Atonement
written by Neena


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Season 4 of BTVS; season 1 of ATS.
Summary: Angel returns to Sunnydale intent on saving Giles’ life and making amends, but discovers that his good intentions may bring about more suffering than either of them can handle.
Author's Notes: WARNING: Angst!
Feedback Author: Neena
Author's Website: Neena's Cabana


“Okay, tell me again why we’re all out here shake-n-bakin’ in the desert on a Saturday afternoon when we could be doing pretty much anything else?” Buffy was sweaty, hot and miserable and she felt like sharing.

“Because I asked you to as a personal favour to me,” said Giles. “And you agreed because deep down you still harbour a shred of respect for me and you wish to see me happy.”

“Nah, that’s not it,” she said dismissively. “I came because Willow and Xander nagged me until I seriously thought about adding humans to my list of ‘slayables’.”

“How can you not be excited?” Willow piped up from the rear of the little entourage. “This map Giles found marks the location of a temple that most scholars don’t even believe exists. It’s like going swimming and bumping into the lost city of Atlantis. It’s huge!”

“Gotta admit I’m with Willow on the excitement factor,” said Xander. “Things have been so normal lately—I think I’ve been jonesin’ for a bit of Indiana Jonesin’.”

It had been more than half an hour since they’d had to abandon Giles’ car and continue their journey on foot. Giles had assured them that the trek through the desert would only take fifteen minutes or so, but he’d stopped so many times to check his map that Buffy was starting to doubt if the map was real. One thing was certain—they were no longer teasing Willow for packing so many bottles of water.

Buffy groaned as Giles once more pulled out his map and checked his compass and pedometer. He looked up at them with a big smile. “Well, this is it—we’re here.”

They all looked around at the flat expanse of desert and instantly developed matching frowns.

“Is this temple thingy like Wonder Woman’s plane?” asked Xander. “’Cause I’m seeing nothing here.”

“Which is probably why it’s gone undetected for so long,” said Giles. He set down his backpack and unzipped it, pulling out a large book that looked about as old and dusty as the desert around them.

“Do you always pack your library with you?” asked Buffy, peeking in his backpack, which held another four or five musty tomes.

“Only the relevant volumes,” Giles said in defence. He flipped through the book until he came across an engraving. “Ah, here it is; the entrance to the temple is sealed behind a circular cover-stone with a hunter and moon carved into it. Check the ground, the temple must be here somewhere.”

They began poking around at the baked earth, but after nearly fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, they started to lose hope.

“Well, can’t say we didn’t try,” said Buffy.

“Hey! I think I found it!” Willow shouted excitedly. Buffy sighed—her chances of going shopping today had just vanished.

“Where is it?” asked Giles rushing over to join her.

“I’m standing on it,” she answered. “See where this circle of dirt is just a bit lower than all the other bits of dirt? Like a teeny crater? But I don’t see anything carved into the circle.” Giles, Buffy and Xander crowded around her, Giles dropping onto his knees to get a closer look at what could be the find of a lifetime.

“It’s definitely carved out by hand,” he said. He blew away some of the dirt, revealing a section of the circle’s arc. “Look at these edges—so finely carved—you can barely see any chisel marks.” He frowned, and blew away more dirt, then frowned some more. “That’s odd.”

“Oh, you know that can’t be good,” said Xander.

“Willow’s right, there are no carvings within the circle…I have a feeling we’re a little too close…I think this may be the moon carving in the cover-stone. Let’s spread out, see if we can find the rest of the carving.”

“Uh, Giles,” said Buffy. “I hate to burst your bubble, but if this stone is as big as it sounds, how are we going to move it? I’m a slayer, but I’m not Superman.”

“I imagine we won’t need to move it,” said Giles. “Most likely the people who built the temple contrived a means of opening the cover-stone with a key or a hidden trigger.” Giles flipped through his book again while the others started searching for more carvings.

Willow stayed put, kneeling down on top of the moon carving to see if she could spot anything unusual in its design. She’d just noticed the hairline crack that ran all the way around the circumference of the circle when she heard Xander calling out to them.

“Hey! I think I found the Hunter! Look, this bit’s his bow and arrow, pointing at the moon, and this is the arm and that’s his head and…weird—his eyes are hollow.”

“Xander, be careful. Touch nothing,” Giles warned.

But it was too late. Xander had already dug his fingers deep into the stone hunter’s eye sockets. He felt something give under his fingers, and before he could even say “oops”, he heard a startled yelp coming from Willow’s direction, and when he looked up she was gone.

“Willow!” Buffy shouted and ran to the spot where she’d been standing. Giles and Xander were running so fast to catch up with her that they nearly knocked her into the gaping hole in the ground that had once been the moon carving. About twelve feet below, Willow sat whimpering on the sandy floor at the foot of a metal rung ladder, cradling her foot in her hands. She looked up, grimacing with pain, at the trio of faces framed in sunlight above her.

“It’s alright. I think it’s just a sprain,” she said.

“Hold on, Willow, we’re on our way,” said Giles.

“You see? Now that’s what I’m talking about,” said Xander. “You don’t get much more Raiders of the Lost Ark than that. Hey, Willow! Are there any snakes down there?” he shouted down at her.

“Snakes?” Willow squeaked. Her wide eyes swept frantically across the floor looking for anything that might be slithering her way.

“Good going, Xan,” said Buffy. “Why don’t you just tell her the place is booby-trapped and be done with it?”

“It is?” asked Willow from below, squeaking even higher this time.

“No, Willow, you’re fine,” Buffy answered, then quietly turned to Giles. “She will be fine, won’t she?”

Giles couldn’t completely hide his look of doubt, and he began stammering.

“Giles—she will be okay, right?” Buffy said a little more forcefully.

“Y-yes. Of course she will. I—I’m sure the legends of ancient curses and deathtraps are entirely apocryphal,” he answered sheepishly.

“Deathtraps?!” Willow peeped from below.

“Damn, she’s got good hearing,” said Xander.

“We’re coming down, Willow,” said Giles. “Don’t panic.”

“Panic? What panic? Who panic? I’m not panicking!” Willow babbled, pasting a big fake smile on her face as if to prove it. “See?”

Giles pushed past Xander and Buffy to get to the ladder first.

“Hey! Who’s the slayer here?” asked Buffy with a pout.

“Well I didn’t see you rushing in there,” Giles retorted.

“Giles—you did say the words ‘curse’ and ‘deathtrap’. I though a little caution might be in order.”

Giles pointedly ignored her and tossed his backpack down the hole so it landed near Willow. He then manoeuvred himself over the lip of the opening and felt around with his foot until he found the first rung of the ladder. He took each step cautiously at first, expecting the ladder to be ancient and dangerous. But he was surprised to find that the metal ladder looked relatively new.

By the time he reached the bottom he was no longer concerned about ancient booby-traps. His new worry was that whoever was currently using the temple might decide to return. Especially since the only purpose this temple had ever served was for human sacrifice…

“Giles?” asked Willow. “Are you okay? You look a little freaked. You’re supposed to be reassuring me—the freaked look is not reassuring me.”

“Willow, how long until the next full moon?” he asked.

“Not ‘til tomorrow night, why?” asked Willow.

“Oh…no reason,” he answered, brushing it off ineffectually. Lucky for him she was distracted by Buffy and Xander who’d finally made it down the ladder with the rest of their gear.

“Ah, good,” said Giles, “torches.” He took one of the bags Xander was carrying and dug through it. Soon they were all equipped with heavy-duty flashlights, and Giles turned is attention to Willow’s injury.

After much prodding and wincing, Giles declared it a twisted ankle and suggested that Xander help her back to the car to wait for them.

“What? And miss out on the excitement—all those mysterious chambers full of hidden treasure? Why can’t Buffy go? It’s not like she wants to be here anyway.”

“Xander, please. There’s no telling what may be waiting for us in there; I need Buffy in case we run into anything.”

“Fine. But if you find treasure, I still get my cut,” said Xander. With a grunt he managed to heave Willow off the floor and he gave her a boost up to the first rung of the ladder.

When they were gone, Buffy hefted two of the three bags and adjusted them over her shoulders so she could still use her flashlight.

“So? What’s the deal?” she asked. “If this is temple is so ancient and abandoned who hired Molly Maid? I’m not buying it—somebody’s been hanging around this place lately, and I’m guessing it’s not the Shriners.”

“More likely a demon religious sect,” answered Giles reluctantly.

“It’s sad that I actually expected you to say that.”

“There were debates, theoretical of course, on whether the lost temple was built by demons or humans. All known artefacts pertaining to the temple have markings that hybridize human and demon hieroglyphs.”

“And the long and the short of it is…?” asked Buffy.

“That it would be wisest to gather as much data as possible before we fall victim to an angry horde of demonic zealots,” Giles answered.

“So just another day at the office, then,” she griped and set off down the middle of the three hallways branching off the main entrance. They wandered deep inside the palace, the hallway sloping downwards and never turning, giving them the unsettling feeling they were descending into the depths of the earth. There were only a few doorways off the main hall. Some looked like storage chambers that had probably been looted centuries before. Others were little more than nooks gouged into the walls, and Giles guessed they might have been designed to act as barricades for the temple guards, in case of enemy attack. Every so often they came across hieroglyphs carved into the stone of the walls. Giles took careful note of each one in his notebook as they went, much to the annoyance of Buffy, who was starting to get seriously bored.

One thing they both worried about but didn’t feel the need to remark on again was the general cleanliness of the place. Somebody was keeping it in good repair, and the torches running the length of the hall looked like they’d been used recently. As they descended, the air grew thicker and their footsteps echoed menacingly behind them. Buffy couldn’t shake the feeling that they were trespassing, and that the owners were not the type to invite them in for tea and cookies.

Giles was about to suggest that they head back when, abruptly, the hallway made a sharp turn to the left. Around the corner, only a few metres away, was an arched doorway. Buffy’s flashlight caught a glimmer of something gold in the darkness of the room and she swung it back until it illuminated a large golden statue.

“Finally! Something more interesting than musty old stones,” she muttered and boldly walked through the archway.

“Buffy, no!” Giles shouted and ran after her.

“What?” she asked, casually turning to face him.

“The altar…the gold idol…this is the sacrificial chamber. It’s almost certain to be protected with traps.”

Buffy sniffed the air and did a slow spin, her arms flung wide open as if daring a trap to present itself. “No poisonous gasses, no arrows flying out of the walls…the ceiling isn’t falling… I think we’re safe. Anyways, if there were booby-traps they’ve probably all been sprung by now. This place is not as ‘lost world’ as you thought it was.”

“Yes—you’re probably right. Silly; I think all Xander’s talk about Indiana Jones must have rubbed off on me.”

“So this is it?” Buffy asked, taking a slow stroll around the large room. “This is the ‘surprise’ in side the Kinder Surprise? Don’t get me wrong—it’s got the pretty statue going for it—but you gotta admit it’s a bit of a letdown. No cool sarcophaguses…or is it sarcophagi? No mounds of jewel-encrusted trinkets. Just a whole lot of space and a bunch of pictures on the walls.”

“Ooh…pictures?” asked Giles with childlike glee.

“Trust you to get all giddy over ancient pictures.”

“They’re called hieroglyphs, and if you’d bothered to remember, I was once a museum curator—the opportunity to be the first person to document these writings is an honour beyond measure.” Giles got out his notebook and started systematically sketching the hieroglyphs into it.

Buffy wandered around the room aimlessly, clearly bored to tears. The golden statue (which she’d decided was either an abstract of a naked woman or a molten, amorphous blob from ground zero at Chernobyl) had long since lost its appeal.

“Please, Buffy, will you stop the incessant pacing? I’m trying to concentrate.”

“How much longer is this going to take?”

“I’m nearly done,” he said, “but if you’d give me a few moment’s peace I’d be done much faster.”

“Fine, if it means getting out of here sooner, I’ll take a walk,” said Buffy.

“Good. Just…don’t go far. Keep within shouting distance.”

Buffy nodded and slipped quickly out of the sacrificial chamber and into the blackness beyond.

Giles sighed, wondering if she would ever understand the importance of history and research. After all, instinct and aggressiveness may serve one well in battle, but they could be equally dangerous. It was his job to direct her passion in the right direction and temper it with knowledge. He feared she hadn’t yet learned to respect that. And here she was, already in college and severing her ties with him to strike out on her own. It was the hardest thing in the world to watch her charge blindly into the unknown, not taking the time to understand what she was up against. He had to keep reminding himself that bumps and bruises, both physical and emotional, were an important part of growing up.

Giles continued on with his work, keeping an ear tuned to Buffy’s echoing footsteps. With no distractions, he was able to finish quickly, and he wasted no time packing up his things—the chamber was starting to give him the wiggins, as Buffy would say. Somewhere down the long corridor Buffy was humming tunelessly, and the sound leant an eerie quality to the already creepy atmosphere. A chill ran down his spine as he gathered up his bag.

His heightened nerves had him practically barrelling towards the arched chamber entrance when a sizzling jolt of pain ignited every nerve in his body and sent him flying halfway across the room. His flashlight clattered noisily to the floor, spinning in circles, shadows chasing each other across the walls until the beam of light slowed and settled on Giles’ slack, unconscious face.

“Giles?” Buffy shouted. “What the hell was that?” She’d heard him cry out, but it was so brief a sound that she was now wondering if she’d imagined it. But when Giles failed to answer her, she knew the cry had been real.

She ran full speed back into the chamber where Giles was still sprawled on the floor. It looked like he was only just now coming to.

Kneeling over him, she automatically checked for any signs of major injury. He smelled like ozone—like he’s been struck by lightning—but there were no visible signs of burns.

“Giles, are you okay?” she asked.

“Buffy, no!” he panted, and tried to pull himself off the floor. She gave him a hand up. “You shouldn’t have come back in…it’s a trap. That bloody archway zapped me as I was trying to leave.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well I wasn’t lying unconscious on the floor for fun,” he snarked, rubbing the back of his head where it had struck the ground. A grape-sized lump was already forming.

“Glad to see your sarcasm is still intact,” she said. “All I’m saying is, if the doorway is jinxed, why’d it let me pass through?”

Giles’ mouth flapped uselessly a couple of times as the answer to her question refused to present itself.

“Maybe if I do it again?” asked Buffy. She proceeded to jump in and out of the room, passing effortlessly through the archway. “Okay. Now it’s your turn.”

Giles approached the archway cautiously with Buffy at his side. But Buffy went through alone. Once again Giles was struck down by a jolt of energy from the doorway. Buffy rushed back inside and knelt over Giles, who was crumpled on the floor once more, his breathing shallow and ragged.

“Damn, Giles,” she whispered to his unconscious form, “If you keep getting knocked out we’re gonna have to buy you a helmet.”

From the hallway there came the clomping, echoing sound of running footsteps.

“Buffy? Giles?” Xander yelled, his voice bouncing around in the stone temple. “Are you guys okay?” He was heading straight towards the entrance to the sacrificial chamber.

“Xander, stop!” Buffy shouted, and Xander skidded to a halt just outside the door. “Don’t come in—it’s a trap.”

Xander caught a glimpse of Giles passed out on the floor. “What happened? I was on my way back to get you guys and I saw lightning strike the ground completely out of the blue. Is Giles okay? Is that what got him?”

“Yep. He got zapped, all right. He was trying to get out of here, but the doorway knocked him out. Twice. He’s unconscious, but I think he’ll be okay.”

“So does that mean you guys are stuck in there?” he asked.

“Not me. I can come and go no problem—but this room’s taken a shine to Giles for some reason.”

“Great. Willow’s sitting in the car with a twisted ankle and Giles is out for the count. Any ideas?”

“We wait. When Giles wakes up, he’ll figure out how to get past the trap.”

“What if he doesn’t wake up this time?” he asked quietly.

“That’s not an option,” she answered, her voice edgy with determination. “He’ll wake up, and he’ll find a way out of here.”


***


It was nearing dinnertime when Giles finally stirred.

Buffy was at his side in a heartbeat. “Take it easy, Giles, you took a serious hit from that door—you’ve been out for hours.”

“Where am I?” he asked, confused. He’d thought he was in the temple, but he was lying on something soft and he had his pillow under his head.

“You’re still trapped in the sacrificial chamber,” she answered. “Xander took Willow home and came back with some supplies from your place…in case you’re stuck here for a while.”

Giles looked around and saw that Xander had brought food and a little camp stove, some more water and some of his clothes and blankets, too. He didn’t want to break it to them that he wasn’t likely going to need any of it.

“I know it lacks in comfiness, but it should be good enough to keep you going until we can figure out a way to get you out of here.”

“My books…” said Giles, trying to sit up.

“Are perfectly safe and nothing you should be concerned about until you can move without turning green around the gills,” said Buffy, gently pushing him back down on the air mattress Xander had procured for him.

“Buffy, there’s no time—if I can’t find a way to escape before the full moon, chances are very good I’ll become the guest of honour at the next ritual sacrifice.”

“Ah… So that’s why you were asking Willow when the next full moon was,” said Buffy.

“She said the full moon is tomorrow night—that leaves me until sunset tomorrow to decipher the writings on the altar and walls and pray they tell me what I need to know get through that blasted archway.” He punctuated his last remark with an evil glare at the offending doorway.

“So…books. Right,” said Buffy. “Don’t move.” She jumped to her feet and returned moments later, her arms laden with his books and notebook. “Anything I can do to help?”

“You could bring the lantern closer,” he said with a small, grateful smile, which was quickly followed by a wince. “And if Xander thought to bring painkillers, I could use about a hundred of them.”

Buffy could do little to help him over the next few hours—translation was definitely not her forté—but she and Xander busied themselves with making dinner in the hallway just outside the chamber.

The aroma of sizzling bacon finally permeated Giles’ subconscious, but his findings so far were grim enough to make him lose his appetite. It wasn’t until a plate of baked beans, bacon and scrambled eggs was shoved under his nose that he finally pried his eyes from his translations and acknowledged his surroundings.

“Thank-you, Buffy, but I’m not all that hungry right now,” he said.

“That bad, huh?” she asked.

“Afraid so,” said Giles. “Buffy, I’m going to need your help, and I need you to act quickly.”

“Sure. Anything.”

“I need you to find a pure-blooded demon—a friendly one…one that we can trust—and bring him here as quickly as possible.”

“No sweat,” she said, “I’ll just call Angel, and…”

“No. Not Angel. Anyone but Angel,” Giles said firmly, then added: “There’s really no need to bother him with this.”

Buffy could see by the resolve face he had on that Giles was finished discussing the matter. It troubled her that he still didn’t trust Angel—that the two most important men in her life couldn’t get along.

“Do it quickly,” said Giles. “The Freb-Ont ritual begins at sunset tomorrow night.”

“Got it. Friendly, trustworthy demon. How hard can it be to find one of those? Oh wait—Hellmouth, centre of all things evil—yeah…gonna be pretty tough, actually.”

“Buffy…”

“Don’t worry, I’m on it,” she assured him. “Are you gonna be okay here by yourself?”

“There’s enough supplies here to last me through a nuclear winter. I should be fine. Just…please hurry.”

Buffy had barely walked through her dorm-room door when she ordered Willow to toss her the phone. She’d had a long car ride to think things through, and she decided that Giles’ stubborn pride be damned—she was going to ask Angel for help. There was no way she’d be able to find another friendly demon before the full moon.

“Who’re you calling?” asked Willow from her bed, where she was laying with her foot propped up and her laptop open beside her.

“Hi, Cordelia,” said Buffy into the phone. “Is Angel there?” Buffy ignored Willow’s raised eyebrows and paced back and forth until her ex-boyfriend picked up on the other end.

Angel hung up the phone, tossed his leather jacket over his shoulder and headed for the door. Doyle and Cordelia exchanged quick glances then got up to follow him.

“What’re you doing?” Angel asked them as they strode out the door in his wake.

“”We’re coming with you,” said Doyle.

“No, you’re not,” said Angel.

“Um…excuse me, but if there’s trouble in Sunnydale, I want in. I’ve got family there, you know,” said Cordelia, her arms crossed firmly across her chest, barring argument.

“Your family is fine—this is about Giles.”
“Giles is family…sort of. Anyway, we’re still coming with you.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but there’s nothing you can do to help. He’s trapped in this temple, and he needs a pure-blood demon to get him out before the ‘Free Bone’ ritual tomorrow night. So unless you’ve turned into a pure-blood demon overnight, I think this is a solo mission,” said Angel.

“’Free Bone’?” asked Doyle, stopping in his tracks. “Do you mean ‘Freb-Ont’?” Doyle grabbed Angel by the arm and pulled him aside, out of Cordelia’s earshot.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Why?” asked Angel.

“She didn’t happen to mention what it was he wants you to do, did she?” he asked.

“She didn’t seem to know much about it. Again, why?”’

“Nothin’. It’s just…I happened to eavesdrop on a particularly nasty gang of demons down at this Karaoke bar I know. They were talking about this Freb-Ont thing, fighting over which one would get to perform it. It’s a ritual sacrifice of a virgin, see? The chosen demon gets the privilege of torturing the virgin to death as he, uh…deflowers her. From the way they were talking, it sounds like a pretty brutal way to go.”

“Then I don’t think we have anything to worry about. I mean, it’s not like Giles is a virgin…is he?” asked Angel.

“Why d’you think he specifically asked for a demon? I’m guessing sex with other humans doesn’t cut it in their books,” said Doyle with a sad smile. “Just thought you should know what’s involved here.”

A shadow of uncertainty flitted across Angel’s stoic features. “It makes no difference,” he said at last. “Giles needs me. I’m going.” Angel slipped out of Doyle’s grasp and whipped past Cordelia.

“Hey!” she said. “It’s bad enough you won’t let me into your little boy’s club—now you’re blowing me off?” She was already trotting after Angel when Doyle snagged her arm.

“He’s right, Cordelia. He has to do this alone,” said Doyle.

Cordelia didn’t like the uncomfortable look on Doyle’s face, but she was ready to concede defeat on the matter.

“Fine. Whatever,” she said. “But things must be really bad if Giles is asking Angel for help.”

“Why’s that?” said Doyle curiously.

“Didn’t Angel ever tell you about his latest trip to Angelus-land?”

“I asked once. He was…less than forthcoming, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, things got bad, and Giles got the worst of it,” she explained. “Angelus killed his girlfriend and left her on his bed as a little present. Then he tortured him to get info on the Acathla thing. No details there, understandably, but I’m guessing it was pretty horrible.”

She couldn’t be sure, but Cordelia thought Doyle’s expression got decidedly more uncomfortable.


***


Angel stood looking down at the black, circular hole in the ground. In the pale light just before dawn, he paused at he entrance to the temple and turned to look at Buffy. There was something that had been bothering him since he’d picked her up in Sunnydale.

“Did Giles tell you what we he wants me to do?” he asked.

“Nada. Not a peep. Probably a lot of chanting and maybe a plucked chicken… You know, the usual.”

Angel wasn’t in the mood for her banter. “This is serious. Did he specifically ask for me?”

Buffy couldn’t help feeling a little hurt by his tone. And she really hated that she sucked so much at lying. He obviously saw it all over her face. Not…exactly,” she said. Angel’s frown dug a new trench into his brow. “Okay. I think his exact words were ‘anyone but Angel’. But we’re working on a time limit here—and do you know how hard it is to find a friendly, trustworthy demon on a Hellmouth?”

Angel fought back a scowl as the first rays of sunlight illuminated the desert landscape. “Go home. We’ll talk about this later,” he said, his voice dry and flat. With those menacing words hanging in the air, Angel disappeared down the hole with a flapping of black leather.

Angel followed the scent of bacon down the long central hallway until he saw light coming from the room at the end. He slowed his pace, not particularly eager to get where he was going.

He arrived at the chamber’s entrance unnoticed—Giles’ attention was focused solely on the transcriptions on which he was working. Angel stood awkwardly in the doorway, not knowing how to announce his presence without alarming Giles. He settled on a gentle clearing of his throat.

Giles looked up with a start, and even in the dim light Angel could see the blood draining from his face at the sight of him.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you,” said Angel.

“What are you doing here?” Giles demanded. “I told Buffy to leave you out of this.” He was fairly shaking with fear and anger.

“Yeah, well Buffy must have got her lines crossed, because she told me you asked me to come.” Angel could see the anger boiling up in Giles and he held up his hand; “I know now you didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m here now, so we might as well make the best of it.”

“Angel…I don’t think you fully understand the situation.”

“Sure I do. You need a demon. I’m a demon. See how easy it is?”

“Trust me, there’s nothing easy about it,” said Giles. “I’m sorry Buffy dragged you all the way out here, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Or, if you really want to be of use, you can help Buffy do what I asked her to do and find me another demon.”

“Don’t be stupid, Giles,” said Angel. “You know we’ll never find another demon in time for tonight’s full moon. Or maybe you’d rather die than have sex with me?”

Giles blanched. “Maybe I would,” he answered defiantly. Only the shaking of his voice betrayed how frightened he was.

“Fine then, I’ll leave,” said Angel, and when Giles didn’t argue, he turned on his heel and disappeared down the dark corridor.

As soon as Angel stepped foot inside the temple’s main entrance, he was met by a very cross-looking Buffy.

“What?” he asked. And when she simply crossed her arms and frowned at him he explained: “He doesn’t want my help.”

“So that’s it? You’re just gonna walk away and leave him to be slaughtered?” she said.

Angel paced in frustration. “He said he doesn’t want my help.”

“Look, I know Giles has some issues with you, but you’ve got to go back down there and tell him to get over it.”

“Get over it?”

“That’s what I said. Do whatever it takes, but don’t come back up until you’ve changed his mind. I can’t lose him, just because he’s too proud and stubborn to put his grudges behind him.”

Angel paced faster, stopped in his tracks like he wanted to say something, and then returned to his pacing. He couldn’t very well tell her the real reason Giles didn’t want his help—if he’d wanted her to know, he would have told her himself. The really annoying thing was that he knew she was right—he couldn’t abandon Giles. He finally stopped his pacing and jabbed a finger in Buffy’s direction: “Alright, I’ll go back down there…but I don’t want you hanging around, and I know for a fact that Giles wouldn’t want you here for this either. So go. Give us some space. You can come back for us tonight.”

“Angel,” said Buffy, her voice softening, “get him out of there. I have a bad feeling abut this one. Promise?”

“I promise,” answered Angel, cupping her cheek gently. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to make such a difficult promise.

They shared a look of longing, and as Angel turned and headed back down the corridor, he wondered how willing Buffy would have been to send him back in had she known what he was about to do.

Giles heard the footsteps approaching—had been half-expecting them. Once again he lifted his eyes from his translations to see the ghostly pale face of Angel appearing out of the shadows of the archway.

“Let me guess…Buffy?” asked Giles.

Angel nodded. “She knows you’re as good as dead if I don’t help you,” he said. “She’s right, you know.”

“I’ve made my decision,” said Giles.

“She still needs you, Giles,” said Angel, cautiously approaching the skittish ex-watcher. “She’s learned a lot, and she’s trying to do things on her own…but she still needs you. Don’t be selfish.”

Giles’ eyes flashed furiously at Angel, but despite himself, the words sank in. Was it fair to choose death and leave his slayer alone in the world? No doubt she would manage without him; she was an extraordinary young woman, and she had the help of her friends. But Angel was right—she still needed his guidance…from time to time.

Angel could see the emotional battle playing out across Giles’ face and he slowly inched his way closer to the altar where he had laid out his books. He took his continued silence as an indication that he was at least considering his options.

At last Giles cleared his throat. “There are certain…requirements…that must be met. The hieroglyphs leave little room for loopholes, I’m afraid.”

Angel came around to the other side of the altar so he could see what Giles had been working on. Giles shied away at his approach—his brain might have agreed to go through with it, but his instincts had other ideas.

“Okay. So walk me through it,” said Angel softly. “What is it we have to do?”

Giles reluctantly edged closer to Angel so he could read from his notes. “The writings on the altar say that only an unsullied human may be used in the sacrifice—that being ‘one who has never been penetrated sexually by a demon of pure blood until he be well-sated.”

There was a heavy silence between them for a moment until Angel gave voice to the only thing he could think to say:

“Oh.”


***


“Now, when it says ‘pure-blood’ demon…do you think I qualify? Maybe demons with souls don’t count.” Angel knew it sounded like he was chickening out, and maybe he was…a little.

“You qualify,” said Giles in a voice that made it clear he wished it was otherwise. “Buffy had no trouble leaving the chamber. So, unless she’s been sexually active with another demon without my knowing…”

“She hasn’t. She wouldn’t,” said Angel adamantly.

“Then apparently you’re demon enough for the job.”

“Hang on,” said Angel. “That last part…the bit where it says ‘til he be well-sated’…Does the ‘he’ mean me or you?”

“Assuming that the chosen victims were traditionally young women, I think it’s safe to say the ‘he’ refers to you.”

“But you’re not a hundred percent sure.”

“I doubt very much if the victims’ pleasure was of much concern to them.”

“Is that a risk you’re willing to take?” asked Angel. “Buffy told me on the drive down that the last jolt you got from that thing nearly killed you. Do you think you could survive another one?”

“Even if you’re right, it makes little difference. It’s hardly likely I’ll ever be ‘well-sated’ with you, is it?” said Giles, then muttered, “Dear God, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”

“Not like it’s a walk in the park for me, either,” Angel mumbled, and looked sheepishly at his feet when Giles shot him a glaring look.

“You can leave anytime you like. Don’t let me stop you.”

“I can’t do that, and you know it,” said Angel.

“If you’re worried about Buffy, you needn’t be. I’m sure she’ll survive,” said Giles.

“This isn’t about me and Buffy; this is about you and me. This is about me trying to put things right between us,” said Angel. “I know you haven’t forgiven me for what happened last year.”

“You never asked me for forgiveness. As I recall it, you came to me begging for help instead.”

“Would you have forgiven me if I’d asked?”

Giles’ answer was a stony glare and an even stonier silence.

“I suppose I deserve the silent treatment,” said Angel.

“You suppose? Maybe your time in Hell has corrupted your memory. Or perhaps to you I’m just one more of Angelus’ faceless victims,” said Giles bitterly. “Do you know my wounds haven’t fully healed yet? It’s been almost a year, and the scars haven’t even begun to fade. Almost a year, yet to me it seems like yesterday.” Angel tried to speak, but Giles was on a roll and picking up speed. “Did you really think that coming here…putting me in this situation…would somehow make me want to forgive you for the atrocities you committed?”

“I came here to save your life,” Angel snapped defensively. He quickly back-pedalled: “I had no choice—it’s not like I could just sit back and let you get slaughtered—I figured I at least owed it to you to save you from certain death. Anyways, we’ve been through this already. I don’t want to be here. You don’t want to be here. So maybe we should just face the fact that we have no choice and get on with it.” Angel took a step towards Giles, but he backed away quickly, nearly stumbling over one of the backpacks on the floor.

“I thought you were on board with this,” said Angel.

“Forgive me if this is difficult for me,” said Giles wryly. “I guess I’ve got some trust issues.”

Angel hesitated, wondering if his only course of action would be to take Giles by force. The thought did not sit well with him, but if Giles refused to cooperate, it might come down to that. He took another cautious step forward and was relieved that Giles was holding his ground.

“Okay,” said Angel soothingly, “we’ll take it slow. No rush—plenty of time before sunset.” Angel took another baby step closer, then another. When at last they wee standing face to face, Angel brought his hand up to Giles’ cheek.

Giles’ pulse was racing so fast that Angel honestly feared he might have a coronary before they even got started. He carried on, though, knowing that if he kept backing off they would never go through with it. He slowly slipped his hand behind Giles’ neck and nudged him closer. Giles’ panic was tangible as their lips brushed together, and Angel’s heart sank to hear the other man let loose a helpless whimper. It pained him beyond words to think that he was responsible for breaking one of the bravest men he’d ever known. Angel pulled back, starting to lose his nerve.

Giles’ expression was inscrutable—there was too much going on behind his green eyes to pin down what exactly he was thinking. But amidst the expected panic and turmoil there was a powerful resolve and a hidden reserve of strength. This time it was he who brought their lips together, and even though his heart was still pounding with dread of what was to come, he refused to shy away.

Their tongues met almost by accident, and the surge of fear Giles got from the contact was strong enough that even Angel could taste the metallic tang of it. The kiss turned into a kind of battle, with advancing and retreating taking place on both sides. Neither one of them was willing to admit defeat.

It was Giles who finally was the first to pull away, and for a while neither of them could speak. It was as if they both knew that words could only serve to make things worse. Without a word, Giles removed his glasses and placed them on the altar next to his notebook. Without a word, Angel held out his hand and Giles accepted it. They silently made their way over to the air mattress Xander had so thoughtfully provided, and there they stood. Silently. And with no clue how to proceed.

Buffy returned to the dorm room she shared with Willow and dropped thankfully onto her bed.

“Hey, Buffy,” said Willow from her bed. Buffy cocked her head in her roommate’s direction. Was that a guilty tone in her voice?

“Hey, Willow,” Buffy answered, her own voice indicating that she was so on to her.

“Alright…stop with the third degree, already,” said Willow. “If you really must know, I’ve been doing a little research while you were gone.”

Buffy perked up. “So…great! Did you find out anything about this ‘Free Bone’ ritual thing?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Willow mysteriously. “Giles has all the books on the temple with him, but I looked up the words ‘Freb-Ont’ online, and I came across a site called “The Brotherhood of the Freb-Ont”. At first I thought it was a neo-Nazi thing, ‘cause it kept referring to its followers as ‘pure-bloods’.”

“Giles said he needed me to bring him a ‘pure-blood’ demon,” said Buffy, and she climbed off her bed to join Willow on hers.

“Right. But the site looked pretty innocent—demon-wise, I mean—until I found a secret door. Check it out.” Willow couldn’t help beaming a little at her own cleverness, despite the gruesome discovery she’d made. On her laptop, Willow dragged the cursor over the screen until one of the letters in the text flickered. She clicked on it and it brought up a new page.

“Oh… Eww!” said Buffy as pictures of past sacrifices appeared on the screen, complete with bubble captions above the victims’ heads. “And kind of tacky.”

Next to her, Willow was nibbling nervously at her lip, waiting for Buffy to notice that all the victims in the pictures were being raped by demons as well as tortured, and the number of times the word ‘virgin’ appeared in the captions. It took a moment, but soon she could see her friend’s expression slowly morph into one of confusion.

“Willow…?” she asked.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have shown you this,” said Willow, her large eyes filled with worry. “I knew I shouldn’t have shown you this. I…I’m sure it’s not as bad as it looks,” she said lamely.

“I don’t get it,” said Buffy, frowning. “Giles isn’t a virgin.”

Willow bit her lip more forcefully—Buffy still didn’t get it, and she was worried she might have to explain. But Buffy looked at her, her mind working furiously, and almost immediately her eyes widened in horror.

“Angel!” Buffy breathed.

Willow nodded mutely, not wanting to say anything that might make it worse.

“Oh, God…Angel and Giles…” said Buffy. She was clearly in a state of shock. “We’ve got to get Angel out of there! We have to find another demon!”

“It’s too late,” said Willow. “By the time we find another demon and get to the temple it’ll be too late—Giles has to be out of there before sunset.”

Buffy sat quietly for a while, her eyes slowly filling with tears. “Giles will never forgive me for this,” she whispered, and she was grateful to have her best friend there, holding her and letting her cry. Glad that she hadn’t got the lecture she knew she deserved.

Long minutes ticked by as Angel and Giles continued standing mutely by the mattress, stuck in a stalemate. Angel was waiting for Giles to make the first move, trying to give him as much control over the situation as possible. But Giles hadn’t budged an inch—it was like he was literally frozen in place.

“Giles…?” said Angel finally, breaking the silence. Giles didn’t respond; he just stood staring at the mattress like a rabbit pinned by the headlights of an oncoming truck. “Rupert,” said Angel more loudly. The reaction he got couldn’t have been more severe if he’d slapped him across the face.

Giles’ eyes snapped up to meet Angel’s with a venomous look. “Don’t call me that.”

“Sorry…Giles…” said Angel. “I just thought, under the circumstances…”

“Just don’t…please,” said Giles more softly.

Angel nodded solemnly. “You know, I don’t want to push you, but we really don’t have a whole lot of time here,” he said.

Now it was Giles’ turn to nod, but he could no longer meet the vampire’s gaze, which was filled with sympathy and kindness. Giles wanted to hold on to his anger—it made him feel less…vulnerable. Take away the anger and all that was left was the fear.

Giles licked his dry lips, tasted Angel there, and felt his stomach turn. “Angel, I can’t. I can’t do this,” he said. “I thought I could, but I just can’t.” The words tumbled out of him, spurred on by his growing panic.

“Shhh, Giles,” whispered Angel, and he gathered him into his arms.

Giles struggled to pull free with everything he had, but Angel’s arms were wrapped vice-like around him.

“Let me go!” he pleaded. “Goddammit, Angel—let me go!” Angel’s grip only got tighter the more he fought it, and eventually he had to give up or risk having his ribs crushed.

When Giles at last stopped struggling, Angel loosened his grasp and looked him in the eyes: “You can do this,” he said, and he kissed him. Angel hated what he was doing to him—he knew that Giles wasn’t ready—but he also knew that Giles was not capable of making the first move.

Giles resisted at first, his body tense and ready to bolt at the slightest opportunity. It took a while before his panic subsided enough for his brain to take charge. Very slowly, he forced himself to relax into Angel’s embrace, forced himself to give Angel’s probing tongue access to his mouth. Never in his life had he felt more conflicted—his survival instincts were telling him to run as far and as fast as he could from his only shot at survival.

Angel was greatly relieved that Giles had finally stopped fighting him. The need for force gone, his kisses became softer and less demanding, and he was able to let Giles go long enough to remove his leather jacket. When he moved to unbutton Giles’ shirt, however, Giles pulled away. He thought he’d lost him again, but Giles surprised him and continued to unbutton his shirt on his own. Angel followed suit, quickly shedding his clothes onto the cold stone floor until he and Giles were both down to their underwear.

Giles said nothing; he just lay down on the mattress, his arms crossed protectively over his naked chest. The cool, musty air had him shivering in seconds, but as Angel crawled along the mattress and on top of him, looking as predatory as a panther, the cold air was no longer the only thing making him shiver. The air mattress bulged under their combined weight, jouncing him with every movement of Angel’s advance.

Angel wanted to tell Giles to relax, but so far, speaking had proven disastrous, so he kept his mouth shut. When he was once again eye-to-eye with him, Angel lowered himself enough so that their bodies made contact. So far so good, he thought. Again their mouths met in a kiss deeper and less self-conscious that their previous attempts. Apart from Giles’ increased heart rate things were going smoothly…until Angel’s mouth strayed from Giles’, licking and kissing a path down to his throat.

Giles immediately seized up and pushed Angel away. It was bad enough having to have sex with his ex-torturer, but lying naked and vulnerable while a vampire licked at his throat was an affront to everything he’d been taught, everything that made him what he was—a watcher.

It didn’t take Angel long to figure out the reason for Giles’ strong reaction. He mentally kicked himself for going for the neck—to him it was a turn-on, but to Giles it was obviously a threat. Angel tried to convey his apologies with his eyes, and he thought he saw an answering acceptance in Giles’.

More slowly now, Angel continued his trail of kisses, bypassing the throat and beginning at the collarbone. Giles timidly removed his arms from across his chest to allow Angel access. That didn’t mean he was starting to relax; as soon as his hands were free they clutched onto the blanket with a death grip.

Angel pretended not to notice how Giles’ knuckles grew whiter the closer he came to the band of his underwear. So he was hardly surprised, when he eased the cotton briefs down Giles’ legs, to find his ministrations had had little effect.

Giles looked down the length of his body to where Angel was crouched over him, pondering the next course of action. Their eyes met again, and this time Giles was the one sporting the look of apology.

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” said Giles.

“Don’t write me off yet,” said Angel. “We’re just getting started. And I’ve learned a few things over the centuries. Trust me…this’ll work.”


***


Giles propped himself up on his elbows and watched Angel rummage through the clothes strewn over the stone floor. Under better circumstances he might have found it amusing, but right now, all he could think about was what sorts of ‘things’ Angel had learned over the centuries. He was left with the same sinking sensation he’d had the year before, bound to a chair and waiting for the next implement of torture to appear in Angelus’ hands.

He was almost disappointed (and most definitely relieved) when Angel retrieved nothing more sinister than a tube of lubricant from his jacket pocket. No sadistically ribbed sex aides, no leather harnesses or whips, no handcuffs. Giles sank back against the mattress with a tiny breath of relief and waited.

This time, when Angel rejoined him on the bed, there were no clothes in the way. Giles found himself staring at Angel’s cock, wondering how much bigger it was going to get and already cringing inwardly at the kind of pain it would inflict.

“Close your eyes,” said Angel.

Although it went against his better judgement, Giles obeyed. After all, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to see what was happening anyway.

He felt strong hands on his chest, rubbing his taut muscles with experienced fingers. Giles took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to focus his mind solely on the physical aspects of the massage. So long as he didn’t dwell on the circumstances, he stood a chance of coming through this unscathed.

It wasn’t so bad, he thought, trying to convince himself. Even with the massaging fingers inching their way south, he was able to stay calm as long as his thoughts didn’t linger too long on Angel. Hands sliding down his stomach towards his hips—he could deal with it. Hands stroking along his outer thighs—doable. Hands disappearing for a moment, then reappearing slick with lubricant and intent on forging a path along his inner thigh—okay…having a bit of trouble with that one.

But he’d gone too far to back out now. Giles forced himself to relax and even spread his legs a little to make it easier for Angel. He braced himself as the invading fingers found their way to his back entrance, waiting for the inevitable breach. But Angel made no sudden moves. Instead, his fingers gently traced along his perineum, occasionally teasing his balls or skating briefly over his tightly puckered hole.

Strangely, it was easier to relax now that the physical sensations had become so…potent. It was easy to forget the ‘whys’ and the ‘with whoms’ and simply get lost in his body’s instictive reactions.

For the first time, he found himself reaching out for Angel, seeking a body to hold onto. His hand met with the cool, smooth skin of Angel’s shoulder, and he gripped onto it. There was a shifting of weight, and now Angel was once more on top of him, his hand still caressing him between his legs as he leaned in for a kiss.

Giles didn’t hesitate to kiss him back—it was what his body was telling him to do, and right now he needed to listen to it. He weaved his fingers through Angel’s short, black hair and with his other hand he began a shy exploration of Angel’s back. He was honestly surprised to find that he was getting hard. He was even more surprised to find he welcomed Angel’s hand on his cock, even pushed into it to better feel the friction.

This time, when Angel licked and nibbled his way down his chest and stomach there was a sizeable erection waiting for him at the other end. Giles hissed—pleasure, fear? It was too hard to tell—as Angel’s mouth engulfed him. Once again he clutched at the blankets, this time to keep himself from bucking hard into Angel’s mouth. Giles kept his eyes clamped shut, breathing more rapidly with every practiced movement of Angel’s tongue and lips.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that the reason Angel was so good at this was because he was a vampire and didn’t need to breathe—that he could swallow him, over and over without ever needing to come up for air. But the time for thinking had long passed. Now it was all nerve endings and primal urges. So when Angel’s finger finally slipped up inside his body, Giles was too overcome with other sensations to protest. It felt odd, but it didn’t hurt. And as the finger explored inside him, it nudged up against a spot that made his eyes fly open and sent a jolt of pure pleasure throughout his entire body.

He couldn’t help shouting out as Angel’s finger relentlessly hit that spot over and over again, sending him hurtling over the abyss with a cry that echoed down the halls of the temple for an impossibly long time. Panting for breath, Giles lay on the mattress, his arms flung loosely at his sides, and feeling utterly drained.

Angel, still kneeling beside him, lifted his dark eyes to meet Giles’. He thought he saw a smile on his face—a small one, but a smile nonetheless. Angel smiled back.

Giles grunted out a dry, exhausted chuckle. “I’m a big enough man to admit I was wrong.”

Angel’s smile curled up into a smirk. “I gotta say, Giles, size…not really your problem.”

Giles’ gaze drifted downward and came to rest on Angel’s prominent erection. No, he thought, size is precisely my problem. What little mirth he had in him withered at the sight of what was awaiting him.

“Don’t give up on me now, Giles,” said Angel. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

Giles swallowed hard. “I suppose you’ve given me reason enough not to doubt you.”

“That’s right,” said Angel. “I got you this far—the rest is easy. All you’ve gotta do is lay back and relax. I’ll take care of everything else.”

Giles turned his head away; “Just do it. I want this over with as quickly as possible.”

“Um…” said Angel worriedly. “Here’s the thing: you can either have it quick or you can have it painless, you can’t have both. It’s your call.”

“Quick,” said Giles immediately, but as his blood began pounding in his ears he changed his mind. “No. Painless.”

“Good choice,” said Angel with a sigh of relief.

Giles watched as Angel squeezed out an absurdly large mound of lubricant into the palm of his hand.

“Are you sure you’ve got enough?” asked Giles.

Angel would have assumed he was being sarcastic, except for the earnest look on his face. Giles was genuinely concerned.

“It’ll be more than enough, trust me,” said Angel. “It’s cold, though. I’d warm it up for you, but…well…no body heat.” Angel shrugged apologetically and climbed back onto the mattress.

Even though he’d been warned, the feel of the cold liquid shocked him, and Giles clenched his legs together involuntarily. It only took a minute for it to warm up to his body temperature, but by then he’d completely tensed up.

“Relax, Giles,” said Angel. “This won’t work unless you relax. Just let your legs fall open. That’s it.”

Angel knelt between Giles’ legs and spread the lube around with his fingers. “All right?” Angel asked.

Giles peered at him through half-shut lids and gave a slight nod. With permission thus granted, Angel slipped his finger into Giles’ ass. Or tried to, at least. Giles was so tightly clenched against him that he could barely squeeze in the tip of his finger.

“Relax,” said Angel.

“I’m trying,” said Giles with some frustration. “No flowers, no romantic music…if this is your idea of foreplay it’s no wonder I’m not in the mood.”

The gallows’ humour comment caught Angel off guard and he looked at the ex-watcher uncertainly. Giles mouth twisted into a half-smile and he started to giggle. Angel soon joined him. Sure, it was nervous laughter, but it broke the tension at last, and as their chuckles subsided, Giles finally looked more at ease. Angel felt the muscles of Giles’ legs relax around him and he took advantage of the moment.

“Oh, God,” said Giles, feeling the finger inside him, wriggling around, stretching him. “Oh, God,” he repeated.

“Am I hurting you?” asked Angel.

“No,” said Giles with a weak smile. “I’m fine.”

The second finger squeezed in, making Giles flinch and hiss. “Fine. I’m fine—stop worrying,” he said before Angel could ask.

Angel took his time, making sure Giles was ready before he removed his fingers and lubed up his cock. Giles had thought he wouldn’t be able to watch, but now that the time had come, he couldn’t pry his eyes off the sight of Angel’s hard cock, gleaming wet in the light of the lanterns. Angel took hold of his legs and lifted them up onto his shoulders, to make for easier access.

Giles held his breath as Angel got in position and slowly pushed the head of his cock into his ass. The tight ring of muscle gradually released its grip, letting Angel slide deeper inside him. There was a burning as his flesh stretched to accommodate Angel’s size, but the pain was bearable.

When Angel was fully sheathed inside him, he began to thrust—little thrusts at first, then larger thrusts once he was sure Giles could take it. Giles could do nothing now but watch and wait. The pain had receded, leaving only an odd discomfort and the dawning realisation that he would survive this night, but he would never really be whole again. He felt strangely empty, like somebody had hollowed him out emotionally and left behind nothing but a fragile husk.

The worst thing was that he felt he hadn’t fought it—not really. And the fact that he’d actually enjoyed it—even a little…he didn’t know how to deal with that. And here he was, reduced to serving as a sexual punching for the new and improved Angel.

Angel knew there was something wrong long before the first tear rolled down the side of Giles’ face and onto the bed. He couldn’t stop, though. He was so close…Giles was so hot and tight. And he knew it was wrong that it felt so good, but it had been so long since he’d been with a man that the sensations were almost overwhelming. Still…he couldn’t stand to see Giles suffering. He had to do something, say something.

“Giles? Giles, look at me,” said Angel softly.

Giles did look at him, but said nothing.

“I’m so sorry, Giles,” he said. “For this. For everything. You have no idea how sorry I am.”

Giles looked up at the vampire and in his liquid brown eyes he saw true remorse, and something else—he saw centuries’ worth of anguished guilt stamped onto his soul, and something in him connected with that. He didn’t know what exactly it was that made him do it—maybe it was because he had nothing else to lose—but for whatever reason, he opened his mouth and the words “I forgive you” came out. And for that brief moment he meant it.

It was by far the last thing Angel expected. He was overcome with a profound relief unlike anything he’d felt before. It was like a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders, and he felt lighter and happier than he had in a long time. Relief, coupled with a mind-blowing orgasm…

There was a horrible, panicky moment when Angel knew what was happening but was incapable of doing anything to stop it. In the brief moment before his soul left him, Angel once more found himself praying for Giles’ forgiveness.

***


Buffy was silent in the car, much to Xander’s annoyance. She’d barely said a word since he’d picked her up at her dorm room, but the looks that had passed between her and Willow spoke volumes. Once again he was being left out of the loop, and it sucked royally.

“Okay, what gives?” asked Xander finally. “What’s with the Masonic handshakes and the uber-secrecy? If this is about Giles, I have as much right as you and Willow to know what’s going on.”

“You know what, Xan? You’re right—you do. But I just can’t talk about it right now. Let’s just pick them up and go home, alright?”

“Them?” asked Xander.

“Huh?”

“Them—you said ‘them’. Let’s pick ‘them’ up.”

Buffy chewed the inside of her cheek—he was going to find out shortly anyways, and it was probably better to warn him ahead of time so he wouldn’t make a scene. “Fine,” she said. “Giles is with Angel. We needed his help with this one.”

Xander clamped his mouth shut to keep from saying what was on his mind. He kept his eyes focused on the road ahead so she wouldn’t see how angry he was. To trust Angel over him? It was like a slap in the face. He gripped the steering wheel tighter and was so caught up in his brooding that he almost missed the turnoff. He swung sharply onto the dirt side-road and ground to a stop, dust pluming out behind Giles’ car.

Now Buffy was the one faced with the silent treatment as they trudged through the desert. They had a good twenty or thirty minutes before sunset, but Xander was trekking it at top speed. Buffy kept up easily enough, but stayed a few steps behind on purpose, hoping he’d get over it and fall back so they could talk. He didn’t. They covered the fifteen-minute hike in less than eight minutes, but Buffy caught up with Xander and stopped him before he started down into the temple.

“What’s your problem?” asked Buffy loudly.

Xander’s chest was heaving from his exertion, but he refused to let it show, keeping his wheezing down to a minimum. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about the tarantula-sized bug up your butt,” she said.

“Okay—firstly, a tarantula isn’t a bug. And secondly, what makes you think that I have a problem with you bringing in your un-dead ex instead of asking me for help?”

“Your jealous?” Buffy asked in disbelief. “That’s what this is about? Well trust me, Xander, this is one time that sitting on the sidelines—not such a bad thing. And believe me, if you could have taken Angel’s place in there, I guarantee I would have volunteered you instead.”

“You mean it?” asked Xander.

“You bet. Now let’s get them out of there—it’s already starting to get dark.”

Xander seemed happy with his apology. Maybe it was because he knew he’d overreacted. Angel had that affect on him sometimes. He followed Buffy down into the dark temple and clicked on his flashlight. And he nearly jumped straight out of his skin when it lit up Angel’s face right in front of him.

“Gah! Do you have to sneak up on people like that?” Xander squeaked.

“Do you mind?” asked Angel, shielding his eyes from the Xander’s flashlight.

“Oh. Sorry.” Xander lowered the beam.

Buffy approached him: “Did everything…is Giles okay?” she asked. “Can he leave?”

“Oh yeah. He’s fine—can leave whenever he wants,” said Angel. “But he insists on packing up all his books.” He pulled Buffy to the side and whispered; “He said he wanted to talk to the two of you in private. I’ll wait for you in the car.”

Buffy nodded, trying to read Angel’s eyes in the dim light. He didn’t sound mad, but his eyes told a different story—they were cold and distant. She would have some serious apologizing to do once this was all over, she realized. Then she thought about what Giles was going to talk to them about and her heart sank.

“C’mon Xan—we’re running out of time,” said Buffy, and she led the way down the long, dark corridor. The dread of having to face Giles made it feel like she was walking to the electric chair. She just hoped her executioner would make it quick and painless.

She knew something was wrong even before they turned the corner to get to the sacrificial chamber. There was no noise coming from the room. There should have been noises—shuffling of feet, rustling of bags—but there was nothing. She ran the last few yards to the chamber and stopped dead in her tracks just beyond the entrance.

She was stunned, frozen in place with her hands clasped over her mouth as if trying to quell a scream. Xander came up behind her, careful not to cross the threshold. She looked at him with wide, glassy eyes, and he was about to ask her what was wrong, but one look inside the chamber was enough to answer his question. In spades.

Lying naked on top of the blood-spattered sheets was Giles. His leg bent at an impossible angle, clearly broken. His arms and chest were covered in cuts and bruises, and there was crimson blood caked around two distinctive puncture wounds in his neck.

But what really frightened Buffy was the blood on Giles’ lips.


***


They both stood staring for what seemed an eternity but was really only a few seconds before Buffy ran over to Giles. As she knelt down next to him she fervently prayed to whatever god would listen for him to be alive. The thought of losing him—or worse, having to dust him if he’d been turned—made her feel sick.

Then she saw something that filled her with relief—the bite wounds on his throat were still bleeding, the blood sluggishly pumping out with every beat of his heart. Not that losing so much blood was a good thing, but given the alternatives, she was downright giddy with relief.

“He’s alive,” she said, almost to herself. From behind her she heard Xander let out a huge breath.

Buffy tore a strip off the sheet Giles was lying on and pressed it hard over the bite to staunch the bleeding.

“Angelus,” said Xander vehemently.

“I know what you’re going to say, and you’re right—I was stupid to bring him into this…but I didn’t know…”

“No—Buffy, he said he was going to wait for us in the car, which means either he’s saving us for dessert, or we’re rideless.”

“Well we can’t stay here; the demon cult guys could be here any minute.” She looked down at Giles’ peacefully unconscious face. In a way it was a good thing he’d passed out, because carrying him with that broken leg would have hurt like hell. She wrapped him up in the bloodstained blanket, not even attempting to try and dress him, and gently hefted him over her shoulder in a fireman’s hold. As Buffy carried him over the threshold, she tried not to think what must have happened to free him from the trap.

“Hurry.” Said Xander needlessly, lighting the way for both of them as they raced up the long corridor. The thought of running into a bloodthirsty horde of demons in the corridor with nowhere to hide was enough to spur them on.

By the time they got to the surface, the sun had set. Streaks of red and orange still scarred the sky, marking its final descent to the horizon. A couple of times along the way they had to find cover to avoid being spotted by groups of demons arriving for the sacrifice. Luckily the demons were all too preoccupied, chatting excitedly about the upcoming ritual, to notice the poorly hidden trio of humans in the brush. Each time they had to stop, Buffy checked up on Giles. The bleeding had nearly stopped under her makeshift bandage, but in the moonlight he looked deathly pale, and there were dark smudges around his eyes.

Despite the delays, they made good time, hoofing it between their forced breaks. When they finally made it to the dirt side-road, they were surprised to find the Citroën still waiting for them. They approached cautiously, fully expecting Angelus to jump out at them at any moment. But the car looked deserted. Xander flashed his light through the window to check inside, and that’s when Buffy saw the writing in the dust on the windshield.

“Xander…” she said.

He joined her, and as he read the message left for them by Angelus, his lips drew into a hard thin line.

It said, simply: “Willow or Giles.”

“You drive,” said Buffy, and she slid Giles carefully into the backseat, climbing in after him. As Xander sped through the desert towards Sunnydale, Buffy made Giles as comfortable as she could, laying him down on the seat with his head cradled in her lap. She couldn’t take her eyes off him: it was as if she feared he would suddenly die on her if she didn’t watch him closely.

“I don’t get it,” said Xander out of the blue.

“Angelus is giving us a choice,” Buffy explained. “We can either save Giles by getting him to the hospital in time, or we can try to get to Willow before he does.”

“I get that,” said Xander. “What I don’t get is how Angel lost his soul. What could possibly have made him so damn happy? I mean, it’s not like they had sex or anything.”

Xander chuckled nervously when Buffy didn’t answer him. “That’s it, isn’t it,” he said with a rigid smile plastered on his face. “Sweet Mother of God! That’s why Angel was there. They had sex!”

Buffy hugged Giles’ shoulders as if protecting him from Xander’s words. “I didn’t know. I swear, Xander, I didn’t know.”

Xander had grown pale at the thought of what Giles must have gone through, and for a moment he thought he might have to pull over and be sick. He looked back at Giles in the rear-view mirror and his hatred for Angelus consumed him.

“We’re taking him to the hospital,” he bit out matter-of-factly.

“Of course we will, Xander. But we have to go to Willow first. We don’t know how much of a head start Angelus has on us.”

“We don’t know how much time Giles has, either,” said Xander. “The hospital’s on the other end of town—we don’t have time to make a side trip.”

Buffy ran her fingers through the hair at Giles’ temple, smoothing it gently as she thought. She knew Xander was right—Giles was weak and growing weaker by the minute.

“Right,” she said. “Then we’ll just have to do both at the same time. As soon as we get into town, drop me off and keep on going to the hospital. I’ll get to Willow on my own.”

“It’ll take you too long to get there on foot,” Xander argued.

“We don’t have much choice, do we? And I’m a lot faster than you might think.”

Xander pushed the ancient Citroën to its limits and made it back to town in record time. Just inside the city limits he caught sight of the bus depot and he got an idea. He made a hard right and pulled up behind a line of taxicabs in front of the depot.

“Have you got any cash?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Buffy as she got out of the car. Before he pulled away, Buffy leaned into his window. “Promise me you’ll stay with him?”

“I promise. Now go.”

They parted ways, Xander peeling away from the depot like a madman to make up for lost time. He chewed the inside of his cheek and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel anxiously, wishing Giles would make a noise—any noise—just to reassure him that he was still alive back there.

The car squealed to a stop outside the hospital’s Emergency entrance. Xander bolted from the car and flagged down the first person in scrubs he could find. It turned out to be a nurse on her way out for a smoke, and she sighed resignedly as she pocketed her cigarettes and walked over to the frantically waving young man.

Thankfully, when she saw the shape Giles was in she became all business, and faster than Xander would have thought possible, she had a team of people descending on the Citroën. They quickly loaded Giles onto a stretcher and started wheeling him into the building.

A rumpled and exhausted-looking young intern shepherded Xander away from the entourage and began asking him questions. Was Xander a relative? No—just a friend. Was he the one who’d found him? Yes. Did he know what happened? No. Where there any allergies they should know about? Was there someone they should call? Did he have insurance?

Xander did his best to answer the questions, but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d let Giles down. He should have known about his allergies and his blood type and all that stuff. After all, he was the closest thing to family that Giles had here in the States.

He watched them wheel Giles into a little room crammed with machines and began to follow them, but the rumpled doctor blocked his way. Xander craned his neck to see through the door’s window into the tiny room, trying to catch a glimpse of Giles.

“I know you’re worried about your friend,” said the intern, “but you’ll just be in the way in there right now. Dr. Martinez is the best, I assure you. Your friend is in good hands.” The young man gave Xander’s arm a reassuring squeeze before joining the others in the forbidden room.

Out in the parking lot in front of the Emergency entrance, the Citroën rocked on its wheels. Hidden in the trunk of the car, Angelus had been waiting with the patience of a saint—or at least a saint who’d lost his soul and was hell-bent on causing misery and chaos. He’d waited for the car to reach its final destination, and then he’d waited until all was quiet. Now it was time to make his move: popping the trunk from the inside, he slipped out from his hiding place unnoticed.

Like he’d thought, they’d split up, leaving Xander and Giles vulnerable while Buffy went off to ‘rescue’ Willow. All he needed now was a window of opportunity and he would finish what he’d started. He was furious at what Angel had done with Giles. Not the sex part—that had actually been pretty hot—but all that compassion and tenderness he’d shown the man…it was nauseating, really.

Angelus intended on savouring his revenge. And when it was all over, he might just have a new playmate.

Xander paced restlessly around the waiting room, biting his nails and constantly pestering the front desk for any news on Giles. His stomach seemed to be roiling with acid and with every minute that passed he grew more and more anxious.

At last he saw the rumpled intern walking towards him and he nearly pounced on the poor man.

“Well?” Xander asked.

“Your friend lost a lot of blood, but we’ve got him stabilized.”

“Is he awake? Can I see him?”

The young intern hesitated and studied Xander carefully before answering. “His injuries were extensive, Mr…Harris was it?” Xander nodded. “Are you aware of what happened to him?”

“No. Like I said earlier, I found him like that and brought him straight here. I wasn’t there when it happened.”

“That’s right—you did say that,” said the intern sceptically. “Then you’ll have no information that might help the medical examiners that are currently checking him over?”

Xander felt his cheeks burning. He knew what the doctor was implying, and he also knew he was the obvious suspect. But what hadn’t occurred to him until now was that they were treating Giles as a rape victim. Xander could feel the doctor’s intense glare on him as he sputtered out his declarations of ignorance.

The rumpled young intern obviously interpreted Xander’s reaction as one of innocence and indignation, because he slowly nodded and asked Xander to follow him. He led him back to the little forbidden room and ushered him inside.

“He hasn’t regained consciousness yet,” said the intern, “but you can sit with him if you’d like. I should warn you, though, that the police have been called in—standard procedure in a case like this. They’ll want to ask you some questions.”

Xander nodded, his mouth dry as the Sahara. This was like the time he’d been caught eating cookies from the bulk bins at the grocery store, only much worse—he had a feeling the police wouldn’t be as quick to believe him as the intern had been.

Xander waited for the door to close behind him before approaching Giles’ bed. Now that he’d been cleaned up, it was obvious that the blood they’d seen around his mouth had come from a split lip. He felt relief all over again at this added proof that Giles hadn’t been turned. Still, he couldn’t believe how pale and fragile Giles looked under the harsh fluorescent lights, hooked up to all those machines. After a moment’s awkwardness, Xander took his friend’s hand in his own.

He happened to look up at that moment, and saw the young intern smiling knowingly at him through the window. Xander smiled warily back at him, realising the man had misinterpreted the whole hand-holding thing, but not caring enough to set him right on the matter.

The cab ride to campus ranked high up there on Buffy’s top ten list of frustrating events in her life. The driver flat out refused to go faster than the speed limit and seemed to take an evil glee in stopping for every orange light—even the ones he could easily have made.

As soon as UC Sunnydale came into view, Buffy tossed a handful of bills at the driver, bitterly resenting the time restraints that made it necessary to let him keep the change. She jumped out of the cab before it could come to a full stop and hit the ground running.

She crossed campus like she had the devil at her heels and when she reached her residence, took the stairs three at a time. She pulled a stake from her purse as she flew down the hallway to her dorm room and kicked the door open. Buffy stormed in, ready to stake anything that moved, but all she saw when she got there was a startled and bewildered Willow, lying on her bed with her foot propped up on a pillow.

“Hey, Buffy,” said Willow uncertainly. “What’s up?” But what she really meant was ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing breaking down your own door?’

“Is he here? Has he shown up yet?” asked Buffy.

“Oz is locked up tonight,” said Willow, confused. “Full moon, remember?”

“Not Oz. Angelus,” said Buffy. “Has Angelus been here?”

“Angelus?” Willow said, her eyebrows climbing towards her hairline. “Buffy, what…oh…Oh my God…Angel lost his soul?”

“He did. Then he went all psycho killer on Giles,” said Buffy grimly.

Willow blanched. “Giles!”

“He’s alive. We got to him before Angelus could finish with him.”

“Is he gonna be okay?” Asked Willow with a fearful squeak.

“I don’t know. Xander took him to the hospital, but…he didn’t look good, Will.”

“Then why did you come here? You could have called me from the hospital,” said Willow.

“Angelus left us a message—I thought he was coming here.”

“What did the message say?”

“It said ‘Willow or Giles’. He was giving us a choice of who we could save,” said Buffy.

“Or maybe he was making you guess which one of us he would go after,” suggested Willow.

“Then Angelus might have been after Giles this whole time,” said Buffy. Without another word she turned on her heel and marched out the door, slamming it shut behind her.

“I’ll just stay here, then,” said Willow to the empty room. “Stupid foot,” she said to her own disabled appendage.


***


Xander’s visit with Giles was anything but private. Nurses and orderlies kept popping in to check on Giles, and Xander sensed from their varying attitudes that the general consensus was that he was either Giles’ boyfriend or his assailant. Or both. He tried not to let it get to him, but every time the door whooshed open he found himself grinding his teeth.

Christine, the nurse who’d helped him get Giles out of the car, entered the room and Xander unclenched his jaw. She seemed to like him, and so far she was the only one who’d volunteered any information about Giles’ condition. She smiled warmly at him as she checked Giles’ saline drip.

“How long until he wakes up?” asked Xander in his hushed, hospital voice.

“Not for a while,” she answered. “We’ve got him on morphine for the pain, and that should let him rest comfortably.” She saw the concern etched onto Xander’s face and took pity on him. “He’s tough, Mr. Harris. He’s doing much better than we expected considering his injuries. Just be patient. Let him sleep—give his body time to heal itself.” She winked at Xander and marked something down on the chart at the foot of the bed.

Xander was just starting to feel better about the situation when two uniformed policemen squeezed their way into the room.

“Can you give us a minute?” the tall, dark-haired one asked Christine. It wasn’t so much a question as a demand, and Christine timidly retreated from the tiny room.

“Are you Alexander Lavelle Harris?” asked the puffy-faced blond cop. He had a little notebook in one hand and a pen poised expectantly in the other.

“Yes,” answered Xander, feeling his hands go cold in an instant. It’s never a good start when they use your middle name. Middle names are only used when you’re in trouble; it was a well-known fact.

“You’re the one who brought in Mr. Giles?”

“Yes, but I…”

“Do you know Mr. Giles?”

“Yes, but…”

“How close would you say you are to Mr. Giles?”

“We’re friends. Good friends, but…”

“Can you tell me how it is you came to find your ‘good friend’ in this condition?”

Xander licked his parched lips and was about to spew out the same story he’d given the intern, but as he opened his mouth to speak, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that stopped him cold. In the window, behind the two cops, a dark figure had appeared—Angelus grinned malevolently at Xander and waggled his fingers in a mocking ‘hello’.

Fury filled Xander, and for a moment he forgot where he was and whom he was with. All he could think of was getting his hands around Angelus’ throat and squeezing the un-life out of him. He made a mad charge towards the door, but the cops immediately grabbed him and struggled him to the floor. Xander fought to get free, but they held him down, and they were not about to let him go.

In the window, Angelus laughed a hard, mirthless laugh, then disappeared from view.


***


The first thing he became aware of was the numbness. It felt nice—like his whole body was wrapped up in layers of downy cotton. Giles was finding it hard to think straight, and he wasn’t sure if the noises he was hearing were real or part of a dream. There was shouting and sounds of a struggle—it sounded real enough.

Giles sluggishly opened his eyes, vaguely thinking that if someone was in trouble he should try to help them. At first, everything was fuzzy and distant, and then everything went dark again—his eyes had closed on him of their own accord. He struggled to open them again, and managed to lift his head a little bit in time to see three blurry, man-shaped objects leaving the room. The shorter one in the middle looked like he was putting up quite a fight. Good for you, thought Giles, then he promptly forgot the whole thing and allowed his heavy eyelids to fall shut.

The next time Giles woke up it was to find a hand firmly clamped over his mouth. His morphine-addled mind couldn’t make sense of it, but he knew he was in danger. Then the blurred image of the man standing over him grew sharper as the man leaned in closer. That’s when panic set in. Giles tried valiantly to move, but it was like he was under water, his limbs slow to respond to the desperate demands sent out by his brain.

“Rupert. Sweetheart. Aren’t you happy to see me?” asked Angelus.

Giles huffed air through his nostrils, his eyes darting around the room, looking for anything that might help him.

“I’m hurt,” said Angelus. “You’re not scared of little old me, are you?”

Even through the drug-induced haze, Angelus’ comment managed to ignite a spark of hatred in him, and he locked eyes defiantly with the dark vampire.

As Xander was being frog-marched out of the hospital, he considered his options. So far he’d had no luck escaping from police custody, and he’d been warned that if he kept it up, he’d be charged with obstruction of justice. As they crossed the parking lot to the squad car, Xander decided to try and reason with them. It was a long shot, he knew, but he had to give it a go.

“Please, and I’m begging now—I’ll name my first-born son after you—just please…go back and keep an eye on Giles.”

“Remember that little thing I said earlier about your right to remain silent? I suggest you take advantage of that right.”

“But the guy who attacked Giles is in the hospital. I saw him!” Xander could tell he wasn’t getting through to them, so he embellished a little. “This guy’s nuts—he’s been stalking Giles for over a year. He isn’t safe—if this guy gets to him, he’ll kill him.”

“We’re not gonna let you go so we can run after some phantom bad guy,” said the blond.

“Then don’t let me go. Arrest me. Lock me up in the back of the car…but at least cover your asses. If I’m right—and I am—then Giles is in serious danger. You’ve got me. What’s it gonna hurt to check out my story. If I’m right—and I am—then you’ll catch the real bad guy. If I’m wrong…well, you’ll still have someone to put behind bars.”

The cops exchanged glances, and then the blond one shrugged. He didn’t really think the kid was telling the truth, but at the very least it was an excuse to put off the mounds of paperwork waiting for him back at the precinct. And if the kid was right—and he clearly thought he was—then they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing what he asked.

“All right, I’ll check it out, but you’re staying in the car.” Xander happily allowed himself to be handcuffed and locked up in the back of the squad car, and watched the two cops trudge back into the hospital.

The anger in Giles’ eyes was not enough to fend off Angelus. Fear had taken the edge off his morphine high, but he still felt limp and weighted with the effects of the drug. And now he was starting to feel the pain from his injuries.

With one hand still pressed over Giles’ mouth, Angelus peeled back the bandage on his neck.

“Now…where was I?” asked Angelus.

Giles moaned loudly beneath Angelus’ fingers as a cool tongue darted in and around the little fang wounds.

“Ah, that’s right, now I remember,” said Angelus, and in the space of a heartbeat he’d vamped out and sunk his teeth neatly into the marks they’d left earlier that day.

Giles felt the sharp pain in his neck and knew he was powerless to stop it. He felt a numbness come over him that had nothing to do the morphine, and he let his whole body go limp. All he could do now was pray that it would be over with quickly.

He didn’t have long to wait for his prayers to be answered—and not in the way he feared. As the world around him started to grow dim, he heard the door whoosh open and the sound of men shouting.

Angelus ripped his teeth out of Giles’ flesh and looked back at the intruders. As his features morphed back into their human appearance he wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and grinned.

The officers no longer doubted Xander’s story. As soon as they’d seen Angelus through the window of the little ER room, they stormed in to break off the attack. But what they then saw…well obviously they were dealing with some freak hopped up on PCP—a common enough occurrence in Sunnydale. They drew their weapons, but the tall, dark-haired man didn’t even blink.

“Well now you’ve gone and ruined a perfectly good meal,” said Angelus. Then he casually knocked the policemen out of the way and sauntered out the door. By the time they’d got to their feet again, Angelus was nowhere to be seen.

Buffy arrived at the hospital just as the blond cop was un-cuffing Xander in the parking lot. She ran towards them, her heart thudding painfully in her chest, fearing the worst.

“Xan! What happened? Where’s Giles? Is he okay?”

“Buffy! Thank God you’re here,” said Xander. “Giles is in emergency, and I got arrested. Then Angelus showed up…”

“Xander…what about Giles?”

It was the policeman who answered her: “He’s going to be alright,” he assured her. “My partner and I were able to break off the attack and chase off the assailant before Mr. Giles was seriously hurt.”

Xander gave a small derisive snort, as if to say ‘likely story’, but he knew better than to say anything. Buffy pulled him away by the arm, tugging her behind him in her haste to get to Giles.

“Where is he?” she asked, once they were inside the ER.

“Down this hall,” Xander answered, and took the lead.

There was a small knot of staff gathered outside Giles’ room. Apparently the attack on Giles had caused a bit of a stir, and the gossip was flowing freely amidst the gathering of onlookers. But when they saw Xander coming towards them their flapping tongues quickly stilled. The way they parted to let him through was almost comical in its reverence. It seemed the gossip had elevated him to the status of heroically misjudged boyfriend.

“Can we go in?” asked Xander.

“Of course, Mr. Harris,” said Christine, her cheeks burning from embarrassment. Xander suspected that she was the one who’d started the rumours. He smiled at her and led Buffy into Giles’ room.

“Okay, what’s up with the Xander-worship?”

“It’s a long story,” said Xander.

“Which you’ll have to tell me later—in detail,” said Buffy, her focus having shifted to Giles. She went over to him and stood there, watching his chest rise and fall as he slept. She felt helpless—even with all her slayer powers she could do nothing to help him. The truth was, she’d let him down when he needed her and now it was too late. And it stung her deeply.

Xander came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. She smiled at him gratefully, but her smile didn’t have any staying power and it soon faded.

“I should have stayed with him,” said Xander. “I should have tried harder.”

“Don’t. What happened here wasn’t your fault,” she said, and in her head she added, “it’s mine”.

Giles stirred, his head turning towards the sound of their voices. Buffy turned on her 100 watt smile and gave his hand a pat, thinking it was best to put on a brave face. But Giles jerked his hand away from her, his head thrashing back and forth on his pillow as he fought to wake up. He moaned and struggled against the blankets like he was warding off one hell of a nightmare.

“Giles,” said Buffy, “Giles, it’s me. Everything’s okay now—you’re safe.” She took his hand again, patting it gently.

Giles’ eyes rolled open but it seemed to take forever for him to focus on them. He slowly blinked, and a dopey smile spread across his face as recognition set in.

“Buffy—you’re alright!” he said in a hoarse whisper.

Buffy gave him a sad little laugh. “I’m fine, Giles. The question is, how are you?”

The smile on Giles’ face died and he looked away. “I’ll be fine,” he said quietly.

“Maybe I should wait outside?” said Xander, wanting to give them a bit of privacy.

“No, Xander. Please stay,” said Giles, his eyes pleading with him. “I’d like you to stay.”

“Then I’ll stay,” said Xander, reassuringly. “As long as you want.”

“Please stay,” Giles mumbled. “Both of you…please.” His eyes had shut before the words were even out of his mouth and within seconds he was fast asleep.

A steely look of anger fixed itself on Buffy’s face and she made for the door.

“Buffy…” said Xander.

“He’s out there, Xander. And I’m gonna find him.”

Xander didn’t need to ask her what she would do when she found Angelus—the murderous look in her eyes said it all.


***


Once again, Willow had spent her time alone productively. She might not be able to keep up with her friends physically, what with her twisted ankle, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t help out in her own special way. She’d spent the time since Buffy left trying to track down another Orb of Thesulah by phone. The magic shop was fresh out—apparently a retirement home had bought their entire stock to use as table ornaments for their “Magic Ball” dance. It would be a few weeks before they’d get their next shipment.

Not about to give up, Willow took her search online and tracked down a New Age shop in Cleveland that still had one in stock. The owner told her it was on lay away for one of his regular customers and he couldn’t let her have it, but Willow read between the lines and offered the man three times the asking price. Suddenly he was all sweetness and sunlight, and he even offered to ship it for free. The only downside was that it was sitting in a warehouse, buried under an avalanche of shipments. But he promised he’d send it out as soon as he found it, and estimated it would take three days. Since she’d had no luck with any of her other sources, Willow figured it would have to suffice. Still…three days with Angelus on the loose was three days too many.

Willow’s mind wandered, wondering if Buffy had got to Giles in time, wondering if she’d caught Angelus. She shuddered, remembering the sadistic way Angelus had toyed with them the first time he lost his soul. She knew that this time would likely be worse—Angelus had tasted freedom, and he would put up a real fight before he’d let them harness him again. And they were all targets. Willow was so lost to her morbid line of thought that she nearly leapt out of her skin when the phone on her bedside table rang.

“Hello?” she squeaked into the receiver.

“Will? You okay?” asked Xander on the other end.

“Xander! What’s going on? Is Buffy with you?”

“Was. Now she’s gone on an ex-hunny hunt. I so would not want to be in his shoes right now.”

“She’s not gonna kill him, is she?” asked Willow.

“If she can hold him still long enough to drive the stake home, I guarantee it.”

“But…I tracked down another Orb of Thesulah. If we could hold off on the slaying for a few days we can get Angel back.”

“In a few days we could all end up vampire kibble.” Xander was starting to give in to his anger, and if felt good. “He’s a walking time bomb, Willow—even with a soul. You have no idea how close we came to losing Giles today.”

Willow wanted to argue that Angel had only come back to try and save Giles’ life. It wasn’t his fault he had a trick soul. Plus, if Buffy had to kill Angel again…well, last time hadn’t been pretty, and she didn’t think Buffy could handle a repeat performance. But Willow held her tongue—arguing with Xander about Angelus was a one-way ticket to Disasterville.

“If you’re gonna crack open the magic books, maybe you could vampire-proof the homesteads instead. They’re sending Giles home tomorrow afternoon, and I want to make sure Angelus can’t pop in for a visit.”

“They’re sending Giles home? I thought he was in bad shape.”

“Stabilized, and doing better than expected, which translates as: ‘we need the beds’,” said Xander. “I promised I’d stay with him and feed him his pills. Yep, that’s me—drug pusher to the infirm.”

“Xan, tell Giles…I don’t know. Tell him I’m sorry, ‘kay?”

“I will,” said Xander, and he paused. “Be careful, Will—he probably knows what you’re planning, and he’s already threatened to go after you.”

“I’ll be careful, I promise. Anyways, it’s almost dawn—by the time I get together everything I need for the de-invite the sun will be up and Angelus will be off in a sewer somewhere, hiding. So don’t worry.”

As soon as she hung up the phone, Willow got busy gathering up supplies. Her sore ankle made it a bit of a challenge, especially since most of the ingredients she needed were on the top shelf of Buffy’s closet or hidden at the back of the pantry in the dorm’s communal kitchen.

Once she had everything she needed, Willow did the de-invite on their dorm room. It was simple enough—just a few phrases she’d learned by heart last year, and the strategic placement of crosses at all possible entrances. That done, she piled everything she needed into her school bag and hobbled out the door.

There was no need to do Xander’s place if he was going to be staying with Giles, so she decided she’d start with Giles’ place then head over to Buffy’s house, in case Angelus decided to take his revenge out on Buffy’s mom. Willow blinked her grainy, sleep-deprived eyes at the breaking day and began the slow, painful walk to the bus stop.

Angelus was bored and was starting to wonder how long it would take Buffy to figure out where he was. He’d have thought it was obvious, but apparently not.

He was just flipping through Giles’ record collection when he heard the key in the lock of the front door. Finally, he thought, and he dived behind the kitchen pass-through. He pictured himself lunging at Buffy, taking her by surprise, but just before he acted on his impulse he realized it wasn’t Buffy who’d walked through the door. The smell was wrong, and the movements too hesitant and uneven. It was Willow who’d sprung his trap. Even better, he thought.

Something plunked down on the counter overhead and he smelled the unmistakable odour of fresh garlic cloves. There was a rustling of bags, and then he heard a hammering sound by the front door. He didn’t have to see to know she was hanging a cross—she was trying to safeguard the apartment against him.

A wicked grin lit up Angelus’ face. Willow had handed him an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. He’d let her finish her spell—wouldn’t do much good, since he was already inside—then he’d let her go and tell the others it was safe for Giles to come home. It gave him a happy, glowing feeling to think of the fun he would have. It would definitely be worth the wait.

Willow worked diligently, guarding every possible entrance to Giles’ condo, chanting her little spell, blissfully unaware that she’d just put the finishing touches on a very deadly trap. Humming to herself, Willow gathered up her things and left—she had one more stop before she could go home and get some well-deserved sleep. She smiled at a job well done, and thought she might just have to treat herself to an ice-cream cone on the way home.


***


Giles had done his best to put on a brave face all day. He joked with the nurses and continually reassured Xander that he was fine. And considering how close he’d come to dying—twice—he supposed he was doing better than expected. Physically, at least.

Psychologically he was a mess, and he knew it. The only thing that had kept him from losing it today was having Xander with him. His young friend obviously knew what had happened between him and Angel, but he had the good grace not to say anything about it. He was simply there—a friendly presence to lean on or talk to, if needed—no questions asked.

Although he would never admit it, Giles was relieved when Xander offered to stay at his place for the duration of his recovery. Right now, more than anything, the thought of being alone filled him with dread.

But it wasn’t until Xander led him through the door of his apartment that Giles allowed himself to feel the full impact of everything that had happened to him.

Xander suddenly found himself supporting the bulk of Giles’ weight. He grunted under the strain, but managed to guide him over to the couch. As carefully as he could, Xander sat his friend down and propped his broken leg up with cushions.

“Thank-you, Xander,” said Giles, his voice tremulous as he gave Xander’s hand a squeeze.

Xander wondered briefly if Giles had heard the rumours that had been spreading through the hospital about them. “Hey, what are friends for?” he said.

“Speaking of which,” said Giles, “have you heard from Buffy?”

Xander heard the undertone in his voice and knew he was a bit hurt that she hadn’t come back to see him. “Nada. Zip,” said Xander, trying to keep his voice light and happy. “She’s probably still on the hunt for Angelus.”

Giles cringed a little upon hearing his name. So far everyone had been careful not to use it in front of him.

“Sorry,” said Xander.

“No, it’s alright, Xander. Don’t feel you have to edit yourself for my sake. If we’re going to be rooming together I don’t want you to be walking on eggshells the whole time.”

“Roomies. I like that—I’ve never been a roomie before. Just a couple of single guys living together…uh…doing guy things,” he added after he realized what he’d said could have been taken the wrong way. “I think that calls for a special meal. I call it bachelor stew—macaroni and cheese, beans and franks all thrown together into a pot. Mmm-mmm.”

“If you think threatening me with gastric terrorism will give me incentive to heal faster, then keep it up.”

Xander grinned. “Pizza, then?”

“Yes, I think that’s best,” said Giles. He wasn’t exactly thrilled at the thought of pizza—actually, the thought of eating anything made him queasy—but he knew he had to eat something. Better to order pizza than try his luck with Xander’s bachelor stew.

“Great! That’s dinner taken care of,” said Xander, hovering behind the couch like a nervous canary looking for a perch. “Is there anything I can get you to tide you over?” he asked.

All he got in response was a soft snoring sound. Xander walked around to the other side of the couch to confirm that Giles was, in fact, asleep. He stood there for a minute, not sure what he should do. Giles’ neck was tilted awkwardly, and if he slept that way for too long he’d have one hell of a crick when he woke up. On the other hand, Xander didn’t want to wake him up trying to move him. He decided to let him sleep—he obviously needed it.

Giles awoke from a deep, dreamless nap and rubbed gingerly at the kink in his neck. He hurt all over, and his leg was positively screaming at him for attention. He was groggy and disoriented and he had no idea how long he’d been sleeping or what had awakened him.

There was a loud knocking at the door and Giles’ heart rate skyrocketed. Angelus. It had to be Angelus, come to finish what he’d started.

From down the hall Giles heard the toilet flush and a door shut as Xander stumbled out of the bathroom in his haste to answer the door.

“Coming!” Xander called out as he ran.

“Be careful,” said Giles. “Don’t answer the door until you see who it is.”

Normally Xander would have been insulted by the insinuation that he might make such a juvenile mistake, but he knew that Giles didn’t mean anything by it. He was nervous, that’s all.

“I’ll be careful, don’t worry,” said Xander, and proved his point by taking an extra long time inspecting the person through the peephole. “It’s pizza. Should I frisk her?” Giles merely frowned at him, so he took that as a ‘no’ and opened the door to the ticked-off delivery girl. She smacked her gum at him and rolled her eyes.

“That’s $15.50,” she said, peering past Xander to see inside the condo.

“I thought it was $12.00,” said Xander.

“Tip,” she answered bluntly.

Xander dug his wallet out of his pocket and pulled out everything he had. “All I’ve got is $16.00,” he said.

The girl snatched the bills out of his hand and smacked her gum again. “Great. Thanks,” she said, and she walked away, quickly pocketing the money.

“I think I’ve just been robbed,” said Xander as he closed the door with his foot, two steaming hot pizzas cradled lovingly in his arms.

“Can you blame her?” asked Giles. “I’d demand a generous tips, too, if I had to make nightly deliveries in this town.”

“Good point. Kind of like hazard pay, right?” said Xander as he set the boxes down on the coffee table. He flung them open and dug in, pulling a stringy slice of ‘za from the first box. He’d half devoured it before he noticed that Giles hadn’t even made a move towards his yet. “You want a plate? Knife and fork?” asked Xander around a mouthful of cheese and pepperoni.

“No,” said Giles with a smile that only managed to lift one side of his mouth. “I guess I’m not as hungry as I thought.”

Xander put down his slice and swallowed his mouthful. “Giles, you have to eat something. I get that you don’t really want to…but at least try.”

Giles stared at the greasy-looking disc of cheese and meat and felt his gorge rise slightly. This time, when a knock sounded at the door, he was almost relieved—anything was preferable to forcing down even one bite of his dinner.

Xander, however, looked totally freaked, and he approached the door as if he expected it to burst inwards and knock him flat. But when he peeked through the peephole he sighed with relief and pulled the door open.

Buffy came in, all fresh and clean and dressed to kill…or at least to slay.

“Buffy!” said Giles, his face instantly breaking into a genuine smile, his eyes asking the unspoken question, ‘any luck?’

Buffy seemed to sag under his intense gaze. “Sorry, Giles.”

“Nothing? Not even a lead?” he asked, his hopes vanishing.

“Leads? Sure, I’ve got plenty of leads. Lots. Just…tonnes of leads,” she said, smiling the bright smile of the liar.

“So, nothing?” asked Giles again.

“Nope. Nothing. Not a thing,” she admitted, sagging even further. “It’s like he left the hospital and fell off the face of the Earth.”

“If only,” Giles murmured.

Buffy smiled wanly at him. “I’ll find him, Giles. I promise. Just…”

“What?” asked Giles, prodding her out of her hesitation.

“Just promise me you’ll stay inside where you’ll be safe?”

“You won’t get any arguments from me,” Giles replied.

“And Xander, I want you by his side, 24, 7. Understand?”

“Ay-ay, Capitan,” Xander answered with a mock salute.

“I mean it,” she said sternly. “Angelus has got a serious Jones-on for Giles.”

Xander sobered up quickly. “I won’t let him out of my sight for a minute,” he promised.

“Thanks,” Buffy hesitated, looking at Giles as if she had more to say—a whole lot more—but couldn’t find the words to express it. Giles gave her a slow nod, acknowledging her unspoken regrets. Buffy hung her head and left, believing that the only way to set things right again was through action…and preferably a good bit of ass whooping.

Giles watched helplessly as Xander wrestled his mattress down the flight of stairs from the loft. He tried to tell him that it wasn’t necessary—he could sleep on the couch and Xander could use the bed upstairs—but Xander would have none of it. He’d promised to keep an eye on him 24, 7, and he couldn’t do that from a different room.

At the bottom of the stairs the mattress collided with the coat stand, knocking it over with a loud crash.

“Oops,” said Xander. “I can fix that, don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried. I just wish I could help,” said Giles.

“You kidding? Nothing helps with the heavy lifting like an audience. You’re like my own private cheering section.”

“And me without my pom-poms,” said Giles dryly, eliciting one of Xander’s trademark grins.

“That’s the spirit,” Xander said, and grunted as he shoved the mattress across the floor to the living room. It fell flat on the floor with a muffled, mattressy whump, and Xander smiled at his accomplishment.

They spent the next hour or two playing Yahtzee. It was a trick Xander had learned growing up—if you wanted to take your mind off of something nasty, nothing worked better than playing a game. A board game, preferably. Sadly, Giles’ selection consisted of a battered Monopoly game with most of the pieces missing, and Yahtzee. It seemed to work well enough—talk was limited to comments on luck and strategy, and the rattling of the dice in the cup was a comforting sound. Only when the circles under Giles’ eyes grew dark and he could no longer hide his exhaustion did he admit it was time to call it a night.

Xander fed him his pills and tucked him in, literally, before making up the couch for himself. He was dog tired, but he waited until Giles was deep asleep before turning off the light and crawling into his makeshift bed.

Hidden in the dark recesses of Giles’ broom closet, Angelus had been waiting and plotting. He’d nearly blown his cover when he heard Buffy come in earlier, but when he realised she had no clue he was there he stayed put. The game was still on.

And even after the lights went off in the rest of the apartment he continued to wait—wait until Xander had passed into the deepest realms of dreamless sleep—before making his move.

Angelus silently opened the door of the closet and padded down the hallway to the living room where Giles and Xander were peacefully asleep. He stood watching them for a moment, giddy with the same kind of excitement children feel on Christmas morning, right before they tear into their presents. He shrugged off his leather jacket and stepped out of his shoes.

Giles stirred in his sleep as Angelus crawled under the blankets with him. Stirred…but not shaken—just what Angelus wanted. He eased himself slowly into position behind Giles, careful not to wake him. It took a while, but at last he was spooning him from behind, his cool body soaking up the other man’s heat. He savoured the moment, watching Giles’ slow breathing and the pulse that ebbed and flowed just beneath the bandage on his neck. Giles slept on, but even in his sleep he must have sensed something was wrong, because his brow was furrowed in a deep frown.

Angelus could wait no longer—his proximity to Giles was making him heady with need. He wrapped his arm around him, and roughly ground himself against his backside. He was ready when Giles awoke with a start, stifling his cry by clamping his hand over his mouth. Angelus chuckled quietly into his ear, as he felt hot, panting breath against his fingers.

In a barely audible whisper Angelus said: “Hush, now, Rupert. You don’t want to wake the baby, do you?”

Giles’ eyes darted over to where Xander lay sleeping on the couch.

“…’cause if he wakes up, I’ll have to take care of him before I can have my fun with you. And I’ll bet you wouldn’t want that. Am I right?”

Giles nodded submissively, his tired heart trying valiantly to keep pace with his rising panic.

“Good,” whispered Angelus. “Then you’ll be nice and quiet and let me take what I want?”

Again he nodded in reply, keeping his eyes focused on Xander, telling himself it was better him than his young friend.

Satisfied that Giles was fully compliant, Angelus took his hand away from the other man’s mouth. “Not a sound,” he reminded him, and then he slowly peeled back the bandage on his neck. This time there was no need to rush. This time he could prolong it until Giles was ripe with fear. This time, instead of biting right away, Angelus kissed the reopened wound. Kissed him softly and let his hand slide up Giles’ chest to rest over his pounding heart. The anticipation was making him hard, and he thrust against Giles repeatedly to let him know it. He wanted Giles to know he could have him right now, while his friend slept unaware, only a few feet away. But as much as he wanted to, he didn’t take him. Now wasn’t the time.

A little more kissing and a few gentle nibbles later, and Angelus allowed himself to penetrate the awaiting flesh, drawing blood from him in trickles, like he was sampling a fine wine. He knew there could be no worse torture than this for Giles…the gentle caresses…the drawn-out threat of death. And then the unexpected release.

Before Giles could pass out from blood loss, Angelus pulled away and carefully replaced the bandage. Giles looked at him, sluggish but wary, assuming that the worst was yet to come. But Angelus had other plans.

“You did very well, Rupert. I’m proud of you. Xander’s very lucky to have such a loyal friend. And if you don’t want his luck to run out, you’ll come to the mansion tomorrow night, and you’ll come alone. If you haven’t noticed, you’re the one I want…but if you don’t do what I ask, I might have to get my kicks somewhere else.” Angelus made his point clear, looking from Giles to Xander with a look of hunger that made Giles’ stomach twist.

Angelus didn’t have to wait for Giles to answer—one way or the other Giles was his. He’d been branded.


***


Giles lay awake the rest of the night, restless thoughts chipping away at his peace of mind. It was his fault Angelus was back. If he’d only refused, if he’d put up more of a fight, Angel would never have lost his soul. And now he and everyone he cared about were in mortal danger. By the time the first golden rays of sunlight had chased away the shadows, Giles had resolved to meet with Angelus. And he would either rid the world of the vampire or die trying.

Xander finally woke up a couple of hours after sunrise with the scent of burning toast tickling his nose.

“Am I having a seizure?” he asked, rubbing the crustiness out of the corners of his eyes.

“No, it really is burnt toast,” replied Giles.

Xander sat up, saw that the bed Giles was supposed to be in was empty, then looked toward the kitchen where the voice had come from.

“Giles! What are you doing? You’re supposed to be in bed—Doctor’s orders.”

“I’m fine, Xander. No need to make a fuss.”

Xander padded barefoot into the kitchen and took a good, long look at his friend. “Jesus, Giles. Did you sleep at all last night? ‘Cause the bags under your eyes look like they brought along a matching set of carry-ons. Did you at least take your pills?”

“No. No more pills,” said Giles adamantly.

“You don’t have to be a hero about it—you’re in pain, I can see it in your eyes.”

“I can’t function on those pills—they dull my senses. I’d rather have the pain. Did you want a grapefruit with your toast?” he asked in a very lame attempt to change the subject.

“I’m the one who should be making breakfast. Now get in bed. No arguments—you shouldn’t be on your feet yet.”

Giles wanted to refuse, but he couldn’t come up with a plausible excuse. He couldn’t tell Xander that he’d rather burn that damned mattress and every memory stored inside it, than sleep in it again. But Xander was right—he was bone tired, his body thrumming with pain, and he needed to rest if he was to stand a chance against Angelus.

He let Xander lead him back to the bed, but once there, the memories of the previous night overwhelmed him. His knees gave out on him and he clung frantically to Xander, his whole body shaking.

“Giles? What’s wrong?” asked Xander, more than a little freaked by Giles’ sudden onset of jitters.

“I can’t, Xander. Not in that bed. I can’t…” Giles hated himself for choking on his words, for being so weak. He’d been through worse—Hell, he’d fought everything Sunnydale had thrown at him and more. But Angelus had burrowed deep under his skin, and the humiliation, more than the actual pain he’d caused, made it unbearable.

Xander stared at the bed as Giles attempted to regain his composure. What, he wondered, could have changed overnight to make him so skittish? It didn’t take long to put the pieces together—the spell must not have worked. Angelus had been here.

“You must think I’m an old fool,” said Giles, chastising himself, while at the same time trying to make light of the situation.

“Giles—God, no,” said Xander, helping him sit down on the couch, then taking a seat next to him. “He was here?” asked Xander when he thought Giles had recovered enough to speak.

Giles couldn’t get his voice to work any more than he could bring himself to meet Xander’s sympathetic gaze. He nodded once, realizing that he may very well have endangered Xander’s life with the admission.

“Did he…?” Xander didn’t know how to finish the sentence without making Giles more uncomfortable than he already was. Thankfully Giles seemed to understand what he meant and he shook his head in answer.

“Then what did he want?” asked Xander. “I mean, if he didn’t…you know…and we’re both still alive…then what?”

“I don’t know, Xander,” said Giles shakily. He found he simply couldn’t admit that he’d allowed Angelus to feed off him—even if he only did so to save Xander’s life. He thought if Xander didn’t know any more than he already did, there might still be a chance to keep his meeting with Angelus. There might still be a chance to redeem himself.

“He’s toying with you, isn’t he?” asked Xander. “If that’s the case then he’ll be back. Why didn’t Willow’s spell work? She said she’d Angelus-proofed the place.”

“Wouldn’t have worked if he was already here when she performed the spell,” said Giles. He’d been wondering the same thing, and he’d had most of the night to come up with the answer.

The little hairs on the nape of Xander’s neck stood on end. That meant the vampire had been in the apartment the whole time, watching them…waiting.

“Eeeughh!” said Xander with a shudder.

“My sentiments precisely,” said Giles, his emotions once again safely stowed away behind his British reserve.


***


Buffy sat, eyes glazed and staring off into space, as Professor Robson droned on and on about stuff that would invariably end up on the final exam. She couldn’t bring herself to care. She’d spent the whole night on the prowl, looking for Angelus, and had come up empty-handed. She didn’t know how she could face Giles if she didn’t have anything to show for her efforts.

When everyone started filing out of the classroom, and Buffy realized she hadn’t taken a single note, she decided to skip Psych. and make another sweep of Angelus’ favourite hideouts. If he were still in town, she would find him.

Buffy stopped by her dorm room and loaded up on stakes. She was thankful Willow had limped her way to classes today—she didn’t want to hear the ‘bring him in alive’ speech right now. What she had to do was difficult enough without everyone putting in their two cents. But she didn’t want Willow to worry about her, so she left a note.

Her search took her through most of the sewers and some of the lesser-known underground tunnels that ran under the town. She even badgered Willy the Snitch again to see if he’d heard anything since last night. She was getting nowhere, and the sun was getting low. She decided to make one last sweep of the ancient tunnels running under the cemetery before calling it quits.

It wasn’t long before she heard someone clear their throat behind her. Buffy spun around, stake at the ready and wasn’t at all surprised to see Angelus emerging from the shadows.

“Looking for me?” he asked, his arms crossed over his chest and a smug look on his face. “And it only took you…” he checked his watch, “twenty-two hours. Not bad. Not a record, mind you, but you get an A for effort.”

“You really love the sound of your own voice, don’t you?” said Buffy, and then she lunged at him, full-force. Angelus easily deflected her attack and threw in an elbow to the ribs for good measure. Buffy recovered quickly and kicked his legs out from under him.

It was a tight space, and their fighting banged them into the walls so often and with such force that they were starting to crumble under the assault, threatening to bring the whole tunnel down on their heads.

Angelus caught Buffy by the throat and slammed her up against the wall so her feet were left dangling two feet above the ground. He pinned her hands above her head so that they were eye to eye in the cramped tunnel—finally up close and personal.

Angelus smiled darkly. “What’s wrong, Buffy? You’re not on your game. What’s got your feathers ruffled? Is it Giles? Is it me? Or, wait—maybe it’s me and Giles.” Buffy began to struggle in earnest, and he knew he’d hit a nerve. “Maybe you’re thinking you’re not so special anymore…I mean, if Giles could give Angel a happy… Gotta admit, love—even as reluctant and scared as he was, Rupert was a far better lay than you were.”

Buffy wiped the triumphant smirk off his face by slamming her knee up into his groin. Angelus crumpled to the ground with a pained laugh, and Buffy wasted no time; she grabbed the stake she’d dropped during the fight and took aim at Angelus’ exposed back.

Angelus twisted at the last second, his arm coming up to protect his ribcage, and the stake drove right through his forearm.

“Okay, so you’re not in a chatty mood,” said Angelus as he yanked the stake out of his arm.

“I’m really not,” she answered and kicked him soundly in the chest just as he was getting to his feet. The force of the blow drove him ten feet down the tunnel and smacked him right into one of the old wooden support beams. It snapped from the impact and a whole section of the tunnel caved in, separating the two of them with an impassable mound of debris.

Buffy coughed and choked on the dust that hung thick in the air. From the other side of the rock pile she heard the clumping sound of retreating footsteps. She’d lost this round.

Buffy reluctantly headed out the way she’d come in, rehearsing to herself what she would have to tell the others—what she would have to tell Giles.

When Xander told Willow about Angelus’ visit with Giles, she seriously wigged. She blamed herself, saying that she should have checked Giles’ place first before doing the spell. Xander pointed out that if she had, Angelus would have killed her and gotten to Giles anyway, but that did little to assuage her guilt.

She came over right after she hung up with Xander, and she re-performed the de-invite. She brought along Buffy’s note, hoping that the news that she was still on the hunt would help. But, not surprisingly perhaps, the news didn’t go far in cheering them up. Willow couldn’t help worrying at how quiet and calm Giles was.

“Has he been like this the whole time?” she asked Xander when they were alone in the kitchen preparing lunch.

Xander nodded; “He hasn’t slept since Angelus left. He won’t eat, he won’t take his pills. We have to do something.”

“I only wish I could get my hands on an orb,” said Willow.

“Please, Will, this isn’t the time for dirty talk,” said Xander.

“Xander…”

“I know—just trying to lighten the mood a little.”

“I can’t wait another two days—I need an orb now,” said Willow, pacing around in Giles’ tiny kitchen. Her eyes suddenly lit up and she turned them on Xander. “How do you feel about a little B and E?”

“Bert and Ernie?”

“Breaking and entering,” she said with a playful slap on his arm. “The Rosemont Retirement Home bought a bunch of the orbs to use as table decorations.”

“You want me to rob an old folks’ home?” he asked, momentarily shocked. “I’m oddly okay with that.”

“I’d go myself, but I’m still all Limp-Along Cassidy.”

“It’s okay, I’m all over it. But we can’t leave Giles alone right now.”

“No problem—I think I can handle a little Watcher watching,” she said with a smile.

Giles made no protest when Xander took off on his ‘quest for orbs’, as he called it. It suited his purposes fine. He sat patiently, listening to Willow’s unending banter, nodding occasionally when it was necessary, all the while marking the sun’s progression through the sky.

“Uh…Willow,” he said, stopping her in mid-babble. The sky outside was steadily growing darker, and it was time for him to make his move. “I’ve…uh…changed my mind. I think I’d like to have one of my pills. Would you mind?”

Willow perked up, happy to be able to do something productive. “Sure, I’ll get them. ‘Course I’ll get them. Where are they?”

“That’s the thing—they’re upstairs on my bedside table. I know it’s an imposition…”

“Don’t be silly,” said Willow.

As she slowly hobbled over to the staircase, Giles added: “Or, they might be on my dresser.”

As soon as she was out of sight, Giles got off the couch, grabbed his crutches and hurried out the door as quickly and as quietly as he could. The pain and the light-headedness only served to spur him on.

“Giles? Giles, I can’t find your pills. Are you sure they’re up here?” asked Willow. “Giles?” The apartment was as quiet as the grave—actually, quieter than most of the graves in Sunnydale. “Giles?” she asked again, and again she received no answer. She kept calling to him as she struggled down the stairs, growing more anxious with every step.

A quick glance around the living room yielded no results, so Willow peeked her head out the door just in time to catch sight of the Citroën pulling away from the curb.

“Giles?” she said to the empty apartment, realizing that she’d been duped.

Driving with his right foot in a cast was difficult and probably about as dangerous as his meeting with Angelus would be. Giles used his left foot for the brakes and one of his crutches to push on the gas pedal. It was slow going, but the plus side was that he was concentrating too hard on his driving to worry about what lay ahead.

What should have been a ten minute drive took nearly a half hour, and when he arrived he took a few extra minutes just sitting in the car, trying to get up the nerve to go in there.

Under the shadows of the mansion, he climbed awkwardly out of the car and opened the trunk. His leather valise was pushed to the back of the trunk and he pulled it closer, rummaging through it for his crossbow and arrows. He also pocketed a stake, although he knew if it came down to a close-up, one-on-one battle, he didn’t stand a chance. Not that his chances were so hot to begin with, he thought grimly.

As he expected, Angelus had left the door open for him. His hopes of launching a surprise attack curled up and died. He had one shot at this. If he missed with the crossbow, he wouldn’t live to regret the mistake.

Giles entered the foyer and leaned his crutches up against the wall. He couldn’t afford the added encumbrance, no matter how hard it was to stand without them. He stood listening for a moment, but all he heard was the creaking sounds of the old house settling.

He entered the great room cautiously, crossbow at the ready, dragging his bad foot with every step and cursing the noises it made. There was a fire roaring in the fireplace and candles lit on practically every flat surface, but no sign of Angelus. Giles did a slow turn, straining his eyes to see into all the dark corners.

“Good. You came alone,” said Angelus from directly behind him.

Giles spun around as best he could and shot his arrow. But he had no time to aim, and the shot went wide, the arrow embedding itself into Angelus’ arm.

“I wish people would stop poking me with these things,” said Angelus, and he plucked the arrow out of his arm and drove it right through Giles’ biceps. Giles let out an involuntary howl of pain and dropped the crossbow.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” asked Angelus.

Giles gritted his teeth and glowered at him, his hand clasping his arm where the long shaft of wood protruded. He’d lost, and he knew it. Angelus slid up next to him and patted him down, tossing his spare arrows into the fireplace.

Angelus paused when he felt the bulge in Giles’ jacket. “Is that a stake in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” he said with a self-indulgent laugh. “I’ve always wanted to say that.” Angelus dug the stake out of Giles’ pocket and looked at it with disappointment. “Nope. Just a stake.”

Giles knew this was his last chance. Before Angelus could toss the stake into the fire, he grabbed hold of the vampire’s wrist and twisted it so the stake was pointed at his chest. With a desperate shout, Giles drew on every ounce of strength he had and tried to plunge the stake into Angelus’ heart. But in his weakened state the attempt was futile.

Angelus easily overpowered him, throwing him hard onto the cold, tile floor. The stake skittered across the tiles, beyond reach, and Giles, winded and drained of strength, lay there helplessly as Angelus circled above him like a large, leather-clad vulture.

“I did as you asked,” said Giles. “I came alone. This ends with me.”

“No, Rupert, it begins with you.”

“You said you only wanted me,” said Giles. “You have me. A deal’s a deal.”

“You’re right. We had a deal, and I intend to honour it. I promise I won’t lay a finger on any of your friends,” said Angelus with a cold twinkle in his eye. “I’ll leave them for you.” Angelus crouched down and ran a finger over the bandage on Giles’ neck.

“No,” said Giles, his eyes widening with apprehension as he tried pulling himself across the floor away from the vampire.

“It’s a good deal, Rupert. Think of it—you’ll never get old, never have to deal with death and disease. All the pain you feel right now will be gone. Not just the physical stuff—you’re arm and your leg will be good as new, of course, but that’s nothing compared to the freedom of having no soul. There’s no guilt, Rupe. No remorse, no shame. Living on this planet is so much easier when there’s no pesky conscience dragging you down.”

“Never,” said Giles. His mouth had gone bone dry, but he forced himself to speak. “You can’t make me drink your blood—you can’t turn me against my will. I’d rather die.”

“No offence, Rupert, but you’re talking out your ass. You have no idea what it’s like to be turned. Trust me—you’ll drink when the time comes.”

Angelus swooped down on him, straddling him to keep him from squirming away. “You can fight it, if you want,” said Angelus. “Hell, it’ll probably be more fun if you do—but it’s gonna happen one way or the other. You decide.”

As decisions went, this one was a no-brainer. If those were his only options, then he knew he had to fight to his last breath. He bucked hard, twisting his body under Angelus’ weight so he was facedown on the floor. Then, drawing on reserves he didn’t know he had, he clawed his way across the tile floor to where the wooden stake lay forgotten.

He nearly made it, too, but Angelus had only been toying with him. As his fingers stretched out to grasp the stake, Angelus dragged him back. Giles struggled valiantly against the steely grip of the vampire, but in the end he found himself lying prone in Angelus’ arms.

“Angelus, please…”he begged. But the vampire’s eyes were cold and dead. Merciless.


***


Xander and Buffy arrived at Giles’ place at almost the same time, and when they found Willow alone—Gilesless—they lay into her with some serious third degreeing.

“I don’t know where he went,” Willow said, her big eyes doing their damndest to convey her innocence. “But he was alone in the car.”

“You don’t think…” said Xander. “Nah.”

“What?” asked Buffy.

“It’s just…you don’t think he might be going after Angelus himself, do you?”

“That would be suicide,” said Buffy.

“Yeah, it would. But he might see it as more of a selfless sacrifice,” said Xander. “Think about it—Angelus was here last night, but he didn’t hurt us. I think he’s playing head games with Giles. He probably made threats against us.”

Buffy’s eyes went wide. “Angelus was here last night?”

“Long story,” said Xander, sparing Willow from yet another guilt trip over the de-invite thing. “The point is, Giles is totally the silent hero type, and this time it’s gonna get him killed.”

Buffy started in with the heavy pacing. “Do you have any idea where they might be?” Willow and Xander could only shake their heads apologetically.

“Ooh—but I’ve got orbs,” said Xander, and he fished around in the bag he was carrying and pulled out what appeared to be two plain glass balls.

“You stole two?” asked Willow.

“You never know when a spare one might come in handy,” he answered.

“Valid point,” said Buffy.

Willow quickly cleared a spot on Giles’ dinner table and took a seat. “C’mon, Xan. What are you waiting for? Ball me,” said Willow, blushing a hot pink.

Xander smirked. “Thought you’d never ask.” He handed her the orbs and took a couple of steps back—he’d developed a healthy respect for magick over the last few years, and he couldn’t shake the fear that proximity to it might somehow transform him into a toad or something.

“Good—you guys do your thing. I’m gonna check out the factory and the mansion—Angelus likes familiar surroundings.” She slipped out into the dark night and Xander shut the door quietly, careful not to disturb Willow, who’d already begun the incantation.

Angelus laid his prey out on the throw rug in front of the fireplace. Giles sluggishly tried to roll away, but what little blood he had left was too busy trying to keep his heart pumping to spare any for an escape attempt.

Angelus stood over him, amused. “You never give up, do you?” As Giles glared up at him defiantly, Angelus stripped to the waist. With the knife he had tucked in his back pocket, he sliced into his own skin, making a deep gash along his chest, just over his heart. He then knelt next to Giles and gathered him into his arms.

Giles had no energy to pull away, but he told himself he could still choose death over drinking Angelus’ blood. With his face now smothered against the vampire’s chest, Giles kept his mouth firmly shut. But Angelus was right—he’d had no idea what it was like to be turned. Every cell in his body was screaming at him to take the blood. The scent of it was more intoxicating than anything he could have imagined, and even as he told himself he could resist it, he found himself opening his mouth.

Giles had been in enough fights over the years to know what blood tasted like. But this was different—it was sweet, not metallic—nothing had ever tasted better. The sensation was euphoric—like a man perishing under the hot desert sun drinking his first sip of cold water.

Angelus raked his fingers through Giles’ hair, imagining the powerful vampire his new fledgling would become. He could tell he was fighting it at first, but eventually the lure of his blood took hold and Giles began to swallow.

It was then that Angelus felt a familiar, wrenching pain, like he was being ripped out of his body. He growled and cursed, but the sounds never made it to his lips—Angel was back in control, pushing him once more into the darkest reaches of his mind.

Angel’s head was swimming. The last thing he remembered was…

Angel dropped that line of thought the second he realised someone was feeding off him. He looked down at the man pressed against him and went into a full-fledged panic.

“Giles!” he shouted, and pried the man off him. Giles clung to him desperately, trying to reach the life-giving wound on his chest, but Angel kept him at a distance. It wasn’t long before Giles’ strength gave out and he fell limp in his arms.

Angel had no idea how far gone Giles was. He felt for a pulse, fearing it was too late. But it was there—thready and precariously weak, but it was there. He was still alive. Little snippets of memory bombarded Angel’s mind, and he groaned.

“Don’t die on me, Giles,” he whispered as he lifted him and carried him outside. He managed to get him into the backseat of the Citroën, thinking all the while that if Giles didn’t survive this he might just beg Buffy to dust him once and for all. Put an end to his suffering, like some rabid dog.

The keys were still in the ignition—as if Giles knew he might need to make a quick getaway. Angel started the engine and was about to peel out when Buffy appeared at the driver’s side window and pounded on the glass. Startled, Angel slammed on the brakes. Their eyes met, and in a matter of seconds everything that needed to be said had been said without either of them having to speak a word.

Without a word, Buffy got into the backseat of the car with Giles, feeling like she was suffering from a whopping case of déjà vu. They drove all the way to the hospital in silence—Buffy was too worried about Giles to make conversation with Angel, and Angel was just thankful for the quiet—he had a lot to think about.

Giles awoke in the hospital, surrounded by friends and more flowers than an Easter Parade float. His throat felt dry and scratchy, and when he reached for the pitcher of water on his bedside table his young friends raced madly to get it for him. Not surprisingly, Buffy won, and she presented him with the little Dixie cup of water like it was some kind of trophy.

He downed the water in one gulp, wetting his throat enough so he could speak. “What happened? Where’s Angelus?” he asked.

Buffy and Willow looked at each other then at their feet, unable to look him in the eye. Xander finally answered: “Willow put Angelus back in the box,” he said. “Close call, though.”

“My fault,” Giles rasped. “I should have known better than to face Angelus alone. Don’t know why I did it, to be honest. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I’m so sorry for running out on you, Willow—you must have been worried sick.”

Willow’s large, hazel eyes brimmed with tears. “Just promise you won’t go after any more arch villains on your own.”

“Promise,” she said and gave her hand a squeeze.

“You had us all worried, you know,” said Xander. “For a while there we thought…” he choked up, then, and looked away.

“Well, I’m still here—a little worse for wear, perhaps, but I’ll survive.”

“We should go,” said Willow. “You should get some sleep.” Willow dragged Xander out of the room with her giving Buffy a look of support as she went.

Buffy shifted from foot to foot and chewed her lip—she hadn’t felt this anxious since that time when she was eight and she had to tell her mom that she’d burned down the shed. “Giles…on a scale of one to ten, how mad at me would you say you are?”

“Come here,” he said. Buffy edged closer. “Sit.” Giles patted a spot on the bed next to him, and Buffy dutifully took a seat. Now she was really worried—whatever he had to say must be pretty bad if he thought she needed to sit for it.

“Buffy, I’d be lying to you if I said it’s all water under the bridge. It’s going to take time for me to make peace with everything that’s happened over the last few days—you do understand that, don’t you?”

Buffy nodded and blinked away the tears that were forming in her eyes.

“That said, I also want you to know that I understand the reasons for what you did. You acted with the best intentions, and I can’t fault you for that. I’m partly to blame, myself—if I’d simply told you right off what the Freb-Ont ritual involved, none of this would have happened.”

“No. It was my fault—I should have listened to you. I should have known you had a good reason for not wanting Angel involved. And now…” her voice cracked and the first hot tear slid down her cheek. Giles reached up and wiped it away with his thumb.

“Let’s just say we both need to work on our communication skills and call it even,” said Giles with a trace of a smile.

Buffy smiled sadly back at him. “Giles…are we good?” she asked quietly.

Giles pulled her into a gentle hug. “Yes, Buffy, we’re good.”


***


“Now you’re sure you’re gonna be okay by yourself?” asked Xander.

Giles knew the boy was only asking out of politeness. He’d been camping out on his couch for nearly three weeks, and although he never complained, Giles suspected Xander would be relieved to be in his own bed again. Even if it was in his parent’s basement.

“I’ll be just fine, Xander. Thank-you.”

“Alright. But if you change your mind I want you to call me. Got it?”

“Got it.”

Xander wasn’t entirely convinced that Giles was ready to be left alone. He was doing okay with the physical stuff, like getting up the stairs, but there were other things—like the nightmares. Giles probably didn’t realize that he knew about them. Those nights when he tossed and turned and woke up in a cold sweat, Xander had pretended to sleep through it—thought Giles might get embarrassed by it. But Xander knew.

He was about to step out the door when Xander turned and gave Giles a good, long hug.

“What was that for?” asked Giles.

“You looked like you needed it,” he answered.

“Um…well, yes. Thank-you, Xander,” said Giles awkwardly.

“Don’t mention it,” said Xander. “And of course I mean that in the literal sense.”

“Mum’s the word,” said Giles, and with a friendly pat on the arm, he ushered Xander out the door.

Alone at last, Giles closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. It had been too long since he’d been left un-chaperoned, and he was looking forward to some peace and quiet. He was hopelessly behind on his journals, although that was more due to procrastination than a lack of privacy. He didn’t care much for the thought of putting the events of the last few weeks down on paper. But he would do it, nonetheless, in the hope that future generations of watchers might benefit from his experience.

Less than an hour later, Giles had decided that peace and quiet weren’t all they were cracked up to be. His thoughts were too turbulent to afford him any peace, and the quiet was verging on oppressive. He busied himself with dinner preparations, chopping veggies for a fresh garden salad, and tried not to jump at every little noise he heard. When the doorbell rang, he was wound so tight that his hand slipped and he sliced into his finger, cutting it deep.

“Aw, f…” he bit back the string of curses that were pushing to spill out and sucked on his finger to stop the bleeding. But the taste of blood stirred up some disturbing memories, and he quickly pulled his finger out of his mouth and wrapped it in a tea towel.

The doorbell rang again, this time followed by a timid knocking.

“Coming,” said Giles as he made his way to the door. He opened it, expecting it to be Willow or Buffy paying him a surprise visit. But his blood ran cold when he saw Angel on his doorstep. The vampire looked decidedly uncomfortable to be there.

“Angel?” asked Giles. But what he was really asking was ‘is it you…or the other one?’

Angel nodded, nervously twisting the claddagh ring on his finger, his eyes shifting away from the man he’d nearly turned.

Giles hesitated, torn between inviting him in and ramming a stake through his heart. He couldn’t help thinking that if he’d chosen the stake when he’d shown up on his doorstep a year ago things would have turned out for the better.

“I thought you went back to L.A.,” he said.

“I did,” said Angel. “Don’t worry, I’m not planning on staying long. I just came back to see you.”

Giles crossed his arms and glared at the vampire. “You’ve done that. You can go now.”

“I also wanted to apologise for what happened. I know it hardly matters after what I did to you, but…”

“It matters,” said Giles, his demeanour softening slightly. “It matters a lot, actually.” After a moment’s serious deliberation, he stood aside and said, “Come in.”

Despite his shock at the unexpected invitation, Angel didn’t hesitate to join him inside.

“No crossbow this time?” said Angel, only half joking.

“I think we both know that a crossbow wouldn’t stand in your way if you had it in your mind to kill me.”

Angel winced at the painful reminder of their most recent encounter. “Then why invite me in?” he asked.

“Because we need to talk,” said Giles, gesturing for Angel to have a seat. Angel sat on the couch and was more than a little surprised when Giles chose to sit down next to him.

“Whether I like it or not, you and I have a history. I can’t pretend nothing happened. And I can’t spend the rest of my life fearing that you might come after me again.”

Angel shifted in his seat, not liking the direction this was going.

“Don’t worry,” said Giles, as if reading his thoughts, “you’re safe, Angel. All I’m saying is that if I’m to stand any chance at leading a normal life again, I have to confront my fears.”

“I don’t want you to be afraid of me, Giles,” said Angel.

Giles’ lips curled up in a bitter smile. “This has nothing to do with what you want,” he said. “This is about me coming to terms with my feelings—my fears…and my desires.” Giles lifted his head and made eye contact with the vampire.

Angel swallowed hard and blinked at him. It didn’t seem possible that he’d said what he’d just said. “Desires?” he asked, his mouth suddenly dry.

Giles nodded, still holding Angel’s gaze. “If you hadn’t noticed, when we…when we were back in the temple, you weren’t the only one to…uh…”

“Experience a soul-losing moment?” Angel supplied helpfully.

“Quite,” said Giles. “And as hard as it is for me to accept it, I can’t deny that a part of me enjoyed it. Something happened to me in that temple—something in me changed. That night when you almost turned me…”

“About that, Giles—I’m so sor…”

“No, let me finish. That night I should have stayed at home—I knew Buffy would never have let you hurt the others. But I was drawn to you. A part of me wanted to go to you. I think…I think maybe I wanted you to kill me.”

“Giles…” Angel began, but he had no clue what to say to him.

“Just answer one question for me?” asked Giles.

“Anything.”

“Why me?”

Angel didn’t answer straight away. He didn’t think Giles would be happy with the truth, but he owed it to him to be honest. “Well, there was the revenge—that was a part of it. Knowing that it would kill Buffy to see you turned was a big factor. But mainly it was just because I was attracted to you. In Angelus’ eyes you would have made the perfect companion.”

Giles’ green eyes bored into his; “Angelus was attracted to me? Or you were?”

“Does it really matter?”

“Yes, it does.”

“We’re two sides of the same coin, Giles—we feel the same things. The only difference is the way we show it. All I wanted was to protect you, and earn your respect, but Angelus…he took those feelings and twisted them into something…wrong. He wanted to possess you.”

“He almost did,” said Giles, and he got up off the couch and walked away.

Angel followed him into the kitchen where Giles stood facing away from him, running water over his cut finger. Angel approached slowly, but stopped when the scent of Giles’ blood reached his nose. He closed his eyes, fighting back the urges that always surfaced in the presence of human blood as well as some new urges that were almost as unsettling.

“So what do we do now?” asked Angel, trying to stay focused.

Giles faced him, a weary look on his face. “We do what we always do, I suppose. We go on with our lives, we fight our battles.”

“And us?” asked Angel.

“There’s a lot of bad blood between us, Angel. You can’t expect me to simply forget everything that happened.” Giles brushed past him, and Angel fell into step behind him.

He caught Giles by the arm and looked him straight in the eye. “Do you think you’ll ever be able to forgive me?”

“I honestly don’t know,” said Giles sadly. “I know that might not sound fair—I realize I’m angry at you for something you had no control over—but I can’t help the way I feel.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Angel. “I’m surprised you were willing to talk to me at all, really. But if there’s anything I can do to start making things better between us…?”

“There is one thing,” said Giles. “I’d feel safer if you could arrange an early warning system—have someone give me a head’s up in case you ever lose your soul again.”

“Of course,” said Angel. He was aware that Giles was subtly steering them towards the front door, and he took the hint. “So…I guess I’ll leave you to your dinner.”

“I think that would be best,” said Giles.

“Thank-you for seeing me,” Angel said as he stepped outside. “I know how hard it must have been.”

Giles stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned against the doorframe. It was the only way he could hide the fact that his hands had begun to shake. “Yes…well. Goodnight, Angel.”

Angel dropped his gaze to the ground and turned away, the shadows consuming him.

Giles closed the door, resting his head against the solid wood barrier. He was so jittery he couldn’t even manage to turn the deadbolt. He took a few deep breaths to steady his nerves. It was over. It was done. The dreaded confrontation had passed and he was still standing. But it had left him severely shaken, and the apartment no longer felt safe.

He went straight to the phone.

“Hello, Xander?” he said into the receiver. “Can you come over?” The sound of the young man’s voice saying ‘yes’ on the other end of the line was all he needed to know everything would be alright.

END