This Time Around
Chapter Eight - Doing The Right Thing Sucks

written by Rainne

Joyce blinked when Buffy came downstairs dressed in a simple black dress and sensible medium heels, a thin gold chain-belt around her waist and her hair up in a French twist with several tendrils curling down around her slender neck. The sophisticated clothing combined with her aged appearance to make Buffy look closer to Joyce's age than to her own twenty-seven. The Slayer's mother moved to her side. "You look so wonderful," she said softly, reaching up to touch her daughter's cheek. "You look more like my sister than my daughter," she added, grinning.

Buffy smiled, then suddenly felt tears begin to gather in her eyes. She bit her lip and finally asked a question which had been plaguing her since the first time she'd laid eyes on her mother two weeks ago. "Mom," she asked nervously, "do you ever get headaches?"

Joyce looked at her strangely. "Of course I do, Buffy. Everyone does. What do - " she paused when Buffy's fingers came up to gently touch the place where Buffy remembered the bandage being.

"Right here," Buffy whispered. "Are they right here, Mom?"

Joyce's eyes widened. "What is it, Buffy?" she asked gently.

Buffy swallowed hard. "I want you to talk to your doctor," she explained in a shaking voice. "Have him look at your head. Please?"

Joyce's response was forestalled by a firm knock on the front door of the house. She smiled reassuringly at her daughter. "Settle down, now," she advised warmly. "You don't want to spoil your makeup." Buffy nodded, taking several deep breaths to calm herself while Joyce went to the door.

There stood Giles in cream pants, a deep emerald shirt and a smart cream blazer, holding a bouquet of daisies and looking incredibly nervous. He smiled when Joyce opened the door, reached into the bouquet and pulled out a single yellow rose, which he presented to her. "Joyce," he said gallantly, "may I request the company of your daughter tonight?"

Joyce smiled, taking the rose. "I suppose I can trust you not to keep her out till all hours or run out of gas on Lover's Lane?" she asked him, a twinkle in her eyes.

He shook his head, speaking earnestly. "I think you know me better than that."

She nodded, looking down at the rose and then back up at him. "I do know," she agreed. "You would never do anything to hurt Buffy."

"That's correct," he assured her. "Never in life."

She stepped back from the door and indicated that he should enter. He stepped in, catching movement in his peripheral vision as he did so, and turned toward the living room. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of Buffy standing there in her black dress, the gold chain around her slim waist glittering and an expression of terrified excitement on her face. "Hello, Buffy," he said softly, stepping toward her and holding out the flowers.

She moved toward him, a smile spreading slowly across her face, and took the daisies in her hands. "Hi, Giles," she greeted him, bringing the daisies up to her face. "You remembered," she commented in a whisper, almost to herself.

Giles nodded. "I did," he said simply.

They smiled at each other for a long moment before Joyce smoothly interposed herself with a vase full of water. "You'll miss your reservation," she warned lightly. "And after Buffy was on time and everything."

"Mom!" Buffy exclaimed, scandalized. But Giles could see pleasure on her face as well. She had missed being teased by her mother, and it was clear.

Joyce saw the pleasure as well and swept away with the vase, which was now full of daisies. "Be back before daylight!" she admonished as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Buffy smiled up at Giles. "Okay, then," she said, snickering. "I think we just got told to run along and play."

"Quite," he agreed. "Are you ready to go?"

She nodded. "As I'll ever be."

"Then let us go. She is right about one thing - I shouldn't like us to lose our reservation." He moved toward the door, opening it for her.

"Where are we going?" she asked him as she moved through the door and onto the porch, but his response was lost in her gasp of shock as she took in the shining vehicle sitting at the curb. "Giles! That's not your car!"

He smiled. "I'm quite aware of that, Buffy," he returned dryly. "I've hired it for the evening. It was a thought I'd had that perhaps nobody had taken you out in style in some time, and I wanted to. remedy that situation."

She ducked her head, blushing. "Thank you," she said softly.

He took her hand and led her around to the passenger side of the gleaming Cadillac Escalade, helping her up into the smooth leather seat and then moving around to the driver's side and sliding in himself. He flashed briefly on the thought that she was so very small in the big SUV - almost childlike - and then he was turning the car on, its huge V8 engine roaring to life, and he was pulling out onto Revello Drive, and she was watching him out of the corner of her eye with a tiny, secret smile playing about her lips.

He took her to Gino's, where she had never been before, and she had to suppress a start of unpleasant surprise as they entered because the place looked almost exactly like Giovanni's little bistro. Then she had to suppress a start of entirely pleasant surprise as Giles's warm hand settled in the small of her back, guiding her gently to their table as they followed the maitre d'. Giles pulled her chair out for her when she sat, smiling down at her and making her heart beat faster. Then he sat down in the chair next to her and spoke softly in Italian.

"I hope you are quite hungry," he told her in his low, rich voice. "I have every intention of feeding you very well."

Buffy smiled at him. "I'm hungry enough," she responded in Italian. "And I believe you promised me tiramisu."

They looked up from their not-quite-flirting conversation when the waiter approached. He was an older man with a thick Italian accent who seemed delighted when they both ordered and conversed with him in Italian. He asked them where they had learned to speak his native tongue; Giles explained that he'd learned it at university and Buffy stated proudly that she'd learned it in self-defense while living in Rome for four years. The waiter turned out to be Roman and spent a few minutes pleasantly discussing some of the sights of Rome with Buffy before going to turn their order in to the kitchen.

Their dinner progressed slowly and pleasantly; Watcher and Slayer walked a fine line between conversation and flirting all night that neither of them was willing to be the first one to cross. They enjoyed seafood, pasta and tiramisu and Giles cajoled Buffy into eating more in one meal than she thought she had eaten in perhaps the last three months of her sojourn in Rome.

When dinner was over, Giles took Buffy downtown and they simply walked, hand in hand, pretending that nothing was wrong and simply enjoying being together. They ended up on the boardwalks at the beach and stood together on the end of one of the piers for a very long time, being silent together and simply contemplating the stars. Then Giles felt Buffy shiver and turned to look down at her, intending to suggest that he take her home.

She raised herself on tiptoe and pressed her lips to his, gently seeking, burning his soul with that simple touch. And though it cut him deeply, rending deep furrows in his soul, he responded for only a moment before pulling back from her. He was shaking his head when she opened her eyes, confused and afraid she'd done the wrong thing. "Not yet, Buffy," he said softly.

Buffy's eyes were riveted to his, and he could read the confusion in them. "Why not, Giles?" she asked him. It was not the petulant question of a child denied some treat, but a genuine confusion. "I want, I think you want; so why not?"

He smiled, reaching up to gently smooth away the furrow that was forming between her brows. "Because it isn't time yet," he said softly. "It's too soon. I. my intent tonight wasn't to seduce you. My intent was to bring you out, to show you a good time, to allow you to enjoy yourself. And while there is nothing I should like better to do at this moment than kiss you until your knees went weak, it wouldn't be right, and I believe that you know it. You are still hurting very badly, and I don't desire or intend to take advantage of you when you are less than whole, emotionally speaking."

She puzzled through the words for a moment, then suddenly gave a tentative smile. "So, translating from Giles to English, you don't think I'm ready and you're trying to do the right thing?"

He smiled back, relieved that she understood. "Yes, Buffy," he confirmed. "That's exactly it. When the time comes that you are heart-whole and you still want me to kiss you, then I shall kiss you as you have never before been kissed. But just yet, it's not time. And I would rather wait than have you grow to hate me for taking advantage of you."

"I could never hate you," she whispered, and he felt his heart clench as he realized the truth of those words. Whatever might happen, whatever had happened to her, she had managed to hold onto her feelings for him through it all. But he had to be sure.

He raised his hand and stroked her cheek gently with the backs of his fingers. "My Buffy," he said softly. "You are so very beautiful."

She leaned into the caress, her eyes shining up at him in the pale light. "My Giles," she whispered back. "My knight in shining armor."

He scoffed just a little, but she could see that he was also blushing in pleasure. "It's a bit dented," he protested.

"So what?" she asked softly. "So's mine."

He nodded, then reached down and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. "Come on, then, Buffy. It's time you were home."

She sighed deeply. "Doing the right thing sucks sometimes."

He chuckled. "Indeed. But I think you'll thank me in the morning."

It turned out that he was wrong.

Read the next chapter: Apocolypse Again