This Time Series
Part 4 - One More Time

written by GylzGirl





"Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Buffy. Happy Birthday to you!" Willow and Xander sang in near harmony. Their blonde friend smiled at them fondly.

"And many more," Xander sang alone as he kissed her on the cheek, gave her a quick hug and then slipped a bright pink cone-shaped party hat with a picture of a Barbie doll on it onto her head.

"Thanks," she said as Willow, already wearing her identical hat, gave her a hug as well. Buffy reached up to take hers off.

Xander stopped her hand. "No you don't!"

"Xander! Don't be silly. I'm not going to wear this thing all night."

"Isn't it worth you wearing it to see me wearing one just like it?" He smiled widely as he placed one on his head and pulled the elastic cord under his chin.

"Almost," she grinned, again bringing her hand up to remove the hat.

"Well won't it be worth it to see Giles in one?"

Buffy put her hands down. "Okay, now that is worth it. Where the Hell is Giles anyway?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. He was supposed to be here by now. Have you had any other word on that Tong you guys were researching?"

She shook her head. "Put out a few feelers but nothing's come back on it yet."

"Giles was bringing the cake," Willow said. "Maybe it wasn't quite ready yet or there was a problem with it."

"Or maybe they wrote "Happy Birthday Busty" on it like they did last year," Xander smiled.

Buffy blushed almost as pink as her hat. "It better be chocolate cake after you bringing that up."

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door of the girls' streamer-lined dormroom. "That must be Giles now." Buffy walked to the door. "As birthday girl, I get to put Barbie on him!"

She opened the door and was more than a little surprised to find Willy the Snitch standing before her. "Nice hat," he commented nervously.

The smile left her face. She took off the party hat and threw it to her bed. "You have something for me?"

"Yeah, that gang you wanted to know about. Them Chinese vampires that know all that Kung Fu stuff? My sources tell me they're hiding out in a warehouse on the far east edge of town. It's a big red building. It was Kurtman's ...Kaufman's. ..Kettleman's ...something like that. They used to make stuff for hospitals there I think. You know the place?"

"I've passed by there a couple of times. It's not far from the woods right? Has an old phone booth outside with the glass all smashed out. And that's right under a streetlight with a kinda yellow color to it."

Willy nodded his head. "That's the place."

"Right. Thanks. How much do I owe you?" She reached into her pocket but he waved her off.

"The twenty earlier was fine." At her disbelieving look, he nodded toward the large multicolor banner on the wall. "Happy Birthday. Be careful Kid. Word is these guys aren't somethin' to be tangled with." He started off down the hallway.

"Thanks." She closed the door and turned to face her two worried friends.

"So what's the drill Buff?"

"The drill is that you guys stay here Xander. And when Giles shows up you tell him to stay here too."

"No way Buffy! You can't take on a whole vampire gang by yourself."

"Especially not when they're all martial arts experts!" Willow added.

"You can't come okay. You just can't. This is going to be hard enough for me and I've been trained. I'm sorry but you guys haven't and you up against them would be suicide."

"Well Giles has been trained and..."

"And Giles isn't here right now. And even if he were, I wouldn't let him come. Losing one of you is not the way to make my birthday wishes come true okay? If I hurry, I can get there before the sun goes down and that evens the playing field out a lot better. Just stay here and ...save me some cake." She grabbed her weapon's bag from the floor of her closet and headed to the door.

"You didn't even open your presents," Willow said sadly.

Buffy smiled. "Don't worry. I'll be back later."

* * * * *

A little way down the road from the warehouse, Buffy sat her weapons bag down and loaded stakes down the sides of her boots, in the lining of her jacket, in the waistband of her pants, and up her sleeves. The sun had just set. Her advantage now gone, she was nervous about making it through this battle in one piece. She pulled her crossbow from the bag and began to prepare it when she heard the noise of a twig breaking under someone's foot. Immediately she popped one arrow into the bow and faced the direction the noise had come from.

"Who's there?!"

Willow and Xander shyly stepped out from the shadows and approached. Buffy rolled her eyes.

"What am I going to do with you guys?! I told you to stay back where it was safe!"

"We're coming with you, like it or not," Xander said bravely, then gulped.

"Guys," she said sternly and took a step toward them.

They both flinched and brought up a weapon, a mace in Xander's hands and a baseball bat in Willow's. Despite herself, Buffy smiled. "Guess you guys always bring gifts to the party huh?"

"Buffy, maybe we're not the greatest fighters in the world. But bigger numbers is always better odds. And whatever we can do to help, we will. Even if it's just distract the vamps long enough for you to take them out," Willow said matter-of-factly. She had on her resolve face and even the Slayer knew better than to mess with that.

"We're a team Buffy. I know you're just trying to protect us by leaving us out of the battle. But we're just trying to protect you by coming along. I think if we're all together, we can better protect each other." Xander smiled.

Buffy grinned proudly at her friends. "That's kinda what we've always done isn't it?" The other two nodded. "Then I guess it would be a bad thing to try to change a winning formula now." She bent down to the bag and divvied up the rest of the stakes among them. "Stay close and keep your eyes open. And if I tell you to get out, no arguments, just run. Okay?"

They nodded in agreement. Buffy took a deep breath and they entered the large parking lot of the warehouse.

A few steps in, they noticed the silhouette of a person. It was crouched about halfway between them and the building, partially hidden by a large cement planter where landscaping greenery had no doubt once flourished.

"Who's there?" Buffy demanded, her crossbow half-raised before her.

The figure stood, its face illuminated by the yellow streetlight in the corner of the lot.

"Giles? Not you too." He smiled. "I suppose you're coming in with us?"

"No."

The shock on their faces was obvious. "What do you mean?"

"I mean there's no point in going into that building."

"The vamps aren't there?" Buffy asked.

"Oh they're there all right."

"I don't understand then."

"I'm sorry if I'm being vague. Allow me to explain." He stepped to the side slightly and directed his gaze to the ground. The three followed his glance and saw sitting on the asphalt, where he'd been crouching, a small box with a plunger protruding from the top. "Make a wish Buffy." He raised his foot over the plunger.

Buffy gasped, her eyes going wide. "Everybody get down!" Buffy, Willow and Xander dove behind the planter. Giles brought his foot down on the box before joining them. There was a barely audible creaking noise as the plunger lowered and then an ear shattering explosion as the warehouse was engulfed in rolling waves of fire. The windows shattered outward, spraying glass into the lot and in the distance you could hear the faint wail of car alarms miles away.

The Slayer rose slowly on shaky legs. Willow and Xander merely gazed up at Giles, too stunned to do much of anything.

"Giles?" she whispered. He gently smiled and touched his hand to her face. His eyes were glassy from emotion. He seemed so happy to see her. "Giles?"

Before she knew what was happening, his arms came around her. Holding her against him tightly, he kissed her with more heat than the burning building behind them could have possibly produced. When he broke the kiss and released her, she blinked up at him. He grinned slowly and reached into his jacket. From the inside pocket, he produced a frail looking, faded purple book, tied with leather string. He pressed it to her chest and brought her hand up to rest atop it.

"Happy Birthday Buffy. I'll be at the Bronze if you need to speak to me." With that, he turned and walked away.

Buffy watched him for a few moments, then blinked twice and looked to her friends. Their expressions seemed to indicate that they were hoping she could explain things to them. She shook her head and walked toward the streetlight as she started to untie the strings around the book. She opened it and looked inside, a strange feeling coming over her when she recognized the writing as her own. She turned to the first page and began to read.

{Giles. I am begging you to read this entire book. I know it might be the last thing you feel like doing right now as I'm sure you've probably just witnessed my death but you have to understand why it happened. You have to understand how much I love you. This whole thing started 30 years ago. It was this very same night, my 20th birthday. The night we fought the Tong the first time. The night you died in my arms...}

* * * * *

Giles had been sitting in the Bronze for two and a half hours. He was starting to think that perhaps he should just go home when Buffy, Willow and Xander entered the doors. They walked over to his table and stood at the end. Willow and Xander still looked a little shaken. "Are you all feeling all right? I'm sorry to have not given you any warning but..."

"No," Buffy spoke softly at first and then a little louder. "No, we're fine. Um guys, could you give me and Giles some time to ourselves?"

Xander nodded. "Sure." He took Willow by the hand. "Come on Wills, this is a good song. Come dance with me."

"But you hate the Backstreet Boys."

"No, I said they should be strung up by the legs of their mismatched Garanimals outfits and have all their hair shaved off. I never said they couldn't sing." He pulled her onto the dancefloor and put his arms around her. Soon they disappeared into the crowd.

Buffy sat down next to Giles. She could feel his eyes on her but her eyes remained staring at his hand. Slowly she reached for it, entwining it with her own. After a deep breath, she met his gaze. "How did you..."

"You sent the book ahead of you on your last trip. It was waiting for me, lying on my bed, just as you told me it would be when you died in my arms. You dropped enough hints about what kind of spell it was in your writing and I knew from you that it was in one of Willow's books. It didn't take me too long to find it."

"So I ...the other Buffy I mean. She went through all that for nothing?"

"I don't like to think of it that way. I ...I've loved you for a while now Buffy. And I always thought I would die knowing that you could never think of me with the same regard." She opened her mouth to speak. He smiled warmly and put his finger to her lips. "I don't expect anything of you Buffy. I don't expect her feelings to be yours. It's just that, just as you couldn't leave things as they were when I was killed, I had to do something to save you as well. And just as you ...as she had to make sure that I knew how much she loved me, I had to tell you."

She moved his hand from her mouth and smiled. "Are you going to let me talk now?"

He smiled and nodded. "Sorry."

She tightened her hold on his hand. "You know. You and the gang and I have gone out into some pretty heavy combat situations and I've been worried about losing each of you at one time or another. But no matter what happened, even after I've lost others that I knew, I've never ever believed deep down that I'd lose any of you." She took another deep breath.

"I can't picture my world without you in it Giles. And this book forced me to do just that. Just reading about it made me nauseous." She blinked and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle from the tears that began to form. "She described how not having you there made her run things over and over in her head that were always there but she never noticed them until it was too late and you were gone. She said that she realized how much she'd always loved you ... the kind of life you could have had together ...and that it was all her fault that you didn't because she'd been so blind."

"Buffy..."

"Giles let me finish please?" He nodded. "I read her words and looked inside of myself. And everything she said is true. And that scared me more than anything I've ever known in my life."

"Why Love?"

"Because I read on to the times where she had you back. When you were lovers, and then husband and wife, and then parents. And through all of that, you were honestly and truly happy and in love. You belonged together and that was utterly clear on every single page."

"And that scared you?"

Buffy nodded. "Because, I'm sitting here holding your hand, feeling things for you that are both familiar and new at the same time and I know that all I have to do is let myself say yes and things are going to be so wonderful. But just when things go right in my life...that's when it always seems like things go wrong. Maybe I'm not supposed to have wonderful. Maybe that's why someone died every time I went back. Maybe if I say yes, I'm dooming us to..."

"Why don't you just say yes and we'll worry about the rest later?" Giles tucked her hair behind her ear. She smiled gently and moved closer to him. She closed the distance and touched her lips to his own. At first the kiss was soft and sweet, but it soon turned into something very sensual. They pulled back to look into each other's eyes. Giles gently caressed her cheek. "Was that a yes?"

Buffy smiled. "I'm not going to miss out again. This time, I'm going to get everything right."

END