Three Little Words
written by Koala


Rating: FRM
Spoilers: "Passion".
Summary: Love can be easy to feel, but hard to say. A "what might have been" story, had Giles not left Jenny alone in the computer lab that fateful night.
Feedback Author: Koala
Author's Website: Koala's Place



Sometimes, Giles thought, I'm such a prat.

Thumping the heel of his hand on the Citroen's steering wheel in utter frustration, he pulled to the curb and stopped the car. He was halfway to Buffy's house to retrieve the book containing the revocation spell to keep Angelus out of their homes, despite knowing, the very moment he drove from the school parking lot, that he should not have left Jenny in the computer lab the way he had.

I should have told her before I . . . before I ran away.

"Damn it," he muttered, rubbing his hand over his chin, feeling the scratch of his five o'clock shadow.

Yesterday, the first time he had spoken with her in weeks, Jenny admitted she had fallen in love with him. His heart had soared with the knowledge that he had been granted the second--or was it third, or even fourth?--chance for which he had longed. All day today, he had been working up a way, not to mention the courage, to confess that the feeling was mutual. And all day, the strength, and the right words, had thoroughly evaded him.

School was long over, the sun set, by the time Giles finally mustered the nerve to set things right between them. Lord knew, he was done with the practicing, having spent the better part of two hours pacing the deserted library, rehearsing what he wanted to say. In the end, he felt as immature and awkward as a schoolboy admitting to his first crush. He had wasted enough time, perhaps too much, and fearfully suspected Jenny had gone for the day until a somewhat frantic check on the staff parking lot revealed her classic Volkswagen Beetle, annoyingly askew between two straight lines.

So, tentatively, Giles had dropped by Jenny's classroom, his briefcase and overcoat in hand, as if he had simply happened by her door on his way home . . . even though they were both aware that the computer lab was in the opposite direction to the parking lot.

Jenny had been engrossed in a 'special project' on which she did not elaborate, and as he watched her, unawares, from the doorway, a new sense of calm flooded through him. This was Jenny, after all. Dear sweet Jenny, whose very presence stirred him in a way no other woman could. How could saying those three little words be so hard?

She was so beautiful in the lamplight and shadow, so intoxicating to his soul, that he found himself captivated, helpless but to stand and observe for an instant that lasted an eternity, just drinking her in. She would never know how much he had wanted to take her in his arms, right then, and never let her go.

"Hello?" Giles had called, immediately feeling guilty for startling her. Fortified by her welcoming smile, assured that he was indeed doing the right thing, he entered the lab and sat on the edge of her desk. If only Jenny had let him speak first, maybe then he would have been able to tell her he loved her, but instead she bought up the subject of Buffy, which instantly chased his hard-won resolve out the proverbial window. Reluctant to leave, but nonetheless tongue-tied by what he truly desired to say, they arranged to meet later, at his house, and left it at that.

Alone in the darkness of his Citroen, Giles ran a frustrated hand through his hair, and again cursed his nagging cowardice when it came to expressing his true feelings. He had been raised in a home where, despite the intrinsic awareness that he was loved, his parents had never found the need to voice affection, or to offer a hug.

Glancing behind at the deserted residential street, Giles found himself torn between continuing on to Buffy's house for the spell book, or returning to the school to finish what he started. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the rear vision mirror, and frowned.

"Fool," he said aloud, then grimaced at his own reaction. 'Later' was not soon enough. What he had to say to Jenny, he should have told her weeks ago. Slipping the car into gear, he did a U-turn in the middle of the street and headed back to the high school. Buffy would still be expecting him in another hour or so. What possible harm could there be from a slight delay?

* * * * *

"Jenny," Giles rehearsed as he pulled into his usual parking place at Sunnydale High, "I-I know we've been through a l-lot these past few months... "

Cutting the engine, he shook his head. Don't buffalo her with babble, Rupert, just get to the point! He climbed out of the car, automatically locking the door. Due to Snyder's latest scheme, an energy-saving kick that mandated every third external floodlight extinguished between the hours of 8pm and dawn, the area was awash with gloom and long shadows. Giles eagerly sought out Jenny's Volkswagen in the dimness, relieved to find it still parked crookedly in her allotted space. Good, she was still there.

Absently jiggling his key ring, he took a few steps toward the school entrance. "Jenny," he began again, "you know I've always been extremely fond of you . . . no, damn it--"

Giles stopped mid-sentence, glancing up at the sound of hurried footsteps echoing on concrete, in time to see a shadowy figure running along the upper colonnade of the building before him.

The shock of recognition made him inhale her name. "Jenny!"

Another figure, taller and clad a long black coat, followed at an almost idle run. The man's depraved laughter, as if he was thoroughly enjoying his pursuit of a woman fleeing for her life, sent buckets of ice down Giles' spine.

Angelus!

Jenny's desperate cry, somewhere off to the left side of the mezzanine as she struggled with the closed door to the adjoining building, sent Giles scrambling back to the Citroen on legs of jelly.

Oh, dear Lord, no! Not Jenny!

Hands shaking, his heart in his throat and his mind daring to contemplate life without her, Giles fumbled his keys as he opened the trunk. From it, he retrieved his loaded crossbow and two spare bolts. Without bothering to close the lid, he sprinted across the darkened school lawn at a frantic run.

* * * * *

Giles heard her coming before he saw her, the clack of her impractical high heels loud on the tile of the deserted school hall. Suddenly, she flew into view, just a few yards ahead. Angelus was close at her heels, ready to pounce and end his bloodthirsty little game of cat-n-mouse at any moment. Looking over her shoulder, intent on the location of her pursuer rather than where she was headed, Jenny did not see salvation coming toward her from an intersecting hallway, or else she might have run directly toward Giles.

Out of sheer desperation, as she passed a custodian's cart she flung it directly into Angelus' path. It was a remarkably effective ploy, tripping the vampire and sending cleaning supplies and equipment in every direction. Without waiting around to see the outcome of what she must have considered a temporary reprieve, Jenny turned right angles to the main hallway and headed up some dimly lit steps.

Angelus picked himself up off the tiles with a bemused shake of his head. As the vampire smiled, morbidly appreciating the futility of her actions, Giles planted his feet amidst the scattering of spray cleaners and aerosol cans, and took aim with his crossbow. He was further away from his target than he liked, but he was out of time in the distance-closing department. As Angelus prepared to chase Jenny up the stairs, Giles pulled the trigger, nailing the vampire in the right shoulder.

Damn, he had been aiming for his heart!

Angelus whipped around, focusing on him with a dangerous snarl of recognition. "Well, what do you know? I think I might have myself a little appetizer before dinner." He began a menacing stalk toward Giles, one hand going to the protruding arrow shaft and ripping it from his shoulder without so much as a flinch.

Giles backed up, endeavoring to keep the distance separating them constant, struggling to load another crossbow bolt. The damn thing had an 80-pound draw on it. Normally, he would have cocked it by placing it point down to the floor and bracing his foot in the stirrup. But normally, he was not retreating backwards down a hall from an exceedingly ticked off vampire. Making do, he parked the stock on his thigh, and struggled to get enough leverage to jog the string back to the latch. If nothing else, he had succeeded in distracting Angelus from Jenny, and if giving his life was a way to save hers, then, he abruptly realized, he would gladly give it.

Something underfoot made him lose his footing. Shoe skidding out from under him on a wayward cleaning cloth, Giles lost his feeble purchase on his spare bolts. The bowstock slipped off his thigh. Half-cocked, it accelerated away from him as if it had been snapped on the end of a bungee cord, landing on the tiled floor with a clatter, several yards behind.

Down on one knee as Angelus drew ever closer, Giles sought a hand weapon. He came up with a mop, regaining his feet and gripping its long wooden handle like a quarterstaff. Angelus reached for him, and Giles parried the groping arm like he was swatting flies. Annoyed, Angelus again tried to grab him. And again Giles parried, using momentum to follow through, bringing up the wet, sordid, gray fronds for a quick, and no doubt unpleasant, slop in his opponent's face.

Angelus stopped, spitting filth and grit from his mouth, giving Giles a scant few seconds to better assess his situation. With the vampire still busy wiping muck from his eyes, Giles brought the mop handle down across his knee and broke the shaft in two. The action rewarded him with a makeshift stake, the splintered end nicely tapered to a meaningful point.

Giles leveled it, donning his best poker face to hide the fact that he had broken into a fear-induced sweat. He prayed he had bought Jenny enough time to take refuge in her car, and that she was presently on her way to safety.

Hands on his hips, Angelus chuckled malevolently. "Is that the best you can do, Watcher?"

"Try me and find out."

"Better still," said another voice, "try this!"

Angelus whirled in surprise. Behind him stood . . . Jenny! Even before Giles' brain could comprehend her foolhardy return, she threw her hands forward, emptying the contents of two cleaning containers right in the vampire's eyes.

Shrieking, face in his hands, Angelus folded and withdrew in something akin to agony. Horrified by what she had done, Jenny dropped the cleaning fluids, while Giles gagged on a caustic waft of toxic chemicals and seared flesh. Vaporous wisps smoked out from between Angelus' clenched fingers, and followed him like a personal cloud as he blindly stumbled away down the deserted school hallway.

Stunned, angered, and grateful of Jenny's return, Giles crossed to her in three quick strides. He grabbed her by the elbow and turned her to face him, all the while keeping a surreptitious eye on the incapacitated, and fleeing, vampire. "Jenny, are you all right?"

She didn't answer, her gaze glued to Angelus as he lurched against the doors at the end of the hall that had hindered her own flight, fell out them, and disappeared from sight.

Sensing they had won the battle, not the war, Giles turned his full attention to the careful study of Jenny as she stood, transfixed, by the slow closing hallway door. Cold, clammy sweat beaded her brow and upper lip, and a glassy-eyed look of shock had started to set in. He gave her a tiny shake, vying for her attention. "Jenny?"

She regarded him in complete surprise. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but choked on the words to describe the horror she had just been through. Quite unexpectedly, she fell apart before his eyes.

Crushed, Giles hesitated. Instinct shouted at him to take her in his arms and comfort her, but circumstance reminded him that their relationship had taken an about face from all physical contact after Jenny's true heritage had been revealed.

Awkward, he petted her arm instead. Feeble consolation as it was, it was all the invitation Jenny needed. She turned into him, sobbing openly against his chest, so unlike the headstrong and confident computer teacher he knew that it broke his heart in two. Surrendering to impulse, Giles raised his arms to embrace her, shushing gently in her ear while keeping a cautious eye on the hall doors. When a dose of the shakes began to follow her tears, Giles slipped out of his coat.

"Let's get out of here," he said, gently draping the suit jacket over her slumped shoulders. Wrapping his arm around her, Giles steered Jenny out the way he had come in. Pausing, he retrieved his crossbow and wooden bolts from the floor, sparing a moment to load the weapon in the correct manner, on the off chance they further needed its protection before they reached his car.

* * * * *

She hardly uttered a sound on the entire drive to his apartment. Since Jenny was clearly in no condition to negotiate the operation of her own vehicle, Giles decided they would go in his car, and he would drive her back to collect hers from the school parking lot whenever the time arose. Judging from her apathetic silence, and the way she practically crawled into the folds of his coat in an attempt to escape the world, that was not going to be any time soon.

Parked at the curb outside his house, a quick glance up and down the street confirmed that Angelus had seen enough of the superior tag team of Giles and Calendar for one night. Still clutching his coat to her body as if it were some magic suit of vampire armor, Jenny listlessly allowed him to lead her up the steps to his front door. It tore him apart to see her reduce to this. Perhaps a nice hot cup of tea would help ease her nerves.

As they approached the front door, Giles brought them to an uneasy stop. Something was not right.

"What?" Jenny murmured, hardly daring to lift her head from his shoulder. "God, I think I'm gonna throw up."

"Wait here," he said, leaving her to move to the door. A single, long-stemmed rose was wedged into one of its decorative frets. Instincts going to full alert, Giles plucked it from its perch and cautiously pushed it open.

That the door was unlocked was his first clue something was horribly amiss. His second was the champagne-on-ice and two long-stemmed glasses waiting inside on his table, and a folded piece of parchment that simply promised unknown pleasures 'upstairs'. His Puccini album was also on the table, ready to fully set the mood. Aware that he had left the crossbow in his car, and that his weapons locker was out of immediate reach on the other side of the room, Giles sidestepped to throw a wary glance up to his bedroom in the loft. Romantic red candles nestled in the corner of each step, waiting to be lit, while more roses and a sensual scattering of petals adorned the stairs themselves. Heavy darkness clung to the landing at the top, ominous in its presence yet unintimidating by the very nature of its continuing stillness. Whoever set this up had now departed.

Giles gave his transformed abode another look. Someone had gone to a great deal of effort to turn his ascetic bachelor apartment into a scene of passionate seduction, and Giles was appalled, given the night's events, by his guess at the culprit. Angelus, it appeared, had more heinous plans for Jenny than simply just her cold-blooded demise.

Sickened by such depravity, the monstrously appalling thought of finding her dead in his bed, Giles turned away . . . just as Jenny, very much alive, dashed past with her hand clamped to her mouth. Luckily, she made it to the bathroom before retching. Following, Giles stopped at the door, and helplessly rode it out with her from afar. Finally, Jenny straightened from over the toilet, shaky, cold, and with skin the pallor of alabaster.

"Told you I was ready to puke," she said, matter of fact, tearing a length of paper from the roll to wipe her mouth.

"We have to leave," Giles said, with no time to offer compassion. He had been on his way to Buffy's house to retrieve the revocation spell book when he had returned to the school. As such, Angelus still had full and uncontested access to his home. "We're not safe here."

"What?" She flushed the commode. He snagged her hand to pull her back through to the living room. On the return trip, Jenny spied all the same props he had, on a stage unmistakably set for a serious romantic tryst. She pulled up short, and looked her question at him.

"I'll explain later," he insisted, tucking his arm around her again. He moved them both outside onto the front terrace, slamming the door almost triumphantly in their wake, before heading back to the Citroen.

Giles and Calendar, two. Angelus, nil.

* * * * *

Giles fastidiously triple-checked the locks on Jenny's front door, prompting her to speak.

"I told you," she said for the second time as she watched him fuss. "I never invited Angel inside to begin with. He can't come in, even if you leave the door wide open."

"I want to be certain you're safe." Satisfied, Giles turned to her in the modest, but comfortable, living room. It was in its usual state of absolute chaos, but now was not the time to reprimand her housekeeping. "Because I don't . . . want to lose you."

They held each other's gaze across the small distance that separated them. Now that the moment seemed sublimely right to share a tender embrace and admit their unrequited love, neither of them attempted to turn thought into action.

"Oh, God," Jenny murmured. She glanced away, sinking down onto the couch as his words served as a reminder of her escape from certain death. Finally letting go her grip on his suit coat, she pressed both hands to her face, and vainly tried to hold back another flood of tears.

Awkward again, Giles debated over what he should do, or indeed, what she wanted him to do. Follow gut instinct again and go to her, or maintain the professional distance that would be far easier to deal with in the morning? While her living room was not virgin soil to him, the rooms beyond its bounds were still very much her domain, her inner sanctum of unconquered privacy. Had they been lovers, then circumstances would warrant the former approach. But as their on-again-off-again relationship was now, he felt clumsily inept to be standing there, watching her cry her eyes out.

"I . . . " Giles paused, and his heart ripped in a dozen different directions. "I should go. B-Buffy has your spell book, and I need to retrieve it in order to . . . "

His words trailed off as Jenny looked up, absolute horrified that he should even consider the idea of leaving her now.

"Please don't." She fixed him with red, tear-blurred eyes that shredded the last of his resolve. "I . . . I need you."

The lump of raw emotion in his throat was as large and as difficult to swallow as a baseball. Crossing the room, Giles sat with her on the couch, the tentative, unassuming hand he placed in the middle of her back for comfort beginning a tender, involuntarily caress. Jenny wiped the tears from her cheeks with shaking hands, sniffing loudly in an effort to reign all her fraught emotions back inside. Giles couldn't help but speculate if letting go was the better option. Bottled feelings had a way of exploding in unpredictable ways.

"Can I make you a cup of tea?"

A feeble chuckle escaped her. "Tea, the catchall remedy." She offered a weak smile. "I'm a coffee girl, Rupert. Remember?"

"Coffee then. Something to eat perhaps?"

Jenny declined both with a small shake her head. Collecting what remained of her composure, she raked her hands through her loose, dark hair, unaware how much this simple action made him pine to do the same. She ended by huffing out a long, fatigued breath. Her brief bout with shock had passed--throwing up at his place had been a good thing--but it had left her drained and physically exhausted.

"Perhaps I should just put you to bed," he said, concerned.

Glancing up from under a lock of tussled hair, Jenny threw him a sly smile despite the timing. "Do you have any idea how long I've waited to hear you say something like that?"

Abruptly aware of the unintentional connotations, Giles balked. "Yes, well, I-I never meant to imply . . . "

"Relax, Rupert." Jenny sighed again. "I'm not up for anything more than just sleeping tonight."

Taking that as an affirmative to his suggestion, Giles took her shoulders and helped her to her feet. He balked again, feeling completely ludicrous for having to ask. "Um, bedroom?"

Jenny pointed out the direction with an unenthusiastic hand. With a nod, he started them both down the short hall toward it.

* * * * *

Respecting her privacy, Giles left Jenny to wash her face, brush her teeth, and change into her night attire unassisted. He used the time to return to the living room and make a telephone call. Buffy answered quickly on the other end, as if she had been passing when it rang.

"Buffy?" Giles said into the phone. "Yes, yes, I know. I was on my way over for it when . . . Buffy, Jenny--Ms. Calendar has been attacked." He leaned heavily against the wall, pushing two fingers up under his glasses to rub tired eyes. "It was Angel. No, she's . . . just a little shaken, that's all."

Angered, Buffy dropped the phone. Another voice suddenly replaced her. "Willow? No, no, everything's fine. Angel attacked Jenny, but I assure you, she's all right. She's alive. I'm at her place now, and I'm . . . going to stay with her tonight. Tell Buffy I'll get the book from her in the morning and . . . and not to do anything rash."

Saying goodnight, he returned the receiver to its cradle. For the first time, he really hit him just how close he had come to loosing the woman he loved. Had Fate not intervened and made him return to the high school, then his telephone call might have held a complete different tone as he broke the news of her inevitable death. Absently, he wondered how Angelus had faired in the wake of Jenny's volatile chemical cocktail, whether the vampire was permanently blinded or disfigured, or if such hideous physical deformities would make it any easier for Buffy to look him in the eye when she killed him . . .

Drained emotionally, Giles knocked the back of his head against the wall a few times and stared at the ceiling. He sucked down a long breath, meant to fortify. What if Angelus had killed Jenny? What if he had come home to discover her lifeless body amidst the cruel charade of a love never to be consummated? Or even confessed?

Something stirred in the pit of his stomach, a passion he recognized as cold-blooded rage. Pushing away from the wall, his hands involuntarily clenching into white-knuckled fists, Giles found himself wanting to lash out against Angelus. He wanted to . . . take a baseball bat to the bastard and beat him until he was senseless. Payment for both what he did, and what he might have done.

But Jenny was alive, and safe, and--thank God--still in his life. Forcing himself to relax, Giles pulled himself together, and slowly headed back toward the bedroom. Fate had granted him another chance, and he had no one to blame but himself if he neglected to take it.

* * * * *

Her back was to him, seen through the bedroom door she had left ajar. In his absence, she had turned off the overhead light, preferring the soft illumination of the blue-silver moonlight coming through the skylight. Hand raised to knock and announce his presence, Giles hesitated at the tantalizing flash of bare flesh, as Jenny finished pulling a silky white nightshirt up over her slim shoulders and buttoned it. Long tanned legs disappeared enticingly under the tails of a sleep shirt that just barely covered her; tempting him, testing him. Flipping her dark hair onto her back, she turned, unaware of his scrutiny, and stooped to pull back the covers of the bed between them. The move afforded him much more than a shameful glimpse at her cleavage.

Guiltily looking at his feet, Giles lightly rapped on the door.

"I'm decent," Jenny called, continuing to climb into bed. She was pulling the bedcovers across her legs as he entered, doing his damnedest to look everywhere but directly at her.

"Well, I see y-you're . . . settled for the night," he floundered. Jenny cocked her head at him, which forced him to rush on. "So if I could just b-borrow a pillow, I'll be . . . quite comfortable on the couch."

"Rupert, come here."

His gaze obediently zeroed in on hers, making him pray the diffuse lighting hid the naked desire in his eyes. Jenny smiled tenderly, and patted the bedcovers beside her.

"I don't bite," she teased, though her heart wasn't in it. "Much."

"Jenny, I-I . . . "

Thankfully, she took up the slack when the entire English language failed him. "Rupert, I just . . . " Unsure, she looked away and bit her lower lip. "I know things are still rocky between us, and that I have no right to ask you to do this, but . . . " She met his gaze with pleading eyes. "I just need someone to hold me. I'm not asking for anything more."

How any man, in the history of mankind itself, could have possibly refused such an offer was a mystery Giles never stopped to contemplate. Feet shuffling him forward as if on their own accord, he sat on the vacant side of the bed, taking a moment to pull off his shoes, and loosen his collar and tie. Glasses finding purchase beside the alarm clock, he rolled over to meet her, nose to nose, on a moon-washed pillow.

They regarded each other for an extended moment; she in her night wear, snuggled safe under the blankets, he in his trousers and shirtsleeves, stretched out on top of them.

"Why did you come back to the school tonight?" Jenny asked softly.

To tell you that I love you, his inner voice answered. And I do, dear sweet, Jenny. I love you so very much.

"I . . ." His courage fled. "Don't know."

Imbecile!

"If you hadn't . . . " Distressed by the thought of the outcome had he not, Jenny glanced away.

Wishing he could take away the memory and all the torment it caused, Giles reached out to brush her cheek with the back of his hand. Jenny pressed into his touch, like a neglected kitten starved for attention. Tenderly covering his hand with her own, she met his gaze once more.

"But I did," he said. "And you're here, and you're safe. Does 'why' really matter?"

"No." Jenny moved closer, prompting him to turn onto his back.

She nestled her head against his shoulder, her palm flat on his chest. One of his hands slipped beneath the blanket and found an instinctive resting place on her hip, while the other covered the small fingers on his chest and held them to his heart. It was a position that came as easily and naturally as if they had been sleeping together all their lives.

"Promise me," Jenny whispered, settling close, "you'll still be here when I wake up."

"I promise." Giles nuzzled the top of her head with his cheek. He wasn't going anywhere.

He waited until her breathing shallowed, signaling sleep, until the thump-thump of her heart had slowed to a steady, rhythmic beat. With a gentle kiss on the top of her head, Giles closed his eyes and sought some much needed sleep. He was content just to be, to have Jenny safe, alive, and back in his arms where she belonged.

* * * * *

Giles woke with a patch of sunlight warming his cheek. Such was the brilliance of the new day, it made him blink several times, as he looked down at the woman asleep in his arms. So . . . this was what it felt like to wake up with Jenny Calendar. With a wane smile, he decided that he liked it, and that he could very easily get used to it.

At some point in the night, they had both rolled to their sides, but never had she left the protective circle of his embrace. Her back was now against his chest, and her derrière, pressed to his groin, went a long way to inspiring some of the more basic carnal urges.

Stifling a groan, Giles rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and rolled over. Jenny stirred, turning over to throw a lazy smile at him. Rising to her elbow, she allowed a sultry curtain of hair to fall partway across her face as she looked down at him.

"Good morning," he said, automatically combing it back over her ear.

A rueful smile appeared on her face. "Not exactly what I had in mind for our first night together." She tugged at the bedcovers wedged between them, which had successfully nullified any real chance of full body contact, accidental or otherwise.

Still on his back, Giles broke into a lewd grin and let the moment take him. "Perhaps, next time, we should employ just a touch more 'squirm'."

Jenny raised a speculative eyebrow. "Did you say, 'next time'?" she asked mischievously, paraphrasing him. She returned his grin, sharing his slightly risqué mood as she lay with him in a swath of crisp morning sunshine.

Even sleep-tussled and without makeup, she was a breathtakingly beautiful creature, somehow possessing the ability to reach deep into his soul and make it her own. Lust quickly turned to love; mutual in its recognition, joint in its acceptance.

The moment seemed impossibly right. Cupping her cheek, Giles encouraged her lips down to his, and kissed her. It was a sweet, gentle kiss, demanding nothing, taking even less.

When he released her, Jenny smacked her lips, clearly debating whether to go back for seconds. She was just leaning down toward him again, when she spied the alarm clock out of the corner of her eye. Blurting out a very unladylike and mood-deflating expletive, she pushed away and hurriedly left the bed.

"What is it?" Giles sat up, bewildered, watching her dash around the bedroom plucking underwear from the bureau and clothes from the closet.

"6:45. We're gonna be late for school."

It was such a ridiculously normal statement, coming on the heels of such a traumatic evening, that he almost laughed. "Jenny--"

"No, you don't understand. Angel trashed a computer last night. Snyder will have a cow if he sees the lab before I get it tidied up. You know what a tight ass he is about the equipment budget." Clean clothes bundled to her chest, Jenny skidded to a stop on the way to the shower. "And the disk!"

"What disk?"

"Remember, last night, when you came to see me? I said I was working on a special project?"

"Yes."

"Well, the translation worked! Angel may have trashed the computer and burned the printout, but I still have the disk. Rupert, I can restore Angel's soul!"

He frowned. "Even after the way he terrorized you?"

"Especially after the way he terrorized me." She feigned a shiver at the memory. "I wouldn't want to go through that again."

"I must admit, nor would I." Next time, they may not fair so well.

"Of course, I'll need another Orb . . . "

"Thesulan Orb?"

"Yes."

"I have one." She spared him a surprised look. He shrugged. "I was using it as a paperweight."

"Then it'll work," she said happily. Turning back toward the bathroom, she stubbed her toe on one of his discarded shoes. Playfully, she picked it up and threw it at him. "So get your butt out of my bed, England, and get a move on. There's a lot to do today, starting with you driving me to school before you go home for a shower and shave."

Giles grinned, feeling heartfelt appreciation to have his Jenny back.

"Jenny, I love you," he said, without any prior debate, need for rehearsal, or fear of repercussions. The moment had simply called for those three little words, which were no less sincere for their spontaneity. Still, he found himself startled at how easily they had come. How naturally.

Jenny stared at him for a moment, trying to decide if she had heard him correctly, or indeed if he truly meant it.

Growing a little more serious, Giles told her again so there could be no mistake. "I love you."

"I know," she said wryly. Two steps took her back to the bed. Leaning down, she captured his lips in a slightly more provocative kiss. "And tonight," she whispered as they drew apart, "I intend to let you show me just how much."

At that, Jenny left him sitting there, fully clothed and rumpled from sleep, as she disappeared into the bathroom for a quick shower.

Smiling, considering himself a very lucky man, Giles rose from the bed to hunt down his other shoe. In his years as Watcher, he had the opportunity and the means to save the lives of a lot of people. But Jenny had been the first he had loved, and her brush with death only emphasized how empty his own life would be without her in it. Fate had torn them apart with a secret, only to intervene again and bring them back together. No longer were they destined to be two different people, from two different worlds, following two separate paths.

Now they had each other, and the passion of one very special love to share.

END