyce marched out. When she reached her car, she started to shake. She hated confrontations like that. She always lost her temper and said whatever came into her head.

She froze, suddenly realising that she meant what she said. She had forgiven Giles for his part in Buffy's running away... No, more than that. She had forgiven him for being Buffy's Watcher, and for Buffy being the Slayer.

Oh, God. The Slayer. Buffy needed to have access to Giles and his library without interference. Buffy was right; she needed her Watcher.

* * * * *

Despite the fascinating conversation with Frank, Giles' day did not significantly improve. Buffy and her friends did not come near the library, for which he was alternately profoundly grateful and unreasonably annoyed. The crown of the day, however, was the note left in his inbox telling him that he had an appointment for psychiatric testing early in the next week.

That was the last straw. He took the note, stuffed it into his pocket, gave Marilyn a tight smile in farewell and left. Once in the parking lot, he passed Snyder's car and felt an overwhelming urge to do something childishly destructive to the vehicle. He glanced around to see if anyone else was around, then bent to at least let the air out of the tires.

He straightened in surprise. All four tires were flat already. He noted a bright flash of hair by the bench nearby and saw Willow grinning at him. Oz saluted him with a screwdriver and almost smiled.

He laughed, feeling somewhat better. Then, with a flick of his fingers and a quickly muttered incantation, he went to his old, battered Citroen and started up.

* * * * *

Buffy asked Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia to come home with her and now they were all sitting around her living room, talking over the day.

"I feel like I'm gonna barf." Willow sighed, putting her hand over her tummy. "I feel all queasy and like the world is falling apart."

"Happens all the time around here. This is worse," Xander reminded her. "I can't believe what that social worker was asking. I mean, Giles? She actually asked me if Giles ever, you know, scre..."

"Yes, we believe it, Xander," Willow cut in, her voice very brittle. "They asked all of us the same things."

"I'm scared," Buffy admitted, in a very soft voice.

"Oh, no, Buffy. It's gonna be all right. Really." Willow tried to soothe her, with less success than she would have had, if there had been any conviction in her voice. Willow was scared, too.

"You're the Slayer, Buff." Xander tried as well. "You can't be scared."

"Without my Watcher, I won't last a day," Buffy whispered. "I need Giles."

"So we go and see him," Oz said, practically. "There's no reason we can't see him at home, is there?"

"Other than the fact that Snyder called all of our parents?" Cordelia put in sourly. "My dad wants to have a little talk with me tonight."

"And my mom does, too," Willow put in. "I told her that I had to help Xander with his homework first, but she's going to be on me like a ton of bricks as soon as I get home."

"Hm. My parents won't hear about this for a couple of weeks and even if they do, they won't hassle me." Oz put in.

"Man, do you even have parents?" Xander asked, curious.

"Yeah. I'm eighteen, though. As far as they're concerned, I'm on my own."

"Lucky you." Xander sighed. "Dad's going to hit the roof."

"Which is why we need a plan. Time to go see Giles," Oz reiterated.

"Won't that make things worse?" Willow asked. "I mean, visiting Giles at his house is not going to convince anybody that he's not some kind of Svengali."

"Sven guy or not, I really need to talk to my Watcher," Buffy said, uncurling herself from her chair. "We'll just have to be sneaky."

"No, I think there's been enough sneaking around, young lady." Joyce appeared at the doorway, dangling the keys to the Bronco in her hand. "You're going to see Mr Giles and I'm going with you."

"Mom?"

"I think your mother is an adequate chaperon, don't you?"

* * * * *

Giles shut the door behind himself and looked around carefully. There was an alluring aroma of something good coming from the small kitchen, and there were books all over the floor, from his desk to the sofa and beyond. Ethan himself was sitting next to the desk, bent over in a very uncomfortable looking position, writing rapidly in a large notebook. Giles walked quietly over to the man and looked over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" Giles said, in a normal voice and was richly rewarded by having Ethan start violently, throwing his pen a foot and a half into the air. Catching the pen, Giles put it on the desk.

"Jesus," Ethan gasped, putting a hand to his chest.

"Copying spells?"

"You do have a most impressive library. It seemed a shame to let all this arcane knowledge go to waste," Ethan replied, unabashed.

"You didn't try any of them, did you?" Giles narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Not a one," Ethan assured him. Giles just kept glaring. "Three is not one, you know. All I did was a quick incantation to clean your cooker. Honestly, Rupert, what was under the burners was worse than a Hyrnal demon's lair."

"What else did you do?"

"So untrusting," Ethan chided. "I tried that freeze spell from Percival's Common to see if it would make a good fixative for sketches as well."

"Does it?"

"After a fashion. It changes the texture of the paper. It may make an interesting medium." Ethan got up and dusted himself down. "The last spell was a tiny little divining charm to make sure that dinner would be ready about the time you got home. And I already knew that one, just not the version you have."

"You made dinner?"

"I'd really rather not eat whatever you'd come up with." Ethan went into the kitchen and pulled a casserole out of the oven. "Don't you ever go grocery shopping?"

"What did you make?" Giles looked at the casserole, trying to identify it. It smelled divine, but was hidden under a layer of perfectly browned cheese.

"Chicken tetrazzini, of sorts. It should taste fine, even if the chicken was badly freezer burned," Ethan replied. "And it's ready. I'll set things up if you want to get out of that dreadful tweed."

"You've gotten awfully domestic in your old age," Giles commented, as he made his way to the loft.

"Only in culinary matters," Ethan called after him. "I'm not the one who has his towels sorted by colour."

* * * * *

Dinner was very, very good. Ethan was good company as well, chattering brightly about the spells and lore he had unearthed from the books. Giles had forgotten some of the things he had in his library, especially from the spell books. He had spent far too much time reading up on demons and prophecies that the magical texts had been neglected.

"But enough about me. For now." Ethan grinned. "How was your day?"

"Perfectly dreadful," Giles returned pleasantly. "It started with accusations of molesting students and ended with an appointment for next Tuesday to see a psychiatrist."

"You? Molest your little Slayer?" Ethan raised his eyebrows. "She could wipe the floor with you."

"Not that anyone outside of a very small number of people knows that," Giles retorted.

"You could simply tell those cretins that you're involved in a hot and heavy affair with another man."

"Hot and heavy?"

"Well, you haven't exactly kept your slim boyish figure, Rupert," Ethan reminded him. "Or perhaps you have; I don't ever remember you being particularly light."

"Even if I did admit that, once or twice, I have fancied a man, that won't help the situation any."

"No?"

"No. For one, there was Jenny, who everyone involved in this mess knew. Nobody would believe that I was strictly for the gentlemen after the Thanksgiving football game last year."

"Oh? Do tell."

"No. For another, that simply puts the focus on Xander and Oz. Xander's been hanging around me for as long as Buffy has."

"So you go see this psychiatrist, lie like hell and pick up a clean bill of mental health," Ethan said, offhandedly, picking at a bit of cheese clinging to the edge of the casserole dish.

"There really isn't anything else to do, is there?"

"Have you spoken to the Council? I thought they were supposed to keep little controversies like these away from you."

"Yes." Giles sighed. "I spoke to Robson and Travers this afternoon and told them the whole sorry mess. They hemmed and hawed and made non committal noises for a while, then rang off."

"Not too helpful, were they?"

"No. They blame you, by the way," Giles pointed out. "Actually, they blame me for knowing you, but it amounts to the same thing."

"Do you blame me for this?"

"Yes."

"Rupert..."

"Well, what did you expect? You came here to stir up trouble. Well, congratulations. You got it," Giles snapped. "Of course, as usual, the trouble isn't sticking to you, but that was the whole object of the exercise, wasn't it?"

"And here we were, having a perfectly pleasant evening," Ethan muttered, as he started to clear the table. "Of course, I could make this whole mess go away..."

"How? Destroy your paintings?"

"Nothing so drastic, my dear," Ethan replied. "A bit of magic and..."

"No," Giles interrupted, waving his hand in negation. "No chaos magic. No spells, no incantations, not even a tiny charm. You'll get me into even worse trouble."

"On the contrary. I would get you out of this."

"Oh, really? And why would you do that? Out of the goodness of your heart?"

"It would be to my benefit. I don't want to spend the next several days nursing deep bruises when the time could be better spent in your bed," Ethan defended himself. "Contrary to popular belief, I do have a certain appreciation for my own skin. As it happens, for yours as well, but we'll overlook that for now. I could easily make this all go away."

"No. It.. It isn't that bad." Giles stuttered a little. "I haven't touched those kids. I might lose my position at the school, but as long as Buffy still has access to me, everything will work out. She's eighteen in a less than two weeks and nobody can stop us from seeing each other after that."

"Rupert, a few spells..."

"I said no."

"And if I do them anyway?"

"I can undo any spell you can think of, so don't even try it."

"Oh, I doubt that, Ripper, but all right. We'll play it your way," Ethan conceded. "But don't come crying to me when you find yourself thrown out of school, forced to live hand to mouth because you can't find a job."

"Hand to mouth?" Giles gave a small chuckle. "You act as if I'd be forced to go on the dole. I do have another job, you know."

"Which pays remarkably poorly, as I recall."

"Pays better than doing chaos magic for vampires."

"I got a handsome bonus for that one. It nearly made up for having the Slayer beat the crap out of me, then being handcuffed in that dreadful factory."

"Was it worth it?"

"To see you swaggering around, snogging the Slayer's mum and beating up coppers? Oh, yes."

"You have a very twisted notion of entertainment."

"America is a cultural desert. I take my amusement where I can."

* * * * *

Joyce insisted on waiting until a decent hour to go to Giles' flat. Buffy was all for going right away, but Joyce pointed out that perhaps Mr Giles might like to eat supper before having hordes descend on him. As well, Joyce called Cordelia and Willow's parents to let them know that the girls had been invited to dinner at her place and would be a little late coming home.

Joyce was amazed at how neither Mrs. Rosenberg or Mrs. Chase protested this; how any mother could allow her daughter to roam around with friends when such a serious issue was to hand was beyond her. Joyce had also steeled herself to call the Harris household, but Xander assured her that it really wasn't necessary. Something in the young man's voice told her that he would be better off if she let him handle it himself.

Giles met them gravely at the door and let them in. Joyce was a little nervous. The last time she'd been there, they'd been drinking and listening to music and making out. She resolutely refused to look at the hearth rug of the fireplace; that was where she'd made the decision that, if he made a pass at her, she'd accept.

"Giles, what are we going to do?" Buffy broke the awkward silence with what could only be described as a whine.

"It will all blow over, Buffy," Giles assured her, with a confidence that Joyce admired. He was lying; she could tell that in a moment, but it seemed to comfort Buffy to no end. She watched as Buffy relaxed, throwing herself into a chair. It must be nice to have someone that you could trust so completely.

"Mr Giles, may I speak to you privately for a moment?"

"Of course."

Joyce followed him into the small kitchenette, while the kids arranged themselves around the living room. Giles put the kettle on, then looked at her expectantly.

"Mr Giles... Rupert." She hesitated, then took a deep breath. "I wanted to say I'm sorry for all the things I said to you. I've been having a hard time dealing with Buffy being the Slayer and I'm afraid I've been blaming you for it. All of it. Today, when I went to see Snyder, I told him off for this whole mess. Buffy was so upset about it and I just let him have it with both barrels. I realised that I've been grossly unfair to you. It isn't your fault that Buffy's the Slayer. It is your fault that she's still the Slayer, though. If it weren't for you, she'd be dead long since."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Joyce, but Buffy's..."

"Buffy's a teenage girl. She's the Slayer, yes, but she'd be lost without your help and I will do everything I can to make sure she still has your help for a long time to come. Snyder or no Snyder."

"Thank you."

"How do we fix this?"

"I'm not sure." Giles sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Our little neo-Nazi of a principal isn't popular and none of the staff believe his insinuations have any basis in fact. Several of the teachers offered to testify on my behalf, if it comes to that." Giles sounded a little amazed by that.

"As will I," Joyce said softly. "Will it come to that?"

"I don't know, but I doubt it. The school board isn't likely to spend a great deal of time pursuing a case that hasn't any hard evidence. If necessary, I can and will resign..."

"Resign?"

"I wasn't intending to extend my contract past this year in any case. When Buffy graduates, I have no reason to stay."

"If she graduates," Joyce put in darkly. "Buffy's not exactly an academic genius."

"She'll graduate, Joyce. I guarantee it. She's already written the SAT and I think she did well, if her practice tests are any indication."

"Does Snyder know you're intending to leave?"

"No."

"Perhaps you should tell him," Joyce suggested thoughtfully. "From what I've seen of Snyder, he wants you and Buffy out of his school. Maybe if you let him believe that he's driven you out of your job, he'll let things drop. Tell him that you'll finish out the rest of the year, but you can't stay with such vile suspicions hanging over your head. He gets his victory, you get to stay near Buffy and everyone's happy."

"What about the social workers?"

"They won't find anything, will they?"

"No, but much of this plan depends on how well I can fox the psychiatrist I have to see next Tuesday. I can't exactly tell the doctor what Buffy and I actually do in the library. Even I have to admit that it looks bad."

"Rupert, this is Sunnydale. I swear, the Hellmouth must emit some kind of stupidity gas or something. I mean, I am a reasonably intelligent woman and I never suspected anything about my daughter, even when I was washing demon goo out of her clothes."

"You really think that hinting to Snyder that he drove me off would work?"

"Snyder has a bad case of penis envy where you're concerned, Rupert," Joyce said bluntly. "It was bad enough when you were just an over qualified, over educated, British pain in the ass. Between that thing with the candy and those paintings, he now sees you as everything he ever wanted to be and never was. He'll wet himself with the idea that he's got one over on you."

Giles gave a brilliant, amused grin and Joyce grinned back. He really was a very handsome man. She was secretly very glad that she'd had the opportunity for a one night stand with this man, although she knew that they'd never be able to sustain any kind of relationship. She could never put up with the idea that her daughter would always come first in his life.

* * * * *

"What do you think they're talking about?" Willow whispered to Buffy. They were sitting on the bottom stair that led to the loft, eating the cheesy popcorn that Xander had stashed in his backpack. Oz was kneeling in front of Giles' record collection, as if in prayer to the Gods of British rock music, and Xander was fighting with Cordelia again. Buffy took another handful of popcorn and shrugged.

"Me," she replied, shoving the popcorn in her mouth. "I wish I could hear what they were saying, though."

"Yeah." Willow nodded. "The acoustics in here are weird. The kitchen is like that cone of silence from Get Smart. Without the shouting."

"Maybe they're working on a plan. Mom's hell on wheels when she has a cause."

"Don't we know it." Willow nodded. "That whole MOO thing..." Willow broke off with a shudder. She still had nightmares about being burned at the stake as a witch. Giles and Buffy had rescued her and Amy from that. Giles, of course, was madder than a wet hen about the books. Sometimes Willow wondered if he had been as angry about her being in danger as he had been about some of his precious texts being singed.

"So, if Mom is onboard, and Giles thinks it'll all be okay, then we're cool," Buffy said brightly. Then she drooped a little. "What are your parents going to say?"

"Not much." Willow shrugged. "They never do. Mom gets all bent out of shape every now and again, but it never lasts. I'll be eighteen in a couple of months and Mom's heavily into the whole letting me be a grownup thing. Besides, she still feels guilty about trying to burn me as a witch."

"Is that going to be enough?"

"Jewish guilt? You bet. I'm a little worried about Xander, though."

"How so?"

"His parents aren't... Well, they're kinda... Anyway, they are," Willow stammered awkwardly. She knew exactly what Xander's home life was like, but since he never talked about it, she couldn't say anything either, not even to Buffy. "He's still wigged by the whole Ethan/Giles thing. Even without his parents being, well, his parents, he's still not doing so good."

"I wish he'd tell me about what happened with Angel." Buffy frowned. "I can't ask Giles. He'll clam up and glare at me in his oh-so-British-we-don't-talk-about-those-things-ever kind of way."

"Have you tried asking Angel? I mean, if you really want to know."

"I have to know, Willow. That picture I told you about? It's creeping me out. I wish I could just forget about it. I mean, Ethan is such a liar, but I can't." Buffy fretted. "I know Angel didn't hurt Giles very much. I just know it, but..."

She broke off as a loud thump came from upstairs in the loft and everyone froze.

"Ethan, I know you're there, so stop eavesdropping and come downstairs," Giles called up, calmly. "There's fresh tea."

"Did it occur to you that I might be busy?" Ethan called back, appearing at the landing.

"You've done enough spying into my personal possessions for one day, Ethan. Come and have your tea and behave yourself."

Ethan came the rest of the way down the stairs, staring pointedly at Buffy until she moved to let him pass.

"What were you doing up there?" she hissed, embarrassed at being caught saying mean things about him.

"Eavesdropping and delving into Rupert's personal belongings," Ethan replied promptly. "Ripper, may I speak to you for a moment in the kitchen? Hello, Joyce."

"Ethan." Joyce nodded to him and picked up the tray of tea and moved into the living room.

"Ripper, Buffy's..." Ethan began, but Giles cut him off.

"No, Ethan."

"Ripper, she thinks..."

"Leave it be, Ethan."

"Let me finish, Ripper. Your Slayer wants to know what happened between you and her ancient boyfriend." Ethan stopped as Giles' face went pale.

"She's not to know about that."

"But..."

"No, Ethan. She's not to know and you're not going to start dropping your less than subtle hints to her. Understood?"

"But.."

"We'll discuss this later."

"Oh, very well. Your little Slayer's innocence will be in no danger from the likes of me. I promise."

* * * * *

Buffy was sure that the visit would be horrible, but it wasn't. Giles was calm and cool and collected; the accusations didn't faze him a bit. Xander seemed to suddenly realize that Giles actually had a college education and started pestering him with questions about history. Goodnaturedly, Giles answered, with Ethan throwing in his two cents every now and again.

Oz and Willow were snuggling on the sofa, with Willow babbling Willow-fashion at him and Oz being silent in his own Oz-like way.

Ethan spent most of the hour long visit talking to her mother about art and art dealers. Buffy felt her insides go a little squishy when her mother threw back her head and laughed at some of Ethan's outrageous stories. God, it was bad enough with Giles and her mother. Cordelia didn't seem to mind; she was laughing and talking animatedly with the pair.

That left Buffy alone to brood, which was fine by her. She found herself watching Giles as he pointed to a reference in a book. Xander was leaning close to read it, then exclaiming in disbelief. Giles smiled, amused, and said something teasingly sarcastic to Xander, who responded in kind. From where she was still sitting on the stairs, she could see the broad expanse of Giles' back and Ethan's picture flashed into her mind.

She had never seen Giles any less than buttoned up, even on the hottest days, even during training. The most he'd ever expose was his forearms and a little bit by the neck, and only if it were very, very hot. He never even wore short sleeves, although she suspected that a certain tattoo had something to do with that.

She darted her eyes towards Ethan, curious. Ethan, too, was wearing a long sleeved shirt, but had the sleeves rolled up. She could see, even from across the room, the mass of scar tissue, just below the crook of his left elbow. She had to admit, it took guts to pour acid on oneself and not flinch too badly.

And if that weasel had that kind of courage, how much more did her Watcher have? Just what did Angel do to him that got a motor mouth like Xander to clam up entirely?

She had to know. She got up and picked up her purse.

"Mom?"

Joyce looked slightly annoyed at the interruption, but came over.

"Mom, there's something I have to do," Buffy said quietly. Joyce's annoyance changed to resigned concern.

"I know. You have to patrol." Her mother sighed. "Be careful, sweetie."

"I will."

"Buffy, there isn't anything going on. You don't have to patrol tonight," Giles immediately objected.

"Yes, I do." Buffy shook her head. "Not all the vampires are taking a vacation." She saw understanding dawn in Giles' face and could have kicked herself. He knew immediately that she was going to see Angel and he was the one person she wanted to keep in the dark about it. Before anyone could say anything else, she left.

* * * * *

"Mom, please." Willow cringed, practically begging her mother to stop crying. She sent a pleading look to her father, but Ira Rosenberg refused to budge.

"Willow, I am so sorry." Her mother sniffled into a handkerchief.

"For what? Mom, nothing happened. Nothing is going on," Willow shouted, a part of her wondering where she got the nerve to talk to her mother that way. "Mom, Giles never did anything to me. I'm still a virgin, for God's sake. You can take me to a doctor and check if you want."

"Willow. Do not taking the Lord's name in vain," Ira ordered sternly. "We'd like to believe you, but..."

"But we've heard so many stories." Sheila picked up where her husband left off. "It's always the nice ones, the quiet ones."

"You don't believe me. You'd rather take the word of somebody like Principal Snyder than your own daughter," Willow spat bitterly. "Just like you believed that I was a witch, no matter what I said."

Sheila coloured and flinched. Ira went even more stone faced.

"Look, Mom, Dad... I appreciate you trying to protect me, but, trust me, there is nothing to protect me from." Willow tried to speak calmly. "Giles isn't a monster or anything. He's a really smart man who helps me with school stuff. Nothing more than that."

"But those pictures," Sheila protested.

"They were done twenty years ago." Willow tried not to shout. "Didn't you ever do anything stupid when you were young?"

Willow watched with fascination as her father slowly lost the stern look and a small bit of colour started to creep into his cheeks.

"Willow..."

"Now, Sheila," Ira warned. "Willow, we trust you. Will you trust us enough to tell us the truth?"

"I have been telling the truth. You say you trust me - do you trust me enough to believe me when I say that Giles didn't touch me?"

A long silence, then Ira cleared his throat.

"I trust you. I just want to be sure that, if anyone ever does try to hurt you that you'll tell us."

"Of course." Willow felt her eyes fill with tears. "Of course, Daddy." Ira softened a little more and wrapped his arms around her.

"It's hard to believe that you're not a little girl anymore, Willow. I just want to protect my little girl."

"I'll always be your little girl," Willow whispered into his chest. Part of her was rejoicing in the feel of her father's arms wrapped around her, but a small part of her was angry that it took a situation like this for her father to tell her that he loved her.

* * * * *

Cordelia sat up straight as her father came into the room. Her mother, she knew, was languishing in bed, too fragile to cope with this sort of stress.

Her father looked oddly at her and she wondered if this little crisis had taken him away from some million dollar deal and if he resented her for it.

"Cordelia, we need to talk."

Yeah, she thought. Like we ever actually talk about anything.

"Cordelia, after Principal Snyder called this afternoon, I did some checking into Mr Giles' background," Mr Chase began, sitting down at his desk and picking up a file folder. "Do you know what I found out?"

"That he's a geeky librarian who had weird friends when he was my age?" Cordelia guessed.

"Are you aware that the Giles family is quite wealthy?"

"Hunh?"

"Your Mr Giles is heir to a substantial fortune, along with a large property in England."

"So Giles is loaded. What does that have to do with him being accused of molesting me? Which, by the way, he hasn't."

Cordelia watched as her father slowly leaned back into his chair. He looked almost... disappointed.

"Cordelia, I would like to believe you when you say nothing happened, but you're very young and innocent of the ways of the world." Her father began to lean forward again. "Men such as your Mr Giles have ways of making such inconveniences disappear. People don't like to believe that rich, well bred men are attracted to young women like yourself."

"Eeww." Cordelia squirmed. "Daddy! Giles is ancient and he's definitely not interested in me."

"But he could be. You're a beautiful girl, Cordelia. Any man would be attracted to you."

"Don't I know it," Cordelia muttered, thinking of her father's partner, Mr Jansen, who got really grabby after a few drinks.

"And yet, you're quite certain that Mr Giles would not be attracted, were he to be given any encouragement?"

Cordelia blinked. She was used to reading between the lines of her father's conversations and she didn't like the story this one was starting to tell.

"Daddy, are you suggesting that you'd rather Giles was screwing me? So you can blackmail him and get some of your hands on this money you claim he has?" Cordelia said bluntly.

"No, no. Of course not," her father soothed, not at all put out by her accusations. "I am merely looking out for your future. Your Mr Giles is older, yes, but you need someone with a solid future to offer. You're eighteen, Cordelia, and you need to be thinking ahead, not chasing after high school boys."

"I already broke up with Xander, Daddy. And I'm not going to chase after Giles for his money." Cordelia lifted her chin.

"You need to think of your future. Can these high school boys offer you a happy life?"

"I learned a lot from dating Xander, Daddy. He was never my future," Cordelia said slowly. "I'm eighteen, Daddy, not a hundred. Is it so much to ask that I can have fun like an eighteen year old and not look to my boyfriends as business deals? I am thinking about my future. I have a job and a life and that doesn't include cozying up to a guy twice my age just because he's got money. Besides, it wouldn't do me any good."

"Why not?"

"Because Giles is much more interested in a famous artist his own age than he is in some teenage girl," Cordelia snapped. "He isn't molesting me, he never did molest me, he never will molest me, and if I ever hear about you or mom supporting such horrible accusations, I will tell Giles about this conversation and then you'll find out what a pissed off British guy with connections and money can do." With that, Cordelia stomped off to her room. She didn't know Giles all that well, but she suspected that when Giles got pissed off, it wasn't pretty. She knew he wasn't called Ripper for nothing.

* * * * *

"Xander? Where the hell have you been?"

"Buffy's mom invited us all to dinner, since Will was helping us with homework and stuff," Xander replied, far too quickly. He could smell the sour reek of beer on his father and his mother was smothered in not quite enough perfume to hide the rankness of the vodka she had consumed all day.

"Hm. I would have thought you were with that pervert of a teacher, just like you always are."

"Hunh?" Yeah, Xander, play dumb. You're good at that.

"Principal Snyder called today, telling me all about that Englishman at the school and how he's been messing around with you and your friends."

"Messing? No, no messing. It's all neat and tidy. Neat as a pin."

"Yeah." Mr. Harris took a swig of beer and smiled cruelly at his son. "I always knew there was something not right about you, Xander. I mean, what kind of sissy nickname is Xander, anyway? It's something some pansy would go by. Oh, but then again, maybe that's what you are. You spent an awful lot of time last summer with that teacher, didn't you? Alone, in his apartment. Nice and cosy."

"Hey! Willow was there."

"Willow. Willow's a sweet girl, isn't she? You two go off and do girly things together, don't you?" Mr Harris taunted. "Paid off, didn't it? You got your man. I understand he's English, right? One of those Brits with a taste for boys, I'll bet. And you were just ripe for the picking, weren't you, son? Christ, with a kid like you, it's no wonder I drink."

Xander closed his eyes and let the words wash over him. He knew the drill. 'You're the reason I drink' - it always came down to that in the end. No matter what the crisis, it was always Xander's fault that his parents were alcoholics.

He also knew how it would end. 'I love you, please forgive me, I'm a bad person' - yadda, yadda, yadda. Xander wasn't sure which he hated more; the accusations or the pleas for forgiveness. After all, they were one and the same. If forgiveness wasn't forthcoming, the speech started all over again, and again, until he finally gave in.

At least he now knew that none of this had anything to do with Giles. Hell, tomorrow Dad wouldn't even remember what this was all about; it was only another excuse to play out the script. Wait - 'this is hurting your mother' - yep, right on cue. Mom was pretty much passed out by now; he'd have to talk to her in the morning.

Finally, the tears and self recriminations started and he chanted his expected lines, wanting only to get out of there. As soon as he possibly could, he escaped to his basement room and brooded. To his surprise, Cordelia called and offered to take him out for coffee. She sounded as rattled as he felt.

* * * * *

"Angel, what did you do to Giles?" Buffy blurted out the question, then bit her lip. That was not the way she wanted to ask, and she certainly didn't intend to ask while curled up in Angel's arms. Angel went totally still, not even bothering to breathe, as he normally did, knowing that it soothed Buffy to feel his chest move.

"What?" he asked finally, loosening his arms to shift to look at her. Buffy could not meet his eyes and her fingers started to play with the ends of the afghan covering her.

"You know that my mom has a new exhibit, right?" Buffy said softly. Angel nodded, looking patiently baffled. "It turns out that the artist is our old friend Ethan Rayne."

"Ethan Rayne? The guy who summoned Eyghon?" Angel asked, for clarification, although the baffled look did not change.

"Yeah. The exhibit is a bunch of pictures he drew of Giles about twenty years ago."

"Interesting. I should go and look," Angel commented blandly. Buffy sighed, knowing that Angel had no idea where she was going with this and was humouring her.

"Ethan's still drawing pictures of Giles," she said, trying to keep her voice even. "He showed me one he drew a couple of days ago. He's good, Angel. He can draw Giles so well that I expected some of his pictures to tell me to stop dropping my elbow." Okay, that got more of the baffled look. Time to bite the bullet. "That picture he showed me..." She couldn't continue. She could hear Xander's comment in her head; it's bad, Buffy, leave it at that.

"What?" Now Angel was looking less baffled and more concerned.

"Angelus tortured Giles," she said quietly, trying to soften the bluntness of the words. "I want to know what he did. No - I don't want to know. I need to."

Angel slowly disentangled himself from Buffy to stand by the fireplace, running his hand through his hair, then scrubbing his face with both hands.

"No." The word was blunt, emphatic and unyielding.

"I have to know. It's haunting me. I can't think of anything else, Angel. I know it was the demon, it was Angelus, but I need to know."

"Buffy..." Angel took the first breath since she spoke and blew it out on a heavy sigh. "Giles showed you some of the histories about Angelus... about me, right?"

"Some, yes," Buffy replied.

"None of it was exaggeration," Angel said quietly. "None of it. What you read is what I did."

"That tells me nothing, Angel. I know you hurt him. I want to know exactly what you did to hurt him."

"That's between me and Giles," Angel snapped. "If he didn't tell you, he didn't want you to know."

"You didn't hurt him that much, did you? I mean, you didn't cut out his tongue, like that guy in Brussels." Buffy tried not to sound desperate.

"If I had, he couldn't have told me how to do the spell," Angel replied, after a long moment. "Buffy, I did everything I could to break him."

"But you couldn't have hurt him all that badly, right? I mean, Giles was there for hours and you only got the information out of him after..."

"I didn't get anything out of him, Buffy," Angel cut in ruthlessly. "It was Dru and her mind tricks that broke him down. He didn't tell me anything other than to get stuffed."

"So you went easy on him. Otherwise, he'd have told you everything long before..."

"Buffy." Again, Angel cut her off. "You really have no idea how strong Giles is, do you? I did everything I possibly could think of to cause him pain. He fought me every step of the way. God, I was so angry I could have killed him. It took four and a half hours before I could get him to scream..." Angel broke off. "Buffy, don't romanticise Angelus. Please. It's hard enough to remember what I did without you making excuses. Giles will carry deep scars for the rest of his life because of me. If he had shot me with a crossbow that time, that would have been too good for me."

Buffy heard the bleak honesty in the tone and felt her eyes fill with tears. Then she frowned. Giles had pulled a crossbow on Angel?

"What time?" she asked. Angel sighed again and sat down on the coffee table in front of her.

"Remember I told you I went to see Giles about the dreams?" Angel asked and, at her nod, continued. "He met me at the door with a loaded crossbow. I don't know why I thought he'd even contemplate helping me. I think I wanted to give him the chance to dust me."

"But he didn't." Buffy reached out a hand. "He knows it wasn't your fault. He knows it was Angelus. He forgave you."

"No, he didn't dust me, but he hasn't forgiven me, Buffy. I doubt he ever will."

"Did you ask him to? Did you tell him you were sorry?"

"No."

"No?" Buffy sat up, her forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Why not?"

"Because then it becomes all about me," Angel replied slowly, looking at his hands. "What I did... What I feel about it... It can't be about me and my feelings."

"It was Angelus who did those things, Angel. Not you," Buffy said softly, taking his hand in hers. "He knows that."

"That doesn't change the fact that this is the face he sees in his nightmares." Angel's voice went bleak again. "Stay out of it, Buffy. What happened is between him and me and it stays that way."

Buffy resented the command, but realised that there was nothing she could say to change his mind. Angel was wrong. Giles did understand. And he couldn't have hurt Giles all that much; it just didn't make sense. Angel was just being broody and morbid again.

* * * * *

"Well, that was fun," Ethan said brightly, as he stacked the cups and glasses, preparing to take them into the kitchen, where Giles was washing up.

"Sarcasm will get you nowhere."

"I wasn't being sarcastic," Ethan replied, almost seriously. "It was fun. I rather like your friends. Then again, I liked Buffy the first time I met her. Resented the hell out of her very existence, but I did like her. And the redhead reminds me of me at about that age."

"You were never anything like Willow."

"Well, I didn't have red hair, nor did I fill out a sweater quite that well, but there was a time when I had the same kind of innocent enthusiasm for magic."

"Innocent? You? You were never innocent, Ethan."

"That was before your time, Rupert," Ethan assured him blandly. "My mother's episode just before I transferred into Eton was a bit of an eye opener for all concerned, except perhaps for mum."

He didn't have to explain that to Ripper. Ripper had met his mother at both her best and her worst. The subject of Ethan's mother was occasionally a source of macabre humour, but never, ever a topic for serious discussion.

"How is your mum, by the way?"

"When I last saw her, she was on some new medication. It made for some interesting conversations. I almost wish I had been in on any of them," Ethan replied carelessly. "Young Xander reminds me a little of Rand. Is that why he's in your merry band of minors?"

"Xander is Willow's best friend. He and Willow have included Buffy in their friendship, of which I heartily approve," Giles replied. "But, yes, as it happens, he does rather remind me of Randall. Without the football fetish."

"God, he and Tommy were quite the pair, weren't they?" Ethan laughed. "I still remember standing on the roof at three o'clock in the morning, a live wire in each hand, waiting for you to hook up the telly from Mrs. Campbell's switchbox. Damn near electrocuted myself."

"If you hadn't been three sheets to the wind by that time, you'd have been a lot steadier on your pins."

"If you hadn't been three sheets to the wind yourself, we'd never have thought it was such a brilliant idea. It worked, though, didn't it?"

"Other than the fact that we then had to nick a telly from the electronics shop. All that effort just so Tommy and Rand could watch the FA cup finals," Giles said, reminiscently. "And if you say that those were good times in a disgustingly sentimental tone, I really shall hit you."

"They weren't," Ethan said, immediately. "You know me. I'm about as sentimental as your bookshelf. In those days we were poor, cold, hungry, angry and green as grass, the pair of us. There were some fun times, Ripper, but I wouldn't go back. I'm far more interested in moving forward."

"I wouldn't go back, either."

"Thanks to your Slayer, you can't, so there's no point dwelling on it."

"Just what exactly are you blaming Buffy for?"

"And why do you assume I'm blaming Buffy for anything?" Ethan countered.

"You said you resent her."

"Well, I do. She's thoughtless, selfish, inconsiderate, immature and undisciplined." Ethan ignored the dark cloud of anger coming over his friend's face. "In other words, a typical teenage girl. I don't resent her, per se, but who she is and what that has done to you."

"She's done nothing."

"She's the Slayer. To say her very existence has done nothing to you is disingenuous at best and downright foolish at worst," Ethan replied. "She's the reason you're here in California, facing a witchhunt from a dictatorial pissant with a small modicum of power, rather than home in England with me."

"You think we'd still be together if I had stayed?"

"No. If you'd not gone back to the Council, you'd have eventually ended up as a splat on the sidewalk just as Randall did."

"I don't want to have this conversation."

"I don't, either, but I think it's past time we did." Ethan shot back. "When you left London, I thought we were still friends. I knew you weren't ready to admit that I meant anything more to you than a warm body to snuggle up with at night and a mate to play with during the day, but I honestly didn't think you'd cut me out of your life so completely. Yes, we had our arguments, but you've always been willing to meet a person halfway. Unless, of course, that person is me."

"You betrayed me." The growl contained both rage and pain, both longstanding and deep.

"In what way? I've betrayed you a hundred times, just like you betrayed me, and we've always gotten past it."

"Not always."

"So exactly what did I do that your oh so forgiving heart couldn't forgive? Christ, you helped a vampire who tortured you."

"You sold me out."

"I'm guilty of a lot of things, Rupert, but I never sold you out."

"Does a thousand pounds ring any bells? A cheque signed by my father, made out to you?" Giles' voice went very, very soft. "A thousand pounds. That was what our friendship was worth. You manipulated me into going back to my family and you got paid for it. You do realize, don't you, that you could have held out for a great deal more?"

"Yes." Ethan refused to back down. "I didn't know you knew about that."

"Oh, I did. I also knew about the hours long telephone calls you made to Bath after you'd put me to bed with soothing lies of how you would take care of me."

"I did what I had to do."

"As did I. The first step was cutting you out of my life."

"No. The first step was to stop running away," Ethan replied. "It was killing you, Rupert. No matter how much it hurt to let you go, I would do it again in a heartbeat."

* * * * *

Kissing Cordelia soothed Xander's anger. She was beautiful, bewitching and arousing; his father's accusations no longer had any hold on him. He was in the arms of a beautiful girl, with her curves moulding themselves to his body. No, he wasn't attracted to men; a woman - this woman in particular - was his passion.

He wondered why Cordelia was suddenly so willing to let him touch her. He had thought that he'd never get a chance to kiss her again, but here she was in his arms.

She had attacked him almost as soon as she saw him, startling him by kissing him soundly. She loved kissing, which was fine. He loved kissing, too. But she rarely let his hands stray much farther than a gentle brush on the tips of her breasts. Certainly, she never before allowed him to cup them in his hands, even when they were going out.

Part of him hoped it was a reconciliation, but a part of him knew, somehow, that it wasn't. There was something else going on with her. He wasn't the most sensitive guy in the world, but he did understand vulnerability.

Cordy being vulnerable was a wigsome concept, but he could think of no other reason why Queen Cordy Cock-tease was letting his hands roam.

"You okay?" he asked, as they parted to take a breath.

"Yeah, fine," she replied, although her voice was flat and cold.

"Right. And I'm captain of the football team."

"In your dreams."

"Nightmares, more likely. Being pummelled by a bunch of guys bigger than me is not one of my ambitions. Despite the number of years it's been going on, that is," Xander replied automatically. "Spill, Cordy. What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Cordy looked away. "Nothing at all. Dad thinks that I should make a play for Giles."

"What?"

"According to Dad, Giles is rich. Which makes him a perfect suitor for Cordelia Chase." Cordelia's voice was very, very brittle.

"Cordy, you don't... I mean, there isn't anything you want to tell me?"

"Xander, I barely want to speak to you. Of course there isn't anything I want to tell you." The jibe was automatic, Xander could tell, just like his jokes. "I dunno. It's just that my Dad... He wasn't even bothered by the thought that I might have been abused. Not that I wanted him to think I was, but it would have been nice if he'd been even a little concerned, y'know?"

"Yeah." Xander ran his hands through his hair. "I know what that feels like. Your dad's out of his mind if he thinks that Giles would go after you, though."

"Why not?" Cordy gave a flash of a smile. "You're the one who's so sure that Giles is straight as an arrow. And you know I can get a reaction out of damn near any man if I want to."

God, he loved her casual arrogance. And he loved taking her down a peg or two.

"Cordy, it doesn't matter what you look like or what little tricks you have. Giles isn't going to respond to you. Or to anybody, I think." Xander trailed off, appalled at what he just said. Please don't pick up on what I just said, he prayed. Or ask how I know.

"Really?" Cordelia looked surprised. "I thought he'd dealt with Angelus raping him."

* * * * *

Buffy didn't really want to go home, so she did a quick patrol and went in search of Willow. Mrs. Rosenberg let her use the phone to talk to her mother and her mother allowed her to stay at Willow's overnight if she wanted to. Mrs. Rosenberg fussed over them for a little while, then left them alone with cookies and ice cream.

"Willow, can you do me a favour?" Buffy asked, settling down on Willow's bed. Glancing at the clock, she realised that it wasn't as late as she thought; the day had been so crammed with events that she felt as if several days had passed. Willow took a spoonful of creamy goodness before answering.

"Sure. What?"

"Can you break into Sunnydale Hospital records for me?"

"Piece of cake," Willow said airily, then frowned in confusion. "Why do people say that, anyway? Piece of cake. As if it's easy, when baking a cake, frosting it, then cutting a piece is a lot of work. And 'easy as pie'? Not so easy. Pie crust is tricky and you don't want to talk about baked goods, do you?"

"No." Buffy grinned at her friend. "I want you to pull up some medical records for me."

"Whose?" Willow was up and sitting before her laptop, fingers at the ready before Buffy could respond.

"Giles." Buffy tried to sound offhand.

Willow didn't start typing. Instead, she twisted around to look at Buffy.

"Buffy, I don't think I should..."

"Willow, it's driving me nuts. I need to know what Angel did to Giles in the mansion," Buffy said seriously. "I asked Angel and he went all broody about it. I know he didn't hurt Giles nearly as bad as he thinks he did. Giles is tough, but, c'mon, resisting someone like Angelus? Angel has to be blowing things way out of proportion."

"I don't know, Buffy. Giles was in a lot of pain all summer," Willow said carefully. She didn't want to tell Buffy how worried she'd been about Giles last summer. She had not looked into the files herself, although neither Giles nor Xander would tell her anything about what happened. She hadn't wanted to know.

"He did have broken fingers, Willow," Buffy replied. "That must have been hard to deal with, since it was his left hand."

Willow took a deep breath and started typing. If Buffy wanted to know just how bad it was, far be it from her to deny Buffy that information.

"Okay, but you did ask," Willow warned. A few minutes of typing and she had it. The file on Rupert Giles was fascinating reading, in a sick sort of way. As she scrolled through three years of injuries, she remembered when he had gotten them and how. It was a morbid walk down memory lane.

She put the file from last spring up and read rapidly.

"God." She put a hand to her mouth. "God. Oh, God."

"What?" Buffy was by her side, looking over her shoulder.

"I knew it was bad, but..." Willow whispered, feeling sick. She glanced at Buffy, who was rapidly scanning the text, her face going pale.

"Oh, my God." Buffy started hyperventilating. Willow, unable to stop herself, hit the icon for the photographs taken.

"No. Don't show me that," Buffy commanded, but it was too late. Buffy took one look at the wounds on Giles' back, and fled to the bathroom.

Willow stared in disbelief at the photos, unable to move until she felt something wet drop on her arm. A tear. She realised, with a sense of unreality, that she had tears flowing down her cheeks. With that realization came a welcome blurring of her eyes and she shut down the computer, erasing those horrible pictures. She felt... she didn't know what she felt; she had no words for the bizarre feeling of numb anguish flooding through her. She heard the sounds of retching coming from the bathroom, but the sounds were far away.

Still feeling numb, she picked up the phone to call Xander. He had to know about this.

* * * * *

"You knew?" Xander gasped, staring at Cordelia as if she had grown a second head.

"Well, duh," she replied, matter of fact. "I saw him at the hospital, you know. He flinched every time anybody came close. And he was walking funny. Those books we read about Angelus mentioned that he did that sort of thing to his victims. So it only made sense that he'd hurt Giles that way. By the time school started, Giles was back to his old self, so I thought he'd gotten therapy or something."

"Cordy, you can't tell anyone about this," Xander warned, panicking.

"I can keep a secret, Xander. By anyone, you mean Buffy, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"I think she should know what her boyfriend did," Cordy stated, folding her arms.

"But you won't tell, will you?"

"No. I won't. Not because Buffy deserves to live in her little rose coloured world, but because Giles doesn't need to have everyone looking at him like a freak because some guy forced himself on him." The vehemence in her voice startled Xander, but his next question was interrupted by her cell phone.

"It's Willow. For you." Cordelia handed him her phone. Xander spoke with Willow for a few minutes, then looked awkwardly at Cordelia.

"Cordy, could you, uh,..."

"Drive you to Willow's? Sure. But I'm not coming in. I've had about as much of you lot as I can take. I'm going home and taking a long bubble bath."

Xander tried to get the image of Cordelia in her bath out of his head as she floored her little sports car. Willow had sounded very upset.

* * * * *

"Ethan, I really don't think we need to talk about what happened nearly twenty years ago," Giles stated bluntly and tried to look as stern as he could while up to his elbows in soapy dishwater.

"Evidently, we do, since you still haven't forgiven me," Ethan replied. "Leave the sodding dishes alone and sit down. I'll get us a drink and tell you my version of what happened. We'll see how closely it matches yours."

Giles sighed and let Ethan lead him to the sofa. Ethan poured each of them a healthy two fingers of Scotch and sat down on the armchair, creating a little distance for which he was grateful.

"At first I thought that it was Rand's death that started it."

"Started what?" He may have tacitly agreed to listen, but he wasn't going to make it easy for Ethan.

"Your breakdown." Ethan was perfectly serious. "Please don't deny it, Rupert. You were barking mad by March and it took several calls to your father before I had any clue as to why."

Ethan was waiting for a response, but he didn't have one. He didn't like to think about it, but he could hardly deny to Ethan that he had been out of control for much of the year after Rand's death.

"We were all affected by what happened to Rand and what happened to each of us, but we were getting better," Ethan continued softly. "Even you, with all the guilt you piled on yourself, were starting to recover. Then the screaming nightmares started. Do you recall exactly when?"

"I was very far from recovering, Ethan. Rand died because of me - because of us. You don't get over that in a hurry. What bloody difference does it make when I started getting nightmares over it?"

"It matters," Ethan said bluntly. "And it matters what the nightmares were about. You told me you didn't remember them. Were you lying to me about that?"

"No." Giles gave a long sigh. "I only remember how I felt. Helpless, like I had screwed up somewhere and could only watch as everything fell apart around me."

"The nightmares started on the night of January 19, 1981. I remember it very clearly," Ethan said slowly. "The date is significant. Do you know why?"

"Oh, stop with the cryptic questions, Ethan. The date isn't significant, other than the fact that it's Buffy's birthday...." Giles trailed off. "Fuck..." He felt dizzy as a whole lot of things fell into place. That whole confusing and painful time suddenly made sense. It hadn't been Randall that had made him ill, that had made it necessary to return home where he could heal. It had been the Call of the Watchers.

"You're a Called Watcher, Rupert. That's what your dad called it when I rang him, terrified that you had some loathsome disease or mental instability that I hadn't known about."

"Yes, that would terrify you, wouldn't it?" Giles said slowly.

"I tried everything I could think of to help you," Ethan continued. "I could smell the magic on you, but I didn't know how to stop it. When your father told me what it seemed to be, I didn't believe it."

"I'm not sure if he did, either," Giles said quietly, other memories flowing through him.

"What?"

"It didn't make sense then, but I remember Dad looking through all the lists of potentials, over and over. He must have been looking for my Slayer."

"And he didn't find her?" Ethan guessed.

"Buffy was an anomaly. She never showed up in our lists until she was Called herself." Giles shook his head. "I was totally flabbergasted when I was told I would be the next active Watcher. I thought I'd spend the rest of my life teaching other Watchers or doing administrative work like my father. I always felt he was a little disappointed when none of the potentials they tried to match me with really took to me."

"I didn't want to lose you, but you were rapidly losing yourself." Ethan took up the main thread of the conversation. "You were so restless, and your dad kept telling me that you had all the signs of a Calling, but there wasn't a Slayer out there for you. He was afraid, as was I, that there was some mystical crossed wires going on. Until I came here last year and did some looking into your Slayer's background, I didn't realise that he was right all along."

"There was something missing," Giles admitted. "Something vital and I didn't know what it was. I tried everything I could think of to fill in that missing bit, or to distract myself from the fact that I felt incomplete."

"I know. I was there. I knew you were searching for something and it hurt like hell to know that I wasn't it," Ethan said sharply. "That's when I turned to chaos magic."

"Chaos magic isn't the first thing I would have thought of."

"Nor I, but I had tried everything else." Ethan shrugged. "I thought that chaos theory would explain why neither I nor your father could find any reason for that Call coming to you. I didn't find an answer to your problems, but I did find an answer to mine."

"What did you find?"

"I found chaos magic suited me. It felt natural to me, which is hardly surprising, considering that my mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. A world where rules were nonsensical and non linear is much more comfortable to me than your world of British propriety and regulation," Ethan said. "I worship chaos because it gives me a world that I know intimately. It's the one I grew up with."

Giles took a moment to process all of this. He knew that Ethan's mother was mentally unstable, but he never really thought of what that meant for Ethan. Much about Ethan was suddenly clear; Ethan had spent his formative years not having any limits put upon him, just as he had spent his own with far too many limits.

"What about the money?" That part still stung.

"When you finally decided to leave London, or, if you prefer, when I finally convinced you that you needed to go home, I needed to find a way to make a living. Phillip was getting his degree in June. He and Deirdre were well on their way to breaking up and Tommy was already gone. With you leaving, our happy little home was no more," Ethan explained. "I wanted to try to make it with a show before I had to take some soul destroying job as a commercial artist. So your father gave me a bit of a leg up so I could afford the materials I needed. The show was crap, but I got enough commissions to keep me going until I knew enough magic to make ends meet."

"You really were trying to help me?" He couldn't quite make himself believe it.

"Well, that, and I was tired of holding your head while you vomited up whatever vile concoction you had imbibed on one of your little excursions. I know I was never a poster child for clean living, but, really, Ripper, you were far worse than I ever was when it came to substance abuse."

"I know. That's why I decided to go home," Giles said wryly. "I was so miserable I was willing to try anything."

"Did it help, Ripper?" Ethan asked gently.

"Not at first. I went through hell that summer. Withdrawal was the easiest part. The hardest was going cap in hand to the Council and asking them to let me back in."

"Did your father give you a hard time?"

"No." Giles thought back. "No, he didn't, now that I think of it. He was cold and distant and I thought he was punishing me. But he never gave me a hard time about what I did in London."

"Did you hate me for what I did right off or did you wait a couple of months before you decided that I betrayed you?"

"It was when I was looking through some of Dad's papers, just before I was to have my final interview to see if the council would take me back," Giles said. "I was working hard at being an upstanding citizen, but I wasn't above a certain amount of petty larceny. I went through his desk and found my file."

"That must have been interesting reading."

"Oh, it was. That's how I knew what the Council knew about my activities. And that's how I knew that you had talked to my father for a total of forty seven hours between March and May. The calls were labelled 'personal' and the caller was not recorded, but I knew the number. A cancelled cheque for a thousand pounds was attached to the file as a 'payment for vital information pertaining to the Council'. Dad, being no fool, must have expensed it."

"Good for him." Ethan grinned. "Had I known he was going to charge it to those supercilious bastards, I would have asked for ten times that amount."

"It really did look bad, Ethan."

"And it is something I would have done to anybody but you," Ethan agreed.

"It wasn't like I knew you had any feelings for me. I thought you had seen a way to get rid of an inconvenient lover and make a pound or two at the same time."

"That does sound like me, doesn't it? In fact, I did do exactly that with Sarah." Ethan smiled. "She really was getting on my nerves, so I hinted to her family that I might be willing to agree to a divorce if they ponied up a sufficiency of cash."

"That's horrible." Giles tried not to grin.

"She didn't love me, Ripper. She loved the idea of me. The starving artist who lived for his work. We were thoroughly sick of each other by the time we separated. The only thing I miss about her is her flat. Great windows with excellent light."

"When you start in on your wives, it usually means any serious conversation is over. May I entertain the hope that this is the case?"

"Not quite." Ethan shook his head. "I asked you to listen to my side, which you did. I understand that you saw what I did in a much different light than I had intended. The only question now is whether you intend to keep shutting me out of your life."

"I'm not sure I can believe you." Giles looked at Ethan with very serious eyes. Was he a fool to even think about trusting Ethan? Ethan looked back, equally serious.

"There's nothing I can do or say that will make up your mind for you," Ethan replied. "Whether you trust my word or not is entirely up to you."

Giles thought for a moment longer, then stood up. Motioning Ethan to stand up, he took Ethan in his arms and kissed him. Ethan must have thought the answer sufficient, since he kissed him back.

* * * * *

"There are photographs?" Xander was outraged. "They took pictures?"

"It's standard for alleged assault, in case the victim wants to press charges," Willow said flatly. She was still numb, unable to function very well. Buffy, after a long bout of vomiting and an even longer bout of tears, appeared to be unable to function at all.

"Did you know?" Buffy asked dully, looking at Xander. "Did you know that Giles had been raped?"

Xander ran a hand through his hair. Looking at the devastation on the faces his two friends, he felt like he was reliving the whole nightmare all over again. As if his regular nightmares about it weren't bad enough.

"Yeah. I knew," he said. "I stayed with Giles a lot over the summer. I dunno how he could stand having me around so much, but someone had to help him out, what with his hand and all."

"It was... bad," Buffy stated flatly.

"Oh, yeah." Xander collapsed on a chair and flung his head back. Somehow, it made it easier to force back the tears that were threatening to fall. Giles was... He had no words to describe Giles. He would have said that Giles was a father figure to him, but the word left a bad taste in his mouth. Giles was a friend, someone he could count on. Bad as the summer had been, deep in his heart, Xander felt good about being there for Giles. "In a weird sort of way, it was good that you left, Buffy. It kept him from going completely around the bend. Gave him something else to think about."

"Xander!" Willow protested. "It was not good that Buffy left. How can you say that? We were all worried sick."

"Giles most of all," Xander replied. "At least when he was worrying about you, he wasn't thinking about what Angel did to him."

"Angelus," Buffy put in fiercely. "It was Angelus."

"Whatever." Xander dismissed the distinction. "Deadboy did a real number on Giles. I'd stake him myself if I could, but I think that'd just make it worse for Giles."

"Angel is not a monster," Buffy protested angrily. "He isn't. He loves me. And he's sorry for what he did. I know he is. He was going to kill himself over Christmas because he feels so guilty about what Angelus did."

"He should have." Xander stuck out his chin. "No loss there."

"Xander, Angel spent an eternity in torment when I sent him through that portal. He's suffered enough."

"Yeah, well, having seen it all summer, I think Giles has, too."

"Giles had the opportunity to dust Angel. He didn't. Maybe you should think about that before you go off and stake an innocent man," Buffy said flatly. "And the Powers That Be brought him back. If you want to screw around with that kind of power, be my guest. I won't be a part of that."

"Why are you still protecting him? Hunh? Doesn't your Watcher mean anything to you?"

"Yeah." Buffy's voice lost the hard edge and began to wobble. "Giles means a lot to me. And if he wants to stake Angel, I won't stop him. But that's his decision, not yours. Just like my decision to believe that he's here for a reason and deserves forgiveness is mine."

"Guys." Willow finally succeeded in pulling herself out of the numbness and was shivering. "I think we should stay out of it. In fact, I think we should forget all about what we learned tonight. Giles didn't want us to know. So we don't. Okay?"

"I'm not sure I can..." Buffy began, but Xander cut her off ruthlessly.

"You can. One day at a time, Buff. If I can pretend, so can you."

"I want to tell Oz, though. I can't not talk about it with him and Oz can keep his mouth shut," Willow added.

"And how." Xander nodded. "Yeah, Oz won't be a problem."

"What about Cordy? Please tell me you didn't tell her." Willow begged.

"She already figured it out," Xander said slowly, thinking.

* * * * *

"What are you smiling to yourself about?" Ethan asked, a little smile playing around his mouth as well. They were sitting on the floor, half finished drinks next to them and pawing through Giles' music collection. Ethan was impressed; he hadn't heard some of those albums in years. The first notes of Jesus Christ Superstar - the original, not the film soundtrack - brought back so many memories. Ripper was still smiling, a slightly glazed look in his eyes.

"A Called Watcher," he said softly. Ethan grinned.

"After a total of - what? - nearly thirty years of hanging round the Council, you didn't know?"

"Dad called it a Calling when he first told me, back when I was ten, but he didn't say anything about it after that." Giles paused to play a note or two of air guitar. "Nobody ever mentioned the possibility to me. I thought the illness was because of Rand and what I had been doing to myself. Once I was eating properly, sleeping at night and off the drugs, I felt better. It never occurred to me that I felt more myself because I wasn't fighting it anymore. Perhaps it was a good thing nobody told me. That whole destiny business is what made me leave in the first place."

"So you found you wanted to be a Watcher after all?" Ethan inquired.

"Not exactly. I needed a place, particularly after, well, you. A place where I belonged. I like the work itself and I've got the talent and training for it, so it seemed to be a wise career choice. I was quite content, actually, working for the Council," Giles said thoughtfully. "I was certain that I'd never get matched with a Slayer, so I didn't have to think about it being my destiny. A life spent reading and working cover jobs in museums and the like didn't sound so bad."

"I can't believe that you spent all that time in the Council culture and it never occurred to you that you were one of the chosen ones?" Ethan teased.

"The Called Watchers are an elite, even within the Council, and I was never part of that. Then again, without a Slayer in the wings, is there really a Calling?"

"Is that the metaphysical version of the 'if a tree falls in the woods' conundrum? Science tells us that the philosophical wanking off is just that; of course it makes a noise," Ethan observed. "You had and have a Calling, love. That's why you can't stop being a Watcher, any more than I can stop drawing. Or chaos magic, for that matter."

"You're Called to chaos?"

"Janus has me sewn up, soul and all," Ethan said lightly. "It is what I am, Ripper. I can't change that and still be me."

"How much of that is your upbringing?"

Ethan shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. For all his laughing references to his mother's insanity, he was deeply ashamed of her. The stigma of mental illness was still very strong and he had never told anyone just how ill his mother really was.

"I can't change that, either," he said finally, hoping Rupert would drop the subject. "Mother is who she is."

"Did you ever wonder if you inherited her illness?" Giles asked softly. Ethan winced. Yes, Ripper knew him well.

"Yes and no," he admitted. "Being magically gifted really didn't help. I could hear voices if I listened hard enough, but they weren't telling me to kill my family or that I had bugs growing out of my toes, so I was fairly sure that, even if I did inherit it, it wasn't as bad as mum's version."

"But you didn't." Giles stated this as a proven fact, for which Ethan was grateful.

"No, I didn't. Dad had me tested when I was ten and again when I was fourteen. I had none of the symptoms," Ethan replied. "Phillip also assured me that whatever else might be wrong with me mentally, it wasn't schizophrenia. That's how he got interested in magic, you know. He started out looking into the psychology of magic when I moved in with him. But that's quite enough about me and my crazy mother. I'd rather talk about you and your marvellous Calling."

"It never occurred to me that I might be Called. I thought Dad was simply impressing on me the Giles family traditions. We've been Watchers since about 900 AD, if memory serves."

"Rather like that horrid parish priest we had in Weycombe," Ethan replied. "He didn't believe in God, as far as I could tell, but he liked to claim he was called to the clergy because his grandfather was the Bishop of Southwark. I always felt like telling him that God moves in much more mysterious ways than he could imagine. Not that he'd listen to me. He never even listened to God."

"Do you believe in God, Ethan?"

"I was brought up High Church, same as you, Ripper," Ethan reminded him. "Do you?"

"Yes, and you didn't answer the question."

"I worship the dual aspected god of the Romans. That rather precludes being a faithful son of the Church."

"I don't know. Some of the most powerful ceremonial magicians I've ever met were Church of England."

"Ninety percent of the Establishment is C of E, Ripper. Most ceremonial magicians come from that part of English society. You have to be, to have the means to do it seriously. And your precious Council is firmly Establishment," Ethan remarked. "We both are as well, I suppose."

"I've never really thought of myself as Establishment."

"Really? Let's look at it, then. Old money. Public school education and the old boy's network and all that. You read at Oxford, no less. And how could you have had such a rebellious youth if you had nothing to rebel against?"

"I suppose, if you put it that way. It just sounds so..."

"Old book and tweedy?" Ethan laughed. "I've seen the contents of your closet, Ripper."

"I was going to say hidebound and stuffy."

"Again, the contents of your closet..."

"And the thought of you being Establishment is rather worrisome."

"I'm not as well connected as you are. Just a clever lad with a scholarship to a fine school," Ethan said loftily. "You really should be ashamed of being seen in public with me." Ethan winced again; his need to give a clever riposte was getting ahead of his brain. Or perhaps it was the second glass of whisky.

"I am ashamed." Giles replied, as Ethan knew he would. "In fact, I think I will stay in here with you, so as not to let the world know that I know you."

"Oh, whatever shall we do with ourselves?" Ethan mocked, to cover for the sudden stab of pain.

"I was rather thinking of stripping you naked, throwing you down on the hearth rug and licking you all over," Giles replied easily. "Why? Did you have other plans?"

"I was going to paint you."

"No. No more paintings of me."

"I didn't say anything about paintings." Ethan raised his brows wickedly. "I said I was going to paint you."

Ethan reached over to run his hand across Giles' scarred back. Giles moaned and leaned into the touch.

"Any objections?" Ethan whispered, moving closer.

"None," Giles whispered back. "Get your paint pots."

"Get naked," Ethan replied, rising to fetch the bag of things he had bought earlier in the day. He laughed as Giles immediately stripped down, grabbed some pillows from various bits of furniture, and made himself comfortable.

* * * * *

Buffy stayed the night at Willow's. She was too tired and heartsore to make the trek home, even if the vamps in town were behaving themselves. Despite how tired she was, she couldn't sleep. The minute she closed her eyes, she saw Angel and his sleek, smooth body and felt his cool skin against hers. His soft voice was whispering words of love and passion into her ears and she wanted him so badly that she ached.

Then the vision changed, to that soft voice mocking her, taunting her. And that beautiful body was no longer next to hers, but pounding rhythmically into her Watcher. The scene was silent except for the smack of flesh on flesh and that was worse than screaming would have been.

"No." She pressed her hands to the sides of her head, trying to banish the image. She shuddered and got up, still haunted by the vision. Another vision came to mind, this one of Angel - not Angelus - and the pain of remorse in his dark eyes. She wanted to stake Angelus; had she known, she would not have been so conflicted about staking him. Angelus was a monster, a demon. His killing of Miss Calendar was bad, but she could almost understand that. He was a soulless vampire and vampires killed. This was somehow different. Angelus had spent hours hurting Giles in ways she could no longer imagine.

But Angel... Angel was sorry for what Angelus did. Angel would never harm a living soul. And she loved him. She loved him all the more, now, since he had the courage to face the victims of his demonic parasite.

And she loved Giles. She seldom thought about how she felt about her Watcher, but she did love him. He infuriated her, insulted her, annoyed her, amused her and confused her. He had been nothing but supportive of her, even after she'd run away and she loved him for that. And she knew he loved her. For all his fussbudget ways and his insistence that she had to be what he wanted her to be, he did care. He had been hurt that she hadn't told him that Angel had returned.

'You have no respect for me or the job I perform'. The words echoed in her mind. At the time, she had been hurt and angry that he could think that. At the time, she had thought that he had been disappointed in her and that was worse than Xander's anger and Willow's bewilderment.

Well, he had been disappointed, but she wondered what other emotions had been hiding under the stilted words and the stiff manner. She had never seen him so cold and uncaring. But had he really been uncaring? Or had be been frightened?

She tried for a moment to put herself in Giles' shoes. How had he felt when he discovered that not only had his tormentor returned, but that she had been harbouring him? Okay, that was way painful.

She wrapped her arms around herself and quietly opened the door to the balcony off Willow's room. It was too chilly out for her thin nightclothes, but she didn't care.

After all that had happened, though, Giles had helped Angel. He told her himself that he would find the solution to their shared dreams and he had. Angel was wrong; Giles had forgiven him. Giles knew that Angel was not Angelus and he forgave. He had to; why else would he have helped?

She felt a sudden, painful rush of love for her Watcher. He was fine. He had forgiven. Everything was going to be fine. After all, he had said so and he never lied to her. Well, except when she asked, she amended, as she stepped back inside with a shiver and a smile.

She lay down again and closed her eyes. She did not see any visions of the two men she loved and loved her when she fell asleep, but late in the night, she felt a cool, smooth body on hers and agonizing pain as his body slipped into hers with brutal force.

* * * * *

Willow pretended to be asleep as she watched Buffy prowl quietly around the room. A part of her was meanly pleased that Buffy couldn't sleep. How could she defend Angel like that? Angel had killed Miss Calendar. Angel had beaten and raped Giles. Angel had hurt Buffy and... and... he killed her fish.

Angelus was terrifying. Willow found him all the more terrifying because she liked him. She liked Angel and his quiet gentleness, his flashes of humour and his steadfast devotion to Buffy. She had seen his vampiric nature as a tragic illness, an affliction that he had worked hard to overcome. She grieved for him, as she grieved for anyone with a serious affliction, but she had never been frightened of him.

Now that he was back, she wasn't sure how she felt. Angel was still Angel. He was still the big, near-silent devoted presence that had once made her feel safe and secure.

That sense of safety was gone now and had been gone since Angelus first appeared, but he had been vanquished and was no more. She had sincerely grieved for her friend and for Buffy's pain, and a part of her had rejoiced in his return.

Although there had been vestiges of terror when she found out Angel was back, she was glad for Buffy. Now, she wasn't sure what she felt.

She had still been recovering herself when she saw Giles afterwards. He had been stiff and moved awkwardly, but he had been mobile. He had been quiet, too, but functioning. He had admitted that his time in the mansion with Angelus was unpleasant, but she had assumed that he was fine. During the summer, she had been worried about him, but only because he had been so tired and so disheartened. Buffy's leaving had taken its toll on him and she had thought that's all it had been.

Now she wondered just how much physical and emotional pain he had been in and maybe was still in. Angel's return had to have hit him like a tidal wave. Yet, he had defended Buffy at the time.

She forced herself to stay still and keep her eyes closed, although she wanted more than anything to jump up and go to Giles, to tell him that she cared about his pain, that she wanted to help, that she loved him.

Despite her crush on Xander, and her relationship with Oz, she still loved Giles. She still felt a funny rumbling in her tummy whenever he smiled at her, and she still felt weak in the knees whenever he leaned over her shoulder to look at the computer. She still had occasional dreams that one day, he'd look at her the way he had looked at Miss Calendar sometimes when he thought no one was looking. And Angel had killed Miss Calendar, too, and left her in Giles' bed to find.

When she saw Buffy settle down to sleep, she settled down, too, firmly resolving to be as loving and supportive of Giles as she possibly could.

* * * * *

Xander appreciated Mrs. Rosenberg and her automatic assumption that he'd be staying over. She had made up the sofa without comment, both of them having been through this many times over the years. He was no longer allowed to sleep in Willow's room, as he had when they were kids, but the sofa at the Rosenberg household was always available for him.

He didn't replay the scene at home in his head. He didn't need to; it was same old, same old. Nothing new there. He did wonder if Dad really thought he and Giles had something going last summer or if he was just saying that to hurt him. Compared to some of the other things his father had said over the years, this one barely registered on the hurtful scale. Yet, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Did people really think he was gay?

Well, he knew Larry did, but Larry was so hyped on coming out of the closet that he probably saw gayness in everybody. It didn't mean anything.

But if it didn't mean anything, and if he wasn't homophobic, why did it bother him so much? It wasn't as if he cared what his dad thought.

Okay, so he did care. He cared a lot. This was his father, for freak's sake; his father's opinion did carry a lot of weight.

Or did it? Xander rolled over and clutched a pillow to his chest. Thinking hard, he realised that, while a part of him did care, a growing part of him really didn't give a flying fuck what his father thought. Xander knew that nothing he did was good enough and that he might as well stop trying.

No, it wasn't his father's opinion that mattered. It was Giles' opinion. Giles, who had been more of a father to him in the last couple of years than his father had ever been, mattered to him.

Yet he didn't exactly see Giles as a father figure. It was there, of course, but that wasn't all Giles was to him. Giles was a friend, but that wasn't it, either.

He cared deeply for Giles' good opinion. Despite the snarky comments, he knew Giles cared about him. He knew, even though neither one of them ever had or ever would discuss it, that Giles trusted him. If he hadn't, he could never have been permitted to see even the smallest amount of pain and fear and grief that he had seen over last summer. Over the summer, he had seen more of the man than he had during all the years before. Over the summer, Giles had treated him like a man, not a kid. Sure, he still kidded the piss out of him and used his years and maturity as a weapon against him, but there wasn't such a huge gulf of age and authority between them.

And, since seeing Ethan's pictures, he had added another dimension to his mental image of Giles. He had seen Giles as a man, with a past and with desires and interests outside the Watchers.

Over the summer, he had felt something odd whenever he was with Giles. It was a weird feeling; something akin to wanting something he could never have, but not quite that strong. It was subtle, but it was there.

It wasn't until he saw the pictures that he realised what that feeling had been. He had been far too interested in the painting of the nude, sexually charged Giles than he wanted to be. And he knew, despite his protests, that Giles and Ethan probably had slept together when they were younger.

He didn't want to think about too much, since that led to thoughts that he didn't want to think at all. He knew Willow had a crush on Giles, but he would die if anyone ever found out that he did, too.

There. He'd thought it. He wondered if he was supposed to feel confused instead of better. Larry seemed to feel like he'd had a load of sorrow lifted when he admitted he was gay, but all Xander felt was more and more confused.

He didn't think he was attracted to Giles in that way. Little Xander had never perked up when he thought of Giles. Well, not much, anyway. Not the way Cordelia or Buffy made the ol' trouser snake come alive.

Still, there was something there. A curiosity. He had wanted, all that summer, to move closer to Giles, to be there for him, to hold him and let him lean on him. It hadn't been sexual.

Or... Perhaps it had been, but the looming awareness that Giles had been badly violated sexually had killed any hint of desire before it began.

Xander rolled over again and punched the pillow. His feelings were suddenly quite clear. He loved Giles. Not like a father, or a lover, or a friend. Just as Giles. Nothing more and nothing less. And he knew beyond doubt that Giles loved him. Just him. Xander.

And it occurred to him that, if Giles wanted to, he wouldn't be entirely grossed out by the idea of sleeping with him. Not that he was panting after him or anything, but he was curious. Ethan Rayne had come back over and over again, so it wasn't as if Giles was a dud in bed. Miss Calendar certainly didn't seem to think so.

God, had he really thought that? Had he really had gay thoughts Giles-ward? Maybe Larry was onto something and he really was gay and just in deep, deep denial. Of course, the problem with deep denial is it got pretty shallow when the thought occurred. Xander looked fondly back at denial-land and knew that this particular issue was in exile.

He wanted to talk to somebody about this. He had to talk to somebody, but who? Who could he trust with these sorts of questions?

He smiled ruefully when he realised that the only person he knew that he trusted was the very person he had minor yearnings of a lustful nature towards. Typical. Then again, he didn't have to mention that part, did he?

* * * * *

The shared sponge bath should have been romantic, or at least erotic, but it wasn't, at least not at first. Ethan insisted that his canvas had to be squeaky clean and it wasn't like Giles was adverse to the idea, but the thought of getting soapy water all over his record jackets or, worse, his books was intolerable.

"Just where do you think you're going?" Ethan demanded, as he returned to the living room, with a large bowl of hot, soapy water, flannel and towel over his arm.

"Putting these away," Giles replied, waving his hand over the pile of records and books spread around the floor.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"These are irreplaceable," Giles retorted, swiftly picking up the albums and putting them back in the boxes. "Once the books are safe, I'm more than willing to play. And make sure your hands are dry."

"Spoilsport," Ethan grumbled, but put down the bowl willingly enough. He didn't have quite the same obsessive relationship with the printed word as Giles did, but he wasn't that far behind.

Once the floor was cleared of all objects that could be permanently water damaged, Ethan bade Giles to sit, then started running the flannel across his back, carefully and caressingly tracing the scars. As each section of Giles' back was cleaned, he leaned forward and kissed each one, his tongue outlining the marks left by Angelus. Giles shivered in delight and, when Ethan started in on the long gash on his shoulder, he turned his head and captured Ethan's lips with his own.

The bowl of water nearly tipped over as they kissed and touched each other, tongues intertwining. Ethan pulled back when the water splashed on his bare thigh.

"Patience, love." He smiled, and picked up the flannel again. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness, you know."

"Godliness?" Giles grinned.

"I have every intention of hearing you plead to the good Lord above in just a little while," Ethan purred. Giles felt a shiver run through him, and allowed Ethan to continued bathing him. When he was clean, head to toe, he returned the favour. Putting the bowl on the coffee table, well out of harm's way, he rearranged the pillows and leaned back.

"How shall I pose for you, love?" he asked, as Ethan set up pots of flavoured body paint. "And shall I ask you why you just happen to have those with you?"

"After last night, I thought I might have use for them."

"Such a clever boy," Giles mocked and Ethan smacked him sharply on the knee.

"No Python quotes while I'm seducing you," he ordered. Giles nodded meekly and allowed Ethan to pose him however he wanted.

The first touch of the paint was an erotic experience all out of proportion to the gesture. Giles watched, with growing desire, as Ethan drew a thin line of red paint across his collarbones. Ethan was concentrating fiercely, his brows drawn together, and his hands danced with a deft touch. Giles had watched Ethan paint before, and had thought him beautiful as he did it, but he had never been the subject of that type of concentration.

Ethan continued to paint designs all over his body and by the time Ethan finally pronounced his masterpiece finished, he was so hard he was on the verge of exploding. Ethan sat back on his heels and contemplated his artistic efforts.

"What were you intending to do with your creation?" Giles asked, as Ethan just kept looking at him.

"I believe you said something about licking me all over," Ethan replied, with a lascivious leer. "I think I shall hijack your plans and make them my own." And Ethan proceeded to do exactly that.

Giles concentrated fiercely on not coming; he desperately wanted this to last as long as possible, poised on the knife edge of orgasm. The feel of Ethan's hands and body and lips and tongue on his body was exquisite. He nearly howled when Ethan licked and nibbled his way between his thighs, skimming past his stiff cock and going straight for his balls. There hadn't been any paint there, but Ethan seemed to be focussed on making absolutely sure on that point. He felt them pull up, ready to release, but Ethan swiftly and firmly squeezed the base of his cock and the feeling of imminent explosion receded.

"You're not begging yet," Ethan commented, slightly muffled from his position.

"Would you like me to?" Giles gasped out, spreading his legs wider.

Ethan didn't answer. He just continued his oral explorations, making Giles gasp and moan in one, long, inarticulate howl.

Ethan's hands hadn't been idle, either, and Giles had a fleeting twinge of panic as he felt his buttocks being spread. Then a wet, gentle tongue insinuated itself between and he shifted his hips to allow Ethan more room.

He had forgotten just how good that felt. The first time he had rimmed Ethan, Ethan had been dubious, but had soon appreciated how good it felt. It had taken some coaxing to convince Ethan to reciprocate, but eventually Ethan had learned to like this as much as he did.

His breath caught in he throat as he felt a finger insert gently into him, only a fraction of an inch, and Ethan stopped and sat back.

"Too far?" he asked, his hands having moved to his thighs.

"No, I don't think so," Giles replied breathlessly. The twinges of panic were still there, but there was no urge to run and hide.

"Good," Ethan replied and leaned forward to kiss him. His hands returned to Giles' ass and his fingers gently touched and explored, though not penetrating.

Giles returned the kisses, still incredibly aroused. Ethan's mouth caressed his face and shoulders while his hands kept caressing his ass.

"I want to fuck you," Ethan murmured against his skin. "I want to be inside you, sliding in and out with long, gentle strokes."

Giles remembered how that felt, to have Ethan's cock inside him, filling him. It had been wonderful; Ethan was a skilful lover and generous with his body. Still, the memory of the last time he had a man inside him was too fresh for there not to be a reaction. The cold, painful violation still haunted him. He didn't want to think about that, not with Ethan's hands and body doing such delightful things.

He tried hard to banish the memory of Angelus as Ethan leaned over him. He felt incredibly conflicted; he wanted Ethan as much as he ever had, but the memories were bleeding into this experience, turning it to something truly horrific. He didn't want Ethan to stop, but he didn't want to taint the only part of his life with Ethan that had never caused him pain.

He could enjoy this. He could. All it took was a little concentration and...

"This isn't going to work, is it?" Ethan asked, backing off.

"No, I'm afraid not." He desperately wanted to lie, but unwilling to break the thin tendril of trust between them. "Maybe a different position?"

"Such as?"

Giles gently pushed Ethan back and straddled his lap. This was much better. He began to lower himself down, when Ethan suddenly yelped.

"God, Ripper. Stop," Ethan ordered.

"What?"

"My hip." Ethan squirmed away, grimacing.

"Your hip?"

"Remember the Darwahl demon?"

"Oh. But you seemed to have no trouble walking."

"Walking, yes. Having a twenty stone lummox resting his weight on it, no."

"Seventeen stone. At most," Giles objected, then started to giggle. Ethan tried to look annoyed, then started to laugh as well.

"God, what a pair we are," Ethan said, after he got his breath back. "I still want to make love to you, though."

"You and me both. Do you think we can manage it without either breaking you or traumatizing me?"

"I hope so." Ethan shook his head. "Let's try this in a civilised fashion. Piss on getting all hot and bothered on the hardwood floors when you've got a perfectly comfortable bed upstairs."

"I'm not sure that'll help." Giles was doubtful.

"You underestimate my ingenuity, love," Ethan smirked. "I'm getting a piece of that delectable ass tonight."

As it happened, making love was a great deal easier upstairs, cuddled together in bed. Ethan took his time arousing him; words and soft caresses and the occasional crude comment and he was ready, willing and able to complete what they had started downstairs.

He found that Ethan hovering over him was too much to handle, but having Ethan pressed into him was fine. Ethan didn't allow even a millimetre of space between their bodies, as he kissed and nibbled and caressed and talked. The weight and heat of Ethan was nothing like Angelus' cold distance. And Ethan's hip might not have been as flexible as of yore, but his own joints were kept quite limber thanks to his training with Buffy. A pillow under his lower back and a little wiggling and they were in position.

The first moments of penetration were exquisite. Ethan slipped in easily, and stayed there, apparently transfixed by the sensation.

"I had forgotten how much I love this," Ethan murmured against his shoulder. "Like slipping into silk, love. Hot, soft silk, like fabric."

"Sybarite," Giles sighed back. "And there's much to be said for sybaritic pleasures."

"Tell me." Ethan groaned, pulling back slowly and sinking in again.

"I feel safe with you around me. A blanket of warmth and the feel of your skin against mine. God, I've missed this. I've missed you."

"Missed you, too, love." Ethan kept moving, undulating gently.

They moved together, with increasing passion, slowly, to savour each moment for itself. He felt Ethan's movements speed up and he welcomed it. The passion simmering between them became hotter and hotter; words transformed into whispering sighs and moans of pleasure.

He wanted more. Angelus was no longer a ghost hovering around their bed; the only ghosts were the spectres of their twenty year old selves, for whom this had been nothing less than lustful hunger for each other. He wanted Ethan's passion and his hunger; he wanted Ethan to pound into him, heedless of the past or the future. There was only this moment, and this man. Nothing else mattered.

"Ethan... Ethan..." he cried out, clutching at the body above him with desperate fingers. "God, Ethan." The hard, hot cock inside him, the scraping of hair across his own rampant erection and, most of all, the Ethanness of Ethan was driving him mad. He nearly screamed as the climax rushed through him. Ethan took two more thrusts and screamed as well, pushing inside him as far as he possibly could.

The moment of orgasm held for what seemed an eternity, then began to recede. Ethan lifted himself up a bit, wincing as their intertwined chest hairs, sticky with come, pulled apart. Giles took a deep breath, the first he was able to since they started, then began to laugh.

Ethan looked offended, and withdrew. Removing and disposing of the condom, Ethan put his hands on his hips and glared.

"It was that bloody amusing, was it?" he pouted. "God, I had forgotten that you always did find sex hysterically funny."

"I can't help it," Giles replied, his laughter subsiding to the occasional chuckle. "I wasn't laughing at you."

"No?"

"No. Not at you," Giles replied, in a conciliatory tone. "I was just enjoying myself. Come back to bed, love."

"I have to go clean up." Ethan, still pouting, left the loft. However, he was back in less than five minutes, laden with a damp towel, a mug of tea for each of them and a box of biscuits under one arm.

After a quick clean up, they snuggled back into bed and sipped and nibbled, neither one of them the least bit bothered by crumbs in the bed.

* * * * *

"Oh... Waffles." Buffy sauntered into the kitchen, looking a little weary, but trying hard to pretend that everything was normal.

"Seeing as it's Saturday and after yesterday, I thought you'd like a special treat for breakfast." Joyce smiled, going along with the pretence. "Is Willow with you?"

"She's doing the bonding thing with her dad," Buffy replied. "They went off to church or the synagogue or whatever it's called. By the way, thanks for letting me stay at her place last night."

"I've learned that anything to do with slaying or with Mr Giles is best left to you and your friends. I'm not part of that, after all." Joyce tried to keep the sad note out of her voice, but didn't think she quite succeeded. Buffy turned to take a pitcher of juice out of the fridge.

"That's true," she said blithely, then faced Joyce straight on. "You're not part of that and I'm glad. You're the part of my life where I can be a normal teenage girl. I need you, Mom. Slayer-Buffy needs Giles and the Scoobies, but Buffy-Buffy really needs you."

"Oh, sweetie. I love you, too." Joyce enveloped her daughter in a warm hug.

"Oohhh. Mom hugs." Buffy hugged her back. "And while Buffy-Buffy is eating Mom waffles, can I get some Mom advice?"

"Sure." Joyce went back to making waffles. "What about?"

"You know that Angel is a vampire, right?"

"Well, yes. You told me." Joyce put a stack of waffles in front of Buffy.

"And you know he did some really rotten stuff when he was Angelus, right?"

"Yes..." Joyce didn't like where this was going. She had asked Giles when Buffy came back to explain to her exactly what was what with Angel/Angelus. He had told her.

"Last night I found out he did something really, really rotten."

"Other than murdering your teacher, you mean?" Joyce asked dryly. Buffy looked up to glare at her mother, but only met her eyes for a second before lowering them again.

"Yeah. This was worse," she mumbled. "Okay, not worse than murder, but right up there. I found out and I was sick to my stomach. I threw up, then I cried. Then I realised that I wanted to go to Angel and tell him that, even if the person he did it to never forgives him, that I would. How sick is that?"

"Let me get this straight." Joyce carefully switched off the waffle maker, leaned her elbows on the counter and put her chin in her hands. "You found out that Angel did something that makes you literally sick. Then you found out that you love him enough to forgive him for it. Have I got it about right?"

"You left out the part that if he were still soulless, I'd stake him in a second, but yeah," Buffy replied. "He really hurt someone I care about and I still want to go to him and tell him that it's okay, when obviously it isn't. What does that make me?"

"It makes you a girl in love," Joyce replied softly. "A girl in love doesn't see the flaws, Buffy. Tell me this, though - would the Angel you love do that again to anyone else?"

"No. Not in a hundred years. No, wait. He'll still be around in a hundred years. How about a million?"

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I am. Angel isn't a monster. Angelus is the monster and, as long as Angel has a soul, Angelus is gone."

"Then you have nothing to blame yourself for, Buffy. Love doesn't work that way. Love is not conditional and you love Angel, right?" Joyce chose her words carefully. No, Buffy bore no blame. Angel, on the other hand, had a lot to answer for, in her opinion.

"Right." Buffy took a bite of waffle. "That brings me to my other question."

"Yes?"

"The person he hurt. How am I supposed to face them? I mean, now that I know?"

Joyce paused for a moment. Buffy had found out this - something - last night. And she had spent last night at Willow's, so the person Angelus hurt wasn't her. Buffy only had a small circle of friends, so the person had to be either Xander or Oz. Or, she thought, Giles.

She remembered the night when her world fell apart. The night she found out that Buffy was the Slayer was the worst night of her life. Her darling baby girl spent her nights out fighting demons and otherworldly creatures, rather than out dancing and hanging with her friends. On the whole, Joyce would rather have learned that Buffy was breaking curfew with a bad crowd than face her daughter's destiny.

However, she also recalled, dimly, that Buffy had been so eager to leave that night because Angel had kidnapped her Watcher. Buffy had to be referring to Giles.

Joyce closed her eyes, trying to quell the guilt and shame she felt. She had blamed the man for so much, totally overlooking the obvious pain he had been in.

"Buffy...," she began, but had no idea where she was going with it. Buffy looked at her with haunted eyes.

"I guess you figured out who, hunh?" she said, with a bitter twist to her mouth. "You know, it was so totally wigsome to see those pictures that Ethan drew twenty years ago. Now, I'm more than a little freaked out by the picture he showed me a couple of days ago."

"Picture?"

"He drew Giles - the now Giles - without a shirt on," Buffy admitted. "And the scars... Mom, they were so bad. And Xander kept saying that what Angel did was, well, bad. Now I know how bad and I don't know how to face Giles."

"Has Mr. Giles ever spoken to you about Angel?" Joyce asked, buying time. Buffy frowned.

"No. He never says much about Angel, except when he has to. Then again, he's not exactly Mr Over-share. It's that whole British reserve thing. If he was half dead, he might admit to an owie, but I doubt it."

"Maybe he doesn't want to talk about it," Joyce said, feeling utterly inadequate. She was thoroughly regretting accepting the show from Rayne, even if she hadn't known who he was when she had.

"Well, duh. Mom, he's a guy and guys don't talk about stuff like that. And he's a British guy and British guys don't talk at all, as far as I can tell. I just want to know how I can face him as if nothing happened."

"Well, nothing has happened that hadn't happened months ago," Joyce said, practically.

"Guess not." Buffy shrugged one shoulder and took another bite of waffle. "Can I ask you something that's really none of my business and that I really don't want to know?"

"Sure. Go ahead." Joyce chuckled at Buffy's question.

"When you and Giles... I mean, on the police car... Did you feel anything...?"

Joyce went beet red. She knew that Buffy knew what had happened, but they had both bought into the town wide amnesia about the events of that night.

"Buffy! I scarcely think that's any of your business," Joyce exclaimed, taking refuge in being offended.

"I wasn't asking how good he was, although to get it up twice does say something..." Buffy blushed as well and trailed off. "Anyway, what I meant to ask is if you could feel any scars on his back or anything like that."

"Well, we didn't exactly, um, undress for the occasion," Joyce said carefully. "He was wearing a shirt and I don't recall putting my hands under it, except to unfasten his..."

"Eeww. Way too much information, Mom. A simple yes or no was all I was asking."

"Oh. No." Joyce picked up Buffy's fork and helped herself to a bit of her waffles.

"Hey. My breakfast," Buffy protested. "Wanna go to the mall later for a bit of Mom/Buffy bonding? There's nothing happening on the surreal front, unless you count those bizarre tops at Farthingale's, so I can be Buffy-Buffy for a while. And Buffy-Buffy needs her mom."

And Slayer-Buffy needs time to figure out how to deal with her Watcher, Joyce thought.

* * * * *

"Boring, pedantic old woman," Ethan muttered, as he helped unpack groceries. "You've become old, Rupert. Worse than old. Middle aged."

"I am middle aged, Ethan, and so are you," Giles said mildly, as he took the carton of milk from Ethan's hands and put it in the fridge. "And I fail to see how refusing to buy pomegranates makes me middle aged. I don't like them."

"Where is your sense of adventure?" Ethan asked, as he thumped a small chicken on the counter. "Look at this. Potatoes. Broccoli. Bananas. Apples. Chicken. Squash. Nothing exotic in the whole lot."

"My life has plenty of adventure. I don't need it in my kitchen." Giles put the broccoli in the fridge. "You're just pouting because you like pomegranates."

Ethan gave him a dirty look and took the broccoli back out of the fridge and put the chicken in.

"And we're twittering on about groceries like two old queens," Ethan continued to grumble.

"Would this make you feel better?" Giles smiled slyly, taking a pomegranate out of each of his jacket pockets. Ethan smiled brilliantly, sulk forgotten.

"Where did you get those?"

"Nicked 'em for you," Giles said, carelessly, in the accent he used when they were young.

"Ripper. There's hope for you yet," Ethan exclaimed. "Now get out of here. I'd like to get started on lunch."

Giles smirked and dropped on the sofa to read the paper. Out of habit, he checked for any suspicious deaths, but there was nothing of the sort. The hiatus of evil was holding for now. It was rather like a vacation from his normal life.

Having Ethan here contributed to the feeling. Last night's lovemaking had been fabulous and waking up this morning with Ethan's toes tucked securely under his knees - a whole new and bizarre iteration of Ethan's sleeping positions - felt right. They hadn't done anything spectacular all day, other than a bit of grocery shopping, nor had they talked about anything especially serious, but Ethan's presence gave a thrilling importance to the day.

Was he falling in love with Ethan again? Or had he ever stopped? Back in London, he had never entirely admitted to himself how he felt about Ethan. At Eton, they had bonded over a shared dislike of Mr Pethick, the Latin master, and had quickly become inseparable. Ripper and Rayne; achieving legendary status by the time they left.

Even after they went their separate ways, he to Oxford and Ethan to London, they had stayed in touch. When he turned his back on the council and the life they had planned for him, Ethan was the first and only place he looked up. He knew Ethan would welcome him in.

Pranks and jokes and a shared love of knowledge had bonded them then, but there were other bonds forming as well. Giles was perfectly aware that Ethan was a good looking bloke, in that thin, intense sort of way. And he was perfectly aware that both genders attracted him.

Perhaps due to his awareness from an early age that the monsters under the bed were real, he had somehow escaped acquiring any inhibitions or taboos about sex. Sex was no different than any other sort of behaviour; there was a time and a place for it, but once in that time and place, the point of the exercise was to enjoy it.

And enjoy it he did. Both in Oxford and in London, he had no trouble attracting partners of both genders and had enjoyed himself immensely.

He hadn't thought Ethan swung that way, up until Ethan had crawled into bed with him one cold night, snuggling close. Ethan had been drunk, and he had to admit, he'd had more than his fair share as well. Sloppy kisses and maudlin ramblings led to a passionate consummation of their strong friendship.

The next morning, neither of them felt particularly embarrassed or uncomfortable, and so the affair continued.

As the months went by, Giles found himself less interested in picking up the latest loose skirt and more interested in exploring Ethan's thin, wiry body and his twisted and endlessly fascinating mind.

Phillip and Deirdre merely smiled at them, Rand was eternally confused and Tommy made sotto voce comments about their dubious masculinity, but neither he nor Ethan cared. They knew who and what they were, and if they decided to openly sleep together, that was no one's concern but their own.

The whole affair had been so absurdly simple and lacking in any kind of drama, that he had never really thought much about whether he loved Ethan. Serious declarations of that sort simply weren't done, and, with the perspective of years, he knew that it would have scared him silly had Ethan said anything then. He had been pathologically opposed to anything even remotely resembling a commitment to anything or anybody.

Then Rand's death had reminded him that he did not live in a vacuum, that there were consequences to his actions. And then the soul destroying emptiness started to take over. He hadn't loved anyone then, least of all himself.

But that was years ago, and he was no longer an angry young man. Far from being the hooligan who ran from any responsibility, he had learned to commit to a course of action. He had learned to appreciate and cherish love and those who he cared about.

Still, the conundrum persisted. Did he love Ethan? Had he ever stopped? Was he willing now to make the commitment that Ethan hadn't asked for all those years ago?

The answers were simple. Yes. No. Uncertain. Yes, he loved Ethan. No, he had never really stopped. And he was uncertain as to whether he could trust Ethan. Ethan did love him, he knew that. He also knew that trusting Ethan with the keys to his heart was a very bad idea. He knew Ethan and his casual sadistic streak. He had seen it far too often to blind himself about it.

"What are you all in a brown study about?" Ethan asked, handing him a cup of perfectly brewed tea. God, it was nice to have another Englishman around, one who appreciated a decent cuppa.

"I was thinking about us."

"Try not to go overboard with the flattery, will you?" Ethan responded dryly, picking up a pencil and his sketchbook. "Scoot down a little and move your right hand off your leg, would you?"

Giles obeyed almost automatically. With a sip of tea, he watched Ethan flick his eyes from sketchbook to his leg, over and over.

"Are you staying?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you staying here in Sunnydale?"

"Oh, good God, no," Ethan responded immediately. Giles kept his expression impassive, but pain twisted his gut.

"I see."

"Oh, stop tying yourself in knots, Ripper." Ethan glared at him. "There are two very good reasons why I can't stay here and neither one of them is you. I'd be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my days drawing you, getting drunk with you, fucking you and putting up with your pole up the backside glares when I do magic. I just can't. Not right now."

"Why not? It isn't like you're tied down anywhere."

"Two reasons. The Hellmouth and Buffy."

"What?"

"The Hellmouth. You know, that centre of mystical convergence that sits underneath the left hand stairs to the upper levels in your library?"

"I think you'd like being near that."

"You think wrong, Ripper. My magic taps directly into that energy and I can't control it."

"You can't control chaos magic anyway."

"You can't control the results," Ethan corrected. "To be a successful chaos magician, you have to control the spells very finely. The Hellmouth's energy can't be controlled that way. My little foray into retail showed me that."

"You mean you didn't mean to cause havoc with that spell?" Giles gave him a disbelieving look.

"Oh, I did," Ethan replied. "It wasn't supposed to affect the little ones."

"No?"

"No. Children are unsocialised savages to begin with. They're pure chaos anyway. It was the adolescents I was targeting."

"Like Buffy."

"Like Buffy and her friends." Ethan nodded. "Halloween is such a dull time that I thought I'd liven things up for you."

"So thoughtful."

"I admit, our reunion didn't go quite as planned, but that's the drawback of chaos magic," Ethan finished lightly. "It did, however, provide a little sample of my work for Trick."

"The band candy."

"The candy. Like the costume spell, it worked a little too well. Even immature young adults tend to protect babies." Ethan shook his head in disgust. "And people think I'm selfish and self centred."

"You are."

"Even I would never have left helpless infants alone the way those hospital workers did. Nor would you," Ethan said seriously. "That taught me that doing magic here is not worth it, no matter how well paid."

"I still find that hard to believe."

"Every time I've done magic here I got my arse kicked by you and your Slayer. I don't enjoy pain, Ripper."

"Which comes to your other reason. What about Buffy?" He couldn't help the snarky tone.

"She's your Slayer. You're her Watcher. Her Called Watcher. I can't and won't compete with that," Ethan replied coldly. "I am selfish enough to want you for myself. You belong to her and will until the day she dies. Ask me to stay with you on the day of her funeral and I'll have a different answer."

* * * * *

Buffy found that a day of shopping with her mother, then a quick dinner of junk food followed by ice cream and a chick flick was just the ticket. She felt much more herself when she woke up on Sunday morning, her courage returning. She was still bothered by the revelations on Friday, but they were in the past. Nothing had really changed, except for the level of love and sympathy she felt for Angel, the hatred she felt for Darla for turning Angel in the first place, and a whole new appreciation for her Watcher.

Okay, so she did feel a little, tiny bit betrayed that the men in her life - Angel, Giles and Xander - had hidden something so important from her. Nobody liked feeling left out, after all. Strangely, that tiny thread of hurt helped keep her from weeping in sympathy for her Watcher. He hadn't wanted her to know, so she didn't know. With a vengeance.

She called Willow and Xander, wanting to know what her best buds were up to. Willow had promised to go to a lecture with her mother, but agreed to meet her at Giles' place later. Xander was more than eager to get out of the house and fell in with her plans to go bother Giles.

"D'you think Ethan's there?" Xander asked, as they turned the corner on Giles' street. Buffy blew a raspberry.

"Doubt it. Ethan never sticks around long." She dismissed the sorcerer with an airy wave.

"I dunno, Buff. He and Giles were getting pretty cosy there." Xander looked doubtful. Buffy declined to answer, so they walked in silence for half a block.

"D'you think Giles has any junk food in stock?" Xander asked, apropos of passing the convenience store.

"Again, doubt it," Buffy replied, with a grin. "Here's a couple of bucks and get some of that cheese popcorn." Xander grinned back.

"I'll catch up in a few." Xander disappeared into the store.

Buffy shook her head and quickened her pace. Arriving at the door, she pushed it open and sauntered in. A quick visual of the place told her that Giles was probably upstairs in the loft. She shrugged and started to climb.

Buffy nearly fell down the stairs at the sight that greeted her. Giles didn't have any walls around his bed, just a comfortable sleeping space directly at the top of the stairs. Buffy was prepared for a mildly embarrassing scene, should Giles happen to be getting changed or something. She was not expecting to see Giles flat on his back on the bed, with Ethan Rayne on top of him.

Of all the sights she really did not want to have embedded in her mind, the sight of Ethan Rayne's ass as he was fucking Rupert Giles topped the list.

She stumbled down the stairs as fast as she could, gasping in shock. Tripping slightly at the turn of the staircase, she sat down hard on her butt and tried to catch her breath.

Ethan's voice, calm and unruffled, floated down the stairs.

"Well, that rather killed the mood."

"Yes," Giles agreed, his voice somewhat less calm. "Do get off me, Ethan. I think Buffy may have a word or two to say to me."

"As long as it isn't what my mother said when she walked in on us. You do remember that, don't you, Ripper?"

"Vividly. As I recall, you bit me."

"I did apologize and kiss it better."

"I still think you should have explained in detail when she asked what you were doing."

"Explain fellatio to my mother? Ripper, you're a very twisted individual."

"I thought that's what you liked about me. It isn't like your mother really understood what was going on anyway."

"Pervert."

"Pot, may I introduce you to kettle? You're standing on my trousers."

"Give us a kiss and then we can go hunt down your slayer. How far do you think she's gotten by now?"

"In three minutes? San Bernadino, probably. She's not likely to have made it out of California as yet."

"Oh, come on. She can't be that shocked. After all, she did see the paintings."

"Xander thinks you exaggerated in some of the details."

"Not bloody likely. I drew what I saw."

"Yes, I know. And I do wish you hadn't."

"Where did you put my wallet? I know I left my keys downstairs."

"Walking out on me already?"

"No, that's your habit. I thought we'd use my car. It's actually from this century, unlike yours."

"You're coming with me? Ethan, I'm not sure Buffy will talk to me with you there."

"I'm not sure she'll talk to you anyway. I just want to be sure that your explanation to her bears some superficial resemblance to the truth."

"As if you would recognize the truth if it bit you."

"Just because I don't often feel the need to share it does not mean I am unacquainted with the truth. Although I don't think I'll share some parts of that elusive, yet so sought after commodity."

"Such as?"

"Such as the fact that you love me. I'm not sure she's ready to hear that."

"And what makes you think I am? Or that there's any truth to that statement."

"It's a logical conclusion to the sequence of events that led Miss Summers to witness what she just did. Despite the amount of animosity you've shown me as a result of my actions in the past, I do distinctly remember having my cock up your arse not five minutes ago, Ripper. At your stated request I might add."

"Did you ever entertain the possibility that I merely wanted sex?"

"The possibility did cross my mind, but I did not find it the least bit entertaining. I like using people. I'm not so keen on people using me. Do you love me, Ripper?"

"Of course I do, you prat. Almost as much as I hate you."

"Let's get a move on and find your slayer, then. I do have to thank her finally getting you to actually admit that you love me."

"I've told you that before."

"Not since we were in our twenties and never when we were both sober and dressed."

"When we were in our twenties, finding either of us sober and dressed at the same time was difficult, Ethan."

Buffy listened to the conversation with a growing sense of unreality. The whole Ethan/Giles issue had been driven away by knowing exactly what Angelus did, but now it was back with a vengeance. She knew she had only a few seconds to flee before one or the other of them came down the stairs.

Knowing that if she fled, she'd never go back, Buffy decided to stay right where she was. Xander was going to show up any minute and Willow was coming by as well. Best deal with this now.

"Buffy?" Giles was first down the stairs. He was dressed, although he was barefoot and had a pair of socks in his hand. "Are you all right?"

"Are you?" she shot back, glaring at Ethan, who was right behind Giles.

"Fine." Giles gave her that faintly befuddled look that she suspected he used to get people to fall over themselves explaining. Well, she wasn't going to fall for it.

"You... he... Giles?" Okay, that wasn't the most coherent question she could have asked, but it was the best she could do under the circumstances.

"I am so sorry you witnessed that," Giles said gently.

"Oh, not as sorry as I am," Ethan muttered. Giles glared at him, then turned back to Buffy.

"It was private and not intended for your eyes."

"Since when have you been ashamed of bedding anyone, Ripper?" Ethan remarked, squeezing past Buffy toward the kitchen. "Besides, if she'd learn to knock..." His voice faded rapidly as he went to put the kettle on.

"Um." Buffy started transfixed at her Watcher, utterly fascinated at how not-embarrassed he was. Her Giles was shy and tongue-tied and awkward around women... Then again, Ethan wasn't exactly a woman, was he?

"Buffy, perhaps you'd best come and sit down on the sofa and I'll get you a cup of tea." He gently took her arm to help her up and guided her into the living room.

"You're gay," she blurted out.

"Bisexual, actually," Giles corrected her calmly. "But, yes, I do like men."

"I... I... " Buffy looked from Giles to Ethan. "I gotta go. I gotta think about this." With that, she fled, nearly running over Xander on the way.

"Buffy, what the..." Xander exclaimed, as he flattened himself against the wall beside the door. "Hey, G-man, what's with the Buffster?"

"She caught us in flagrante delicto," Ethan said calmly, scooping tea into the teapot.

"Hey. How come he can talk Latin around the books?" Xander asked suspiciously.

"Because, unlike you, he speaks Latin fluently," Giles answered. "Buffy witnessed a private moment and she's a little upset about it."

"How private?" Xander asked, then comprehension dawned. "Oh. Bad visual place, Giles, I have to tell you."

"Xander, was there something you wanted?" Giles inquired. "And before you say anything, I have no intention of talking about my private life, so you can erase those bad visuals anytime."

Xander paused for a moment, glanced at Ethan, and took a deep breath.

"Actually, that is something I wanted to talk to you about," Xander admitted. "Can we talk privately?"

"Ethan, would you excuse us, please?" Giles looked at Ethan, who had just poured hot water into the teapot.

"I'll just go shower, then." Ethan nodded, earning him a grateful look from Giles. Xander caught the look and relaxed a little.

"Now, what did you want to discuss with me?" Giles asked gently.

"Okay, this isn't easy, but..." Xander began awkwardly. "You and Ethan... You're together, right?"

"Yes..."

"And you were together back in the bad old Ripper days, right?"

"Yes. Considering your bad visual place, I don't quite understand what you're asking."

"Giles, when did you know?"

"Know?"

"Know. Know that you liked guys," Xander said in a rush.

"I think I always did," Giles replied seriously. "I was unusual in that I was never taught to be ashamed of how I felt or how I chose to express those feelings. Growing up in a family of Watchers may have contributed to being allowed to believe things that were unacceptable to most families."

"So you never got picked on?"

"No. Then again, I was also taught discretion at a very young age. Being six feet tall by the time I was fourteen didn't hurt, either."

"Oh." Xander struggled to express himself. "Larry thinks I'm gay."

"Is he right?"

"That's the thing. I don't know," Xander replied, despairingly. "I wanted Willow. And Cordy. God, I wanted her so bad it hurts sometimes. And some of Buffy's outfits... But sometimes I think about what it would be like to, you know, with a guy. Don't get me wrong, I'd really like to be with girls, but there's these other feelings."

"I can't help you through personal experience, I'm afraid," Giles replied. "I never went through any of that. When my hormones kicked in, I looked at both boys and girls equally."

"I did." Both Giles and Xander looked up to see Ethan standing there.

"I thought you were going to shower."

"You really are dreadfully gullible at times, Ripper. I was eavesdropping," Ethan replied cheerfully. "Xander, I went through the whole identity crisis when I was a little younger than you. I spent a great deal of time thinking about why a certain young man of my close acquaintance attracted me when I had several girlfriends."

"So you were gay."

"Not entirely. Like Ripper, I'm bisexual," Ethan replied seriously. "However, based on what you just said about those delightful girls, I think you may simply be curious."

"Not gay?"

"It's perfectly normal to think about all sorts of sexual activities without necessarily trying them. And it's perfectly normal to think about your own gender at times. You're a teenage boy. A walking hormone, if I recall my own teen years correctly," Ethan continued. "It's a confusing time all round, but it will all sort itself out one way or another and it's really not worth getting into a panic about it."

"So you went through all of this, too." Xander looked at Ethan.

"Well, I was going through a lot of other things as well. Being confused about my sexual identity was the least of my worries back then."

"Your mother?" Giles murmured softly, so softly that Xander almost didn't catch it. Ethan nodded slightly. Xander wondered what that was all about, but something told him not to ask.

"Well, that was my moment of compassion for the decade," Ethan announced a minute or two later. "Ripper, shouldn't you go look for your Slayer?"

"Uh, no." Xander held up a hand. "Buffy needs a few minutes. She's kinda suffering from TMI."

"TMI?"

"Too Much Information," Xander clarified. "She'll be okay."

"Tea, Ripper? Xander?"

"Please."

"No, thanks. But if there happens to be any Coke in the fridge, I wouldn't hate that."

"I'll see what I can find."

Xander waited until Ethan left, then leaned closer to Giles.

"Giles, are you okay?"

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?"

"Maybe because Ethan's an evil sorcerer?" Xander retorted, then lowered his voice even more. "I meant, after last summer..."

"I'm fine, Xander," Giles said, equally quietly. "And I told Ethan about it."

Xander felt a bizarre urge to leap up and kiss Ethan or something. If Giles had talked about it, and was getting hot and heavy with Ethan, he was truly healing from Angel's assault. Then common sense prevailed and he felt his insides shrivel in disgust. Kiss Ethan Rayne? Not in this lifetime.

"Other than that, was there some other reason why you're here, Xander?" Giles asked, as they all settled down with drinks.

"Buffy called and wanted to see if we had a plan about that whole thing with Snyder," Xander explained. "Should we show up at the library or what?"

"Yes," Ethan put in. "To stay away makes Rupert look guilty of something. Carry on as normal - well, as normal as you can with the vultures looking over your shoulders - and wait."

"Ethan's right. At least there aren't any demons or vampires around right now. Come by to do your homework and - what is your phrase for it? - hang, like you normally do. Except Tuesday afternoon."

"What's Tuesday afternoon?"

"My appointment with a psychiatrist." Giles looked disgusted and whipped off his glasses to polish them.

"A shrink?"

"Don't worry, Xander. I've been through this before," Giles assured him. "After that, I am going to have a little talk with Snyder."

Xander decided that he really didn't want to be Snyder. Not that he ever did, but he really, truly didn't want to be, based on the look in Giles' eyes.

* * * * *

uffy stopped running and bent over to catch her breath. Looking around, she realised that she had run all the way to UC Sunnydale. None of the university students were paying any attention to her.

Giles and Ethan. Wonder of wonders, Cordy was actually right. They were together. When had her stammering, oh-so-proper Watcher become gay? And he wasn't even embarrassed about it.

God, Giles got embarrassed by catalogue pictures.

It was a spell. It had to be. Ethan had cast a spell and was holding Giles by magic.

Buffy sat down on a bench and shook her head. She was really losing it. Sure, Giles was sort of good looking, in an older kind of way, and there was that time when Faith was coming on to him, but Ethan was a powerful magician. He could get just about anybody to fall into his clutches, so why would he pick Giles?

No, the magic scenario was too absurd, even for Sunnydale. Besides, Ethan and Giles - what was it Ethan had said? 'We go back - way back'. They had known each other for years, known each other well enough to live together and to practice magic together. Well enough for Ethan to draw pictures of Giles without a stitch on. 'Pictures drawn by my ex-lover' Giles had said. Not exactly 'ex' anymore, though.

And why, Buffy demanded of herself, did this bother her so much? Yeah, Ethan was close to the bottom of the list of people she would pick for Giles to get involved with. Okay, he was pretty much at the bottom, along with Spike, Drusilla and Snyder.

"Okay, Buffy. Think about this in a logical, rational, Giles-ish way," she said to herself. "One, Giles is a grown man. He can have sex - no, so not going there..." Buffy had the image of Ethan's butt flash through her mind and shuddered.

"Let's try this again. Giles is a grown man and he can have a relationship with..." Again, Buffy faltered. She didn't like that idea any better. Giles in a relationship.

There. That was the part that bothered her the most. Giles in a relationship; Giles in love. That would change everything. Giles was her Watcher and he belonged to her.

"God, selfish much, Summers?" Buffy said aloud. But was it selfish, really? Giles had spent years impressing on her how important her - their - destiny was. He frowned on her dating anyone, lest it distract from the Slaying. Shouldn't he hold himself to the same standard?

Jenny Calendar and Giles' reaction to her death had proved just how distracting a relationship could be. Giles had nearly gotten himself killed that time, and that wasn't how this whole gig was supposed to work.

And then there was the fact that it was Ethan. Jenny, at least, knew and understood about the importance of the Slaying. Ethan knew - the slimy reprobate knew far too much about too many things - but he wouldn't care. He had no qualms about hurting her, even killing her, and that was unacceptable. She was the Slayer, Giles was her Watcher, and having a lover who wanted her dead was probably not in the Slayer's handbook.

Yes, Giles had beaten the crap out of Ethan several times on her behalf, yet he had been intimate with Ethan just this afternoon.

"No. This can't be happening," Buffy moaned, putting her hands to her head.

"Buffy?" A new voice interrupted her thoughts. She looked up to see Willow and her mother approaching.

"Willow?"

"Buffy. Did you come to meet Willow?" Mrs. Rosenberg asked nicely, almost too polite.

"Um. Yeah." Buffy nodded. "Will, I really need to talk to you."

"Sure. Mom, is it okay if I...?"

"Of course, dear. Do you girls want a drive anywhere?"

"No, that's okay." Buffy shook her head before Willow could say anything. "Thanks for the offer, though."

"We'll just grab a bus, Mom."

"Nonsense. Here's cab fare." Mrs. Rosenberg pulled a couple of bills from her purse. "And get some lunch as well."

"Thanks, Mom." Willow smiled. Her mother bussed her cheek and left.

"What are you doing here?"

"The lecture was at Agnew Hall," Willow replied, sitting down.

"Thanks for meeting me, Buffy. I really appreciate it."

"Mother/daughter bonding getting to be a bit much?"

"It was nice, I guess, but I've had a little too much parental attention this weekend." Willow shrugged. "The lecture was kinda neat, though. All about psychological profiling and how businesses are using it to find the perfect employees. I didn't know there were so many kinds of tests."

"Can you tell me about it later?" Buffy asked. "There's something else I need to talk to you about."

"But... I thought the demony badness was on holiday." Willow frowned.

"This isn't about a demon. Well, I don't think it is, but I'm not entirely sure on that point."

"What?"

"Giles."

"Buffy, Giles is not a demon," Willow stated firmly. "Is he?

Oh, God, he didn't get taken over by something, did he?"

"No. Not unless you count Ethan Rayne."

"He got taken over by Ethan?"

"I went to see Giles this afternoon and he was there. With Ethan."

"Ethan's still in town?"

"Yes. He was with Giles."

"Well, I don't think he knows anyone else in town very well," Willow replied prosaically. "And they were getting along okay last week."

"Willow, he was with Ethan. As in really close."

"They used to be friends."

"They aren't just friends, Willow. Just friends don't get that close."

"How close are we talking here?" Willow wrinkled her forehead.

"Half an inch apart, at most. I might be exaggerating."

"Hunh?"

"Willow, they were having sex, okay?" Buffy practically shouted, getting some odd looks from passing students. "They were in bed. Together. Very, very together."

"Oh." Willow's eyes were very wide. "Giles and Ethan? Having sex? With each other?"

"Yeah." Buffy sighed. "Giles didn't deny it. Of course, he couldn't exactly say it didn't happen, all things considered. But he wasn't embarrassed or stammering or anything."

"Wow. So what did he say?"

"He just said it was private and that he was sorry I saw anything."

"And what did you do?"

"I did the mature, sensible thing." Buffy gave a wry smile to her friend. "I ran. Darned near bowled Xander over... God. Xander. He's at Giles' place right now."

"We'd better get over there."

* * * * *

Xander decided that listening to Giles and Ethan snipe at each other was almost as much fun as sniping with Cordy. He winced at some of the comments, though. Neither man was inclined to pull their verbal punches, and he was beginning to understand why Giles hit Ethan the last few times Ethan had been in town.

"Can I ask you something?" he said, into a brief silence.

"Of course," Giles replied.

"You said that you didn't actually pose for Ethan. What was the what with that?"

"You have a unique interpretation of English grammar, did you know that?" Ethan inquired. "To answer your question, no. Ripper didn't pose as such. I would wait until he passed out and then pose him in whatever position I wanted."

"Really?"

"I used to wake up in the most absurd places," Giles confirmed, fiddling with his glasses.

"Ripper isn't usually a very sound sleeper, but if he's been drinking, he sleeps like the dead."

"I do not. I breathe."

"I said like the dead, not the undead. I've met a vampire or two in my time."

"You have?" Xander put in.

"If I were forced to put in an honest day's work in a respectable job, I could teach advanced demonology for Rupert's beloved Council," Ethan replied. "And, yes, Ripper, if you've been taking drugs or drinking, you do sleep very heavily. Remember when Tommy and Phillip put you up on the roof, bedroom furniture and all?"

"Yes, and it's a damned fine thing that I put my glasses on before I get up. I could have walked right off the roof."

"Wait a minute." Xander put up a finger. "You used drugs?"

"It was the seventies," Ethan replied, as if that explained everything.

"Everybody did," Giles added.

"That would explain disco," Ethan said, thoughtfully. "And a bit of grass did make Latin class more bearable."

"That it did," Giles agreed.

"You smoked pot in class?" Xander's eyes bugged out.

"Not in class. Before class," Ethan corrected. "It was the only way to make Pethick tolerable. He hated me."

"He hated me, too," Giles added. "Getting high was really the only thing that made it worthwhile to go."

"How about marks, hm? Ever think of that, you bad boys?" Xander shook a finger at them.

"We both aced the class." Giles grinned. "And you're a fine one to talk about classes. When was the last time you graced your maths class with your presence?"

"We're not talking about me," Xander said, a little weakly. "So you guys met in school?"

"High school, as it happens." Giles nodded. "Ethan transferred to Eton from... where did you transfer from, anyway?"

"Rugby," Ethan responded. "Dreadful school. Only half a mile from my grandparents."

"Truly a hardship," Giles mocked. "Anyway, we'd seen each other a few times in the halls, but it wasn't until that day in Latin class that we really met."

"You have to understand, Xander, that Latin classes and Latin masters in particular are a peculiarly British institution. If you go looking for the one thing all well educated, stuffy British males have in common, it's that bizarre form of torture known as Latin class."

"Yes, I firmly believe that failed Oxbridge dons become public school Latin masters and Pethick was the worst of the lot."

"Pethick was a small minded, petty little man." Ethan picked up the tale. "He was rather like your principal Snyder, except that Snyder hasn't got that British sense of self importance."

"Pethick hated both Ethan and me because he couldn't lord over us."

"Why not?"

"I didn't let him and Rupert is a Giles," Ethan explained. "I answered back, no matter what the punishment, and Ripper's family is as old as Methuselah. Not aristocratic, like Evans-Pritchard, but to someone like Pethick, it counts."

"Pethick hated us mostly because we both read and spoke Latin better than he did." Giles shifted a little. "He caught us passing notes."

"Which were in Latin, grammatically correct and most unflattering to our dear Mr Pethick," Ethan said, dramatically. "The headmaster nearly peed himself laughing when he read what we had written and his lecture on respect for our betters was utterly spoiled."

"Pethick picked on us for the rest of the term," Giles added. "Since we couldn't possibly get into any more trouble with Pethick, we would smoke up a little before class."

"Only a little, mind you," Ethan said. "We were never much into drugs in school. We didn't want to get thrown off the playing fields."

"Playing fields? Like sports and stuff?"

"I played football and Ethan and I both fenced," Giles answered. "That's how I got to be called Ripper."

"Ripper and Rayne," Ethan stated with a flourish. "We were legends. Ah, sic transit gloria mundi."

"Sick what?" Xander looked baffled.

"Thus passes the glory of the world," Giles translated. "It means that our legendary status is of the past."

"Amy's mom," Xander said suddenly. "That's what she was all about, right?" Giles looked surprised, then very pleased.

"Exactly right."

"Yay me." Xander grinned. "Willow's here and I think Buffy's with her."

"How do you know that?"

"The pitter-patter of tiny Willow feet." Xander rose and went to the door. "Which clunk really loud in her new shoes."

Xander opened the door, just as Willow was raising her hand to knock.

"Hey, Will. What's with the knocking?"

"It's a politeness that I do wish you'd all adopt," Giles said, rising. "Buffy, are you all right?"

"Yeah. I need to talk to you, though," Buffy said, looking only at him. "Without him." She jerked her head towards Ethan.

"I'm hurt," Ethan said, with a smile.

"Not yet, but that can be arranged," Buffy growled. "Giles?" She motioned to the fountain outside. Giles nodded and followed, shutting the door behind him.

* * * * *

"Okay, I want to know just what the hell is happening here," Buffy demanded, getting up close and personal.

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"I mean you getting pelvic with Ethan," Buffy replied. "Last time he was here, you cheered when I hit him."

"Last time he was here, he deserved it."

"And this time? What changed to make you go from 'oh, hit him again' to 'come get it, big boy'?"

"Come get it?" Giles wrinkled his brow in confusion.

"Or whatever kind of come on you use." Buffy waved a hand. "The point is, this is not you."

"Buffy, there are parts of me you don't know."

"Yeah, I know. Like the parts of you that summon demons for fun," Buffy shot back. "With the likes of the man you were just screwing. What else aren't you telling me? What other little surprises are just waiting out there to bite me on the butt?"

"Buffy, there are some things in my life that I would prefer not to discuss with you. I tell you everything you need to know. I promise you that."

"So you didn't think that sharing your bed with evil sorcerers was something I might be interested in knowing?"

"No. I really don't think my sexual encounters are any of your concern, and, yes, it is one of the things I would prefer not to discuss with you," Giles said, in full stuffy mode.

"I don't like you holding back on me, Giles. Not a good way to inspire trust."

"This has nothing to do with trust, Buffy. It has to do with privacy. I don't have much opportunity for a personal life most of the time, so when I do, my first thought is not to ask you if you approve. It's none of your business if I choose to take advantage of a lull in demonic activity to have an intimate encounter."

"Maybe not. But who you sleep with is my business," Buffy retorted. "It's not like you picked up some floozy in a bar. That's something I'd understand. It'd freak me out, but I'd get it. But Ethan Rayne? Ethan tried to kill me. I'm pretty sure the council frowns on that sort of thing."

"Most certainly. And so do I." Giles tried to reassure her. "Buffy, I've known Ethan for over twenty five years. I know what he's like and I know what he's capable of doing."

"So what is he doing here?"

"Strange as it may sound, this really is a business trip for him. His exhibits are part and parcel of his artistic career," Giles explained. "I don't think Ethan is capable of coming within a hundred miles of me without doing something to disconcert me. It's not you he's after and he's done nothing to harm you this time around."

"That doesn't mean he won't."

"He's not staying, Buffy. I suspect he'll be leaving in a couple of days."

"Good. Then maybe we can get back to business," Buffy said firmly. "You know, Slaying? The one girl in all the world? And her Watcher, who's supposed to be looking out for me and not screwing evil sorcerers."

"There's nothing happening right now and, I assure you, if there were, I'd be researching and supporting you, just as I always do," Giles replied, a bit heatedly.

"You keep telling me that I have to keep an eye on what's important and not let myself get distracted by having a social life. Then I find you're not holding up your end of the bargain."

"I have never said you can't see Angel, just that you can't let your feelings for him interfere with your work."

"Yeah, but my boyfriend didn't..." Buffy stopped abruptly. Oh, God. Her boyfriend had. Angelus had done far worse to Giles than Ethan had ever done to her. Ethan's pranks weren't harmless, but he had only once directly tried to hurt her and that was to save his own worthless hide.

"You know, Giles, you're right," she said firmly.

"About what?" Giles looked at her with a mystified expression.

"It really is none of my business who you're with. Really, it's not. In fact, I'd rather just forget about this afternoon." Oh, please let me forget about this afternoon. She plastered on a perky smile and took Giles' arm. "Hey. How about that tea?"

* * * * *

Xander looked at Willow, who looked back at him. The silence was starting to get to him. He was still a bit flustered after the earlier conversation. Had he really had a pleasant afternoon in the company of Ethan Rayne?

In a weird kind of way, he was beginning to see why Giles liked Ethan. Sure, he was an evil, selfish scum bucket, but he was pretty good company. And he wasn't exactly butt ugly, either.

He glanced at Ethan who was staring at him with a wicked look in his dark eyes. Holy cow, had he really had a tiny, little, checking-him-out thought about Ethan? He really had to get a grip on those kind of thoughts. Think Buffy in that little blue number. Think Cordelia... Ah, yes. That worked.

He glanced at Willow again and was even more reassured. Willow was looking mighty fine in that short skirt. Whoa - Willow? Was he really checking Willow out? Again? He was so over her, right?

He did mental inventory - yup. He was checking Willow out. He so did not want to go there again. He wasn't sure which was more wigsome, though. Checking out Ethan or going through that whole checking out thing again with his best bud. God, could Giles and Buffy please finish their argument? Soon?

* * * * *

Giles let Buffy lead him back into his flat, more than a little befuddled. It wasn't like Buffy to back down when she was feeling indignant. And he could understand her anger; Ethan was not the most trustworthy person on the planet, and she had witnessed a rather disturbing scene. And, he had to admit, he had reacted somewhat differently that she was accustomed to.

He frowned. He had been acting a little different since Ethan showed up; he could feel it within himself. A little freer, a little less inclined to curb his naturally sarcastic tongue, and no damned stammer.

There was still a trace of the stammer, but in Ethan's company, it was almost gone. The stammer that had plagued him for four years was fading away, as if it had never been. And the self consciousness and embarrassment... For God's sake, Buffy had seen him having sex with another man and he hadn't had a trace of a blush on his cheeks.

Of course, he wasn't ashamed of sex, nor did he feel any particular need to be embarrassed about being caught in his own house and his own bed, but it was unusual for him not to feel awkward and out of place.

Awkward and out of place. That's how he felt much of the time, here in southern California. No, he had felt awkward and out of place even in England. Awkward and out of place in his own skin.

Ethan had, somehow, managed to make him feel much more himself. The shy, befuddled librarian not an act; it was part of him. The scholar and the devoted Watcher were parts of him as well, but what had happened to the lover, the hell raiser, the magician, the musician and all the other things he had been?

They had fallen by the wayside. In this strange world of teen angst and drama, he had been slotted automatically into the role of responsible adult. That, combined with his natural British reserve, had stifled large parts of who he really was. His position as Buffy's Watcher left little opportunity and even less time to make friends with people his own age. Yes, he had acquaintances, but his circle of friends consisted of this group of remarkable youngsters.

He loved Buffy dearly, and Willow, Xander, Oz and even Cordelia were dear to him as well. However, there were parts of his life and of himself that he didn't dare or even want to share with them. They were of a different time and culture.

Ethan, on the other hand, was of his generation and, despite his chaotic nature, as English as he was. Ethan understood him far better than any of the children ever could, and loved him anyway.

Jenny, despite her youth and American ways, had almost understood and he still missed her fiercely. She had asked about Ethan after the whole Eyghon business and he had told her part of it.

She had challenged him on the rest; forced him to admit that, yes, he and Ethan had been lovers.

Jenny could have given Ethan a run for his money. If she were still alive, he honestly didn't know what he would do. He knew he'd still feel the old attraction to Ethan, but if Jenny were still alive, he'd have buried his love for Ethan, perhaps forever. Perhaps.

He wondered what Jenny would think of this, if she knew. He could almost picture her wide, mischievous smile and hear her soft, mesmerising voice.

"Hey, English. You love him; he loves you. Making yourself miserable in my memory is a crappy way to honour me. Besides, the thought of you two together is kinda hot. Go for it."

He could hear her so clearly, and see her eyes shining with approval. She wanted him to be happy; he knew that as well as he knew his own name.

"G-man, you okay?" Xander asked. "You kinda zoned out."

"Please don't call me that, Giles replied automatically. "I'm fine."

"You sure?" Xander sounded concerned.

"Well, I am a little shell shocked," he admitted, taking off his glasses and polishing them. "Apparently, I was right about something."

"What?" Willow perked up, ready to grin.

"I'm... not sure."

"Well, of course you're right. You're always right," Willow spoke up immediately. "It's the whole smarter-than-everyone-else thing you've got going. You're gonna be right most of the time."

Giles frowned. Much as he appreciated the compliment, Willow was putting it rather strongly. And the way Buffy and Xander looked at her set his alarm bells going.

He glanced at Ethan, who was looking questioningly at him. He shrugged back and went into the kitchen to make tea.

* * * * *

Buffy couldn't believe that an afternoon with Ethan could be enjoyable, but it was. For the most part. Every time she almost relaxed, she got a mental flashback of That Scene and tensed up again.

Ethan was behaving himself, she had to admit. He spent most of the afternoon poring through Giles' library, copying out the occasional passage, and kibitzing on the conversation. She found herself appreciating his clever, if bitingly sarcastic comments, as long as they weren't directed at her.

Okay, the chocolate chip cookies Ethan made went a long way to making him bearable. God, he was a good cook. The cookies melted in her mouth and she almost liked him as she licked warm chocolate off her fingers. She glanced at Xander, who looked as if Ethan was a god. Man, did Xander ever think about anything but his stomach?

Well, there was always sex. Food and sex. Those two topics occupied his mind above all else. Typical guy.

She wondered if Giles thought about sex anywhere near as often as Xander did. Or if he thought about sex at all. After what happened with Angelus...

She dropped her fourth cookie and dusted her fingers, suddenly furious with Ethan. Ethan had had sex with Giles. After all that Giles had been through, Ethan just waltzed in and took advantage of him. How dare he use her Watcher that way?

She opened her mouth to blast Ethan, then shut it again with a snap. She officially didn't know about that and she knew it would upset Giles greatly if she said anything. She'd have to have a word with Ethan later.

She watched instead, as Willow tidied up and fussed over Giles, much to Giles' discomfort. She and Xander exchanged glances. Willow sucked at keeping secrets and, if they didn't get her out of there soon, she'd be spilling the beans without ever intending to. Willow could fool her parents and sometimes Joyce, but Giles was harder to fool. He was, as Willow had been pointing out at every opportunity this afternoon, very, very smart.

Xander seemed to understand that they were skating on very thin ice now and lumbered to his feet.

"Well, my brain is full," he said, taking another cookie. "And so's my stomach. I gotta motor. Coming, girls?"

Buffy shot to her feet, as did Willow. Buffy was so intent on getting out of there that she didn't bother to note that Giles was looking at her oddly.

* * * * *

"They seemed rather eager to go," Ethan commented. "Was it something I said?"

"I doubt it." Giles gave him a wry smile. "If you had kept your mouth shut the entire time, you still would have made them uncomfortable."

"They're just not used to seeing you with a friend your own age, are they?"

"And they certainly aren't used to seeing you without bruises and blood pouring out of your nose."

"I may have been taught that a good guest fulfils expectations of his hosts, but I'm not going that far," Ethan commented idly. "Fancy going out for a pint?"

"I do know a pub that serves decent steak and kidney pie," Giles replied. "That and a pint might help take my mind off tomorrow."

"Ah, schooldays. I remember we used to go for a pint and a pie on Sunday evenings years ago." Ethan smiled. "Just like old times."

"Well, it's not Goddard's and the Heart and Crown, but it's not bad for an American pub."

"Please tell me your local serves something other than American beer."

"Guinness and Boddington on tap."

"Then let's go."

* * * * *

Angel looked at Buffy, blankly.

"Well," he said finally. "I didn't see that coming. You sure?"

"Angel, it was like walking in on a porno movie," Buffy said, shuddering. "I could have done without seeing Ethan Rayne's naked butt, believe me."

"Giles is into guys?" Angel blinked. "I thought he and Jenny Calendar...?"

"Apparently, Giles swings both ways." Buffy shuddered again. "And I really don't want to think too much about that. It was bad enough with my mother."

"Your mother." Angel sat down. Being over 240 years old and once the Scourge of Europe, he had seen a lot, but nothing quite prepared him for the soap opera that seemed to surround Buffy's life. "Your mother?"

"I didn't tell you about that?" Buffy bit her lip. Of course she hadn't told Angel about that. She had decided ages ago that it Never Happened. It seemed as if all sorts of things that Never Happened actually did happen and it was making her crazy. "Remember the band candy?"

"Oh, yeah." Angel grinned. He had watched that crazy night with much amusement. It wasn't until later, when he found out what that was all about that his amusement had turned into concern. "Giles gets around."

"Angel, I know what Angelus did." Buffy tried to say it as gently as she could, but the words still came out bluntly.

"Oh." Angel went still. She hated it when he stopped breathing and went still like that.

"Oh, Angel, I am so sorry," She said softly. Angel blinked twice, took a breath and blew it out explosively. Then he turned suddenly and smashed his fist into the wall. A cloud of plaster dust puffed up and Buffy winced. "Angel?"

"How can you?" Angel said, his voice soft and ragged. "How can you say you're sorry to me?"

"To live with that," Buffy whispered. "That must be horrible."

"Buffy, I don't get it." Angel was breathing now. Yes, he was breathing, practically panting. "After what I did... And you know... And you come here and tell me you're sorry for MY pain?"

"I love you." Buffy spoke as clearly as she could.

"I don't understand." Angel looked at her and she flinched from the pain and confusion in his eyes. "Do you really know what I did, Buffy? I forced myself on your Watcher. There was screaming and blood and pain. It was everything Angelus used to love. Except for the begging. Through it all, Giles never once begged for me to stop, never offered to give me the knowledge he carries in his head, not even to save himself. Do you know what he said when I finished? Do you?"

"No," Buffy whispered, now a little frightened.

"He said that I was the lousiest lay he'd ever had." Angel spoke in bitter, savage tones.

"Well, he was probably right." Buffy's tone was equally brittle.

"Yeah, but that's not the point. The point is, he said it just as if I was some pickup from a bar that he wanted to get rid of quickly. He was in a whole hell of a lot of pain, but he still... Dammit, Buffy, how can you even stand to be around me?"

Buffy looked into his anguished eyes, silently pleading for him to listen to her.

"I love you," she said simply. "Do I hate Angelus? Do I hate what Angelus did? Yes, with every fibre of my being. Do I hate you? No. I love you."

* * * * *

"May I ask you something?" Ethan pushed away his empty plate and picked up his pint.

"My permission or lack thereof never stopped you before." Giles took a drink.

"You helped Angel," Ethan stated bluntly. "Why?" He watched as Giles carefully put his glass down and ran a finger along the condensation on the table.

"He asked me to. Buffy wanted me to."

"And you'll do whatever Buffy asks."

"I do whatever Buffy needs me to do," Giles corrected. "And there's more to it than that."

"If you say so." Ethan nodded condescendingly. Giles glared halfheartedly at him.

"When he arrived at my flat, I was astounded. Angel has guts, I'll give him that. Not terribly overburdened in the brains department sometimes, but he does have courage," Giles said quietly. "He was afraid of me, Ethan. He cringed in front of me. And I liked that."

Ethan just smiled. It was his cat-smile, full of malice.

"I beat him, Ethan. I beat Angelus at his own game and I survived," Giles continued. "That's something no one has ever done. I can't say as I truly enjoy seeing Angel or that I wouldn't be happier if he had stayed in that dimension, but I can deal with him."

"Because you won."

"Because I won."

"You can't be happy about Buffy seeing him, though."

"I'm not. However, she'll outgrow him eventually. She'll stop being Cathy to his Heathcliff when the thrall of the forbidden stops being enough for her."

"I always thought Cathy was an idiot and Heathcliff was a complete boor."

"Yes, I know." Giles gave a half smile. "So did I."

"Of course, the hands off approach only works if she lives long enough to outgrow him."

"I intend for her to live longer than any Slayer in history."

"And if she doesn't?"

"Then Angel's morbid presence and her feelings for him are the least of my worries."

"If they break the curse again?"

"Angel hurt her deeply enough to prevent that, for which I would gladly punish him, if he weren't doing such a damn fine job of that himself. If they do, again, it's the least of my worries. He'll come after me, if only to avenge the humiliation of being bested by a mere mortal."

"I do admire you for the serenity with which you accept the possibility of a psychotic vampire coming after you," Ethan said. "Yet you get all bent out of shape about a few paintings of you at your youthful best."

"I'm British. Stiff upper lip in the face of danger and all that," Giles retorted. "And how did our cultural heritage manage to pass you by?"

"It didn't. I came here even though I was facing your temper, didn't I?"

"So you did. And so far, you haven't done anything reprehensible. Are you feeling all right?"

"Perfectly fine, darling." Ethan raised his hand to signal the barman for another. "I don't have to make merry mischief every moment of every day."

"My god, you have grown up. Rayne, you're a disgrace."

"So are you, Ripper. With a grown up job and everything." Ethan laughed. "As I said earlier, sic transit gloria mundi."

"I don't know. There's still glory to be had, I think," Giles mused. "You've got your art and your sorcerer's reputation. I have my Slayer."

"Which you won't have forever." Ethan went suddenly serious. "I did want to talk to you about that, Ripper."

"Ethan, I know perfectly well that she won't live forever, no matter how much I would like her to. You don't have to keep harping on it."

"I'm not. I just wanted to make clear some things between us," Ethan replied. He waited until the barman took away their plates and empty glasses and set fresh ones in front of them. "I know that you'll never leave her, and I don't want you to. Denying your Calling damn near killed you before and I won't go through that again. But what happens when she dies, Ripper? What happens to you?"

"Most Watchers die very soon after their Slayers," Giles admitted reluctantly.

"Most Watchers have no other emotional ties, correct? The Slayer is their life."

"Correct."

"I want a promise from you. A magician's pact. When she dies, whether it be tomorrow or ten years from now, you will call me. You will call me and you will let me come to you." Ethan leaned over the table, his eyes intense.

"A magician's pact for me to just call you? Isn't that a little extreme?" Giles tried to lighten the intensity.

"No. The Watchers are a tight assed bunch of wankers with all the emotional warmth of their damned stone headquarters in the City. Yet at the death of a girl who is seen as merely a tool of the Light, grown men, who have been prepared for her to die, cannot face her demise. No, I don't think it's a little extreme," Ethan replied. "When this is all over, I want you back. And I want you to promise that you'll let me help you."

"On one condition."

"What?"

"No going behind my back. No setting wheels in motion or doing spells for my own good." Giles was intent, now, too. "I don't react any better to being used than you do."

"I'll get the materials we need and we do the pact tomorrow." Ethan nodded. "Now. Fancy a game of darts?"

* * * * *

Snyder got out of his car and slammed the door viciously. He was thankful that his topcoat was long enough to cover his ass. Hopefully, his suit jacket was as well. He had thought that his little problem was taken care of, but he hadn't counted on the vibration of his car. He hadn't felt anything while driving, but when he got out of the car, he felt rather, well, wet. He didn't dare crane his neck to look out here in the parking lot. Not when half the faculty was arriving any minute.

The bizarre engine-catarrh of an ancient Citroen caught his attention and he pursed his lips in annoyance. Of course the librarian didn't have the sense God gave a peanut and call in sick. He would have the gall to show his face at a respectable school, even when everyone knew what sort of man he was. Well, he'd have a good day watching the staff avoid Giles like the plague.

"Morning, Rupert." A blithe voice called across the parking lot.

God, Mitzi was way too cheerful for a Monday morning. She even greeted the British bastard with her normal annoying chirp. Giles, he noted, turned to smile and greet her and the two of them walked into school chatting amiably.

Snyder paused. What was wrong with this picture? Giles, the shy, stuttering librarian, was chatting with Mitzi Johnson. He usually avoided her like she had cooties or something. And Mitzi, who always gave him space, was practically hanging off his arm. This was wrong. Very wrong.

The sense of wrongness continued as he walked towards his office. Giles was still talking to Mitzi, almost flirting, and the other teachers all called greetings to them, as if nothing had happened.

Frank Fanshawe joined the pair, but that was to be expected. Frank and Mitzi had adjoining classrooms and Frank had always liked Giles. But why was Marilyn smiling at Giles as she handed him his messages? Marilyn was his secretary, dammit, and he expected a certain amount of loyalty from his staff.

Marilyn handed him his messages without comment or greeting, and he escaped into his office. There was something weird going on and he intended to find out what, but not until he made sure that he was presentable.

Alone, he finally shed his overcoat and then his suit jacket. Twisting around, he looked to see if the wetness he had felt earlier had seeped through his underwear to his suit trousers.

God, it had. He had a huge wet spot on the seat of his trousers. It looked very much like he had wet himself, which is probably what happened. He sighed in frustration and picked up the phone. He'd get Barb to come and bring him another suit. And those adult diapers she had thoughtfully purchased for him, just in case.

Damn, damn, damn and double damn. He had been so looking forward to today.

* * * * *

"Hey, Will." Xander joined Willow as she came up the steps. "Oh, cookies." He reached for the very familiar cookie tin she was carrying, but she moved it out of his reach.

"They're not for you," she said firmly. "They're for Giles."

"Jealous?" Xander teased her. "His boyfriend makes fab cookies, so you do, too?" Willow went scarlet.

"No," she protested. "I just wanted to do something nice, that's all."

"Willow's got a crush..." Xander sing-songed. "Ow." He rubbed his arm where Willow punched him. At least it wasn't Buffy who'd thwacked him.

"Stop it," Willow demanded, even the tips of her ears going red. "Why do you turn everything into some kind of salacious thing?"

"Salacious?" Xander frowned. He hated it when Willow used her superior vocabulary on him.

"It means skanky," Cordelia told him, then turned to Willow. "He's a guy. What's that?"

"Date squares," Willow replied. "I made them for Giles. He likes them."

"How do you know what those big words mean?" Xander demanded of Cordelia, as they went into the building.

"I'm smarter than I look," Cordelia replied, nose in the air. "And it was on the practice test for the SAT."

"Hey, guys." Oz joined them. "Where's Buffy?"

"I'm here, I'm here." Buffy skidded down the hall, practically running to join them. "Am I late?"

"Slept in?" Willow asked, with an amused smile.

"Didn't sleep at all, actually. I am never again doing the junk food thing all weekend. I think those cookies yesterday did me in," Buffy complained, opening her locker and throwing her bag inside. "Squiffy tummy does not make for a happy Buffy."

Xander retrieved his books from his locker and started to march stoically towards his first class.

"Hey, man, where are you going?" Oz called after him.

"Math class."

"You're actually going to math class?" Cordelia caught up with him without seeming to make an effort. "Why?"

"'Cause I'd kinda like to pass," Xander replied.

"Since when?" Buffy, too, had caught up.

"I'm going to class, guys, if that's all right with you," Xander snapped. "See you later." He took off, ignoring the looks that the others gave him.

He slowed as he approached class, not sure if he really wanted to do this. Chem was okay, and English bearable, but he hated math with a passion.

He hated even more how that gentle chide from Giles had hurt. He wanted Giles to be proud of him and, if that meant going to math class, he'd go.

Mr Forrester looked surprised as he walked in, but he nodded to Xander. And, later, when they were working out problems, Forrester quietly slipped a stack of papers on his desk. They contained detailed instructions on how to work these particular problems, a set of practice tests, and a note suggesting he ask Mr Giles for help.

* * * * *

The library was, thankfully, empty as he went through the normal morning routine of checking in the books that the students had left in the bin over the weekend. Clucking over the bent pages of one and the highlighter marks all over another, he shelved them neatly and went into the office to look over the Monday morning notices.

The only notice of interest was Margaret Barton's taking over of the library tomorrow afternoon, without any explanation added to the note. Frank had left a note on Saturday morning to ask if he'd bring his weapons by, and the custodian was letting him know that it was time to do the library's floors and clean the carpets.

He had already talked to Frank about the weapons and Frank told him he would be supervising the library for the afternoon. He made a note back to the custodian to let him know that the library would be empty every evening all week.

Once tea was made and his designated sitter for the morning arrived, he braced himself for the onslaught of students that had filled the library on Friday.

The onslaught turned out to be more of a trickle, and none of them paid any more attention to him than they usually did. In fact, it was a typical Monday. The only time anyone except Buffy and her friends showed up was during second period. Buffy, Willow and Xander all had English class then and Miss McNutt insisted firmly on attendance.

He reflected that, were he in Miss McNutt's class, he would attend regularly as well. He liked her, but even he referred to her by title. The idea of calling her 'Joan' was akin to calling the Queen 'Betty'.

Angie Lyons, the art teacher, paid no attention to him as she sat at the table, eating an apple and browsing through one of his books on engravings. He half expected her to make some comment about the contents of the book, but she kept murmuring approvingly.

"Rupert, this is gorgeous," she said once, not looking up. He sauntered over and looked over her shoulder. She was looking at a particularly graphic engraving of William the Bloody, aka Spike, doing what he had become renowned for. Gorgeous?

"I mean, look at the detail. The lines must have taken hours to get right. And such fine work, especially since engraving of this type had been almost entirely supplanted by photography by that time." Angie blinked at him through her thick glasses and smiled. "And, if that's real tea, I'd love a cup, thanks."

* * * * *

Snyder straightened his suit jacket and stepped confidently out of his office. He was clean and dry and prepared for anything. He spent a few moments savouring the peace and quiet of the school. It was fifteen minutes to the recess bell and that gave him plenty of time to snoop around.

Naturally, the first place he looked was in the library. Angie Lyons was flipping through pages of heavily illustrated tome, and Giles was standing by the desk, talking to Maria Sanchez.

He smiled to himself. Maria was a pretty senior, smart and just a little shy. So Giles was expanding out his little circle of friends, was he?

"Thanks, Mr Giles," Maria was saying. "I really appreciate it."

"It's no trouble, Maria. Good luck." Giles was smiling at her. "I'd recommend Magdalen or Corpus Christi, rather than Christ Church. They're smaller and the fellows are more likely to have time to help a foreign student."

"Where did you go?"

"Trinity. It's one of the more traditional colleges, full of boring history students," Giles replied. "If you need any other letters of reference, just ask."

"I will." Maria smiled shyly. "Thanks again."

Snyder snorted in disgust. Sanchez was only applying to Oxford University. He knew that all the students who had even a nodding acquaintance with Giles asked him for letters of reference for applying to English universities. As if the best universities in England would think that a high school librarian was a good reference.

Giles had noticed him and was looking at him with a very odd expression. The librarian looked him over fully, eyes sweeping from head to toe, then smiled to himself in a smug self satisfied way. The look was gone in a moment, but that moment made Snyder so uncomfortable that he left immediately.

Roaming the halls during the break, Snyder caught very little gossip about the librarian. There was the usual stuff - weird, stuffy, kinda cute, dishy accent - but nothing about the pictures or about the addition of an extra teacher in the library. It was as if nothing had happened.

Snyder went back into his office to ponder that. It was all very strange.

* * * * *

"Date squares?" Giles opened the tin and looked in. "Thank you, Willow. I love date squares."

"I know." Willow beamed. "That's why I made them."

"That was very sweet of you, but totally unnecessary," he added, looking over at Angie, who had gone on to admire the coffee table book on Heironymus Bosch.

"I just wanted you to know how much I...," Willow faltered, after a glare from Buffy. "Well, since Ethan made cookies yesterday, I got inspired."

Giles had the distinct sense that there was something going on, but he wasn't sure what, or whether he wished to pursue it. He decided to ignore it for the time being and simply watched the children arrange themselves around the table. Angie didn't even look up.

With a deep sigh, Xander had taken his math homework and started tackling it with a determination rarely seen. Oz gave him a weird look and plucked out a tattered copy of William James' _Pragmatism_ and started to read. Willow was, as usual, parked in front of the computer and Buffy reluctantly pulled out her chemistry text.

Giles watched them for a moment, then went into the office to brew a cup of tea. Those date squares cried out for tea.

* * * * *

Buffy was so tired of calculating valences. It wasn't difficult, now that she had the hang of it, but she could see no earthly use for the skill.

"Why do we have to do this, anyway?" she asked to the room in general. Giles, nose in a book as usual, answered her absently.

"When you go out into the real world, there will always be tasks that make no sense, that no one cares about and that you will have to do anyway. Think of this as practice."

"Wow. Cynical much?" Buffy grinned up at him. He grinned back.

"I have several decades of experience in doing mindless and useless tasks for my various employers, Buffy. Just this morning, I had to file my weekly report," he replied. "I swear I could report on the number of purple cows who check out the complete works of Jane Austen and no one would notice."

"That's what I do," Angie Lyons commented, making everyone jump. They had forgotten she was there. "I have to get going, Rupert. Nice not talking to you all." With a wave, she was gone.

Buffy went back to her homework, getting engrossed researching Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was only when the library doors opened that she looked up.

She saw Frank Fanshawe, the teacher for whom she was researching, standing at the doorway, but she barely noticed him. What she did notice and what got her to spring to her feet was Giles.

He was standing with his back to her, facing Mr Fanshawe. He had his favourite sword in his left hand, unsheathed and in position. His heavy crossbow was on the table behind him, loaded, and she went into action.

"Giles." She hissed at him, vaulting over the table towards the open book cage. Swiftly kicking one of the lockers open, she grabbed a sword and ran to Giles, knocking the blade of his sword up.

He reacted instantly and parried. She went on the attack, not sure exactly what Giles was doing, but knowing she had to disarm him somehow. Slayer or not, she knew that it would be difficult. He had only just started in on sword training and he was about a thousand times better than she was. She only had her strength and agility to count on. Or, she prayed, the others would do something sensible, like hit him with a tranquilizer dart.

"Giles, what are you doing?" she demanded, as she barely parried his blow.

"At the moment, fighting with you," Giles replied, without missing a beat and without any trace of breathlessness.

"Are you insane?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Although most insane people don't really understand that they are mentally ill," Giles replied thoughtfully, blocking her blow almost as an afterthought. "Come on, Buffy. Keep your wrist steady or I'll disarm you in about ten seconds."

"Sez you," Buffy replied, then winced at the childishness of the retort. Giles gave her an exasperated look and easily flipped the sword out of her hand, transferred his own to his right and caught the blade as it fell.

"Not bad." He nodded. "You're leaving yourself wide open, though. You have to concentrate on your opponent and his reach. I could have sliced you a dozen times."

"Um. Rupert?" Fanshawe said, almost timidly. "What just happened?"

"I've been teaching Buffy how to sword fight," he replied, putting one of the blades down carefully on the table and started wiping the other with his handkerchief. "I didn't expect her to challenge me like that right now, but you have to admire the initiative."

"Giles, you pull a sword on a coworker and you expect me not to react?" Buffy spluttered. "Again I ask, are you insane?"

"Frank asked to see some of my weapons collection," Giles replied calmly.

"Yeah, but I didn't ask for a demonstration." Fanshawe crept forward. "Oh, that's nice."

"Isn't it?" Giles nodded. "It's actually balanced for the left hand. See how the crosspiece is positioned?"

Buffy listened with growing confusion as Giles and Mr Fanshawe practically drooled over the weapons. She knew that Giles loved his swords with a devotion that was surpassed only by his love of ancient tomes, but to see Mr Fanshawe getting excited over anything was weird.

Even weirder was how different Giles was. Friday, he was his normal shy, stuffy self, and today he was being open and friendly. She glanced at the others, to see if they had noticed. Willow obviously had; she was peeping over the computer monitor with big eyes. Oz didn't seem to, but Oz never reacted to anything. The idea that Cordelia noticed anything not directly involving her was laughable, but Xander was doggedly working away at his math homework, which was way weirder than the way Giles had been acting.

She watched and listened until the bell rang for class. Gathering her books, she slung her purse over her shoulder and nudged Xander.

"Giles?" She hated to interrupt, but they did have to talk about the Slaying thing. "Um." She wasn't sure how to mention it with Mr Fanshawe there.

"Hm?" Giles pulled his attention away from the crossbow and toward her with obvious effort. "Ah, yes. I don't have the materials to hand, Buffy, but if you ring me later, I'll have those references you were asking about."

Buffy nodded, translating that as asking her to touch base by phone later. She wondered if there was something demony going on, but Giles smiled at her in his usual way and she felt better.

Her good mood lasted until she was sitting in class, bored out of her skull. Doodling idly on the corner of her notes, she thought about the last few days.

What was with Giles, anyway? He had been so incredibly upset over the paintings, and now he was sleeping with the artist? No, not just sleeping with Ethan; he said he loved Ethan. Sure, he'd been laughing as he said it, but she was pretty sure that he meant it.

Ever since Ethan showed up, Giles had been acting strange. She knew love made you do the wacky, but she never once thought Giles was even capable of wacky. It had been hammered home to her with a great big sledge hammer that there were parts of Giles she didn't know. Parts that he had never shared with her.

Parts like the fact that her boyfriend had raped him. Parts like the fact that he loved Ethan Rayne. She felt a sudden surge of loneliness. Her Giles wasn't hers anymore. At least, it felt that way. She bit her lip to keep tears away. She wanted her Giles back the way he was. Damn Ethan.

* * * * *

Giles was seriously thinking of smacking Willow silly. He was normally very fond of her and found her bright, helpful ways a joy to behold. However, there was helpful and then there was helpful. It seemed like she was constantly underfoot.

"Willow, don't you have classes?" he finally snapped at her, whipping off his glasses and polishing them with alacrity.

"I'm way ahead in chemistry and physics," Willow replied cheerfully. "I think Miss Parsons and Mr Hawkings like it when I don't show up for a couple of days."

"Still." Giles gave her his best glare, which had no effect.

"I want to help tidy up." Willow returned his glare with her resolve face. "With all those people in here on Friday, the shelves are a mess."

"And it is my job to tidy them, not yours," Giles retorted, too fed up with her to speak in his normal kind tones. He regretted the tone immediately as Willow's smile fell off her face and her shoulders drooped.

"Sorry. I don't mean to be a bother. I can go and leave you alone if you want." She sounded so woebegone that he relented.

"You're not a bother," he lied, giving her his best fond smile. "I do appreciate your willingness to help, but you don't need to keep me company. I do apologize for snapping at you."

He watched as the smile came back and her shoulders straightened.

"It's okay. You can snap at me if you need to," she said hastily. "I understand. I mean, you've had a hard few days and, well, if you want to be in a bit of a temper, well, why not? You've got feelings. You can express them. In fact, I kinda like that you trust me enough to show them."

What? Giles blinked, then narrowed his eyes. He didn't always understand what Willow said, but he could read her feelings quite well. Her heart was transparent to him. He was aware that she had a bit of a crush on him and he tried to be considerate of her feelings while maintaining a bit of a distance with her, but she was acting oddly around him even for her.

"Are you all right?" she asked, her brow puckering in concern. He realised that he was still looking at her with a speculative look and relaxed his face. He'd figure out what she on about soon enough. Willow could not keep a secret to save her life.

"Perfectly fine. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, you know... Um... Y'know, you're right. I really should be in class." She picked up her books and shoved them roughly into her bag. "Bye."

* * * * *

"Patrol?" Buffy wailed. "There's nothing happening. You said so yourself." She didn't want to patrol. She had done a sweep last night and it had given her way too much time to think. A vamp or six to dust would have made her a lot happier.

"Just because the Hellmouth itself is not active does not mean that the vampires have vanished," Giles pointed out. "A short patrol and then you can go do whatever it is you had planned."

"Squiffy tummy, Giles," Buffy tried. "I'm not feeling well." She hoped he'd go for that as an excuse. She really didn't have a tummy ache, but something else ached quite a bit. She suspected it was her heart.

"A walk will do you a world of good, Buffy," Giles countered unsympathetically. "I'll be with you, so if you are ill, I'll get you home in one piece."

"You're coming with me?" Buffy's mouth dropped open. "Don't you have plans? With your, um, er... Ethan?"

"Ethan is having dinner with a potential buyer," Giles replied. "Which gives us plenty of time to go on patrol."

"Us?" Buffy squeaked.

"Is there some particular reason you don't want me to go with you?" Giles asked quietly. He gave her that gentle look that she was starting to learn as slightly hurt and afraid he had offended her.

"No!" She couldn't let Giles think that she was upset with him, although she was. Taking Ethan as a lover was wigging her out something awful. Then again, if he was out with her, he wasn't making with the smoochies with that creep. "No, I just thought that, well, you might have plans or something."

"Whatever plans I may or may not have are not important. You are."

Buffy felt tears prickle at the back of her eyes, but she forced them away ruthlessly. He'd ask why she was crying and she couldn't tell him it was because she knew, in excruciating detail, just how important she was to him.

"I guess." Buffy scuffed her toe across the carpet and nodded. "We could do a quick circuit around. Hey, maybe you could quiz me on my French verbs."

"C'est vrai," Giles replied, with a smile. "Je parle francais."

"Hunh?"

"I said that it's true and that I do speak French," Giles translated. "Pick you up at seven?"

"Sure."

* * * * *

Ethan had plans, but he hadn't been entirely truthful as to the exact nature of his plans. He had dispensed with the business he had with the buyer quickly and easily and, as it happened, quite profitably. He was actually intending to have a serious talk with someone and that someone was, of necessity, a night owl.

The easiest way to find his contact was to follow Rupert and Buffy. Angel was a borderline stalker and, in his opinion, had crossed to the wrong side of the border quite some time ago. However, it did make him easy to find.

Being rather talented at skulking around himself, he had no trouble keeping the Watcher/Slayer duo in sight while keeping himself incognito. It amused him to listen to the utterly banal conversation the two were having, and he winced at Buffy's American tongue try and make its way around French verbs.

A vampire or two emerged from the dirt as they wandered around the various graveyards, but he had still seen no sign of Angel. So where was the brooding vampire when you wanted him? Rupert had told him all about Angel's habits, so he should be around here somewhere. It would be just his luck - always just a little uneven around the Hellmouth - that Angel decided to stay home tonight.

Well, there was nothing for it. He'd have to use magic. He didn't want to, lest the influence of the Hellmouth give away his position to Rupert. Still a tiny vampire revealing spell shouldn't be too obvious.

He muttered under his breath and cast the charm, then looked around. A very faint glow came from the trees not too far away. He cast another charm, for silence, and walked carefully to the nimbus of the glow. Then he cancelled both charms.

"Angel." He spoke softly, but the big vampire whirled around as if he had been shot.

"Who is it? Who's there?" Angel replied, obviously shaken by having someone sneak up on him.

"A friend."

"I don't know you."

"I didn't say I was your friend." Ethan smiled. He had a very good memory and quoting his own words back to him, via Rupert's telling of Buffy's adventures, was sure to rattle Angel.

"Ethan Rayne." In the dim light, he could tell that Angel's eyes had narrowed.

"My reputation precedes me."

"Last time I saw you, you were cringing on the floor, bleeding and begging for your life."

"I wasn't begging," Ethan said mildly. "And I want a word with you."

"If you're here to hurt Buffy again, I'll kill you."

"Funny, I was about to say that if you hurt Rupert again, I'll kill you," Ethan replied. "It appears we've got a lot in common."

"Except for one thing. I can do it. You can't."

"I thought that soul of yours makes it difficult for you to hurt humans. And, despite what you may have heard, I am human."

"A soul doesn't stop humans from hurting each other and, for you, I'd make an exception," Angel replied. "I won't let you hurt Buffy."

"You're doing far too well at that yourself for me to wish to interfere," Ethan replied, with an edged smile. "Tell me, how well did she react to what you did to her Watcher?"

"It was you," Angel hissed. "You told her."

"I said nothing," Ethan replied truthfully. "Just how long did you expect to keep that a secret?"

"I never wanted her to know," Angel admitted, "but she does and she forgives me."

"How very sweet of her. I haven't."

"What is it to you?"

"I don't appreciate having my lover being afraid of being touched," Ethan said. The anger he had felt toward Angel when he first heard what he had done rushed through him. "And, while I admire the sheer gall of asking the man you raped and tortured for help, I also take exception to it. You will leave Rupert Giles alone from now on."

"You gonna enforce that - how?" Angel tilted his head in query, his body language tight and defensive.

Ethan lifted one corner of his mouth and lifted his hands. He knew this spell backwards and forwards, and the magical energy, fuelled by anger, ran easily along his fingertips.

The flames emerging from his hands caused the vampire to pull back suddenly.

"What the...?" Angel scrambled backwards. Ethan pulled the flames back so they encircled his hands.

"Have you never seen flames conjured?" he asked. "They're real flames, Angel, and I can shape them, direct them, and control them. I can burn your heart from the inside out and you'll be dust before you can cry for help."

Ethan dropped his hands and muttered the counterspell. He had made his point.

"Just a friendly warning."

* * * * *

Buffy was bored, but it was nice spending time with Giles. She had forgotten how much she actually liked Giles. He was smart and funny and sweet underneath his stuffiness.

Not that he had been particularly stuffy over the last few days, she reflected, glancing at her Watcher. It was as if Ethan had made a new man out of him. This new Giles was nice - still smart and funny and sweet - but there was an undercurrent of something she didn't like.

Buffy sighed. She hated undercurrents. She never quite got it when everything was unspoken. She was a go-to girl, straightforward and direct. Giles was her rock, her foundation and now that foundation had shifted. She missed her stammering mentor and it had only been three days.

Willow was constantly prodding her to speak her mind and ask questions, especially when it came to Angel and how he felt. She couldn't quite bring herself to be that open with Angel, but surely she could express her concerns to Giles.

"Giles, can I ask you something?" She hated the way her voice came out all timid and shy, when she really wanted to sound strong.

"Of course." Giles was in shadow and that made it easier.

"Are you leaving me?"

"Leaving you? Buffy, whatever made you think that?"

"Well, you said Ethan wasn't staying... and you said you... liked him..." Buffy could not make herself use love and Ethan in the same sentence.

"I am not leaving you, Buffy." Giles was firm. "Not now, not ever."

"Even if Ethan asked you to?"

"Ethan hasn't asked me to, nor will he."

"How do you know that?"

"Buffy, I am your Watcher. I can't leave you. And I won't."

"Not even for him?"

"Not even for him." Buffy felt Giles sit next to her on the plinth of an old grave. "Buffy, I have a Calling, just as you do. You can't not be the Slayer and I can't not be your Watcher. It's restricting sometimes, but that is the way it is. I can't leave you."

"But..."

"And I don't want to." Giles' voice went very soft. "I know I don't tell you this often enough, but I care about you. I care very much."

"But you love him." It came out easier this time.

"Yes. Buffy, Ethan and I... We have years of old baggage between us. It will take a while before either of us are really ready to resume our relationship, far less be able to move on to something more than two blokes fancying each other."

"I don't get it, Giles." Buffy frowned. "You love him. He loves you. Yet you're not..."

"Running off to Brazil together in a frenzy of passion?"

"I was thinking England, but yeah."

"I have responsibilities here. I'd hate Ethan and myself within a day if I just left," Giles replied.

"I feel kinda selfish," Buffy admitted. "And angry. And confused. Your love life has sucked worse than mine, what with Jenny and An... Jenny. It seems wrong to keep you here."

"You're not being selfish. If anyone is being selfish, it's me." Giles turned to her. "Buffy, you're the Slayer. And, once in a long while, a Slayer calls her Watcher to her. I was called to you a long time ago and when I tried to ignore it, it went very badly."

"Is that why you went back to the Council?"

"Yes. Ethan was there when it happened. He won't ask me to leave you. I promise you that."

"Wow. Now I really feel selfish. And kinda depressed."

"It's not your fault, any more that you being the Slayer is mine," Giles said quietly.

"Do you ever resent it?"

"Sometimes. Rather like you resent being the Slayer. However, more often I think of what a gift you are. To the world and to me. You're an extraordinary young woman, Buffy, and I'm proud of you."

"Oh." Buffy managed the word past a lump in her throat. "I do resent it, too, Giles. But there's a couple of things that are of the good. My friends. Xander and Willow and Oz. You. Merrick tried hard to be what you are to me, but you're the one who could be that for me. Wow, that made no sense."

"It made perfect sense." Giles put his arm around her and she nestled there for a moment.

"Giles," Buffy said, pulling away a little. "Why aren't you embarrassed?"

"For what?"

"That whole thing yesterday. I mean, you stammer and blush over some really tame stuff and yet... You've changed. What was that all about?"

"I haven't changed, Buffy. I'm still the same man I was."

Buffy was about to object, but shut her mouth with a snap. Maybe he was the same man. The man he was before he got stuck with her.

"This is who you really are, isn't it? You're not shy at all, are you?"

"No, I'm not. A bit reticent sometimes, but I was never particularly shy," Giles confirmed.

"But you were always so..."

"Unaccustomed to American teenagers," Giles finished for her. "When I first arrived, I was suffering from extreme culture shock. Then I met you, and you were unlike anything I was led to expect from a Slayer. Merrick's notes were... inadequate preparation. I'm afraid I rather hid behind the tweed."

"But even with Jenny... It is okay to ask about Jenny, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Giles assured her. "I wasn't prepared for her. She saw the real me, Buffy, the man beneath the tweed and the reticence and I wasn't sure how to deal with that. I tried to push her away, but she just pushed right back. She would always take a backseat to you and I didn't want to hurt her that way."

"And she died. Because of me."

"She didn't die because of you, Buffy." Buffy was startled at the fierce tone.

"But I let Angelus loose..."

"You fell in love, Buffy, and expressed that love in the most natural way in the world. You had no way of knowing what the consequences would be and I won't let you blame yourself for something you didn't know."

"How can you be so forgiving?" Buffy bit her lip to keep from crying. "After Jenny and what Angelus did to you? How can you let me keep seeing Angel?"

"It isn't a matter of forgiveness, Buffy. Besides, forbidding you to see Angel wouldn't do me any good, would it?"

Buffy shook her head. No, he couldn't stop her from seeing Angel. She knew that she couldn't sleep with Angel again, but that didn't stop her from loving him with all her heart. Giles understood that; she knew that instinctively. He understood.

"Giles, is that how you feel about Ethan? The way I feel about Angel?"

"No two relationships are exactly alike, but, yes, I suspect that my feelings for Ethan are similar to yours for Angel," Giles agreed. They sat there for a moment, each silent.

Buffy usually felt better after a heart to heart with Giles, but this time she didn't. Ethan was bad news. She knew it and she suspected Giles knew it, too. She would have liked to point that out to Giles, but the hypocrite factor was a little too high for that. Then again, Angel had a soul and he was one of the sweetest, most giving and loving people she knew. Ethan was hardly that; she wasn't even sure if Ethan had a soul.

Yet she could say nothing about it. If Giles loved Ethan even a fraction of the amount she loved Angel, it wouldn't do her any good to protest. She would lose Giles if she did, and she couldn't bear that.

"What the...?" Buffy was jolted out of her thoughts and sprang to her feet, Mr Pointy at the ready. She did a quick scan and saw nothing.

"What?"

Giles was on his feet as well, looking over at some bushes. Buffy narrowed her eyes and saw a very faint glow.

"Fire," Giles said. "We should..."

"Way ahead of you, Watcher-mine," Buffy replied, pulling a bottle of Holy Water out of her pocket.

* * * * *

"Angel?" Buffy stopped abruptly and looked around her. "What are you doing?"

"Keeping an eye out for you," Angel replied. He hadn't quite recovered from Ethan's threats, but he had to put a good face on it.

"I thought I saw flames," Giles said, stopping behind Buffy. Angel winced at the way Giles looked at him. It was an odd look, almost contemptuous.

"I, uh..." Angel thought fast. With sudden inspiration, he pulled out the cigarette lighter he used for lighting candles. "I was checking on the fuel. I wasn't sure if I needed to get more."

He knew Buffy bought it, but he wasn't so sure about Giles. Giles was looking closely at him, as if he suspected he was up to something. Then again, his rare encounters with Giles left him feeling off balance and strangely insecure.

Giles always made him feel humiliated. There was a whole load of guilt, sorrow and remorse, but the humiliation was a whole new experience. He had faced his victims before, and was used to the pervading guilt and shame, but none of his other victims had made him feel quite so small as this man did.

Angel didn't think he had any pride left, after nearly a century of trying to atone for his crimes, but he was learning that he did. He was ashamed of Angelus, but under it all, he still had a small modicum of self respect at how good Angelus was at his chosen work. And Giles had destroyed that.

Angelus had tortured Giles and Giles hadn't broken. Giles had bested Angelus and that was wholly unprecedented. And he respected Giles for that.

Nonetheless, he really didn't like the feeling that Giles looked down on him. He felt the way he had when he was still mortal; anger at being treated like a lace curtain, bog-Irish peasant. Of course, it didn't help that that was exactly what he was, and Giles was English gentry with a long line of good breeding behind him. A century and a half out of the Old Country and class distinctions still bothered him.

He reined in his anger and looked at Buffy. She was looking uncertain, as if she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do and he felt his heart go out to her.

"There isn't anything going on," he said, half to Buffy and half to Giles. "I haven't seen any activity all night."

"Buffy, I have things to do later, so if Angel would be so kind as to see you home, I'll say goodnight now," Giles said to Buffy, much to his surprise. He knew how much Giles disapproved of him. Before he could say anything, Giles gave Buffy a smile and walked off. Buffy looked after him with an odd expression on her face.

"What?"

"Maybe I should go with him, Angel. I mean, it is after dark in Sunnydale."

"Giles can take care of himself, Buffy," Angel assured her and immediately knew he had said something wrong. Buffy whirled on him.

"Yes, you'd know that, wouldn't you?" she said harshly, then stopped. "I'm sorry, Angel. It's just that... I want to protect him, y'know?"

"Yeah. I know," Angel replied sadly. He laced his fingers with hers and they walked for a minute or two.

"Actually, it isn't vamps that I want to protect him from," Buffy said casually, as they walked. "It's Ethan."

"I'm sure that it's fine, Buffy."

"No, it isn't. Ethan is evil. Well, not fangy-bitey evil or dripping-with-slime-from-another-dimension evil, but I don't trust him," Buffy fretted. "He's another kind of evil. A stir-up-trouble kind. A magic-usey-demon-summony kind."

Angel walked in silence for a moment before replying.

"From what you said, Giles used to be one of those."

"That was years ago. He's changed," Buffy protested. "Boy, has he changed and I'm not sure I even know him anymore. I used to be able to predict what he'd do and what he'd say. But now... Now, I just don't know. Oh, Angel, I am so glad that I have someone in my life who doesn't change. That's one of the reasons why I love you so much." Buffy leaned on him affectionately. Angel put his arm around her and tried very hard not to think of how he had changed in the time he'd known her, and under what circumstances he would change again.

* * * * *

Ethan had everything ready when he got home. The desk was moved and the carpet rolled up, with the circle drawn in chalk on the floor. And there was, bless his little black heart, a fresh pot of perfectly brewed tea waiting.

"How was patrol?" Ethan asked, handing him a cup.

"It was frightfully dull," Giles replied, with a half smile. "What did you do to spook Angel so badly?"

"What?"

"I can feel your magic, Ethan. You confronted Angel, didn't you?" He tried to speak lightly, but he was a little angry at Ethan for putting his nose in where it didn't belong.

"I told him that I didn't like what he did to you," Ethan replied, and Giles saw flames coming out of his fingertips. "Just as a warning."

"I told you no magic."

"He hurt you, Rupert. I wasn't about to let that slide."

"Despite what I wanted?"

"When he murdered Jenny, did you just let it go?" Ethan demanded. "I promised I wouldn't do magic on your behalf, Rupert. I never said I wouldn't do it on mine."

Giles looked carefully at Ethan. Yes, he knew that rage. He knew that Ethan had to confront Angel, too bleed off that anger. He felt a mixture of affection and hope run through him. Perhaps - just perhaps - he could trust Ethan, could trust that Ethan genuinely and truly loved him.

He had been trying hard not to believe it. Yes, Ethan did want him. Ethan had wanted him since the night he had crawled into his bed. And, yes, in his own odd way, Ethan loved him. He knew that somewhere in Ethan's strange, twisted heart, he held a place on honour. Yet, to fully believe that Ethan loved him and wanted him and cared about him was to set himself up for terrible pain.

He had never told anyone just how painful Ethan's apparent betrayal really had been. He had not even wanted to admit it to himself, but Ethan really had broken his heart. Now, there were signs that his heart was mending rapidly. He felt whole, in a way he had never felt before, even after meeting Buffy.

The ritual was simple. A few words, a bit of magical energy, a simple handclasp and it was done. Like most very simple magics, it was also incredibly intense.

Ethan's talent was for visual art; his own for music. In the years of doing magic together, they had created the most beautiful tableaux. Ethan's innate talent shaped the magic in stunning weaves of energy, and his own love for music added a symmetry to the chants they used. Both of them possessed raw magical strength and both of them knew how to use it.

Giles started the chant, low and almost tuneless, drawing a blue glow of pure energy around the circle they were sitting in. Ethan took the chant and added his own energy, letting sparkles of all sorts of colours weave around the foundation Giles had built.

"I give my Word," Giles said simply, almost singing. "My Word and my Bond."

"When the Slayer dies, the Watcher calls upon the Mage," Ethan added.

"I give my Word," Giles repeated, then reached out his left hand, the hand which bore the Watcher's ring, and met Ethan's left hand, the hand of reception. A frisson of magic surrounded their just barely touching hands.

"As we will, so be it," both of them said at the same time. Their fingers suddenly intertwined and the bolt of Magic that shot through them startled them both.

Giles had only twice before felt something like that; a feeling of complete connection. The last time was the day he met his Slayer. The first time was the first time he touched his lips to Ethan's.

After staring at each other fatuously for a few moments, both of them seemed to recall that they were middle aged British males and the moment of connection broke. Ethan unwound his hand, then leaned toward the candles and, cupping his hand around them, blew them out.

"This rite is ended," he pronounced as the last candle was extinguished. Giles took a moment to check for unwanted magical entities, then unwound himself from the floor. Ethan, already on his feet, offered a hand.

"Christ, Ripper, you've gotten rusty," Ethan commented, with an amused smile. "I set wards against ethereal visitors, so a check should only take a second."

"I like to be sure. I do live here, you know," Giles retorted, a little peevishly. "And you've already admitted that your magic is affected by the Hellmouth."

"Yours isn't, though," Ethan said, with a speculative look. "I wonder why."

"Maybe because I'm a little rusty."

"Lack of practice, Ripper, not lack of talent. You've still got your magic," Ethan replied. "And, yes, I'd love a cuppa."

They didn't talk much the rest of the evening, and when they went to bed, they didn't make love. They did, however, hold each other tightly as if they couldn't bear to let go.

* * * * *

Willow clutched the newly filled cookie tin to her chest, to protect it against Xander, who was practically leaping around her, trying to get at them.

"No," she reiterated. "They're not for you. They're for Giles."

"Way to go, Will. That'll really prove that he's not having an affair with you." Xander said, not really thinking about what he was saying. Willow stopped suddenly, with a stricken expression.

"My God," she whispered. "They will. They will think that this is some kind of proof that there's something going on." She dropped the tin as if it were radioactive. Xander nearly dove for the tin, but his brain suddenly caught up with his mouth and he turned to Willow instead.

"No, Will. I was just trying to get you to share. Or at least give me a little taste. Can't let the G-Man have substandard cookies, can we?" he said, in a coaxing tone. "Not that your cookies are ever substandard and I think I'll shut up now."

Willow bent and slowly picked up the tin. Somehow her gift seemed tarnished and she felt like crying. She was only trying to do something nice for Giles and now her gift was all spoiled.

Oz joined them a moment later and immediately wrapped his arms around Willow, kissing her forehead. Xander hung back, ashamed of making Willow feel bad.

"Hey, guys. What's up?" Buffy looked far too perky, all things considered, and it annoyed Willow a little.

"Xander just pointed out that me giving Giles cookies looks bad. And it does."

"Xand!" Buffy glared at Xander. "Will, maybe if you give the cookies to Giles to share with the teachers who have been taking care of the library, it'll look better and Giles still gets the Willow-cookie goodness. I mean, Miss Lyons and Mr Fanshawe have been pretty cool about this whole thing."

"Great idea, Buff," Xander said, with a little too much enthusiasm.

"Sometimes I have 'em." Buffy lifted her chin proudly.

"You're in a good mood," Willow commented as they walked into school.

"You think so?" she asked, suddenly looking anxious. "I'm trying this whole put on a happy face thing. I don't want Giles to think I'm upset."

"Cause of that thing this afternoon." Xander nodded. "I'm thinking it might be a good thing, though."

"How can it be good, Xander?" Willow asked. "They're going to ask if he's some kind of paedophile."

"I dunno." Xander shrugged. "I just think that maybe Giles needs to talk to a professional about some stuff. I tried all summer to get him to talk to someone. Maybe now that he's talked about it to Ethan, he'll talk to a doctor. I don't believe he's really over it even yet."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence.

"Way to go, Xander," Buffy said, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "Now I'll be thinking serious thoughts all day.

* * * * *

Snyder was beginning to think that every person in the town of Sunnydale was deeply, profoundly stupid. The kids, usually obsessed with sex and gossip, were milling around talking about the usual things. Why weren't they talking about Summers and the librarian? It was juicy. It was perverted. It was a good piece of gossip and, dammit, nobody was talking about it.

Even the teachers, who normally tore each other to shreds over shoes, for God's sake, weren't talking about it. Did nobody care? Was there no one in the entire city who gave a damn that Summers and Giles were getting it on in the library?

Apparently not, since the biggest news of the day seemed to be Osborne's new hair colour. What kind of a kid dyed his hair fuschia, anyway? A sure sign that the kid was gay, in his opinion. And he was one of the kids that Giles was screwing. But no, nobody wanted to talk about that, did they?

He was in a bad mood anyway. Another change of suit last night and again this morning. Thank God Barb had put another suit in his car last night. So much for those stupid adult undergarments. The advertising claims just didn't hold water. He was so angry that the inadvertent pun didn't even register.

Well, he'd have the last laugh. The psychiatrist was not the usual state salaried, overworked doctor that they normally could get for these things. The doctor had degrees longer than his arm, a real pro. At least someone was taking his concerns seriously. Giles didn't have a chance.

* * * * *

Giles shifted slightly, trying to get comfortable in the hard plastic chair. He wished that the doctor would see him soon. He wasn't looking forward to this at all, and it didn't help that his temper was starting to unravel.

The morning had started out reasonably well, all things considered. He had been a little startled to wake up with Ethan still wrapped around him; Ethan's usual sleeping habits rarely included sleeping in anything resembling a normal position.

The morning had rapidly gone downhill from there. For one, his Citroen refused to start and he had to take a taxi to work. For another, as soon as he stepped into Sunnydale High, he could feel tendrils of magic in the very walls. Not much, just the merest wisp of a spell, but he would have recognised that magical signature anywhere. Ethan. Ethan had done some kind of a spell and it didn't take long to figure out what it was.

It was a variation on a forget spell. Not a true memory spell, but one that made recent memories feel months or years old. It wasn't strong enough to work on those directly involved in an incident, but it was enough to shroud the memories of witnesses in the fog of time.

Ethan had cast a subtle, but effective spell that made the issue of the paintings old and, thus, not very interesting to anybody. The rumour mill, at least as far as he was concerned, was silent.

He wasn't sure exactly how to react to that. Part of him was furious, but another part of him really wanted to find some benign explanation for it, some compelling reason for Ethan to break his word to him.

He sighed, shifting again. He should have known better than to trust Ethan's word. At least Ethan seemed to have actually done him a favour. Of course there was an element of self preservation involved; a public outcry about his alleged molesting of minors would, of necessity, bring unwanted publicity on Ethan's head. For all his affectations, Ethan did have to keep his public reputation in the art world fairly clean. He was probably telling the truth when he said that he wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize his source of legitimate income. Ethan liked to live well.

As an added worry, the children, particularly Willow, were acting odd around him, more so than usual. He had noticed it yesterday, but today was even worse. He tried to dismiss it as fanciful; they were as worried as he was about this appointment, but there was more to it than that.

Buffy was trying too hard to be cheerful. Xander kept throwing him meaningful looks, but it was impossible to actually decipher their meaning. Even Oz was looking concerned, if you knew how to read his minute facial expressions. Willow, on the other hand, kept talking about how it was really a good thing that he was going to see a psychiatrist, and about how stressed he must be. And she must have made ten pots of tea for him in the course of half an hour. She did everything short of fetching the paper and his slippers for him and she probably would have done even that had it occurred to her.

There was something going on there and he was going to get to the bottom of it as soon as this damned appointment was over.

"Mr Giles?" The receptionist was calling his name.

"Yes?"

"Dr Rutherford will see you now."

Giles froze for a moment. Rutherford? Arthur Rutherford?

* * * * *

Buffy decided to skip her math class and run over to Giles' place. She really, really wanted to speak to Ethan. She hoped he was still there, stealing spells from Giles' books.

"Ethan, I want to talk to you." She decided that the direct approach was best. Actually, she didn't want so much to talk to him as to kick his scrawny ass, but it would have to do.

"Ah. Miss Summers. What a delightful surprise. I thought you'd be in school."

"Stuff it, Ethan. We need to talk."

"About what? The weather? Art? Music? Literature? Or... is it English class that you're missing? In which case, we'll skip the literary discussion."

"You. Giles. Your paintings. All of it."

"What did you want to say?" Still Ethan was being urbane and polite. It set her teeth on edge.

"I want you out."

"Out?"

"Out of Sunnydale. Out of California."

"Done." He beamed at her.

"Hunh?"

"I'm leaving this afternoon for New York," he told her. "Would you care for some tea?"

"No, thanks." Buffy frowned. What was this? "You're leaving?"

"Yes." Now Ethan looked puzzled. "I thought that was what you wanted."

"Yes, but..."

"Close your mouth, my dear. Your tonsils aren't that attractive," Ethan remarked, passing her.

"Why?"

"I have a tour to finish arranging. I'll be hanging at the Guggenheim in less than a month."

Buffy took a moment to envision that, then shook her head. Paintings. He was referring to the paintings.

"What about Giles?"

"What about him?"

"Don't you care?" Buffy burst out and was truly startled to see the smarmy smirk fade off his face. He looked very serious all of a sudden.

"Of course I do," he said quietly.

"Talk to me, Ethan. You waltz into town, embarrass Giles, then end up sleeping with him and now you're leaving?" Buffy demanded. "What have you done that requires you to leave town in such a hurry?" She really didn't expect Ethan to answer, so she was surprised to see him run a hand through his hair and take a deep sigh.

"I like you, Buffy. Truly I do," he said slowly. "And I think you deserve the truth."

"Truth? What do you know about truth?"

"I love Rupert. But now is not our time. And I'm leaving before I forget that. Yes, I want him. You, on the other hand, need him."

Buffy felt her breath whoosh out of her lungs. My God, Ethan really did love Giles. She wasn't good with subtlety, but Ethan wasn't even trying to hide it. He was being noble. He was letting Giles go. For her.

"You're not doing this for me," she stated flatly.

"No, I'm not. I do like you, but I'm not that fond of you. I am that fond of Rupert," Ethan replied evenly. "Now. Run back to school, little girl, and leave me to my packing. I won't take anything, I promise. Rupert has cross-indexed his kitchen utensils, so he will notice if I do."

It was a definite dismissal, but Buffy couldn't move. Who was this man, anyway? Ethan had never been a real person, with real feelings before and she was intrigued.

"Can I asked you something?"

"I suspect you're physically capable of it."

"When you tattooed me, you said you missed your calling as an artist. But you are an artist?"

"Up until then, I had never tattooed anyone freehand," Ethan explained. "I had never thought to try skin as a medium before. And, trust me, tattoo artists make a great deal more money than painters."

"Your art is about how much money you can make?"

"I do like to eat, my dear," Ethan reminded her lightly. "I'm an artist, both with paint and magic. Getting paid for it is not selling out. It is simply selling."

He turned his back on her and, after a moment or two, Buffy left. She had some things to think about.

* * * * *

"Rupert."

"Arthur." Giles took the outstretched hand. "I see the Council has come through."

"Well, we can't have our active Watcher languishing in gaol, can we?" Rutherford smiled, and gesture to a chair.

"It would make by job more difficult, yes," Giles stammered, then mentally cursed.

"I have the evaluation right here. It contains all the right jargon and portrays you as the kind of a man who is a genuine teacher, a born mentor who is simply fond of these children and wants to help."

"Which is not too far from the truth."

"Well, you are a Watcher." Rutherford nodded. "However, the council did ask me to bring up a few other concerns."

"Oh?"

"Yes. The paintings, for one." Rutherford held up a hand, forestalling a protest on Giles' part. "Yes, I know you're not responsible for those and they're really not the issue. The issue is whether you and Rayne are back together."

"No, we're not."

"Honestly? You have a habit of not telling the Council as much as you should."

"Ethan and I had a couple of encounters last year. That was the first time I'd seen him in eighteen years," Giles replied.

"Yes, I've read your report. Did you sleep together then?"

"No. I kicked the crap out of him. He put my Slayer in danger."

"And now?"

Giles closed his eyes. He didn't want to talk about Ethan, not the way he was currently feeling.

"Yes," he said reluctantly, "which has nothing to do with Buffy and he's leaving soon anyway."

"I see." Rutherford steepled his hands under his chin. "Tell me about Buffy."

Giles gladly obliged. He was very proud of her.

The hour went quickly. Rutherford glanced at his watch and made a note on the file.

"One more question, Rupert."

"Yes?"

"Have you talked to anyone about the torture Angelus put you through?"

Giles closed his eyes for a moment.

"Other than with Ethan, no."

"Would you like to?"

Giles heard the tone and realised that the offer was genuine and would not, if he asked, be reported to the council. He shuddered; the idea of reliving that hellish day made him ill. He wasn't ready to talk about it, not yet.

"No."

* * * * *

Buffy put aside her English homework and yawned. Although she was now used to reading massive amounts of obscure texts, somehow Thomas Hardy was less than thrilling. It didn't have the same urgency as looking up demons in one of Giles' dusty tomes.

Despite the way Giles obsessively cleaned, his books all seemed to be covered in a fine film of dust. And vampires turned to dust when you staked them. So what was the what with that? Was dust a mystical symbol for something? Or a side effect of the Hellmouth? Was Sunnydale the best place to sell Pledge? She had visions of door to door feather duster salesmen and realised that she was getting far too giddy for her own good.

She wished Giles would get back soon. She needed to know how his appointment went. Would Giles really be investigated for these allegations of abuse? She hadn't been asked for an official statement or anything, but she was willing to make one. Doodling on her notebook, she wondered how she could explain why she spent more time in the library than even Willow and still only get a B-average. She could claim she was stupid, she supposed, but it seemed so nerdy to pretend to study all the time.

God, when was Giles going to get here? His appointment was hours ago. She glanced at the others. Willow was sitting at the computer, surfing the net. Oz was reading a novel and Xander was doing his math homework. What was with Xander and his new obsession with math, anyway? Cordelia was flipping through a fashion magazine, and what was she doing here? Cordelia had protested long and loud that she didn't want anything to do with the Scoobies. Unless she was here because she, too, cared about Giles. Giles had gone to see her in the hospital several times, so it wasn't as if he didn't care about her.

Oh, thank God. Here he was, looking perfectly normal, if a bit on the overly tweedy side.

"How'd it go?" Xander preempted all other inquiries, with his laconic question.

"Dr Rutherford is a member of the Council," Giles informed them, with a small smile. "I don't think Snyder will be bothering with us again."

A cheer erupted from the library, and, as if summoned, Snyder walked in. He did not look happy. Buffy straightened. If Snyder was going to snark at Giles, she'd snark right back. If Snyder was going to throw Giles out, she was going as well.

"I just got the report," Snyder began, then stopped to glare at the group seated around the table. "Don't you kids have somewhere else to be?"

"Nope." Oz spoke for all of them, then went back to his book with a nonchalance that was the envy of the school. Snyder snorted and turned back to Giles.

"That shrink seems to think that the sun shines out your ass," Snyder growled. Buffy found herself contemplating that and shuddered. Giles folded his arms and looked down his nose at Snyder. Buffy knew the signs; Giles was in a bit of a temper and she looked forward to whatever broadside of sarcasm he was about to unleash. This was going to be good.

"That sounds terribly unprofessional, as well as quite uncomfortable," Giles replied.

"You know what I mean. He gave you a glowing report and the social workers are going to accept your word and theirs." Snyder waved a dismissive hand toward the table. "But I'm watching you. You may be their fair haired boy, but I know what you are."

"Principal Snyder, I resent your accusations and your refusal to accept the findings of professionals in this matter," Giles said, stiffly. "I cannot continue working in an environment where my moral integrity is questioned. I will, as a favour to the students, finish out this year, but I will not be renewing my contract with the school."

"Good," Snyder retorted.

"And if anyone asks why, I will inform them that you object to any staff member actually taking an interest in the well being of the students," Giles continued. "After all, we can't have teachers caring, now can we?"

"Are you threatening me?"

"Tit for tat, Principal Snyder." Giles got that creepy smile that always bothered Buffy. It was almost Ripper-ish. "I'll be watching you, too, and I am a very good watcher."

Snyder opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. Without another word, he turned on his heel and left, fury radiating out of every pore.

As soon as the library doors closed, Buffy let out a triumphant cry. The others did as well. Even Cordelia clapped her hands and gave a wide smile.

"Way to go, G-Man. Whoo-who!" Xander cheered, pumping his fist. He leaned across the table and returned a high five with Oz, who was smiling.

"Wow, Giles, that is so great," Willow gushed. "No more babysitters in the library. I mean, I like Mr Fanshawe and Miss Lyons is way beyond cool and Miss Barton, well, she's just so nice, but they aren't you."

"Will, babble mode," Buffy reminded her and she subsided. "That's wonderful, Giles. So we're cool?"

"We're, as you say, cool," Giles confirmed. "I think."

"You think?" Buffy frowned. "Snyder's little campaign is over and he lost. So what's the bad?"

"Buffy, the psychiatrist is a member of the Council."

"Which is bad... why?"

"We mostly spoke about you and he mentioned that the Council feels I may be holding back on some details."

"Are you?"

"No. I send regular reports and I leave nothing out."

"There. No big, right?" Buffy shrugged, then widened her eyes. "Unless you told them about that time with my shoes. Giles, please tell me you didn't tell them about those high heels that got stuck in that demon and that you had to rescue me because I couldn't get up."

"No, Buffy, I don't usually go into that much detail," Giles assured her. Buffy relaxed. It was bad enough that Giles had gone into fits of laughter over that one, even while decapitating the monster with his sword. She thought he'd never stop laughing at her.

"But you told them about Angelus, right?" Willow asked. "About what he did? And you talked to the psychiatrist about it, I hope?"

Buffy felt her heart sink. Xander slowly straightened, Oz put his book down and Giles... Giles' expression darkened.

"All right, what is going on?" he asked, looking around the table. Buffy squirmed at the stern look he gave her, as did the others. Well, except Cordelia, who was still flipping through her magazine. And Willow, who seemed totally oblivious to the tension.

"Willow, what are you on about?"

"Me?" Willow seemed to suddenly realize that she had said something wrong and had a deer in the headlights look. "Nothing. I'm not on anything. Really. It's just that, well, I care about you and I want you to know that and I thought that maybe if you talked to someone about it that, you know, you'd feel better."

"Talk to someone about what?" Giles said, in a low tone. "About what, Willow?"

Buffy watched as Giles glared at Willow, and watched Willow crumple under the force of that glare.

"We know, Giles," she said finally. "We know what Angelus did to you. About the beatings and the... the... rape."

Buffy wanted very much to leap up and strangle Willow. The look on Giles' face was so... She had never seen such a look on anyone's face before, not even when Giles went after Angel in the factory. Giles held Willow's eyes for a moment longer, then flicked a glance to Xander. Xander returned the look without guile or fear. God, is this what Xander had faced during the summer she was gone?

"No." Xander's reply to the unspoken question was clear and honest, and Buffy knew that Giles accepted it.

"I hacked into the hospital files," Willow admitted miserably. "Buffy asked me to."

Way to go, Willow. Heap it all on me. Buffy squared her shoulders and faced her furious Watcher. It was her responsibility and she would face it unflinchingly. Okay, maybe just a little flinch. The anger in his eyes was unbearable.

"Xander never told me exactly what happened," she said, keeping her voice steady and clear. "Angel didn't, either. But when Ethan showed me a picture he drew..."

"Ethan?"

Okay, the anger was better than this. Giles hid it well, but she could see that he was badly wounded by this. She felt as if he had been stripped bare and all his emotions were right there for her to see. She shivered in sympathy; he must feel so naked and vulnerable.

"I asked Willow to look it up for me..."

"Get out." Giles' voice was very quiet, yet somehow it rang around the library and lingered.

"What?"

"Get out." Now came the volume and Buffy wasn't the only one who flinched. "How dare you? How dare you - all of you - violate my privacy that way?"

Buffy sat there, frozen, as Xander got up calmly and walked out. As he passed Giles, he gave him a brief touch on the arm. Giles nodded to him curtly. Buffy interpreted that as Xander being exempt from the anger.

"Giles, I..."

"I told you to leave."

"But..."

"Now!"

Buffy shrieked as Giles' tea mug went flying past her ear, smashing on the shelves behind her. She exchanged looks with Willow and the two of them fled, with Oz not far behind.

* * * * *

Cordelia watched as Giles paced around the library, obviously trying to control his temper. She wasn't really sure why she was still there. His temper had nothing to do with her, of course, but she had been hanging around Xander and his loser friends for too long. Putting oneself in the path of danger and all that. And right now, Giles was dangerous.

She continued to flip through her magazine, pretending to look at the pages. She had something she wanted to say to Giles and she could wait until he lost that psycho rage thing he had going.

"I thought I told you to leave."

"Oh. Were you talking to me? I thought it was Buffy and Willow that had pissed you off."

"Cordelia..."

"Xander didn't say anything to me. I already knew. And I know how it feels," Cordelia said bluntly. "Really I do."

"No, I don't think you do."

"Oh, let's see. Vulnerable. Ashamed, even if there isn't anything for you to be ashamed of. Afraid of looking weak. Afraid of having everybody look at you as if you were some kind of a freak. Yeah, Giles, I know." She looked up at him, knowing that he was smart enough to figure it out.

"When?"

"A few years ago. Before Xander." She shrugged. "It wasn't a huge drama like with you, but it was still pretty bad."

"Oh, Cordelia, I am so sorry."

"Yeah, I know. Me, too." Cordelia stood up and flicked her hair over her shoulder. "I don't want a pity party, Giles. I'll deal. You don't give me one and I don't give you one, okay?"

"Okay. But, if you need anything, please don't be afraid to come to me."

"God, give it a rest with the helpful, giving thing, will you?" Cordelia snapped. She was beginning to regret telling him. She didn't want his help - or anyone's. She was strong and no one, not even Giles, was going to make her weak again.

"All right." Giles nodded and she relaxed, knowing he understood. She went to leave, then paused.

"And about your friend betraying you? I know how that feels, too."

Without looking back, without invading his privacy, she walked out, feeling surprisingly good.

* * * * *

Xander leaned against one of the pillars and watched as Willow wept in Oz's arms. Buffy was shaking and he pulled himself upright to put his arm around her.

"It's gonna be okay, Buffy," he said, soothingly. "Giles'll be fine."

"I don't know about that, Xander." Buffy hiccoughed. "I should have kept my nose out of it."

"Yeah, you should have," Xander agreed. "But you're the Watcher's pet, Buff. He loves you. He loves Willow. He'll be okay. You'll see."

"He was so angry," Willow whispered.

"Yeah, I know. He went through a lot of that over the summer," Xander said quietly. He, unlike the girls, had lots of experience in dealing with parental figures exploding in rage. And he knew, better than they did, that the rage usually had nothing to do with him. Giles was angry, yes, but he wasn't going to hold anything against Buffy and Willow. Unless...

"Guys, we really do have to let this drop," he said seriously. "He really doesn't want to discuss it and, even if he did, we're not the ones he needs to talk to. We drop it, right?"

"Right." Willow tried to nod in agreement, but her head merely drooped. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't mean to spill the beans."

"I know," Buffy replied. "You think he'll be okay?"

"Count on it. Give it a couple of days and he'll be our cross referencing, tea drinking hero."

"I hope so. I was really looking forward to my birthday next week," Buffy sighed. "It's not everyday a girl turns eighteen and I really want my Watcher in on the Buffy birthday bonanza."

"We're gonna party?" Xander asked, perking up.

"You bet. The Saturday after, since my birthday's on a Tuesday. My dad's coming and everything. I really want Giles to meet him."

"See, Buffy. Everything will work out. Your birthday's a perfect time to forget all about this icky stuff."

"Well, one thing's for sure. This birthday can't possibly suck worse than last year's."

* * * * *

In a way it was a good thing that he had to take a taxi home. He was shaking too badly to even think about driving. He waited outside in the parking lot for the cab, unable to face meeting anyone until he got his emotions under control. As he passed Snyder's car, he removed the wetness spell on the front seat. No more using magic irresponsibly. He wasn't Ethan.

Ethan. He'd been a fool to trust Ethan. He actually bought into his facade of caring. Ethan had gotten several nights accommodation, free food, sex, and all he had to do with spin a web of innuendo and lies to get it. Ethan must be laughing all the way to the airport.

Once home, he fished the spare keys, an envelope and a small box out of his mailbox and let himself in. Tossing the keys and the box on the desk, he looked at the envelope. It had his name in Ethan's inimitable scrawl on the front. He was almost afraid to open it.

The envelope contained two pieces of paper, one of them a page torn from an quality sketchpad. He unfolded it to see a picture of himself wrapped in pain and despair. The sketch Ethan had shown to Buffy. He wondered why Ethan had given it to him.

The other piece of paper was a scrap of cheap note paper, similar to the pad he kept in the kitchen for listing groceries. It bore one line.

"Be seeing you - Ethan."

It took a long time for the pain to fade to something bearable. He just kept looking blankly at the note, wondering what it really meant. He hated the small surge of hope that went through him and ruthlessly suppressed it. Ethan wasn't going to play games with him anymore. It had gotten far too serious for that.

It wasn't until he had consumed a healthy measure of scotch that he got around to opening the box. It had obviously been dropped off in person, since there was no postage anywhere on the package. It simply had his name scrawled across the top.

Taking a knife, he undid the wrapping to find a small case. Opening the case, he felt his heart sink even further than it already had. He knew what this was and what it meant. Rutherford had made one report to the school and quite another to the Council.

He sat there for a very, very long time, just staring at the syringe and four vials full of straw coloured liquid, utterly uncertain of what to do.

END

Read the next story in this series: A Couple Of Old Mystics