The Unbreakable Series
Part 1 - Recontre

written by Koala


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Season 5
Summary: What would Season 5 have been like if Buffy had fallen in love with Giles? This series explores that question with an AU retelling of the last half of the season. The first chapter introduces a Buffy/Giles romance, which then threads through the other chapters. Many feature new plots and twists while still following the basic 'Glory' arc.
Dedication/Thanks: With mucho thanks to my friends, as always, who are only an email away whenever I need them. You guys keep me going! Also thanks to my great beta readers. D: you rock!
Feedback Author: Koala
Author's Website: Koala's Place



Giles warily circled his blindfolded Slayer, his eyes focused on the back of her head, where her golden hair plumed in a fetching ponytail. The stray strands that had pulled free during their earlier hand-to-hand workout glittered alluringly, like spun gold, in the dimmed light of the training room, after hours Friday night.

Just that morning, he had sat with her for seemingly endless hours in the waiting room of Sunnydale General, his Slayer completely immobilized pending the outcome of her mother's brain surgery. The others had drifted in and out while they waited for the neurosurgeon to show; Dawn, Xander, Willow, and Riley. Buffy had so much support from her friends that she would probably not have missed him had he left, except that his love for her made it impossible for him to stay away. So he sat in a hard chair opposite her for hours on end, finding her coffee and candy bars without complaint, and watching her find the compassion he wanted to give in the arms of her boyfriend. This was, of course, the way it should be, for while in the company of others, protocol dictated he maintain a respectful distance. Here and now, however, it was an entirely different matter.

Here in the training room, as she worked off the stress and stagnation of the day, she was all his.

Sweaty from exertion, his t-shirt plastered down his chest in a damp 'V' and his sweat pants clinging in all the usual places, Giles smiled a feral grin. Sparring with Buffy removed all inhibitions, all the constraints of what was considered a proper liaison between a Watcher and his Slayer. It was the one time when they were both allowed to cross the invisible line drawn by Council etiquette and get down and dirty, when physical contact was not only permitted, but encouraged.

Like predator and prey, they circled each other, Giles careful not to make any sudden moves or sounds that would alert Buffy to his position. The object behind this particular exercise was to develop her inherent Slayer skills to rely less on visual stimuli and more on her other senses. Plus, if he were being totally honest with himself, it afforded him the chance to ogle his beguiling and beautiful Buffy without fear of repercussions. No doubt she would be horrified at the notion of him looking at her with such wolfish infatuation, the idea that he was, contrary to her somewhat juvenile belief, a red-blooded male not yet past his prime.

The object of his unspoken desire stopped suddenly, her alert battle stance slowly relaxing into a more upright and casual pose that suggested she had no clue to his present location. Smiling triumphantly, Giles stopped too. Mindful, he continued to watch her, matching her in absolute stillness and silence, hardly even daring to breathe as he awaited her to either take her best shot or admit defeat. Knowing Buffy, it would not be the latter. She was merely stalling, using a gesture of surrender to trick him into revealing himself. It would have been a good tactic, had he not witnessed it before and been wise to its implementation.

He waited. So did she. She was such an exquisite creature, his Slayer, his beautiful Buffy. She had matured into a very bright and attractive young woman, who just happened to be as lethal as she was captivating. Now that she was of age, allowing himself to love her was no longer a question of morals or protocol as it had been in days past. Now it was simply a question of 'if only.' If only she paid him the slightest bit of attention, one tiny hint that she had noticed him as a man, rather than simply just her Watcher and friend. If only she were to give him some indication that she might ever be able to fall in love him, the way he had fallen so completely in love with her . . .

With a slight shake of his head, Giles attempted to school his wayward thoughts and concentrate on the task at hand. That sort of thinking only led to a cold shower and a sleepless night alone, for 'his Buffy' was only truly his in the depths of his wildest dreams. In the real world, she belonged to another man--Riley Finn to be precise. Watching her turn slightly, her face cocked toward the soft overhead light and her golden hair framing her face like a halo, she looked like a goddess. He wondered, not for the first time, if young Finn had any inkling of the incredible gift Buffy had bestowed on him by allowing him into her heart.

His broken heart heaved, forcing out a small sigh. No one knew better than he that his love for this young woman was destined to remain unrequited.

Too late, he realized his fatal mistake. Buffy's Slayer hearing instantly picked up on his sigh. His eyes widened in alarm as she swiveled to face him, zeroing in on his exact position. Before he had even drawn another breath, she pounced, throwing her entire body weight forward. However, she clearly misjudged the distance, thinking him further away than he actually was, and instead of landing in front of him where they could continue to spar, it was all he could do to fling out his arms in time to catch her as she bodily slammed into him.

They both went tumbling to the floor mats, Giles flat on his back with an 'oof' sound as all the air left his lungs, and Buffy on top of him, straddling his hips. For a brief instant, momentum and gravity pressed her body flat against his, tantalizing him with the rushed sensations of her sweaty skin against his sweaty t-shirt, and the fullness of her breasts crushed to his chest. His arms were still instinctively around her, promoting a natural mating position, which inconveniently spread her toned thighs across a most embarrassing anatomical spot.

Fire ignited in his loins at the feel of her.

In the time it took for him to comprehend that, any moment, she was going to notice his reaction to their accidental intimacy, Buffy pushed herself upright, tugged off the blindfold, and stared down at him in blessed ignorance.

"Oh my God, I'm sorry!" she blurted, both surprised and concerned. "Are you all right?"

"Never better," he returned jadedly, reluctantly forcing his arms to lay flat at his sides. Realizing that his glasses had been dislodged in the fall, he patted a hand in search of them.

Buffy spotted them on the mat above his head and automatically leaned forward to retrieve them, giving him a brief but perfect view down the front of the scoop-neck top. She returned them to his face with a culpable smile, and apologetically brushed the hair from his sticky brow. "Sorry."

"No harm done," he said, thoroughly mesmerized by her closeness and lingering touch. What the devil was she playing at, sitting on him in such a provocative manner, and touching him with a decidedly tender hand? "Um, if you wouldn't mind... ?"

He gestured for her to move, but she didn't. Buffy stayed exactly where she was, mischief suddenly flashing across her beautiful face. She wriggled her butt, indicating that she had discovered his embarrassing secret, countering his abrupt intake of breath with a wicked feminine grin.

"Gee, Giles, is that a stake in your pocket? Or do you normally get a big happy from training and I just haven't noticed?"

He groaned, at both her bad joke and the fact that in this position, he was completely unable to hide the truth; the fervor that had stirred into life. "Yes, yes, very amusing."

Taking matters into his own hands, he attempted to sit up, to dislodge her from his body and thus end this, but she resisted all efforts. Helplessly pinned down by Slayer strength, he looked up into her eyes again, praying she would be lenient with her comments about him being 'old and gross', and how it was completely inappropriate for a man his age to be 'turned on' by a girl her age.

He groaned again, closing his eyes, mortified and at her mercy.

The gentle touch of her hand on his cheek brought his gaze back to hers. Fingertips dancing nimbly over his five o'clock shadow, Buffy's playful smile faded, replaced by something far more mature and serious, something he never expected to see directed at him.

She leaned down toward him, the heat of her palms, flattened on his chest for balance, searing his skin beneath his damp t-shirt. "I never knew," she whispered, as if they weren't alone in the training room and the entire world was listening.

"What?" Giles barked, his humiliation coming out as anger. "That I'm a man? That I feel, and want, and have needs like a man?"

"That you have feelings for me." Buffy wriggled her butt again in emphasis, causing him to catch his breath. "Specifically, that you have that feeling for me."

"Hardly something I'm about to blurt out in casual conversation," Giles counted sarcastically.

"I dunno," she mused, her tone dropping to a whisper again. She leaned even closer, her gaze slipping from his in favor of close study of his lips. "Maybe it would have prompted me to try this before... "

Without hesitation, Buffy kissed him. It was the most incredible, soft, experimental, and meaningful kiss of his life. The world slowed, until reality became the space between heartbeats. He had two choices. He could pull away and act flattered yet adamant while he told her it was improper, or he could give in to his heart's desires and to hell with the consequences.

When her tongue tentatively parted his lips in search of a taste of his passion, all his reservations evaporated. How could anything about this possibly be wrong?

His heart made the choice, and he was enthusiastically kissing her back even before he consciously made the decision. He completely and conveniently forgot where they were, who they were, and how such a foolishly impulsive action would ultimately complicate everything about their lives together. Instead, his arms rose to take her in the tender embrace he had so longed to give. Without a fight, he shifted his body weight until he had rolled them over on the training mat, putting Buffy beneath him in a less dominant position. To his amazement and delight, her arms encircled his neck, encouraging him to continue, holding him to her in a way that said now she had found him, she never wanted to let him go.

Giles' heart soared. The woman he had loved from afar for so long was finally in his arms, driving him mad with her kiss and her loving touch. She was his at last, as he would always and forever be hers. Mouth to mouth, they remained locked in an unexpected yet passionate clinch, hungrily devouring each other until oxygen became an issue.

Breathless, they parted, their lips lingering close, undecided if this were the end or merely the beginning. But after a breath, reality forced its way into the fantasy. Doubt settled back in like a thunderous wave, Guilt raising flashing neon signs of CAUTION from the sidelines in his mind's eye.

Oh dear Lord... what had he just done?

Almost fearful of the reaction that awaited him, Giles bravely lifted his head to look down at the woman he loved, the same woman who until just a few minutes ago had only ever seen him as a trusted friend. He wouldn't blame her for feeling betrayed, or angry or hurt, because with very little encouragement, he had disregarded her trust, tossed off protocol, and selfishly plowed right on through the roadblocks of 'friend' forever.

He expected to find her looking back at him with something akin to horror and disgust. Instead, he found confusion in her eyes, mixed with a hint of fear.

That, more than anything, the idea that Buffy would fear him in any way, drove him to retreat. Letting her go, Giles hurriedly climbed to his feet. He turned his back, unable to watch as she picked herself up off the training mat. He raised his hand to his mouth, where the memory of her kiss would be forever imprinted on his lips, no matter how hard he tried to remove it or erase the fact that it had happened. They had kissed. And now he had to deal with the fallout.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Buffy spoke first. "I should get going," she said softly, behind him. He still couldn't bring himself to turn around and look at her.

"Yes," Giles answered, trying to sound casual and upbeat; trying to sound normal, lest she detect the tremor of guilt in his voice, the doubt in his mind, or the barely checked desire still begging for release. "I imagine Dawn will be waiting for her supper by now."

"Yeah. Plus Friday night, so I've got a date with Riley--"

Mention of her significant other made his gaze fly back to hers. Across the few feet that now separated them, he could tell she regretted mentioning her lover's name in the wake of... what? Of kissing another man? Did she regret the act with him as the recipient, or the fact that by partaking she had been unfaithful to her boyfriend? Unsure what to think, Giles shoved his hands into the pockets of his sweat pants and stared diligently at the floor mats.

Buffy cast her gaze the other way, swiftly following suit by turning to gather her jacket, towel, and water bottle.

Giles waited for what seemed an eternity as she collected her things in preparation of leaving, his emotions mixed. He wanted her to go, yet he wanted her to stay, too. He just didn't know which one he wanted most. Did she hate him? Love him? Did their kiss mean anything at all? Or was it just an experiment? A mistake? His feelings whirled from one to the other and back again in quick succession, confusing him no end.

Stirred into movement as she passed close by, he withdrew to the isolation of the vaulting horse, presently doubling as a towel rack. There, he slipped off his glasses and hid in the soft cotton terry, wiping cold sweat and hot passion from his skin. He heard the telltale squish of her soft-soled joggers meeting the concrete flooring at the back of the room, indicating she had left the mats and was headed for the door leading into the alley behind the Magic Box. He knew he should say something to her, but he couldn't think of what.

"Giles?"

"Yes?" he asked, mustering up that same false tone of normalcy, along with the courage to face her.

She hesitated, meeting his gaze across the room. He held his breath, trying unsuccessfully to decipher her guarded expression. Was she just as confused by what had happened as him? Or had it already been forgotten?

"Never mind," Buffy murmured. She turned and left, quietly closing the back door behind her.

Alone in the training room, Giles crumpled a little, until he was leaning against the vaulting horse for support. Raising his hand, he lightly touched his fingers to his lips, tracing the memory of where Buffy's kiss still burned.

Dear Lord... what had he done?

* * * * *

6:58am.

Buffy lay in her bed, watching the digits on the alarm clock creep hand-in-hand with the fingers of sunlight toward another lackluster Saturday morning.

6:59 . . .

She had been awake for most of the night, desperate for daybreak, yet unsure what she wanted from it once it came.

7:00 . . .

The alarm erupted into life, as expected, and she reached out a ready hand to silence the radio's 'top of the hour' beach report. An arm crept around her waist from behind, and a large hand with masculine fingers flexed lazily over her bare skin. It came to rest just below her breasts in a gesture that was both loving and possessive... also 'as expected.'

Moments later, Riley kissed her hair and whispered a sleepy greeting in her ear. "Morning."

Buffy continued to stare at the alarm clock as it clicked over to 7:01. "Hey," she returned, preferring to keep her back to him. The bed moved as he changed position, and the next she knew he was planting a row of hopeful kisses across her neck and down her shoulder.

"No 'good morning' kiss?" he asked, clearly trying to engage her in a far more sweaty activity.

Since it was the only way to nix his caresses, she finally turned over to face him. "Not now." She found a smile for him, aware that with things so rocky between them, it could be her last. "I'm really not in the mood."

"Well then, I suppose I should just be grateful you were 'in the mood' last night." Riley grinned, and gently touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "It's been a while."

That much, at least, was true. Last night was the best sex they'd had in a long time. But she could find no words to explain why it had been so exceptional, no easy way of confessing her guilty little secret, even though he deserved to hear it. How could she possibly tell him that last night, while making love in the dark, she had imagined the man moving above her, around her, inside her, to be another? That each time he pushed her over the brink, it had been all she could do to stop herself from crying out her Watcher's name? How could she explain it when she didn't even understand it herself? She didn't know why she had kissed Giles in the training room, except that after the startling discovery of how much she turned him on, she just wanted to. She never expected him to respond and kiss her back, and she never, ever expected to enjoy it to the point where he influenced her thoughts in the midst of high passion.

Riley was a sweet guy, and he deserved better; he certainly deserved the woman to whom he was making love to be 'present' at the time. None of it made any sense. She had kissed Giles, but she still had no clue why, or what it meant. God knew, she'd been turning it over in her mind all night, looking at it from every angle.

Riley leaned toward her to claim a kiss. Guilt-ridden, Buffy avoided him. She couldn't deal with that right now, or the fact that Riley's kisses, although loving, were somehow always about him. Everything was lately. His needs. His feelings. Giles' kiss, on the other hand, was completely about her. Without any words, Giles had managed to convey more about his feelings for her than Riley could ever hope to say in an entire lifetime. Giles loved her, and she--

No. That couldn't possibly be it.

Dismissing that line of reasoning, Buffy slipped from the bed, quickly hunting down an oversized t-shirt with 'TAZ' emblazoned on the front and a cartoon character on the back. It was one of Dawn's but it would do, eager as she was to remove the temptation of her nude form from appreciative eyes.

"It's a good thing your mom's still in the hospital," Riley commented as he watched her dress. He was referring to the fact that he'd been able to spend the night without any parental conflict.

Angered by the selfishness of his remark, Buffy rounded on him. "How dare you say that? My mom's recovering from brain surgery, and all you can think about is how easy that makes it to get into my bed?"

Realizing his verbal blunder, Riley hastily backtracked. "I didn't mean it like that. I just... " He blew her off with the wave of his hand, his own temper stirring. "Forget it. You always take everything so personally."

"Because it is personal," Buffy insisted. "Whether my mother lives or dies is about as personal as it gets."

Looking for a compromise, Riley tried again. "Buffy, I didn't mean it like that, I swear. Of course I care about your mom! You think I don't?"

"I think you could try showing a little compassion for once." Buffy felt the tears well in her eyes, but defiantly fought them down as she stared at him, daring a rebuke. They weren't tears for Riley, or even for herself. They were for her mother, and the dark foreboding that whispered to her whenever she let her defenses down.

Muttering something despicable under his breath, Riley rolled over, putting his back to her and an end to their bickering. It was something they seemed to do a lot of lately--bicker and fight.

God, was it any wonder she had fantasized about another man? Sometimes, Riley Finn really irritated her. Giles would never say anything so appallingly self-centered, even if he was trying to get into her bed . . .

The idea of Giles lying there instead of Riley, in the aftermath of a night of wild passion, completely stopped Buffy cold. For a moment, she just stood there, taking in the long, lean body wrapped in her sheets, and the gentle the curve of spine as he lay with his face turned away. It was almost easy to pretend, even in the daylight . . .

No!

She sat on the edge of her bed, angrily donning fluffy pink slippers while sniffing back persistent tears. This thing... whatever it was... with Giles was a complication she didn't want to even contemplate. She had her mother's unexpected illness to contend with, a crazy demon chick, who was ten times stronger than she was, searching for a secret Key, who just happened to be her sister, and the weight of the entire human world resting squarely on her shoulders. One broken love affair on her plate was enough, thank you very much. Whatever was between her and Giles, it would just have to go away by itself . . .

"Buffy?" The soft touch of fingertips running down her arm made her jump. "I'm sorry," Riley said, the zeal in his touch making her wonder if he actually meant it, or just wanted her back in bed. "You were right, it was a selfish thing to say, and I'm an idiot." He took hold of both her arms from behind, and applied force enough to make any normal girl fall helplessly into his waiting arms. "But I'm the idiot who loves you. Look, we have the house to ourselves, and it's Saturday. Why don't you let me show you how much?"

Still angry, Buffy easily pulled free. She turned to regard him, all naked and ruffled, grinning as he tried to seduce her back to the languid sunshine falling across her bed. In many respects, Riley Finn was a good catch, heroic and brave, a toned and tanned honey that any other girl would undoubtedly fight to keep. If only she loved him. Truth was, in the past few months the happy couple facade they presented to their friends and family had become a total sham. Despite the way they both covered for it, their relationship was in trouble, had been even before her mother got sick, long before Giles kissed her in a way that made her head spin.

"You're forgetting Dawn," Buffy announced flatly, annoyed that he had dismissed her sister in such a manner. "She'll want breakfast soon."

She knew then, with honest certainty, that there was nothing salvageable between them. It was now only a matter of time before they completely imploded, and the clock was already ticking. She looked at it for silent confirmation of the inevitable.

7:05--the beginning of the end.

Pushing to her feet, Buffy grabbed her robe as she headed out her bedroom door. "And I desperately need some caffeine... "

* * * * *

Dawn opened the front door before the sound of the first chime faded, almost as if she had been laying in wait. True she could have heard his car, but it seemed more likely to Giles that the teen had seen him walking up the path and been intrigued by his unconventional encumbrances.

"Hi, Giles."

"Good morning, Dawn." He struggled to smile at her over a beautiful bouquet of red Carnations and Rosebuds nestled in wispy Maidenhair fern, the Baby's Breath tickling his nose.

"Mom's still in the hospital," she reminded him, taking in the enormous spread of flowers and the equally large box of chocolates he was trying to juggle. "You know that right?"

"I do indeed. And her prognosis this morning?"

Dawn shrugged. "They still wanna keep her a few more days for observation. Maybe longer."

"Well, that does tend to be the case after any major surgery. I shouldn't worry too much. It's simply procedure. I'm sure she'll be home soon."

She nodded, seemingly grateful for his words of reassurance, then gestured at his flowers and candy. "So if they're not for Mom, what's with you being Mr. Valentine's Day in December?"

"Yesterday... Buffy and I... " Giles cleared his throat, suddenly feeling very foolish in trying to explain why he was bearing such unorthodox yet telling gifts for his Slayer. "Well, we... that is to say, we sort of... "

"Had a fight?" Dawn asked helpfully.

"Close enough."

"Oh, I know! A 'rencontre'?" she asked again, adopting a fake French accent to say the word with an outrageously rolled 'R'.

"Pardon?"

Dawn frowned. "Darn, did I say it wrong?"

"No, you pronounced it correctly," Giles admitted, puzzled. Her adoption of the French language only clicked when she held up a dog-eared textbook by way of explanation.

"Test on Monday," she informed him bleakly. "Hence the self-imposed Saturday study session."

"I see."

"So you and Buffy had a 'rencontre' and... ?"

"Yes, I suppose 'encounter' is a better word," he agreed evasively.

"And?"

Flashing on their kiss, and the hot-blooded passion he was convinced he had not imagined, he diverted his guilty gaze. "And I'm afraid I behaved rather badly. I may have given her the wrong impression, so I've come to make amends." He lowered his voice to a more conspiratorial tone, hoping to distract the perceptive teen before she wheedled the details out of him. "I have it on rather good authority that no woman can resist a man bearing flowers and chocolates."

"Oh... okay," Dawn said knowingly. "I'm glad you explained it." She threw him a cheeky smile as she pulled him inside and shut the door. "Because, see, I was thinking maybe you'd gone sweet on my sister."

Fending off a blush, Giles mustered up one of his patented glare. "Is Buffy home?"

"Kitchen. Breakfast clean-up duty, which, I am happy to say, I completely got out of on account that I have to study."

"Thank you." He started through the dining room with his flowers and chocolates, marveling how American teenagers managed to learn anything when studying meant sitting in front of the television, or listening to loud music, or while partaking in some other equally mind-numbing distraction.

"Just so you know," Dawn called, stopping him before he'd even taken two steps. "If you had gone sweet on my sister, you could tell me. 'Cause I wouldn't necessarily think that was a bad thing."

"Y-you wouldn't?" Astonished by such an innocent, yet astute observation, Giles rejoined her in the foyer. He knew, just by his hesitation and his willingness to discuss the topic, he had confirmed Dawn's suspicions, but having her 'on his side', having her knowing the truth of what might yet come to fruition provided he'd read Buffy's signals right, suddenly seemed vitally important. "You wouldn't make that rather annoying 'eww' sound every time you saw us together, or continuously call me 'old and gross'?"

"Maybe I would have before, like when I was a kid." Dawn's chin lifted slightly. "But I've grown up a lot since then. I actually think you're kinda cool... in an older guy cool way." She gave the idea a moment of serious consideration, then said, "Yeah, I could handle the idea of you and Buffy as a couple, as long as I didn't--you know--actually see any smooching, in which case I'd probably be scarred for life. You being my father figure and Buffy being my sister, and all."

"I shall bear that in mind."

"Plus, if you were around more, you could help me with my French homework." She brightened at the possibilities. "And my English homework. And my Math homework! And--"

Giles smiled fondly. "Dawn, before you have us married off with two-point-three children, a dog, and a white picket fence, perhaps we should start by seeing if Buffy is even amenable to the idea, hmm?"

She giggled, undoubtedly from the absurdly normal visual he painted for life on the Hellmouth.

He smiled fondly, surprised by how good it felt to have an ally. Dawn's unexpected approval of a possible courtship was a wonderful confidence booster.

Casting a concerned glance up the deserted staircase, though, his smile faltered. "I'm not sure your mother will share your enthusiasm for me as Buffy's suitor," he admitted.

Dawn shrugged. "Maybe not at first, but she'll come around. I know she will. She only wants Buffy to be happy. And hey, if that means with you instead of Riley, then that should be good enough."

Touched by the sentiment, Giles reach out to cup Dawn's chin. "You grow remarkably more mature each time I see you."

The teen beamed. "I got me some good role models."

He shot her a meaningful eye for her intentional lack of language skills.

"Even though we're both real clear on the fact that you're not sweet on Buffy," she said, a wink confirming his intentions were to remain in her confidence, "I should probably warn you that he's here... Riley's here."

Frowning, Giles automatically glanced at his watch. It was barely 8:00am, too early for a visit even by his normal standards. But this thing that had erupted to life between him and Buffy was a ticking time bomb that should have been addressed the moment it happened. He needed to discuss it with her as soon as possible, before it became the catalyst for a genuinely nasty Watcher/Slayer meltdown... not to mention that he'd prefer not spending the rest of the day, as with the preceding night, in a state of utter frustration and confusion. "Good Lord, how utterly crass, with things in upheaval and your mother still hospitalized, to invite oneself around for breakfast."

"He stayed for breakfast," Dawn corrected, with a disgusted roll of her eyes. "The two of them were boinking all night!"

Giles felt his heart sink into his boots, his good spirits deflating like someone had stuck a pin in his happiness balloon. It hurt. It cut him to his soul. Deep down, he knew he shouldn't be so surprised or disillusioned. It wasn't as if he hadn't known of Buffy's involvement with young Finn. It was just that... she had initiated their kiss, and he had foolishly convinced himself in the interim that it was because he meant something to her. Heart and head in a flurry since, love stuck by an impossible dream come true, he hadn't stopped to consider the possibility that she would so flagrantly dismiss him as nothing and jump back into bed with her boyfriend at the earliest convenience . . .

"Guess they forgot my room's just next door," Dawn continued without stopping for breath between sentences. "I had to sleep with a pillow over my head. Do you know how not fun that is? I have 'bed hair'!"

He huffed out a broken chuckle, but it was at himself. He'd been a foolish, misguided, old man. How he ever expected a woman so young and vibrant to be romantically attracted to him was an absolute joke. Perhaps that's all he was to her, what kissing him had been all about . . .

Disheartened, Giles looked down at his flowers and candy.

One big joke.

"Although," Dawn said, finally noticing the slump in his shoulders and cutting short her chatter, "I guess that's probably not what you wanna hear right now."

"No," Giles admitted honestly. "But I'm glad you told me, nonetheless." At least, now, he knew where he stood. Raising his head to look at Dawn, he conjured up a regretful smile as he offered her the bouquet. "I think perhaps... under the circumstances... these would be better appreciated by your mother, the next time you see her."

Dawn chewed a guilty lip as she took the flowers, unsure of the best way to take her foot out of her mouth.

"Dawn?" Buffy's voice, calling through from the kitchen, caught him unawares. Giles panicked. He needed to get out of there, fast, lest he and his absurd presents become an even bigger joke. "Who was at the door, honey?"

He lowered his voice to a tight whisper. "Our secret. Promise me, Dawn."

"I promise. But--"

He had no time to listen to reason. Skirting past the ample spread of flowers he had just given her, Giles slipped the box of chocolates on the dining room table and high-tailed it for the front door.

* * * * *

"Dawn?" Buffy appeared just as the door closed behind Giles.

Dawn turned to face her sister, her view hampered by the abundance of flowers in her way. Great. Forget about trying to hide them. She needed nothing smaller than a walk-in closet even to come close. Now she'd have to come up with an excuse.

"Who was at the door?" Buffy asked again, although she was clearly forming some obvious conclusions from the floral array before her. "Flower delivery?" Close enough now to cup a blooming red Carnation, she took time out to appreciate its delicate fragrance.

"They're for mom," Dawn lied, hating herself even as she did so. Although it wasn't really a real lie, since Giles had changed his mind and told her to give them to her mother, anyway. So they were sort of her mother's flowers, even if they had been Buffy's first.

Buffy grinned. "Oooh, Mom's got a secret admirer! Or they could be from that guy she went out with a little while back... " She checked for a sender's card, but frowned she didn't find one. "Huh, no card."

"They're from Giles," Dawn offered.

"How do you know that?"

"Because... " 'Think fast, Summers.' "... he just delivered them."

Buffy's expression paled. "Giles was here?" She rushed to the window to peer out between the curtains, but all she saw was the rear bumper of his red BMW as it hurriedly left the curb. She rounded on Dawn, hands on her hips, disappointed. "Why didn't you call me?"

Dawn did her best to make her shrug look totally casual. "I dunno. Didn't seem important. He was just dropping these off, and you were busy washing dishes... " Her eyes flicked to Riley as he appeared in the doorway behind her sister. "... and stuff."

"Seems sort of an odd arrangement," Riley mused, moving in behind his girlfriend.

He embraced her, resting his chin on her shoulder after bestowing a loving kiss. Dawn couldn't help but notice her sister's less-than-enthusiastic reaction to her lover's touch, mainly the barely tolerant way Buffy rolled her eyes, that Riley couldn't see. They'd been fighting again. She wondered how two people could fight that much and still stay together. Probably just for the loud and obnoxious sex, if the racket last night was anything by which to judge.

"For your mom, I mean," Riley concluded.

"You're a flower expert now, too?" Buffy chided. She shrugged him off with a none-too-gentle roll of her shoulder. Any harder and she might have knocked out teeth.

"Not really," Riley said, reluctantly letting go. Rather than pursue Buffy and risk another crash and burn in front of an audience, he turned his attention to closer examination of the bouquet. "But every guy should know a little about the flowers he's giving his girl, or he's likely to 'say' the wrong thing. These... these just seem an odd choice for your mother's recovery, because each one of them is about 'love'."

Buffy's tone flattened. "What?"

Riley pointed them out. "Red carnations mean 'longing'. Baby's Breath is for 'pure of heart'. Maidenhair, a 'secret bond of love'. And unlike full roses, which everyone knows are for 'passion', the rosebuds are for 'confessions of a new love'." He glanced back at Buffy, an amused grin on his face. "Go figure. Giles is head over heels for your mom."

"Oh God... " Buffy murmured, turning an even whiter shade of pale.

"No," Dawn insisted vehemently, suddenly needing her sister to know, "he's not."

That caused both Riley and Buffy to stare at her, dumbfounded. She shuffled awkwardly under the combined force of their scrutiny, only then remembering that Giles had sworn her to secrecy. "I mean, he can't be. Right? That'd be like, 'eww' and gross."

"Dawn, kiddo, I'm telling you," Riley insisted. He stabbed a positive finger toward the bouquet. "That is a serious declaration of true love."

That was when Buffy spied the box of chocolates sitting on the dining room table, put two and two together, and lifted wide, embarrassed eyes toward her kid sister. Buffy thought she knew the truth, or at the very least was on the verge of figuring it out.

She was right, of course, but Dawn turned away before she accidentally confirmed it, trying to stay true to the pact she made with Giles. Besides, if he wanted to tell her sister that he loved her, especially the first time, then he was going to have to do it himself.

"I'll go put these in water," Dawn offered, diverting her gaze to the fragrant bouquet. "Until we go visit mom this afternoon," she added, a bit regretful that she would have follow through with Giles' wishes to maintain the charade.

* * * * *

As soon as Dawn was out of earshot, Riley hesitantly turned back to Buffy. "So... Giles and your mom. I sure didn't see that one coming, did you?"

Buffy glanced down at the box of chocolates, discarded on the tabletop. "Dawn's right. Giles is not in love with my mother."

Riley grinned. "Whoa, witness the infamous Summers' denial gene in action again."

With a sound of impatience, Buffy turned away. She really didn't want to deal with this now. In fact, she was pretty much through dealing with Riley Finn, period. "Just... go home, Riley."

Much to her surprise, Riley roughly grabbed her wrist and refused to let go. She could have easily broken free, but his uncharacteristic display of force momentarily held her in place. "Okay," he said levelly, "somehow I've managed to piss you off twice in the space of an hour. Must be my new record. Mind clueing me in on what I did this time?"

Buffy's hatred rippled to life. "Take your hand off me," she hissed quietly.

Riley glared for a few seconds longer, then grudgingly let her go. He knew that risking otherwise with a ticked off Slayer was risking a broken arm, or a fist in the face. He put a few fuming paces between them before rounding on her again, surprising her with the intensity of his abrupt and unwarranted anger. "What going on, Buffy? We're always fighting, always on each other's back for something. What the hell's happening to us?"

"There's nothing happening. Not anymore." She looked him squarely in the eye. "You might as well hear this now, Riley, because as far as I'm concerned, there is no more 'us'. We're through."

He looked more startled than upset, his 'deer-in-headlights' expression causing her to look away. Again, the gift Giles had brought filled her vision.

Flowers and candy. It was such a simple and innocent gesture of blossoming new love, yet it confirmed, without question, that the sparks she felt when she kissed Giles were not only real, but mutual. Like with her own response, she saw now that his somewhat negative reaction was only because he had been just as shell-shocked. They had both acted badly, but presents were definitely a good step in the makeup department.

Reminiscing the feel of Giles' lips on hers, she reached out to run her fingers over the red bow embossed in the foil box top, wondering why had he not stopped long enough to give the candy to her in person, and why Dawn now insisted the flowers were for their mother.

At the same moment the question formed in her mind, the answer came booming in her ears by way of a raised voice.

Riley. Dawn must have told Giles he was here, and Giles had chickened out. Not to worry, she'd just drop by his apartment later and thank him in person. They needed to talk anyway.

"Wait a minute," Riley said, watching her trace her finger over the chocolate box bow. "You're telling me... ?" Something unthinkable clicked in his head. "You and Giles?" he blurted in utter disbelief.

The emphasis he put on her Watcher's name, as if he were unworthy or dirty or something, was the slur that angered her most. Buffy glared at him. "Me and Giles what? What exactly do you think is going on? Because whatever it is, you'd be wrong."

His chin tilted in challenge. "I'm not blind, Buffy. I've seen the way he looks at you when he thinks no one's watching."

"What?" she asked incredulously, truly amazed that she was apparently the last person to know she was the apple of her Watcher's eye.

"Are you sleeping with him?" Riley wanted to know.

Buffy balked, affronted not by the idea of Giles as a partner, but by her boyfriend's accusation that she was a skanky ho who slept around. "No!"

"How long has this been going on?" he asked, unconvinced. "How long have you been lying to me?"

"Riley, I've never lied to you," she said, marveling distastefully, at how he had again managed to make even this conversation about himself.

"Then why is he bringing you flowers and candy?"

"Because I kissed him! Okay? Giles and I were training at the Magic Box yesterday, and it just sort of... happened... "

Riley scoffed. "What? You tripped and fell on each other's lips?" He shook his head in denial. "I can't believe you're breaking up with me because of Giles!"

"I am not breaking up with you because of Giles," Buffy insisted, angry tears beginning to blur her vision. "He has nothing to do with us, and you do not get to use him as an excuse for your shortcomings. You know as well as I do that we've been headed for disaster for months."

Riley was breathing hard, fighting to keep his emotions in check, refusing to accept any blame for their tattered relationship. After a long moment, he spoke in a remarkably controlled voice. "Since we're doing this, there's something you should hear, too. They want me back, Buffy--the military. Undercover Ops in Central America." He met her gaze across the few feet that separated them. They were growing apart so fast now, that the small space between them seemed to be expanding even while they were standing still. "Chopper leaves at midnight tonight, and I'm going to be on it."

Her mouth fell open in shock. "And you were going to tell me this when? On the back of a postcard from Panama?"

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to!" he shouted in rely. "I was hoping that, last night, you'd given me a reason to stay."

Shamefaced, Buffy looked away. She hugged herself, lest the turmoil whirling inside all come spilling out and make this even uglier.

"Only last night," Riley guessed, his tone desolate, "you were thinking of him."

They looked at each other at the same time, meeting each other's eyes in the glorious Saturday sunlight filtering through the dining room curtains. Neither spoke. They both knew he was right.

"What do you want me to say?" Buffy pleaded.

"The truth. That's all. You at least owe me that."

"God... the truth." She pulled air into her lungs, unsure how to put it all into words. "Riley, the truth is... I wanted you in my life. I even needed you in my life. I thought I could make myself love you, but I was wrong. I can't. I don't." She paused to suck it up, holding back tears through sheer force of will. "God knows, I've tried. I've given you everything I have, including my body and my soul. But it's not enough for you. It's never been enough for you." A hot tear escaped to trickle down her cheek. "I just don't have anything left to give."

"And you think you can love Giles? Is that it?"

"I know I can," she responded without hesitation. Her breath caught as the reality of what she was saying hit home. "I think I already do."

They continued to glare at one another, tears in both their eyes, the air around them buzzing with unspent emotions.

"I'm sorry," Buffy said quietly, meaning it.

Riley said nothing, but Buffy could tell how deeply she'd cut him. He simply nodded, fighting to be manly and hold himself together, not trusting himself with words. Keeping his gaze diverted, he crossed to the front door, lifted his coat from its place on the rack, and quietly bowed out of her life.

* * * * *

Dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt, Giles pounded the tar out of the punching bag in the back room at the Magic Box. Being Saturday afternoon, the store was closed, and he had insisted Anya take the rest of the day off from bookkeeping and restocking, as was their normal procedure following a noontime closing. He needed time alone in the training room, the equipment and privacy providing a safe haven where he could expend his frustration, fear, and anger without injury or explanation to others.

He'd been at it for hours, his body taut with adrenaline and slick with perspiration. He wished he possessed the equivalent of Slayer strength so that he might really do some damage to the punching bag dangling from a chain before him, which he'd been sorely tempted to paint a face on and christen 'Riley'. As it was, the most his efforts were accomplishing were razzed knuckles and exhausted limbs.

Still, it felt bloody good . . .

Slowing his pace, he finally concluded this round with a solid hit below the bag's center of gravity, which sent it swinging. Relaxing his stance, he took a step back to avoid the recoil, and then crossed to the vaulting horse to retrieve his water bottle. He squirted a long stream down his parched throat, then closed his eyes and squirted another over his scalp-plastered hair to wash away the sweat. The subsequent shake of his head sent droplets flying.

Giles tugged off his grimy t-shirt and used it to wipe his face. He had a towel, but he was attempting to keep that clean until he finished his workout. For the moment, his sweat-dampened t-shirt worked almost as well.

"So... is Mr. Giles working on another happy?" asked a familiar teasing voice.

Startled, he whirled to face her as she stepped into his peripheral vision. "Buffy... " The way her eyes took a leisurely walk over him instantly squashed his surprised. Bare-chested and in damp, clinging sweats, he felt much more than simply half naked before her. He went for casual, but it seemed forced, even to him "Um, how long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to know you have serious issues with that punching bag." She stopped directly in front of him, brazenly in his personal space, looking up into his eyes. Without his glasses to hide behind, he felt as vulnerable as he did uncomfortable beneath her searching gaze. "I went by your place, but when you weren't there I figured this was my next best shot. Hope you don't mind, I let myself in the front."

"That's why I gave you a key," Giles confirmed. He wanted his Slayer to have access to her training room and the weapons housed within it whenever she wished, day or night, although he had not expected her to need it that very afternoon. "Is there something you wanted? Is there trouble?"

"Nothing Hellmouthy. But yeah... there is something I want."

"And this would be... ?" he asked, raising shields against any disparagement of his age and physique.

"To say 'thank you'. For the chocolates and flowers."

He let go an exasperated sigh. "Dawn."

"She didn't tell me," Buffy said in defense of her sister. "I kinda figured it out for myself... well, with a little help from Riley after he pointed out the meaning of all the flowers."

Giles' mood soured. "Of course," he said flatly. Turning away, he continued to use his t-shirt to wipe the sweat from his neck and chest. Without a doubt, both she and her nancy-ninja-boyfriend had had a good laugh at his expense, not only over his ridiculous gifts, but the fact that 'the old man' even dared imagine he had a chance with her. "Shouldn't you be off somewhere with lover boy, then? Planning your next practical joke?"

Buffy was clearly taken aback by his directness, but she was also confused. "What are you talking about?"

He snorted derisively, throwing his grubby t-shirt at the vaulting horse. "Buffy, I'm aware that my feelings mean nothing to you, but to pretend in such a manner... to lead me believe that you cared simply so I'd make a complete fool out of myself was unforgivably cruel."

She was frowning at him, mouth slightly open, not comprehending.

He shook his head in frustration. "When you kissed me... " he began, glancing at her. But her innocent eyes were his downfall, and, looking into them, all the hurt and humiliation he was trying to throw back at her as 'a taste of her own medicine', was unexpectedly tempered with something entirely different. "... I lived the rest of my life in the span of your kiss. Had I died in your arms right then, I would have died content."

Her misting gaze and trembling lip brought him back to his senses. No more would he allow himself be susceptible to her fake feminine wiles. She had hurt him for the last time.

Steeling his defenses, he turned and put several strides between them, distancing himself physically and emotionally before addressing her again. "You may have flayed my heart into a million pieces, but I still have my pride. I fear I shan't forgive you for a very long time."

The silence stretched between them until it became uncomfortably long. Giles didn't want to look at Buffy, because he knew as soon as he did, he would fold, especially if the tears welling in her beautiful eyes had spilled free.

"Bloody say something!" he barked, combing a hand through his damp hair while glaring at the floor mats.

She did, in a very soft voice. "I broke up with Riley this morning."

Of all the things he expected her to say, that had not been one of them. Doubt began creeping into his adamant resolve that he was simply a plaything to her, to use and discard whenever it suited her moods.

Hanging on to the determination that she would never use him that way again, he managed a resentful smirk. "How thoughtful of you to wait post-coitus to tell him."

"Is that why you're so angry? Because I slept with Riley?"

"No," he told her flatly. Turning his back, he returned to the punching bag to take up where he left off. "I'm angry because you kissed me first. I actually convinced myself that it meant something to you... that I meant something to you. I believed it right up until the point when Dawn told me the two of you had been--how did she put it? 'Boinking all night'." He laid into the bag with the same gusto as before, the sound of his rapid fists drowning out her reply.

"Giles... Giles!" Timing his blows, Buffy grabbed the bag with both hands, Slayer strength stilling it instantly.

He backed off reluctantly, irritated by her interference, clenched fists still at the ready. "If you don't mind, Buffy, I still have a tad more rejection and resentment to work through."

"Not before you hear me out. Giles, when you kissed me, you tipped my world off-kilter. You spun my head around so fast I couldn't think straight. But you were the one who acted like it meant nothing, like it was a stupid dumb mistake. Yes, I ran to Riley... but because I was confused by what happened, and what I felt. He was 'safe', the one thing in my life that could usually make all the craziness go away. He was my 'normal'."

"And I'm nothing." Deflated, he let his defensive stance drop.

"Wrong," she said stubbornly, taking a step toward him. "Because last night, with Riley, I discovered something I never expected to find."

Hopeful but still protective of his wounded heart, his gaze traveled the long road back to hers. As feared, tears had painted a pair of wet tracks down her cheeks. Something twisted in his gut at the sight of them, and part of him surrendered.

"I found out that 'normal' and 'safe' weren't what I want."

There was a long pause as they simply looked at each other.

"Guess it just took a while for my brain to catch up with my heart," Buffy concluded. She relinquished possession of the punching bag, allowing him to continue if he wished. Ducking her head, she turned to leave. "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."

"Buffy, you always hurt me," Giles said quickly, something deep inside leaping forth to prevent her retreat. He lightly tapped the bag with his knuckles. "The puzzling thing is not why I continue to allow you to do it, but rather why I still love you, even so."

He glanced up and found her looking at him, her expression of unworthiness crumpling the last of his angry resolve. He let it go on an exhaled breath, expelling all the bitterness and frustration from his body with that single act.

"And I do," he said earnestly, wanting her to not only know, but believe. "I love you more than words can possibly say." Succumbing to the fresh tears welling in her eyes, he reached out a gentle hand and encouraged her to him. Another under her chin lifted her gaze to his. "It appears we both acted... rather foolishly."

"Yeah," she agreed miserably. "Buffy the Insensitive Bitca strikes again."

"It was a misunderstanding, Buffy." He forgave her with a small smile, drying the evidence of her tears with his thumb. "On both our parts."

"One that will never ever happen again, 'cause from now on, we discuss everything. Right?"

"Agreed. No more secrets."

Maintaining eye contact, Buffy took his hand from her cheek and squeezed his fingers. "Then I should probably start by telling you this right now."

Slightly anxious, he frowned, but she broke into the biggest, warmest smile he had ever seen.

"I love you, too... ya big dope."

Huffing out his apprehension, Giles returned her smile, suddenly feeling giddy to his soul.

Buffy threw herself into his waiting arms. She pressed her cheek against his bare chest and slid her arms around his waist, holding him tight. Deliriously happy, he embraced the woman who had just led him from the darkness of his angry, lonely despair, and into warm light of her love. Holding her against his heart, he rested his chin on top of her precious, golden hair, finding it impossible to believe how full of rage he had been, just a few minutes ago.

"Giles?"

"What?"

"Do you realize, in all the years we've known each other, this is the first time I've seen you with your shirt off?"

He chuckled, both at her out-of-the-blue comment and at the way her breath tickled the hairs on his chest as she spoke. "And? What do you think of the real me?"

Buffy tilted her head back to regard him with a wry look. "Ego, much?"

"At my age, humor me."

"You're... nice."

There was nothing lewd in her observation, simply honest admiration for what years and years of training a Slayer had chiseled on him.

She wrinkled her nose. "Or you would be, if you weren't all sweaty and smelly. At the moment, you're actually kinda gross."

"Just not 'old and gross', hmm?"

"Anyone who says that definitely hasn't seen 'the real you'."

He chuckled again, a deep, sincere rumble this time that jostled her slightly against his skin. "Well then, if the fact that I need a shower is your only complaint, I shall consider myself extremely fortunate."

She grinned. "I'm sure I'll find something else to complain about, if you give me enough time."

"Take all the time in the world," he agreed, smiling down at his love, his beautiful Buffy.

They held each other's eyes, searching, sharing, discovering, longing, until at last their faces began a mutual journey towards each other. He met her in the middle, watching her chin tilt toward him and her lashes fall closed in delicate arcs, a mere heartbeat before his lips descended on hers.

Unlike her first kiss, which was tentative and questing, this time Buffy held nothing back. She kissed him so fully, and with such ardent fervor, that it instantly convinced him that he was the center of her universe, that she couldn't possibly exist without him, that all the angry words that had gone before were now just water under the bridge. Heart about to burst, he matched her passion, and returned it to her with all the love he had to give.

When it finally ended and he lifted his head, he found Buffy with her lashes still closed and her lips slightly parted.

"Wow," she breathed reverently. "That was even better than the first time." Then her eyes snapped open to regard him with a wry grin. "So... about that shower. Need someone to wash your back?"

Giles barely held back a moan from the burning hunger her suggestion sent keening though his body. "As heavenly as that offer sounds, I am, nonetheless, going to have to decline." When Buffy pouted, he took her sweet face in his hands to forestall her coming protest. "Buffy, I do want to make love with you, more than anything. But I also want our first time together to be something a little more romantic and special than a quick snog in a shower stall. In fact, to that end... " He took a step away, out of her arms.

Reluctant to let him go, she attempted to follow, until he increased the distance between them with a few more strides. With a loving smile to dispel her apprehension, he crossed back to the vaulting horse to pick up his t-shirt, water bottle, and other belongings.

His wristwatch was among them; he looked at it. "Shall we say, six-thirty?"

The honest delight that spread across Buffy's face was well worth the next few hours of hot-blooded anticipation. "Giles, are you asking me out on a date?"

"Are you accepting?"

"Is there a long snog at the end of it?"

He laughed again, turning slightly, and with the flick of his head as invitation, headed for the door with her. They fell in step with each other, arm in arm, so automatically and naturally that they could have been doing it for years.

"I thought perhaps a candlelit dinner," he explained.

"A little wining and dining to sweep me off my feet?"

"Not so much of the wining," he cautioned, aware that she was still under the drinking age.

For some reason, their age difference amused him rather than depressed him. She was old enough to fall in love with him, even old enough to consent to marry him if he asked, but she couldn't legally share a bottle of wine with him in a public place. Of course, that didn't mean he was so law-abiding that he would deny her a glass or two in the privacy of his apartment.

"A little dancing," he continued, at her sound of disappointment, "and then--"

"Snogging," Buffy concluded. It was not a question this time, simply a statement of fact by a woman who knew what she wanted. "And since I'm pretty sure 'snogging' is only kissing, I'm expecting the deluxe package--Snog Plus."

Reaching the door, he lifted his arm from her shoulders in order to open it for her in a rather grandiose fashion. It was a little over the top, even for him, but if there was anyone who could make him do outrageously gallant things, then it was the one true love of his life.

There was a twinkle in Giles' eye as he answered, one that matched the love and desire shining in the eyes of his beautiful Buffy. "Snog Plus will be my pleasure."

* * * * *

The rough sound of blades thwacking through the night air woke Buffy with a start. She sat upright in bed with the covers modestly clutched to her naked form, rising from such a deep and relaxed sleep that the unfamiliar darkness momentarily confused her. The noise that had awakened her reached its peak, low overhead, and then just as quickly began to recede into the distance, until just a few seconds later it was completely gone.

She glanced at the alarm clock. 12:01am. The military, if nothing else, was always on time.

"Buffy?"

She turned back to Giles, sleepy and adorable beside her, after the best few hours of her life. Not quite awake, he reached out a gentle hand, offering reassurance in a touch, regardless of circumstance.

"Something wrong?" he asked quietly.

Buffy drew a long breath, letting the echo of the helicopter fade from her mind. In a moment that became a lifetime, she saw herself loving this man for the rest of her natural days. God willing, that would be a very long time. She had made her choice, and she had made the right one. Whatever the future held in store with Glory, her mother, and anything else the Hellmouth decided to throw at her, she knew she would be all the better prepared to face it with this man at her side.

Letting out a happy sigh, she flopped down beside him, feeling contented and loved as he welcomed her back into the warm circle of his arms. Sharing his pillow, she met him nose to nose; her Watcher, her lover, her life.

"No," Buffy answered, her heart in a place where it had never been before... a place, she knew now, only Rupert Giles could take her. "Everything's perfect."

Read the next chapter: Unbreakable