Older Men, Far Away
written by Gileswench


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Through Selfless on Buffy and Spin The Bottle on Angel. It's been about as thoroughly Jossed as possible, but so what? That's what fanfic is for. Slight references to a couple lines from Get It Done, but I'm just taking a ridiculously optimistic stab at the meaning.
Summary: The women of Buffy meet the men of Manchild. Romance, confusion, and nookie ensue.
Dedication: To Cindy for this lovely challenge, to Gail for her excellent beta skills and unfailing friendship, to GilesFan for her wicked mind, to Blair Ryan for allowing me to use a fabulous line of his invention, to Fabrisse for encouraging this madness, and to Rari Coss, just because.
Feedback Author: Gileswench
Author's Website: Wench's Tavern


Buffy, Willow, and Anya sat in a disconsolate row on the sofa watching Casablanca and passing a bag of cheesy chips back and forth. "Why are we watching this movie?" Anya demanded. "I wanted to feel better, not worse. D'Hoffryn sends assassins to kill me and you try to cheer me up with a movie about Nazis?"

"It's a good story, Anya," Willow protested. "It's all about love and sacrifice and, and figuring out what's important in life."

"It's about being abandoned," Buffy grumbled. "Rick abandons Ilsa, or Ilsa abandons Rick... I'm not really sure who's doing the abandoning but it's being done and it's stupid. Abandoning people doesn't make things better. Ever."

"Are you complaining about Giles again?" Anya snapped. "If you want him around that much, why don't you just call and ask him to come back and train you again?"

"Because I have to prove to him that I really can do this on my own," Buffy said, her mouth tightening into a narrow line. "Anyway, I don't want him to come back until he wants to come back."

"I miss him," Willow admitted quietly. "It gets hard sometimes to hold the magic in when he's not around."

"I miss the way he gets all grumbly when I tease him," Buffy sighed. "And how he always comes up with answers, even when it doesn't seem like anybody can."

The three fell silent for a long moment. At last Anya spoke.

"Me, too. I miss Giles, too. Even when he didn't like me it wasn't because I used to be a demon. And he didn't hold it against me when I was one again."

"I wish he was here," Willow said.

Buffy rose to her feet.

"He should be here," she said. "He should be with the people who care about him and want him around. Dammit, he should be with his Slayer. It's his job to be with me. And you guys need him, too. Plus, let's face it, Dawn could really use at least one stable adult in her life and none of us can be that for her. Screw Casablanca! This leaving for someone's own good thing is a total cop out."

"What're you saying, Buff?" Willow asked.

"I'm saying it's time we went to England and dragged Giles' British butt back here where it belongs."

Willow and Anya shared a dubious look. At last they shrugged and turned as one to face Buffy. Anya spoke for both.

"When do we leave?"

* * * * *

Cordelia didn't know where she was going, only that she needed to get away. Away from Angel and Connor and the Hyperion Hotel and LA. The memories that had flooded her brain were too much to handle. It wasn't just the memories of the past year, either. It was all of them. Remembering falling in love with Angel at the same time her brain had to reprocess her memories of the year Angelus terrorized Sunnydale was more than she could deal with. It acted as the ultimate mental cold shower.

"What was I thinking?" she scolded herself as she drove. "I wasn't thinking at all. I was just drifting, and that is so not me. Why is it I always choose guys who are bad for me? Devon? Xander? Creeps who impregnate me with demon spawn on the first date? And after all that, what do I do? I go and fall for a guy I can't even have sex with and nearly Mrs. Robinson his kid while I don't know who any of us are. Well, it ends now. The next guy I get together with will be good for me. And have money. Lots of money. I'm sick of being poor. And hey, designer clothes didn't stop me from fighting evil before, I don't see why they would now."

Her foot depressed the gas pedal even further.

She hardly noticed when she sped past the sign that read 'Welcome To Sunnydale'.

* * * * *

Five men sat in a sauna wearing nothing but red towels and black rubber sandals. One looked supremely bored and three hung on every word as the remaining one detailed his latest conquest.

"You could have balanced a tea tray on her breasts, they were so firm," Terry averred.

"Then they can't have been real, can they?" Gary said. The others glared at him. "What I mean to say is, a bit of sag, a bit of wobble, that's how you know they're real and not balloons. I like it when tits are a bit jiggly."

"You'd just like to get your hands on any tits other than Cheryl's," James drawled. "Or were you talking about your own?"

The others sniggered, except for James' twin who continued to look utterly bored.

"Might we talk about something else?" he begged.

"I think we've offended him with our rude behavior... again," Patrick said. "What would you care to discuss, Rupert? Art? Music? Fine wine? You never truly understood any of those things. Puccini and tribal knick-knacks, I ask you! I sometimes wonder how on Earth you and James were brought forth from the same womb."

"And has James become an expert on art in my absence?" Giles smirked. "What did Patrick talk you into wasting your money on?"

"It's not a waste," James protested. He recited his mantra by rote. "In ten years, it'll be worth five times what I paid for it."

"Could we get back to my story?" Terry asked petulantly.

"Why?" Giles asked. "It's the same story you tell every time we come here. You met a twenty-two year old model and had sex with her. Wonderful. I'm happy for you."

He leaned back and closed his eyes, signaling that he didn't wish to be disturbed further. It was about as successful as similar maneuvers had been in Sunnydale.

"You're just jealous because we get more fanny in a week than you do in a year," James huffed.

"Oh do grow up, James," Giles snorted. "We're nearly fifty. Don't you think it's time you stopped trying to be Peter Pan?"

"Would the two of you stop bickering so I can hear the rest of Terry's story?" Gary asked.

"Oh, never mind," Terry snorted. "Let's just go. I think we've all had enough steam."

* * * * *

Cordelia brought her car to a halt before a familiar house.

"It always comes back to Buffy, doesn't it?" she decided with a roll of her eyes. "Even my subconscious can't think of anyone else to turn to." As she got out of the car and slammed the door shut, she realized it wasn't Buffy she'd come to see.

"It's Giles. I want to see Giles. He'll know what to do."

Still, if there was one thing Cordelia knew, it was that where Buffy was, Giles would be nearby. She put on her best smile, mounted the steps and rang the doorbell.

A moment later, Willow came to the door.

"Cordelia?"

"Hi, Willow," Cordelia said with an almost comically broad grin. "Is Buffy or Giles here?"

"Um... Buffy's here, but Giles is in England."

Cordelia's grin disappeared.

"England? He's in England? What's he doing there?"

Willow shrugged.

"Living. Without us. Maybe having a life now."

"Well we need to put a stop to that right this minute!"

"That's what we just decided," Buffy called over her shoulder as she raced up the stairs. "We're going to England to bring him back."

"We?" Cordelia asked with a perfectly arched eyebrow.

"We. Three," Willow said. "Buffy and Anya and me. And I gotta stop saying things that end in 'e'."

"You mean we four," Cordelia corrected her. "Get packed, grab your passports and I'll drive us to the airport."

"I've got mine and Buffy's got hers, but Anya doesn't have a passport yet."

"Then it's just us three. I always keep mine in the glove compartment, just in case."

"She said she was gonna get one. I didn't really want to know how, if you know what I mean."

* * * * *

James was still whining when he and Giles got back to the flat.

"Why do you have to be so rude to them, Rupert? Can't you at least try to fit in?"

"Can't any of you at least try to grow up?" Giles snapped back as he flopped back into a chair. "The only subject you've added to your repertoire since you were seventeen is fine cigars. Only the price tag of your toys has matured. I really thought when you married Elizabeth you might settle down a bit. Then I thought fatherhood might make a difference, but no. You and Terry and Patrick and Gary will never grow up, will you?"

James poured himself a brandy. He lifted the decanter as an offer to his brother. Giles shook his head.

"Well, I've had about enough of your... your stuffiness," James retorted. "Do you know what Terry called you the other day? Do you?"

"Elucidate me," Giles drawled. "What does the godlike Terry think of me?"

"He said you were a drab, stuffy, middle class git who probably hadn't been laid in a decade."

James nodded emphatically to impress Giles with the severity of the criticism.

"It hasn't been as long as that," Giles protested.

"And at least I got married and had kids," James continued. "What have you ever done for the human race?"

"I do think averting the apocalypse half a dozen times or so has probably done more for humanity as a whole than straightening a few teeth and siring a pair of young ingrates."

James took a sip of his brandy to cover how befuddled he was. Rupert had always been able to argue him to a standstill, even when they were children. At last his brain latched onto the thing that had been troubling him ever since Rupert had shown up on his doorstep.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked. "Your Slayer's alive, her witch friend has gone back to California, so why are you in London?"

Giles frowned and rubbed the back of his neck in frustration.

"Bloody Council put me on a leave of absence," he admitted. "They said I was too close to the situation in Sunnydale to go back. They know from experience that Buffy won't accept anyone else as her Watcher, so they didn't bother sending a replacement. I've been away from her too long, James."

"Why not take your leave in California, then? It's a big place, I hear. Why would the Council even know what part of the state you're in?"

Giles gave a mirthless laugh and stood.

"Because they know me. And they know Buffy. And they've been trying to keep us apart since the day she turned eighteen. I can't go there, just now. So that's why I've returned to the bosom of the only family I have left."

"See, this is why I'm glad I washed out of the Watcher program," James said. "Dentistry was a much better career for me. I could go where I liked, set my own rules - within the guidelines of the BDA, of course - and generally live my own life. I made pots of money, and now I'm retired and divorced, I have nothing to do but enjoy myself. You should try that sometime, Rupert."

"I'm not like you, James. I hate to... just drift. I like to have a purpose; something important to do. Someone to matter to."

James rolled his eyes.

"You're not going to go on whingeing again about how you want to be with your Slayer, are you? That's over. Let it go. Get on with it. Find a pretty bird and fuck her blind. It'll do you a world of good."

"That's your solution to everything, isn't it?" Giles asked. "Find a girl and get laid."

"Well it always works for me," James shrugged. "Look, the fellows and I are going out to a new club tomorrow night. Why don't you come with us and meet someone new? As your identical twin, I feel in a unique position to remind you that you are far from past it and not so bad looking when you remember to lighten up a bit. You could borrow something of mine if you want to look your best."

"Might I remind you of the fact that you actually own a bright pink shirt and leather trousers? I think I can dress myself, thanks all the same."

"I never wear them together, you know," James protested. Then another factoid wended its way into his stream of consciousness. His face brightened. "So you'll come with us? Really?"

Giles shrugged.

"Someone has to stay sober."

"We're hiring a limo."

"To remember where the bodies are buried the next morning."

* * * * *

Willow inspected Anya's new passport. She frowned.

"I thought your name was Jenkins," she said.

"I thought it was Emerson," Cordelia added as she turned into the airport parking lot.

"Sometimes it's nice to have a change," Anya said, taking her passport back. "I like my new name."

"Anya Emmaline Christabel Pankhurst?" Buffy screwed up her nose. "How did you come up with that one?"

"I met them in 1912."

"Met who?" Buffy asked.

"Emmaline and Christabel Pankhurst," Anya replied as if that answered the question. She looked at the three blank faces and sighed. "They were a mother and daughter team: the leaders of the most violent faction of the British Suffragette movement. One of the women in their movement had been scorned by her fiancÚ who didn't think women were intelligent enough to have the vote." Her voice turned wistful. "Christabel was an amazing speaker. And Emmaline's cook made the best fairy cakes. I learned a lot from them."

"About feminism?" Willow hazarded.

"About Marxism. Christabel's sister, Sylvia, was a very prominent Communist. At first, I was intrigued. Her views seemed to match with mine. Then I realized, watching her work with the poor, that there were two things Marx didn't take into account about human nature."

"What's that?" Cordelia asked. She pulled into a parking spot and everybody began to pile out of the car.

"Greed and snobbery. It works on paper, but not in the real world," Anya pontificated as she pulled out three suitcases and handed one of them to Willow who was struggling with her own suitcase and laptop. "I mean, share the wealth, everybody's equal, brotherhood and harmony... it's never really going to happen, is it?"

The others grabbed their luggage out of the trunk.

"But... but, that's the whole point of America," Willow protested. "Democracy. We're all equal. No matter who's got the most money or anything."

"Okay," Anya said, "if everybody's equal and you're at the trendiest restaurant in New York and there's only one table left and you and Donald Trump both walk in the door at the same time, who's going to get the table? You or the guy who was probably diapered in thousand dollar bills?"

"She's got you there, Will," Buffy admitted. "Any maitre'd in the world is going to give that table to The Donald. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth working toward. Equality. Something that's right is always worth it... and did I just say that? God, I sounded like Giles."

"See," Willow said perkily, "you miss him so much you're channeling him. I wonder if he channels you when he forgets to be all responsible and grown up."

"Giles? Forget to be grown up?" Cordelia scoffed. "You've got to be kidding! That would be like expecting him to know anything about designer clothes or serious shoes."

The girls walked through the front door and headed for the ticket counter. A thought struck Cordelia.

"Hey," she whispered to Buffy, "who's footing the bill for this, anyway? I'm totally broke."

"Anya's got it," Buffy assured her.

"She's got that much money? How?"

"Y'know, sometimes with Anya, it's just better not to ask."

* * * * *

Some hours later, four weary young women trudged off their international flight and into Heathrow airport. Anya found a payphone and made arrangements for a place to stay. Nobody wanted to know how she knew where to book them in, or how she was going to pay for their accommodations. Even Cordelia had finally accepted that it was safer not to have the answers to some questions.

"Okay," Anya said when she got through making arrangements, "I've got it all worked out. The hotel isn't exactly The Plaza, but it's clean and cheap - for London - and I'm too tired to drive all the way to Bath now."

The other three shared an uncomfortable look.

"Drive...?" Willow squeaked nervously. "Um, Anya, did you ever actually... learn to do that?"

"Don't worry," Anya said airily. "I've got an international driver's license in with my passport and everything. Oh, and I arranged a rental car."

She picked up her bags and headed off. The other three shared another nervous look.

"And I thought the Slaying was gonna kill me," Buffy muttered.

"It did," Cordelia reminded her. "Twice."

"I think Anya's driving might be the third time that's the charm."

Still, there was nothing for it. Willow, Buffy, and Cordelia picked up their bags and followed Anya.

* * * * *

"Could you just try to fit in for one night?" James begged as he selected a jacket. "Please don't embarrass me."

Giles had to laugh, though he did his best to stifle it. He double-checked his reflection in the mirror.

"Don't embarrass you?" he snorted. "I thought you and your friends were beyond shame. Sometimes you remind me of Buffy and her friends when I first met them at sixteen - except that they were already more mature and responsible than you are at forty-eight. At least when they made ridiculous mistakes I could chalk it up to youth and inexperience."

They headed for the door of James' flat.

"All the same," James persisted, "just try to be nice to my friends and don't get in the way of our good time."

"I promise not to stop you all making monumental asses of yourselves," Giles swore solemnly.

"Thanks," James said in relief. A moment later, he realized exactly what his brother had said. "Hey!"

* * * * *

"So what do you guys want to do tonight?" Buffy asked.

"Well, we could always see what's on the BBC," Willow suggested.

"No way," Cordelia protested. "We can watch TV anytime. How many chances will we get to check out the London night life?"

"Or night unlife," Buffy offered. "I wonder if English vampires are different from American ones."

"Why don't you ask Spike?" Anya asked.

"Maybe 'cause he's out of his mind?" Willow suggested.

"And maybe because I really don't want to talk to him anymore," Buffy added. "Anyway, he's not exactly here, so let's not even talk about him, okay?"

"No problem for me," Cordelia said. "I didn't want to talk about vampires in the first place. I just want to go out dancing."

"And possibly drinking?" Anya asked.

"Very possibly," Cordelia agreed.

"Dancing and drinking to forget our crappy lives," Buffy mused. "Sounds like a solid plan."

"Which has never exactly worked for any of us in the past," Willow reminded them.

"But we had fun while it wasn't working," Buffy said cheerfully. "Let's ask at the desk where people go for actual good times around here."

* * * * *

The club was a bit dark and throbbed to the bass line of the song playing. Bodies writhed together like snakes on the dance floor while others nursed drinks and scanned the crowd from the tables on the sidelines. Terry led the men to a relatively well-lit table and sat down. James looked delightedly around him.

"This place is brilliant," he said. "Where did you hear about it?"

"From Justin," Terry replied. "Apparently he and his friends come here all the time."

"Justin?" Gary asked. "Your son, Justin, told you about this place?"

"Not exactly," Terry admitted, "but I did hear him talking with Sonya about it."

The others rolled their eyes.

"Who would have guessed?" Patrick scoffed. "Sonya. She's made her choice, and it's not you, Terry."

"I'm not upset about it," Terry protested a bit too emphatically. "Really. Anyway, it's been ages. She was just a fling. I was getting tired of her anyway."

"Say it a bit louder, Terry, and perhaps someone will believe you." Giles snorted. "I need a drink," he said as he stood. "Does anyone else want one?"

"I'd love one," came a feminine voice behind him.

Giles wheeled around only to find himself face to face with a pretty brunette of about twenty-one summers. Her dress had a plunging neckline of the sort that always made Giles wonder what kept a woman's breasts from tumbling out for all to see. Her skirt was slit almost to the hip and she wore an alarming amount of makeup.

"I didn't expect to see you here," the girl continued.

"H-have we met?" was all Giles could come up with to say.

James looked up with a smile.

"Cindy," he beamed.

The girl looked from Giles to James and back again, obviously bewildered.

"Christ, James, did you get cloned or something?" she asked.

"Or something," James laughed smoothly. "This is my brother, Rupert. He's just come back from a very long stay in America and he doesn't know anyone in town. Do us a favor and make him feel welcome, would you?" He grinned and slid a hand up Cindy's thigh.

She slapped his hand away playfully.

"Naughty," she giggled. "You'll give Rupert entirely the wrong impression of me." She turned to Giles and placed a hand in the middle of his chest. "I'm really not a pushover at all," she simpered as she took hold of his tie. "It'll take very good champagne to get anywhere with me. Come on," she said in a suddenly very young voice, "let's dance. I love this song."

Cindy dragged Giles onto the dance floor. James and his friends laughed at his panicked expression.

"I always thought Rupert liked girls," Patrick drawled. "He looks as if he's afraid she'll eat him."

"If he's very lucky, she will," James said. "Mouth like a Hoover, that one. She's fantastic."

"So why did you just hand her over to your brother?" Gary asked.

"He desperately needs a dip in the shallow end of the pool. He's got so stuffy and annoying. If he gets laid, maybe he'll loosen up a bit."

"And speaking of loosening up," Terry said as his eyes fastened on four young women entering the club, "take a look at what just walked in the door."

One girl had fiery red hair, porcelain skin and wide, innocent looking eyes. Her clothes were brightly colored and a little Bohemian in style. The next was a bit taller and had short, dark hair with blonde highlights. Her eyes snapped with energy even in the substandard lighting and she held herself like a princess. The other brunette had large eyes that looked as if she'd seen centuries pass over her head and yet had only just arrived on the planet. The last had long, blonde hair and eyes that spoke of tragedy, yet her frail appearance was belied by the strong - albeit wary - way she carried herself.

"There's four of them and four of us," Terry said. "The blonde's mine."

"Do you think there's any chance the redhead is natural?" James gulped.

Patrick slid his eyes over the girls much the way he would over the dishes in a buffet. At last he made his pronouncement.

"The tall one, I think. She has... possibilities."

Gary looked wildly from one to the other of his companions.

"You don't think... I can't... Cheryl would bloody kill me!" he panicked. "She'd cut my dick off!"

"Relax, Gary," Patrick soothed him. "It's not as if we expect you to go to bed with her."

"You're only keeping her warm until Cindy realizes Rupert won't sleep with someone I've slept with," James explained.

"Besides," Terry said quite reasonably, "even if you did, none of us would dream of telling Cheryl. How would she ever find out?"

"You've been divorced too long," Gary retorted. "You've forgotten what it's like: if I so much as look at another woman, Cheryl knows. She won't let me watch Ground Force anymore because she said I couldn't take my eyes off Charlie's Dimmocks." He held his hands cupped at breast level to make sure his cruder meaning got across. "If she finds out I'm chatting up pretty birds in nightclubs with you lot, she'll perform unnecessary surgery first, and probably never get round to asking questions."

"She wouldn't actually do it," James said reassuringly. "I've lost count of how many times Elizabeth threatened to emasculate me, but she's never had the nerve to follow through."

"You mean every time she threatened, you ran too quickly for her to catch you," Patrick smirked. "Elizabeth is more obviously fierce, but I think Cheryl's temper has more stamina."

"Just leave me out of this," Gary said firmly. "It's nothing to do with me. I'll let Rupert know where you've gone when he gets back."

"I'll get the bubbly," James told Terry and Patrick, "then we'll establish contact."

James sauntered over to the bar as Terry and Patrick readied themselves for battle. Jackets adjusted, ties straightened, winning smiles firmly in place, they headed over to the table where the four young women had settled themselves. Gary shook his head as they went.

"Mad, that's what they are," he muttered to himself. He took another look at the pretty brunette they'd wanted him to 'keep warm' for Rupert. She certainly was attractive. He sighed, then wedged his legs a little closer together. "Cheryl would definitely have my dick," he reminded himself.

* * * * *

The girls found a table and sat down to observe the festivities before joining them. Buffy scanned the dance floor with her eyes.

"What are you looking for?" Anya asked her bluntly.

"Me? Nothing," she said a bit too quickly.

"Looked like something to me," Cordelia said. "Did you sense undeadness on the dance floor?"

"No," Buffy replied. "No, I really didn't... but... I just had this feeling... I'm not even sure what it was. I just felt like... I dunno... there was something I should be noticing out there. I am making no sense at all tonight, am I?"

"You've made more sense," Willow agreed. "Maybe it's just all the coupleness going on," she suggested. "We've all been alone for a while, and I keep feeling a little strange, too. Everybody here is either with someone or looking to meet someone, if you know what I mean, and we're just... here. By ourselves. Not looking. It's a little funny."

Buffy shook her head.

"It's not that - or at least that's not the whole thing," she said. She frowned, trying to find the right words for what she was feeling. Again, she missed Giles terribly. He always had words, even when she didn't. "I can't describe it, Will. I just know there's no vamps or demons here - well, no dangerous ones, anyway - but there's something really, really wrong. Not Apocalyptic wrong, but... bad. Not right."

"Well that just cleared everything right up," Cordelia snorted. "What's with you and Angel and the tongue tying, anyway?"

"Okay, first off, Angel and me? Way past over," Buffy said emphatically. "And he's more cryptic guy. I'm babble girl. There's a difference."

"Eiew!" Anya exclaimed.

"What was gross about that?" Willow asked. "She didn't say any dirty words or anything."

"Not that," Anya said. She pointed at a couple on the dance floor. "That. That's what I was eiewing."

The other three craned their necks to see. The man's back was turned to their table, but all the girls knew instantly that he was old enough to be any of their fathers - except Anya's. It wasn't that he seemed bad looking from the back, but he was dancing with a girl who looked about their age... if dancing was really the word for it. Buffy had a sudden, uncomfortable flashback to the sexy dance she'd done at - you couldn't really say with - Xander so very long ago. This man was holding nervously still as the girl gyrated and thrust herself at him. She suddenly pulled his head down and kissed him passionately right in front of the entire room. The man's hands gripped her almost involuntarily and he was clearly kissing back. At last, though, he pulled back from the kiss, and took the girl's hand to lead her off the dance floor - probably to some more secluded place where they could do more than kiss.

All four girls shuddered and grimaced.

"That was so... yuck," Cordelia said.

"Can't he find someone his own age?" Buffy snorted.

"Can't she find someone her own age?" Willow added.

Anya shook her head.

"If she has to try that hard, she's going to get scorned. If I've seen it once, I've seen it a million times."

"Who needs a drink after watching that?" Cordelia asked brightly. "'Cause I'm thinking tequila all around."

"How about some champagne instead?" came a silky voice behind them.

Four heads swiveled to see three handsome, middle-aged men standing before them. Actually, they only noticed one.

"Giles...?" Willow squeaked.

"Yes," James replied affably as he set down the champagne bottle and glasses on the table. "Who'd like some bubbly?"

He smiled dazzlingly at Willow and sat next to her. Cordelia and Anya sat with their chins scraping the floor. Buffy scowled.

"You're not Giles," she said in a dangerous tone.

"Oh, but I am," James said. He turned his attention back to Willow. "And who might you be?" he asked.

Willow looked confused, but she couldn't help blushing at James' intense gaze. She summoned up the inner strength to look him in the eye.

"If you were Giles, you'd already know that," she said. "You'd know who all of us are."

"And you'd know you belong with us," Anya said fiercely. "We came to bring him home. He has responsibilities to us."

Buffy stood and strode over to James. There was cold fury in her eyes the like of which he'd never seen before.

"What have you done with Giles?" she demanded. "If you've hurt him, you are so dead."

One look at her face was enough to convince James of the literal quality of that statement. He gurgled helplessly. Terry and Patrick gulped nervously. Terry suddenly decided the blonde wasn't his type after all.

"What the hell is going on?" demanded a familiar voice.

Buffy rushed to Giles' arms and embraced him desperately.

"Giles! You're okay! I was so worried!"

In an instant, the other three joined in, squeezing Giles within an inch of his life. After a startled split second, he hugged them all back.

James, Terry and Patrick shared a bewildered glance, then sat heavily and watched the love-fest.

"They all came to see your brother?" Terry demanded. "Rupert? That's who they want?"

James gurgled again and shrugged.

"No wonder he hasn't been dating your castoffs," Patrick mused. "He's got himself a harem back in California, and every one a beauty."

"I don't know," Terry huffed. "The blonde was pretty enough across the room, but when you really get a good look at her... well, she's not going to set the world afire, is she? Still," he admitted grudgingly, "the rest of them aren't bad."

"If I'd known he was such a fanny magnet, I'd have begged for his secret," James sighed as all hope of bedding that pretty redhead went out the window. "Who knew my brother was a sex god?"

"I always did think it was a shame he was so reticent," Patrick mused. "He had the equipment, but lacked the self-confidence."

"He wasn't that big," James mumbled.

"And now you've had your surgery, you're almost as big as he is," Terry said encouragingly.

James looked wistfully at the redhead. He sighed.

"What does she see in him?" he wondered. "He hasn't got much money, he's ridiculously shy with women, he dresses badly, and he's no fun. It can't all be because of his todger."

Giles disentangled himself from his fair visitors with a smile for each of them.

"It's wonderful to see you all," he began, "but what in the hell are you doing here?"

Four voices piped up at once. Giles held up his hands and motioned for silence.

"One at a time, please," he said. "And perhaps we should move this conversation somewhere we can hear ourselves think?"

He went back to the table and spoke quietly to James for a moment. When he returned, he ushered the girls toward the door.

"Come on, then. We can talk at James' flat."

"Who's James?" Buffy asked.

"My brother." There was a slight oomph behind him. Giles turned back to see that all four girls had collided when Buffy stopped dead in her tracks. He smiled slightly. "Look, I'll tell you all about it when we get there."

He headed for the exit. A moment later, Willow managed to prod Buffy enough to get her moving, too.

* * * * *

Buffy began her interrogation almost before the door was closed behind them.

"What brother? Since when do you have a brother?"

"Would you all like some tea?" he asked quietly.

"No!" Buffy said angrily. "I don't want tea; I want answers. You never once said anything about having any family when you were in Sunnydale and now I find out you have a brother?"

"Not just a brother," Giles sighed. "We're twins."

"Why didn't you ever say?" Willow asked in a hurt voice. "You never said even when I was here in England with you all Summer."

"I could understand if there was something way embarrassing about him, but he's just like you, which isn't really all *that* bad," Cordelia added.

"He's not like me," Giles corrected firmly. "He's got the mentality of a sheep and all the moral rectitude of a cat in heat. If it doesn't involve drinking, smoking, or women half his age of an accommodating nature, he's not the least bit interested in it."

Willow stared at the picture over the mantelpiece. It was the naked body of a black man, shown from nipples to knees, with a large, rather phallic flower protruding from between his legs.

"Um... Giles," she squeaked, "are you sure it's only women? I mean... he doesn't... with men, too, does he?"

"What...?" He followed her gaze. "Oh. That. No, that's an investment. One of his friends convinced him it'll be worth a fortune in a few years' time. I've never heard of any men, though I've heard about far too many girls since I got here."

"So if he's such a jerk, why are you hanging with him and not with me - I mean us?" Buffy demanded. "And you should talk about the girls! We saw you."

"Saw me?"

"Huh?" Willow added in a bewildered tone.

Anya's eyes widened.

"That was Giles?" she exclaimed.

"Who was him, when?" Willow asked more confused than ever.

"Oh!" said Cordelia as the penny dropped. "That was Giles dirty dancing out there with that Lolita sexbomb? Y'know, that reminded me of something, Buffy..." At the Slayer's glare she decided not to finish the thought. "Which I've totally forgotten."

"You kissed her," Buffy accused.

"No," Giles replied calmly, "she kissed me."

"You didn't exactly sock her in the jaw for it," Buffy retorted.

"That would hardly have been the gentlemanly thing to do, now would it? Besides, I hardly see what business it is of yours whom I kiss."

"She was way too young for you, Giles!"

"She was over sixteen, and knew perfectly well what she was doing!"

"You'd do it with a sixteen year old? Giles, that's disgusting!"

"It's perfectly legal here."

"But... but... you're too old for a teenager."

"Well at least we were born in the same century, unlike some of your lovers!" His eyes widened when he realized what he'd said. "Buffy, I'm sorry," he began.

"No," she stopped him. "No, you're right. I guess someone like me doesn't have the right to talk. Maybe I'm just wondering when the hell you got so irresponsible."

"Irresponsible?" he scoffed. "You're calling me irresponsible? Then perhaps you'd care to tell me how you financed this little jaunt and who's taking care of your sister - not to mention the Hellmouth - while you're here berating me for getting a life as you so often ordered me to do?"

"Dawn and the Hellmouth are fine," Buffy gritted out. "Not that you give a damn. Xander is staying at the house to take care of Dawn. He and Spike are on patrol until I get back. Cordy called in a couple favors with some friends of hers in LA to help out. Anya paid for the trip, and I got the time off from work by telling Robin I had a family emergency to take care of. Does that answer your questions, Mister Responsibility?"

"Robin?" Giles puzzled. "Who the hell is Robin?"

"Otherwise known as Principal Wood of Sunnydale High," Willow explained timidly.

"We figure we shouldn't get too attached to him," Anya said. "After all, if he's principal of that school, he's either evil or evil chow, one or the other. Possibly both."

"And you paid for the trip?" Giles asked his former employee. "Why, may I ask? Not to mention how?"

Anya shrugged.

"I made a lot of money day trading," she explained. "And since you sort of scorned us all by being in England when we needed you, and since D'Hoffryn cast me out and is trying to kill me, I thought at least I could bring us all here to make you suffer for what you did. It's only fair. Besides, I'm hoping you know a way to get D'Hoffryn off my back. He's sending assassins."

Giles whipped off his glasses and began to clean them.

"Well at least now I know why one of you is here," he grumbled. "What about the rest of you?"

"I sort of have this little problem with Angel," Cordelia piped up. "I kinda... fell in love with him, and then I sorta kissed his kid, and I don't know what to do now."

"Wait a minute," Buffy said. "Since when does Angel have a kid? Are you telling me he actually sired someone?"

"Not if you mean in the vampire sense," Cordelia explained. "See, these evil lawyers brought Darla back and Angel went all psycho for a while and somewhere along the line he did the nasty with her and didn't even bother to tell any of us. Darla went away again, but then she came back... about eight and a half months later and looking it."

"When was all this?" Giles gasped. "And why wasn't I informed?"

"Look, Connor was only born about a year ago. You guys were kinda busy then and Angel didn't want to talk about it until he understood more of what was going on."

"But if the kid's only a year old, how can it be bad that you gave him a little, auntly kiss?" Willow wondered.

"See, that's where it all gets a bit strange," Cordelia said.

"As opposed to the perfectly average sense all this was making before," Giles muttered.

"Wesley kinda stole Connor because of some fake prophecy he read and then Holtz, this freaky vampire hunter from like about two or three hundred years ago, had his way too young girlfriend - who was really pretty Faith-like - steal the kid from Wes, and then Holtz took the baby, jumped into this dimensional portal, and took him to a place on a totally different timeline than ours. When Connor came back, he was eighteen and a total hottie. Plus, I moved in with him when I got back from being a higher being and I didn't remember anything from up there and everybody was lying to me and Connor was right there, and he - I - well, I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but it did and now I remember that I loved Angel, and I remember what that was like for Buffy and I don't know what I'm thinking or feeling anymore and I just wanted someone to explain it all for me." Cordelia stopped and took a breath. "That would be you, Giles."

The man in question moved to the bar and poured himself a glass of scotch. Tea was no longer enough.

"Willow?" he said.

"I - I had a thing happen the other day when we were dealing with the whole Anya question and D'Hoffryn took her powers again. Giles, I went all black magic woman for a minute. It was really scary. I think you sent me back too soon. I'm not ready to control this, yet."

"Did you kill anybody?" he asked.

"Well... no."

"Try to destroy the world?"

"Um... no. I kinda like it how it is."

Giles smiled wryly.

"Then I don't think you need anyone to control you, Willow," he said. "You're doing it yourself. The impulses don't go away; one simply learns not to give in to them." He turned to the final girl. "Buffy?"

"What?"

"What are you doing here?"

"What do you mean, what am I doing here?" she asked in a hurt voice. "Don't you even want to see me anymore?"

"I simply assumed you have a crisis, too. Everybody else has one they expect me to solve."

Buffy frowned in thought. It had all seemed so clear before: find Giles, bring him home, and everything will be fine. Now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure what it was he needed to make right for her. But if she didn't come up with an emergency right now, how was she going to explain her presence without proving his point that she was completely irresponsible to leave the Hellmouth?

"It's Spike," she said, grabbing at the first straw she could think of. "He's got his soul back."

Giles downed the rest of his drink. He'd hoped Buffy had come because she wanted to see him, but obviously she just wanted his blessing before she took her vampire lover back.

He poured another scotch.

"And...?" he prompted.

"I just... I thought you should know," Buffy finished lamely. "Y'know, since it's sort of a Hellmouthy thing."

Giles nodded and tossed back his drink. He put down his glass firmly before he could pour another.

"Where are you staying?" he asked quietly.

"We've got a hotel in Bloomsbury," Anya said. "It's not much, but we were only planning to stay there one night."

Before Giles could answer, there was the sound of a key in the lock and James walked in with Patrick in tow.

"Hello... everybody," James said genially. "Are you done with your chat, or should we go elsewhere?"

"No," Giles said, "this is your flat. Anyway, I think we're finished for the moment. I was just going to see about taking the girls back to their hotel."

"A hotel?" Patrick said with an intense gaze at Cordelia. "Don't be ridiculous. I'll put them up."

"You don't have to do that," Buffy said. "We don't want to be any bother."

"Nonsense," Patrick scoffed. "My house is huge. I get lost, rattling about in it on my own. I'd consider it a favor if you'd keep me company while you're in town."

The girls conferred in a corner.

"We don't even know this guy," Buffy whispered.

"But we'll save a lot of money," Anya pointed out. "Besides, you're a vampire Slayer and Willow's a witch. If he tries anything, either you'll stake him or she can zap him out of his skin. It'll be okay."

"I say we go for it," Cordelia said. "He says he's got plenty of room."

"I dunno," Willow said nervously. "Like Buffy said, we don't know this guy at all."

"But Giles does," Buffy pointed out. "I vote we ask him and follow his advice."

The others quickly agreed. Buffy motioned Giles over.

"So what's this guy's deal?" Buffy asked without preamble. "Is he on the level?"

"Well, he's a friend of James', so he's not a great friend of mine, but he seems the most harmless of the lot. I think you'll be perfectly safe if you decide to take him up on his offer."

"And it makes sound financial sense," Anya added.

"Okay," Buffy told Patrick. "I guess we're coming with you."

* * * * *

Patrick hadn't been exaggerating about the size of his home, but the girls soon learned that there were several rooms that were never used at all. There was still a great deal of house left even without them, but only two rooms were set up to accommodate guests. Buffy and Willow took one while Cordelia and Anya agreed to share the other.

When their host had left them alone, Buffy and Willow began to undress for bed. Both were fairly quiet at first, lost in their own thoughts. At last, however, Buffy had pulled on her pale pink tank top and a pair of low slung pink and white striped pajama pants, and Willow had donned her bright red tartan flannel pajamas and both girls were giving their hair a final brush.

"It's weird," Willow started the conversation.

"What's weird?"

"Giles' brother. That he's got one, and that he's so different from our Giles."

"He's not Giles," Buffy said shortly.

"I guess technically he is," Willow mused. "'Cause his name's Giles, too. He seems like a nice guy."

"You heard what Giles said. He's not nice, Will. He was hitting on us like a big skank tonight." Buffy set down her hairbrush and crawled gratefully under the eiderdown quilt. "Him and his friends probably had us all picked out, who was gonna get which one of us. It was gross."

Willow decided to try to find a safer topic. Unfortunately, the only other thing she could think of was what Cordelia had said earlier.

"It's pretty strange, isn't it," she said as she slipped under the covers with Buffy. "Y'know, Angel having a son. And one of us being old enough to be the older woman."

Buffy lay quietly for a moment and tried to decide what she felt about that situation. Angel had been the one great love of her life. She ought to feel something, but all she could summon up was a mild irritation and a sense of relief that it wasn't her problem.

"It's weird, yeah," she said at last. "But at least it's one thing I didn't have to worry about, since I didn't know. I dunno... Angel and all his stuff... I used to think he'd always be the most important thing in the world to me. But he's not anymore. I hope Cordy figures out what she's feeling and I hope things work out for at least some of them, but... I don't really care *how* it works out. Does that make me a bad person? That it doesn't matter all that much to me?"

"I think it just makes you a less obsessed person," Willow decided. "And less obsessed is pretty much always healthier and more fun to be around."

"Actually, the thing that bothers me most is the idea of Cordelia as the older woman. We're way too young and hot to be the older women."

* * * * *

Giles looked up from yet another scotch to find James staring at him in awe.

"What is it?" he asked sourly. "Have I grown an extra head?"

"All four of them?" James asked inanely.

"All four of whom what?"

"Those girls," James explained. "You had four girlfriends in California and you made it sound as if you led the life of a bloody monk."

Giles nearly choked on his drink.

"I beg your pardon?" he managed at last.

"No wonder you miss the place if that's the sort of female companionship you had there."

"You mean you think I... James, do you have any idea who those girls are?"

"Your harem," James said in reverent tones.

"My Slayer and some of her friends."

James goggled.

"Shit," he said at last. "No wonder the Council wants you nowhere near her. Which one was she?"

"The blonde one."

"So... not the redhead?" James asked.

"What does it matter to you?" Giles asked impatiently.

James didn't answer in words, but the way he filled his pipe told Giles everything he needed to know.

"It won't do you any good," he said. "You won't get anywhere with Willow."

"Why not?" James asked in an offended tone. "Just because you didn't tickle her fancy doesn't mean I won't."

Giles smirked to himself and headed for his bedroom.

"Maybe she just doesn't like intellectuals," James called after his brother as he struck a match.

Giles turned back. He couldn't stop his grin anymore.

"It's not brains she doesn't like," he said. "It's boys. She's gay."

He went into his bedroom, still laughing.

A moment later, James swore as the match burnt his fingers.

* * * * *

Cordelia and Anya lay in bed, both staring at the ceiling.

"This is all Xander's fault," Anya said at last.

Cordelia knitted her brows for a moment.

"Not that I plan to argue the point," she said at last, "but how do you figure that?"

"If he hadn't scorned you, I would never have come to Sunnydale and I would never have granted you a wish and my power center would never have been destroyed and I would never have been a mortal teenager with mortal hormones and I would never have noticed how adorable he is when he's all puppy like and confused. Then I would never have had sex with him, and I would never have fallen in love with him and I never would have agreed to marry him and he wouldn't have left me standing at the altar and I wouldn't have asked D'Hoffryn for my old job back and I wouldn't have been so wimpy in granting wishes and I wouldn't have cared what happened because of the wishes and now I wouldn't have assassins following me. And I wouldn't be mortal again." Anya paused for a much needed breath. "And look what he did to you. Because of him, you were badly injured. He was why you left Sunnydale, wasn't he?"

"No he wasn't," Cordelia protested. "I was going to be a star. I went to LA to make my dream come true. And because my parents hadn't bothered to pay their taxes for like, ever. I couldn't stay where people had known me as Cordelia Chase, rich bitch. It was too embarrassing." She was silent for a moment. "Okay, and I didn't want to see any of the Scoobies ever again as long as I lived. I'll admit that. Just my luck that the first friendly face I found in LA happened to be Angel's. And just because he saved me from a very, very rich vampire, I just had to barge into his life whether he wanted me to or not. And I had to get all hero worshipping about him and then I had to go and notice all over again how handsome he is and forget how aggravating he is." She sighed. "When am I going to meet a man who's just... not aggravating?"

"If you ask me, they're all aggravating. It's a matter of finding one who doesn't get on your nerves too badly," Anya decided. "I'd settle for one who's honest about how slimy he is."

"Well I'm holding out for something better," Cordelia said firmly. "Any man who wants to be with me had better be ready to prove it in a big way. And not be all broody and uncommunicative with me. And be able to buy me nice things."

"And not be a vampire?"

"That's number one on my list of requirements."

* * * * *

Giles lay in bed, but was unable to sleep. Reading hadn't helped. Even an attempt at a calming meditation failed to soothe him. He couldn't stop thinking about Buffy.

And Spike.

When would the girl learn that dating vampires simply wasn't an option? Slayer or not, what sort of future could it lead to? Giles hated the thought of a girl as bright and warm and whimsical as Buffy being hidden away in the dark for the rest of her life.

And with Spike!

Out of all the wretched choices she might have made, Giles couldn't think of one that would depress him more.

Despite his hysteria-induced laughter at the news of Buffy's affair with Spike, he'd been appalled at the idea. Still, he could understand it as a symptom of the depression and rage she'd been so consumed by on her return from Heaven.

But to turn to Spike again, in cold blood, simply because he had somehow managed to find - or convince her he'd found - a soul, that was too horrible an idea to even contemplate.

He would have to take her aside and have a fatherly talk with her. That was the least he could do. Not that he wanted to stand in for her father. In fact, he'd fought against it every time someone had tried to squeeze him into that mold. Why did people - Buffy included - always try to saddle him with that role in her life?

"I'm not anyone's father," he grumbled to himself. "And I'm not likely to become one, either."

It depressed him further to think of that girl he'd danced with earlier. What was her name? Candy? No, Cindy. That was it. He'd felt a complete prat, standing there like a statue while she performed the dance of the seven veils against him in public. Worst of all, he had to admit he'd been aroused when she kissed him. He'd come very close to just hauling her into the alleyway and giving in to his endlessly frustrated cock.

After all, she was pretty, she was more than willing, and she was quite old enough to do as she pleased.

But she'd obviously slept with his brother. He just couldn't bring himself to let one of James' castoffs be the first woman he slept with now he was home.

Worse yet, Buffy had seen him making a fool of himself.

Giles groaned and tried to turn his brain off.

At last he fell into a fitful sleep.

He dreamed that he was dancing in that infernal nightclub again, but this time his partner was Buffy. She fixed him with a sultry gaze as she writhed and ground herself against him.

A pleased murmur escaped his lips as his hips began to move involuntarily. His hands clutched at the bedding as his dream self slid his hands down Buffy's back until he was caressing her firm, round little buttocks.

Dream Buffy threw back her head, closed her eyes and moaned at the feel of dream Giles' erection pressing against her belly. In a flash, she was on her knees in front of him and had undone his trousers, uncaring that they were in the middle of a crowded dance club.

Suddenly all their clothes had melted away and he was making love with Buffy in the middle of the dance floor. She moaned and whimpered as he thrust deeply into her. She took him with a strength and passion that both thrilled and astonished him.

His cries rose in both volume and pitch.

* * * * *

Buffy whimpered in her sleep and moved restlessly. In her dreams she clutched at a strong male back and raised her hips to meet his thrusts. His cock filled her completely. His passion set her afire with lust and delight. The way he held her as they rocked together made her feel safe; loved. She'd never felt so fulfilled. Her dream hands combed through his soft hair, her dream breasts were teased by chest hair, her dream belly clenched as she reached release.

"Giles!" she cried.

"Buffy! Buffy, wake up!" Willow's voice broke through the haze. "Are you okay?"

"Huh...?"

"You were having a bad dream," Willow said. "It wasn't... you don't think it's gonna come true, do you? 'Cause it sounded like something happened to Giles, and I don't want anything to happen to him."

Buffy rubbed her hands over her face and shook back her hair. It took a moment to come to terms with what had just happened. She'd dreamed about Giles. She'd dreamed about sex with Giles. And it had been good. So good she'd actually gotten off from it. She still felt squishy between her thighs.

"Buffy?"

She turned, startled, at the sound of Willow's voice.

"What? Oh. No. Not prophecy," she assured her friend. "I don't see this one coming true. It was just a dream." She wondered why she felt such a stab of disappointment at the thought. "Um... I think I'm gonna go to the bathroom."

She only hoped Willow wouldn't realize the state she was in from her slightly bowlegged gait.

* * * * *

Giles woke suddenly to find himself in a mess he hadn't been in for years - decades, actually. He tossed the damp quilt aside, grimacing when he saw the wet spot on the sheet.

He became aware of knocking at his door.

"Rupert? Is everything all right in there?"

Giles gave a mirthless chuckle. No, everything was not all right. It wasn't as though he'd never noticed Buffy was pretty. He had. It wasn't even as though he'd never had a stray erotic thought about her. He'd done that, too. It was impossible for a man of his libido to be constantly surrounded by such gorgeous girls and ignore their budding sexuality completely.

But wet dreams? That was quite a bit more than he'd ever done before. And it was impossible to forget this one now he'd woken up. He could still see her heavy-lidded eyes, hear her breathy cries of passion, feel her strong thighs wrapped around his own.

No, nothing was right anymore.

The knocking came again.

"Rupert?" James sounded a little panicked by this time. "Rupert, can you hear me?"

"Yes," he called shakily. "I'm fine. Just a bit of a bad dream. Go back to bed. I'll be okay."

"Don't scare me like that," James snapped, even as Giles heard him sigh in relief. A moment later, he spoke again. "I can put the kettle on if you're going to be up all night, as per usual."

"No, no, I'm fine," Giles protested. "But thanks. I'll see you in the morning."

"If you're sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Good night, then," James said. "And no more dreaming."

Giles smiled slightly to himself. James might be a bit silly and immature, but he really did have a good heart when he paid attention to it.

A moment later, he frowned when he realized how uncomfortable he was going to be if he didn't clean up after himself. He stripped himself and then the bed. Luckily there were spare bedclothes in the cupboard and a bathroom en suite. For once he was glad of his brothers' extravagant lifestyle. At least he would have privacy in his embarrassment.

* * * * *

The next morning, at Patrick's insistence, everyone met for brunch. Gary bowed out because of family obligations - or perhaps, as Terry said, Cheryl didn't want him having brunch with pretty girls half his age.

Terry himself only came along because Patrick wanted him there. He'd already decided these girls were nowhere near as attractive as they'd seemed from a distance, and he frankly disliked Rupert's company. He always had done. Even at school, he'd had a strange air about him that Terry distrusted, as if he held the key to secrets most of the world could only guess at.

And he'd never been any fun whatsoever.

Well, all right, there had been that time with the dartboard and the treacle. The Headmaster had nearly expelled Rupert for that one. But that was the one and only time Terry recalled him being fun.

Besides, the girls had always gone a bit mad about Rupert. Between his good looks, his slight air of mystery and his guitar playing, Rupert could have been a sex god. Certainly whenever he walked into a party half the women there dropped whoever had been patiently and skillfully maneuvering them into going home with them and did their best to catch his eye. When he was in the mood for it, Rupert could have his pick. When he wasn't... he could still have his pick; he just didn't bother to.

And then none of the girls bothered to, either.

To discover that young women on the other side of the world were just as eager to be with him - even to share him! - thirty years later was too damn depressing to even contemplate.

"I'll have eggs Benedict and a Buck's Fizz."

Terry started. The little brunette on his left had been the one to order. He'd barely noticed her the night before, but now he took a look, she really was awfully pretty. Wide, innocent hazel eyes, bright smile, a slightly mysterious air about her... yes, she really was quite attractive.

He smiled in her direction.

"I'll have the same," he told the waiter.

The girl smiled back. Yes, definitely, this was the prettiest one.

As the others placed their orders, Giles thought about Buffy. She looked tired. He wondered if it was just jet lag or if he ought to be worried about it.

Or was she just missing Spike?

Why Spike? After everything, why that bloody vampire?

He became aware of a voice in his ear.

"Giles? Hey, Earth to Giles?" Buffy teased him.

He relaxed his death grip on the menu and ordered tea and a ham and cheese omelet. Across the table, Willow giggled.

"That's funny," she bubbled. "You guys ordered the same thing - except Buffy got coffee and you got tea," she explained to a befuddled Giles. "You're like twinsies."

"Yeah," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "Twinsies who were born about thirty years apart in different countries."

Giles busied himself inspecting his cutlery and tried not to look at her. When he'd seen the girls walk into the restaurant, his first impulse had been to take Buffy in his arms and kiss her senseless. That dream had been so real! He could still feel her hands clutching his back, hear her moans, taste her, almost.

But it had only been a dream.

A dream that would never come true.

For her part, Buffy looked everywhere around the table except at the man sitting to her right. She couldn't get that dream out of her head. The idea that Giles - her stuffy, repressed, safe Giles - might be that good in bed was a bit... disturbing, she decided. Yes, that was definitely the word. Disturbing. Not intriguing. Not exciting.

Disturbing.

Then again...

She knew other women found Giles attractive. Miss Calendar, Olivia, Willow at one time, even her own mother.

Buffy had finally looked up stevedore in the dictionary, but was still puzzled by the comparison. Giles didn't seem much like a dockworker. Strange.

She distracted herself at last by looking at Willow. More strangeness there.

If Buffy didn't know better, she'd swear James was flirting with Willow.

And that Willow was flirting back.

She chanced a glance at Giles only to discover he was looking at the same sight with the same expression of bewilderment on his face.

Great.

Twinsies again.

This had to stop.

Willow giggled again. She could feel herself blushing. This was... okay, not exactly wrong, but really not right, either. James was being so charming and sweet and... and... cute. That was really the only word for him, Willow decided. Cute.

But he was a guy and she wasn't into guys anymore. So why was she all blushy? And why was she noticing the adorable way the corners of his eyes crinkled up when he laughed?

Bad Willow!

Tara hadn't even been dead a year. How could she even think about thinking about someone else? Let alone a guy someone else.

James worried when he saw an expression of apparent distress cross Willow's mobile features. All he could think was that he wanted to replace the furrowed brow with another of those dazzling smiles.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear.

"Is your friend always so picky about things?"

He nodded slightly toward Cordelia who was taking the waiter to task for not having soy milk for her latte.

"She's not exactly what you'd call my friend," Willow said with a wry smile. "More sort of what you'd call a lifelong enemy I've reached a permanent detente with."

The pair giggled quietly, and suddenly Willow felt better.

Not good, but better.

"My good man," Patrick broke into the argument between the waiter and Cordelia, "if the lady wishes soy milk, then she shall have soy milk."

"But... I'm afraid we haven't any," the waiter demurred. "We've run out."

"Then get some more," Patrick ordered. "Or shall we leave and find someplace that has what we want?"

"No, no, sir," the waiter assured him, "there's no need for that, sir. I'll see to it right away."

He skittered off nervously to deal with the situation. Cordelia beamed at Patrick.

"You didn't have to do that," she said.

"If you can't get what you like in a restaurant, what's the point?" Patrick returned with a broad smile.

"It's just I'm lactose intolerant," Cordelia explained.

Willow and Buffy rolled their eyes at one another. Cordelia and Patrick smiled and positively simpered. Terry decided the conversation had focused on everyone else quite long enough.

Before he could speak, though, Anya beat him to it.

"How do you make your money?" she asked him without preamble.

"Wh- I... I deal in stocks and bonds. Dreadfully dull stuff," Terry said. "Investments wouldn't interest..."

"A girl?" Anya supplied. "Actually, I like investments. Stocks, bonds, T-bills, it's all very attractive to me."

"Really?" Terry grinned. "Do you ever dabble, yourself?"

"Oh no," Anya replied. "I never dabble."

"That's a pity..."

"I'm always very certain of my investments. I've never lost money on a single one."

Terry's jaw hit the table.

"Never?"

"Never once."

Terry blinked and smiled.

"I say, when we're done with brunch, would you like to come over to my place and take a look at my portfolio?"

* * * * *

Two hours later, Anya sat next to Terry on the sofa in his flat. She pored over his papers seriously, her reading glasses balanced precariously on the end of her nose. Terry watched her scribble notes, dividing his investments into three columns on a notepad. When she'd finished, she tore off the top sheet and handed it to him.

"These ones on the left are keepers," she explained. "The ones in the middle aren't very good, but not disastrous either. You can keep them if you want, but you'd make more money if you sold them and bought something else - preferably more out of column A. The ones on the right, you're selling now."

"Why? They're all great investments. If things go right, I should make a huge return off of them."

"They're huge gambles. You shouldn't gamble. People who gamble often lose. That's why they call it gambling. Besides, anyone who has an ear to the ground knows these companies are in trouble. Sell out before they go belly up and take you with them."

Terry frowned skeptically.

"You're absolutely certain about this?"

"I've never lost a cent in the market."

Terry picked up his phone.

Anya beamed at him.

Terry hesitated, his finger hovering above the dial.

"Do you know," he said, "I've never met anyone like you in my life?"

"That's probably true."

"You should probably also know I find that very attractive."

Anya thought for a moment.

"Yes," she said at last. "I think I should know that. Thank you for telling me."

Again, Terry was lost in that blinding smile.

He pulled himself together and dialed his broker.

* * * * *

"Have you ever ridden on a motorbike?" James asked.

"Uh... no, I haven't," Willow answered.

"Don't be nervous; it'll be okay." He handed her the spare helmet. "Just get on behind me and hang on tight. Oh, and lean into the curves."

He mounted the bike smoothly and put on his helmet. After a moment's hesitation, Willow donned her helmet as well and clambered on behind him. She put her hands timidly against his sides.

"Not like that," James said. "You'll fall off, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?" He took her hands and pulled them all the way around his waist. "That's better."

"You're sure this is how it's supposed to be done?" Willow asked dubiously.

"I've been riding these for years. I know what I'm doing," James assured her. "You're perfectly safe."

"Okay. But I still feel a little weird about this. You haven't told me where we're going yet."

"I told you. I think Rupert and Buffy need some time to talk, and I have a place we can go while they do."

"So where is it?"

"You'll see."

James kicked the bike into gear and took off. Willow gave a surprised 'eep' and felt a sudden need to hold on tighter. At first she kept her eyes squeezed nervously shut, but soon the rush of the wind and the giddy freedom of riding along so exposed to the elements began to seduce her. This felt oddly powerful and rebellious. The bike vibrated between her thighs, reawakening feelings she hadn't wanted to explore since Tara's death.

And James felt so pleasantly solid - so... warm and human.

She rested her cheek against his leather-clad back and let the joy of being alive fill her.

When James turned the bike off the road and came to a halt by the railroad tracks, she felt a stab of disappointment.

"Come on, then," James urged as he removed his helmet. "I want to show you something."

Willow pulled off her helmet and smoothed her hair. James was dazzled by her pink cheeks and sparkling green eyes. He swallowed hard. Again, he regretted that he wouldn't have a chance with this lovely creature. He turned and led the way.

"This way," he called over his shoulder.

"Are you sure we're supposed to be here?"

"Doing what you're meant to is awfully boring," James grinned back.

The girl shrugged and followed him. James walked up to one car on the tracks and pulled out a key.

"Here we are," he announced.

He opened the door and ushered his guest inside.

"Wow," said Willow. "This is really nice. It's like The Wild, Wild West. Y'know, how they live on this train, only I guess you don't fight bad guys here."

"No, I leave fighting bad guys to my brother. I really have no talent for it myself."

"W - what?"

James shrugged and headed for the bar.

"Would you like something to drink? I've got champagne," he offered. "Or I could provide you with something harder, if you like."

"No, thanks," Willow said hastily. "I really don't need anything like that. And what did you say?"

"You didn't know? That I was meant to be a Watcher, too?" James came and sat on the sofa. After a moment, Willow sat next to him with a small thump. "I'm afraid I was simply no good at it. We were ten when our father sat us down and gave a tiresome lecture about duty and sacrifice. Then we were packed off to the Council for testing. I barely scraped by to get into the training program, and I washed out at fourteen. I just couldn't wrap my brain around all those languages and all that demonic rubbish. I went into cosmetic dentistry instead."

"So... you know all about Slayers and vampires and demons and stuff like that?"

"Well, not all about them. I daresay Rupert knows a few things about them that I don't. Still, I know more than the average person, yes. I even know about you."

"What do you know about me? Is it anything bad? Because there were extenuating circumstances."

James frowned and lit a cigarette.

"You think there are extenuating circumstances for trying to destroy the world?" he asked.

Willow flushed and looked at the floor.

"Look, it's none of my affair," James continued, "but I hope you've got over any urge to end life as we know it, because I rather like my life. I've got good friends, lots of money, a nice flat, this railway carriage, and as much bubbly as I can filter through my liver. If it's all the same to you, I'd like to keep things pretty much as they are. Why would a pretty thing like you, with her whole life ahead of her want to flatten the Earth?"

"You don't understand," Willow muttered, still taking an inordinate interest in the floor. "You don't know what it's like to lose the person you love more than anything."

James pulled his wallet out of his pocket.

"Look, can I show you something?" he asked. At Willow's nod, he pulled out a photograph. "That's Elizabeth, my ex-wife. Beautiful, isn't she?" He smiled fondly at the picture. "We met in the street - quite literally. Car accident. A very minor one. Anyway, there we were, shouting at each other, and suddenly, well... I stopped shouting. I'd never seen anything like her. Never have since. We were married for twenty-two years."

"What happened to her?" Willow asked.

"She runs a stable. Always was mad about horses," James said as he replaced the photograph. "You see, I was always looking for more than I had. You'd think a wife like that and two kids would be enough, but I didn't think so at the time. Now I live alone and my kids won't even speak to me. All the same, I think I'm finally content with my life. I loved Elizabeth very much, and I lost her through my own stupidity, but I didn't feel a need to blow up the world. It's simply not worth it."

* * * * *

As Cordelia and Patrick walked in his front door, a chocolate lab came running up, barking happily and wagging its tail.

"Hello, girl," Patrick said smiled as he rubbed the dog's ears, "did you miss me?"

"Nice dog," Cordelia said. "Purebred?"

"Of course."

The dog came over, sniffed Cordelia's hand, and offered herself to be petted.

"I think she likes you," Patrick beamed. "She really does have excellent taste."

"Which one of us are you talking about?" Cordelia teased.

"Ah, that is one of the great mysteries of our time," Patrick said affably. Oddly enough, Cordelia found that she was more amused than insulted by the idea that he might have been talking about the dog. "So tell me all about yourself," her host continued as they walked into the sitting room. "How do you know Rupert? And what brings you here?"

"Long story," Cordelia said. "And I'm not really sure what to say about most of it."

"Say what you can, how you will. Would you like a drink?"

"Do you have mineral water?"

Patrick just smiled again and went to the bar. A moment later, he handed Cordelia a chilled bottle.

"Or would you prefer a glass?"

"No," Cordelia said, "this is fine." She took a sip and gathered her thoughts. There was so much to edit from her conversation. At least the beginning of her tale was easy enough to tell. "Giles was the librarian at my high school. I had to get books and there he was."

Patrick gaped.

"A librarian? At a school? Rupert?"

"Yes, yes, and yes. That's how I know him."

"But he was head curator of The British Museum! I thought he was abroad on an exchange program with another museum or something of that nature. What was he doing in a school library?"

"Hanging out with Buffy and Willow and Xander, mostly. You don't know Xander. He didn't come along. Anyway, they were always in the Library... doing stuff... researching and that sort of thing. Real brainy stuff. They helped me with a couple problems, and well... I sorta started hanging out with them, too, after a while. I'm still not sure why. Anyway, Buffy had this... older boyfriend back then. He moved to LA about the same time I did. I was going to be an actress. I actually did a couple commercials. One of them even went National. But, to tell the truth, I don't think I was really very good at the whole acting gig. So, I started working for Angel and... well... there were some... complications, and I needed some advice and I went back to Sunnydale, but Giles was here, so here I am. That's it. The story of my life in two paragraphs or less."

"These... complications, with your employer - you needn't tell me if you don't like to, but were they... of a romantic nature?"

"Are you some kind of mind reader?" Cordelia asked suspiciously.

Patrick shrugged.

"An attractive older man and a lovely young woman thrown together by mutual interests, an old rival you'd like to get one up on; it's not a difficult deduction to make."

"Buffy was so not a rival," Cordelia scoffed a bit too emphatically. "She was a total outcast. She was always getting into trouble and getting me stuck in the middle of stuff I didn't want to know about. And okay, all the cutest and most interesting guys were more interested in her than me, but I can't help it if they didn't have any taste." She got up and began to pace the room, gesticulating wildly with the water bottle. "I mean, okay, Angel didn't notice me when Buffy was around, and neither did Xander for a really long time, and even Giles and Wesley were more interested in her than me, but that doesn't make her my rival. I had way more money then, and better shoes, and... and... so she had more real friends and a nice mom, but..." The fight went out of her and Cordelia flopped back into a chair. "Wow," she said wryly after a moment, "that was some Freudian tirade, wasn't it?"

"You didn't get on with your mother?" Patrick asked in genuine surprise.

"How do you get along with someone who has Epstein Barr? From the time I was fifteen, she was in bed most of the time. Not that we were all that close before. And my dad figured as long as he bought me clothes and kept me fed, he'd done his part. I don't know why I'm telling you all this. What about you? How crappy were your parents?"

Patrick sat quietly for some time, looking at his hands. At last, he stood.

"Come with me," he said. "I want to show you something."

Cordelia followed him out of the room a bit hesitantly. They went up the stairs and down a long corridor until Patrick stopped at a locked door to one of the unused rooms.

"My father died when I was a very small boy. I hardly remember him. Mum never remarried. She spent her life taking care of me until I was old enough and had enough money to return the favor."

He took a key from his pocket and stared at it for a moment. At last, he slid it into the keyhole and opened the door.

Musty air wafted out to greet them. There was a fine layer of dust over the entire room. The furniture was much less elegant and expensive than the pieces in the rest of the house. A handmade patchwork quilt graced the bed and a variety of bottles and jars stood long unopened on the vanity. On the walls hung a couple small paintings with religious themes and autographed photos of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and several other famous crooners of a bygone era.

"This was Mum's room," Patrick said at last. "It hasn't been opened since her stroke."

"How long ago was that?" Cordelia asked in a low, sympathetic voice.

"Just over a year, now. I - I... unplugged her a few weeks ago."

"Good," Cordelia said. Patrick looked at her with wounded eyes. "Not good she's dead, but good you were finally able to let her go," the girl explained. "I know I'd be pretty pissed off if someone left me hooked up to a bunch of machines for years when I was already gone."

Patrick closed his eyes and nodded slowly.

"I know," he said at last. "That's exactly what she would have told me if she'd been able to. I think... I think she would have liked you."

"I'm guessing that might be your way of saying you like me?"

"I suppose it might be, at that," he chuckled.

* * * * *

Giles came out of the kitchen with a pot of tea and all the accouterments on a tray. Buffy sat a bit stiffly on the sofa waiting for him. Now that they were alone, she felt even more awkward than she had in the restaurant. She knew Giles wanted details on the Spike situation - ones that would more fully explain what she was doing in London. All she could think about, however, was her dream. She found herself mesmerized by the tuft of tawny hair that peeped over the neck of his shirt. She'd seen it a hundred times or more over the years, but now all she could think of was what it would feel like between her fingers or rubbing against her breasts. She wanted to know how accurate her dream had been about how much hair he had on his body and the configuration of it. She wanted to know if he felt the same in reality as he did in her dream, if he tasted as good.

But she knew all he was interested in was what was going on with Spike.

What was she even going to tell him about that?

As he poured the tea, Giles reminded himself yet again that his dream had been just that - a dream. One that would never come true. He was surprised at how that thought stabbed him to the heart. He resolutely kept his eyes above her neckline, only to find himself almost unable to resist leaning over to see if her lips tasted as sweet in reality as they had in his fantasy. He turned his attention to pouring the tea.

Giles cleared his throat as he handed Buffy her cup.

"So," he said at last, "Spike has a soul? When did this happen? How?"

"I don't really know," Buffy replied. "He sorta disappeared right before Tara... y'know. I didn't think much about it with everything that was going on. Later I thought maybe he finally got it through his head that it was really over with us and went away so he wouldn't be underfoot, or something. I didn't see him until Dawn's first day of school. I was sort of hanging out, trying to see what I could see about the new Hellmouth High and when I went down to the basement, there he was. Spike. All soul-having and really, really out of his mind."

"You think the guilt drove him mad?"

"That or maybe whatever's down there with him. I was thinking of moving him out of there. It's not healthy for him."

"I see," he said quietly.

"No, you don't see. I'm not moving him in with me. That's over, Giles."

"Ah. Well, I'm glad to hear it."

Buffy smiled wryly.

"Way to go with the smooth," she said. "When I leave the room are you gonna do a happy dance?"

"Perhaps a small one," Giles admitted with a breathy laugh.

Buffy shook her head slightly and joined in the laughter.

"Actually, I'm embracing a life of celibacy of late," she said. "Not that you would know anything about that."

"I beg your pardon, but I know far more than I'd like about that particular condition," he retorted.

"Didn't look like it to me last night," Buffy snorted.

Giles choked on his tea.

"W-what...?"

"That girl you were dancing with last night," Buffy accused. "Does she give the world's fastest blowjobs, or what? You were back in about two minutes."

"I don't believe it's any of your business what she and I did or did not do when we left the dance floor," Giles gritted out. "Now, what do you know about this soul of Spike's? Do you have any idea where or how he got it?"

"We haven't finished talking about this girl, yet," Buffy insisted. "Giles, we live in a world of herpes and AIDS. Having sex with someone you've known about a second and a half is not safe. I thought you were smarter than that."

"And I thought you were intelligent enough not to sleep with another bloody vampire," Giles retorted angrily.

"Okay, one, I haven't slept with a vampire in months. Two, if I did, it wouldn't be any of your business."

"Then what business is it of your who I sleep with?"

"Duh, Giles! You're dating probably a million teenagers and you never once even looked at me that way! Is there something wrong with me? Am I gross somehow?"

Giles felt his jaw working, but he couldn't seem to make any sound come out at all. Buffy stood before him, flushed and panting with emotion. He decided she'd never looked as desirable as she did at that moment.

Before he could think enough to stop himself, Giles had grabbed her in his arms. She clutched him back desperately as their lips fused together. Only one thought managed to invade the fog of his mind: she didn't taste like she had in the dream.

This Buffy was much sweeter.

* * * * *

"You're kidding!" Terry said into the phone. A grin spread from ear to ear. "Really? You're sure?"

Anya smiled smugly as she straightened the papers she'd been working on. Terry hung up the phone and turned to her.

"That was my broker," he said in a stunned - but happy - voice. "By following your advice, I avoided disaster by mere hours. One of the companies you suggested I get out of, collapsed minutes ago. If I'd still had my money there, I'd have lost eighteen thousand pounds."

"It's all about timing," Anya said. "Know when to get in, know when to get out. It's about not hanging onto things after they're no longer useful to you."

"My precise philosophy," Terry agreed. Suddenly he stood. "Come on, then, let's go celebrate."

"That you didn't lose your money?" Anya asked brightly.

"Well, that," Terry said, "and that I found myself such a lovely financial advisor."

Anya's smile broadened still further.

"How do you want to celebrate?" she asked.

"I'm going to take you out for the best dinner you ever had and enough champagne to launch a fleet."

"That sounds like you're just losing your money in a different way," Anya decided. "But at least this is a fun way, so, okay."

They headed for the door, when suddenly, there wasn't one. In the swirling cloud of dust where it once stood, there was a huge, unearthly creature the like of which Terry had never seen. He gulped.

"Oh this is so not fair!" Anya complained. "Doesn't D'Hoffryn ever quit?"

"Anyanka," the demon growled, "your life is forfeit. Prepare to die."

"Shit," Terry gulped, trying desperately not to match his action to his words.

* * * * *

"You don't understand," Willow protested. "I didn't lose Tara because I did something dumb; she was killed. Right in front of me. Right when we got back together. It wasn't fair!"

"I never said it was," James said mildly. "All I meant was... well, life goes on, doesn't it? And it's not so bad, all things considered. Aren't you glad now that the world is still here?"

"I - I guess so," Willow faltered.

"And do you really think Tara would have wanted you to cause such a fuss over her death?"

"Well... maybe not..."

"From what Rupert's told me, she sounds a very gentle person."

"She was," Willow sniffled. "And she thought I was something special. I miss that."

"You miss it?" James asked incredulously.

"Well, wouldn't you?" Willow bristled.

"No, well, I mean of course I would," he explained. "It's just... I can't imagine anyone not thinking you were special."

Willow turned huge green eyes to James.

"Y - you really mean that?" she asked.

"Of course I do. You're an incredibly powerful witch, you're a whiz with computers, and you're gorgeous on top of all that. Why wouldn't I mean it?"

"Um... you do know that I'm... sorta gay, right?"

James sighed and stubbed out his cigarette.

"So my brother informs me. I hope you won't be angry if I say it was a bit of a disappointment."

"No... not angry," Willow assured him. "Just, I'm still gay. And besides, I don't really know you or anything."

She wasn't sure why she'd felt the need to add that in. She fidgeted slightly and looked nervously around her for another topic of conversation while James went and poured himself a drink.

"So," she blurted out at last, "that picture at your place? Does that mean you like guys?"

James choked on his drink.

* * * * *

"Okay, the first thing we're doing, we're cleaning this room," Cordelia said firmly. "Let me know what to keep and what to trash and I'll take care of it."

"Cordelia..." Patrick began to protest.

"Trust me," she told him, "you'll feel better once it's taken care of. I promise not to throw out anything important to you. It's just not good for you to keep this shrine thing going. Choose a few things you want because they mean something to you, and get rid of the rest. Did she make that quilt?"

"Yes, she did."

"Then that's a keeper. And the photos are worth something to collectors, so those stay and you can decide whether to sell them later. Did she have any good jewelry or anything like that?"

"I wanted to buy her some, but she would never take it. She said it would be better if I gave it to some pretty girl instead. She said at her age it would look ridiculous, and she'd be afraid of losing it anyway."

"That's so not like my mother," Cordelia said shaking her head. "If there wasn't at least one diamond under every Christmas tree, she threw fits about Daddy not loving her and threatened all sorts of punishments. She was such a drama queen. Maybe she still is. I don't know. We... don't really talk or anything."

"You should call her," Patrick said.

Cordelia shrugged.

"No, really, you should," Patrick urged. "You only ever get one mother. It would be sad if you lost her before you became friends."

"I'm not sure we could ever be friends," Cordelia said. "I think we live in sort of different worlds now, and she really doesn't want to know about mine."

Patrick was struck by the matter-of-fact tone of her words. There was no self-pity or hinting for sympathy; simply an acceptance of a reality he couldn't begin to guess at.

"What doesn't your mother know about your world?" he asked.

"Trust me, you don't want to know, either." She stood quietly for a moment, then seemed to pull herself together through sheer willpower. "So, I'll need a broom and garbage bags and all that cleaning stuff. Where do you keep them?"

"We can do this later," Patrick said.

"You've already put it off too long."

"It'll keep until tonight. I have something else I want to show you." He ushered her out of the room and locked the door behind them. "We're going for a drive. We may be some time."

* * * * *

Giles pulled Buffy still tighter and deepened the kiss. He gave a muffled groan at the feel of her soft tongue slipping eagerly against his. She felt so good - tasted so good - he never wanted to stop.

Stop.

He had to stop this.

This was insanity.

But it felt so... right.

When he felt Buffy's fingers begin to tug at his shirt buttons, he knew he had to slow things down immediately, before they got even more out of control. He took her hands gently in his and pulled back from the kiss. She looked up at him with stricken eyes.

"Did I do something wrong?" she asked.

"Wrong... might be an overstatement," he laughed shakily.

"Then why are you stopping us?"

"Quite possibly because I'm insane," he muttered. He led her to the sofa and sat them both down. "This is all so very... sudden, Buffy. I want to be sure you know what you're doing."

"Um, Giles? I've done this before. I'm not a kid."

"I'm well aware of that," he replied with some asperity. "I'm hardly a virgin, either, you know. That doesn't mean I go to bed with every woman I know. Are you sure this is something you want?"

"Don't you?"

"I - I don't know," he admitted. "Buffy, you're a very attractive young woman. You're beautiful and strong and brave. A man would have to be blind, deaf, and extremely stupid not to find you desirable."

"So... you desire me, right?" Buffy double-checked. "And in case you didn't notice, I was right there for that whole kiss. I'm not really sure which one of us started it, but it was incredible. Believe me, I want."

Giles shifted uncomfortably and began to clean his glasses.

"Perhaps 'want' wasn't the word I was looking for," he said. "I know you'd... like to. I could tell that from your kiss. I just... I suppose I'm wondering *why* you want me. You've never given me any indication of this before."

"I know," she said softly. "I feel like I've been completely blind and I just got new eyes that work or something. I never used to think about you this way. If you'd asked me last week, I'd have said it was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard. But now... now I don't know how I could have not thought about it; how I could have not wanted this. I don't know why this happened now, but I know it's real. I know what I want."

"Buffy, you could have anyone..."

"Anyone I want?" she interrupted him. "Yeah. I've heard that line before. It's pretty much never been right, has it? I wanted Angel, but having him hurt a whole lot of people. Hell, it got good people killed. Can't have him. And before you can ask, I don't want him anymore. Riley? Well, if I'd really wanted him, I might still have him. Of course, now I can't have him even if I did want him. He's a little married, and there are a few depths I won't sink to. And then there's Spike. I didn't want him when I had him."

"Is that true?"

Buffy thought for a moment.

"Okay, maybe it's that I didn't want to want him," she admitted. "And I knew that why I wanted him wasn't very healthy for me or fair to him. One way or the other, it was a bad idea and it hurt people. It's not going to happen again. Even if I wanted it to, it can't. I'm not going to use anyone like that again. It's wrong on way too many levels. So no, I can't always have who I want. But this one time, it looks like I could and it feels like a minor miracle. I know you want me, Giles. I could feel it."

Giles crossed his legs and slipped his glasses into his shirt pocket.

"Just because there was a... physical reaction doesn't mean I'm ready to leap into bed with you," he snapped.

"Crude much?" Buffy snorted. "That wasn't what I was talking about, actually. Yes, I know you got kinda... y'know. I mean, it was sorta hard to miss - or maybe I should say 'too hard to miss'. What I was talking about, though, was that kiss. It was serious. It was... I dunno... I can't come up with the words. You're the one with the vocabulary here, y'know. But it was... it was like... like nothing I've ever felt before. Like you were trying to get inside me, and I wanted to let you in and be inside you, too." She gave a little sigh of frustration at the way the words wouldn't come for her. "I think... I think it gave new meaning to the term 'soul kiss'. That's how it felt to me, anyway."

"So it wasn't... you're not...?"

"Using you? Trying to get you to come back to Sunnyhell by working my womanly wiles on you? Is that what you think? Wow, that's some opinion you have of me," she said angrily. She stood and moved to the other side of the room. "I think maybe I'd better go."

"Buffy!" he protested.

"No," she cut him off. "I think I'd better. I wouldn't want to stay where I'm not wanted."

"But you are wanted," Giles snapped. "If you'll only listen to me - damn!" He stopped when the phone rang. "You stay there!" he ordered as he answered the call. "Yes?" He paused to listen. "Yes, of course. We'll be right over. Try to keep it distracted until we get there. Yes, we're on our way." He set the receiver down and sighed. "We have to go to Terry's."

"We? Why?"

"D'Hoffryn's sent an assassin there," Giles explained as he shrugged on his leather jacket. "Did you bring any weapons?"

"Think, Giles. You can't even bring nail clippers on a plane anymore. I don't think I would have gotten very far with Mr. Pointy and a collection of swords and crossbows."

Giles simply nodded and went into his bedroom. A moment later, he emerged with a pair of broadswords.

"Perhaps not the best weapon for indoor use, but these will have to do, I suppose," he said.

Buffy took one in her hand and tested its balance.

"Yeah," she said. "This'll do. And when we get done with Anya's little demon problem, we're gonna talk some more about us."

They headed out quickly.

* * * * *

Terry shrieked and dove behind the sofa as the beast advanced. Next to him, Anya hung up his mobile phone.

"Don't worry," she said. "Buffy and Giles are on their way."

"Buffy?" Terry sputtered. "That little thing? What the hell good will she do? What we need is the army!"

Anya rolled her eyes.

"We need to keep it busy while we wait for them," she said. "Do you have any swords or guns?"

"Of course I don't have any swords or guns!"

The thing tipped the sofa over. Anya grabbed Terry's hand and pulled him into the next room, shutting and locking the door behind them.

"Well what do you have that's any use?" she demanded.

"Nothing."

"It doesn't have to be a gun," Anya explained patiently. "It could be a baseball bat or a frying pan or even an anvil that we could drop on its head."

"That thing's at least seven feet tall. How are we going to drop an anvil on its head?"

"Stop being so literal," she scolded him. "You need to be creative now."

"I'm trying, but it's a little difficult to be creative when something out of Grimm's Fairy Tales has just knocked down the door to my flat!"

Anya scanned the room. It was clearly Terry's bedroom. She was pleased to note that the furniture was expensive and showed a good eye for quality. Her gaze lit on something useful.

"Here," she said. "Use this golf club. It will be very painful for the demon to be hit with this."

Terry took the makeshift weapon in a daze. He barely noticed that Anya took one as well. He shuddered when she opened the door and peeped out at the havoc the beast was causing. There came a particularly loud crash from the sitting room. Anya turned back to him.

"I hope you didn't pay too much for that stereo system," she said.

Terry winced.

The pair advanced into the sitting room, Anya in the lead while Terry brought up a very reluctant rear. The creature seemed to have decided to simply destroy everything in the flat until its occupants showed themselves again. Terry whimpered when he saw what had happened to his brand new big screen television. Then he pulled himself together.

The time had come to prove he was a man.

He gave a fierce cry and lunged at the demon. The creature turned slowly to face the puny man coming his way. It laughed. Terry swung wildly with the golf club. It connected with the demon's skull. There was a sickly crack of bone. Still the creature laughed at him. Terry whacked it wildly about the head and shoulders with little effect.

"Why won't it die?" he yelled to Anya. "It ought to be dead by now!"

The girl calmly advanced, aimed her golf club between the demon's legs, and gave a mighty swing.

The creature's eyes crossed and it gave voice to a strangled groan. A moment later, it fell to its knees with a whimper. Another moment, and it lay inert on the floor.

"How... how did you know to hit it there?" Terry asked in wonder.

"It's male," Anya explained. "If you hit anything male in the groin, it topples almost instantaneously."

Terry shifted his stance nervously.

* * * * *

"Oooh, sorry," Willow said with a grimace.

When James simply continued to choke, she slapped him on the back. After all, wasn't that what you were supposed to do when someone started choking but wasn't up to Heimlich-needing status? It seemed to help, anyway. At last James stopped coughing and took a deep breath. Somehow, though, Willow couldn't seem to stop rubbing his back comfortingly. He felt good. Really good.

Better yet, he turned his head and smiled at her. A battalion of butterflies set up residence in her tummy and started doing formation flights.

"Thanks," he said when he could talk again. "That's better."

"Well, you wouldn't have needed me to make it better if I hadn't made it bad in the first place, but... you're welcome."

"I'm okay," he reassured her. "Oh, and the answer is no."

"No?"

"No, I've never had sex with a man. And no, I don't want to. Like you, I prefer girls."

Willow matched his smile. Again, James reflected on the unfairness of the universe. He hadn't been so struck by a woman since... since Elizabeth bent his fender all those years ago. Of course, Elizabeth would probably say it was karma getting its own back for the way he'd treated her. She might even be right.

He decided that he would treat Willow well - no matter what capacity she allowed him to fill in her life. It was really the least he could do after all his cock-ups with his ex-wife.

It didn't escape his notice that she was still rubbing his back and it felt very, very good.

It had, however, escaped his notice that she'd been talking while he had been thinking.

"I'm sorry...?"

"I asked if you were okay now," she said with a lopsided smile that melted James' brain all over again.

"Hmmm...? Oh! Yes, fine," he said as soon as he could make his speech center function again. "You?"

"I'm not the one who was choking," Willow observed. "But I feel kinda better now you're better."

"Then that makes two of us, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

James watched, mesmerized, as her cheeks reddened and her eyelids lowered in pleased embarrassment. Her lips had parted slightly. He was so close to them. Involuntarily, he began to lean forward. Willow took a sharp breath, but didn't pull back.

"Blast!" James swore as his mobile rang. He stood and answered the phone. "Yes? Really? Are you sure? No, no, I'm on my way. I'll bring her with me. As quickly as I can."

He snapped the phone off and reached out a hand to his guest.

"Sorry, but we've got to go," he told her. "It seems your friend Anya is having a spot of demon trouble over at Terry's."

"What sort of demon?" Willow asked. "Did they say?"

"No word on that, but Rupert thought you might be useful."

"Useful? As in: in a magicky way?" she gulped. "'Cause I'm not so sure I'm ready for that."

"I'm sure you'll do fine. Come on, then. Best get there as quickly as we can."

Willow was glad James didn't let go of her hand until they were back at his motorcycle.

This time, she didn't hesitate to hold him tightly.

* * * * *

"So where are we going, already?" Cordelia asked yet again.

"You'll see," Patrick replied patiently. "We're nearly there."

"Good thing," she grumbled. "I'm gonna need a potty break really soon."

She slumped into the butter-soft leather of the seat and reflected on how odd it felt to be in a chauffeured car again. Once upon a time, limousines had been a fairly common thing in her life. They took her to parties, both with and without her parents. They took her parents places she wasn't invited. They brought other people to her front door.

But they'd always felt a bit too passive for her liking.

Not that she'd ever said so when they picked her up. That would have been tacky. Besides, the cars provided jobs for drivers, as her mother always said, and so were a good thing. Still, one of the happiest days of her life had been the one when she passed her drivers' test and her father bought her a convertible to celebrate. The car had represented so much more than money, even then. It was all about freedom. Autonomy. Self-determination.

She still wanted to cry whenever she thought about the day she'd been forced to sell her car to help raise the money to move to LA.

Patrick seemed to have no qualms about sitting back in a limo with someone else at the wheel. He sipped at his champagne with an air of barely repressed excitement and occasionally reached down to rub his dog's head with real affection.

At last, the driver turned down a narrow path and into a grassy clearing among some trees in the middle of what looked like nowhere. Patrick's smile broadened until it threatened to split his face in two. Despite his graying hair, he looked almost boyish for a moment.

"Here we are," he announced grandly.

"And where exactly is 'here'?" Cordelia asked.

"My river."

"Your... river? You own a river?"

The driver came around and opened Cordelia's door first. Before she could accept his help in leaving the car, the dog leapt out and barked happily. Patrick opened his own door and got out at a more leisurely pace than his pet, but with equal pleasure. He took a deep breath, exhaled with a satisfied sigh, and grinned at Cordelia.

"What do you think of it?" he asked.

"I'm not sure yet. Where's the actual river part of the river?"

"Over here," he gestured.

Almost before he'd finished talking, he turned and headed down the path. Cordelia followed. She gave silent thanks that she'd worn flat shoes. The last thing she needed was to ruin one of her few remaining good pairs of heels on a muddy riverbank.

Two minutes later, the pair came to the edge of the water. Trees grew tall and ancient all around, cutting them off from the workaday world. Patrick spread his arms wide and gazed happily down at the rushing water below.

"There's my river," he said with a nod down at the banks. "Lovely, isn't it?"

"Great," Cordelia agreed. She hoped she sounded enthusiastic enough. "What's in it?"

"Salmon, so they tell me."

"They tell you? Wait a minute... don't you know? I mean, you must go fishing sometimes, right? Otherwise why own a river?"

Patrick went silent for a moment.

"Because I can," he said at last. "I have the money. I have nowhere I have to be most of the time. Nobody to care very much what I do or where I go. And because it makes me feel... real."

Cordelia nodded.

"You didn't start out rich, did you?" she asked.

"No. I didn't. I got scholarships to good schools, and then I got lucky dealing in art. I owe much of my present fortune to Yoko Ono, as a matter of fact. I took a liking to her work early on, and simply hoarded whatever I could get until some others caught on...and then I sold it. Bought a house, furnished it well, taught myself to speak in a beautiful way. It's all put on."

"Like you're playing a part. You're good at it."

"I'm not sure I should thank you for the compliment."

"It really was one," she said frankly. "It's not easy to reinvent yourself. I know."

Patrick turned to look curiously at his companion.

"Somehow I had the feeling you might understand," he told her after a moment. "How much reinventing have you had to do?"

"A lot. Only I started out at the top and sort of slipped. I know this is gonna sound funny, but I don't think I was ever really me until that happened."

Patrick cocked his head and thought.

"I thought I was finding myself as I honed the person I wanted to be. Now... I just want to... connect with someone, or something."

"But you've got friends," Cordelia reminded him. "You've known these guys like forever, haven't you? I mean, you spend all your time with them. That's got to be some sort of connection."

The pair stood silently and watched the water for a while.

"Maybe... maybe it's not that you don't connect to them," Cordelia said finally. "Maybe it's that you think you're not connecting to you anymore."

"Perhaps you're right." Patrick watched his dog frolic a few yards down the riverbank. "She makes it look so easy."

"Hey, the less layers between you and everybody else, the easier it is. How many layers does a dog have?"

A wide grin spread across Patrick's face, and he began to laugh. It was a deep, warm, rich sound. Cordelia decided she really liked it. She sidled just a hint closer to him. A few seconds later, a large hand wrapped itself around her slender one and an arm wound itself around her waist.

"Let's dance," Patrick suggested.

"There's no music," she giggled.

"Of course there is. The music of nature is all around us."

Cordelia gave a mental shrug and followed Patrick's lead. She relaxed against him with a happy sigh. Down the riverbank, the puppy splashed into the water and barked at the salmon.

* * * * *

Buffy and Giles raced through the hole where the door of Terry's flat used to be.

"Anya," the Slayer cried. "Where is it?"

"Over there," Anya said calmly, pointing to the unconscious demon.

Giles hurried over and examined it.

"A Morthanna demon. Violent, strong, but not terribly intelligent. Well, it's not dead, but it's certainly not doing any harm at the moment. A good beheading will take care of it, I imagine."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Everybody stand back, and I'll do my thing."

She raised her sword. Everyone else took a step out of the way.

"What's the trouble?" James called from the door.

Buffy stood down.

"Is it dead, already?" Willow asked.

"Buffy was just about to decapitate it," Anya said calmly.

"Decapitate it?" Terry yelped. "You're not seriously going to decapitate that... that thing in the middle of my sitting room, are you?"

"I don't think it can make the room much worse," Buffy shrugged as she surveyed the wreckage.

"We could move it to the bath," James suggested.

"Nah. This room's pre-trashed," Buffy decided. "Might as well keep as much of the redecorating in one room as possible."

"That makes sense," Anya said soothingly to Terry. "If we move it to the bathroom, you'll have to repaint in there, too. Plus, demon never comes out of the carpet. Trust me on this."

James noticed the golf club Terry still held in a death grip.

"I say, did you knock it out?" he asked.

"I - I tried. I kept hitting it in the head, but it wouldn't fall."

"Can I see that?" James pointed to the club. Terry handed it over in a daze. James examined it critically. At last, he gave a disgusted sigh and handed it back. "Well, of course it didn't work," he said. "That's a putter. You never, ever raise a putter above your ankles. What you wanted was a mashie niblick."

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"If you guys are through with the sports update, I'd kinda like to deal with this thing before the cops get here. They usually take a pretty intolerant view of dead demon bodies. We need to make this thing dead and find someplace to dump the body before anybody calls 911."

"911?" James asked.

"999," Giles explained.

"Guys?" Buffy asked. "Can I do this already?"

Everybody stepped back to give her room.

* * * * *

Cordelia laughed as Patrick twirled her around the bank. For once, she felt as young as she really was. She was away from all the pain and misery and free to just be... Cordelia, whoever that might be. Best of all, she hadn't had a vision in days.

The surroundings seemed to be having a similar effect on her companion. Patrick looked a good twenty years younger out here, laughing and dancing and playing with his dog. He was warm and solid and whatever angst he was dealing with was just the ordinary sort that could be expected of someone who had lived a relatively normal life. His guilt at turning off the machines that had kept his mother artificially alive for months was terrible - but what was that to the guilt Angel waded through on a daily basis? Patrick hadn't killed hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people and tried to destroy the world. He hadn't attempted to commit patricide, or grown up in a strange warrior dimension that made him unfit for life in the here and now, like Connor. He hadn't kidnapped his friends' son, like Wesley. Just being around someone who didn't bear unbearable guilt was making her so much calmer. The fact that he was funny, genuine and apparently very rich wasn't hurting things, either...

"What?" she asked, when she realized Patrick had said something and she had no idea what it was.

"I was saying what a very good dancer you are," he said gallantly. "And now I realize you were miles away, I suppose I ought to say you're an excellent dancer."

"Sorry," Cordelia grimaced. "I didn't mean to go wandering like that. I just... I was trying to remember the last time I had this much fun with someone."

"Did you come to any conclusion?"

"Only that it's been way too long. And that I don't want it to end."

"Then I hereby declare that it won't end - not so long as I can help it."

"Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy?" she sighed.

"Couldn't it be?" he asked. "At least for a little while?"

"Not very long." Cordelia extracted herself from Patrick's arms and stuck her hands in her pockets. She looked down at the water with a frown. "Happy never seems to last in my world."

"Perhaps you need a new world, then."

"Got one for sale?" she asked wryly. "And a hell of a credit plan?"

"I could be persuaded to give you very generous terms."

"I only wish you could." she looked up at the sky. "It's getting late. We should probably go."

Patrick offered his hand to help her up the riverbank.

"Let's go back to civilization, then," he said. They walked silently, hand in hand, back to the car. As the driver came around to open the door, Patrick gave Cordelia's hand a light squeeze. "If you ever want to tell me about this world of yours, I'll be happy to listen."

"I'll keep that in mind."

* * * * *

Terry watched in numb astonishment as Buffy hacked the demon body to bits and gathered up the parts - with Giles' help - so they could be buried elsewhere. James pressed a large glass of whiskey into his friend's hand.

"Drink this," he said. "You'll feel better."

Terry didn't even notice the flavor as he downed the alcohol in one swallow. He handed the glass back to James without even looking. A moment later, the glass was full and in his hand again.

"What the hell was that thing?" he asked yet again.

"I told you; it's a demon."

"No," Terry objected. "No it isn't. It can't be. It isn't possible. Demons don't exist."

"I'm afraid they do," James said. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way, but it's a lucky thing you had Anya about. What the hell was it doing here, anyway?"

"Trying to kill me," Anya said, looking up from her attempts to straighten the room. "And demons do exist, Terry."

"Wh - how do you know demons exist?" he demanded.

"Because I used to be one." She turned back and picked up the pieces of a chair that would work only as firewood in its current state.

Terry dropped his glass.

"You what?" he demanded.

"Bloody hell," James added with feeling.

"I. Was. A. Demon," Anya said clearly. "A vengeance demon, to be precise. I granted wishes to scorned women." She dropped the chair and ran over to pick up the shattered glass and wipe up the whiskey. "And you're making an even bigger mess!"

"I think I need to sit down," Terry said in a dazed voice.

James looked around the ruined room.

"There's nowhere to sit," he said.

"The floor will do." Terry slid down the wall until his backside hit the aforementioned floor. "This is not happening. I'm going to wake up in a minute, and my flat will be just fine."

Anya shook her head.

"He's in denial. I've read about it."

"What are we going to do with him?" James asked. "He can't stay here with the door off its hinges. I'd better call in the workmen, I suppose."

He pulled out his mobile phone and began making calls. Anya found Terry another glass, filled it with whiskey, and handed it to him. The only response he gave was to drink it in one gulp.

She was still cleaning and James was still phoning repairmen when Buffy and Giles got back. One look at Terry was enough to make Buffy grimace.

"I don't think he's taking it very well," she said quietly to Giles.

"He always was pretty inflexible. Once he got an idea in his head, that was it."

"We need to take him somewhere else."

"Yes, I think that might be best."

James came over to his brother.

"Right," he said. "I've called the cleaners, the builders, an interior designer, Gary, Patrick, and the Savoy Grill."

"The Savoy Grill?" Giles asked in bewilderment. "What on Earth did you call them for?"

"Well, we have to eat somewhere."

* * * * *

Patrick put up his phone and turned to his companion.

"Well, it would seem there's been a change in plans," he said. "We're dining at the Savoy."

"The Savoy? That's sort of a fancy place, isn't it?"

"We'll go back and get cleaned up first, of course," he assured her.

Cordelia smoothed her hands down her jean-clad legs and managed a weak smile.

"Of course," she said.

Patrick looked at her sharply.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing, nothing," she said. "It's great."

"Then why doesn't it sound great?"

Cordelia sighed.

"It's stupid, really."

"Let me be the judge of that."

For a moment she considered lying and saying she didn't feel well or making up a story about some disaster at the Savoy that had resolved her never to go there again. In the end, though, she told the truth.

"Well, it's just... I don't have anything to wear someplace like that."

"Is that all?" Patrick scoffed. "That's easily taken care of." He conferred with the driver, then turned back to her. "We've plenty of time to do a bit of shopping."

"But I don't have any money."

"Never mind that. I'll pay."

"I couldn't ask you to do that."

"You didn't," he pointed out. "I offered. I'd like to see you beautifully dressed and I have the means to make it happen. And you can't eat at the Savoy in jeans."

Cordelia bit her lip and looked out the window.

"I probably can't ever pay you back," she said at last. "Not that I don't want to take you up on it, but I don't have any money, and I can't take something like that as a present."

"Then consider it repayment."

"Repayment? For what?"

"For a bit of good advice, and for helping me do something I ought to have done long ago."

"So this is about cleaning out your mom's room? Which I still haven't done."

"Partly," he said.

"What's the rest?"

He shook his head and smiled like the Mona Lisa.

"That, I may tell you one day, but not today."

* * * * *

"Fuck!" Gary exclaimed as he walked through Terry's open doorway half an hour later. "What the hell happened here?"

"It's a bit of a long story," James began. "I'm not quite sure where to begin."

"I know where to begin," Terry retorted. "Some... some maniac in a Halloween mask knocked my door down and tried to kill Anya and me. We scared him off with golf clubs, but now look at the place!"

"All this damage was done with golf clubs?" Gary snorted. "No wonder he buggered off." He looked again at the mess. "Do you think your insurance will cover this?"

Terry made a strangled sound and slumped down the wall again.

"Oh great," Anya fussed. "We'd just gotten him standing."

"Come on, Terry," Buffy tried to cajole him, "it's gonna be okay. A couple carpenters, a little paint, and it'll be as good as new. Just think of all the shopping you can do."

A glimmer of hope appeared in his eye. Buffy couldn't help smiling. She'd had the feeling he was a retail junkie.

"Well you can't stay here while the workmen are at it," Gary said. "You can stay with Cheryl and me. She'll be thrilled to have you for a few days."

"Cheryl hates me," Terry muttered.

"She doesn't hate you. She just... well, you know what she's like. She likes to wind people up a bit. Anyway, we just redecorated the guest room and she can't wait to have someone stay there."

"It sounds like a great idea," Buffy encouraged him.

"Besides," Anya said helpfully, "you have to stay somewhere."

"Go on, Terry," James added.

Giles decided it was time to step in.

"Look, why don't we go to dinner and give Terry a chance to get his bearings before we push him too much? This has been a nasty shock."

"Um... maybe before we go eat, I could go clean up?" Buffy suggested. "I got a little grimy cleaning up after that... intruder."

"Fine," Gary said. "I've got a key to Patrick's, so I'll take you girls there to get primped up, and you lads can go to James' and we'll meet you at the restaurant. What time are the reservations?"

"An hour from now," James informed them. "I wanted to make sure we had a chance to dress and find Patrick."

Gary led the girls out to his car, while Giles and James supported Terry between them. They shoved him into the back of James' car and headed back to the flat.

* * * * *

An hour later, Giles, James and Terry stood at the entrance to the Savoy awaiting the arrival of their party. Terry checked his watch and sighed.

"Oh do stop that, Terry," Giles said impatiently. "They'll be here."

"They're late. I don't want to lose our reservation."

"If we lose the reservation, there are plenty of other restaurants in London. I have no doubt we can still get a decent meal elsewhere. We could even just have a take-away curry."

The other two looked at Giles as if he'd suggested they dig in rubbish bins for their dinner. In their horror, they never noticed the way he was carefully controlling his lips to keep from smiling.

A moment later, his eyes lit up as he looked down the street. Buffy, Willow and Anya had just emerged from Gary's SUV. When Buffy smiled at him, he barely stopped himself from running to her. He settled for strolling casually in her direction, hands in his pockets.

"You're late," he accused mildly.

"Will had a fashion crisis," Buffy explained. "She didn't think anything she brought was fancy enough - not that Anya and I were any better prepared, but I loaned her a blouse and some shoes, and Anya had a nice scarf, and voila! 'Fashion plate Willow'."

"Willow is wearing your shoes?"

"We wear the same size. Why, did you want to borrow them? I don't think they'd fit more than your big toe."

"That's perfectly all right," Giles said with a grin. "I prefer a slightly more classic pump, anyway."

"We still have to talk, y'know," Buffy said. "After dinner? We could take a walk."

"After dinner," he agreed. "I promise."

"Cordy's not here yet, is she?"

"Not yet."

"Great," she grumbled. "I'm hungry."

"So long as you don't nibble on my shoulder."

"I was thinking more your ear, but I'll take what I can reach at this point," she returned dryly. "You're suddenly being all flirty. What's up with that?"

By this time, the others had all reached the door and stood waiting impatiently.

"Come on, then," Terry called. "I don't think Patrick's coming. Let's go in."

Giles turned on his heel and walked back to the group. Buffy gave a frustrated snort and followed grimly behind.

"Hey! Wait up!"

Everybody turned to see who had spoken.

"Cordelia?" Willow choked out.

"Wow!" Anya added. "That must have been very expensive."

James, Gary and Terry gulped. Buffy's eyes narrowed slightly. Giles gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

"Not a candle on you," he whispered in her ear. She looked up at him, half startled, half deeply grateful.

"You like?" Cordelia asked as she twirled, her arms akimbo, a huge grin on her face. She was a vision in violet velvet and silk. "It's an Armando De Guerro."

Terry shot a miffed glare at Patrick, then recovered.

"Yes, it's very nice, I'm sure," he said grudgingly, "but it's made us late. Come on, let's get inside before they give our table away."

* * * * *

After dinner, Buffy and Giles excused themselves to take their walk.

"So, Giles," she said as they sauntered along the pavement, "any vamps in London? Should I be on the lookout while we talk?"

"Not many," he replied. "At least, not simply walking the streets in this part of town. They tend to stick to nightclubs and Whitechapel. There are a few upscale ones in the better parts of town, but they aren't inclined to hunt here."

"Too swanky?"

"The police and the press tend to get involved when someone rich or important is violently attacked. They don't waste too much time on drifters and prostitutes. Vampires generally prefer to stay low profile, as it were."

"Either that, or they're totally into the 'look at me' vibe. Dracula was such a publicity hound. It was pathetic."

"But he only courted notoriety among those already aware of vampires," Giles said. "He played to a limited audience."

They walked in silence for a few yards, both keeping their hands in their pockets and their eyes straight ahead. At last, Buffy made a small, frustrated sound.

"This is ridiculous," she said. "We said we were going to talk, and we're not saying anything. And when we are, we're talking about vampires. I don't want to talk about vampires. I want to talk about us."

"All right, then, let's talk," Giles said. "Ladies first."

He leaned against a building and faced her with a blank expression that told her precisely nothing.

"See," she snorted. "This is what I'm talking about. When we're just talking, you flirt and you say stuff and you almost let me in. When we're talking - really talking - you don't say anything. You won't let me anywhere near you. Why is that?"

"What do you want me to say, Buffy?"

"Anything! Something! Tell me what's going on in your head. I'm not a mind reader, y'know. In fact, I'm 'clueless girl' who couldn't even tell her boyfriend was sneaking out on her to get sucked off by vamphookers until Spike decided to play show and tell. I'm the one who didn't have a clue you'd desert me until you were waving airplane tickets in my face and saying 'too bad, Buffy. Time for you to just deal 'cause I don't feel like watching your little breakdown'. And this whole Jekyll/Hyde thing you've got going on? So not attractive. Do you want me to just go away? Is that what you really want?"

Giles pushed off the wall and began to walk quickly down the street. After a stunned moment, Buffy followed him. She almost had to run to keep up with him. When she reached him, she grabbed his arm and forced him to stop and face her.

"What the hell was that?" she demanded. "Why do you keep running away? Am I that awful? Is it that bad to think I might want to be with you?"

"Did it never occur to you, Buffy," he asked in a clipped tone that made her nervous, "that I don't get to have what I want, either? I never wanted to be a Watcher. I never wanted to live in California, and I never bloody wanted to fall in love with you."

Buffy stared at him for a long moment. Her fingers grew nerveless and she let go of his arm.

"You - you love me? Really?"

"You can ask me that question? After everything?" he demanded. "Why do you think I stayed on in Sunnydale when I was fired? Why do you think I didn't stake Angel the instant I knew he was back from Hell? Why do you think I put up with your determination to shut me out of your life except on those rare occasions when you needed advice and actually decided to ask for it? And did it never occur to you that if the Council didn't want me to think of you as my child, they would object even more strenuously to the idea of us becoming lovers?"

"So this is about the Council? I already told them what they could do with their tests and their messing around with my life."

"Yes, you made it very clear what you would and would not accept," Giles said. "But I still work for them. I'm not the Slayer. They can do very well without me. I'm... expendable, Buffy. You're not. By accepting their money, I give them a cetain power over me. They can tell me where to go, what to do when I get there, and while they can't tell me who to love, they can tell me who is bloody well beyond my reach. This isn't your fault; it's simply the way things are."

"So you give up? Just like that?" Buffy demanded. "You did just fine without them when they fired you. You could quit. Then you can go anywhere you want and be with anyone you want to be with. You could come back to Sunnydale with me, if that's what you want. We could be together and they wouldn't be able to say anything about it."

"And the next time you die?" Giles asked quietly. "What happens then? What the hell becomes of me when you're dead and I've quit the Council? My other source of income was destroyed, and nobody is handing out jobs to fifty-year-old men who've turned their backs on everything that ever mattered to them."

"You'd find something. You could do museum stuff again, or open another store. Maybe just a bookstore or something," she said encouragingly. "There's lots of stuff you can do. Anyway, I don't plan on dying again anytime soon if I can help it, and you make it a lot easier for me to stay alive."

She watched Giles' face turn stonily stubborn.

"What now?" she snapped. "What did I say?"

"Blackmail isn't attractive."

"What blackmail? When? All I said was I want you in my life."

"You said it would kill you if I didn't come back."

"Wait a minute," Buffy protested. "Let's just hit the rewind button here. That is not what I said. I said I'd live longer with you around. A happy Slayer with a boyfriend who just happens to be the best trainer and best researcher in the world? That's a recipe for living forever, almost. An unhappy Slayer whose guy is all the way on the other side of the world not training her or researching for her or making her happy and secure? Not looking at nearly as long a lifespan here."

"Even if I come back, I'll still outlive you, Buffy. If anyone should have a long, happy life, it's you, but we both know that's not going to happen. You deserve to spend the time you have with someone young; someone lively."

"But I don't want someone like that. I want you."

"I know you think you do, but you don't know what it's going to be like; what it's going to look like to others."

"Since when has that bothered me? I'm the one who dated vampires. Tell me a few grey hairs are less socially acceptable than yellow eyes and ridged forheads; just try it. What's this really about, Giles? What has you so freaked?"

He looked at the ground for some time. When he lifted his head, Buffy was startled by the raw misery in his eyes.

"I'm not certain I have the strength to go through it again," he said quietly.

"Did I miss something? Go through what again?"

"Your death."

That pulled Buffy up short. She thought for a moment. She hadn't ever asked anyone how they'd done without her those long months. She hadn't wanted to know how much they'd been hurting. She'd been too focused for too long on her own pain, and then on leaving that pain behind her so she could move on and live again. Now she had to know.

"What did you do the last time?"

The question was an honest one, not meant to hurt, but pain lanced through Giles' heart. He couldn't speak. All he could do was turn from Buffy and walk away into the night.

* * * * *

James followed Willow out of the restaurant. He knew he was acting like a puppy, trailing behind her, but he didn't seem to be able to help himself.

"Is everything okay?" he asked her. "You seemed in a hurry to leave."

"Well, yeah, I guess," she said sheepishly, "but that didn't mean you had to go, too."

"I couldn't let you come out alone."

"I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."

"I never said you couldn't." Since she stopped, so did he. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "What made you bolt like that?"

Willow studied the pavement. She leaned against the building and tried not to cry.

"There was this girl across the room," she said at last. "She - she looked so much like Tara and I just missed her so much. For a second it was like she was alive and everything was gonna be okay. Then I looked again and it wasn't her. I knew it wasn't, but... part of me hoped it was all a mistake. That she was really all right and any minute now I'd find out this was the longest, stupidest, meanest joke Candid Camera ever pulled. Dumb, huh?"

James didn't answer in words. He just pulled the girl into his arms and held her while she cried. He felt awkward doing it, but from the way she burrowed her face into his chest, he got the feeling it might be helping. Maybe Gary was right. Maybe people in real pain didn't want someone to fix it, but just to acknowledge it and accept them. He tossed his cigarette into the gutter and pulled the girl closer into his arms.

"I miss her so much," Willow choked out at last. "And the worst of it is, I... I don't miss her as much as I did. I can't believe I said that. You must think I'm a horrible person."

"No, no, of course not. Look, when something first happens... it's... it's like dental surgery."

She pulled back a bit and looked up at him in confusion.

"Huh?"

James maneuvered them out of the middle of the pavement and leaned against a wall with his arm still around her shoulder.

"Have you ever had a tooth pulled?"

"Yeah. Once."

"Well, first you didn't feel it, did you? I assume you had Novocaine?"

"Well, yeah. I did. And I didn't. Really feel it. I mean, I was awake and I knew it was coming out and everything, but I didn't feel it very much."

"Right. And then later, it probably hurt and you kept wiggling your tongue around the spot where the tooth should be and it wasn't there and that was a bit unpleasant, wasn't it?"

"Pain isn't fun, and it was weird to find a hole right where my wisdom tooth was just a little bit before."

"Right." James nodded. "Well, that's what it's like when a person dies. At first, you know it's wrong, you know something's happened that you didn't want to happen, but you don't necessarily feel it. It's a bit unreal. Then later, when the emotional Novocaine wears off, it hurts and you keep looking for the person who's not there anymore. But after a while, you... stop noticing so much. You don't poke around in your mouth for that missing tooth and you don't go looking for the missing person anymore. You accept they're gone. Isn't that right?"

Willow thought for a moment. At last she nodded.

"I... I guess it sorta is. I mean, I miss Joyce a lot - that's Buffy's mom. She died about a year before... well, before Tara. I don't look for her. But she was a friend. She wasn't my whole life like Tara was. And it's been a lot longer. I can't be forgetting Tara already!"

"You aren't. Are you?"

He squeezed her shoulder encouragingly and looked down into her tear-stained face. She looked up and was startled to find her heart gave a happy little leap. She pulled away quickly.

"I... I... I gotta go," she stammered.

Before James could protest, she was halfway down the block.

"Shit!" he said as he turned to follow her.

* * * * *

Patrick ushered Cordelia through the door.

"Alone at last," he said with a smile.

"I guess we are."

"Would you like a drink? I find a glass of brandy very relaxing, especially when I have a congenial companion to share it with."

"Okay."

He strolled over to the bar and poured two glasses. Cordelia moved to the sofa and sat down. She watched him, her brow furrowed in concentration. As soon as he turned to face her, however, she smiled, all trace of her former concern gone.

"Thanks," she said, taking the brandy glass from him.

He smiled broadly and settled down next to her. Right next to her. Cordelia shifted slightly on the sofa. Patrick shifted a bit closer. When she shifted again, he took the hint and stayed where he was.

"So," he said, "what shall we talk about?"

"What do you want to talk about?"

"You," he decided. "I'd like to talk about you and this world of yours. What's so terrible about it?"

"Great," she muttered into her glass. "The man wants to talk about me." She took a large sip of brandy. "I don't know how much I can tell you."

"Is it so very dreadful?"

"It's... complicated. And not the sort of thing most people believe even when they've seen it."

"Well you can hardly not tell me now," Patrick urged. "Not when you've begun so intriguingly. Come, you must tell me. Is it drugs? Pornography? The dark arts?"

Cordelia turned, her eyes flashing.

"Why did you say that?" she demanded. "About dark arts? What do you know?"

"Really?" he asked. He broke out in a huge grin. "Have you really been beheading chickens and reading tarot cards to tell fortunes? Have you ever put a hex on someone?"

She put her glass down on the coffee table, not caring if it broke from the force. In an instant, she was across the room.

"It's not a joke, Patrick."

"So you're a practitioner of voodoo. I've no objection to that, so long as you don't start sticking pins in a doll with my name on it." He crossed to her side. "I don't care what your religious beliefs are."

"And it's not a religion. It's not voodoo."

"Then what is it? Come, you must tell me. I'm positively bursting with curiosity. You're not going to tell me you're a space alien are you?"

"Not exactly."

"Then what exactly?" he asked. He put his hands softly on her shoulders. "I'd like to know, and I rather think you'd like to tell me."

She leaned back into his warm solidity. It had been so long since she'd felt she could really relax with someone; so long since she'd trusted someone outside her tiny circle. She longed to trust this man.

"Okay, I'll tell you," she said at last. "But I think you want to sit down for this one."

They returned to the sofa and sat facing each other. Cordelia took a deep breath.

"I get... these visions, sometimes."

"You're a psychic?"

"Sort of? In a really freaky way, I guess you could call it that. But the visions... they're... specific. It's not like 'oh, I see you're going on a journey with a tall, dark, stranger' kind of stuff. It's three-d and smell-o-vision and THX sound effects and it's always something bad. And it's always someone who needs saving by Angel - that's my boss. Someone in LA who's in trouble. That's why I can't leave there for long. And that's probably why I fell for him which is a really, really, really bad idea."

"Not that I want you to be with him, but what makes it such a horrible idea?"

Cordelia hesitated. So far, he seemed to be taking things in stride, but she wasn't sure how long that would last if she told the rest of her story. Still, he seemed to be genuinely interested and he hadn't said anything to indicate he thought she was insane.

Plus there was that voice in her head that said an outside opinion might be useful about now.

"Okay, this is sort of hard to believe, I know," she said, "but Angel? He's a vampire."

She sat back and waited for the reaction.

"Hmm," Patrick mused. "A vampire you say? I thought vampires were evil."

"That's it? That's all you can say? I tell you I work for a bloodsucking creature of the night and all you say is 'hmmm, I thought they were the bad guys'?"

"Well, the ones one hears about are bad guys. Nosferatu, Dracula... they weren't very nice people, were they?"

"I don't believe this," she muttered under her breath. Louder, she spoke again. "Are you telling me you believe me when I say I work for a vampire?"

"Why would I think you were lying about something like that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because most people don't believe they exist at all?"

Patrick considered. He frowned and took a sip of his brandy. At last, he turned to Cordelia again.

"I don't know that it's such a leap of faith. After all, we live in a world where people recognize Yoko Ono's artistry primarily because her husband was shot, rather than from any real appreciation of her work. We live in a world where Wagner's music must be supported by public funding or cease to be heard at all. In a world like that, why should one doubt the existence of vampires?"

The girl sat in stunned silence for a moment.

"I don't believe it," she said at last. "You actually believe me."

"I see no reason to doubt your word. The only thing that worries me is this vampire you work for. You say he saves people?"

"Yeah. He does. Most vamps don't. They're pretty much into the crush, kill, destroy vibe. Angel's different. See, he has a soul. He was cursed by gypsies and now he's all guilty and tortured by what he did when he didn't have the soul. Actually, most of the time, he's pretty much a downer to be around. But if he gets too happy, the soul goes away and wacky destruction ensues. So, going there romantically is not the best of ideas. It happened when he was with Buffy." Suddenly, she went very still. "It was horrible. He tried to have the world sucked into Hell. Of course, before he did that, he killed Giles' girlfriend and Willow's fish and Theresa and a whole bunch of people, and suddenly, the whole falling in love with the big, broody, handsome vamp seems like an even worse idea than it did before. I can't do it. I can't even imagine that I ever thought it could work now. I was looking at that pretty package and I didn't stop to think what was inside if I ever took the ribbon off. And even when he and Buffy kept talking about this huge, eternal love they had, it didn't seem to make either one of them happy. Most of the time, it looked more like really bad indigestion. I think... I think it was just... we were always around each other. And Wesley and Gunn were both crazy about Fred and you couldn't take Lorne out in public even if he was into girls, which I'm not really sure whether he is or not. That's it, isn't it? He was the only guy around." The relief on her face was clear. She smiled widely. "Patrick! I'm not in love with Angel! Oh, God, that is such a weight off my mind! And Connor? He's just a kid from another dimension. He doesn't understand anything about me or LA or anything. He's got a little puppydog crush and I really don't need that in my life." She began to laugh. "I don't have to choose. I don't want either one! And I'm not going to let them tell me I do."

"I'm very glad to hear it."

"And you really believe all this?"

"What I could understand, yes," he assured her. "And the rest can be made clearer later on."

"And it doesn't scare you?"

"Why should it frighten me?"

"Well, some people get a little freaked by the idea that there's evil and mass destruction in the world."

Patrick grinned.

"Who thinks there isn't evil and destruction? In the past century we've seen trench warfare, nuclear bombs, the Holocaust, terrorism. Of course evil exists."

"But where I come from, there's an awful lot of death."

"Death is a fact of life. My mother died. I will die one day, as will you. Every day, people die. Shootings, stabbings, train wrecks, industrial accidents, drownings, drug overdoses, starvation, heart attacks; thousands of people every day all across the globe, and nothing to be done about it. You, Cordelia, you live in a world where people are saved. I find I envy that."

"Well, I also live in a world where I see people ripped to shreds by monsters most people stopped thinking existed by the time they were six. We don't save as many as we want to."

"You can't save everyone. It isn't possible. But you do save some of them. Who have I ever saved?"

"I don't know about saving," she said as she laid a hand on his, "but I do know you've helped me tonight. A lot. Thanks."

She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. At the last second, he moved so she touched her lips to his instead. His hands came up to cup her cheeks. His lips moved to hers again, soft, undemanding, but unquestionably there. She allowed the kiss, then encouraged another. Patrick took her invitation willingly. When he moved in for a fourth kiss, Cordelia pulled back. Her cheeks were flushed. There was confusion in her eyes.

"I... I think I'm going to go to bed now. Alone," she said.

"Cordelia..."

"No, it's okay," she said as she stood. "I'm not mad. I just... I... this is pretty quick. I need to think."

She bolted out of the room and headed for the guest room she shared with Anya. When she got there, she slammed the door behind her and locked it.

"What the hell am I doing now?" she groaned.

* * * * *

"You really don't need to come with me," Terry protested half-heartedly.

"But I want to," Anya said. "I want to help you settle in at Gary's."

"I am perfectly capable of packing on my own."

"I never said you weren't. I just... it's my fault that your apartment is destroyed. The least I can do is make it \ easier for you to move temporarily."

The pair headed up the steps of the block of flats, Gary following by a few paces.

"Has anyone told you you're quite mad?" Terry asked. "I mean, all this talk of demons and how you used to be one... look, Anya, I like you. You're an attractive woman. It's just... you do know it's all a fairy story, don't you?"

"It's not a story. Well, fairies are. They aren't real. But there are all kinds of demons in the world." She pressed the button for the elevator and leaned against the wall. "I was one for a thousand years. Actually, more like eleven hundred, but who's counting?"

"And your friends all believe this?"

"Believe it? They're the reason I'm mortal again. And again."

The elevator reached them just as Gary did. All three got in. The conversation paused as they rode up to Terry's floor. Anya stood with her arms folded on one side of the car, and Terry took a similar attitude against the opposite wall. Gary looked from one to the other, growing increasingly uncomfortable. At last, he couldn't take the silence anymore.

"So, Anya," he said, "That's an unusual name. Where'd you get it from?"

"It's short for Anyanka."

"Interesting," he nodded. "I guess your parents were flower children or something, to come up with that, eh?"

"They were Vikings, actually. And originally, my name was Aud."

Gary shook his head. He'd always known Scandinavian birds could be a bit funny in the head, but this one took the cake.

The door opened on Terry's floor, and the three got out. A moment later, they walked through the hole where Terry's door used to be only to find a young couple standing inside. The girl was sniffling and the boy just looked about himself in blank astonishment.

"Justin?"

The young man turned.

"Dad!" he exclaimed. For half an instant, he looked almost relieved before his face went blank again. "So you're alive, then?"

"Yeah," Terry said awkwardly. "Yeah, I'm alive. Still."

"Well... that's great."

The girl began to out and out cry and launched herself into Terry's arms.

"I was so worried about you!" she sobbed.

"Yes, well, I'm fine, Sonya. It's okay, really." He patted her shoulder nervously. "Just a spot of trouble with an intruder. I took care of him." He saw the look in Justin's eye and carefully pried Sonya off himself. "Really, everything's okay. Oh, and this is Anya. Anya, this is my son, Justin, and his girlfriend, Sonya."

Justin gave the girl an appraising look.

"Not bad, Dad," he said at last. "She's a bit young, though, isn't she?"

"What?" Terry laughed nervously. "You don't think I can keep up? Is that it? Don't you worry about that."

"And I'm older than I look," Anya added helpfully. "A lot older."

"Right. What are you? About twenty-two?"

"What part of 'I'm older than I look' didn't you get?"

Justin whistled.

"She's a firecracker, Dad. You'd best keep a close eye on this one."

"Maybe we'd better get a move on," Gary interrupted. "Getting late and all. Cheryl will be worried."

"Yeah, okay," Terry said. "Just give me a minute to pack a few things."

He moved to the bedroom, Anya trailing in his wake. He rooted in the closet for his overnight bag. Anya began to rummage through his drawers.

"Hand me that black polo neck, will you?"

The girl held up the sweater for inspection.

"No," she said. "I don't like it. Take this green one instead. It will make your eyes look more attractive."

"Well I like the black."

"And I like the green."

"They're my clothes."

"Which I have to look at. You don't. Take the green."

Terry sighed and gave in. He packed the items Anya handed him and didn't protest. As he took a stack of shirts from her, he realized she was looking at him oddly.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Your son. I didn't know you had offspring."

"Two, actually. I've got a daughter as well. Her name is Helen."

"And... your wife?" Anya asked. "What about her?"

"We're divorced. We've been divorced for ages. It's nothing you need to worry about."

"No, I meant, what's her name?"

"Christine," he said. "But it really doesn't matter -"

Anya stared at him in horror.

"Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "You're *that* Terry?"

"What Terry?"

Anya dropped a stack of his underwear on the bed and began wiping her hands on her skirt.

"I don't believe it! I actually helped you make money! And you're... you're *him*!"

"What the hell are you on about?"

"Do you have any idea how much of a legend you are among the lower beings?" she demanded. "I never granted a wish to a woman of yours, myself, but I kept having to send deputy after deputy to clean up after you. And your children were my friend, Halfreck's most frequent customers for years. Why, just a few months ago, she did her last job for him when she made your girlfriend like him better than you."

"You mean Sonya's with Justin because of one of your demon friends?"

"Yes. He wished it. And then there was the girl you scorned who wished the next woman you were interested in would get married just when you had spent a whole lot of money on something for her..."

"My Salsa teacher! I was going to take her to Barcelona. I ended up taking James instead. James! On a romantic weekend to Spain! Not that we did anything romantic... but... your friend is responsible for that?"

"Not Halfrek. She dealt in children scorned by their parents. And then there was one who got so tired of hearing about your ex-wife that she wished Christine would find a man who was richer, handsomer, and more famous than you who would sweep her off her feet and make you really, really jealous."

"You - or your friend - gave Christine to Armando DeGuerro, just to make me squirm?"

"I heard it worked really well."

"Well it didn't. Not at all. Not one jot or tittle. I don't care, so there!"

"Oh yes, very mature. I stand convinced." Anya waited a beat. "That was sarcasm, in case you didn't realize."

Terry began flinging pieces of clothing and toiletries into his bag.

"I know sarcasm when I hear it," he retorted. "And I don't want to hear any more from you. You can... just go back to Patrick's."

He closed his bag and stomped into the living room. Again, Anya followed.

"What? Why are you following me?"

"Because Gary is my ride. He said he would take me back to Patrick's."

"Just bloody wonderful."

* * * * *

When Buffy got to her room, she found Willow already there, completely wrapped in all the bedding.

"Is there room for me in that cocoon?"

"Nope," Willow said with a shake of her head. All Buffy could see was a slight movement of the crown of her head where it peeped out of the covers. "Cocoons are for one caterpillar at a time. I'm the caterpillar. Find your own damn cocoon. This one has no vacancies left."

"Great, just great," Buffy muttered to herself. "I need Willow wisdom and she's busy playing insect." She sighed and spoke aloud. "What happened? Why do you think you're Lowly Worm all of a sudden?"

"I am Lowly Worm," the redhead whimpered. "I'm a bad and rotten person and I don't deserve to breathe the same air good people do."

"Okay, I know you've made some mistakes - some really bad ones, too - but, Will, isn't this a little extreme? I mean, I've screwed up, too. So has Giles and Dawn and God knows Xander has. But we're still out here breathing everybody else's air just fine. Nobody's even asking us to stop. What have you done to deserve oxygen deprivation?"

Willow popped her tear-stained face out of the cocoon of blankets.

"I loved Tara; I really did. You know that, right?"

Buffy sat next to her friend and looked at her sympathetically.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of reason to doubt it," she said. "We all loved her. She was really great, once we got to know her. I miss her, too."

"That's just it, Buffy. I'm not missing her as much anymore. I mean, I miss her, but not like before. And... and I'm... feeling fuzzy about somebody else. How can I do that when Tara's only been gone such a little time? And you know what the worst thing is?"

"That it's James?"

Willow sat up suddenly.

"How did you know?"

"Will, you were into him almost from the first. And you guys were flirting at brunch and again at dinner. But I don't think there's a bad here."

How can you say that? Not only am I getting all flirty with someone, that someone is a guy, but I can't be flirty with a guy 'cause I'm a little bit gay, remember? As in not digging the whole penis vibe anymore."

"And I've been down with that for a long time," Buffy agreed. "It took me about half a minute to get over the freakage, remember?"

"So how can I be interested in a guy? I mean, how can I be interested in anybody, but especially a guy?"

"You can be interested in somebody because you're still alive, Will. And live people need people. Preferably also live ones. It's okay to love someone - or even just think they're hot. As for your choice of someone, it would be pretty insane of me to rag on you being attracted to Giles' twin brother, since Giles is pretty much of a hottie, I've finally figured out. Not that it's doing much good, but I have."

"You... and Giles? When did this happen?"

"Apparently when Hell freezes over. But we're dealing with the Willow problem here. Mine can wait. If nothing else, it's a cold night and I might want a blanket."

"Oops, sorry." Willow untangled the bedding from around herself and wrapped part of them around her friend's shoulder. "Better?"

"Way better. You?"

"Not so much better. Still dealing with the whole I'm-betraying-everything-Tara-and-I-had-by-getting-all-crushy-on-a-guy thing."

"No, you're not. You're really not."

"But James is a guy. With a penis and everything."

"So was Oz."

"That was different. That was high school."

"Will, I know you've been out of the hetero game for a while, but a penis is pretty much a penis whether the guy it's attached to is in high school or not. Plus it was also a college thing for a while."

"Great. Throw that in my face."

"No, there's no throwing going on here," Buffy said emphatically. "Just... you and Oz did it, didn't you? I mean, I know you did, so obviously it wasn't a big turn off for you then. In fact, I remember a few times early on when you complained that he was taking things too slow."

"So you think Tara was just an experiment?" Willow bristled.

"Of course not. You loved her. Anyone who saw you together could see that."

"Then what are you saying?"

"I'm saying... things aren't always black or white. There's a whole rainbow out there - not to mention the ever-popular shades of grey. What if you're not gay and you're not straight either?"

"You mean like I can't make up my mind?"

"I mean like... maybe the packaging isn't what it's all about to you. Maybe you just... fall in love with who you fall in love with. And Oz happened to be a guy, and Tara happened to be a girl, and James... just happens to be a guy. I don't think that's your problem."

"Then what is my problem?"

Buffy shrugged.

"He lives here. You live in Sunnydale. Either one of you has to be willing to move, or you have to be able to cope with long-distance romance in a big way. And Will, I hate to be the one who says this, but Giles... well, he doesn't exactly describe James as the long-haul kind of guy. According to him, James is pretty much a love 'em and leave 'em type. Are you sure you want to be with someone like that?"

* * * * *

By the time James got back to his flat, Giles was already there, and already drinking. He poured himself a scotch and slumped onto the sofa next to his brother. He gulped down his drink in one go and sat toying with the empty glass. At last, he looked up at the photograph hanging over the fireplace.

"I'm thinking of selling that," he said at last.

"I thought you were comfortable with your sexuality."

"I am," James said. "But that's not my sexuality. That's someone else's. I'd rather look at breasts." He got up and poured himself another drink. "Definitely breasts. No buttocks, no... male genitalia at all. Breasts. Perky, young, anonymous, female breasts."

"You knew she was gay."

James didn't answer. He just downed his second drink and poured a third. Giles sighed, got up, put his glass in the sink, and went to James.

"Do you really think that's a good idea?" he asked.

James just glared at his brother and tossed back his drink. Before he could pour another, Giles took his glass from him.

"No more drinking, James. Let me make you a cup of tea. You'll feel better."

He crossed to the kitchen, put James' glass with his own, filled the kettle and turned on the gas.

"Bossy," James muttered.

"What was that?"

"I said that you're a meddling prat."

"Ah, I thought as much."

Giles calmly returned to gathering up the tea things.

"You always have been," James continued. "You act as though you're my older brother."

"I am your older brother. And may I say I'm astonished what a difference fifteen minutes makes? Anyone would think it was fifteen years."

"Exactly! You always act as if you're... you're my father rather than my brother. You always have done, even at school. Why don't you give it a rest?"

Giles leaned back against a counter and smiled wryly at James.

"Well, I think I've finally discovered what we have in common after all these years," he said.

"What's that?"

"There's nothing like a woman to drive us both to drink. And nothing like a woman to make us both resent our lives." He pushed off the counter and moved to the stove to pour the boiling water in the teapot. "So, what happened between you and Willow?"

"More or less what happened between you and Buffy, I should imagine," James said as he pulled down a tin of cookies. "I pushed it too far, and she ran away."

"Then it's the opposite of my situation," Giles said grimly. "I ran from Buffy. Again."

They moved back to the sofa with their tea. Giles poured them each a cup and James opened the tin.

"Biscuit?"

"Did you make them?"

"It's a fabulous new recipe. Chocolate with hazelnuts and just a hint of cinnamon. Try one."

Giles bit into one. He couldn't repress a small sound of satisfaction.

"That's one thing I've missed in the time I've been gone," he admitted. "You really are an amazing cook."

"So why did you run away?"

"That's really none of your affair," Giles said huffily.

"I don't see why not. Look, one of us has a real chance at happiness with the girl of his dreams, so why are you wasting it?"

"It's not that simple. Buffy's... Buffy's very young, after all."

James stared at his brother incredulously.

"She's nearly twenty-two," he said. "If you ask me, Slayers who make it to twenty ought to be retired and handed gold watches for a job well done, but they aren't. They fight until they die. How much longer do you think the girl has?" At the wounded look in Giles' eyes, he gave a low whistle. "Is that what this is all about: the fact that you'll outlive her? And I was the one they all said was the heartless idiot. Do you have any idea how much of a bastard you're being?"

"Let it alone," Giles growled dangerously.

"No. Not this time. I know you, Rupert. If you don't go to her and she dies soon, you'll spend the rest of your life brooding about how it's all your fault. If she finds someone else, you'll brood that you weren't good enough for her. If you go to her and let yourself love her, at least you'll be able to say she was yours while she lived. At least you can store up some happy memories against the time she isn't there to make any more. At least you'll know you were happy and she was happy and maybe you won't brood quite so much. On a very selfish level, I think this is the best thing you could possibly do." He took a sip of his tea. "Besides," he continued, "then at least one of us will be getting laid."

* * * * *

Cordelia heard a rattling at her door.

"Go away!" she called.

"No!" Anya answred. "I want to come in and sleep now. Open the door."

The girl sighed, stood, unlocked the door and went back to flop bonelessly on the bed.

"Men!" Anya exclaimed as she slammed the bedroom door.

Cordelia looked up at her roommate curiously.

"Again, I have no argument, but no idea what you're talking about. Could we start this conversation over again?"

"I discovered tonight that I've been on the verge of dating the mannest man that ever lived! He's got his own chapter in the 'Who's Who of Complete Bastards'. Do you know how many vengeance demons have cursed him? Do you?"

"I couldn't begin to guess, but I bet you're gonna tell me."

"Seventeen! That's a record! Of course, more than half of all vengeance curses end up being fatal, so most don't get a second go at being cursed, but he just keeps right on living through the curses and then he goes and breaks someone else's heart and gets all cursed again and he doesn't even have the decency to die from it!" She paused for a much-needed breath. "And do you know what the worst of it is? Do you?"

"Again with the not knowing."

Anya slumped down onto the edge of the bed. When she spoke again, her voice was unsteady with threatening tears.

"The worst of it is that I really, really like him. I want to keep seeing him anyway. And he scorned me." With that, she gave in and sobbed noisily. "Why do men keep scorning me?"

"Why do they keep ganging up on me all at once? I've got three lovesick guys after me now, and I don't know what I want."

"If you want my advice, you won't pick any of them. Men are bad news. Maybe Willow has the right idea. Maybe we should just be gay."

"I don't think that's exactly something you choose," Cordelia said glumly. "Besides, I'm sure relationships with women can be just as confusing and stupid as relationships with men. I think I'm stuck being straight."

"Who's the third?" Anya asked suddenly.

"Patrick. He... he kissed me tonight."

"What's wrong with that? Other than the fact that men are scum, of course."

"It's just... it's all wrong."

Anya sat straighter and glared at her companion.

"Oh my God," she said. "You're prejudiced, aren't you? This is about the color of his skin, isn't it?"

"No!" Cordelia protested. "It's not. I don't care about the color of his skin. If I was going to worry about color, it would be the color of his hair - what's left of it. But that's not even the problem."

"Then what is it?"

"It's... it's just all so fast. I came here to figure out whether to be with Angel or with Connor, and now there's Patrick. Oh, and for the record, the decision on the other two was none of the above."

"Then why not Patrick, if you've really decided to still be with men?"

"Because... because... he's never seen a demon before. He doesn't understand what it's like. He thinks it's all exciting that there's vampires and stuff out there. He doesn't get what a dangerous game we're all playing. He doesn't know how easily it could get him killed. And he lives here. I live in LA. I can't leave there. I'm Angel's conduit to the PTB. As much as I'd love to just pack up and move to London, I can't."

"Doesn't Angel have a phone?"

"Duh! Of course he does. Landline, cell, he's even got email, though Fred usually checks it for him because he doesn't really get computers yet."

"And what do you usually do when you get a vision?"

"I send Angel out after whatever critter's making a mess of the city."

"Do you go with him?"

"Sometimes."

"But not always, right?"

"No, not always."

"Then why can't you stay in London and call him when you get a visiongram?"

Cordelia sat stunned for a long moment. She blinked. Her lips began to curl into a smile.

"You really think I could do that? Just stay here?"

"I don't see why not. You're not the warrior. You're the seer. As long as the seer can get word to the warrior, there's no real need for them to be in the same place at all. And if you need to be there, I'm sure the PTB will clue you in, in plenty of time for you to catch a flight to California. So stop being so sorry for yourself and help me figure out what I do about Terry the bastard."

* * * * *

Gary opened the front door warily.

"Patrick? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I do. That's why I brought this along," he said holding a very expensive bottle of brandy aloft. "I need some advice."

"Come on, then. You can join Terry. You're both bloody using me as your personal agony aunt tonight."

He led his guest down the hallway.

"Terry? What has he got to be upset about? He's got that pretty little Anya following him about like Mary's lamb, hasn't he?"

"Not following quite so much, it seems. Turns out, she's barking, as well."

"Let me guess; something to do with demons and vampires, is it?"

"Yours, too?"

"I don't think she's mad. I think she lives in a world we can't begin to understand."

They came to the living room and found Terry sitting there, his face in his hands, elbows on his knees. Patrick and Gary shared a wry look and sat on either side of him on the sofa.

"Buck up," Gary said. "It's not so bad. After all, how many times have I said a woman would have to be mad to get involved with you for long?"

"What is she?" Patrick asked. "Seer? Mystic? Witch?"

"Demon, so she says. But that's simply not possible. There's no such thing as demons."

"A demon?" Patrick grinned. "Really? I must say, I had no idea a demon could be so attractive. So what's really wrong with her? Does she feast on human flesh? Does she turn into a wolf when the moon is full? Perhaps she is single-handedly responsible for the invention of disco music. That truly would be an unforgivable sin."

Gary laughed.

"Come on, Terry," he said, "it can't be as bad as that. I mean, it's not like you're going to marry her or something. She's just one of your normal conquests, right?"

"There's absolutely nothing normal about her. She's bloody insane, but she really understands money and investments. Plus she's gorgeous and she's made it more than clear she's willing."

"There you are, then. Get in, get out, like you always say."

Terry just groaned yet again. Patrick and Gary raised their eyebrows at one another across his nearly prostrate form.

"Don't even tell me you're thinking of settling down with this one," Gary sputtered. "You said it yourself; she's mad."

"And what of all your protestations against the married state? I thought I was going a bit odd, considering moving to Los Angeles, but this... this is lunacy, pure and simple."

"You're moving to LA? You? You've hardly been out of London in decades."

"And how many times have you told me you'd rather spend eternity staring at Norman Rockwell illustrations than even see LA?" Terry added.

Patrick shrugged and rolled his eyes.

"So I changed my mind. It's my mind, I can do as I like with it."

* * * * *

"Great," Willow grumbled. "Not only am I having super-wrong warm fuzzies about a guy, it's a guy who treats women like scum, is that what you're saying?"

"I'm only saying Giles doesn't seem to think James is very reliable, and maybe Giles has some inside information on this, since James is his brother. Besides, I had a whole summer of you and Giles both being all the way across the world from me. I'm not so sure I can do it again."

"But you said you had warm fuzzies for Giles. And I don't think he knows I know, but I know he's got warm fuzzies for you in a big way."

"How did you know that? I didn't know that until today."

"Sometimes you're pretty talented with the not knowing stuff you don't want to know, Buff."

"Anyway, the big revelation doesn't do me a damn bit of good, it seems, because Giles is being all stubborn and won't do anything about it. One lousy kiss, Will. That's all I've had from him. Just one."

"If it was so lousy, what are you upset about?"

"I mean 'lousy' as in 'only one and I think I'll explode if I don't get another soon', not lousy as in he doesn't know how to kiss. 'Cause boy howdy! He really does know how. Will, what am I gonna do? You know what Giles is like when he makes his mind up. He's like this human brick wall, and it doesn't matter how many times I throw myself at him, he won't budge."

"Then maybe it's time to stop throwing things at him," Willow suggested. "Maybe you have to wait for him to be ready to change his mind."

"I don't have from here to eternity. Slayer, remember? Patience is not exactly my friend on this timeclock. I'm already on double overtime. I don't think triple is an option."

"Maybe we should just get a good night's sleep on it. Y'know: recharge the brains and everything. I don't know what to do about my problem, let alone yours. All I know is love is not for the sane."

"You said it."

The girls changed into their pajamas and crawled into bed. As they turned out their bedside lamps, they gave twin sighs of romantic frustration.

* * * * *

"Are you certain you know what you're doing?" Giles hissed quietly.

"Of course not," James replied airily. "In fact this may well rank as the single most ridiculous idea I've ever had."

"Then why are we doing it?"

"Because if we don't, you'll sit and brood all night, every night for the rest of your life and you'll do it in my sitting room where I have to watch you do it. For the sake of my own sanity, you're going to have to be completely potty for once in your miserable existence."

The two stopped in the middle of the pavement and looked up at the first story windows.

"Which one do you think is their room?" Giles asked.

"I'm not sure. I'll just toss a few pebbles and see who answers."

Before he could suit his actions to his words, Giles grabbed James' wrist.

"You can't be serious! You can't go about chucking pebbles at random windows in Mayfair in the middle of the night."

"Well if you've got a better idea, I'm listening."

In lieu of a reply, Giles waved his hand and muttered a few words in Latin under his breath. A moment later, a small light flickered on in a window two doors down the street.

"You had the wrong house, you pillock!"

"They all look alike in the dark," James said. "And since when are you practicing magic again? You haven't done a spell that casually since your little rebellion."

"In the years since then, I've learned a bit of self-control. And I've learned to trust myself again. Come on, that light won't last forever. I want to get there before the girls wake up."

* * * * *

"Look," Gary said, "you can't just pack up and move to Los Angeles."

"Why not?" Patrick asked. "People move every day."

"Not you," Terry pointed out.

"But I can. It's either that, or Cordelia can move here if she prefers to do so."

"If she wants to be with you," Gary insisted. "You said she ran into her room and locked the door when you kissed her. I don't think that's a very positive sign."

Patrick shook his head and took a sip of brandy.

"You don't understand. She's attracted. She just... needs a bit of encouragement. She even gets on with my dog."

"I don't believe you," Terry said. "You've never committed beyond a second date in your life, and all of the sudden, you're willing to pull up stakes and emigrate because you think a pretty girl is interested? A girl who shows every sign of mental instability, I might add."

"And you should talk!" Gary exclaimed. "Anya told you she was an eleven-hundred-year-old demon who makes men's dicks fall off for a living! Compared to her, Cordelia sounds almost normal."

"Thank you so very much," Patrick murmured resentfully.

"Look, I don't mean to pass judgement or tell you how to live your lives. That's not what I do. That's what you two are for. Patrick for art; Terry for philosophy. James for blind luck and good nature. Me? I'm the one with the common touch. All I can tell you is you're both barmy. Then again, if you're going to spend the rest of your life with a barmy woman, that might just be an advantage. And being married to a difficult woman, while it does have its drawbacks, at least it's never boring. Well, almost never."

"So what are you saying?" Terry asked.

"I'm saying you ought to go find your girls and woo them like you've never wooed anyone before. Neither one of you is getting any younger or better looking. Snag them now, before James has to fit you both for false teeth."

Patrick and Terry regarded one another over their brandy snifters.

"He does rather have a point," Patrick said.

"And the night is still young," Terry agreed.

"Plenty of time to do something spectacularly romantic and utterly idiotic."

"Shall we?"

"I do believe we shall."

* * * * *

"Cordelia?"

"Mmmmph...?"

"Are you awake?"

"No."

"Then wake up. There's something outside."

"No, there isn't. Go back to sleep."

"Yes there is," Anya insisted. "It's a light."

"It's probably a street lamp."

"There wasn't one there last night. I looked. This is something else; something different."

Cordelia reluctantly opened her eyes and looked toward the window. Sure enough, there was a patch of faintly purplish light in the center of the window. There was also the sound of some small object clattering against the windowpane.

"You're right," she said, "that's no streetlight."

The girls crawled out of bed and moved to the window. They peered out through the gap in the curtains. They looked at one another.

"Okay, I give," Cordelia said. "Why is Giles out there hurling pebbles at our window?"

"Let's find out."

Anya opened the window and stuck her head out. Unfortunately, James had just thrown another handful of small stones at the window and couldn't stop them hitting Anya.

"Ow! Giles! What do you think you're doing? It's late and those rocks hurt! One of them was pointy."

"I say, you're not Buffy. Isn't Buffy there?"

"Next room over. This is me and Cordelia. Buffy's rooming with Willow, of course."

At that moment, the next window opened and Buffy, herself, stuck her head out.

"What's all the noise?" she yawned. "Some of us are trying to sleep here, y'know."

"Giles came here to throw rocks at you and hit me instead," Anya explained.

"I did not!"

"Anya, that isn't Giles. That's James."

"How can you tell?"

"Duh! No glasses, tight jeans, and when was the last time you saw Rupert 'Color-Is-My-Mortal-Enemy' Giles wear a lavender shirt?"

Willow popped her head out the window next to Buffy.

"James? What are you doing here?"

"Ah, well, you see, it's really Rupert who needed to come here."

"Bloody hell. I didn't expect an audience for this."

"Giles?" Buffy asked. "Where are you out there? You don't usually lurk. Quit lurking."

The man in question emerged somewhat sheepishly from the shadows. As predicted, he wore an oversized grey sweater and brown corduroy trousers. He held his guitar in his hands. Willow and Anya looked at the instrument and sighed happily. Buffy looked at one and then the other. At last she frowned at them both. She decided to ignore that and focus on the real question at hand.

"Okay, so I'm guessing you're in 'on again' mode," she called down. "How long for this time?"

"Buffy..."

"No, I'm not playing this game anymore. Yes or no, Giles. Make a choice, mark the box and let me know where the hell I stand already. I bet I've even got a Number Two pencil if you need it."

"God, Buffy," Cordelia scolded, "the man came all the way over here in the middle of the night. You could at least listen to what he has to say."

"And sing," Anya sighed. "I want him to sing."

"So do I," Willow said with an equally heartfelt sigh. "Shut up and let the man sing, Buff."

"I wasn't intending to perform for a crowd. The rest of you just pop back in your windows, please. This is rather personal."

"You're the one who chose the public venue," Buffy reminded him.

"Um, actually, that would be me," James admitted.

"Whatever. You chose it, then, but he listened to you and he knew we were all here. Go ahead, troubadour man; dazzle me."

Several twangs and one loud, discordant twong later, Giles spoke again.

"I can't. I broke my G-string."

All four girls burst out laughing.

"On my guitar!"

The laughter only got louder.

"I knew this was a daft thing to do."

Giles turned to put his guitar away, muttering unprintable things under his breath. At last, Buffy took pity on him.

"Come to the door," she said. "I'll be right down and we can talk. In private and everything."

Her head disappeared from the window. Willow leaned a little further out.

"Did you want to come in, too?" she asked James. "'Cause you could. Come in. Unless you're a vampire. Then we wouldn't let you. No vampires coming in here allowed."

"I haven't been turned, Willow. But feel free to douse me in holy water as I walk in the door if it makes you feel better."

"Okay. I'll be right down, too."

With a wide grin, she pulled her head back into the room and shut the window.

"I guess the show is over," Cordelia said.

"And he didn't even sing," Anya whined as she shut the window.

* * * * *

Buffy opened the door for Giles and stood silently aside. He took the implied invitation and set his guitar down in the entryway, then followed Buffy to the sitting room, where they proceeded to sit next to one another on the sofa. Neither quite seemed to know where to start.

"So," Buffy said at last. "I'm guessing you were planning to sing me a mushy song and melt my stony heart, right?"

"Something like that," Giles admitted, blushing.

"Did you have a plan for after that?"

"Only a very vague one."

"What did it include?"

"Buffy, please... I don't want to fight."

"Me neither. No fighting. Just... trying to get what the original plan was. So, after the concert... what? And you do realize you were the one with the stony heart, here, don't you? You're the one who said no."

"I know. I was actually hoping to explain that a bit better."

"Why don't we start there, then? Because I still don't get that one. Isn't a little time better than no time?"

Giles' brows drew together. His lips grew tight.

"I thought - perhaps not. I wasn't certain I could do it again." His voice was steady, but in a way Buffy had long recognized as indicating that any other man would have already broken down. "You asked how I spent the summer you were... were gone."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to dig up old wounds. It's just... I didn't know. I never asked anyone. Nobody ever really told me, either. Are you ready to tell me, or do you just want to blow it off. 'Cause that'd be okay, really."

He pulled off his glasses and shook his head.

"No, I think you need to know. Or perhaps, I simply need to tell you."

* * * * *

Willow smoothed her robe and breathed into her palm to double-check her breath. It seemed okay. No time for mouthwash now, anyway. She took a deep breath and opened the door. James stepped through into the entryway.

"Hello," he said a bit shyly.

"Hi."

They stood and grinned at one another for a moment. At last Willow remembered where they were and shut the door.

"Giles and Buffy are in there," she said, pointing at the sitting room. "I think maybe we don't want to be where they are. But we could be some other where. We could go up to my room, if you want?" Suddenly she had a flashback to the first time she invited Xander over to her home when they were four. "Or... not really my room... Patrick's room... that I'm sharing with Buffy... that isn't ours at all. And I'm afraid I babble sometimes. Sorry."

"No, no, it's fine. I mean, there's no need for it, really, because it's not as if I want to make you nervous. Well, not nervous, I imagine. After all... what I mean is... yes, why don't we go upstairs? But not as if I'm asking for... do you know, I think babble is catching?"

They giggled and headed up the stairs.

* * * * *

Anya and Cordelia got back into bed and closed their eyes. Sleep, however, eluded the two.

"I can't believe Giles didn't sing," Anya grumbled.

"I can't believe he was going to. He never did that before."

"I heard him once. It was very sexy."

"Sexy? Giles? Are you sure we're talking about the same guy here?"

"Yes, the same Giles. *Very* sexy. You would have wanted to have sex with him. Even Willow and Tara did, and they're lesbians... well, Willow is. Tara was."

"It's really that sexy?"

"Oh yeah," Anya sighed. "He kisses very well, too."

"How do you know that?"

"Willow did a spell. We all lost our memories and Giles and I thought we were engaged. We still didn't like each other all that much, but when he kissed me, I was willing to forget that."

"Not sure I want to know the rest of the details," Cordelia muttered. "Just think, when we tell Terry and Patrick a few of our war stories, we won't have to make up our minds about them anymore. They'll have run for the hills long before we're through."

"But I like Terry. I want to kiss him. I want to have sex with him. I - I might even be starting to fall in love with him."

"I know what you mean. Patrick is so perfect for me. He's smart and funny and rich... and rich isn't even the big thing. He just... he makes me feel good. Free. Like I could do anything and it would be great by him because he just wants to watch me have fun."

"Terry cares about money. He loves sex. He wouldn't make me uncomfortable by wanting me to do unselfish things."

"Sounds to me like we've both made up our minds."

Both girls turned their heads when another clatter was heard at their window.

"Not again," Anya said in disgust. "I thought they came inside."

"They did."

Another clatter.

The girls got out of bed again and headed for the window. When they got there, they hesitated.

"You look," Anya said. "I don't want to get hit with rocks again."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, crossed the room and turned on the light.

"That way, maybe they won't throw any more rocks at all," she said pointedly. She opened the window. "Patrick? What are you doing out there? This is your house. And what's Terry doing?"

"Terry's there? Let me in!"

Anya jostled her way over and stuck her head out the window as well.

"Fair Cordelia," Patrick called, "come away with me."

"What? Now? Where?"

"Paris, city of lovers. City of Haute Couture."

"For how long?"

"A weekend? A lifetime? Let's take a chance and see."

"Paris? Really?"

"Paris. Really."

"But I don't have anything to wear!"

"So we'll shop when we get there. Come, Cordelia, let's not waste anymore time."

"But what about Angel?"

"We can go to Los Angeles anytime you like. Simply say the word and I'll follow you anywhere."

Cordelia bit her lip. She turned to Anya.

"What should I do?"

"Do? Go! Paris is beautiful. And Patrick may be a man, but he's not as scummy as some men. Besides, you can always spend all his money and dump him later."

"Okay," she said, "I'll do it."

With that, the darker head disappeared from the window. Anya stuck her head out a little further.

"She's packing, Patrick. She'll be right down."

"Anya?" came Terry's voice.

"Yes?"

"Will you come away with me?"

"To Paris?" she asked eagerly.

"No, not Paris," he said. "I was thinking of Las Vegas."

"Vegas? Why Vegas?"

"Because it's the quickest way to get married by the Elvis impersonator of your choice, that's why Vegas."

"Married? You want to get married?"

"If you're up for it, yes."

"And you won't make me wait and not tell your friends for months and then dump me at the altar?"

"Why would I do that? If we hurry, we can be there tomorrow and get married right away."

"What if you don't like being married to me? What if I don't like being married to you?"

"Then we'll already be in Las Vegas and we can get unmarried almost as quickly as we can get married. What do you say? Will you come with me?"

Anya gave a happy squeal.

"Can we join the mile-high club on the way over?"

"Of course, if you'd like to."

He grinned as another squeal pierced the silence of the night.

"Don't move," Anya said. "I'll be there as soon as I change into street clothing."

The window shut with a bang. The two men turned to one another.

"I can't believe it. I'm getting married. Again."

Patrick chuckled warmly.

"I always thought you protested just a bit too much."

"And you! Running off to Paris in the middle of the night with a woman you hardly know. When did you get to be such a romantic?"

"I've always been one. You just never noticed because I didn't write sonnets to girls I wasn't meant to be with. I feel I've been waiting all my life for this."

"It's certainly better than that daft idea you had about a mail-order bride."

"Oh, don't even remind me! Thank God I got a dog instead!"

* * * * *

"So... what do you want to tell me?" Buffy asked softly.

"When you... when you... jumped... I thought my life was over, too. Rather hoped it was, actually." Giles gave a flicker of a humorless smile. He threaded his fingers together and sat in silence for a moment. "Of course, it wasn't; too many things to see to. I had to make sure everyone got home safely, see to your... your burial. Arrange for Dawn's care. And, one day, I realized that I wasn't going to die. One doesn't die of a broken heart. One lives with it, which is a great deal harder to do."

"Yeah, I know," she said. Her eyes welled with tears and her hands longed to reach out and touch him. She resisted, however. She wanted him - needed him - to make the first move. "I know what it's like to wake up every day wishing you wouldn't. But it's over. I'm back."

He nodded silently.

"I'm not done," he said at last. "You probably didn't know this, but Willow... she found a way to fix that wretched robot again."

"I know. The night they brought me back, I saw her get torn apart by these demon Hell's Angels. On top of everything else, I got to watch myself die. And everyone wondered why I didn't want to be back."

"Oh, Buffy, I had no idea. That must have been dreadful for you."

"It came in a close second after having to dig myself out of my own grave. But we're not here for another episode of my crappy personal soap opera. We're here for yours."

"And a soap opera it was," Giles agreed. "I spent more time than I'd like to admit being drunk. I spent even more time trying to convince myself that that blasted collection of wires and gears was you. That it bore any actual resemblance to the most original, infuriating, extraordinary woman I've ever known - or ever shall know."

"I'm not so special. I'm just Buffy. Just your average Super Girl."

"That's what makes you so special. That after all this time and everything you've done, you don't notice anything special about it at all."

She blushed and smiled at the compliment.

"You know, you could really turn a girl's head - but not in an Exorcist sort of way. More of an 'oh, you flatterer' way."

"The truth isn't flattery."

They smiled a little nervously at one another.

"So... Willow repaired the bot. What happened next?"

Giles suddenly found he couldn't sit any longer. He prowled the room like a caged tiger. He stopped and took several deep breaths to steady himself, but still felt as if he was suffocating.

"I trained it," he managed to say at last. "I took that... that machine into our training room and taught it as if it were you. Every day, I spent hours teaching it to fight, to walk and talk and act as much like you as possible. Then every night I went home alone and drank. And wept. And got up the next day and did it all over again. You were in Heaven, Buffy, but I was in a personal Hell Dante himself would have deemed too horrible to write down."

"Willow did that to you? How could she?"

"In Willow's defense, I don't think she realized what it was doing to me. And it was the best way to keep the Hellmouth protected. I did what was necessary. That's what I do. Until, one day, I realized that I couldn't do it anymore. I decided to come home. Unfortunately, I couldn't go."

"Why not? I mean, you were gone when I got back, so you must have been able to. What was stopping you before?"

"That wretched robot," he admitted. "So long as it was there, part of me refused to believe that you were gone; that you didn't still need me on some level."

"What changed? What made you go, anyway?"

"She asked me why I stayed. Didn't disagree with me when I said I no longer had a purpose in Sunnydale. You might say she gave me my walking papers. The closest thing to you, told me I'd best be on my way. And so, I left."

"Then I came back."

"But you had even less desire to have me around than the robot did."

"That's not true." She caught the startled look on his face, and hung her head. "I know I didn't say it... or even really act like it, but you were the one thing I did want. Only, I felt like I didn't deserve you; like I needed to be punished for not being grateful to my friends and for wanting to be dead when the world needed a Slayer. You were the one thing that made me feel like I wasn't in Hell, 'cause I knew they'd never let you in the door there." She sniffled and wiped her eyes as she got to her feet and moved to his side. "I know it was bad - for both of us. And I know it's scary to even think about getting something this good. In our world, it's pretty much a given that we pay through the nose for every bit of happiness we get. I can't tell you this is gonna be worth the price. All I can tell you is I don't want either one of us to hurt this way anymore. And... and I love you, Giles. God! I haven't said that to a man since Angel. I'm not even sure I knew what love was then, but I know what I want now." She looked him straight in the eye. His expression was a jumble of hope and fear that she'd never seen before. Her voice was stronger, more certain when she continued. "I want you. I love you, and it feels so good to say it out loud."

They stood looking at one another for a long moment. Buffy heard every tick of the clock at a nearly deafening decibel level. At last, Giles put out his hand. She took it slowly, warily.

"I don't want to hurt like this, either," he said quietly. "I know now what it will be like for me when you... are gone, permanently. But I suppose that's what one gets when one falls in love with a Slayer. I love you, Buffy, and whatever time we have left, I don't want to waste it. I want to be with you as long as I can."

He pulled her into his arms, bent his head and pressed his lips to hers.

* * * * *

"So," Willow said nervously. "This is it. My room. Which isn't mine really, but for right now it sort of is."

She led James into the room and sat on the bed. He stood in the middle of the room feeling suddenly very large and awkward.

"It's nice. Are you... are you comfortable here?"

He nearly kicked himself for saying something that stupid. Of course anyone would be comfortable in Patrick's spare room.

"I like it," she answered. "It's nice."

"That's good."

They smiled uncertainly. This was a new experience for James: being in a woman's bedroom when he knew he wasn't going to bed with her. As for Willow, she was no longer used to having a man in her bedroom at all. Anya hadn't liked Xander to spend much time in other women's intimate spaces. Neither was quite sure what to say. He pulled out a cigarette instead. He rummaged in his pocket for his lighter and flicked it on, then paused with the flame halfway to the cigarette.

"Oh, sorry," he said. "I ought to have asked: do you mind?"

"Well... sorta," Willow said. "Not so big with the whole smoking thing, actually. What with the second-hand smoke and all."

"Ah." He turned off the lighter and returned the cigarette to its packet. "Of course. Sorry."

"No, it's okay. I mean, I guess you could if you really want. I didn't mean to come off all Surgeon General on you."

"No, no, that's perfectly fine. I'll just do without, I suppose."

"I could give you some gum," she offered overenthusiastically. "Would you like some gum?"

"Um... yes, why not?"

The girl rooted through her things until she found half a pack of chewing gum. She handed a stick to James and took one herself. They sat side by side on the bed and tried not to look too closely at one another as they chewed.

The silence extended awkwardly. They chewed and occasionally smiled at one another. At last, the quiet grew too much for Willow. She spoke so suddenly, James almost swallowed his gum.

"So," she said, "do you think Buffy and Giles are gonna get together now?"

"I don't know. I suppose so. In fact, I rather hope so. He's been a misery to have about all this time. Never, ever let a heartbroken martyr stay in your flat for months on end. It's no picnic, I can tell you."

"I'm with you there. Buffy's been pretty no fun for a while, too. She's better when she's with a guy she likes."

They fell silent again. After a few moments, Willow piped up again.

"My gum's all chewed out. There's no flavor left. Is yours? Chewed out?"

"Um... yes, I suppose it is, at that."

She handed him a wrapper, and they disposed of their gum. When she turned back to him, he ducked his head. When he looked up, she ducked hers in turn. At last, she tried looking at him, only to see his eyes dart back to the floor yet again.

"This is dumb," she said.

He looked up, startled.

"No," she said, "I don't mean you're dumb. Just this... this thing... where we can't even look each other in the eye thing. It's dumb."

"I suppose it is. Sorry."

"I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm the one who's making it all uncomfortable."

"No, you're not. I'm the one who went and fell for a - well - a gay woman."

"Oh. Really? I mean, you did?"

"I'm sorry," he said as he rose. "I should be going now."

"No, no, no, you don't have to go!" Willow exclaimed. "I - I want you not to go. I'd rather have you stay."

"Why would you want me to stay? It's only going to frustrate both of us; me because I want you, and you because you don't want me."

"But... see... that's just it. I sorta do."

James sat back down on the bed with a well-muffled thump.

"I'm not sure I understand," he said as soon as he could make his vocal chords work again. "You *are* gay, aren't you?"

"I might not be as gay as I thought. I mean, yeah, I like it with women - or at least I did with Tara, but there've been guys, too... or one, anyway... who I... y'know... did it with. So, one each. I'm starting to think I might be... a little bi."

James blinked several times and had to jump start his voice again.

"Ah," he managed at last.

"And I really like you," she continued. "I might even more than like you, if you know what I mean."

He nodded silently and began to smile.

"So," she asked, "do you want to try it? With me?"

"S-sex?"

"Well, I thought maybe dating first. But I could probably go for a little snuggling pretty much right away."

She sat next to him on the edge of the bed. He stared into her wide green eyes, mesmerized by what he found there. Her eyelids fluttered to half mast. His did the same. He leaned in slightly, then pulled back. She followed suit. Suddenly, she darted forward and kissed him quickly.

Now James felt he was on solid ground. He stood, pulled Willow to her feet, and kissed her over and over again. He nibbled at her lips until she opened to him, then plundered her mouth with his tongue. Her fingers clutched his shirt and she made a small, whimpering sound deep in her throat. Suddenly, James felt the bed at the back of his knees and fell backwards onto it.

Months of grief and sexual frustration melted away as Willow gave herself over to his kisses, his caresses. Skilled fingers travelled over her body. She ground herself against her bed partner, revelling in his obviously growing passion.

"James?" she managed between kisses. "Do you want to stop at all?"

He pulled back immediately.

"Do you?" he panted.

"No. I don't ever want to stop."

With a grin, he pulled her down again and resumed kissing.

* * * * *

Giles caressed Buffy's lips with his own. He cupped her cheeks gently in his palms as her arms slipped around his waist to hold him close. After a moment, she couldn't resist the temptation anymore. Her hand moved slightly south and gave his rump a soft squeeze.

"Buffy!" he groaned. "You're not playing fair."

"You know me. I never met a rule I didn't want to break."

"You do realize we're breaking a great many rules simply by being together, don't you?"

"So... the Watchers aren't big on this level of Watcher/Slayer bonding?"

"Not really, no. But I rather think I don't care about that."

"Hey, they work for me, remember? They'll just have to get used to it. There's only one thing I wish."

"What might that be?"

"I wish I could see Travers' face when he gets the news."

They broke into laughter as they hugged one another tighter. Buffy rubbed her cheek against Giles' chest.

"Y'know, the baggy sweaters may not be the ultimate fashion statement," she purred, "but I'm loving the feel. Very comfy."

"Buffy?" he asked, still dropping kisses everywhere he could reach on her.

"Mmmmm?"

"How far do you want this to go tonight? Do you want to make love, or would you rather wait?"

She looked up at him, her eyes full of desire and trust.

"I want to be with you. No time-wasting, remember?"

He smiled and kissed the tip of her nose.

"Then you'd best get some clothes on and we'll go back to James'. After all, I know you'll tell Willow the gory details, but I'd prefer that she didn't actually witness them."

"I won't tell her the details! Just... sort of the outlines. No specific measurements or anything."

"About twenty-one and a half."

"Huh?"

"That's the measurement."

"Inches...? You've got to be kidding!"

"Centimeters."

"So... what does that work out to in inches, or do I want to know?"

"Ah, now that will require a little research, won't it?"

She glared.

"You are the biggest pain in the butt I've ever known."

"Go on," he grinned. "I'll be waiting for you here."

Buffy turned to go. When she got to the doorway, she turned back.

"Giles? Centimeters *are* smaller than inches, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are."

"Good. I was worried there, for a minute."

She could hear his laughter as she hurried up the stairs.

* * * * *

Willow's fingers trembled with combined excitement and trepidation as she undid the buttons of James' shirt. His chest had a light matting of soft brown curls across it. She ran one hand experimentally through them. Her reward was a happy sigh and a slight sound of arousal.

"You like that?" she asked.

"Very much."

She grinned and leaned down to nuzzle his throat. More soft groans and some gentle fondling ensued. Both froze at the knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Willow asked.

"It's just me."

"Buffy? What are you doing here? Not that you can't be here, 'cause you've been staying here, too, but I thought you were with Giles."

"I am with Giles. I'm very with Giles. But if I want to be more with Giles, I'm gonna need a few things. Can I come in and get them? And why is the door locked, anyway?"

Willow and James both scrambled off the bed and raced to make themselves presentable.

"J-just a minute," she called through the door. "We'll - I mean I'll be right there."

Out in the hallway, Buffy listened with a bemused smile on her face.

"It's okay, Will," she said. "Look, just hand me out some real clothes to wear tomorrow and I'll let you guys get back to... whatever it was you were doing."

* * * * *

Cordelia finally allowed her lips to leave Patrick's and snuggled against his shoulder. He stroked her hair gently.

"So why do you always use a chauffeur?" she asked.

"I don't drive."

"You're kidding! Everyone drives."

"I don't. When I was young, I never thought I'd have the money for a car, so I didn't bother. Later, I could afford taxicabs, so I didn't bother. And now... well, now I can't be bothered."

"When we get to Paris, I'm teaching you to drive."

"Why?"

"Because it's the best thing ever. You'll love it."

"Or I could simply leave the driving up to you, since you enjoy it so."

"Or that," she agreed comfortably. "But we can keep the limo for a couple days, can't we?"

"If you like."

"Good. I know there are some old 'friends' who are so gonna die when I send them pictures of me, a limo, and the Eiffel Tower all in one place."

"If it will make you happy, I'll arrange to have the car hoisted up to the top of the Eiffel Tower."

"We don't have to go that far... but I may just take you up on that, anyway."

* * * * *

"Miss?"

"Yes, sir?"

"There seems to be a problem with one of the toilets. It says it's occupied, but either there's something wrong with the mechanism or someone's been in there far too long. There's a line."

Kylie followed the passenger down the aisle to the rear of the plane. Sure enough, the bathroom door was closed, the 'occupied' sign lit. She knocked on the door.

"Hello?" she called. "Is someone in there?"

There was no answer, but she heard muffled sounds through the still closed door.

"Are you ill? Do you require assistance?"

More scuffling was heard. Just as Kylie prepared to knock again, the door opened slightly and a woman popped her head out.

"What do you want?" she demanded crankily.

"You're not ill?"

"Does it look like I have a disease?"

"And... there's no emergency in there?"

"There wasn't until you disturbed us. Now Terry says we can't finish joining the mile-high club until you go away, so please go away."

With that, the door slammed shut and much more recognizable sounds began wafting out into the aisle.

* * * * *

Willow closed the door and headed back to James.

"I guess they're going to your place," she said. "And I'm betting they won't want an early wake up call, either." She got onto the bed and snuggled up to James. When she looked at his feet, she realized they were bare. "I guess that means you're staying a while, huh?"

"Unless you want me to leave," he said. "But I'd much rather stay."

"That's good, 'cause I don't want you going anywhere."

She turned and kissed him deeply. With a groan of pleasure, he pulled her atop himself, never breaking the kiss. His hands began to wander her body, stopping at her breasts. Willow gave a small gasp, but made no move to stop him. In fact, she leaned into the touch.

She wasn't quite sure exactly when he had unbuttoned her pajama top, but his hands felt so good against her bare skin that she decided not to worry too much about it.

* * * * *

"Here we are," Giles said as he opened the door to James' flat.

"Yeah. Here we are."

Before Buffy could take a step forward, Giles leaned over and picked her up. She laughed and twined her arms around his neck.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Carrying you off."

"Um... you do realize this is sort of over-the-threshholdy, don't you?"

"It is, rather, isn't it?" He deposited her in the middle of the room and went to bring her overnight bag in from the hallway. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Okay, you're just asking that as a reflex thing, aren't you?"

He stopped short.

"You may be right. Good lord, but that's a strange thought."

"I know. After all this time, suddenly, here we are. In love. I don't know how many of the old Buffy and Giles rules apply anymore."

"You're worried about the rules?" he chuckled.

"I know, I know, it's a big laugh," she said. "But tell me you weren't thinking the same thing."

"Actually, I was thinking that this feels very right. We're still who we were this morning."

"But with kisses."

"And perhaps more before the night is out."

"Scratch that 'perhaps' and write in 'definitely'."

"So... no tea?"

"No tea. I just want you."

She pulled him to her for a deep kiss. When they parted, Giles took her hand and led her to his bedroom.

* * * * *

James kissed his way down Willow's body. She squirmed at the delightful, yet oddly unfamiliar feel of it.

"Are you all right?" he asked from her belly button.

"Just not used to this with someone so-oh, that's nice - whiskery. But don't stop."

"Whiskery? I shaved before I came over, I'll have you know."

Between his teasing tone and the fact that he never stopped kissing her belly, Willow didn't answer in words. She lifted her hips slightly so James could take down her pajama pants instead.

"I'd wondered about that," he said.

"About what? What did you wonder?"

"This," he said as he ran his fingers softly over her pubic mound. "Whether that glorious red hair was natural or not."

"Well... it's always been red... just not always this - oh wow - shade. That feels nice."

"Yes, it certainly does," he agreed. He pulled himself back up the bed to kiss her, but left his fingers to explore her womanhood. "Are you sure you don't want to do more than snuggle tonight?"

"Not... as sure... as I was a couple minutes ago," she breathed. She sat up and scooted slightly away from him. "But... but we can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm not... I mean... I'm not... protected."

"Is that the only reason?"

"At this point, definitely."

"That's fine then. I always have a condom or two in my wallet."

"A-always?"

"Look, I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "I've been... pretty active, sexually, for a long time. And I've always made myself available to women. In fact, that's a big part of why my marriage broke up. I don't guarantee that I've got it in me not to stray; I'm not certain I do."

"So this would be... just a one-night stand? Is that what you're saying?"

"Not if you don't want it to be. I just think you ought to know what you're letting yourself in for." He looked down at the comforter. His cheeks flushed slightly in embarrassment. "I wasn't ever faithful to Elizabeth. I screwed her maid of honor the night before our wedding. I even cheated on our honeymoon."

Willow tugged the sides of her pajama jacket together at this revelation. Tears brimmed in her eyes.

"I can't believe it. I mean, Buffy told me Giles told her you were kinda the wandering type, but this is... I don't even have a word for it. You're sitting here - in my bedroom, even if it is a temporary one - telling me you plan to cheat on me?"

"No! Not... plan, so much..."

"But it's gonna happen? What, you're just gonna accidentally fall into bed with some supermodel and I should be glad you're telling me this? If I have to give up women to be with you, you have to give up women to be with me, James. I'm the one and only, or I'm not. And if I'm not, then I'm not so sure I can even snuggle, nice though it was, because I'm not the kind you can just cheat on and it's okay. You can't do that and not hurt me."

"Actually... I thought, perhaps, we might be able to work something out where we don't have to give up women entirely."

* * * * *

Buffy sat on the edge of the bed and slipped her shoes off. When she looked up, she found Giles beginning to pull his sweater over his head. She scooted back on the bed to watch the show, but he stopped before taking off his tee shirt.

"What? You're gonna wear that the whole time?" she giggled.

"Only if you want me to," he said as he placed his glasses out of harm's way on the nightstand. "There's no rush, though." He sat on the end of the bed to untie his shoes. "I don't plan on going anywhere tonight."

"This feels kinda weird."

Giles immediately stopped what he was doing and turned to Buffy.

"Have I done something wrong?" he asked anxiously.

"No, no you haven't. Nothing wrong. I think maybe I didn't say it right. What I really mean is... it's weird how not-weird this feels. It feels like... I dunno, like we're an old, married couple who've been doing this for years, even though it's the first time. I'm not making any sense, am I?"

"Come here," he said, opening his arms to her. She immediately moved into his warmth and sighed contentedly. "I think it isn't a matter of you being mad - although you often are... a very original person. It isn't that this isn't new, or that it isn't exciting. It's that we trust one another. How did you feel when you went to bed with Angel?"

"What? You get off on hearing about my old lovers? That's just kinky, Giles."

"I meant emotionally."

Buffy frowned in thought for a moment, trying to call up long-buried memories of that fateful night.

"Scared," she said at last. "And excited... and a little like it was proof that I was really grown up."

"What were you frightened of?"

"Well, I'd heard the first time hurts, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to that, 'cause I get enough pain in my work. But I was more scared... that I wouldn't be good enough. That he'd think I was just a dumb high school kid. That he'd wake up after and decide it was all a mistake."

"And with Riley?"

"It was a little scary again. I was still working through the abandonment issues, because Angel turned into a monster and Parker dumped me the next morning. I was absolutely sure he wouldn't be there when I woke up. I nearly had a heart attack when he was right there in the AM. It took me a long time to get used to that."

"Then Faith came along."

"I know it wasn't really Riley's fault, but I couldn't ever completely forgive him for that. I was his girlfriend, and he couldn't even tell she wasn't me. And let's not even get into the badness that was that whole thing with Spike. I'm not sure I'll ever forgive me for that."

"Did you trust him?"

Buffy was silent for some time.

"I didn't... except in a funny way, I sort of did," she said at last. "I don't know how to explain it. And I don't know why I trusted anything about him, because he's played us all a million times, and he's betrayed us and he's tried to kill me more times than I can count. He could have killed me anytime I was with him. The chip doesn't work on me anymore. Tara did some research and said it was some kind of molecular suntan thingy that made me seem demon-like except that I was still just me, but I never really understood that. I think... I think maybe at first, part of me hoped he would just get it over with. So I wouldn't have to wake up the next day and deal. So I could be done again. Sort of an assisted, not quite deliberate form of suicide. But I think the rest of me counted on him being in love with me... or at least needing me in some way. But real trust? No. I even told him that once. Or maybe a million times. I'm not sure. And I still get mixed up about him. But it is over, you have to believe that, Giles. It's way over."

"I believe you. I trust you."

"That's it, isn't it?" she said. "We never had to say it over the years, but even with all the lies and secrets and other assorted screw-ups, we never stopped trusting each other. Why is that, do you think?"

"Do we really need to analyze it tonight?" he asked, brushing a stray lock of hair from her face. "I thought we might just accept it and make love."

"Sounds like a plan to me. After all, if research guy says to stop thinking, who is action girl to argue?"

With that, she reached up for a kiss. It started softly, but quickly grew in heat. Buffy lay back, taking Giles with her, opening herself to him. He ravaged her lips with his; explored her mouth hungrily. When she opened her eyes, her heart leapt at what she saw in his. Love, joy, and passion were all present and accounted for, but there was no fear, no trepidation. No questions.

"I love you."

His response was simply to kiss her deeply again. The words weren't necessary.

* * * * *

"What do you mean we don't have to give up girls?" Willow demanded.

"Just hear me out, and think it over before you decide to throw me out, okay?"

James waited anxiously as she thought it over. He gave a sigh of relief when she nodded silently.

"I'll listen. But that doesn't mean I'll agree to whatever it is. I have to hear what you're suggesting first and think it over."

"Fair enough," he said. He thought for a moment about how best to phrase his idea. "Look, we both love women, right?"

"Yes," she agreed grudgingly.

"And I'm not exactly talented at keeping my trousers zipped. I admit it. I suppose I could go to one of those sex addiction groups, but if it's an addiction, it's one I'm not sure I want to give up."

"So this is still you saying you're going to cheat on me. A lot."

"Not... cheat, per se," he corrected. "I was thinking more along the lines of... occasionally finding an open-minded woman to... share."

"You... you mean like... an open relationship? Where we both just sleep around?"

"Not exactly that, either. I wouldn't go behind your back and you wouldn't go behind mine, and anyone we invited in would have to be willing to be with both of us for the night. And either one of us could veto the other's choice of guest. What do you think? Would you like that?"

"I... I don't know. I kinda like the me being with a woman once in a while part, but I gotta admit, I'm not so crazy about the you being with another woman part. And I don't want to cheat on anyone. And I don't want to be cheated on. But the way you said, this doesn't seem so... cheaty to me."

"It isn't. It's very open and above board. Everyone would know exactly where they stood, and everyone would have to agree before we start. I'd love to watch you make love to a woman. The very thought..." he blew out a deep breath, "you have no idea how that excites me."

"Really? You'd want to watch that?"

He took her hand and pressed it lightly to his groin.

"Can't you feel how much?" he asked.

He removed his hand. Willow didn't. Instead, she began to rub his erection through the cloth.

"That's... that's a lot of much, all right," she grinned.

James just groaned and lay back to let her have her way with him.

* * * * *

When Terry and Anya finally emerged from the bathroom, they made their way to their seats amid a sea of glares, grins, thumbs-ups, and sniffs of disapproval. They seated themselves, fastened their seatbelts and settled in for the rest of the flight.

"That was very nice," Anya whispered to him. "I can't wait to have sex with you again."

He kissed her in response.

"You're fantastic," he said. "That thing you did with... wow! And that... I still can't believe how limber you are. Where did you learn to do that?"

She smiled indulgently at him, as if he were a little boy.

"Well, when you get to be my age, you have some experience under your belt."

"You're really eleven-hundred years old?"

"Oh yes. I may have the body of a twenty-two year old, but I've been around the block a few more times than that."

"I can't believe I'm marrying an older woman!"

"Terry, don't you understand yet? The prime of life isn't fifty; it's eleven-hundred and fifty."

* * * * *

Cordelia sighed happily and pressed closer to her lover.

"That was incredible," she purred.

"You were incredible," Patrick corrected. He brushed her cheek softly with his fingertips. "You still are. You know, I should like to commission a great artist to paint you."

"Really?"

"Then I could hang you on my wall and still take you to bed."

"You are just about the strangest person I've ever known," she giggled. "And I've known some really strange people."

"I'll take that as a compliment, then."

"I knew you would. See? Strange. But sexy."

"Is that a hint?"

"More of a helpful suggestion."

He pulled her close and kissed her hungrily.

* * * * *

Buffy let the warmth of Giles envelope her. His arms were muscular, his kisses passionate and sweet, his body strong and alive. She'd forgotten how good that felt; just to be in the arms of a man who had his own body heat to share.

They took their time peeling layers of clothing away to reveal soft, yielding flesh. Lips and fingers discovered erogenous zones both expected and surprising. She tweaked his nipple experimentally.

"You like that, huh?" she giggled when Giles moaned in pleasure. "I never knew men liked that."

"I love whatever you do," he said in a deep, throaty tone she'd never heard him use before. "And that was particularly nice."

She laughed and hid her face in his chest so he couldn't see her blush. He brushed her hair back with one hand while the other pulled her up so he could kiss her again.

They caressed and explored one another some more.

* * * * *

Willow's hands shook slightly as she unrolled the condom onto James' cock.

"Y'know, it's been a long time since I had one of these in me," she said.

"We can take it slowly," he assured her.

"What if I don't want to go slow?"

"That would be fine, too."

With that, she straddled him suddenly and guided him into herself. James groaned happily as she sank down his length. His hands moved instinctively to her breasts as she began to ride him. She threw back her head and rocked harder.

* * * * *

Giles smoothed Buffy's hair back from her brow and dropped a gentle kiss on her temple. He nearly gasped when he felt his lovers' small hand encircle his cock and guide the tip of him into her warmth.

"You feel so good," she breathed.

"So do you. Better than I'd ever dreamt."

"You dreamed about this too?"

"I feel as if I were dreaming now, in a way."

"You're not. It's real this time."

He took his time entering her fully. Buffy moaned softly as she felt him stretch her further open than anyone else had ever done. Even as he filled her, Giles continued to kiss every part of her he could reach. He balanced himself on one hand while the other caressed her body, exciting and soothing her at the same time. When he felt his hips against hers, his balls resting against her rounded buttocks, her thighs wrapped around his waist, he smiled down at her.

"Ready?" he asked.

"I want you."

He drew himself slowly out, then slid more quickly back into her. She pulled his face to hers so she could kiss him as they rocked together. She delighted in the feel of his chest hair tickling her breasts, the combined hunger and tenderness of his lips against hers, the soft sounds that rose in his throat as he made love to her.

At last, he tore his lips from hers to catch his breath. She stroked his cheek. The look in his eyes made her shudder on the verge of release. There was love, yes, but an untamable fierceness as well. She smiled.

"Harder," was all she said.

As ever, he gave her what she needed.

* * * * *

James moved both his thumbs to Willow's core as she bounced harder than ever atop him. He soon found the tiny nubbin of flesh and ran first one, then then other thumb across it. Her whimpers grew louder, her pace more erratic with every pass.

"That's it," he encouraged her, "come for me. I want to make you scream."

As if on cue, she did. Her tight channel became tighter still as she pulsed around him. It was too much for him. A moment later, he felt his balls tightening, then cried out as the first wave of orgasm hit him as well.

* * * * *

Buffy's hands moved to Giles' buttocks to encourage him to go still faster. Her head thrashed from side to side. She was close - so close - but she couldn't quite reach release.

"Giles," she groaned, "oh, God, Giles, please."

"Please what?" he managed. "What do you want, Buffy?"

"I - oh - I need it."

"What do you need? Tell me. Do you need to come? Is that it?"

"Yes. Please. I'm so close."

He slowed his pace and began to vary the angle of his thrusts. A bit of experimentation revealed one that made Buffy moan louder than the others. He sped up again, ramming as hard as he could into her.

"Is that good?" he asked breathlessly. "Do you like it?"

She was beyond coherant speech at that point, so she just nodded and made a tiny, high-pitched sound as his cock scraped against her clitoris again and again. He could feel every muscle in her body tense as she drew closer and closer.

Her full-throated cry as she went over the edge excited Giles even more. He groaned as he felt her internal muscles milking at him, urging him to join her in bliss. Her spasms had barely stopped when his began. He shuddered and cried out as he found his release. Then she was coming again, her womanhood drawing his maleness deeper inside. He retreated and then plunged back into her one last time. His heart pounded, his chest heaved, his body glistened with a fine layer of sweat. He closed his eyes and shouted her name. When he opened them, she smiled up at him, dishevelled, dark-eyed, and sated.

He gathered her into his arms and held her close as their heartbeats returned to normal.

* * * * *

"That was... wow," Willow said at last.

James finished disposing of the condom and lay down beside her.

"It was rather nice, wasn't it?" he grinned as he leaned in to kiss her again. "So... when do you have to go back?"

"Pretty soon. We probably shouldn't have come at all, except Buffy was so 'we gotta get Giles back', which I'm glad we did... if we did. Do you think we did?"

"I should think so."

She wriggled a bit closer to him and ran her fingertips through his chest hair again.

"I've decided," she said. "I think we could give it a try. The whole 'we're together but we find a friend once in a while' deal. Only, I wouldn't want to tell the others. I don't think they'd get it."

"It really isn't any of their business, is it?"

"Nope. What two - or even three - people want to do in the privacy of their own place is up to them and nobody else. But, I sort of live at Buffy's. It could get weird."

"So we'll find out own place. You don't want to move me into Buffy's do you?"

"That would be kind of silly, I guess. There really isn't that much room. So you don't mind? Moving to the Hellmouth? And dealing with all the creepy crawlies?"

"If you'd asked me that two days ago, I'd have thought you were mad even imagining it. Now... well... I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather be. And we can visit London, now and again. I'll keep the flat here. But I suppose California will be my home now."

"Really?" she smiled so brightly she lit the room.

"I never understood why Rupert wanted to go back there, until now. I found a woman to slay dragons for, so what better place to live than one where dragons need slaying?"

Willow giggled as James leaned down to kiss her.

* * * * *

Buffy rested her cheek against Giles' chest as he lathered her back.

"I am so never showering alone again," she purred. "It's nice to have someone to help wash all the hard-to-reach spots."

"There isn't enough of you to have a hard-to-reach spot."

"You're pretty big," she said as her hand moved to gently cradle his privates. She smiled when she felt a small twitch. "But I'm still glad centimeters are smaller than inches. It would have been just plain scary otherwise."

"Buffy, I'm not doing that in this shower."

"'Cause you're so old-fashioned?" she teased.

"Because I haven't another condom with me in here, and we'd run out of hot water long before I'd finish with you."

"That's okay," she said more seriously. "I sorta got the strange venue thing out of my system a while ago. I'm thinking beds are okay from now on."

"I'm sorry," he said. At her startled look, he smoothed her hair back and kissed her gently. "I'm sorry that you've never had the chance to learn how joyful that sort of spontaneous lovemaking can be." He moved his kisses to her throat, then nipped softly at her collarbones.

"What are you doing?" she giggled.

"Making love to you."

"I thought you said you didn't have a... y'know... anything with you."

"I don't, but there's more than one way to make love."

His hands travelled her body. Buffy shivered in anticipation and delight. Everything he did felt so good; so right. He turned her so her back was facing the shower spray and knelt before her. When he began to kiss and fondle her thighs, she had to put out her hands against the shower walls to steady herself. His hands moved to her buttocks.

"Giles... are you... are you doing what I think you're doing?"

"Very probably." He kissed her thigh again, this time a bit closer to his goal. "Could you spread your legs just a little for me?"

She followed instructions a bit nervously.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" she asked. "'Cause you don't have to, if you don't want."

"I want to," he assured her.

With that, he lowered his face to her sex and gave a soft lick. Buffy gasped. Her hips jerked forward. Giles smiled against her and went to work, lapping hungrily at her juices. He varied the pressure and placement of his tongue until he found the right combination. In a very short time, she shuddered and cried out in orgasm.

He pressed a final kiss to her curls, and stood to hold her.

"Only beds from now on?" he asked teasingly.

"Well, maybe the occasional shower or something," she decided. "Just no place public."

"No worries. I got that out of my system some time ago, too."

"If there's a story behind that, I'm not sure I want to know what it is."

"There is, and you don't. What I want to know is why you thought I wouldn't want to taste you. You're delicious."

"I - I thought guys... didn't like that. At least, the guys I've been with didn't."

"You mean... not one of them?"

"It wasn't like there was really time with Angel. We were sort of... in a hurry with the desperation and him nearly going away and everything. And Riley never wanted to try, even if he did like it when I.... well, I guess he didn't think turnaround was fair play or something. I wouldn't have let Spike if he'd tried, but he never did. He said once that that was something only poofters do. So no, not one. You're the first.

He pulled her close.

"I-I suppose this is rather... well, cavemannish of me, but I find I'm rather glad of that."

Buffy giggled.

"I like that even caveman you stutters," she teased. "It's cute."

He reached out and turned off the taps, then got her a towel. Only when he'd gotten her somewhat dry did he reach for his own.

"Come on, then," he said. "Let's get properly dried off. I'm afraid this caveman is ready to get some sleep."

* * * * *

EIGHTEEN MONTHS LATER:

Five men sat in the steam room of the newly opened Sunnydale Turkish Bath House. Three hung on every word the fourth said as the fifth sat shaking his head in disbelief.

"So there's Anya, with a faceful of strained peas and both babies wailing away..."

"I don't fucking believe you, Terry," Gary said. "Do you have any stories about anything but babies spitting up and what you found in their nappies?"

"They're my godchildren," James reminded him. "I like stories about them." He turned back to Terry. "Is that when you noticed the new tooth?"

"Teeth. One each."

"They sound very savage beasts indeed," Patrick said gleefully. "Shall I introduce them to Steak Tartare?"

"They're nowhere near ready for that," Giles said. "Meat is the last thing to introduce."

All eyes swivelled to him.

"Is there something you'd like to tell us?" Patrick asked. "Are you and Buffy expecting?"

"No!" he said defensively. When nobody looked away, he fidgeted slightly. "It's just Anya has asked if we would mind babysitting the twins now and again, and I thought it best to prepare, in case Buffy agrees."

"There's more to it than that," James said. "You look decidedly shifty. You're trying, aren't you?"

"We've... talked a bit about it," he admitted. "But that's all. No decision has been made."

"Have you even decided whether to get married yet?" Gary asked.

"James is the one tying the knot tomorrow. Buffy and I are quite well enough as we are."

"Does she really agree with you on that?" Terry asked incredulously. "Are you sure she's a woman?"

"A woman who's been watching you and Anya and hasn't made up her mind whether that's what she wants yet. With the Hellmouth permanently closed and her Slayer powers gone, she wants to look about herself a bit and see what she'd like to do with this new future of hers. Last week she was thinking of taking up fashion journalism, and today she sprang the idea of interior design on me. Lord knows what it will be tomorrow. I have to say, I'm rather looking forward to finding out. She'll find her footing eventually, and in the meantime, I can watch her put all that energy and imagination into something other than death. I don't think either of us has ever been happier."

"Don't let her convince Willow that the single life is better," James admonished. "I want her to be there at the altar tomorrow."

"I have no doubt Cordelia will see she gets there," Patrick assured the nervous groom-to-be. "She can be very fierce when she chooses."

A high-pitched beeping filled the room.

"Did you really bring your mobile in here?" Gary demanded. "Do you have any idea what the steam will do to it?"

Terry held up his finger for silence and picked up the phone.

"Hello Darling," he said. "What's the news? Really? You're sure? That's fantastic! Yes, I'll be home soon. I promise. Of course not! What would make you think anyone would hire a stripper for James' stag night?" He laughed unconvincingly. "I'll be there in no time. Yes, love you, too. Bye."

He flipped the phone shut as all eyes turned to him. He grinned widely, but didn't say anything.

"What was that?" Gary asked. "And what do you mean, no stripper?"

"What the little woman doesn't know, won't hurt her, will it? As for the other... well... it's good news."

"Bloody hell!" Giles exclaimed.

"Again? Already?" James demanded. "The first two are barely standing up."

"Christ, Terry, how many do you want to have at your age?" Patrick chimed in.

"I don't fucking believe it," Gary said with a shake of his head. "You're mad; that's what it is."

* * * * *

"Another sexy nightie?" Willow laughed as she held up the flimsy, sheer garment. "I guess none of you guys think we're gonna be cooking or cleaning or anything practical."

She added the nightgown to the growing pile next to her.

"Oh come on, Will," Buffy said, "we're just not crock pot kind of girls. Anyway, we all know that's James' thing, not yours. And you already have every computer accessory known to geekdom, so undies it is. Oh, and Dawn sent this. She won't be getting in from the great college campus tour until late tonight, and she wanted to make sure you got this before tomorrow."

She handed her friend a rectangular package, somewhat smaller than most she'd received so far. The guest of honor breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out to be a book rather than more underwear. Then she looked again at the title.

"Sex spells? What makes her think we need that?"

"It's traditional," Cordelia said. "At the bachelor's party, they act like it's his last chance to get any, and at the bride's shower, they act like she's never heard of sex, even if she's six months pregnant. And for the record," she said as she handed over an envelope, "this isn't lingerie."

Willow opened the gift and raised a dubious eyebrow.

"A makeover at your and Patrick's new spa? Um... you shouldn't have."

"You've been looking a little pasty. Our skin care consultants can work miracles with even the most hopeless cases."

"Thanks," Willow gritted out. Inwardly, she decided not to cash in the certificate until Hell froze over. "You really shouldn't have."

"And here's a little something from me," Cheryl said as she handed over a small box.

Inside the box was a satin bag with the word 'troubles' embroidered on it.

"It's... nice. What exactly is it for?"

"My mum made that when Gary and me got married. She told me that every night, when we was going to bed, we should put all our troubles and squabbles in it, so's we wouldn't fight over them."

"What a sweet idea," Willow said. "But... if your mom made this, shouldn't you keep it? For your troubles, I mean?"

"These days our fights won't fit in a rucksack, let alone that little thing. You keep it, and use it. May it bring you better luck."

She sat back and lit up a cigarette.

* * * * *

The next evening, Giles watched Willow dance with James at their wedding reception and had to laugh under his breath. His life had taken many unexpected twists and turns since the Council - the now defunct Council - sent him to Sunnydale, California to masquerade as a High School Librarian and act as Buffy's replacement Watcher. He could never have predicted then that the bright-eyed, ginger-haired girl in the blindingly colorful, somewhat mismatched outfit who greeted him his first day on campus would one day be his sister-in-law. Nor could he have imagined what Buffy would become to him.

He'd been prepared to meet a weapon. Instead, fate handed him a willful, irritating, deliberately shallow girl with the heart of a warrior and a soul filled with unexpected grace and generosity. He watched from across the room as Buffy shared gossip with Xander and his new girlfriend. Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to find Dawn seating herself next to him.

"Hey, Giles," she said. "Nice wedding."

"Yes, very nice," he agreed.

"So when are you and Buffy going to get the idea? I mean, her ex-gay best friend is now married and she's not. It's embarrassing."

"As I keep telling you, Dawn, it's not your decision. I don't know whether marriage is in the cards for us at all."

"But you're not going anywhere, right?"

"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous."

"Just making sure."

"Dawn, whether Buffy and I ever decide to be legally married or not, we plan to be together the rest of our lives. A piece of paper won't make that more true."

"My head knows that, but the rest of me would feel more like a stable, nuclear family unit if there was a poofy white dress and some rice-throwing involved."

"We'll see," Giles chuckled. "Your sister does have a way of surprising me. One day she may just wake me up and order me to get the license."

"And when Buffy says 'jump', you never even wait to ask 'how high', do you?"

"She may not have Slayer strength anymore, but her temper is still not a thing to be trifled with. And she knows how to use some very dangerous weapons."

"Plus she sleeps next to you, so she could get you while you're snoring."

"I do not snore."

"Yes, you do, but not very loud, most of the time."

"Loudly," Buffy corrected as she came up behind them. She wrapped her arms around Giles and laid her head on his shoulder. "Miss me?"

"You were only across the room," Dawn reminded her.

"Precisely," Giles said. "Across the room, away from me."

Dawn shook her head in disgust.

"I'm gonna get some champagne."

"No, you're not," Giles and Buffy said as one.

"There's punch for the underaged, little sister. You can have some of that."

"I can't wait until I'm eighteen next week and I can move out on my own."

"Neither can I," Buffy agreed cheerfully. "Then you can pay for your own college education, and we'll have that big ol' house all to ourselves."

"Whatever."

Dawn moved toward the punchbowl. Giles took Buffy's hand.

"Would you like to dance?" he asked.

"Not right now. Could we take a walk outside? There's something I want to talk about."

They slipped out a side door, into the balmy Spring night. As they walked, Buffy smoothed her dress with her palms. She began to speak several times, only to stop before actually saying a word. At last, she leaned against a wall facing Giles. She looked at him seriously.

"You know the last year has been the best one of my entire life, don't you?" she asked suddenly.

"Mine as well," he answered cautiously. "But we both knew that."

"I know. It doesn't get said very often, but I know. The thing is, it's also been probably the most confusing time of my life, too. Suddenly, there's no destiny, no sacred calling, no sudden death waiting to pounce on me. My life got turned all upside down again, like it did when I was fifteen."

"When you were called."

"When Merrick showed up at my school looking all raincoaty and perverty and told me I had to save the world. Everything changed that day. And then, everything changed again when the Hellmouth sealed up and I didn't have to save the world anymore. Of course, there were a few days the Earth stood still in between, but those were the two biggest. Except for one: the day you said you loved me."

"I still do. I always will."

"Right back at you," she smiled. "That was the biggest day ever. But I think today might be kinda big, too."

"Of course it is. Your best friend just married my brother. Now Willow is even more a part of our family than ever."

"Yeah. Family. See, that's what this is about..." she trailed off, frowning. "I don't really know how to say this, Giles. I'm no good with words. You know that. I'm action girl. I'll always be action girl, Hellmouth or no Hellmouth." she dug in the satin bag at her wrist and handed him something from it. "It's just me making with the dramatic gestures, but I thought you'd get the picture if I did this."

He stared at the plastic case in his hand.

"Is this... what I think this is?"

"Well, if you think it's me giving up my birth control pills, then, yeah, it's what you think."

"You're sure about this? You're sure you want to have a baby?"

"Giles, I spent eight years of my life dealing death everywhere I went. I killed every single night. Everyone who was killed because I wasn't there, or I wasn't good enough was blood on my hands. I haven't made up my mind about a lot of stuff, but I know I want to make life. I want to know I've given the world something other than blood and death and pain. I want to make something grow, and I'm no good with plants, as we discovered in my brief 'green is good' period. I think I'm better with things that can let me know what they need. Besides, Dawn didn't turn out so bad, in spite of all my screw ups. I think we could chance it. So, what do you say?"

She looked up, expectantly at him. He looked down seriously at her. At last, he smiled softly, bent his head, and kissed her.

"I say... I can't wait to put you in the club and steal all your footwear."

She punched him lightly on the arm as they both giggled.

"I am so not doing the barefoot and pregnant thing. Besides, if you take my shoes away, I'll be forced to buy more, and that'll cost you."

"Did you know women's feet tend to grow during pregnancy?"

"You're kidding? Really? Maybe I'm not so sure about this after all."

"Well, you will have a chance to change your mind in the next three months or so."

"Three months? I was thinking of seeing if we could make the magic happen tonight."

"You're meant to wait a bit after going off the pill before you actually try. Otherwise there's a heightened risk of birth defects."

"Great. I get all psyched up, and now I have to wait? You read too much. What do we do in the meantime?"

"Well, there is a chemist on the way back to our house."

"Drugstore, Giles. We call them drugstores here." She pushed off the wall and took his hand again. "Come on," she said, "we should get back to the party before someone decides we came out here for a quickie. Besides, I want to dance with you. We don't get to do that very much."

"Buffy, before we go in... isn't there something we should discuss if we're going to have a child? Isn't it usual to... well, to get married first?"

She frowned and thought for a moment.

"Well, yeah, I guess that's the way most people do it," she said at last. "But, Giles, we're not most people. Anyway, I think one great big, world-changing decision is enough for one night. We can talk about it again when the stick turns blue."

She lifted briefly onto her toes to kiss him again. As they turned to rejoin the party, Giles slipped the pink plastic case into his pocket. He smiled at the idea of a baby with Buffy. As for the rest, she was probably right.

After all, at last, they had all the time in the world to decide.

END