Surrendering To Fate
Chapter Four - Sincere Regrets

written by Jolene Beasley




The apartment seemed cold to him. Not that sunny California ever got truly cold, but there was a definite chill in the place, it seemed. Outside, it was balmy, breezy and bright. Inside... inside was like a stone cavern, empty, void, and hollow. There was no warmth to be found. The wintry atmosphere perfectly mirrored how he felt--cold and lost, aching inside and out.

He watched the fire dispassionately. It brought very little heat into the room. He turned his gaze to the unopened bottle of Glenlivet on the coffee table. There was no glass beside it. He didn't think he'd be needing one. There were two more bottles waiting for him in the kitchen cupboard. He wondered how long it would take to rouse from his stupor and take the first swig. It didn't matter, really. It wouldn't help.

Two weeks ago, he'd been unbelievably happy. He'd been accepted, cared for, admired, and loved. He'd been whole, a part of a family, a lover and a father figure. Now... just what was he? Nothing. Everything he was and was to be had been stripped away, leaving a broken, soul-sick shell.

A melodramatic description, he thought to himself, but quite accurate. Melodramatic, maudlin, morose, mad, miserable, melancholy... he could be quite creative when he wanted to... just not creative enough to find an alternative to his present dilemma.

If only his creativity hadn't forsaken him two weeks ago, he might've found a way round the Cruciamentum. Might've seen another path, another loophole, that could've kept his newfound family together. Family... his breath caught in his throat, sounding very much like a sob. He'd lost the comfort of family, for now, perhaps forever.

He thought back to his first meeting with Quentin Travers. The Devil incarnate, that man was, with his superior, supercilious smirk and his obvious dislike of Giles, and of Buffy by association. Not to mention his blatant disregard for the safety of her mother, an innocent bystander as far as Travers was concerned. She had nothing to do with the Council, nothing to do with the Test...

Much to Giles' horror, she had become involved, and had nearly died because of it. 'Because of me,' he admitted, his restraint crumbling into deep, sorrowful sobs. It hurt to cry, hurt to give in, but it hurt just as badly to pretend to be strong in front of the others, to face the day at school with this horror fresh in his mind. He'd been at his post in the library today, in body, if not in spirit. The other children had come in several times to see if he was all right. Their faces showed only sympathy and concern. They didn't know the whole story. They hadn't yet found out what his obedience had cost.

He'd been completely unaware Joyce was a hostage until he had stumbled upon the photo room in the condemned hotel. The realization made him instantly nauseated, more so than finding Hobson in his pitifully torn state earlier that day. His stomach had twisted with such dread that he'd hardly felt the blows as he'd fought his former-colleague-turned-demon. Kraelik, the mad creature that the Council had loosed on Sunnydale, had Joyce, and Buffy had come to rescue her mother, or die trying. How could this be considered a "Test?" It was a debacle, a travesty, a shame and a disgrace to everything he believed in, everything he held dear.

Because of that damnable Test, his newfound life and love had been destroyed with one fell swoop, to be poetic about it.

Had the Test only been a day ago? It seemed a lifetime had passed. He remembered their faces, the faces of his loved ones. He had burst into the room and battled Blair in his vamped-out state, determined to save the two people that meant more to him than life itself. Not that they would believe that of him now, but it was true, nevertheless.

It was darkly satisfying to watch his opponent shatter into tiny particles as he drove the stake home. It became his offering of remorse to the two women in the room... his best effort to balance the scales of right and wrong again.

After the danger was past, he had seen Joyce home, shaken, but safe. He'd been unable to offer her more than the briefest of reassurances, then he'd returned to the library, where he had to face both his Slayer and his tormentor. The final blow, Quentin Travers' smug recitation of his dismissal, was like death itself. He'd ordered Giles to stay away from his Slayer, knowing that Giles would do no such thing.

Thankfully, the pompous fool knew nothing of Giles' relationship with her mother. It would have been one more act of disobedience, one more sin to his charge. Nothing short of death could release him from his calling. He would *not* 'stay away' from Buffy. To end that relationship would end the other, as well, and he had no intentions of doing either.

Whether or not his intentions, however heartfelt, would ultimately matter was entirely up to Joyce and Buffy.

He spoke sternly to himself, commandeering his ingrained sense of duty and right. 'I must gather my courage, and tell Joyce the truth about all this. She deserves the truth, just as Buffy did.'

He had no idea what Buffy had told her mother. He only knew she would never forgive him for putting her only child in such peril. How could she forgive, when he could not forgive himself?

Finally, he made his decision. He wiped his eyes, rose to his feet, wincing as his cracked ribs protested the movement, and left the bottle unopened on the table. It would be there when he returned.

* * * * *

The little house seemed so... normal. It was brightly lit, cheery and welcoming. The sun was just setting, casting a warm soft glow on the path as he approached. 'I wonder if I will be allowed in. It would be dreadful to have to speak through the front door.'

The doorbell seemed to echo through the house. He had almost given up and had turned to go when the door moved a few inches and Buffy's bruised face appeared. She looked at him for a moment, an unfathomable expression on her face, then the door swung open. He entered, head bowed, not willing to look at her.

Still looking at the floor, he said in almost a whisper, "Buffy..." His voice cracked alarmingly. "May I speak with your mother for a moment?"

"Why?"

The question caught him off guard. Why, indeed. "Uhm, I, I need to... ah, tell her... the truth about last night. She deserves..."

"She knows."

That caused him to look up, bewildered. "Did you tell her?"

"No. The stupid vampire did."

"Vampire? Do you mean Kraelik? But..."

Buffy shuffled into the living room and sank into a chair, her back to him. He followed cautiously, not fully comprehending her words. He sat gingerly on the couch beside her, his face twisted with confusion. "Buffy... what exactly did Kraelik tell Joyce?"

"Pretty much the same story you told me. Except with a lot more detail, and really disgusting words..." She sighed heavily. "Giles, you were set up. WE were set up. Neither one of us was supposed to pass. I don't think we were even supposed to survive."

"WHAT?" He stood, looming over her, disbelieving. "That creature told your mother that?"

"Travers briefed the vamp on me, Giles. He told Mom all about it, while he was waiting for me to show up... even knew what color my bedroom curtains were..." She shuddered violently. "Travers did something to the straight jacket so the creep could get loose. He was supposed to kill me, then you in exchange for his freedom. That was the deal. Only the creep decided to get loose early and change the rules. I don't even think Travers expected him to go after Mom, but he did."

Giles began pacing, his fury building with every step. His voice was tight, but very clear. "And just how did they *suppose* he would behave, I wonder? With honor? Abide by 'the Code'? He turned one of Travers' own men, and killed another! He and Blair killed three innocents on their way to your house! Has the Council gone completely mad?"

Buffy's face grew hard. "I guess ol' Travers didn't think he was that smart... not smart enough to get out of that falling down hotel, which was a joke in itself. Matter of fact, the vamp outsmarted them at every turn. The whole thing was outta control from day one. Too bad he didn't kill Travers instead of that other guy."

"Yes. Too bad. It would've given me the opportunity to stake him." He was shaking with anger, his fists clenched in his pockets. He stopped pacing and faced Buffy squarely. "Buffy, I was told two weeks ago, by my superiors in the Council, that if I did not proceed as expected with the Cruciamentum, I would be immediately and forcibly replaced, and another Watcher sent to complete the task. It must have been Travers' doing."

Buffy nodded. "You can bet on it. The slimeball was already set up here two weeks ago. Kraelik whined for an hour to Mom about being in that box for fifteen days straight. Travers was just waitin' for you to blow it, so he could step in and nail the coffin shut. It didn't seem to bother him one bit who else he took out to get to you. The coward didn't have the nerve to kill us in cold blood... so he decided to let a wacko vamp do it for him."

He resumed his agitated pacing, his voice gradually changing from fiercely angry to cold and frighteningly calm as he spoke. "Dear God! It's appalling! To think that I followed blindly, thinking that I was on the side of Right. I should have refused... let the chips fall where they may. How could the Council have been a part of this? I cannot let this kind of perversion go unanswered. Travers will have to be dealt with."

Buffy recognized that tone of voice. 'Hello, Ripper,' she thought to herself. It spelled danger for the Council and anyone else who got in his way. The shadow of a smile crossed her face. 'Oh, this should be good.' Suddenly, her head began to throb, and she sank back into the couch cushions, exhausted.

"Giles, could you stop pacing and come sit down? My head isn't up to the ping-pong scenario right now."

"Sorry, yes." He sat quickly, concern on his face. Forgetting their estrangement momentarily, he reached over and touched her forehead gently. "Are you still having headaches? That could be serious, Buffy. We should have you over to the hospital for a check-up, just to be sure..."

She accepted his touch briefly, then leaned away. "No, I'll be fine once my strength comes back. Thanks anyway."

He retracted his hand guiltily and looked down at the floor. "Sorry." The dull ache deep inside him flared into an almost physical pain.

She shrugged, not ready to delve into last night's anguish. "Never mind. What about the bad guy? What are we gonna do about him?"

He sat back and folded his arms, pushing aside his hurt as he concentrated. "Let me make a few phone calls. He may not have had time to leave the country as yet. If he hasn't... well, I intend to find him and make his life... uncomfortable."

She nodded her head thoughtfully. "If he's still around, I want a shot at him. For Mom."

He glanced up at her determined face. Their eyes locked. There was no forgiveness in hers as yet, but understanding passed between them. He nodded. "If he's still here, you shall have your 'shot' at him..." He rose to his feet. "But I shall finish the job." He started to leave, but she stopped him with a light touch.

"Giles... don't you want to talk to Mom before you go? She..." Buffy ducked her head slightly. "She... misses you. She's scared to death. She thought something happened to you, when you didn't come back last night."

He looked surprised. "I... I didn't think... she... or you... would wish to have anything to do with me, after what I've done."

Buffy smiled thinly. "You mean, what the Council did. You tried to stop them, then you showed up and rescued us. The rest we deal with later. Go talk to her, okay?"

"Yes, of course... where..."

"Upstairs. In her room."

* * * * *

He climbed the stairs slowly, not daring to hope. His thoughts turned towards a small, velvet-covered box sitting on his dresser at home. He'd left it there, fearing he'd never have a chance to present it to Joyce. Perhaps she would forgive him someday...

Gently, he rapped his knuckles against the closed door. He listened for permission to enter, but heard nothing. He knocked again, louder this time, and heard the bed creak slightly as the occupant stirred. Still, she didn't reply. He finally found his voice. "Joyce? May I..."

There was a sudden flurry of activity inside, and the door was flung open. He glimpsed a tear-streaked face briefly before it was buried into his shoulder. Her arms clung to him desperately as she sobbed. "Rupert, oh, God, thank God you're all right..."

Ignoring the pain in his bandaged ribs, he held her tightly, trying to comfort her with his embrace. His voice broke as he murmured, "Love, I'm so, so sorry I stayed away. I was afraid to call... afraid you'd not wish to speak to me, or see me, after..."

She pulled him into the room and silenced him with a frantic kiss. He tasted the salt of her tears, and felt her tremble in his arms. His initial shock faded quickly as he put his apology into his response. This was not the reaction he'd expected, not by any stretch of the imagination!

He finally sat on the bed and drew her down beside him, willing his own discomfort into the background. Brushing her tears away, he began his explanation, but he only got a few words in before she stopped him with a hand to his mouth.

"Rupert, I know. That man... that *thing*, he told me. Laughed at you. Said you were a fool for trusting them, the Council men. He said... he said you'd been tricked by your own people, Rupert... how could they do that? How could they be so heartless? He said they didn't want either of you to survive the test... and he was there to make sure of it... Oh, it was so awful... I didn 't know how it could be true..."

"Darling, apparently it is true. I... I was given an ultimatum: Perform the Test or be removed forcibly and replaced. I couldn't leave Buffy to a stranger... I couldn't leave you... either of you..." He hugged her to him, overwhelmed by the emotions of the past few days. The agony in his side returned, sharp and unyielding, and he couldn't continue for several minutes. His breath came in shallow gasps as he fought for control. He didn' t want her to know he was injured. There were more important things to discuss.

Joyce pulled away and held his face in her hands, tilting it up until she could see his bloodshot eyes. "They wanted to let that monster kill my daughter, my *baby*, and you were the only one who tried to stop them, so they wanted to kill you, too."

"I could have tried harder... I looked for a way to negate the test, read every Watcher diary I could find, studied everything ever written about the Cruciamentum... I ran out of time, and I had to... to give her the injections, Joyce. I had no choice. I hated every minute of it... of pretending I didn't know what was happening to her... They were watching me constantly... I don't know how, but they knew every move I made, and they made quite sure I knew they were watching. I... I am so, so sorry, my love, and so ashamed of myself, ashamed that I would be party to something so grotesque and barbaric."

Joyce stood slowly and walked across the room, arms folded. "I'm not going to tell you I wasn't heartbroken when I found out what you did. I was... and furious, and sick to my stomach. And I'm not going to tell you I can just pretend it didn't happen, because I can't." She whirled suddenly, and her dark eyes flashed with fury. "But I can tell you this... you were as much a victim as we were, and I'm NOT going to forget that. If I ever get my hands on one of those Council people... especially that Travers man..."

He stood carefully and came closer to her, not wanting to crowd her while she was so angry. "...You'll have to stand in line, I'm afraid... that is, if we find him before he leaves for England."

"So, I'll get in line." She looked at him more closely, noticing for the first time the marks on his face and his cautious movements. "Rupert... you' re hurt... are you all right?"

He gave his usual self conscious half-laugh. "Only bruised. I'll be fine. I' m actually slightly better off than Buffy, until she regains her power." His face turned serious again. "She should be quite herself in another day or so. And then..."

She nodded, understanding completely. "...Then we go to war."

"Yes." He stood awkwardly for a moment, uncertain of what to do next. "Joyce..."

"Yes?"

He looked at the floor, trying to come up with the right words. "I...I quite understand that you will need t-time to... to think about all that has gone on. But, I just w-wanted you to know, that, if and when you f-feel you are able to forgive me... I shall be waiting. My offer... my proposal... still stands." He looked up as he finished, his eyes conveying his love and regret.

She smiled sadly at his sincere face. Her heart ached for him, but she was all torn up inside. She knew she couldn't make that decision just yet. Instead of replying, she stepped forward and embraced him. She felt him shudder, then he moved slowly to return the gesture. They held each other for a long time, not speaking. Finally, she pulled away and whispered, "I love you, Rupert... I don't want to throw away what we have, but..."

"Neither do I, Joyce. It's all right. Take whatever time you need." He kissed her, a sweet, forlorn kiss, and then cupped her face in his hands. "Good night, my love. I pray you rest well tonight." He pressed another kiss to her forehead, and left, closing the door softly behind him.

When he came down the stairs, Buffy was waiting. She looked at him expectantly. His face was an angry mask, but he said softly, "Buffy, I'll see you tomorrow after school, if you're feeling well enough. We have plans to make."

She nodded, and walked him to the door. Just as he turned to say good night, she smiled at him. It was not a comforting expression. "Battle stations?"

"Quite so," he agreed over his shoulder, then disappeared into the night.

* * * * *

School passed in a blur of normality. One by one, the children... HIS children, for he thought of them as his... came by to check on him, to whisper encouragement and grace him with a compassionate smile. The bruise on his face was still livid, and he knew he looked like hell. His appearance, at least, matched the way he felt. His ribs hurt atrociously, and it was difficult, at times, to simply breathe.

His real agony was invisible, but worse than the physical pain by several orders of magnitude.

At three-thirty, the library doors swung open and Buffy appeared, her face sadly serious. She came straight to him and stopped within arms reach. He forced himself not to withdraw, steeling himself for what might come... a blow, an accusation...

She amazed him by reaching up and tracing the marks on his injured face. "That's gonna take a while to go away, Giles." She held out her unblemished arms by way of comparison. "Got my strength back, see? I woke up this morning all healed. No bruises." She brushed her bangs back from her face. "See? No cut. Not even a scar. Gotta love the built-in Slayer repair system." Her face darkened. "I'm ready. Where do we go, and when do we do it?"

Giles smiled, tightlipped. "I made some discreet inquiries. He's on Catalina Island this very moment. *Vacationing*." He spit the word out as if it tasted vile. "The filthy sod. Taking in the sights after what he's done. Typical Council-bred callousness."

"I like Catalina. It's pretty. Great place for a quiet murder."

"Buffy, as much as I hate to say it, we mustn't kill him. We'd become no better than him."

"Darn. I was needin' some target practice. Oh, well. So, we're going on vacation?"

"Yes, I'd say a weekend trip would be in order."

"Mom will want to go."

He thought about it briefly. "I'd rather she didn't... there may be trouble. I wouldn't want..."

"...her to get hurt? Too late, Giles, she already has. I think you should give her a chance for some closure, here." She sat next to him on the edge of the table, looking for all the world like nothing had happened between them. "We'll just be a nice, happy family out for a weekend getaway. It'll look lots better than you and me going alone."

"You're quite right, it would." He gave a long, shaking sigh. "All right, then, the three of us. I'll make the reservations. And I have another overseas call to make."

"Why, are you gonna tell on him?"

Giles smirked. "Something like that. I still have a few connections within the Council. I mean to find out if Travers was acting alone, or with their full blessing."

"You don't think he'll leave before tomorrow, do you?"

Giles snorted. "Knowing Travers, he's probably booked for a fortnight. And on the Council bill as well." He stopped and almost smiled at her questioning glare. "A fortnight is two weeks, Buffy."

"Thank you for the English-to-American translation."

"Any time." He did smile then, a slight, affectionate expression that caused her to smile briefly in return.

"Okay, we gotta get movin', Giles. This is gonna be a vacation that psycho-geek will never forget."

"Indeed. I know very well how the man thinks. I have some ideas that should give him nightmares for the rest of his life."

"Goody. At least I get to spread madness and mayhem, even if I do have to let the creep live."

* * * * *

On Friday afternoon, the passenger boat eased into the dock at Two Harbors as Buffy watched quietly from the upper deck. The hour long boat ride had passed quickly. She had spent the entire time watching the Pacific roll beneath her, lost in thought.

Her hair whipped into her face, but she ignored it. She took in the sights with little enthusiasm. 'Maybe when this is all over we can come back and enjoy ourselves. Maybe Giles and Mom will want to spend a nice, quiet honeymoon here. That is, if they *do* get married after all this gut-wrenching horror.' Sorrow and anger warred in her as she thought about the two people that loved her more than they loved themselves. They didn't deserve this, didn't deserve it at all.

She didn't move as Giles approached her. He leaned against the rail, taking in the cheery Polynesian styled buildings. Palm trees lined the streets. The air was clean. It was certainly picturesque. He took a deep breath and squinted against the unaccustomed brightness of the afternoon sun. "It's quite lovely."

"Yeah. I came here once when I was little, when we lived in L.A. It was a field trip from school, I think. I thought it was the neatest place on earth. I caught a hermit crab."

He smiled at that, seeing an image of a chubby-faced Buffy squealing with delight, her bare feet dancing in the sand. "I wish I could have seen you then."

"No, ya don't. I was fat and spoiled rotten."

"And, except for being fat, that differs from the present... how?"

She burst into laughter and swatted him on the arm. "You're getting waaay too good at TeenSpeak, Giles. It's a sickness."

His eyes softened, and he looked pleased by her comment. "It is? Prolonged interaction with teenagers seems to have that effect." A gentle smile warmed his features. She was teasing him. He had cause to hope.

She gazed at his face, an answering smile playing around her lips. "It's good to see you smile again, Giles... really smile, I mean."

"And it's good to hear you laugh again, Buffy."

"Who's laughing at whom?" Joyce strolled up behind them, her face protected by a white straw hat that kept threatening to take flight across the harbor. She held it firmly in place with one hand, and placed her free arm around Giles' waist. He did his best not to flinch in pain, but she noticed anyway. "Ribs?"

He nodded, a little surprised that she would guess so accurately. She loosened her grip, but kept her arm where it was.

He knew the gesture was just for show, but that was all right. He'd take the moments when they came. He covered her hand with his and held it to him, ignoring the discomfort.

"We're not wearing rings, you know." Joyce's voice was soft and thoughtful.

He looked over at her, surprised. "Wedding bands? I didn't think of that. Perhaps no one will notice."

"Probably not. I just realized it, though."

"Perhaps we're having them cleaned."

She smiled at that, but said nothing.He thought about, but didn't mention, the small velvet box he had carried with him. Maybe he *would* have them cleaned, while he was here, just in case...

They disembarked, blending into the crowd from the mainland, looking for all the world like a typical family out for a nice getaway weekend. Giles even looked the part, wearing a brightly printed shirt with khaki pants and deck shoes. His hair was unruly, having been tossed by the wind during their short voyage.

Joyce thought he looked divine. She had to concentrate to keep her mind on their mission. When this was over, she desperately wanted things to go back to the way they were, before the Test, before their lives were shredded by Council indifference.

Their luggage was sent on to the hotel, and they began exploring various beaches and resorts, looking for their target. It wasn't long before Giles spotted him lounging on the beach at one of the more exclusive lodges, looking as though he hadn't a care in the world. Giles left the ladies to keep an eye on Travers, and went to the lodge desk to be sure that he was staying through the weekend. Once they knew for sure, they returned to their hotel to set things in motion.

The afternoon passed in a haze of phone calls, supply runs, and hastily acquired junk food. The small suite they'd taken had a small work area to one side, and they gathered at the small table and started planning their st rategy. Before the sun set, Buffy had gained a new respect for her Watcher and his attention to detail. Her mother wasn't too bad at plotting, either, but Buffy had known that for a long time.

She was monumentally glad that the two people sitting next to her in the hotel room weren't mad at *her*.

"Okay, the auditorium is rented, we have the supplies, and our special guest star is coming on the first boat after dark. I think we're ready." Joyce sat back and extended her hands over her head, working the stiffness out of her arms and shoulders.

Giles looked up from his notes, a familiar, studious expression on his face. He seemed to rouse himself after staring off into space for a minute. He stretched, yawned widely, then flinched as his injuries reminded him to move a little slower.

Joyce noticed immediately. "Rupert, you should let me retape your ribs. You can take a shower after we get the old bandages off, then I'll do fresh ones. How does that sound?"

"To be truthful, it sounds heavenly. I've been bathing in the washbasin at home, which is dreadfully awkward, and not too thorough, I'm sure." He stood uncertainly, looking at Buffy, hoping he wouldn't have to voice his wish for privacy out loud.

Buffy caught his meaning instantly. She was getting better at reading him in the few days since the horror that was her eighteenth birthday. Maybe it was because she stopped taking him for granted and started paying attention. "Hey, I'm gonna go explore around the hotel for a little while... maybe, oh, an hour?"

Joyce gave her daughter a relieved smile. "I think an hour will be just about right. Don't you agree, Rupert?"

He nodded, knowing anything he added would sound either suggestive or idiotic.

Buffy gave them both a quick kiss on the cheek before zipping out the door. Giles felt himself relaxing just a little. She hadn't said anything, but judging from her behavior, she had begun to forgive him. He could only hope her mother was feeling equally generous.

Joyce turned, smiling, and crooked a finger at him. "So, what're you waiting for? Off with the clothes."

The hope inside him transformed into cautious relief.

Twenty minutes later, clean, bandaged, and drowsy, he lay on the queen-sized bed and watched Joyce putting their things away. He'd offered to tend to his own luggage, but was treated to a classic display of Summers stubbornness. He'd been reduced to bystander status and banished to the bed.

Buffy came by her willful streak honestly, he realized.

Still, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant exile. Watching Joyce move about the room was enough to take his mind off their intended victim and on to more pleasant thoughts. She was clad in a sky blue T-shirt that barely grazed her waist, her long, multicolored wrap skirt teasing him with flashes of bare, lightly tanned thigh from time to time. As engrossing as the view was, he found himself dozing off, finally falling completely asleep despite his best intentions.

Joyce smiled to herself as she finished and turned back to him. His face had relaxed somewhat, but it was not the peaceful expression she had come to associate with his slumber. Her smile turned sad, and she carefully sat down beside him and touched his forehead, brushing the still damp hair back from his face. She watched in amazement as he relaxed under her hand, smiling and rolling over on his side as if to embrace her. The pain in his ribs woke him abruptly, and he sat up crookedly with an apologetic look.

"Ow... Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep." He shifted to find a more comfortable position.

"It's okay. You probably haven't had any more sleep than I have. Lie back down like you were. You were more comfortable that way."

He complied, and relief flashed across his face. "That is much better. It seems I must remain completely vertical or horizontal... any other position seems inadvisable, as well as being rather distressing."

She slid down beside him and rested her head on her hand. Her other hand, of its own volition, moved to caress the placket of his shirt, idly fingering the buttons as she murmured, "The first position is kinda restrictive, but the second..." She leaned over and kissed him, a feather-light touch that left his lips tingling. "... has possibilities."

She kissed him again, and for a blissful moment he was able to forget the previous two weeks. Almost instantly, he was lost in the wonder of her lips against his. With his left hand, he carefully reached up and slid his fingers into her silky soft hair. Holding her gently in place, he intensified their contact, angling his head to explore her mouth more thoroughly. His right hand slid around her waist and moved to caress her warm back under her shirt. She responded eagerly, her soft moans intensifying in answer to his as they took pleasure in each other.

Suddenly, she pulled away, breathing heavily. Their faces were just a few inches apart, and she could still feel the heat radiating from him as his entire being reacted to her touch. She longed to forget everything and just sink into that warmth, knowing she could lose herself in him so easily. Fear kept her from doing so... fear of hurting him, of causing him physical pain, coupled with the fear of being hurt herself, again. She managed a shaky smile, and whispered, "For a minute there, it was almost like... like..." She stopped, unable to find words for comparison.

"Like the past few days never happened?" His voice was gentle, though gruff with suppressed passion.

"Yes, like that. But there's no use pretending, is there?"

"Perhaps not. But I am thankful for that brief reprieve..." He stroked her cheek tenderly, then outlined her kiss-swollen lips with his fingers. "...that sweet reminder of why stopping this madness is so important." His green eyes held her gaze, and she saw in them just how deeply his feelings ran.

He took a cautious, deep breath, then exhaled slowly, as if he needed to gather his thoughts. "I was taught all my life the importance of destiny, loyalty, duty, family, and love. Now, the same people who taught these precepts to me are bent on destroying everything I've learned to revere. They expect me to turn and walk away from my duty, my destiny, and the two people I love more than life. They've forgotten their own lessons, my darling, and I firmly intend to teach them their lessons again."

She nodded, struck dumb by the sudden wave of emotions his words created inside her. She didn't know how to convey her feelings; they tumbled over each other in her mind. The most prevalent of them stood out from the rest... love. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he meant every word. He would give his life, gladly, for either of them. Her doubts seemed small and unimportant in light of that realization. Finally, she did the only thing she could think to do. She kissed him again.

They were still kissing, carefully, yet passionately, when Buffy came back into the room. Her snort of disgust caused them to pull part, albeit reluctantly, and they both sighed at the intrusion. They continued to gaze at each other until Buffy marched over and stood in front of the bed, hands on her hips in a comically irate stance.

"Hey, should I leave for another hour? I can always go tour the next hotel down the beach." She flopped down on the small extra bed, sprawling comfortably, and yawned. "'Course, I'm pretty tired, so I could probably sleep through just about *anything*, right now... oh, *eww*... I'm *not* giving you permission to traumatize me, or anything... you guys can't afford long-term therapy."

Joyce shook her head at her daughter. "Buffy, give it a rest. We were just kissing. You've seen worse on the Disney Channel. Sheesh."

Buffy laughed and pulled a pillow over her head. "Mom, no offense, but I can only take so much visual kissage from you two. Whew, that's better, now I can't see anything. I'm gonna take a nap. You can go back to what you were doing... only, don't make any gross noises, or I might barf."

"You don't barf when you watch all that 'visual kissage' on TV."

"Yeah, well, it's not my Mom and the school librarian gettin' it on, is it? Eww."

"Eww is my daughter kissing a two-hundred-something-year-old dead guy, if you ask me!"

"He kisses awfully good for a dead guy."

"Oh, for pete's sake, I do *not* want to hear any more." Joyce shuddered, then noticed that Giles was shaking, too. She turned away from Buffy and glanced down at him. He was snickering silently. "You laugh? After 17 years of hearing that mouth, you'd - think - funny..." She poked his chest for emphasis with the last three words.

"After 17 years, you should learn, Mom. Leonardo and Kate kissing is romantic. Even Fred and Ginger kissing is romantic. My Mom and *anybody* kissing is gross. " Buffy's head was still covered by the pillow, creating a comical muffled sound when she talked.

"You can never pass up a chance to mock the nearest authority figure, can you?"

"Nope, although I usually mock *and* laugh."

Giles couldn't stop chuckling, albeit quietly, at the two women as they happily sniped at each other. He'd learned long ago that Buffy used levity as a means of coping with the darkness she faced on a daily basis. The fact that Joyce joined in so readily showed she knew her daughter well.

He understood, even approved... he just hoped he wouldn't end up the next topic of conversation. He was slightly dismayed to hear Joyce remark, "I'll bet poor Rupert has endured a few cheap shots from his Slayer in the past few years."

"Yeah, poor Rupert. You can tell it just killed him." Buffy lifted the pillow just enough to see him fight to keep from bursting into noisy hilarity. "He's just barely able to contain himself."

"He's under a lot of stress right now. You should be more charitable."

He covered his face with his free arm. He was getting breathless from trying *not* to laugh.

"Nah. Can't cut him any slack. He'd get used to it, and then where would we be?" Buffy dropped the pillow back over her face. Her voice resumed its muted tone as she continued, "He'd get all uppity and start holding high teas in the library, or something equally stiff and Brit-like, and I'd have to stake him."

"Rupert, Buffy just called you an uppity Brit! Are you gonna just lay there and take that?"

He nodded, his arm still hiding his face. A desperate giggle escaped, despite his best efforts.

"She threatened to stake you, and you're not going to say one word?" He shook his head helplessly.

"I can't believe you're not going to defend yourself, Giles." Buffy lifted the pillow again and glared at him. She could see the corners of his mouth twitching, a dimple already fully formed. "My Watcher's a wimp. I didn't wanna believe it, but there it is."

Joyce's eyebrows shot up. She patted his chest comfortingly as she defended him. "He's not a wimp. He's conserving his strength for tonight."

"For when we go messing with the Geek in Tweed, or for something *else*? I need to know, in case I need to be elsewhere. I guess I could always sleep in the hall."

Joyce's eyebrows dropped dangerously. "That sounds like a very good idea. Do you want to start now?"

Buffy dropped the pillow back in place in defeat. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Round One goes to Mother Dear! I give up. I'd go buy some earplugs, but I'm too sleepy."

"Okay, enough silliness, young lady. I've got a wake-up call set for six p.m. I suggest we all get some sleep." Joyce turned her back to Giles and slid against him, his arm fitting neatly under her head. Silence reigned for a short few moments, then Giles started giggling again.

Joyce sat up and put her pillow over his face. "Shhhhh! Pretend you're in the library where it's sacrilegious to laugh."

He finally managed to gain control of himself, Joyce reclaimed her pillow, and the three of them drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

The boat docked at six-forty-five. Buffy's heart did its familiar flip-flop when their visitor finally disembarked. He looked... well, exactly the same as he did the last time she saw him... perfect, down to his Italian leather shoes. He gave her his crooked smile, and bent low to kiss her cheek. It was all she could do to keep from throwing her arms around him.

"Hey, Buffy."

"Hey, yourself. Did Giles fill you in?"

"He did. I never expected him to call me." The porter handed him his duffel bag, and Angel slung it casually over his shoulder. They started back to the car where Joyce and Giles were waiting.

"There aren't that many vamps that would volunteer for duty, Angel."

"No, I guess not. When does the show start?"

She stopped him with a hand on his arm just as they exited the pier. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Angel gave her a soft kiss. "He hurt you, I hurt him. I have no problem with that."

"And you don't have unresolved issues with Giles? I..." She looked down for a moment. "I was pretty mad at first, but he's so torn up and sorry and freaked, and Mom is all freaked, too, although they're sorta getting back to the disgustingly sappy thing again... I guess I feel like he's been through enough. He really tried to make things right."

"I only know of two Slayers in recent years that lived long enough to go through the Test. One of them made it. One didn't. I've never seen a Watcher interfere. It took guts."

"Yeah, I know. He's out on his ear because he did. I hate them, Angel, I really do. Nothing good in my life ever came from the Council."

"Except for Giles."

She smiled up into his dark eyes. "Except for Giles. They musta really goofed." Her face hardened, then, and she added, "We're gonna fry that Council geek, and send him back to the Mother Country in a straight jacket."

They ate a perfunctory dinner at the hotel restaurant, being sure to pick an out-of-the-way booth in a dark corner. It wouldn't do for Travers to happen by and see them. He'd find out about their little visit soon enough.

Angel pushed his extra-rare steak around on his plate, having only eaten half of it. He still ate and drank regular food occasionally, but it did nothing for him. Blood was the only thing that truly sustained him.

Joyce was trying to relax. Having Angel here made her edgy, to say the least. The last time she saw him, he was bent on killing her daughter and sucking the world into Hell. It wasn't easy to pretend that hadn't happened. He had tortured Rupert horribly. He still bore the scars. She'd seen them. That was hard to dismiss, too.

Still, after seeing her daughter's face light up when he was near, she realized how much Buffy loved him. She could see on his face that he felt the same. So, she forced herself to be civil. He was polite enough, even engaging, when he wasn't brooding, or soulless. Breaking the silence, she asked, "Angel, where will you stay when this is over? That's out of the sun, I mean, since we won't be done until after the last boat leaves for the mainland tomorrow night."

"I'm taking a cue from Giles, and holing up in the library basement. There's a video lab and a newspaper archive. I can keep myself entertained. I'll stay there all day Sunday. Nobody will be there, so I'll be all right."

"But how will you get in and out?"

He chuckled a little. "Through the building next door. An old workshop out back has a connecting tunnel that links the two buildings. It comes out into the machine room. I'll just... well, pick the lock." He gave an apologetic shrug.

"Someone was thinking of you night creatures when they built that tunnel, weren't they?" Joyce's voice held no trace of sarcasm.

Giles laughed mirthlessly. "It's more likely they were thinking of machine oil and workmen's boots on the new carpet." He placed his napkin on his half-empty plate, and scooted away from the table. "Are we ready?" He was understandably anxious to get on with their mission.

Without another word, the four conspirators rose and began their conquest of Quentin Travers.

* * * * *

At the bar of the biggest, poshest hotel on the island, Travers was relishing his third glass of fine brandy. Usually, he didn't drink on the job, but he was on holiday, and he intended to enjoy himself. He deserved it, being one of the hardest working men in the Council. No one appreciated his extra diligence, however, at least, not yet. When word got around that he'd rid them of their most troublesome member, he rather imagined he'd be hailed a hero.

It had been embarrassingly easy to bend the Chairman's ear. Travers had voluntarily gone to the States early, to examine the field of play carefully before acting. The Ruling Board fell right in with his plan, and gave him carte blanche to do as he wished. Travers chuckled to himself at how easily the Council leaders had been persuaded. A word, here and there, a few skewed reports, a missing memo or two, and he had them all eating out of his hand. Rupert Giles never stood a chance. The fool had never seen the need of cultivating political relationships with key officials, but Travers had. He' d triumphed because of his foresight.

It was almost too easy. None of the graybeards in the home office had an inkling of how difficult life near a Hellmouth could be. They had no real desire to find out, either. They jumped at the chance to pass the responsibility off on someone else. They even left the choosing of the challenger to him. Kraelik had been a stroke of pure genius, if he did say so himself. Not that there was any shortage of candidates in Sunnydale... he himself had witnessed three vampire attacks during his brief stay. Of course, he did nothing to interfere. That wasn't his job. He merely watched, made a few notes identifying each attacker and cataloging its strengths and weaknesses, then moved along.

No, staking vampires was the Slayer's job. Now that Giles, the infernal rebel, was out of the way, perhaps she'd get back to doing her job and stop acting like a typical teen-aged girl. He'd been surprised she was effective at all, with all her outside interests. Still, she'd proved to be a worthy Slayer, and impressed him with her bravery and ingenuity. He was actually glad she'd survived the Cruciamentum. She was cocky and rude, though, and had no respect for authority. With a proper Watcher, such as himself, she would learn better, and excel to greater heights.

He nodded to the bartender, paid for his drinks, and strolled out into the garden. It was beautifully landscaped, with exotic flora abundant at every turn. Discreet lights marked the walkway to prevent one from putting one's foot wrong. The garden was deserted, which suited him nicely. He wasn't one for casual nattering. Solitude was preferable to inane conversation.

As he basked in the lovely surroundings, he felt quite mellow and smug. A successful mission gave him such satisfaction. He'd been so careful to be sure things had gone his way...

He barely felt something strike the back of his neck. With so many annoying insects about, he assumed one of them had bitten him. He took three or four steps more, then stopped, blinking heavily as his vision began to blur. He reached up slowly, finding and pulling the tiny dart out with rapidly numbing fingers. His last thought before the blackness engulfed him was, 'My God! I've been poisoned!" He collapsed into Angel's waiting arms, and was carried off into the night.

* * * * *

A few miles away, the stage was set. Giles watched as Angel dragged the unconscious man into the building, then together they began methodically chaining the exits shut. The auditorium had no windows to break, no basement exits, and no way out save through the doors. It was ideal.

It had another plus; a-state-of-the-art lighting and security system. From one room, a person could see and control everything that went on inside, even in the bathrooms, although there were no cameras in the stalls. The most important aspect of the control room, however, was the bank of VCRs that recorded every movement in the building. Giles intended to put them to good use over the next 24 hours.

Giles let himself in the office door, climbed to the sound booth, and took the controller's seat. He surveyed the vast array of buttons, knobs and switches on the panels before them. He flicked the lights in one of the dressing rooms, giving Angel the all clear signal. "And now, ladies and gentlemen," he intoned, "Lights..." He quickly doused all the lights in the building. Darkness and silence reigned.

"...camera..." He touched a few more switches, and the security system flared into life. Twenty monitors flickered on, showing nothing but black screens. He touched another switch, overdriving the cameras, and suddenly shapes and shadows appeared. He could easily see Travers, laying on his back in the center of the stage. Angel crouched nearby, waiting patiently.

Suddenly the man stirred, moaning. Angel melted back into the shadows.

"...action!" Giles finished. He smiled to himself. Willow would be quite impressed. His time spent traveling with a rock band had afforded him a certain familiarity with lighting and sound systems. All it took was a few minutes to acquaint himself with the video side of things. He wasn't quite the technophobe she'd imagined he him to be.

Travers awoke suddenly, shivering. He was freezing. His vision swam with distorted colors. Dimly, he saw a circle of light moving in a random pattern around him. He tried to focus, but the light wouldn't hold still. He closed his eyes, but the colors persisted.

'Something is wrong with me. I can hardly move, I can't see properly. What...'

He gasped, remembering. He had been shot with a dart, probably from a blowpipe... a silent and effective method of delivery.

'Oh, God, I've been poisoned. I may be dying this very moment. I must get help. I must get up and get help.'

He rolled to one side, using his elbow to brace himself, and took a deep shaking breath. He felt so weak and trembly, he barely managed to sit upright. He forced his eyes open again, and this time the small circle of light stayed in place. He half crawled, half scooted over until he could sit in the relative brightness. No one in the Council knew that Quentin Travers was deathly afraid of the dark.

'I must gather my wits. Panic is not an option.' His usual mantra for overcoming fear wasn't working, though he repeated it over and over in his head.

He reached back to rub his neck. He could feel pain emanating from the general area, but he couldn't determine exactly where it centered. His fingers glided through a slick substance, and he jerked his hand away. He held his hand up to the light. Blood.

"Oh, no... no, not that..." His voice sounded thin and useless in the large, empty space.

He touched his neck again. Twin punctures, still oozing. He'd been bitten. He began sobbing hysterically, but caught himself after a bit and started gulping for air.

"I'm breathing. Thank God, I'm still breathing. I'm still alive." He cleared his throat, and tried to stand. After several attempts, he gained his feet and stood, swaying, still disoriented and dizzy.

A voice from the darkness caused him to whirl, his heart nearly jumping out of his chest. "Good! You're up! I was beginning to worry." It was a cheerful, companionable voice.

Travers tried to squint into the darkness, but it was no use. His eyes still refused to obey his brain. A board creaked behind him, and he spun around again, nearly losing his balance trying to face his unknown attacker. "Who are you? Why have you brought me here?"

A wicked laugh floated in from all around him. "I didn't bring you here, Mister. I snuck in here one night, and decided to stay. It's not bad, no windows, no skylights, just nice, dark corners and the occasional cleaning crew and night watchman. Sometimes, they have plays or concerts, and I get to watch, take my pick of the crowd... with all that nice, hot blood all around me, I have to be careful, though. I can't pile bodies up in the corner, somebody might notice. I take a little here, a little there... it gets a little trying, being so hungry, and all. But, I manage."

The laugh echoed around him again. "But, enough about me! You're here, now, and somebody brought you here on purpose. So, I'm guessing that they want you out of the way. They chained all the exits, too, so I'm guessing you're not gonna be rescued, at least not any time soon. Aaaand, I'm guessing that tonight's my lucky night!"

Prickles of sheer terror trailed up and down his spine as Travers realized just who... *what*... was addressing him. "You're a vampire!"

The sound of clapping caused him to jump again and turn to his right. The creature was circling him slowly in the darkness, keeping him confused and off-balance. "Good guess! Ordinarily, I would've finished you off already, while you were out cold, but there's something in your blood, yuck, that is just really disgusting. I was kinda hoping it'd wear off in an hour or two."

Travers' mouth moved several times before he could force out a sound. "Poison..."

"Naaaah. Not poison. I know the taste of that. Doesn't hurt us vamps, anyway. This was more like... oh, wait, let me see... ah, yes, I remember now! I ate a Slayer a few years back, and she didn't really seem to be at her best. Cute as a button, but she had the same nasty taste. Didn't stop me then, though. Won't stop me now, either. Just call me greedy."

A hand flew to his mouth as Travers realized the implication. He'd been injected with the muscle-weakening substance that was used in the Cruciamentum. He knew in an instant who his attacker had been.

"Giles! My God, Giles has done this!"

"Whoever it was, I'd like to thank him. This is way more entertaining than Macbeth." The sound shifted again. "Boy, you musta really pissed this guy off, Mister. Wha'd you do, shoot his dog?"

"I did my duty. As I have always done." 'Why am I arguing with a vampire? I should be seeking a defensible position.' He had a head full of knowledge of how to battle such creatures, but his heart was failing him at every turn. "Hey, I bet you're one of those Watcher guys! The guys that send tiny little girlies out to fight monsters because they don't have the stones to do it themselves. Yeah, you must be... the tweed, the stuffy Brit voice, the tendency to crumble under pressure... oh, this is so great! I've had a craving for coward's blood lately."

Travers glanced around him, desperate to run. The mocking voice came at him again, this time sounding distant and hollow. "That's right, Watcher, run! Get that blood pressure up and pumping. I could use a little entertainment. It's been a slow week. Here, let me give you a head start."

Dim lights popped on all over the auditorium. Travers saw the stage, the curtains, the seating area, and the orchestra pit. His mind tried to calculate the best way to escape. Another creak sounded, this time to his left. The vampire stepped out of the shadows in full game face, his yellow eyes shining in the dim light. The Watcher screamed, and the vampire smiled and licked his lips in anticipation.

Panic overtook the Watcher, and he began to run drunkenly towards stage right. He fumbled through the heavy velvet curtains until his hand found a door knob. He wrenched it open and lurched into the next room, stumbling over props and ladders before finding the exit stairway.

The voice of his tormentor came up behind him. "Hey, Watcher. How about a game of hide and seek! One... two... three... I'm giving you to the count of ten, just to be sporting... four... five..."

For what seemed like an eternity, the trapped man staggered through the building, trying every exit and finding every one locked and chained. His drug-addled mind was unable to formulate a decent strategy for dealing with the situation. All the while, from behind him, or beside him, the happily demented voice of the vampire mocked him, needled him, and goaded him until he was whimpering and sick with fear. At his wits end, Travers found a closet and closed himself up in it, not caring that there were no locks to protect him. Pure animal instinct took over, and he hid like a frightened mouse.

Just when he thought his dark haven had been overlooked, he hear the insanely cheerful voice of the vampire calling to him. "Watcher... oh, Watcher... where are you? Are you in the closet? No, surely not. You wouldn' t hide in the closet, would you? There's no way out of the closet, Watcher. You'd be trapped in there. A sitting duck. It's kinda dark in the closet, too. Yoo hoo, Watcher, I'm gonna find you!" A door slammed close by. Unable to control his fear, Travers bolted from his hiding place and resumed his panicked flight.

Angel took his time, ambling from room to room behind the distraught human. When the man hid, he waited, taunting him mockingly. Travers couldn't stay hidden for very long. His phobia, coupled with Angel's constant haranguing, wouldn't allow it.

Giles certainly had the man pegged. He'd behaved exactly as Giles had expected. Angel found it hard to believe that Rupert Giles and Quentin Travers were trained by the same people. Even Angelus couldn't break Giles with long hours of excruciating torture, and the demon had given its best shot. What a difference!

Angel's vampiric nature relished the chase and howled for more, but he kept both the demon and his instinctive desire for revenge under strict control. 'I can't kill this guy,' he reminded himself. 'He's gotta take a message back to the boys in tweed for us.'

* * * * *

The hours passed quickly, and Giles was surprised when he looked at his watch and realized it was nearly six in the morning. Time to give Buffy her 'shot' at Travers. He left the control room after flicking the lights once, and went back to the hotel to sleep.

When he entered their room, he found both women awake and waiting for him. "Your turn," he said softly, and Buffy gave him a quick smile as she started to leave. He returned the expression, looking down at her, his eyes gentle and concerned. "Please be careful, Buffy. In his current state, Travers could be dangerous. Watch yourself."

"I will, don't worry. Angel and I have this neat little scenario cooked up. Film at eleven. Literally!" She slipped out the door and was gone.

He turned and looked at Joyce. She perched on the edge of the bed, nervously fingering the belt of her robe. She smiled up at his tired face. "Hey, there. You look like you could use a nap."

He shrugged slightly, and smiled. "You've had a rest, haven't you? You could... uh... see the sights, take a tour... relax a little, if you like."

She stood and gave him a cautious hug. "I like the sights in here better. And I wouldn't be relaxing, if you weren't with me."

He held her closer, and she melted into his embrace. He whispered her name and buried his face in her fragrant hair. "I just want this to be over, darling. I'm so sorry you were involved."

"Shh. I'm here because I want to be." She tugged him over to the bed murmured, "You need to rest. Buffy will call us when it's time." She started unbuttoning his shirt, carefully avoiding pressing against his cracked ribs. She unfastened his trousers and slid them off, leaving him clad only in his boxers. She tossed her robe away, revealing a long T-shirt instead of a nightgown. "Come lie down with me, Rupert."

He could hardly resist such an enticing invitation. He joined her under the covers, moving as if mesmerized by the woman next to him. They molded themselves carefully together, and she snuggled against his uninjured side, her head on his shoulder, her arm across his waist. With his good arm, he encircled her shoulders and held her close. "I love you, Joyce."

"I love you, too." Her voice was low, but filled with unspoken promises. "Now, sleep."

He slid into slumber, peace filling his mind and heart.

* * * * *

Travers awoke with a jerk and a muffled cry. Exhaustion had caused him to doze off, again. Suddenly, he realized he was sitting in the dark. Terror began to build as he frantically tried to find a way out of his prison. He'd quite forgotten that he himself had chosen to hide there in the first place. All he could see was blackness, heavy and oppressing. Finally, he found the door and beat on it frantically until it opened. He fell out into the dimly lit room, panting and exhausted. His vision had only improved slightly, but he could make out shapes of furniture and clothing hanging on a long rod against the wall. A dressing room... he was in a theater dressing room.

He pulled himself to his feet, using the door for support.. He reached up and touched his neck. The blood was quite dry. Relief flooded him. He had outsmarted the vampire this go-round. Now, he was going to find a way out, or at least, a telephone to call for help. He straightened his clothing and squared his shoulders. It wouldn't do for the authorities to find him in such a pitiful state.

He began a methodical search, moving from room to room, looking for a working telephone. The light switches weren't working properly, that was right enough. Some of them didn't work at all. He found plenty of phones, one in each room. The trouble was, none of them worked. Frustration welled up inside him as he realized there was no easy escape.

After an hour of searching, he passed a drinking fountain and stopped to slake his raging thirst. He'd been taught that blood loss caused excessive craving for water. He was certainly grateful the vampire hadn't liked his taste. The water was bitter and metallic, but it was cold, and he drank rapidly, forgetting to pace himself.

A rustling sound behind him made him jump and whirl, hands raised in a vaguely defensive position. In the dim, reddish light, he could make out a huddled form shivering in the corner of the hall. He squinted, trying to bring the shape into focus. It was too small to be his vampire. He took a cautious step forward.

The form stirred, and he realized it was a child... a girl, he thought. Her matted, dirty brown hair partially obscured a tiny, elfin face as she raised her self up to a standing crouch. She looked awful... skinny and dirty. He couldn't see her face clearly...

"Mister?" The voice was young, frightened. "Mister, are you bad, Mister? I ain't hurtin' nobody... I ain't hurtin' nothin'... are you bad, Mister?"

He tried to find a soothing tone, but his voice broke alarmingly as he answered. "I'm not bad, child. Why are you here? Is there a way out of this place?"

"No way out, Mister. I got stuck in here. I'm scared, Mister. I need a hug."

'Strange,' he thought. 'Perhaps she's feeble-minded, and was separated from her guardians and became lost.' "We're going to get out of here, child, don' t fret."

"I ain't frettin', Mister. I just need a hug." She began to move towards him, her face still hidden in shadows. "Could I have a hug? I ain't hurtin' nothin'..."

She approached until she was mere inches away from him, and finally turned her face to the light. He screamed in horror at her malformed, demonic face. She continued to croon softly, "I ain't hurtin' nothin', Mister, I just need a hug..."

He fled blindly down the hall. Her brittle laughter followed him.

He ran into a utility closet, stumbling over brooms, boxes and other miscellaneous obstacles. He found the interior door knob, and held it shut, trembling. He listened, barely able to hear over the pounding of his own heart in his ears. 'Dear God, there's two of them,' he thought to himself. 'I'm outnumbered. I'm going to die in this wretched place!'

A low, happy voice came from just behind him. "Hey, Mister Watcher, glad you could join me. I was just thinkin' about breakfast, and here you are!"

He wrenched the door open, and fled again.

Between the two adversaries, Travers was soon a complete nervous wreck. They gave him no respite, no reprieve, but badgered him for hours, driving him first one way, then the other. He was nearly mad with fear, frustration, and exhaustion, and he'd wet himself several times. He rounded a corner of the hall he'd fled down more times than he could count, and suddenly felt a blow to his face. It was as if he'd run into a brick wall. He flew backwards against the far wall, and slid slowly down, holding his broken nose.

A slight, blonde figure was standing over him. "*Bastard*," she spat. "Betrayer. Villain. *Murderer*. Cheat. *Liar*. Faker. *Unbeliever*."

"B-b-buffy?" He couldn't believe his eyes. The Slayer's face twisted with disgust and rage.

"Animal. Thief. *Coward*. Welcome to *Hell*."

It was all he could stand, and he slumped into unconsciousness.

Buffy shrugged and walked away from the unconsious man. "Easier than I thought. I didn't even get to use my really *good* bad words." She stooped and picked up the fright wig she'd discarded around the corner, and rubbed her face where the fake vamp ridges had adhered to her skin. She grimaced as she met Angel in the hall. "I could never be an actress. I think I'm allergic to that theatrical glue."

"It's called spirit gum. Is he all right?"

"I think so." They went back down the hall to check on their captive. Buffy held her nose as she felt for his pulse. "He's fine. Just out cold. Phew... he stinks."

"I know." Angel nodded in sympathy. "It'll get worse, too."

"Eww, I bet your vamp sense of smell is going crazy right now. Well, I'm glad my part's done. It sure felt good to deck that creep. To bad Giles won' t let me really pound him."

"You'd kill him. You don't want that, believe me."

"You did a really good job on my face and his fake bite marks. I didn't know you were a make-up genius."

He laughed quietly. "That's what I get for hanging around theater dressing rooms, and no, you don't want to hear the details, believe me. You better get back upstairs."

She stopped for a kiss, then jogged back towards the control room

* * * * *

At exactly noon, the telephone rang in the hotel room, rousing the occupants from their peaceful sleep. Joyce was closest to the phone, so she answered it with a drowsy, "Hello?"

"Hi, Mom. You're up next."

"We'll be ready by the time you get here, sweetheart."

"Did you guys sleep?"

"Yes, we slept."

"Really? No smoochiefest? I better knock before I come in anyway, just in case. I'll be there in ten. Bye, Mom."

Joyce hung up the receiver, shaking her head. "That nutty kid. I wonder where she gets her sarcastic streak."

"Not from her mother, surely." Giles grinned as she reacted with mock horror.

"Me? Heavens, no! I'm the epitome of sweetness and gracious living." She leaned over and gave him a thorough kiss. "I gotta get moving. I'm on stage in twenty minutes."

"Break a leg, darling. His. Both of them, if you like."

She laughed and pulled some clothes from the small closet, going into the bathroom to freshen up and change. After she dressed, she came out to find Giles clothed and packing. "You should've let me change your bandage, Rupert."

"It will wait. We only have a few hours left. We have to check out before two. Angel will stay and clean things up so he can be home before dawn Monday."

"Buffy can finish packing for us." She took a deep breath, and sighed with a slight tremble.

He came up to her and rested gentle hands on her shoulders. "Are you quite certain you want to do this? It's not necessary. We've done what we came to do. It's enough."

"No, it's not enough. I have to do this... have to take charge of my life. You can't fight all my battles for me."

"If only I could." He kissed her softly.

"When we get home, I want you to teach me how to use a weapon. Maybe more than one."

"Joyce! Why on earth... you shouldn't have to... "

"Rupert, I'm not helpless, I'm just untrained. I did as well as anyone else did against those zombie-things, and all I had was a baseball bat. I don't want you to worry every time I go to the Quick Mart on the corner."

He looked down into those stubborn eyes, and smiled despite his discomfort. "All right, when we get home, we'll do something about that."

"Good. Well, we're ready. A kiss for luck?"

"Gladly." He covered her lips with his own, and she moved against him, desperately seeking his warmth and strength.

"And you wonder why I make all those snide remarks about you guys. Every time I turn around, you're playing tongue hockey. I need to sound an air horn before I come into the room." Buffy closed the door with a backward kick, and tossed her purse into a corner. "You didn't even hear me knock! Go on, get outta here, and let me pack in peace. I'll pick you up at six, okay? Oh, and Mom..."

"Yes?"

"You might not wanna get too close to that Travers guy... he hasn't made it to the bathroom once since he's been there. He's pretty rank."

* * * * *

Joyce checked the console, noting which rooms were lit. 'I won't be very scary if I stumble over stuff in the dark, and fall flat on my face,' she reminded herself as she spotted Travers hunched over in a corner in the lobby men's room. He looked horrible in the dim light. 'I'm sure I didn't look my best after four hours with that monster, Kraelik.' She forced the seed of pity from her mind, and gave Giles a quick kiss before heading out to do her little part toward Travers' downfall.

When she reached to bottom of the stairs, she shook out the length of cloth that was draped over her shoulder and wrapped it around herself. She'd chosen as her costume a soft, off-white hooded robe that brushed the floor when she walked. It was just right to convey the impression she wanted to make.

She found him just where he'd been in the monitor. He was mumbling to himself, interspersing the unintelligible words with mad giggles. His face was smeared with blood from his broken nose, but he didn't seem aware of it. She waited patiently for him to notice her. It took some time, since he was totally absorbed with his own dark thoughts. Finally, he saw her, and froze. The drug in his system still blurred his vision and kept him from recognizing her face. The robe billowed around her, giving her an angelic, ethereal appearance.

She stood with her hands folded, shaking her head sadly as he tried to flinch away from her and bury himself into the cold tile behind him. When he finally stopped struggling and gave her his full attention, she moved towards him and said, "Quentin? What do you have to say for yourself?"

His jaw dropped. "H-h-how do you know my name? What are you?"

"You know perfectly well what I am, Quentin. Just look at you! This is absolutely unbelievable. You're filthy, you smell to high heaven, and you can't even muster the manners to stand in the presence of a lady!" Her voice rose commandingly.

He looked properly chastened, and rose to his feet. "Forgive me, ma'am. I was preoccupied." He dashed the sober image by giggling again.

"Just what did your mother teach you? To lurk around dark corners? To lie? To conspire against your co-workers? To commit atrocities and harm the innocent? Your poor mother. She would be ashamed to call you her son. Wherever she is, she must be horrified by what you've become. I know I would be!"

"Don't talk about Mother," he whimpered. "She's gone now, is Mother."

"That's a blessing, then. She didn't live to see you like this. And just *why* are you like this, Quentin? What dark path did you take to bring you to this rat hole, hmmm?" She leaned closer, towering over him menacingly. He cringed in terror. She emphasized each word as she spat, "*What - did - you - do*?"

"N-n-n-n..." He stopped, swallowed convulsively, and tried again. "N-n-nothing, Mother, I did nothing."

"*Nothing*? Do you expect me to believe that? You're lying to me, aren't you? I'll find out, you know I *will* find out, and then you'll be sorry, won't you?"

"No... nonono..." He had fallen completely under the illusion. "Mummy... Mummy, no..." He tried to hide his face under his arms, and began to cry.

"QUENTIN!!!"

His head snapped up instantly.

"Tell me this *instant*! What have you *done*?"

"I... I..."

"Quentin..." The tone of her voice was universal, that underlying threat only a mother could deliver.

"I'm sorry, Mummy. I didn't mean to dishonor you..."

He crumpled into a trembling heap in front of her. Despite his overwhelming odor, Joyce stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on his head. "There, there, you can tell me. You'll feel so much better after you do."

"Yes... yes, I will, won't I?" He sounded very much like a small, frightened boy. "I was terribly naughty, Mummy. I should'nt've been, I know, but Rupert had my Slayer, you see!"

"He took your Slayer?"

"Yes, he-he-he was a rebel, not a good boy at all, not like me, Mummy... he ran away, you see, and did bad things, and they still let him have my Slayer! It wasn't fair! It wasn't fair at all! She was *my* Slayer, I was next. He was too young! He disobeyed orders! I did everything just as they said do, and he had my Slayer! She was *mine mine mine*!" He beat his fists against the wall behind him like a four-year-old throwing a tantrum.

"Shhh, now. You must tell me. What did you do, Quentin? What did you do to Rupert?" It was all she could do to keep from striking the hideous creature in front of her. She steeled herself, and continued to pet his hair as he babbled his confession in front of her. The unblinking eye of the overhead security camera, aided by the wireless microphone Joyce was wearing, recorded every word.

"I-I-I sabotaged him... I was to send him regular updates, memos, books, warnings, and I didn't. I threw the memos away, and said I'd sent them. I mis-posted his books, so they were lost... I hu-hu-hated him, because he had my Slayer, so I-I-I told Mrs. Post where he was. She was bad, too, only she didn't care about the Slayer, she only c-c-cared about the glove, th-that's why they fired her..."

He stopped to cry again, his breath coming in great gulps. When he caught enough air, he continued. "He-he didn't want to, to do the Cruh... Cruciamentum. The Slayer had already proved herself, he said, and it was cruel and un-un-unnescessary. He-he was right, of course, the wretched upstart was right, but I c-couldn't let him... I had to make him... I had my chance, you see, Mummy, to put it all back like it was... I'd been discrediting him all along, so-so-so they believed me. They believed me... I was so bad, Mummy, I was bad..." He trailed off with a wail, and broke completely, sobbing and rocking, his hands clenched over his eyes, his fingernails cutting his palms until the blood seeped out around them.

"Yes, Quentin, you *were* bad, and you're going to be punished for it. I'm sorry, Quentin, but you must be punished. You do understand, don't you? Bad boys must be punished."

His voice was merely a whisper. "Yes, yes, bad boys must be punished... I was bad, very bad, and I must be punished..."

It was almost impossible for Joyce to keep an even tone as she asked the next question, but somehow, she managed. "One more thing, Quentin. If you wanted the Slayer, why did you cheat? Why did you allow the vampire to escape? You couldn't have your Slayer if she had been killed. Why did you want the Slayer dead?"

She had to lean down slightly to hear his reply. "Because... because she already chose *him*, and I knew I hadn't a chance. She... the Slayer has to choose, you see, to stay with her Watcher. H-he loved her, like a daughter, and she loved him back. I watched and watched... they didn't know I watched, but I did. I saw. It was no good, you see, she wouldn't choose me, even if he was dead. I could've had a chance with Faith, perhaps, but..."

Joyce gritted her teeth and clenched her fists, fighting the fury that burned inside her. She stepped away, and began easing towards the door. Travers didn't miss her until she was almost out of sight, then he stopped wailing and held out a shaking hand towards her. "...Mummy, no, Mummy, don't leave me again... I'm sorry, Mummy, I'm sorry, I won't do bad things, I promise... don't go away, please..."

She stepped around the door and out of his sight. She let her voice echo around the room as she delivered her parting shot. "Too late, Quentin, I'm afraid it's much too late to say 'sorry.' You must be punished now." The door swung shut, muffling his cries of anguish.

She tore the robe off and ran across the lobby and into the office, her sneakers muffling her footsteps quite effectively. She could hear his piteous cries bounce off the walls until she reached the back stairwell and started up to the control room. He didn't even try to follow.

Once she was at the door, Giles unlocked it and pulled her inside. She was still shivering with disgust and anger. He closed and secured the door, then pulled her into his arms and held her until she stopped trembling. "My dear, you were magnificent. Remind me to never, *never* make you angry with me again?"

She laughed a little shaky, relieved laugh, and kissed him. "I'll be sure and remind you every time I think of it." She sank into the proffered chair, removing the lapel mike and fastening it to Giles' shirt front. She then let out a whooshing breath of relief. "Buffy was right; he really stinks." She glanced up at him, an unfathomable expression on her face. "It's your turn, Rupert. You get the leftovers. The man's mind is *gone*."

"Not quite gone yet. There is one final step for him to take." Giles picked up a brown leather case, eyeing it with distaste. He pulled on a black judge 's robe and picked up a black half-mask from the table. "I'll not be long, darling, and then we can take our leave of this place."

"Be careful."

He smiled and turned the knob. "I shall."

* * * * *

Not bothering to disguise the sound of his footfalls, Giles walked directly to the men's room. Just before he opened the door, he donned his mask and nodded to Angel, who slipped away to set the final stage. Giles' purposeful steps echoed on the tile floor, rousing Travers from his stupor. He raised a fearful eye as Giles approached, and shrank back as if to hide. Giles stopped a few paces in front of him, and stood tall, waiting until the man on the floor was fully aware of him.

In a flat, defeated voice, Travers murmured, "Rupert? Is that you? I knew you'd come."

Giles allowed a shadow of Ripper to creep into his voice as he commanded, "Stand up." His voice echoed eerily in the tiled room.

The broken Councilman whimpered in response.

"Stand up like a man, and take your punishment."

Travers used the wall to pull himself to his feet. His hands left bloody streaks on the off-white surface. Finally, he straightened up and tried to pull his clothes into place. His face was that of a condemned man. He'd accepted his fate.

"Come with me." Giles turned and strode towards the main hall. Travers followed, stumbling and grasping the stall doors and walls for support. After a minute, he caught his balance, and fell into step behind Giles as if mesmerized.

Giles marched slowly down the main aisle, then climbed the side stairs to center stage and seated himself behind a prop judges' bench. The setting was too American for Giles' tastes, but he imagined Travers was too disoriented to make the distinction. Travers stepped into the spotlight and paused, uncertain as to what to do next.

Giles raised the prop gavel. Three strikes of the mallet... the sound of wood against wood echoed in the huge hall.

"The accused will approach the bench." His amplified voice boomed into the empty hall, sounding like the very voice of justice.

Obediently, the little man shuffled forward.

"Quentin Travers, you stand accused of treason, treachery, thievery, duplicity, attempted murder, and murder most foul. Do you understand these charges that are brought against you?"

"Muh-murder? No, I-I-I don't understand..."

"Don't you?" Ripper's cold, sharp voice whipped out and slapped Travers, causing him to flinch badly. "Exactly what happened to Hobson and Blair, then, while under your command?"

"Oh, I completely forgot them." He giggled insanely. "I didn't actually... well, I did allow Kraelik to escape and... yes, I see... you're quite correct, then."

"*How do you plead*?"

Travers shivered involuntarily, but he managed to whisper. "I... I suppose I must plead guilty, as charged."

"Very well. Quentin Travers, upon confession of your guilt before this court of law, I now pronounce sentence upon you. The sentence is death by lethal injection."

Travers blanched, but stayed standing.

"Have you anything to say before sentence is carried out?"

Travers shook his head sadly. "There's nothing more to be said, is there? I' ve wronged you, Rupert, and I'm sorry for that. But it's all done now, and I can't do it over, so there's nothing to be said." He took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders. "I must be punished."

Giles leaned over the bench and handed Travers the leather case. The broken Watcher recognized it at once, and reached a palsied hand towards it. He had to hold it in both hands to keep from dropping it.

"As a member of the Watcher's Council, you are entitled to the dignity of carrying out your own sentence. Are you ready?"

Travers closed his eyes and nodded.

"You know what you have to do, Quentin."

Travers took a deep, shuddering breath. He looked down and opened the clasp on the small rectangular case with difficulty. His hands would not stop trembling. He gazed knowingly at the vial and needle neatly tucked inside. He took the vial and held it up to the dim light. The fluid was almost clear, not the dull amber that had marked the weakening potion used on Buffy. "Venom, Rupert?"

"You should experience very little pain, unlike the pain the Slayer and her mother went through. Or Hobson. Or Blair. Or the three people Kraelik and Blair murdered while he was loose in Sunnydale. No more delays, Quentin. Get on with it."

"Right. I'm very tired." Travers held the syringe up and carefully began to fill it. When he'd drawn only a few centimeters, he stopped with a question on his face. "Dosage? I shouldn't want to do this incorrectly. I don't fancy spending years in a diminished state."

"Twenty should do nicely."

"Thank you, Rupert." He finished drawing the liquid, tapped the glass a few times, and squirted a few drops of the liquid, testing the needle. Without a flinch, he shrugged out of his jacket and undid his left cuff. He pushed the sleeve up above his elbow, and positioned the needle with a frown of concentration.

Giles watched, caught between horror and satisfaction, as the once arrogant Watcher obediently prepared to kill himself at Giles' command.

The point pierced his skin effortlessly. He emptied the entire syringe without blinking an eye. The needle clattered to the floor, and Travers calmly rolled his sleeve down, tugging the cuff into place and refastening the cufflinks. He waited for the poison to take effect, and remarked, almost casually, "You've been quite civilized about this whole affair, Rupert. I can't say I'd have reacted with such restraint."

"I did have moments where I envisioned bludgeoning you to death where you stood, I'll confess, but this was the better way. You had to be made aware of your sins, Quentin, otherwise, what would be the point?"

"Quite so." Travers wavered slightly, but remained upright. "Might I ask... is the Summers woman well and recovered? She was quite pretty. I should've liked to have met her over tea." He sank to his knees as his bloodstream carried the mysterious substance around his system. His vision blurred even more, but he felt a small surge of pride that he'd kept his dignity at the last, despite the outcome.

"She's very well, thank you. Although, seeing as how she is my fiancee, I doubt seriously she'd have accepted an invitation from you, tea or otherwise."

"Oh, you were that close, were you? No wonder you were so cross with meeeee...." The small man hit the floor face first, unconscious.

Giles practically leapt across the stage, stooping to check the other man's pulse. It was slow and steady.

"Angel? He'll be out for about three hours. Is that enough time for you?"

Angel stepped out from behind the stage camera and strolled onto the stage as Joyce, from her vantage point in the control room, raised the house lights to three-quarter brightness. "Plenty of time, and it's almost dusk already. I'll have everything back to normal by the time the night crew gets here."

He raised his voice slightly. "Joyce?"

She keyed the mike in the control room and answered his unspoken question. "It's all on tape. Angel did a beautiful job as cameraman. Lots of close-ups."

"Excellent." Giles turned his attention back to the vampire. "You've got your way home, then?"

"It's all taken care of. Just don't leave the chains on the doors, okay?"

Giles chuckled. "I'll remove them immediately. Angel..."

The vampire took a step closer. "Yes, Giles?"

"Thank you."

Angel gave him a crooked smile. "For her... anything."

Giles nodded. "For her."

They went their separate ways, leaving the fallen, broken Councilman in the middle of a darkened stage.

* * * * *

Joyce watched from the top deck as the passenger boat pulled away from Two Harbors and headed back towards the mainland. Giles and Buffy had gone forward to examine the control room, much to the delight of the three-man crew. A beautiful young lady visiting the helm was a welcome diversion for them. Giles played the part of the dutiful father for a short while, then abandoned her to her own devices, completely confident in her ability to handle both herself *and* the crew.

He could only think of Joyce, and how much he'd enjoyed her presence, despite the circumstances. When he emerged from the control room, he saw her, and came over to stand by her side.

"We should come back." She spoke as soon as he was close enough to hear her.

"Are you sure? I was afraid there would be too many... uhm, unpleasant memories."

"They weren't all unpleasant, but I want to come back and make more good memories, to offset the bad."

"That could be arranged, I suppose." He smiled at her, then reached into his pocket. "Shall we begin now?" He handed the object to her, and shy, hopeful smile on his face.

She gasped, then smiled happily as she opened the velvet case. "It's a good start, Rupert..."

* * * * *

One week later...

The air was still brisk, but the sun had risen, glorious and warm. The small coffee shop on the outskirts of Sunnydale was beginning to fill up with coffee drinkers, truckers, and locals getting their morning sugar fix. Sitting in a booth alone, Giles sipped his coffee, trying not to wince at the over-boiled, bitter taste. He didn't drink coffee often, and the cup in his hand reminded him why, and quite effectively.

He was dressed for school, feeling a little out of place amongst the flannel and denim of the surrounding crowd. He almost sighed in relief as two men entered the cafe, dressed in heavy gray tweed. At least now he didn't feel overdressed.

They slid into the booth facing him, their faces impassive. The taller man spoke. "Rupert, good to see you again." He did not offer his hand. It wasn't good practice in their line of work. They had too many dealings with shapeshifters, demons, and humans-turned-vampires to risk that vulnerability.

Giles smiled briefly. "Good to see you both, Alistair, Cyril." Typical Councilmen, these two. Yet, for all their tradition, they were the ones who defended him most vehemently against Travers and his cabal during his probationary period as a Watcher-in-Training. The Council did not take disobedience and desertion lightly. Giles had these two men and their influence to thank for being reinstated as a full member, and eventually being assigned to Buffy. He owed them a debt of gratitude.

The gray haired man lifted a finger, calling the waitress to their table. "Coffees for both of us, and a half-dozen of your most disgustingly sticky jelly donuts."

She grinned, wrote down the order, and disappeared.

Giles grunted in approval at his order. "I still have a craving for jellies, Cyril, after all these years."

Cyril laughed softly. "A harmless addiction, Rupert, nothing to worry about. After all, I've maintained the disgusting habit myself since our first visit to America twenty years ago. Indulge yourself."

"I shall." He laid a manila envelope on the table between them. "Here it is, gentlemen. A confession, not the most concise, I'm afraid, but quite incriminating, and, I might add, quite entertaining. I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this mucked-up mess." Cyril accepted the package without a word, dropping it into the briefcase he had carried with him.

"We shall deal with things, never fear." Alistair tapped the table softly. "We've already begun. Travers tipped his hand when he volunteered for this duty. The chairman isn't as thick as some would believe."

"Thank God." Giles breathed, just as the waitress deposited their pastries in front of them.

"Was that for our efforts, or for the jellies, Rupert?" Cyril's eyes sparkled with humor.

"Both, actually." He lifted the donut, taking a healthy bite. His eyes closed in pleasure. "Mmmm, heavenly."

"Well, we'd best eat up and get on with our mission. We've yet to collect our poor, deluded Mister Travers from the facilities in Los Angeles. I understand he's been under constant observation since his arrival. They're quite convinced he's gone round the bend." He paused, then grinned at his long time friend. "It is good to see you doing well, Rupert, quite well, in fact, if I've heard correctly. I do hope we can visit again soon, under more pleasant circumstances. We're hoping to, in a few months, aren't we, Alistair?"

Alistair nodded, a bemused expression on his face. "We are, indeed. By the way, old man, congratulations. I feared you'd go to your grave a bachelor."

"Thank God Joyce rescued me from doddering bachelorhood. You're both coming to the wedding, then?"

Cyril grinned widely. "Wouldn't miss it, old boy, wouldn't miss it."

"Splendid. You must bring Sarah and Chloe with you. Joyce would adore them both." Giles stopped smiling, and said, in a subdued tone, "You don't suppose there'll be any trouble, do you?"

Alistair looked uncertain. "I should hope not. Surely the Chairman will reverse your dismissal in light of recent events. Travers didn't have as many 'friends' as he thought, and those he relied upon have all but deserted him now."

"The title is no longer important to me. My only concern is for Buffy and Joyce." Giles frowned into his cup, swirling the vile black liquid around the bottom. "They've suffered a great deal of misery at the Council's hand. They deserve a respite of peace."

"I certainly agree. I'll keep you posted on the situation when get back home. I don't think you have any fear of reprisal, at this point, Rupert. However, they've already arranged to send a replacement Watcher."

Giles looked up at that, surprised. "So soon? I was rather hoping... oh, well, it doesn't matter."

"Sorry to be the bearer of unpleasant news, old boy." Cyril looked sympathetic.

Alistair finished his coffee with a slight grimace, and stood. "We must dash, Rupert, but we wish you the best. I wouldn't fret too much about the new boy. They don't have anyone remotely ready, so it will have to be a figurehead position, at best."

Giles waved a ten at the waitress as he stood with his friends. "Please take care of yourselves. I do want to see you in June, hale, hearty, and ready to embarrass me in front of my friends and family."

They all laughed, then said their farewells. Giles watched them get into their car and drive away. Sighing, he started towards his Citroen and another day as Sunnydale High School's mild-mannered librarian. As he started the engine and began to drive away, his thoughts turned to Joyce, and he began to smile.

Read the next chapter: Every Little Thing She Does...