Surrendering To Fate
Chapter Seven - Home Sweet Home

written by Jolene Beasley




It didn't fit.

Giles stepped back from the large, glass-front bookcase, frowning. He'd measured the space carefully, allowing a quarter inch on each side just to be sure... but the blasted thing didn't fit. It sat at a decidedly haphazard angle, defying his every effort to force it into the available space.

Giles growled in frustration. "I'll soon sort you, you great bloody..." He stopped as Joyce came around the corner, holding a steaming cup in each hand. Her knowing smile caused him to grin in embarrassment at being caught swearing at an inanimate object.

"I gather the bookcase has deeply offended you." She handed him the cup and led him to the couch. They sat together and took a soothing sip of tea.

Giles sighed before he answered. "It won't fit under the staircase. I thought surely it would, with room to spare. Now I'm at a loss. There's nowhere else in the house to put the wretched thing." He glanced around the tastefully arranged room, noting that every wall had already been taken up with the eclectic combination of his and her furniture. "Perhaps I can just stand it up in the middle of the room, and we can walk around it."

She laughed gently and patted him on the thigh. In a teasing voice, she offered, "Maybe we can cut off the legs."

Giles nearly choked. "Cut off the legs?!! It's an *antique*!"

She laughed again. "I was *kidding*, Rupert. You don't cut down a late eighteenth century Hepplewhite."

He reddened, embarrassed at thinking Joyce wouldn't recognize the piece's value. "Um, sorry, love... let's just leave it for the time being. I'm getting entirely too frustrated with it."

"But, at the same time, you wouldn't dream of parting with it." Joyce knew it was an heirloom, a part of his grandmother's extensive collection. it was beautiful, and valuable, and neither of them wanted it gathering dust in the basement. She also knew he would never sell it.

Giles finished his tea and leaned over to give her a grateful kiss. "Thank you for saving me from my temper. I'll just go and start filling the other bookcases. We'll sort this out later." He rose and started for the kitchen to put his cup away. Joyce smiled happily at his habitual neatness. It made him very easy to live with.

After he'd gone upstairs to the spare bedroom carrying a box of ancient texts, she went into the hall and studied the area that had given him so much trouble. She'd watched him measure the slanting area underneath the staircase, and she was sure there was enough room for the bookcase to fit. She stared at the opening for several minutes before realizing what the problem was. Her face brightened. She knew exactly how to solve this particular dilemma.

Giles came downstairs for another box just about the time Joyce was carefully sliding the offending shelf into place. It was massive, and it took some maneuvering, but as she had guessed, it fit perfectly. She was making minor adjustments to fit it flush against the wall when he came around the corner and stopped dead in his tracks.

She turned, relishing the stunned look on his face, and grinned widely as he stammered, "How... what... how... good Lord... how on earth did you do that?" He began to grin with her as he realized his precious Hepplewhite was undamaged and perfectly at home in the small space. "You must be a magician, darling..."

"Nope. I just remembered that when we moved in, I tried to put a huge old hall tree/bench combination in here, and it wouldn't fit because the space isn't exactly square. It's wider and taller at the back than at the front, see? So, I just tilted the shelf... boy, it's heavy, too... and slid it back at an angle until it reached the wider spot, then I set it upright. Worked like a charm."

Giles wrapped his arms around her from behind and nuzzled her neck until she giggled. "You are amazing, and delightfully so. An act of legedermain such as this deserves a reward."

"And just what kind of reward did you have in mind, Mr. Giles?" She closed her eyes and sighed as his hands began moving towards the buttons on her blouse.

"I think we'd best continue this discussion upstairs, don't you, Mrs. Giles?" His voice was almost a growl.

"Mmmm... great idea."

They began easing towards the staircase, stopping only to indulge in some playful necking. After they disappeared into the second floor, giggling and whispering like naughty children, Buffy came out of the kitchen, a look of disgust on her pretty face. Willow followed her, looking shocked.

"See what I mean, Will? It's like triple-X theater around here. Sheesh, they've
been home two days already. Didn't they get enough of that on their honeymoon? I thought that's what it was for!" She plopped down on the couch, wincing as the slamming of the bedroom door filtered down from the floor above. "When are they gonna start acting like old people again?" Her voice took on a whining tone.

"Well, they're still newlyweds, technically. And, uh, well, yeah, it's kinda gross, because, eww, grownups and everything, but, they're not really OLD old, and it's kinda sweet, too... in a "I really don't wanna know what your parents do behind closed doors" kind of way."

"But, geez, Will, it's FOUR O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON! There could be innocent teenaged ears around!"

Willow snorted. "Innocent? That leaves both of *us* out, doesn't it? Buffy, it's not like you called first before we came over. You just assumed that your mom and Giles would have nothing better to do than fix you dinner." Willow's face took on a 'shame on you' expression. "I think it's nice they have a life now, instead of pathetically waiting for little Buffy to come home and grace them with her presence."

"Hey! That's not what I meant! I'm not saying that... well, I don't want... that, is, I want them to... uh, oh, shut up, Willow." Buffy grabbed a throw pillow and hugged it, sulking.

Willow gave her a satisfied smirk. "Truth hurts, doesn't it?" She suddenly got up and started towards the stairs. "Ooo, look... cool bookcase!"

Buffy stuck her tongue out at Willow's back, then waited morosely for her mom and her mentor-slash-step-dad to get tired and come back downstairs.

* * * * *

"Gee, Mrs. S... I mean, Mrs. Giles... this is really good." Willow took another mouthful of chicken and closed her eyes in appreciation.

"Thank you Willow. It's kosher, too."

"I wasn't worried about that, but thanks... and for asking me to stay, too. Mom and Dad are still out of town."

Buffy was still trying, unsuccessfully, to sulk, but the tempting dish before her had gone a long way to dispel her moodiness. She dug into the barbecued chicken with relish, getting the sauce all over herself and her napkin, not to mention her clothes. They all were pretty well sprinkled with the red stuff, and periodic bursts of laughter accompanied the meal as they ate.

"Could you have chosen a messier menu, Mom?" Buffy wiped her face for the thousandth time. "Corn on the cob, barbecued chicken, salad with those little tomatoes that explode when you stab them with a fork... I'm gonna smell like a restaurant when I'm done."

Willow giggled and remarked, "Then Xander'll love you!"

Giles surmised that the menu was deliberate on Joyce's part. Messy or not, the meal was one of Buffy's favorites. His Slayer had seemed a bit out of sorts when they came downstairs a little while ago, and he'd guessed she was feeling abandoned, or at least displaced. He and Joyce had talked briefly about her as they prepared the meal, and had concluded that she just needed a little extra attention from the both of them.

"Buffy, it's been over two weeks since we've trained... you feeling up to it tonight?" He paused to wipe barbecue sauce off the end of his nose, and Buffy started giggling. "I'll take that as a yes..."

"Sure, Giles, I'm ready to go. I like Aunt Rose, and all, but she doesn't move as fast as you do. Also, she's too dignified to drop kick."

Joyce looked vaguely worried. "Uh, honey, you and Aunt Rose didn't actually..."

Buffy giggled again. "No, Mom, I didn't spar with Aunt Rose. She did watch me shadow box a couple of times, though. Y'know, Giles, she nagged me about dropping my left shoulder, just like you. I felt right at home."

He grinned at his step-daughter. "Well, then, we'd best work on that tonight, hadn't we? Oh, dear, I just remembered... I think the gym is being used..."

Willow nodded vigorously. "Basketball practice starts up way before school does. The guys are already complaining about it. Three nights a week, and Saturday, plus an hour after school every day... Coach Arlington really wants to win the tournament this year."

Giles sighed. "There's really no good place to practice here in town. If we could find an abandoned warehouse and ward it against vampires..."

"Oh! Or, what about a dance studio? Mrs. Clayton closes hers at seven." Willow beamed a barbecue-smeared smile at him, and he had to smile back.

"Hardwood floors... plenty of room... Whadaya think, Giles?" Buffy turned to her Watcher expectantly.

"Well, I could call and ask about using it... if it's not too expensive. We'd have to be careful with weapons... wouldn't want to damage walls or floors."

"She'd probably let you have it for nothing if you swept up for her... she hates cleaning the place." Willow was absolutely sure she'd found the perfect solution.

"All right, then, we'll see. In the mean time, where shall we go?"

"Park?" Buffy offered. "No, there might be demons. I want to train, not worry about slayage. I can always slay later."

Willow was brainstorming right along with her. "Football field... no, too much chance of being seen. Uh... behind the stadium? No, that's where the jocks make out on Saturday night... not a good place to be. Bad, bad place to be. How about..."

"Our backyard?" Joyce offered, trying to keep the hope out of her voice. It was bad enough her husband and her daughter had to practice death-dealing blows on each other... it was worse when they were in some off-the-wall place where they could actually get into real danger. She wanted them home, where she could tend to the cuts and bruises in true domestic style. "We have a privacy fence, and there's hardly any obstacles out there, if you don't count my ornamental cherry trees."

Buffy gave her mother a cautious look. "You want us to train *here*? I thought you hated seeing us train."

"I'm not crazy about it, but if you're going to pummel each other, at least you'll be doing it within reach of Band-Aids and Bactine."

Buffy broke into a grin. "Good one, Mom! I don't mind... Giles, what about you? Shall we tear up our own stuff, instead of someone else's?"

He looked at his two favorite ladies as they waited for his answer. He smiled gently, and said, "Why not?"

* * * * *

"This isn't too bad," Buffy commented as she ducked a particularly vicious swipe from Giles' quarterstaff. "Kinda convenient... lemonade right inside the back door... water hose for a quick cool-down if we need it... d'ya think we could put in a pool?" She jumped to avoid a low sweep, and countered so quickly that the staff was jarred from Giles' grip. She rolled, kicked his feet out from under him, and had her hand at his throat before he could recover. "Gotcha!!"

"Very good... you've finally gotten away from hesitating on your follow up... well done... and you can let me up now..." His voice took on a slightly strangled quality, although she wasn't putting much pressure behind her grip.

She released him and helped him to his feet, brushing the loose grass off his shoulders possessively as he stood and flexed his neck to ease the tension. "You're getting better, yourself, Giles. I guess all that 'relaxing' you've been doing lately is good for you... whoa, scary, therapy-inducing thoughts... not going there..."

He laughed breathlessly. "Silly girl. Well, all right, then, we've done aerobics, gymnastics, and quarterstaves... what shall we do next? We've barely been at it an hour." He shrugged his shoulders, and realized that he wasn't sore and stiff at all. Maybe there was something to Buffy's flippant statement...

"Slow down, big guy. You're raring to go, aren't you? What did you two do in Hawaii... besides take on the entire Maui syndicate?" She grinned unashamedly as his face slowly turned red. "Never mind... stupid question. Uh, how about hand-to-hand? I hear you're getting pretty good at that, Mr. I-take-out-bad-guys-with-my-pocket-change."

He smirked and took a beginning stance without answering her. They sparred for about twenty minutes, both of them working up a heavy sweat and grinning from ear to ear as they worked. Buffy loved hand-to-hand... it was the technique she most often employed while patrolling. Rarely did she have more than a small stake at her disposal when she battled vampires each night.

"Hey, Giles, y'know we can work out at night here, so long as we don't wake the neighbors. This could be of the good."

"It could very well work to our advantage. Of course, one doesn't have the luxury of a strategically positioned security light in most cemeteries."

"Too bad. A spotlight would do wonders for my stake-throwing aim."

"Wouldn't want this to be too easy. You might grow lazy."

"Lazy? I'll show you lazy..."

She pressed her attack, and Giles countered her strength with skill. He was breathing hard, but easily. He had grown accustomed to their light bantering as they trained. Buffy enjoyed sharpening her wit on him, and he gave as good as he was given. Their favorite game was "see who laughs first." Giles usually won, but Buffy was a pretty good match. Usually the laughter brought an end to the sparring session, because the loser hadn't breath left to both laugh *and* fight.

Often, when the slayerettes were present, Giles would have to ask them to leave because their appreciative guffaws were rather distracting.

Joyce watched from the back porch, hearing their conversation plainly through the screen door. She wondered, suddenly, if her neighbors could hear them as well as she could. 'Oh, God, I hope not! They'll have the men in white suits out here any day now...' She stopped to giggle at one of Giles' dry responses to Buffy's silliness, and a sharp burst of laughter from her daughter signaled her defeat in the mental game they were playing. Buffy might win on strength, but Giles had the edge on emotional control... and a strikingly wicked sense of humor.

Buffy threw herself down on the porch steps and reached for the pitcher of lemonade her mother had left for them. She kept giggling as she sipped, and Giles gathered the last of the weapons and joined her, dripping with perspiration. His hair and T-shirt were completely soaked, and his sweat pants weren't much drier. He was grinning as he caught his breath, and Joyce's heart fluttered as she thought about just how fit her new husband had to be to keep up with her supernaturally endowed daughter. It didn't help that he looked adorable with his damp hair in disarray, and that wet T-shirt was clinging in all the right places... 'Get a grip, Joyce Anne,' she told herself sternly.

He drained his glass in one long draught, and gave a satisfied sigh as he held it out for a refill. Buffy happily complied, and they sat in companionable silence for several minutes. Finally, Giles stood and stated, "As much as I'd like to sit here and rest until my muscles seize up, I suggest we do our cool down exercises. I'd hate to be unable to climb the stairs tonight."

"I know you wouldn't want to miss out on any 'upstairs' activity, Pop. That'd be a real shame." She eyed him challengingly, as if daring him to respond.

His quick laughter brought a smile to Joyce's face. She grinned as he retorted to Buffy, "Just how many more weeks before you move into the dorm? It's quite tiresome to have to keep quiet during amorous moments..."

"Giles! Ewww and yuck... you are just gross, you know that?"

"Perfectly well. And you, dear girl, are incorrigible."

"I'd take offense if I knew what that meant."

"No you wouldn't. You'd probably take a bow... AHHHHHH! BUFFY, YOU HEATHEN!!!!" Giles shook the lemonade-soaked ice out the back of his shirt as Buffy took off across the yard, screaming with laughter. Joyce chortled gleefully as he chased his ice-wielding Slayer across the lawn and around the trees, his vengeance--a half-full glass of lemonade--clasped firmly in his left hand.

A ten-minute free-for-all ensued, ending with a water fight with the garden hose that left them both drenched, gasping, and limp from laughing. Joyce left her vantage point on the porch just long enough to gather some towels from the laundry room. When her energetic family had finally called a truce, she handed them the towels and made it clear they could NOT enter the house until they were reasonably dry. She didn't want to have to refinish the floors... again.

She couldn't remember when she'd been happier. Her home was complete... even if it was completely weird.

* * * * *

It was a warm, starlit evening. Buffy had finished her patrol, and was partying hearty at the Bronze with the rest of the gang. Before Giles and Joyce married, he had often met Buffy late in the evening for ice cream, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with the rest of the Scooby gang. This was the first time Joyce had come along, and Giles was secretly thrilled that she wanted to be a part of the group, even though he was a bit nervous about how she would fit in. Joyce seemed undaunted as they waited for the kids outside the Bronze entrance. She was determined to be an integral part of her daughter's life, even if she had to lose sleep to do it.

They strolled from the parking lot hand in hand, watching as kids of all sizes wandered in an out of the all-ages' club. Some of them looked so young... barely into their teens. Joyce shook her head in amazement, and glanced at her watch. It was past midnight, and there was no sign of the crowd thinning out. "I can't believe how young these kids are, Rupert. Walking here and back alone... are all the parents in Sunnydale crazy? If Buffy came here by herself when she was sixteen, I sure didn't know about it."

Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably, but didn't reply. She stared at him in amazement. "Oh, don't tell me... you knew she was coming here? And you didn't tell me?"

"I didn't even know you at the time. All the students came here... it wasn't anything out of the ordinary."

"*This* is the club she told me about? I thought it was near the school! This is a horrible neighborhood!"

"Yes, it is."

"But she was only *sixteen*!"

"So were all the other children."

"I can't believe this!"

Giles sighed and pulled her closer to his side. Joyce might be in on the secret about vampires and slaying, but she was still a typical mother. "Joycey... it's a little late in the game to fret about it now." He frowned slightly, remembering. "Besides, Buffy saved many lives by staking vampires that tried to pick up unsuspecting youths here. In fact, it's become sort of 'off limits' for the local demons as a result."

"Oh, *that's* reassuring!"

"I'm sorry, love, it was truly *meant* to be reassuring..."

"I really hate the slaying, Rupert." She buried her head against his shoulder and fought back tears.

He encircled her in his arms and held her close. "I know, I know. Sometimes... sometimes I wish it would all just go away... but, unfortunately..."

"...it doesn't. I know, Rupert, sweetheart... and if she's got to do this, I'm glad she has you. I'm glad *I* have you." She looked up, her eyes full of tears, and he couldn't help kissing her gently.

"Okay, can you guys at least *try* to behave in public? I don't want everyone asking me in class Monday why my parents were making out in the parking lot!" Buffy punched Giles gently in the shoulder that wasn't occupied by her mother's head.

"Just reminiscing, honey," Joyce managed to say without giving away her teary state.

"Are we going for ice cream or not?" Xander managed to look hungry, even though he'd already consumed enough junk food in the Bronze to feed a battalion.

Willow punched him, not as gently as Buffy did Giles, and grinned when he winced. "You have to wait and see if we're invited first, O Stomach With Legs."

"Of course you're all invited." Giles leaned towards Buffy, and added, "If that's all right with you, that is."

"It's copacetic, Giles." She favored him with a brilliant smile. "Ben and Jerry's, here we come!"

* * * * *

It was a close competition, but Xander finally won the peanut-flicking contest, and was officially awarded the 'Stained Napkin" award by Willow. Joyce's sides were actually hurting from holding in her laughter. They were so silly, so full of wise cracks... how did Rupert keep from giving in to helpless mirth at their antics? Mostly, he sat there with a bemused grin on his face, shaking his head from time to time as the ribbing got too loud and boisterous.

Joyce watched her new husband as he reigned like a benevolent king over the group, exerting a measure of control with little more than a raised eyebrow or a slight gesture. The teenagers obviously respected Giles' authority, and as much as they treated him like one of the gang, when he expressed the slightest disapproval, they backed down. She was impressed. He had made his mark on these young people, by being there for them, his loyalty never wavering... and, by enduring more pain and suffering than anyone should have to bear, and still managing to carry on.

She decided she wanted to have a talk with Buffy one day, and find out just what drew the kids to Giles... what made him a safe haven when most other adults were bewildering enigmas. She knew she felt completely comfortable with him, after she got over her initial distrust of his influence over her daughter.

Maybe that's why she didn't trust him at first... because Buffy fell in with him so easily, while remaining aloof and mysterious to her own mother. It was a moot point now, because she herself had fallen under the spell of the intense, loyal, and extremely handsome foreigner sitting next to her. She watched him dreamily as he managed to avoid being sprinkled with peanuts or spritzed with soda. She didn't realize she was being addressed until Buffy started knocking on her forehead.

"Hello? hello? Anybody in there? Earth to Mom!"

"Sorry honey... I was thinking deep thoughts."

"How could you think while Xander was singing 'On the Road Again?' I couldn't even eat until he stopped!"

Joyce smiled as Xander tried to look offended. "Hey! I perfected my Willie Nelson while on my historic, although short-lived, road trip ala Jack Kerouac. I was told it was pretty good!"

"You were lied to, Xand." Willow said in sympathy. "You sound more like Ozzie Nelson than Willie Nelson."

"You coulda at least said Ricky Nelson, Will. He could sing."

Giles added mildly, "That is a matter of some conjecture."

"Don't get the expert on the Middle Ages of Rock and Roll started, Xander!" Buffy yelped, waving a desperate hand at her friend.

"Please don't place Rick Nelson, or any of the Nelsons, no matter which generation they spring from, in the category of 'Rock and Roll.' It's quite offensive."

Buffy dropped her head on the table and groaned. "Too late... you've awakened the Musician-Beast Within... we're all doomed!"

Joyce offered, "I liked Rick Nelson, Rupert."

"He was pop, not rock, darling... a distinct difference."

"You're such a musical snob, sweetie."

The kids all snickered behind their hands... as much about the mushy nickname as her calling him a snob... but shifted to innocent expressions when Giles glared at them.

"I am merely being historically accurate." He managed a slight huff, but the corners of his mouth were twitching, and his tell-tale dimple indicated he was fighting a grin.

"It's almost two in the morning, Rupert. It's way to late to get all stuffy and Brit-like."

"I only get 'stuffy and Brit-like' when it's absolutely necessary."

"It might be more effective if you didn't have hot fudge on your chin." Joyce leaned over and licked the spot off before he could react, and the kids erupted into helpless laughter.

"If we were playing "see who laughs first" tonight, we'd win." Joyce commented as Xander slapped the table with glee. After giggling madly for several minutes, the gang finally got control of themselves and calmed down. They set about finishing their rapidly melting desserts.

Xander leaned over to Buffy and said, "Hey, when you move into the dorm, can I have your old room? Your family is a whole lot funner than mine, and nobody has a hangover the next day."

Giles shot Xander a gentle, but concerned, look. "Anytime you need a place, just call."

Buffy nodded, suddenly looking solemn. Only the evil twinkle in her eye warned Giles she wasn't through teasing him. "Yeah, Xand... the minute I go to college, you can move right in. But I gotta warn you, you won't get much sleep at my house. Two doors down, there's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on..."

"Oh, dear God, she's mixing Country and Western and Rock and Roll..." Giles pinched his nose in mock dismay. "...do try and have *some* dignity, Buffy."

"There's nothing dignified about the way you guys carry on, *Pop*."

"Shall I tell you about dignity? I seem to recall a certain young lady roaming the halls singing 'Macho Man' at the top of her voice..."

"Hey! I was under a spell! And that was a long time ago! When I was young!"

"I was referring to this afternoon."

Buffy started to deny it, then remembered that she'd done exactly that after their water fight in the backyard. She closed her mouth, glared daggers at Giles, and didn't say a word.

Xander deadpanned, "He shoots... he scores! Watchers one, Slayers a biiiig fat goose-egg!"

Joyce's ribs were aching again, and she covered her face with her hands to keep from making things worse.

She gave up and gave in to the laughter when Willow handed Buffy a napkin with the words "You've been Topped by an Old Guy" written in large block letters.

"Shut up, Willow!" Buffy hissed through clenched teeth, and the giggling started all over again.

After finishing the last of the ice cream and splitting the ticket to Willow's satisfaction, Buffy's little cabal slowly drifted towards the parking lot, still trading barbs and trying to outdo each other.

Joyce and Giles said their good-byes and strolled towards the Jeep. Buffy started towards the closest cemetery to begin her patrol, waving to Xander and Willow before disappearing into the shadows. As soon as she was out of sight, the shadows came slowly to life as three large shapes edged closer to the two remaining humans and surrounded them.

* * * * *

The green Jeep had just pulled out of the parking lot and started down the street when Joyce suddenly grabbed Giles' arm. "Rupert, go back to the ice cream place. Something's wrong!"

He slowed, confused, but didn't stop. "What is it?" He spotted a driveway up ahead, and pulled into it to turn the vehicle around.

"You'll laugh."

"Never." He accelerated as he caught a glimpse of her frightened face.

"Well... the kids call it my Mom Radar. Sometimes... well, I just seem to know when something's wrong. Sometimes it works on the other kids, too. All I know is, we have to go back!"

Giles was in no position to argue with her mother's intuition. Hadn't he relied on a similar sixth sense himself many times, as Buffy's Watcher? He floored the gas pedal, and the Jeep roared ahead. They rounded the corner and screeched into the parking lot just in time to see a horrible sight.

"Oh, my God, Rupert! What are they?" Joyce cried as three tall, antlered, green-scaled, grotesquely deformed creatures loomed over a huddled mass on the ground.

"Chaos demons... Dear Lord, they're gigantic... must be European in origin..." He fished around the back seat for his ever-present weapons bag, finally snagging it and yanking it with him as he exited the car. "You stay put!" he bellowed as he sprinted towards the action.

"Like hell!" Joyce ignored his command and sprang out the other door, following him as fast as she could run. "Those slimy things might be hurting my baby!"

As Giles neared, he realized the figures on the ground were Willow and Xander. Buffy was nowhere in sight, but a prickling at the edge of his consciousness told him she was near. He hoped she was sizing up her opponents, and not lying in the dark somewhere, injured... He slid to a stop, trying to figure out why on earth chaos demons, normally indifferent to humans, would attack harmless children. He then realized that the creatures weren't attacking at the moment... they were just standing over the unconscious pair, as if waiting for something.

Giles pocketed a long switchblade just as Joyce came up behind him. He swung his crossbow into firing position, then realized he wasn't alone. Without berating his wife for her rash actions, he handed over her favorite weapon... a short-handled battle ax that she'd grown quite proficient at wielding.

Giles began chanting a simple banishment spell as he advanced, knowing that it probably wouldn't immobilize the three powerfully built monsters in front of him. The spell needed more specifics, such as the demon's full name, to be effective. He hoped it would buy some time, however, until he could fathom their purpose.

Hearing the Latin spell, the tallest of the three turned its red-eyed gaze towards the Watcher. Its orange teeth gleamed as it smiled. The demon's voice was so deep it was almost a physical blow to hear it. "Worthless... human, you know this. You take a dire chance, interfering with Dygonese and his purpose."

Giles recognized the name instantly, and a tight smile crossed his face. The demon had just given him what he needed to finish the spell. "What is your purpose? You have harmed those in my care. You force me to interfere. I did not seek you out!" Joyce marveled at his calm words.

"I need not explain to mortals!"

"Where those particular mortals are concerned, Dygonese Myrithra, Underlord of the Third Realm, you must!" Giles started his litany again, using the demon's full name, and the creature cried out in agony as the spell surrounded it like a soap bubble.

As Dygonese roared, the two unencumbered demons slowly began to advance on Giles and Joyce. Behind them, Giles caught a glimpse of Buffy's blonde head as she stepped up behind the menacing monsters. She made a quick zipping motion with her hand, and Giles immediately barked a command of silence to the trapped Underlord. Its roar was cut off instantly, and Buffy gave Giles the 'okay' sign. The creature spotted the Slayer behind its fellow demons, and beat silently against the translucent wall surrounding it, unable to sound a warning.

She eased up behind the nearest chaos demon and tapped it on the shoulder. "Didn't anybody tell you that green leather was out... oh, sorry, that's your skin. My bad." She jumped back as the creature swiped at her, lashing out her foot to break its kneecap before dancing out of range. It went down with a scream. The second demon moved to confront her, then shrieked as a crossbow bolt buried itself between the scales on its shoulder. Giles reloaded without taking his eyes off the action.

Joyce stepped to one side, displaying the ax in a menacing manner. "Don't you *touch* my little girl, you slimy green moose-headed creeps, or you'll have to answer to *me*!"

Giles tried not to chuckle as the two underling demons actually looked intimidated. Behind them, Dygonese slapped its hand to its head in supreme disgust.

Buffy took advantage of the moment to break the first demon's other kneecap, and then shouted to Giles, "Hey, Pop, beheading... or one through the heart? What's your pleasure?"

The undamaged demon's jaw dropped nearly a foot. "You are her *father*?"

"Step-father, not that it matters. Buffy, let's be thorough, and do both..." Giles pulled a stout sword from behind him and tossed it to his Slayer before the demons could rally and intercept it.

She laughed, a cheery, tinkling sound, and raised a hand, catching the thrown sword easily. "One..." She hamstrung the heretofore uninjured demon before it could turn, then changed her trajectory and beheaded the creature as it fell to its knees on the pavement before her. As she completed her swing, she called out "Two..." A bolt slammed into its chest, and it burst, scattering orange blood all over the asphalt.

The creature's head rolled a short distance before coming to rest face up in front of Xander. The teenager began to stir as he regained consciousness, and his eyes fell on the face of the demon that had knocked him out. He screamed and scrambled back before realizing the creature was dead. In a show of regained bravado, he thumbed his nose at the harmless green face, then turned to see if Willow was okay.

Giles' bolt and Buffy's sword ended the other underling's existence, striking almost simultaneously as Buffy crowed, "...Three!" Another gout of orange blood decorated the parking lot.

Willow awoke just as the demons were disintegrating with a sizzle and a horrific stench. She moaned and sat up, a nauseated look on her face. "Oh, ewww, that's worse than smelling salts..." She spotted Xander, kneeling next to her, alive and reasonably unharmed, and she hugged him weakly.

Giles' fierce expression reminded Buffy of the sky just before a thunderstorm. 'Boy, I hope he never looks at me *that* way!' she thought as she stepped behind him, the three of them presenting a unified front. He advanced on the spell-restrained Underlord with a low growl. He stopped a few feet from the demon, and ground out the counter to his spell of silence. Before the demon could begin howling again, Giles snapped, "I asked you politely, once, and now, foul creature, you *will* explain why you assaulted these children. They have no talismans, no tokens, and no worth to you. They have not evoked you, or even spoken your name."

Dygonese Myrithra, Underlord of the Third Realm, stood to its full height as the sphere that surrounded it stretched to match. Xander shuddered as he realized the monster was probably close to ten feet tall, with another two feet of antlers to boot. Giles stared up at it, undaunted. When it became clear that no answer was forthcoming, Giles stepped right up to the transparent shield and rested his fingertips against it. The demon looked down, curious as to what the little mortal meant to do.

Giles smiled, and the expression was not a comforting one. He spoke a short, Latin sentence, and the sphere rose slightly until Dygonese's feet were exposed. He extended an arm to Joyce, and she moved into the circle of his embrace confidently. Dygonese looked confused.

Giles turned to Joyce and said lovingly, "Darling, what would you do to a chaos demon that put your only child in danger, and ran roughshod over her friends?"

Joyce caught on immediately, and replied, "Well, first, I'd cut off his toes." She swung her razor-sharp ax down with both hands, missing the demon's feet by a scant few inches. The tempered steel of the weapon gouged a large chunk out of the asphalt, and the Underlord screamed and jumped back as far as the bubble would allow. "Oops... I missed, hon. I'm a little out of practice... it's been a while since I dismembered a demon. Let me try again..." She stepped forward, eyeing the wiggling toes carefully. As she raised the ax for a more accurate blow, Dygonese bellowed, "STOP! Mortals, you have won. I will give you the answers you seek, only release me. I have a purpose to complete."

Giles put a restraining hand on Joyce's upraised arm, and she lowered the ax, still glaring at the demon as if she was sorry she'd been interrupted. He commanded, "Answers, first, then we shall see."

The demon nodded. "You know my name, and my rank. Do you know my mission?"

"Only from the Black Chronicles. You are responsible for maintaining Chaos in the Third Realm. I know of no other mandate."

"My mission is separate from my mandate. I seek the Arma Solis. These two infants have seen it."

"The Shield of the Sun?" Giles translated automatically, then shook his head in disbelief. "I thought it was a myth... if they have seen it, they do not know of its significance. They would not remember it."

"Precisely, mortal. I was taking their subconscious memories from them when you interfered."

"You could have done so without rendering them unconscious, you fiend. You could have killed them! I would not have forgiven that lightly."

The giant demon snorted in derision. "You think too highly of yourself, mortal."

"Do I? Listen well, soulless hellspawn. You're out of your realm here, and subject to certain laws. One of those laws has bound you by my words, another has silenced you. A few words more could end your existence forever. Do you wish to continue trading insults, or shall we get on with it?"

The demon muttered a grudging accession, its voice causing the ground beneath them to tremble. "As I said, I seek the Arma Solis, and the girl has seen it several times. The boy was merely in the way."

Xander was recovered enough to say, "Hey! You attack Willow, you attack me, and you act like it's MY fault? Sheesh! What a whiner. Are all Underlords of the Third Realm such wusses?"

"Xander, not now." Giles voice held enough admonition to restrain Xander's sarcastic nature. "Dygonese... what do you want with the Shield? It has no power that a lower being can wield."

"I was commanded."

Giles' eyebrows went up at that. "Summoned?"

"By one of you."

"A mortal?"

"One of your circle."

Joyce looked at Giles questioningly. "You have a circle? Like, a coven? Rupert??"

He smiled at her reassuringly. "No, Joyce, I haven't practiced that kind of sorcery in years..." His face suddenly froze, and he moaned, "Oh, no...God, no, not him..."

Buffy stepped up behind Giles and put her hand on his back. He didn't even flinch. "Giles? What?"

He kept his gaze locked on the demon. His voice was merely a growl as he said, "Ethan Rayne..."

Dygonese nodded. "Yes."

* * * * *

"I can't believe you let that... that... *thing* go, Rupert!" Joyce was still fuming as they pulled into the driveway. She threw the car door open and started for the house, leaving him behind.

Giles sighed. He knew she wouldn't understand his reasoning. "I'll explain it all when we get inside... I can show you the reference material, if you like."

She stomped up the steps and fumbled for her keys. "Right now, I'd like that thing's head cut off and his insides melting on the driveway. Why don't you show that to me?" Her voice fairly dripped with sarcasm.

He stepped up behind her and unlocked the door smoothly. She pushed into the house and started for the kitchen. He followed, worried that she might be heading for the Schnapps, and even more worried that she wasn't. She might just be looking for bigger weapons.

He relaxed when she got down the coffee mugs and his favorite tea. 'At least she wants to talk instead of dismembering me,' he mused to himself as he took a seat at the bar. Joyce calmed herself by making the tea, much the same way he himself would do after a particularly trying patrol. He made himself keep still and quiet as he allowed her to come to grips with her anger.

Joyce handed him his cup and took a seat, scooting back so she could look him in the eye. She sighed heavily, and opened her mouth. The words wouldn't come readily. This was an old conflict, perhaps the only one they had ever truly had. Her face was a mask of pain, and his heart broke for her, even as he realized that he could never completely alleviate her torture. He was only a man.

He ventured, "You wanted an explanation..."

She nodded mutely, still searching his face as if her answers were there.

"Very well. As you heard, Ethan has summoned Dygonese to find an ancient talisman... I hesitate to call it an artifact, since the legend states that it fell from the sun fully formed. It's said to amplify any innate magical powers the bearer may have. If Ethan has discovered the whereabouts of the Shield, we must stop him before he possesses it. He is opportunistic and self-serving, and he bears a certain grudge against both myself and Buffy for thwarting so many of his carefully crafted plans." Joyce shivered as she remembered her experiences with Ethan's cursed candy. Giles saw her tremble, and reached out to touch his fingertips to hers.

When she didn't pull away, he continued, "if Ethan gets his treacherous hands on the Shield, it won't just be our problem... he's mad enough to try to bring the entire world under his power. Whether or not he would succeed is something we cannot afford to find out.

"Dygonese may have been summoned by Ethan, but holds no loyalty to him that the conjuring spell does not demand. As a matter of fact, it would probably be content to return to its own realm without having to deal with a world full of maddeningly incongruous humans." He extended his reach and captured her hand in his. "I would not attempt a truce with an Underlord of the Third Realm if I did not feel this was of vital importance. This is between Ethan and myself... I will do my best to keep Buffy out of the way."

Joyce finally found her voice, although it was horribly unsteady. "And put just yourself in mortal danger instead."

"I cannot let Ethan's thoughtless magic bring Chaos to the world."

"I know... I hate it, but I know."

She dropped her head and stared into her tea, tears forming despite her best effort to keep them at bay. Finally, she spoke. "Rupert... I'm sorry."

He looked at her in surprise. "What on earth for?"

"I promised I'd try and understand... what you both do... what you have to go through, and the first time I'm confronted with the realities of life, what do I do? Go off like a time bomb in your face!"

"Darling, it's all right. You didn't..."

"Oh, yes, I did. Please... forgive me?" She stood and pressed closely against him, dropping her head onto his shoulder.

He reached for her, pulling her between his legs and against his chest as he sat on the barstool, holding her as tightly as he could. "It's all right, love. If there were anything to forgive, I would have done so immediately. I would never belittle your feelings for Buffy by thinking them out of line, or excessive."

"You're forgetting my feelings for you, silly..."

"No, I'm not, my dear. Not in the least. If there is anything on this earth that can save me from the brink of Chaos, it is the knowledge of your love for me." He kissed her fingertips, holding them against his lips for a long moment.

"Oh, Rupert..." Joyce forgot about her tea and gave him a trembling but thorough kiss.

"Joyce, please don't worry so. It is a difficult thing I've asked of you... to plunge headlong into this dark madness. But you're adapting rather well. I quite liked your persuasive techniques with Dygonese."

At the mention of the demon's name, she pulled back slightly, and he stood, uncertain of her feelings. "I'm not going to scream, or throw things, I promise... but I want to know why you didn't finish that demon off like the others. It worries me that he'll go after one of the kids again... Willow, or Buffy, if she tries to stop him."

"Dygonese is an 'it,' not a 'him.' They're warded against it now. I took care of that before I released the spell... I had to let it go in order for it to lead us back to Ethan... he is far more dangerous, and devious, than any demon might be. Dygonese may be indifferent to humans, but it won't harm one frivilously. Ethan, however, has no compunctions about sacrificing another human being, or causing the world great harm, in order to forward his nefarious purposes."

He was surprised to feel her laughing as she dropped her head back onto his shoulder. "You're the only person I've ever heard use the word 'nefarious' in everyday conversation."

"It fits Ethan to perfection."

"And you used to run with him, Ripper."

Regret clouded his face, drawing the gentle smile into a grimace. "I was a fool, and I've paid the price... and continue to do so each time he makes his presence known."

"So, you're going out to battle your past one more time?"

"It would seem I must. But that life has no draw for me any more. It's a hollow existence, always looking for the next high, the more powerful spell, the more malevolent evil, the greater control. It could never compare to what I have here... now... with you and Buffy. You two have brought me such happiness..." He leaned down and captured her lips in a possessive kiss, prolonging the contact as he explored her mouth until she couldn't argue any more.

When he finally broke away, she gazed up at him with passion shining from her eyes. "Oh, Rupert, I love you..." She kissed him again, hungrily, running her hands up and down his thighs in a way that she knew would drive him to distraction. "...and I'm really not in the mood for tea any more."

"Strangely enough... neither am I."

"Buffy will be home soon. Let's go to bed."

Giles reached for his cup, intending to carry it to the sink. Her hand stopped him. "Leave it."

His smile returned, warming her right down to her toes. "Your wish is my command, my dear."

"Really? Just wait until I get to the really *good* wishes."

* * * * *

The clock by the bed side read three-thirty as Joyce lay awake listening to Giles' even breathing, her head resting against his warm chest. 'There really is no such thing as 'happily ever after,' is there?' she asked herself sadly, squeezing her eyes shut against a fresh flow of tears. She chided herself mentally. 'Don't think that... there is.. there has to be!' The last year of her life had been filled with emotional upheaval... tremendous highs, despair-filled lows. She loved this man desperately... almost as desperately as she loved her child. Although the emotional bond was newer, it was only slightly less strong.

She searched her heart carefully. 'I'm happy... I don't know how, but I'm happy, and scared, at the same time... there are horrible, terrible things out there, things that want to shred our souls and tear us apart... but they're out there, and we're in here... for now, we're safe...' She'd had this argument with herself a hundred times. Love was worth the pain. Buffy was worth it. Rupert was worth it.

He stirred slightly, and she burrowed closer into his side, trying to get away from the cold fear in her belly. Giles moved in his sleep to pull her closer, and she couldn't help smiling at his unconsciously protective action. She raised her head to watch him, marveling that he could rest so easily with his knowledge of the horrors lurking in every dark corner.

A soft sob escaped her lips, and her husband was instantly awake. She couldn't understand how he slept so deeply, yet reacted to even the slightest noise with astonishing speed. He lifted his head and murmured, "Joyce? What's wrong?" Without waiting for an answer, he cupped her face in his hands and stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. When he encountered the dampness there, he whispered, "Oh, love, come here..." He pulled her up until she was resting her head against his, and spoke gentle words as he caressed her hair.

"I'm sorry." She sniffed and tried to smile. "I didn't mean to wake you. It's just the same ol' song and dance... I just worry about you two."

He tilted her head up to his and kissed her softly. He could not lie to her, or fill her head with false reassurances. He could not pretend that theirs was a normal life. All he could do was be there for her. "Joycey... I love you." He affirmed the words by repeating them, making them a vow, an unbreakable pact, an eternal promise.

His words soothed her when more rational statements could not. He loved her; she loved him. They finally drifted back into sleep with his lips against her forehead.

* * * * *

When she awoke again, it was late morning, and she was alone. She sat up, muzzily confused and feeling bereft. She fumbled for her robe and slid her feet around until she located both slippers. When she opened the door and started down the hall, she could just make out voices drifting up from the living room. Her face relaxed into a smile as she realized where Rupert had gone. He must have called for a Saturday morning research party. Xander's raised voice confirmed her suspicions, and she turned and made her way back to the bedroom to change into more suitable clothes.

She descended this time in jeans and a T-shirt, ready for battle... and orange juice. She grinned as Giles vaulted to his feet at the sight of her, and he met her with a kiss and a glass full of vitamin C. "Good morning," he said, endowing the words with such tenderness that she had to kiss him again.

"Mmm, juice! Thank you, Rupert, you read my mind." She took a long drink, emptying nearly half of the glass before she got to the living room. "Are we making any progress with that thing?"

"Dygonese? Yes, as a matter of fact, Willow ran across something quite fascinating on her laptop. It seems Dygonese, being from the Third Realm, is one of the few non-humans that can actually touch the Shield. He cannot use it, but he can convey it to someone who can. Also, legend has it that the Shield is perfectly Psi-neutral... anyone with the prerequisite powers can tap into its power. It's quite remarkable, if it truly exists..."

Willow looked up from the computer screen. "It exists, Giles... I've seen it. It was on display at the museum last semester. We went there on a class trip, and I kept coming back to the weapons display and this weird round brass shield-thingy. It seemed to shine even though the lights were dim."

Xander looked up from his favorite research position... stretched fully out on the carpet, his chin resting just below the book he was searching. "I don't remember any shiny round stuff... only moldy old green and dark brown stuff. Reminded me of my refrigerator at home."

Giles smiled at the boy's description. "It's unlikely you would have seen the Shield's aura, since you aren't involved in magic."

"Oh, I'm involved, all right, just not on purpose. When magic happens, I'm usually the one who has to deal with the grotesque side-effects. At least I've never grown a tail."

Willow eyed him for a moment, then deadpanned, "Stick around."

* * * * *

Three hours later, after a round of pizza and more caffinated beverages than Joyce could believe, Willow yelped, "OH! Look, Giles, this is in Latin, which I'm still learning, but, look! It says, 'Quomodo Arma Solis abutit.' I think that means 'How to use the Shield of the Sun,' and I think that means we found what we're looking for!" She bounced in place as Giles scanned the crumbling book carefully. When he smiled slightly, she squealed, sensing his elation.

"Well done, Willow." His voice remained soft and warm, and he raised a hand and squeezed her shoulder. Joyce saw the complete adoration in the girl's eyes as she accepted his calm statement as the high praise it was meant to be. He returned to his seat next to Joyce and began his on-the-fly translation. "Una quae excerat... the one who wields... ah, yes... delentium... destruction... oh, that doesn't sound good at all... que cogere hominius aurae... and commands mortal souls..." he trailed off into unhappy mutterings, and Joyce could tell he was growing more worried with each new phrase.

The teen-agers sat fidgeting in their chairs, knowing they wouldn't get a rational sentence out of Giles until he finished his translation, but wishing he'd get on with it. Finally, he raised his head, looking surprised to find them all staring at him. He blinked several times before commenting mildly, "Oh, dear, this is most disquieting."

Xander shuddered. "Disquieting for Giles is like Armegeddon for the rest of us."

Willow whimpered softly, then turned and began tapping commands into her laptop. "Now that we know a little more about the Shield, maybe I can turn up something." She forgot about being scared as she delved into a more familiar world of web pages and URLs.

Joyce stood and stretched, ignoring Giles' suddenly appreciative glance. "I need to move around a little, so how about me getting everyone some more sodas?" There were three affirmative statements from the teens, and she smiled and started for the kitchen. At least there she felt confident. Well, there and at the Gallery. The kitchen, the Gallery, and the bedroom... being married to Rupert did wonders for her confidence in the latter area...

She put her hand to her forehead as she let the kitchen door swing closed. 'There I go again... thinking horny thoughts while the world spirals towards doom...' "What is it about being in mortal danger that turns me on?"

She didn't realize she'd said the words out loud until she heard a husky voice behind her comment, "Lucky for me I lead such a dangerous life."

She jumped and turned, glaring at him. He endured it calmly, standing with his hands in his pockets, waiting for her irritation to pass. It soon faded into affection, and she shook her head again as she stepped up to give him a quick kiss. "You weren't supposed to hear that."

"Didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I'm going for donuts, if you want to ride along."

"I thought donuts were Xander's department."

"Xander and Buffy are glued to Willow's computer. It seems there's quite a lot written about the legend of the Shield... most of it apocryphal, of course, but she's printing out the most promising bits for me." He smiled fondly at the thought of the little red-head, happily engulfed in computer wizardry. "You should see the tiny printer she's brought... completely amazing."

Joyce grabbed her purse off the counter and turned to follow Giles down the back hall to the car. "We'd better hurry up with those donuts, then... even fairy tales won't hold Buffy's attention for long. She'll be looking for a sparring partner soon, and I don't think Xander is up to it."

Giles chuckled as they passed the living room. Buffy gave them a perfunctory wave, and returned her eyes to the small computer screen. He and Joyce left before the other two even knew they were gone.

* * * * *

When they returned twenty minutes later, the living room was completely deserted. A stack of papers were resting neatly on the coffee table, and the computer screen was black and silent. Giles went through the dining room, a frown on his face, and pushed through the butler's door to find the missing teens in the kitchen, morosely staring at a simmering pot of milk. The two adults stopped just inside the room, trying to fathom exactly what it was that Buffy was stirring.

She looked up, relief on her face. She made a pouty face, as much for Xander's benefit as her mom's, and whined, "Mom, why is it that you make stuff look so
easy, but when I try it, it's not? Easy, I mean."

Joyce dropped the donuts on the counter, noticing out of the corner of her eye that Xander had grabbed the bag before it stopped swaying. She came up behind her daughter and eyed the hot milk. "Just what is it you're trying to fix, honey?"

"Hot chocolate, like you make, with real cocoa and sugar and those little marshmallows that almost melt before you can eat them." She made a frustrated noise. "You may have to go for more milk. I had to pour the last batch out... it was *gross*."

Joyce took the spoon away from Buffy. "First, you need to use a wooden spoon. Second, the cocoa and the sugar needs to be heated with a little milk first... and third, get out of here and let me salvage this mess."

Buffy gave her mom a quick smooch on the cheek, and fled back to the living room before she could change her mind. Sighing, Joyce began testing the milk, glad to find that it wasn't scorched. She looked up to say something to Giles, but he was gone. 'Probably to read Willow's printouts,' she thought, then grinned widely as he came back into the kitchen, a thick stack of papers clutched in his hand.

After she'd finished the cocoa and distributed it to the three bottomless pits in the living room, she joined her husband at the counter and waited for him to comment on Willow's research. She watched him as he studied the material with the intensity of a graduate student studying for finals. His eyes scanned the pages with surprising speed, and he flipped the paper before she was even halfway down the page. She gave up trying to read over his shoulder and contented herself with Rupert-watching. He was definitely easy to watch.

At length, he sighed and sat back, twisting his head from side to side to ease the tension that had built up while he read. She jumped up and began rubbing the knotted muscles, happy to be able to help in that small way. Touching him made her aware, once again, of the arousal that had simmered, barely breaking the surface during the day, but there, always there, waiting only for added heat to start it boiling.

He moaned in appreciation as her hands found a sore spot and began to ease the pain. The sound went right to the pit of her stomach, causing a building warmth that slowly began moving lower. She moved her hands slowly from his shoulders to his chest, leaning against him as the massage turned into a caress. She nipped his neck gently, and he growled in response. He retained just enough rational thought to gasp, "Love... we need to postpone this until later, I should be... ahhh..." Her hands slipped under the waistband of his jeans, and he arched into her touch, his eyes fluttering closed involuntarily.

It suddenly occurred to her how ridiculous it was to try to seduce her husband in the kitchen while there were three kids in the living room... three kids that viewed the kitchen as an extension of their personal space... three kids who could burst through the door at any moment... she pulled away, surprised at the strength of will it took to do so. She rested her hands on his shoulders and tried to breathe normally.

Giles leaned forward slightly, his hands on the counter, a bit shocked himself at their unbridled ardor. He tried to focus on the papers in front of him, but it took several minutes for his vision to clear. Confused, he turned and looked up at Joyce, seeing a similar questioning expression on her face. She cleared her throat and rasped, "What is it about you... besides the fact that I love you and we just got married two weeks ago... that is so irresistible? You're awfully cute, but that doesn't explain why I was almost ready to jump your bones on the counter."

He laughed silently, then sobered. "At first I thought it was the adrenaline rush from being in danger... something like we experienced in Maui. I've heard people can actually become addicted to the high. But this is something more..."

"Do you think it's a Watcher thing, Rupert?"

Her voice sounded so small and uncertain that he stood and pulled her into a loving embrace, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his head against hers. "It seems I have more research to do. First, we stop the world from becoming subject to Ethan Rayne; then, we try and discover why we're steadily losing our self-control."

"I've got plenty of self-control right now." She pulled out of his arms and tilted her head, listening. "Teen-ager at ten o'clock."

He chuckled as Xander burst through the door and began begging for more hot chocolate.

* * * * *

It was nearly one o'clock in the morning before Xander and Willow finally left. Giles stayed in the kitchen, going over the sketchy facts at his disposal time and again, looking for ways to thwart an evil sorcerer's plan to harness the power of the Shield. He almost laughed to himself as he considered what he did know: One, the Arma Solis might or might not exist; Two, if it did exist, it was easy prey for anyone with a modicum of magical power; Three, he couldn't imagine something so tempting languishing in the Sunnydale Museum all this time. There had to be more information!

He stood wearily and trudged back into the living room, intent on rereading the most pertinent texts to see if there was anything they'd missed. When he got within view of the couch, he stopped, his heart in his throat.

There was an old movie playing on the television, one he didn't recognize. The two most important people in his universe were propped up with pillows, half sitting, half reclining... and sound asleep. Joyce's head was nestled into the corner of the couch, and Buffy was curled up beside her, her pillow propped against her mother's side. They were beautiful.

He stood there in awe, watching them for several minutes. He told himself once more how incredibly lucky he was to have them in his life. Finally, he went to the bookcase and took out the needed volumes, making sure to be as quiet as possible. He decided to finish his research before waking them.

As it turned out, Joyce woke *him* the next morning. He'd fallen sound asleep with his cheek resting on the musty leaves of the Ignitio Arcanus. His dreams had been strange... surreal and detached. He assumed it was because of his research, but he did seem to recall some rather unfulfilled longings that were specific to his lovely wife.

When he finally was awake enough to say 'good morning,' Joyce stroked his hair and handed him a glass of orange juice. "Just the thing on an empty stomach... guaranteed to send your blood sugar into overdrive."

He sipped the refreshing liquid gratefully, and captured her for a morning kiss as she came around the counter. He had no intentions of letting her go, but she laughed and wriggled out of his grasp. "Down, boy, there's breakfast to be served. Then, by order of Her Royal Highness, Queen Buffy, we are going back to bed until noon. Think you can wait until then?"

His face lit up with a happy smile. "I think I can manage... but after that, I have to get back to the research... I have some ideas that might be useful."

She winked at him before pushing the kitchen door open, a plate full of eggs and bacon in one hand, a pan of biscuits in the other. He was shocked to realize he'd been sleeping so soundly that not even the rattle of pots and pans had disturbed him. Joyce gave him a knowing smile. "I have some pretty useful ideas, myself... but they don't involve research. C'mon, honey, let's eat!"

* * * * *

After a leisurely morning in bed and a quick lunch, Giles found it much easier to concentrate, since his body wasn't fighting him the entire way. Joyce puttered around the house, cleaning, as he dived back into his research. He quickly moved through the volumes, rereading the pertinent chapters and nearly committing them to memory before moving on. The third volume piqued his curiosity with a mention of a companion artifact, the Gladium Lunae--the Dagger of the Moon, that seemed to have a protective and symbiotic relationship with the Shield. According to the ancient tome, the Dagger and the Shield were inseparable. Find the Dagger; find the Shield.

That was the answer. The Shield was protected by the Dagger. He turned to the sketch on the next page, and recognized it immediately. It was currently on display at the Museum... sitting there, in a flimsy glass case, with no alarm, no guard...

He sprang to his feet, startling Buffy out of her light doze. He ran upstairs and snatched a suit coat from the closet, then raced back down and met Buffy at the door. He grinned at her, looking very much like her old absent-minded professorish librarian again as he shrugged on his tweed jacket. "I know how to find the Shield... I can't believe I didn't see it before! It's at the museum, but not where we thought it was. The Dagger, the Shield's counterpart, is on display, but the Shield must be hidden in the basement somewhere..."

Buffy held up a hand. "Whoa, big fellow! We can't just go waltz in and rip off the Museum... at least, not while it's open."

Giles looked offended. "I have no intention of 'ripping them off,' Buffy! I merely wish to observe the dagger, and see if I can locate the Shield. We can return after hours..."

"...to rip them off. Gotcha. I'll pencil you in at ten o'clock, okay?"

"Fine." He was too distracted to react to her sarcasm. "Joyce, love?" Her answering 'yes?' floated down from the guest bedroom. "Buffy and I are going to the Museum. Do you want to join us?"

She appeared at the head of the stairs, dressed in ragged jeans and one of his old shirts. "No, I'm feeling pretty energetic right now. I think I'll get some housework done before I go saving the world. You never know when you might have company on the eve of the Apocalypse."

"All right, then, we'll be back in about an hour." He gazed happily up at her, laughing when she blew him a kiss. Buffy scooted him out the door before he could do anything embarrassing.

* * * * *

"Well, it's not what I expected, Giles."

"Yes, it's rather small, isn't it?"

"Are you sure it's *this* Dagger? Couldn't it be another one? Like maybe... that one?" She pointed to a large, ornate lancet, its hilt crusted with jewels.

"No, this is the one. See the scroll work? And the words inscribe on the blade... Sol Custodire... 'To Protect the Sun.'" He tapped the glass gently. "This *has* to be it."

Buffy looked unimpressed, but took his word for it. "So, what do we do now? Steal it?"

"Shhh! No, but I must hold it... it will give me the location of the Shield."

"Then we steal them both?"

"Buffy..." His voice was deadly serious. "...this is no joking matter."

"Coping mechanism, Giles... you have yours, I have mine."

"Yes, well, all right, but don't get us arrested before the fact, please."

She made a zipping motion with her fingers to her lips, just like she had the night they confronted Dygonese. He chuckled, and they moved on, trying their best to look like a father and daughter on a casual museum visit.

When they returned home, bursting with ideas about breaking and entering, Joyce was horrified. "I can't believe you, Rupert! Why don't you just call the curator and *ask* him about the Shield? Surely he won't mind if you look at it..."

"Joyce, I intend to do more than look at it. If I can, I mean to destroy it."

"Destroy it? But it's Museum property!"

"It's the gateway to *Chaos*!!"

"But it's *someone else's* gateway!!!"

Buffy shook her head sadly. "Mom just doesn't get it, does she, Giles?"

Joyce drew herself up indignantly. "Oh, I get it all right! You two are 'the Chosen Ones,' and therefore above the law. Fine. Don't call me to bail you out of jail."

Giles and Buffy spoke at the same time, trying to reason with her.

"Joyce..."

"Mom.."

They stopped as a rumbling sound began to rattle the dishes in the cabinets. Giles recognized the sound immediately. "Dygonese... it's reporting in." Giles sighed in relief. He had been worried that the creature would ignore its promise and flee back to the Third Realm as soon as Ethan had released it. He was happy to be proven wrong.

He stepped to the back door and onto the screened in porch, followed closely by Buffy and Joyce. The imposing figure of the Underlord filled the backyard as the beast intoned, "My mission is complete, and so now is my promise. The sorcerer has the location of the Arma Solis. Its location you already know. He will attempt to possess it tonight."

"Thank you, Dygonese." Giles polite voice held no rancor. "One more question, if you please."

"Ask."

"Does Ethan know of the Dagger?"

"No. You possess the only book with the knowledge of the Gladium Lunae."

Giles chuckled mirthlessly. "The Council sent it to me because they thought it was useless... a book of fairy tales. Very good... then go in peace, Dygonese Myrithra... well, if such a thing is possible for a chaos demon."

Dygonese rumbled with laughter, causing Joyce and Buffy to stare at each other in surprise. The Underlord bared its ragged teeth in an amused grin. "I like you, Watcher. You and your family will never be harmed by any of the Third Realm. That is your boon for making me laugh."

"A blessing... from a demon? I suppose that is a first, Dygonese. Thank you."

The demon vaulted the privacy fence with ease and disappeared into the moonless night. Its laughter continued, fading into the distance like thunder on a spring day.

Giles turned to the two women and remarked dryly, "Well. That was interesting."

They filed back into the house, and as soon as they were seated around the counter, Buffy chirped, "So, I guess we *are* ripping off the Museum tonight!"

* * * * *

"Okay, Giles, tell me one more time how Mom talked you into letting her come with us."

He stirred uncomfortably as the three of them hid across the street from the Museum. They were waiting for the night watchman to begin his rounds and leave the back door vulnerable to Giles' lock picking abilities. "Actually..."

Joyce interrupted before he could make up an excuse. "I can be very persuasive when I want to be. Let's just leave it at that."

Buffy grimaced at the unwelcome image the words brought forth. "Ugh. I'm going to really *love* living in the dorm... no wild sex at weird hours of the day... or night... no pillow over my ears to keep me from hearing something I really don't want to hear... no worrying about meeting my Watcher in the hall, in the middle of the night, in his underwear..."

Joyce snorted softly. "Except for the last part, you've just described dorm life perfectly."

Buffy thought about it for a minute, then breathed, "Ewww..."

"There he goes." Joyce pointed as the uniformed guard locked the Museum door and began his rounds. The guard patrolled the entire city block three times a night, due in part to repeated break-ins at both the Museum and the occult shop next door. Giles could have told them a guard was useless... most of the break-ins in the past had been supernaturally executed. He wished the one planned for tonight could be... he had no idea how long it would take him to unlock the door.

It took him thirteen seconds.

"I'm impressed, Rupert. You're a pro," Joyce teased as they headed for the display area. The trip to the Museum earlier in the day had given them a good idea of the layout of the place. Giles went straight to the Dagger without missing a turn. He raised the glass lid carefully, using his handkerchief to prevent fingerprints, even though he had every intention of returning the Dagger to its resting place once the Shield was destroyed.

When his fingers touched the hilt, the Dagger began to glow, bathing their faces in blue light. He gingerly wrapped his hand around it and drew it away from the case, shivering with the intensity of the artifact's power. It was painful, but he endured it.

"Wow, Giles, are you supposed to be glowing? Mom, I wouldn't get too close if I were you."

He kept his voice calm and steady, even though he felt as though his arm was on fire. "It's a result of the Dagger reacting to my own aura. Strange, I feel no sure sense of direction. I thought surely the Dagger would point the way to the Shield."

As if his words had been a command, the Dagger jerked its way loose from Giles grasp, spinning in midair like a needle caught in a magnetic field. When it finally slowed, the tip of the blade began to point downward, indicating that the Shield was below them. "Ah, so that's how it works. Marvelous!" Giles reached for the Dagger, and it dropped easily into his palm, it's light dimming to a soft glow. "Let's go destroy a myth, shall we?"

"Oh, dear boy, I wouldn't be so hasty, if I were you." The smooth, cold voice caused them all to whirl towards the sound. Ethan stepped out of the shadows, a satisfied smirk on his handsome face. Beside him, two hulking figures advanced with him, the soft light of the Dagger highlighting their ridged, inhuman faces.

Joyce exhaled harshly at the sight. "Oh, great, more demons. What is this, a convention? Don't you demons have better things to do?"

Buffy kept her eyes on the three adversaries in front of her, but managed to comment, "Good one, Mom. I hereby dub thee an official Xander clone."

Ethan chuckled nastily. "Hello, again, ladies. So nice to see you all friendly and cozy with my old chum Ripper... And wasn't it charitable of him to do all the hard work of pinpointing the exact location of the Arma Solis? I thought it was. Too bad I can't reward you in the way you'd like to be rewarded. I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you all out of commission for a bit."

He waved the two hulking monsters towards Giles and his family, but they stopped after a few strides and sniffed the air. One of them grunted, and they stepped back in place without a word.

Ethan's triumphant smile turned to a frown. "Come on, lads, surely you're not afraid of a little Watcher and Slayer, are you? I need them unconscious, and *now*!"

One of the demons shook his head. "No."

"*What? No*?? I summoned you! I *command* you!"

"No. We will not harm them. They are protected."

Ethan's face took on a dark flush. He was furious. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a hand-sized medallion, gripping it until his fingers grew white. "I command you to obey me!" The medallion began to glow, and the demons recoiled, but did not move forward. When the pull from the sorcerer's talisman became too much, they shrieked, nearly deafening the humans in the room, then disappeared with a pop.

Ethan stared at the space vacated by his heretofore unstoppable soldiers. He slowly turned and looked at Giles, trepidation turning to fear as he realized he was unarmed before his arch enemy and the Slayer who fought at his command. "I seem to have miscalculated my advantage, Ripper." He managed a slightly sickened grin as he spoke.

Giles' answering grin was feral. "I would say you have. Shall I describe what I intend to do with you, or shall I just show you?"

He flexed his shoulders slowly, stopping when Buffy placed a hand on his arm. "Hey, Pop, I wanna get in on the fun. You promised the next time I saw him I could make him bleed."

"So I did, dear. So I did." He patted Buffy's hand fondly.

"Since when does the Slayer call you 'Pop,' Ripper?" Ethan was easing slowly for the door, trying to stall until he could run for his life.

"Since he married her Mom," Joyce answered sweetly. "Rupert, hon, is there a nice ax laying around here that I could borrow? I want to let Ethan know how glad I am to see him again."

"There must be one somewhere nearby, my dear." He kept his gaze fixed on Ethan. "Feel free to browse."

Ethan gulped, and his voice trembled as he tried to keep his cool. "Ripper, you old dog! So you finally settled down, did you? Or was the promise of the Slayer's Power too great a temptation?"

"Slayer's Power? What are you talking about? Speak quickly, and don't think of trying to escape." Giles raised a finger slightly, and Buffy moved to block his way to the door. Joyce completed the triangle, holding a heavy battle ax she'd taken from a standing coat of armor in the corner. She hefted the large weapon experimentally, twirling it as she familiarized herself with its weight.

Giles voice softened, but there was an edge of cold steel to it that was downright eerie. "Ethan, if you don't explain yourself in the next ten seconds, I'm going to assume you were bluffing, and allow my two lovely ladies here to acquaint you with the meaning of "settling old scores." It's your choice."

Ethan stared first at Buffy... who'd nearly been killed by a demon because he had tattooed Eyghon's mark on her, who'd lost her powers due to his frivolous Halloween Night spell, who'd had to fight a demon serpent to prevent a human sacrifice when he unleashed his cursed Band Candy on the entire town... no, there'd be no sympathy found in that face, lovely though it was.

He turned to Joyce, his tone smooth and wheedling. "My dear Joyce, you can't possibly hold a grudge against me for the candy... can you? From what I saw, you and Ripper were having a grand old time..." His mouth snapped shut as the end of the ax handle caught him under the chin, and he flew backwards several feet before hitting the floor with a thud.

Buffy and Giles looked at her, shock plain on their faces. They'd never seen her move so fast!

She shrugged casually and advanced on Ethan as he held his jaw. "So, I'm supposed to remember the fun, huh, and forget that three innocent babies were almost fed to a serpent-monster in the sewer? I'm not supposed to mind that Buffy and Rupert battled a half-dozen vampires to save them, or that Buffy had to set a broken gas line on fire to keep Rupert from being eaten, or that there were several fatalities that night because people had been drugged out of their common sense... is that what you're telling me?" She advanced with each sentence until the blade of the battle ax was just under the terrified sorcerer's chin. "Speak up, Ethan, I can't quite hear you."

"J-j-joyce... I bu-beg you..."

She lifted the heavy weapon, swinging it expertly before bringing it down for what had to be a killing blow. Both Buffy and Giles gasped sharply as Joyce stopped the blade mere inches from Ethan's waist. She withdrew the ax and rested the handle on the ground, unconsciously mirroring the suit of armor's stance as she stood ramrod straight. "That's *Mrs. Giles*, to you, creep."

Ethan was no more than a quivering mass, and was unable to answer. His breath was coming in huge sobs, and he looked pathetic. Giles and Buffy breathed twin sighs of relief, and Buffy asked curiously, "you think Ethan needs a change of underwear right now, Pop?"

Giles started chuckling. "I'd be willing to bet on it."

"So, what do we do now? It's been fun so far."

"Now, I shall destroy the Shield... Buffy, you don't mind keeping our guest company, do you? I didn't think you would. After I'm finished here, we shall take Ethan back to wherever he's been hiding and find out what he knows about the Slayer's Power. It should continue to be an entertaining evening." He held out his arm to Joyce, and she took it delicately. As if they were strolling across the park, they descended the stairs into the Museum basement, looking for a legend.

Buffy squatted down next to Ethan and smiled sweetly. "Hiya, bad guy. Now, what can we talk about? Oh! I know... how really stupid it is to make both a Slayer *and* her mother mad."

* * * * *

The small flashlight did little to dispel the shadows in the long room. Weird shapes danced around them, causing Joyce to start periodically as they caught her eye. "This place is spooky. Let's do our thing and get outta here, okay, hon?" She clung to his arm tightly, not wanting to be left alone in the dark.

Giles smiled at her sudden change in demeanor. He carefully scanned the area, then stepped forward again, thoroughly searching each darkened corner before moving again. His voice was heavy with amusement as he asked, "what happened to my fierce Amazon?"

"She and Xena took a vacation to Tahiti. Really, Rupert, I hate dark, musty old basements full of cursed Shields and black manuscripts."

"Oh, that's too bad. I'm rather fond of them, myself."

"Well, you're weird."

"True... there it is!"

"About time." They approached the object in question, and Joyce couldn't believe it. "That tiny thing was the cause of all this trouble? It's barely two feet across!"

"Where magic is concerned, Love, size rarely matters."

She giggled as her thoughts turned to other things, then shrugged and tried to concentrate as he moved towards the Arma Solis. When he came within a few feet of it, the ancient surface began to glow warmly. Joyce could feel the prickle of supernatural power, like the tingle of static electricity after a storm, and the hair on her arms raised in response. The reaction surprised her. "Uh, Rupert, that thing is giving me the willies. Hurry up, please?"

He stopped before touching the Shield, and turned to her, frowning. "You can feel it? Joyce, have you ever been involved in magic of any sort?"

"No! I didn't believe in magic 'til Buffy ran away and you showed up on my doorstep with a cock-and-bull story about vampires! I'm not magical! I'm psi-null... never read a flash card in my life!"

"What about your so-called 'Mom Radar?' You yourself said you could sometimes sense..."

"That's just mother's intuition!"

"Joycey... reach out your hand towards the Shield." He stepped back until she was closer than he.

"No, I really don't think that's a good idea."

"Please, love, nothing will happen, I promise you. I merely want to know how the Shield reacts to you."

"If it reacts to me like I react to it, we'll both be high-tailin' it outta here in about two seconds."

"You sound so much like Buffy when you say that." His voice, warm and affectionate, caught her off guard. It reassured her... he would never deliberately harm her. She smiled at him uncertainly, and held out her hand. The circular bit of metal began to glow, its brightness the same as when it had reacted to Giles presence.

"Oh, my God..." Joyce shook her head stubbornly. "No! I'm not a magic person! I'm just a mom..."

"That is perhaps the most powerful magic that exists... pure, absolute love."

"Rupert? Can you go ahead and pull the plug on this thing? I'm not ready for any of this!" Her voice was terrified, and she stepped behind him, clutching at his sleeve desperately.

He circled her shoulders with one arm and murmured, "It's quite all right, Joycey. Don't worry. I think I know what Ethan was talking about now, though."

"Wh-what?" She was on the verge of tears.

"He mentioned the Slayer's Power. Traditionally, that Power follows the maternal line, although there is no hard and fast method of determining in which generation the Power will appear."

"You mean... Buffy got her Slayering from *me*? I don't believe it!"

"We've plenty of time to discuss this later. Right now..." Giles pulled a folded paper from his shirt pocket, and, without preamble began to chant:

"Arma Solis, sol format,
("Shield of the Sun, forged in the Sun:)

ianua tacitua namumquam confectum.
(the secret door forever closes.)

Nullum armam consumere,
(None shall use its power,)

Nullum armam consumere.
(None use its strength.)

Ianua tacitua namumquam confectum,
(The secret door forever closes,)

Aperiunt numquam."
(Never to be opened.")

The glow from the talisman increased as he spoke, and when he had completed the chant, he leaped forward and struck the Shield with the point of the dagger. Joyce hadn't even realized he still had the blade. The metal blade buried itself in the center of the circular object, and light leaked from it in broken rays, growing brighter until Joyce had to turn away. She didn't see exactly what followed.

The brightness surrounded Giles, focusing down on him until he felt like screaming. The light was a physical presence, burning his skin through his clothes, but he held onto the dagger with grim determination. He had to close the portal to unlimited power before other evildoers attempted, as Ethan had, to twist it for their own gain.

The agony seemed to go on forever, but suddenly, as if a physical door was involved, the portal closed with an audible clang. Giles was thrown clear, landing on his back beside Joyce, the breath momentarily forced from his lungs by the impact. He gasped for air, trying to get his bearings. He still clutched the dagger in his left hand.

Joyce heard him fall, and was immediately at his side, kneeling beside him, touching him carefully. She did her best to control her trembling, but her voice shook as she crooned, "Rupert... sweetie, are you all right? Honey, please talk to me!"

He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

"Oh, God, you've lost your voice... darn it, I really like your voice, 'specially when we're making love and you're screaming my name..."

He started laughing soundlessly, then cleared his throat and croaked, "Joyce..."

She gave him such a tight hug that he was breathless again.

* * * * *

After testing the Shield for a reaction to their presence, and finding it completely powerless, as well as being badly dented, Giles and Joyce trudged back up the steps. As they climbed, Joyce remarked, "I wonder if Buffy has killed Ethan yet?"

Giles snorted. "I was wondering if Ethan had managed to escape. He's clever, the sorry sod. Perhaps I should have tied him up first..." They stopped as they entered the room last occupied by their daughter and their nemesis. Buffy was leaning against the display case, casually picking at her fingernails. Ethan was nowhere in sight.

She looked up happily as they approached her. "Oh, hey, guys, did you zap the Shield thingy? Can we go now? I'm in the mood for ice cream!"

"Buffy? What did you do with Ethan?" Giles kept his tone calm, but he was slightly worried that his former associate had pushed the Slayer too far. As casually as he could, considering his exhaustion and his state of mind, he crossed to the display case, easing Buffy aside with a gentle touch, and once more used his handkerchief to open the glass lid. He slid the Dagger back into place, carefully arranging it so that it matched the depression left in the velvet lining. He then closed the case with a sigh of relief.

Buffy waited until Giles finished replacing the Dagger before responding. "He's around." She waved her hand at the suit of armor in the corner. Ethan's face could just be seen in the small slit in its helmet. "I remembered in history class when Mr. Benson described just how uncomfortable that armor was. I decided that would be a good place for a bad guy. He's a little shorter than the guy the armor was made for, so I think it's *really* uncomfortable. There's a big steel rod welded to the back to keep it standing up... so he's not going anywhere for a while."

She examined her nails carefully. "I thought we'd just leave him there. The cops will want to know what he was doing in the Museum after hours... could be fun."

A loud rattling came from the armor, and Ethan's strained voice pleaded, "Ripper! Please... your Slayer is a sadist of the highest order... I'm slowly choking to death in here... it's dreadfully humid and smelly... my feet don't quite reach the ground... and I really need to use the loo!"

Giles burst out laughing, leaning against the door frame tiredly. "From conspiring to take over the world to begging to use the loo... how the mighty have fallen!"

"Ripper... for God's sake, man..."

"I think we should leave him there, Rupert," Joyce added with a smirk. "He's been terribly naughty, trying to take over the world, and all."

"Agreed. Well, we'd best be going, then, our half hour is almost up. The guard should be back shortly. Greet him politely, will you, Ethan?" He curled an arm around Joyce and held the other one out for Buffy. She smiled brightly and ran to his side. With his two favorite ladies in the world in his arms, Rupert Giles felt complete.

"*Ripper*! Don't leave me here! Wait... what about the Slayer's Power? Don't you want to know what I know about that?" Ethan's voice had risen at least another octave.

"No, I think we've figured it out on our own, thanks. Let's go, ladies, shall we? Buffy, I believe you mentioned ice cream."

They turned to leave, ignoring Ethan's heated protests. Buffy waggled her fingers at him as they passed, then turned her face back to her Watcher. "Can we go to Farrell's and get one of those 'Pig Trough' sundaes, Giles? I bet the three of us could eat the whole thing!"

* * * * *

The three of them were halfway through the restaurant's famous conglomeration of ice cream, flavored syrup, nuts and whipped cream when the double glass doors burst open and the two remaining members of the Scooby Gang rushed in. They crowded in, Xander next to Buffy, forcing Joyce to scoot around the round booth until she was beside Giles, and Willow forcing Giles into uncomfortable closeness against his wife's side. Uncomfortable, because the sub-vocal humming of magic was still causing him to be distracted whenever he touched her.

Willow, with her innate witchiness, noticed the undercurrent immediately, and raised an eyebrow. Giles shrugged slightly and gave her his best innocent look, and she thankfully said nothing. She didn't have to. Xander began babbling the minute he sat down.

"So, G-man, Buffster... Mrs. G... how'd the grand larceny go? Did you have to overpower any armed guards? You're here, and eating ice cream... very normal... so that must mean you weren't arrested."

Giles said, as sarcastically as possible, "Xander, kindly refrain from referring to us as felons in public, please do."

Joyce accidently brushed her husband's thigh with her hand, and he gulped, almost choking on his next bite of dessert. Seeing that he was momentarily unable to speak, she explained, "Everything is fine. All the doors that were supposed to be closed, are."

"So, you guys closed the Door to the Sun? How'd the incantation work? Did you see fireworks? Did you use the Dagger? What was it like? Did the Shield disappear, or is it just there and deactivated?" Willow was practically bouncing in place. She hated missing the action.

Buffy turned an amused face to Giles. "I'll let you field this one, Pop. Think you can remember all those questions, in order?"

Giles cleared his throat and kept a neutral expression on his face. He thought for a brief moment, then nodded. "Yes, the Door is closed; the litany worked splendidly; no fireworks... it was more of a brilliant blue light; I used the Dagger and closed the portal; it was quite intense... painful, actually; the Shield is still there, but it is neutralized... and, it has a rather large dent in it from the Dagger's blade."

Xander burst into applause as the ladies looked at him in amazement.

"He forgot to mention Ethan and his pet demons, and Mom and her ax." Buffy scooped another huge bite into her mouth after finishing her statement.

It was Xander's turn to stare as his eyes focused on Joyce. "Ax? What did you do with an ax, Mrs. G?"

Joyce blushed slightly as Buffy swallowed and answered, "Oh, just a little
friendly persuasion, Xander. Nothing much." She was obviously proud of her mom and her ability with a blade.

Giles added, "She asked me to train her. I've barely begun, and already she's quite effective."

Buffy nodded vigorously. "Oh, yeah, she made Ethan dirty his britches."

Willow burst out laughing.

Xander was still staring at Joyce in something akin to awe. "Wow... Mrs. G, you're a superhero now! The only amazing ability my mom has is a high tolerance for alcohol."

"Oh, I'm not a superhero, Xander, I'm just... well, I don't know exactly what I am."

Buffy beamed a proud smile at her. "You're the best Mom in the world."

Giles looped his free arm around her despite the tingle of arousal surrounding them. "And the best wife, as well."

"I still wanna move in when Buffy goes to school!" Xander's face was completely sincere.

* * * * *

The Summers-Giles house was quiet. No bright lights shone from the windows, no teen-preferred music emanated from behind the closed doors, no hungry youths raided the kitchen as they watched late movies. The only evidence of habitation was the green Jeep Cherokee parked outside, and the faint flicker of candlelight coming from one second floor bedroom. Periodically, a brief, unearthly blue light would cause the window curtains to glow around the edges.

The aforementioned bedroom was lit with a dozen candles gathered from various rooms in the house. The warm scent of vanilla filled the air. The bed was empty, missing its top sheet and comforter. A muffled giggle broke the silence, and a female arm reached up to the night stand, tilting the clock until the illuminated numbers could be seen.

"Goodness, sweetie, it's four fifteen." Joyce's voice was slightly slurred, a result of passion, adrenaline and residual magic.

"It is? That's nice, love." His voice was gravelly and low. "We seem to have fallen off the bed."

"Yeah... but it's kinda nice down here."

"Mmmm hmmm." Giles busied himself with nipping and licking every inch of her neck.

She sighed happily. "It was thoughtful of Buffy to spend the night with Willow."

"Mmmm hmmm."

"Willow had the strangest look on her face. Do you think she knew... well, what we were feeling... and thinking?"

"Mmmm... she probably sensed the after-effects of magic. She's quite sensitive. She'd recognize the aura, I'm sure."

"So, she'd have a pretty good idea of what we were going to do when we got home, huh?"

"Mmmm hmmm." His lips drifted lower, causing her to moan softly.

"I don't know whether to be embarrassed about that or not..."

He didn't reply. His lips were otherwise occupied.

She opened her mouth, gasping in pleasure. A thought occurred to her, and she had to ask. "Rupert?"

He lifted his head, eyes glazed and shining. "Yes, love?"

"D'ya think this magical aphrodisiac stuff will hit us every time we battle evil?"

He rested his head against her stomach and thought about the question to the best of his hormone-besotted ability. "I don't know. We may become accustomed to it, or it might slowly wear off... I need to do more research in that area. There isn't much written on Watchers and Slayer's mothers... or Watchers and Slayer's fathers, since a Watcher can just as easily be female... do we really have to talk about it right this moment?" He resumed his gentle, erotic exploration with a chuckle.

"We can discuss it later, hon... ohhhh... Lord, you're good at that..."

Fifteen minutes later, the blue glow flickered through the curtains once more.

Read the next chapter: Business As Usual