Don't Give Your Heart
written by Gail Christison


Rating: FRM
Spoilers: Gazillions of old stuff from the Buffy movie to Restless.
Summary: Oh, Lord [Have I ever mentioned how much I hate summarizing ]...Okay...Giles is depressed, Ethan complicates things and his actions result in catastrophic psychological damage to Giles. Willow and Tara have to anchor Buffy while she 'goes in' to Giles' mind to bring him out. Some action adventure with Ethan and a helpful new character but mostly a story designed to deal with a lot of unresolved issues Joss will never give us any closure on. I hope all Giles fans, not just B/Gers, will get something out of this fic.
Dedication: This fic is dedicated to the person who started it all by asking for some closure to Becoming. Thank you to Morrwen for causing this baby to be born, before it ran amok and became a new critter entirely :-))))
Feedback Author: Gail Christison
Author's Website: Once More With Feeling



Buffy opened the door of Giles apartment, still distracted by the aftermath of the battle with the new demons. Riley had almost lost his head, literally, before they'd combined... Well, they had, sorta, she told herself, blithely ignoring the fact that she'd accounted for all but one of them before he'd finally recovered enough to take out the last.

Music was playing quietly and only Giles' funky lamps lit the room with their soft light.

She hadn't visited in ages, but the new demons required identification and Riley had a deal to go to with some of the guys, so...

There was no sign of Giles. She frowned at the open bottle on the coffee table, and the glass alongside, ice still melting in the bottom of it, before looking up at the loft. It was in darkness.

She looked at the bottle again. She didn't like him drinking the last time it happened. God forbid there had been any more visits from past demons to spark more chaos. Or worse, Ethan Rayne...

"Giles?"

When there was no answer she raised her voice and shouted his name again, only to have him come crashing out of the bathroom in his pyjamas, the top not even buttoned.

"Buffy? What are you doing here?" he demanded, none too prettily. "And what the hell is wrong?"

She looked him up and down. "Nothing's wrong... now. I've got some stuff to report, demons to research. What's your drama?"

Giles hauled his pyjama jacket closed and scowled ferociously.

"There is no drama," he told her. "Just an intruder in my home, not even allowing me the simple luxury of a long bath and... "

"You were reading the newspaper in the John again," she guessed, though she had noticed the damp hair curling on his collar.

"I was having a bath," he shot back as he walked toward her.

Only when he was close could Buffy smell the faint scent of the drink and see the dark circles under his eyes.

"Something's wrong," she said darkly. "If it's something I should know about... "

"It's not," he retorted harshly. "Tell me about your blasted demons."

Buffy watched him walk away, realizing only when she had followed his backside across the room that the pyjamas were all he was wearing. It disturbed her to realize that she had actually noticed that, and that the thin, navy blue silk was sticking to his obviously still damp person.

She swallowed. "F-four arms. Tails like scorpions, nasty pointy barb on the tip and a tendency to want to use it a lot. Riley nearly lost his head to one. I think it wanted to pop his skull like a balloon.

"Druul," Giles growled.

"Are you swearing at me?"

"Druul," Giles repeated, pointedly not rising to her teasing. "They don't generally like this dimension and they aren't known for leaving their own unless there's a very good reason."

"Yeah, well, there were four of them, so I guess there must be a good reason," Buffy shot back, unsettled by his continued distance and ill-temper.

"In that case it's probably worth investigating. Either something is going on in the underworld that we're not privy to, or they were brought here by someone or something we probably should know about... "

"Then why do you sound like you could care less?"

Giles simply stared at her stonily before turning for the stairs.

"Where are you going?"

"To get dressed," he replied tersely.

"What's going on, Giles?" She might never qualify for the Miss Empathy quest, but she knew something was very wrong.

"Nothing that you'd be in the slightest bit interested in hearing about," he muttered and disappeared up the stairs before she could reply.

He was back relatively swiftly in jeans and a shirt she hadn't seen before. It looked far nicer than the old, baggy sweaters of which he was so fond. She liked the way the surprisingly casual, blue denim long-sleeved shirt accentuated his wide shoulders and his surprisingly slim hips. She did not like the fact that she noticed those things.

"Okay," she said, tearing her eyes away from his body. "You have a bug up your butt the size of a Fyarl demon. Mind telling me what's the what before I get too annoyed?"

Giles barely acknowledged the fact that she'd even spoken, his eyes narrowing and flicking away to locate the bottle and glass before heading over there without saying a word.

Buffy watched him pour another Scotch with something approaching real fear. The one constant in her universe was Giles. Even when he was ticked with her, she could predict his responses.

But not this time...

He threw it back and poured another without looking up.

"Giles? Whatever it is, I'm sorry. Really sorry," she said softly.

"Yes, I'm sure you are," he said flatly, swirling the golden contents in the tumbler.

"But you aren't going to tell me what I'm apologizing for?"

He shook his head. "Go home, Buffy."

"Not until you tell me what's going on."

"For God's sake, don't you ever listen?" The words reverberated with controlled violence. "Just go."

Buffy didn't move. Stunned, her eyes fixed themselves on the fingers of his right hand, which were moving stiffly, almost clumsily, as they turned something over and over. She didn't recognize the pink stone, or what, if any, relevance it had to his current state, but the almost unnatural motion of the long digits, the periodic tremor in them, kept her entranced.

"Just tell me what I did," she said quietly, each word pile-driven home.

He turned his head just a little and rolled his normally gentle green eyes up so that Buffy was able to see the dark hollowness of them, the deep, roiling rage that simmered behind the soft jade hue.

"Do I really have to tell you?" It came out as a contemptuous whisper.

Still watching the small piece of quartz, turning faster now in his fingers, her eyes flashed.

"Probably. I never pretended to be perfect. I've done a lot of stupid things and made a lot of mistakes. I just don't know which one you're angry about. I haven't run away lately, or turned any ensouled vampires into psycho-killers. I haven't even tried to kill anybody ... and it's not like I've even had a chance to crash your car, or to spoil your fun with Olivia... " Her sarcasm faded, concern pulling her mouth into an unhappy line as it occurred to her that something might have happened to his friend. "Oh... is Olivia... ?"

He thumped his fist on the table. "No, Olivia isn't. Olivia hasn't since the Gentlemen were here. She is in Milan, having a life without constant fear and revulsion. She is not the issue here."

Buffy half raised a hand, dropped it again. "I'm sorry... about Olivia. Really sorry," she whispered.

For a moment his thunderous expression lifted and his eyes almost warmed as they regarded hers.

"I know," he said, the warmth already fading, then looked away again. "Why don't you go home and spend some time with Riley? There's nothing for you here."

It wasn't what she was expecting to hear.

"How can you say that?" she retorted, before she even had time to think, after recoiling from the metaphoric kick in the stomach. The last time he'd said something that hurt that much he'd only just discovered that Angel was back from the dead. And she had deserved every word...

Giles poured another drink and downed it easily. "Why not?" he said hoarsely. "Haven't you been basically saying the same thing since you went prancing off to college?"

Buffy bit her lip to stop the outraged retort on the tip of her tongue.

"How many of those have you had?"

Giles raised an eyebrow and picked up the half-empty bottle. "Not enough," he said, eyeing it. "Hadn't you better get back to your Nancy-boy G.I.?"

"Not until you tell me what's going on." She wasn't going to tell him that Riley was out with the guys, or that he was leaving again in the morning to visit his parents, less than a week after returning from being debriefed by the Government.

"Please yourself."

Buffy stepped forward as he lifted the bottle once more and took it from him.

Giles rose swiftly.

"You'll give that back, now," he rasped.

"Yeah, right," she drawled and started toward the kitchen.

When he realised what she was going to do, Giles went after her.

"No!"

"Yes," she said, unscrewing the cap as she approached the sink.

When Giles reached her and snatched at the bottle, it was almost empty.

He threw it with force, so that it smashed against the kitchen wall, the last of the whisky trickling down it and into the broken glass on the floor.

"Get out!"

"Tell me what's going on!" she shouted back.

"Will you never do as you're told?" Giles demanded angrily, flushed and ragged with temper and booze. "What the hell do I have to do before you'll start treating me like a man?"

She stared dumbly for a moment then turned to look at the stain on the wall.

"Act like one," she said without turning again and started to walk away, not willing to let him see the tears in her eyes.

"Why bother?" he spat. "I've spent more time with Spike than you've spent with me since you started bloody college."

Buffy stopped, but didn't face him. There really wasn't an answer to that. In fact, the more she thought about the past months, the less she liked herself, but she still didn't know what to say. Her eyes, darting about the room like a nervous deer, lighted on the small table behind the couch, momentarily distracting her from her thoughts. A gift had been opened and left on it, a colourful card standing beside it.

She went to it and picked up the card. It was from Olivia, a 'sorry-I'm-late' one, for his birthday. It was a silly card, with a silly sex joke and a fond message from the other woman, apologising for forgetting his birthday, months earlier, and promising to make it up at Christmas. The gift was a little statue of an extremely well endowed, mythological Greek character.

Buffy dropped the card on the table and closed her eyes for a moment. She had forgotten his birthday too. They all had. Missing his birthday was low, but not enough to drive a guy like Giles to drink... especially not this long after the event. Then again, when had she ever remembered it?

She turned, and jumped violently.

Ethan Rayne's smirking face was the last thing she remembered seeing...


*******

When she stirred, the first thing Buffy was aware of was the pounding in the back of her skull and the second was the smell: like a wet, mouldy burlap bag.

After she finally prised her eyes all the way open it was to find herself staring at a stone wall. She moved stiffly, working herself slowly to a sitting position while her brain tried to thump its way out of her skull.

The light was bad, and the air stale. Buffy looked up. No windows, and only a tiny slot in the door at viewing height... well... viewing height if you were Xander, maybe. She was considering the wisdom of trying to get to her feet when a moan close by made her jump, sending an uncomfortable stab of adrenaline shooting through her.

Heedless of the worsening headache, she twisted around.

"Giles?"

Another groan.

"Present," a voice croaked.

Buffy crawled over to the figure sprawled on the cobbled floor, trying not to notice her headache or the rising nausea. She was going to be useless if it kept up.

"Giles! Are you okay? Can you move?"

"Probably," he half muttered, half moaned, "but I think I'd rather stop here, thank you, at... at least until my brain stops dribbling out of my ears." The last was more of a gasp than a statement.

Buffy rolled him from his side onto his back, trying to ignore his moan of pain. His brain wasn't dribbling out of his ears, but a scalp wound on his temple had produced enough blood for it to run down the side of his face and into his ear.

"God, Giles, they hit you in the head again. I got knocked out too, but I don't have a bump... just an extreme desire to barf and a headache of the hammer concerto variety."

He frowned rather than bother to open his eyes. "Yes, he did," he growled. "I'm getting old." He sniffed. "He used something... ether or something... to knock you out. He must be getting old, too... "

"Or he knew it would take more than a whack on the head to drop the Slayer," she pointed out dryly.

"There is that," Giles agreed equally dryly and finally made an effort to get his eyelids to move.

"So it was Ethan I saw?"

Giles started to nod, realised it was a bad idea. "The bastard had you down before I could warn you. Then his henchmen held me while he payed me back for his little visit to Nevada."

Buffy's thumbs pricked again with adrenaline. *Please, not again... * "He hurt you? Where? Can you move?"

"I can move. It just bloody well hurts, that's all. Ethan is rather good with his fists when one isn't fighting back. With three Druul tails poised over my head, I preferred Ethan's spite to having a new hole drilled in my skull."

"God, Giles," Buffy whispered, unbuttoning his bloodied shirt.

"I know I'm old and gross, but it's not that bad," he said in a strained, but amused voice as she pushed the open shirt away from his chest.

"These bruises are going to hurt like hell." She was ignoring his joke and trying desperately to ignore her response to both the injuries and the rest of his chest, the soft golden brown hair spread across it and provocatively down to his navel. It was still firm and smooth and almost as hard as Riley's... except, somehow, Giles' chest hair was far sexier than the tender smoothness of the younger man's torso.

Who knew Giles could be... sexy?

She winced mentally. Giles and 'sexy' in the same sentence... but it passed quickly when he groaned again, despite his attempts not to show how much pain he was in.

"Ethan is going to pay for this and so is whoever let him out of prison this time."

"I r-rather... " Giles grimaced and started again. "I rather think he had a deal of help from, well, dark allies, like the Druul. S-something is afoot. I wish I knew what. Whatever Ethan gets involved in tends to be a great deal of trouble."

"Well whatever he's up to, I have to thank him for one thing," Buffy observed and smiled a little at Giles' curious look. "At least you're talking to me again now."

Giles closed his eyes. "How fortunate for you."

It wiped away Buffy's smile.

"You're still mad at me."

"I am... just tired," he sighed.

Combined with his bruises, and how very vulnerable he looked lying there with his eyes closed, and a divot of pain almost permanently etched above the bridge of his nose, his words cut through her annoyance and grabbed her by the throat.

"Giles, please," she whispered.

He opened his eyes and turned them toward her. They widened swiftly when they saw the wretchedness in hers.

"Take no notice of me," he rasped, looking away again. "I'm still drunk, and maudlin and full of self-pity. Don't get old, Buffy. Don't get old and don't give your heart where it isn't wanted."

Buffy didn't understand, and was about to say so when the door opened. She scrambled to her feet just as a small demon came in with a tray. Behind it was Ethan Rayne and two of his Druul henchmen.

The gnome-like demon put the tray on the floor a few feet from Buffy, who had deliberately placed herself between Giles and the intruders, and backed swiftly out of the room.

"She doesn't bite, Edof," Ethan called after it, amused. "She fights real demons, not snivelling little toads like you. Isn't that right, Slayer?"

"Go to hell, Ethan. What makes you think you can hold me here?"

Ethan's eyes slid to the figure on the floor. "I think I have the best reason in the world. You won't leave him and if you tried, you know I'd kill him... or at least let Zyf and Zyn, here, play with him."

"What do you want?" Buffy demanded through clenched teeth.

He smiled slowly. "You misunderstand, my dear. This is not about what I want... except perhaps when it comes to how much I get paid."

"Then who... ?"

"In good time," he smirked. "How's your old man? Still with us?"

"Screw you, Ethan," Giles strained voice snarled from behind Buffy.

"He's not my old man," Buffy retorted.

Ethan raised an eyebrow. "No? I thought you preferred them young and distinctly, well ... Norman Rockwell, shall we say... not quite so old and used? Last time I saw our Rupert he was drinking himself into oblivion after being effectively emasculated by someone for the umpteenth time ... I'm sure I don't need to tell you who... "

"Shut up, Ethan!" Giles growled, trying to sit up.

Buffy turned and knelt beside him, helping him to a sitting position and meeting his eyes momentarily, her own warning him silently not to rise to the bait, while she digested the sorcerer's taunts.

"What do you want from us, Rayne?" she demanded. "He needs a doctor. I promise you if anything happens to him you'll wish you were never born."

Ethan stared at them both for a long moment, his expression unreadable. "Too late," he said almost too softly for Buffy to hear, then let his usual lazy arrogance reappear. "Eat the food," he told them at normal volume. "You're going to be here for a while, so don't be stupid about it."

"Who is it this time, Ethan?" Giles demanded. "Who have you sold yourself to, this time?"

"Not my fault this time, old chap. You gave me no choice. Given the option of letting those sadistic little bastards scramble my brains and destroy my mind, or my freedom in exchange for your Slayer, it wasn't difficult to choose."

"Bastard," Giles breathed.

"Who?" Buffy demanded. "Who wants me? Walsh was dead. Adam was out of control. I was the only one who had any chance of stopping him. And I did. Why would anyone from the Military want to take me out of the picture, now?"

"Who says they give a damn about your bloody Adam... or any of the bloody Adams out there?" Ethan retorted shortly. "Who says they care about anything but their own petty agendas? They want to know what makes you tick, Slayer. I expect you will be experimented upon, studied, poked, prodded, analysed, tested and eventually vivisected, all supposedly in the name of national security, but in truth it will simply be to find out how they can make more like you. They don't need more Adams if they can make their own little army of Slayers, instead."

"You'll n-never hold her," Giles told him, his colour now ash-grey.

Ethan smirked. "You underestimate me, old son. A Slayer might be almost impervious to physical force, but even she is vulnerable to love. If she does anything but co-operate fully, she will have a front row seat at your unfortunate, and I might add, messy, demise."

Outraged and disbelieving, Buffy lunged at the slim figure only to be confronted by his bodyguards. She launched into her normal attack mode only to find herself knocked easily onto her backside by the powerful, segmented forearm of one of the creatures.

The shock in her eyes was comprehensive. "No, Ethan, you can't do this," she pleaded. "They'll destroy everything. Somebody has to stop them... even you have to know that... "

Ethan shrugged. "I know that I'm not going back and that's all I care about right now. Your soldier-boy heart-throb and his pals will have to deal with all the things that go bump in the night from now on."

"I will kill you, Ethan," Giles managed.

"You haven't been able to do it for the last twenty years, old son," Rayne drawled and looked left and right at Zyf and Zyn. "I'm not exactly quaking in my boots here."

"Buffy will not co-operate," he said through his teeth.

Ethan met and held Buffy's gaze for several moments, then smiled again, smugly, before motioning the insect-like demons to follow him out.

When the door closed Buffy turned to Giles. "I won't let him hurt you."

"Yes, you bloody well will! I'm telling you now you don't have the luxury of worrying about me. You have an obligation to protect this world and I will not let you compromise that for the sake of one broken down ex-Watcher of no value or usefulness to anyone."

"I won't let him hurt you," she repeated, her voice shaking with emotion and her eyes locking with his. "We will get out of here, but I won't let anyone take you away from me."

Giles stared at her flushed face, her flashing eyes, stunned by the vehemence of her tone.

"You don't need me," he said softly. "You haven't needed me for a long time."

"You are so wrong," she managed tremulously. "I thought you didn't need me any more. I thought I was in the way."

Giles' colour worsened and pain lanced across his face, but he kept himself upright. "Need you?" he repeated hoarsely. "Need you... ?"

Buffy caught him as he toppled sideways, drawing him against her instead of lowering him to the floor.

"Sorry," he muttered into her bosom.

"How bad?" she asked in a choked voice, trying to focus.

"N-not sure. It was... a good... whack. Concussion... probably. Fracture... uncertain. Bloody hurts, though," he snorted.

Buffy choked on a laugh. "Sorry," she said. "I wish there was something I could do. Damn Ethan to hell, anyway."

"No argument from me," he agreed whimsically, managing to turn his head enough so that his cheek was resting against her left bicep. "I... think perhaps you should help me to sit up enough to lean against the wall. This... " He stopped to grimace. "This really won't do."

Buffy bit her lip. He was in such pain, and yet he still thought he had to worry about... she sighed. It brought home to her how much they'd grown apart, how little they knew each other any more. She lowered her brow until it rested against the soft hair on his crown.

Giles' eyes, unseen by Buffy, widened in surprise and then glistened with unspoken pain before closing slowly.

"I don't want your pity," he whispered.

"I don't do pity," Buffy said simply and dragged him painfully into a sitting position.

He was trembling and his face was devoid of colour as he settled against the wall.

"Then I can tell you that the room is doing pirouettes and I am in dire peril of revisiting my lunch."

Buffy scowled as she tried to make him comfortable. "You had a liquid lunch as I recall."

"Which I very much don't want to revisit," he repeated gruffly, closing his eyes again.

She stopped scowling and knelt beside him. After a beat to study his face, the bruise just starting to show on his left cheek, the small split in the right hand corner of his mouth and the graze on his chin, she stroked his brow very softly, pushing back his rumpled locks and trying to massage his clammy brow as soothingly as she could.

After several long moments the green eyes opened and looked up at her, watching her silently as she continued.

"Better?" she asked softly when she saw them.

They closed and opened again in an approximation of a yes, but he didn't speak.

Buffy wasn't sure what was happening to her, or why. She knew how much Giles meant to her, but she couldn't begin to understand why she didn't want to stop stroking the tense brow, why she was suddenly aware of the most intimate things about him, his bare, bruised chest... his breath, the vague male body odour of a man who hadn't showered all day, the faint scent of whatever shampoo he used in his ridiculously soft hair and the lingering aroma of his cologne. It had always been subtle, but there, nevertheless. She'd never realised before how strongly she associated that scent with Giles. It was a part of him, like his tea and his books...

She had been avoiding the green eyes watching her so intently, but when she finally withdrew her hands, she allowed hers to meet them.

"Okay?" she ventured tentatively.

"Very," he managed, softly.

She held his gaze a few moments longer, aware that something was crackling between them, but uncertain what or why.

"I have to get us out of here," she said eventually, falling back on the one thing she knew. "If the little demon comes alone next time, I'm going to try to take him. Even if there's one or two Druul outside, I can take them too, if I'm careful."

"Of course," Giles agreed hoarsely, in a strange tone, and added with effort, "naturally, we must get out of here at the earliest opportunity."

"You need a doctor."

His expression grew almost amused, despite the strain. "Of course I need a bloody doctor... and a change of clothes, and I daresay you're missing Riley already."

"Riley? Well... yeah," she said awkwardly, suddenly painfully aware that she hadn't thought about him at all. And didn't particularly want to think about him now...

Giles nodded almost imperceptibly, his eyes losing any lustre that was left in them.

"We'll get out of here, and your young man will be waiting, you'll see," he forced himself to say.

Buffy ignored that, and let her gaze move around the room, studying every inch of it.
There were, however, no opportunities, even for a Slayer, to affect any kind of breakout. Eventually she returned to slide down the wall and sit alongside him.

"How's it going?"

He opened his eyes. "My head? Better. I rather suspect that it's a concussion. Past experience tells me that were we to have gone to the Emergency Room, I would be on my way home by now, albeit with a massive headache, still."

Buffy smiled. "I guess you'd know. It's not like you haven't been concussed before."

Giles made a snorting noise and after a beat it was obvious that both of them were amused by the silliness of it all. Buffy giggled first, then Giles started chuckling with her.

"Oh, God," Buffy managed as they continued to chuckle, "I have to get you out of here and there's no way I can bust that door down. The rest of this place might look like a bad Hollywood movie set, but that door is heavy steel."

"I'm all right," he managed as the chuckling died away. "Lord knows what condition my ribs are in and the bruises are bloody sore, but I'll live."

"Yes you will," she said softly. She was no longer laughing.


*******

The noise made Buffy jump, and shift against the wall. She lifted her head from the point of Giles's shoulder and blinked. He was still asleep. For a single beat she panicked, but the rise and fall of his chest restored her focus and she turned toward the door.

"What?" she demanded.

The small demon stood inside the door with the tray. "I-It's late. I th-thought you might be... angry... "

Buffy frowned, then squinted at Giles' watch face, trying to work out the time, upside-down as it was.

"We slept for four hours?"

The demon shrugged. "Maybe you were tired... ?" he offered.

Buffy got to her feet quickly, hiding her amusement at his immediate retreat as he shuffled away from her.

"Where's Ethan?"

"Talking to... er... I'm not supposed to say. Um... he's just on the phone."

Buffy looked around the room. "King Arthur's castle has a phone?"

"King... ?" The small demon looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled sheepishly. "Oh. Well, maybe more like Mordred, than Arthur. You should eat this. If you don't he's just going to get angry."

Giles snorted, alerting Buffy to the fact that he was awake, even though his eyes were still closed.

"Fine," Buffy placated. "We'll eat it, but Giles needs a doctor."

The demon shrugged as he put the tray on the floor. "Nobody is allowed in or out. There are no doctors. Maybe when they come for you... "

"They?" Buffy growled.

The demon looked abashed again. "Um, you didn't hear that... "

She grabbed him by the scruff. "They?" she demanded.

"I'll tell," he squeaked, eyeing the door.

Buffy squeezed his neck harder. "Who?"

"M-Military intelligence... a-and some others."

"What others?"

He looked reluctant, despite the pain. Buffy added her other hand, squeezing his throat, then releasing it enough for him to answer.

"You're supposed to go to the military, but word is out that a Slayer has been captured."

"Rayne has started a bidding war," Giles growled and opened his eyes, "between the military and his dark mates."

The demon looked at him and nodded. "War yes. Bidding no. Neither intends to make any payment. Both intend to take you."

Giles chuckled. "A lose-lose situation for Ethan... how perfectly ironic. He's selling us out to the military to save his own hide, but... if he does, his henchmen will probably have him for breakfast."

Buffy turned the demon around and propelled him toward the door. "Call them!" she hissed.

He tensed and wriggled. "This is very bad," he squawked.

Buffy shook his neck hard. "It'll be even harder if you piss off the Slayer any more than you already have."

"Ready!" he called through the metal door.

It unlocked and swung open.

Buffy held Edof back and waited until a guard finally poked his head in to find out why the small demon hadn't emerged. She immediately let go of her prisoner, thrusting him to the back of the cell, and caught the guard with a roundhouse kick, sending him sprawling. She tensed, ready for any Druul that might come rushing in, but none arrived. She dragged the guard to where the smaller demon was trying to clear his head.

Edof looked at the unconscious grey form next to him and grunted. "I knew it was a mistake hiring him. Magleth demons are strong, but dumb as posts."

"Well you'll have plenty of time to get to know him," Buffy drawled.

"No!" he replied, startled, and grabbed her arm. "Don't leave me here. I didn't ask to be part of this."

Buffy made a deft move so that she was holding him by the scruff again and made a sceptical face.

"It's the truth!" he insisted. "I was in a cell with the human. I wanted to escape as much as he did. So I let him think he could tell me what to do... treat me like a servant."

Buffy shook his scruff a little more. "You let him?"

Suddenly, Buffy's hand was filled with more than just the demon's neck. She let go and reeled back as the huge, serpentine creature swung around, its maw full of needle sharp teeth only marginally less terrifying than its burning orange eyes.

"Jesus!" Giles exclaimed.

"Yes, I let him," he hissed and shrank back into the small, Frodo-esque form Buffy knew, except that his shirt was ripped where his torso and shoulders had morphed into the big olive coloured reptilian.

"Oh... " Buffy managed. "Okay." She cleared her throat and waited for the surging adrenaline to subside. "I-is your name really Edof?"

The demon nodded. "I let the feeble human think I was weak so that he would take me, too, when they came for him. It was my only way out of that place."

"They wanted to study your ability to morph?" Giles asked.

He nodded again. "They would have dissected me. I saw what the Initiative was doing when I was captured. "I know what they were going to do to me."

"And now you want out of all of it?"

"I want to go home."

"Then help us get out of here," Buffy said.

"Why haven't you tried to escape from here?" Giles asked, strain still in his voice.

Edof shook his head. "I've tried. The Druul are the natural enemies of my people. We are from the same... place. My people evolved into 'Morphs' to survive. There are too many of them here. They would kill me before I got out of the grounds."

"There are grounds?"

Both Edof and Giles gave Buffy a withering look.

"Don't grounds usually have guard-y kinda things roaming around them?" she asked uncomfortably.

All eyes turned to Edof.

"Just a couple of uh... Bergen hellhounds.

"Bergen hellhounds?" Buffy asked doubtfully.

Giles dragged a hand over his face. "That was where they were first identified. A variation on the types that you fought before your er... prom."

"This is going to be a bad variation isn't it?"

"Heightened sense of smell and hearing, larger teeth and claws... more intelligent. Bred to be the perfect guard... er... dogs," Giles explained.

"Great," Buffy muttered, then looked at Edof. "So... You and Hellhounds?"

Edof smiled. "Those I can do."

"Then we should get out of here before Ethan finishes his phone call and his buggy friends finish their coffee break or whatever."

"Two are guarding the gate and patrolling. Two are guarding Ethan Rayne. The other two are regenerating."

"Like Borg?"

Giles gave Buffy a filthy look. "Not precisely. They're sleeping. Whilst they sleep, their bodily tissues, including their carapace, regenerate at a pace substantially faster than our own."

"Um... I'm gonna take a wild guess that's Giles for 'I regenerate, too, in my own way?' Yay me! Call me Seven of Nine."

"I like her," the demon grinned.

"You're both hopeless," Giles observed irritably.

Buffy's eyes narrowed and she studied him for a long moment.

"It hurts?"

Giles stared at her for a split second then almost smiled. "Like buggery," he said softly.

Buffy turned to the small demon purposefully. "Edof, get us out of... "

The sounds of footsteps echoing down the stone hallway made them all freeze. The faint sound of Ethan Rayne's voice issuing orders made their hearts drop.

"Damn!" Buffy said. "Edof, I have to hit you."

For a split second the demon looked confused, then he worked it out, and nodded.

Buffy dropped him easily in his innocuous state and had Giles almost to his feet when Ethan and his henchmen arrived.

"My, my, Slayer," Ethan drawled, stepping over Edof. "You've been busy." He inclined his head toward Giles and the two insect-like demons clattered forward to rip him from Buffy's resisting arms.

Giles struggled and Buffy tried vainly to bring down the one nearest her.

"I'd quit while you were behind," Ethan told her as she picked herself up off the floor. "You can't hurt them without putting your all into it, and I don't suppose they could hurt you easily either, however they can do very nasty things to your ailing swain if you continue to misbehave."

"You wouldn't dare," she hissed through her teeth, "and what the hell is a 'swain'?"

Giles regarded his feet.

Ethan looked cocky but ignored the question. "Oh, I wouldn't let them kill him... yet. Not while I still need him to keep you in line. But if you think you've seen him suffer, you haven't seen anything until you've seen a man who has been stung by a Druul for the purpose of feeding its larvae."

Buffy shifted agitatedly, not taking her eyes off the sagging Giles. "That's gross."

Ethan nodded, amused. "And extremely painful. Tell her, Ripper. Describe to her how the victim lies paralysed while his insides boil, slowly broken down by enzymes designed to make him more palatable to the little buggers. There is an antidote to the venom and I do happen to have some, but considering the speed with which it works, by the time it was retrieved and given to him, the pain would be beyond bearing and permanent internal damage quite likely."

"You're such a creep," Buffy told him, frustrated that nothing more insulting had come to mind.

"He is a misbegotten son of a bitch, emasculated by his prostitution to darkness and chaos and his fundamental lack of any discernable backbone," Giles growled, still pulling at the rough grip of his captors.

Buffy was impressed. "What he said," she agreed, "only double."

"Yes, very funny, but we seem to have forgotten what we're here for, don't we?" Ethan drawled and lifted his hand.

In moments they were gone, the grey demon having roused during the conversation, carrying Edof out under his not inconsiderable arm.

Buffy fought an overwhelming attempt by her body to collapse into uncontrollable sobs, leaping forward, instead, and screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Gi-i-les!"

At the sound of Buffy's cry echoing down the corridor, the small smirk that had been on Ethan's face faded into a bleak, haunted visage.

Buffy prowled in agitated, intense circles, growing more and more enraged, the more distressed her helplessness made her. She was trying the door for somewhere between the fourteenth and the four hundredth time when his first scream pierced the stone walls, as though passing through butter, and bore into her very soul.

By the third nerve-rending cry of agony, she was clawing and hammering at the steel door, her silence almost as violent as the destruction wrought on her tender hands as she tried mindlessly to get through the immovable door. The fifth was a feeble, pain-filled sound that screwed Buffy's heart into a tiny ball. It was followed by unbearable, throbbing silence.

She threw herself against the wall and slid down it, visions of Ethan's threat making her tremble with grief and dread and helplessness. Her stomach churned and twisted and a sick, desperate feeling crept over her whole body. Never before had she felt such despair, not even when Angel turned.

A few moments later, she was up again, trying the door again, even trying to punch her way through the stone. Her knuckles were soon bloodied and torn, but her Slayer strength did enable her to pulverise several inches of cut stone just on sheer adrenaline and rage.

She was about to start again after a short break when she heard movement in the hallway.

A moment later the door swung open and a body was dumped on the floor. Buffy flew at the two Druul bearers, so blinded by rage that she didn't stop until there were segmented pieces of arms and legs, shards of carapace and yellow innards splattered everywhere.

When there was nothing left to fight, she stopped, a head in one hand and long piece of tail and stinger in the other, her own blood mingling with the sticky yellow mess. For a long moment she was wild-eyed and silent, then she made a small distressed noise and dropped them before throwing herself down to Giles' side.

He was still alive. Buffy reached out to touch his face, very close to sobbing, but resolutely resisting the avalanche of emotion lest it consume her. He was warm. He needed a shave and he was pale and bruised, but he was reassuringly warm.

"Slayer!"

Buffy jumped like a frightened cat and turned, ready to kill again.

It was Edof. "We have to go, now."

"What did they do to him?" she demanded, staring at the small demon with blurred, unfocused eyes. 'Will he die?"

Edof shook his head. "They... the government people... they're here. They have a Weyre with them," he added darkly.

"Am I supposed to know what a 'Weyre' is?" she growled.

"We have to go, now," Edof repeated more agitatedly. "A Weyre reads thoughts... even emotions. It can rip the thoughts from your mind if you resist." He looked down at the watcher. "He resisted. We must go now, while the rest of the Druul are regenerating. I've taken care of the guard. There are two Druul with Ethan Rayne, but he is busy with his guests. Come!"

He moved to pick up Giles' limp form, but Buffy's arm barred his way.

"We don't have time," Edof hissed and morphed into his alternate form, pushed her aside and swept the body into his arms, as though it was a toy.

They went by a convoluted route Edof seemed to know well, at first descending even further than what Buffy had assumed was a dungeon, then climbing again, before making their way along an endless dark passage lit only by luminous floor lights every few metres.

"What is this?" Buffy murmured, following closely behind Edof's glistening back.

"This is not a castle," he growled. "It's a mansion... a great house built from drug money by a very wealthy drug baron, a former military intelligence officer who spent too much time in Cambodia during the war. This passage is just one of many beneath the house. That was not a cell. It was a storeroom from the last century. This house was built over the site of some old ruins. They put that door on it to keep people out, not in. The other door we passed back there, it goes to a laboratory... or what's left of it."

"What happened to the Drug lord?"

Edof laughed. "I heard Rayne telling one of the military people that he lost a lot of money in the stock market. The IRS audited him. He's doing five to ten in a medium security prison for tax evasion on a truly outstanding scale. The operation here was closed down by his competition. The only reason the house has not been sold is that it is in his son's name."

"And his son is where?"

"I'm not sure," Edof said thoughtfully. "But sometimes I think he's the one Rayne talks to all the time on the phone."

They arrived at a door with a keypad to the side of it.

"Keeping people in again?" Buffy drawled. "You know the code?"

Edof shook his head.

"Well, we can't go back."

Before the demon could say a word Buffy lashed out with her boot and smashed the keypad, sparks flying and blue smoke curling up from it. She tried the door. It didn't budge.

Edof made a noise of pure scorn before shifting Giles' weight and stooping to focus his currently, fiercely orange, eyes on the contents of the smashed box.

"Find a red wire and a green one," he hissed. "Detach them from the circuit board and twist the ends together."

Buffy did it quickly and the door jolted and opened about an inch and a half.

Edof sighed. "Now show me your Slayer strength."

It was Buffy's turn to make a disparaging noise, but it took her several minutes of shoving, grunting and swearing to open the door enough for them to pass through. It was another empty storeroom with a staircase.

"If we are in the right place, the stairs should lead to the solarium. No one goes there. It used to be a sunroom filled with plants. It's the most exposed room in the house... too much glass. The good part is the Druul hate excessive warmth, which for them isn't much, so they don't go there. It's also the closest part of the house to the perimeter of the grounds."

They climbed swiftly and came out into the former sunroom, mildew and filth marring the once pristine black and white tiled floor, potting mix, pieces of broken pot, dead plants and a lot of dust and cobwebs combining with the humidity to give the place a truly dank, close feel, despite the emptiness.

Buffy's nose wrinkled as she moved immediately to check Giles in the brighter light. "It reeks in here," she complained, looking for, and finding, a stronger pulse. His colour was a little better, but there was absolutely no sign of consciousness. She fought down rising misery again.

"What now?"

"Since we closed the cell door to make everything look normal, the alarm has not yet been raised. Rayne will have assumed that the others went to regenerate and he never cares where I am until he needs something. We must hope that they will not want to try to use the Weyre on you today. We must go now. You will stay with him. I will take care of the Hellhounds. One of them should be useful as a distraction when I disable the fence."

"Electric fence?" Buffy asked, helping the demon lower Giles gently to the floor.

"Cliché, but inevitable," he sighed. "Wait for me. Care for him. Do not follow. I will be back."

About twenty minutes later, there were muted sounds of a blood-curdling howl followed by a kafuffle in the grounds, voices, shouting... Buffy, unused to playing such a passive role, prayed that Edof hadn't been caught.

Five minutes later he was back, in his smaller form. "It's all right. I shorted the fence with the body of one of the Hellhounds. It will take them a while to figure it all out. Meanwhile we should be able to go over the fence without being seen, if we're careful."

The fence turned out to be a high brick wall with formerly electrified wires running along the top of it.

Edof put Giles down to boost Buffy onto it and she took the Watcher by the armpits when Edof lifted him. Then she waited for the demon to scamper up the espaliered flowering plum tree and take him from her again while she jumped off the other side. He peered through the old, established trees, to the solarium. No one had come around to their side of the building. They had to still be concentrating on the gates and the dead hellhounds.

The other side of the wall turned out to be the most exclusive part of the suburb that adjoined the wealthy, northeast corner of Sunnydale. Buffy recognised it. Once or twice she'd even chased unpleasant things into the area from the nearby Brookwood cemetery.

The only problem was that there wasn't a lot of cover and every house in the street had a security wall or fence and gate. And getting anyone to let them in, or help, was pretty much a lost cause. A huge, fierce-looking demon carrying an unconscious human, kind of negated any kind of helpless charm she might have been able to generate on her own.

Not that her own and Giles' blood, and the demon guts all over her clothes would have helped, either...

Edof looked around swiftly as they made their way down the other side of the street.

"There," he said suddenly.

"What?" Buffy said stupidly, her mind full of Giles and what might happen if they got caught again.

Edof stopped and put Giles down, motioning to Buffy to take care of him while he went to the parked Jeep.

Buffy expected to hear a car alarm any moment, but all that followed was the purr of the engine coming to life. Once they were all in, with Edof in his smaller form, in the driver's seat, Buffy demanded to know how he did it.

He grinned and held up a finger, whose retractable claw promptly morphed into several different keys in a row.

"But the car alarm?"

"Doesn't have one... probably an outsider. Formal visitors and residents usually drive into the grounds in these kinds of places, correct?"

As the car sped out of the area, Buffy opened the glove compartment looking for clues about the owners, unhappy about resorting to theft, despite the necessity of it.

She frowned. The car was pretty new, but all that was in the glove compartment was the manual and maps of the local area. She closed it again and turned to look at Giles on the back seat. He was resting quietly, still without any indication that he might regain consciousness any time soon.

She was about to turn back before getting too carsick, when something on the floor behind the driver's seat caught her eye.

"Edof, what kind of plates did this thing have?" she asked ominously, bringing the object into the front and onto her lap.

He shrugged. "Why would I look at the plates? All I needed to know was that it wasn't alarmed."

"Yeah, but everyone notices which state, what colour," she pointed out, staring at the briefcase and the handcuff dangling from it. Weirdly, it wasn't locked. She opened it and found the reason it had been left in the car. It was empty.

He shook his head again and pulled off into a narrow side street to get out and check for her.

When he came back he looked more than a little sheepish. "Military plates," he reported. "We can't go straight to the hospital now. We should go somewhere and ditch the car."

"Restfield cemetery," she said, climbing into the back with Giles and easing his head onto her lap. "Drive through to the pioneer section and park in the little parking lot at the back of it. No one ever goes there any more. I suppose you know why Ethan's military visitors parked outside the walls?"

Edof shook his head. "Some mysteries are not meant to be solved. Perhaps they thought the er... dogs... might scratch the pristine paintwork?" he added dryly.

Only two funerals were in progress when they sped through the cemetery, both close to each other and a long way from the narrow, winding, one-way road to the oldest part of the grounds. Edof tucked the Jeep behind the old mausoleum.

"How is he?"

Buffy brushed Giles' cheek with the back of her hand. "He should be in a hospital. We have to contact my friends so that they can bring another car to... "

"You cannot go to such a public place. These people... the military... they have contacts. They will be watching for you. Besides, what is wrong with him cannot be fixed by doctors."

Buffy bit her lip. "Then how? We can't just sit here. I have to at least get my friends... "

"Have they magick?"

She frowned. "One, but she's kinda... in training... if you know what I mean. Giles does have a library though... you know, magick books up the wazoo... "

"Walk to the office at the front gates. Call someone who can bring a vehicle," he said.

Xander and Willow arrived remarkably quickly in the car Xander was semi-permanently borrowing from his uncle to help him in his quest for a permanent job.

They both leaped out as Buffy and Edof eased Giles from the back of the Jeep.

"You said get over here fast. You didn't say Giles was hurt!" Willow cried.

"I needed you to get here in one piece. Freaking about Giles wasn't going to help Xander's driving," Buffy snapped. "We have to go somewhere safe while we research what happened to him."

"Shouldn't we get him to the Emergency room?" Xander ventured.

"Not for this," she flashed.

Willow, watching the impatience and irritation in Buffy's stressed face, cleared her throat before gesturing toward Edof. "Um, Buffy. Introductions?"

"His name is Edof. Say hello and let's go. Xander, put the top up."

It only took a few minutes to reach the Harris house.

Xander and Edof guided Giles between them to the basement door, so that any possible witness could say no more than that the Watcher seemed to be drunk.

Once inside, Buffy seemed to deflate as she helped get Giles into Xander's hastily straightened bed. She dropped to her knees alongside it and took a large hand in hers.

The others watched as she cradled the hand and rocked slowly, without saying a word.

Xander turned to Edof. "What's the deal?" he demanded. "What happened to them?"

"They were taken by a man named Ethan Rayne."

"Ethan!" Willow squeaked.

"I was imprisoned with him in a military installation. I chose to go with him when he escaped rather than be experimented upon."

"You're not from around here, are you?" Willow asked.

Edof half smiled. "I only came to this world two of your years ago. I am not speaking correctly?"

She smiled back. "You're doing great." Then the smile vanished. "How can we help Giles?"

"What has been done to him may never be undone," the demon said softly. "I'm sorry. With powerful enough magick, someone might be able to reach him, but many are so damaged that there is nothing to bring back."

"Yeah, but WHAT did they do?" Xander demanded violently, displaying his frustration with the meandering conversation. "Just tell us what happened."

Edof turned to Buffy and Giles for a moment and blinked as she continued to rock, before turning back to Xander.

"The military wants information. Their people used a powerful telepath... more than a telepath ... one with intensely powerful magick... to enter his mind. They know that the Watcher's Council has many secrets, much information, dating back a thousand years, not only about demons and vampires, but also about the Slayers and the origin of the Slayer. They tried to take it from him and he resisted them."

"D-Do you think they got what they wanted?" Willow asked fearfully.

Edof shook his head. "They tried five times. I saw the Weyre, himself, collapse after the fifth attempt. They were very angry and Rayne was very frightened."

"Tell me how," Willow said. "I'm a witch. I want to do it."

"She... The Slayer said you were not strong yet."

Willow looked rebellious for a moment then slid a mournful glance toward her friends.

"I don't know," she admitted. "I honestly don't know."

"You have to know. You will be the guide, the strength to pull them both back."

Willow shook her head, frightened. "N-no. I can't even levitate stuff without breakage. A-And a couple of days ago I kind of poof-ed my favourite pillow! I can't."

"Will," Xander said softly. "We don't have anyone else. Is there any way... ?"

"W-well, I have a kind of a...well, a friend. She might be able to help... "

"A friend? I thought... " Xander cleared his throat. "Okay. Willow has a friend we know nothing about, but it's okay. We're mature adults and we can deal with this. Right now all that's important is Giles. Who is this... friend?"

"Of course you know about her," she said irritably. "It's Tara... we... we've been doing spells together... we... we're stronger together."

Xander looked at her oddly but his mind moved straight to the next question. "So if you do it together, you have more control?"

Willow nodded. "We did some stuff to help Buffy when Faith took her body. I know we can do this."

It took a little over an hour for Xander and Willow to find Tara, pick up supplies from Giles' apartment and rush back to the basement.

In the whole time they were gone, Edof watched the Slayer with her Watcher. His own heightened sense of empathy told him a great deal, as did the scents of fear and grief that permeated the room. The part that puzzled him was the crushing, almost suffocating regret that emanated from her slender back.

Giles had not moved since they brought him there.

Buffy stayed closed by his side. She found it almost impossible to contemplate a world without him in it, but he was so still, so lifeless. She found herself watching even for the tiny rise and fall of his chest, listening intently for the soft sound of his indrawn and exhaled breath in the silence of the deserted apartment.

Not since they had found his apartment trashed, his ripped shirt on the floor, had she felt so bereft of hope, so completely shutdown. On that day, a part of her had believed that he was gone, that she had lost him and that mistake had cost her in terms of judgement. It had almost cost Giles his life because she hadn't been able to function, not the way she should have, not the way she would have... if it hadn't felt like half of her had been ripped away...

She finally took one of her hands from her grip on his large one and pushed some stray hairs off his ear. For the first time she wondered what happened to his glasses. She couldn't remember the last time she saw them, on or off his face. She turned.

"Edof, do you know what happened to Giles' glasses?"

The small demon looked bemused. "Glasses? He wears spectacles?"

Buffy nodded, her normally glistening grey-green eyes flat and almost blue with sadness.

Edof shook his head. "Perhaps he has another set?"

The consternation on her face finally eased. "I-in his desk, in his apartment. He hates the frames, though." As though she'd slipped back into another world, she turned back to Giles without another word.

He watched the jerkiness of her movements, absorbed the waves of confused distress coming off her and blinked again. In all his time here, humans had never ceased to surprise him. In his world, in all reports, humans were considered vermin, rapacious and abundant, infesting this place, but without even the slightest redeeming quality.

Indeed, since his arrival he'd seen and felt plenty to reinforce that impression, but he had also seen many things that had confused, bemused and amazed him, not least the bond between this woman-warrior and the man charged with her protection, her guardianship.

What he had felt from the Watcher had been as intense as what he felt from the girl... and just as perplexing... the same intensity of regret, guilt, and pain, overwhelming the underlying love for each other. He shook his head just as the others returned.

Willow had found a spell. There were few of Giles books she wasn't familiar with, despite his efforts to protect her from the most dangerous of them, and it hadn't taken her long to find one of only three spells she'd ever seen that dealt with mind-walking. The part that worried her was that she would not be the one going in.

If Edof was right, and it had to be Buffy, the task was exponentially harder. It was one thing to anchor herself, but to be responsible for putting Buffy into Giles' mind, and for pulling both of them back when the time came, was huge... terrifying.

Willow and Tara returned to Edof after they'd prepared. "What do we have to do?"

Edof regarded the red-haired girl, but Xander spoke first.

"And how do you know about this stuff?"

The demon turned his head slowly to look at him. "In your years I am thirteen centuries old. One learns many things in such a lifetime," he said dryly.

"Oh," Xander said feebly. "In that case there's someone you might know... "

Edof's eyes flicked back to Willow. "You must lead her in, but she will have to find him. Where he is, only the most courageous, the fiercest, of loves will reach."

For a moment Willow looked puzzled, then she turned swiftly to look at Buffy, still close to Giles' side. It seemed inconceivable, after the year they'd had so far, and Riley, the Initiative and the distance Buffy seemed to have put between herself and those she loved, and yet Willow knew in her bones, in her soul, that Edof was right... had always known it.

She only hoped that Buffy could breech the gap between the passion in her soul and the pain-numbed heart she'd hidden behind since Angel had left... well... really, since a long time before that. The Buffy who'd come back from Los Angeles that fateful summer was never again the bright, loving girl of whom Angelus had made misery a seventeenth birthday gift to remember and death a scar from which neither she, nor the man in her arms now, had ever fully recovered.

She nodded to the demon and went to Buffy.

"It's time," she said softly.

Buffy looked up at her. "What do I do?"

"You find him and you make him come back. Wherever he is must be pretty awful, but he thinks it's better than here."

"Wh-what if I can't find him? What if the Weyre really did... I dunno... break him? Can I... can fix I it?" she asked in a tremulous voice, turning to the demon. "Can we... ?"

He shook his head slowly. "If his mind is ripped... if you find only darkness, your friends must pull you back immediately or you will also be lost."

Buffy turned swiftly back to Willow. "Don't pull me out. I don't care what happens, you are not to pull me out until I find him."

Willow's wide eyes moved from Buffy's fierce ones, glowing blue now, to the demon's.

"Be careful, Slayer, or you will follow him into hell and none will be able to bring you back," he said.

"I will follow him anywhere... and Willow will bring me back," she said very slowly and very powerfully, her determined gaze boring into the young Wicca's.

The redhead nodded, even more wide-eyed, but determined.

* * * * *

Buffy opened her eyes. She was in a strange house, in a strange bed... a small, single bed.

It squeaked when she moved and it was narrow. When she slid out of it, the floor was exceedingly cold under foot. There was frost on the window. She was in flannel pyjamas. Boy's flannel pyjamas. She pushed her feet into the plain brown slippers beside the bed and studied everything around her. There was a bureau with a small wooden chess set on it, and a study desk. There were insects in glass cases on the wall, and a glass case of war medals. On a shelf bolted to the wall was a carefully laid out rock collection and on another a collection of bird's eggs.

Buffy frowned, trying to work out where she was and how she got there. The ceilings were high and ornate and the room large and draughty. A fireplace, long since extinct as a working object, still resided in one wall and above it on the mantle was a display with school awards mixed with a single rugby trophy for participation, a plastic cup with a picture of the young Beatles on it, several scale models of World War Two fighter aircraft set at jaunty angles on their plastic stands and one of, ironically, a vampire jet aircraft, beautifully assembled and painted.

She studied all of the things in the room, opening and closing schoolbooks on the desk, smiling at the neat but childish hand that had written in them; the sketches that were so much more advanced than the handwriting.

Eventually, she padded across the room, the slippers making a scuffing sound as she went, to the tiny bathroom adjoining it. There was nothing luxurious about it. A very old fashioned toilet with a pull chain and a tiny, cracked ceramic hand-basin shaped like a flattened out wineglass and stem, with a mirror above it.

She looked into the mirror instinctively and jumped when she saw the reflection in it. The boy couldn't have been more than ten, and small for his age. He had a high forehead and soft, pale golden brown hair cut severely into an old short-back-and-sides style, parted one side naturally but this morning sticking up all over the place at the back. The image tilted its head as Buffy tilted hers, big, intelligent green eyes looking back into her own.

Her breath caught when she saw the small brown patch in the left one. Her fingers came up to her cheek and she saw the boy's own smallish hand do the same.

"Rupert, do hurry up or you'll be late for school!" a voice called from the bowels of the house.

Buffy swallowed and turned, wondering about clothes, only to suddenly find herself in a dark wood-panelled study, exactly like the kind she'd seen in the movies with the stuffy Anthony Hopkins type standing worriedly by the fireplace or sipping port in an impossibly expensive leather chair.

Only this time she was sitting in a chair, her feet not quite reaching the ground for some unknown reason, and a middle-aged man was glaring at her.

"Rupert," he barked irritably. "I won't tell you again to concentrate. Your manners are abominable."

"Yes, father," Buffy heard herself say, only it wasn't her voice, and, she realised, she was no longer in control.

"Rupert, you have to stop these endless daydreams. The majority of your school reports cite exemplary results in your studies, but complain pointedly about your inattention, distraction and failure to focus on the issues at hand."

"I'm sorry, father."

"Is there a problem with school? Is there anything I should know about?"

"No, father."

"In that case you will cease to draw, sketch, model or daydream about aeroplanes and flying. You are almost twelve. You have a responsibility to prepare for the future for which you, like myself, and your grandmother before you, were destined. You are not Douglas Bader or Guy Gibson. You cannot be. Not now, not ever. So let us make an end of it, as of this moment."

"But father, Guy Gi—"

The older man shook his head. "It's no good, Rupert. Shortly you must go away to boarding school and I have to know that you are going to give only your very best. I must have your word... "

"B-boarding school?" Buffy heard the boy say, feeling tears desperately converging in his throat, his eyes, yet amazingly, not falling.

The man nodded his head, his hairline remarkably like Giles', except that his hair was brown and his eyes were blue, and filled with black flecks. They were also hard as sapphires as they regarded her.

"You are about to turn twelve, are you not? I told you when we had our man-to-man talk on your tenth birthday, that the day would come when you would take on board not only your regular schoolwork, but also a new and exciting curriculum to help you prepare for the day you embark on your Watcher training."

"But I want to go to school with my mates. We're going to play rugger together and get selected for the Lions one day. Andy Mainwaring says our school has produced five test players and—"

"I don't give a tinker's damn about football!" the older Giles roared. "Attend, Rupert. You are not like those other boys. You are not one of them. You will never be one of them. The sooner you understand that the better. Your destiny makes you special. Never forget that... and never forget that nothing else matters except that destiny."

Buffy felt his lip quiver and a shiver go down his spine but still no tears fell.

"Yes, father," the small voice said solemnly and slid out of the chair. "May I go? Mother wants me to read my history assignment to her."

"Yes, go. Your mother cossets you too much. Boarding school will be the making of you, boy."

"Yes, father," he whispered, and fled the room... for Buffy to find herself sitting at a hard wooden desk in a classroom full of impeccably uniformed, pubescent boys.

Before she could even begin to work out what the class was for, a bell sounded somewhere. The aged male teacher instructed the class to rise.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen."

"Good afternoon, Mister Jamison," they chanted back without interest.

She found herself filing out, single file, as each row systematically followed the last.

Reality shifted again.

She blinked in the sunlight. Somehow she was lying on the ground. Her mouth hurt, and her knee was stinging. Several larger boys were looking down at her.

"It's true. I have to go! Being a Watcher is terribly important. One day I shall probably help save the world, you'll see!"

Buffy almost giggled, though no sound came from her lips.

"You're such a liar, Giles."

"Go and join the girls' tennis team if you're not man enough for Rugger."

The other boys walked away, leaving one tow-headed boy staring down at him.

"Andy? You believe me, don't you? It's true. My father is making me go."

"I thought we were best friends. I thought we swore."

"We are," Rupert protested miserably.

But Buffy watched the other boy's face harden, his eyes bright with disappointment and hurt.

"You're leaving," he said simply, and walked away.

The utter, wretched loneliness of the little boy lying in the schoolyard mourning the effective end of his childhood, almost broke Buffy's heart.

"Giles!"

Buffy jumped, adrenaline pumping at the volume and ferocity of the shout. She didn't know where she was. Again.

"Yes, sir?"

"You're wanted in the office."

Buffy felt the ripple of panic, the confusion because he hadn't done anything wrong.

"On my way," he said. Giles' voice had changed again, less childish, more adult.

He stopped at a display case, along a route that seemed all too familiar to the young man. She looked at his reflection as he stared at the Rugby trophy and shield.

A boy in the first bloom of manhood swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing as his so- familiar eyes now stared back at her. His hair was longer and had developed a curl. The attempt to keep it under control seemed to have been in vain. The childish face had lost its puppy fat and in its place were all planes and angles and the first hint of the man to come. The man Buffy knew.

The office was as intimidating as the walk up to it.

A long, thin man in a three piece suit more stuffy than anything Giles had ever worn stood behind a huge oak desk, his hands behind his back.

"Mister Giles, please sit down."

He sat without a word.

"I'm sorry to say there has been some bad news, Rupert."

Buffy felt Rupert's blood go cold. Calling one by their given name here was a familiarity so rare that the news could only be of the most horrible kind.

"Sir?"

"I... I'm afraid it's your mother, Giles. Heart, they said. I believe your father is not contactable at this juncture. We will, of course, do everything we can, but until your father can be contacted for permission, nothing can be done about getting you home."

For several long moments there was no Buffy. For several more she thought he was going to be violently ill. But there was only pain, shock, grief, the distant sound of the other man's voice quietly recounting the circumstances of Catherine Giles' passing and the preliminary arrangements they had made in the hope that his father would surface from whatever council business had taken him away.

"... It is to be hoped that you will be able to attend the funeral... " The voice suddenly seemed much louder.

"Hoped?" Giles repeated in the boy's pleasant timbre, coloured this time by grief and leashed rage. "There is no question, sir. Regardless of what my father does or does not choose to do, I shall be at my mother's funeral."

The older man looked away. His instinct had been to put the young whelp in his place, but in the circumstances and knowing how rarely this particular boy had been visited, or travelled home, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Particularly not when the depth of the boy's pain glistened with such crystal clarity in his wide, expressive eyes.

"We will do everything we can to contact your father. Your Housemaster will keep you informed. You may go, Giles," he said quietly.

As he wheeled, seething with anger and aching with grief, Buffy wondered why Giles had never mentioned his mother. He had loved her so much, and yet not one word had he ever spoken about her...

He strode through the door and reality changed again.

The sun was shining brilliantly and a half-rainbow was showing in front of a bank of clouds. Light drizzle continued to fall in direct contradiction to the bright sunshine as the minister's voice continued the relentless service.

Rupert stood apart from the rest of the funeral party. His suit was uncomfortable and his shoes new and tight, but it was the pain in his heart, the rock in his stomach that shook her to her core. A zephyr blew up, and she felt the wetness of the tears on his face as the white coffin was lowered. A wave of grief crashed over him.

She sobbed, not only for his pain, but for the loneliness... the terrible, terrible loneliness of the boy Giles.

The service concluded and the mourners began to move away, only a small knot of, presumably, family members, huddling closer. Twice the tall figure of his father looked her way, but did not leave the group.

Buffy willed him to come to his son, to do something for the boy she wished she could put her arms around and just hold. When it didn't happen, she felt Rupert walk forward, but reality changed again.

Music assaulted her senses. Heavy metal, only marginally less bludgeoning than the pall of pungent fumes, marijuana, incense, burned sage, sweat, vomit, the musk of sex in the air and the reek of alcohol...

She looked around: empty beer bottles, several half-empty vodka bottles, women's clothes, discarded food, shoes... and people in various states of inebriation, most more or less sitting in a marked out circle.

She drew a sharp breath when she recognised the slim, tender faced youth opposite her. She had always believed that Ethan had been spawned, not born. It was almost impossible to accept that this boy would become the shell of a man, she knew.

Without thinking, she acted on an impulse to speak to him, but the only voice she heard was the familiar tones of Giles' speaking voice, lighter, younger, reading a spell, not in that rough street accent she disliked so much, but just as he might have last week in his apartment, or three years ago to save her life.

The others joined in.

Buffy knew a moment of panic. She didn't want to know what it was like to channel Eyghon, didn't want to know how debauched Giles had been capable of being... but the spell went on regardless, in the youthful version of the rich, deep voice she knew.

Strangely, Ethan, alone, seemed to go into some kind of catatonic state, his eyes closed, his body incredibly still despite the fact that he was still sitting up.

It was not Giles who was possessed. It was Ethan, slowly consumed by an evil that was now palpable, throbbing and pulsating in rhythm with the relentless music. Buffy felt the young Ripper's arousal as the possessed Ethan selected a willing, stoned young woman and proceeded to take her in front of the entire room. The music seemed to get louder as the pair reached their climax.

The moment they did, however, it was over.

Buffy's eyes flicked around the room as the slender Rayne's pale body collapsed on his partner.

Another of the group was sitting in the same meditative posture, still, and beyond the rest of the room. She gasped with shock when his head snapped back with enough violence to break his neck, then it righted itself. The normally powder-blue eyes snapped open, the burning blood red gaze almost too difficult to hold for any length of time.

"God, yes!" he cried, exulted, energy coursing through his entire body.

Again Buffy felt the rush through Ripper's body, the excitement, as the younger man experienced his first possession. Everyone in the room was ecstatic, yelling encouragement and accelerating to their own highs. The possessed boy got up to stagger towards a willowy girl draped over a cushion, dressed in little more than baby-doll pyjamas.

The cheers got louder... until they realised that he was morphing with each step.

For the first time the older members of the group saw the real face of what they'd been playing with, saw the reality of their dangerous game.

"Randall!" Buffy heard Giles cry in a terrified voice, perhaps the only one who knew the seriousness of what was happening. "Fight, Randall! Don't let him take you!"

The others were immediately silenced, watching in fascinated horror as their friend struggled to reassert control of the entity he had invited into his body.

"Ripper... ! Giles, do something!" Ethan called as Buffy scrambled to her feet, finding herself racing for a small pile of books next to a sleeping bag in one corner of the room.

The search was frantic... page after page of information in languages she didn't understand or in terms for which she had no reference or understanding. She could feel Giles' heart pounding in his chest, the adrenaline seizing his entire body with both panic and the desire to run and run, but he fought it and kept at the books as Ethan arrived.

"It's got him. It's not Randall any more. What happened? Why couldn't he do it the same as the rest of us?"

"I don't know," Giles breathed, his voice very young, very distressed. "Let me look."

"We don't have time!" Ethan cried as Randall/Eyghon moved towards the slender girl, now scrambling, terrified, across the floor to escape him. Phillip leaped to her defence.

"Go to Rupert, Deirdre! Go now!" he cried, grappling with the grotesque demon. Ethan joined him and they fought together, alternately gaining and losing holds on it before it threw them both off.

"Here!" Ripper cried and began chanting the spell he was sure would drive the demon back to its own dimension. He roared the words over and over, making Randall entity stagger and scream with rage. Over and over, with more and more vehemence he chanted, until Buffy felt hoarse and exhausted by the desperation and intensity of Ripper's spell.

Finally, Randall collapsed in a heap and everyone clustered around him, until Ripper got there and they parted just as quickly to allow him access.

The demon flesh morphed swiftly back to pink human tissue, leaving Randall sprawled on the floor, his beautiful blue eyes fixed and staring.

"Oh God, oh God!" Giles cried, falling to his knees. "Randall!" He felt frantically for a pulse, anything. When he found none, he pulled the body into a position for CPR and started to work on it frantically. For several long minutes the others watched in macabre fascination, until, finally, Ethan tried to pull him away.

"No!" he screamed, ripping his arm out of Ethan's grasp, and resuming his rhythm of breaths and pumping. "He's got to come back! He was fine. His heart has stopped. We have to get it going again! Help me, you bastard! Help me!"

For another ten minutes both men worked on Randall, until Ethan sat back on his heels and shook his head.

"Ripper... Rupert! Enough. Let the poor bastard lie. He's not coming back."

Buffy felt the guilt, the rage, the fear, as Giles sobbed and lashed out. "We killed him! I killed him!" he screamed then dropped back to sit on his calves, weeping in great heaving sobs. "I killed him," he cried. "I killed him!"

The words faded and Buffy opened her eyes. And immediately recognised the man sitting opposite her.

Travers.

"I'm going where?"

"Los Angeles. Someone has to take over Merrick's Slayer. The Council has come to the conclusion that this is a unique situation requiring a unique solution."

"You mean you have an untrained, unwilling, headache rather than a useful Slayer and the only fool you are willing to send to baby-sit her until she gets her fool neck broken is me. You don't expect her to survive and it would suit you perfectly to see me fail again. The ideal opportunity to rid yourself of me and what I represent, once and for all."

Buffy fumed as the discussion continued.

Travers smiled obsequiously. "No other Watcher would be so unenthused about being given an active Slayer. You've been demanding an opportunity since you were moved to Wet Works after Thomas died. Now you have it. It isn't as though you were worth a damn in Wet Works anyway."

Giles looked away. Buffy felt the combination of shame, guilt and indignation. Giles had been shafted. The mention of "Thomas" had been painful, but only in passing, though she was aware of a dull ache under his sternum as Giles argued back angrily. She wondered who he was.

"I never wanted fucking Wet Works! I was trained to be a Watcher. No graduate has achieved higher results in the last 63 years," he snarled. "The only reason you sent me to Wet Works is because you hated my father and you knew what he wanted more than anything else, was for me to carry on the family tradition and train an active Slayer."

Thomas, Buffy realised, feeling Giles' chest tighten at the mention of his father.

"For someone who hated their job, you were incredibly good at it."

"You just said I wasn't worth a damn," Giles pointed out angrily.

"You weren't worth a damn when it came to following orders, but I never saw anyone more coldly efficient at doing what had to be done when you were forced to it. Your problem was how often you wouldn't do it. There is something incredibly tacky about an assassin weeping for his victim," Travers finished nastily.

Buffy looked away, seething with the same rage as Giles was, feeling the same humiliation mixed with the same sense of achievement as she realised just how many innocent, of the Council's intended victims, he'd actually saved instead of killed.

"If you feel that way, you do this Slayer a disservice she doesn't deserve, to send me to her. You've written her off already," he said pointedly.

Travers shrugged. "Sometimes we just have to face reality. We always knew an American Slayer was going to be a difficult proposition... not only a colonial, but an untrained, undisciplined one into the bargain. We sent the best we had... Merrick... and you saw what that cost us. You will go to Los Angeles and you will train this Slayer... or you will go to Los Angeles and you will dispose of this problem. It's your choice... either Watcher or assassin. Those are your options."

Buffy tried to open her mouth to abuse the older man and found herself in the school library. Reality had flipped out again.

She frowned, a rush of feelings of her own washing over and colliding head on with those of Giles, himself. Nostalgia, emotion, excitement at seeing the old place again when she never believed she would, was tempered by the knowledge that it was nothing but memories.

It didn't lessen the pleasure as Giles moved to continue his research. Buffy finally focused on the book in her hands. A tremor went down her spine, or perhaps his.

The Codex.

The book Angel had provided so long ago. The one with the bullet-proof prophecies; the one that had foretold her death. He was translating swiftly, reading passages, frantically trying to put a number of things together, when he found it.

She felt her blood run cold, felt his stunned shock at the implication of the prophecy; his pain at the realisation of what he was required to do. He slumped into a chair, barely able to face the knowledge that he was expected to send an innocent girl to her death.

It rocked Buffy to feel the intensity of his hurt, even then. At the time she'd thought him hard, rigid, bound by council rules, not wracked by the shocking guilt now holding him in silent misery.

She blinked, things shifted, and there was Angel.

The vampire was talking quietly about the prophecy. Giles was on edge, still miserable, but with a jumble of new emotions to pound at Buffy's temples. It took a little time, but eventually Buffy realised that there was a natural antipathy between the Watcher and the Vampire, even then, an undefined tension that was making Giles' gut feel like a clenched fist. She frowned inwardly.

They looked up suddenly at the sound of a woman's laugh, a slightly hysterical laugh.

Buffy was stunned. It was her... sixteen-year-old Buffy hovering just this side of hysteria.

The reaction from Giles was immediate. She felt his overwhelming surge of protectiveness, his need to shield and to comfort, and she felt his desolation at having neither the right nor the mandate to do either.

His feelings about the Council's hold on him, and the requirement that he send an innocent to her death in the name of Prophecy, bordered on homicidal. For the first time Buffy understood just how much it had cost him to bow to family tradition and become a Watcher.

He stepped forward. He wanted to tell her, to go to her, to make her understand that he couldn't change the existence of the prophecy, or the destiny of the slayer... but that if there was a way, he would gladly give his life for hers to make it so.

The younger Buffy was jeering about the Slayer, about one dying and the next one being called.

Buffy's first thought was: 'drama queen, much' but her flippancy was overridden by Giles' reaction to Angel trying to hold and comfort her.

The jag of hostility, resentment... even jealously... was unmistakable.

She was still trying to make sense of that when the girl she was, demanded to know when he was going to tell her about the prophecy. Renewed pain washed over him.

"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to... that there was...some way around it. I..."

Buffy almost laughed when she heard herself quitting. Would have, if she hadn't wanted so badly to cry, and if she'd actually been in her own body...

How many times in the last few years had she wanted to do the exact same thing?

Then her attention was diverted by Giles' reaction. Through the pain there was something else... overwhelming relief. He was shocked, yes, that she would choose to walk away when so much was at stake, but, Buffy realised, close to weeping, the single most important thing to him at that moment was that she had given him a way out for her.

She was shamed, deeply and to her soul, to realise how much Giles had loved her, even then. She remembered the intensity of her resentment, even hatred, of the man at that moment, and knew what a fool she had been; knew even more when her child self grew even more histrionic and Giles had to duck a flying book as he tried to explain about the signs, about there not being a real choice.

The young Buffy was like a wounded, terrified creature trapped in a corner, with no way out.

Buffy felt Giles' heart go out to her, the almost suffocating need to go to her, to comfort her, his Herculean effort to control it, and his disappointment and sadness at her belief that he was cold enough to calmly send her to her death without feeling anything.

Then Angel was speaking to the girl and she was reiterating her decision to quit. Giles offered a few words about the Master, but the young Buffy simply cast her crucifix on the floor and walked out.

When she was gone, Giles turned slowly to face the vampire, their eyes meeting only briefly, connected by their mutual concern for her, before he stepped across to scoop up the necklace and she found herself wheeling and striding back to the library office.

Giles sat down hard in his chair, the crucifix clutched in a clenched fist, numb with hollow despair.

"Oh, Buffy... " he whispered tremulously.

And reality changed again.

She was walking up to the door of his apartment. He was zinging with anticipation, excitement, happiness, despite his sedate exterior.

*Yay!* Buffy thought wryly,*finally, a happy for the poor guy. Enough already with the heartache... !*

Then she saw it.

Giles' pulse rate accelerated and she could feel a hot flush of arousal, even a giddy sense of anticipation that she never would have guessed Giles to be capable of...

Except...

There was that.

Giles sniffed the red rose and slid it out of the knocker.

The scent got into Buffy's nostrils, as they went into the flat to find roses everywhere and champagne chilling in a bucket as Puccini's "La Boheme" filled the room.

She did everything she could to will him a warning, to turn him around, to stop the inevitable from happening, but he simply continued to smile, to become even more aroused, to radiate happiness as he picked up the sheet of paper on his desk.

Buffy choked when she saw the handwriting and the word: *upstairs.* She wanted out, and she wanted it right then. She called to Willow but there was no answer, nothing.

Giles picked up the wine and started up the stairs, Buffy's misery making a stark contrast to the vibrancy of his joy as he climbed and the music swelled.

His hopes and dreams flooded over Buffy. She had no idea just how much this woman had meant to him. For all her mistakes, Giles had obviously loved Jenny terribly, and, Buffy could now feel, had harboured silent hopes, even before Eyghon's return, that she would one day be his... that perhaps, finally, he would no longer be alone.

She redoubled her efforts to try and make him turn around, to not...

The bottle crashed to the floor and Buffy struggled to breathe.

The jag of shock, horror, pain and incredulity from him crashed over her, slicing through the simmering heat of his desire and the bright, but tragically brief, aura of real joy, to leave nothing...

Hollow, empty, sickening...

Nothing.

It took him several minutes to move from the spot, to walk forward and touch the pale cheek with the trembling backs of his fingers, the small choking noise as he closed her eyes, expressing more grief than the loudest wail.

Buffy's heart wept for him as he made himself back away, turn and go downstairs. He stopped at the bottom and she held her breath. Giles had never spoken of this time and she had never asked. She didn't know what he would do next.

Suddenly he was moving again, ripping the record from the turntable and hurling it across the room, the vinyl bouncing off the wall and landing on the chess table, leaving stark silence to settle over them.

God, Giles, she thought sadly as he staggered back to the table and the telephone. He dialled, and reality changed again...

Buffy would have held her head, if she'd had the wherewithal to do so, overwhelmed by this journey into the depths of Giles' thoughts and memories. Nobody had told her that it would be like this...

She had imagined some kind of surreal vista with physical representations of both of them, a tangible Giles for her to play hide and seek with until he was ready to come back. Instead she was spinning from an all-too-real roller coaster ride the like of which no one should ever have had to witness, let alone experience...

Over the sound of her own thoughts came Willow's voice. She was dismissing a Sunnydale High class...computers by the look of it.

By the time Buffy had focused, the class was gone and Giles was talking to her. It almost made her want to smile. Willow was so cute as a kid... adorable, even. She did half-smile to herself then, until the conversation turned to Jenny Calendar.

Giles' heart suddenly went from warm affection for the redhead, to a walnut-sized ball of pain again.

Buffy's breath caught in her throat when Willow produced a cord necklace with a single pink stone in it, and handed it to him. The memory of him turning it over and over in his ravaged fingers blurred with the elegant, smooth fingers taking it so easily from Willow's hand.

If she could have closed her eyes, she would have. A lot of things were beginning to make sense now...

She breathed hard and looked around. Being Giles, yet not, was getting way too confusing, she decided, realising that it was he who was breathing hard, not her. She ached for him, but it was he who was in physical distress at that moment.

She felt the pain in his head, the fear he was controlling and the intense stress levels as he looked up at the vampire standing over him.

Angelus seemed almost gleeful about the prospect of torturing him.

Buffy shivered mentally. She hated that voice and everything it touched in her, everything it echoed from her past.

"Why are you doing this to me!" she screamed.

But no one answered. No one could hear her. She was a mute passenger on a tour of Giles' life and she didn't know how to get off.

And she wanted desperately to get off. She didn't want to see what Angelus was capable of doing, didn't want to be in this terrible room for even one more moment. The mixture of Giles' physical distress and silent fear, and the pain of her own memories, made her desperate to escape.

Giles had staggered to his feet and was watching Angelus prattle about Acathla. Buffy's overwhelming desire was to kick the crap out of the bastard, even while beset by memories of what she had done to him, but Giles was maintaining his dignity, and waiting for his head to clear.

Buffy could feel his contempt. She blinked, and time shifted.

And all she could feel was pain. On and on it went, until she was exhausted, both from the agony, and the sound of his silent screams... until all that was left was their sobbing.

Angelus stood over his work, grinning.

Giles lifted his head, bloodshot green eyes staring with utter hatred at his tormentor.

"You cannot have me and you cannot... have... her," he spat.

Angelus smirked. "Wrong on both counts. I've had her, and I've got you. Wanna play some more? You've still got two good fingers left on that hand and they make such a cool noise when they break." His expression turned sour as he picked up Giles' left hand. "Pity you don't make a cool noise. You know, torturing someone is hardly any fun when they don't make a noise."

A part of Buffy screamed for him, as Giles' index finger snapped like a twig and the agony shot through her body. But the Watcher made not a sound other than the tortured, gasping breath that followed the break.

Angelus turned, strode away, wheeled, came back. "What's it going to take to get some entertainment outta you, old man? Maybe I should send a message to Buffy to come get her old man before I kill him. Might be more fun to play with the little Slayer after all. Wanna watch?"

Giles was trembling with shock and pain from the latest break. He made an effort to lift his head and spit at the vampire.

When the spittle hit Angelus' shirt and dribbled down it, the vampire lost it for a moment and punched the Watcher in the mouth so hard he fell backwards. Then he knelt alongside him, pulled open his shirt and used one panel of it too wipe the saliva from his own.

Giles was too consumed with the pain still echoing through him from the jarring of his mangled hand, to object.

In that moment Buffy wanted to die... almost as much as she wanted to stake Angelus.

Angelus inclined his head and a couple of minions dragged Giles back onto the chair he'd been knocked off.

Buffy felt him silently screaming in pain from their manhandling, but he still refused to make a sound.

"Are you still playing with that wanker?" Spike rolled his chair into the room. "You're supposed to be interrogating the bugger, not crocheting his fingers."

"Piss off, Sit'n'spin. This is my game. Was a time when you were as good at this as me. Drusilla snatch that pair of yours when you weren't looking, did she? Or did the Slayer get them when she dropped that wall on you?"

Spike's nostrils flared angrily. "All I'm saying is the bloody world is never going to end if you keep fart-arsing around with book-boy there."

"He won't talk," Angelus said sulkily. "He won't even groan for me. Not even a real whimper." He backhanded Giles across the mouth. "Isn't that right?"

Giles' eyes rolled up to stare with hatred at his enemy, but he said nothing.

Spike looked from one to the other, aware suddenly that there was a great deal more going on here than psycho-boy was ever going to realise.

"Fine," he said. "Just make sure there's enough left to do the talking when you're done. I'm not hanging around here just to watch you picking up bits of Watcher and snivelling about not being able to open the portal, and neither is Dru."

Buffy, trying to deal with Giles' pain, struggled to make sense of what Spike was doing. The Spike she knew should have been gleefully helping Angelus, not reasoning with him.

"I told you to piss off."

Spike's expression was contemptuous. "Fine. Do what you like. I'm going out. I've had enough of this whole bloody thing. Make him talk, don't make him talk... but do it without me."

Buffy watched the chair roll out, her stomach doing flip-flops. Somehow, she knew Spike was going to find her.

Suddenly she was aware of a despairing wave of sadness from Giles. Angelus was still looking at the doorway and didn't see the abject misery that passed across the Watcher's battered face as he watched the fair vampire exit.

Giles was thinking about her, wondering where she was, if she was safe. He had been so sure she would come for him, so certain... He let no tears fall for Angelus to see, but Buffy was not protected from the silent weeping of his heart.

Frustrated and annoyed, the vampire turned and scowled at his prisoner. "I need tools," he muttered and glared at a minion who scampered off to find them.

"No!" Buffy cried into the void of her nether existence, between worlds, frustrated beyond measure that she could not stop it. She had seen those tools. She never wanted to see them again.

When the minion returned it was with a tray almost exactly the same as the one Faith had intended to use on her. She shivered again, watching through Giles' red-rimmed eyes as Angelus gleefully picked through until he'd found what he wanted.

Buffy felt Giles' terror when he saw it, but again he made no sound, nor did he flinch as the vampire brought it to his cheek and traced his bony jaw with it.

"Isn't this the coolest?" he asked. "Multi-purpose tool. What shall I do with it? Pop an eye... that can be entertaining... if messy... " He looked at the long, needle-like shaft. "I know! How do you feel about body piercing? Eyebrow... no, nose... no, bottom lip," he prattled gleefully. "Navel? Or maybe you have a preference for something a bit more exotic?" he suggested, trailing the point down Giles' chest to his crotch.

Giles spat again, hard, and turned away.

Enraged, Angelus lashed out, driving the stiletto-like blade deep into his left shoulder blade, making Giles' jaw open so far it was almost overextended in a silent scream of agony.

Buffy, reeling from the pain, marvelled at the strength of will that saw the Watcher maintain his silence, despite his treatment, and redouble that effort when Angelus spitefully pulled the weapon back out without even blinking.

"Tell me what I have to do, old man, before I perforate something that can't be fixed!" he snarled and laid the bloody tip against Giles' lower right eyelid. Buffy could feel the discomfort from the pressing point.

Giles finally spoke. "You... y-you must get yourself another of these... and... and... "

"And?" Angelus demanded.

"And knit yourself a sack for your dust, you prat!" he hissed and tensed for the loss of his eye.

Angelus was incensed, leaping up and throwing his head back, letting out a bellow of rage.

Buffy figuratively exhaled, almost paralysed with fear at the prospect of what that stiletto might have done... then she realised it was Giles' fear. She already knew from history itself that Giles' eyes wouldn't be touched.

When the vampire swung back again it was to beat on the helpless Watcher in a frenzy of enraged blows, Buffy learning for the first time what it was like to be on the fighting end of one of her own attacks. In his haste to protect himself from the rib splintering-blows, Giles used his bad hand to shield himself and almost cried out in mindless agony when Angelus struck it hard.

The red flush of Giles' face, the blood vessels standing out in his temples and the saliva running from the corners of his mouth told Angel all he need to know. He grinned sadistically.

"Now there's a game we can play," he cackled gleefully and took hold of the broken hand.

Buffy felt the vampire's cold fingers close around one of Giles' broken ones, almost passing out as Angelus twisted it bone-crunchingly and waited for his toy to cry out in agony.

Giles' body jolted and his head flew back, his mouth again open in silent pain, but he did not cry out.

"Another?" Angelus asked and twisted it back the other way.

Waves and waves of nausea and sickening pain hit Buffy in an endless barrage as Giles retched and heaved and turned his head enough to vomit on the floor.

Irritated, Angelus motioned impatiently to a minion to clean up.

"How do I activate Acathla?" he demanded, grabbing another finger and bending it backwards until it fractured a second time.

When he had recovered enough to remember his name, Giles stared the vampire in the eye, his eyes bulging, his nose and mouth running and his face almost beet-red with strain.

"Say 'pretty please' he hissed and looked away, still retching.

Buffy begged whatever mechanism, whatever powers were doing this, to move them on, to blink time again, anything to stop Giles' agony... but to no avail.

The torture continued relentlessly for hours, Buffy helpless to do anything but suffer with him, until Angelus bade a minion hand him the shirt he'd removed. He slid it over the bloodied arms and back of his victim and did it up in a parody of motherly solicitousness, as though dressing a child.

"There ya go, Rupert, love. All dressed. God forbid anyone see that you're a human being under all that tweed... outta shape, but all human. Don't you English guys ever even think about taking care of yourselves? You've got potential there, but it's wasted... well, I mean it's wasted, anyway, because I kinda spoiled your fun there a bit, a while back," he said immodestly, grinning like a naughty child. "Thing is you can't expect any woman to look at you if you don't take care of yourself... I mean you never did get to make time with the gypsy, huh? Oh, right, I forgot. You don't have to worry about women looking at you. Your job is to be alone, isn't it Rupert?" he smirked. "You're just her Watcher... her little Alfred... " The smirk widened. "Her whipping boy. Pity she's too busy to care if you're alive or dead, huh?"

Buffy felt Giles close his eyes as outrage, humiliation, grief, radiated out from him. His whole body trembled and a single sob issued from him, before he gathered himself and stiffened against the small breakdown.

"Poor Rupert," Angelus crooned and picked up the broken hand.

Buffy, shaking, thought an obscenity, and time shifted.

Her first thought was 'eiewww' as someone pulled away from a kiss. Her next was that he was still in incredible pain, but that an inexplicable joy was washing over him, one so powerful and so ecstatic that it made her feel like her eyes were pricking with tears. And then she realised why.

He had never told them. Never said a word.

"Jenny... ?"

Buffy watched in transfixed horror as he looked at the woman he loved with such joy that, for just a moment, the pain he was in faded to nothingness. This was impossible. Buffy knew it was, but Giles' whole body had bought the illusion without question.

Again, she tried to reach him, call out to his subconscious, anything, to stop it all happening again, to not have to know what she had left him to all that time. She squidged as the apparition of Jenny worked on him for information, and strained to block out both his response and the joy ringing in him at seeing the other woman again.

Then Spike spoke and Jenny lifted her head... only it wasn't Jenny.

Buffy was disgusted, but it was overridden by the power of Giles' horror hitting her in the stomach. If it was possible, his heartbreak in that single moment was more horrible even than the tragic, Puccini-drenched time when all his dreams had ended.

Buffy wanted him out of there. Wanted them both out of his head. She wanted them both back, where she could take care of him, tell him... tell him what... ?

Except that no matter what she did, Willow seemed to be inaccessible. She wondered fleetingly if she was going to be stuck there forever. Was this actually the darkness to which Edof had referred? Buffy shuddered at the thought as Drusilla spoke and time shifted yet again.

"Where have you been?"

God, Buffy thought. Xander looks so young. They all do.

Giles put down his overnight bag and sighed mentally. "St Louis. No luck, I'm afraid."

Willow slumped. Cordelia rolled her eyes and picked up the magazine she'd been reading, again.

Xander frowned. "That's three plane tickets in the last two weeks, big G. You think maybe it might be better to wait until she—?"

Buffy felt the anger, resentment and self-consciousness in Giles as he spoke. "It was a good lead. It just happened that whilst there were plenty of vampires, there was no... no Slayer."

"Giles, she'll come back. You know she will."

He looked at Willow for a long moment then nodded slowly. "We must hope," he agreed, but Buffy could feel how lost he was, the despair percolating at the edge of his consciousness, in direct contrast to his carefully calm demeanour.

She'd always thought Xander's remonstrations about how hard Giles tried to find her, were about her being the Slayer and him obsessing about being responsible for her as her Watcher. And about the fact that Mister I'm-so-smart-Watcher-guy had lost his charge and had been driven to find her, to bring her back into line, probably including a lot of yelling, if he'd managed to find her.

Now, as Giles walked to his office and slumped in his chair, letting himself be engulfed by its soothing familiarity, she realised how wrong she'd been

... And found herself outside his apartment again.

He opened the door and let himself in, dropped the grip just inside the door and locked it solidly.

Buffy frowned mentally. Giles and locks were un-mixy things, but he'd done that like one of those sort of people who get robbed or mugged and live with twelve locks on their doors, always terrified of being...

Oh, God, she thought, miserably. Oh, God...

He crossed the room slowly, Buffy realising for the first time that, as small as his apartment was, it seemed huge with just him in it, and silent, as he padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on. For the first time, she imagined almost five years of living like this, or perhaps even a lifetime, of coming home to silence and emptiness, with only the sound of your own thoughts for company, no matter how wretched they might be.

At that moment she realised he had just arrived home from yet another trip. He was thinking about where he'd been, what a failure it was, and he was hurting, but in an 'if I think about making tea instead I shall be perfectly fine,' Giles sort of way.

Something was very wrong. He was sort of stiff and rigid, and really into the 'pretending it was all irrelevant and being incredibly British', even though he was all alone, with no one to see...

She waited as he brought the cup of tea into the sitting room and sat down on the couch, put it down on the table, and sat back.

Then he dragged a hand over his tired face. At that point, Buffy realised that he had started to heal from his ordeal. There were no dressings on the hand, but it was painfully obvious that the still-ugly fingers were stiff, sore and still giving him trouble.

She was shaken to find that she wanted to warm them, kiss them, and tell him how sorry she was, but the hand dropped to his side as he tried to focus on the tea again, his mind replaying the events of the day.

She drew a sharp breath when she realised he'd been to her house, seen her mother, that this was what he was trying not to think about, despite an ache in his soul that Buffy could feel reverberating down to her bones.

Deliberately and purposefully he picked up the tea and started to sip it as the exchange replayed itself in his mind.

At first Buffy was glad to see her mother's face, to see something reassuring after being lost for so long in the seemingly endless montage of Giles' memories.

She felt how much Giles wanted to help, how much he wanted to try and alleviate the other woman's pain. And how incredibly disappointed and harsh he was on himself for not having anything to tell her. She felt a swell of love and pride and gratitude as he broke character completely to try and reach out in his own way to comfort her mom.

The other woman's voice reverberated around the room.

"I don't blame myself. I blame you... "

Buffy didn't know which of them felt more punched in the stomach as they both reeled back, emotionally.

She knew what it had cost him to reach out like that, and she could feel the lacerations her mother's words had left as the images faded until all that was left was the ghost of her own face and the spectre of his regret.

Moved, she fought the urge to burst into tears, then realised with shock that it wasn't just her.

Giles had picked up his teacup again, and was mechanically sipping at it, but he was not all right.

She had not come home. He hadn't been able to find her... even Joyce Summers had confirmed his failure.

Buffy heard one single, lonely, despondent thought follow the others.

Why... ?

The teacup clunked on the table and his head dropped, his shoulders beginning to shake, overwhelming Buffy with his sudden, suffocating despair. Somewhere, somehow she choked and burst into silent tears.

"... You should have told me he was alive. You didn't. You have no respect for me or for the job I perform... "

Buffy jumped and shook her head. The sudden changes were beginning to give her an angry headache to go with the now constant pain in her heart.

Giles was staring at her younger self again. He was trembling with cold rage and intense hurt as he turned silently back to sit down in his office chair.

Again she had the sense of a ball of tears in her throat, only this time they were hers, not his.

Why couldn't she have understood? Why did she always have to be so blind? Her Angel-obsessed, high school self was standing there in shock. She could remember that day as clearly as if it was yesterday. All she had been able to think of at the time was what she'd been through, how much she loved the vampire and how hard it had been for her... and on top of it, how unfair it was to have Giles mad at her, too...

Mad at her... God, she'd been so stupid, she thought angrily, remembering her own words: "I'm gonna try and kill this Lagos guy. Peace offering to Giles... " Peace offering! She thought, filled with self-loathing.

She could feel the longing in him for her to show some sign, some... any... recognition of what it had cost him to stand by her in her relationship with Angel; what it was costing him to not go straight out with Xander and stake the bastard then and there.

Oh, Giles...

Music crashed into her thoughts and she realised they'd skipped again. The place was familiar, if loud, the lights bright and the crowd...

Giles was agitated, staring toward the entrance, worried, but for once, Buffy sighed with relief... no real badness was happening.

Suddenly she knew what this was.

Prom night.

Giles again turned to the door and Buffy was deluged with his concern... jags of apprehension interlaced with his commonsense telling him not to be silly.

She wanted to chuckle, but there was something about his edginess, a quality she couldn't quite grasp, until he saw her.

Buffy held her breath as her younger self came into the room and paused to find him in the crowd.

Delight was spreading through him, and relief so exquisite it made her tingle... as though a great load had been lifted. His smile widened to match hers and he nodded just slightly, no sign of the disappointment that lanced through him when she turned to look for the others, showing on his face. He turned away and the room shifted.

A familiar song was playing. Shivers went up Buffy's spine, wherever that particular organ was located currently.

That song.

Giles was moving through the crowd, fast. There was a level of contentment, overlayed by concern for her, especially now, when he knew she would be feeling it most, and over that, anticipation, almost excitement.

The conversation went as she remembered it, but emotionally Giles was all over the place, nothing like the relaxed, placid Watcher she remembered from that night.

He was about ready to burst with anticipation and more than a little apprehension. She could feel him about to ask her other self something and wondered what the hell it could be.

Then he looked up and Angel was there. First there was a moment of real fear, then a jag of revulsion quickly suppressed, and finally, and most confusingly, crashing, painful disappointment, as he turned his charge to see her surprise.

Standing alone in the crowd, he watched them, only his eyes betraying the sadness Buffy could feel in his heart as he watched the two former lovers dance.

For a brief moment Buffy was entranced by the illusion. They looked so perfect together ... in fact, exactly as they did in all her young dreams... the ones where they would have been together forever...

Then Angel turned slowly and his contented face came into full view.

Even before she felt Giles' poignantly reflexive flinch at the sight of that dark visage, anger flooded into her own heart. Anger at what she had caused, what the vampire had done to him, and worst of all, what no one, least of all her, had done for him since...

As he watched them, touching Buffy with his genuine pleasure in the knowledge that she was, for at least that little time, happy, she began to understand how truly alone he was.

After a beat, he finally let himself think about what he'd just been going to ask her...and the tender image of his intentions caught Buffy by the throat, just as time winked again.

She swore. She hadn't wanted to tear herself from that sweet image in Giles' mind. For one brief, shining moment, even if only in his imagination, everything had been all right.

She didn't want to do this any more.

"Giles!" she cried, "Giles, where are you?"

But all she could see was a room full of college students. Giles was talking about his school days. Buffy snorted in irritation when Anya cut him off, then smiled inwardly when Xander gave her a lesson in manners, which the guileless ex-demon promptly spoiled.

Giles' silent amusement, when he dismissed them, was mixed with irritation and vague unhappiness.

For a long while he remained alone, watching with varying degrees of boredom, self-consciousness and discomfort, the various goings on in the room: Kel Bennett kissing Neely Lehmann; Xander and Anya pretending they weren't making out in a quiet corner; Willow circumnavigating the room and making sure everyone else was having a good time; the fact that the ceiling was full of cracks and needed filling and painting...

Mostly, though, despite his discomfort, he was just content that she was, for a little while at least, safe, and that her birthday seemed not to be poised to explode in their faces, yet again.

Buffy watched her younger self, talking animatedly to a group from the Initiative, and felt a wave of shame.

Why did he always have to be so alone... ?

He remained alone for some time. Finally, Willow returned, just as Buffy was about to go nuts from sheer boredom, both his and hers, and growing irritation with her younger self.

Giles accepted a plate of cake awkwardly as Willow asked him if he was having a good time. Again, Buffy found herself doing the equivalent of looking away, embarrassed, despite Giles bravely continuing the conversation.

And lying through your teeth, she thought dryly as her birthday self approached with Riley.

Giles radiated pleasure at the site of her... and love, she realised. There was also, once again, a happy sense of anticipation.

"Hi, Giles."

"Buffy. Happy Birthday."

She felt the love swell in him as he balanced his plate and cup to let her hug him. She felt a new stab of shame that she didn't even remember doing it.

"Thank you."

Giles beamed. "Nineteen. It's hard to believe, isn't it?

He wanted so badly to say something. Buffy willed her other self to shut up and listen, fruitlessly, once again.

"There's somebody here I want you to meet. Uh, this is Riley Finn... my boyfriend."

The older man's spirits went through his shoes. As always, he showed nothing, save discomfort, at the turn of events but his distress, his loss, was palpable and painful.

It grew worse with Riley's clumsy gaffes. Nor did 'birthday' Buffy's attempt to guide the conversation, or her eventual effort to send the boy away, help at all.

Buffy listened to her own witless and ever increasingly painful blunders until she was ready to scream. Worse, Giles' hurt was washing over her, amid his disappointment and irritation, and the residual embarrassment. And at the mention of Maggie Walsh, and Buffy's artless mention of the woman's age: humiliation and withdrawal.

Riley returned with the cake, capping off the moment, and, Buffy noticed, eliciting not only flaring irritation, but a sharp spike of something else from Giles. She recognized it, because it almost exactly matched the Watcher's response to Angel on a number of occasions: jealousy and possessiveness... so well controlled no one would ever know.

As he watched her younger self wander off again with her beau, Giles' shoulders slumped and he sighed a long sigh. Finally, he got rid of the cake and slipped quietly away, unseen and unmarked... and, as always... solitary and alone.

Buffy blinked, her headache worsening as things went sideways again.

Giles was singing. She'd never heard him sing... except it was weird to be on the guitar-playing, singing side of the music for once. He was kind of down, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

She had the ability to do neither and made no bones about it. She liked his voice, and was just beginning to really enjoy the moment, soothed by the peace and pleasure he was increasingly feeling as he played, as much as he was, when Spike suddenly interrupted, frightening him out of six month's growth and not doing anything for her nerves either.

The vampire went straight to the kitchen, helping himself from the refrigerator.

"What do you want?" Giles demanded, irritated.

Buffy wondered what the hell was going on and would have rolled her eyes if she could have, when Spike put a bag of blood in the microwave.
"Buffy around?"

"Why?" Giles asked suspiciously.

"I need to speak to the lady of the house. Hey, be a pet and give her a message for me, would you? Tell her I just might have something she just might want."

Giles tensed at the words 'lady of the house', but Buffy could feel his anticipation of a possible lead.

"And what might that "something" be?"

"Information. Highly classified. Not cheap word-on-the-street prattle either. I'm talking about the good stuff now."

Giles was not impressed. He sat down on one of his stools and folded his arms.

"Thrill me."

Buffy snorted inwardly. Giles being stuffy to someone else was actually kinda fun.

"It's nothing I know. What, you think I'd come running over saying: "I've got a secret, beat me till I talk? There are files in the Initiative. I'm pretty sure I know where."

Giles straightened. "Files?"

Spike removed his blood from the microwave. "Yeah. Secrets. Mission statements. Design schematics. All of Maggie Walsh's dirty laundry, which I guess would include lots of tidbits about—"

Giles removed his glasses again. "Adam."

"Well, yeah. Say someone were to risk his life and limb --well, limb anyway-- to obtain said files. It might be worth a little something?"

Spike drained his mug of blood.

Giles' eyes narrowed and suspicion replaced anticipation. "A-at... this point a cynical person might think that you're offering just what we need when we need it most."

"That person'ed be right, Rupert... supply and demand. And it won't be cheap this time."

"What do you want?"

'Yeah,' Buffy thought. What do you really want? Giles had never mentioned this conversation. There had to be a reason why.

"Hmm, year's supply of blood, guaranteed protection, merry bushels of cash, and, most important . . . a guarantee that I'm not to be in any way slain."

Giles put his glasses back on. "Done," he said, taking Buffy a little by surprise, though she could feel that he considered the urgency of their need for information more of a priority than worrying about Spike's petty motives.

"With a smile and a nod from you? Sorry. Not close to good enough. This deal's with the Slayer."

Buffy felt Giles' recoil, and wondered why. She was expecting him to give as good as he got. Since when was Giles ever 'not good enough' to act as proxy for her? Especially with Spike... and especially after all those weeks of those two being Weetabix buds.

"I'll tell her," Giles said flatly.

Buffy figuratively glared at the vampire. Giles was buying... no, was agreeing... she paused, confused. Giles already thought he wasn't... ?

"Oh, you'll tell her! Great comfort, that. What makes you think she'll listen to you?" Spike demanded snidely.

Pain and real depression washed over the older man. "Because..."

"Very convincing."

He tried again, irritated that the vampire kept scoring bulls-eyes.

"I'm her Watcher."

"I think you're neglecting the past-tense there, Rupert. Besides, she barely listened to you when you were in charge. I've seen the way she treats you."

Buffy knew then that Spike was playing games with Giles' head. That, somehow, he knew that the Watcher was already depressed, that he already half-believed the things Spike was saying. She could feel, now, the emptiness in Giles' heart, and his overwhelming feeling of irrelevance... as though nothing he did would really be of any consequence anyway.

Giles grabbed a bottle off the bar and poured himself a drink.

"Oh, yes? And how's that?" he finally replied, working at calm while his insides were in chaos.

"Very much like a retired librarian."

Buffy wanted to stake the little weasel then and there.

Giles, however, remained silent and continued to pour.

Buffy knew that was a bad thing... as bad as when he found out about Eyghon. And it had taken more than just the demon to drive Giles to this kind of depression, even then. It took history, death, mayhem, guilt...

Then she realised the truth. It took Eyghon and all his attendant baggage last time to make him raise a glass again in self-defense; this time... it was about her. A rock formed in her gut.

"Look, I've got what she wants, as long as she has what I want." Spike started to leave, pausing as he passed Giles. "Spread the word. She knows where to find me."

Giles stared at his glass with studied indifference, but the distorted reflection stared back at Buffy with eyes more desolate than she could bear.

"I'll think about it," he growled under his breath and brought the glass to his lips as Spike slipped away.

He drank without haste, but steadily. It haunted Buffy, the way he sat in the lonely apartment in silence, staring into nothingness, the only real movement the occasional swirling of the contents of the glass in his hand.

She wished that someone would come, someone would help, but she knew now that they were all too stupidly preoccupied with their own little worlds, especially her, the Adam issue not withstanding, to even call, let alone actually drop by, just because...

Eventually he got up. The half-bottle was empty. She was surprised to see him walk in a straight line to the kitchen, his mind a flat line of muted depression. He was resolutely not thinking about anything other than the objective... which was to completely obliterate the ache the vampire had so carefully reawakened.

He dropped the bottle in the trash and took another from a high cupboard, where it sat among bits and pieces for entertaining... glass tumblers, packets of nuts, popcorn, chips, some mixers, a packet of playing cards, unopened, an unopened bottle of tequila and another of something called Angostura Bitters.

Buffy found herself close to tears again, without being sure why. There was simply something incredibly sad about knowing someone so long and yet having no clue about the stark loneliness of their existence, of knowing, somehow, that she was a party to it... a seemingly willing accomplice to such terrible isolation.

Time blinked as she felt herself begin to tremble, wherever the hell her physical body was, and she found herself in the midst of something she did remember.

Giles was stumbling upstairs and removing his shirts, far more inebriated now, and thinking outrageous thoughts to mute the hurt simmering below the surface. He made it to the bed before he got his pants and t-shirt off and collapsed on top of it without pulling the covers back.

Initially, he lay there silently in just his shorts, his pickled brain wandering into thoughts of endless, terrible puns inspired by his current unhappiness, and back to the conversation downstairs. They hadn't really noticed he was there... at least no more than a familiar standard lamp... or a bloody cocker spaniel... he thought, with a whimsy that choked Buffy. He snorted. Or perhaps he was more of a golden retriever? His tipsy musings continued: always steadfast, loyal, quietly subservient to events and never a complaint. I'd make a smashing retriever! he decided smugly.

Buffy giggled wetly as the voices rose downstairs and it was revealed that Willow was in a gay relationship.

Giles' response was surprise, followed by amusement, followed by disbelief.

"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed loudly, making Buffy giggle wetly.

The conversation downstairs dropped back to a murmur and Giles settled further on the bed, still bemused by the turn of events, and allowing himself a little satisfaction, through the haze of his fractured, ethanol-induced logic, in his exit... that for once he hadn't been the one left behind... that for once he'd left Buffy standing...

And as if on cue, Buffy's voice rose again from downstairs:

" No! No, you said you wanted to go. So let's go! All of us! We'll walk into that cave with you two attacking me and the funny drunk drooling on my shoe!"

Giles froze. After a few moments, his fists clenched, and he curled up into a tight, silent ball, all whimsy snuffed out, all thoughts submerged in abject misery.

"Hey! Hey, maybe that's the secret way of killing Adam?!"

He cringed even further.

"Buffy... " Xander's voice began what sounded like a feeble attempt to put things right.

"Is that it?" her other self demanded, sounding perilously close to cracking. "Is that how you can help?"

Giles made a tiny, deliberately strangled, noise in his throat, in the following silence.

"You're not answering me! How can you possibly help?"

The silence throbbed with almost palpable hurt.

"So . . . I guess I'm starting to understand why there's no ancient prophecy about a Chosen One... and her friends," Buffy finally said, her voice coldly calm, yet lashing out with the bitter hostility of one whose world has suddenly come crashing down yet again, without rhyme or reason.

There was no answer to that, and she was given none. A moment later she spoke again, even more coldly.

"If I need help, I'll go to someone I can count on."

Giles jolted when the door slammed moments after that, but didn't move. Buffy felt him curl up even tighter, realised how much he was trembling, and that it wasn't entirely the booze. When he started to weep softly, choking in his efforts to stop it, and swearing under his breath when he was unable to halt the tide, Buffy expected to wink out again.

This time, however, she was left to ride it out with him, to remain silently with him until he fell into a shallow sleep.

Time seemed to turn very slowly then, as though she was falling into a dream.

When, at last, some kind of reality asserted itself again, she was separate, sitting on the side of the bed, watching him sleep.

"Willow?" she ventured without speaking, then: "Willow!" aloud. No answer.

The silence was almost claustrophobic, and unnatural. After a beat she realised that there was no sound. No creak, no rattle of the window frame, not even the sound of his breath.

After a beat to assimilate that, she reached out and touched his shoulder. He remained unnaturally still, in exactly the same distressed foetal position he'd been in before he went to sleep. With a deep breath, she tried shaking him, but to no avail. He simply curled back into the same position.

"Giles," she whispered. "It's okay. It's only me. Ethan's gone. We escaped. You can come out now... "

It sounded feeble, even to her ears.

"Giles... ?" she repeated, helplessly, no idea what to do next.

Frustrated tears pricked her eyes as she moved closer to him and traced her fingers along a stubbled jaw, the faint scent of alcohol still in the air. None of this was real... and yet he felt so real...

She continued to explore the familiar contours and crags of his face, unaware that, gradually, a half smile had softened the grim line of her mouth.

"You need a shave," she said softly, barely able to control the trembling of her lips, and brushed the hair around his ear with her fingertips. "They said... they said if someone loved you enough, you might want to come back." Her hand stopped moving and dropped away.

"I... I need you to know... I can't do this without you. You... there's nothing without you," she told him as calmly as she could. He remained as still as the dead. She threw her head back, her mouth clamping in a straight line and her eyes rolling in frustration.

An idiotic thought occurred to her; something a six year old might try, but there was nothing else.

Slowly, she leaned forward, and pecked him on the cheek with all the enthusiasm of one forced to kiss the frog. When, inevitably, nothing happened, emotion choked her and she frowned.

It would be just too weird to really kiss him... wouldn't it... ?

After a couple of minutes of staring at his face, his mouth, she finally lowered her head again.

His lips were soft, but cool now. There was no joy in the kiss, and he tasted vaguely of whiskey still, but she found herself making it as loving and tender as she could, without being exactly sure why. When she straightened, it was with the childish hope that he might open the sea-green eyes and smile at her foolishness.

Nothing.

She stared at his closed eyes, the silent, almost sculpted, features cutting through her, forcing a small sob from her throat when they remained unmoved, as she knew they would.

Buffy picked up a large hand, drew it to her, covered it with her other hand.

"Giles, please, come back to me!" she begged tremulously. " It's safe now. I'm safe now. I need you, Giles! Can you hear me? I need you so much!"

Silence answered her.

She could hear her own words echoing in her mind, each an indictment of her horrible record as a friend and worse one as...

Buffy stopped, realizing where that thought had been headed, unbidden, but going there, nevertheless. She swallowed. It had been instinctive, true, not even a speculation... but... She swallowed again, scarcely believing her own senses.

Instead of further thought, she leaned down and kissed his brow tenderly before pulling away, her eyes alight with the discovery.

How could she have not known?

And then it came to her.

Willow, she thought, frantically, her mind full of images. Willow... you have to put me back... !

Everything spun hard and spiraled into something else entirely.

The music rose and Buffy flushed, mustering her courage when she realised that Willow had heard, or read her avalanche of thoughts, somehow, and had succeeded.

This time she scanned the room as she had so long ago... a million years ago, it felt like... and searched it for the figure she knew would be weaving through the crowd on his way to her side.

She turned as he reached her and smiled at him.

"You did good work tonight, Buffy," he said, a little more self-consciously than the last time.

"And I got a little toy surprise," she replied, just as she had then.

"I had no idea that children en masse could be gracious," he offered bemusedly.

"Every now and then, people surprise you," she added softly, but this time with profound feeling.

His eyes widened and searched hers, as though trying to understand everything she had so pointedly left unsaid. Then his eyes shifted, flickered, and his face fell.

"Every now and then," he agreed flatly, took her umbrella and turned her.

For a long moment Buffy watched the figure who'd held such a mortgage over her life, her heart, her soul, for so long... then she turned back to the man behind her.

"Every now and then," she repeated dryly, seeking his rather surprised, soft green eyes.
"Dance with me... ?"

For a moment the green pools focused sharply and gazed piercingly into hers. She almost thought she could see him... the real him... for a moment, in those jade depths. Then she watched him grin, this time absorbing and delighting in the joy in them, the love.

She walked forward slowly, watching that grin widen, and took a deep breath as he handed the umbrella to a surprised Julie Welsh from her history class, took her in his arms, and, with one last glance over her shoulder, swept her onto the dance floor.

Across the room, Angel stood like a statue, watching them float away, with an expression carved from stone.

Buffy, stealing a single glance as they turned, felt a twinge of pity, but did not look back again.

Giles danced like a dream. The lessons her mother had insisted on in the misguided belief that her only daughter might someday actually make her debut, had not been entirely for nothing, after all...

After two slow turns around the room they slowed to the same non-pace as the other couples on the floor, swaying slightly to the music as Buffy, ignoring Giles' very proper and respectful hold of her, let go of his hand and slid both arms around his waist, nestling her cheek into the breast of his tuxedo.

After momentary hesitation, she felt his arms close around her.

Their strength, their warmth, enveloped her. Buffy closed her eyes as the sensations washed over her, one after another. His body, his scent, the overwhelming aura of his unspoken love all served to make her forget everything except why she was there.

She tightened her hold as they moved slowly to the haunting music... music she would never again hear with that old ache in her soul. From this moment on she knew she would feel exactly as she did now... as though, for the first time in her life, the world felt exactly... perfectly... right, every time she heard it.

After a few moments, Giles held her away from him, his eyes searching, questioning.

Buffy's heart leaped with hope at the urgency in them. Slowly, warily, she allowed her gaze to fully lock with his curious one.

She swallowed, trembling, but mustered every ounce of courage, every ounce of truth in her soul.

"I never told you," she stumbled. "I never told you how much... " She stopped to swallow a choke. "I'm the biggest idiot known to man. I didn't tell you. I didn't even know at first... Oh, God, Giles... I—"

"Buffy... ?" he whispered, and it sounded like it came from miles and miles away.

"I love you so much," she told him in a trembling, but determined, voice. "I love you, Giles. Could—Can you bear to let me love you... even after everything... ?"

Giles removed his glasses and slid them into his jacket pocket before looking down at her again.

"Can you possibly know what you're saying... ?" he asked very slowly, his seemingly detached voice increasing the weight of intonation with every word. He didn't sound nearly as far away this time.

Buffy nodded slowly and reached up to cup his face with slender hands. When she lifted her gaze and smiled at him, everything... all of it... was shining in her soft, grey-green eyes. She drew his stunned head down, catching his lips with hers.

For agonizingly long moments, hers was the only movement. Though his lips had automatically softened and accepted hers, he did not kiss her back.

Bolts of adrenaline shot through Buffy when she realised this was it: he was so close that the next few seconds, or minutes, could be the difference between getting him back ... and unthinkable failure.

She lifted her eyes and searched his beloved face, trying to find the words to convince him, growing more and more frightened, more and more panicked when the right ones would not come.

Against her will, frustrated tears flicked out of her lashes and rolled down the soft cheeks.

"Please... " she whispered. "I won't leave you. Not again. I'll stay here, with you, if I have to. I can't live out there, not without you! Not any more... !"

"Buffy!"

The shrill cry reverberated in her head like the clanging of a bell. When she opened her mouth to swear, something... happened.

And then she was looking up at a sea of concerned faces.

"What?"

"You've been gone for hours," Willow said plaintively. "I-I know stuff was happening, but we had to pull you out. We have to go, now. Ethan's been to the college trying to find us. Someone gave him this address. Xander is my backup guy, for phone calls and emergencies a-and stuff," she explained uncomfortably. "Anyway, they're coming here, like, in about ten minutes, so we have to move... "

"So you just yanked me out?" Buffy snapped. "Do you know how close I was? If we lose him now, Ethan is going to die for this," she muttered darkly, unaware of Edof's silent scrutiny. She scuffed angrily at her face and turned to take the hand of the still figure on the bed again. After a beat, her shoulders sagged.

"If I lose him now, nothing matters any more... "

* * * * *

"Where are they?"

Graham looked around nervously. He didn't like the Englishman or his creepy demons. He'd have far preferred to do the search with just his own guys and without the annoying company.

"Looks like they've departed the scene, sir!" he answered.

"I can see that, you twat. If that little sod, Edof, is with them, your bloody machines should pick him up... correct?"

Graham winced. "Correct, sir!" He turned to a subordinate and gestured to him to check the infrared tracking.

Upstairs, Belinda Harris pushed all the Chinese food cartons into the trashcan and wiped the table over.

"Did you hear something, dear?" she asked over her shoulder.

Harris senior belched and rose to shuffle over to the window, careful not to spill the can of beer he'd just opened, and opened a bloodshot eye.

"Just more friends of the boy's. Looks like he's going to a fancy dress party. When's he going to get a real job?"

"That's nice, dear," she said absently, pouring a glass of red wine from a cardboard cask. "Alexander has to find out who he is first. He's a sensitive boy."

"He's a lazy-assed slob who doesn't even get out bed until midday. How the fuck is he going to get a job?"

"Language, Henry," she replied, slowly draining the glass as she dropped into her favorite armchair, found the remote and pressed 'play'. "Shift work, I guess. Some people are just made to it... "

"Well, the weirdos are all gone now," he rumbled and returned to his chair before they both fell silent in rapt attention to the small screen and the behemoth wrestlers on it.


*******

"Okay, I give up," Buffy muttered, bemused, as she helped Xander carefully carry Giles up the steps into the apartment building in front of which they'd parked.

"Oh... this is Tara's place. Her non-collegy place," Willow explained, following close behind. "Nobody else knows about it. Her family thinks she lives on campus, so nobody knows except, well, me... and now you guys... so don't tell anyone, 'kay?"

Buffy rolled her eyes as they edged toward the stairs inside.

"Oh... second floor. Room s-seven," Tara piped up.

Xander and Buffy looked up the long flight of stairs, to the first landing and the dogleg to the next one.

"I don't suppose there's an elevator?" Xander muttered.

By the time they reached the door of the apartment and Tara hastily opened it, Xander looked on the verge of a coronary. Buffy's colour was high but she wasn't breathing hard.

They took Giles straight to the double brass bed in the middle of the room.

Buffy fussed until he looked somewhere near comfortable and covered, bloodied shirt, socks and shoes removed, before turning to Willow, and Xander who was still heaving for breath.

"I have to get back there. I almost had him. You have to put me back."

Willow looked at Tara. "We have to put you back," she corrected. Moments later they had made a rudimentary circle and started preparations while an impatient Buffy fretted and fidgeted, washed up, and even used Tara's first aid kit to bathe all Giles' wounds while she waited.

********

"Have you found anything yet?" Ethan demanded as they made their way up the street slowly in military vehicles.

The solider looked up. "Nothing of note, sir. A number of vampire signatures and pheromone trails for several demons not matching your description, sir!"

"Blast!" Ethan snarled. "Tell me about these demons."

"One Fyarl demon, two Thrasher demons, a Moglii and a Sentrian Trans-Morph."

"A what?"

"New one, sir. This is only the second time we've had one on scanners... maybe even the same demon. It took three months of research to identify the species. Apparently they don't usually leave their own dimension if they can help it."

"And that dimension would be... ?"

"The same one your boys, there, come from," Graham said over the commando's shoulder. "Sentrian demons and their ancestors have been prey for those guys since the dawn of their time. They evolved the ability to morph as a defense, like cuttlefish and stuff, here, frightening stuff with their colours. Sentrians morph into scary or useful stuff to stay alive, but they can't hold the shape forever, not for more than an hour usually."

Ethan's eyes went from getting rounder and rounder, to narrowed and suspicious. "What do they look like in their real form?"

"Sorta like a little gnome," the younger soldier offered without looking up from his equipment. "But we've only seen a drawing. Or Riley saw it. He got the ID from some old guy with a lot of demonology books. Can you believe that? People actually write books about this crap." He laughed aloud.

Graham looked uncomfortable. Riley was a particularly sore spot and the damned slayer and her cronies an even bigger one.

"Never mind that," he said roughly. "Concentrate on the mission."

"Just find it," Ethan snapped, and tapped on the window of the vehicle. The driver opened a sliding panel. "Yes, sir?"

"I want details sent to these two addresses to confirm that they're clear." He gave the boy both Buffy's home address and the one for Giles' flat. "After that we have to find Rosenberg's address and someone has to check the college."

"Yes, sir."

"And when I find Edof, I'm going to break every bone in his tiny body, and feed him to the Druul," Ethan snarled. "Follow the morph's signature."


*******

Buffy picked herself up and looked around. Willow had gotten damned close. Her spell had put them... her... back in the flat, in Giles' loft. He was still curled up on the bed, unmoving. It had probably been too much to ask to pick up exactly where they had left off... except... now she had no idea what to do next, or how to help him.

For just a moment the enormity of it threatened to overwhelm her. If she had lost him...

A moment later she closed her eyes. She knew where she had to try next, and Willow obliged.

His back was to her. She could feel the waves of pain emanating from it and the tension that filled the silence of the small office.

"Giles," she said softly, and watched his bent head lift, but not turn. "Giles... I'm sorry... I-I had to go... before. Ethan was on his way."

She drew an apprehensive breath when his shoulders stiffened.

"It's not just that," she admitted. "I'm sorry a-about all of it. I know I've never told you. The truth is, I didn't know what I was doing to you, not really. Please, please, believe that. As young and stupid as I was, if I had known... " she closed her eyes for a moment. "If I had known how much I was hurting you... "

When she opened them he was still sitting at the desk, as though unwilling... to move, or perhaps to risk being hurt again.

"I understand now," she whispered. "I know about Angel. I know all of it. I know... " She paused, looking down, a surge of emotion preventing her from getting the words out. "I know why, even though I loved him so much, he's gone, and you stayed. I know why it was so hard to decide to even start seeing Riley, and why I've been trying way too hard to make that work. What I wanted from him, he and I could never have... "

He sat very still, but said nothing.

Her heart began to beat faster. No! she thought desperately. You have to listen. We were so close to...

For a terrified moment she didn't know what to do. This was beyond her ken. She didn't know how to handle it. She couldn't hit it, stake it, pound it into the ground or pretend it wasn't happening... and that was all she had been doing... for a very long time. Her eyes dilated at that realization.

She stared at the back of his bent head. She didn't even know how to say the words anymore. And what she had been able to say hadn't been enough, anyway. Almost, but not quite, and she didn't know what else to do...

Her mouth trembled as his head lowered again, as though defeated by the silence.

It was more than she could bear any longer. She swallowed and moved slowly toward him.

He flinched when she slid her palms onto his shoulders. He smelled, predictably, of books and Earl Grey tea and tweed... a combination that twisted her heart with memories.

Buffy squeezed the broad shoulders reassuringly, but he didn't speak. Nor did he move when she rested her cheek against his crown, but she could feel the tension in his body.

Then she realised why. He was fighting to stop himself from trembling.

She drew her arms around his neck, crossing them over to hug him from behind, the hug soon becoming a hold, as he began to shake in earnest. She held him tight, as her own emotional control wavered and shook. He made a noise, a tiny noise, but Buffy knew he was weeping and soon so was she, for him, for all of it.

It poured out of him. Not only the past she had seen, but also all the horrors of what the Weyre had done to him: the pain, the terror of the violation of his most private places, the agony of the attempts to take what he would not give... did not give.

She continued to hold him, and grieve with him, until they were both exhausted and silence closed in around them again.

"Let me love you," she whispered tremulously, near a warm ear, sorrow catching in her throat.

She felt him swallow then heard a sigh, but the sound came from a distance away, not from the circle of her arms.

Buffy looked up. "Let me love you, Giles. You don't have to stay in here. You don't have to be alone any more. Neither of us do!"

For the longest time, there was only the unsynchronised sound of their breathing. Buffy refused to let him go, and he seemed content for her to hold him.

Just as she was beginning to despair, the fragile Giles in her arms, still recovering from the horrors of his ordeal at Angelus' hands, and the trauma of her own betrayal of him, sighed a long, jagged sigh.

There was so much in the sound, all of which Buffy now understood, now carried with her...

She closed her eyes again, despairingly, and buried her face in his hair, waiting for his rebuff.

It didn't come. The silence stretched until her nerves were almost screaming. And then she felt it... fingers sliding over one of the arms that were still locked around his neck, closing around her slender forearm, and squeezing gently before simply holding on.

After several beats Buffy realised she was holding her breath, and released it slowly, before lifting her head from his silky hair.

"Giles?" she whispered, terrified, and electrified, at the same time.

"Buffy?" a still-disembodied voice whispered back, a fragile sound, sending a current down her spine.

She struggled with a surge of emotion. "I'm here. I won't leave you. I promise."

"Buffy... " it whispered again, brokenly, much closer this time.

She straightened when Giles unexpectedly lifted his head and spoke.

"Oh, God... " he managed, in a barely recognizable voice.

"I know," she said soothingly, despite the rioting of her insides, and covered the hand that was still holding her forearm. "I know... "

The big fingers squeezed tighter.

Reality suddenly and jarringly shifted and Buffy found herself in Tara's big double bed, holding a curled-up Giles in almost the same way as she had been holding the dream-Giles. The others were all looking on anxiously.

For a shocked moment, she sat, paralysed. This wasn't at all how she expected it to happen. He was supposed to be... well... not fine... but not like this.

"Giles... ?" she whispered, as the others watched in silence.

There was no answer.

"It's over. You're safe now. Everyone's going to leave now, so you can have some privacy," she added, looking at them meaningfully, a plea in her eyes.

Too terrified to get her hopes up, Buffy waited until they all turned and filed out before shifting to where she could see his eyes, his face, as soon as the door closed behind them.

She was back, but was he... really?

"Ethan can't hurt you," she said softly. "Nobody can hurt you now. Talk to me, Giles," she begged.

Oh, God, please talk to me!

"Buffy... " he finally managed, as though he was clinging to that one thought.

"I'm here," she reiterated, taking his face in her hands, trying not to notice the reflex cringing of his battered body. "Stay with me!" she demanded, holding the sea-green eyes, trying not to cry at the fear, the horror in them even as he struggled, her heart aching for him as he battled, yet again, to defeat the darkness.

The trembling worsened and moments later his eyes began to close.

"No!" Buffy cried, lifting his face in her fingertips. "No! Don't leave me!"

The dark-lashed lids opened again for a moment, soft eyes focusing on her face, their depths filled with a melancholy sadness that made her eyes prick with tears.

Then she realised what she'd said, and what he must think of her.

"You don't understand!" she cried as they started to close again.

Panic seized her. She didn't know what to do. There was nothing left to tell him... no...

She drew a sharp breath.

"You can't leave me," she told him, this time in a definitive voice, "because... " she moved her mouth to his. At first his lips were unresponsive, but as she poured more and more of herself into the salute, he began to respond, just enough for her to be moved to redouble her efforts.

She slid her arms around his neck and continued to make love to him, before finally pulling back when she realised that he'd stopped trembling.

Their eyes met, and Buffy realised that the semi-catatonic glaze had gone from the beautiful sea-green ones now staring so deeply into hers, as though searching her soul.

"Is it... are you... ?" she stammered, her fingers automatically reaching up to touch his face. She tried again, almost too frightened to hope. "Giles?"

The crystal-clear gaze glistened as he nodded slowly.

"Pain?" she whispered, when he still didn't speak.

He nodded again, a ghost of a smile in his eyes now, despite the strain.

Her fingers wandered to his brow, stroking it gently again, as she had when he was unconscious. He closed his eyes and leaned into her caresses.

Buffy shivered and raised her face to find his velvet mouth again, this time brushing her lips softly against his, first; tasting, offering, hoping, waiting...

Then his weight shifted and Giles was kissing her. She clung to him as he dragged her closer, both their mouths fighting to show the other the depth of their need, their desire, their hearts...

He was trembling again, only this time for a different reason. And, Buffy discovered, so was she.

When they parted again his eyes searched her face, alight with hope, delight, need, his mouth trying to pull into a smile, but still weighed down by the pain of his wounds, both physical and emotional.

Buffy smiled back, tenderly, raising fingers still trembling with the intensity of her feelings, to trace those sensual lips.

"You told me: 'Never give your heart where it isn't wanted... '"

Giles' lips parted, and his eyes widened at the memory of his own words, a shadow of fear clouding them.

"I-if I give you mine... c-can I keep yours... please?" she whispered.

For a moment he stared, stunned. Then a slow-growing smile grew into an almost beatific radiance, his eyes glistening as he nodded just as slowly.

Lost as she was in his reaction, it took Buffy a very long moment to smile back. When she did, her face seemed to burst into a glow to rival his. She reached out, unable to resist caressing his cheek again, then moved at the same moment as he did.

Their hug was more than a simple embrace... more than a tearful reunion. It was an intertwining of souls, of hearts.

For just a moment they touched. Neither knew how, or why, but for one blinding moment their minds touched again, and in an instant each knew the other's heart and soul... and that they would never be apart again.

Within the warm refuge of each other's arms, both of them had finally come home...


*******


Graham deployed his men around the park, ready to move in, professionally and carefully.

"Wait!"

The commando rolled his eyes and straightened impatiently. "Yes, sir?"

"I thought I told you to wait for me."

"Just didn't want the Hostile to escape, sir. Thought you'd be pleased to interrogate him once we had him under control."

Ethan blew out an irritated breath. The only thing more irritating than an American, was an energetically enthusiastic, youthful one.

"Well, hold your positions and don't let him escape. He's mine."

"Yes, sir," Graham muttered and gave a signal.

Ethan and two of his Druul henchmen strode into the little playground.

A small demon was swinging on one of the swings.

"You little pissant!" Ethan said as soon as he was close enough, momentarily forgetting his earlier suspicions. "Whoever you're waiting for isn't coming."

Edof grinned. "Ah, but he is. I was waiting for you."

Goaded, Ethan lunged forward to grab the demon and reared back when he was suddenly confronted by a multi-limbed, scaled beast with a maw the size of hippo's but filled with needle-sharp teeth.

Adrenaline pumping, and shaking with both fear and rage, Ethan motioned his bodyguards forward, but the creature suddenly vanished. It took several moments for both Ethan and the Druul to realise that Edof had morphed into a tiny, furry creature and vanished into the undergrowth.

Ethan roared at the commandos to get up to him, which they did at pace when Graham yelped a confirming command.

"Find that little bastard, now! He's here, somewhere. Use that bloody scanner of yours. That's what it's for!" the Englishman spat with controlled violence in his voice.

Graham set them to the task and the park became a frenzy of activity.

Edof watched them from his perch in a nearby tree, happy in the form of the nearest thing in his dimension to a bird: a small reptilian creature more reminiscent of a bonsai pterodactyl than a sparrow.

He chuckled to himself, and would have grinned, if his beak had permitted, smug in the knowledge that each time he morphed, the scanner would have to re-calibrate for several moments before it could adjust for the changes, particularly the lack of pheromones in many of the reptilian and insect forms he took.

He also knew they wouldn't leave while he was still registering on the Initiative's scanner, and he could keep them busy for hours, or at least until his objective was accomplished.

By the time the commandos had turned in his direction, he'd morphed again, this time into an insect no terrestrial would recognise, scampered down through the tree bark to the ground, shifted to serpentine form and slithered out of sight again, heading for Ethan Rayne and his henchmen.

Rayne was skulking by the playground equipment while the Druul foraged semi-uselessly, ironically, forbidden to leave their posts as his personal bodyguards.

Edof worked his way around to the Druul farthest removed, and morphed into the largest, most viscous creature he could manifest; the only guise in which he knew his people could reliably defeat a Druul, in the right conditions.

Screams filled the night as they clashed, Edof's multi-limbed, teeth and talons nightmare tearing the stinger-wielding arthropod to pieces as the Commandos raced to where the battle raged. Shots were fired, even before Graham was able to give the order, but Edof had gone, back into serpent form, already through the nearest bushes and out of sight.

Ethan was beside himself, fear compounding his rage. "You fools! Without the Druul we're done! We can't take the Slayer without them!"

"So send for more, asshole," one of the commandos muttered and the others snickered.

Graham agreed, but glared at his men, who subsided again.

"Very funny, pillock," the Englishman snarled. "For your information this species doesn't leave its own dimension. It took all my own connections, and a significant amount of your military's resources, to recruit the six we had, and the bloody Slayer has already torn two of them apart with her bare hands."

"Jesus," muttered another commando, and Graham went a little pale, looking the remaining Druul up and down and considering his chances, unarmed, against even one.

"Sir, the Sub-T is moving towards the northern end of the park!"

Graham looked to Ethan.

The Englishman's nostrils flared. "Don't just stand there looking at me, grunt! Get it! NOW!"

"MacKenzie! Keep calling it this time! I want updates every thirty seconds!" Graham panted as they sprinted toward the north end of the park.

He received them, until they were within just metres of the Hostile.

"Sir, it's vanished!"

The commandos slewed to a halt and milled, confused.

Doubling back, beneath their feet, Edof smiled inwardly as he cut through the dark loam as though it was butter. It wasn't one of his favourite forms: the Botleth worm, though it was the fastest subterranean form he knew. For one thing, the aftertaste of dirt stayed with him for hours, and for another he didn't like the claustrophobic snugness of being underground.

It took several minutes to reach the playground again. He heard MacKenzie call his re-
emergence as soon as he broke through and transformed into the giant, multi-limbed Rogarra again.

By the time the soldiers responded to Ethan screaming histrionic orders, however, the last Druul had lunged and almost found it's target with its lethal stinger, only to be side-stepped and seized with a multitude of talons.

Ethan swore as a chunk of oozing yellow carapace hit him in the thigh and slid down his pants, leaving a sticky, foul-smelling stain.

He was still berating the Initiative's best, as Edof, transformed now, into a sleek, whippet-sized feline no cat-lover would recognize, bolted from the park and into the row of residences across the street. Once he had reached the roof of one of the houses he sat smugly for a few moments, flicking his tail as he watched Ethan rant at the soldier boys, who were already walking away, leaving the red-faced Englishman completely alone.

The small demon waited long enough to see Rayne realize his vulnerability, and panic, bolting after them, before bounding away, sniggering to himself as much as his carnivore's mouth would allow.


*******


Everyone filed back into the room, almost creeping, until they realised that Buffy's expression was calm and relaxed. She was holding Giles' hand, or rather, he was holding fast to hers, almost like an anchor. She smiled at them as they surrounded her.

"I think it's going to be okay," she said softly. "He's asleep... he was exhausted."

"Th-then he's back?" Willow ventured in hushed tones. "Really back?"

"In one piece?" Xander added.

Buffy nodded silently.

"A really battered, fragile, going-to-take-a-long-time-to-heal piece, but yeah. I think he's
going to be okay. He needs to see a doctor about the physical wounds... the ribs, the bruises, his head, and stuff, but I'm not sure he can face strangers right now."

Willow's eyes grew very large and bright. "Poor Giles."

Buffy's seemed to do the same, almost in sympathy with the other girl, but her expression was distant when she nodded again... as though the reality was beyond the explaining of it.

"We-we can't stay here. I should be out there, dealing with Ethan, so I can take Giles home. He needs to be home; somewhere that feels warm and safe and familiar." She frowned and looked up at Tara. "N-not that your place isn't really cool. It's nice. Real nice. It's just... not... "

"Home," Tara said softly, and half smiled. "I understand."

Willow frowned in thought. "Y'know, we could, maybe get Angel and Wesley to help. I know they would... a-and then you could stay with Giles, and—"

Buffy was shaking her head. "No," she said determinedly, brushing Giles' temple with the backs of her fingers.

"But—" Willow began, pausing again when Xander laid a hand on her arm, his eyes on the suddenly haunted expression on Buffy's face.

"No," he said softly. "We'll deal with it. It's our problem. I think, maybe, the past should stay in the past."

Willow looked from one to the other. "Oh," she finally said, then frowned. "I guess...
except we don't know anyone else who can kill demons or kick Ethan's butt... a-anyone who isn't in Iowa, that is," she added awkwardly.

Buffy looked up slowly and blinked, as though realising for the first time that there were still issues to be resolved.

"If Edof isn't back soon, I'll have to go," she said quietly. "I don't know if Riley will even come back at all... now."

Xander blinked. "He's in Iowa? Since when?" Something occurred to him. "Uh-oh. Fight, huh... ?" he asked without thinking.

Buffy looked away, but didn't respond.

"I don't think so," Willow said softly. "Are you going to call him?"

Busy stroking Giles' brow, the Slayer nodded silently, but didn't look back.

It was Xander's turn to look consternated. His dark eyes flicked from one to the other before he opened his mouth to ask the question, only to be interrupted by Tara yelping and jumping when something warm brushed by her leg.

Everyone looked around.

The strangest looking silver-mottled, black, cat-like creature had somehow gotten into the building. Tara opened her mouth to exclaim, when it morphed into a familiar figure.

"Edof!" they all yelled at once, except for Buffy.

"Don't do that!" Willow scolded. "You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

Edof smirked as Xander asked how it went.

"The threat is nullified," he told them, "for now. Rayne will have to find refuge somewhere. He has many connections among the legions of Chaos, but I doubt you'll see him for a very long time. He's already been a guest of your military once, and believe me, now that he has failed them, he does not want to go back there again."

The tension seemed to flow out of Buffy then, leaving her visibly limp when she looked up at the others, her hand tightening protectively around the one she was holding.

"Let's go home," she said softly.

A slowly expanding expression of delight spread over the small demon's face.

"Home... " he whispered.

*******

Giles tolerated the journey, borne only by the lone Xander in his borrowed vehicle, and sharing the back seat with Buffy.

He had acquiesced without argument to the suggestion to sit in the back where he would have more room for his battered limbs and ribs, but when Buffy sneaked a peak at him as she moved to slide into the front seat, she changed direction and climbed into the back with him.

Little was showing on his handsome, but ravaged face, but the rigid posture, the clenched fist stuffed down by his right pants leg, and the fact that, with the whole seat to himself, he'd scrunched in one corner, told a very different story.

Buffy slid across and touched his face, immediately syphoning off some of the tension, then gingerly eased herself into a position where she was curled up in the crook of his arm. It closed immediately, almost convulsively, around her. She nuzzled her cheek into his breast as she offered him her hand, and felt it engulfed by his free one, clenched tightly and held all the way home.

Xander, stealing occasional glances in the rear view mirror, bit his lip several times and swallowed before focusing hard on the road, while he could still see clearly enough to drive.

At the flat, Giles allowed him to assist Buffy to help him walk the short distance from the car, into the terrace, and down to his front door.

Out of habit more than anything, they waited for him to unlock it, himself. When the door handle turned, Buffy flicked a grateful, but speaking, glance to Xander.

He managed a forced smile, and brought his hands together. "Okay, guys. Got everyone home in one piece, and now I have to get back to the old ball and chain. You two kids try not to have TOO much fun without me," he added, nervous energy making him bounce a little on the spot.

"Th-thankyou, Xander," Giles managed, without looking up, as much as he'd managed in a sentence since he'd woken again.

Xander stopped bouncing and cleared his throat, before tentatively sliding a hand onto his friend's shoulder.

"Take care of yourself," he said hoarsely, wheeled and strode away to his car.

"He'll be okay," Buffy said softly, as they both watched him disappear. "He just cares about you. We all do."

"I know," he whispered, and squeezed the shoulders he was probably leaning too much weight on, had it been anyone but Buffy, his eyes just crinkling at the corners as he looked down at her with a weary, almost-smile.

Buffy smiled back, then reached in and flicked on the light before they moved forward. She kicked the door closed with a nasty crack after Giles had eased himself in.

He closed his eyes, a pained expression endearingly reminiscent of old times, on his face. "Tell me nothing broke?" he asked, the faintest hint of teasing in his voice.

Buffy looked back and wrinkled her nose before smiling up at him. "Nothing important, anyway," she said cheerfully, as they worked their way around to the foot of the stairs, and enjoyed the grumpy grunt she got in reply.

When they reached it, Buffy slipped away for a moment, to his ancient stereo, only to discover a small metallic purple and silver Discman and speakers sitting on it. She recognised it: Willow's. Still, whatever was in it would be something he liked. When it started, she was surprised to find that it was Sarah McLachlan.

Giles was leaning on the stair rail when she reached him and slid her arm around his waist again.

He looked across to the player and down at her curiously.

She shrugged. "I never realised before how big and quiet this place is when nobody else is here... how—"

"Empty?" he whispered.

She met his eyes, just for a moment, a lifetime passing between them without a word. A moment later they turned by mutual assent, and started up the stairs, Buffy bearing almost all Giles' weight as they took one step at a time.

He was gasping for air at the top and nursing his ribs, despite her support.

"Xander is going to see Doctor Phipps... you remember her? The one who didn't ask any questions when we took you to the ER with those Tras'zi claws still in your arm, because we couldn't get them out? You know...with all the little hooks in the—"

"Yes... I know the ones," he finally grunted, halting her rambling.

She smiled self-consciously. "Anyway, you need to see a doctor, and we need one we can trust. We all think she knows a lot more than she let on, so he's going to see if she'll consider making a house call."

"All... all right," he managed.

Buffy could hear the reluctance in his voice, but it would do for now. "C'mon, let's get you into your own bed. You can shower later. Right now you need to rest."

He allowed her to sit him on the bed, even to remove his shoes and socks, but a large hand covered hers when she started on the shirt buttons.

She dropped her hands and looked up at him. "I can do this."

"I-it's all right. I will. Y-you need to ... Riley... " he whispered.

For a moment, she just looked at him, her heart swinging wildly between sorrow that he still had such doubts, and love, because, despite everything, he was still thinking about her...

Then her expression gentled.

"I'm not going anywhere."

The jade green eyes searched her face, still bright in their weary, bloodshot homes.

Buffy leaned forward and brushed his mouth with hers, very tenderly, before starting on the buttons again and holding his fragile gaze. "I'm already home."

He stopped her again when the buttons were undone. "R-really need a shower. Feels like... like I've been dunked in egg white... a-and rolled in the dirt."

"Eieww!" Buffy exclaimed then chuckled. "Nice imagery there, Rupert."

Giles snorted, then unexpectedly touched her cheek, smiling when she looked at him curiously.

"Oh," she said a moment later, and smiled. "I'm glad I got to meet him, sort of. Rupert was a pretty good guy... kinda like you."

Still a little self-conscious, Buffy helped him up and they made the long trip to the bathroom, again primarily dependent on her ability to support his full weight. She helped him to sit down on the john to rest, acutely aware of the pain he was in from the jarring of his injuries, and his rasping breaths.

"I hope this is going to be worth it. Maybe I should get something to make a step... um ... for the tub," she offered uncomfortably.

Still struggling with the pain, he shook his head without raising it.

"Go... Be f-fine. I... I... can... " he managed.

The gesture made her finally realised how stupid she was being. Instinctively, she put her arms around his shoulders and rested her brow on the top of his head for a long moment.

"No. We'll do this together," she said softly, and felt him begin to move. "Together," she repeated, and lifted her head.

He looked up at her, clearly conflicted about the pace with which everything was happening.

In reply, Buffy gently stripped off his open shirt, before straightening and removing her own guts and blood-plastered blouse before he could say anything.

Giles' lips parted and he swallowed at the heretofore-unseen vision now before him.

"Up," she said briskly before either of them could think too much about it, and eased him to his feet, once again using almost all her own strength, until she had steadied and released him.

He swayed as she undid his belt and zipper and dropped his pants, before sitting him down again and dragging them off.

Giles watched her go back to the tub without looking at him again, then dragged his palms over his face, overwhelmed. His instinct was to find a dark corner and huddle in it... and never come out, and he didn't know how much longer he could resist it.

With the shower blasting at a comfortable temperature, Buffy removed her own shoes and pants and went back to Giles, but stopped short, shocked to see how distressed he was again. After a beat, she moved decisively.

"Giles, we don't have to do this," she said softly, kneeling in front of him when he didn't respond, and putting her hands comfortingly on his knees.

"I... I'm sorry. Y-you shouldn't have to... " he said softly.

"Shouldn't have to?" Buffy repeated, and pulled his hands from where his brow was resting against them, and held them close. "I don't want to be anywhere else, or do anything else. I meant what I said, before," she finished, almost angrily.

He finally lifted his head, the question in his startled... and puzzled... eyes.

Hers softened immediately, and she slid her fingers into one of the big hands.

"Let me love you... " she reminded him.

He drew a sharp breath, and Buffy knew that he was remembering.

"Buffy... "

"We can do this," she said, before he could argue, rising and bringing him to his feet, "together."

At the tub, she sat him on the rim.

"Swing around," she ordered. "I'll help."

Buffy supported his back and helped him lift a trembling leg, and then the other, as he slowly shifted his weight and twisted his body so that he was facing the water.

In a moment she was in it with him, helping him to stand, supporting him as they moved into the blast of steaming water.

She jumped when he gasped unexpectedly and took a few moments to realise that it was the first time a lot of the cuts, grazes and contusions on his battered body had been wet. He made an angry noise of pure pain, then blew out a breath between clenched teeth.

"I'm guessing this isn't a good time for soap?" Buffy asked, trying to keep the trembling from her voice, and the tears from her throat.

"N-not really," he hissed through the same clenched teeth, ignoring her half-hearted attempt at humour, and drew away from her. "But... n-no choice."

She bit her lip and picked up the bar, intending to hand it to him, but one of his fists was clenched against the pain, the other arm bracing his weight against the wall.

Silently, she moved forward and began to wash his tensed back, ignoring the lathered soap running down into the wet, dark blue briefs. By the time she'd moved to his arms and shoulders he was shaking from more than just pain. She stopped, acutely aware of the small choking sounds coming from his throat, but lost as to how to help.

And then she was moving again to catch him as he slid bonelessly down into the tub, enfolding him automatically in her arms and holding him as he wept, both of them saturated by the water that continued to blast onto them, heedless of the drama below.

When he grew quiet and the trembling stopped, Buffy rose enough to turn off the now barely tepid water, without losing contact with him.

There was no conversation, no negotiation as she took over and calmly and efficiently got him out of the tub and back onto the pedestal, before finding a big towel and systematically drying him, also without invitation or conversation.

He looked resolutely away as she worked, as though he could pretend he wasn't there, even when she dried his hair like a small child, not even flinching at the pain of her rubbing where Ethan had struck him on the head.

When she was done, Buffy towelled herself down impatiently, ignoring her nakedness to bring him to the washbasin, where she found toothpaste and a brush for him.

He took them silently and used them mechanically, dropping them in the hand basin when he was done.

"Not your best piece of filing there, Book-guy," she observed dryly, breaking the silence at last.

He didn't answer.

"I like it though," she added. "Spontaneous, different. These things are of the good. Now we're going to get you spontaneously up to bed and some decent rest."

He didn't speak, choosing only to turn and momentarily draw her against him. He rested his chin on her head, the utter bleakness of his expression unseen as she lay against his breast.

By the time Buffy had all-but-carried him back to the loft, he could barely walk.

"No... " She stopped him from sitting on the bed. "Wetness," she reminded him, running her forefinger across the dripping blue stretch band across his lean hips. "Wait."

Silently, she put a shoulder back under his arm and turned her face away again.

"Drop 'em and get in," she ordered, not turning until she felt him do as she ordered and heard the compression of the innerspring mattress.

"I know you had something at Tara's place before we left, but if you want a drink, or something to eat... ?" she asked, unconsciously smoothing the quilt over him.

The eyes that opened and looked up at her when she mentioned the word drink, spoke volumes, both about how much he wanted a *drink*... and how much he didn't.

The Sarah McLachlan CD downstairs had started again from the beginning. As the singer's voice faded at the end of the first song, Buffy interlinked her fingers with Giles' again.

"You like her?" she asked lightly. "Not really what I was expecting."

"I like... this... " he said, almost embarrassed, and winced again in pain as the second track became audible.

Buffy lifted her face and focused on the words. She knew the tune: 'Possession'.

She simply hadn't bothered to listen to the words before... never had time...

By the second chorus the tears had come. By the end her eyes were closed and her head down.

As it faded, she looked down at Giles, found his gentle gaze watching her.

For the longest time their eyes held, and then she was moving around, slipping off her own wet things before sliding under the covers and into the refuge of his arms.

In the warmth and security of the big bed, they curled up as though inside each other, shielding one another, and held each other through the night.

When the sunlight played across them in the morning, they were both surprised to find they'd slept undisturbed, all night, and were still curled up exactly as they had been the night before.

At the same moment, they became aware of their nakedness, moved to draw apart, and at the same instant, came back together.

"It wasn't a dream," Buffy sighed into his chest as his arms tightened ferociously around her again.

"No," he said hoarsely into her hair. "Y-you're not... frightened?" he asked carefully.

Buffy froze. "Are you?" she asked.

He looked up at the ceiling, resting the point of his chin on her crown. "Terrified," he croaked.

Buffy shifted, drawing herself up, side-by-side, to look into his eyes.

Giles watched her with a racing pulse, and a problem he couldn't exactly hide, but she wasn't reacting to it, or leaving his bed, and she didn't speak.

Instead, her tender mouth moved to gather his, speaking to him on a level no words could touch. After a moment's hesitation, he kissed her back.

For long minutes they merged into one, discovering, teaching each other, until, finally, Buffy pulled back.

"Still scared?" she whispered.

But she didn't need a response to see the answer in his eyes. Her fingers traced the deep lines the last days had carved from the corners of his eyes to his mouth.

"Me too."

The phone shrilled downstairs.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Probably the guys checking in. I'll go," she said, and slid out of bed, pulling a shirt from his tallboy as she left.

By the time she'd reached the phone, she had put the striped business shirt on and mercifully terminated Ms McLachlan's marathon night.

Giles was on the landing when she answered it. A powerful need to answer nature's call had prompted him to test his legs. So far he was doing a great deal better than the previous day. He was about to say something to let Buffy know not to panic when she saw him up, when she spoke.

"Riley?" she yelped in surprise.

A sense of dread settled over him.

"Well, hi," she said, smiling. "I thought you were doing the home, hearth and nostalgia thing for another two weeks at least?"

Her face wreathed in smiles. "You didn't have to do that... " she was saying.

Giles closed his eyes.

Unaware that she had an audience, Buffy listened to Riley's teasing with enjoyment mixed with sadness. She didn't want to hurt him, but she was going to have to soon. He was so sweet, but she'd known since her long ago heart-to-heart with Willow that he wasn't the one, despite the fact that she hadn't yet recognised who was.

"... And I couldn't wait any longer. Buffy, I missed you so much. I came back to... to ... ask you... " The young soldier hesitated. "Well, it's not something you do over the phone anyway."

Buffy swallowed hard. She'd picked a great time to zone back in on the conversation again.

"Then, don't," she said, a little more urgently than she would have liked. "I was going to wait until you got back... but some things have happened. Everything's changed."

Giles lifted his head and opened his eyes again, afraid to breathe.

"No. No! Nobody died. No end of the world stuff. It's me. I've changed, Riley. What we've had together... it was special... and it was good... but I know now that I was being... wait, let me finish, please! I was being so unfair to you. I thought I was over Angel... no, it's nothing to do with Angel. No, I swear. He's still in Los Angeles. Hasn't been anywhere near here. Will you listen to me? I thought I was over all the baggage, that Parker had put everything into perspective, and that I was ready to move on. I wasn't. All I did was make walls. And then you came along and it was easy. I shut out everyone who could hurt me, who loved me, and it was just us... " Buffy hesitated, looked at the receiver then put it to her ear again. "Riley, are you still there?" There was another pause, then: "I'm *so* sorry. I thought it was all of the good, that I was having a normal relationship. I wasn't. I was having a fairy tale. You know, Slayer-gets-normal-life kinda deal."

There was a long silence while she listened to Riley speak. "I know," she said, pain in her voice. "And I love you too... "

Giles sat down on the landing before he fell down.

"... but I'm not in love with you."

His green eyes widened, colour rushing alarmingly back into the face that had just turned white.

"Riley, I care about you. I always will, but I'm not in love with you. I never was. That's what I'm trying to tell you. I loved Angel so much... there was only one reason I was able to let him go... only one reason why breaking up with him didn't kill me... "

"No, God. Riley, stop it. I know you have vampire issues, but Angel is not an issue here. He stopped being an issue a long time ago. I just didn't realise it for a very long time."

Moisture rose in her eyes at the pain in the boy's desperate voice, as he demanded to know who it was who had taken her from him.

"It's... Giles."

Giles stared.

She closed her eyes when, after a stunned silence, Riley launched into the inevitable tirade.

"Riley... RILEY! Riley, shut up!" she said, when he'd worked himself into a real state.

"First of all, I've always loved him... no, not like that, potty brain. I just didn't realise I'd fallen in love with him until now. No, it's not. It's real, it's painful, and I have no idea what's going to happen next. Even if, for some reason, I wake up and everything that's happened in the last few days turns out to be just a dream, I can't be with you any more. Not knowing what I know now. Not feeling what I feel now. What? Yes, I'm sure. I love him, Riley. With every part of me, everything that I am, everything I have to give him. No, I haven't felt like this since before Angel turned. I haven't let myself feel anything for so long. What? No, it's not your fault. I just... I was so scared of being hurt like that again."

Giles' eyes grew very bright in his now flushed face.

"Don't, Riley. Please, don't. You're a wonderful, sweet guy and you gave me a chance to be happy without being scared all the time. I'll never forget that. No, it doesn't matter. Of course he can hurt me. Don't you understand? I love him so much... it doesn't matter. Besides, he could never hurt me as much as I've hurt him. Not in a million years. No, Riley. Don't come... stay with your family. No, I wish you didn't have to be hurt... but there's nothing to talk about. I'm sorry too, but I can't change the way I feel. No, please don't come. You're in the best place you can be right now. Stay there. Me? I'm... I'm here. With Gi... Rupert. Some major stuff has happened. I know Graham will fill you in eventually, but I need to be here now, and if he wants me to stay, I'll be staying here, with him."

There was another long silence before Buffy hung up the receiver with a trembling hand and broke down in tears.

Giles immediately struggled to his feet, made his way stiffly down the steps and across to where she was standing, and gathered her into his arms.

Buffy turned and buried herself in them.

When she was calm again, she lifted her head. "You heard? How lo... ?"

"All of it," he said hoarsely.

"I had to hurt him, Giles. He was so hurt... "

He nodded. "And you... ?"

She nodded back "It was horrible. But I had to." Her soft greyish eyes, almost blue as they rolled up to meet his, glistened. "I had to."

Silence stretched, and the connection between them burned.

Then her arms moved around his neck and his drew her hard against him as their mouths met again in a kiss that held nothing back, knew no secrets. They were both breathless when they finally parted.

"This is the part where you're supposed to sweep me into your arms and carry me to your bed," she said playfully, though her voice was still less than steady.

Giles guffawed. "Yes, right. Sweep you into my arms and watch us both sprawl like a felled tree across my floor," he growled, holding up his hands to show her how much they were shaking from the effort he'd already made.

She grinned back at him, then reached up and kissed his lips. "In that case, we'd better settle for breakfast in bed."

He kissed hers back greedily and then groaned against them. "Bugger and damn," he muttered.

"My sentiments exactly," she agreed, a shiver of desire rippling down her spine as she spoke. "But we have plenty of time, now."

His eyes looked into hers, the tiniest of gleams dancing in their soft green depths, as they turned for the stairs, Giles necessarily leaning heavily on her shoulders again.

Leaning back into him, Buffy smiled back, warmth spreading through her at his aura of happiness and pleasure.

Above her head, Giles' weary, pain-etched face softened into unfamiliar territory, love, peace, and real joy lighting it, as he dropped a contented kiss on her hair.

"... All the time in the world."

END