Deceptions And Betrayls
written by Ness


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Nothing after "Wrecked" in season 6 on BtVS and anything before "Sleep Tight" on AtS. But this is completely AU.
Summary: This one is a sequel to "When You Least Expect It". If you didn't read that one, this will probably confuse you.
Thanks: Thanks to Suzanne for the beta. It is much appreciated, Chica. *G*
Dedication: This one is for Kerrie. She gave me the idea that ended an almost six month block. She read this puppy even though she didn't normally read these pairings. Now, I've corrupted her or that's what she says anyway. *G* Thanks darlin', you're the best.
Feedback Author: Ness



The door to Cordelia's apartment swung open just as Giles was inserting his key in the lock. He and Cordelia looked up to see a 'welcome home' banner hanging in the living room. Obviously, Dennis was glad to see them.

"Hi, Dennis!" she greeted the ghost as she entered the apartment.

"What do you think you're doing?" Giles asked, the tone of his voice freezing her in mid-step..

"Umm--going inside?" she ventured tentatively.

"Not quite yet." Giles contradicted her.

"Why?" Cordelia was tired from the flight. She had enjoyed their honeymoon immensely, especially the parts where they had never left the room, but right now she couldn't wait to sit down and relax.

"Stay right here," Giles commanded. He grabbed their bags and took them inside, while Cordelia stood in the hallway, tapping her foot impatiently. If he didn't get his cute butt back out here soon, she was going in whether he liked it or not.

Giles returned to stand beside her.

"Giles, what's--" Cordelia didn't get to finish. Giles swung her up into his arms.

"I believe there is a custom, is there not, whereby the groom carries his bride over the threshold of their home?" he whispered next to her lips before kissing her.

Cordelia couldn't answer; she was lost in his kiss. She thought she would have had her fill of this man after the two weeks they had spent in Hawaii, courtesy of her Aunt Alicia. But every time he touched her she wanted him more. Cordelia was dimly aware of being carried into the apartment. But she couldn't seem to make herself focus on anything but him. She grinned to herself as he slowly slid her down his body to set her on her feet. She wasn 't the only one affected by that kiss. Slowly, they broke apart.

Giles leaned his forehead against his wife's.

"You're going to be the death of me, Cordelia Giles." He was as breathless as she was.

"Maybe. But what a way to go!" Cordelia quipped as she pulled him into another kiss.

Dennis discretely closed and locked the door as they made their way to the bedroom.

* * * * *

The next morning, Cordelia woke feeling deliciously sated. She reached for her husband only to find he wasn't there.

"Giles?" She rose up on one elbow to look around.

He came out of the bathroom.

"Why are you dressed?" She did not like how this morning was beginning.

"I have to work, remember?" he answered as he knotted his tie.

"I thought you didn't have to go in until Monday?" she protested. "This is Friday."

"No," Giles corrected. "You don't return to work until Monday. Robert has a shipment of rare antiques that he needs my assistance with." The curator had told him about the shipment right before his honeymoon and asked the Englishman if he would mind coming back to work a bit sooner than originally planned.

Giles had arranged for his consultant's position to become full-time. The curator, Robert Matthews, had been happy to accommodate him. The knowledge and experience Giles brought to the museum yielded benefits the curator hadn 't even contemplated when he had hired the ex-Watcher. Potential clients contacted the museum solely on the basis of Rupert Giles' credentials.

"But, but--we just got back," Cordelia contended a bit sullenly. She wasn't ready to face the real world; she wanted her husband to herself for a little longer.

Giles leaned over to press a kiss to her lips.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "But he's expecting me."

She considered pouting, but the last time she had done that, he'd told her she looked cute, kissed her and then ignored her.

"When will you be home?" She swung her legs over the side of the bed. There wasn't much point in staying in it if he wasn't going to be there with her.

"I'm helping Robert with the in-take and cataloging of a new shipment." He shrugged into his jacket. "He said it is a small shipment and shouldn't take more than two or three hours."

Cordelia visibly brightened. The day wouldn't be a total waste. She could go to the Hyperion and check in on everything there while Giles was at the museum.

"Would you wait for me and drop me at the hotel?" she asked over her shoulder as she headed to the bathroom.

He took one last, quick look in the mirror before turning back to his wife. "Certainly."

He went to the kitchen to start coffee and found it already brewed.

"Thank you, Dennis." He was beginning to care as much for the ghost as his wife did. He had been a bit wary about living with a ghost, but was finding it less intrusive than having Buffy and the others barging into his home at all hours of the day and night. In fact, Dennis was more considerate of their privacy than the others.

Giles sat down with his coffee and went over the paperwork that Robert had sent over this morning. He could catch up on some of it while waiting for Cordelia.

* * * * *

Fred was the first person to notice the Seer when she walked in.

"Cordelia!" she exclaimed, hugging the brunette.

"Hi, Fred." She looked around. "Where are the guys?"

"Gunn is out getting breakfast. Wesley is in his office and Angel is upstairs with Connor," Fred replied. "How was the honeymoon?"

"It was fantastic!"

"Then what are you doing here? We weren't expecting you back until Monday."

"Giles had to go to the museum today." Cordelia answered as she moved towards Wesley's office. "I figured since he was working, I'd check things out here."

She knocked on the office door.

"Come in," Wesley called out.

She opened the door to fine the ex-Watcher on the phone. He waved her in with a welcoming smile.

"Yes, Buffy. As a matter of fact, I do think they're back. I have Cordelia standing in front of me." He listened for a moment before replying. "I'm sure that she will give Giles a message for you--hold on one moment and I'll let you speak to her."

Wesley handed Cordelia the phone as she sat down in the chair opposite his desk.

"Buffy?"

"Cordy, I'm glad I caught you." Buffy said relief evident in her voice.

"What's up?" Cordelia was curious. How long had Buffy been calling Wesley?

"I just wanted to let Giles know that I'm coming to L.A. on Monday. I didn't know if you two planned on coming to Sunnydale this weekend or not."

"We hadn't planned on it."

Buffy chuckled.

"I'm sure you didn't. But I also know how Giles is. He probably would have tried to talk you into coming for at least a day. I just thought I'd save him the effort."

"I appreciate that." Cordelia really did. She didn't want to argue with Giles on the last two days of their honeymoon, but she had no intention of going to Sunnydale this weekend.

"Just let him know I'll give him a full report when I get there, okay?"

"Okay."

"Do you mind if I talk to Wes again?" Buffy asked. She still had a couple of things to talk to the Englishman about.

Now the Seer was truly intrigued.

"Sure, no problem." Unanswered questions threaded through her voice. She handed the phone back to Wesley.

"Yes, Buffy?" Wesley listened as he noted the curiosity radiating off of the woman sitting across from him. "Yes, I'll be here. I look forward to seeing you. Goodbye, Buffy." Wesley smiled as he hung up the phone. He looked at Cordelia. "What?" He resisted the urge to look down at himself to see if anything was out of place.

"Since when did you and Buffy become such good buddies?" she asked, lifting a brow questioningly.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." He could feel a flush creeping up his face.

"Come on, Wes." Cordelia couldn't get over the change between Wesley and Buffy. "You two were barely able to be civil to one another the last time I checked."

"Buffy and I have managed to put aside our differences," was the stiff reply.

"I can see that." The woman across from him couldn't contain herself any longer. "May I ask a question?"

"Yes," he agreed warily.

"When did you really start talking to Buffy? I was serious when I said I thought you two still had problems being civil to one another."

"Actually, it was about the time you and Giles became friends."

"What do you mean?" Confusion was evident.

"Do you remember the time you called Angel from the hotel room in Sunnydale?"

"Yeah."

"Buffy called me shortly after that weekend." He shrugged. "She wanted to know if I had any idea what was bothering Giles."

"And?" she asked curiously.

"I suppose you could say that phone call broke the ice. We have spoken several times since then," he finished.

Cordelia didn't know what to say. She knew that Wesley had always felt he'd failed both Faith and Buffy when he was back in Sunnydale. If he could be friends with Buffy and gain some measure of peace from that--more power to him. She was glad.

"Well--all I have to say is they thought Giles and me being friends was weird." She grinned to take the sting out of her words.

"Indeed." Wesley smiled at her.

Cordelia looked at her watch. "Oops, I gotta go. I want to see Angel and Connor before Giles picks me up."

"What were you doing here?" Wesley said as Cordelia stood up. "We weren't expecting you before Monday."

"Giles had to go to the museum for a couple of hours. I decided that I'd check on all of you." She headed to the door.

He nodded. "Well, enjoy the rest of your weekend. You have a lot of work to do when you return."

She stopped dead and turned slowly. "What work?" she asked carefully.

"Oh, filing among other things."

"What do you mean?" she demanded incredulously. "Didn't you do any of the filing while I was gone."

"Cordelia, no one can decipher your filing system." Wesley hid a smile. "You would be indispensable, even if you weren't Angel's seer."

"Oh, you are so gonna get it," she laughingly threatened.

"I live in perpetual fear." He chuckled.

"You should." She snickered as she headed towards the stairs.

* * * * *

"Angel?" Cordelia knocked softly. She wasn't sure if Connor was asleep and she didn't want to wake him.

"Come in."

She opened the door and found Angel sitting in a chair next to Connor's crib. He held a book loosely in one hand and there was a mug on the table next to him.

"Hey," she greeted him quietly.

"Hi, Cordy. Welcome back." He gestured her in.

"Is Connor--?"

"He's awake." Angel nodded towards the crib. "He's just playing."

She walked over and saw the little boy staring with rapt attention at the mobile suspended above his crib. When the baby saw her, he started to gurgle and laugh.

"Hi, little guy." She picked up the baby and gave him a hug. "Did you miss me?"

He gave her a big, toothless smile.

"Hey look! He smiled at me," Cordelia exclaimed excitedly.

"He's--." Angel started.

"Don't you dare tell me that's gas. I'll spike your blood with holy water if you do," she threatened.

Angel held up his hands in mock-surrender. "I was going to say that he looks like he really missed you."

"Sure you were." She smirked.

The vampire grinned. "So, how's married life?" he asked as he watched her play with Connor.

"Fantastic!"

"I'm glad." And he was. He knew Cordelia had had a rough time and sometimes people forgot that because of the way she handled herself. He was happy that she'd found someone.

Cordelia put Connor back in his crib.

"I've gotta go. Giles will be here anytime to pick me up. We're going to enjoy the last few days of our honeymoon." She grinned at the vampire.

"Have fun," Angel told her.

"Oh, we plan to." Cordelia grinned over her shoulder as she left.

* * * * *

Giles entered the hotel just as Cordelia came down the stairs.

"Hello, Luv." He greeted her with a quick kiss. "Are you ready?"

"Just about. Let me say goodbye to Wes and Fred."

She stuck her head in Wesley's office.

"Hey, Wes. I'm leaving now."

"Goodbye, Cordelia." He raised his head from the text he had been studying. "Have a good weekend."

"Do you know where Fred went?"

"I believe she and Gunn decided to take their breakfast to the park."

"Oh. Okay." Cordelia shrugged. "Tell her I said 'bye."

"I shall."

"Thanks, Wes," Cordelia said as she turned to leave. "See you Monday."

"Goodbye." He went back to his book.

Cordelia met Giles in the lobby.

"Did you find everyone?"

"Yeah. Wes is in his office and Fred is with Gunn." She hooked her arm through his. As they left, she whispered, "And have I got some gossip for you."

* * * * *

"Buffy and Wesley are speaking to one another?" Giles repeated, as they sat on the sofa in Cordelia's, now their, apartment..

"Yep. Apparently, when you and I started getting serious, Buffy called Wes after one of our weekends because she thought something was wrong."

"Did she now?" He asked, amused.

She nodded. "Anyway, they started talking and now they're friends."

"I'm glad for them. But I actually have something I would like to speak to you about," he changed the subject as she leaned against him.

"What?"

"How would you feel about renting a bigger flat?" He asked as he stroked her hair.

Before she could answer, the bedroom door slammed hard enough to cause her to jump. Dennis was making his presence known.

"Not to worry, Dennis. I have no intention of leaving you behind," he assured the seemingly nervous ghost.

"How exactly do you plan to take him with us?" Curiosity colored her voice. "Because you know I'm not leaving him here," she added firmly.

"Of course we're not leaving him. I have a friend in England that has informed me he knows of a spell to capture ghosts. Usually, it's done to trap ghosts when they have become violent and an exorcism cannot be performed. But he assures me that I can use it to relocate Dennis to a new flat."

"And it's safe?" She wasn't taking any chances with her non-corporal friend.

"I plan to research the spell very thoroughly when he emails it to me. If I have any doubts, I won't do it," he swore before continuing his explanation. "Kevin is very good at this sort of thing and I explained the situation in great detail. However, if it will make you, and Dennis, feel better, I will check with a few other contacts to see if they have any knowledge of this particular spell."

"Would you?" Cordelia asked as she leaned back to look at him. "I don't want anything to happen to him."

"Of course. I don't wish anything to happen to him either."

"So where do you want to move to?" she asked, settling back against him.

"I'm not completely sure," Giles answered, as he stroked her hair. "I do know that this flat is entirely too small for the both of us. I would like a place that has more room for my books and weapons. I would also like extra room in case we have visitors."

"Sunnydale visitors, you mean."

"Among others," he conceded with a smile.

"As long as we can take Dennis, I don't care." She snuggled closer to him. "So, what are we doing this weekend?"

"What would you like to do?"

"Pretty much what we're doing right now," she responded in a silky tone.

"I think that can be arranged." He smiled as he kissed the top of her head.

* * * * *

Cordelia woke with a start, and she instinctively reached for her husband. His even breathing told her that he was still asleep. She took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heart. The dream had seemed so real. She'd been sitting with Giles, like they had been tonight, when all of a sudden he had disappeared. She'd called out to him, but no one answered. She had looked for him frantically, but had been unable find him. No matter what she did, he was gone and she couldn't get him back.

She scrubbed her face with her hands. She hated dreams like that. The panic and terror had nearly overwhelmed her. She hated feeling helpless--even in her dreams. She sighed and settled back down against her husband. He curled his arm around her and pulled her to him. Even in his sleep, he could make her feel safe. With that reassuring thought, she drifted back to sleep.

* * * * *

"Dennis, I'm home." Cordelia dropped her purse on the hall table.

She saw a glass of iced tea floating towards her. The spell had worked just as Giles' friend had predicted, and Dennis had settled in, but he still seemed nervous for some reason. Cordelia had talked to Giles about it and he seemed to think Dennis was just getting acquainted with their new home. After all, he hadn't been out of the apartment in over 55 years.

As she took the tea and moved into the living room, she had to admit that this house was much, much better than her apartment. For one thing, it had a den with three walls of built-in bookshelves. Her bookworm husband had almost drooled at that little perk. There was also a basement that had been converted into a large playroom. They'd remodeled it into a training room that they could use when they trained together or when Buffy came. The Slayer had decided that Dawn needed to know self-defense and had asked Giles to help her train her younger sister. Naturally he had agreed, so the room would definitely get used often. The house had three large bedrooms in addition to the master bedroom. It had been perfect. When Cordelia asked Giles how he had found it, he explained that it belonged to Robert's parents. They had decided to rent it when they had moved to a smaller house and discovered that none of their children had wanted the larger home. It would have been foolish to sell it in the current real estate market, when they could afford to buy another home without selling their old house. After meeting the older couple, it didn't take long for Cordelia and Giles to sign a lease.

She finished her tea and went into the kitchen to start dinner--well, to make a salad. Giles would take care of the rest.

* * *  * *

Cordelia was washing the lettuce in preparation for the salad when the phone rang. "Hello?"

"Cordelia?" a familiar voice came over the line.

"Hey, Buffy," she greeted the Slayer. "What's up?"

"Not much. I just needed to talk to Giles. Is he home?"

"Not yet. It'll probably be a half hour or so before he get here."

"Okay." Buffy sounded disappointed. "I guess I'll call back then."

"Is there anything I can do?" Cordelia asked as she began to chop the lettuce.

"No, not really." A sigh was heard on the other end of the line. "I just needed some advice about Dawn."

"What's wrong with Dawn?"

"Nothing major. She's just acting like a typical teenager and I'm ready to strangle her. I thought maybe Giles could help me."

"What's she doing?" Cordelia wondered what Dawn was doing to cause Buffy parental headaches.

"Same old, same old." Buffy blew out a frustrated breath. "She's arguing with me about everything. If I say the sky is blue, she'll swear it's green. She's still doing okay in school and I don't want that to change. She's already got one strike against her because she's my sister."

"I see," Cordelia said, and she did. Buffy had been branded a troublemaker in school. The school, like the rest of the town, had worn blinders about what *really* went on in Sunnydale. Snyder had been a tyrant, and a troll, and the rest of the faculty, other than Giles and Miss Calendar hadn't been much better.

"I don't know what to do!" Buffy sounded frustrated.. "It's like she ignores me just on general principal. Now I know how mom felt." Buffy heard a chuckle from the Seer.

"That's right," Buffy said good-naturedly. "Laugh in the face of my pain."

"I'm sorry." Cordelia managed an apology between giggles.

"Oh, yeah. I can tell." The blonde teased.

"Well, if there's anything I can do, let me know," Cordelia offered. "I'll tell Giles you called."

"I will and thanks. Tell Giles I'll talk to him later." Buffy was about to say goodbye when Cordelia stopped her.

"Buffy?" Cordelia's tone was hesitant.

"Yeah?" Buffy was curious, she hardly ever heard Cordelia sound unsure about anything. Brash, bordering on rude, yeah. But unsure? Never.

"Have you talked to Wesley lately?"

"No. Not for a week or two. Why?" Buffy's defenses immediately came up.

Cordelia didn't know how to approach the subject, so in typical Cordeliaesque-fashion, she just said what was on her mind.

"What's going on with you and Wesley?"

The silence lasted for so long Cordelia was beginning to think that Buffy might have hung up.

"What do you mean?" The voice that finally answered was quiet.

"I mean that--I just wanted to know--." Cordelia took a deep breath. "Hell, I just wanted to know when you and Wesley became friends."

"When--or why?" was the defensive question.

"Both."

"Why do you want to know?"

Cordelia took a deep breath and plunged in. "Because the last I knew, you and Wes could barely stand each other. I come home from my honeymoon and find you and him talking like bosom buddies."

"Did you ask him?"

"Yeah."

"What did he say?" Buffy's tone was no longer careful, she was curious.

"He just said that you had called after one of my weekends in Sunnydale and you two had talked."

"Well, that's true. But I've talked to Wes a lot since then." The Slayer paused for a moment. She wasn't sure that she was ready to explain her friendship with Wesley just yet. But she also knew that Cordelia, being Cordelia, wasn't going to let it go until her curiosity was satisfied.

"And?" Cordelia prompted.

"And we're friends."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

Buffy sighed. "I know," she replied. "Cordelia, Wesley and I talked. We talked about everything that happened in Sunnydale when he was here. Neither one of us was blameless in the matter. I mean, you have to admit, he was a real jerk when he first came here. He was a bossy know-it-all and he wouldn' t listen to anything anyone else had to say."

"And?" Cordelia prompted again.

"And, I was a jerk too. I was mad at Giles for what happened on my birthday, but in my mind he was still my watcher. I didn't want somebody else. I didn' t give Wesley a chance. When I had a problem, I went to Giles. That didn't help my relationship with Wesley." She took a deep breath. "Add to that the situation with Faith and we both acted really crappy."

"And now?" Cordelia knew that Buffy had changed, but the fact that Buffy was willing to admit that she had treated Wesley less than great was unbelievable.

"Now? Now Wesley and I have ironed out most of our differences and I realize that he is a good man. A man that I'm glad I can call my friend. Although he can still get on my nerves sometimes," she added.

Cordelia laughed.

"Buffy, he still gets on *my* nerves sometimes. Hell, I love Giles, but there are times I could cheerfully strangle even him."

"I know what you mean. Well, I'd better let you go. Tell Giles I called and I'll talk to him later."

"Will do. Bye, Buffy."

"Bye, Cordelia."

* * * * *

Giles came through the door and dropped his briefcase with an exhausted sigh. The day had been long, he wasn't feeling well and he'd had to deal with board members that could have coined the word evil. He was happy to be home. A dizzy spell at work that had lasted almost ten minutes had left him feeling weak and nauseated. Robert was concerned and had wanted to contact Cordelia immediately, but Giles managed to talk him out of it. The Englishman wasn't sure what was wrong, but he didn't want to worry Cordelia needlessly. Giles promised Robert that he would make an appointment with a doctor next week for a complete physical.

Cordelia heard Giles come in and came out to check on him when he didn't go into the kitchen. She found him leaning against the front door, as Dennis put his briefcase in the hall closet.

Giles opened his eyes to find Cordelia standing in front of him.

"What's wrong?" she asked, her eyes dark with concern.

Giles tried to shake off the lethargy that had taken hold of him.

"Nothing." He tried to ease her concern. "I'm simply tired."

Cordelia eyed him suspiciously, not buying that for a second. But she also knew that it was pointless to try and get him to tell her something if he didn't want to or wasn't ready to.

"How 'bout we do delivery tonight?" she asked.

"That sounds excellent." Giles responded gratefully.

Another warning bell went off. Cordelia knew he enjoyed the time they spent together preparing meals. That he was so willing to give up that time told her more than words could have about how he was feeling. She nodded and made the call.

* * * * *

Giles walked into the Hyperion the next day looking, and feeling, much better. Wesley was coming out of his office as he entered.

"Hello, Giles."

"Hello, Wesley. Have you seen my wife?" Giles asked him.

"As a matter-of-fact, I have. She asked me to tell you she would meet you at home. She tried to reach you at the museum, but you had already left." Wesley shelved the book in his hand.

"Where did she go?"

"She and Fred went shopping. Gunn is taking Fred on a special date tomorrow evening and Cordelia decided Fred needed a new dress for the occasion."

Giles watched the younger man for any signs that this news distressed him. He saw none. For months, Wesley had been telling everyone he was over Fred. Perhaps he truly was.

Wesley knew that everyone expected him to be distraught over the social engagements of Fred and Gunn. Admittedly, it had hurt--tremendously. But, slowly, healing had taken place. He would always care for Fred. That was something he neither could, nor ever would, want to change. But the pain of her choosing another man had long since departed. He made a quick decision. "Would you like to go out for a drink? Knowing Cordelia, they will be gone for quite some time."

Giles wasn't sure what to make of the invitation. But decided to take it at face value. "That sounds fine. Do you have a specific place in mind?" Giles asked.

"There is a pub not far from here that is a taste of home." Wesley answered, retrieving his coat.

"Then, by all means, lead on." Giles followed Wesley out the door.

* * * * *

A few blocks from the hotel, Wesley led him into a nondescript building. The moment Giles stepped inside he felt as though he had been transported back to England. There were dartboards on one wall; the bar was full, and he could hear a waitress calling back drink orders. Wesley interrupted his thoughts.

"I see a table in the corner. You go claim it and I'll see about some pints. Is Guiness alright?"

"That sounds fine." Giles replied absently. He was still overwhelmed by the fact that Wesley had found an English pub, or as close to one as he was likely to find, in L.A.

Wesley made his way to the bar.

"Wesley! How are you, mate?" The bartender called out to the ex-Watcher.

"I'm fine, Graham. And you?"

"Couldn't be better. What'll it be?" Graham asked as he made his way down the bar to Wesley.

"Two pints of Guiness."

"Two? Did you bring someone with you?" Graham looked over Wesley's shoulder. Wesley was a regular here, but never brought anyone with him. And while he was popular with everyone, he tended to be somewhat of a loner.

A friend," was all Wesley said.

Graham was no fool.

"Two pints of Guiness coming up. Sally'll bring them out to you."

Wesley nodded and made his way back to Giles.

The table that Giles had chosen was situated in a corner, therefore neither man had to sit with his back to the room. Call it their nervous nature, but both preferred to have a wall to their backs.

"When did you find this place?" Giles asked as the waitress served them their drinks.

"Actually, I found it just recently. I was on my way home and noticed one of the waitresses was having difficulties in the parking lot with an inebriated customer. I stopped to offer my assistance. When she told me what kind of establishment it was, I had to see what a Californian would think an authentic English pub was like. To my surprise, it is actually a great deal like the ones at home."

"Indeed." Giles said as he took a drink of his pint.

"Of course, when I found out that the proprietor was actually a transplanted Englishman it made much more sense." Wesley took a swallow of his Guiness.

"Is he really?" Giles was fascinated. It had been a long time since he had been in a pub. When he had returned to England after leaving Buffy, he had buried himself in work to try and forget his pain. He had stayed away from alcohol because, for him, the two did not mix well.

"Yes. Apparently he had wanted to travel the world. So he did. When he was finally of a mind to settle down in one place, he happened to be in California. He found that as much as he missed England, he did not miss the cold, damp weather. The sunny part of Sunny California had taken his fancy. Running a pub had been a family tradition for years, and he missed certain aspects of England. So he decided to combine the two things and bring England to California." Wesley reached for the bowl of pork scratchings Sally had placed on the table.

"Well, he certainly succeeded. I feel as though I have stepped back into my old stomping grounds in London." Giles said.

"I shall have to tell him that you approve." Wesley said with a grin.

Giles' cell phone rang just as he was about to reply.

"Hello?"

"Hey, handsome," his wife greeted him.

"Hello, Luv." Giles smiled.

"I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be late getting home."

"How late?"

"I'm not sure. Fred found a dress, she's good to go that way, but now she wants to go out for some girl time together. I knew you wouldn't mind, so I said yes. But I wanted to let you know."

"I appreciate that. As a matter of fact, Wesley and I are sharing a pint as we speak."

"He dragged you to that pub he found, didn't he?" Cordelia laughed.

"He most certainly did. And I am most put out that you didn't tell me of it before." Giles teased.

"I just didn't want my man spending every night in a bar." Cordelia quipped.

"I can assure you that my nights would have been spent at home." Giles' voice was low and silky.

"Ooh, maybe I should tell Fred to skip the girl's night out." Cordelia's breath hitched at the image that popped into her mind.

Giles chuckled. "That won't be necessary. I'm sure we'll find time for our--activities. Wesley and I will make a night of it and I'll see you back home."

"Sounds good. Love you."

"I love you too. Goodbye."

"Bye."

Giles disconnected as Wesley motioned to Graham for two more pints.

"I assume that you now have no need to rush home," Wesley said as the waitress set their drinks down.

"No. Fred and Cordelia have decided to spend a bit of time together. It seems I am free for the remainder of the evening."

"I just heard you tell Cordelia that you and I would be making a night of it." Wesley cocked an eyebrow at him.

"I simply told her that so that if she wished to spend time with Fred she could. That in no way obligates you to entertain me." Giles replied.

Wesley watched him for a moment before chuckling.

"Giles, if I had no desire to spend time with you, I would not have invited you here. In actuality, I would like to get a chance to know you better. You have captured the heart of a dear friend of mine and I know she would like it if we were closer friends."

Giles inclined his head in agreement.

"What say you that we forget our unfortunate past in Sunnydale and begin anew." Wesley suggested. "I think we could be great friends if given the chance."

"I agree." Giles lifted his glass for a toast. "To new beginnings."

"To new beginnings," Wesley concurred as he lifted his glass to Giles'.

* * * * *

Several hours later, the two of them had cemented their growing friendship with several pints. Giles had lost count around the sixth or seventh round. Wesley was slightly better off. He could still count by the eighth or ninth round.

Of course, by that time they were singing something that at one time must have been a legitimate tune. At this point, however, it had become so mangled; it bore no resemblance to any known song.

"Wesley?" Giles stopped singing suddenly.

"Yes Giles?" Wesley wasn't happy that the duet had been interrupted.

"What time is it?"

Wesley peered at his watch. For some odd reason, his watch had developed a twin. He tried to focus on one of them, but it still didn't help. Finally he closed one eye and it helped him to see only one, albeit blurry, timepiece. He squinted his one open eye and managed to discern the time.

"I believe, if my watch is to be believed, it is one a.m.," Wesley answered.

"I think your watch can be believed, mate," Graham said as he came to stand by the two men. Wesley had introduced Graham to Rupert Giles.

Graham chuckled. They were potted.

"Hello, Graham," Wesley said cheerfully. "Did you come to have a drink with us?"

"No. Sorry, mate," Graham declined. "I came to let you know we're about to close up."

"Should we call Cordelia?" Giles posed this question to Wesley. Before the ex-Watcher could answer, Giles turned to Graham. "Cordelia's my wife," he said, with a silly grin on his face.

Yes, I think you've told me that once or twice this evening," the bartender said as he motioned Sally to lock up.

"Why don't I take you boys home? No need to drag your pretty wife out this late," he suggested as he helped the two men gather up their belongings.

"You're a true friend, Graham." Wesley told the bartender with all the seriousness that an inebriated man could muster.

"I'm pleased you think so." Graham ushered the two of them out the door. He took them to his car and got them settled in before he went back to the pub door and waited for Sally to come out.

"You can take them home. I'll be fine." Sally insisted.

"No. I'll take you home and drop them off on my way home. I won't have you out this late alone." Graham had never told the pretty redhead, but she had taken his fancy the first time he had met her. He had made it his private mission to make sure she was safe.

"Okay. Let me get the door and we can go." Sally knew better than to argue with him. She never won.

After locking up, they made their way back to the car, only to find Wesley and Giles passed out in the back.

"Well, at least we won't have to listen to their singing," she laughed.

"Absolutely," he agreed heartily.

* * * * *

Graham had dropped Sally off at her apartment and made his way to Wesley's. He had gotten the addresses out of the two men before they had passed out. He left Giles in the car and got Wesley home. He found Wesley's keys and opened the door. He got him into the bedroom and dropped him on the bed, grunting because he was heavier than he looked. He removed the sleeping man' s shoes and socks, and then pulled the bedspread up to cover him. He drew the line at undressing him. Being the friendly neighborhood bartender only went so far. He found a piece of paper and left a note telling Wesley how he had gotten home and that he could pick his bike up tomorrow.

He locked up behind him and went back to his car. Rupert Giles was still where he had put him. He drove to the address Giles had given him and knocked on the door. He figured that since Giles had a wife, she might be willing to give him a hand getting the man out of the car. He was getting too old and tired for this.

He lost his tongue for a moment when a beautiful brunette opened the door.

"May I help you?" she asked him politely.

"Um, is Cordelia Giles home?" Graham found his voice.

"I'm Cordelia." She sounded--cautious.

"Hello. My name is Graham Nichols. I'm the bartender at the pub where your husband spent most of the night." Graham smiled wryly.

"I take it my husband couldn't see himself home?" she answered, relaxing a bit.

"No ma'am. I already dropped Wesley off at his apartment; neither of them were in any shape to drive."

"Why didn't you call me? I could have picked them up."

Graham shifted nervously from one foot to the other. He wasn't sure himself why he took the time to get them home.

"I didn't want you having to come out this late to pick them up. If you'll help me get him out of the car, I'll help you get him in."

Cordelia wasn't sure what to make of this man. But she knew that he wasn't coming in her house--or her going outside--until she found out who, or more to the point, what--he was. She'd give a lot to have Buffy's spidey-sense going for her right now. The only way she could think of testing him involved a certain amount of risk. Her wedding ring had crosses engraved on it. Giles had found it and decided that she could never have too much protection. She knew that the ring had at least enough power to burn a vamp if it touched him. She had been sparring with Angel one day and had forgotten to remove it. She had gotten a punch through his defenses and the ring had touched him. It had burned him. But in order for it to work, she had to touch this man. Therein lay the risk. If he *was* a vamp, he could pull her outside once he had hold of her hand. But, if he was a human, she couldn't very well let him stand on the doorstep until sunrise. She stuck her hand out.

"Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Cordelia Giles, it's nice to meet you."

Graham took her hand and shook it.

"It's a pleasure."

Cordelia breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn't a vamp. If he was any other type of demon, she was going to have to risk it.

"Let me slip some shoes on and I'll help you get my wayward husband in the house," she said as she turned to look for her shoes.

Graham nodded and stood patiently at the door. Soon, she was back and ready to help. It took them both to get Giles out of the car. He was only slightly awake. He was feeling talkative, however.

"Graham, thish is my wife, Cordelia," he stated the obvious.

"Yeah, mate. I've met her," was the good-natured response.

"Cordelia." The drunk man swung his bleary gaze to his wife. "Thish is Graham. He's a good bloke. He brought me home, you know," he said this as though imparting the wisdom of the ages.

Cordelia just shook her head and laughed. "Oh, my love. You are *so* going to feel this in the morning."

Between Graham and Cordelia they managed to get Giles up the stairs and into bed. He was out before they had even removed his shoes. Cordelia motioned to the bartender and they left the room.

"Would you like some coffee?" she asked as soon as they were downstairs.

"Thank you, that would be great." He had forgotten how much work it was to get drunks home in one piece.

He sat at the kitchen table and watched her as she made the coffee. He wondered how Rupert Giles had gotten so lucky.

Cordelia was aware of Graham's scrutiny.

"I appreciate you bringing my husband home," she told him as she set his coffee in front of him. She put the sugar and cream container on the table in between them.

"It's not a problem. I don't think they meant to drink quite as much as they did." He took a sip of his coffee.

Cordelia chuckled. "I'm sure they'll be saying the same thing in the morning."

Graham laughed.

They talked for a few minutes before he looked at his watch.

"I really must be going." He stood up. "Thank you for the coffee."

"You're welcome. Thank you for playing taxi driver," she said as she showed him to the door.

"You're welcome. Tell Giles that I locked up his car and he can stop by and pick it up tomorrow."

"I'll do that. Goodbye."

"Goodbye." Graham walked down the sidewalk to his car.

Cordelia watched him to make sure he made it to his car alright and closed the door as he drove away.

* * * * *

Giles became aware of someone pounding a hammer close to his head. No wait--that *was* his head. He groaned and immediately realized *that* was a mistake. As his stomach made its displeasure abundantly clear, he opened one eye and the light almost blinded him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he began praying to every deity he knew of that he would die immediately.

"What's the matter? Feeling a little sick this morning?" Cordelia was trying hard to keep the amusement out of her voice. She didn't completely succeed.

"Please," he pleaded weakly.

"Please what?"

"Let me die in peace. I will love you for all eternity if you do." Giles felt as though he was shouting. In reality, he was barely whispering.

"You already promised to love me for eternity?" his wife reminded him.

"I will love you more. Please, please, please. Let me whither away in someplace dark and quiet." He hadn't felt like this in years.

She took pity on him and stopped teasing him.

"Sit up. I've brought aspirin and a hangover remedy that Doyle swore by."

Giles eased up in the bed--slowly. His head didn't feel very firmly attached at the moment. She handed him some aspirin and a glass of some foul-smelling concoction.

"What is this?" He asked, sniffing it suspiciously and immediately gagging.

"It's probably better that you don't know that right now."

"I will not drink something that smells like a sewer without knowing what is in it," he insisted.

"Giles, it's nothing life-threatening and Doyle could be so hung over he had one foot in the grave, but he'd take this stuff and be fine in less than fifteen minutes. So, unless you want to be sick as a dog for the whole day, drink it." Cordelia loved him, and she felt sorry for him--a little. But she was not going to listen to him moan and groan the whole day because he was too wimpy to drink something.

Giles swallowed the aspirin with the water she had brought. He took the other glass and, as he held his nose, drained it. He turned an interesting shade of green, but managed to keep it down.

"There you go. Lay back down and you should be feeling better in a few minutes," she instructed. Giles did as he was told and, miraculously, he did begin to feel somewhat better.

* * * * *

Wesley groaned as he became aware of someone knocking on his door. He realized he was at home. The last thing he remembered was having a few pints with Giles. After that it became quite blurry and faded to black. The pounding on the door became more insistent. He sat up and had to stop when the room began spinning wildly.

"Just a moment," he called. He winced as the words reverberated in his head--loudly.

The banging stopped and he slowly made his way to the front door. He opened it to find Buffy standing there.

He stood there for a moment, unable to process the fact that the slayer was standing on his doorstep.

"Well, are you going to let me in or do I stand here all day?" She asked. When she got a better look at him, she realized that he looked more than a little green around the gills and smelled like a brewery.

Wesley stepped aside to let her pass. Even though it was daylight outside, some habits were too deeply ingrained. Not inviting someone into his apartment was one of them. Buffy understood the silent invitation and stepped into the apartment, brushing by Wesley as she did.

"What's up with you? You looked like death warmed over." Buffy studied him. "Lukewarm," she amended.

"Thank you." Wesley replied wryly. "Why are you here, if you don't mind my asking?"

"I need some help and I thought of you."

"You need my help? Why?"

"Well--." She hesitated, not quite sure how to explain this.

"Well, what?" Wesley's curiosity was piqued.

"I'm having a problem with--someone--from work and I need another someone to help me discourage him."

"What do you mean 'discourage him'?" Wesley was totally in the dark.

She blew out a frustrated breath that ruffled her bangs.

"I mean that he keeps hitting on me and, no matter how many times I tell him no, he won't stop. It's not like I can stake him or anything, can I?" she asked hopefully.

Wesley chuckled. "No, I'm afraid not."

"Damn! I knew you were gonna say that.," she growled under her breath.

"Surely you have someone that can help you. Aren't you dating?"

"Wesley, I'm raising a 15-year-old teenager, working full-time and patrolling at night. When would I have time to date?" Buffy asked a bit huffily.

"Point taken," he conceded. "How am I supposed to help? Would you like for me to discuss this with Angel?"

"NO!" She stopped herself from yelling, although her voice still went up several levels.

He winced. His hangover symptoms, forgotten in his curiosity, were now making themselves known again.

"Are you okay?"

"I seemed to have had a bit too much to drink last night," was his sheepish answer.

"You got drunk?"

"Slightly," he acknowledged.

"From the way you look, I'd say a little more than slightly." She giggled.

"The night's proceedings are a bit fuzzy," he admitted.

"Come on. I'll make you some coffee and find your aspirin," Buffy said as she headed towards his kitchen.

Buffy saw a note leaning against the coffee maker.

"Well, here's a few questions answered," she said as she read the note. "Do you know a Graham?"

"Yes. He's the bartender at the pub where Giles and I were."

"You and Giles?" She got sidetracked. "Don't tell me, my Watcher got drunk."

"I can't really say for sure."

"He did! Oh man, I bet Cordy is loving him this morning. I bet she read him the riot act."

"What does the note say?" He changing the subject.

"Just that this Graham guy brought you home and he's got your keys and the bike that goes with them at his pub and you can pick it up whenever you want to." She decided to leave him alone about last night. She needed his help and needling him wouldn't help her cause.

"Good. I must thank him for his help." He muttered half to himself.

A cup of coffee appeared in front of him along with two aspirins. He took them gratefully and sipped at his coffee.

"Would you like to finish telling me about your predicament?" He asked as soon as the pounding in his head lowered to a dull roar.

"Do you feel up to it?"

"Certainly."

"It began right after I started at my new job."

"You have a new job?" he interrupted.

"Yeah." She shrugged nonchalantly. "Giles got me an interview at the Sunnydale Museum. I'm just filing and answering phones, but it's loads better than anything else I've had."

Wesley nodded and motioned for her to continue.

"Anyway, there's this guy that works in the office next to me. He seemed nice enough when I first met him, but then he started asking me out. I tried to explain to him that I don't really have time." She blew out a frustrated breath. "He wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Has he tried anything physical?" Wesley asked.

"No."

"I don't wish to seem dense, Buffy. But I'm afraid I'm still not sure where you're going with this," he said as he sipped his coffee.

Buffy didn't quite know how to ask him for this favor. She took a deep breath and plunged in.

"I want you to play my boyfriend," she said it quickly.

Wesley was in the middle of a sip of coffee and started to choke, so she pounded on his back.

"Please," he wheezed. "I don't have slayer healing and I think you're about to do serious damage to my ribs."

She stopped immediately.

He thought about her request as he attempted to regain his breath. He wasn't sure what to make of it.

Buffy had her head down and her hair made a golden curtain that obscured her face from his vision.

"Buffy?" he asked quietly. He got no response.

"Buffy?" he called again. When her head came up he could see a sheen of moisture shining in her eyes.

"Never mind, Wes. It was a dumb idea." Buffy started to gather her things, talking the entire time. "I shouldn't have asked. I mean, why would you help me. I treated you badly when you were in Sunnydale. I thought we had gotten past that, but I guess I was wrong. I just didn't have--" Her voice caught on a sob.

"Buffy." Wesley caught her arm and gently turned her to face him. "What's wrong, really? Surely, it's not that some git can't take no for an answer? There has to be more to it."

Buffy dropped her head again. He hooked his finger under her chin and lifted her face.

"Buffy, what's wrong?"

"It's not just Jason. I mean, if that's all that was wrong, I could handle it. But it just seems that whenever I get everything going okay, something happens," she said in a quiet voice.

"What else has happened?"

"I got a letter from the bank." A single tear escaped and trailed down her cheek.

"What type of letter?" Wesley asked gently.

"It said that Mom had taken out a second mortgage on the house. She had most of it paid off, but not all of it." Tears thickened her voice.

"How much?"

"Never mind." Buffy tried to pull away. "It's my problem."

"How much?" Wesley repeated a bit more firmly.

"Eight thousand dollars," she answered in a hoarse whisper.

"When is the payment due?"

"Three weeks. I've been trying to reach Dad, but he's in Europe and nobody knows where. Or at least, nobody that will tell his daughter," she amended, bitterness coating every word.

"Is there anyone else? Giles, perhaps?" Wesley suggested.

"No!" Buffy responded vehemently.

"Why not? If you're about to lose your home?" Wesley didn't understand why she wouldn't ask her Watcher.

"Because, he's had to pull me out of trouble too many times as it is," Buffy explained. "He's got his own life now and I won't ask him for money."

"He wouldn't mind, Buffy."

"He might not, but someone else might," Buffy responded quietly.

"If you're speaking of Cordelia, I seriously doubt that she would raise any objections to his helping you keep your house." Wesley defended his absent friend. "In fact, I think you do her a great disservice in suggesting that she would."

Buffy sighed. "You're right," she conceded. "But I don't want to ask him. I need to take care of this myself."

"If there is anything I can do--" Wesley began.

"No. I didn't come here to ask you for money," Buffy insisted.

"I know that, but--"

"No, Wes. But would you think about helping me with the other problem?" she asked, changing the subject.

"Help you rid yourself of the obnoxious Jason?"

Buffy nodded.

"Of course. What do you need me to do?" Wesley's mind was turning over both problems. He might have a solution to the house problem, but he wouldn't mention it to Buffy right now. The problem of the git harassing her was something else entirely.

"All I need you to do is show up in Sunnydale in a couple of days and pick me up from work. I'll tell everyone you've been in England and you just got back." Buffy told him.

"Did you tell this young man you were seeing someone?"

"I did after I found out he wasn't going to take no for an answer." Buffy was at the end of her rope with this situation. Something had to give.

"Very well. I would be honored to be your significant other."

"Great!" Buffy was relieved to have one problem solved.

"How do you wish me to act?"

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.

"Do you want to me act very affectionate or simply friendly?" Wesley clarified.

"I don't know." Buffy hadn't thought that far. She didn't think that Wesley would agree to it, so she hadn't really planned anything. "Just act the way you normally do with your girlfriends and I'll follow your lead."

Wesley nodded.

Buffy looked at her watch.

"Oh man! I've gotta go. I told Willow I'd be back this afternoon." Buffy gathered her things and headed towards the door. She turned as she reached it. "Thanks, Wes. I really appreciate this."

"You're welcome, Buffy. I'll see you in a few days."

Buffy waved goodbye and was out the door.

Wesley stared at the closed door for a long moment before nodding to himself. He reached for the phone, knowing exactly what he needed to do.

* * * * *

Giles came out of the bathroom feeling more himself. The hot shower, combined with the remedy Cordelia had given him, had worked wonders. He felt almost back to normal.

"Cordelia?" he called to her.

"Yeah." Cordelia answered as she came up the stairs.

"How did I get home?" That was something he had finally thought about while in the shower.

"Graham Nichols brought you home." She grinned at the memory. "He said that the car was at the pub and we could pick it up when we wanted."

"That was good of him." Giles commented.

"You're not kidding." Cordelia agreed. "Especially since I would have had to come get you, if he hadn't brought you home."

"I must remember to thank him." Giles said as he dressed.

"I already did." Cordelia informed him.

Giles finished dressing and, as he knotted his tie, turned to his wife.

"Would you like to have lunch at the pub?"

"Okay. Then I need to get to work. I told them I'd be in this afternoon."

"I told Robert the same, so we have time for lunch." Giles paused. "I am sorry for coming home in that condition."

"Don't worry about it. I've dealt with drunks before and at least you go to sleep and don't bother anyone." Cordelia said matter-of-factly.

Giles didn't like the implications of that statement. There were still things that he didn't know about his wife's childhood. Things that she refused to discuss, saying it was ancient history and didn't matter anymore.

"Get a move on it." Cordelia's voice interrupted his reverie. "I'm hungry and it's almost lunch time."

Giles nodded and followed her out the door.

* * * * *

Graham greeted them as they walked through the door. "Giles and the fair Cordelia!"

"Hi, Graham," Cordelia returned his greeting cheerfully.

"Hello, Graham." Giles shook hands with the bartender. "Thank you for last night."

"Think nothing of it, mate." Graham insisted. "Was happy to do it. Even if my back admonished me for it this morning." Graham winked.

Giles chuckled. "Regardless, I appreciate it."

"As I said, not a problem." Graham stated again. "What can I do for you?"

"We're having lunch here." Cordelia told him. "We thought that you should see him when he's not quite so *happy*." Cordelia giggled.

Giles sighed, but accepted the teasing good-naturedly. After all, he deserved it. The only thing that would make it more bearable is if Wesley were there to receive it with him.

"Have a seat and I'll send Sally out with menus."

Giles and Cordelia chatted with both Sally and Graham as they ate. The pub began to fill up with the lunch crowd and, after awhile, the bartender and waitress had their hands full with other customers.

"I like them." Cordelia said as she watched them work.

"As do I." Giles agreed.

They finished their lunch and said goodbye to Graham and Sally as they left.

* * * * *

Two days later, Wesley made his way to the Sunnydale Museum. Buffy had said to act as he would if he were truly dating her. He planned on showing enough affection that this Jason fellow would leave Buffy alone.

Buffy was working in the office when she noticed that everything had gotten quiet. She turned to see what was the matter. When she saw what was causing the commotion, she was confused, and a little delighted. If this didn't make Jason leave her alone, she was staking him--'cause nothing else was going to work.

Wesley stopped in the doorway in an attempt to find Buffy. He became aware of the scrutiny that he was under and had to force himself not to fidget and give the game away.

Buffy was trying to reconcile the somewhat dorky, ex-watcher she had known with the man that was standing in the doorway. Wesley was dressed in a charcoal gray double-breasted suit. His hair was slightly mussed and he had the beginnings of a goatee. He looked--*hot*. She shook her head. Now that was just plain weird. Wesley and hot were not two words that she would have used in the same sentence together. Just then, He spotted her and moved towards her. She couldn't help but notice the roses he had in his hand.

"Hello, darling. I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner, but my plane was delayed." Wesley leaned down and kissed Buffy with as much speed as he could manage and still make it romantic. He really didn't want her to stake him when they were done with this charade.

He handed her the roses with a flourish.

"Um, thanks." Buffy managed to mumble out without blowing the whole thing. She took a deep fortifying breath. Well--she had told him to treat her like one of his girlfriends. Who knew he treated his girlfriends like this?

"Buffy, aren't you going to introduce everyone to your gentleman friend?" Lisa, a girl from the office next door, asked.

Buffy almost smacked herself on the head. Of course. Here she is standing around, looking dumb, and Wesley was trying his best to live up to *her* plan.

"Sure, Lisa." Buffy replied as she found her mental footing. "This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce." She wasn't sure where to go from here. She *really* wanted to go, but didn't know how to do it without blowing the whole thing.

"It's a pleasure to meet all of you." Wesley said as his gaze took in the entire room. "But I've made dinner reservations for the two of us and we really must go." Wesley turned to Buffy and offered her his arm, hoping she wouldn't be upset as his announcement. He could see she wanted to leave and that was the first thing that popped into his head.

A commotion was heard outside the door and Jason came in.

"Buffy, I was wondering if you'd like to--?" Jason stopped when he saw Buffy holding the arm of a man he's had never seen before. "Who are you?" He asked before he could stop himself.

"Jason, this is Wesley. Wesley, this is Jason." Buffy hastily made introductions.

Wesley held his hand out. So this was the bugger that was bothering Buffy.

He disliked him on sight.

Jason shook Wesley's hand as he tried to figure out who this guy was. He looked Wesley up and down. Didn't seem like much, he thought to himself.

Unbeknownst to Jason, Wesley was thinking the same thing. Jason wasn't much and, if Wesley had his way, he wouldn't be bothering Buffy anymore.

"So you're the fellow that Buffy has been telling me about." Wesley said as he let go of the other man's hand.

"Buffy talked about me?"

"Yes. I was sure she had misunderstood your intentions. After all, she told you she was seeing someone." Wesley said with a hint of steel touching his voice. He couldn't threaten the git, Buffy would kill him. But she wanted it known she had a boyfriend, so he was making it known.

"What do you mean?" Jason wasn't exactly what could be called the sharpest crayon in the box, so he still hadn't grasped the idea of Buffy and Wesley as a couple.

Wesley marveled at the obtuseness of the man standing before him. He looked at Buffy. There was only so far he could go without her approval and he had reached that limit. If she wanted anything more, she had to approve it. Buffy looked at him for a split-second and nodded her head slightly. Apparently, she *wouldn't* kill him if he threatened the pillock. Wesley grinned inside.

"She told me you had been making unwanted advances towards her. Is that true? I only ask this as a matter of courtesy, because if Buffy says that's what you've done, I believe her." The steel in Wesley's voice was quite a bit more than a hint this time.

"I've asked her out a couple of times." Jason said. His manner became more cautious as he began to realize he might be in trouble.

"And when she said no, did you cease?" Wesley asked.

"Sort of." Jason replied carefully.

"I'll take that as a no." Wesley stepped closer to the younger man. "Understand this, because I do no intend to repeat myself. Do not make any more untoward advances to Buffy. I would take it very personally if you did." Wesley stepped back before speaking again. "Besides, if I didn't teach you a few manners next time, Buffy most certainly would!" Wesley finished with a charming smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. He turned to Buffy.

"Shall we go, my dear." He offered her his arm again and they turned, leaving the office, and it's occupants, in a stunned silence.

* * * * *

Wesley led Buffy to a late model sedan that was parked by the curb.

"Is this yours?" Buffy asked.

"A rental. I was trying to project a certain air and I didn't think a motorbike would go with the suit." Wesley said with a smile.

"Oh, I don't know." Buffy grinned. "I think the bike is kinda cool."

Wesley opened the door for Buffy and then went around to his side of the car.

"Buffy please open the glove box. Take out the letter inside," Wesley said as he pulled into traffic.

Buffy did as he asked and was surprised to find an envelope with her name on it. She grew suspicious when she realized it was a legal size envelope.

"What's this, Wes?"

"Open it and find out." He never looked away from the road, but he gripped the steering wheel in an attempt to hide his apprehension.

Buffy opened the envelope and read the contents.

"Stop the car!" Buffy demanded when she finished.

Wesley did as she asked and pulled in front of a deserted building. He engaged the electric locks when she tried to get out.

"Let me out!" Buffy said through gritted teeth.

"I can't do that until we've talked about this." Wesley was trying to stay calm. He had assumed Buffy would be upset, now he had to make her see reason.

"I told you I didn't want your help," she delivered in a low voice.

"I know that," he answered patiently. "But, think about this for a moment. Did you really think I would let you lose your home without trying to help."

"I expected you to listen to me," she retorted. "I didn't want this." She waved the papers that informed her the mortgage on her home had been paid in full.

"I know you didn't." Wesley was trying to be reasonable.

"Then why did you do it?"

Wesley stared at the road in front of him. How could he tell her that seeing a woman of her strength that close to tears was heartbreaking. That house was the only thing she had left of her mother and she had been in imminent danger of losing it. What kind of man would he have been if he *hadn't* helped her?

"Wesley?" Buffy broke into his thoughts.

"I couldn't allow you to lose your home, Buffy," he answered in a quiet voice.

"Why?"

"Because you've lost so much already. How could I stand by and let you lose your home when I had it in my power to save it? Besides, have you thought of Dawn?"

"What do you mean?" Buffy's tone was slightly defensive. She was trying so hard with her sister.

"I did not mean that as a criticism," Wesley assured her. "I simply meant that it would be tremendously hard on her to lose the only home she has known, false memories aside."

"I know that."

"Yes, well," he continued. "Have you considered that it will be that much harder to keep custody of her if you do not have a home."

"We could rent someplace."

"Buffy, think about it. You are having trouble making ends meet as it is. If you had to pay rent every month, it would be that much harder. At least, with your home, the money you spend for the monthly upkeep is going toward something you own."

She bit her lip. She had had this argument with herself every time she thought about moving. On one hand, she was furious with him for ignoring her wishes. On the other, she felt a huge relief at knowing the bank wouldn't be taking the house; but she was tired of owing people.

"Take it back." The demand sounded half-hearted, even to her ears.

"I'm afraid that's not an option." Wesley told her with a slight smile. "I don't believe the bank will give the money back because you don't want to take a loan from me."

He was right, and she hated that he was right. Of course, if she was honest with herself, she was also ecstatic that he was right.

She sighed.

"Okay. But I'm paying you back." She dared him to deny her that.

"I would expect no less." Relief flooded through him. He'd been afraid she was going to be much harder to convince.

"We'll set up papers and everything."

"Of course." He had no intention of telling her this, but papers didn't mean anything if he didn't enforce them and he didn't plan to force her to pay anything back. If she did, fine. If she didn't that was fine as well.

Buffy looked slightly suspicious as his calm acceptance of her demands, but let it pass.

"Where did you get the money?" If he had asked Giles, she was going to kill him.

"I didn't ask Giles, if that is your concern." Wesley answered as though he had read her mind. "I called in a few favors."

"What kind of favors?"

Wesley shifted uncomfortably.

"Wes, out with it!" Buffy demanded.

"I talked to my family."

"You didn't ask your father, did you?" She would have been surprised if he had, because from the little bit she had gotten from him he didn't get along with his father.

"No, not my father." Wesley said. "Would you like to eat now?" He tried to distract her.

"Sure, but I still want to know where you got eight thousand dollars." Buffy wasn't that easily distracted.

Wesley sighed.

"I spoke with my mother," he said.

Buffy began to ask more questions, but decided against it. He didn't sound like he really wanted to talk about it and after all he had done for her today, the least she could do was leave him some privacy.

"Well, I just want to say thank you. I didn't know what I was going to do."

"You're welcome." He said as he maneuvered the car back on the road.

They went to a quiet restaurant and had dinner before he dropped her off at home and headed back to L.A.

* * * * *

Willow met her at the door.

"Was that Wesley I saw dropping you off?"

"Yeah." Buffy answered as she kicked off her shoes and collapsed on the sofa.

"What was he doing here?"

"Doing me a favor." She thought for a moment. "Actually, two favors."

"What did he do?" Willow sat down and tucked her feet underneath her.

"Do you remember that guy, Jason, I've been telling you about? The one that won't leave me alone."

"Yeah, you said you were going to stake him if he didn't ease up."

"Well, I don't think I'm gonna have to do that."

"Why?"

"Wesley came by the office today and did a little playacting." Buffy leaned her head against the back of the sofa.

"Okay--I'm totally lost now. Why did he playact? And what did he playact?" Willow asked.

"I talked to Wes a couple of days ago and asked him if he would pretend to be my boyfriend to try and get Jason to leave me alone. He did and hopefully it worked. I'll know tomorrow."

"You said two favors, what was the other one?"

"He paid off the mortgage on the house."

"He did WHAT!" Willow exclaimed.

Buffy repeated it.

"But, you owed eight thousand dollars!" Willow couldn't believe that Wesley had come through for Buffy. They had been trying to figure out a way to pay the loan, but hadn't come up with anything.

"I know. And he won't tell me exactly where he got the money, he just said he talked to his mom, which I gathered wasn't a great mother/son moment."

"Wow." Willow was rarely at a loss for words, but she found herself in that position now.

"Wow is right. This is such a relief. Even if I did tell him I was going to pay him back." Buffy stood up. "I'll see you in the morning, Wills. I'm going to do a quick patrol and then go to bed."

"Okay, see you tomorrow."

Willow headed upstairs as Buffy went on patrol.

* * * * *

Wesley was translating a scroll of obscure origins when he heard a knock on his door.

"Come in."

Fred stuck her head in the door.

"I brought your mail." She came in and laid it on his desk. "It looks like an invitation."

He picked up the plain envelope and saw the Sunnydale return address. He had spoken to Buffy a couple of times, but hadn't seen her since the day of their charade. He slit the envelope open with a silver letter opener on his desk.

"Buffy is inviting us to Dawn's 16th birthday party."

"All of us?" Fred asked. She had met Buffy once and talked to her a few times. She seemed really nice.

"Yes," he replied as he continued to read. "It's one week from this Saturday."

"Maybe we can all go?" She suggested.

"Perhaps." He wasn't sure that Angel would want to go. It was still uncomfortable for the vampire to be around the people in Sunnydale, not just Buffy.

"I'll go tell Angel and Gunn."

"Why don't you let me tell Angel." He suspected that Angel would want a bit of privacy.

"Okay. Let me know what he says." Fred replied as she headed out to find Gunn.

Wesley carefully folded the scroll and placed it in a drawer for safekeeping. Then he went looking for Angel.

* * * * *

"Angel?" Wesley called softly from the doorway of Angel's room, moving quietly in case the vampire was putting Connor down for a nap.

"Come in, Wes." Angel said from his position by Connor's crib.

Wesley walked into the room and stopped by the crib. Every time he looked at this child, he thought about how his very existence went against everything that was thought possible. He truly was a gift.

"What did you need?" Angel asked.

"I wanted to let you know that I received a invitation from Buffy inviting all of us to Dawn's 16th birthday party." Wesley pulled his attention away from Connor.

"And?"

"I need to let her know who will be coming. Fred obviously wants to go and I 'm sure Gunn will go with her. What should I tell Buffy concerning your presence?"

Angel was silent for a long moment. He still cared a great deal for Buffy, but he also knew that he didn't want to see her. It caused them both too much pain and this was supposed to be a happy occasion. "Are you going?" he asked.

"I plan to attend if nothing interferes." Wesley answered cautiously.

"Then it's settled." Angel turned back to the crib. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on things."

"Very well."

"Wes?"

"Yes, Angel."

Angel hesitated for a split-second. "Wish Dawn a happy birthday for me."

"I will."

* * * * *

Wesley picked up the phone in his office. He needed to let Buffy know who was coming to the party. He heard the phone on the other end ring several times and was about to hang up when someone picked up.

"Hello?"

"Dawn?"

"Yeah. Wesley, is that you?" Dawn sounded pleasantly surprised.

"Yes it is. How are you?" Wesley asked.

"I'm good. How 'bout you?" Dawn replied.

"Very well, thank you. Is Buffy home?"

"Yes. Hold on a sec." Wesley heard the younger Summers sister calling to Buffy. There was a pause and then he heard the phone being picked up.

"Hey, Wes," Buffy greeted him, her tone warm.

"Hello, Buffy." Wesley couldn't stop his flush of pleasure at the welcome in her voice. "How are you?"

"Doing good. How's everything in L.A.?"

"Fine. I wished to let you know we received your invitation in the mail."

"Great!" Buffy grinned. "Are you coming?"

"I'm not sure about Cordelia and Giles. But Gunn, Fred and I will be there," Wesley assured her.

"Not Angel?"

"No. He asked me to wish Dawn a happy birthday, but he wouldn't be able to make it."

"Oh." Buffy sounded--subdued.

"Buffy, are you all right?" Wesley asked, concern coloring his words.

"I'm fine. I just thought--."

"Thought what?"

"I just thought we'd be able to get past everything." She sighed. "I guess not."

"I don't think it's a matter of getting past anything, Buffy."

"Then what is it?"

"Angel still cares a great deal for you, Buffy." Wesley felt the need to explain what he thought the vampire's motives were. Both to defend Angel and ease Buffy's pain. "It hurts him when he sees you. Not only because of what he did, but because he can't give you what he so desperately wants for you."

"A normal life." Buffy drew in a deep breath as she wondered if she would ever be allowed that. And what else would she have to sacrifice in order to get it?

"Among other things, yes." Wesley removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He hated seeing his friends in pain.

Buffy sighed again. "Well, I understand. Doesn't mean I'm happy about it, but I do understand." She changed the subject. Putting Wes on the spot wouldn't help matters. "You are coming to Dawn's party, right?"

"Yes. Unless something occurs that will prevent it." Wesley never ruled out the unexpected.

"Nothing had better happen, understood?" Buffy ordered playfully.

Wesley put back on his glasses and grinned. "Understood." He hesitated for a moment. "Um, Buffy--?"

"Yeah?"

"Is everything else going well?"

"Actually, everything's going pretty good. Dawn's doing better in school. She's actually getting compared to me in a good way."

"In a good way?" He was puzzled.

"Yeah, you know--'you're nothing like your sister. You're so well behaved'. She's getting good grades and everything." Buffy sounded very proud of her younger sister.

Wesley chuckled. "It sounds as though you're doing very well with her," he complimented her.

"I'm not really doing anything." Buffy protested.

He felt the need to point out her accomplishments. "Buffy, you're providing her with a loving and stable home in the face of incredible odds. I would say you could take some of the credit for how well she is turning out."

"Thanks, Wes." She sounded slightly embarrassed.

"You're welcome." Wesley chuckled at the tone of Buffy's voice. "But I was also wondering if you were having any more problems with that Jason fellow."

"Nope. So far he's been leaving me alone. I'm not sure if it was the threat by you or the fact you implied I could hurt him." Buffy laughed. "Either way, he's steered clear. But everyone else is wanting to know when you're coming back. I told them you work out of town, but I don't know if they're buying it."

"And if they don't?"

"I don't know. I guess I'll deal with that when, and if, it happens."

"If you need me for anything--." Wesley began.

"Thanks, Wes. I appreciate it. I really do. But I can't keep asking you to bail me out of the messes of my life."

"You're not asking, Buffy. I'm offering." Wesley insisted. "I would be very put out if you needed something and did not ask because you felt you were imposing."

"Okay. If I need anything, I'll let you know."

"Good." Wesley nodded. "Well, I suppose I will see you then."

"Cool. I'll see you. I need to find out if Giles and Cordelia are coming."

"I will let you go then. Goodbye, Buffy."

"Bye, Wes."

* * * * *

Cordelia was opening the mail when Giles came through the door.

"Hey, handsome." Cordelia greeted him as she moved into his arms.

"Hello, luv." Giles returned as he kissed her.

"How was your day?" she asked when she came up for air.

"It went rather well." Giles hung up his coat and put his briefcase in the hall closet. He didn't plan on working tonight.

"We got an invite to Dawn's birthday party." She told him as they moved into the living room.

"When is it?" Giles asked, settling down on the sofa and pulling her down next to him.

"A week from this Saturday." She snuggled up next to him. "I want to go. A girl only turns 16 once and I want to see Dawn. I haven't seen her since we came back from our honeymoon."

"Then we should go."

Cordelia was about to speak when the phone rang. She untangled herself from her husband with a groan and went to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Cordy?"

"Hey, Buffy." She sat back down beside Giles. "What's up?"

"I wanted to know if you got my invitation to Dawn's party?"

"Yeah, we did. In fact, we were just talking about it." Cordelia settled back against her husband.

"Are you coming?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah. Do you need us to bring anything?"

"No. I think we've got it all covered."

"Okay. Did you need to talk to Giles?" Cordelia looked at him as she asked the question.

"Yes, please."

Cordelia handed Giles the phone and told him she was going to start dinner.

"Hello, Buffy." Giles watched Cordelia walk into the kitchen.

"Hey, Giles."

"What can I do for you?" He reluctantly looked away from his wife and turned his attention to his Slayer.

"I was wondering if you had time to see me this weekend." Buffy's voice sounded-strained.

"Do you need me to come to Sunnydale?" Giles asked. His tone indicating he would if she needed him to.

"No," she rushed to assure him. "I'll come to L.A., if you have time."

"Certainly I'll have time. I always have time for you, you know that." Giles chided her gently.

"I know." Buffy smiled at the affection she heard in his voice. "I just didn't want to interrupt anything if you and Cordelia had plans."

"As a matter-of-fact, I have to work for a short time Saturday morning." Giles made a mental note to rearrange his work schedule for Saturday to make it a short day. "Cordelia and I have nothing planned for this weekend." That was the truth. He'd planned to work all day Saturday. "When do you need to see me?"

"I can be there Saturday afternoon. I just need to talk to you." She assured him.

Giles was concerned, nonetheless. For Buffy to come to Los Angeles just to talk to him was not something that was conducive to an unworried mind.

"Very well." He didn't let any of his anxiety color his voice. "I shall see you Saturday."

"Okay. I'll talk to you then."

"Goodbye, Buffy. Tell the others I send my love." It was still hard for Giles to speak openly about his feelings, but Cordelia had taught him that he mustn't hold back from the people he cared about.

"Will do." Buffy was unused to hearing him voice his feelings, but she enjoyed hearing him say them. "Bye, Giles."

Giles hung up the phone and sat staring at nothing until his wife's voice broke his reverie.

"What are you thinking about?" She'd come back into the living room to see if his call was done. Since they had been married, her culinary skills had improved, but Giles liked to cook so she came to get his help. One of her favorite times of the day was helping him in the kitchen.

"Buffy is coming to town Saturday."

"And?"

"She wishes to speak with me." Giles said as he stood up and followed her into the kitchen.

"About what?"

"I don't know. She asked if I would mind her coming here and I told her no."

"Why would she ask?"

"She said she didn't want to interrupt any plans we might have made."

"Maybe that means it's not a world-ending problem." Cordelia guessed.

"One can only hope." Giles smiled.

"So, what do you want to do tonight?" The question was asked with exaggerated innocence.

"I don't know. Did you have something in mind?" Giles played along.

"Well, I thought maybe we could--." She leaned over and whispered in his ear.

Giles flushed and opened his mouth. Nothing came out. He cleared his throat and tried again.

"I think I could be persuaded to do that," he croaked out.

Cordelia just smiled wickedly.

* * * * *

Wesley was finishing up for the day when his phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Wes?"

"Hello, Buffy." He smiled. "To what do I owe the pleasure of speaking to you twice in one day?"

"I forgot to ask you what you're doing Saturday night." Buffy told him.

"I don't have anything planned at the moment. Why?"

"Well, I'm going to be in town. I have to talk to Giles and I thought I'd take you to dinner. Sort of a 'thank you' for what you did for me." Buffy really wanted to show him how much she appreciated what he'd done for her.

"You don't have to thank me, Buffy." Wesley told her quickly.

"I know I don't. I want to." Buffy insisted. "Just remember I'm raising a teenager on a single income."

Wesley laughed. "I'm sure we can find someplace that is compatible with your means."

"Cool. So, I'll see you Saturday?"

"Certainly. How does five o'clock sound?"

"Sounds good. Where should I meet you?"

"Why not my apartment?" Wesley suggested.

"Fine by me. I'll see you then. 'Bye, Wes." Buffy hung up with a smile on her face.

"Goodbye, Buffy." Wesley did the same.

* * * * *

Buffy knocked on Giles' door Saturday afternoon. She heard someone moving around inside, but no one answered. She tried the doorknob--it turned easily in her hand. She entered cautiously, unsure what was going on, but not taking any chances. If there was something bad in here, she wanted to take it by surprise. Hearing movement upstairs, she headed in that direction. When she got to the top, she stopped and listened. The sounds were coming from the bathroom. She pushed the door open slowly--Cordelia was on her knees in front of the toilet.

"Are you all right?" Buffy came into the bathroom.

"Aarrgghh!" Cordelia jumped. "God, Buffy! Why don't you just shoot me with a crossbow next time? It'd be quicker." She slumped down on the floor.

Buffy ignored her tone as she wet a washcloth and handed it to her.

"Are you okay?"

"Do I look okay? I've been puking for the past ten minutes."

"Are you sick?" Buffy had no idea how, or why, she was ignoring Cordelia's bitchy tone, but getting mad didn't seem to be an option right now. What happened next almost stunned her speechless.

Cordelia looked at her for a minute before she burst out crying.

"Cordelia? Cordy, what's wrong?" Buffy fought the urge to panic. She wasn' t good with tears.

"I'm not sure, but I think--I think--." Cordelia couldn't get anything else out. The tears were making speaking almost impossible.

Buffy sat down beside her and took her hand. "Okay, take a deep breath and tell me what's wrong?"

Cordelia took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Buffy watched as the self-assured woman that she knew her to be slowly came back into control. It was as if the crying spell of minutes before hadn't happened.

"Can you tell me what's wrong now?" The Slayer prompted.

"Just let me get this taste out of my mouth first." Cordelia stood and rinsed her mouth out at the sink before she sat back down on the floor.

"I'm late, Buffy."

Buffy couldn't believe she was having this talk with Cordy, of all people. "How late?"

"Two weeks." The brunette leaned her head back against the tub and closed her eyes. "I think I'm pregnant," she said softly.

Buffy wasn't sure what to say, but for some reason, she didn't think congratulations was what Cordelia wanted to hear. "Does Giles know?"

"No." Cordelia replied, not adding anything else.

Buffy wasn't really sure what to say to that quiet answer. But she asked the question that she knew her Watcher would. "Why haven't you told him?"

Cordelia looked to be close to tears again, but she sucked it up and managed not to cry. "Because I don't know how he'll react."

"Come on, Cordy. You know that Giles would love any child you two brought into this world." Buffy protested.

"I know he'd love our child. He doesn't have it in him not to." Cordelia sighed. "That's not what worries me."

"What exactly has you so worried?" The Slayer couldn't understand why Cordelia was so scared to tell Giles. "You know he loves you--you know he' ll love this child."

"I know he loves me and he'll love this baby." Cordelia closed her eyes again. Being nauseous always gave her a raging headache. "But I also know that he's going to worry about something happening to the baby. I mean, the biggest arguments we've ever had have been about the danger we put ourselves in. How much more is he going to worry when there's a baby to think about?"

"Cordy, you'll work it out." Buffy patted her hand awkwardly.

"How do you know that?" The other woman desperately needed reassurance.

"Cordelia, I've never seen Giles happier than when he's with you." Buffy gave her a small smile and half-shrugged. "I wasn't sure that you *would* make him happy, but I bit my tongue."

"I noticed." Cordelia observed wryly.

Buffy gave her another small smile.

"I'll always regret that I made him choose between me and Jenny." Buffy scrubbed her hands wearily over her eyes. She was not proud of how she'd acted then. "It was small, selfish and totally unfair to him. I promised myself that I wouldn't do that again. When he told me that he was in love with you, my first reaction was 'Cordelia?!'. But I didn't interfere." She dropped her hands to look at the dark-haired Seer. "I've never been so glad to be wrong. You make him happy, Cordelia. This baby will make him happy." Buffy grinned. "You may have to pick him up off the floor first, but he will be happy."

"I hope so." Cordelia sighed. "Of course, I'm not sure I'm pregnant yet."

"Do you have a home pregnancy test?"

"No."

"Why not?" Buffy asked.

"Because I'm not sure how the demon aspect of my body chemistry with react with something like that. I could get a false reading, or no reading at all."

"I hadn't thought about that." Buffy admitted.

"Yeah, well I kinda have to." Cordelia replied in as patient of a tone as she could manage. "I'm going to see Lorne and find out if he knows anything."

"How long will that take?"

"I don't know. I'll go see him today while you're with Giles." Cordelia glanced at her. "Buffy, please don't say anything until I find out for sure." She looked at the Slayer with pleading eyes. "Please?"

"You're asking me to lie to him?" Buffy shifted uncomfortably.

"No. If he asks you if you think I'm pregnant, tell him what you know. All I 'm asking is that you don't volunteer and you make him ask the exact right question before you tell him."

"You're splitting hairs, Cordelia." Buffy insisted. She didn't want to keep anything from her Watcher.

"Just give me until after Dawn's birthday party. I'm sure I'll know something by then," She pleaded.

Buffy was torn. She didn't want to lie to Giles, but she knew that Cordelia was just trying to find out for sure before she told him anything.

"I tell you what--if I don't know anything by next Saturday, I'll tell Giles anyway."

"Okay. You've got until then. I promised him no more secrets."

"Deal. I'll tell him one way or the other next Saturday." Cordelia promised.

"Okay." Buffy stood up and offered her a hand up. "Let's get you cleaned up. Otherwise, Giles is going to think I'm abusing his wife."

"We can't have that." Cordelia gave a soggy chuckle as she let Buffy pull her to her feet.

* * * * *

When Giles got home a little while later, Cordelia and Buffy were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and chatting like old friends. It never ceased to amaze him that they got along so well now. He kissed Cordelia and greeted Buffy with a hug.

"Hello, Buffy."

"Hey, Giles."

He poured himself a cup of tea that Cordelia had made for him and sat down opposite his Slayer.

"I've got to run some errands." Cordelia said as she stood up. "Buffy, I'll see you next week?"

"Yep." The Slayer nodded.

Cordelia gave Giles a quick kiss goodbye and left.

"So, what did you need to speak to me about?" He asked as he heard the front door close behind his wife.

"Actually, I wanted to tell you something that I had been keeping from you," Buffy said with more than a little hint of nervousness.

"What kind of thing?" He asked carefully.

"The kind of thing that would hurt your feelings if you heard it from someone else." Buff couldn't meet his eyes.

"What is it?" Giles kept his tone neutral.

"I called Wesley for help."

"And why would that hurt my feelings?" Giles asked patiently.

"Well, part of it wouldn't." Buffy admitted. "I needed Wesley's help discouraging a guy at work that doesn't understand the word no."

"Just for curiosity's sake, how did he help?" Giles interest was peaked. The thought of Buffy going to Wesley for a favor was definitely unusual.

"He pretended to be my boyfriend."

Giles couldn't help it; he laughed. The thought of her asking Wesley Wyndham-Pryce to pose as her significant other amused him.

"Ha, ha." Buffy, however, was not amused. "You think it's funny, but we pulled it off. I think a couple of the girls at the museum even have crushes on him now," she informed her Watcher haughtily.

"I apologize." He got himself under control. "But that doesn't sound like something that would be such a burden on your conscience."

"That's not the part I kept from you." She was nervous again.

"Then what?" Giles was getting a sense of forboding.

"I was about to lose the house." She held her breath and waited.

"You were WHAT?!?" Giles stopped himself from yelling--barely.

"Mom took out a mortgage on the house that I didn't know about." Buffy explained quietly. "She had most of it paid off, but there was still a little left and the bank was going to foreclose because of nonpayment."

"How much?" He asked tightly.

"Eight thousand dollars," was the soft answer.

"Are you still in danger of losing your home?" Giles asked evenly.

"No. Wesley helped." Buffy was unaware of how amazed she sounded. She still had trouble believing that Wesley had done.

"And how, pray tell, did he do that?" On one hand Giles was happy that Wesley had been there for Buffy and Dawn. But on the other, he was disappointed, and hurt, that Buffy had felt she couldn't come to him. Neither feeling showed on his face or in his voice.

"I'm not sure exactly." Buffy replied, unaware of her Watcher's thoughts. "I think he asked his family."

"Surely not his father?" Giles asked. He was so surprised by that little announcement, that he momentarily forgot his ire at her.

"No, I don't think it was his dad." She paused for a moment. She didn't know what the deal was with Wes' family, but apparently even Giles knew that he didn't get along with his father. "He said he talked to his mother."

"His mother?" Giles was even more surprised. From what he had heard when he was in England, Wesley had less contact with his mother than he had with his father.

"That's what he said." Buffy shrugged.

"Why didn't you come to me?" Giles asked, Wesley's familial troubles put aside.

"Because you've already had to bail me out of so many messes that I didn't want to ask you to do it again," she said as if that explained it perfectly.

"But you were willing to ask Wesley." This time he was unable to keep the hurt out of his voice.

"No." She had to make him understand. "I didn't ask him. In fact, I told him I didn't want his help with the mortgage."

"But you told him about it?" He prompted.

"It came out, Giles. I was asking for his help with Jason and it slipped out." She sighed and blew her bangs out of her eyes. "I started crying and when he asked what was wrong so I told him."

"You were crying?" Giles could count on one hand the number of times he had seen his Slayer upset enough to cry.

"Yeah, the frustration got to me and I started crying." She was still disgusted with herself about that.

"And he offered to help?"

"Yes. I told him no."

"But he ignored you?"

"Well, I thought at the time he hadn't. But after we did our thing with Jason, we were going to dinner and that's when I found out what he'd done."

"And?"

Buffy flushed. "I told him to take it back."

"I take it he refused?" Giles raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah." She laughed. "He said that he didn't think the bank would give the money back just because I didn't want to take a loan from him."

Giles chuckled.

"Anyway, I thanked him and told him I would pay him back." Buffy finished.

"I'm glad he was able to help you, Buffy," He said. "But I do wish you had come to me."

"I told you. I didn't want you to bail me out," she insisted again.

"What would you have done if Wesley hadn't aided you?" Giles asked, wondering what her answer would be.

"I don't know." She sighed. "I probably would have ended up coming to you anyway, even though I didn't want to."

"I am relieved to know that," he replied as he sipped his tea. "I would never want you to feel as though you were imposing."

"It's not that I thought you would mind. It's just that--" she trailed off.

"I understand." He nodded. "You wanted to prove that you were an adult and could handle things on your own."

"Yeah, not doing a very good job, am I?" she said morosely.

"As a matter of fact, I think you are doing very well," he assured her. "Just know you can come to me for *anything*."

"I know." She looked at her watch. "Oh man, I've gotta go. I promised Wesley I'd meet him for dinner tonight."

"You're meeting him for dinner?" This day was just full of surprises.

"Yes. I wanted to thank him for everything he did."

"That is very--kind--of you." Giles wondered just what was going on between his Slayer and Wesley.

"Not really. Jason would still be giving me grief if it weren't for Wesley. Taking him to dinner is the least I can do." She hugged him and was out the door before he could say anything else.

Giles sat down on the sofa with a huge sigh.

"Dennis?"

Papers fluttered on the coffee table.

"I wanted to be certain I was still in the same dimension." He shook his head ruefully. "Wonders will never cease."

* * * * *

Cordelia looked for Lorne at the café where they had agreed to meet. She *really* didn't want to have this conversation at the hotel. She saw him sitting at a table in the corner. It was just as well, even in L.A., he sometimes drew stares.

"Hi, sweetums. What's the secret powwow about?" Lorne asked her as she sat down.

"I've got a big problem and I need your help."

"What kind of problem?" He asked with unease. He knew the kind of problems this group of people could come up with.

"I think I'm--I mean I need to find out--." She broke off in frustration.

"Sweetie, spit it out."

"I think I'm pregnant." Cordelia said in a rush.

"You're pregnant?" He was stunned.

"I think," she clarified.

"What exactly do you want from me?"

"I don't know how my demonness is going to react to any conventional test. Do you?"

"Gynecology is not exactly my area of expertise," Lorne replied carefully.

"I know that." Exasperation with him was inescapable.

"Why me?" he asked, thoroughly confused.

"You're the only one I know that I can ask." She said it as though it made all the sense in the world.

"What about your husband?" he reminded her. "He's the Yoda of research."

"I don't want to say anything to him until I'm sure." Cordelia hedged.

"Cordelia?" Lorne asked suspiciously.

"It's true!" She defended herself. "I don't want to worry him needlessly. Anyway, I already promised Buffy that I would tell him next Saturday no matter what."

He looked at her for a long minute before shaking his head. "Fine. I'll see what I can find out."

"Thank you!" She hugged him.

"You're welcome." He hugged her back and wondered what he'd gotten himself into.

* * * * *

Buffy knocked on Wesley's door a little after the agreed time.

Wesley opened the door and let her in. He had shaving cream slathered on his face and a towel around his neck--and no shirt.

"We did say five o'clock, right?" Buffy asked, trying not to look at his bare chest. It was hard, though. Even if the good body didn't catch your eye, the scars would.

"Yes we did." Wesley said as he turned back to his bedroom. "I was running a bit late today, I'm afraid."

"No biggie." Buffy sat down on the sofa. "Do you know where you want to go for dinner?"

"You're letting me choose?" Wesley's voice drifted out to her.

"Yeah. It's your thank-you present, so I thought I'd let you pick where we go."

Wesley came back into the living room as he finished buttoning his shirt. The shirt was a midnight blue that brought out his eyes. Buffy was struck again by how good-looking he was. She grinned to herself. If she hadn't met Quentin Travers, she would have been tempted to go to England just to see if all Englishmen were as handsome as Giles and Wesley.

Wesley locked his apartment and followed Buffy out to his bike.

"Are you sure you don't mind riding this? I can certainly call a cab for tonight." Wesley told her.

"No. I like motorcycles. Just tell me where we're going before I get on." Buffy took the helmet he handed her.

"There is a pub that I like to frequent." He settled his own helmet in place. "It had good food and a quiet atmosphere. I thought that might be something you would enjoy."

"That sounds nice. I've never been in a pub before. Is it like a bar?" Wesley swung one leg over the bike and sat down.

"Somewhat. But the gentleman who runs it is English and it has touches of home."

"Let's ride, then, 'cause I'm starving." Buffy said as she settled herself behind Wesley.

* * * * *

Wesley led Buffy into the dimly lit interior of the pub. She told him she needed to go to the ladies room and left him to find a table.

"Wes! How are you, mate?" Graham greeted him.

"I'm just fine, Graham." Wesley smiled at the bartender. "I'd like a table for two."

"Is Giles with you tonight?" The man behind the bar looked around.

"Not tonight, I'm afraid. I'm with another friend."

Just then Buffy came up to stand beside him.

"Ahh, a much prettier friend than old Rupert, I'd say." Graham chuckled.

"I think I'm going to like him." She grinned at Graham.

"Don't listen to a word he says." Sally told her as she came to put her drink order in. "He talks that way to all the pretty girls."

"But you're the only pretty girl that has my heart, my darlin'" Graham told the waitress saucily.

"Flattery will get you nowhere." Sally laughed. She saw another customer calling to her. "I'll come back for those drinks."

Graham's eyes followed the red-headed waitress with an intensity that Buffy couldn't help but notice. He shook his head and brought his attention back to Wesley and Buffy. "Have a seat, Wes. I'll have someone bring out a pint for you and your lady."

"She's not my--." Wes began to protest.

"Actually, I'll have a coke if it's not too much trouble." Buffy interrupted.

"A pint and a coke it is. I'll have menus brought out as well."

Buffy and Wesley found a table in the corner. Buffy liked being able to see the whole room, people-watching was one of her favorite pastimes.

The waitress came over with the drinks and menus.

"I'll be right back for your order," she told them.

"Okay, thanks." Buffy began to look at the menu. She was really hungry.

"Thank you." Wesley nodded to the waitress.

After they ordered, She leaned back and took a good, long look at him. He seemed more comfortable here. She had gotten used to the more laid-back Wesley, but he seemed to let even more of his guard down here.

"You really like this place, don't you?"

"Yes I do." He looked around. "It reminds me of home."

She thought about that. Sometimes she forgot that Wesley and Giles hadn't had a choice in coming to America. They had been sent, taken away from everything they had known, all to take care of a girl that didn't appreciate or thank them.

"I'm sorry," she said in a quiet voice.

Wesley almost missed the comment because of the noise in the pub, but he was sure he had heard her right when he saw her face.

"Whatever are you sorry for?" He sounded truly baffled.

"For not realized what you and Giles gave up to come here and be my Watchers. For not appreciating it." Buffy took a sip of her drink to help swallow the lump in her throat.

"Buffy--." Wesley wasn't sure where this contrition was coming from. "I admit that I was somewhat culture-shocked when I first arrived in California."

Buffy couldn't help it--she laughed. That was an understatement.

Wesley chuckled. "As I was saying, I was not prepared for life in California. And I will also admit that there are times I still long for England. But do not apologize for not welcoming me with open arms." Wesley held up a hand to stop her from speaking. "Now, that is not to say that it would not have been appreciated at the time. And perhaps, if we had gotten off to a better start, things might have been different." He stopped to take a sip of his beer. "But I have told you before that we are where we are meant to be. I have to believe that everything that happened in Sunnydale happened for a reason. If I didn't, I would drive myself insane with what-ifs."

She thought about what he had said decided he was right. Maybe things were the way they were supposed to be. "Okay." She nodded her head. "But I still want to apologize for being such a bitca."

"Apology accepted." He smiled. "Now, let's order--I'm starved."

She decided what she wanted and Wesley order for them both when the waitress came around.

"Hey, this is really good." Buffy said after taking a bite.

"Don't sound so surprised." Wesley teased her. "I wouldn't bring you someplace that didn't serve good food."

Buffy grinned at him.

After they ate and paid the bill, Buffy suggested they walk back to his apartment.

"Are you sure?" Wesley asked her. "We both know what's out and about at night."

"I'm sure." Buffy told him. "I think a rogue demon hunter and a vampire slayer can handle anything L.A. can throw at them, don't you?"

Wesley laughed.

"Let me ask Graham about leaving my motorcycle here for the night." Wesley headed to the bar.

"Graham, I have a favor to ask." Wesley spoke as soon as he saw Graham had a free moment.

"Sure, mate. What do you need?"

"May I leave my bike here for the night? Buffy would like to take a walk."

"Certainly." Graham winked at the younger man. "I'll be happy to do my part to help smooth the course of young love."

Wesley started to protest Graham's misconception again, but was pushed to the side by an inebriated customer. He shook his head and made a mental note to set the record straight the next time he had the opportunity. He walked back to Buffy and helped her with her jacket.

"Thanks." she said as she flipped her hair out from under the collar.

"You're welcome." Wesley gestured for her to proceed before him, and he kept his hand on the small of her back as he guided her through the crowd. Buffy really didn't need him to do it, but it felt nice to be treated like a normal girl.

* * * * *

Once outside, Buffy took a deep breath. The air in L.A. wasn't all that clean, but it had been even stuffier in the pub. She looked at Wesley and smiled. "It's nice tonight."

"Yes, it is," he agreed.

They started out towards his apartment at a leisurely stroll.

"Wes?" Buffy broke the silence.

"Yes?"

"Why did you stay in the America after you were fired?" The question came out of the blue, but she found she was curious.

He stopped walking and turned to look at the woman beside him. "I beg your pardon?"

She flushed slightly, but didn't back down.

"Why didn't you go back to England after you were fired from the Council?"

Wesley looked at her for a moment more before he started walking. She rushed to catch up and started to apologize.

"Look, Wes. I'm sorry, I didn't think--."

"No, no don't apologize." The apology was waved aside. "I'm not upset, you just caught me by surprise."

She released a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted to do was spoil the evening.

He thought about her question for a moment before answering. "I suppose the reason I didn't return to England was because I felt there was nothing there for me. I felt I had been given a fresh start and England wouldn't have suited that at all."

"But you said you missed it."

"England?"

"Yeah."

Wesley stopped walking again. He looked around and saw a bus stop bench. No one was there, so he led her to it and they sat down.

"Buffy, a part of me will always miss England. It was my childhood home, the place where I reached maturity."

"But you weren't given a choice about coming here," Buffy pointed out.

"You're wrong, Buffy." Wesley contradicted her. "I was given a choice."

"You were? But then, why did you come?" She was confused. He had seemed so, frustrated, when he first got to Sunnydale.

"I came because I was given the opportunity to work with one of the most gifted slayers in history." He ran an agitated hand through his hair. "Just because I bungled that opportunity, badly, doesn't mean that I regret coming."

"Most gifted? Me?" Buffy's voice almost squeaked in surprise.

"Yes, You." Wesley was sometimes astounded at just how blind Buffy could be about her own accomplishments and capabilities.

She grinned at him.

He stood and offered her his hand, she took it and they resumed their walk.

* * * * *

Wesley unlocked the door to his apartment and stood aside to let Buffy to enter first.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked her as he hung up their jackets.

"Coffee, if it's not too much trouble."

Wesley nodded and set about making the coffee. She walked around checking out the apartment. She had never really taken the time to look before. He had books all over the place, but that wasn't the surprise. The artwork on the wall was. Buffy couldn't remember the painter's name, but she remembered the painting. Her mother had shown her a picture of it one time. Said it was a classic.

"Where did you get the painting, Wes?"

"Hmm?" His voice sounded faintly from the kitchen.

"The painting on the wall? Where did you get it?" She pitched her voice a little louder this time.

He came into the living room wiping his hands on a towel. Buffy pointed to the painting she had been looking at.

"Oh, that. A favorite aunt left it to me."

"Must have been some favorite aunt." She grinned at him. "My mom showed me this painting in a book one time--said it was a classic and worth bucks."

"Yes--well--." Wesley stammered.

"Never mind." Buffy let him off the hook. He was as bad as Giles when you embarrassed him. "It beautiful, though."

"Yes it is." He agreed.

Wesley went to get the coffee and Buffy continued her wanderings. She saw leather-bound book that looked like one of Giles' watcher's diaries. Her fingers itched to pick it up, but she didn't. If it was Wes' diary, she had no business looking at it. She was saved from further temptation by Wesley's arrival with the coffee.

"Would you move that for me?" He indicated the book she had been tempted by.

She reached out and picked it up. Wesley set the tray with the coffee down and then took the book from her.

"Thank you. I'll just put this away." He caught her look of curiosity. "Buffy, would you like to see this?"

"What? No--um--no." She stumbled on the words.

"Are you sure?" He extended the book to her. "There is nothing here that is a great secret."

"What's in it?" She asked as she took the it.

"No great knowledge, I assure you," he chuckled. "It's just a chronicle of some of my activities since coming to Los Angeles."

"And you don't mind if I read it?"

"If I minded, I would have hardly given to you, now would I?"

Buffy sat down and began to read. Wesley handed her a cup of coffee. She sipped it as she read. He smiled and took the opportunity to tidy the apartment. When he came back she was still reading.

"Buffy?"

She didn't hear him.

"Buffy!" He called a little louder.

"Huh? Oh, Wes." She dragged her attention from the book.

He chuckled. "What time do you have to return to Sunnydale?"

"Oh, not until tomorrow, Willow's watching Dawn."

"You planned to stay in L.A.?"

"Yes. I talked to Cordelia while I was at Giles' and she offered to let me stay with them tonight."

"Buffy, have you looked outside?" He gestured to the window.

Buffy did then. It was raining, no, it was pouring. Sheets of rain pounded the pavement.

"Damn, I hadn't noticed." Buffy lamented.

"You were--engrossed--in the book." Wesley couldn't help but smile at that.

Buffy looked at the clock on the wall and was surprised to see it was after ten.

"I'll call a cab and get out of your hair." Buffy stood up and headed to the phone. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was this late."

She called the cab company and requested a cab and was told it would be at least a two hour wait. Not surprisingly, the rainstorm caught everyone in L.A. by surprise.

"I'll call and let Cordy and Giles know I'll be getting there late," she told Wesley after she'd hung up from the cab company.

"Buffy, this isn't the kind of weather to be out in." Wesley watched the rain hammer into the ground.

"Wes, it's just rain. I'll be fine." Buffy insisted.

"Accidents happen quite often due to the weather." Wesley said as he worked up the courage to make his suggestion. "Why don't you stay here tonight," he rushed on before she could speak. "I'll take the sofa and you may have my bed." He cringed at his wording. He didn't want her to read anything into his invitation.

Buffy didn't know what to say. It was raining pretty hard and he was right about something possibly happening. Normally, she wouldn't think twice about going to Giles' in this, but she remembered something Willow had said before she'd left Sunnydale. Something about not taking unnecessary chances. She still didn't know what that meant, but Willow had sounded--serious--about it. Buffy thought about it for another minute. Well, it wouldn't hurt anything to just stay at Wes' tonight.

"Okay, let me cancel the cab and then I'll call Giles."

Wesley blinked. He hadn't expected her to agree this quickly. "Um, very good."

He went to the hall closet and gathered bedding for the sofa.

"I'll take the sofa." Buffy told him as he spread out the sheets and blanket.

"Nonsense, you're my guest."

"I'm your guest that didn't have the sense to leave when she had the chance." Buffy took the blanket out of his hand. "I'll sleep on the sofa."

Wesley started to argue, but closed his mouth. Buffy had that look on her face--the look said that hell would freeze over and the devil would be figure skating before she changed her mind.

"Very well." He agreed after a moment. "I believe I have a tee shirt and jogging pants that might fit you."

Wesley went in search of impromptu sleepwear while Buffy called her Watcher.

"Giles? It's Buffy."

"Buffy! We were beginning to worry." Giles couldn't hide the relief at hearing his Slayer's voice.

"I'm sorry. I lost track of time and didn't realize the weather had gotten so bad."

"Where are you?"

"I'm still at Wesley's."

"Do you want me to come get you?" Giles saw Cordelia come into the room.

"No. I'm gonna stay the night here."

"At Wesley's?"

"Yes." She waited for him to say something. "Giles?"

"You're staying at Wesley's?" he repeated after a moment.

"Sure." Something clicked in her brain and she laughed. "What? You think I 'm planning on sleeping with him or something?" Somehow, the thought wasn't as strange as it could have been. Buffy didn't realize that Wesley had come back into the room.

"Of course not!" her Watcher protested. "I was just surprised."

"There's nothing to worry about. He offered and I accepted."

"I'll still be taking you back to Sunnydale tomorrow morning, yes?" he asked.

"Yep. I'll call you to come get me in the morning."

"Fine. I'll see you in the morning then."

"Goodnight, Giles."

"Goodnight, Buffy."

Buffy hung up and spotted Wesley, he had a strange look on his face. He handed her the clothes he had found. She took them and headed to the bathroom to find he'd laid out towels for her.

"Buffy?" His voice stopped her before she closed the door.

"Yes?"

"I'm going to bed. Feel free to finish the book, if you like."

"Thanks." Buffy was glad he felt comfortable enough to let her read it.

Wesley nodded and went to the bedroom.

* * * * *

After her shower, Buffy settled down on the sofa and picked up Wesley's diary. She noticed that he had left an extra blanket for her. She snuggled down under the covers and began to read again. She finally feel asleep several hours later. Her last thought before drifting off was that she really didn't know Wesley nearly as well as she thought she did.

Giles was sitting at his desk Wednesday morning when he was suddenly assaulted by another overwhelming dizzy spell. He gripped the sides of his desk in an effort to stay upright. Damn, he had thought this was taken care of. He had made an appointment to see a doctor and when he'd been examined, the doctor could find nothing wrong. This was the second time the dizziness had occurred since that appointment. Robert had suggested taking time off--if the doctor couldn't find anything wrong, perhaps it was just exhaustion. Giles wasn't so sure. He picked up his office phone--and then put it down. He left his office, telling his secretary he was taking the rest of the day off. He got a bright smile out of her when he suggested she do the same.

* * * * *

Giles walked along until he was out of sight of the museum, and then changed course and headed to a pay phone. He flipped through the phone book until coming upon the name of a clinic. He called and made an appointment. He caught a cab and gave the address to the driver.

As he walked in, he was beginning to doubt the suspicions that made him choose this course of action. The receptionist greeted him.

"May I help you sir?" she smiled.

"Yes. I have an appointment for Rupert Giles."

The receptionist checked her computer and looked back at him.

"Yes sir. The doctor is free if you'd like to step inside."

Giles walked in the door that led to the examination rooms. The closer he got, the more he was convinced he was just being paranoid and he should see the doctor he normally went to. Giles had almost convinced himself to walk out when a young, dark-haired woman with hazel eyes came up to him.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Sandra Madison. You must be Rupert Giles. Come in and we'll get started." The doctor had extended her hand as she spoke. When Giles shook her hand, her eyes suddenly became very wide and she gripped his hand tightly. She quickly pulled him into the examination room and almost slammed the door in her haste.

Giles wasn't sure what was happening, but he didn't like it. When he made a move to leave, the doctor stepped in front of the closed door.

"No!" She squeaked. She cleared her throat and spoke again. "No, please don' t go. Not yet."

"Who are you?" Giles was becoming anxious. "I wish to leave *now*." He pushed by her and had turned the knob when her voice stopped him.

"You're having dizzy spells." The words spilled out. She couldn't let him leave yet, not yet. "They're getting worse, yet all the doctors you've been to say there's nothing wrong. You came here today on an impulse."

Giles turned slowly and looked at the young doctor.

"Who are you?" he repeated in a quiet voice. "And how do you know that?"

The doctor closed her eyes and sighed.

"I know it because I can sense it on you."

"What in the bloody hell are you talking about?" Giles struggled to keep his voice quiet, mindful that these rooms were not soundproof. It wouldn't do for someone to interrupt them before he had his answers.

Dr. Madison sat down on a stool. She hadn't felt this drained in a long time. Magic-or the touch of magic, rather--always did this to her. She looked up to find an irate-looking Rupert Giles glaring at her.

"Sit down, Mr. Giles." She waved wearily to a second stool. "This may take awhile."

Giles sat down, careful to keep his distance. He didn't like this one bit. "I'm seated. Tell me what's going on."

"First, there are things you need to know about me--my credentials, as it were." Sandra told him.

"I don't need to know where you graduated medical school!" Giles snapped.

"No, you don't!" Sandra's nerves weren't in much better shape than his. "But you do need to know how I can sense things." She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Or do you not need to know how I know what I know?"

Giles flushed. "Of course I want to understand why you are telling me these things."

"I thought so."

She took a deep breath to help center herself. She felt like she had been punched in the stomach when she'd touched him.

"I come from a family of witches." The doctor knew that if this man didn't believe her, he would be out the door in a heartbeat. He would probably also report her to the AMA. She was risking a lot, but she had to try to help him. She breathed an inward sigh of relief when he remained. "Most of us are practicing. Most of us are very powerful--to varying degrees."

"And you?" Giles was intrigued in spite of himself.

"I'm not a practicing witch."

"Why?"

"Because I don't have the power." Sandra gestured with her hand. "Oh, I could learn the spells if I wanted to, but the innate power--just don't have it." She shrugged.

"Then what do you have?" Giles asked archly. "Because you certainly have something."

"You're right. I guess, if I had to put a label to it, I would have to say I was an empath for magic."

Giles did his best not to look skeptical. He knew he probably shouldn't be considering everything he had seen over the years, but to have a doctor of medicine blithely announce that she could sense magic--well, it was a bit hard to believe, even for him.

"What does that have to do with me, if I may ask?" He also wasn't prepared to rule out the idea completely.

The doctor was used to skepticism. "I sense dark magic all over you."

"What?" Shock colored his voice.

"Please sit down, Mr. Giles." Sandra was fighting the weariness that was threatening to overwhelm her. She massaged the back of her neck where the nerves had begun to knot. "I will try to explain."

Giles sat warily. He didn't like where this conversation was heading.

"My gift is the ability to discern magic around me. And what I see in you is someone using dark magic to interfere with the natural order of things."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that someone who is highly skilled has woven destructive magic into your body so that it interferes with your health and well-being." She shook her head. "I've never seen this level of sophistication before, and believe me, I'm very familiar with powerful magic. The others in my family are *very* good at what they do. Whoever is doing this has a great deal of skill, knowledge and natural ability--and maliciousness."

"How would someone be able to do what you've just described?" Giles was already thinking of where he could begin to look for answers.

"I don't know." Doctor Madison shrugged. "I just know it's there. The only reason you came here is either someone else is trying to offset the dark magic--or the dark magic has caused your own innate abilities to surface enough to make your intuition stronger and more--vocal--if you will."

"Who?"

"Again, I don't know." She sighed. "I told you, I can only detect the magic and if it is good or evil." Sandra looked at Giles. "The only reason I'm risking what I am to tell you this is because it would go against everything I believe not to--both as a doctor and a human being."

Giles nodded absently. "Would one have to be in constant contact with the dark magicks in order for them to--function?" Giles wasn't sure what word to use to describe what the magic was doing to him.

"I would think so, but I can't be absolutely sure." Sandra answered. "There again, I've never seen this level of skill or, quite frankly, maliciousness before. I would say that, at least in the beginning, the caster would have to have some sort of contact with you in order to cement the magic's hold on you."

Giles nodded again. That would explain why the spells went away when he was at home or away from the office for an extended period of time. Because now he had no doubt that the museum was where the magic was being done. The only question now was to discover who and why.

"Mr. Giles, are you all right?" Sandra Madison wasn't sure what was going on. And to be truthful, she wasn't totally sure she wanted to.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine." Giles assured her.

"Do you need someone to help you with this problem? I have several people in my family that could probably help." Sandra's mind was working furiously to decide who to call if he did need help.

"No. I have resources of my own, thank you." He stood up and extended his hand without thinking. When he did, he moved to withdraw it. He remembered how she had blanched when she had touched him the first time. But she surprised him and grasped his hand before he would move it completely.

"If you need anything, call me." She handed him one of her cards. "You are on the receiving end of some very bad magic, Mister Giles. Be careful."

"I will be very careful, Dr. Madison." Giles gave her a cold, thin smile. "I appreciate all you help." He took the card. "Thank you again."

"You're welcome." Sandra Madison watched him leave before shaking her head. She hoped he would be okay. Then she remembered that smile--maybe she should feel sorry for whoever did this to him. She shook her head again and went to get her next patient.

* * * * *

Giles took his time going home. He wasn't sure what to tell his wife. He knew that if she knew, she would be worried. That problem concerned him all the way home.

"Cordelia, I'm home," he called as he shut the front door.

"I'm in the bedroom."

Giles walked to the bedroom. When he got there he was astounded by what he saw.

The closet looked as though it had blown up!

"What happened here?" he asked mildly.

"I'm trying to figure out what to wear to Dawn's birthday party." Cordelia's voice answered from inside the closet.

"Don't you think it's a bit early?"

"It's never too early to plan on wowing people, Giles. I thought I had taught you that." She said as she came out of the closet.

He chuckled.

"I stand corrected and reminded."

"That's better." She couldn't help but laugh with him as she glanced at her watch.

"What are you doing home so early?" she asked. "Not that I mind," she added.

"I decided to take the rest of the day off."

Her eyes narrowed for a moment--then shrugged. She had taken the day off, he could take the day off. Besides, if something was going on, she'd find out soon enough.

"So what do you want to do with our mutual, unexpected day off?" she asked as she began to hang up clothes. She still hadn't found anything to wear. She also needed to talk to Lorne, she had planned on doing that today. Oh, well. Plans change.

"Whatever you wish." Giles was still pondering what the doctor had told him.

"Well, I had planned to have lunch with Lorne, but I can call and cancel."

"Nonsense." Giles protested. "If you've made plans, by all means, go."
"Are you sure?" Cordelia *really* needed to talk to Lorne.

"I am positive." Giles assured her. "Perhaps we can do something after lunch--just the two of us."

"That sounds great." Cordelia tried to hide her relief.

Giles was relieved as well. Cordelia going to lunch with Lorne afforded him the opportunity to do a bit of research into his problem.

Cordelia finished putting things away and left to meet Lorne. Giles dug into some of his magic books and began to research. If he couldn't find anything here, he would be forced to start making calls to the appropriate people.

* * * * *

Cordelia was right on time. She pulled into the Caritas parking lot with two minutes to spare. She went inside and found Lorne.

"Hi, Lorne," she said as she sat down at his table.

"Hello, beautiful."

"Lorne, I hate to get straight to business--but have you found out anything about pregnancy tests for half-human, half-demon Seers to souled vampires?"

"That's a mouthful, isn't it." Lorne grinned at her.

"Lorne!" Cordelia glared at him.

Lorne thought to tease her again--until he saw her start to glow. Um, maybe pissing off a half-demon human who had yet to explore her full powers wasn't the greatest idea in the history of ideas.

"Keep you shirt on, sweetums."

She continued to glare until he sighed.

"I've got a friend that's into this type of mojo, he might be able to help."

"When do I meet him?"

"You don't."

"What?" she exclaimed.

"Cordelia, calm down," he pleaded.

"I can't calm down. I may be pregnant, I haven't told my husband, and I'm not exactly sure what this baby's going to be if I am pregnant. That situation doesn't lend itself to calmness, Lorne." She glared at him.

"I understand that." Lorne wondered why it was always him. He sighed. "But getting upset isn't going to help anything. My friend doesn't like humans--even half-humans."

"Then why is he helping me?"

"Because I asked him sweetcakes. He owes me and I stressed how important this is." He didn't tell her how much fast-talking he had actually had to do in order to get this particular demon to agree to do this.

"If he doesn't see me, how is he going to do a test to see if I'm pregnant?"

"He's here, he just needs to see you. He'll give you a looksee and then let you know in a few days."

"Why so long?"

"I don't know, Cordelia!" He was becoming exasperated with all the questions.

"But, you're supposed to know. You're the host." She didn't stop to think how simplistic that sounded. She just wanted to know the answer to the problem that had been plaguing her for weeks now.

He just looked at her for a moment before dropping his head in his hands.

"What?"

"Nothing." He took a deep breath. "He told me he needs to check on some things after he sees you. He'll let you know by this weekend."

"I need to know by Saturday. I promised Buffy I would tell Giles by then."

"I can't promise you that, kiddo." The green-skinned demon looked at the distraught woman seated across from him. "I'll do my best to light a fire under him, but I can't push much. He's already doing this under protest--so to speak."

"Why does he dislike humans?"

"I don't know and I didn't ask. Since I'm asking him to put aside his hostilities, I didn't think it would be a grand idea to get him stirred up about them."

Cordelia nodded. "Good point."

"I'll let you know as soon as he lets me know." Lorne knew this was hard on her.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." Lorne excused himself.

Cordelia watched a couple of demons sing before she decided to meet her husband. She was curious as to what their after-lunch activities were going to be. She grinned wickedly to herself. she had a pretty good idea.

* * * * *

The phone rang. A man reached to pick it up with a trembling hand. "Hello?" He listened for a moment. "It took you long enough to get back to me." He listened longer this time before answering. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he apologized in a cajoling voice. "I think we have a problem. No, I don't know for sure." He was exasperated at the nonchalance on the other end of the phone. "Rupert Giles left abruptly today. If he discovers what we're doing--there will be trouble all around." He listened again--becoming more agitated all the while. "I understand that. But you're not the one closest to him if he finds out." The man slammed the phone down. He didn't know what was going to happen, but he had a very, very bad feeling about it.

* * * * *

It was two days before Dawn's party and Buffy was running around making sure everything was ready. She was checking the food list when Willow stuck her head in the kitchen.

"Um, Buffy?"

"Yeah, Will?" she answered distractedly.

"I think we might have a problem."

"No, no problems before Dawn's birthday." Buffy began to shake her head emphatically. "Dawn doesn't have birthdays like mine. She has nice, calm, normal birthdays."

Willow held up her hand in an effort to hold off the panic attack she could see forming. "No, no, no. Not the apocalyptic kind of problem," she reassured her friend.

"Don't scare me like that!" The Slayer exclaimed. She took a calming breath. "Okay, what kind of problem?"

"The kind of problem that has someone from your job coming to the party and expecting to see your British boyfriend." Willow waited for the panic to return--she didn't have to wait long.

"What?" Buffy squeaked. She had invited some of the people from the museum--she hadn't really had a choice. They had found out about the party and kind of invited themselves.

"Yeah," Willow continued. "Lisa just called to ask if she needed to bring anything. I told her no and then she mentioned that she was looking forward to seeing Wesley again." She thought for a moment. "Actually, what she said was, and I quote--I can't wait to see her hot-looking boyfriend again--unquote."

Buffy groaned. "Oh, God! What am I going to do?"

"I'd say you'd better call Wesley and see if he's up to playacting some more," was the suggestion.

"I can't do that!" Buffy began to pace.

"Why not?" The redhead asked.

"Because he agreed to do it one time for five minutes." Buffy stopped pacing and covered her face with her hands. "If he did it this time, he'd have to pretend for the whole party." She looked up at her best friend. "Not to mention explaining to everyone he works with why he was acting all lovey-dovey with me."

"If he doesn't, you're going to have Jason bugging you again." Willow reminded her.

"I know, I know." She dropped her head in her hands again. Why--just once--couldn't they get through a birthday party without having something go wrong? She sighed and looked at Willow. "Well, I hope Wesley has always had a secret urge to act."

Willow smiled encouragingly Buffy dialed.

* * * * *

Wesley picked up the phone as he closed one of his books. "Hello?"

"Wesley?" A tentative voice sounded through the receiver.

"Buffy?" Warmth infused his voice. "What a nice surprise." Wesley smiled. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"You might not think it's a pleasure in a minute," Buffy mumbled.

"What happened?" Wesley's good mood went sour. Buffy sounded--not Buffy.

"I've got a problem." Buffy hated this. Absolutely hated this.

"What kind of problem?" he asked carefully.

She cringed as she told him. God, how did she get herself into these messes?

Wesley understood immediately. "You wish to continue our--charade?"

"Yes--no--yes." Buffy sighed. "I don't know what else to do. Jason has *finally* left me alone. If he thinks I'm free, he'll start again."

"Are you certain? Perhaps the observation I made had some effect." Wesley suggested.

"I think it might have--a little," she conceded. "But I think the fact there might be a guy out there looking for his head--among other body parts--had more to do with why he left me alone." She sighed again. "Wes--I hate to ask it, but--."

"Buffy, you don't need to ask. I'll be happy to help you," Wesley interrupted.

"Are you sure?" she asked. "'Cause I know it's going to be awkward with everyone being there."

"Buffy, it will be fine," Wesley reassured her. "I'll explain to everyone what is happening. Giles and Cordelia know already, do they not?"

"Yep. I told Giles and I'm sure he told Cordelia."

"Then I only have to explain to Gunn and Fred." He said it as if it were the simplest thing in the world. "Don't worry, Buffy. We'll take care of this. After all, we deal with monster, villains and apocalypses on a daily basis. Surely a few co-workers can't be that much of a challenge?" he said, attempting to cheer her up.

"I wouldn't swear to that. I can't slay the co-workers--can I?" Buffy asked hopefully.

"Buffy--!" Wesley did his best to stifle a laugh.

"I know, I know--just kidding," Buffy grumbled. "A little," she added under her breath.

Wesley shook his head and chuckled. "We'll be there Saturday."

"Okay."

"And Buffy?"

"Yes?"

"Don't worry. It will all work out." He thought for a moment. "You might want to let the people on your end know about this particular performance. We wouldn't want them to expire from the shock."

Buffy laughed. "I think the only one in danger of that would be Xander."

"Indeed. Mr. Harris would be quite alarmed," he chuckled again.

They talked for a while longer and made plans to talk again Friday night.

* * * * *

Wesley hung up the phone and considered his options. He could tell Fred and Gunn about the situation with Buffy now or he could wait until Saturday. If he told them now, it would almost certainly get back to Angel. He did not relish the idea of explaining to Angel why he was pretending to be the romantic interest of the woman that was the love of the vampire's undead life. He shrugged to himself. He would explain to Gunn and Fred what the situation was, if Angel had a problem with it, he would deal it when the time came.

"Hey, Wes." Fred came into his office. "Would you like some lunch?"

Wesley hesitated for a moment before making a decision. "Fred, would you and Gunn please come in here for a moment?"

Fred looked puzzled, but nodded and went to get Gunn.

"What's up?" Gunn asked as he settled himself into a chair across from Wesley. Fred sat down beside Gunn.

"I--" Wesley wasn't sure how to start.

"What's the matter, Wesley?" Fred asked in her soft drawl.

"I need to talk to you about Dawn's party Saturday." Wesley picked up a letter opener and idly toyed with it.

"What about it?" This question came from Gunn.

"Buffy has been having--problems--with a co-worker and she asked me to help her."

"What problem? If she needs help, we're there," Gunn said as he looked to his significant other for her support. She didn't disappoint as she nodded in agreement.

Wesley removed his glasses and told them about his previous performance as he rubbed his eyes.

"You pretended to be her boyfriend?" Fred asked.

"Yes." Wesley closed his eyes as he waited for the laughter to begin. He knew that the two people sitting in front of him were his friends. But the thought of someone like Buffy wanting someone like him--even as a charade--was something that would inspire laughter in most people.

Fred sighed and remarked. "That's so romantic."

Wesley opened his eyes in surprise to find Fred looking at him with a small smile on her face.

"Good going, man." Gunn nodded his head in approval.

Wesley wasn't sure how to reply to that, so he continued with his explanation. "Well, I'm afraid it's not quite over."

"Why?" Fred asked.

"Apparently, the people that she works with expect her 'boyfriend' to be at Dawn's party." Wesley sighed, wondering if he could do this.

"And if you're not, they're gonna figure you're not in the picture and the dude that can't take no for an answer will be bothering Buffy again." Gunn guessed.

"Yes," Wesley affirmed.

Gunn and Fred looked at one another.

"Well, I guess Wesley's got a new girlfriend," Gunn said as he winked at Wes.

Fred giggled.

"Wes has a girlfriend--anyone I know?"

Wesley looked up to see Angel filling the doorway. Gunn and Fred looked at each other again and then made their excuses as they left the other two alone.

"Was it something I said?" Angel asked as he watched the door shut.

Wesley sighed as he realized that he wouldn't be able to avoid this conversation after all.
"Sit down, Angel. I have something to tell you."

Angel looked puzzled but did as he was asked.

* * * * *

Angel looked somewhat dazed after Wesley finished his tale.

"So you're telling me that you're going to be acting like Buffy's boyfriend when you go to this party?" Angel asked, he wanted to make sure he hadn't been hearing things.

Wesley nodded.

Angel wasn't sure what he was feeling. He knew that this was only playacting--but he couldn't help but feel a little jealous of the younger man. He was getting to do what Angel never had--be a part of Buffy's normal life. Even if it was just make believe. Angel got up and left without a word. He didn't want to say or do anything that would be impossible to take back later.

Wesley sighed as he watched the vampire leave. He really didn't want to have any conflict with Angel, but he wouldn't go back on his word to Buffy either. If it came down to it, he would suffer Angel's ire. He sighed again as he looked at the office door for a moment longer, and then returned to his paperwork.

* * * * *

Fred knocked tentatively on Wesley's door. She and Gunn had seen Angel leave the office with a strange look on his face and she wanted to make sure everything was all right.

"Wes? Is everything okay?"

"Yes, Fred. Everything is fine." Wesley looked up from his paperwork. He looked at Fred and back to the papers on his desk before pushing his chair back and grabbing his jacket. "But I think I'll go get some lunch. I'll be back in a couple of hours," he said as he shrugged into his jacket.

He was out the door before Fred had time to ask anymore questions.

Fred shook her head and went to find Gunn. She hoped that this favor Wesley was doing for Buffy didn't cause trouble with Angel. She shook her head, if it did, there wasn't much she could do about it.

* * * * *

Wesley walked for several blocks before he even thought about where to go for lunch. He saw Graham's pub up ahead, so he veered across the street and went in.

"Wesley! Hello, mate. How are you?" Graham called to him from behind the bar. Wesley nodded a greeting and waved at Sally.

She waved back from where she was taking an order.

He found his way to a back table and waited for her to get to him. She brought him a pint and waited for his order. He no longer needed a menu. After he ordered, she took it to the kitchen and then told Graham she was taking a break after nodding her head towards the Englishman sitting alone. Graham grinned at her and let the other waitress know.

She went to Wesley's table and waited for him to acknowledge her. He was contemplating the intricacies of a beer glass--so it took a moment for him to notice her. In fact, he probably would have been oblivious to her presence if she hadn't cleared her throat--loudly.

"Sally! I'm sorry, I didn't see you." Wesley quickly stood up as Sally sat down across from him.

"I could tell," she teased gently.

He flushed.

"What's the matter?" She asked.

"Nothing, nothing at all," he replied a bit too quickly to be convincing.

"Sure there's not." She looked at him skeptically. "That's why you look like you've just lost your best friend."

Wesley did his best not to fidget, but it was difficult with her looking at him.

"Well, there is one thing," he said after a moment.

She didn't say a word, she just waited.

"You see, I have this friend who offered to do a friend a favor--but in the process, this friend of mine has managed to cause hurt to another friend. Now he doesn't know how to make it right."

Sally nodded sagely.

"Okay, did this friend of yours mean to hurt the other friend's feelings?"

"NO! I--I mean he didn't want to hurt the other person's feelings, but when the other friend needed his help, what was he supposed to do? Just tell her no?" Wesley asked plaintively.

Sally looked at the lanky Englishman for a minute. "What are you going to do?" she asked, cutting through the friend story decisively.

He sighed. "I'll do what I promised. I'm just not quite sure what is going to happen now because of it."

She patted his hand as she got up.

"Well, if you need a friendly ear--let me know."

Wesley smiled weakly as she walked off to get his lunch. He wasn't sure what to do about Angel, but he had a party to get ready for. He finished his lunch and headed back to the hotel. He would deal with Angel's mood when the time came.

* * * * *

Wesley came through his apartment door cursing fluently and colorfully. He needed to be in Sunnydale right about--he looked at his watch--now. He had sent Gunn and Fred on ahead, they would at least let everyone know he was coming. He picked up the phone as he began to peel slime encrusted clothing off. He had gone out to follow up on a simple lead on a case and ran into a very pissed-off demon. He had taken care of the problem, but it had made a mess of the clothes he had intended to wear to the party. He'd planned to check the lead and leave right after. That idea had been shot all to hell. The phone was picked up on the other end just as he got the filthy shirt off.

"Hello?"

"Willow?"

"Wesley! Where are you?" Willow asked, relief evident in her voice.

"I'm calling to let Buffy know I will be late. I had a little run-in with a demon and I have to clean up before I come." He continued to pull clothing off as he headed to the bathroom with the cordless phone in his hand.

"Well, please hurry."

"Why?" Wesley could hear the sheer desperation in the witch's voice.

"Because Jason and some of the others are making snide remarks about you not showing up and I don't know how much longer I can keep Buffy from throwing them out. And I know she'll feel really bad if she does that." Willow thought for a moment. "Once she calms down, anyway."

Wesley cursed again. "Tell Buffy I will be there as soon as I can and I will be suitably apologetic for the lateness of my arrival."

"Huh?" Willow didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

"Just tell her not to worry, the plan is still workable. Gunn and Fred should be there before I am. They will let the others know I'm on my way." Wesley began to dig out fresh clothing. "Oh and tell her I need to make one stop before I leave town, but I should be there in a couple of hours."

Willow nodded. "Okay, I'll tell her."

"Thank you, Willow."

Wesley hung up and turned the water on for a shower as he began to make plans in his head. If the pillocks Buffy worked with thought they would embarrass her in her own home, he would have to show them the error of their ways.

* * * * *

A few hours later, Wesley was coming to stop in front of 1630 Revello Drive. He lowered the kickstand on his bike and took off his helmet. He quickly combed his fingers through his hair as he made his way up the sidewalk.

Buffy opened the door as he stepped onto the porch. She thought about acting angry, but he looked so apologetic that she couldn't even pull off fake anger. She let him through the door and took his jacket. He pulled out two small packages before handing it to her.

Buffy turned to go into the living room where the party was in full swing when his hand on her shoulder stopped her.

"I am terribly sorry I'm so late."

"It's okay, Wes."

Wesley could see the noxious Jason watching from his vantage point in the living room, so he handed Buffy one of the packages in his hand as he pulled her into his arms. She stiffened until he whispered that Jason was watching. He held the embrace for a moment longer before kissing her lightly on the lips and releasing her.

"Aren't you going to open my peace offering?" He gently teased.

Buffy blushed as she realized that she had forgotten the gift he had handed her moments before. She wasn't sure why he had bought her a present, but from his words, he was trying to make up for being late--at least for appearances' sake. She removed the wrapping to find a jeweler's box from a jewelry story in L.A. She opened it to find a beautiful rope bracelet. She could see that her initials had been woven into the design of the bracelet.

She started to protest, but he put his fingers on her lips to stop her.

"It's my way of saying I'm sorry."

Since Jason couldn't see his face, he mouthed--'I'll explain later'. Buffy nodded and hugged him. It really was a beautiful bracelet.

"What's the other box?"

Wesley smiled. "It's Dawn's birthday present."

"Birthday present?" Dawn squealed from behind him.

Wesley turned just in time to for the youngest Summers woman to throw her arms around him. As she hugged him, she told him she was just playing the part of approving little sister.

"Can I open it now?" She asked after she had released him.

He nodded and handed the small box to her.

She opened the present and saw the locket inside.

"Wesley, this is beaut--," she broke off as tears welled in her eyes.

"Dawn? What's the matter?" Buffy couldn't see the locket, so she didn't know what had caused her sister to start crying.

Dawn silently handed her the box as she grabbed Wesley and gave him a crushing hug.

The enthusiasm in her embrace was not feigned this time.

Buffy felt tears prick her eyes as she saw what had made Dawn so emotional. Wesley had placed two pictures in the locket. One side held a photo of Joyce Summers--the other held a photo of Joyce, Buffy and Dawn together. She didn' t know how he had gotten either picture.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset--." he began to apologize.

Dawn waved him off as she let him go. She sniffed loudly and laughed as he handed her a handkerchief.

"I'm not upset, it's just that--." She couldn't go on.

"It's beautiful," Buffy finished for her.

Dawn nodded.

Wesley cleared his throat. "I'm glad you like it. The locket belonged to my grandmother and--."

"Your Grandmother? I can't take that," Dawn interrupted.

Wesley took the locket from Buffy's hand and put it in Dawn's and folded her fingers around it.

"I want you to have it. She would have been greatly pleased to know that such a beautiful young woman was wearing it."

Dawn looked like she was going to cry again, so she announced that she was going to get something to drink before she drowned everybody.

Buffy watched her sister for a moment before turning back to the ex-Watcher.

"That was a very nice thing," she said.

He shrugged. "I wanted to get her something special."

"You did." Buffy reached up and gently kissed him.

Wesley was stunned. That was the first time she had ever initiated one of their kisses--granted, there hadn't been that many--then he remembered Jason and others, who had by this time, come to the doorway separating the living room from the hall, and his pleasure waned.

Buffy leaned closer and whispered low enough that no one else could hear her but him.

"And that was *not* because we have an audience."

He gave her a foolishly wide grin and let himself be led into the living room.

* * * * *

Wesley sipped the drink in his hand as he watched Dawn show everyone his gift. He had hoped she would be pleased, but the sheer delight she had shown had made him doubly grateful he had taken the time with her gift.

"That was well done."

He turned to find Giles studying him.

"Thank you."

"Where did you find the picture?" Giles had been curious as soon as he had seen the picture. He wasn't sure, but he couldn't remember ever seeing a photograph of the three Summers women together. Although, considering the magnitude of what the monks did when they sent the young girl to them, it was possible that they fabricated pictures as well.

"I had it made," Wesley answered as he watched Buffy deal with her guests. They had spent a bit of time together to make the people from her office believe they were happily romantic together and then she had excused herself to see to the details of the party. She had worked very hard to make sure it went well.

"How?" Now Giles was doubly curious.

"There is a very gifted computer expert that owes Angel Investigations a rather huge favor. I imposed on Willow to get me pictures of Dawn, Buffy and their mother. I took them and had him combine two."

"And your grandmother's locket?"

"Because I wanted someone to have it that would cherish it as much as I did," Wesley said simply.

"What about the woman you marry?"

Wesley sighed. "I doubt very much that will ever happen. But if it does, there are other things that I can give her. I wanted Dawn to have something special."

Giles was about to comment on the care he had dedicated to both Buffy and Dawn when Willow interrupted.

"Wesley, could I see you for a minute?"

"Certainly." He put his glass down on a table and followed Willow into the kitchen.

* * * * *

"What's wrong?"

Willow turned to Wesley when the kitchen door closed.

"Nothing's wrong, it's just that Buffy's been working so hard at this party that she hasn't taken time to enjoy it."

Wesley looked confused. "I fail to see what that has to do with me."

"You could get her out of here for a little while. This party is just getting started. Buffy planned for it to be an all-day thing and it looks like it's going to be." Willow looked at the clock on the wall. "It's a little after noon now, if she gets away for an hour or so, she'll still be back in plenty of time to wrap everything up. I've already talked to Dawn and she agrees that Buffy's about to spazz out if she doesn't take a breath. The only way we can get her to do that is to get her out of here."

"And you think she'll take a 'breath', as you say, with me?" Wesley sounded dubious.

"She will if you ask."

"I don't know about that."

"I do. She likes you, Wes. *And* she feels a little indebted to you because of what you're doing for her. If you ask, she'll go." Willow sounded so confident that Wesley found himself agreeing to do what she asked.

* * * * * 

Wesley found Buffy putting more food out. She'd set up a buffet so everyone could mingle as they ate. She had truly outdone herself for Dawn.

"You look tired," he told her softly.

Buffy didn't turn around.

"I'm fine," she said as she finished putting out this round of food.

"Take a ride with me?" He had a feeling this was an exercise in futility, but he had promised Willow.

"I can't--there are still people here." She turned around to look at him.

"Willow assured me that she and Tara will take care of anything that comes up. Giles and Cordelia are here as well." Wesley found himself really wanting Buffy to spend some private time with him. He wasn't sure how wise that particular feeling was. "We won't be gone long. An hour or two at the most."

Buffy started to tell him no again--but then she thought how nice it would be to take a break. She hadn't realized how much work this party was going to be; not that she minded. Seeing the look on Dawn's face when everyone showed up and having a good time, was enough to make it all worthwhile. But a break would be good.

"Okay. Let me grab my jacket."

He wasn't sure what to do for a moment. He hadn't expected it to be that easy. He watched her retreating back for a moment before he got himself together and hurried after her.

* * * * *

Several minutes later, she found herself sitting behind him as he maneuvered his way through the streets of Sunnydale. He wouldn't tell her where they were going--only that it wasn't far and it was peaceful.

He pulled into a small park that was set far away from the road. He had found it on one of his walks when he had been serving as Buffy's watcher. He had been struck by the fact that a place like Sunnydale could have something like this and also be home to an active hellmouth.

Buffy's breath caught. It was beautiful. And Wesley was right--it was peaceful. She hadn't even gotten off the bike yet and she was already feeling calmer and more relaxed. She pulled off her helmet and left it on the bike as she strolled over to the center of the park; pausing to turn to him and smile. She hadn't realized how much she had needed this until she was here. He smiled back as he set his helmet on the bike and followed her. There was a small lake and she sat down beside it as he joined her.

"I'm glad you brought me here," she said as she wrapped her arms around her knees and pulled them up to rest her chin on them.

"So am I." He didn't know what was happening to him, but he had a suspicion and it was something that could destroy him. But right now, he couldn't bring himself to care a great deal about what *could* happen. He was sharing a beautiful day with a beautiful, intelligent woman and he couldn't find much wrong with the world right at the moment. Naïve? Of course. He still couldn't find it within himself to worry about it. He observed her and wondered what she was thinking. He would have been surprised to discover that many of her thoughts centered on him.

Buffy stared the water for awhile. She hadn't realized how worried she had been about everything until she had gotten away from it. She had wanted Dawn 's birthday to go perfectly. The people from the museum showing up had been not a good thing, but in a way, she wanted to thank them. She had somebody that cared about her for a little while. Even if it was make-believe. She shook her head to herself, that wasn't really fair. Willow, Dawn, Xander and the rest cared about her. It was nice to have someone just for her, though. And, she had to admit, Wesley wasn't too hard on the eyes either. She chuckled to herself. That was still something that blew her out of the water. She remembered a time when he was everything she detested. Now, here she was, acting like his girlfriend and thinking how handsome he was. Life was very, very strange. She looked at him in surprise when he gently laid his jacket across her shoulders.

"You were shivering," he explained.

She smiled her thanks as she snuggled into his jacket. His smell surrounded her and she realized how much she had missed the simple things of having a relationship--such as having someone give you their jacket and having their smell envelop you. It was nice to have it again, even if only for a little while. Buffy tried not to let herself dwell on the loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her at times. She concentrated on Dawn and work and, most of the time, it was enough. But every now and then--it was just hard to be alone. She sighed; wondering if her mom ever felt like this after the divorce. If so, Buffy regretted that she hadn't tried harder to spend more time with her. It was just one more in a long list of regrets.

Wesley noticed her sigh; her mood had been pleasant, but had taken a decidedly melancholy turn in the last few moments.

"Buffy, are you all right?" he asked, concerned.

She blinked back the tears that had been threatening and looked at the man sitting beside her. What the hell was she doing? She had a beautiful day, a gorgeous man and here she was--feeling sorry for herself. She gave herself a good shake and smiled at him.

"I'm fine. Just thinking not-so-happy thoughts for a minute."

"And now?"

"Now, I'm good." She tilted her head to one side and considered him thoughtfully. He was becoming one of her best friends--and she'd thought life on the hellmouth strange before!

He took her at her word and leaned back on his hands to study the clouds. After a bit, he laid down so that he could study them better. Watching clouds was something that was considered frivolous by his father. If it didn 't serve a purpose, his father saw no need in it. Wesley chuckled to himself. Now he was the one with the melancholy mood.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Buffy asked as she lay beside him.

"Nothing really," he replied.

"It had to be something. You seemed sad for a second there."

"Just remembering my childhood," he replied a bit briskly.

Buffy left it alone. She thought back to a conversation she and Cordelia had had after Buffy's mother had died. She had never really appreciated her mother until she had gotten older and really looked at other people's lives. She didn't know much about his childhood, but from what she had gleaned from what he had said--and not said--and what other people had told her, he hadn' t had a great one. She'd been lucky to have the mother she did. Buffy looked at him again and reached down and intertwined her fingers with his. She felt him stiffen, but she didn't look at him. After a little while, he relaxed and they spent a nice hour just watching the clouds.

* * * * *

Buffy walked up the steps of her house and could hear that the party was still in full swing.

"I guess they didn't miss me after all," she grinned at Wesley as he stepped up on the porch beside her.

"Oh, I'm sure they did. Besides, this is what you wanted--for everyone to enjoy themselves?"

Buffy nodded and smiled again, as she opened the door. Sometimes life could be good. Her sister was having a nice party and she was enjoying the company of a good friend. She went into the living room and saw Giles and Cordelia. She caught Cordelia's eye and the brunette nodded slightly. Buffy was relieved. Cordy was going to tell Giles today.

Wesley saw the exchange between the two women and wondered about it, but decided that if they wanted him to know, they would tell him. He and Buffy joined the party as Willow winked at him. He smiled good-naturedly and returned the wink.

* * * * *

Cordelia sighed and nodded as she saw Buffy catch her eye. It was time--whether she was ready or not.

"Giles?"

"Yes?" He was watching his Slayer and Wesley and wondering just exactly how much of their closeness was real and how much was charade?

"Walk outside with me."

He noticed the tension in his wife's voice. He nodded and allowed her to lead him to the back porch of the Summers' home. She stood in silence for a long while before she drew breath to speak.

"I may be pregnant."

Giles didn't register what she said at first. Hard on the heels of that was the sure idea he had misunderstood her. "What?"

"I may be pregnant," she said it a bit slower this time.

He felt the sudden need to sit down. With the absence of a chair, he made do with the steps. He opened his mouth and nothing emerged. He tried twice more before he could croak out.

"Pregnant?"

"May be," she stressed.

She sat down beside him. She hadn't really had any idea how he would take the news, so his reaction wasn't a disappointment. She *really* wished he'd get past the shock, though, so they could figure out what they were going to do.

After several moments, he began to come out of his stupor. He looked at her face and then dropped his eyes to her still-flat stomach.

"How far along?"

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure I'm even pregnant." She thought this needed to be repeated.

"How long have you suspected?" Giles clarified his earlier question.

"A few weeks."

"And you didn't tell me?" He didn't even try to keep the hurt out of his voice.

She cringed.

"I didn't tell you because I wasn't sure and I wanted, no, needed, to be sure."

"Have you been to a doctor?"

"Um, no," she answered in a small voice.

He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he struggled not to say anything that would be hard to retract.

"Why?"

"Because I've got a friend of Lorne's looking into it for me?"

"A demon?"

"Yes."

"You've got a demon checking to see if you're pregnant?" His voice went up several notches.

"Well, gee! Say it a little louder--I don't think they heard you in L.A." Her nerves weren't in much better shape than his and she wasn't afraid to show him.

"Why did you feel you needed Lorne's assistance--or rather one of his friends?" He asked after a moment.

"Because I couldn't really go to a normal doctor and tell him 'I need a pregnancy test--oh, and by the way, I'm part demon. Will that affect the test?', now could I?"

"No, I suppose not," he grudgingly admitted.

"That's kinda what I thought." Cordelia stood and stepped off the porch.

Giles watched her as she wandered the backyard. He was struck at odd moments just how beautiful his wife was. This was one such moment. He was still processing the bombshell she had dropped on him in one part of his mind. But in the other, he was admiring her strength and beauty.

Meanwhile, she was contemplating him while he was studying her. She was waiting for his analytical mind to catch up and when it did, the questions and concerns would be coming fast and furious. It was just a matter of time.

"Are you all right?" He stepped off the porch to join her in the yard.

"I'm just so scared," she whispered. "What the hell am I thinking, bring a baby into the lives we lead."

Giles was struck by a sudden, unpleasant thought. "Cordelia--you do want this child? Don't you?"

"YES!" She rushed to assure him. "God, there is nothing in this world that would make me happier than to have a child made from me and you. It's just--."

"Frightening?"

"Try terrified and you might be closer to the mark--and even that doesn't completely do it for me."

Giles gathered her into his arms. She was always so strong that it was easy to forget just how vulnerable Cordelia could be. He tilted her head up and looked into her eyes.

"Luv, we'll get through this--together."

"Together," she sighed. "I like the sound of that."

"As do I," he assured her.

"And you know? This kid can't miss--I mean with my looks and your brains--he 'll have it made." Cordelia smiled cheekily.

"He?"

"He--she--I'm not picky." She reached up to caress his face. "I love you."

"And I love you." He gently kissed her. "Now, why don't we get back to Dawn' s party?"

She nodded and allowed him to lead her back inside.

* * * * *

A few days later, Cordelia woke in the middle of the night and reached for Giles. His side was empty--and cold. She raised up on one arm and looked around. He was nowhere in the moonlight-drenched room. She got up and went in search of her wayward husband.

They had talked at length about the possibility of a baby after they had gotten home from Buffy's. They still hadn't heard anything from Lorne. She was going to Caritas tomorrow and see what the deal was. She needed an answer soon--this waiting was driving her insane. Everyday she thought of something else that could go wrong. Of something that could hurt her baby. She laid a protective hand on her stomach. "I won't let anything happen to this child," she promised herself silently.

Cordelia found Giles asleep at his desk. As she moved to wake him, the writing in her husband's clean, bold script caught her eye. She was tempted to read the diary, but she fought the urge and closed it. She shook him awake.

"Giles? Sweetheart, wake up."

He raised up and she giggled at the way his glasses were askew. He straightened them and looked at her.

"Cordelia?"

"Come to bed."

He nodded and flicked off the lamp on the desk. As he stood, neither one of them noticed the paper that fell under the desk.

* * * * *

Cordelia was cleaning the living room when she noticed a sheet of paper under the desk. She picked it up and started to put it away when she noticed the word clinic. She looked closer and saw that Giles had written the name of a doctor and the name of a clinic.

She thought maybe it was for the pregnancy, so she dialed the phone and asked for Sandra Madison. The nurse asked her to wait and then put her on hold.

She was trying to figure out when he could have called a clinic, when the doctor picked up.

"Dr. Madison," a professional voice sounded in her ear.

"Dr. Madison, my name is Cordelia Giles. I believe my husband spoke to you."

"Yes, how is he?"

"Giles? He's fine." She was puzzled as to why the doctor would be asking about Giles.

"I'm happy to hear that. When I saw him at the first of the week, he was having problems."

"The first of the week?" Cordelia was now more than puzzled--she was totally in the dark.

"Yes," Sandra answered cautiously. "I thought you said you were his wife." Sandra was damning herself for being a fool--she knew better than to have this kind of conversation with anyone other than a patient. The only defense she had was this wasn't a normal medical problem and she was extremely worried about Rupert Giles' state of health.

Cordelia's mind was racing. What did Giles see this woman at the beginning of the week for?

"Dr. Madison, I'd like to make an appointment to see you."

"Why?" The doctor was a bit apprehensive.

"I want to know what's wrong with my husband." Her tone brooked no argument.

"I can't tell you what we talked about--," Sandra began.

She was interrupted.

"Do not quote doctor-patient confidentiality to me. I want to know what the hell's going on!" Cordelia snapped.

Sandra debated to herself whether she should do what she was contemplating. If she talked to this man's wife, she was breaking a confidentiality that could have serious repercussions for her and her career. However, if he wasn 't taking the appropriate precautions against the magic that she felt, he could be dead sooner rather than later. She made a decision.

"Very well, Mrs. Giles. I'll talk to you," she agreed. "On one condition."

"What?" Cordelia was not in the mood to negotiate.

"I want proof you are who you say you are."

"You're asking me to prove that I'm Rupert Giles' wife?" Cordelia asked incredulously.

"Yes. If you can't do that, don't bother meeting with me."

Cordelia fought to control her rising anger. But a small part of her realized that the doctor had a point. She had no way of knowing if Cordelia was who she said she was.

"Fine. I'll bring my marriage certificate. Will that be proof enough?"

Sandra chewed on her bottom lip. She could get into so much hot water over this.

"I guess it'll have to do."

"When and where?" Cordelia was anxious to know what was going on.

"Two hours, at the café across from the clinic."

* * * * *

Cordelia was fifteen minutes early. She looked around and realized that she didn't get a description of the doctor before she hung up. She was about to call the clinic again when she saw a woman come in wearing a lab coat and she had a name tag that read 'Dr. S. Madison'. That was her woman. She walked over and introduced herself.

"Dr. Madison, I'm Cordelia Giles."

Sandra looked at the woman in front of her and the first thought that ran through her mind was that Rupert Giles had very good taste. The second was she sure hoped he wouldn't sue her for what she was about to do. It wouldn't be the first time an older man had kept a potentially fatal medical condition from a much younger wife. She thought about it and mentally shook her head--no, if it was a regular medical problem, she might be dealing with the typical insecurities of an older man/younger wife syndrome. But throw magic in the mix and there was definitely something else going on.

"Hello, Mrs. Giles." Sandra extended her hand. "Please, call me Sandra."

Cordelia shook the other woman's hand. "Then call me Cordelia."

Sandra indicated a table nearby and the two women seated themselves. When the waitress came, Cordelia just ordered coffee. Sandra ordered a sandwich and coffee.

"I hope you don't mind if I eat, but this is my lunch break and I still have a very long day ahead,"

"Of course not. I appreciate your agreeing to see me at all. I know that this is not exactly normal procedure for a doctor."

Sandra shook her head. "You're right, it's not. But something is going on with your husband that is very outside the realm of normal. How much has he told you?"

Cordelia fidgeted in her chair before answering the question. "Nothing."

"Nothing?" Sandra asked.

Cordelia just nodded her head.

The doctor sighed and wondered just what she was getting herself into. She was beginning to wish that Rupert Giles had picked another clinic to go to that day. But, then again, if he had, he probably still wouldn't know what was wrong with him. Hell, if he'd gotten any other doctor that day, he wouldn't know what was wrong.

She sighed again. Sometimes she really wished that her family hadn't drummed into her that responsibility went along with her gift.

"Let me start at when I first met your husband."

* * * * *

"So that's the way I came to diagnose your husband's illness," Sandra finished as she sipped her coffee.

Cordelia was still trying to process the information the doctor had given her. Someone was trying to kill Giles. And not just the everyday, 'demons-that-want-to-rule-the-world' kind of someone but someone that was human and trying to kill him. For some reason that offended her more than when the demons were trying to do it.

"Thank you for telling me this," she told the other woman.

"I'm not sure that your husband will feel the same," Sandra lamented, "he may end up suing me for breach of doctor-patient confidentiality."

"He won't sue you for anything."

Sandra wasn't so sure, but she didn't argue. Either way, the damage was done. She had broken a cardinal rule in medicine--there would be consequences. She'd done what she thought was right, she would deal with the fallout.

Cordelia pulled herself out of her reverie and looked at the doctor.

"Thank you for your time," she said as she stood up and held out her hand.

Sandra stood and dropped money to pay the bill on the table.

"You're welcome." She shook the offered hand. "Let me know how it turns out. And let me know if you need anything else."

Cordelia nodded as she let go of the other woman's hand. She turned and walked out of the café.

Sandra watched her leave and hoped that everything turned out all right.

She shrugged. She had done everything she could. The rest was in their hands. She headed back to the clinic--she had other people to help.

* * * * *

Buffy leaned against the doorjamb and knocked softly. She was so tired, both emotionally and physically. Trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Giles could die was taking more energy than she could seem to muster.

Wesley's head came up from the text he was reading at the quiet sound. He opened the door to find her slumped against the doorframe, looking, for all the world, like she would fall over if the slightest wind blew through. "Buffy?"

She slowly lifted her head to look at him with pain-filled eyes.

"Buffy, what's wrong?" He asked, foreboding filling him.

"Can I just come in and sit down?" She moved to push herself from the door and stumbled.

He caught her and helped her into the living room depositing her on the sofa before retrieving her bag from the hallway. He started to ask her again what was wrong, but the weariness on her face tore at his heart. He eased her down on the sofa and covered her with a throw.

"I'm okay," she mumbled.

"Of course you are," he agreed, even as he tucked her in. "Just rest."

Buffy wanted to tell him that she didn't need to be babied, but she couldn't seem to work up the energy. She told herself she would just rest her eyes for a moment and then she sank like a stone into the dark well of oblivion.

* * * * *

Wesley sat in a chair and studied the woman sleeping on his sofa. He didn't notice the room darkening until the only illumination coming through his window was the muted lights of L.A. She had turned on her side and pillowed her cheek on one slim hand. It was sometimes difficult to remember just what those hands had done, and what they were capable of. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his fatigued eyes; unsure what he was feeling for the blonde Slayer, but knowing, without a doubt, that it was folly to entertain anything other than friendship for her. She was trudging down her own path and probably had no desire to even look at someone else's. He shoved his glasses back on and took a deep breath.

She sighed and stretched. She was short enough that the sofa didn't impede her, but he knew she couldn't be comfortable.

He took a deep breath and stood, deciding that the worse she could do was leave a few bruises. He didn't think what he was about to do warranted any broken bones. He crossed the short distance to stand by the sofa and pulled the throw away from her.

She whimpered softly at the loss of its warmth.

He scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his bedroom.

He awkwardly pulled the covers down with one hand and gently laid her on the bed. He pulled off her shoes and socks. He didn't even think of removing any other clothing. That would most certainly earn him broken appendages.

He turned the light on in the bathroom and left the door ajar, so she wouldn 't wake in total darkness. He changed into his sleepwear and laid down on the sofa. He breathed deeply of her scent and let that be the last thing he was conscious of before sleep carried him away.

* * * * *

Wesley woke, trying to figure out what was wrong. He stretched and hit the arm of the sofa with his foot. *That* was what was wrong. He was sleeping on the sofa and now he had a most painful cramp in his back. He slowly sat up, wincing at the pain and stood. He moved quietly to his bedroom and peeked in.

Buffy wasn't in the bed.

He ventured further in the room and saw his window open. He started to panic when he saw a shadow on the fire escape.

* * * * *

She sat on the fire escape and watched the night. Not that there was a lot to see, but it was better to be sitting on the cold, damp steel than in bed being haunted by ghosts she couldn't exorcise. She became aware of a presence in the room behind her and knew that Wesley had found her.

"Buffy?" His voice drifted out to her. He seemed to be talking quietly, almost as if he was afraid that she might do something stupid. Like she would ever jump off of anything again.

"Hey, Wes," she answered.

"What are you doing out there?"

"Just needed some air."

"At three a.m.?"

"Yep," she replied, never taking her eyes off the night.

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do now. She sounded calm, but something told him that she was hanging by a thread and he didn't have any idea what might cause that thread to snap. That worried him more than he liked.

"Am I making you nervous?"

He hesitated for a split second before answering somewhat truthfully. "Slightly."

She half-smiled to herself before rising gracefully and coming back into the room.

"Far be it from me to disturb your sleep," she teased him quietly.

He resisted the urge to grasp her by the shoulders so that he might see her better.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

He bit back the obvious reply--that she was far from fine. Instead he asked if she would like some tea. She nodded and he went to put on the kettle.

* * * * *

She sat at the table and absently stirred her tea. She reached for the sugar container and Wesley moved it out of her reach.

"If you add one more spoon of sugar to your cup, you will turn it into syrup," he replied to her unspoken question.

"I haven't put that much," she protested.

He raised an eyebrow in silent challenge.

She took a sip and couldn't suppress a shudder.

He smirked.

"Would you like to tell me what is bothering you?" He asked after he poured her a fresh cup of tea. He watched as she added milk and sugar. He couldn't repress a grin as the careful way she measured both.

"It doesn't concern you," she said quietly, head down.

He couldn't say why those four words cut him so deeply.

She looked at him and caught the flash of hurt in his eyes.

"Oh, Wes. I'm sor--."

He held up a hand. "No, Buffy. You are entitled to your privacy."

She shoved back from the table with a burst of angry energy.

"God, can I ever say what I mean without hurting someone I care about?" She started to leave the room.

His quiet voice stopped her. "You care for me?"

She spun around to look at him. He ducked his head, but not before she saw the raw plea there. He truly didn't understand his own worth. She moved to kneel beside his chair.

He tried to turn from her, but she captured his hand in one of her own and used the other to gently grasp his chin to force him to look at her.

"Why do you think so little of yourself?" She asked, genuinely mystified.

"Because I've never had anyone, other than Angel, Cordelia and a few others, think more," he answered without guile or self-pity.

Buffy released him abruptly and rocked back on her heels.

He stood and left the room, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

* * * * *

Wesley sank down on the front steps of his building. He couldn't be in the same apartment as Buffy after making such a monumental fool of himself. What the hell had possessed him to open himself up like that? What made him think she cared?

He noticed the night sky beginning to lighten and realized just how long he' d been outside.

He took a deep breath and steeled himself before returning to face her.

He saw her curled up on the sofa as he entered the apartment. He thought at first she was waiting for him, but then he realized she had fallen asleep. She must have been exhausted to have drifted off in that position.

He repeated his earlier actions of the night and picked her up and returned her to his bed.

Then he sat on the sofa, thinking, until it was time to begin the day.

* * * * *

Buffy woke with her head buried in a pillow. The last thing she remembered was sitting on the sofa, waiting for Wesley to come back in. She'd thought about going after him, but decided that he needed some time alone. She was going to talk to him when he got back, but had fallen asleep. Since she didn 't know how she'd gotten in bed, she could only guess he did his gentleman thing again and carried her.

She shook her head at that. How could a man be so good and kind to others, yet feel he was worth so little.

She threw back the covers and found her overnight bag where he'd left it. She went into the bathroom and quickly showered and dressed.

When she found him in the kitchen, he was making coffee.

"Wes--?"

He turned and she saw the resolution in his eyes not to talk about last night. She tried anyway. "About last night--"

He held up a hand. "What would you like for breakfast?" His tone was even and calm. It was also devoid of any of the emotion of the night before.

She sighed.

"Whatever you fix is fine," she answered softly. She didn't have the energy to push him right now, she had to be at Giles and Cordy's this morning, but she hoped he realized that this wasn't finished.

Wesley released a breath. Apparently, she was willing to forget about the night before. He certainly hoped so.

He served her breakfast.

* * * * *

Half an hour later, Buffy was on her way to her Watcher's house. She'd filled Wesley in on what was going on and had been told to tell Cordelia and Giles that he was willing to help in anyway he could.

She knocked on the door and when it swung open, she was greeted to the sight of--nothing.

"Hi, Dennis."

The air around her warmed a bit in greeting. A cup of coffee floated to her and she took it and sipped.

"Thanks."

She'd been a little wigged by having a ghost living with her Watcher, but then she'd gotten to know him. He was nicer than most of the living, breathing males she knew. She laughed softly to herself.

"What's so funny?" Cordelia's voice drifted to her just before she came into view.

"Just thinking about Dennis," she replied.

"You think Dennis is funny?"

"Not Dennis, just the fact he's sweeter than most of the guys I can actually see."

Cordelia laughed and nodded in agreement. "Yeah, he is one of the best."

The curtains fluttered in pleasure at this unexpected praise coming from two of his favorite people.

"Where's Giles?" Buffy looked around.

"He's finishing shaving and dressing. He'll be here in a minute." Cordelia gestured for Buffy to sit down.

"So what's the deal? How do we fight this?"

"Let's wait for him."

Buffy sat down and twisted her hands in her lap. She was worried about Giles. And, now, she was worried about Wesley.

"Cordy?"

"Yeah?"

"What do you know about Wesley's life in England?"

Cordelia eyed the blonde woman sitting across from her with serious eyes.

"Not much, other than the fact that everything I've found out about his family makes me think they're jerks."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why do you think they're jerks?"

Cordelia sighed. "Because when he was shot, there wasn't one letter, one phone call, nothing to show they cared."

"How do you know they knew?" Buffy couldn't believe that someone just wouldn't care if their child almost died.

"Because I called them." She still fumed about that phone call.

"You're sure they got the message?"

"I'm positive, I spoke to Mister Wyndham-Pryce himself."

"Wesley's dad?"

"Yep. I told him that his son was lying in a hospital bed. You know what he said?" Cordelia's voice shook with remembered anger.

"What?"

"He said he appreciated the call, but Wesley was no longer his concern. If he had fallen into the wrong crowd, it wasn't the Wyndham-Pryces' problem anymore."

Buffy suppressed a shaft of anger at that. How could a father be so damned heartless? She realized more and more as the years went by that she was lucky that her mom had cared. She might not have always made the right decisions, but at least she always let her daughters know she loved them.

"Does Wesley know about that call?"

"No, I never had the heart to tell him."

Buffy nodded.

Giles came into the room right at that moment and knew that he'd missed something.

"Is anything wrong?"

Cordelia shook her head as she watched the Slayer. Buffy was deep in thought and didn't seem to notice the scrutiny.

Giles looked at his Slayer and back to his wife. He raised an eyebrow as if to say, 'what's all this?'.

She just shook her head again, the movement telling him she'd fill him in later.

He quirked his brow again and dropped it.

He sat down in the chair opposite the sofa.

"First of all, you need to know where the threat originates from," Giles began.

"Which is?" Buffy pushed the other worries out of her mind, devoting her full attention to her Watcher.

"The museum."

"Your museum?" Cordelia's surprise was evident.

He nodded.

"Someone is using dark magicks in order to incapacitate me." He paused "Or worse," he finished in a quiet voice.

Cordelia paled slightly at the flat, unemotional way he described the fact that someone was trying to murder him.

Buffy clenched her teeth. Losing control wouldn't help anybody, but all she wanted to do was go find who was hurting Giles and pound on them until everything on them hurt or bled, preferably both.

Giles continued. "I haven't been able to pin down who's doing it, but I know it must be someone fairly close to me every day. This type of spell requires the castor to be quite near the subject."

"Robert?" Cordelia hated to think the man that had gotten so close to Giles would be the one doing this.

"I can't rule out the possibility." Giles rubbed the back of his neck wearily.

Cordelia got up and walked around behind him. She pushed his hand out of the way and began to knead the taught muscles at the base of his skull. He breathed deeply and leaned his head back to rest against her chest and smile at her.

She kissed his forehead gently and continued to work on the knot of nerves in his neck.

"What do we do now?" Buffy hated feeling helpless.

"We wait," Giles replied.

"What?" Buffy and Cordelia exclaimed in unison.

"We don't have a choice," he explained patiently. "If we move too quickly, whoever is doing this will simply change their tactics and try something we' re not ready for."

"What happens if you die while we wait?" Frustration and fear made Buffy's voice rough. She was immediately contrite when she saw Cordelia go pale.

Giles felt Cordelia stiffen at the question. He laid a hand over hers.

"I won't die."

"How do you know?"

"Because now that I know what's being done to me, I can take steps to counteract the spell."

"Are you sure?" Buffy couldn't help the spike of hope that spiraled through her.

He nodded. "Very."

Behind him, Cordelia released a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. He felt it and squeezed her hand.

Buffy finally relaxed enough to lean back against the sofa as she nodded. "Okay. Now what do we do to catch these bastards and teach them not to mess with us?"

"First we find out who is casting the spell."

"And then?"

Giles' eyes went flinty. "Then, we stop them," he said in a cold voice.

Both women nodded their approval and they began to work out a game plan.


***


Buffy got back to Wesley's a little before dusk and she started to knock on the door when she heard voices coming from inside.

Loud voices.

"You are just as irresponsible as always, Wesley," a cultured voice said.

"Father, please?" Wesley sounded tired and--intimidated?

"Please what? You have always been a disappointment to the family."

Buffy didn't wait to hear anymore. She quickly turned the knob and entered the apartment.

She came face-to-face with an older Wesley. Until you looked a little closer and saw that where Wesley, under all his reserve, was warm and understanding, this man was as cold as they came.

"I see your choice of companions hasn't improved since I last spoke to you," the older man stated as he looked down is aristocratic nose at her.

Wesley sighed and started to apologize until a look from Buffy told him to not even try it. He resigned himself to a scene and introduced them.

He gestured to Buffy. "Buffy Summers, this is my father, William Wyndham-Pryce."

He made the same motion in his father's direction. "Father, this is Buffy Summers. You may have heard of her, she's the Slayer," he couldn't resist adding.

"Of course I know who she is," his father snapped. "I thought she threw you out on your ear?" He turned to his son. "That would also be when you were thrown out of the Council in disgrace," he reminded his son snidely. He turned to the woman regarding him with something akin to fury building in her eyes. "As for you," he sneered, "you're as much of a disgrace as he is."

Wesley's entire demeanor changed.

"Get out," he said furiously.

His father looked at him with barely-concealed contempt. "What did you say?"

"I said get out!" The ex-Watcher ground out through clenched teeth.

"Surely, you don't think to order me about?" William snorted.

"You may say what you wish about me," Wesley told him. "But you are not allowed to come into my home and slander one of the finest women I have ever known."

William Wyndham-Pryce began to laugh. "Oh, my. You have feelings for her? How rich!" He turned to Buffy. "How does it feel to know that a complete failure has a school-boy crush on you?" He laughed again.

Wesley's face flamed in mortification as he waited for Buffy's response. When it came, his mouth dropped open in shock.

"Well, for one thing, he's not a failure, complete or otherwise," Buffy drawled. "As for the other, I'd really like it to be more than a crush since I'm in love with him and I was kinda hoping he felt the same." With that startling announcement, she walked over to where the younger British man was standing and slipped her arms around his waist and gently kissed him.

Wesley's father gaped at them. "You can't possibly be serious?"

"Why not?" She turned to glare at the older man.

"Because--because--," Wesley's father sputtered.

"Hey, you're the one that said we're disgraces. Why shouldn't we be disgraces together?"

He turned an interesting shade of purple at having his own words thrown back at him.

Wesley couldn't seem to grasp the fact Buffy was doing this. He had been caught by surprise when his father knocked on his door this morning. Now, he wasn't sure what to think at all.

"If you are so enamored with my son, I'm sure you would consent to having dinner with his family tonight." The older man smirked, obviously believing that the Slayer would have no part in that.

"Sure," she accepted calmly.

The sneer slid off his face.

"Buffy," Wesley said as he turned her to face him. "You don't have to do this."

She light touched his lips to shush him. "Of course I do. I'm in love with you and, though I won't say I'm looking forward to dinner with your father," she said as the man in question turned red with indignation. "I will say that any time I spend with you is worth it." She threw a glance at his father. "No matter who I have to put up with to do it."

"I will not stay here and be insulted," Wesley's father sputtered.

Buffy turned to him again. "Do you promise?" She asked hopefully.

He threw a scathing glance at her and his son and stormed out of the apartment.

Buffy closed the door behind and leaned against it as she looked at a confused Wesley.

"Why did you do that?" He asked.

"Because he needed to be taught a lesson." She didn't pretend to misunderstand him.

"That's all?" He couldn't hide the disappointment.

She returned to his side and took his hand. She pushed him down on the sofa and sat down beside him.

"No, that's not all. I like spending time with you, Wes." She picked up his hand and began to stroke it absently. "But I also know what it's like to never quite live up to your father's expectations." She turned his hand over and traced his lifeline. "I don't want to see you hurt and your father's disapproval hurts you. If I can do something to fix that, I will," she finished simply.

Wesley pulled his hand from her, unwilling to admit just how strongly her touch was affecting him, and stood.

"My father will always disapprove of me, Buffy." He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It's nothing you can change." He put his glasses back on. "Putting yourself in the position of having to deal with my family is something that I would wish on no one, most especially someone I consider a friend."

"It can't be that bad, Wes."

"Yes, it can. Believe me, yes it can," he said with a sad sigh.

"Well, it doesn't matter what you think anyway, I've already told him I'd be there. Besides, I owe you anyway. Consider this payback." She winked at him.

"You owe me nothing, Buffy."

"Yes, I do. And this dinner is my way of paying back just a little bit." She headed to the kitchen. "You want something to drink?"

"No, thank you." Wesley drew in a deep breath. How on earth was he supposed to get through a dinner with his parents and Buffy without exposing the truth? He had managed to, without conscious thought, do a supremely moronic thing. He had fallen in love with Buffy Summers.

* * * * *

Buffy sat beside Wesley in the cab and wondered just exactly what she was getting herself into. She knew from Cordelia and from things Wesley had said that his parents weren't exactly Mike and Carol Brady. She snuck a glance in his direction. He looked--tense. She leaned back in the seat and wondered again what she was getting herself into.

Wesley felt Buffy shift in the seat and cringed. He would have dreaded this evening, regardless, now it was his worst nightmare come true. He had just admitted to himself what he felt for her and she was about to be forced to endure his parents. He prayed for this night to pass quickly.

* * * * *

The Slayer walked into the posh restaurant and forced herself not to gawk. She knew people lived like this, but she'd never gotten an up-close-and-personal look at it before. She suddenly felt very out of place and very inadequate.

She felt Wesley put his hand on the small of her back to help guide her and ss they made their way across the room, he leaned down and whispered in her ear. "You are worth a hundred of these people, Buffy. Never forget that."

She suddenly felt more at ease. She didn't much care what the others thought as long as the man beside her wasn't ashamed of her.

They crossed to stand before his parents.

His father viewed them with disdain. It was clear that he hadn't expected Buffy to show up. The fact that she did seemed to irritate him immensely.

Wesley's mother seemed to be waiting for something.

"Well, Wesley. Aren't you going to introduce us?" She looked Buffy up and down as though she were a bug under glass.

"Yes, of course," Wesley stammered as he remembered his manners. "Buffy, this is my mother, Margaret Wyndham-Pryce. Mother, this is Buffy Summers."

"Miss Summers." Wesley's mother acknowledged the Slayer with a slight nod of her head. "My husband tells me that you fancy yourself in love with Wesley," the older woman said.

Buffy shook her head to herself. Sheesh, these people may have money, but her mom had taught *her* better manners. "You husband has it a little wrong."

Margaret cocked an eyebrow in question. A question that Buffy answered quickly because she felt the man beside her stiffen.

"I don't *fancy* myself in love with Wesley. I *am* in love with Wesley." She felt Wesley relax and she reached down to slip her hand into his.

"Why?" His mother asked bluntly.

"Come again?" Buffy couldn't believe a mother would have to ask that question about her own son.

"Why do you think so?" The older woman seemed hard-pressed to understand what Buffy was telling her.

Buffy ground her teeth together. "Okay--one more time, from the top. I don' t *fancy* or *think* myself to be in love with Wesley. I *am* in love with him. Totally. And I find it a little insulting that one: you don't think I would know for sure. And two: That you seem to find it so unbelievable."

"You find it insulting?" Margaret's tone was mystified.

"Yes." Buffy nodded emphatically. "I mean, Wesley is intelligent, charming, considerate, compassionate and handsome. Geez, what's not to love?"

The charming man's father snorted derisively. "You must be speaking of someone else. You surely cannot be talking about my son."

Buffy fought the urge to smack him. How could he be so cruel to his own son? It was like a sport to him and the more he hurt Wesley, the more points he scored. She glanced at his wife and held the woman's gaze. The Slayer wanted to know if she felt the same as her husband. For a long moment, it seemed as though she did, but then Buffy saw the icy mask slip. Just for a moment, but it was enough. The mother didn't like it either, but she wasn't brave enough to buck her husband and defend her son. That, in Buffy's mind, was intolerable. And she'd be damned if they sat through an entire dinner of it.

William interrupted her thoughts. "Take your seats, we've taken the liberty of ordering for you."

Buffy looked at Wesley and could see that he didn't want to be here either.

"I don't think so," she said as she squeezed Wesley's hand.

"What?" The older man looked amazed that anyone might contradict him.

"I said I don't think so." Buffy realized she was enjoying telling this old windbag off. "I'm not going to sit through a dinner when the sole reason is to cause Wesley pain. We'll go somewhere where we'll both be comfortable."

She smiled at the man beside her and they left the restaurant, his father spluttering in an inarticulate rage behind them.

* * * * *

The two of them stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant and looked at one another for a long moment before Buffy could no longer contain it and started to giggle. Wesley managed to hold it together for a few moments more, but he eventually lost the battle and went down.

Buffy finally got control and, wiping tears from her eyes, suggested that they head back to his apartment.

He started to hail a cab.

"No, don't. I want to walk." She laid a hand on his arm to stop him.

"Very well." He gallantly offered her his arm. "Shall we, m'lady?"

She laughed and took it. "Why, thank you, kind sir."

Wesley strolled beside her and considered the woman he had fallen in love with. She had defended him. He had no doubt that Cordelia or Angel would have done so if they'd been there, but the fact remained that Buffy had been the one to do it, seemingly without thought. He wasn't sure what he could do to be worthy of that, but he wanted to be. He truly did. He remembered how he had held such disdain for her when he'd first met her because she wasn't the Slayer he'd been trained to believe she should be. God, could he have been more wrong? She was one of the most successful slayers in history and it was due, in large part, to her refusal to adhere to the norm. She refused to do what others expected her to do and it had saved her life time and time again.

He stopped abruptly. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Buffy had stopped when he did, the apology catching her by surprise.

"For what? Your parents?" She waved her hand in dismissal. "It's okay, I mean, you can't choose your parents. You don't have to apologize for them."

"Not for my parents, for myself," he said quietly, watching her.

She cocked her head to one side and studied him. "Why for yourself?" She asked after a moment.

"I was a complete ass to you when I first came to Sunnydale. I assumed that I knew more than a Slayer who had stayed alive in the field for years. I, of course, never having dealt with a vampire, or anything else, other than in controlled conditions." His voice was heavy with self-condemnation as he turned away from her, rubbing the back of his neck wearily.

Buffy went to him and turned him to face her. She reached up and framed his face between her hands. "You don't have to apologize."

"Buffy, I--."

"Wes, we worked all this out, remember?" She gently reminded him.

"That doesn't make what I did right," he insisted.

"No, it doesn't," she agreed. She put a finger to his lips to hush him. "But I made mistakes, too." She looked at him with troubled eyes. "I thought we'd gotten past this?"

Wesley closed his eyes against the hurt in he saw, and sighed. "We did, it's just--."

"Seeing your parents brought it all back?" she guessed.

He nodded.

She hesitated a moment before putting her arms around him and hugging him. She knew that she was treading dangerous territory, but she couldn't seem him hurt like this and not try to ease it. She wasn't sure what she was feeling for him, but she knew it was a lot more than she'd felt in a long time.

Wesley stood shock-still for a split-second before he slowly allowed his arms to encircle her. He closed his eyes against the feeling of rightness that flowed through him. Was this the Powers-That-Be's way of punishing him for his transgressions, by putting what he wanted so desperately so close, yet so far out of his reach?

He held her for a bit longer before setting her away from him and mustering up a half-hearted smile.

"Shall we go?" He offered her his arm once more.

She nodded and took hold of him. Her mind was reeling with what she'd just admitted to herself. In that moment when he'd held her close to him, she'd had an epiphany. She was in love with Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. Oh, boy, she groaned to herself. Did she need any more complications in her life? Falling in love with the man walking beside her wasn't a bad thing in-and-of-itself. But his connection to other people in her life could seriously foul up what she'd just started to get straightened out.

She sighed.

Wesley felt it and cringed. He should have known better than to burden her with his problems. He'd learned that lesson years ago--why hadn't he listened to the small voice inside him that had been yelling at him to shut the hell up and tell her nothing was wrong? He resisted the urge to smack himself on the forehead. Because you're in love with her, you bloody idiot, the small voice told him.

Now, he sighed.

And Buffy felt it.

"We're a pair, aren't we?" She asked, a hint of mischief coloring her tone.

He heard it and smiled in spite of himself. "Yes, I suppose we are," he agreed with a small smile.

"I've got a great idea," she said suddenly.

He looked at her suspiciously. She looked entirely too pleased with herself.

"What?"

"Miniature golf!" She stated with a raised hand and triumphant smile.

"Miniature what?" He asked in a mystified voice.

"What? You mean you've never heard of miniature golf?" She put her hand to her chest in a gesture of shock. "You poor deprived soul, you." She grabbed his hand and dragged him along. "C'mon, we're gonna educate you right now."

She pulled him along, his deep laughter mingling with hers.

* * * * * 

Several hours later, they fell into the door of his apartment, laughing and exhausted.

"I can't believe you missed that shot," she told him as she plopped down on his sofa.

"Buffy, how was I supposed to make that shot? The clown's hands kept getting in the way," he defended himself.

"Hey, that five-year old kid made it," she reminded him with glee.

He drew himself up with as much dignity as he could muster. "Yes, well--he put his ball closer to the hole."

"You telling me that you needed a handicap against a pre-schooler?" She dissolved in laughter.

He tried to look stern, but lost his battle as he saw how much fun she'd had. And, truthfully, he couldn't remember the last time he had enjoyed himself that much--even if he did lose to a pre-schooler, he thought wryly.

"Whatcha thinking?" Buffy's voice intruded on his thoughts.

"How much I enjoyed today," he answered truthfully.

She nodded. Then she looked at her watch.

"Oh my God!" She jumped up. "I've gotta call home. I told them I'd be home an hour ago."

Wesley had begun to listen to his answering machine messages before her outburst and stilled her with a hand on her shoulder as he listened to the second one.

Willow's voice drifted out of the speaker. "Hey Wes. If you see Buffy, could you let her know that Dawn's fine and staying with a friend tonight, so if she doesn't want to come home till tomorrow, that would be okay. I called Giles, but he said he hadn't seen her since this morning. Could you have her call me you two get home, I mean, if you see her. Bye." Wesley could almost see the blush he knew Willow must have had at that little slip.

The machine beeped to indicate the end of the message and Wesley looked at the date/time stamp. "This came in several hours ago."

Buffy gave a sigh of relief.

"May I use your phone?"

"Certainly, I'll put the kettle on." Wesley left her to her call.

* * * * *

Giles worked in his office as he put the spell he'd found into effect. He did it under the cover of researching Egyptian antiquities. He knew that if he didn't do it very subtly, it would be a slap in the face to whoever was doing the original spell. He couldn't take the chance they would change to a spell he had no experience with.

He chanted quietly and watched the door. If he did this right, the person hexing him might feel a shift in the power of their spell, but they wouldn't know it had been countered. He released the spell so slowly that he could almost feel the power trickling out of his fingertips.

When it was done, he could feel an immediate relief from the exhaustion and pain he'd been living with for weeks. He paused to see if there was any disturbance in the protective shield he'd placed around himself. That was one way the spell had been modified. Normally, the spell being done was a healing spell. Giles added certain other elements that made it a healing spell and protection spell. Now, the waiting began. How long would it hold and who would be the person to show themselves when they discovered what had been done was anyone's guess.

He jumped when a firm knock rattled his door.

"Come in," he called, glad that his voice was steadier than his nerves at the moment.

His secretary stuck her head in.

"Mister Giles, Mister Matthews would like to see you in his office right away."

"Thank you, Lisa. Tell him I'll be there shortly."

She left, closing the door quietly behind her. He took a deep breath and went to meet the man that was his boss, and he thought, his friend. Now, he wasn't so sure. He rubbed his forehead and squeezed his eyes closed. He hated having to be so bloody suspicious all the time. He sighed and left the office.

* * * * *

Forty-five minutes later, he returned to his office with a heavy heart. He had no doubt that Robert was the one behind the spell. Now all he had to do was devise a way to get him to confess. He pulled off his glasses and tossed them on his desk as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He sat silent for a moment, allowing the disappointment of shattered trust to flow through him before he sighed, picked up his glasses and shoved them on. Robert was a betrayer; nothing could be done about that. But he could make damn sure the man couldn't touch anyone else he cared about. All at once, a plan came to him. One in which he wouldn't have to physically hurt the bloody bastard--unless of course, it was the only option. He smiled tightly and began to put the plan in motion.

* * * * *

Several hours later, he slammed the front door and called out. "Cordelia!"

She came out of the kitchen. "What? Sheesh, where's the fire, Giles?"

"I've invited Robert to dinner."

She looked at him strangely for a minute.

"Okay--and this is supposed to mean something, how?"

"He's the one doing the spell," he told her bluntly.

"The bastard!" Her temper spiked so hard, she had trouble controlling the demon aspect of her personality and her eyes glowed for a moment.

Giles took her in his arms to calm her. "Don't worry, darling. I've got a plan."

She pulled back and got a good look at him and started to laugh.

"Oh, man. This guy's not gonna know what hit him."

"I certainly hope not." Giles couldn't help the thrill that shot through him. He very seldom allowed his baser side to rule his nature, but he had to admit, it was something of a rush when he did.

A lamp flickered off and a door slammed suddenly.

"Don't worry, Dennis. You have a part to play in this plan as well," Giles assured him. He could almost feel the satisfaction coming from Dennis. The ghost was very protective of Cordelia and that protectiveness had extended itself to her husband. He was not happy that someone had tried to hurt Giles.

The Watcher began to lay out his plan.

* * * * *

Robert Matthews knocked on the Giles' door and shoved down a feeling of unease. He'd had dinner with them before; this time shouldn't be any different. 'No, but it is and you know it," a voice whispered.

He ignored it. He was having an attack of conscience--or rather, he's been having one ever since this whole mess got started. But he didn't have a choice, damn it.

Giles opened the door with a smile and ushered him in.

"Sit down, Robert." he gestured to a chair.

Robert didn't know why he was feeling so uneasy. "Why did you ask me over tonight?"

The man across from him looked at him innocently.

"I just wanted to invite a friend to dinner. Why? Should there be another reason?"

"No, no. Of course not." Robert stammered. "It's just you usually don't invite me over on the spur-of-the-moment like this."

"I've actually had this little get-together planned for quite some time, I just didn't know who the guest-of-honor would be," Giles said in a cryptic voice.

The man sitting across from him began to worry in earnest. He didn't know what the hell was going on, but he didn't want to be here.

He moved to get up when Cordelia walked into the room.

"Sit down, Robert. What's your hurry?" She asked as she sat down on the arm of the chair where her husband sat. She laid her arm across his shoulders and leaned into him.

The curator's unease kicked into orbit. Something was going on and every instinct he had told him he'd walked into a trap. He just couldn't figure out how they'd found out.

"What's going on, Rupert?" He asked, feigning mystification.

Giles slowly straightened and stood.

"I think you know, Robert," he replied, his voice frosty.

"Rupert--."

"SILENCE!" Giles thundered.

Robert couldn't speak. He also couldn't move.

"Do you understand now?" Giles strode over to the man. "You aren't the only one capable of dabbling in magic, I've done so before." He stopped. "I simply choose not to, because I know the gains rarely outweigh the consequences." He hauled the prone man up to stand before him. "But then, you weren't paying any consequences, were you? You simply wanted me to die and did everything in your power, including magic, to accomplish your goals." His voice, cold before, suddenly heated. "How dare you? How dare you attempt to destroy me? You have no earthly idea who you are dealing with." He released Robert and allowed him to collapse back in the chair.

"Or otherworldly, for that matter," Cordelia added. Robert, able to move again, turned to face her. He was speechless again, this time from shock. She was glowing--and hovering about 6 inches off the floor.

He gaped.

He regained his powers of speech and stood. His legs were trembling, but he knew he needed to leave--now!

"I don't know what the hell you people are, but I'm leaving," he blustered.

He got two steps towards the door when the air around him became blistering hot. He felt an unseen hand grasp him by the shirt collar and bodily lift him back into the chair he'd just vacated. He began to shake uncontrollably.

"Thanks, Dennis," Cordelia called to thin air.

What in God's name had he gotten himself into?

"Do you see how it is?" Giles crossed his arms across his chest and looked down his nose at the terrified man. "You have no choices here. You are only allowed that which *we* allow you."

"You can't do this. You can't hold me against my will."

"Do you really want to test that theory?" Giles suppressed a wave of relief. This was going much more quickly than he'd originally planned. "You *will* tell me what I want to know."

"And if I don't?" Robert knew he'd just as good as confessed, but he also knew it didn't matter. Rupert and Cordelia had figured out what was going on, now he needed to know what was to become of him--and of those he cared for.

"I will make you hurt," Giles told him bluntly.

Robert blanched when Cordelia added her bit. "And if he doesn't, I will."

Robert looked at her and realized that trying to hurt the man she loved was probably the biggest mistakes he could have ever made.

He sighed.

"I'm working for the Watchers' Council," he said quietly.

For a moment, there was dead silence. Then Giles grabbed him by the shirtfront and hauled him to his feet again.

"What was that again?" He growled.

"I said, I work for the Watchers' Council." He felt himself hurled back into the chair. He was getting mightily tired of being used as a ping pong ball.

"Why? What do they want? Why do they want me dead?" Giles fired these questions in rapid succession.

"They didn't want you dead--they wanted you controllable."

"I work for the bloody bastards, what else do they want?" The Watcher ran a hand through his hair and began to pace.

"Come on, Rupert," Robert said. "You may draw a paycheck from them, but they haven't had any control over you since Buffy forced them to rehire you."

"Why the elaborate ruse?"

"Because there is a war going on in the Council."

"War?"

"Yes, there are two factions that are fighting for control of the Council, you, your Slayer and your wife."

"My wife? What the hell do they want with Cordelia?" Robert found himself hauled up to stand nose-to-nose with the angry Englishman once again. He shook him off and straightened his clothes with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Your wife, a Seer to a souled vampire, is a direct line to the Powers-that-be, and is married to one of the most successful Watchers in history. What makes you think they *wouldn't* be interested in her?"

Giles changed directions. "What do you get out of this? What did they promise you? Was the job at the museum a set up? Were you plotting to destroy me all along?" He couldn't believe he'd been such a bloody fool. He had actually thought he had found someone that appreciated what he had to offer.

"They didn't *promise* me anything. I didn't even know who the hell you were when I first offered you the job. You were just a man that was very good at what he did for a living." The man that was threatening everything Giles held dear looked at him. The bravado was suddenly stripped away and the Watcher could see raw anguish in his eyes. There was a plea to understand in the man's eyes. "I didn't have a choice, Rupert. You have to believe that."

"There is always a choice," Giles retorted.

"When they're holding your parents hostage?" Robert asked bluntly.

"What?"

"My parents didn't move to Florida. They were taken to England." He closed his eyes in anguish.

"How do you know that?"

"Because one of the men from the Council, a very powerful man, showed up at the museum one day about a month or so after you started working for me and told me he wanted me to spy on you." Robert flopped back down in his chair and leaned his head against the back in a gesture of great weariness. "I told him to go to hell. I don't spy for anyone, but most especially not on someone that I considered a friend." He tilted his head back up and looked at Giles. "He asked me how my parents were. I'm going to be honest, this man radiated power and that one question scared the shit of out me." He dropped his head back and closed his eyes as though the weight of his confession was too much to confront with his eyes opened. "Next thing I know, they've got my mom and dad shipped off to England and are telling me if I don't do what they want, my parents will suffer the consequences." He stood and paced to the window. He looked out for a moment at the darkening night and then turned suddenly. "What the hell would you have done?"

"I wouldn't have tried to murder someone," Cordelia spoke for the first time since this tirade had started.

"Cordelia," Giles admonished gently.

"What?" She spun to face her husband. "It's true. He could have come to you."

"And told him what? That my parents were being held by a group of men that aren't even supposed to exist? That I'm supposed to cast a damned *spell* on a man that I thought was just a really good antiquities appraiser?" His anger suddenly getting the best of him, Robert faced his accusers. "You tell me what I should have done. 'Cause I've gotta tell you. I was, and still am; terrified of what they're going to do to the people I love." He suddenly sank back into the chair, all energy suddenly gone. He dropped his head in his hands and tried very hard not to weep at what he'd just done. He could very well have sentenced his parents to death, because he had no doubt that the man that had come to see him would carry out every threat he'd made.

"Who was the man, Robert? What was it you said about two factions?"

"His name was William Wyndham-Pryce. I overheard him talking to someone on the phone one day. Apparently there are two schools of thought on how to handle you and your Slayer. Wyndham-Pryce controls the men favoring the brute force and intimidation school of thought."

"And the other faction?"

"It's lead by a man named Quenton Travers."

"Travers!" Cordelia spat the name out. "I suppose he wants to intimidate too."

"Actually, he thinks the Council should work with you. He says that he's come to realize that you must be doing something right and the Council should take advantage of your knowledge for future Slayers."


The shock on the couple's faces would have been comical in other circumstances, Robert decided. Right now, however, he was finding it hard to smile about anything. He squeezed his eyes shut again. God, what had he done?

"Besides, Travers has someone working for him." He dropped that bombshell almost as an afterthought."

"What?" Giles had to restrain himself from yelling.

"I said Travers has someone over here watching you for him."

"Who?"

Robert shook his head. "I don't know. All I know is it's someone sympathetic to you and who knows who and what you are." He looked at Giles and Cordelia. "What both of you are."

Cordelia sat down heavily on the sofa. She was very grateful when she saw a glass of tea floating towards her. "Thanks, Dennis. I think I could use this." She took a sip and tried to digest everything Robert had told them. If he was telling the truth, they had a lot to worry about. And they didn't even know all the players yet. She rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand and tried to concentrate. The demon side of her was boiling to get out. It fed on high emotions and she was feeling a ton of those right now. She closed her eyes and forced herself to relax.

The phone rang.

"I'll get it," she said as she headed to Giles office. She picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hey sweet cheeks," Lorne's voice sounded way too cheerful for her today.

"Hey, Lorne," she halfheartedly greeted him.

"What's the matter? Something wrong with good-looking?" Lorne knew that Giles had been sick.

"You could say that," she muttered.

"Cordelia?" The anagogic demon was picking up some very bad vibes and he didn't even need to hear her sing.

"I'll tell you about it later." Cordelia waved aside his concerns. "What did you need?"

"My demon obstetrician got back to me today. Finally," he mumbled under his breath.

"And?" She desperately needed something to be settled today.

"He said maybe next time."

Her breath caught halfway between a sigh of relief and a sob of disappointment. She didn't why she would feel disappointed. It wasn't like they *needed* to bring a child into this mess they were in right now. But, oh how she'd wanted a piece of Giles to live inside her. Which was stupid, she thought as she swiped at a stray tear trickling down her cheek, she had him. She pushed down the disappointment.

"Thanks," she whispered.

"Cordelia, are you all right?" Lorne asked again. "Is something wrong?"

"I promise, I'll tell you later." She hung up the phone. She needed to concentrate on one thing at a time and right now, that one thing was the Council trying to kill her husband. She took a deep breath and went out to join her husband. Buffy hung up the phone after talking to Cordelia and turned to Wesley, thankful that she'd told Willow she was staying in L.A. a few days longer. "Giles says he needs us at his house right away."

"Us?" Wesley looked up from the text he'd been reading. They had been arguing the aspects of a particular demon and he was looking it up in order to prove he was right.

"Us." She nodded emphatically

He slowly closed the book. "Serious?"

She nodded again. "Very, from the sound of it."

He set the book back on the bookshelf and grabbed his jacket and followed her out of the door.

A few minutes later, they were tearing down the freeway on his bike.

* * * * *

Buffy opened the door to Giles and Cordelia's. She wasn't sure what to expect, but she knew that Giles sounded really strange when he called.

"Giles?" She called as she slowly pushed open the door.

"In the living room, Buffy," her Watcher called.

Wesley followed her into the room and they both were greeted to the sight of Robert Matthews sitting, slumped, with Giles and Cordelia standing over him.

Buffy took one look and asked. "What's going on?"

"We have a traitor in our midst." He gestured to Robert.

"Him?" She didn't try to hide her bewilderment. "But I thought he was your boss."

"He is. He's also working for the Council."

She looked at the man seated before her.

"He's a Watcher?"

"No. He's a spy." He quickly filled them in.

"Uh oh. We've got a problem." Buffy felt dread start in the pit of her stomach and spread.

"Why?" Giles didn't know how much more he could stand.

"My father is in town," Wesley supplied the answer.

Cordelia groaned.

Robert looked from her to Wesley and back to Giles. "What? Who's his father?"

"William Wyndham-Pryce," Giles answer quietly.

"Oh, God. What have I done?" Robert moaned quietly. "What have I done?" He began to slowly rock back and forth in misery. "I just killed my parents."

"No you didn't." Giles grabbed his shoulders. "Nothing has changed."

"How the hell can you say that? I just told *him*," he spat the word out.

"Telling Wesley doesn't make anything any worse than it was before." Buffy said from her place by Wesley. She'd slipped her hand into his as Giles had told of his father's deceit, to comfort him. She tried not to think how natural that was becoming for her.

"He'll tell his father and my parents will die," Robert accused.

"No, I won't," Wesley contradicted quietly. "I will tell my father nothing."

Robert looked at him. Fear warred with the need to believe the younger Englishman. He decided to believe Wesley and pray that his parents would be okay. That meant that things weren't any better, but at least they hadn't gotten worse in the last five minutes.

"What do we do now," Cordelia asked.

"Now we find Travers' spy and finish this." Giles had a dangerous glint in his eyes.

Wesley was turning the problem of who could be spying for Quenton Travers. The more he worked the problem, the more he came back to the same answer. It was an answer he didn't want to be right. He took a deep breath and unconsciously squeezed Buffy's hand.

"I think I might know who the other spy might be," he offered quietly.

* * * * *

Less than an hour later the five of them were standing in front of Graham's pub, four out of the five of them praying that Wesley was wrong.

They walked in and were surprised to find the normally bustling pub empty.

"Come in, mates."

Their eyes adjusted to the dimness and saw Graham leaning against the bar.

"Where is everyone?" Giles asked warily.

"I've closed down for the evening." The bartender pushed away from the bar to move into the middle of the floor. He kept his hands in the open. "I had a feeling you chaps would show up here tonight." He looked at Buffy and Cordelia and smiled. "And you brought your lovely ladies with you."

"Cut the bullshit." Cordelia stepped closer to him. "You wanna tell us why you've been spying on us?" Anger reverberated in every word.

The Englishman looked at the hostile faces surrounding him and decided that it might be time to confess. "I work for Quentin Travers."

"We know that," Buffy said with something akin to a snarl.

Graham held up both hands. "I mean you no harm."

"Why. Did. You. Spy. On. Us?" Giles enunciated each word carefully. He was feeling very betrayed right now and didn't know exactly what he would do if he lost his temper. He looked over at Wesley and saw he was struggling with the same problem.

"Quentin wanted me to watch you." Graham gestured to the four of them, Robert being forgotten. "He wanted to know what you were doing that had kept all of you alive for so long."

"He never wanted to know before," Buffy reminded him.

Graham ran a hand through his hair. "I know that he got started on the wrong foot with you, Buffy."

"Wrong foot?" She asked incredulously. "He almost got me killed and fired my watcher, I'd say that qualifies as more than a 'wrong foot'"

The man across from her shook his head. "He made mistakes, he admits that; but he does what he believes is best for the Council and for future Slayers."

Buffy snorted even as Cordelia laughed cynically.

He flushed. "I know you don't believe it."

"It doesn't matter what we believe," Wesley interrupted quietly. "What matters now is that, apparently, there is a power struggle with in the Council and we are caught squarely in the middle."

Graham couldn't argue that point.

"That still leaves my parents as pawns in this little game of yours," Robert interrupted angrily. He just as good as signed his parents' death warrants and all anyone could do was rehash old mistakes.

"No, actually they're not," Graham told him.

"What do you mean?" Robert asked suspiciously.

"It means that Quentin found out about Wyndham-Pryce's little game with you and got them out." Graham watched relief pour through the man. "They're on their way home right now."

"Thank God," the curator whispered.

A new voice interrupted. "That is unfortunate."

Everyone spun to see Wesley's father leaning against the front doorjamb in a nonchalant pose; his immaculate suit in direct contrast to the relaxed flavor of the pub.

He continued. "It seems the strings have been cut on my puppet." His eyes glittered at being thwarted. "No matter," he said casually. "I have what I want."

"Which is?" Wesley faced the man who'd sired him. Who had done his best to destroy him.

"Why, kill the Slayer and her Watcher, of course." The older man looked his son and Cordelia up and down. "The fact I can take their significant others with them is an unexpected, albeit, pleasant bonus."

"Why do you hate us?" Buffy asked as she watched Giles slowly begin to move.

"M'dear, I don't hate you." William protested. "I simply think you are a disgrace to the Council and your legacy."

"Buffy has been one of the most successful Slayers in history," Wesley reminded his father archly, inching closer to the woman he loved.

"Her success doesn't matter. Her defiance of the Council is the only thing that concerns me." Wesley's father began to show agitation. "Her complete disregard and lack of respect for the people that have dedicated their lives to the cause is totally unacceptable." He started to pace. "She is *our* tool. *We* control her."

"Buffy is no one's tool. She will not die to appease your wounded pride." Wesley knew his father was close to the edge and he hoped to pull his attention to himself in an effort to save Buffy, Giles and the others.

His father turned cold, vicious eyes on his only son. "What would you know about pride?" He sneered. "You've been a disappointment from the day you were born. You could do nothing right and were always an embarrassment."

Wesley was mildly surprised to find his father's hurtful words no longer bothered him. He smiled slightly; it was actually something of a relief.

William Wyndham-Pryce was disconcerted to see that his words had no affect on his son.

"Wesley is not an embarrassment or a disappointment." Buffy's voice was low, lethal and furious.

"I see you still have your defender." The older man looked at his son. "It's quite fitting that you still can't fight you own battles."

Buffy's eyes flashed and Wesley reached out to grab her before she launched herself at his father.

"Don't,' he told her. "That's what he wants. My father's specialty is mind games. The more off-balance you are, the more in control he is," he explained quietly.

She nodded and fought for her composure. He was right; giving his father the upper hand wouldn't do anyone any good.

William looked at his watch and pulled a gun. "As much as it would please me to continue to discuss my son's shortcomings, I'm afraid I must do what I came here for and leave. I have a plane to catch."

"What makes you think you'll get away with it?" Graham spoke softly. He could see the others assuming battle positions and figured he might as well contribute to distracting the bastard in front of them.

"Because when they find you dead, I'll be over the Atlantic Ocean."

"Forensics is a great science; they can tell exactly when we died. They'll know you were still here," Cordelia reminded him.

"True, but I will have an airtight alibi," William smirked.

"What?" Wesley asked.

"My wife." His father wore a smug smile that slid off his face a moment later.

"Don't be too sure of that," a voice interrupted.

Wesley cringed as he recognized it. "Mother," he whispered.

"Yes, Wesley. I've decided that it is time I defied your father." Margaret Wyndham-Pryce stood in the doorway.

"Go to the car, Margaret." William ordered furiously.

"I don't think so, William. You wish to kill these people; you'll have to do it with me watching. And rest assured, my next stop the police."

Her husband swung to face her. "You bitch," he snarled.

His wife merely smiled at him. "Think what you like, dear. I will no longer stand by and allow you to do as you wish." She looked sadly at her son. "I did that for too long as it is."

"Be sure your shots count, William," Giles told the would-be murderer softly. "You'd better take me out first, because once you fire, I'll rip your throat out."

"And if he doesn't, I will." This came from Wesley.

For the first time, William looked uncertain and his hand began to shake.

"If they don't get you, you can damn sure bet one of us will." Buffy put her hands on her hips and assumed her most bad-ass pose. "You really picked the wrong group to try and kill all at once."

"Then I shall achieve my mission and kill *you* first," the man snarled as he turned the gun on the blonde and pulled the trigger.

Everything happened at once.

Wesley threw himself in front of her, his last conscious thought being to shield her with his body and used one hand to pull her down to the ground with him. The force of the bullet drove him back into her causing her to land in a heap under him.

Giles barreled towards the madman holding the gun and tackled him before he could get another shot off.

Cordelia was right behind her husband, helping him.

The rest of the people in the room were in shock. Then they heard the crying.

Graham looked over to where Buffy was holding Wesley, his blood slowly soaking into the hardwood floor. Buffy had torn her shirt off, leaving only a flimsy tank top protecting her modesty, and was attempting to staunch the flow of blood coming out of his stomach.

"OhGod, OhGod, OhGod." She pressed into the wound and began to talk. "Don't you dare die on me, Wesley." She began to tremble. She sucked in a deep breath and forced herself to calm down. Hysterics wouldn't do him any good. She turned to Robert. "Call 911." When he didn't go right away, she supplied a bit more direction. "NOW!" He scrambled for the phone.

Graham knelt down beside her. "Is there anything I can do?"

Buffy looked at him with stricken eyes. "Pray, do a spell, anything." She bit back a sob. "I don't care, just help me to not let him die," she begged quietly.

Graham laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and began to do the one thing he could do-- pray.

* * * * *

It what seemed hours later, but was really only minutes, Wesley was being loaded in the back of an ambulance. Buffy climbed in the back with him, not giving anyone an option.

She watched them working on him, all the while, clutching his hand. The one time they'd tried to get her to let go; he had become agitated and after that, they'd left her alone. She noticed that his color was waning even more.

She began to make deals with every deity she could remember from Giles' musty books. She remembered how Cordy had made the same deals when Giles was stabbed. She remembered the heart-breaking desperation in the other woman's voice at the time, how Cordelia had shut out everyone but Giles. How she'd prayed, bargained and threatened him to wake up and be better.

She inched forward until she was kneeling on the floor of the ambulance, using one hand on the metal rail of the gurney to steady herself. She leaned down until her lips were almost touching Wesley's ear.

"Don't you die on me." She shuddered as she fought for her composure. "You can't leave me." She rose up a little, being careful not to get in the paramedic's way, and brushed the hair back from his forehead. She avoided looking at his wound. "You haven't even kissed me yet," she whispered.

"I beg to differ with you," was the raspy reply.

She jerked her head back to see his eyes open slowly. They were cloudy and dulled with pain, but they were open!

"Okay," she agreed breathlessly. "You haven't kissed me properly, yet."

"Remind me to rectify that mistake at the soonest possible opportunity," Wesley told her. She sobbed quietly and kissed his forehead before whispering. "I love you." He smiled weakly at her before sliding back into the ocean of black nothingness that her voice had pulled him from. She sat down on the floor of the jerking and rolling ambulance and allowed the tears to fall.

* * * * *

Cordelia left Graham and Robert to deal with the police and loaded Giles and Wesley's mother into the car and was right behind. A cop had tried to stop them from leaving and she'd told him that if they wanted them, they'd be at the hospital, but they *were* going. He jerked his hand off her arm and nodded as he backed away, because her eyes had begun to glow.

She peeled away from the curb.

They arrived a couple of minutes after the ambulance. Cordelia was the first out of the car and looked at her husband. "You go in now."

"Are you sure?" Giles was anxious to get inside, but he knew how much Wesley meant to her.

"Yeah, Buffy's gonna need you." She gave him a small, half-hearted grin. "Besides, you'll probably be the only one that'll be able to pull her off the doctors."

Giles' eyes widened at the thought of the bodily injury his Slayer could do when she was upset.

"Go," Cordelia told him. "I'll help Wesley's mom and we'll be right behind you."

Giles sprinted across the parking lot.

* * * * *

Giles hit the emergency room doors at a run. He got a glimpse of his Slayer and scrub-covered man in an argument.

"I don't care if I'm not family. I want to know what's going on," Buffy said through clenched teeth. Her hands were fisted at her sides and Giles knew she was moments away from doing more than just argue.

"Buffy," he said as he came up beside her.

"Giles," she exclaimed with relief. She threw herself in his arms for a moment before pushing back to stare at him with flashing eyes. "This jerk won't tell me what's happening with Wesley." She glared at the jerk in question.

"Ma'am, I told you. I can't tell anyone but family," the doctor explained patiently-again.

"I'm Wesley's mother, young man, feel free to impart your information," Wesley's mother said as she entered, leaning heavily on Cordelia's arm. The Seer looked at her husband over the older woman's head and mouthed, 'she needs to sit down'.

He nodded. "Why don't we sit and the doctor can tell us what's happening?"

Buffy started to protest, but one good look at Wesley's mom changed her mind. She couldn't do anything right now to help him other than make sure his mom was okay. She bit back her impatience and sat down.

"Now, Doctor?" Giles asked after they'd been settled.

"We think the bullet missed any vital organs, but he's lost a lot of blood. The bullet's lodged somewhere in his body." He saw the flash of pain in the petite blonde's eyes and hurried on. "We're operating now. I'm sorry, but that's all I know." He turned to leave, but then turned back around. "Who thought to put the pressure compress on the wound?"

Cordelia pointed at Buffy. "Her."

Buffy fought tears. "I learned it from him," she said softly.

The doctor nodded. "You gave him a chance." He turned and left.

Buffy stood abruptly and strode to the window. She wrapped her arms around her waist and leaned against it. She didn't recognize the woman staring back at her from the reflection in the glass. When had she started caring? When had a once-uptight, ex-Watcher gotten so far under her skin that she couldn' t imagine life without him? She let a humorless laugh escape. Hell, they'd never even talked about anything other than friendship. She leaned her head against the cool glass and fought the loss of control.

She felt someone come up behind her and thought it was Giles. She was surprised to feel small, frail hands grasp her shoulders. She turned to find Wesley's mother contemplating her with dark, troubled eyes.

"You love my son," Margaret said, not allowing it to be a question.

The Slayer nodded. She knew this woman must love Wes, she didn't know how anybody couldn't. But she also didn't understand how the older woman could have let her husband treat their son the way he did. Yes, she'd done the right thing when it came crunch time, but that didn't excuse what she'd let that bastard do to Wesley.

The Slayer's head snapped up as a thought occurred to her. She found Giles and made her way over to him. "What happened to Wesley's dad?"

"He's not a concern any longer," Giles said.

"Why?"

"He just isn't, Buffy. Leave it at that," he repeated as he looked at the older woman standing behind his Slayer.

"He's dead, isn't he?" Margaret asked quietly.

Giles thought about lying for a moment before nodding. "Yes. He suffered a massive coronary. Graham just called to inform me." He looked at the Englishwoman. "I'm--." He broke off. He couldn't, in all honesty, offer his condolences. Her husband would have murdered him, his wife and his Slayer without a qualm. He might still manage to take his son to the afterlife. But could he deny this woman such basic human decency?

She saved him the trouble. "I'm glad," she said in a small voice, dropping her head. She looked up to find him gaping at her. "What? You think I would still care about what happened to him? He tried to kill my son."

"That never stopped you before." The words were out of Cordelia's mouth before she could stop them.

Margaret paled even more.

"Cordelia!" Giles was shocked.

"What?" Cordelia hadn't meant for the words to escape, but she damned sure wouldn't deny them. "You forget, Wesley stayed in my apartment with Angel for a while when our first office was destroyed. I heard his nightmares."

Margaret didn't know what to say to that. She hadn't known that anyone outside of their family had known about what William had done to Wesley. She said as much.

"You don't understand one thing," Cordelia told her quietly.

The other woman arched her eyebrow in question.

"We're family, Wesley, Angel and I." She gave her husband a loving look. "We 've added to it, but we made ourselves a family a long time ago. We take care of one another."

Buffy heard the warning in the last statement and wondered if Wesley's mom would heed it.

Margaret drew herself up. "Are you saying you care more about my son than I do?"

Buffy shrugged to herself. Guess not.

Cordelia gave her an incredulous look. "You can't be serious? You let that bastard you were married to abuse him for years--belittle him even after he came to L.A. and you ask me if we care more about him than you?"

"You don't understand what happened in our family, young lady," was the frosty reply.

"I understand fine," Cordelia shot back. "I lived it myself, I know how it feels."

Margaret didn't have anything else to say. She retreated to a chair in the corner and sat by herself.

"That was poorly done, luv," Giles told his wife.

Cordelia sighed, wanting to hold onto her anger and knowing she couldn't. "I know." She sighed again. "I'll go talk to her."

Buffy started to say something to Giles when the doctor came in.

"He's out of surgery," he said without preamble.

Buffy sighed in relief.

"He'll need a lot of care," the doctor cautioned. "But he should make a full recovery."

"Can I see him?" Buffy asked him.

He looked at her and thought that he should have known she'd be the first one to ask.

"Let us get him settled in a room and then we'll think about allowing visitors."

He left before Buffy could argue with him.

Buffy looked like she was going to go after him so Giles grabbed her by the arm and steered her to a chair.

"Sit," he ordered as he shoved her into the seat.

"But--."

"No, buts, Buffy. You won't be able to see him until they're ready to let you and wearing yourself out, or making enemies of the doctors and nurses, will not make a difference to their timetable."

Buffy admitted silently that he was right, but that didn't mean she had to like it.

"Besides," her Watcher continued. "You need to eat and get cleaned up."

For the first time, Buffy realized how she looked. Her shirt and pants were covered in blood, Wes' blood. She wanted to clean up, but she had no intention of leaving the hospital.

Cordelia, coming up beside them, read her mind. "I've already taken care of it. Lorne has a key to Wesley's apartment and he's swinging by there to pick up some clothes for you before coming here."

"He's coming to the hospital?"

"Well, him along with Angel, Gunn and Fred."

Buffy cringed inwardly after hearing Angel's name. She didn't know how she was going to explain this to him.

At that exact moment, she ran out of time, Angel came through the doors, along with the others.

He went straight to Buffy as she stood.

"Are you okay?" He nearly panicked at the blood on her clothing.

She saw the anxiety in his eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's Wesley's blood," she told him quietly. "He made sure I was okay."

"What do you mean?" Fred asked.

"It means his father was going to kill me and he took the bullet meant for me." Buffy still had a difficult time believing he did it. He was so going to catch hell for it when he woke up.

Angel saw something besides just disbelief in her eyes. He recognized the look. She was in love and his heart broke a little at the realization.

Buffy saw the flash of pain in his dark eyes and felt sympathy. She also knew she couldn't put this talk off, no matter what else was going on.

She looked at Giles and tilted her head slightly to the hall. He nodded, knowing what she intended. She took the vampire's hand and led him away from the others.

* * * * *

Angel knew what she was going to say, but he didn't know how he was supposed to respond. The logical thing would be to wish her well. After all, she'd told him she was in love before. Albeit, with a lot more intent of causing pain. He found he couldn't just let it go. Some warped sense of masochism had to hear her say she'd moved on with one of his best friends.

"Angel," she began as she looked into his eyes. What she saw there made her want to weep. "I'm sorry."

"For loving Wes?" he asked softly.

"No," she answered quietly. She wouldn't deny the man lying in the hospital bed. Not even to make her first love feel better. "But I am sorry it's causing you such pain."

Angel squeezed his eyes shut at the quiet certainty in her voice about her feelings for the ex-Watcher. He knew they'd never be together again, but it didn't make the pain any less to know that. He felt her hand cup his cheek. He opened his eyes to find hers darkened with compassion.

"Be happy," he whispered. "Tell Wes--tell him--," he couldn't finish. He turned and left the hospital quickly. He couldn't stay. He'd find a way to accept it, but right now, he needed to lick his wounds and say goodbye to a future that never was meant to be.

Buffy sighed and went back into the waiting room to wait for the doctor to allow her to see Wesley. She paused and took one last look at the emergency room doors before leaving the past behind for good.

* * * * *

When Wesley opened his eyes, he saw that Buffy had fallen asleep in a chair by his bed. Her cheek was pillowed by one hand while the other clutched his. His eyes glided over her features. Even in sleep, she exuded a power that was impressive.

He became aware of a pain radiating from his stomach. Suddenly, the memories came flooding back. His father tried to kill Buffy; he wanted her to die because of her perceived disrespect for the Council. Wesley remembered a searing pain as he pushed Buffy to the floor. He remembered nothing after that. There was a hazy feeling of Buffy whispering something important, but nothing he could pull into clarity.

He sighed.

The movement woke the woman beside him.

Buffy opened her eyes and blinked. "Wesley?"

He nodded and opened his mouth to speak. A croak came out.

"Hold on," she said quickly. "I'll get you some water." She poured a glass from the pitcher on the table. She held the straw to his lips and he sipped slowly. She stroked his hair back from his forehead after she set the glass down.

"What happened?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

"What's the last thing you remember?" She asked carefully.

Wesley knew by the tone of her voice the question was important, he just didn't know why.

"The last thing I remember is landing on the floor after being shot by my father." He tried to bring the whispered words into focus, but his mind refused to cooperate.

Buffy felt her heart fall to her feet. "Nothing else?"

"No." He paused. "I seem to remember something in the ambulance, but nothing for certain."

She turned away from him so he wouldn't see the anguish in her eyes. He didn 't remember anything she'd said on the ride to the hospital. She took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Buffy?" Wesley asked, concerned. "Are you all right?"

She turned to face him. "I'm fine." She pasted on a smile. "I'll go tell the others you're awake." She bolted out of the room before he could protest.

* * * * *

Buffy leaned against the wall outside of Wesley's room. She brushed away the tears that had fallen after she'd left like a hellhound was after her. She steadied herself for a minute before pushing off and heading down the hall.

Cordelia saw her coming; she also saw the stricken look on her face. She went forward to meet her and pulled Buffy aside before she got to the waiting room.

"What happened? Is he okay?" she asked urgently.

"He's fine." Buffy replied.

Cordelia took a good look at the Slayer. "Then why do you look like you've just seen someone die?"

"Not someone, something," was the correction.

"What happened?"

"He doesn't remember." Buffy's breath hitched on the quiet admission.

"Does remember what?" Cordelia asked, trying to figure out what Buffy was talking about.

"He doesn't remember what I said in the ambulance." She looked at the Seer with misery shimmering in her eyes. "The last thing he remembers is getting shot." The Slayer gave a sad chuckle. "Course, I guess that's what most people would remember."

"What did you say to him?"

"I told him I loved him and he doesn't remember." Anguish laced the words.

Cordelia's heart broke at the pain in her voice. "He'll remember."

"What if he doesn't?"

"Then you tell him again," came the firm reply.

"Maybe he doesn't feel the same." It had been so clear to her when she'd been in the ambulance with him. Now she was assailed with doubts. What if he didn't care for her like she did for him.

"Do you really believe that?"

Buffy shrugged. "It's not like I've had the best luck with men, you know."

"The others weren't Wesley." Cordelia admonished her.

"I know that."

"Then why are you being so pessimistic?"

"Because there's a good possibility that everything I saw in his eyes were things I wanted to see and not what was really there."

Cordelia took hold of her shoulders and shook her. "He loves you, Buffy."

"You don't know that." Buffy didn't know what to think anymore.

"Yes, I do." Cordelia gave her another slight shake. "I've seen Wes when he thought he was in love and I've seen him when he was. He's got the real thing for you."

Buffy wanted so badly to believe her.

"Are you okay? Can I tell the others he's awake?" Cordelia didn't know why she was being so nice to Buffy. Most of the time, they hadn't been able to stand each other in Sunnydale. She shrugged to herself, maybe getting older was mellowing her. She went to get Giles and Margaret.

* * * * *

Wesley's mother approached his bed with trepidation. Even though she'd never admit it to the others, Cordelia had been right about her choosing her husband over her child. What else could she have done? William was her husband. She ignored the little voice that told her that protecting her child meant more than loyalty to her husband.

"Mother?" Wesley's voice was still hoarse.

"I'm right here." She laid a hesitant hand on his arm.

"Are you all right?" he asked sleepily; the medicine being given to him was preventing him from being fully awake.

Those words sent guilt cascading through her again. He was lying in a hospital bed, fighting a wound inflicted by his father and he was asking her if she was all right.

"I'm fine, Wesley."

He nodded, satisfied she was telling the truth, and closed his eyes wearily.

She watched him for a moment more and then left quietly.

* * * * *

Buffy watched as Margaret left the room and Cordelia went in. The doctors had said no more than one person at a time. In a way, she was glad. It gave her time to get herself together before she saw him again. She took a deep breath, God, what a mess.

* * * * *

Cordelia softly closed the door behind her and seated herself by Wesley's bed. She'd seen how quickly his mother had gone in and out. She didn't plan on leaving that quick. She sat down and waited for him to open his eyes.

"Hello, Cordelia," he greeted her softly.

"Bout time you woke up," she told him in as close to a teasing voice as she could manage.

"I do apologize for any inconvenience," he said in a shaky, but playful, voice.

"I guess we'll forgive you this time," she replied thickly.

His eyes met hers. "Do not do that," he ordered.

"Do what?" she sniffed.

"Cry. I never know what to say when a woman starts crying." He tried to shrug, but winced at the pain the action caused.

"You don't say anything, you just hold her," Cordelia educated him.

"Well, considering I can't get out of this bloody bed, I don't think I could even do that," he reminded her. "So would you *please* not do that?" he pleaded.

She nodded her head and wiped the tears away.

"How is everyone? My--father?" Wesley hesitated to ask about the man. His mother hadn't even mentioned him, she hadn't stayed in the room long enough to tell him anything. Then again, she'd never stayed in the room long enough to *do* anything. He pushed down the surge of bitterness that thought brought on.

"Everyone's okay. Except--I'm sorry, Wes. Your dad had a heart attack and died." Cordelia knew that wasn't the most diplomatic way to tell him, but she didn't know any other way to say it. Sugar coating it wouldn't make the man any less dead and this way, Wes knew it.

"Dead?" He couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. The man had been such a force, so strong and controlling. Wesley, in all his wonderings, had never pictured him dead. Men like William Wyndham-Pryce didn't die. They made other people die.

"How are you feeling?" She asked, changing the subject.

"Just hurting," he answered.

"I'll get a nurse." She was out of her chair like a shot.

He sighed and watched her go. He wondered who else would come in. He was really hoping it would be Buffy. He looked up as the door opened and swallowed disappointment when Giles was the one standing there.

"Hello." Giles came in and sat down.

"Hello. I'm fine before you ask," Wesley said with a hint of impatience. He *really* wanted to see Buffy. Something had been dreadfully wrong when she'd left the room and he couldn't find out what until she came back.

"I'm glad to hear it," Giles told him dryly.

Wesley flushed. "I'm sorry, I just--."

"You're just tired of everyone asking?" Giles chuckled.

The ex-Watcher nodded.

"Understandable. I would feel the same in your position." The older man leaned back in the chair. He stared until Wesley began to fidget.

"What?" Wesley fought the urge to snap at the older man.

"I was wondering," Giles replied nonchalantly.

"Wondering?"

"Yes. I was wondering just when you fell in love with my Slayer."

Wesley paled and then flushed. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he stammered.

Giles crossed his legs and settled in more comfortably. "I'm talking about taking a bullet to save her life, going to your mother for a loan that would help Buffy keep her home, and pretending to be her significant other in order to protect her from the unwanted advances of another man." He paused to give Wesley a chance to respond.

"I was trying to be a friend to her," was the weak answer.

"A friend that turned into something much more," the man sitting in the chair corrected.

"I, I--."

Giles held up his hand to stop him. "Why would it be so wrong?"

Wesley hadn't been expecting that question. "Because, because--" he stammered.

"Because?"

"She would never, could never, feel the same!" the younger man burst out.

"You don't know that."

"Why would she?"

Giles heard the uncertainty in the younger man's voice and wanted to punish everyone who'd given this man cause to doubt himself. He was honest enough to admit that he hadn't been the most supportive when Wesley had first come to Sunnydale, but they'd settled that months ago. For the man's own parents to have treated him so shabbily was unconscionable. He got control of himself and turned his attention back to Wesley.

"Why would she?" He rubbed his chin as he pretended to think about the question. "Perhaps, it's because you are loyal, caring, and compassionate; all the things that Buffy hasn't had in a very long time."

"It's not enough."

"Why?"

"I could never be sure. Don't you see? She might feel gratitude for me. She might even hold some affection for me. But why would she love me when even my own parents didn't?" Wesley bit his lip at that admission. He didn't mean for it to come out that way and he was ashamed that it had. He heard Giles rise out of his chair and felt him lay a hand on his shoulder.

"Wesley, you are a good man. A good, caring man. If your parents either couldn't, or wouldn't, see that, it is their shortcoming and none of yours. Buffy cares about you, don't throw it away because of your ill-conceived notions of your own inadequacies." Giles looked at him for a minute longer, but the younger man wouldn't meet his gaze. He sighed and left the room.

* * * * *

Buffy saw Giles come out of the room and started to go in when a nurse intercepted her.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. Visiting hours are over."

"But--."

"I'm sorry." The nurse's tone was firm. "You can come back in the morning."

Buffy started to protest more when Giles took her by the arm.

"Let us take you home, Buffy. You can get some rest and then see him in the morning."

"I need to see him, now," Buffy protested.

"Buffy, let him think about everything that's happened." He could see that wasn't getting him anywhere. "Besides, he looks knackered. He needs to rest."

Her shoulders slumped as she cast one more look at the closed hospital door before nodding and letting Giles lead her out of the hospital.

* * * * *

Wesley heard the nurse prevent Buffy from coming into the room and couldn't decide if he was grateful or resentful. He finally settled on a combination of both. He wanted to see her, but he needed to think about what Giles told him. Was it possible? Could Buffy really feel more for him than simple friendship? That was the question that followed him into his dreams.

* * * * *

Buffy was at the hospital bright and early, waiting for the dragon nurses to let her see Wesley. She'd finally gotten the conversation Giles had had with Wesley out of her Watcher. She had no intention of letting this go on one second longer. It was one thing not to remember, it was another to think he didn't deserve her or that she wouldn't care.

The minute hand on the clock landed on the twelve letting all and sundry know it was nine o'clock. Buffy headed to Wesley's room.

* * * * *

He was contemplating the tiles on the ceiling when his door opened. He turned his head, expecting to see a nurse. What he got was Buffy, a very irate, woman-on-a-mission Buffy. His eyes widened at the fire in her eyes.

"Is something wrong?" He asked as he struggled to sit up, wincing when the stitches in his stomach protested the sudden movement.

Buffy came to a stop by his bedside and watched him with hooded eyes as she folded her arms over her chest. "You could say that," she finally answered.

"What?" He tried to still his racing heart.

"You," was the soft reply.

Confusion etched itself between his brows. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

"No, it's not that you don't understand," she corrected him. "You don't believe."

"Buffy, I--."

She put her fingers to his lips and stopped his words.

"You don't think that I can love you. That I could *want* to love you." She cocked her head to one side. "Why is that?" There was genuine bewilderment in her voice. Then, the bewilderment disappeared when she answered for him. "You think because your parents were assholes that no one else would see anything more than what they saw--which was exactly nothing."

Wesley didn't know what to say to that bit of psychoanalysis. He was fairly certain, however, that he needed to say *something*.

"My parents have nothing to do with this." He winced inwardly. All right, no one said that what he said had to be particularly intelligent.

She gave him a calculating look. "They have *everything* to do with this." She plopped down in the chair next to his bed. "I don't intend to let them have the satisfaction of keeping you and me apart."

"There is no 'you and me'," he denied automatically.

"That's where you're wrong." She leaned forward until she was looking him in the eye. "There is *definitely* a 'you and me' and I intend to see where we go from here."

"Why?"

She looked taken aback at that. "Why what?"

"Why do you wish to see where we might go?" Wesley clarified.

Buffy was pulled up short at that quiet question. She'd talked to Giles last night and he'd been very sure that Wesley felt about her the way she felt about him. But she hadn't actually heard it from Wesley. She was suddenly assaulted with doubts. What if Giles was wrong? What if Wesley didn't really love her? Buffy shot to her feet and stumbled to the door.

"Wait!" Wesley sat up, feeling his stitches tear as he tried to get out of the bed to stop her from leaving. "Ow, ow, bloody hell!" He fell back, holding his stomach.

Buffy stopped at his cry of pain and turned around. His face was contorted in agony and she hit the call button for the nurse before helping him lay down.

"Damn it, Wes! What'd you go and do something like that for?" She didn't know who she was angrier at--him or herself.

"I couldn't let you leave," he hissed through his teeth. The pain he'd felt upon waking was nothing compared to what he felt now.

Buffy wanted to know why, but she waited until the nurse came and gave him something for the pain after she checked his stitches. He hadn't torn them, just pulled them. The nurse gave him a good talking-to and left them alone.

Buffy sat beside his bed and watched as the pain medicine slowly took affect.

"I'm sorry, Buffy," he said wearily.

"You don't need to apologize to me."

"Yes, I do. I seem to do nothing but hurt you and that's the last thing I want to do." He closed his eyes. She thought he'd fallen asleep, but he opened them a minute later.

"You've done a lot more than hurt me, Wes," she told him softly. She saw his eyes darken and realized he'd taken that wrong. She brushed the hair back off his fore head and allowed her fingertips to stroke his temple. "I meant that you've given me a lot of happiness too." She took a deep breath. "I want to tell you something, but I want to be sure you're with me this time." She waited for his nod before continuing. "I love you, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. I love your stubbornness, your Britishness, your loyalty, but most of all, I love your heart." She trailed her fingers down to brush against his cheek. "I love the man that would pretend to be a boyfriend to help a woman who had not been kind to him. I love how you protected Cordelia when she and Giles were getting together." She blew out a frustrated sigh. "I'm not explaining this worth a damn."

Wesley slowly reached up and grasped her hand.

"I think you're explaining it just fine," he told her softly. He turned her hand over and placed a soft kiss in her palm. "I want to say something to you, too, before this bloody medicine knocks me out again."

Buffy nodded once.

"I love you. You are the most extraordinary woman I've ever met in my life. You've shown me time and again not to give up, no matter what the odds may be." He lowered her hand to rest on his abused abdomen. "You've given so much and expected so little in return. You've shown yourself to be compassionate, giving and loving when anyone else in your place would have succumbed to bitterness long ago. I never expected my feelings to be returned, and to find they are is a gift that I'm not sure I will ever be worthy of." He paused to take a much-needed and painful breath and saw her crying.

She saw him start to panic and put her fingers of her free hand to his lips before he could start apologizing.

"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," she told him with a soggy chuckle. She watched as the medicine did its job and put him to sleep.

She sat for the longest time just holding his hand and stroking his face. She was in love and for the first time in a very long time the thought didn 't bring her pain. She felt hope and it was an amazing feeling.

* * * * *

Several days later, Wesley was sitting in a wheelchair waiting to be discharged.. The doctors had told him he could go home on the condition that he had someone there to help him. He was about to lie to them and tell them there was just so he could get out of the hospital when Buffy spoke up and told them she would be staying with him.

His thoughts on that development were interrupted by a nurse who handed him papers to sign. After scrawling his signature on too many forms to count, he was wheeled to the exit doors. Giles was there to greet him. Wesley looked around for Buffy, but she was nowhere in sight.

"Where is Buffy?"

"She couldn't be here, but she said to tell you she would see you a bit later," Giles told him as he helped him into the car.

Wesley did his best to stifle his disappointment, telling himself that she must have had a good reason for not being there. He leaned back against the seat and tried to relax. He'd fallen into a half doze when he felt the car pull to a stop.

"We're here," Giles said as he opened his door. He helped the younger man get to the elevator and up to his apartment, and then turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Wesley asked, confused.

"I don't think you'll need me beyond this point," Giles told him with a chuckle.

Before Wesley could ask what he meant, the door to his apartment swung open.

When he stepped into the dim interior, he was greeted by the sight of candles on every available surface. The dining room table had been set and candles cast a golden glow over the crystal and china. He was still staring when a voice pulled him out of his reverie.

"Do you like?"

He turned to find Buffy standing beside him in a simple white dress with thin straps that left her shoulders bare. He took in the vision before him. The dress fell to mid-calf and was demurely cut. It shouldn't have sent his blood rushing to his brain and parts a bit lower, but it did. She took his breath away and he told her so.

"Thank you," she said quietly as she flushed.

"What is all of this?" He gestured to encompass all her hard work.

"It's your welcome-home party."

"You didn't have to do this."

"I wanted to."

He shook his head and smiled.

"Come on," she said as she gently tugged him to the table. "Lorne helped me fix all of this, so I don't want it to go to waste."

He chuckled and seated himself but only after pulling out a chair for her and waiting for her to sit down.

He couldn't eat a great deal of what she'd made, but she'd heeded the doctor 's orders and made it a light meal of soup and sandwiches. It was delicious, much better than hospital food.

After dinner, they moved to the sofa and sat together in silence.

"What are you thinking," she asked, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"How I could have gotten so lucky as to have a woman like you," he answered truthfully.

She shifted so she could look him in the eye. "We're not gonna do that 'I'm not good enough for you' thing again, are we?"

He chuckled. "No, of course not. You warned me what would happen the last time I tried it."

She settled back down against him. "I'm glad you remember."

"I do." He tightened his arm around her. "I just am very thankful for whatever power gave me a second chance to have you in my life."

"Me too." She leaned up and kissed him.

He tried to deepen the kiss, but she stopped him. "Nope, you know what the doctor said. No strain on those stitches."

He groaned.

She giggled.

"Come on. Let's get you to bed." She laughed at the glint that came into his eyes. "To sleep, Romeo." She gave him a saucy grin. "But if you're good, I just might decide to take a nap with you."

He smiled broadly and followed her into the bedroom.

* * * * *

Giles drove home after dropping Wesley off. He was pleased that Wesley and Buffy were building something together, but he was tired. After dealing with situation with Wesley's father and getting the younger man's mother on a plane back to England, Giles had gotten a message that Travers would be visiting shortly.

Giles sighed as he opened the door and tossed his keys on the table. He was deeply troubled; even though William was dead, who else was in the faction that wanted him and his Slayer dead and would they continue to try even though their ringleader was gone?

"Giles?" Cordelia came and put her arms around him. "What's wrong?"

He gave her a kiss and returned the embrace. "Travers is coming here," he said.

She leaned back in the circle of his arms and frowned. "That's not all."

He smiled wryly. He should have known she would pick up on his mood.

"No, that's not all." He pulled away from her to walk to the bar and fix himself a drink. He and Cordelia had debated about moving out of this house, but Robert's parents had learned what had happened, they'd decided to sell the house to Giles and Cordelia. The older couple had not been mistreated; in fact, they had been told that they were on vacation courtesy of their son. The Council only wanted to get them out of the country. Since Robert had no idea of where they were or how to contact them, he'd had only William 's version of what was happening. Robert had been immensely relieved to find that he'd been told almost nothing but lies.

Cordelia seated herself on the arm of the sofa and waited for him to continue.

He turned to her. "I just can't see a movement as organized as the one William was involved in, dying just because he did."

"You think we still have a problem?" Cordelia asked.
|
He took a long pull from his glass and nodded as he lowered it. "I think it is a very strong possibility."

"How do we fight it?"

"Our first step is to talk to Quentin and find out what the hell is going on in England." Giles voice was hard and determined.

She walked over to him and took the glass out of his hand and set it on the bar. "No, the first step is to get you in bed. You've been running on nerves and caffeine for days. Not to mention the fact that you still haven't recovered from that spell Robert put on you."

He started to protest, but she cut it short by taking his hand and pulling him toward the bedroom. "Nope, you're going to bed and get some rest," she said firmly.

"Will you be joining me?" Giles arched a hopeful eyebrow at her.

"No, if I do, you won't get any sleep." She grinned at him.

"Party pooper," he mumbled as he allowed himself to be pulled along.

She giggled as she led the way.

* * * * *

Giles opened his eyes slowly the next morning. Cordelia was lying beside him, still asleep. As promised, she'd put him to bed the night before, but she had been unable to deny him when he'd asked, ever so sweetly, for her to join him.

He grinned to himself, she'd also been correct in her prediction about his lack of sleep.

His smile slowly faded as his mind went back to the problem at hand. He knew he couldn't do anything until Quentin arrived, but that didn't stop the sense of unease that haunted him.

He got out of bed without disturbing his wife and headed to the bathroom.

* * * * *

Cordelia stretched and reached for her husband, only to find cold, empty space next to her. She opened her eyes, looked at the clock and frowned. Throwing back the covers, she climbed out of bed and went in search of her wayward man.

She found him sitting on the patio, watching the sun rise.

"You're supposed to still be asleep," she told him as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and stood behind him.

"There will be time for sleep later," he replied.

She moved around to sit in his lap and saw his worried eyes. "It's going to be okay, Giles."

"We don't know that."

She grasped his chin and forced him to look at her. "Yes, we do. We find out who the bad guys are and kick their asses. That's what we do. The Master couldn't beat us. Neither could Angelus, the Mayor, Darla, Adam or Glory. And those are just the major Big Bads. If they couldn't do it, do you really think the *Council* could?" She put as much scorn on the word 'Council' as she could.

He shook his head. "It's not the same thing, Cordelia."

"Why?"

"Because these men aren't demons that can be researched and defeated." He rubbed the back of his neck wearily. "They are human beings that are trying to control that which they have no business trying to control." He could feel his anger rising. "They wish to kill Buffy because she won't bow and scrape to them. They've forgotten that they live to serve her and protect her; she does not owe them anything."

Cordelia framed his face with her hands. "Let's not forget that they're trying to kill you too."

"I haven't. They know that if they harm Buffy, they will, by necessity, have to eliminate me. They know that I will avenge her and they can't take that chance."

Cordelia saw the fire in his eyes and knew that if the Council succeeded in murdering Buffy, Giles would do whatever he had to do to protect or avenge Buffy. And considering the things he was capable of, she really didn't want to see what the 'whatever' might be. Besides, she really didn't want to lose her husband. Or Buffy, if she was totally honest. Not that she'd admit that to anyone. She did have a reputation to maintain, after all.

"Well, it doesn't matter what they plan. They won't do anything to Buffy, and you won't have to go 'Ripper' on them." She told him firmly.

He kissed her softly and pulled her tighter into his embrace. He knew she was worried about him and he didn't know how to make it better. Finding out the pregnancy had been false had been harder than either of them wanted to admit. Even though it would have been frightening in the extreme to bring a child into their lives, it would have been a miracle to have a living, breathing piece of their love. But, now, he couldn't help but be thankful there wasn't a child. If he did have to fight this battle to the end, it would be hard enough to leave Cordelia behind. He didn't think his sanity could stand the thought of leaving her to raise their child alone.

She could tell he was thinking of what might happen.

"Come on," she told him as she jumped up and grabbed his hand.

"Where are we going?" He asked, allowing himself to be pulled from of his chair.

"It's a surprise," she answered with a wink.

* * * * *

An hour later, they were standing on an isolated beach. Cordelia led him to a sheltered spot by an outcropping of rocks.

"Cordelia, what are we doing here? If Quentin arrives, I need to be there." Giles reminded her.

"We've got a cell phone and Buffy and Wes promised to let us how if he shows up. You know if he goes to our house and we're not home, he's gonna go to Wesley's." Cordelia spread out a blanket and set the picnic basket down. She looked at her husband, noted his defiant stance, and ordered him to sit.

He did as she commanded and propped himself up against a large rock and waited for her to tell him why they were there.

"Relax," she said as she took the food out of the hamper.

"Cordelia, we do not have time for a picnic."

"We have time for whatever we need to do," she contradicted him. "And right now, you need something to help you relax."

"And you think this is it?" He didn't try to disguise his skepticism.

"Yep." She didn't add that the picnic wasn't the only relaxation technique she had up her sleeve.

He could see that arguing with her would do no good, so he decided to make the best of it. He hated to admit it, but some time later, he was feeling more at ease. He leaned back against the rock and watched the waves rolling in. There was something calming about the endless rise and fall of the vast ocean. He felt his eyelids slowly droop and blinked quickly in an attempt to stay awake.

"Nope, if you need to take a nap, you close those eyes and do it," Cordelia ordered from her place across from him.

The rocks around them provided ample shade and Giles decided to take obey her, on one condition. "Come lie with me?" He asked softly.

She flashed him the same smile she'd given him the day she'd married him, and went into his arms. "Gladly," she whispered.

* * * * *

Cordelia felt the steady beat of Giles' heart under her cheek. He'd fallen asleep almost as soon as she'd laid down beside him. She was so worried about him. Not just because of the Council business, but also because he hadn't allowed himself to recover fully from the spell he'd been under. Her mind shuddered back from the possibility of life without him. It was something she just couldn't seem to contemplate and she wasn't sure if she would ever be able to. Logic told her that she would probably outlive him, but then again, when had she ever listened to logic? She curled around him and pushed the morbid thoughts away. Right now, he was with her and that was all that mattered. She drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

The sound of a cell phone ringing woke both of them.

Cordelia fumbled for a bit before punching the right button. "Hello?"

"Cordy?"

"Who else would be answering my phone, Wes?" She was a bit grumpy from her interrupted nap.

He ignored her bad humor. "Quentin Travers is in my apartment as we speak." He paused. "He's brought someone with him."

Cordelia could hear the dread in his voice and felt her stomach drop. "Who?"

"Giles' uncle."

She looked over at her husband who was trying to wake up. "Giles' uncle?"

Giles' eyes snapped completely open in shock. He grabbed the phone from Cordelia. "Wesley?"

"Yes?"

"What the bloody hell is my uncle doing there?" Giles' voice shook with repressed anger.

Wesley took a deep breath. "From the looks of it, he's taking over for my father," the ex-Watcher answered quietly.

Giles stomach hit the ground. "We'll be there as soon as we can," he ground out and jabbed the off button.

"Giles?" Cordelia called his name.

He threw everything in the hamper and wadded up the blanket. He grabbed his wife's hand and headed to the care.

"Giles, what the hell is going on?" Cordelia dug in her heels and jerked her hand out of his grasp.

"Lawrence Giles is my uncle." Giles dropped the hamper and sank to the sand. God, he'd known it wasn't over. Why had he allowed himself, even for a moment, to believe that it was?

"And?" Cordelia asked.

"He hated my parents and now he hates me."

"Why?"

"Because the one thing he wanted all his life was a Slayer. My father had one and then I was assigned to Buffy. It ate at him that he was passed over both times. He felt that because he was the oldest son, the right should have gone to him automatically. The Council felt differently and he's never forgiven them, or us, for his imagined slight."

"You think he'll still try to follow through with William's plan; even though it's all out in the open now?"

"Cordelia, it's always been in the open within the Council. The only people that didn't know what was going on was going on were Buffy and the rest of us."

"So now we know and we'll kick his ass if he tries anything," she said as she knelt down in front of him. "Now, come on." She took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "We've got an uncle to intimidate and a Council to take back."

"You don't understand," he began.

She stopped and turned to face him. "I understand that you've never backed down from a fight before. I understand that you've put it on the line for Buffy and the others for years. I also understand that they've done the same, and will do the same again, for you. I also understand that he doesn't realize you have me. That's a biiiggg mistake on his part." She grinned as she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the car again. "Your uncle doesn't know it yet, but he's not messing with just you anymore. He's gotta go through all of us to get to you now."

Her back was to him, so she didn't see the effect her words had on him. Sometimes he forgot how courageous the young people he'd aligned himself with were. They never backed down from a fight and very seldom lost one. He grinned suddenly. Uncle Lawrence wouldn't know what hit him.

* * * * *

Wesley watched as Quentin Travers and Lawrence Giles alternately paced and glared at one another. He'd tried to find out what was wrong, but they'd both informed him, haughtily, that he was no long Council, therefore he didn 't have any right to now. Forget the buggers were in *his* flat. Lawrence had let slip that he was William Wyndham-Pryce's right hand man. That's when the ex-Watcher had gone into his bedroom and called Cordelia and Giles. He'd heard the click of the extension being picked up, but it wasn't like they could fire him for warning Rupert Giles about their presence, so he'd finished the call and went back into the living room. He'd just been glad that Buffy was out and, hopefully, they would be gone before she got back.

Naturally, just as he finished the thought, fate decided to have a jolly good laugh on him by having her come back early.

"Hey Wes, I got some--." Her voice died at the sight of the two suit-clad men standing in his living room. Her eyes flew to her lover. He shrugged his shoulders in quiet confusion.

"What is *she* doing here?" Lawrence Giles demanded.

Buffy looked at the man. She didn't recognize. "I could ask the same thing about you, but then again, I don't even know who the hell you are."

"I am here on behalf of the Council," he told her, with a sniff of disdain.

"As part of the Council," Travers corrected.

Buffy turned slowly to stare at Travers. He seemed--friendlier--somehow. "And what are you doing here?" She asked.

"Trying to protect you and Rupert," he answered quietly.

"Forgive me if I don't believe you."

He drew in a deep, slow breath. "I know I deserved that, Miss Summers."

"You deserve a helluva lot more than that."

"Quentin, are you going to let her get away with speaking to you in this manner?" Lawrence protested.

Buffy gave him her attention again. "Look, mister. I don't know who you are, and I don't really care. This is between him and me."

"He's my uncle," a voice said from the doorway.

Buffy turned to see her Watcher standing there with an odd, guarded look on his face.

Cordelia was standing beside him. The look on her face was plain to read. It said, 'Don't mess with my husband'.

Buffy moved to stand by Wesley because, suddenly, the vibes in the room were getting way too weird for her.

"Do you have any idea what's going on?" She whispered out of the corner of her mouth to him.

"Somewhat," he answered just as quietly. "I'll tell you later."

She nodded unhappily.

* * * * *

Giles stepped further into the apartment and closed the door behind him and Cordelia. "Hello, Uncle."

"I claim no kin to you," Lawrence Giles spat.

"Really?" Giles cocked his head to one side and folded his arms across his chest. "That's not what I heard when the Council was choosing its new leader. I was told, by many reliable sources, that you played upon the Giles' name quite shamelessly."

Buffy watched the older man sputter, and grinned as she whispered to Wesley. "See how he does that? When he gets that teacher's voice going, you're in trouble."

Wesley nodded and smothered a smile of his own.

"I don't know who told you that, but they were lying." Lawrence blustered.

"I doubt it, but we'll let it slide for the time being." Giles said as he led Cordelia to the sofa and sat down.

"This is Council business; they have no business being here." Giles' uncle gestured to Buffy, Cordelia and Wesley.

Giles looked at him with barely concealed astonishment. "You would advocate throwing Buffy out of the room?!"

"She does not make Council policy," the other man replied stubbornly.

"She's the *reason* for Council policy, you bloody idiot." Giles' temper was hanging by a slender, fraying thread.

"What of the other two? They have no reason to be here."

"Cordelia is my wife and, might I add, a warrior on the front lines of the battle we wage. She does not sit in a posh office thousands of miles away and play politics while others are dying." Giles took a deep, calming breath. "As for Wesley, he may not be an active member of the Council, but he has paid his dues and we are in *his* home. I hardly think we can ask him to leave just because it offends your sensibilities." The younger Giles gave a disgusted shake of his head. "Why don't we just put our cards on the table, shall we?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"William Wyndham-Pryce was here to murder my Slayer and me. He failed." Giles saw a flash of consternation cross his uncle's face. "Now, you are here to take his place, are you not?"

"Are you accusing me of plotting your demise?" Lawrence demanded.

"I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm telling you, we know what you're up to and you won't get away with it."

The older man looked at the four people lined up against him. His nephew looked exhausted, but his wife's eyes held a fire that was somewhat disconcerting to behold. He suddenly remembered that she was half-demon; something about not being able to withstand the visions without giving up part of her humanity. His disgust for his nephew went up another notch. Imagine a Giles being involved with a demon of any sort.

He then looked at the woman that everyone in the Council was supposed to swear their loyalty to. She had slept with Angelus; that he had been wearing the guise of the souled vampire, Angel, was neither here nor there. She'd willingly had carnal relations with the enemy. She was a disgrace to that which she proclaimed to defend.

He gestured to the blonde Slayer. "I will not have this--this *whore* judge me." He said contemptuously.

He barely had the words out when he found himself pinned against the wall.

"If I *ever* hear that word leave your mouth in conjunction with Buffy again, I will put you in the ground, do we understand one another?" Surprisingly--or maybe not--it wasn't Giles uttering the quiet threat. It was a *very* pissed-off Wesley.

Lawrence tried to demand his release, but the only thing that came out was a gurgle. Wesley had his arm against the older man's throat, barely able to keep himself from crushing the man's windpipe. He watched as the pinned man slowly turned blue.

"Wes?"

He felt a small hand on his arm. He turned to find Buffy looking at him with concern.

"Let him go, Wes. He's not worth it and," she looked at his abdomen, "you've opened your wound again." She gently pried his arm away from Lawrence's throat. She pulled Wesley back to the sofa and sat him down, smoothing his hair back before giving her attention back to the man still leaning against the wall, trying to catch his breath.

"I think you need to leave," she said in a low, controlled voice.

"You can't force me to leave," he spluttered.

"That's where you're wrong." This came from Cordelia. She moved to stand beside Buffy, the two women sharing wry smile as they stood shoulder to shoulder once again.

The older Giles thought about testing their resolve, until he saw his nephew align himself behind the two of them. Wesley struggled to his feet and stood beside Giles.

"Fine," he huffed. "We'll leave. But we will be back," he promised in an ominous tone. He turned on his heel and stormed out of the apartment.

Travers hung back for a moment. "May I contact you, Rupert? We really need to talk."

Giles nodded and Quentin followed his fellow Council member out of the door.

* * * * *

Buffy turned to find Wesley swaying on his feet.

"I thought I told you to sit down," she exclaimed in exasperation.

"No, actually, you made me sit down. You never told me anything," he corrected her with a chuckle that ended on a pain-filled groan.

"Smartass," she muttered under her breath as she helped him sit again.

Wesley would have laughed again, but once was more than enough, his bruised and battered body decided.

Buffy finished situating him and sat down beside him. It was only then that she noticed that Giles and Cordelia were still standing.

"You know, you *can* sit."

Giles nodded. "Yes, of course. But I think we need to be going. Something tells me that the talk that Quentin wants to have can't be put off."

Buffy nodded and started to get up to show them out. After all, her mother did teach her a few manners, even if the hellmouth did manage to drum most of them out of her.

Cordelia waved her back down. "Sit. We know the way out." She followed her husband out and locked the door behind them.

* * * * *

Buffy turned to find Wesley with his head leaned against the back of the sofa. He was pale and pain had dug deep grooves at the corners of his mouth; he'd closed his eyes and was concentrating on bringing the pain under control.

"Are you okay?" Buffy asked as she sat down gently beside him, curling one leg underneath her.

He nodded, slowly.

She caressed his forehead, brushing that unruly lock of hair back again. She let her fingers drift down his cheekbones to trace a light path across his full mouth. His warm breath against her skin sent a shiver down her spine.

"Wes, I think you need to go to bed," she told him softly.

He shook his head. "I don't want to lie down."

"You mean you're in too much pain to get to the bedroom," she corrected. She couldn't help the amusement that colored her voice.

He cracked one eye. "One might think that it was cruel for the person who claimed to love him to laugh at him."

"One might think that," she agreed. This time, she made no attempt to hide her smile. "Besides, it's your own fault you're hurting. Nobody told you to play Neanderthal with Giles' uncle."

Wesley opened both eyes and turned his head to fully look at her. "I have no intention of allowing someone like Lawrence Giles to slander you in my presence." He shifted and winced as the stitches pulled, yet again.

"It didn't matter; I could've handled him, Wes."

"It mattered to me." Wesley took her hand and traced her lifeline with the tip of his finger. "What kind of man would I be if I allowed someone to speak that way about the woman I love?"

Buffy drew in a sharp breath. He'd told her that he loved her before, but it never failed to hit her right in the heart when he said it.

"I just don't want you hurt anymore," she said softly.

He picked up her hand and placed a warm, wet kiss on the center of it. "It will take more than that pillock to hurt me," he assured her.

"I was more worried about self-inflicted damage than him doing something to you." She thought about the older man. "Besides, I think maybe Connor could take him and he's not even a year old yet."

Wesley chuckled and then hissed through his teeth as the pain bit at him.

Buffy stood. "Come on, cave-man, let's go to bed."

She held out her hand and pulled him to his feet. She slid an arm around his back, being careful of his wound, and helped him to the bedroom.

* * * * *

For the next several weeks, Buffy shuttled back and forth between L.A. Giles loaned her his car, making her promise she would be careful. So far, so good.

Wesley originally wanted her to go back to Sunnydale and had said he would meet her in a few days. She'd refused; having no intention of leaving him alone. She'd gone back only long enough to check on her sister and spend a little time patrolling, but, so far, it had been quiet on the Hellmouth. Normally, that would make her very, very nervous, but now she couldn't help being a little relieved--even if they did have to face an apocalypse later on.

Giles had seen Travers several times before he went back to London and it had been decided to hold off on any permanent decisions regarding the Council until Giles found out a bit more from some of his contacts. His contacts had finally come through, and they were meeting tomorrow morning to plan a strategy in case the rogue faction came at them again.

"Wes," Buffy called softly as she came through the door, and set her suitcase down just inside the door. She pocketed the key Wesley had given her and made her way to the bedroom, wondering if he might be asleep. It'd taken her longer to wrap things up in Sunnydale than she'd planned, and had gotten back to L.A. later than usual.

She opened the bedroom door and looked in to see him sprawled on his back. She stood for a moment just taking in the sight. It had taken so much for them to get to this point; sometimes she wondered if it was real. Everyone but Angel had come to see him while he recuperated. The vampire had sent word with Fred that he would see Wesley when he got back to the office. Both Buffy and Wesley knew that he needed time to adjust to their new relationship, and both were willing to give it to him because they cared about him. Buffy made a silent vow to herself, however. If Angel did anything to hurt Wesley or make him feel guilty over their relationship, she was having a little talk with him. She refused to lose Wes because Angel couldn't deal. Hopefully, it wouldn't come to that.

She quietly stripped off her clothes, pulled on one of his tee-shirts, and crawled into bed with him. All they'd done the past few weeks was sleep, but she was honest enough with herself to admit that she wanted more. The few times they'd kissed had lit a fire in her that warmed and frustrated her at the same time. She was hoping they'd be able to quench it soon.

She carefully snuggled next to him and sighed with contentment when he opened his arms to pull her closer to him. She breathed in his scent and laid her head on his chest.

"I'm glad you're home." She felt, as much as heard, the words rumble in his chest.

"Me, too," she answered quietly. She raised her head to look at him, finding his eyes open and glittering in the moonlight. "How are you feeling?"

"I saw the doctor today."

"Why?" She pushed up on her hand and shoved her hair out of her eyes so she could see him better. "What's wrong?"

He tucked a strand she missed behind her ear and traced a light finger around the delicate shell of her ear. "Nothing's wrong, luv. He just wanted to check the wound and how it was healing."

"And?" She ruthlessly tamped down on what his touch was doing to her.

"And he gave me a clean bill of health." Wesley smiled at her. "He also told me that I could resume normal activities."

Buffy was still concentrating on the clean bill of health part of his statement, so she didn't quite snap to the 'normal activities' part. "Which means?"

"Which means--" He surprised her by flipping her over and sliding his body over hers, "that I can do what I've been dreaming of for weeks."

"Which is?" she asked silkily as she threaded her fingers through his hair.

"This." He lowered his head and captured her lips with his own.

She groaned as she parted her lips to allow him entry. He teased her by tracing her lips with his tongue, but not taking her up on the offer. He nipped at her bottom lip before trailing hot, wet kisses along her jaw and up to her ear.

His breath on her ear shot a bolt of heat straight to her center. She hooked one leg around him and pulled his arousal closer to her.

They both moaned at the intimate contact.

"God, Buffy," he whispered brokenly.

"I love you, Wes." Buffy needed him to know just what he meant to her.

"And I love you, darling," he murmured. "And I need you just as much as I love you," he added quietly.

Buffy lost all speech at that admission. It was one thing for someone to tell you they loved you. It gave the feeling a whole new dimension when need was as much a factor as love. She drew a deep breath and tried to speak. The lump in her throat stopped her again.

His eyes shone with the sincerity of his feelings as he watched her.

She smiled at him, giving up on speech, and pulled his head down so she could show him what she couldn't put into words.

She was being pulled under by a tide of emotion and sensation; she gladly let it take her.

Wesley felt her surrender and it fueled his passion. He didn't know what he' d done to deserve this woman's love, but he intended to make sure she never regretted it. He kissed her again, this time not teasing her. He delved into her mouth and tasted with abandon.

Buffy gasped at the gentle invasion. She grew heady on the taste of him.

She opened her legs wider to allow him to settle more comfortably between them.

He raised his head and smiled wickedly at her.

"What are you up to?" She arched her eyebrow at him. This ability to laugh and play while making love was a new feeling for her; but one that she was eager to repeat. It gave more to the experience than she thought possible.

"That's for me to know and you to find out," he answered cheekily. He pulled off the tee-shirt, baring her body to his gaze.

She started to respond, but the words caught in her throat as he began to slide down her body, kissing and nibbling along the way, the stubble on his face doing amazing things to her nerve endings.

She arched, almost coming off the bed, when his chin brushed against her inner thigh. She grasped a handful of covers when his tongue touched her heat.

"Wes," she moaned.

"Yes?"

His breath on her almost sent her over the edge. God, she'd never felt this way before.

"Wes, stop torturing me," she begged, her breath ragged.

He chuckled, sending the heat in her spiraling out of control. "Is that what I'm doing?"

She reached down and wrapped her hand in his hair, forcing him to look at her. "Just remember, everything you do to me, I can do to you." It was supposed to be a threat; it came out sounding more like a sensual promise.

"I'm counting on it," he replied huskily with fire in his eyes.

She dropped her head back on the pillow and thanked anyone and anything that might be responsible, that he was hers.

* * * * *

Wesley watched the play of emotions on her face as he inhaled her scent. He couldn't totally wrap his mind around the fact that she was here, now, in his bed and as much in love with him as he was with her. He was assaulted by the dreadful thought that this was all a dream he would wake up from. He shook himself. He was making love the woman of his dreams and all he could do was worry about it being a dream. Well, if it *was* a dream, he would make the most of it.

He loved her with lips, teeth and tongue until she was thrashing beneath him. He savored the taste of her until she tangled her fingers in his hair again and tugged him up her body.

"I need you--in me--now!" She ordered.

"As m'lady commands," he whispered fiercely before he took her mouth in much the same way he planned to take her body; slowly and with great attention to detail.

He reached into his bedside table and withdrew a foil package. He started to put it on, but Buffy batted his hands away and did it for him. He groaned at the feel of her hands on him and had to grit his teeth in an effort maintain his control. She finished and pulled him to her.

He entered her slowly, wanting to revel in the feel of her accepting him completely.

Buffy gasped.

He was bigger than any other man she'd ever been with and seemed to fill the empty spaces in her--including her soul. The depth of her feelings both frightened, and awed, her.

Wesley felt her stiffen and stopped moving.

"Buffy?" He looked at her and was horrified to see tears on her face. "Oh, God. I'm hurting you." He tried to withdraw, but she wrapped her legs around his hips and refused to let him move. "Buffy, leave off, I'm causing you pain."

"Don't you dare move," she said huskily. She took a deep breath, forcing him deeper and causing him to hiss between his teeth. "You didn't hurt me." She opened her eyes to look at her lover. "In fact, the only one that will be hurt in this bed is you if you try to leave again."

Wesley looked at her closely. "Are you sure?"

She nodded.

He leaned down and used his tongue to trace the tracks of her tears. As he did, he began to move. She wrapped her legs tighter around him and reached up to tangle her fingers in the soft hair at the nape of his neck. She pulled his mouth to hers and kissed him with everything that was in her.

She poured all the love she felt for him into the kiss and felt him return it.

It only took a few more slow thrusts before she felt her climax begin to overtake her. She called his name and dragged her fingernails over his back, not realizing she drew blood.

That sound, and feel of her nails on his back, was all Wesley needed to trigger his own release. He cried his release and followed her over the edge.

* * * * *

Buffy woke to the most delicious feeling of tenderness and soreness in places that hadn't felt that way in a very long time. She had to admit that she'd never felt the way Wesley made her feel last night. He was the most attentive lover she'd ever had. He'd loved her in ways that she hadn't thought possible--and showed her how to love him so that he was as satisfied as she was. The talking while they made love was as new to her as the laughter. She'd never had it before and now that she knew what she was missing, she planned to never do without it again.

She watched him while he slept and wanted him all over again. She began to lightly tease him with gentle kisses along his chest and abdomen. The muscles there contracted sharply when she touched them with her tongue.

She was working her way down his body when she realized he was awake.

"Hello, sleepyhead. It's about time you woke up." She grinned at him.

"I was having the most delicious dream," he responded with a gentle smile. "Then I opened my eyes and realized it wasn't a dream."

She drew a sharp breath at the love and longing in his eyes.

"It'll never be a dream again," she promised softly.

He pulled her up to him and kissed her breathless.

"I'll hold you to your word." He flipped her over and covered her body with his own.

"Do that," she said as she drew him to her and they loved the rest of the morning away.

* * * * *

Buffy and Wesley knocked on the Giles' door a little after noon because Giles had called them; explaining that he had important news.

"Come in, come in." He ushered them in and closed the door behind them. "Sit down and I'll get Cordelia." He gestured to the sofa and walked away.

Wesley sat down and Buffy curled up beside him, her legs tucked under her.

"I've finished investigating what's going on in the Council," Giles said after he and Cordelia seated themselves on the loveseat opposite the younger couple.

"I thought we knew what was going on?" Buffy sat up straighter at the worried tone in his voice.

"I have been speaking to Quentin on a regular basis. I've also been utilizing my contacts within the Council." Her Watcher took a deep breath. "The faction that was headed by Wesley's father has been defeated--for the moment." He looked at Buffy. "They are still in the Council and still have some authority; they simply don't have the power as of yet to stage another attempt on our lives."

"You telling me that I could have those bastards coming after me--and you--at any time?" Buffy asked in disbelief.

Giles nodded.

"I don't believe this! So basically, we're sitting ducks whenever they want to come after us." She stood and began to pace.

Wesley followed her movements with worried eyes. "What did the rest of the Council have to say?" He asked quietly.

"They will try to contain the rebellious faction, but they make no guarantees."

"Doesn't the fact they tried to kill us, and almost did kill Wes, count for anything?" Buffy just couldn't believe this. "Why don't they call the cops, for God's sake?"

"You have to understand something; the Council has policed itself for centuries. They will not call outsiders in for this." Wesley said as he stood and took her hands in his.

"They want to kill me and the people I care about." She lightly dropped her head on his chest and heaved a deep sigh. "I thought they were supposed to be on my side, you know?"

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him as he cursed his father and all his followers to hell.

"Most of them are," Giles assured her.

She turned her head, not moving out of her lover's embrace, to look at her Watcher. "*Most* of them won't stop *some* of them from trying to kill us, so what damned good are they?"

He had no answer for her.

She sighed and wrapped her arms around Wesley. "So, what do we do now?" She asked wearily.

"We remain vigilant and alert," Giles answered quietly.

"And we kick their asses if they try anything," Cordelia chimed in for the first time. She caught Wesley's eye over the blonde's head and the look they shared said that they would defend the two they loved with everything they had. The Council may have planned for the Slayer and the Watcher, but they hadn't planned for their significant others. That would be their last mistake.

"We will know what's happening from now on, if that's any consolation." Giles pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"How?" Buffy raised her head from Wesley's chest to look at him again.

"I have allies in place. They can't do anything to stop the ones behind this; they don't have the power. But they can, and will, let me know if the signs begin to indicate that another attack is in the offing."

"Gee, great." The feigned enthusiasm in her voice shamed him for the men doing this to her.

"I'm sorry, I know that, as your Watcher, I should do more--"

She cut him off. "As my Watcher you're doing all you can." She waved her hand as if to banish the unwarranted, and unintentional guilt, she had laid on him. "I'm sorry. I'm mad and when I'm mad my mouth tends to run without my brain in gear. You know that." She gave him a wry smile which he returned with affection.

"Yes, well, I understand your feeling, but know that this time, there will be no surprises," he assured her.

"I know."

He nodded and looked at his watch. "I've must be going. The new curator of the museum will be waiting for me."

Robert Matthews had sold the museum to an interested buyer and left California. He'd moved his parents to another state and joined them. He never wanted to take a chance with their safety again and he felt as long as he was involved with Rupert Giles in any way, they would be. He had assured Giles a job, however.

"I've gotta go too." Buffy kissed Wesley, waved at Cordelia and walked out the door with her Watcher.

Cordelia looked at the man standing across from her with a forlorn expression on his face.

"Where's she going?"

Wesley sighed. "To see Angel."

She winced. "Oh, boy."

He nodded and turned to leave.

"Nope, you stay." She grabbed his arm and pulled him to the sofa.

"Why?"

"Because you don't need to be alone, and because I haven't talked to you, really talked to you, in weeks." She knew he would go home and worry himself to death about what was going on between Buffy and Angel and she didn't intend to let that happen.

"Why is she going to see Angel?" she asked after they seated themselves.

He couldn't stop a dry chuckle. Trust her to come straight to the point.

"She wants to tell him about us."

"I thought he figured it out at the hospital?"

"I think he did, but she wants to give him a chance to have his say."

"Without you there?" Cordy asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

He sighed. "Because she's afraid that he'll say, or do, something that will make me rethink our relationship."

"Could he?"

"No," Wesley replied firmly.

"You sound sure."

"I am sure." He fixed her with a steady look. "I don't want to hurt him, Cordelia. He is one of the best friends I've ever had. But, I won't give her up. Not for him. Not for anyone."

"Does she know that?" Cordelia cocked her head to one side and studied him as she asked the question.

"I don't know." He dropped his gaze and studied his hands. "I truly don't."

"Have you told her?"

"Yes, but I don't think she believes me."

"Give her time; she's got a lot of issues." Cordelia couldn't believe she was defending Buffy--or trying to help with her love life. Just when you thought things couldn't get weirder.

"I'll give her as much time as she needs. I just hope she learns to trust in me, and what we have." He raised his eyes and she could see the doubt that lived there. Buffy, it seemed, wasn't the only one that had issues. She scooted closer to him and put her arms around him.

* * * * *

Buffy walked into the hotel and willed herself to stay calm. She wasn't sure how this talk was going to go, so she needed to stay in control.

"Hi, Buffy." Fred smiled at her from behind the desk. Gunn was leaning against it and smiled in welcome.

"Is Angel around?"

The two at the desk looked at one another before pointing towards the basement door.

She nodded thanks and set off with a purposeful stride.

"What was that about?" Gunn asked after she left.

"I don't know, but I don't think Angel's going to be happy," Fred replied quietly.

* * * * *

"Angel?" Buffy poked her head in the door and allowed her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the basement.

"Over here." He was holding a sword in his hand and was doing a series of intricate movements.

"Can we talk?"

He put the sword down carefully and nodded. He had an idea what she was here for and he wasn't really in the mood for it. He thought he'd accepted the fact that Buffy and Wesley were together, but every time he envisioned it, he could feel his demon clawing at him. His rational mind knew that he had no right to be angry about this. All his demon could see was that another man was staking a claim on what was his.

It was tearing him apart.

He shook his head to clear it.

"Come in, Buffy." He indicated she should seat herself in a chair.

"I'll stand if you don't mind." She propped a hip against the wall and tried to relax.

"What can I do for you?" He tried for nonchalance and failed miserably.

"Why haven't you been to see Wesley?" She hadn't meant to just blurt it out like that, but since she did, she saw no reason to back down from it.

"I know how he was doing. I got reports from Fred, Gunn *and* Cordelia," he said defensively.

"He would've liked to have seen you," she shot back.

"I couldn't." He answered shortly.

"Why?"

"Leave it alone, Buffy," he said firmly.

"No."

"Why?"

"Because this is hurting him--and you."

"Do you really care if this is hurting me?" That just slipped out.

"Of course I do." She looked as though someone slapped her.

"Why him, Buffy? Why Wesley?" He couldn't keep the anguish, and hint of anger, out of his voice.

"I don't know, Angel."

"Please don't tell me 'it just happened'?" He couldn't keep the derision hidden.

"No, it didn't just happen." She fought to keep a hold on her temper. "Wesley and I started out as friends, I never intended for it to be anything more."

"And now?"

"Now it's more than friendship," she admitted softly.

"Then why are you here?" The small rational part of Angel's mind that was still working was painfully aware he was being unfair. It was being drowned out by hurt feelings.

"Because you're important to Wesley."

"And you?" He needed to know that he still meant *something* to her.

She sighed. "Yes, of course, you're important to me." She moved around the room. "I know this is hard on you, Angel."

"Do you?"

"Of course I do!" She stopped in front him. "I know how I would have felt if I'd seen you with someone that I considered a friend."

"It hurts, Buffy."

"I know it does and I'm sorry for that."

"But not sorry enough to leave it alone?"

"No," she returned in a soft, decisive voice. "I can't. He makes me happier than I have been in a long time." The minute the words were out, she could' ve kicked herself. They were almost exactly what she'd said when she'd told him about Riley. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She pressed her fingers to her burning eyes. God, why did this have to be so hard? "I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

His face looked as if it were carved out of stone.

"I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you," she said softly.

"Will he continue to see you if I object?"

She looked him dead in the eye. "I don't know."

"If he backs away, then it really doesn't matter what you want."

"Why are you doing this, Angel?" Buffy was genuinely mystified. "I thought you told me to be happy back at the hospital?"

"I *do* want you to be happy."

"But?"

"I don't want to have to see it," he growled in frustration.

"So it'd be okay if I went out and got a guy off the streets to be with, just so long as you don't have to know about it?" She was trying to be understanding, but he wasn't making it easy.

"That's not what I said," he began hotly.

"That's exactly what you said," she said firmly. She took a deep breath. "Know this; I can't keep you from making Wesley feel so guilty that he breaks up with me--." She held up a hand to stop his automatic denial. "I can't stop you. But I can promise you one thing. Even if I don't have Wes in my life as a lover, I *will* have him in my life as a friend."

"You sound sure of that?" He arched an eyebrow at her.

"Oh, believe me, I am." She fixed him with a steely look. "I won't lose him completely. I'm going to do my best to show him I love him and we can have a good life together, no matter what *others* might think."

"I don't know if I can give you my blessing."

Buffy sighed. "I'm not asking for your blessing. I'm not even really asking for your acceptance." She hesitated. "All I want is for you not to make Wesley choose between us. Can you do that?"

He echoed her sigh as he shook his head. "I don't know. I just don't know."

He turned away from her and slowly trudged up the stairs.

She took a deep breath and followed.

When she got to the lobby, she saw Cordelia come through the doors. She threw a questioning look at Buffy to which the Slayer shook her head slightly.

The Seer went in search of her Champion.

Buffy left the hotel as she tried to think what she was going to tell the man she loved about one of his best friends.

* * * * *  

Cordelia knocked softly on the door.

"Angel?"

"Go away, Cordy."

She pushed open the door to see Angel sitting by Conner's crib, holding his son.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly.

"I'm fine."

"You don't look fine."

"Cordy!" The warning was evident in his tone.

"Well, you don't." She closed the door and leaned on it.

"I don't want to talk to anyone."

"I'm not anyone. I'm your best friend."

He stood and laid his son gently in the crib before turning to her. "There' s nothing you can do."

"You don't know that."

"Can you make Buffy fall out of love with Wesley? Can you make it feel less like betrayal when I think of them together?"

"No," she admitted.

"Then you can't help."

"They're not doing this to hurt you, Angel."

He turned on his heel and strode to the window overlooking the courtyard.

"Don't you think I know that, Cordy?" He ran his hand through his hair. "I know they didn't mean to hurt me. That doesn't make it any easier to take."

"What are you going to do?" She dreaded the mess this could become if Angel couldn't accept Buffy and Wesley's relationship.

"You mean, am I going to make Wesley choose?" he asked, turning to look at her..

She nodded calmly.

"What would you do if I did?" He turned back to the window.

"You won't make me choose sides." She walked over to him and laid her hand on his shoulder. "I won't let you shut me out and I won't let you make me shut Wesley out."

He turned to her. He saw the absolute conviction in her eyes that she could continue to be friends with both of them, no matter what.

He squeezed his eyes closed.

"No, I won't. On either count." He walked to Connor's crib. "I'll accept this, Cordelia, because I don't have a choice. I will always love Buffy and I love Wesley. Just don't ask me to jump up and down for joy."

She nodded and moved to stand beside him.

He looked at her for a moment and sighed. He pulled her into his arms and rested his chin on her head; seemingly unaware of the quiet sobs that racked his body. His eyes were dry, but his heart wept.

She held him as he let go of the only woman he'd ever loved to the man who was like a brother to him.

* * * * *

Buffy opened the door to Wesley's apartment and tried to shake off her mood. The last thing he needed right now was her in a bad mood.

"He didn't take it well." It was not a question.

She shook her head. It would do no good to lie to him, he knew Angel as well as she did, maybe better.

He hung his head.

"Wes--" she began.

"Buffy--" he said at the same time.

They both stopped. He indicated that she should go first.

"This doesn't change things, does it?" she asked quietly.

He stared at her for a moment, noticing that she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Not unless you want it to," he answered quietly.

She looked up at him. "You won't leave me, because Angel doesn't approve?"

He walked slowly to where she stood by the door. He tilted her chin up until he was sure she could see him and see his sincerity. "It breaks my heart that Angel will not give us his blessing." He stroked her cheek gently. "But it doesn't matter to me if he never comes around to acceptance. I *love* you. Nothing, and no one, will ever change that."

Tears welled up and silently spilled over. He brushed them away with, first his thumbs, then his lips. He lifted his head.

"Now, I have a question?"

"Yes?"

"Will his inability to accept this cause you to rethink this relationship?"

She shook her head mutely. She swallowed hard. "Angel will always be dear to me." She watched to see his reaction. His eyes remained carefully guarded. "But it doesn't matter whether he likes it or not, I'm with you." She reached up and covered his hands with her own. "I love you, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and I want *you*, no matter what."

He gave a deep sigh of relief.

She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him to her. They would get through this--together.

* * * * *

Wesley slowly walked down the alley, keeping to the shadows. Cordelia's vision had sent him and Angel to this place to fight a demon that preyed on children. Well, it was one of two places it could be. Gunn, Cordy, and Fred had taken the other location.

He was aware of the vampire walking quietly on the other side of the alley. The dank, rotten smells almost overwhelmed the ex-Watcher and he fought the urge to gag.

God, he missed Buffy. She had returned to Sunnydale two weeks ago. She could no longer put off her obligations, so she'd returned and he'd started missing her almost as soon as the door closed behind her.

He was going to see her this weekend, and the wait seemed interminable.

He gripped his sword tighter and continued to search. He was knocked sideways as the demon they were searching for came barreling out of the darkness.

"Bloody hell," he swore as he righted himself and charged into the fray.

Angel was already fighting, making great over-handed sweeps with the ax he carried. He caught the demon on the arm, sending chunks of flesh, blood and bone flying.

The roar of the wounded demon must have been heard for blocks.

Wesley managed to slash at the monster's legs. The demon went down on one knee.

Angel managed a nod in his direction before he swung again.

"You love her, right?" The vampire asked as he attacked the demon.

"What?" Wesley was certain he'd heard wrong.

"Buffy? You love her, right?" Angel repeated.

Wesley forgot for a moment where he was and stopped to look at Angel in confusion.

"Look alive, Wes!" Angel shoved him to one side, sending Wesley skidding across the alley but saving him from a blow that would have decapitated him. "I don't want to have to tell Buffy you got yourself killed."

The Englishman picked himself up off the ground from where the vampire's push had sent him. He gripped his sword and entered the fight again.

"Are you honestly asking me about my intentions towards Buffy *now*?" he asked incredulously as he slashed at the demon.

"I just want to make sure you love her," the vampire shrugged as he landed a blow to the demon's back.

"Well, I do."

"That's good."

"Fine."

"Good."

At the exact same moment, they both landed mortal blows. Angel's ax decapitated the demon, while Wesley's sword skewered its heart.

They stood there and watched it dissolve until there was nothing left but a wet spot on the concrete.

The vampire brought his eyes level with the ex-Watcher's.

"Be good to her."

"With everything I am or will ever be." The sword suddenly seemed too heavy to hold. "I'll make her happy, Angel. I promise."

"You'd better."

The vampire walked off, leaving him to follow.

* * * * *

Several weeks later, Buffy and Wesley walked through her front door, covered in vampire dust and mud.

"Why is it that most of the time, it doesn't rain in California, but decides to when there's a mass vamp rising?" she asked no one in particular.

Wesley's glare lost a bit of its power as he was covered in more mud and dust than she was.

"You know, I've been wondering. Do they teach you that glare in Council school or is it a British thing?" Buffy asked him with a grin. "Cause Giles' got one just like it."

Wesley did his best not to smile, but it proved to be impossible. "I've noticed something," he said as he walked towards her.

Buffy knew that look and started back-pedaling for all she was worth. "Now, Wes. I know you're not happy about taking a fall into that open grave--."

"You mean the grave you *pushed* me into?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I didn't mean to, that vamp ran into me," she said as her back hit a wall. "How was I supposed to know you were behind me?"

"Perhaps because I told you, 'Buffy, I'm behind you'." He stopped scant inches from you.

"Come on, Wes. I managed to keep this shirt from getting muddy, even though the pants are gone." She looked mournfully at her new slacks.

"Well, we can't have your shirt feeling left out, can we?" With that, Wesley grabbed her around the waist and brought her flush with his body, smearing mud all over her clean shirt.

"Wes!" She tried to be mad, but a laugh escaped.

He kissed her breathless and she thought they might head upstairs, but he pulled away abruptly.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked in a concerned voice.

"Come sit with me?" He took her hand and pulled her to the sofa.

"Wes, what's the matter?" She was getting worried at the abrupt switch in his mood.

Wesley sat her down and stood looking at her for a long, unreadable moment. He slowly sank to one knee, reaching into his muddy pants for a small jeweler's box.

Buffy's heart was in her throat.

"Will you marry me? Will you be the love of my heart for the rest of my life?" Wesley opened the box to reveal a gorgeous solitaire.

Buffy's voice wouldn't work for a moment.

She looked at him.

His heart plummeted. He knew her answer as surely as if she'd screamed it. "Why?" He whispered hoarsely.

"I just can't," she replied in a pain-filled voice.

"That's not an answer." He rose to his feet. Prostrating himself to her suddenly seemed very wrong.

"It's the only one I have," she told him quietly. "Why can't we stay the way we are?"

"Because I want--no, need-- more than a few stolen hours with you, Buffy. I want the world to know you're mine. I want the whole damned world to know I' m yours." He ran his hand through his muddy hair in frustration.

"Wesley, I have to be careful. The CPS is still watching me, deciding if I'm fit to raise Dawn." She thought it was a reasonable answer, totally ignoring that she'd just told him that she had no reason.

"How would marriage to me jeopardize your custody of Dawn?" Wesley knew it wouldn't, but he wanted to hear her say it.

She did. "I don't know that it would, but I can't take chance." It sounded weak, even to her.

She watched his eyes go flat, almost lifeless; his face a grim mask. This wasn't the same man that had just smeared her with mud. This wasn't the same man that teased, laughed and loved with her in bed and out.

"Wesley?" She stood and reached out to him.

He stumbled back from her and held out his hand as if to ward off a blow as pain wash over him in waves. How could he have been *so* bloody *stupid*? Why couldn't he just settle for what he had? Why did he have to want more? He fought the urge to run from the room. He'd been stripped of his dignity by others too many damned times, he refused to do it to himself.

Her heart broke when he pulled away from her. "Wes, please?" She wasn't sure what she was asking for, but she knew that they were standing on a precipice and she may have just pushed them over.

"I can't stay here," he muttered as he turned to leave. He looked back and saw the stricken look on her face and couldn't resist the urge to sooth her. "Don't worry, I'm not leaving town. I'll return in a little while." With that, he walked out the front door.

* * * * *

Buffy sat slumped on the sofa for what seemed like an eternity. What had she done? She rose and headed to the kitchen. She saw Dawn and Willow standing at the foot of the stairs.

Her sister was staring at her with disappointment all over her face.

"What?" Buffy asked, not in the mood for judgmental baby sisters or best friends.

"You're an idiot," Dawn said quietly.

"You don't know anything about it," she said warningly.

"I know you're pushing him away." Dawn leaned back against the railing and looked at her sister.

"I'm not pushing him away!"

"What do you call it?"

"I have to think about you, Dawnie."

"Don't use me as an excuse, Buffy." The younger Summers sister slowly straightened. "You may be worried about me, but that's not why you turned him down."

"I don't think it is either, Buff." Willow spoke for the first time.

"Willow--" Buffy began in warning.

"No," the red-head interrupted gently. "If you want to push Wesley away, at least be honest about why. You're terrified he's going to leave because everybody else has."

Buffy didn't know how to respond to that quiet announcement. If she was honest with herself, she'd have to admit that her best friend was right. "I don't know what you're talking about. Wesley and I have already had this talk; I know he's not going to leave." Okay, so nobody said she was particularly good at the honesty-with-oneself thing. "Besides, everybody else has *not* left me."

Dawn, taking the conversation from Willow, held up her hand and started ticking off her examples. "First dad left, then Angel, riley, mom. Shoot, even Giles left."

"Giles came back and mom *died*," Buffy reminded her through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, but he still left," her little sister reminded her firmly. "And I know mom died, but that doesn't mean she didn't leave us." Dawn added sorrowfully.

"You're going to give up on a man that loves you and wants to spend the rest of *your* life with you." Buffy didn't miss that not-too-subtle reminder from Willow about the limited lifespan of a slayer. With compassion in her eyes, the witch laid her hand on her best friend's tense shoulder. "You're throwing it away because you're scared."

"I'm not scared." But the Slayer wouldn't meet her eyes as she shrugged off the hand.

"Yes, you are," Dawn contradicted. "You think if you let him in, that he's going to leave you. Are you going to let him go?" She knew what she was about to say was either going to hurt her sister or piss her off. "You know? I never thought you were a coward, Buffy--till now." With that bombshell, she turned and trotted back up the stairs. Willow took one last look at the forlorn woman staring at the floor and followed.

* * * * *

Wesley walked through the darkened streets of Sunnydale on autopilot. He knew it was a dangerous thing to do, but he couldn't seem to help himself. All he could do was replay Buffy's rejection over and over in his mind. He still couldn't believe he'd expected her to say yes. It was just--they'd been so bloody good together. He wanted something permanent. He wanted the right to claim her. It was utterly chauvinistic of him to think that way, he knew. That didn't mean he could stop the most basic urge to tell the world that she belonged to him.

He continued to walk the pain and disappointment away, his steps taking him further away from her.

He found himself at the rebuilt Sunnydale High. He remembered his absolute humiliation the day of the Mayor's ascension. He looked back at the man he'd been and wondered what had happened to him. He gave a cynical laugh; life happened, it had kicked him in the arse and demanded that he change his ways if he expected to survive. To his astonishment, he had and had become a better man for it. He'd accepted himself and moved on to find the woman of his dreams in the girl who had rejected him so long ago.

He took a deep cleansing breath. It didn't matter what type of relationship Buffy wanted. If it was in his power to give it to her, he would. He didn't have Angel's strength; he couldn't walk away from her.

He turned and started walking back to Buffy's.

A vampire stepped in front of him.

"What have we here?" The vampire asked, trying to sound menacing.

Wesley rolled his eyes and asked no one in particular. "Why me?"

"Because you're here and I'm hungry?" The vampire supplied helpfully.

The ex-Watcher pretended to think it over. "I highly doubt it," he said as he staked the vamp.

He stepped over the pile of dust and continued home.

* * * * *

He turned his key in the lock, taking care to be quiet. He didn't know if the others were asleep and he didn't want to wake them if they were. He was going to the kitchen to get something to drink when he glanced in the living room and saw Buffy.

"Hello, luv," he said as he stopped at the doorway of the room.

"I waited for you." She sat curled up in one corner of the sofa.

"I see that." He moved into the room, but didn't sit down.

"Where did you go?"

"For a walk."

"At night? In Sunnydale?" She fought the urge to yell at him for putting himself in that kind of danger. She took a deep breath to calm herself. "Can we talk?"

He nodded and sat down on the far end of the sofa.

She felt as though someone had punched her. The physical distance was nothing to the emotional one.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"You have nothing to apologize for."

"Yes, I do. I should've--."

He cut her off. "No, I shouldn't have rushed you." He stood and walked to the window. He had to put distance between them or he couldn't say what he needed to. He turned to face her. "I know you don't want to marry me." He held up his hand to stop her interruption. "You don't, and I can live with that." He sighed deeply. "I can live with that because I *can't* live without you. I'll do whatever you want, Buffy. I'll be as open or as secretive as you want me to be. Just please," his voice deepened. "Please don't send me away." He hated the pleading note in his voice, but he couldn' t help it. If begging would keep her in his life, he would do it, no matter how much it hurt.

Buffy got up slowly and moved towards him. She cursed herself for causing this man to beg for anything--especially her.

When she got close enough, he couldn't resist any longer. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly.

She could feel the shudders running through him and invented new words to flay herself for bringing him to this.

"Wes?" She pulled away enough to tilt his head up so she could see his face in the soft lamplight illuminating the room. She felt hot tears prick her eyes as she saw the abject misery in his. "God, I'm so sorry!" She pulled him back to her and fought the urge to sob. "How could I do this to you? How could I be such a bitch?"

"You are not and I won't have you saying such things about yourself," he admonished her gently.

She couldn't stop the soggy chuckle. "What is it about you Englishmen that you defend me even when I hurt you?" Her voice broke on the last word.

"Perhaps we count ourselves lucky to know you at all," he suggested.

"I don't know how lucky you are, but I know how damned lucky I am."

He leaned back and gently wiped the tears away with the pads of his thumbs. "Hush, luv, please don't cry. It breaks my heart to see you this way."

She closed her eyes and let the love in his voice wash over her. She allowed it to flow into the darkest corners of her soul. As it soothed her, she suddenly knew that her sister and best friend were right. Wesley would never do anything to hurt her. He loved her. She just had to trust in that love.

"Come sit down and I'll explain about earlier," she said as she pulled him to the sofa.

She pushed him down and sat down beside him, sitting at an angle with one leg tucked up under her. "I didn't tell you the truth when I told you I couldn't marry you because of Dawn."

He nodded, but said nothing.

She took a deep breath. "I said no because I'm terrified you'll leave me." She said it in a rush.

"Buffy, I would never--"

She put her finger on his lips to stop the words. "I know you wouldn't. But you have to understand something. It like everyone I've ever loved has left me. It started with my dad and it just didn't seem to stop."

He knew about the people she'd lost, either to their leaving or to death. It didn't seem fair that someone so young should have to suffer so much. He grasped the hand she held against his mouth and brought the palm to his lips

to place a gentle kiss to it.

Buffy melted at the tenderness of the gesture.

"I'll never hurt you; you do know that, don't you? I'll never willingly leave you." He had to make sure she understood just what she meant to him.

She nodded. "I do. Besides," she chuckled. "If I didn't, my sister and best friend would make sure I did." She suddenly grinned at him. "Dawn called me a coward."

"What?" He couldn't believe his ears.

"She told me I was a coward if I let you go." She still couldn't believe her sister had the guts to say that.

"You're joking!"

"Nope. She and Willow did a good tag-team on me." She caressed his face. "They made me face up to how I was treating you and why."

"And now?" He was afraid to breathe.

"I'm not going to tell you that all my fears have vanished, but I will tell you that I love you with everything in me." She swallowed hard. "If you still want me, I'll marry you." She ducked her head, not being brave enough to look at him.

"Still want you?" Wesley didn't attempt to disguise the incredulousness in his voice. "Buffy, I could live to be a hundred and I would *never* cease to want you." He used a finger to tilt her head back so he could see her clearly. "I love you. I've loved you for months and I will love you for the rest of my life and beyond."

Tears welled up in her eyes and she didn't try to stop their overflow.

"I love you, too." Then she chuckled.

"What?"

"It's just, you give me this passionate, beautiful declaration of love and all I can say is 'I love you too'." She laughed again.

He didn't crack a smile. "I don't need passionate declarations, my love. I just need you to love me."

"I do," she whispered, right before she pulled his head down and captured his lips.

* * * * *

Cordelia hung up the phone and grinned at her husband.

"What?" He asked good-naturedly. He knew she wouldn't tell him until she was ready.

"Your Slayer."

"Well, that's cryptic enough," he chuckled. "What about *my* Slayer?"

"She finally decided to make an honest man out of Wesley."

His mouth dropped open. "They're getting married?"

She nodded happily. She and Buffy may not have always gotten along, but she made Wes happy and that was what was important to Cordelia.

"That's bloody fantastic!" Giles stood and took her in his arms and spun her around.

"Hey!" She laughed as she held onto him. "You didn't seem this happy when I told you I'd marry you," she protested good-naturedly.

"I was this happy, luv. I was also so damned relieved that I had trouble standing," he told he with a chuckle. "I'm just glad that they're finally doing what will make them both happy."

She giggled as she wrapped her arms around him. "You do know that we have a job to do now, right?"

"A job?"

"Yeah, we have a wedding to plan."

He groaned comically and she smacked him playfully on his arm. She tried to pull away from him, her mind already making plans.

He stopped her and pulled her back to him.

"Come on, Giles. We've got a lot to do." She looked at him and was assaulted by the playful, teasing light in his eyes. "Uh oh. What are you up to?"

"Me? Up to something? What makes you think that?" A deeper note entered his voice.

"That look and that voice," she replied.

"I am wounded that you think so little of me."

"Sure you are," she scoffed as she quirked an eyebrow at him.

He chuckled and pulled her closer. "Well, if I'm to be slandered in this manner, I suppose I shall have to live up to the accusations."

"Really? And what did you have in mind?" She asked huskily.

"I think you might have an idea." He ducked his head to gently kiss her behind her ear.

"We've got to make plans," she said, strangling a moan even as she tilted her head to give him better access.

"We will," he assured her. "Later." He swung her up into his arms and headed to their bedroom.

* * * * *

Giles kicked the door shut and set his wife down. He just looked at her for the longest moment. Sometimes it seemed as though his greatest reward in life was the ability to look at her and know she loved him every bit as much as he loved her.

Other times, his more carnal side took over and the right to make love to her definitely topped the list.

He grinned.

She reached up and tangled her fingers in the soft hair at the base of his skull.

"What are you grinning at?" She stroked the skin beneath her fingertips, sending off small shock waves he could feel in the deepest part of him.

"Trying to decide what the best part of loving you is," he answered honestly.

"Oh, that's easy, darling," she teased.

"Really? What would be the right answer?"

"The best part of me is," she waited a beat. "All of me." She grinned wickedly.

He threw his head back and roared with laughter. "I do believe you just might be right about that, Mrs. Giles," he replied after he caught his breath.

"Of course. I'm always right," she shot back cheekily.

"But I think I might have to test your theory."

"Really? How are you going to do that?"

"Oh, I think I'll start at the top of your head and work me way to the tips of your toes." He gave her a heated look. "I should be able to give an unbiased opinion by then."

Her breath caught in her throat. "I'm all for unbiased opinions," she whispered throatily.
|
"I thought you might be," he chuckled as he lowered his head to capture her lips with his own.

She moaned deep in her throat as his tongue entered her mouth to tease and taste. She moved her hands down to his shoulders, clutching them in an effort to stay upright as her knees went weak. He could always do this to her with nothing more than a kiss. She'd consider it unfair if she didn't know she had the same power over him.

He pulled his mouth away and planted hot, wet kisses along her jaw and down the slim column of her throat, nipping at the pulse beating erratically at the base.

Her knees buckled.

He caught her and laid her on the bed.

He stripped off his clothes and joined her.

She held out her arms and he went into them willingly. He kissed her, stoking the fires that had been allowed to wane.

She trailed a hand over his torso. She could feel the muscles in his chest and abdomen contract under her touch. It was a heady feeling. She brushed the back of her hand lightly across his erection and his hips jerked.

He raised his head to see her giving him a deliciously wicked smile.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" He asked huskily.

"You bet your sweet fanny I am." She raised her hand to caress his bottom lip with her index finger, moaning when he drew it into his mouth. "I love knowing that I can do to you what you do to me." She snaked a hand around his neck and pulled his mouth down to her.

He moved a hand between them and began unbuttoning the thin cotton shirt she wore. He splayed it open and opened the front clasp of her bra before pulling his mouth away from hers to trail hot kisses down her neck and to her chest.

His touch was overloading her senses. She tried to think, but all she could do was feel what he was doing to her. She felt the stubble on his chin scrap against her and she arched off the bed.

He continued to lavish attention on her breasts as he unfastened her shorts. He slid a hand under the fabric, encountering the lace of her underwear. He slipped it to one side and slowly entered her with his finger. He groaned at the hot, silken heat that greeted him.

"Giles, stop playing with me," she grated out, holding onto the threads of her control--barely.

"But, luv," he teased. "I thought you liked games?"

"Not right now, I don't."

She flipped him over, her hair falling around her face.

"I want you now." She stood and quickly shimmied out of the shorts and underwear, discarding the shirt and bra as well.

She climbed back on the bed, reminding him of a sleek, silent predator that had spotted his prey. He said as much to her.

"That's right, and you're what I'm hunting," she growled as she slid up his body.

His chuckle turned into a groan when she trailed her hands along his thighs, cupping him in gentle hands.

He wadded the bedspread in both hands in an effort to stay in control. He opened his eyes to see her smiling down at him.

"Cordelia--." His voice became a strangled moan as she moved further up his body.

"I told you what I wanted," she said in a husky, playful voice. "I guess I' ll just have to take it."

With that last comment, she lowered herself on him. He drew in a sharp breath and began to thrust. She controlled the rhythm of their lovemaking and drew it out as long as she could before she felt him find his release and, succumbing to her own needs, followed him over the edge.

She collapsed on top of him. He somehow managed to draw the comforter over both of them before sleep claimed them.

* * * * *

She woke to the sensation of being held securely in his arms. It was a feeling she would never get used to or take for granted. She shivered at the memories of their lovemaking.

He felt her shivers and, thinking she was cold, pulled her closer to his warmth.

"Giles," she murmured sleepily.

"Hmmmm?"

"We still have to make plans."

He chuckled. "We will, luv, we will," he assured her before drifting back to sleep.

She snuggled closer and smiled before following him.

* * * * * 

Wesley stood in the living room of Buffy's home, feeling a mixture of elation and nerves. He was dressed in a tuxedo and was waiting for the woman he loved to walk down the stairs and pledge herself to him. The actual ceremony would be done in the backyard. The same protection spell Willow and Tara had done for Giles and Cordelia's wedding was being done for theirs.

"How ya holding up?" Gunn came up beside him.

"Fine, fine." He reached up to tug on the bow tie that suddenly threatened to strangle him.

"Don't look like it, bro." His hand was batted away and the offending tie was straightened by his best man. "We're gonna miss you," the younger man mumbled.

"I will miss all of you as well."

"Do you really want to move back here?"

Wesley had had to think about it for a long time. Sunnydale was the site of his greatest humiliation and also his most heartfelt prayer coming true. He' d fallen in love with a woman that had pledged her life to this town, and the world, whether they knew it or not. She couldn't leave and he refused to have a long-distance marriage.

Besides, even though Angel had seemed to accept their relationship, the ex-Watcher knew that seeing them together hurt the vampire. There was no need to cause him any more pain than necessary. It would be easier on all of them if he moved to Sunnydale to be with Buffy.

It was strange in a way. He and Giles were almost switching places. The older man had made his life in L.A. because Cordelia couldn't leave her destiny.

And now, Wesley would make his home in Sunnydale because Buffy could not leave hers.

Strange how things worked out sometimes.

"Chop, chop, children. Let's move this gig outside." Lorne's voice interrupted his musings.

Wesley and Gunn made their way outside to find that Willow, Buffy's maid of honor, and the others were already there.

The wedding march began to play and Wesley watched as Buffy came out of the house, on Giles' arm, and walked slowly towards him.

His breath left him. She was amazing. She wore a pale peach sundress. She hadn't wanted a big fancy gown so she, Willow and Cordelia had gone shopping and found this. It was striking on her. She carried a small bouquet of flowers in one hand and held onto her Watcher's arm with the other. She looked serene to most people, but Wesley could see in her eyes that she was as nervous as he. Only, suddenly, he wasn't nervous anymore. He was in the exact place he needed to be. He looked around and saw the people that meant the most to him.

He knew that Buffy was disappointed that her father either wouldn't, or couldn't, come today. He hadn't bothered inviting his mother. She may have redeemed herself in the end by standing up to his father, but she was still the same woman that had managed to aid William Wyndham-Pryce in destroying every good feeling their son had ever had. He had no intention of taking the chance of a repeat performance on this day.

He watched his bride coming to him and he felt an indescribable joy.

* * * * *

Buffy watched the man she loved as she moved towards him and thanked any and all Powers and Higher Beings for giving him to her.

He loved her for who and what she was--all of her. She wasn't sure why, but she wasn't looking a gift-horse in the mouth. He wanted her and she wasn't letting him go. She'd finally realized what she had.

She stopped beside him and they turned to face the minister together.

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony--"

The minister's voice continued reading the sacred ceremony until he reached the part that said "If anyone here has just cause why these two should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."

"I have just cause!"

Buffy and Wesley looked at one another and sighed. Why they had thought their wedding would go off as planned was anyone's guess. They turned as one to face the intruder.

"Dad?!?" Buffy couldn't believe what, or rather who, she was seeing.

Wesley eyed the man coming down the aisle.

He turned to look at his bride. "That's your father?"

"Yes."

He gave his attention back to the man in question. "You definitely got your looks and your intelligence from your mother," he said after a moment.

Buffy couldn't help it, she burst into laughter.

"This is no laughing matter, young lady," her father scolded her as he came to a halt in front of them.

Buffy opened her mouth to say something, when Giles stepped in.

"I think you lost the right to address her behavior years ago," her Watcher told Hank Summers.

Buffy's father glared at him. "Who the hell are you?"

"He's the man that walked me down the aisle and gave me away because you were too busy to be bothered," Buffy interrupted quietly.

He had the grace to look ashamed for a moment before he remembered why he was there. "I won't let you marry him," he pointed to Wesley.

"Why?" This question came from Dawn who had moved from her place with the bridesmaids and was now standing by her sister.

"He's too old for her," he blustered.

"How do you know?" Buffy spoke again.

"I just know." Hank got a stubborn set to his jaw. "I won't give my permission."

Buffy looked at him and resisted the urge to slug him. "I don't need your permission. I'm twenty-one."

He looked angered at that little revelation. Almost as though a plan had been upset.

Giles took one look at him and grabbed him by the arm.

"Come along, Mister Summers, you and I need to have a little chat." He smiled at the minister. "Carry on." There was more than a hint of an order in the cheerful words.

Hank looked as though he would say more until Giles whispered in his ear. "I wouldn't if I were you." The blonde man looked at the Watcher and swallowed hard.

Giles led him, dragging almost, into the house.

Buffy sighed and knew that it wasn't over. Geez, why did she even bother to plan on something normal?

Wesley took her hand and turned her to face him. "Do you want to deal with this now?" He pressed a gentle kiss to the hand he held. "I'm not going anywhere."

She smiled at him. "Nope, my dad can wait. We've got a wedding to finish."

He gave her a wide grin and they turned to face the minister.

The elderly man took a deep breath and began again.

* * * * *

After the vows were said, Buffy went into the house to see what Giles might have done to her father.

Wesley began to follow when a figure in the shadows caught his eye. He paused and looked closer.

Angel came out of the deeper shadows, careful to avoid anyone else. He watched the man who was one of his best friends, the sunlight sparkling off of the gold band Wesley now wore on his left hand. He closed his eyes for a moment before taking a deep breath he didn't need and opened them again. He nodded one time to the ex-Watcher before turning and walking away.

Wesley watched the spot where Angel had stood for a moment longer before shaking himself. That was as close to a blessing as he and Buffy were likely to get.

It was enough.

* * * * *

Buffy walked into the kitchen. "Giles? Where the hell are you?" She was not happy about her father's interruption.

"We are in the living room." Giles voice held a distinct note of irritation.

She followed the sound of his voice until she saw her father sitting stiffly on the sofa. Giles stood a few feet away, giving the impression that he was stopping Hank Summers from leaving.

"What are you doing here, Dad?"

"I came to stop you from making a mistake." Hank jumped up, keeping a careful eye on the Englishman the entire time. "This Wesley is too old for you."

"How do you know?" Buffy asked as she put her hands on her hips.

"That's something I would like to know," her new husband's voice sounded from the doorway. "How do you know anything about me?"

"I have my ways," Hank said with as much conviction as he could muster.

"You haven't bothered to pick up a phone in months to check on me or Dawn. You couldn't even be bothered to come to Mom's funeral. Why the sudden interest in my life?" Buffy asked bitterly.

"You're my daughter!"

"Why have you suddenly remembered that?" She was getting a suspicion of why he was here and she was praying she was wrong. "Who sent you, Dad?"

"No one." But the denial rang hollow.

She closed her eyes. "Who sent you here to stop my wedding?"

"No one." But Hank paled noticeably at the direct question.

"Don't lie to me," she said fiercely.

He shrank back from the command in her voice. This wasn't right. His twenty-one year old daughter shouldn't have that kind of presence. He decided to try and bluff himself out of the mess he was in. "Don't talk to me that way, young lady!"

"She may talk to you anyway she pleases, she's earned the right by virtue of your negligence." Giles said quietly.

"What the hell do you know? She's not your daughter!"

"You're right, she's not. She's yours," was the quiet reply. The Englishman slowly walked over to where Buffy's father sat and stopped inches away from him. "She's one of two daughters that you haven't worried about in years. You didn't call to see how she was faring after Joyce's death." He took a deep, calming breath. "Who, I might add, deserved better as well. The woman was your wife and gave you two children and you couldn't even be bothered to come and pay your last respects." His voice dripped with disdain.

"Joyce was--" Hank began scornfully.

"Don't!" Buffy and Giles' voices both said at the same time.

Buffy looked at her Watcher and nodded once. She knew why he was doing this. Even now, he was allowing her to have an out in case she ever wanted a relationship with her father. He would say the truth and take the consequences.

"Joyce was a beautiful woman and devoted, loving mother." Giles stepped back and shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from throttling the man in front of him. "She did the best she could under the most trying of circumstances with no help from you. I will not allow you to slander her memory."

Hank turned red and then remembered that Giles was married to Cordelia, who had entered the room along with Dawn, Willow, Xander and Anya.

"What does your wife think of your kind words about my ex-wife?" he sneered.

"Well, for one thing, his wife would have to agree with him," Cordelia answered for Giles as she walked over and put her arm around her husband's waist. "And for another, I'm wondering how you know about all of us since you haven't been around?"

Hank swallowed hard. He'd allowed his mouth to run out of control and now he had no way of backtracking.

"For the last time, who sent you?" The quiet question came from Buffy.

"I told you, no one sent--"

"We know you were sent to stop Buffy from marrying me," Wesley interrupted. "I can even take a fairly educated guess as to who it might have been. Denying it will do you no good."

"If you know, then you don't need me to tell you." Buffy's father looked smug and sat back on the sofa.

"Giles?"

"Yes, Wesley?"

"Would you take Buffy and the others outside and start the reception?"

"Gladly." Giles gestured to everyone to leave the room.

"Wesley?" Buffy stopped beside her husband.

"Yes?"

"Don't hurt your hands, I've got plans for them later." With that last remark, she followed her Watcher out of the living room, without a backward glance, leaving her father's mouth hanging open in astonishment and dawning fear.

* * * * *

"Do you fully understand your situation now?" Wesley asked as he slowly approached the man on the sofa. "Not to worry though, I don't plan on doing any permanent damage," Hank Summers was assured in a most civilized manner. "Notice I said 'permanent'," Wesley added as an afterthought.

Hank began to shake. "I didn't want to do it. They made me."

"Who made you?"

"A man came to my office and told me he wanted this wedding stopped."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

Wesley continued towards him.

"I swear! I don't know!" Buffy's father shrank back on the sofa.

"You were willing to hurt your daughter, destroy something that makes her happy, and you didn't think to ask why?" Wesley didn't try to hide the incredulousness in his voice.

"I didn't have a choice."

"If you can't tell me why, then you'd better be able to come up with whom," Wesley told him quietly.

Hank looked at the man his daughter married and realized that he'd made a huge mistake. The man who'd come to him had told him that Wesley was an ineffectual coward.

He'd been wrong.

Hank started talking.

* * * * *

Wesley closed the backdoor quietly. The reception was going well, but he could see that the people who'd been in the living room were watching him anxiously.

Buffy came to him.

"Where's my father?"

"He's gone," he said as he stepped off the porch onto the grass.

"Gone?"

"He won't be back." He didn't add that he'd told Hank Summers in no uncertain terms that if he attempted to hurt either of his daughters again, he would answer to both Wesley and Rupert Giles. Wesley loved Buffy and Dawn. They were his family now--he would protect them.

"Any luck finding out who sent him?" Giles asked as he and Cordelia joined them.

"Yes." He looked at Buffy's Watcher. "I'm sorry to say this--."

"It was my uncle."

Wesley nodded.

Giles cursed softly.

"Why?" Cordelia asked as she rubbed her husband's back to calm him down.

"To simply throw us off balance." Wesley rubbed his neck wearily. This definitely wasn't the wedding day he'd envisioned. "He also wanted to punish us for having the audacity to defy him."

"I'll kill him," Giles whispered fiercely.

"No, you won't." Buffy laid her hand on his arm. "We'll figure out a way to beat him. That'll hurt him worse than killing him." She wrapped her arm around Wesley's waist. "What do we do now?"

"We continue to defy him." He pulled her closer. "I don't think he intended for your father to succeed. It was just a malicious attempt to disrupt and tarnish this day for us. He is a very petty man."

"That he is." Giles was still fuming. He hated to think that a member of his family had caused Buffy such pain.

"Then here's what we're going to do," Buffy said suddenly as she grabbed hold of her husband's hand.

"What?"

"We're going to dance and eat and enjoy the rest of *our* day." She leaned in and whispered in his ear. "And then, I'm going to take you to bed and ravish you."

He pulled her to him. "Do you promise?" He whispered right before he captured her lips. He raised his head after a moment and, with a chuckle, pulled her towards the food-laden table.

"Are you okay?" Cordelia watched Giles struggle to reign in his temper.

"I'm just so bloody tired of Buffy having to pay for other people's follies." He blew out a breath.

"I know, but at least she's not alone."

"There is that." He watched as his Slayer playfully smeared her new husband with wedding cake. "Come on then." He grabbed his wife's hand and pulled her along. "I'd like a bit of that cake myself."

Cordelia laughed and let herself be led over to the festivities.

END

Read the prequel to this story: When You Least Expect It