Lost
written by Gail Christison


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: This is kind of a semi-AU story set in season 7. There are no S-I-Ts. Giles is Giles. There's no Andrew, Wood is not relevent, and the First has not appeared yet. The main characters are otherwise unchanged. Phew. I think that's a record for me for a summary LOL. Can you tell I really don't like a lot of things about season 7? ...I knew you could.
Summary: Giles and Buffy are lost in a primitive environment in a dimensional rip, for what is a couple of weeks for them. Survival brings with it a lot of lessons and when they arrive back not long before Valentine's Day Buffy has to make some choices.
Dedication: To everyone who helps me to make a fic happen, either just by reading when I'm not impartial enough to know how it's going myself, or by beta-ing for me. Thank you! Cindy, I hope this makes you feel better, mate :-)
Feedback Author: Gail Christison
Author's Website: Once More With Feeling



The afternoon sky suddenly seemed to split open, pouring undulations of red and purple through the jagged orifice, and streaking the sky with the weirdest lightning she'd ever seen.

Buffy slashed at one of three angry demons with one of Giles' best swords. "What the hell is that?"

"Ask them," Giles shot back peevishly, parrying another of the demons with his own favourite blade.

"Yeah, right," she snorted, finally getting an opening to swing the sword above waist height and decapitating her opponent in one swift, powerful swipe, carrying the stroke through to block the downward motion of the weapon of the last demon, which was looking incredibly pissed off and animatedly shouting at its erstwhile companion in grunts and whistles.

Giles' opponent answered in the same strange language.

"I think perhaps they're considering a withdrawal," he offered as the giant 'rip' behind them roiled and throbbed in a horrible, almost living 'splot' in mid-air. Neither of them voiced the fact that the anomaly was making their skin crawl... literally.

In actual fact the two demons redoubled their efforts.

Buffy, who'd been enjoying the outing with her Watcher after patrolling alone for so long, well, except for the new thrill sensation from the anomaly... much like ants crawling all over her, she decided... looked up at an opportune moment and watched Giles in action. Her eyes widened. She automatically blocked another heavy blow from her opponent without really looking away from him. He looked good. He looked really... different... or had she just not noticed before?

"Giles, look out!" she screamed.

The demon Giles was fighting lunged forward and crashed its blade down onto his, throwing him off balance and causing him to stumble backwards into the anomaly, before disappearing completely.

"No!!!" She turned and swiftly beheaded her opponent before racing to the rip and trying to see into it. "Giles!"

And then everything went black.

Buffy woke to a blinding headache and glaring sunlight. She squinted. There was someone looking down at her.

"Where am I?" she croaked, instinctively reaching for her sword and finding it lying next to his on the ground.

"That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn't it? Are you all right?"

"Giles?"

"Here."

Buffy opened her eyes wider. "Giles!" She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him hard.

Giles returned the surprise embrace, chuckling. "As bad as it looked, I'm quite all right. The question is: are you?"

Buffy pulled back slowly and looked up at him sheepishly, her eyes suspiciously bright.

"I thought I'd lost you again. And I'm okay, except for the bump on the back of my head. Where are we?"

"No idea," He offered a hand when she started to rise, and helped her to her feet.

"Not exactly bustling with activity, huh?"

Giles scanned the area around them once again, taking in the open expanse of grassy savannah in front of them, heavy forest behind, and the smell of sea on the wind.

"We're either near the coast of, um, somewhere... or perhaps an island... "

Buffy's eyebrows rose. "Castaways?"

"More or less. Although, I suspect we're a lot farther from home than Robinson Crusoe."

The blonde head shot around to look at his face. "Giles, I have a parent-teacher interview on Thursday night. Willow asked me to go and see the Two Towers with her again on Saturday. And I had plans for... I mean... I have work tomorrow! I can't be stuck anywhere... and you're telling me I've been sucked into another dimension or something?"

"Something." Giles nodded, aware that she hadn't yet reached the conclusions he had about the longer-term implications of their situation.

Buffy was watching his face. Normally when she was worried or frightened, watching Giles' strong face while he talked to her, or to the gang, was reassuring and comforting. Very little fazed the time-weathered Watcher. He'd seen it all before, and if he hadn't, he'd probably seen something worse. This time, though, all she saw in the sea-green eyes was an ominously large measure of apprehension, even maybe a little fear.

"Giles, where are we?" she asked quietly.

He finally looked down at her again, and actually tried to smile. "I haven't the faintest idea, actually, except that I'm almost certain we're not in Kansas any more... "

For a moment Buffy simply stared at him. "Okay, that's it. How do I know you're my Giles and not some Doppler-thingy?"

"Doppelganger," he supplied. "What on earth are you talking about?"

Buffy's hands went to her hips. "You made a joke. We're trapped in another dimension and you made an actual funny. So, Dorothy, what have you done with my Giles?"

"Very funny," he snorted. "I'm not entirely without humour, you know."

"Could'a fooled me," she teased, watching a very strange-looking bird wheel overhead. Just then it gave a long, keening shriek. "Any idea who our spooky-wannabe visitor is?"

Giles followed her gaze and frowned. "Grammar still not your strong point, is it? It's some type of raptor, I believe, but not one I've ever seen before."

She squinted. "So what gives it away... the shiny talons, or the fact that it's the size of a small pony? Oh, and... bite me."

Giles chuckled. "I rather think it's time we moved away from here. It's losing altitude with every pass, and I don't think it's an accident, nor do I want to wait to find out if it wants to invite us to lunch... "

"More like invite us to *be* lunch," Buffy shot back as they headed for the edge of the forest.

Their avian companion let out another bone shuddering screech of frustration just as they slipped beyond the low scrub and into the forest proper.

"Nice welcome," Buffy grumbled. "Any idea where we are yet? There must be something in that library of yours about other dimensions."

Giles shrugged. "You heard Anya the last time this came up. There are an infinite number of dimensions, all with their own peculiarities. At least this one bears some resemblance to our own."

Buffy, who was dawdling, swiftly came up alongside him and stayed close to his right arm. "It's creepy in here and it smells weird."

"There's nothing wrong with the way it smells. This is how a forest is supposed to smell. Decomposing leaf-litter, damp earth, tree bark, faint perfume on the breeze from forest blooms."

Buffy sniffed as they passed a huge tree. "Eau de Men's Room."

Giles turned his head and sniffed. "An animal, probably a predator, has marked its territory recently."

"Who knew you were the Daniel Boone type?" she teased, jumping when something skittered, unseen, through the undergrowth.

"Just stay alert," he told her. "If there are larger animals about, it follows that there are going to be predators... and try not to let any insects sting or bite you. There is no way to know what will or won't be toxic."

At that moment a bright blue dragonfly-like insect the size of a stogie zipped by.

She dived even closer, almost knocking him off balance. In self-defence, he threw an arm around her shoulders and steadied himself, before carrying on.

"All right?" he asked, concealing amusement.

"I am now," she told him, peering up at the canopy as though demon spiders might come careening down at any minute. "I hate bugs."

He grinned to himself above her head. This was new. "I rather thought you might be the one protecting me from things with large teeth and claws."

Buffy leaned into him even more and felt his arm tighten gratifyingly. "If one says hello, you got it. Until then you deal with the bugs."

"Done." He suppressed a chuckle. "I wish I knew where we were going, though. As a matter of fact... "

He brought them to a halt. The canopy had completely closed and it was more like twilight than daytime in the filtered light beneath it.

"... I think perhaps we should make our way back out of here for now. We don't know how far this forest extends or exactly how dangerous it might be. At least in the open we can see an enemy coming."

Buffy breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Sounds good to me."

Once they got back to open space again and made absolutely certain that the mega-raptor had left, they followed the edge of the forest, walking into the breeze. Giles was hoping it would lead them to the ocean, the scent of which had grown even stronger since their re-emergence from the undergrowth.

After an hour and a half of walking, the scenery was little changed. "Giles, I'm hungry and my feet ache."

Giles looked down at her slender, sneaker shod feet. "One must be grateful for small mercies. You could have been wearing those monstrosities you came to training in the other day... " He frowned. "You've never complained about your feet hurting before, even when you've patrolled half the night."

Buffy looked sheepish. "You used to be easier to slide one by. Okay, you've got me. No impending lameness. It's just... I really am hungry, and thirsty, and it's hot and if one more bug tries to bite me... " she huffed, swatting again at a forearm.

Giles took the slender arm in a large hand. "Buffy you're covered in bites. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I am?" Buffy peered at her limb. "How was I supposed to know? They're not itching... yet. What? Am I going to swell up and die... again? Or turn purple or bleed out of my eyeballs or something?"

Giles rolled his eyes, still studying the small but innocuous-looking lumps. "Heaven knows, but I suspect that something would have happened by now if your body was going to react anywhere near as colourfully as all that."

"So... stopping and resting?"

"I think not. If your feet are up to the journey, we should at least try for the coast. There may be a settlement there, perhaps evidence of some kind of sentient presence, or at the very least more opportunity to find something to eat that hopefully won't result in a prolonged need for a latrine... or bleeding from one's eyeballs," he added dryly.

"A settlement? Of what... jungle demons?"

Giles trailed around a large, ugly yellow and green striped bush. "Of anything that might be able to help us get home." He looked down at her dishevelled appearance. "Something with a bathroom, perhaps?"

She looked up at him. "Look who's a laugh-riot today." Her face fell. "Oh, God. Going to the bathroom... I have to go to the bathroom out here... I'm going to end up with as many bites on my ass as my arms!"

Giles couldn't help chuckling, even as the knowledge that they might well be talking about their new, permanent home was making his heart sink.

By the time they'd finally climbed over what Giles suspected were scrub-covered sand dunes a couple of hours later, both of them were scratched, tired, irritable and exhausted.

Buffy emptied her shoe for the fifth time. "Now I remember why I skipped girl scouts."

Giles, however, was scanning the horizon through better than one hundred and eighty degrees. Not a silhouette of a building, a boat, or even a hut or a broken-down pier... nothing. He sighed heavily.

Buffy looked up and frowned, running her finger around the back of the sneaker to pull it onto her foot again.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Oh c'mon, Giles... "

His voice was tired and flat as he repeated himself and waved a hand in an arc across the horizon from left to right. "Literally nothing... "

"Oh." Buffy stared at the blood red fingers of the late afternoon sun splayed across the pale emerald sea before them. "It is kinda pretty though."

Giles snorted quietly. "I daresay. However, 'pretty' will not assuage hunger, nor will it house you tonight. We're going to have to find a way to build a shelter. There's nothing else for it. And since we've not found any fresh water yet, we can't even do that until we do find some."

"What about that?"

The Watcher looked sceptical, but turned in the direction Buffy was pointing.

Several hundred yards up the beach there appeared to be a stream mouth. It was too small to be a river.

"It's probably just a saltwater estuary or creek."

Buffy was already heading up the beach. "Whatever. All I know is, I'm thirsty enough to drink pig's blood which... gross... so if that estu... ester... *creek* could lead to drinkies, I'm so there."

As they approached, it became obvious that it was the mouth of a decent-sized stream. One large enough to have carved out one side of the mouth into a deep trough, while the side closest to them was relatively shallow, spreading out as tidal flats, allowing them to see the bottom a few feet down, and the activity of the creatures that dwelt there. The deep side seemed to flow into a mangrove-style swamp that appeared to run for miles.

"Not moving too fast... lots of rocks. Won't get a boat up there."

Giles smirked. "Now who's the frontier woman? In case you haven't noticed we don't actually have a boat... "

"We're going to have to follow it upstream, though, aren't we? To see if there's fresh water up higher?"

Giles stepped carefully from rock to rock to reach something a few feet out into the water.

Buffy watched him bend and scoop it out, then turn again as he rose, before stepping back across to her. For some reason his grace surprised her and made her feel a little small. It was such a little thing, and yet it made a mockery of much of the gang's, and her own, attitude to Giles... the sure knowledge that they'd all have made bets on him falling in. Worse was the realisation that, back in Sunnydale, he probably would have, not because he was really any kind of a klutz... *obviously*, but because the weight of their expectations would have toppled him in the end...

She shook herself and took the wet object he handed her. She was getting entirely too introspective... Her nose twitched. *Introspective, with big words, no less... *

"Wow... wet, slimy, plant-type... er... stuff."

Giles nodded. "It's a seedpod and small branch from a large tree. Do you see any large trees here?"

Buffy looked up and down the coast and upstream. "That would be a nope. Are we going somewhere with this?"

He nodded. "It must have come from upstream, and it isn't the type of plant known to grow in genuine salt water or estuarine conditions. The seeds from that pod would have to fall, not on seawater-saturated sand, but good earth to germinate. We must hope that farther upstream the water is fresh enough to sustain this tree and others like it."

Her nose wrinkled up. "Can I throw it away now? You don't actually want to eat it or anything, right? It smells kinda bad... "

Giles nodded and started picking his way along the stream edge.

Buffy hurled the branch back into the water and wiped her hands on her jeans as she followed him.

Ten minutes later they flushed their third snake, only this time it was a vivid red, black and yellow striped creature and not very happy about being disturbed.

Buffy watched it vanish into the undergrowth, adrenaline still pricking in her fingertips. "That was exciting."

Giles, ignoring his own accelerated heart rate, was negotiating his way around a giant spider web, and watching its plate-sized occupant carefully.

"Bracing," he agreed dryly. "I wonder if it's edible."

"Eiew, Giles. I'm not cooking pulakoo stew for you."

"What on earth are you talking about? How do you know that particular arachnid is a... what did you call it... a pulakoo?"

"Years of brain-numbing TV watching with Xander Harris. He was watching Major Kira's goodies. Will and I were watching her eat giant spiders."

He shook his head but didn't comment. It seemed pointless to tell her he had in fact been referring to the snake.

They took another hour to finally reach a place far enough upstream to actually be able to drink the water. Buffy almost smacked Giles one when he told her she couldn't have any right away but drank deeply himself.

"How is that fair?" she whined, dehydrated, headachy and wanting nothing more than a nice hot bath and the casserole she'd pre-prepared the night before for their, and Dawn's, dinner.

Giles looked down his impressive nose at her. "We'll push upstream a little further and see if we can find a clearing to set up camp. If I haven't dropped dead or fallen somewhere in a convulsive heap by the time we've made camp, you may drink the water. I just wish I had something in which to boil some for you."

She grew very still. "You're taste-testing to see if it's poisoned? We didn't even discuss it... How could you... !"

His raised hand silenced her, but Giles could see the rage in her eyes. "One of us had to, and since I had the advantage of knowing that, I chose to be... 'it', as it were."

"How could you?" she demanded again.

"I don't understand," he said mildly.

Which only made Buffy angrier. "I'm the one! I'm the one who takes the risks. I'm the one who does any necessary dying!" She was crying as she yelled. "You... you can't leave me again, Giles. You... you can't do stuff that might take you away from me again!"

He stepped towards her, shocked by her outburst. "I'm all right, Buffy. Truly I am. It's normal procedure in an unknown environment... one of us must remain healthy, but we have to know if the food and water are edible or potable. I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about it first."

"Just... don't do it again," she told him awkwardly and stomped off.

Nonplussed, he followed her until she reached a spot where they could see a clearing on the other side of the stream. It was strewn with rocks and dead branches, but it was mostly grass and lichen, where once must have stood one of the great forest trees, long gone and leaving a gaping hole in the high canopy for sunlight to filter through all the way to the ground.

Giles drew alongside her on the bank. "It's a good spot. I'd much prefer to be on the beach, but until we find a way to carry water, this is the next best thing."

"Great. So how do we get across there? I don't see any bridges or stepping stones for nimble Watchers to skip across on and there's no way to know if it's infested with piranha or anacondas or something equally fun-tastic."

*So she was still talking to him*. He sighed gratefully. "It's not deep here. I'll wade across first and if nothing... "

Buffy turned very quickly, caught his arm and searched his eyes, his face for any signs of distress. "No queasies? No urge to head for the bushes yet?"

He shook his head, only to watch her turn and wade into the stream. By the time he'd opened his mouth to yell she was across it and climbing out on the mossy bank that sloped gently down to the water. A few moments later he was alongside her.

"Buffy—"

"My turn," she told him. "It's what I do, Giles. You Watch, I risk. That's how it works."

"No it bloody well doesn't!" he yelled at her. "Not on my watch. Not ever again!"

She blinked, the tears returning as she absorbed the pain in his eyes, aware that it was about a lot more than just the stream, the blaze in them mirroring her own, earlier. After several interminable moments of stand off, she lifted an ineffectual hand.

He stared at it for another long moment, then took it almost roughly and drew her into his arms, her instinctive, almost desperate, embrace as fierce as his own.

"We'll get out of here, I promise."

Buffy felt his breath on her ear as he spoke the gentle words, and shivered. "I... I'm sorry about before. Just... please don't leave me again," she whispered back and buried her face in his shirt.


*******


"Anyone would think you were a blushing virgin."

"Anyone would think I have a modicum of decency and a civilized sense of modesty."

Buffy rose from the fire they'd made after getting cleaned up, using tree branches and dry leaf litter... and the lighter Giles carried everywhere with him, and turned her jeans over on their makeshift drying rack.

Giles averted his eyes. Watching Buffy walk around in little more than a tank top and very brief, flimsy knickers was bad enough, but twice now she'd turned around, revealing quite innocently that there was even less in the back of them than the front.
He wondered if it even occurred to her that he was a man, and not just a rather weathered British bookend or some such.

She turned around when she was done and shook her head at his obvious discomfiture.

"Oh, for God's sake, Giles. If this were Rio, you'd be seeing a lot more than this. We're going to be here, at least for a while, if not longer and there's no doctor, no emergency room... not even a jar of chaffing cream, so haul off those jeans and get them over here by the fire. You know if you were in charge of you, you'd make you take them off."

They stared at each other for a moment, dazed by her creative logic and grammar... then Giles started to laugh. "You do know you're quite mad?"

"I'm warm and dry," she shot back, her mouth threatening mutiny with every syllable. She managed to keep it to one giggle before her next statement. "And you're going to get jungle rot or something." Then they were both laughing. "Oh, c'mon Giles. You have to take them off. I mean, I'm not getting dinner here, so we might as well have the show," she suggested mischievously.

Giles, who had actually started to move, sat down again. "There will be no 'show'."

Buffy sighed exasperatedly. "Anyone would think you didn't wear any underwear or something," she growled, her eyes growing wide at the realization of what she'd just said. The grey saucers rose to look questioningly into his green ones.

He rolled them yet again and then cleared his throat expressively. "Of course I wear them. I just don't particularly want to model them for you."

"Giles, I'm the Slayer, remember? If I want to see them, it won't take more than a couple of shakes of a Watcher's tail... "

His eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't dare?" He realized too late that the word 'dare' should never, ever be used in conversation with Buffy.

"Buffy, I forbid you to... *Buffy*! "

Within seconds he was flat on his back, and his belt buckle was undone, the top button of his pants open. A flat black, satiny band of elastic across his abdomen confirmed the presence of some kind of underwear.

Buffy took a deep breath and drew the zipper down just as Giles got his second wind and tried to sit up. In a split second she'd shifted to grab the legs of the jeans, tipping him back on his back, and used her slayer strength to pull them clean off. In belayed deference to Giles, she resisted the temptation to do more than glance, or gloat, and instead turned immediately and went to arrange his pants on her improvised drying rack over the dwindling fire.

"Bugger it, Buffy!" he growled as he righted himself.

"I have to go get some more firewood," she said without turning back to him. "Nice boxers, Giles."

Red faced, Giles looked down at his small black boxer shorts. They were one of several pairs Anya had given him for Christmas over the last few years and his favourites: comfortable and well fitting, and they never rode up. By the time he looked up, Buffy was out of sight.

Well, now he was in the jungle alone, in his underwear, with Buffy. *Wonderful*. He wondered in passing if the others were looking for them yet. It was going to take the group a lot of work just to find those two demons again... provided they were able to actually ascertain what kind of demons they were. And those demons then had to actually know what the anomaly was... unless of course it was still there. His head started to hurt. There was no way the others were going to find them. He was almost certain the anomaly was unrelated to the Kymarath demons in any way other than dumb luck, and really, there was no way for Willow and Xander to ascertain the species of a random pair of demons he and Buffy happened to encounter whilst patrolling.

"Buffy? Is everything all right?" he called, unable to hear even her footfalls now, but reluctant to go striding around in his underwear.

No answer.

"Buffy? Where are you?" With Slayer hearing she should have heard him that time.

With a muttered oath, he got up and retrieved his damp boots from by the fire. One thing he was not going to do was go stomping around an alien forest in his bare feet. He stopped and turned slowly back to the fire. Buffy's sneakers were still there. Another, more strident, oath followed.

He found her, and her large bundle of firewood, sitting by a small tree examining her left foot.

"What have you done?"

Buffy looked up and Giles could see pain in her eyes. He went straight to her side and examined the foot himself, squinting in the failing light. The very large thorn was embedded deeply in the fleshy pad behind her big toe. He had nothing to extract it with. "Hang on to me, and expect this to hurt," he told her, aware that in their situation they couldn't afford any infections.

"What? You're not going to amputate or something?" she demanded, clutching at his shoulder as he obscured the foot from her view.

"No I'm... " but the rest of his sentence was obscured by the shriek Buffy let out as he squeezed the area around the thorn quite mercilessly, until the sliver popped out like a cherry pit from a small rosy mouth, which then allowed him to carefully draw it right out of her foot. He heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank God."

Silence answered him. He turned, still cradling the now-bleeding foot. She was staring at him with ill concealed temper and distress.

"That hurt... a lot. Like it wasn't hurting *before* you touched it."

"I am sorry, Buffy, but we can't afford to leave it in there to get infected. I did manage to get the whole thing out."

"You could have told me what you were going to do instead of just... "

"Just what?" he asked, still checking the wound. "Just taking advantage of you? Extracting your thorn without your permission... ?"

Buffy's gaze fell, riveting itself on a small, weird insect making its way laboriously through the leaf litter on the forest floor. The emphasis on the word 'permission' was not lost on her.

"I didn't really think you were that kind of shy, Giles. I seriously doubt that Ripper would mind if he walked down the street naked, let alone in those cute little boxers..."

"Yes, well, I never said I was shy," he growled. "It's simply a matter of personal space. I don't happen to be comfortable cavorting around in my underwear while you're likewise unclothed. It's not... it isn't... "

Buffy finally looked up. "It's not us," she said fondly. "But it is us. It's like everything else. Whatever comes up, we deal. You got the thorn out because we can't afford an infection. What do you think sleeping in wet pants all night was going to get you?"

"Rather a lot of chaffing and probably a cold," he admitted ruefully.

She looked down. He was kneeling, sitting on his calves. He had great thighs, pale as they were against the silky black of his underwear. And as hard as it was getting in this light to see anything now, she was well aware that his shorts were amply filled. She squashed the thought.

"Okay, so now I've seen yours, and you've seen mine. We're even. Let's get this stuff back to camp."

Giles helped her to her feet then picked up her bundle of sticks, pausing when he straightened, to look at the bush she was sitting next to.

"You haven't eaten any of this fruit?" he demanded, picking several pieces of purple, vaguely plum-like fruit.

She shook her head. "If I'd known, I would have in a minute, if only to stop you from doing any more poison tests. Giles!" she shrieked, almost sounding like Dawn when temper met fear.

Giles swallowed the bite of sweet, sticky fruit and met her gaze. "Yes, Buffy?"

"I hope you get the runs... no, I hope you get it coming out of both ends," she huffed. "Not only have you done it again... you got to eat first!"

Without further comment, Giles tied several more pieces of fruit in his shirtfront, handed her the sticks and then picked her up, so that she was forced to adjust her load swiftly and shift the bundle of fruit as she settled against his chest.

"Why are you carrying me? It was just a thorn," she asked, ignoring the fact that her foot was still throbbing excruciatingly.

"It was a bloody big thorn and it left an open hole. Walking back through the filth on the forest floor is a lovely invitation to infection."

She rolled her eyes. "And we can't afford any infections. Right."

Buffy enjoyed the trip back more than she was ever going to let on to Giles. The warmth of his body, the sense of security and connection, was overwhelming. She'd been alone for far too long... ever since her mother's death, in fact. She closed her eyes against that revelation. Spike's face danced in her thoughts.

She'd been planning to see him for Valentine's Day. Just once more... just to... She didn't know how she felt about anything... much less an ensouled Spike. She knew that the vampire had made her care for him, whether she wanted to or not. She wanted... needed... to go out with him to find out if she was in denial again... if she really was in love with him and not willing to admit it. It scared her that she'd plunged so low during the last horrible year for want of him, and worse, that there was any possibility that she could still have feelings for him after...

Once, with Angel, was bad enough, but falling for another vampire... another dead guy...

What did that make her... ?

She closed her eyes against the thought and burrowed her face into Giles' shirt again, letting the warmth and the soothing smell of him obliterate all other thoughts...

Above her, Giles looked down at the golden head. They weren't far from their fire now, and he was almost disappointed that he'd soon have to relinquish his load... though the sticks they'd been losing all the way back would not be missed, and he rather suspected that he was going to have to rinse his shirt and t-shirt at some point. There was a distinct stickiness in the area where he'd tied the fruit.

When they got back, the fire was little more than coals. Giles allowed Buffy to find her feet, or foot, before releasing her... very slowly... nearly as slowly as she let go of him.

"I'll see to the fire," he said hoarsely.

She nodded silently as he took the remainder of the sticks and went to stir the fire back to life, and sat down.

It was getting darker. Buffy could see just enough to know that even though they'd cleared an area to sleep, they were still vulnerable to everything that walked or crawled in their little jungle and it was creeping her out. Demons and Vamps you could kill and they were gone... poisonous bugs or snakes and crawly things in the night... you had to see them before you could kill them... or before they killed you. Not that they were exactly equipped for any kind of defence against wild animals. All they had were the swords, the stakes and the bottle of Holy Water she was carrying when they came through the rift.

When Giles finally turned she could see that he'd prodded the fire into a decent burn again. He brought her pants.

"They seem to be dry enough to wear, although rather smoky."

Buffy took them and smiled. "Cool. At least I won't be getting bit on my... um... are my sneakers dry?"

Giles waited until he turned to smile to himself. That she thought her lovely bottom was safe was probably a good thing. He'd get more sleep that way. He hadn't the heart to tell her that if something wanted to bite her enough it would simply crawl down or up as the case warranted, into her clothing to find its mark.

He examined the shoes. "Quite dry, except for the thickest part of the tongues." When he turned to hand them to her, she was dressed again. He was chagrined to realize a part of him regretted that.

"Shoes with tongues," she muttered, easing the sore foot into the second one. "Next there'll be socks with lips." When it was done, she grinned. "Cool. My toes are no longer bite-y food."

He half smiled. "How are your arms?"

She held them up for his inspection. He slid a finger over the skin of her forearm, tracing bites, and scratches from the sticks. Her body's responding shiver startled her. He seemed to hesitate for a microsecond when it happened, then continued his examination.

"There... there doesn't appear to have been any reaction beyond what you'd expect for the average mosquito bite. No burning, or nausea, or feverishness to speak of?"

Buffy shook her head. "None," she attempted to say, but her voice had gone hoarse all of a sudden. "Nothing," she repeated. "Y-you?"

He swallowed and dropped his arm to his side. "A few lumps and bumps here and there. I'm fine." After a beat his brows drew together. "Starving, actually...and still thirsty. Dying for a good cup of tea, really... and absolutely not looking forward to sleeping on the ground tonight, but other than that... splendid."

It worked. She was smiling again. That smile that said he was being a twit but that she loved it. She'd been doing that since she was sixteen...

"So, here it is, probably not much past six in the evening and all we can do is sleep?"

"Well, I suppose we could chat," he offered half-heartedly.

Or there's the wacky notion that Buffy might not want to die of dehydration," she added as the evening zephyr blew across the creek, making it smell like a hint of rain.

"Oh, good Lord, I-I'd forgotten. I'm sorry, Buffy, but form dictates that we wait until morning... a-although, one would think that if there was anything particularly nasty I should have been feeling some discomfort by now... "

"Duh," she grumped.

When it became apparent she was going anyway, he helped her limp down to the bank and scooped his two hands, locked together, into the crystal clear water, raising them so that she could drink from them. It took several scoops for her to get enough, her lips moving over his cupped palms and drawing the water into her mouth. Giles vainly tried to ignore the sensation.

She straightened when she was done. "God, that was good."

"Right, yes. Good. Hopefully we won't be fighting over the same bush in the morning," he added, altogether too briskly. "Come on, we shouldn't hang about the bank at this time of night. Never know what might come down here to drink... or to hunt things that come down here to drink... "

He helped her back to the camp in silence, Buffy extremely aware of the strength of his arm around her and the warmth of his body. She was turning around in her mind the image of his long, hard legs and the way they disappeared into those shorts. There was also the image of him bending to pick up her shoes earlier, which she'd locked away for later consideration lest her reaction show on her face when he was talking to her. He was supposed to be old and... well... old. Old guys didn't have legs Xander would kill for, or a butt that wouldn't quit...

Okay, that's it. Giles' butt was... Giles' butt. Spike's ass was the one that wouldn't quit... quite the hard little... at least that's what she'd told herself back then, while trying to shut out the memory of Angel's cute, but considerably less... hard... one, or Riley's entirely too cherubic, pink one.

When Giles eased her down next to the fire and straightened again, she studied him properly. He'd taken his glasses off and stored them with his wallet and keys, in some rocks under one of the trees that bordered their copse.

*A Giles word, that: 'Copse'*. She sighed, letting her eyes wander up his long body, from his strong, narrow male feet up to his now slightly sunburned face. He really didn't look much like her Giles. He looked like a man... one put together pretty damned well... put together in a way that was making her have other than Slayer-y thoughts about her Watcher... extremely other. She mentally slapped herself, sure there was something really wrong with that, but not sure what it was. He was checking his jeans, and bending again to check his shoes.

A little groan left her lips, making her jump like a scared cat, but Giles didn't seem to have heard. It was ridiculous. He was Giles. Of the tea, the very old books and the even older tweed... well, sweaters and jeans these days... but still really old. Her brows came together.

"Who chooses your clothes?"

He half-turned, pulling on his almost-dry jeans. "I haven't bought any new clothes in years. What are you talking about?"

"Well that explains a lot," she drawled. "You have the worst taste. Those old sweaters do nothing for you... and you so need to get some decent jeans for that b... for um... so you don't look so shabby all the time."

He picked up his shoes and came towards her. "I'm shabby? Do I need to dress now to be of use to you?"

That was a little sharp. "I-I didn't mean... "

They looked at each other, Buffy wavering helplessly as the green eyes bore into hers. There was a lot more to that question than just a fashion discussion.

Then her expression hardened. "Does a reference to clothes have to mean something other than 'you need to do something to show off your goods a little more'?"

"My what?"

"You heard me. I happened to notice for the first time that you've got something decent to hang great clothes on, but all you ever wear are hand-me-downs."

"I'll have you know those are all my own clothes... a-admittedly accumulated over many years a-and none of them new—"

"None of them are even from this century. You look... " She took a deep breath and plunged. "You look great, Giles. So why is it all I can ever remember is the shabby old professor look, or the 'look, I'm a business man, now' look? If it wasn't Watcher-tweed it was old sweaters or coats out of the ark."

Giles' righteous indignation over what he thought the discussion was going to be about dissolved into utter bewilderment.

"Why on earth are you worrying about how I look when we're stuck in the middle of nowhere in a bloody demon dimension?"

Buffy blinked. There was no answer to that question. At least not one she wanted to think too much about.

"Well you were shaking it all about, there, Giles. It just started me thinking and I thought about those clunky sweaters." No need to tell him that she was also picturing that butt bending over in tight designer jeans and that back flexing in a righteously sexy black t-shirt. She shook herself visibly. She was definitely seriously disturbed. This was Giles. Old Giles: the guy with the serious corduroy fixation.

Giles huffed. "I was not shaking anything about. I don't even have a bloody gourd. Anyway it was your idea to dry my damned jeans. I suppose they're too shabby for words as well."

Buffy's eyes flicked down his front, over his slim hips, and down to the long legs. "Not really. You just have to start shopping somewhere other than Wal-Mart for clothes."

He huffed again. "Bloody women. You're as bad as Olivia. Always wanting to change a man... "

She stopped thinking about how hard the ground was to sit on. Olivia? How did she get into this discussion, and why were her fingers curling and her stomach tightening at the thought of her first meeting with the other woman? Buffy looked up at Giles again. He was still muttering about 'bloody women' as he sat down. She could see him as though it were yesterday... all got up in his Hugh Hefner robe and looking, if she'd been willing to admit it, kinda great. She shuddered again and looked at the man sitting a few feet from her with one leg stretched out and the other bent at the knee so that his foot rested on the ground. Okay, so at the time there was serious wigging going on. There was Olivia wearing nothing but one of his shirts, and Giles, looking all... male... instead of all...

Her eyes suddenly widened. Had she really been that mean? Or was it blind? She'd been wigged out less by the fact that he was doing it with Olivia than by the fact that for once she was seeing him as he really was and not the illusion she'd built up for herself. *Way to go, Summers. Why didn't you just buy him a T-shirt with 'Make Way For the Elderly' written on it*?

Buffy closed her eyes. The truth was making her head hurt, and her stomach was rumbling. She had to stop thinking.

"Giles?"

"I haven't gone anywhere," he grouched.

"How do you feel?"

"Bloody marvellous. How about you?"

She ignored the peevishness. "Starving. Some of us haven't eaten since breakfast. If you aren't going to puke in the next five minutes, I'm going to have some of that fruit."

"Buffy, I really wouldn't... I mean, even I've only had one piece. It's quite possible that it has to be fully digested for any symptoms to—Buffy!"

She'd chomped through an entire piece before he got there and was starting on another one.

"That was incredibly foolish. You want to risk upsetting your stomach, or far worse, fine. But don't come crying to me for toilet paper in the morning," he growled.

Buffy stopped chomping, another reality etching itself in her features. No bathroom. No... nothing. She finished the fruit slowly and wiped her face on her arm, before wiping her arm on her pants.

"I don't know if I can do this," she said quietly.

"Well you're bloody well going to have to, aren't you?" he snapped back.

"I'm sorry about the fruit. I was just... I'm starving... and you made me mad."

He sighed a long, tired sigh. "I know you're hungry. So am I. But it was a very silly thing to do." He looked up at her and fixed her with a gentle green gaze. "And I really didn't want to spend the night worrying about whether you're going to survive your last meal or not."

Buffy's expression softened. "But it was okay for me to worry myself sick about you?"

"But you weren't... I mean you don't usually... um... " He quit while he was behind.

"I don't usually worry about you? You mean I don't care enough to worry about you unless it affects me?" It hurt, and she should have been shocked, but she wasn't. Given her earlier revelations it didn't really surprise her.

Giles was shaking his head, but she knew it was more out of embarrassment than denial.

"That was what you meant. It's okay. It's not true, but I can see how it would have looked that way sometimes." His head came up and he stared at her. Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. "I didn't mean to not care—I mean I cared, but I didn't... you know what I mean... I just... there were always so many things." She looked away. "I really did suck more than the telling of it, didn't I? You know, if we'd had this discussion even a year ago, I'd have been all yelling and defensive and 'I have to put my ass on the line every day and it's so hard and I'm so alone, boohoo, poor me.' Not that it wasn't true," she added with some asperity. "But it was also true that things were just as shitty for you... didn't you ever want to go home? Didn't you ever want a family of your own? A dog? Sex, occasionally?"

"Of course I wanted all those things... well most of them," he said quietly, surprisingly unfazed by her attempt at humour. "I'm human. But I'm also aware that it is not my destiny to have those particular things. One does as one can. I don't regret coming here... well, to California, that is... nor do I regret meeting you or the time we've spent together." A hint of a smile softened his lips and Buffy reciprocated. "Home is where I'm happiest... wherever that may be. I have enough family in Sunnydale, and having Spike in the flat for that period has probably put me off pets for life... "

"So you've accepted a life without any of those things in it, but with a Slayer who never seems to give a crap about whether you're okay or not, never actually saw you as a guy... a man... until you took your pants off... ?" She stopped. "Okay that came out really, really wrong... but you know what I'm saying. Why, Giles? Why do you just accept all that? Why do you even give a damn about me? Even I can see now how as a person, I might actually have not been worth your valuable time... "

He was staring at her again. "Are you sure you're not feeling any ill-effects from today's activities? You seem remarkably... animated," he observed, completely deadpan.

Buffy made a face in the firelight. "Very funny. I am *not* babbling. Don't think you can wriggle out of this one, Mister. How many times in one lifetime do we get to deal with stuff? Any other time, and you'd have been somewhere, and I'd have been somewhere else, either dealing with Dawn, or the bills, or the house... or patrolling or trying to deal with my lame love life... or for something really different, trying to figure out how to deal with friends whose lives were falling to pieces, stop the world from ending or my sister from dying."

"Would this be a tactical withdrawal?" he inquired dryly.

She stopped and reviewed the conversation. "Okay, stopping with the rationalizations now," she conceded. "Nobody likes being wrong. I was just trying to be a little less... wrong."

"Wrong?"

It took a little doing, but she managed to get up without putting too much pressure on her very sore foot, and hobbled over to sit alongside her Watcher.

"Yeah. The wrongest." She laid her head against his arm. "You've got to know you've always been the most important person in my life. I know I've got Dawn now, but she's still kind of a new deal in our lives, no matter what the monks made up. Before she... well, before she came to us... there was never anyone who was as important to me as you."

"Your parents, and Willow, Xander... Riley... *Angel*?" He suggested quietly.

"I wish. I mean, I loved my mom... and I guess maybe even my dad... at least I did once, well still, maybe, if I try really hard, and I love Will and Xand, and okay, there was the whole Angel thing and the mistake that was Riley... but nobody... not any of them, could make as big of a hole in me as you did when you left. It hurt... it hurt like hell when mom died... I didn't think I was going to make it and it wasn't much better when Angel left me, but that pain was nothing compared to the day you said you were leaving."

"You only wanted me there to pay bills and to raise Dawn for you," he said softly. "You had the group for everything else. Since I'd never been permitted to assist with your emotional needs in the past, I didn't see any reason to believe that you'd allow me to start then. Presumably, after I left, you made sure Spike got that job anyway... " There was a remarkable amount of bitterness in the words... and not one giggle this time.

For a moment Buffy didn't speak. This truth stuff was worse than getting the snot beaten out of you by demons or vamps. At least Slayer healing would take care of those kinds of bruises.

"I-I wanted you there because you made things all right. It's true... I wanted you to take care of things. I know that was wrong, but my God, Giles. I wasn't recovering from a broken leg, or a bad relationship. You have no idea exactly how much of a mess I was. I've had to sleep with the door to my room open for nearly a year. I still have nightmares about that damn box... only in the nightmares I don't have Slayer strength to get me out... and nobody comes. And it's not just that. I still... I still feel wrong... like I came back wrong. Spike said I was meant to be in the dark with him... that I was bad... that I liked the darkness and I just didn't know it yet. The truth is I didn't have enough feeling left to care, one way or the other, and a part of me kind of thought he might be right. I was dead inside. The only time I felt alive was when you came back to me. For a few minutes I believed everything was going to be all right. I believed you'd take care of things and we'd be like we were before."

"I tried."

Buffy sat up and looked at the strong profile. "I know."

"What do you know?" he asked, again with a touch of bitterness in his voice. "I tried to connect with you... tried to be there for you then... but you didn't want me. You just wanted everything done, taken care of... problems solved, no waiting. Giles will do it... "

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "When I came back I couldn't connect with anyone... not even Dawn. I had nothing to give. I know I was horrible. Spike told me often enough. Why do you think I went to him? It didn't matter how horrible I was with him. It-it didn't matter if he got hurt... then. At least if he treated me bad enough I could almost feel something... anger, pain. It was better than nothing."

His head turned toward her. "What about love?"

There was silence for a long time. "I don't know what love is," she said finally, resolutely. "I thought I did... but I don't. The spirit guide said I was full of love. Well, I must have bought it at Sears or something, because I sure as hell didn't come by it honestly."

"Of course you do," he chided. "I know you love Dawn very much... you know you do. You died for her, for God's sake. And you loved your mother dearly. You said as much a few moments ago"

Buffy was shaking her head. "They were more important to me than anything. You were more important to me than anything... but me... and love... ?" She shook her head again. "I think that bauble got broken a long time ago."

"I don't understand."

"You shouldn't. I talk too much."

"You don't talk enough. There was a reason the spirit guide said what she did." He trailed his fingers tenderly down her cheek. "You may not recognise it, but you have an enormous capacity for love. I'm well aware that your ability to express that love has been compromised both by the unfortunate events of your childhood and by your calling, but never, ever, think that Buffy Summers cannot love."

His tone was vehement, but for all its power, Buffy felt embraced by his tenderness.

"I don't know how, Giles. I couldn't love Riley. I don't know what I felt for Spike... I thought I loved Angel... " she listed. Then her voice went very flat. "But in the end I knew it was over that morning I woke up and he was gone. I might have wanted things to go back to the way they were... but God, we never had anything before I slept with him... stolen moments, but nothing real, nothing permanent to remember except for major amounts of kissage and enough sexual tension to ignite Mount St. Helens. I was sixteen, for God's sake. Hello to the Harlequin Romance version of love... with my breast beating for him and him with his dark, swarthy good looks... the dashing, brooding hero... yadda-yadda... yawn. So where's the love? I'm not seeing too much love in my life... not of the 'me giving it out' variety, anyway. And it's pretty much my own fault mostly. I mean look how much Riley loved me, but—"

"Buffy, look at me."

She did, meeting his gaze only to be almost undone by the tenderness in his eyes.

"They're all passing fancies... all of them. If you weren't in love with them, you weren't in love with them. It doesn't mean you can't love, only that they weren't right for you... and that, miracle of miracles, some part of that infuriating mind of yours actually knew that before you did."

In the midst of the tension, she giggled. *Nice to be told that it's a miracle that you actually noticed something... not... *

Giles smiled at her. "That's better. Now, let me ask you again. Did you love your mother?" She nodded silently. "And do you love your sister?" She nodded again. "And do you believe that anything can ever change that?" She was still for a moment then shook her head slowly, before meeting his smiling eyes again.

She reached out slowly and touched his cheek as he'd done hers earlier. "You need a shave."

He was very still for beat, then his smile widened. "Ah, well, that's going to be something of a problem, since I don't fancy shaving with my sword."

Amusement showed in her eyes, but her expression remained intense as she searched his face.

"What are we... you and me?"

He grew still again as he contemplated the question. "I think that's something which is still evolving," he said carefully. "We've been many things to each other: librarian and recalcitrant pupil, Watcher and recalcitrant Slayer, comrades in arms, friends— good friends... "

"Friends," she repeated softly then smiled. "And there's my rakish uncle... " Even before Giles had finished opening his mouth to object, she shook her head. "Nope. You were never the 'uncle' type. At least not mine." Something else occurred to her. "And I was never 'recalcitrant'."

"Is that a fact? I seem to remember numerous occasions where you either disobeyed or ignored my express wishes and frequent occasions where a rendezvous at the library to train resulted in my getting several days ahead with the cross-referencing simply because you chose not to make an appearance, and I was loathe to waste the time spent waiting for you to arrive."

Buffy's smile vanished. *Full circle*. "I was a kid. Thinking, especially about consequences, is not a strongpoint of kid-ness. I know this, because I have one of my own now. And I can say with totally certainty that our Dawn has never been on speaking terms with actual thinking, let alone the meaning of the word 'consequences' ... of any kind, hence our happy Halloween last year. I never meant to cause you pain. Kids never do. They just... they don't really get it... that there's anything going on at all outside of their little world... all they know is that they need someone to be there when they screw-up... it's selfish and stupid, but it's true."

"You haven't been a child for a very long time."

"And yet... " she intoned meaningfully then took another tack. "If I was... if I am... so horrible, why do you keep coming back? Why do you stay?"

It was getting really dark now, but she heard him sigh. "Do I really need to answer that?"

"Not if you don't want to," she conceded in a very small voice.

He sighed again. "You should already know the answer."

The silence that followed pained him.

Buffy didn't know what exactly she should already know. She knew they were friends and that he had a responsibility for her, as her Watcher, and that he cared for Dawn. She knew that it mattered to him that the world kept, well... being, just as she knew it mattered to him that she continued to exist. But she still didn't really get why he left, or why he'd stayed for so long... or what kept bringing him back when it was fairly obvious that he'd neither been happy nor had any kind of real life in her world.

Finally, she couldn't stand the silence any longer. "Jelly donuts?"

Ominous silence.

"Yes, of course. It was the sodding donuts. I'm going to sleep. I suggest you do the same."

*Obviously picked a bad time to try and lighten things up*, she decided as he got to his feet and went to build up the fire for the night. The temperature had dropped considerably, but it was far from cold now that they were dry. She got up slowly and gingerly tried her foot. It wasn't too bad. It would probably be all healed by morning.

Giles jumped when Buffy touched his shoulder.

She took her hand away. "Sorry."

"You startled me. That's all." He tossed several branches and a large chunk of tree root onto the pyre he was making.

She shrugged, though there was no one to see. "I didn't mean to. I just wanted... I was kidding about the donuts."

"I know."

"I didn't know the answer."

"I know."

"Will you ever tell me?"

"I hope one day you'll tell me," he said softly, still without turning. "Go to sleep, Buffy. I daresay the forest won't let us sleep much after sunup anyway. Hopefully the fire will keep the worst the place has to offer away for a few hours, at least."

Buffy stood silently for a moment. "Um... isn't there safety in numbers?"

"What numbers? There are two of us, one of whom is the Slayer. We can hardly circle the wagons. I'm perfectly satisfied with the notion of you and a sword just a few yards away."

Her voice dropped into a pout. "How are you going to protect me from the bugs if I'm going to sleep all the way over there? She pointed to where her sword, spare stakes and holy water had been dropped.

More silence.

"I really don't think it's appropriate... "

"Giles, we're alone, stuck in a demon dimension. Last year I was so inappropriate I will probably never be 'appropriate' ever again. Just for once, can you not be so damned 'appropriate'? You've gotta give me points for asking first. No taking for granted, no 'riding roughshod' over your feelings," she mimicked an expression she'd heard him use a hundred times... *Well, ten or twelve anyway... *

He sighed a long, drawn out sigh. "All right. I cannot believe the Chosen One could be such a damned sook about a few insects."

"Excuse me? A *few* insects? I'm getting eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of blowflies, there are beetles on most of these trees that make Fyarl demons look pretty. Even the dragonflies are as big as breadsticks and you wanted to eat a spider the size of your head." Buffy could almost hear Giles rolling his eyes. " I think I've been perfectly reasonable up to now, so you should be 'understanding guy' about a little wigging... especially after the day we've had. And we didn't even build a shelter. It could rain. A demon tiger could eat us in our sleep... "

"Oh, for God's sake, bring your bloody weapons over here."

"Yes-s-s... !"


*******


Buffy woke at dawn, as she had almost every day since she was called. It took her several moments to put it all together and remember where she was and why she was asleep on someone's shoulder... and why the air smelled like a mixture of charcoal, rain and leaves just after you rake them in the fall.

She closed her eyes again and explored the feeling of being against someone warm. It had been a very, very long time. They'd gone to sleep back to back, but somehow, in their sleep, she'd found her way to the one spot in the universe at the moment in which she could feel truly safe. Giles would probably be either royally pissed or extremely embarrassed when he woke up, but for now it was nice to just feel him breathing and feel how, well, *warm* he was, while the brisk morning air chilled her back.

He smelled vaguely of his familiar cologne and his own personal body scent, which was male, yet understated, even if it probably wouldn't be so understated in a couple of days without soap, showers or clean clothes. And neither would hers, she realized with dismay. His breathing was deep and regular, a small sound emanating from his parted lips that couldn't quite be described as a snore. Buffy described it to herself as cute. And those whiskers would be longer. She wasn't at all sure she was going to like bearded Giles. Unshaven, maybe... that way often lay actual sexiness, but not...

Her eyes popped open. She was doing it again. Now her mind's eye had Giles dressed in the black shirt, the designer jeans, contacts, and a couple of day's growth of beard to go with it. Next she'd be redesigning his hairstyle and choosing an earring or something. It was time to try and get up without disturbing him. Morning Buffy was entirely too attuned to morning Giles for her own good. Much longer and she was going to need a cold dunk in the stream.

She extracted herself gingerly from the comfortable hollow of his arm and lifted the leg that was resting on his right one, off, so that she could turn and sit up. That done, she sat for a moment, pleased with her success and wondering what to do next.

"Good morning."

She jumped what felt like a foot in the air. "I thought you were still asleep?" Her tone was edgier than it should have been, made worse by his quiet chuckle.

Giles drew himself to a sitting position. "I've been in and out of a light doze for the last hour or so. It was rather difficult to go back to sleep with a beautiful woman on my arm."

She turned and searched his face. "I'm beautiful?"

His head tilted to one side. "Fishing for more compliments? You are not a beauty in the classical mould, but you already knew that. You are, however, a very lovely young woman. Satisfied?"

Her nose wrinkled. "I'll have to think about it for a while. The trouble with you is half the time a person doesn't know whether they've been complimented or insulted."

He barked out a laugh that was spontaneous and natural. Buffy watched him in amazement. It changed his whole face. It was open and strong and not anything like when he was trying to hide an embarrassed giggle.

"I think its time we both had a wash, and found something to store water in besides that farting little Holy Water bottle of yours. Besides, we don't know if we're going to need it later, or not," he said when he sobered.

"I vote for 'not'. This place is more likely to have vampire bats than vampires. So who gets the first bath and the first drink?"

Giles made a grand gesture. "Be my guest."

By the time Buffy had weathered the cool spring and put her clothes back on over her damp person, Giles had restarted the fire. She was glad of it for a few minutes, while her body shook off the chill of the water and her clothes aired, but the day was rapidly warming up and looking pretty non-fire needing.

"So what's the fire for? We don't have anything to cook... or cook in, and I don't see any beastie things to frighten off."

"It's substituting for towels, mostly. Also I was rather hoping to guddle something from the stream for breakfast."

"Guddle? Sounds disgusting. Do I want to know?"

He rolled his eyes as a matter of form. "It means catching fish with one's hands."

"Oh. Well, I didn't see anything that looked like fish. I saw lots of bugs... none of which I'm going to eat, by the way, *ever*, and some birds that kind of looked like big white ducks with shaggy red hair... or ostrichy stuff, or something, on their heads. Oh, and there were a couple of lizards sitting on rocks in the sun, and one snake came out of the grass on the bank and swam downstream. It looked like the pretty one from yesterday. I'm not sure I want to eat any of those, either. The ducks were kinda cute."

Giles processed all this information. The 'ducks' possibly meant meat and quite probably nests with eggs. The snake wasn't a terribly comforting thought and if it came down to survival, Buffy bloody well would find herself eating bugs, but he thought better of telling her so, or that they were frequently very nutritious, if not terribly palatable, until it was absolutely necessary.

"Fine. Watch the fire and I'll see what I can do about breakfast. I don't suppose you noticed anything we might make into a bowl or any kind of utensil to hold water?"

She shook her head and watched him sigh and head off to the creek.

Giles washed himself slowly, enjoying the briskness and the feeling of being clean again... or at least as clean as one could get without soap or hot water. None of Buffy's creatures were to be seen when he reached the water. She'd made a good job of flushing everything out and frightening them away for the time being.

He was finishing up and reaching for his boxers when it broke cover for the first time.
*Wonderful*, he thought. Not a stitch on, no sword... and even if Buffy arrived on the scene she'd be too busy falling about laughing to fight the bloody thing.

The coal black feline, as big as a healthy lioness and as heavily muscled as a leopard, sniffed the wind, which thankfully was blowing the other way, then padded down to the bank on the other side of the stream. Giles stood as still as a statue while it put its head down. Unfortunately it must have been some time between drinks, because it took so long to finish that he was starting to get a cramp in his right thigh. Not to mention a sudden need to find a bush. Bloody fruit...

When the cat finally lifted its head again its large yellow eyes looked straight at him. Adrenaline coursed through every pore in his body, the flight reflex making every muscle scream to run, but he held his ground and stared back, even as the shoulder muscles on the silky black back seemed to bunch.

*Oh Lord, it was going to pounce... *

"Gi-yu-ules! I'm starving. Have you found anything to eat yet?"

At the sound of Buffy's voice at ear-splitting decibels, the cat's pointed ones flicked back and flattened against its head.

"Giles? Are you all right down there?"

The creature made a sound halfway between a leopard's scream of rage and a housecat's mutter of discontent, wheeled and sauntered off into the scrub once again. Giles sank to his haunches in the water, his leg muscles still trembling. He didn't have the wherewithal to shout a reply for a moment. Nothing like facing one's mortality to start the day...

"Giles?" Buffy appeared at the top of the slope down to the water. "Giles, are you okay? Did something bite you?"

He finally lifted his head. "I'm fine. Now. Give me a few moments to get dressed."

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that. Didn't mean to interrupt your nakedn... um... bath. You've been gone a long time and I was worried."

"Yes, quite. Not to mention starving, I'll warrant," he said dryly.

"Well there is that. I ate my share of the left over fruit, but my stomach wants food, not frutcose."

He sighed. "If I might be allowed to get out of the rather cold water... ?" He started to stand, cramping up now, and tired of waiting.

"Giles, you're naked!" she squeaked, turned on her heel and hared off back to the campsite.

"So I am," he said, with weary patience then managed a small, self-satisfied smile as he climbed out and dried himself with his t-shirt, before dressing swiftly. He had an urgent date with a bush...

There was no breakfast to be had. They spent the better part of the next several hours going back to the stream-mouth and the beach and fossicking for food and useful items to make a shelter, weapons or anything that might hold food or water.

Buffy didn't ask what happened at the stream and Giles didn't feel inclined to re-live the experience just yet.

"Giles, didn't you used to work for a museum or something?"

He turned another rock in the hopes of flushing a crustacean or shellfish they could eat.

"Yes."

"Well, does that mean you know about primitive people and how to find food and make like, fish traps and spears and lean-tos and all that stuff? Or were you just like... the museum librarian?"

Giles grimaced. "Yes, Buffy, I spent all my time cross-referencing bloody bones. Well done."

Buffy looked up from her job of scanning the shallow water for anything that moved. "There's no call to get snippy. I didn't even get to go to college, remember...at least not for very long. Besides, how unfair is that, anyway? You've never, ever told me... I mean us, anything about yourself except that you wanted to be a fighter pilot or a grocer when you were ten, and that you really wished you'd never got into raising demons," she abridged carefully. " I don't even know if you had parents, or a dog... or if you played a sport, or even a bunny in your school play. Most of Rupert Giles is all big empty spaces... no details. You should be happy I even knew there *was* a museum. It's not like you ever told me about it."

Giles blinked. He hated it when she was right... and righteous with it. "All right, fine. I was a curator at the British Museum. I have a degree... a doctorate... in archaeology and some knowledge of anthropology, palaeontology, zoology, botany and natural history. Happy now?"

"Only if you can make traps to catch us some dinner... and maybe make us somewhere a little less buggy to sleep."

"Does madam want satin sheets with that, or will palm leaves do?" The sarcasm was dripping from every word.

"Giles, you can be so... Ooh!"

He shifted swiftly to see what had caught her attention. The tide had turned some time in the last hour or so and was now running in rather well. Buffy was pointing to something moving on the sandy bottom.

"Crab," Giles announced. "A bloody big one."

Bickering forgotten, Buffy looked up at him like an excited six year old. "Can we eat it?"

He laughed. "We have to catch it first."

"So... " she urged. "Go."

Giles looked down at the mud-crab sized crustacean, orange-red with huge cream coloured claws held up like weapons.

"Be my guest."

"But... "

"You are the Slayer."

Buffy turned tail and Giles thought she was flouncing off. He was about to level another burst of sarcasm at her when she kicked off her shoes and shucked her jeans then bent, giving him heart failure again, and picked up one of the swords from the bank. Finally, she waded into the water and happily skewered the hapless crab in one impressive thrust.

"Lunch," she announced, holding up her, now dead, prize, then looked him in the eye. "Wimp."

"Oh, really? I'd look behind you before you say that again."

She turned her head and squinted down into the water behind her. At least two or three more, even bigger, crabs were scuttling sideways towards her, all of them with terrifyingly large pincers cocked and ready for action.

She shrieked and ploughed out of the water while Giles fell about laughing.

"Asshole," she muttered when she reached the bank and dropped her loaded sword. A moment later she picked up the other one, catching his eye as he sobered again. "Your turn."

Once they'd secured four crabs, Giles realized that they didn't have anything to cook them in and he doubted roasting them would do them justice.

"You know if this was a movie, there'd be coconut palms or a gourd tree or something," Buffy complained as they walked along the beach looking for anything, even a sizable seashell.

"You've seen too many movies. And I've read too many books. If this was the Swiss Family Robinson there would be a marvellous array of barrels and supplies washed up on shore by now."

"You mean like 'Danger, Danger Will Robinson'?" she quoted. "I thought they were American and lost in space, not on an island."

"Americans," Giles muttered. "Never mind. I say, I think we're about to have a one of those moments after all. Look."

Buffy looked down at the item Giles had spotted and screwed up her face. "I think I'm going to be sick."

"I think I can clean it up," he said appraisingly. "It's mostly dried out anyway."

Her eyebrows went up. "You are so not bringing that back with us."

"True enough. I'm going to find a way to anchor it in the mouth of the stream and hope that in a few days, between the current and the interested feeders, it will be clean enough for us to use for water or carrying all manner of things. I will do a final polish with sand when it's dry just to make certain all the unpleasantness is gone before we use it."

Buffy looked down at the bizarre looking, but very large, sea turtle shell... and remaining, very stinky guts, and then back at Giles. "You're going to expect me to carry this, aren't you? You could at least wash it and clean out some of the grossness with your sword first."

In the end they made a fire on the beach and roasted the crabs on the end of their swords, Giles mourning his fine blades as they blackened in the heat of the flames. Their catch turned out to be full of meat with the texture of rock lobster and the colour of butter. Though his instinct was that it would have been better for him to try it and then wait to see what happened, he didn't have the heart to make Buffy go hungry again after the effort they'd gone to, and the pleasing aroma of the cooked crabs.

With a prayer to anyone who'd listen, he cracked open all the shells with the hilt of his sword, being careful not to mush the thick legs and claws in the process. By the time he was done they were cool enough to pick up. Amazingly Buffy waited, turning to him instead.

"It smells great. Do you think it's okay to eat? I mean, I could just try a piece and we could see if I'm barfing in the morning. The rest will keep under some leaves, in the shade, to have cold like crab back home, later, right?"

He smiled at her. "A very wise and sensible precaution," he agreed. "But I suspect your stomach is in about the same state as mine and neither of us will get much sleep tonight if we don't eat something besides those plums."

Her eyes lit up hopefully. "Does that mean lunch is on?"

He grinned and nodded. "Dinner is served."

They feasted for some time, savouring the best of the meat, which did indeed taste like rock lobster... buttery rock lobster. Giles suspected a very high fat content, which would serve them well as a food source until they could do better... provided of course it didn't kill them first.

When they were finished they had a pile of very empty crab shells and very full stomachs.

Giles stretched. "Could have done with a nice Chardonnay with that."

Buffy smiled tolerantly at him. "And I'd really like a mocha right now... and I don't guess after-dinner mints are going to be an option?"

He looked sideways at her and smiled back. "We'll get out of this, I promise you. I'm not exactly sure how, yet, but we will. And in the meantime we can keep busy trying to make things a little more comfortable for ourselves. Once we've done that, we're
going to have to find a way to climb one of the big trees and get a good look at where we are, and what, if anything, there is for us to make for if we leave here." The giant forest trees were smooth-trunked, except for a lush crown starting about thirty feet up. Their smaller cousins and various palms and ferns were interspersed with the behemoths, but the top leaves of even the largest of those barely reached the underside of the canopy.

"Even if we can't find a way, Will and the others have gotta be looking for us by now... that is if time works the same way here. What if it's only five minutes since we left or... or a hundred years? Oh, God... " Buffy's good mood vanished. "Do you think... ?"

"No I don't think," he chided. "In any case I see no point in worrying yourself until we know one way or the other. You're quite right. Willow and the others are more than capable of investigating what happened to us and finding a way to bring us home. Now, we've got about six hours of good light left to pick some more fruit for supper and more importantly, to find something to make ourselves a shelter." He looked up at the sky. "No sign of rain, but I don't think we can put it off any longer. Besides, I want to make some kind of platform off the ground to sleep on."

Buffy made an effort to put away her fear and to stop thinking about the hell dimension she'd been caught in back when she ran away to Los Angeles, or worse, the one in which Angel had spent a hundred years in just a few months...

"So we're going to have just one shelter? I mean, two would be kind of extravagant, when one would do, right?"

His eyes flashed with both amusement and irritation. He'd automatically thought in terms of one shelter, without contemplating the connotations of that. Trust Buffy to pick up on it immediately.

"Well start with one," he told her gruffly. "And once that is finished we'll start on a second one. Our clearing has a number of stout trees close enough together to anchor our shelters securely."

"Spoilsport," Buffy teased, getting up and wandering down to the water's edge to wash her hands. When she came back he'd buried the shells and smothered the fire.
"God, I'm thirsty. We have to find a way to carry water."

"Well, various primitive peoples in this kind of environment used either gourds or the bladders or intestines of various animals they'd hunted or slaughtered, as water vessels."

Buffy turned a little green. "Whatever happened to clay pots and jugs?"

Giles gave up trying to keep a straight face. "I doubt that most of them would have a potter's wheel or a kiln in the jungle, Buffy."

She made a small, unhappy noise. "I hate this back to nature stuff. There has to be something we can use. It's been hours since we've had anything to drink. That can't be good for us."

"It won't hurt," he assured her, "but I agree it's not very pleasant. Mind you if it were ten degrees warmer today we might have been a lot more uncomfortable, perhaps even made ourselves ill exerting ourselves as much as we have without re-hydrating."

"Whatever happened to good old pollution?" She muttered, watching the waves roll up onto the shore. "Anywhere in the good ol' US of A where there's water, there's a Coke bottle, or a beer bottle or a can floating in it: it's the American way."

Giles made a noise suspiciously like a rude word as they headed up the beach to the path back to the camp. "Well, we'll just have to find a more ecologically sound solution, won't we? I'm sure we can find a creature around here somewhere willing to donate some steaks for our supper and give up its bladder for posterity."

"You are so gross!"

As they disappeared into the undergrowth, Giles' shout of laughter echoed across the marshland.


*******


After eating several more fruit for supper, despite the fact that both of them were experiencing mildly upset stomachs, with the usual consequences, they turned in without having built their new shelter. The rest of the day had not been wasted, however.

Giles had found plants and leaves that suited his purpose, but wasn't happy with any of the possibilities for the frame. They'd brought back armfuls of palm and other thick or tough and very colourful leaves, and huge amounts of stems from another kind of plant that frayed when they cut it. Giles said it was a good thing, but they were so tired by the time they'd carried back multiple loads, picked more fruit and followed one of Buffy's weird ducks for over an hour until they found out it was a courting male and not a sitting female, and therefore didn't have a nest for them to find, that shelter-building had been postponed for another day.

By mid-morning the following morning, they'd made about four miles upstream, exploring new territory, without straying too far from their best landmark. Giles was blazing trees anyway, but until they were more comfortable with their environs they wanted the security of being able to follow the watercourse back to their campsite.

They'd turned Giles' t-shirt into a sack with some improvised knots in the sleeves and one to close the neck. It hadn't taken long to fill it with several kinds of fruit and some weird pods Buffy wanted to open to see if they could be cleaned out and used to serve food in. They were the size of Giles' hand, olive coloured and bumpy, but they were the first things they'd found that looked like they could hold... something... at least.

Buffy stopped at a huge thicket, tired of chopping and bashing stuff out of the way. "We should rest for a bit. Water might not be an issue up here, with the stream and all, but it's definitely hotter today."

Giles, however, was walking toward the hulking great growth of what looked like cane of some kind.

"Ouch!"

And obviously very sharp leaves.

Buffy followed him. "Be careful. Like you said, you don't know what's poisonous, and what's not... like with weird alkaloids and stuff... "

He turned, his eyes narrowed. "Where on earth did you learn about plant alkaloids?"

Colour rose in Buffy's cheeks and she looked more than a little sheepish.

"Let me guess: television again?"

"Um, what's so interesting about this stuff?" She changed the subject.

He turned back to the tall growth. "It's what we needed. Rather like rattan, which will do us nicely for making the walls of a shelter. Cut as many long thin ones as you can, while I work on getting us some heavy ones."

Buffy eyed the cane. "How many trips is it going to take for you to be satisfied?"

"Hard to say," he replied, failing to pick up on her less than cheerful tone. "Several, probably. With your Slayer strength, I daresay you'll be able to carry as much as three of me, which will help considerably, but in order to do the job properly we'll need enough for four sides and a roof, not to mention a sleeping platform."

"Oh... joy," she muttered, and started cutting.

It took them two days, with mornings devoted to finding food, especially since most of the new fruit was either bitter or in one case, caused a nasty reaction. Giles had been in some pain and had spent the greater part of one morning somewhere far enough downwind of the camp that Buffy couldn't hear his groans or detect the olfactory consequences of playing Russian roulette with alien foods. Fortunately the rash had all but cleared up as well, by the second day.

Their diet, therefore, still consisted pretty much of crabs and plums to fortify themselves for the work ahead, and the greater part of the rest of each day was devoted to the collection of the cane, to bring back enough material to satisfy Giles. On the second morning he'd also stumbled on a waterside stand of saplings on his way to get a drink, a rarity in the old growth forest. They were a type of tree they hadn't seen before, prompting the Watcher to suggest that at some point the creek had probably flooded and brought the seeds or nuts of the saplings down from somewhere much higher up.

Buffy, watching him study the area and the young trees, was beginning to realize that for perhaps the first time since they'd met, Giles was now the one, not her... and that it felt... right.

"You really are good at this stuff, aren't you?"

"What? Not really. Knowledge can be very useful, but if something with very large teeth and claws comes crashing out of this lot in the next ten minutes it won't mean a damned thing, will it?"

She smiled ruefully. "It'll mean I get a chance to do something useful for a change."

Giles started to cut down one of the saplings. "You're doing fine. Everything would have taken three times as long without your help. Just like this will if you don't come over here and help me cut some of these."


*******

That night they sensed the beginnings of a change in the weather. The wind had shifted and the air ceased carrying the smell of the ocean on it.

"We are going to start putting the shelter together tomorrow, right?" Buffy asked, stretching stiffness out of her back. Slayer or not, the amount of heavy carrying she'd been doing had taken its toll on muscles and spine. Her seedpods lay discarded. Inside they were almost all woody pith with only tiny cavities. It would take forever to carve out the hard pith and the swords were taking enough of a beating as it was.

Giles looked up from his toiling over the frayed stems they'd brought back earlier. He'd already stripped one entire stem into long, greenish-white stringy bits and was starting on another.

"Absolutely. I hope to have a supply of twine ready by the time we're ready to go to sleep."

"Twine? How does mutilated plant end up being string?"

He picked up a number of threads and began braiding and twisting them until, when he finally tied it off, he had a couple of feet of, not very pretty, twine, which by the way he was tugging on it to test for strength, wasn't going to break anytime soon.

"I'm impressed."

"Good." He picked up a handful of the stripped pieces and handed them to Buffy. "You can help me get finished sometime before daybreak."

In the end they were finished only a few hours after sundown. They had shifted close to the fire to continue once the last of the light was gone, and didn't stop until Giles pronounced himself happy with the pile they'd amassed.

They were getting settled for the night, now on temporary beds of the leaves they'd brought back to the camp, when the night air was split by a yowling roar that Giles recognised immediately... the hackles rising on his neck and the gooseflesh all over his body attesting to the fact.

It was very close by.

Buffy looked up at her companion, looking for an indication of whether she should be worried or not. One look at Giles' face, even just by firelight, was enough to make her go and pick up the swords and her stakes.

"Are we sleeping or watching tonight?" she asked, when he still hadn't moved moments later.

"What? Oh... you sleep. I'll stand watch tonight. If it's what I think it is, it's a large carnivore... feline... looks rather like an overgrown black leopard... "

Buffy frowned. "Did I miss something?"

"Um yes, actually. You frightened one off when I was down at the stream the other day."

"That's why... " She scowled. "Why didn't you say something?"

"Apart from feeling rather stupid about facing my mortality in my birthday suit, I didn't want to alarm you any more than this place already does."

"Funny, I'm not that alarmed anymore. The bugs pretty much keep to themselves except for the bite-y things and those little beetles that run over you if you sit too long in one place, and while I'm pretty much still jonesing for ice cream and a bath with actual soap, and maybe toilet paper and coffee—not necessarily in that order, I'm dealing."

Their shared almost-smile of civilization withdrawal solidarity stayed with Buffy even when she woke the next morning and found Giles stretched out alongside her, sword close to his hand.

She tickled his nose with a fingertip. "Hey."

One green eye opened then closed again. "Not moving. Closed for stocktaking," he mumbled.

"I thought you were on sentry duty... and you were going to call me to take over... remember?"

"Too bloody knackered."

She half-giggled, half-rolled her eyes. "That's my hero."

"Not me. You," he mumbled.

Buffy touched his stubbly cheek, a rush of affection making her want to brush his sunburned forehead with her lips. She refrained, but got up without disturbing him any further.

When he finally stirred, much, much later, Giles thought he was dreaming. He sniffed again. Buffy had a low fire burning and she was crouched over it.

She looked up when she sensed him close to her back. "I thought you'd like something different. Well, not that different... but hey, you didn't have to cook it or catch it... "

The fire had burned down to a bed of red-hot coals on which Buffy had rested a wide, flat flagstone, probably a river stone, the size of a dinner plate but more or less pear shaped. Alongside her were roasted crab shells. On her stone was what looked very much like crab omelette.

"You followed the ducks?"

"Yeah. Mrs. Duck was pretty pissed, but I only took the ones that slooshed when I shook them. The other four were pretty much on their way to becoming more little ducks. Sorry. I was sorta hoping to find something better than crab to put in it... but no corner store."

"On the contrary," Giles told her. "This is a marvellous idea... the stone, the eggs... which are quite cooked, by the way."

"Ooh... um. Oh." She stopped, stumped. "God, I thought of everything except something to put it on after it's cooked."

Giles thought for a moment then went over to their piles of building supplies and returned with two clean, but slightly wilted palm-leaves, which weren't much different to banana leaves.

Delighted, Buffy scraped omelette onto both with the razor clam shaped shell she'd been using to tend the eggs on the stone.

They ate in silence, savouring the new taste. The eggs were very rich... probably too rich if they were back in Sunnydale with hen eggs available, but both of them savoured them as though they were filet mignon... or jelly donuts.

Buffy sighed and took his soiled leaf. "We so have to find something other than crab. Another week of this and I'll never be able to face crab, ever again. My turn to wash up."

Giles smiled crookedly at the highly unoriginal humour. "Be my guest," he told her, still tired and stiff from the previous few days. He decided that a quiet day and perhaps an increased amount of calories, if they could find something more substantial to eat, would probably solve the problem.

"So where are we going today?"

"Apart from food collection, I think we'll stay in today. We need to rest, and not get too run down. We'll try and at least construct the side panels for the shelter instead."

It took Giles almost two hours of trial and error to find a way to form a rectangle with his heavy cane, and to secure the joins with his twine with enough strength to stop it from coming apart when he tried to stand it up.

"Wow. A geometric shape," Buffy announced, returning from a trip to the fruit tree.

"Ha, bloody ha," he muttered, selecting thinner canes and lashing them to his frame just as tightly.

Some time later Buffy came back from a fruitless search for more duck nests, and wandered over to look at his work. The thin canes were set a few inches apart, right across the frame.

"There's gaps," she pointed out redundantly.

He looked up at her with *that* look on his face. "Astonishing how you manage to detect these things."

She handed him a fruit and smiled. "Go, me."

Giles shook his head and went to his piles of leaves and stems. For the next couple of hours Buffy watched him weave heavy stems and stout leaves in turn, over and under the canes. It wasn't until he'd done the same thing again on the reverse side, to double the thickness, and pronounced the panel finished, that Buffy understood why he was using several different materials.

He hadn't just made a wall for their shelter... a pretty impressive wall, given the 'nothing' they had to build it with... especially the no tools, no nails and no anything part of that nothing... he'd made art out of it. It was a simple design, with diagonal slashes of red and pale gold in a basically green background.

"You've done this before?"

Giles looked up at her, aware of the admiration and surprise in her voice. "Read about it. It's a relatively simple technique. I don't know how long it will stand up to a storm, but the leaves I chose should be water proof enough for a cloudburst or a quiet downpour."

By the time night fell they'd completed three more panels, Buffy practising her weaving as Giles constructed the other frames. Her design ideas were too grand and ended up looking like extremely demented Picasso, but neither of them cared. Once she'd mastered the weaving part, her work was as strong as his and it was speeding up the building process considerably.

The following day Giles experimented until he found a strong enough way to make the entrance panel, before turning his attention to a design for the roof. He felt if anything, more tired than ever but dismissed it as a concession to his age and the adjustment to their new living conditions.

"I don't want a flat roof if we can help it. The first deluge—and we don't know what kind of weather we might eventually get—and the weight of the water on a flat roof will probably collapse it. Nor do I want to provide a platform for one of our feline friends to park itself on and wait for breakfast to emerge."

Buffy looked up from weaving around the doorframe. "Good plan. So what are we going to do?"

"I'm not sure, but I think now is the time to construct the basic frame work so that I can better visualize what I have to do. Buffy watched him walk over to the edge of the clearing and put a hand on one of the giant tree trunks. She guessed he was going to have to cut it, and it was pretty clear by his sombre expression that he wasn't happy about the idea.

"Will you have to hurt it much?" She asked quietly.

He hadn't realized that she'd moved up to stand at his elbow. "Not a great deal. It just doesn't seem... right. I will need you, and your sharpest stake, for the next part. We're going to use these two trees to anchor the rear of the shelter, and hopefully prevent it from blowing away during the first real gale that hits us."

The process of Giles marking out where he wanted the sapling poles to go using a now-battered sword point, followed by Buffy using her Slayer strength to increase the size of the hole, first by driving her stake into it with a rock, then using both hands and a lot of sweat to pull it back out again, was straightforward, but time consuming.

When she was done, Giles could fit the trimmed and cut-to-length pole into the hole she'd made. He watched approvingly as she drove it in with the rock until there was no way he would ever be able to pull it out again. The other tree was simply notched to the same depth, so the pole could slide, with a little bending by Buffy, snugly into place. Giles added a vertical pole, a couple of feet higher than the height of the cross beam, driven into the ground exactly halfway between the two anchor trees. Then he brought his rear panel, lacing it first to the horizontal pole, then to the central pole for added strength. With the 'wall' in place, he began joining lengths of twine to lash the frame of it to the tree trunks as well.

When he finally stood back, looking more tired than ever, Buffy gave it a shake to see how firm it was. She was surprised to find it almost rigid, at least without using Slayer strength on it. It wasn't huge, but she had to stand on tiptoe to look over it.

When Giles went to select the heavy saplings for the opposite corners, Buffy followed and put a hand on his arm.

"Giles, you need to rest. You don't look so good."

"I'm fine," he told her and scratched at his rapidly thickening beard. "I'm never going to get this bloody thing finished if I keep gentleman's hours."

Buffy blew out a frustrated breath. "Then tell me how I can help?"

She 'helped' by driving the two three-inch diameter posts into the ground for Giles, as well as a couple of smaller ones for the doorframe. The foundation saplings were over seven feet long after trimming and stripping, and after digging holes about a foot deep with the sword, he'd asked her to drive them at least another foot into the ground, which, when the holes were filled, meant they were in no danger of moving again, either.

After that she simply fetched and carried, handing him twine and panels and finishing lacings where he directed. By the time the light was starting to fail, they had a pretty impressive enclosure, in Buffy's opinion.

As they sat and ate their fruit that night neither of them mentioned the fact that they still hadn't seen another sentient being, nor had there been any sign of the Scoobies trying to contact them, or rescue them, even though they had now been missing for a week... way too long to have not been missed... they hoped.

The next day Buffy set about really cleaning out the enclosure, smoothing the ground and making certain there were no holes in the earth where nasties of any kind, insect, reptile, or beast, could unexpectedly pop out to surprise them in the night, while Giles worked on the roofing problem. They'd eaten the last of the fruit for breakfast but Giles still looked like hell when they were done. And he still hadn't solved his roofing problem.

When he'd sat contemplating for almost an hour without moving, Buffy went and hunkered down next to him. "What exactly is the problem?"

He made an upside down "V" shape with his hands. "We need this, and we have the rear support in place." He pointed to the apparently over-sized centre pole supporting the back wall. "But I haven't come up with a strong enough solution for the front support that wont bisect the doorway," he explained in a flat, tired voice. Buffy sat with him, considering the problem for the next half hour.

"Move the doorway," she said finally, breaking the silence.

"What?"

"So we have to take one panel off and make another one. Move the doorway right across to the side... we're keeping it small, right? So it's easier to defend? So the doorway's what... a little over a couple of feet wide? I'm guessing the panel is a little wider than I am tall. So we take the old wall off, make a new one with the door on one side, put your central support pole in... and not only do you get the pointy part for the roof, you get something strong to swing an actual door on. Am I good or what?"

Her grin disappeared when she met Giles' eyes. There was a spark of amusement and acknowledgement of her ingenuity in them, but he looked really ill, which explained why he hadn't already solved the relatively simple problem himself. Somehow, in the last few hours he'd gone from looking just plain tired to scarily pale, in spite of the increasing tan. There were dark patches under his eyes and the normally animated green eyes were almost dead.

"Giles, you're sick."

He shook his head. "I'm just tired."

"You don't have a mirror. You're scaring me. You look bad; you have no colour. I mean: you make Spike look like the poster boy for healthy living. I'm serious here. It's not like we can drop by the emergency room."

He was convinced less by her babble than by the fear in her voice. He nodded very slowly.

"I don't know what it is. I've eaten nothing you haven't shared, except that last new fruit, so I don't believe I've been poisoned. We've checked each other for bites every morning and there's been nothing other than the same pest which has been biting you."

"Maybe you're getting allergic to something and I'm not?" She knew she was floundering, but she was more than a little frightened. "Or we could have missed a bite... something that didn't make a lump or a rash?"

"Perhaps. If I had some welts or a rash I might suspect contact poisoning from some of the materials we've used for the huts, but... " He stopped when Buffy lay a cool palm on his brow. It felt so, very, very good...

Alarm coloured her cheeks. "Giles, you're burning up! All I know for fever is aspirin-slash-doctor soonest. What did they do before aspirin?"

"Waited it out, I'm afraid." He took her hand reassuringly in his. "If it gets worse, build a fire and keep me close to it, but if the fever gets too high, you'll need to bathe... " He took a moment to deal with that. "You'll need to bathe me to reduce the fever...but you mustn't let me chill, either. If it doesn't kill me first, the fever will eventually burn out the virus, or the infection, if we're lucky... but if I chill and can neither fight this infection nor any other opportunistic one that happens by while I'm weakened, I will die."

She looked stricken. "Aren't there some, like, native remedies? Something you could whip up... even some magic, maybe? I know you can do it: I have our Eyghon talk etched into my brain. C'mon, Giles. There must be something else we can do!"

Again, Giles shook his head slowly. "If we were in the Amazon, perhaps, or if I had my books... I-I'm sorry."

Buffy's fingers tightened around his and she rested her head against his shoulder. "We'll get you through this. We have to."

While she could still afford to leave Giles alone, Buffy collected food—as much as she could find, to last for the next few days. Fruit; a number of live crabs, their claws trussed with bits of Giles' twine; live razor clams found by treading on one in the mud while chasing crabs, for that night; two new eggs just laid by mother duck to replace the stolen ones, and a half a t-shirt full of nuts Giles had been planning to try. They looked like a greeny-yellow version of a macadamia when you broke open the shiny, spherical, ebony shell. He hadn't been able to bring himself to risk the health of either of them while they were building, and had postponed the tasting ever since the day they'd first seen them, on their way back from harvesting cane.

She brought the turtle shell to the campsite. The crabs and whatever else that came in with the tide every day had skun it clean and on one of their breakfast forays Giles had worked it over with sand as an abrasive before leaving it to dry in the sun for the last couple of days. Even with her Slayer strength, it took a bit of work to fill the big shell and carry it back to camp, up the slope, but she managed. She also arranged a new bed of leaves, covered in layers by new 'banana' leaves to make a slightly softer sleeping surface for him. More than anything, she wished she had a blanket to cover him with. It was what you did when people were sick...

After eating some of the clams and a couple of pieces of fruit at her insistence, he lay down on it without argument, next to the fire she'd built, something she'd become very good at under Giles' tutelage. While he slept, she sat beside him working on a new entrance panel to replace the old one.

Giles was right. It was a simple technique and so long as she was willing to redo new things several times if necessary, like tying joints together, she was able, eventually, to replicate his work. The hardest part was unlacing the old panel and putting the new one on. Even pulling out the posts for the original doorframe was easier. She didn't want to cut the old twine used in the lacing, because she needed to recycle it where possible for the new work, so the knots had to be undone.

Giles continued to sleep so heavily that his breathing became almost stentorian. Buffy continued to work to put the energy she would have used worrying herself to death about Giles to good use while circumstances permitted. Measuring and cutting cane for the roof panels didn't take long. By the time the light was failing, she'd lashed a cross member to the two support poles for the roof, and laced her new roof panels to it, and to the base frame. She was certain Giles would want to strengthen it as soon as possible, but at least if it rained or stormed, or got really hot, they had some shelter from the elements now.

The small, triangular spaces in front and back she would worry about in the morning, if Giles' condition hadn't changed.

Buffy went and checked him for what felt like the hundredth time. Sometimes all she did was listen to his breathing, especially when he stopped snoring for any length of time. At others she would check his brow, or sponge his face, but he never stirred, not even to go to the bathroom or for a drink of water.

Nothing had changed. He wasn't snoring any more, but he was breathing deeply and rhythmically, and his brow still burned.

She moved her food store, Giles' wallet, glasses, which he was still only using for close work lest he break or lose them, and keys and all the spare weapons, as well as her growing assortment of seashell implements, into the new shelter. Since she couldn't yet secure it, she covered the food, particularly the crabs, with 'banana' leaves, the only protection they had against forest moochers for the time being.

After a quick visit to the stream to wash her cooking stone, herself and the all-purpose t-shirt so that she could use it to bathe Giles when necessary, Buffy was ready to settle for the night. She moved her sword and her favourite stake next to him, built up the fire to last for several hours on the deep bed of hot coals beneath it, and did one more perimeter check before settling herself on the ground next to him.

He was starting to get restless again... and hotter. Buffy dipped the cloth in the turtle shell, soaking it in cold water, and bathed his brow again. She stroked it slowly and tenderly, making soothing noises until he gradually fell back into a deep sleep, and continued to watch him for a long time afterward. The heat radiating from him was beginning to really frighten her.

Silence. Or not. For the first time, every noise, every call, every singing insect in the forest seemed like a cacophony. She could even hear that cat calling in the far distance, and another one answering it from even further away, moments later. Nature's kind of silence, she decided, looking down at Giles, was way overrated...

Sword and stake on the ground between them, Buffy curled up against Giles. If she didn't have a blanket for him, she could at least share a little bodily warmth... except he was radiating enough for both of them. She snuggled in tighter, her head on his shoulder, her leg once again hooked over his right one. It meant the sword and the stake were kind of under her, but she considered that preferable to having to reach blindly for them, or having to leave either weapon where they could be picked up and used against them.

She almost laughed to herself. Fat chance. The most intelligent thing they'd seen so far was probably Giles' cat. Otherwise all they'd seen was a collection of seabirds, shellfish, some elusive fish, reptiles, their ducks, a few hints in the canopy of small furry things moving around, but nothing that ever seemed to come down to the forest floor, and once or twice just glimpses of something deer-like darting through the trees much further upstream. And of course their turtle shell meant there were some of those around the place, too. Somewhere. Maybe.

Sleep was a long time coming, which made her all the more groggy when Giles began thrashing about a few hours later. This time bathing didn't seem to help. He was so hot, and his eyes were moving under his lids like he was in some kind of demented REM sleep pattern. Buffy took his wrist when nothing else worked, and tried to get a pulse. It was pretty pointless, but it kept her from screaming. One hundred and seventy beats a minute. She dug into her memories of Giles muttering about her fitness levels during and after training... especially if she hadn't done any for a month or so... and whimpered. One hundred and seventy was very bad at any time... and horrible when you were supposedly at rest.

And he was getting hotter...

He was still muttering, delirious and periodically throwing his arms around as though fighting something, when she ran out of water. She stared at the shell, trying to decide what to do. She really didn't want to leave him to collect more, and the bathing wasn't working anyway, but she had to get the terrifying fever down, somehow.

Buffy had super strength, so much so that she could bend steel a la superman, if she wanted to show off, but nature had gypped her in the size stakes. When it became apparent that carrying Giles the regular way was never going to work, she positioned him and then herself, so she could pull him up and over her shoulder in a fireman's carry.

Giles roused a couple of hours later, wondering if he'd had an accident of some kind.

"Buffy?" He shifted a little, his head pounding and the rest of him feeling like hell. He was up to his waist in water, except that his head was resting against...

*Oh, Lord.*

"Buffy?" He said again, more loudly.

"Huh?" Buffy was roused from a dream that she was in a bubble bath with Giles, drinking Chardonnay and Mocha. Then reality came into focus.

"Giles? You're awake?"

His voice was weak and halting. "I am. Tell me... tell me there's a good reason I'm... taking a bath in the middle of night."

"I didn't know what else to do." She carefully drew him off her chest and helped him into a sitting position.

After a moment to let the nausea and exhaustion subside, he looked around. "Well, I must say this is an original idea."

"Nah," she admitted. "Saw it in a movie... one of Will's. Kid trying to save a horse."

Giles was sagging. Buffy drew him against her shoulder.

"Rather... dangerous exercise. Any visitors?"

"A few new ones, all of which passed on by. Nothing totally scary... well, except maybe one pair of glowy red eyes downstream a bit, but whatever it was didn't come any closer. One cool thing... there are fish in here... I saw this flash in a pool of moonlight. It was a big fish, with a shiny blue strip on its side. I saw plenty of them, until I obviously fell sleep like a dork. You could have drowned... "

"Buffy... "

"Yes?"

"I'm not sure I can move my legs."

Buffy's face registered alarm, and then chagrin. "I think that makes two of us." It took her a good ten minutes to get enough circulation back into her lower body to get successfully to her feet. When she was confident that she was going to be steady enough on them, she bent and used all her strength to lift Giles to a more-or-less standing position.

"Oh, God," he groaned and threw up as he swayed, fortunately away from Buffy.

"Oh, gross," she complained before her brain caught up with her mouth.

"Sorry," he croaked, barely able to stand.

Tears pricked her eyes. "No, don't be. It's not your fault. Besides," she added, holding him even more tightly and watching the current, "it's already halfway to the ocean. I'm going to try to get you back to camp now and get a fire going. It'll be dawn soon."

It was no good. He wasn't going to be able to walk. Even Giles conceded that he didn't have a lot of choice in the matter, instead simply closing his eyes again and enduring. The fireman's carry was a lot harder going back, especially the uphill bit, but she was eventually able to lower him to the ground near the fireplace.

Once the fire was blazing again, Buffy peeled off her wet clothes... well, almost all of them. Giles looked up at her when she finally approached him.

"What?"

"They've gotta come off."

He looked down at his dripping clothes and bare feet. "Yes, they do," he said wearily.

They worked together, but Buffy had to do almost everything. The overwhelming intimacy of even unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it out of his jeans and slipping it off his shoulders, let alone undoing the pants again, this time without the shield of humour, was almost more than Buffy could deal with.

They were both shivering when they were done, Giles continuing to do so even as he dozed fitfully on the leaf bed Buffy shifted him to, in nothing but his wet boxers.

"Stupid," Buffy muttered to herself. She hadn't intended to fall asleep. They were both probably going to end up with pneumonia... or whatever the hell the equivalent was there...

She moved closer to the fire for several minutes, letting her body completely dry out and warm up in the radiant heat, even though it was starting to sting some, a fact which she was carefully ignoring. She reckoned she deserved the discomfort.

Her bra and panties, however, remained damp long after it started to feel like she was barbecuing. She sighed, removed the bra and hung it on the rack with the other sopping things, and went back to Giles. He was starting to warm up but only on the side closest to the heat. The rest of him was damp, or soggy, or both.

Buffy sat down on his cold side and started to pull him into her arms to share the heat she'd absorbed from the fire, until he started to pull back.

"Wha... ?"

"You've gotta warm up or you going to get sicker."

"Buffy... ? Why am I undressed?"

"Yeah, it's me. I dumped you in the creek, remember?"

His voice was slurred. "Bloody hell."

"Yeah. Bloody hell. C'mon, snuggle time. He hadn't opened his eyes and still didn't as she drew his unresisting body against hers so that his head was resting above her right breast, and the rest of him was more or less between her legs.

Somewhere in the fog he became aware of the sensation of skin on skin... a lot of skin. At the same moment Buffy started to move, wriggling them a little closer to the fire, distracting him from his thoughts and reminding him that his head felt like a watermelon... a throbbing watermelon.

"Aspirin," he muttered.

"Yeah, right," Buffy said softly, stroking his hair. "I'm sorry I can't make it better. If it helps, you're way cooler than you were before."

"There's... surpris-z-ze. Arse...froz'n... "

She half smiled and reached for his wrist to do another pulse.

"Your pulse is back down to ninety-seven. Are you getting warmer?"

"Mm."

She looked down at the tawny head with its growing number of grey hairs: hairs now mostly damp from the water or stuck to his sweaty brow. She couldn't decide if it was a good or bad sign that he was starting to perspire so much, but she wasn't about to let him chill again. Their clothes would take the rest of the morning to dry, even with her use of Slayer muscle to wring them out after she took them off. The only thing for it was to get comfortable and hope that by the time they woke up, the fever had broken.

'Comfortable' finally came down to making sure Giles was in a good position to stay as warm as possible, and that he wouldn't be too stiff and sore when he woke up. Buffy lay on her side with her body pressed hard against his, her shoulders turned enough so that she could cradle his head on her chest... which started out fine, with his face in the hollow of her shoulder. Until, restless and uncomfortable in his delirium, he ended up with his cheek cushioned against the soft curve of her breast.

After a moment to deal with that, Buffy found herself trying to imagine the reactions of the gang, were they to find them like that. The vision of Xander's reaction made her giggle softly to herself, while Willow's took longer to figure out.

For one thing it made her remember a couple of things she'd have preferred to remain forgotten. One was Faith's comment back in high school about Giles being cute... along with her 'I'd have him in a minute' attitude... a wig-some moment if ever there was one. The other was Willow and Tara's glowing report about Giles' singing at the Espresso Pump and how sexy it was. Buffy remembered how weird that made her feel: creeped by the idea of them being turned on by Giles, who had after all, been their school librarian and her Watcher, but... her brow furrowed. God, she'd had the exact same reaction to both Faith and Willow as she'd had to Olivia when she saw her in Giles' shirt: jealousy: mucho, mega jealousy.

At the time, however she'd called it 'wigging' because the other alternative simply hadn't borne contemplation... not with all the pining for Angel, and later, the Riley fiasco. She closed her eyes. ... And let's not forget just plain stupidity: a Buffy specialty from way back...

Giles moved again, and Buffy suddenly realized three things: one, that whisker burn on a tender breast wasn't much fun; two, that she was actually half-naked, holding a half-naked Giles; and three, that his face was only centimetres from her right nipple and his breath was making goosebumps all over her body.
...
And *she wasn't hating it... *

As dawn began to break, she finally went to sleep, still in shock about number three.


*******

Giles woke mid morning, disturbed not so much by the filtered sunlight as by a raucous dispute between unidentified birds in the canopy. He had the mother of all hangovers and his feet were cold. He could smell the fact that the fire had gone out, and that Buffy hadn't started breakfast yet. At the thought of her name, something else came into focus.

The shock took several seconds to subside enough for him to start thinking about how he was going to deal with the fact that he was in Buffy's arms, his face so very comfortable against the softness of a breast. Her breast? Her right leg was also hooked over his hips as though to hold him hard against her body, which it was.

After a moment to wait for his headache to subside to an understated ache instead of feeling like an axe had been put through his head, and a bit of concentration to convince his gorge that he wasn't really still nauseous, he began to assess the situation as rationally as possible... or as rationally as he could with half of his body in pain and the other half now embarrassingly aroused.

Buffy's steady, deep, breathing told him both that she must not have had much sleep and that she wasn't yet aware that he was awake. His cheek, despite the stubble, told him that she was impossibly soft and silken, and he could smell the sweetness of the tender flesh upon which he was resting.

*Well, that didn't help anything... *

He moved uncomfortably, suddenly aware that boxer shorts were going to disguise exactly nothing this morning and that his wandering thoughts had just made the situation exponentially worse.

Waves of unpleasant weariness and nausea rolled over him as he tried to concentrate. Whatever had made him ill had made a proper job of it. He felt shocking... well... for the most part at least. He wasn't surprised that laying in the arms of a beautiful woman after so long without any female companionship might arouse him to such a degree, but what did shock him was that *Buffy* was doing this to him.

Of course he loved her. He knew he loved her, but he'd never been willing to explore that beyond Travers' interpretation of what he'd seen. Up until now it had been enough to be there for her, to 'play the father' as it were, if it came to that, particularly after Joyce's death, and because of Dawn. It was all Buffy had wanted of him, and he'd been happy to do it, to a point. He'd known since the discovery of the prophecy about the Master that there was nothing he wouldn't have done for Buffy. And while she had been a child, a student, or somebody else's, that had been more than enough...

Or had it?

Why had her ill-fated liaison with Riley caused him so much pain? Why had he spent most of that time wanting to throttle the boy? And how was it that the manipulative Spike had been able to see inside his soul and torment him with something even he wouldn't acknowledge to himself at the time? It had worked so beautifully too. Fool.

Giles froze. And now he had. He'd just stepped up and declared himself... to himself.


*Oh, God*.

Buffy shifted a little and moaned softly.

Giles started conjugating verbs in Latin.

Shortly after that there was no more thinking.

A yowling roar announced the attack. It also gave the Slayer the split second needed to roll out of a dead sleep, sword in hand, and turn toward it, position pinpointed from the sound by her subconscious. Giles also instinctively rolled into a sitting position, only to find himself vomiting helplessly again, and enraged by his uselessness.

Buffy circled, still trying to focus and catch up with her warrior reflexes, but without taking her eyes from those of her adversary. It yowled again, a challenge, a declaration. Buffy didn't really care. All she knew was that it wasn't going to touch Giles...

When the stand-off looked like continuing indefinitely, and with Giles still in difficulty, she finally lost patience. Swinging the sword up in front of her, she took off toward the feline, screaming at the top of her lungs.

It stared mesmerically at its two-legged attacker for about a second then decided on a tactical retreat. When Buffy finally came to a halt it had vanished into the undergrowth. She stood for a moment, a little lost after every fibre of her body had geared for a battle... only to be denied. Happily denied, but still...

By the time she got back to Giles, he'd finished being ill and was sitting with his brow resting on his knees.

"Are you okay?"

He slowly lifted his head, revealing even darker and larger circles under his eyes and deep lines grooved from their corners, almost down to his mouth.

"May one ask what exactly that was?" He croaked, trying unsuccessfully to ignore her state of undress. "I don't remember t-teaching you that p... that particular technique."

She shrugged. "Part Xena, part temper, pretty much."

His head dropped down onto his knees again. "Americans," he muttered.

By then the adrenaline had subsided enough for Buffy to remember that she was standing there all-but-naked, having a discussion with Giles.

She wheeled, mortified, and pulled on her damp tank top before re-starting the fire. The jeans were just too damp, still, though the morning sun was getting hotter and hotter. She went down to the stream to fill the turtle shell instead. Hauling it back was not fun after the night they'd had, but it meant a supply of clean water close by for Giles, and it took her mind off... other things.

A short time later he felt a gentle hand on his back and looked up again.

"I'm going to clean you up, now."

Too tired to argue, Giles bore her wiping the bits of leaf matter and dust from his back, then watched her as she sponged the sweat and dust gently from the hair plastered to his brow and washed his face, throat and chest.

Buffy's cheeks were flushed, a subtle contrast to the colour she was building up from being in the sun so much... a soft pink blush on creamy tan flesh... and the merest hint of sunburn on her nose. Ill or not, he also hadn't failed to notice that she was avoiding looking back at him. Understandable, perhaps, after that vision he saw earlier. Yet...

When she was done, she helped him move closer to the turtle shell. With great care she cupped her hands, doing as he'd done for her, and brought the water to his lips, suppressing a surprised tremble at the feel them on her palms. Four times she brought the cool, clear fluid to his mouth, each time acutely aware of his touch. When he was done, she eased him into a more comfortable position then slipped away wordlessly, spending several minutes tidying up where he'd been ill, before excusing herself to go down to the stream to get cleaned up.

While she was gone, Giles made an effort to try to move back to the bed of leaves under his own steam only to be startled by how weak he was.

Buffy washed swiftly in the cool water, not wanting to be away too long but still shaken by the events of the last couple of days. She didn't know who she was any more, and even scarier... she didn't know who he was, either...

She found him still sitting where she'd left him, head again resting on his drawn up knees. Behind him the sun was shining on their shelter.

"Did you see?"

The voice was quiet and close to his ear.

Giles lifted his head slowly, visions of her lovely, unclothed form in his mind's eye.

"I... " But she was pointing toward their shelter. He managed to squint at it. "Oh... oh. S-splendid. You've almost f-finished it." He looked down again and swallowed. That had been close.

"I thought if the weather turned nasty it would be bad for you if we didn't have any shelter. I didn't expect to fall asleep in the stream and nearly freeze you to death," she told him unhappily.

He managed a faint smile without looking up. "I think it safe to s-say that one is in no peril of such a fate in a tropical rainforest, not even through excess b-bathing."

She didn't laugh. Not even a giggle. "I'm going to light a fire. I know it's probably going to be kinda hot later, anyway, but I want to finish drying our clothes now. At least I wasn't stupid enough to leave our shoes on. I guess that's something."

Giles made himself meet her eyes. "You're not stupid, Buffy. The fever: it's broken, is it not?"

Buffy shrugged and reached out to lay a palm on his forehead. "You're still sick." Her brows drew together as the heat of him seeped into her skin. "Y-you... you're much cooler, though. Still too warm, but way better than last night."

He spoke very slowly, trying hard to maintain his concentration. "Exactly. And would I be sitting here talking to you now if you hadn't done what you did?" When the silence stretched he spoke again. "Buffy... what you did... thank you."

She froze then dropped her hand, trying to guess exactly how much he remembered, what he knew... and how he really felt about it. "Don't thank me yet," she said nervously, failing in her intent to sound cool and calm. "Not until you don't get pneumonia or something."

"I promise not to get pneumonia." His chuckle turned into a rasping noise. "However I can't promise to stay sitting up terribly much longer... "

That brought Buffy to life. She disappeared for several minutes, returning with an armful of firewood, not a very big one, given that they'd pretty much used up most of the fallen timber close to the camp now, and built the fire up to a blaze. Once it was going well and the still-damp clothes were rearranged in front of it, she went and selected an unused sapling, swung it around and slammed it into one of the trees, snapping a hunk off one end. She repeated the process, giving her three decent sized chunks of fuel to keep the heat up.

Next she cleared his old bed away and made a fresh one in their shelter, covering the heaped leaves with soft palm fronds once again. When it was ready, she helped him over to it, easing him into the enclosure then following. There wasn't a lot of room. It was long enough to accommodate his full length with something to spare at either end when she laid him down, but not much.

When his breathing slowed down and he was able to focus again, Giles looked around him. She'd done a fine job, very nearly as good his own work, except for her rather unique-looking knots...

"R-remind me to teach you about tying knots," he said gruffly

Buffy's face fell. "You don't like it?"

He stretched out a hand and took one hers in it. "Silly girl. Of course I like it. You've done a s-splendid job."

The disappointment faded and she smiled a little, pointing to the triangular space above the door panel. "I'm going to do something about the ventilation today."

"Might be better to leave it until it turns cool again."

"Check. You should try and get some sleep. Do you want me to bring you some fresh leaves to throw up on?"

He made a 'very funny, ha, ha,' face at her. "I suspect I've passed that phase, although I think it wise to pass on breakfast, or any solid food for the time being." Something moved in the corner farthest from him. He tensed. "Buffy, don't move. There's something in here."

Buffy also tensed for just a moment, then rolled her eyes and moved the palm leaves aside. A rather put out looking crab was waving around a single claw it had managed to free from its bonds.

"Oops. I'll just take those with me," she said sheepishly, gathered up the little group of crustaceans by their strings and carried them, dangling, from the enclosure.

Relieved, but exasperated, Giles laid back and covered his eyes with his hand.

He slept for most of the day. Buffy didn't have the heart to wake him just to put his pants back on, even though she was glad to be wearing her own again, but she had checked regularly to make sure he wasn't getting too bitten by stuff, and even covered his shoulders with his dry shirt. He was also right about not closing in the roof. Despite the heat outside, what little sea breeze there was circulated under the roof, through the gaps, and kept the shaded space to a tolerable temperature.

When he woke again, they finally ate. "Guess what?" She announced, handing him a loaded 'banana' leaf. "Crab. Again. Carbohydrate withdrawal here, Giles. Why can't demon dimensions have Dunkin' Donuts, too?"

They ate together in relative silence, both trying to be grateful to the crabs that had given their all to keep them from being hungry, but not... quite... succeeding.

"So... what do you think of our little hacienda now you're awake enough to see what it's really like?"

Giles looked up from poking at the last of his meal. "You did a fine job, and I think it will serve us very well. We'll reinforce as we go, and make ourselves that platform to sleep on, and we'll move the fire closer to the door to help keep the wildlife and the insects at bay. I've been thinking perhaps a pit would serve us better. Especially if we can catch some of those fish you saw... "

"And if they don't taste like crap... "

He smiled tolerantly. "Well, there is always that."

Buffy smiled at him with real pleasure. "You're feeling better, aren't you?"

"Much," he admitted. "I still feel like someone ran over me with a steam-roller, but I can now move without looking for somewhere to deposit my lunch, and my head has retired the hammer that had taken up residence in it for the duration. I don't know what caused my illness, or if it's likely to recur, but it has been extremely unpleasant and I think, had you not managed to reduce the fever as quickly and effectively as you did, potentially fatal."

Buffy's expression had shifted from being overjoyed by the realization that he really was going to be okay, to sombre again at the contemplation of what might have happened.

"What are we going to do?" She asked flatly. "We've done the basic survival stuff: water, food supply, shelter. Now what? Do we up and leave all this to follow the coast forever, or until we find some demon metropolis?" Her tone grew sarcastic. "Or better yet: ten thousand Uruk-Hai on their way to kick somebody's ass?"

"It's all right for you," he grumbled. "You've seen the film."

Her eyes lit with amusement. "You like that stuff?"

"Grew up on it," he admitted. "Well, perhaps it was more like 'torch under the bedclothes' stuff. It was one of my great escapes from the 'destiny' I'd had thrust upon me at the tender age of eleven."

"I thought it was ten."

"I was told when I was ten. I was packed off at eleven."

"Packed off?"

Giles fell silent for a long moment. "To boarding school."

For a long while Buffy didn't say anything. "I'm sorry," she said finally.

He looked at her in surprise. "Why sorry?"

"Because you didn't want to go... because it hurt you."

After several long moments of silence, Giles reached out and touched her face.

"Sometimes people really do surprise you," he said very softly.

"Sometimes," she agreed, trying not to lean in to his touch, or to show how much it was disturbing her.

For the first time that Buffy could remember, they talked about before: before there was every a destiny, before there was ever a 'them'. Somehow, it seemed to just happen. She had asked a question: a simple question about whether he had any brothers or sisters. He'd hesitated for a long moment then sighed... and then he'd started to talk.

Buffy learned more about Rupert Giles in a few hours than she'd learned in the entire seven years they'd known each other. And then it had been her turn. Giles' question about her interest in skating, and why she'd stopped, took her back to a childhood that hadn't known monsters or vampires, or pain or parents who fought or shouted, or whose silences were sometimes even louder than the loudest row.

Buffy had smiled, her eyes sparkling, as she'd recounted her first skates, first lessons...her first competition... the costume her mother had sewn for her... the first time her father had surprised her with tickets to the Ice Show for her birthday.

Only when she looked up, eyes sparkling with good memories, face glowing, did she fall silent again. He was watching her and his expression took her breath. There was no way to know what it meant, only that she'd never seen him look at her like that before.

The silence grew long, until she realized how tired he was. Without thinking, she touched his rough cheek. "You should rest again. I think it's gonna be a while before you're back to normal."

He stared at her for a moment, as though there was something he wanted to say, then smiled and nodded.

Buffy helped him to lie down before withdrawing.

The next time Giles woke it was with a driving need to go to the bathroom. All that water had to go somewhere, he supposed...

It was dark, but he was alone. Instant concern impelled him to try to stand. His legs were like cooked spaghetti, but he managed to at least stay up long enough to duck out of the enclosure and scan the encampment.

A fire was still burning, flames reflected by the water in the turtle shell. Little else had been disturbed. There was no sign of Buffy. Giles shuffled a small way into the undergrowth and did what he had to do. He still felt weak and occasionally light-headed, but he was relieved that the nausea appeared to really be gone as he shuffled back to where he could see the whole clearing, or at least the part visible in the glow of the fire.

"Buffy?" No answer. He raised his voice to a shout. "BUFFY?"

A voice carried back on the night breeze.

"Yo... ?"

Giles' heart stopped trying to hammer out of his chest.

Several moments later she emerged from the darkness of the forest, once again pants-less, and carrying two large fish.

"You weren't here," he said gruffly.

"I guddled," she announced happily, obliviously, holding up the fish, "Slayer style. They're easier to see at night... at least when there's a moon. That blue streak is kinda like a neon 'here I am' sign."

Giles breathed a shaky sigh of relief. "Well done," he managed.

Buffy smiled. "I'll go wrap them in leaves and put them somewhere cool."

He nodded, swaying a little.

Her voice immediately became concerned and she drew to within just a couple of feet of him.

"Are you okay?"

Giles, feeling self-conscious, had to make himself meet her eyes. "I am now."

The silent exchange lasted for a long moment, understanding softening Buffy's expression. Finally, she nodded awkwardly. "I-I'll just go get rid of the fish and wash up."

By the time she'd managed to get rid of most of the fish smell, he'd disappeared back into the shelter. Undecided about what to do next, her gaze eventually lighted on his pants and shoes.

Giles was resting on his back, staring up at the stars through the gap above the door of the shelter when Buffy poked her head in.

"I brought your clothes. I thought you'd like to get dressed. I'm... I'm going to wash out my underwear tomorrow, so if you wanna leave the shorts... I can do them with mine," she offered awkwardly.

He shifted uncomfortably to pull himself to a sitting position before taking the jeans. "Thank you."

Buffy looked a little lost, but nodded and withdrew again.

Giles felt like a fool. How swiftly the embryonic new intimacy between them had seemingly hardened into a barrier...

When he finally emerged from the shelter, blissfully clothed again but still wobbly on his feet, Buffy was sitting by the fire. She didn't appear to have heard him yet, and was staring into the flames.

Despite the fact that her hair, like his, was pining for some civilized care, she looked somehow small and vulnerable and lovely in the firelight... everything, in fact, that the Slayer was not. It was one of the things that he'd always loved about her... that everything about her was a contradiction: tiny, vulnerable, rebellious and prone to howling errors of judgment in her personal life... and yet, ultimately, the greatest woman warrior ever born, with all the weight of the world screwing her down and sapping her humanity... in spite of which, she endured... even prevailed beyond even his wildest expectations.

Slowly, he made his way over to the fire and sat alongside her.

She spoke first. "You feeling better?"

"How long have you known I was there?"

"I heard you get up, inside the shelter... the leaves. Slayer hearing has its uses."

Giles studied her profile since she hadn't turned her head from the fire. "It suits you... the sun."

Buffy did turn then, looking at him quizzically.

He half smiled at her bemusement and touched her nose with a forefinger. "You've spent so long consigned to the darkness that I'd never thought to see you in the sun. You were meant for the sunlight, Buffy. I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am that I was the one sent to keep you from it."

Her eyes smiled back, though her mouth remained sombre, his words bringing unhappy memories.

"He said I belonged there: Spike...in the dark, with him... with them... with all the evil things. Am I evil, Giles? I mean, really. What is a Slayer, exactly? I didn't get from the First Slayer that being the 'Slayer' had very much to do with truth, justice or shiny white hats. I kinda got that maybe we're even more scary than evil is."

"You are not evil," he said quietly, watching the fire. "You are an instrument of great power. The question of the source of that power has been around since time immemorial. In truth, the moral righteousness of any great power is ambiguous at best... all I know... all the Council has ever known, is that you were placed on earth on the side of light... even if it meant that every Slayer would be consigned to a life of darkness and pain."

"Wow, Giles... think about this stuff much?"

He turned to look at her again, surprised by the amusement in her voice. He was not surprised to see that it hadn't reached her face.

"Too much," he admitted. "From the first day you came to me in the school library, that question has, to all intents and purposes, been my whole life. *Why are you... Why am I*? Why did I have to send you out to almost certain death, day in, day out? What right did I have? What right did anyone have... ?" He dragged a hand over his face. "I still don't know the answers. All I know is that we have to do this... because there is no one else."

Buffy shrugged. "There's always the next one... "

His voice was bitter. "One who cannot be called while Faith is alive. It is the great irony of our lives that you should in fact be the first retired Slayer. You are no longer the 'Chosen One,' Buffy. You are simply stuck with the job by default."

"Why haven't we ever talked like this before?"

Giles turned to find himself looking deep into eyes as dark and as green as a stormy ocean. His voice was very quiet.

"I don't really have to answer that, do I?"

Buffy stared at him for a moment. *No, he really didn't*.

"I wish we had," she said sadly, reaching out to touch his face again, because somehow, she just needed to. "I really wish we had."

He stared back.

The silence closed in... and the overwhelming need. Buffy felt it take her and carry her... to his lips, her own brushing them softly, asking... and being left wanting.

He pulled back just enough to look at her, to push the ever-wilder strands of hair from her face, and to lay the backs of his fingers against a now fiercely flushed cheek.

"So do I," he told her gently, then, ignoring her bewildered stare, rose with difficulty and retreated on rubber legs to the shelter, where he went down into a hunker, his whole body trembling, not just from the exertion in his weakened state. He lifted his hands and watched them shake.

"So it wasn't just me?"

He looked up, startled.

She slipped into the shelter, dropped to her knees and answered the question in his eyes. "You almost didn't make it, Giles. I had to make sure you were okay. In case you might possibly care, I'm not."

"I... " He looked down again. "I shouldn't have let that happen."

When she didn't answer he made himself look up again, and was jolted to see the hurt in her eyes.

"I'm sorry I embarrassed you."

Giles' eyes widened. "Is that what you think?"

She shrugged almost in slow motion, the hurt still raw on her face.

He reached out instinctively and took her face in his hands, then leaned forward and deliberately brushed the sweet, tender lips with his before searching her face again.

Her eyes were rolled up to look at him, as big as saucers now, and as blazing with emotion as he felt.

"Then... then what?"

He rested his brow against hers. "Now is not... this is not the time for—"

"Oh." She sat back, confused. "You'd think after seven years of not being the right time, that maybe... "

Giles watched her get up and dust herself off. "I only wish it was," he said quietly.

"So when will it be... ?"

His eyes travelled her lithe form, remembering every tiny detail of it and feeling his body react accordingly.

"Perhaps... when we get back... and things are not quite so... extraordinary."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "This isn't Stockholm, Giles. I took psych in my short college career... remember?"

"Perhaps, not," he conceded. "But it's not Sunnydale, either. Things that seem right... that seem easy and uncomplicated here... back in Sunnydale they'll be more complicated than you can ever imagine."

"Complicated? Unlike the elegant simplicity of my life up to now?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry... "

Her chest hurt, as though an unseen hand was squeezing her heart into the space of a walnut. She wheeled and ducked through the entrance before running blindly out of the camp.

Giles opened his mouth to call after her then closed it again, lips pressing tightly together, strain dragging at every muscle in his face. He lifted his hands then closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch them trembling again, nor be tempted to look down at the evidence of what it had cost him to send her away. Not that it wasn't fading swiftly now that she was gone and in such pain, and fast being replaced by a combination of illness and misery.

Buffy finally slowed down about a mile from the camp. She was on one of their several newly-beaten tracks leading upstream, lucky that she hadn't tripped or stumbled in her flight amid all the creepers and bushes and other organic debris always in their path, little or none of which was visible at high speed even on this moonlight night.

She looked up at the pale orb, then, still breathing hard, bent, hands on knees, and wept.



*******


In spite of his resolution to wait up for her, a combination of exhaustion and illness saw Giles find himself waking at daybreak, events of the previous hours flooding back to him as he sat up. Exasperated, angry, and then alarmed when he realized that he didn't even know if Buffy had come back at all, he swore several oaths and got himself to his feet.

The camp was deserted. Even the fire was cold... as cold as his blood was now running. He was still weak from the residual of his illness, but he made himself move swiftly, finding his sword and a stake then following in the direction he believed Buffy had run the previous night.

It hurt... pushing himself. He had no energy, and little strength in his muscles. His lungs burned and his chest ached, but he kept going, all the while conscious of the fact that he had no guarantee that he wasn't hurtling away from her, instead of to her aid. There were now at least four tracks out of the camp, not including the one across the stream and he knew she could be on any of them...or none.

Twice he stumbled, before he finally caught a staggering foot in a bush that had become strangled by an opportunistic vine, and went sprawling. For a few seconds he struggled to force his body back up... then everything went black.

When he roused from the faint some several minutes later he immediately became aware that he wasn't alone. He swallowed, unsure where the sword was. Very slowly, by necessity as well as caution, he moved until he was able to sit up and look around.

Directly behind him, and about ten feet away, stood the magnificent black cat.

They stared at each other, Giles once again aware that he was being sized up. It flicked its tail once, without batting a lash or moving a muscle, but made no move to attack.

Sweat pricked out on his brow, Giles inched his hand toward the sword he'd finally located about a foot from his right hand side, without looking at it. When his fingertips brushed the hilt, the cat growled a low, lazy growl. He snatched at the handle. The cat roared as he picked it up and pointed it defensively, its eyes boring into his. As though mesmerized, Giles found himself driving the blade into the ground in front of him without knowing exactly why, his eyes never once leaving the powerful yellow ones.

The cat's bunched muscles relaxed again and its tail flicked once more.

Giles wanted to find Buffy. Hell, he wanted a good stiff drink. Buffy could be anywhere, lying ill, or dead, or in trouble and here he was playing chicken with an uncooperative feline, and quite helpless. Well, there was nothing for it. He was going to have to do something. Without taking his eyes from his captor, he pulled himself up, using the pommel of the sword to steady himself.

The cat remained motionless, except that its gaze slid to the left.

Giles swore silently. Another cat had emerged... or appeared... from nowhere to come to a halt a few feet away, blocking the pathway that he hoped would lead to Buffy. It held his gaze briefly then sat down, as though deferring to the other, larger animal.

He didn't understand their behaviour, bizarre by known solitary, or even pack or pride, hunting patterns. He supposed they might simply be more intelligent: holding him until the whole group... pride... whatever... arrived to share the spoils.

Though, strangely, that primitive inner sense that guided all prey animals on a raw, instinctive level was no longer screaming his impending end to every nerve ending and muscle in his body.

Giles looked from one cat to the other. For the most part they looked disinterested, even bored, but when they caught each other's glance there was a connection between them... a look that was eerie in its intelligence and recognition.

Whatever their intention, he had to do something.

"I-I can't stay here," he said, making no assumptions about the creatures, but taking no chances. "I have to help her." He drew the sword from the ground, carefully turning the handle so that he held it in his hand with the blade pointing behind him: a neutral position, and took a step away from both cats... and then another. The only escape was back the way he came. He had a choice: stay and continue the stand off, and perhaps become brunch, or flee back toward the camp and hope that by some miracle he could evade them long enough to get to the shelter and use it to protect his back, while fending them away from the door with his sword.

He rolled his eyes. It was a horrible, futile plan, but if he was going to die anyway, he was going to die trying to get to Buffy...

They followed him unhurriedly all the way back to the clearing, and kept coming, moving between him and the shelter, so that he was forced to continue to stumble towards the stream.

He was now certain it was some bizarre hunting ritual or game and that he was going to be cat food long before he had a chance to find Buffy. When he crested the top of the slope down to the bank, both cats came to a halt there, one after the other dropping into a sitting position.

Giles took a deep breath and slowly stopped trembling. He wasn't sure what the hell was going on, but if they were going to keep playing this game, he wasn't going to have the energy to do his part much longer.

He turned around and staggered down the slope, thoughts of fording the stream followed immediately by visions of getting halfway across and either having his legs collapse from under him or the big cats, tired of playing with their food, arriving to begin dinner.

When he reached the bottom, he slid a little down the bank and stepped in the water... still no movement. He began backing into the stream. One of them yawned tidily. He kept backing, knowing it wouldn't go over waist height. By the time he was halfway across he knew he'd have to turn around to continue. The cats seemed to be dozing.

He barely managed to crawl out on the other side, sitting down to catch his breath, and fervently wishing there was a defibrillator close by. After a couple of minutes he made himself get up, his legs still trembling violently, and started down the almost-path created when they had beaten and chopped their way through to the stream on their first day of being lost. He was considering what the hell to do next, and where Buffy could possibly have gone, when he heard a noise... a distinctly human-sounding noise. He waited for several torturously long moments. And then he heard it again.

A surge of adrenaline lifted him and carried him into the undergrowth, stumbling toward it on failing legs. He broke into a vast clearing and found himself staring into yellow eyes yet again.

"You!" He exclaimed in a startled voice. Then his brows drew together. No. Another... this with a notch missing from its right ear and a fine scar across its nose that had turned the hairs white along its length...at least where they still grew. It was sprawled on a boulder, seemingly unconcerned, the ear in question flicking occasionally as it watched him.

"What do you want?" Giles asked in exasperation.

In reply it got up lazily and strolled, almost literally, off its boulder, drawing his attention with it as it crossed the clearing.

... And then Giles saw it: an arm. He ran, his legs barely carrying him, completely oblivious to the big cat disappearing into the undergrowth. He slewed to a halt alongside a crumpled figure not far behind the rock. He half-knelt, half fell, at her side.

"Buffy!!"

There was a pulse. Her tank top was bloodied and torn and her face was slashed; even the backs of her hands were gashed and torn, dried blood on both of them. He ran gentle hands up and down her arms and legs. No breaks. One ankle was swollen and on her right tricep... almost like an impact point... deep bruises were darkening. Instinct made him unzip her jeans and slide one side down enough to look at her right hip. A large area of bruising on the point of it was already a mass of purple, red and blue. She had to have been in a fight and, somehow, she must have fallen. Yet the boulder was hardly high enough for this kind of damage...

He lifted the tank top and ran even more gentle hands over her ribs, her collarbones and the hip in question. There were no obvious signs of fractures. Fingers, just as gentle, smoothed hair from her face, stroked her cheek tenderly.

"Buffy? Buffy, can you hear me... ?" He took one of her hands in his. "Buffy, love, you must wake up." His voice shook but he was too uncertain to risk lifting her into his arms without knowing for sure if there were any injuries to her back or neck.

He'd been sitting there for several minutes, exhausted and overwrought, trying to decide what he could possibly do, when her fingers finally tightened around his, and a low moan issued from her lips.

"Buffy!"

Another moan.

He stroked her hair, her cheek, and her brow, very gently. "Buffy, can you hear me?"

"Giles... ?"

"Yes, love, it's me. You must tell me if you think anything is broken. Can you move at all?"

Her brow furrowed, as if it were too hard to take in, but her feet began to shuffle a little in the dirt and the fingers again tightened around the hand which had held them the whole time he'd been there.

Giles breathed a jagged sigh of overwhelming relief. "Can you... do you know what happened to you?"

"You... " It seemed like forever before she formed the next words. "... didn't want me..."

His eyes grew very bright and he couldn't stop himself from trailing a loving finger down a pale cheek once more. "I want you, Buffy. I want you more than I've ever wanted anything my life."

The soft brown lashes fluttered, her whole face scrunching up against the glare of the morning sun as the lids finally cracked open, eyes reluctantly revealed as they adjusted to the light.

"Oh yeah," she croaked, "don't... don't piss off the... Oroku'ahni." She swallowed and closed her eyes again, this time against the pain she'd discovered the moment she'd tensed her muscles to instinctively try to sit up.

"The what... ?"

The weak voice was disparaging. "Your pony with wings."

He was lost for a beat then he remembered. "A-are you saying you pis—upset one of those huge birds? What did you call it?"

"The Oroku'ahni." Buffy opened her eyes again. "Doesn't like to lose."

He shook his head, bewildered.

A look of sudden realization darkened Buffy's eyes. "What did you say before?"

"Before?"

"Before I opened my eyes... "

He pulled his thoughts from raptors and mysterious cats and focused on her question, comprehension soon cascading across his drawn features.

His voice was very gentle. "I'm sorry I made you think I didn't want you."

She shifted again, painfully, drawing a sharp breath when her bad hip touched the ground.

"Me too. Better things... " She took a moment to allow another stab of pain to subside. "Better things to do than fight weird giant birds."

"Buffy, what were you doing? Why were you fighting the bloody thing?"

"I-I thought I'd screwed it up... like I screw everything up. I ran and I bawled and I got angry. Then when I cooled down I was still too mad at you to come back, so I decided to explore. I figured there might be some good stuff that only comes out at night... like those fish." She tried to move again but a squeaking gasp was all she managed. "I want to sit up," she grumbled crossly.

With great care, Giles supported her back with a strong arm, lifting her into a sitting position, unaware that Buffy was biting her bottom lip ferociously, tears of pain crowding her eyes.

"How's that?"

No answer.

"Buffy?"

"F-fine," her voice wobbled horribly.

He leaned in to look properly at her face. "Damn... why didn't you tell me I was hurting you?"

"I wanted to sit up. Now I'm sitting up," she explained in a voice that wavered between exasperation and tears.

Giles shifted so that he moved one leg around her, and drew her back against his chest.

"Better?"

A sigh answered him, and the feeling of her weight settling heavily against him

"You were telling me about your adventures last night... ?" He prompted.

"I went out into the open. I wanted to go back to the spot where we... I don't know... arrived, I guess. I wanted to see... I suppose I was hoping there'd be a new portal or something. Stupid, I know." She shrugged. "There was nothing there. Squat. Nada. Anyway, I was still mad so I kept exploring... and I found these gorgeous cubs... and we were playing... and then it came."

"The giant raptor?" He felt her head moving in the affirmative. "And you fought it?"

"It wanted the babies. I wouldn't let it. It got pissed and took me instead. Quite the ride... Universal would be proud."

He curled his arms around her protectively and kissed the top of the fair head. "Obviously you got 'pissed' right back at it," he observed, a smile in his voice.

"Damn straight. We... disagreed. And I found out that things don't fly too good when you have your arm stuck up the egg delivery chute."

"You didn't?"

She chuckled feebly. "Damn straight. Of course that got me a joy ride at canopy level... you should have seen some of the stuff up there... anyway, it's trying to make me one with the forest... literally... I'm now hanging by what little grip I've got on its ankles, because it's been trying to drop me for the last twenty minutes. None of this is doing anything for birdie aerodynamics... so it gives up before it becomes one with the forest and goes back to trying to dump me out in the open. The 'up' here is that it was flying almost ground level to try and scrape me off. When I hit the rock I didn't have quite so far to fall."

Buffy felt Giles' embrace tighten protectively. "I'm okay," she told him softly.

"I damned near lost you..."

There was little Buffy could say to that. "How exactly did you find me, anyway? What exactly *are* you doing all the way over here? You're supposed to be sick." There was a moment's silence. "You are still sick. I can feel you burning up right through your shirt!" she croaked.

"Yes, fine, we're both a right pair," he conceded... but I want to know how you knew that bird's name. Did it tell you?"

"Get a grip, Giles... it was like a giant buzzard with a very tiny brain."

"Then... ?"

Buffy remained silent for a time, before she finally spoke again. "They told me."

Giles was getting frustrated. "They who... ?"

"Them."

He looked up. All three of the elegant felines were watching them from the edge of the clearing. After a beat, they turned, and were gone as silently as they came, leaving him to stare after them.

"They're intelligent?"

Buffy's shoulders moved in a faint approximation of a shrug, accompanied by a small gasp of pain.

"I dreamed about them and they told me. They said the Oruku'ahni takes a lot of juveniles. The ones I was playing with were the last surviving ones for this season. They said thank you."

Giles' eyebrows went up. "Juveniles?"

"Yeah, you know... little teeny versions of the big stuff... baby kitty cats... "

"Indeed." *That sounded more like Buffy*. His glance flicked to where the mysterious predators had been standing moments before.

"What?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. Just um... wondering how we're going to get back to camp. You're horribly bruised and battered and I'm not at all sure I can stand up again."

Buffy giggled. "I feel like crap and everything hurts like hell, but if we can get one another up, I think I can get us home."

Both of them froze for a moment, the word almost painful to hear out loud. Then they were moving again, as though nothing had happened.


*******

Buffy arranged the saturated clothes on the all-too-frequently used drying rack, it's crossed branches starting to char at their extremities from the amount of use it was getting. "You know, I'm getting really tired of being wet and cold and having to get naked, ergo colder, while I wait for my clothes to dry."

Giles didn't even dignify that with an answer. He was barely holding his own after the effort required to walk back, including crossing the stream and the torture of getting back up the slope on the other side. Were it not for Buffy's stubbornness, he probably wouldn't have got up again after toppling over in the stream. It was cool and soothing and he just didn't have the strength or energy to move another foot, until she hauled him up.

Buffy shuffled over to him and put a hand on his forehead when he didn't speak.
"You're still feverish. I hope you're not going to get delirious again after your little swim."

"I'm fine," he said gruffly. "You should be resting. Those contusions are severe... you don't want any complications."

"Giles, I'm the Slayer. You know very well I've had worse at least a couple of times a year since I started this job. Do we remember the fun sparring match with Faith when she thought Angel was evil? Or that really great warm up with Glory... or here's a good one: fun with Travers' pet vampire."

The slight amusement at her efforts to convince him washed from Giles' face and he looked away silently.

Buffy could have screamed. Everything that came out of her mouth...

A thousand words danced on her tongue to make amends, but she didn't trust any of them to come out right. Instead she sat down and rested her head against his arm.

He was the one who finally broke the tense silence. "We never really talked about it."

"Did we really need to?" She asked before she could stop herself. He slowly turned and raised his gaze to hers. She shrugged. "Travers was an asshole. The rest... well, we dealt. It was over."

His eyes grew very warm and he turned further, to cup her face with his hand, the atmosphere around them charged as his head bent and his mouth touched hers.

Buffy shivered, her body igniting at his touch. She could barely breathe as his lips caressed hers almost teasingly, before taking them with more raw passion than any before ever had.

A part of Giles was holding back... but the taste of her, the feel of her kissing him back, was almost his undoing. He knew now that, in spite of everything, he wanted her more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life... but there was no way that could happen... not here, perhaps not ever, which meant this was all he would have to remember...

Buffy felt the kiss deepen and responded, her fingers loving the feel of his hair, his lips, their mouths and the fiery sharing of his, and her body loving the feel of his chest hair against her soft flesh. It seemed to go on forever, and she didn't want it to stop...

Giles felt her move, felt her hands trail down his back to the band of his boxers and froze, using both of his hands to cup her face and end the kiss.

"We can't. I love you more than you will ever know... but we can't do this."

A part of Buffy choked with emotion at his first words, and a part of her crashed with the second.

"Why?"

"A thousand reasons. A thousand reasons why I refuse to cause you more pain, simply because I happen to be in love with you," he told her hoarsely.

"What if I don't care about any of them?"

He closed his eyes. "You don't care that I'm nearly fifty years old? You don't care that when we get back you might discover that this was a just a pleasant dream... that you still have feelings for that... that vampire? You don't care that your sister will likely need therapy after she finds out? Or you don't care that half of Sunnydale will think I'm a pervert and that you are not fit to raise a teenage girl? Or perhaps... "

Buffy laid fingers on his mouth to shut him up. "I. Don't. Care," she repeated. "I didn't care about Angel and Spike being very, very dead or very, very evil... so why should I care that I love someone who is warm and alive and good? I worked at the Doublemeat Palace and they didn't take Dawn away from me. I gave myself to Spike in public places, in filthy places... because I didn't care... and they didn't take Dawn away. Willow almost got her killed because I wasn't taking proper care of her." She raised her free hand. "Still got her. So I really, really doubt they're going to storm the place because a good... a very, very, good... man has come into my life. A very, very good man who loves me as much as I love him."

Moved beyond words, Giles couldn't speak for a moment. Then his eyes grew warm again. "This from the woman who said she didn't know what love was."

She touched his mouth and caressed his jaw. "You're a good teacher."

They kissed again, this time slowly and passionately, moving into each other's arms, claiming each other in every way... until finally they separated again, each aware that they were now poised on a knife edge.

Giles let his fingers trail down her cheek, her throat, and caress the curve of her breast above the damp bra.

"You are so beautiful."

"Yeah, and I'm black and blue and you've got a fever of about a hundred and three again. You don't know how much I want this, but I'm going to let you win this time because there's heat... " She touched his brow. "... And there's heat. And I am *not* going back in that stream again any time soon, especially not to stop you from bursting into flames."

He chuckled, his body aching for her, but his soul more relieved than he could say. Slowly, he bent his head again and kissed her, as though he could show her how much he adored her, and all of his heart, in that long sweet touch.


*******


"Oh... my God. I'm *not* seeing this."

"Yes you are. And so am I. A-and strangely enough I don't find it at all disturbing...
Well, okay, maybe a little. But it's a good thing, right? He's not a vampire. We know they love each other."

"Yeah, but not like that!!"

"Why not like that? A sexy guy, a gorgeous girl... bam! Love. Why not?"

"Because it's them. Because it's hurting my eyes."

"Because it's not you?"

Xander's head snapped around. "That was uncalled for. I'll have you know I've moved on. Moved a long way... across the continent, actually... across the species divide even... "

Willow watched him fondly. He was still in love with Anya. Anyone could see that, but he never really did get over his crush on Buffy. Not completely. He wasn't the only one, she realised with a pang of nostalgia... a part of her would always be owned by Oz... forever. She suspected that it was the same with Buffy and Angel. Maybe even Giles and Jenny... but people moved on. They all moved on. Except maybe with Giles and Buffy, they weren't so much moving on, as much as coming back to the beginning...

"Are we going to break this up before it gets ugly? They're in their underwear, Will. You know when you decided not to bring Anya with us? Good call."

Willow giggled, thinking about the ex-vengeance demon's reaction. "We'll give them a couple more minutes. I can't believe we found them."

"I can't believe Willy wasn't lying about 'knowing a guy,'" Xander added, still amazed.

"Willy's not such a bad guy, for a scaredy cat. Thank God he heard that demon bragging about getting rid of the Slayer... " She giggled. "And that he believed you when you said you had a nail gun with his name on it."

Xander smiled sheepishly without taking his eyes from the other couple, then shifted uncomfortably, his voice rising a couple of octaves. "Will, I... um... I don't think they're going to stop."

Willow shook her head and looked across the clearing at her friends. She knew them far too well.

"Patience," was all she said.


*******

Reluctantly, Giles lifted his head. He didn't want to relinquish the sweet fire or the illusion of having her, even just for these few short minutes, but if he didn't stop now, he didn't think would be able to stop at all...

"Giles!"

Both Buffy and Giles snapped their heads up and turned towards a voice they had both privately never expected to hear again.

"Oh my God! Willow!" Buffy exclaimed.

"My God," Giles said softly.

A split second later they both realized the position in which they'd been caught. Buffy looked down at Giles' boxers, dragging his gaze with hers.

"Oh, Lord," they said in unison. Then Buffy was wriggling around, ignoring the pain of her bruises, until she was sitting between his legs, her back leaning, or possibly more like collapsed, against his chest and providing him with the perfect cover for the disorder she'd caused... disorder that she could now feel pressed into her tailbone.

It wasn't until Willow and Xander were only a couple of feet away that his ardour had completely subsided.

"Jeez, you guys are a mess," Xander announced as he came to a halt, his voice filled with emotion.

Buffy made a face. "You guys look great. You'll have to excuse us. We've had a bad day... and night and day... and night. It's kind of a long story."

Giles sighed. "A very long story."

Willow's eyes narrowed. "Giles, are you okay? You look awful."

"He almost died," Buffy announced matter of factly, "and he's still got a fever."

At that point Xander zeroed in on all the bruising down Buffy's right side, which in turn prompted him to register how scratched and cut she was.

"Buffy? You go three rounds with a grizzly or something?"

Once again Giles and Buffy found themselves answering in unison.

"Or something."

Willow, realizing things might not be quite what they seemed ten minutes ago, decided to get things moving. "Time later for campfire stories and stuff. You guys, we can take you home now."

Buffy beamed. "Way to go, Will."

"Wonderful," Giles agreed with feeling, before Buffy continued sheepishly:

"But I'm not sure either of us can move right now, much less walk back to..."

Willow shook her head. "It's okay. You don't have to walk anywhere. I can open a new portal right here."

Buffy and Giles turned as one to look back at their camp and the shelter they'd built together, their clothes still drying by the fire and the turtle shell they'd found. Buffy thought of the fish she'd worked so hard to catch, but only briefly. At least they'd eaten all the crabs...

After a long beat, they looked at each other, each of them nodding in turn before turning back to the others.

"We're ready."

*******


Giles and Buffy, supporting each other to keep from falling over, looked around when reality solidified again. They were in Xander's apartment.

"Why here?" Buffy couldn't help asking.

Xander shrugged. "We didn't want Dawn to know. If it didn't work... or you were... it was better to just let her think you were still missing." Willow touched his arm in silent support.

Giles and Buffy looked at each other. "How long... ?"

"Two months."

Buffy finally exhaled. "Well, it could have been a lot worse."

"It... it has only been a few weeks for us... if that," Giles added, relieved.

The atmosphere became unexpectedly awkward.

Xander finally broke the silence. "You guys wanna get cleaned up before we take you home to Dawnie? To be honest, you look kinda scary right now."

Everyone laughed softly, but the tension remained in the background.

After a beat in which there was another silent exchange between Buffy and Giles, both of them nodded and headed for Xander's bathroom.

Xander watched the door close behind them, before turning, visibly un-nerved.

"I don't remember saying together. Did I say together?"

Willow giggled.

*******

When the door to the bathroom clicked shut, they turned to one another automatically.

Giles smiled down at Buffy wearily. "Whatever happens, remember that I will always love you."

"You stole my line," she teased, lifting her face to his.

The stolen kiss was tender but brief, Giles' exhausted legs beginning to wobble before they were done.

Buffy leaned into him supportively. "Tub or shower?"

Giles looked at Xander's bath, trying not to remember any of Anya's more unfortunate tales about it, and then at the shower.

"I'm not sure I could get up again if I sat down for too long... but a hot shower and a lot of soap... "

"Shower it is." Buffy helped him to it and then hesitated. "You want me to turn around while you go first?"

They stared at each other silently for the longest time. Then Giles shook his head.

As if by silent assent, Buffy began unbuttoning his damp shirt. There, in the realm of civilization, it seemed a thousand times more intimate. Her hands shook as she struggled with each button, and not only because she was favouring one side more than the other. Finally, she drew the battered item off and dropped it on the floor. For all the time they'd spent in the river, in the bright bathroom light it was easy to see he was filthy. Buffy looked over her shoulder into Xander's shaving mirror. Then again, so was she. The stud on his still-wet jeans pulled undone as easily as always, and she pulled the zipper down slowly.

"Shoes," she said softly and waited for him to kick off his boots before drawing the jeans off his hips so that he could step out of them. At that point she hesitated, unsure what to do next.

Giles moved then, taking hold of the equally damp tank top and drawing it gently over her head. Then he undid her soggy jeans and pushed them down a little.

Buffy kicked off her ruined sneakers and finished removing the pants, tossing them across to where his lay, aware that it wasn't a good idea for Giles to bend in any way at this point.

Their eyes locked as they hesitated once again. Buffy was about to reach for the faucets when Giles touch her arm. She dropped it to her side and he reached around her to unfasten her bra. He stopped, his eyes asking permission before slipping it off and throwing it on the pile of spoiled clothes.

Once again Buffy stood before him near naked, as she had back in the jungle, only this time she felt infinitely more vulnerable. He smiled reassuringly and she smiled back. After a beat she reached for the band of his boxers and drew them down over his narrow hips, pushed them down to his knees and straightened again. From there Giles, trying not to think about the caress of her skin against his, only had to move his legs a little to let them drop to the floor.

Then he was sliding his thumbs into the elastic of her g-string and pushing it down very slowly.

Buffy could feel herself trembling as the skin of his knuckles grazed her hips and her groin on the way down. And then they too were on the floor. When she could move again, she turned the faucets on in workmanlike fashion and adjusted the temperature, resisting the sigh of pleasure rising in her throat at the feel of actual hot water.

Then it was time to face him again.

"C-can you step over... ?"

He nodded.

Buffy instinctively took his arm to help him balance as he lifted his left leg and stepped into the tub, and then wobbled on it as he lifted his right one. Once he was safely in, she followed.

Giles gave a hiss of pure pleasure as the hot water ran over his shoulders and Buffy echoed his sentiment in a low moan as it coursed over hers. When he put his head back to let it run through his hair, he swayed again, and Buffy swiftly slid her arms around his waist, partly to keep him from toppling over and partly because she needed to. As she rested her cheek against his chest, he circled her shoulders with a large arm and used his other hand to loosen her weather-battered hair so that the water could soak into it.

Buffy closed her eyes and smiled. The feel of his fingertips on her scalp was bliss and the feel of his warm body against hers... didn't bear thinking about just too much. A moment later she smiled again. Giles had picked up Xander's shampoo from it's resting place in the soap rack hooked on the faucets and was working it into her hair. He was leaning heavily against her now for support, but she didn't care. For long minutes she just lost herself in the physical pleasure of having her hair washed ...

It was a long, slow, sometimes halting process for Giles to wash and rinse Buffy's long hair the two or three times needed to bring it back to its former cleanliness, but neither of them cared. The furthest Buffy moved away from him was to put her head back so that he could rinse, and the closest he came to letting her go was to reach down to pick up the conditioner.

When he was done, he kissed the top of her wet head and closed his arms around her, smiling as she nuzzled into his chest hair while the water continued to merrily cascade over her.

"You do know that the only thing holding me up at this point, is you?"

Buffy smiled into the firm torso. "Don't care."

"And there's Xander's water bill... "

"He doesn't pay for water. It's in the lease," she murmured.

"Good show. Buffy... I think I'm going to have to... Oh dear... "

Giles' legs gave out. Buffy eased him down until they were both sitting in the tub, under the shower, Buffy kneeling between his bent knees.

"Are you okay?"

He rested his brow on her shoulder. "Let's just say I've rather neglected the bed rest part of my recuperation, of late."

They both giggled and then the giggle became giggles... lots of them.

"Let me do your hair," she suggested between chuckles, glad he'd left the bottles on the side of the bath.

It didn't take anywhere near as long to do the several rinses required, and he seemed to enjoy the pampering and the special attention Buffy paid to massaging his scalp as much as she had enjoyed his ministrations earlier, rarely raising his head from her shoulder unless she asked him to lift it to wash out the rounds of shampoo. When he was finally done they were both very tired.

Buffy wearily picked up a ducky shaped soap and started lathering Giles' shoulders, back and chest, and then did her own body, before handing it to him.

He grudgingly lifted his head again to look at it.

"Wash," she ordered. "I'm guessing you don't have the energy to shave, but the rest of you needs soap." Then she grinned. "Unless you want me to tackle all those hard-to-reach places for you, I suggest you go to it."

He snorted softly. If Buffy thought she was going to be exploring his nether regions with a cake of soap shaped like a cartoon duck... His eyes fluttered closed, then forced themselves open again, and his mouth quirked up on one side. He was almost asleep, but the notion of Buffy doing exactly that amused him enough to chuckle.

Buffy watched Giles struggle to stay awake, and slowly, painstakingly wash himself all over with the soap. When she was satisfied that he was done, she used all of her Slayer strength to get him back on his feet again without either of them slipping in the enamel tub.

"Just a little bit longer," she told him soothingly, her shoulder, arm, and hip throbbing in time with her heartbeat now. "As soon as you're all rinsed off, we're out of here."

"Sorry," he muttered. The single word rang with the vehemence with which he hated being helpless.

It took them some time to successfully negotiate their way out of the tub, find clean towels in the cupboard under the vanity, and to dry each other, Giles noticing for the first time how difficult Buffy was finding it to use her right arm. It was obviously a great deal more painful than she was letting on. Which was not new. It was as though she felt guilty about who she was, about the fact that as bad as her injuries might be, in record time she would be healed and well again, while her friends were always consigned to heal the regular, tedious and frequently painful, way.

He worked very slowly, towelling her hair and wiping her shoulders and her back so that she wouldn't need to rotate her bad arm. And then it was his turn. Where Buffy could reach, she dried, particularly anything for which he would otherwise have to bend.

"I think we're done," she finally announced then looked at the filthy pile of rags on the floor. "Except... I just realized... clothes: no got." Then, through the fog of exhaustion, she remembered something.

It took some focusing to get her weary mind to concentrate on trying to touch Willow's. It was several moments before that familiar tickle and then Willow's mental equivalent of 'huh?'

A short time later the door was cracked open and a pair of Xander's jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers appeared first. Then came some training shorts and another of his sweatshirts.

"Sorry, Buffy," Xander's rueful voice came from outside. "No girly things here any more."

When they were finally dressed, Buffy helped Giles out of the bathroom.

Willow and Xander took one look at the rosy, but utterly exhausted, battered pair and made a decision.

Neither Buffy nor Giles were really aware of what was happening. All either of them knew was that they were being guided somewhere and that very shortly they were engulfed in a three-blanket quilt, heads sinking into soft pillows... and then nothing.

Xander and Willow stood watching them sleep.

"Together again, Will? And in my bed? I may be scarred for life."

Willow smiled. "Look at them. Did you see them when they came out of the bathroom? They belong together. I think they always have. I know both of them are miserable without the other one... and they secretly hate it when someone shows an interest in one of them. Like Buffy with Miss Calendar, and, a-and then she was really jealous of Kendra... it was so cute... and then Faith said Giles was cute... she hated that. And I won't even mention Olivia. Buffy didn't shut up about her for a month after she found her in Giles' shirt in his apartment."

"She found her in... why wasn't I told about this?" He demanded, miffed. "You mean, like, the shirt and nothing else?"

Willow nodded. "Why do you think she got all 'I can do this by myself' with the Sunday thing? She was so freaked out. Every time I thought she'd forgotten about it, something would make her start bitching again. Mostly about Olivia, but she picked on Giles' robe too. I liked that robe... "

"Wait. You've seen the robe? You've seen the robe *on* Giles? Again, why don't I know about this?"

Willow rolled her eyes. I was with Tara, just before, y'know, when Spike made us all crazy... just before Buffy had to fight Adam. I had to go back for my computer and he was sorta, well, hung-over, in a rumpled, sexy kinda way."

Xander covered his face with his palm. "Giles and 'sexy' in the same sentence, again. Not going there. So not wanting to have this conversation."

"You'll live. And they're safe, at last. C'mon, let's go tell Dawnie and Anya. We can ask Dawn if you can sleep in Buffy's bed tonight."

Xander's hand dropped and his eyes lit up. "I get to sleep in the Buffster's boudoir?"

Willow gave him a tolerant glare, trying not to grin. "On second thoughts, you can sleep on the couch."

"Hey... I nobly double my power bill for this quarter just from all the hot water they used, and I give up my sweet, sweet bed... and you want me to sleep on the Summers' couch? I know that couch. It has mystery bumps... "

"Giles sleeps on it all the time."

"Giles... " he began, ready to launch into a diatribe about what the older man was willing to tolerate for the sake of his Slayer, then looked at his friends, safe and snug and once again filling the gaping hole they'd left in all their lives... and swallowed emotionally. "Okay, I'm good. Let's go."


*******

Buffy stirred very slowly, not really wanting to wake up. She was way, way too comfy. Eventually, though, the bathroom's call was just too loud and obnoxious. She opened her eyes... and panicked for a split second.

Panicked first about not knowing where she was, and second, that all of it... everything... might have been a dream. She turned to her left. Her eyes widened then smiled. Not a dream...

After that everything came into focus, including where they must be, helped by the large, framed picture of Anya on Xander's dresser. She turned back to Giles, who was looking marginally better. There was colour in his cheeks again, where you could see them through the stubbly beard, and a lot of the deep lines in his face were gone, along with the dark patches under his eyes.

Buffy slipped out as silently and carefully as she could. He needed the sleep. The clock on Xander's microwave said ten forty-two. Well, it had to be 'a.m' but *which* 'a.m.'? And why were they alone? She got the drink of water she'd gone into the kitchenette for, then headed for the bathroom. When she re-emerged it was still in contemplation of the bliss that was civilization. She was also contemplating a breakfast she didn't have to catch, kill or cook on an open fire, or eat off a leaf.

Two spoonfuls of 'Scooby Doo' breakfast cereal, however, sent her back to the refrigerator looking for something a little less diabetes-inducing. Besides, marshmallows were for hot chocolate, and cinnamon was something you put on hot donuts or churros, *not* in breakfast cereal.

Unfortunately, apart from the milk, which she'd almost emptied onto the cereal, some really sad looking apples, and a half-eaten TV dinner, it was pretty bare. The cupboards revealed popping corn, candy bars, potato chips, pretzels, instant coffee, and, weirdly, an unopened package of teabags... then finally, next to the toaster, an open package of pop tarts. Buffy was scared to look at the expiry date.

While she waited for one to heat up, she made coffee. Instant wasn't exactly what she'd been dreaming of, but the smell of it when she poured the boiling water onto the granules was utter bliss.

After the stale pop tart and as much of the instant coffee as she could tolerate, Buffy spent some time taming her now clean hair, rooted around Xander's drawers and wardrobe for some clothes that didn't look too horrible on her and put on her semi-destroyed sneakers, since Xander's shoes were almost clown-sized on her. Then she borrowed a card and some cash from Giles' wallet, which Xander had conveniently left on the dining table. He'd gone to get all their bits and pieces from the shelter while they'd struggled to dress, before Willow created the portal that brought them all home.


*******

Giles woke to a delicious sensation. He was warm and incredibly comfortable, and someone was kissing him. He opened his eyes, then closed them again and kissed back.

When Buffy finally lifted her head she pecked him on the nose and straightened. "Good morning... I mean: afternoon, sleepy head."

He opened his eyes again and smiled very slowly. "Then it's true. We're back and I really don't have to get up and cook you roast snake for breakfast?"

Buffy's nose screwed up. "You couldn't dream about anything more fun than that?" Then she smiled back at him. "I've got something for you." As he drew himself up, a little shakily, into sitting position, she shoved all the pillows behind him for support.

Giles looked down at the tray she slid onto his lap, sniffed and sighed with loud approval.

"My God: real, brewed, 'English Breakfast' tea, jelly donuts... lovely. And where did you find those?" he asked, delighted at the pile of toasted and buttered English muffin splits, some with Giles' favourite: marmalade, on, some plain.

"I've been out. I owe you some money. I hope you don't mind. I wanted to spare you the Scooby-Doo breakfast cereal experience... and the stale pop-tart one too, actually. Besides, we, the carbohydrate-deprived, deserve a little spoilage."

He looked her up and down, appreciating the sleeveless summer dress with its green on white print against her now very tanned skin and the white-sandalled foot curled up behind her as she sat on the bed.

"You've been home?"

She shook her head. "This is part of what I owe you. Xander didn't have a thing to fit me, or you, for that matter. I shopped a little. I hope you don't mind too much. I'll pay you back as soon as I can get to the bank."

He took another look at her and shook his head. "How can I mind waking up to a vision like this?"

Buffy giggled. "I guess it's better than the vision you've had to wake up to for the last few weeks. They should make soap a national treasure or something."

Giles chuckled and sipped blissfully at the steaming mug of tea as he systematically helped Buffy demolish the contents of the tray.

"What about you? How are your wounds today? I see most of the cuts and scratches have healed."

Buffy shrugged and swallowed a chunk of donut. "My arm hurts, and my hip aches, but another couple days and I'll be all new again." She leaned forward and rested a cool palm on his brow. "You're not so toasty today. Not back to normal yet, but not scary any more."

His voice was dry. "Well that's very reassuring. I must say I feel far more human than I have in quite a while. Still tired, but fairly comfortable, which is quite a novelty given our circumstances of late."

She smiled. "Amen. Soft bed, sugar fix, tea, coffee... soap... it's all good."

He grinned back then looked into the eyes that were looking at him with such affection.

"What do you want to do?"

Buffy played with the last piece of muffin, understanding exactly what he meant. "I don't know yet. All I know is I want us to be... us. There are so many things to think about. I started thinking about it while I was buying you... while I was shopping. I never realized before how many things there are between us and... 'us'."

"I told you it was complicated," he said gently, concealing the first stirrings of disappointment, with the ease of someone who's done it far too many times before.

Buffy swung the tray onto Xander's side table and crawled onto his lap. She slid her arms around his neck and kissed him very thoroughly before lifting her head, Giles even more reluctant than she was to part again.

"It's not complicated. It's as simple as that. Everything else is just... details. The only two things that matter to me are how Dawn feels about us and how you feel about stuff like staying here now, when Willow says you have a great place in England, and friends and a pony... "

"A horse, Buffy. A seventeen-hand hack, not a 'pony'" he pointed out stuffily.

"Sorry. My point is you have this other life that you made, or went back to... or something, that's really important to you."

Giles reached out and caressed the newly brushed tresses back from her cheek. "There are a lot of things that are important to me... some a great deal more than others."

She took a moment to assimilate that, and then smiled back at him. "What will happen to the p... um... horsie?"

"He will go back to boarding where I left him to come over here in the first place."

Buffy did some rapid math. "That's a lot of his life without you in it."

"Roughly two thirds of it so far," he agreed. "But he's well cared at the stables. He's schooled and shown by others and there are several people, including both of them, who dote on him. He wants for nothing and will not, even if I have to leave him again."

"You'd do that for me?"

"In a heartbeat, if it was the right thing to do."

She made one of her famous pouting faces. "I can hear a 'but' in there."

It made him smile a little. "Not really. I want to be with you, too, Buffy, but you have to be certain about what you want. There are so many issues, not least your feelings for Spike, and the likelihood that your sister is going to make Xander look positively understated when she finds out about us."

Buffy closed her eyes. She had managed not to think about Spike for a long time. Now she had to face her feelings for the vampire whether she wanted to or not. She pulled a shopping receipt from her pocket and looked at the date: thirteenth of February. Great.

She looked up at Giles and her heart did one of its silly little dances when he focused that green gaze quizzically on her. She loved his eyes, loved the way they showed his emotions even when his face didn't, and she loved the small brown patch in the left one, that somehow made him uniquely Giles.

She owed it to him to be certain that the Spike thing was over. For the first time in her life she was really in love. She knew it, but she also know that her dark side was about as likely to just lie down as Willow's had been. Like she'd ever had complete control over it anyway, *not*... and it scared her, not least because Giles deserved so much more. In the past she might have just let it go and hoped for the best. She looked at the man in front of her. She couldn't do that to him again... not ever.

"You're right. I-I asked Spike... before we, before that patrol, to go to Diego's tomorrow... "

Giles looked nonplussed.

"Mexican food," she explained awkwardly. "I still have to deal with what happened
between us, and I thought if I could see him like that and it didn't mean anything, then it would finally, really, be over."

"Do you still feel something for him?"

"I don't know," she admitted honestly. "Before... it wasn't healthy. It was dark and twisted and violent and horrible... but that was both of us... not just him. A part of me understands him and a part of him understands me... the not so nice parts. I'm just not sure what that means, or if I can let go of the 'Evil Buffy monster' any more than Willow can really escape from 'Dark Scary Willow'. It scared me... it still does. I can't even look you in the eye and say 'it's not who I am any more' because, God help me, I just don't know."

His face had grown shuttered, like it used to be, and his voice was very neutral.

"Then perhaps you should see him."

The sound of Xander's front door rattling open ended the conversation.


*******

Dawn had provided an ecstatic welcome when Xander and Willow brought Buffy and Giles home that afternoon. Dinner had been a family affair, with everyone there, even Anya. Giles and Buffy had barely spoken to each other, but no one really noticed, too busy asking questions and listening to Giles, the consummate storyteller, recounting their various adventures and describing the world that had very nearly become their permanent home.

It wasn't until the front door closed for the last time, a couple of hours after Dawn had reluctantly gone to bed, that the two of them finally faced each other again.

"I'll get the linen for the couch."

Momentary surprise, instantly controlled, showed in Buffy's face. "You're not well enough to sleep on the couch. You get Willow's room tonight. She's staying at Xander's."

He nodded and then seemed to make some effort to lighten the situation. "It's good to be back."

She almost smiled. "Yeah, it is," she agreed.

For two hours Buffy tossed and turned, got up and looked out her window, then tossed some more. Then she dressed and went out to patrol. About halfway along her normal beat, she made a decision.

The crypt door was closed, but not locked. Buffy opened it and stepped inside. It was nothing like his old one. He hadn't even bothered to try and make it a home. It was a very old one, maybe from last century, and as neglected as his previous one.

"Spike?"

"Heard you were back."

"Where are you?"

He stepped out of the shadows, dwarfed by the statue that rose up behind him: a Victorian mother and infant.

"Thought you were dead... or something."

Buffy half smiled. He was still Spike. "Yeah, well. Not dead. Giles and me... we're good at surviving... unless there's a prophecy or a god involved, I guess."

"So... you two did a little bonding on your little adventure?"

"Depends what you mean by 'bonding'." She was well aware of the innuendo in his voice, and she hadn't forgotten his earlier suspicions about them.

He regarded her for a minute. "Well, I can see you haven't exactly been shaggin' like bunnies... but something's changed. Unless of course you've come sniffin' around because you need to scratch that old itch again... ?"

Buffy actually smiled. "You're still disgusting, Spike."

He looked at her with his clear blue eyes, still as easy to read as they always had been. In a way, it had been one of the things that had drawn her to him. He was easy: no complications, no reverses... at least not at first. He was what he was and he made no apologies for it... and he saw what she was, after she came back, and he didn't care.

"You come to say hello, or goodbye, Pet? I haven't eaten yet tonight, so... "

"Definitely still a pig. And whether you get anything to eat tonight depends on what... or who, it is."

Spike drew out a cigarette and lit it up. "I can't keep anything cold here, now can I? No power. No telly and no bloody microwave, either," he drawled. "Clem keeps a supply for me."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. When Spike started making a point of looking laid back and unconcerned it almost always meant he was anything but.

Her tone softened. "Are you okay?"

He threw the barely-smoked cigarette down and ground it into the floor. "Depends on what you mean by 'okay'. I'm stuck in this draughty wreck of a crypt, wondering if you're dead or alive, and the idiot carpenter-boy decides they don't need me to patrol with them. I'm starting to wonder if it's time to move on, and Red comes to see me, tells me you're back and alive. Then she tells me to leave you alone. 'Things have changed', she said."

Buffy shrugged. "Things are different. But then, things have been different between us for a while now... "

Spike's expression grew bitter and impatient. "Since that little episode in your bathroom, you mean?" She looked up at him, and he was surprised to see that the memories of it were still able to make her look fragile, even after all this time. That only made him more frustrated.

"Anybody think something actually happened," he snapped. "Grow up. You know and I know that it would never have happened if we hadn't had... something... and if you'd been able to make up your bloody mind what you wanted!"

Buffy stood her ground, her eyes filling with long-unshed tears. "I know that," she said quietly. "I've never denied it. Funny, up until now you've never denied that what happened was still wrong, either."

He put his head back, frustrated, angry, hurt.

"Was Red right about you two?"

"If she said that Giles was the first man I've ever truly loved, then yeah, she was right."

Vampire and Slayer stood staring at each other, both just as shocked at her statement; both for very different reasons.

When his wits returned, Spike sneered. "He's old enough to be your old man."

"And you, Spike? When was your birthday again? Oh, yeah, Willow looked you up for me... did I tell you? You let yourself get vamped because you were this scared little guy who wrote poetry and lived with his mother until he was forty years old. Am I close?"

"Bollocks," he growled. "He's an old man. I'm not and I never will be. You want a daddy, not a real man."

Buffy hit him, hard. "I know you're only saying all these things because, somehow, you know what I'm saying is true. Don't do this, Spike. You're better than this... now."

Spike opened his mouth to speak, but Buffy went on.

"I'm sorry, William. I'm really sorry. I was going to go through with tomorrow. I even came here tonight because I had to know. We had something, you and me. I don't know what it was, but it was something and I missed you for a long time... after."

Spike's lips parted and his eyes grew brighter and brighter.

"The thing is, even though I truly had feelings for you, I knew that half of them were wrong, and the other half even I couldn't explain or give a name to. I still can't. I know that now. I mean, right now... for the first time, I really understand. And I'm really, really sorry. I wish I was as smart as Willow, or as all-knowing about relationships as our resident vengeance demon, but I'm not. Let's face it: I'm the Helen Keller of relationship understanding... of any kind of relationship. I didn't mean for any of it to happen the way it did and I didn't mean for you... " She stopped, emotion making her voice too hoarse.

"Bloody Slayers," he said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "The only creatures I know who can kill you without killing you." He frowned and cleared his throat. "So the sodding Watcher finally owned up, did he?"

"Owned up?"

He laughed, perhaps the unhappiest laugh Buffy had ever heard. "Like you said, Luv, you're as blind as a bat, and sometimes as dumb as one. What did you think I used to make him go to pieces back when I threw my lot in with that useless Adam git?"

Buffy frowned. "He was already feeling left out. You made him feel useless, made him feel like I didn't want... him... any... more. *Oh, God.*"

"Yeah, now you're getting it. Silly bint. I was the only one who could see that the stupid old bastard was eating himself up because he had no reason to stay, no reason to be your other half any more. All that crap about a mid-life crisis... he almost had himself believing it too. But old Spike knew better. A few words here, a few there and he was hittin' the bottle just to anaesthetize himself enough so that he didn't have to face the truth... or feel the pain."

"My other half?"

Spike shook his head. "You still don't get it?" He was about to tell her in even more blunt terms, but she raised a trembling hand to still him.

"I get it. That's why you thought we were... and why you told me he didn't mean it that time: when we were eavesdropping on that conversation he had with Willow after she brought me back... "

He lit up another cigarette, this time because he needed it. "Red deserved to get her arse kicked, and old Rupes did right to do the kicking, but he never said anything I wouldn't have said in his place."

"You... you wouldn't have brought me back, either?"

He shook his head, ash flicking off the tip of the smoke in his mouth. "Don't be too hard on Red, though. She's never really going to grow up, that one. She'll still be a little girl looking for someone to love her when she's ninety. Family of hers really did a number on her."

"I didn't come here to talk about Willow."

His head tilted to one side. "All right. I wouldn't have brought you back for the same reasons your sodding sugar daddy wouldn't. Happy now?"

Tears flicked from Buffy's lashes. "I'm sorry, William," she said softly.

"I know," he said, but she was already gone, racing back to the man she loved.

Spike went across and rested his forehead on the wall of the crypt for a long moment, then turned and slid down it until he was sitting in the dust, head resolutely up but shrouded in shadow, and drawing on his smoke just as though he still had lungs to fill with the acrid smoke. It was a long time before he dropped the butt and bowed his head.


*******

When Buffy got back to the house, Giles was up, pottering in the kitchen.

"Patrol?"

She nodded. "Kinda. Couldn't sleep?"

"Not really."

"Me either. Do you... what are you going to do, today?"

Giles looked up from the canister of tea he was opening. "I hadn't given it a great deal of thought, actually. Dawn tells me the rest of my belongings are still in the attic. I suppose I should bring them down, do some washing... sort everything."

Buffy stood watching him for a moment. He was shaved, but he was wearing nothing but black pyjama bottoms. Not even a robe. Not so long ago he'd have died before letting anyone see him dressed... or undressed... like that. He looked beyond wonderful... but somehow, the newly smooth face seemed only to add to the distance between them.

When Giles realized what she was looking at, he apologised. "I think young Dawn might have boxed up all of my things from the bathroom, the living room... even that closet I was using, when they realized we weren't coming back. I wore these the night before that patrol. They were in the box Willow found, along with the books I was reading, my sneakers, some mail and magazines, my shaving kit and a number of other personal items. Unfortunately they were the only nightclothes in there. And none of you are quite my size."

Her expression made it clear she was enjoying the view. "No complaints here. So have you had breakfast yet?"

He shook his head and looked up at her inquiringly, very much the Giles of old, except for the naked chest...

"Just tea so far. Do you want some?"

A short time later they sat in silence, sipping at their scalding hot drinks. When they were done, Buffy took the cups back to the kitchen and Giles went upstairs to the bathroom to shower and dress.


*******

Giles stepped out of the steaming shower and reached for the lush, dark blue towel hanging on the rack just as the door opened.

"Dawn, you must learn to knock. I'm in he—"

But it wasn't Dawn.

"Buffy?

"I brought you some clothes. They're new. I got them when we were at Xander's."

"When you bought that dress?"

She nodded.

"With my money, I take it?"

She nodded again, watching his lithe body as he snatched up the towel and wrapped it around his hips.

"I'll drop by the ATM when I can and get enough to pay you back. Dawn and the others kept everything just like we were both still here, except for my job at the school. Apparently I got fired for taking too many days off to spend with my boyfriend... "

At his incredulous look, she shrugged. "The guys thought it would be easier if I got fired: way, way less explaining and lying about why I wasn't around."

He peered into the large shopping bag she gave him while she was talking.

"Wear everything, okay? I mean it... and don't shave... "

Giles looked up to ask her what she meant, and found that she'd already slipped away...

When he finally emerged from the bathroom he wasn't sure if he felt like an utter prat or not.

Dawn, rubbing her eyes and staggering toward her morning ablutions, stopped short and stared through slitted lids.

"Is that you, Giles?"

"Good morning, Dawn."

"Still stuffy. Yep. It's you." She shuffled past him without opening her eyes any further.

Giles chuckled to himself as the bathroom door closed behind him, and headed for some breakfast feeling better than he had in many days.

When he reached the landing he realized Buffy was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. She was wearing the green and white sundress and the white sandals again, and this time her hair and her face were beautifully done, so that she looked radiant in the morning light.

He came down very slowly, wondering what kind of bombshell might be dropped on him at the bottom. Had she already dressed to visit the bloody vampire? Could she not wait any longer?

At the bottom of the steps, Buffy was watching Giles' descent, or more accurately watching his body move in the black shirt, designer jeans and black boots she'd bought for him. And he was wearing the silver hoop...

She swallowed as he sped up for the last few steps, the relatively tight, beautifully fitting jeans accentuating every contour as his legs and hips moved.

"You did it," she managed, staring at the stretch knit black shirt, and the perfect way it sat on his hips, among other things.

Still distracted by his disgruntled thoughts, Giles didn't get it. "Did what... ?"

"You wore everything. God, you look good."

That floored him. "I do?"

Buffy stood on tiptoe and removed his glasses, folded them and put them in his breast pocket.

"You do," she confirmed, drew his nonplussed head down, and kissed him on the mouth.

"Oh, God, do you have to do that before breakfast?" A voice croaked at the top of the stairs.

Buffy lifted her head and grinned as Dawn passed them on her way to the kitchen, still not particularly awake.

"Get used to it, kiddo."

Dawn kept going. "Not today. I'm going to Janice's after breakfast... thank God."

When their eyes met again, Giles' were incredulous, which made him blunt. "What happened to your 'date'?"

She shrugged. "Cancelled."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that... well, not exactly just like that. I mean I found out last night where I wanted to be today and with who... with whom," she corrected before he could do it.

"Last night?" He asked, deadpan.

She nodded. "I went to see Spike."

"Ah."

"What 'ah'? There is no 'ah'."

He looked away. "Yes. Fine. No 'ah.' What on earth would make me think there was?"

For the first time the possibility that something was wrong penetrated Buffy's haze of happiness and contentment.

"You think something happened last night? That I couldn't wait to go and throw myself at Spike again the way I did last year? Even after... " She paused to stop her lip from trembling. "After everything that's happened, you thought... ?"

His jaw tightened. "How can I know what to think?" He said tightly. "Tell me when I have ever been in a position to know who you are or understand what you want?
*When...*? Before you died, you had nothing but contempt for everything that Spike stood for... and I come back and find you've not only been shagging him the entire time I was away, but to do so you've neglected your sister, your calling, satisfied yourself with a job far below your abilities and shunned your friends to the degree that you didn't even know how much of a mess they'd made of their lives, until it was far too late."

Buffy's colour waned and then flooded back, flushing her cheeks. When she spoke her voice trembled despite her obvious attempt to control it. "Why are you doing this?"

Giles lost patience. "Doing what?" He demanded roughly. "How long, Buffy? How long am I to dance on a string until you're ready to decide whether or not I'm to be a part of your life, or just some damn tool to be taken out like one of my books whenever you need support?" He snorted and started quoting: 'Research for me, Giles. Supervise Dawn for me, Giles. Mind the neutered vampire for me, Giles.' 'Nurse my sick boyfriend who tortured you here, for hours, for fun, and we won't even think about the fact that he killed... " He stopped, breathing hard.

"Are you done, now?" She asked in a very still voice, then turned and fled out the front door.

He stood staring after her for the longest time, then sat down slowly on the bottom stair and lowered his face into his hand.


*******

When Willow returned to the Summers household, it was with the very real expectation of seeing some Buffy-Giles cuteness in action. However, when she let herself in, the house was silent.

Dawn had obviously gone to visit friends, but there was no sign of Buffy or Giles anywhere downstairs. She smiled to herself. Maybe...

But when she reached the door to her room it was open and only one occupant was present, sitting in her newest favourite possession... a large cane chair by the window.

"Hi."

He didn't look up.

Willow moved silently across the room to stand behind the chair.

"Giles... ?"

The tawny head half-turned. "Willow?"

"Are-are you sick again?"

The head shook silently.

"Something's wrong?"

"No apocalypses are imminent."

"*Giles... *"

"I'm sorry, Willow. I'm just... not quite feeling myself at the moment."

"Buffy's not in her room. Do you know where she is?"

He looked her straight in the eye. "I haven't the faintest idea."

Willow frowned. She could feel that he was completely out of balance, and it wasn't just from the dimensional displacement or his illness. Something was very wrong with his spirit.

"Giles, let me in. I want to help," she said very softly.

He looked out the window again. "I'm an ass," he said simply. "And a fool for believing in dreams."

Willow's heart lurched. "Something went wrong with you two."

His voice was dry. "Something went wrong with one of us."

She sat down on the bed. "Enough with the cryptic, already. You're making my head hurt. I love you guys and I wanna help, if you'll just let me."

He sighed a long, heavy sigh. "Buffy is very likely out somewhere with Spike."

"Giles... vampire, remember? It's daylight outside."

"I daresay it won't be much of an issue. By all accounts they found plenty of dirty little corners last year to... "

Willow frowned and cut him off quickly. "Buffy's in love with you. Why would you think she'd want Spike, now?"

He looked up at her silently.

"Well, yeah," Willow's shoulders scrunched. "There are those other times when she didn't know what she wanted. But this isn't one of those times. I saw you guys when we found you... and after we got back. Anyone can see that you belong together. I don't know what's going on, but you're wrong, Giles. Buffy has a lot of reasons to suck at relationships. Her parents for one, and being a little busy when she was a kid, to take the time to stop and figure out things other than how to stay alive... o-or save the world, not to mention picking the biggest bunch of loser boyfriends to... well, I don't have to go into details on that one."

"Why are you so sure she's not in love with her current 'loser'?

She searched the beloved, but hurting, face. "Because she loves you. She always has."

His eyes narrowed. "Exaggeration won't help your point."

Willow poked her tongue out at him. "And stuffiness won't help yours, you big stupid. Has it ever occurred to you that there's a reason why none of those relationships worked? Why she let Angel go... why Riley just wasn't enough... why Spike can't hold her, even with a soul?"

He looked sceptical.

"Because there isn't any room in that ol' heart for anyone else. And there hasn't been for a long, long time. She just didn't know it until now. She did, however, know right from when you tried to get yourself killed trying to hit a home run with Angelus' head, that she couldn't deal without you in her life. Don't feel bad, Giles. None of us put it together before, either. We just went with the available evidence: Buffy and Vampires for the smoochies, and Buffy and the gang for hanging out, and Buffy and Giles for rightness in the universe."

He looked at her incredulously.

"Everybody might be saying with their mouths that you did the right thing leaving again last year, but nothing was right after you left, Giles." She frowned suddenly. "Actually nothing has been right since we all... you know, with the-the spontaneous Broadway auditions... and then there was the fun amnesia from the memory spell I screwed up... "

Giles expression turned to distaste. "I've had the abridged version of everything that happened after I left, from Buffy. I'm not sure I want to sit through the unexpurgated one."

"You *know*? All of it?"

He nodded. "You're all idiots. But then you already know that."

"So are you," she shot back. "It's Valentine's Day and you're sitting here, miserable, and I *know* Buffy is sitting somewhere... somewhere Spike *isn't*... being miserable, too. Why don't you go see Spike for yourself? Then you'd know she wasn't there. And then you might even want to try and put the best thing that's ever happened to both of you, back together again."

Ready to tell her it was all quite pointless, Giles rose and turned to face her.

Willow's breath caught. "Oh, God. Giles, you look... wow! You look... *hot*. Definitely hot," she babbled.

He rolled his eyes.

"Is this a new look for you? When did you have time to... ?"

"Buffy bought it all while we were at still at Xander's flat."

"Buffy? Buffy bought you these clothes and you *still* didn't get it?"

"Get what?" He demanded irritably, his unhappiness weighing him down like a leaded shroud.

"What was she wearing when you saw her last?"

He subsided a little, involuntarily savouring the memory of that vision at the bottom of the stairs.

"A green and white print sundress. I don't know what you call them. Shoulder straps... thin ones... and cut in at the waist, and white sandals. Her hair was lovely and she was... " He caught himself and closed up. "Never mind. What on earth does this have to do with anything?"

Willow put her hands on her hips. "Your romance-o-meter is all atrophied from lack of use, Mister 'I'm-so-smart-I-can't-even-see-what's-right-in-front-of-me'!" Try and think... use that huge brain of yours for once. Why would a woman buy a man sexy clothes the day before Valentine's, and wear her prettiest new things at... exactly when was it?"

"First thing this morning," he grumped. "Right after she told me to put... these... clothes... on... " He closed his eyes. *He really was old and senile. And very, very stupid... *

Willow was speechless.

His green eyes flashed open. "Tell me quickly: where is Spike staying, and where else would Buffy go if she were upset?"

She decided to refrain from impressing upon him what a dumb head he really was... at least for the time being...

"He's got a new crypt at Everwood cemetery, in the back. There aren't that many. It shouldn't be hard to find. The old one kinda got knocked down. And it's been so long since we really hung out... or talked... that I don't know where she'd go, Giles. I'm sorry. I-I could do a location spell... ?"

"For a human? And I'm not sure that's wise... "

"I'm fine, Giles. And I did one a while back to find Dawn in a hurry, and I was fine then too... we kinda had a flashback to that time when Xander put the love whammy on all the women in Sunnydale, only this time it was a boy Dawnie liked... except the kid's jacket made all of us like him... i-instead of a spell. We had to find Dawn, to stop her from doing something really dumb." She refrained from enlarging upon the incident or upon any of their collective no-brainers that day.

His eyebrows rose, despite the intent expression on his face. "I take it the situation was suitably resolved?"

"Xander and Spike took care of it. They burned the jacket. What's important here is that I can do the spell. I just need to get some stuff."

"Fine," he said, picking up Buffy's untouched cell phone from the coffee table, and keying in the word 'vampire', thankful for Dawn's diatribe during one of their transatlantic phone conversations, about Buffy's 'extreme lack of originality and having no imagination, what-so-EVER!' "In the meantime I'll be gone for some time. Make sure someone is here for Dawn."

Willow nodded. "I'll be here."

"If there are any problems, or you find anything—anything at all," he held up the small device, "call me. Now, where are the keys to the Jeep?"


*******

Spike stirred from what had been a fitful sleep. "What the hell do you want? Disturbin' a man's beauty sleep... why aren't you off somewhere shagging your bit o' skirt? Hate to be the one to tell you, but you're bit past the beauty sleep stage... "

Giles took a few steps forward. "What the hell are you prattling about, Spike?"

The vampire stared back at him for a long moment, then his eyes widened in surprise.
*So it was true... *

"Bugger me... "

"Not on your best day. Do you know where Buffy is, or don't you?"

"So you've made a hash of it already, have you? Slayer too much woman for you, Rupes?"

Spike found himself splayed up against the crypt wall, his feet two inches off the ground.

"Where. Is. She?"

"How the bloody hell should I know? Spent half of last night dispensing advice to the lovelorn like a right Berk. Bloody soul's more trouble than it's worth. For example: now the chip's gone, I should be kicking your sorry arse all over this crypt. Instead I'm lettin' you hang me up like bleedin' washing on the line... how's your arm, by the way? Must be gettin' a bit tired by no—"

"Last night?" Giles demanded.

"Yeah, what of it? Slayer came to visit." Spike's eyes glinted with the thought of the kind of mischief he would have made before he'd cursed himself with a soul. The glint faded... and the delicious thoughts of making old Rupert crazy with jealousy with it. He could do without the thrashing he'd almost certainly get, and therefore have to give, on top of the current misery of knowing he'd lost perhaps the last great love of his life, forever.

"And... ?"

Spike braced himself as Giles lifted him by the throat and slammed him into the wall.

"Take it easy, Watcher. No chip, remember? I didn't say anything happened, did I?"

Giles let him down and stepped back. "What was she doing here?"

Spike straightened his clothes and rolled his eyes. "You really have to ask? Has it been that long, Rupes? Can't you even remember what it was like?"

The other man thrust his hands in his pockets, looking distinctly Ripper-like.

Spikes' eyes narrowed. "Oi, why aren't you hiding behind those 'orrible glasses any more? What's with the new look?"

Giles pulled the spectacles from his shirt pocket and put them on, just to shut Spike, who was still looking him up and down incredulously, up.

"You old git... an earring too?"

"I'd watch who you're calling 'old' Spike. I've seen William's history. At least I managed to actually leave home some time before middle age started to set in," he drawled. "And if you're telling me you haven't seen Buffy since last night, there's no point continuing this conversation."

At that point Spike registered something he'd missed before. "Buffy... she's really missing?"

Giles took his glasses off again and ran a large hand over his face. "For several hours, but it's not your concern, now."

Spike watched the older man shove the specs back in his pocket and stride, frustrated, out of the crypt.

"Bollocks," he sneered reflexively, but the bravado swiftly dissipated. Slayer was missing and her bleedin' hero didn't have a clue where she was. *Not so long ago he wouldn't have given a flying f—Ow!* He hopped back from kicking the wall with enough feeling to break human toes. "Bollocks! Bollocks! Bollocks... !"

Then he kicked it again, ignoring the pain. He was gradually turning into the biggest bleeding heart, pansy-arsed...

He sighed. What he was... was turning back into William. Except the baggage he was bringing with him this time like-as-not was going to half-kill him. How the hell bloody Angel made it this far was beyond his ken. For good measure he butted his brow against the stone, then wheeled and strode out of the dank little room.


*******


Buffy shifted stiffly from her resting place. After a boring film, which she cried all the way through in the very convenient darkness, anyway, then three mochas at the 'Pump, and a circuitous route through Sunnydale, taking in all of the places she and Giles used to patrol regularly together, she'd ended up, without realizing it, at a place that still lived in her psyche as one of refuge and comfort.

She didn't really want to wake up. Sitting in the shadows, near the funky old door, scrunched in the little corner where the pot stand from hell used to live, allowed her to make it all go away... sort of. After so long without being able to feel much of anything, the violent tumult of emotions, of lacerating pain, were all taking their toll on her.

A hand on her shoulder roused her immediately, adrenaline immediately coursing through her body.

"Buffy... ?"

Her eyes flew up, startled, focusing on the source of the too-familiar voice, not sure if she was dreaming or not.

"Y-you're... here?"

"Yes, love. I'm here."

Buffy's heart started to gallop. "H-how? How could you find me, here?"

"Actually, it was Spike... "

She shook her head.

"He has a remarkable ability to read people," Giles said softly.

"Why did you come?"

"Because I love you to distraction... and because I'm a stupid fool."

She looked at him disbelievingly, her eyes growing very bright as hope and doubt surged in equal parts.

"Spike... ?" She whispered.

Giles took her hand and drew her to her feet. "... Understands, as do I now, that one cannot fight destiny," he told her tenderly.

"Destiny?"

"Yes... ours." He pulled her into his arms and bent his head to her upturned, bemused face, their lips meeting in a tentative caress, before pausing to look searchingly into each other's eyes for a moment. Then their mouths were locking passionately, in an almost desperate attempt to close the distance that had threatened so terrifyingly to destroy any possibility of happiness for either of them...

At that point, the door to Giles' old flat opened and tiny old lady stuck her head out.

"Are you selling anything?"

Buffy and Giles separated, flustered, Giles thrusting his hands in his pockets. "N-no. Sorry, I... um... used to live here," he explained. "J-just a bit of nostalgia. We'll—"

The door slammed shut. He blinked.

"... Go now."

Buffy giggled. "You think she actually makes it upstairs to that loft every night?"

Giles pulled his left hand out and trailed a finger down her flushed cheek. "A part of me would have liked the opportunity to carry you up there," he told her in a voice that made her shiver.

She searched his face, staring into the eyes she loved, trying to believe what was happening, to take everything in... that he was really there. Then, overwhelmed, she laid her face against his shirt and closed her eyes as his arms tightened around her.

So many times in the past the pain had gone on... and on. She shrank from the memory of the endless ache after Angelus turned... and again after Angel finally left her... the hollow emptiness after that helicopter flew out of her life...

And yet through all that time one thing remained unchanged: one warm, loving constant in her life...

She felt his lips touch the top of her head and nestled contentedly into the shirt.

Giles cleared his throat. "I think we're being watched through the spy hole."

Buffy reluctantly lifted her head. "You think maybe we should go home?"

Surprisingly, Giles shook his head. "Unless you really want to, I think perhaps you should tell me what it is you wanted to do, today. I haven't celebrated Valentine's Day for well over twenty years, which means I'm terribly out of practice, but I very much think I'd like to this year... with you."

She blinked. If she was disoriented when she opened her eyes and he was there, now she was completely dazed. She said the only thing she could think of.

"I'm guessing there's someone with Dawn?"

"All taken care of," he told her. "She is currently at Janice's house and Willow has promised to wait for her."

Buffy seemed to focus then, her intent grey-green eyes looking up at his.

"Are you sure?"

Giles smiled, well aware that the question had nothing to do with Dawn.

"In every way that matters."

Buffy smiled back tentatively. "In that case... surprise me. I'd like to see what a sexy Englishman considers a romantic day, because so far... not so good."

He chuckled, but a part of him was silently quailing. He couldn't even remember his last attempt at romantic chivalry. The only Valentine's Day effort he could remember clearly was his first, at the age of about nineteen.

The young lady in question had appreciated neither the ambiance, nor the cuisine of the café he'd taken her to: commensurate with his income at the time, it was pretty much just fish and chips, or egg and chips, or, if one was feeling really adventurous, there was always a battered sav, or the ubiquitous pork pie. He was getting indigestion just remembering it. She hadn't been highly enamoured of his carefully chosen gifts, either... neither the block of chocolate, nor the three red tulips he'd managed to knock the florist down to half-price for, given that they'd been in the bucket a couple of days too long. At the time he'd thought they weren't half bad... and they were the right colour, at least, for romance. Not that he got any that day... nor after it, either... at least not with Cheryl...

Giles gathered his wits and took her hand. "I shall have to have some time to cogitate," he told her mock-seriously. "Perhaps coffee at the Espresso Pump while I formulate a winning strategy?"

She beamed at him. "Oh yeah. Mochas," she sighed. "Definitely a good opening move."

"Or there's this one," he suggested, sweeping her, giggling, into his arms again and kissing her soundly.


*******


By the time Buffy had finished her second mocha she was feeling almost human again. Giles had excused himself twice to make phone calls and was now dawdling over his cappuccino.

"You don't have to make it look so painful. Do you want me to order some chaaey for you?

He looked surprised. "How do you know about chaaey?"

Buffy smiled sweetly at him. "If you'd ever set a big British foot inside a Starbucks you'd know the answer to that already."

"For your information I happen to like cappuccino. I've just got a lot on my mind."

Buffy's smile widened. "Now, I wonder why that could be?"

He grinned back. "Not a clue," he replied facetiously. "Well, are you ready to begin your adventure?"

"Adventure? I'm having an adventure now?" She asked happily as they slid out of the booth and Giles unselfconsciously reached for her hand.

Buffy was aware that the heads of several women of various ages turned as they left, but was surprised to note that all but the elderly ladies in the last booth and some fourteen year olds hanging around the jukebox, were looking green jealous rather than disapproving. She was also surprised to discover that she was enjoying it. She looked up at Giles as they stepped out into the sunshine.

His hair was sexily rumpled from running his hands through it. The tan from their previous adventure was making his eyes even more gorgeously green than usual and accentuating the prominent planes and angles of his strong features.

She'd always loved that face, even though she'd never thought about it much before. Until now it had simply been a part of the entity known as 'Giles', like tweed and dusty books, tea and specs. Not that it was always easy to notice, hidden as it was most of the time, behind his glasses. There were also too many other things to think about or do, to spend time daydreaming about how interesting her Watcher's bone structure was. She was surprised to realize that she had done it anyway... mostly when he would whip off the specs and lecture or yell at her about something. He always was kinda sexy when he was angry... even back when she didn't think of him that way at all...

Only when Giles eased the Jeep to a halt again, did Buffy realize that she'd spent the last ten minutes daydreaming about him: drifting from her musings about his looks, to the times when they were lost when she'd held him in her arms, or slept in his... trying to recall every detail, and wondering how they could go from such intimacy back to the doubt and hesitation of any new relationship. She suddenly realized just how much she was missing what they had before, and how much she wanted it back...

And then they were out of the car and Giles was holding out a hand again. This time Buffy leaned into him and slid her arm around his waist, instead. After a bemused beat, Giles smiled and curled an arm around her shoulders.

She looked out at the vista of ocean, sand and rocks. "Have you ever been to a beach before?"

"Not for a good many years," he admitted. "And never in the middle of winter."

"At least it's winter in sunny Sunnydale."

"Well there is that," he agreed cheerfully as they made their way down the sand track to the foreshore. It was deserted, but for a lone fisherman sitting alongside a surf rod stuck in the sand.

"Think he's a demon?"

"Probably."

Buffy giggled again.

Giles liked the sound... and he liked the feel of her pressed up against him, relaxed and happy... something neither of them had known very much about for a very long time...

They followed the line of the tide, walking just where the high water mark met the soft sand, so that they were mostly on firm ground.

They'd wandered about halfway down the beach when the tide rose far enough so that the next wave just kept coming, the cold water making Buffy, in sandals, shriek as it washed over them, and hop back out of it's path, hauling an unsuspecting Giles, snug in his leather boots, along with her. It all happened so quickly that they both overbalanced and went tumbling into the sand.

When they stopped laughing, Buffy shifted so that she was leaning on his chest looking down at him.

"Oops," she said ruefully.

Giles' fingers caressed her cheek, pushing the ever-present strand of errant hair behind her ear.

"It's been too long since I've seen you like this. I want to make you laugh as often as possible from now on."

Buffy swallowed, emotion catching in her throat. "And I've never heard you so
... you've never let me see you before... not the real you."

The gentle smile spread from his eyes to his mouth, then faded slowly. "I came to this Hellmouth to send a sixteen year old girl out to get killed every night, without fail, knowing that she would likely have no life, no happiness of her own and that I would have to bury her well before she reached her majority, and then walk away... in all likelihood simply to be assigned another girl, and to start the cycle all over again. I'm afraid I lost the 'real me' years ago, Buffy."

Buffy's brows came together. "But I've seen you now, haven't I?"

Giles thought about that for a moment. "I suppose it's true. You have. In the other dimension I didn't have a role to perform, a part to play... "

"You were just you: take-charge, sexy you." She kissed his chin. "The you I happen to be madly in love with."

"In that case," he said mischievously, and rolled them over so quickly Buffy found herself in his arms, his playful green eyes dancing above her. "Now, where were we? Oh yes... "

The kiss was long and languorous, both of them lost in the pleasure and the joy of each other.

And then Buffy shrieked.

And then Giles swore.

A second later they were both on their feet, caught between being annoyed and not being able to stop giggling.

Buffy watched the culprit wave withdraw down the gentle slope of the beach to the safety of the ocean's bosom. "My dress is wet." She rolled her eyes and squirmed. "My butt is wet... do we have a thing about getting wet, or what?"

Giles shook a soggy pants leg. "So it would seem," he chuckled. "Which, since we don't have a campfire, puts rather a dent in my plans. We shall just have to improvise."


*******

Buffy decided she liked Giles' idea of improvisation when they stopped at the mall. The first stop inside was a lingerie boutique to buy new underwear for her, then an evening wear store where they could rent clothes for the night.

They looked at dresses for Buffy first, among racks and racks of beautiful gowns, Giles shaking his head more often than Buffy, until, finally, she pulled out a simple, pale grey-blue crepe sheath cut to fall from an elegantly embroidered, heart shaped bodice. When Buffy held it up, against herself, Giles looked into her eyes, now a soft blue-grey, above it, and knew it was the right one.

Buffy found silver high-heeled sandals to go with it then went with Giles to look at the suits.

"Waistcoat or no waistcoat?"

Giles looked at the various colours of the selections she was perusing, including a number bedecked with cartoon characters, without enthusiasm.

"Perhaps not," he murmured, staring at a Mickey Mouse print set against bright scarlet on one of the mannequins. *At least not from this section... * "Buffy, why don't you go out into the mall and look for a purse to go with your shoes, while I find something?" He suggested. "You may take it out of the money you owe me. Your first gift for the day..."

That worked.

When Buffy returned, twenty minutes later, Giles was dressed in an immaculately cut classic tuxedo Buffy knew would have cost the earth, with a form-fitting black waistcoat over an equally immaculately fitting white linen shirt, and a small, elegant, black bowtie.

She looked him up and down from evening shoes to his now combed hair.

"Whoa."

He tilted his head to one side. "I take it you approve?"

"Oh, yeah," she agreed fervently. "How did you get it to fit so perfectly? Xander usually has to take his back at least three times... "

Giles tried not to smile. "Something to do with being the right shape, according to our friend over there," he told her, still trying to keep a straight face. He did not tell her about the fifty dollars extra it had cost him to convince the assistant to coerce the tailor into doing the minor alterations needed, immediately.

"I thought you looked good the last time I saw you in a tux, but, wow, Giles!"

He looked pleased. "I seem to be getting that rather a lot lately."

Buffy knew a flash of jealousy, but grinned back. "Yeah, well, I'm the only one who's allowed to touch the wow-ness, okay... ?"


*******


Once Buffy had dressed and redone her hair in the change-room mirror, they headed for the Jeep, Giles halting only feet from the exit and handing Buffy the keys and his bag of clothes. "I'll meet you at the car. I've left something back at the store."

Nonplussed, Buffy did as he asked, thrilled with her new purse and amused that he still had his absent-minded moments, even though he looked anything but the absent-minded professor type right then.

A surprisingly amount of time later, Giles returned. The trip across town didn't take long. He manoeuvred the car into a reverse park not far from the most exclusive restaurant in town.

"Giles, we're never going to get in there. It's booked, like, months in advance," she whispered when he handed her out of the passenger side of the vehicle.

He leaned down close to her ear. "Trust me," he whispered back, his breath grazing her sensitive lobe and making her shiver

As good as his word, Buffy found herself being seated at a secluded table for two a short time later and watching her gorgeous companion thank the waiter before sitting down, himself.

"Okay, who do you know?"

He looked a little sheepish. "Nobody," he admitted. "I called Cordelia."

"Cordelia has connections with this place?"

The sheepishness was complimented by a slight flush of colour. "I had hoped... but no. She was... unavailable, however there was a chap named Lorne there. He, being an entertainer, apparently has the connections... "

"Go, Lorne," she grinned, looking around the room at the elegantly attired patrons, the live musicians and the waiters in their little jackets. It was the kind of place she could only dream about... until now.

At Giles prompting a short time later, Buffy wandered dreamily through the menu.

By the time the waiter returned, they were ready to order. She listened just as dreamily to Giles relaying their selections and ordering wine. When the menus were taken away she sat back, looking at him.

He stared back at her quizzically. His expression, with one eyebrow slightly lifted, was adorable. "Is my tie askew?"

She smiled contentedly and shook her head. "I'm just making sure I don't miss a single moment of this... or of you."

A wave of love washed over him. She looked radiant... and beautiful in the dress... and that light in her eyes, astonishingly, was for him. For a moment sudden emotion caught in his throat, preventing him from responding.

Buffy, however, didn't seem to mind. She was watching the various expressions cross his features and looking more and more pleased.

"It's... it's all to your liking?" He asked, finally, frustrated by his sudden lack of articulation.

"Oh, yeah. Totally like," she replied with her usual frank honesty about such things, immediately making him feel better, particularly when her gaze once again raked his form, seemingly inspiring yet another dazzling grin. "Everything is perfect," she sighed.

"Almost perfect," he said softly, surprising her, and pulled a small package from the inside pocket of his jacket.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Buffy."

She couldn't stop them. They weren't sentimental. They weren't out of pain, or rage or frustration, but nothing could stop the tears that leaped into her eyes as she accepted the tiny gift-wrapped package and opened it with trembling hands.

They were beautiful.

"How did you... ?"

"You don't remember?"

She shook her head.

"We were training for the fight against Glory. You broke the training dummy... again, and whilst sparring, you tore the pocket off my best shirt."

"... And I made you take me to the mall so I could buy you a new one," she remembered, then frowned, trying to recall the rest of the outing. "We argued about the shirt. I wanted to buy you something cool and you wanted a stuffy business shirt with no style whatsoever—"

"Amazing the trivia she can remember," he teased, taking her jibes about his taste in stride, "without retaining a single shred of useful information. And it was a tasteful, practical garment."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "If you say so. Anyway, after that we went looking for somewhere with good coffee, oh and tea... and biscuits."

"Scones," he corrected long sufferingly.

"... Scones," she dutifully repeated. "So what... oh... " Her eyes lit up. "Now I remember." Her gaze flicked up to his, genuinely surprised. "You actually remembered that?" She smiled, distinctly remembering how disinterested he'd been in her exclamations of delight at the featured tray of earrings in the display window of the jewellery store... or more particularly one pair of earrings, in the centre of that tray...

She touched them with the tip of one finger. "They're beautiful. Thank you... but I don't have anything for you... I-I mean I had plans, but... well, you know... "

He covered her hand and the box with both of his. "It doesn't matter," he said gently. "All I ever wanted is right in front of me at this moment. You couldn't give me anything that would make me happier than I am right now."

"I can think of one thing," Buffy teased in a sultry voice, when she could speak again, and enjoyed seeing his bark of laughter. She loved his giggle, and how easily they giggled together, but that unselfconscious laugh was special to her. A tiny bit of Giles that was all hers...

At that point the entrees arrived. Buffy divided her time between savouring her own melon sorbet, and watching Giles work his way through a dozen Oysters Florentine. It was funny, but apart from jelly donuts and snacks, and the rare, occasional slice of pizza while they were researching, the only times she ever saw Giles eat were her near-apocalyptic attempt at Thanksgiving and that one Christmas where they were all together before her mother died...

By the end of his filet mignon and her 'quenelles du something' and most of the bottle of expensive chardonnay, Buffy was glowing and Giles was oozing contentment.

After a small introduction, the band finally started a number and various couples wandered onto the dance floor in ones and twos. The two of them watched the gyrations to the modern, upbeat number with amusement... and the next, and the next.

It made Buffy remember when they went to the Bronze after defeating the Master, and Giles' steadfast refusal to dance despite endless cajoling from Jenny Calendar... even Willow had got into the act...

Then the music slowed and many of the couples drifted away, new ones gradually taking their places.

Moments later, she found Giles at her elbow, holding out a hand.

Buffy smiled and slid hers into it. She found it the most wonderful, amazing feeling to be led out onto the dance floor and folded in the arms of the man she loved, then to glide, effortlessly, around it to the low, sweet strains of the music. Giles was an amazing dancer. They weren't just shuffling or drifting around in a mobile embrace... they were really dancing, Buffy glad of Slayer reflexes as she matched his steps artlessly, until she was able to rest her cheek against his breast and mirror unconsciously his rhythm and grace.

They stayed for the whole bracket... slow was obviously the tempo of choice there, the floor packed by the end of the third number. By then, they had also, finally, slowed to a 'mobile embrace' more by design than poor dancing skills.

Buffy wanted it to last forever, and she had a feeling Giles did too. After the fourth number, however, the band paused for a long moment, then launched into a seventies disco number that inspired a low, collective groan from many, while others popped up from their tables to make their way to floor.

They looked at each other, and at the gyrations already going on around them, Giles' face a picture of discomfort and disapproval.

"If you really want... " He began.

Buffy touched his lips with her fingertips and shook her head.

He smiled at her gratefully, circled her shoulders with a protective arm and ushered her back to their table.

As they approached it, Buffy's breath caught. The centrepiece of the table had been replaced by a basket of roses--that was the only way it could be described. Dozens of the darkest red roses, just opening, interspersed with snow-white baby's breath and the finest of ferns in a white cane basket. The closer they got, the stronger the perfume.

When they came to a halt, Buffy reached out and touched a velvety bloom. "They're so beautiful. I've never seen any that looked so velvety before--and the scent. Is it real?"

Giles laughed out loud. "Of course it's real, but they're not easy to find. They're an old time rose. My mother grew them. 'Papa Meillands' were her favourite. I have to say I had a devil of the time finding someone in the area who could supply them at such short notice, especially this time of year."

Buffy buried her nose in one of the blooms. "So tricky... and mucho expensive, I'm guessing?" she mused.

He coughed quietly and turned that sweet shade of pink again. "Well, actually, no one had them... "

She lifted her head and looked at him. Guilt: cute, adorable guilt.

"Magic?" She guessed. Her eyes widened. "Willow? You asked Willow... ?"

"Um, well, it didn't requiring taxing any of her greater magical abilities, now that she's connected, rather, with everything. She simply brought them here... from somewhere else, and Xander left them with the Maitre'd a couple of hours ago," he explained, ducking his head self-consciously.

"You're so cute when you've been breaking your own rules," Buffy teased, loving him even more. She caressed the blooms again. "I can't believe you did that... just for me." Her eyes filled, emotion gradually replacing her amusement. "I've never seen, or smelled, anything so beautiful... "


*******

When the Jeep rolled to a halt outside the house, Buffy was dozing on Giles' shoulder.

He leaned down and kissed her temple, which roused her from her contented slumber.

"We're here already?"

"Why? Did you not enjoy your evening?"

Buffy shook the weariness out of her brain. "Are you kidding? Not enjoy what was maybe the most wonderful night of my life? Duh. I just don't want it to be over yet."

"You don't want to go inside?"

"No, I don't want to go inside," she parroted, sliding her arms around his neck. "What I want is... " She finished the sentence with a kiss: seeking, passionate and evocative.

When they finally parted, breathless as ever, Giles grinned lopsidedly, looking more boyish than he ever had.

After a long moment, he finally cleared his throat. His voice was hoarse. "A-Are you sure... ?"

Buffy nodded.

The green eyes darkened with passion. "In that case, I might have one more treat in store." He picked up her cell phone. "Call Willow and tell her you don't know what time we'll be in. Possibly not until tomorrow morning... "

Her eyes lit up and her breath caught, but she just nodded as he put the car in gear.

By the time Buffy had made the call, talked to Dawn about helping Willow with the chores and listened to her excited chatter, Giles had driven them back across Sunnydale to the main street of Riverview, an adjoining but considerably more affluent, suburb.

He pulled the Jeep off the road and drove under the awning of a majorly expensive looking hotel, drawing to a halt in front of the big glass doors. An attendant opened Buffy's door for her. By the time she'd stepped out, Giles had come around and joined them. He handed his keys to the man.

"Just tonight," he said easily, showing a driver's license and accepting a receipt. He offered a tip, receiving a contented grin and a nod in reply.

Buffy rubbernecked all the way inside and all the way across to the desk. The entire reception area was like a cathedral, with a giant water feature in the middle of it, made of glass, light and myriad streams of water falling from a great height into the peaceful pool at the bottom, where Japanese Koi drifted contentedly around.

Buffy craned her neck up while Giles talked to the concierge. So much glass, and gold coloured trim, abstract reliefs on the walls, and incredibly well behaved, perfect looking plants... not to mention the grand piano up half a level and right where all the glass coffee tables and big semi-circular arm chairs were.

"You've been here before?" She whispered to Giles.

For the first time, his tone was reluctant. "I met someone here for drinks, once," he admitted.

Buffy's brows knitted, visibly jealous. "Who?" She asked baldly.

Giles accepted the key card and paperwork he was handed, put his wallet away and turned back to her.

"It's really not important."

"No, it's not," she agreed, struggling to do better, to be better, for him. "I just... "

Giles took pity on her, half-amused by the stormy, obviously jealous face, and annoyed and flattered that she felt so strongly about something so trivial.

"Her name was Cindy. Believe it or not, we met in a bookstore, fighting over the same book on a sale table.

"They don't sell real books about demons and vampires in bookstores," Buffy said, still working on the name 'Cindy', her mind filled with visions of bubble dancers or blonde, Barbie doll types... She looked up, and saw herself in the mirrored fountain.

*Or not... *

"It was a poetry anthology, if you must know," he said dryly. "And to relieve the flights of fancy that name has no doubt conjured in that funny little brain of yours, she was a teacher, here in Riverview."

"English Lit," Buffy muttered. "Figures... "

He tilted his head to one side, amusement again tugging at his lips. "Still jealous?"

"Did you see her much?"

The amusement faded. "Once more, at 'Philippe's' for dinner, in Sunnydale. There was a vampire, on the way back to the car. I... um... dealt with it."

"And freaked her out even more?"

"Rather," he agreed as the elevator doors opened and they stepped inside the plush-carpeted car.

"We're not exactly the king and queen of romance, are we?"

Giles pressed the button for their floor, then the 'door close' button, before anyone else could enter. He turned to her as they started to ascend, and took her in his arms.

By the time he was done kissing her, Buffy had revised that thought to the past tense.

Since they had no bags to carry when the doors opened, Giles swept a squealing Buffy off her feet and carried her down the hallway.

She sighed contentedly as he slowed, her head against his chest. "What are you doing?"

"You carried me twice."

"You de-thorned me," she reminded him, "and carried me home."

He chuckled. "Then perhaps I just... wanted to."

She kissed his jaw. "I can live with that." Then she looked around. After the splendour of the lobby, the hallway almost looked shabby by comparison.

"Why isn't it pretty here?"

Giles set her down and looked up and down the corridor as he fished his key-card out of his pocket.

"Probably because they spent all their money on the lobby. It seems to be normal practice."

He swiped the card and opened the door.

Buffy's eyes widened. She'd never been in even a two or three star hotel before. This had to be at least four. The room was gorgeous.

She crossed over the beige coloured carpet, past the glass breakfast table and the royal blue sofa, to the window, and looked out at the lights of the city while Giles put down his wallet and bits and pieces on the bedside table.

Somehow, from so many floors up, something that seemed so prosaic in the daytime and so dark and empty when she was patrolling it, now looked like a fantasy wonderland, making her adventure all the more special and exciting. She turned back and looked at the pale wooden TV cabinet and cupboards, the expensive lamps that filled the room and the faux-marble tiles and gold trim of the bathroom visible through its open door.

"It's a long way from sleeping on a bed of leaves and catching your own breakfast," she said softly... then fell silent.

The silence lingered, then Giles stirred from his thoughts and came to stand behind her, circling her with his arms.

They stood silently like that for a surprisingly long time: just... together. Then Giles kissed her head and turned her around.

"We're still the same as we were," he said gently. "Only the backdrop has changed: I did try to tell you... "

She half smiled, trying to shake that feeling of loss. "I know. It's just... we weren't... it was just us."

He nodded. "Now we're back, and there's Dawn, and a whole world of responsibilities... and distractions all crowding in on you."

She nodded. "Not just the slaying... everything." She reached up and touched his face. "I thought I'd lost you. It just... it felt like the universe was saying: 'you don't deserve him', because it's true. I don't. Those things you said, when you were angry before: they're all true. And when I thought you didn't want me, it seemed like I was finally paying for every stupid one of them."

"And now... when you should be happy and enjoying yourself, you're suddenly not sure you should be rewarded for those transgressions?"

Buffy's brows rose, her eyes wide. "How did you... ?"

He smiled ruefully. "We aren't so different, you and I."

She looked up at him and despite the immediate and humorous thought that a mirror would make a lie of that quickly enough, she understood exactly what he meant.

"Don't sell yourself short, there," she teased. "This is me we're talking about, here, after all."

He smiled at her. "I'm not," he told her, and made her believe it.

Then he was turning her around.

Buffy held her breath as he lowered the zipper on her dress, his knuckles brushing the smooth skin of her back. When it was all the way down, he gently pushed the dress off her shoulders and undid the hooks of her bra, sliding the straps off as well, so that it fell forward with the bodice of the dress.

He ran his hands very slowly down her arms to her waist, and then her hips, encouraging the dress to slip silently to the floor.

When he drew her back against him, Buffy groaned a little. His hands were exploring her curves, her hips; the soft flesh of her belly and the firmness of her thighs. She shivered as they passed by her blue lace g-string and back up to luxuriate in the softness of her now arching body.

Not until she made a small, demanding noise did his strong fingers slip up and caress, like feathers, the curves of both her breasts.

Buffy groaned softly and arched back even more.

He continued, finding it difficult, himself, not to groan. He had not only been given permission to touch her as he'd never touched her before, her lovely body was pressing against his, the soft, delightful curves of her bottom making themselves felt in a myriad of ways, with the most spectacular of consequences.

Giles kissed her ear, and Buffy strained to his caresses. Her breasts were soft and full, and almost more than he could bear. He simply held them for a moment. Then, once again his hands were roaming, stroking and caressing her whole body, until they were both almost trembling with desire.

And then she was turning, stepping lightly out of the dress and reaching up to push his jacket from his shoulders. He could see how flushed she was, how much her body had responded to his touch. The coat fell to the floor and she pulled his tie, so that the knot came undone. He felt it slide off tantalizingly slowly before she started undoing the buttons of his vest.

When she got to the second button of the shirt, Buffy stopped to look up at him again, both of them lost in each other for what seemed like an eternity.

Then she slid her arms around his neck, Giles taking the hint and bending his head to kiss her again, pulling her to him and bending her head back a little with his ardour.

For Buffy there was exquisiteness in the power and the danger she sensed in him, the very real sense of him controlling it and channelling it into loving her, instead of...
She immediately shut out the bad memories and lost herself in the sensuousness of his kiss, his scent, his skin, chest hair, the fingers caressing her back... .

Then she was unbuttoning the shirt, pleased there was nothing under it but the still-tanned chest and the chest hair she'd come to love. When she reached his belt, she unbuckled it slowly and undid the hook and the button on his trousers, before sliding the zipper down and easing the shirttails out.

Then she stopped again, for just a beat. Somehow, that one moment was more intimate, more personal... more real than any relationship she'd ever known. Then she was sliding her hands under the shirt, running them up his torso, exploring, feeling, absorbing every contour of him, from his belly to his still-hard chest, pausing for a moment to run her fingers through the soft, tawny hair.

She felt Giles shudder as she continued, heard the changes in his breathing and the sound of his pleasure, and wanted to keep hearing it. She pushed the pants off his hips and the shirt off his shoulders, so she could see him. He was wearing the black ribbed briefs she'd given him, even though it was evident from the only other underwear she'd ever seen him in, that he preferred shorts.

For a long moment she drank him in: the proximity of him and the comfort of the intimacy she'd missed so much from when they were lost.

He was watching her, too, his green eyes dark and burning with desire, yet gentle as they watched her flushed face.

"I'll never be thirty again, Buffy," he said gently.

Her blue grey eyes rolled up to meet his. "And this is important because... ?" she retorted equally as gently, and moved closer to trail a hand down his torso, flattening it against his belly, fingertips down, and letting it slide under the elastic of the briefs.

She heard his indrawn breath, felt the shudder go through him as it discovered the evidence of his desire, undisguised as it was by the contour-fitting underwear. He was almost painfully aroused, which in turn fired her own passion even further than the blaze already started deep inside her.

Buffy pushed the underwear down, but Giles caught her elbows before she could move any further.

"Not yet," he said in a desire blurred voice, and slid his hands down to cup her bottom and lift her, so that he could pull her hard against him, her legs curling around him so that her g-string pressed even harder against his erection.

Buffy shuddered at the sensuality of it and threw herself into the passion of his kiss, her fingers raking through his hair as he plundered her mouth and arched his hips in response to her deliberate movements against him.

The erotic lovemaking continued unabated, and grew in intensity until Giles had to lay her on the bed before his arms gave out.

It was almost painful for him to look at her lying there, breast heaving, moving the soft, tender peaks as her breathing raced; hair loose on the pillow, and her creamy, tanned cheeks flushed with passion: passion for him. It was almost impossible for him to conceive of a reason why he deserved to be so happy. It had been so long, and the road had been so bloody hard and painful... now he was almost afraid to reach out and touch the joy... lest it be a shadow and gone before he could truly believe it was his...

As though sensing something, Buffy sat up and slid over to the side of the bed. She touched his chest, trailed her fingers down to his stomach.

"I love you," she said simply, breaking the long silence.

He shuddered. "Buffy... "

Her fingers had reached his groin, and were stroking his arousal in a way that was as natural and as familiar as though they'd been together forever.

"It's all right," she said softly, and bent her head.

Giles threw his own back, trying not to cry out as her lips touched him, their coolness exquisite against his heat. And he continued to struggle to not vocalise too loudly the pleasure she was giving him, the utter sensory ecstasy of what she was doing... *for him*

... And then he had to stop or he wasn't going to be able to...

Buffy found herself lifted very gently and eased back onto the bed until she was lying curled in his arms.

"God," he said with feeling and kissed her hair.

Buffy stifled a giggle. "Good God, or Glory kind of god?"

He looked down at her, squashing his chin against his chest. "The 'oh, dear lord,' kind," he told her dryly.

She grinned contentedly and kissed the point of that chin. "Cool."

"Cool," he muttered. "It was vastly more than cool."

And then Buffy found herself beneath him, his tawny head bent to allow him to taste her soft flesh, to caress her breasts with his breath, his lips, his mouth... and to listen to her small cries and groans as he found all her special places, especially when he moved down, following the lines and contours of the lithe body until he reached the tenderness of her groin and gentle hands removed her g-string.

And then it was Buffy's turn to find out that Giles knew more about women than all of her previous lovers combined. She had no compunction about crying out as he drove her senses to distraction, knowing unerringly how to please, how to pleasure. *God, how could he know every... how could he know what she wanted, even before she did... *? She gasped then moaned again and lifted her hips as he brought her perilously close to ecstasy.

Then she was touching him on the shoulder before it was too late. He looked up. When he saw the need in her eyes, he smiled and moved over her, pausing to brush her cheek and caress the stray strands of hair, as he seemed so fond of doing, off her face.

The brilliant green eyes searched hers, looking for any sign that she wasn't ready, that the dream might yet be an illusion... and found only a level of adoration to rival his own amid the smokiness of her desire.

He reached out then, and took something from his wallet. Buffy heard the rattle of something tearing and felt a surge of desire when she realized what it was.

Then Giles was sliding his hands down to her hips and lifting them to himself. Buffy wrapped her legs around his and cried out, a gasping, pleasure-filled groan, as he took her, barely able to control her reaction to the eroticism of their joining... so incredibly aroused had he made her already. The waves of pleasure were so strong that for the first time ever, she bit her lip to give herself longer. Then, when she had some semblance of control, she rose to him, shifting to make their union deeper, stronger, and to increase her pleasure threshold even further as he moved more and more powerfully inside her.

Above her, Giles was also biting his lip. He was determined not to spoil this night... of all nights... for her... for either of them, but she was so wild and free in her passion and so incredibly aroused that her movements, the sounds of pleasure she was making and the sense of absolute possession, were driving him beyond any threshold he'd ever known.

"Giles, please!" Buffy finally cried out, unable to wait any longer.

It went through him to his toes, her cries and the convulsing of her orgasm around him exploding into a cascade of pleasure that made him forget everything, except roaring in unadulterated ecstasy as she arched to him and he spilled gloriously into her, until both of them came to an exhausted rest.

After a few moments with his head rested on her shoulder to gather his wits, Giles reluctantly drew himself out and secured his protection before getting up to take it to the trashcan in the bathroom. He was back in moments, slipping in beside her and smiling when she immediately wriggled over to bury herself in his arms.

"My mighty Slayer doesn't want to go to sleep on her own, replete and victorious?" he teased.

Buffy lifted her head long enough to kiss him on the nose. "Your mighty Slayer is mighty tired of being on her own... and couldn't bear to not be touching you right now. It... it is okay for me to stay?"

Giles turned sideways, so that they were facing each other. "Forever, if you want to," he confirmed tenderly. "I was only teasing you."

She half smiled and kissed him tenderly, responding when he kissed her back just as lovingly.

He drew her back into his arms. "Do you think Saint Valentine would approve?" he asked softly, resting his cheek against her hair.

She grinned sleepily.

"Mm. But not nearly as much as me."

END