Love On The Rocks
written by Shelley


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: "Entropy," "Two to Go," and "Grave." Yes, I know that they aired only three weeks apart, but I'm going to pretend that at least two months passed between them. Surely you can suspend disbelief *that* far, can't you? The rest will make perfect sense. I *promise!* *snicker*
Summary: Buffy makes a wish, Giles finds true love, and the world comes to a fiery end. Thank-you, Anya!
Thanks: Thanks to Gileswench, for permitting me to borrow her throwaway joke, and to TweedEmpress for her invaluable help with London geography and British expressions.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to Taryn who knows that I shouldn't be allowed near a word processor without adult supervision, and yet convinced me to release this upon an unsuspecting public anyway. If you feel the need to, erm, *thank* anyone, it really should be her...
Author's Notes: Warning: Character death and a successful apocalypse.
Additional Disclaimer: Love On The Rocks is owned by Neil Diamond.
Feedback Author: Shelley



Prologue

Anya wanted Xander Harris punished for his betrayal, and she was almost out of options. She couldn't curse him herself, and she hadn't been able to get Willow, Tara, or Dawn to curse him for her. Buffy was her last hope. So here she was, leaning against one of the pillars beside Buffy's front door, trying to goad the Slayer into cursing her best friend. So far, it had not been a blazing success.

"I don't think he could feel any worse," Buffy said sadly.

Not the most promising of starts, but she could work with it. "Let's test that theory," she said brightly.

"Anya," Buffy said soulfully, "Xander's my friend. I know what he did was wrong, and ... if it had happened to me, I'd-"

"Wish his penis would explode," Anya asked hopefully.

Buffy looked at her oddly. "Um, no, that wasn't what I was going to say."

"But you are going to wish something dire upon him, right?"

"I don't really think I should," Buffy said carefully.

Anya was starting to get annoyed. "Did I mention the whole 'left at the altar' thing? Didn't leave that out, did I?"

Buffy shook her head regretfully. "No. Look, I - I know what he did was wrong. God, if it happened to me, I ... I-I, it must have been torture."

Now she was getting somewhere! "Okay! Let's talk about torture," Anya said happily.

Buffy sat down on the top step, and considered her words carefully. Buffy could see how much Anya wanted her to side against Xander, but she felt that a better friend would try to help Anya heal, not fuel the fires of resentment "Anya, I know you feel awful, but it's gonna get better. I promise you it will."

Anya let out a frustrated growl as she plopped down beside Buffy. "Squish, squish, squish! Guys have been running roughshod over you for years." Buffy pouted and nodding, reluctantly agreeing. "Torturing that perky little ticker. Aren't you sick of it? Don't you wish guys like that-"

"Whoa," Buffy demanded indignantly. "Guys? There have only been four - three! Three! Three guys. That's barely plural."

Buffy was losing the cool caring friend act and starting to get riled up. Good. Just a bit more goading, and she would get her wish! "And didn't each of them rip your heart out? Don't men like that, as to pick an example, Xander, deserve to be punished?"

Buffy scowled at the ground. "I hate men that leave," she muttered.

"Me too," Anya crowed in triumph. "I hate men that leave too! Don't you wish that something awful would happen to them?"

"I mean, when someone I care about pulls a now-you-see-me, now-you-don't act, it throws my world out of whack. Makes me do stupid things that I regret. Yet I'm stuck with the consequences of my moronic actions, even though I never would have done them if—"

"If he hadn't left," Anya interrupted excitedly. "You're absolutely right! I mean, who knows what sort of mischief I might get into now that I'm rebounding? Shouldn't Xander bear some of the consequences of my actions? Shouldn't—"

Buffy cut her off, finally getting into the spirit of things. "Shouldn't Giles know what it's like to get involved with somebody who is totally wrong for him?"

Suddenly, Anya got a queasy feeling in her stomach. "Giles?"

"I mean, he left me when I needed him most, so it's kind of his fault that I've gotten out of control, right?" Anya gave a small, tentative nod, but Buffy took that as full agreement. "Giles never gets out of control, or at least not when he's being Giles. I would love to see Giles, not Ripper but *Giles*, know what it's like to have no control over his life!"

Anya's uneasiness was increasing by the moment. "Now hold on there, missy. Don't want to do anything rash, now do we?"

Buffy ignored the vengeance demon and plowed on. "For instance, what if Giles was to be totally drawn to somebody who was bad for him, with nobody around that he trusted to pull him back in. Somebody that he had no business being with. Like, like, a nun? or a married woman with ten children? or Princess Anne? or, or—or a penguin!"

Anya was becoming seriously alarmed. "Maybe we should rethink this whole `blaming men for our problems' thing..."

Buffy didn't hear Anya; she was completely caught up in her fantasy scenario. "Yeah, a penguin!"

"You know, I am woman, hear me roar? Maybe we should concentrate on that," Anya suggested desperately.

Buffy was in no mood to be an independent woman. "I wish—"

"Oh, please don't," Anya whispered.

"—that Giles would fall in love with a penguin!"

"Done," Anya said resignedly. She turned away, so that Buffy wouldn't see her demonic visage and glowing focus stone. Anya offered up a silent prayer to the Lower Beings that matters wouldn't turn out as badly as she feared.

* * * * *

Giles quickly grabbed the stool closest to the bartender. He had been forced to wait five minutes on the doorstep of the pub before the proprietor opened the doors, and he had spent that time wondering if he should get drunk or start a brawl. It was barely lunchtime—far too early for serious drinking—but he couldn't think of anything else to do to release the tension that was wracking his body. He felt out of sorts and restless, as if there was something he should be doing, some place he should be, and that feeling was starting to drive him mad.

This vague feeling of wrongness had begun three days ago. He had been reading in bed when he was suddenly struck with an overpowering urge to go to London. He had already begun to pull off his pajamas before he questioned his actions. Laughing at himself, he got back in bed and tried to determine if his subconscious was reminding him of something that he had forgotten. There was nothing that he had *forgotten*, _per se_, but there was definitely something that he had been putting off. He had never gone to the Watcher's headquarters, never let them know that he had left Sunnydale. He told himself that he would go tomorrow, content in the knowledge that his resolve for that unpleasant task would melt away in the morning. It hadn't. In fact, his need to go to London had grown stronger as he slept. When he awoke the next morning, his longing for London almost overpowered him. He stubbornly ignored it for most of the day, but by late afternoon his yearning for the city of his youth was almost a physical ache. He finally called Quentin Travers at a quarter till five and set up a luncheon meeting with the older Watcher for the following day.

The meeting was a disaster. Giles narrowly escaped the restaurant before grabbing the older man by the throat. While the idea of throttling Quentin Travers did have a certain appeal, he was afraid that a murder conviction might make it a trifle difficult to go back to the United States once Buffy sorted herself out.

After fleeing the loathsome little toad, Giles went into the first pub he found and proceeded to go on a bender, a rather impressive bender, in fact. Drunk, angry, and heartsick, Giles had stumbled back to his hotel late last night, determined to go back to Bath early the next morning.

Which made him wonder what he was doing here now, still in London and still at loose ends. The feeling that had driven him out of bed two nights ago, the conviction that he needed to be someplace in London, was unabated. In fact, it had grown. As he grew more and more agitated, Giles began to wonder whether he might be under a spell of some kind. The fixation he felt was too strong to be natural.

Deciding to forgo both drinking and brawling until he figured out what was going on, Giles sought out a quiet corner booth where he could go into a meditative trance. If he could figure out what compulsion held sway over him, he would be in a better position to fight it. Using the same techniques that he had taught Buffy a few years ago, Giles slowly cleared his mind of outside influences and internal rational thoughts, until it suddenly became very clear to him: he wanted to go to the zoo.

The zoo?!? Giles broke the trance with a sudden shake of his head. He hated the zoo, and always had. Even as a small child, he had preferred history to biology, sentient beings to animals. There was no way he was going to the sodding zoo! He would just go back to his original plan of getting plastered until this obsession faded. The zoo, indeed. Bollocks to that!

Giles tried to follow through with this decision, but he soon realized that it was impossible. He was too edgy to sit still, much less concentrate on mindless binge drinking. Now that he knew where he was supposed to go, the need to go there overwhelmed him. "Right. The zoo it is, then," he snarled to himself. He threw down money for his drinks, along with a very generous tip to compensate for his odd behavior, then stalked out of the pub. He quickly hailed a cab, still muttering to himself, "I hate the farkin' zoo."

The zoo was just as awful as Giles remembered. In fact, now that he was an adult, he could authoritatively state that it was worse. Admission prices were far too high (£12? Bloody highway robbery, that is!), the food was revolting and exorbitantly priced, the animals were listless and uninteresting, and the children were loud and obnoxious. Giles quickly decided that he was in hell. He was anxious to do whatever it was that he needed to do and then leave as expeditiously as possible. The best way to accomplish this, of course, would be to go into another meditative trance in the hopes that he would gain some insight into whatever spell had been cast upon him. Unfortunately, the zoo was so crowded with squalling children and exhausted parents that there were no quiet corners in which he might meditate. With a sigh, Giles resigned himself to wandering aimlessly until he felt tugged towards somebody or something.

Three hours and one stomach-ache (he had foolishly attempted to consume the greasy blob that the proprietors of the zoo laughingly packaged as a "hamburger." To say that it did not mix well with all of the residual alcohol in his system would be something of an understatement...) later, he was nearing the end of his tether. To hell with this! He was just going to dig in his heels and ignore this compulsion until it went away. He looked at his map to determine the shortest way out of this earthly demon dimension. All he had to do was find a signpost telling him where he was and—

And that's when he saw her. The most enchanting cr eature he had everseen. He was stunned, literally stunned. He forgot all about looking for a spell or anything else that might be wrong with him, so enthralled was he with discovering his soul mate.

Soul mate. Such an overused term, and yet that was the only way he could describe what he was currently feeling. The only time that he had felt anything even approaching this maelstrom of emotion was when Buffy had walked into his library, five years ago. At that time, he had felt something clicking in his soul; something that he had never realized was missing. He had been so giddy with the feeling that he had made an ass out of himself, plopping that ridiculously heavy volume in front of his new Slayer, and expecting her to immediately recognize the connection between them. He had gone into a snit when he realized that she did not share the same sense of completeness, and his pettiness had driven her away. Somehow though, he was certain that it would be different this time, that this queen among females would connect to him and would welcome the passion buried within him. For yes, there was passion, and that too was different. When he had first met Buffy, he had had absolutely no interest in her, sexually. That may have changed over the years, for he was a man in his prime spending a considerable amount of time in the company of a beautiful young woman, but it didn't change the fact that he was completely unattracted to her when they first met. But this... this was lust and love and completeness and destiny all wrapped up together, free of all awkwardness and confusion. She *would* be his, he knew it in the very depths of his being, and this knowledge brought him unimaginable joy.

Although he was certain that his suit would be accepted someday, he didn't feel right approaching her immediately. Instead, he sought out a docent that might be able to tell him a little bit about her. He quickly spotted an elderly man who looked like a retired dentist and flagged him down. "Excuse me, but I was wondering, if it doesn't seem too presumptuous to you, if per- perhaps you might know the, uh, the name of that goddess over there?"

The old man beamed kindly at him, and then looked over where Giles was pointing. The benevolent smile fell from his face, to be replaced by a very odd expression that Giles couldn't decipher. "What, her,"he asked in amazement.

"Yes, *her*," Giles replied impatiently.

"Why, that's Dr. Schneider, one of the world's leading ornithologists." (The old man said the word proudly, obviously quite pleased for a chance to use it in conversation, although his pronunciation was atrocious.) "She specializes in sea birds, and we're very lucky to have her, but I never would have guessed that anyone would call her a goddess. Just goes to show you, it takes all kinds..."

"Quite," Giles answered shortly. In truth, Giles couldn't fault the man for being confused. The expert in question was 75 if she was a day, was terribly hunched over, and wore her hair in a tight bun that was most unbecoming. He could understand the man's condescending tone, but he didn't like it. As a result, he was perhaps more abrupt than he should have been. "Not *her*, you dolt, *HER*."

The old man lost his look of confusion, and gained one of fear. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looked utterly terrified. "*Her*, you mean," he asked, obviously stalling for time.

"Yes, *her*," Giles asked impatiently. "That stunning creature over there, tethered to the doctor. What. is. her. name?"

The man answered slowly and reluctantly, clearly frightened of Giles now. "I'm terribly sorry, sir, but I don't know her name. All penguins look the same to me, sir."

"All penguins look--" Giles sputtered incredulously. How could anyone say such a thing? Sure, Giles was willing to make concessions for senility, but *no one* could possibly be that far gone, unless he had been a complete moron to begin with. That bird over there was clearly far superior to any other creature that had ever lived, regardless of genus or species! If this idiot had been younger, Giles probably would have thrashed him for daring to belittle a being that was so far above him; as it was, he decided that this cretin wasn't worth his time. "Well, thank-you anyway. Perhaps Dr. ... Schneider, did you say? Ah yes, perhaps Dr. Schneider will know."

"Perhaps she will, sir," the old man muttered, moving away from Giles as quickly as his old legs could shuffle. As soon as he was out of hearing range, Giles called him a pillock and went over to the acknowledged expert upon the zoo's aviary inhabitants.

"Um, excuse me, Dr. Schneider?"

The elderly academic raised her head as far as she was able and gazed at Giles myopically. "Yes?"

"Hel- hello. Um, yes. I was wondering if you might be ab- able to tell, tell me the name of that lady next to you?"

The ornithologist, who was clearly far more intelligent than the docent, smiled sweetly at Giles and answered with a faint German accent. "Lulubelle? Isn't she magnificent?"

"Yes, she is," Giles answered softly, shooting Lulubelle a significant look.

"Oh, yes. Absolutely stunning. Penguins have always been my favorite bird, and I've been studying them for over forty years now ... and I've *never* seen another female quite like Lulubelle. She was in a zoo in Guatemala where she was terribly mistreated, but I convinced the London zoo to purchase her. One of the better things I've done during my tenure here!" Giles had been making approving noises all through this speech, admiring the aged scholar immensely, but the old harridan's next words stopped him cold. "She'll improve the breeding stock considerably."

Giles was outraged. "You bought her solely to breed?!?"

The evil old woman looked at him oddly. (This seemed to be his day for odd looks.) "Not *just* to breed, obviously! Though I will admit that I am very anxious for her to do so. She's almost nine years old, which means that she will be ready to mate very soon now. Do you see that large bird on that rock over there? That's Bluto, the dominant male in this flock, and he seems to be quite interested in her. Their offspring will be exceptional!" Giles shot her a look full of loathing, which Dr. Schneider didn't notice. "But she makes an excellent addition to the zoo for other reasons as well. I'll study her, of course. Most emperor penguins barely reach a meter in height, but Lulubelle is 125 centimeters tall! That isn't altogether unheard of, but is quite exceptional for a female penguin. I'm curious to know whether it is her genetic make-up or her environment that has caused this growth. Moreover, she is quite popular with the children who attend the zoo."

"Oh, she is, is she," Giles asked in a deadly tone.

"Oh yes," Dr. Schneider answered obliviously. "They just adore her. While I don't approve of forcing animals to learn tricks, I see no reason to prevent them from performing behaviors that they already know. The zookeepers at the Guatemala zoo taught her a wide repertoire of tricks, many of which she seems to enjoy. It does no harm for her to continue to do those tricks that she likes to do, and it does bring in revenue for the zoo." Apparently the old hag had at last noticed Giles' displeasure, for she added defensively, "There is no shame in pandering to the wee ones. Children who enjoy the zoo grow into adults that contribute money and attend fund-raisers. The London zoo does a lot of good with the money that it raises, and I refuse to apologize for doing my part!"

"Let me see if I've understood you," Giles said menacingly. "As far as you're concerned, Lulubelle exists solely to breed, to serve as a subject of scientific enquiry, and to do pratfalls like a bloody circus freak. Is that correct?"

"Oh, I know you," Dr. Schneider sneered. "You're one of those deranged animal activists. Zoo employees are not permitted to talk to your kind. If you object to the way we treat our animals here in the London zoo, then you'll have to take it up with a member of the community outreach program. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must return Lulubelle to her exhibit and then get back to my work!"

Giles made no effort to stop the old woman as she hobbled away on her cane. Good riddance as far as he was concerned, though he wished that she had left Lulubelle out. Ah well, he could talk to her through the glass once she was put back in her pool. "Bloody cow," he muttered under his breath. When he looked up, he noticed his love staring at him. "Oh, not you," he hastened to assure her. "Never you! Oh, Lulubelle, you deserve so much more than this," he sighed. She continued to gaze at him unblinkingly (mainly because penguins don't have eyelids), and Giles began to feel self-conscious. "I imagine that you must think me a bit of a berk for not introducing myself. My name is Rupert, and I'm a Watcher, or rather," he winced, "a retired Watcher."

With that simple introduction, Giles sat down and began to tell her the story of his life. He found her to be an excellent listener (perhaps because penguins don't talk), and unwavering in her attention (again, with the not blinking). He could tell her anything, things that he had never whispered to another soul, and she seemed to understand. He hadn't even realized how burdened he was with secrets and unexpressed emotions until he began spilling them all into Lulubelle's sympathetic ears (or whatever it is that penguins hear with). So relieved was he to have somebody to confide in that he lost all track of time. He felt like he had only been there for a few minutes when the old docent that he had met earlier hesitantly tapped him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, sir, but the zoo is closing now. Your bird will still be here tomorrow."

Giles looked up and was met by a face filled with abject terror. Honestly, he couldn't fathom what was wrong with the old fool. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be polite; he intended to spend a great deal of time at the penguin enclosure, and it was likely that they would run into each other again some time. "I can't believe it has been two hours already. I'm Rupert, by the way."

"Hobson. Ralph Hobson," the docent muttered, reluctantly offering Giles his hand. "I'm here every Friday, and an occasional Monday as well."

"Ah, then we're certain to run into each other again," Giles said with an admirable attempt at joviality.

Sadly, Giles' attempt at making a new friend fell flat. The strange old man looked alarmed and quickly informed him that they probably *wouldn't* be seeing each other again. He was almost done with his stint at the penguin pool, and would probably be reassigned to another area of the zoo. One on the farthest edge, in all likelihood. In fact, Ralph was considering resigning this volunteer job in order to spend more time at The Natural History Museum. He doubted that he would be returning to the zoo any time in the near future. Or perhaps ever. Throughout the duration of this bizarre ramble, Hobson kept backing away from the Watcher. He did this slowly, and with care, so as to maintain a watchful eye on Giles at all times. Giles quite forgot his earlier irritation with the man, and silently wished poor Ralph a quick journey to his home, so he could take the medication he so obviously required.

That night, Giles stayed up late in his hotel room, thinking about what he had to do to win Lulubelle over, to make her his. His first impulse was to be at the zoo again bright and early, but that wouldn't help him in the long run. No, as loath as he was to do it, he needed to go back to Bath. He needed to sublet his flat, transfer his funds to a London bank, and collect his clothes. And his guitar. He would definitely need his guitar if he were to be successful in his suit.

Oh, and he needed to go to a library, in order to collect as many books on penguins as he could find. If Herr Schneider was correct, he had stiff competition for Lulubelle's hand, erm, wing, and he couldn't afford to be at a disadvantage simply because he was ignorant of her culture. And perhaps he could get a book on penguin breeding habits while he was at it, so when the appropriate time came, he would know what would please her. With this delicious thought dancing around in his head, Giles fell into the most refreshing slumber that he had known in years.

Although he had been careful to get a flat without a binding lease--just in case he had to get back to Sunnydale quickly—it still surprised Giles how easy it had been to extricate himself from his life in Bath. He had simply moved all his things into storage, cleared out his bank account, and turned his keys into the real estate agent. By Sunday evening, he was ready to quit the quaint little town and head back to London. Next step: find a new flat, one in close proximity to the zoo. It would take a bit of work to find an apartment in St. John's Wood that would fall within his budget, and he didn't want to waste the time. Wanting to get back to the zoo as quickly as possible, he settled for the first dingy apartment in Camden that the agent showed him. The walls were so thin that there was no quiet to be had in his flat at any time of the night or day, but it was cheap and it was furnished ... and, most importantly, it was close to Lulubelle.

On Monday, he went to the public library, and checked out every book on waterfowl that he could find. He also used the public computers to search for books on-line. The University of Michigan listed six Ph.D. dissertations on penguins, costing $40.00 apiece, and he snatched them up as quickly as possible. Some small part of him began to worry about the vast amounts of money that he had spent over the past week, but the larger part of him didn't care. If he could win Lulubelle over, nothing else would matter. He still had enough funds to purchase an annual zoo membership, and that was all he truly needed.

The next day, Giles began his suit in earnest. It was exactly one week since he had woken in the middle of the night with a strange desire to go to London, but it felt like a lifetime ago. His life had changed so dramatically since he met Lulubelle that it was difficult for him to even remember what it had been like before that fateful meeting. He was happy and at peace with himself; whoever had cast that spell upon him had obviously grown bored with the exercise. He hoped that the spellcaster, whoever it might be, would leave him alone now; he didn't want any random spells to spoil his new relationship. He didn't think that Lulubelle would reject him the way that Jenny had after Eyghon, but he really didn't want to take any chances.

Waiting for the zoo to open, filling out the paperwork for his new membership, traversing the zoo to the penguin pool--all these things seemed to take an eternity. Finally, however, he was at the enclosure, looking through the glass at his love. His happiness melted away in an instant however, and was replaced by a white-hot jealousy. She was in a far corner with Bluto.

Desperately, Giles fought down his initial impulse to pick the lock to the enclosure and physically pull her away from foul fowl. The more primal part of his nature might be screaming that Lulubelle belonged with him, but he retained enough control over himself to know that such a reaction would destroy any hopes of a real relationship. He didn't want to play the aggressive alpha-male just so he could have sex with her; he wanted to woo her, and win her over to a lifelong commitment.

Giles took a deep, calming breath and knocked on the glass. To his delight, Lulubelle heard him and turned in his direction. She glided away from Bluto and began ascending the ramp in order to approach the glass. In order to be nearer *him*. Giles wondered whether his heart might burst with the rapturous joy that was flooding through him.

When Lulubelle had come as close to him as she was able, Giles gave her a shy smile. "Good morning, Lulubelle. I do apologize for not coming around to see you over the weekend, but I had matters to attend to. But I'm free to spend time with you now. Um, that is, I would li- like to sp- spend some time with you, if you, um, if that is ag- agreeable to you?" Giles finished the last sentence in a rush, his face glowing crimson. He ducked his head in embarrassment, and thus did not see Lulubelle's reaction to his boldness. But he heard it. In the dulcet tone of an angel, Lulubelle let out a cry that touched Giles' very soul. And he knew that everything was right between them.

The ex-Watcher spent the entire day with Lulubelle. He thought that he had told her the story of his life on Friday, but he found that he still had so much to say to her. Although Giles was shy and reserved by nature, he had no trouble talking to Lulubelle. In fact, it was effortless. Sharing his life and hopes and dreams with Lulubelle was the easiest and most comforting thing he had ever done in his life.

Although he could have talked to her all day, he didn't want her to become bored with him, so he interspersed his narrative with songs. He sang "Seabird" (an adaptation from "Freebird"), "Fly Like an Eagle," and "Rockin' Robin." When Lulubelle moved over to a pile of boulders, Giles was inspired to sing an old Neil Diamond song, "Love on the Rocks." Judging by the cries that Lulubelle issued, she apparently enjoyed this last song very much, and Giles sang it four times throughout the day. Several zoo patrons dropped coins in his guitar case, but he was too engrossed to notice.

By the time a middle-aged docent came over to tell Giles that the zoo was closing, his voice was hoarse and he was a trifle faint from hunger ... but he was also giddy with happiness. He had not enjoyed a day this much in years, certainly not since Buffy's seventeenth birthday. Perhaps not since he came to Sunnydale. He felt light and free, and Giles decided that being in love was good for him. Giles left the zoo and headed towards the closest take-out place with a happy grin and a jaunty whistle.

Over the course of the following weeks, Giles' life fell into a pattern. He woke up early, dressed carefully, grabbed his guitar, left his Camden flat, and walked over to Regent's Park. He always grabbed a bagel from a street vendor near the entrance to the park, and would eat his breakfast as he slowly walked towards the zoo on the northern edge of the park. Every day, without fail, he was the first patron to walk through the zoo gate. Once through the gates, he would run as quickly as he could towards the penguin pool, determined that no one else should arrive at the enclosure before him. After a few days, he noticed that she was waiting for him at their usual spot, and that just made him run faster to get to her. He would spend his day talking to Lulubelle and singing to her, and he would stay up late at night reading about penguins and their mating habits. His life was good.

Although Giles enjoyed his life, there were less pleasant aspects to his life ... and these quickly fell into a pattern as well. For reasons that he couldn't quite fathom, a large number of people were becoming increasingly hostile towards him. Zoo docents didn't enjoy talking to him, parents shooed their children away from him, and zoo security watched him with more and more scrutiny every day. The docent he had met on his first day trailed him from a distance on most days, though he never approached him. Really, a most peculiar fellow. Giles supposed that he could understand his landlord's animosity, though he didn't see how it was any of the blighter's damn business whether he bathed in fish oil or not. He had promised the officious berk that he wouldn't sit on any of the upholstered furniture without a plastic sheet when he was covered in oil, and he hadn't done so. To hell with that arsehole; Lulubelle seemed to enjoy the smell of fish oil, and that was all that mattered.

Moreover, it saddened Giles when he realized that there was one part of him that he couldn't confide in Lulubelle. Over the past few weeks, Giles came to the realization that he detested penguins. He wondered if this was how Buffy had felt, loving one vampire while simultaneously hating all others. Although Lulubelle glided like an ice-skater, the other inhabitants of the penguin pool waddled like fat sausages with legs. This had amused him at first, but now disgusted him. And the creatures made the most horrible noises imaginable. Oh, not Lulubelle; she sang with a voice like a thousand angels. But the others squawked incessantly, the high-pitched screeching affecting him very much like fingernails on a chalkboard. And the smell! Giles wasn't too fond of the fresh fish oil that he anointed himself with each morning, but he simply couldn't abide the smell of rotting fish and foul guano that hung over the penguin pool at all times. It was one of many things that bothered him about Lulubelle's living situation. She deserved so much more!

And there was Bluto. Always Bluto. At first the large penguin had ignored Giles, deeming him unworthy of notice. The arrogant bastard was egotistically certain of Lulubelle's affections, although he was in no way worthy of them. But as the days and weeks went by, Bluto became more and more possessive of Lulubelle. He began to shadow Lulubelle when Giles was there, shooting the ex-Watcher evil looks and squawking loudly during his singing. He wooed her incessantly, pointing his bill upwards and opening his flippers to the side, ignoring the fact that Lulubelle never showed any corresponding interest in him. As Bluto became more and more aggressive in his courtship, Giles began to worry about Lulubelle's welfare during his absence. Slowly, this fear began to gnaw at his contentment. During the day he bathed in Lulubelle's beauty and sang "Love on the Rocks;" at night, he fretted about her safety and drank scotch on the rocks. Since the malevolent fowl was responsible for eroding his happiness, it never surprised Giles that Bluto eventually brought his world crashing down upon him.

It had been a gloriously sunny morning, and Giles was as happy as he had ever been. Lulubelle hadn't stirred from her favorite spot once, and he had earned a fair bit of money from his singing. (That people mistook him for a troubadour had bothered him at first, but he had come to be grateful for the extra cash. Takeout food was expensive, but he hated to take the time away from Lulubelle to go grocery shopping, much less cook.) He was in the middle of a rather amusing story from an archaeological dig in Bahrain when Bluto suddenly waddled over to the lovers' trysting spot. He gave Giles a malevolent leer and then viciously began to mount Lulubelle.

As Giles watched in horror, the center of his universe flapped her wings in a desperate attempt to get away from her attacker. When she screamed her fear and defiance, a blinding rage fell upon him. Giles had spent a great deal of his life angry, but the intensity and purity of this fury was absolutely unparalleled in his experience. Not even the ferocious wrath that he had felt that terrible night when he had gone after Angelus with a baseball bat came close to the passion cursing through his veins now.

With a light touch that belied his large hands, Giles quickly picked the lock to the penguin enclosure. He ignored a stifled cry of "Oi there! Wot do you think you're doing, mate?" and ran into the exhibit. Within moments, he was at Lulubelle's side and was pulling the lecherous Bluto off of his love. Bluto hissed evilly at him, so Giles threw him against the wall with enough force to knock the penguin unconscious.

Now that Bluto was out of the way, Giles was finally able to do what he had wanted to do almost three weeks. He knelt down in front of Lulubelle, gazed into her petite black eyes, and gently caressed her face. Oh, he *could* have broken in earlier, but he had wanted to take things slowly, wanted to give her a chance to know him before he dared profane her beauty with his unworthy hand. Now that he was here before her, however, he could no more have stopped himself from touching her than he could have stopped his heart from beating. Lulubelle let out an approving hum, and the last of Giles' resolve shattered. He leaned his forehead down to her feathered brow and whispered, "God, I love you." Leaving his left hand upon her face, Giles slowly glided his right hand down her slick back.

Before things could proceed any further, however, Giles heard the click of a gun being cocked. He turned around, and was stunned to see himself surrounded by three members of zoo security, all with weapons pointed straight at him. Behind the rent-a-goons was Dr. Schneider. She curled her lip contemptuously at him and snarled, "Get away from the penguin. The police have been called, and will be here shortly to take you away." She grinned nastily and added, "This is good-bye, Mr. Giles. Your zoo membership has been revoked, and you are henceforth banned from the premises. You will not be permitted to harass Lulubelle ever again!"

As the harridan continued to smile triumphantly, Giles felt his heart shattering into a million pieces. He couldn't lose her now, he just couldn't! He repeated that mental refrain over and over again as he waited for the coppers to arrive and take him away. Once he was in the police car, however, that refrain began to lose its power to comfort him. As the car took him farther and farther away from the zoo, Giles couldn't help but recognize the fact that Lulubelle would never be his if he couldn't see her anymore. Although he maintained an impassive face, inside he was sobbing like a child.

* * * * *

Giles was charged with criminal entry and assault, and his bail was set at £500. His barrister told him that he was lucky, that bail would have been much higher if Bluto had died, but Giles barely heard him. Five hundred pounds or five hundred thousand, not much difference. He didn't have the dross, and had no way of acquiring it. Oh, he had many friends here in England, but he hadn't called any of them over the past six months and he felt awkward about calling them now from a jail cell. Besides, most of his friends were Watchers, and he didn't want news of his incarceration to make it back to Quentin Travers. The cretin would enjoy that far too much.

Unable to make bail on his own, and too stubborn to ask for help, Giles settled down for a lengthy stay. He asked one of the guards whether he might have the books that he had been carrying with him at the time of his arrest, but she glared at him with disgust and loathing. "I think not, Mr. Giles. I've heard about you!" Although he had no idea what he might have done to generate such a response, Giles did not push the issue. He simply asked for a pen and some paper. Perhaps Faith would enjoy having a pen pal residing in a British prison cell.

It was therefore quite a surprise when his cell door was opened a few hours later. It was the butch-looking guard who had taken such an unreasonable dislike to him earlier. "Righto, Mr. Giles! You've made bail. Time to clear out."

Giles looked beyond the guard to see who had procured his release. The tall blonde man facing him wasn't the very last person he expected to see, but close enough. His benefactor gave him a greasy smile and purred, "allo, Ripper. Just like old times, isn't it? Me bailing you out?"

"Ethan," he gasped in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"

"I caught the most interesting story on the television this evening, and I had to see it for myself. Come on. I'll buy you a pint and we'll catch up."

Wondering whether he was now better off or worse, Giles followed the lanky sorcerer out of the station.

* * * * *

When they were seated in Giles' favorite pub, Ethan stared at the ex-Watcher. Giles was stubbornly determined not to break the silence, but his resolve melted under Ethan's gaze. Finally, he could stand it no longer. "What," he demanded. "Have I grown another head?"

Ethan smiled wanly. "I'm sorry, Rupert, but it's too strong. I can't break it."

"What's too strong," Giles asked in confusion.

"The spell that you are under. You haven't run afoul of a vengeance demon by chance, have you? No human could have cast this."

Giles was still confused, but he was starting to become irritated as well. "What are you nattering on about, Ethan? While I can imagine that there might be a person or two in this world you might wish vengeance upon me," his mind briefly flashed to an image of Ben before skittering away, "I can assure you that they have not done so. I'm not under any blasted spell."

"Just as you say, old boy," Ethan said with his typical cynicism. "In that case, would you care to tell me about your recent incarceration?"

"A friend of mine was in trouble, and I saved her. End of story." Giles knew that he sounded sullen, but he truly felt that he was the aggrieved party in this matter.

Ethan raised a sardonic eyebrow at Giles' tone, but didn't comment upon it. "Tell me about this lady friend of yours. Have you ever been involved with anyone else like her?"

"There *is* no one else like Lulubelle," Giles responded earnestly. Ethan smirked, and Giles realized that he sounded like a stereotypical hero from one of Dawn's ridiculous romance novels. But it was the truth. Lulubelle was absolutely unique in her beauty, her grace, her kindness, her empathy, and her intelligence. There *was* no one like his love, and if he sounded like a prat for saying so, then so be it.

Regardless of what Ethan thought, he was still limiting himself to neutral questions. "Um, Rupert, you *do* know that Lulubelle isn't human, don't you?"

"She's a goddess," Giles declared sincerely.

"Quite. What I'm getting at is this: you and I are human beings, _homo sapiens_ to be exact. Do you have any idea what Lulubelle is?"

"I'm not sure that I appreciate your tone, mate." Giles reminded himself that he was in Ethan's debt for the moment, and took a big breath before continuing. "But to answer your question: she's an emperor penguin. An _Aptenodytes forsteri_, since you insist upon being precise."

Ethan looked deflated, as if he hadn't expected that answer at all. What, did he think that Giles didn't care enough about Lulubelle to find out things like that? They had been friends, lovers, and enemies for a long time, and Ethan should know him better than that. Looking like he was picking his words very carefully, Ethan said, "You must admit that Lulubelle isn't the type of pers-, erm, individual that you would normally be attracted to."

Giles stared at Ethan, wondering what the old sorcerer was getting at. Then it struck him. "Ethan," he said gently, "I've never made any secret of the fact that I am bi-sexual."

"Bi-sexual is one thing; bi-special is another," Ethan muttered. Suddenly, however, the tall sorcerer seemed to take Giles' true meaning. "Hold on a moment, Ripper. Are you honestly suggesting that I'm jealous? Of a penguin?!?"

For the first time in their long acquaintance, Giles found himself pitying his old friend. Despite the pathetic denial, Ethan was transparent to him. "I'm sorry if this bothers you, but we have been finished for a long, long time now. You don't have the right to tell me what to do in this." Hoping to take the sting out of his stark declaration, Giles added, "I happen to know from first hand experience that you fancy a bird every now and then yourself." Giles couldn't help but grin at the memory of how he had acquired that bit of information.

Ethan apparently didn't recall the incident, because he gave Giles an odd look. "Birds, yes; but not *birds*."

Giles had no idea what Ethan meant by that remark, so he went back to his previous argument. "I love her, Ethan. Body, mind, and soul. Lulubelle is the *one.* I don't understand your objection to her, but I'm begging you: be happy for me." Giles had no idea why Ethan's opinion meant so much to him, but it did.

Somehow, Ethan seemed to understand. This didn't surprise Giles. Ethan was a self-absorbed bastard, cruel and petty, but he had always understood the conflicted ex-Watcher. "Tell me about her, Rupert," Ethan said quietly.

Against his own inclination, Giles did just that. He spent hours talking to Ethan, buying them pint after pint as he poured out his heart. It was liberating to talk to someone about his love, and Ethan was a surprisingly good listener. He told Ethan about Lulubelle's beauty and her amusing foibles, about the way her eyes would glitter happily when he sang to her and how much she understood about his life. Mostly, however, he talked about himself. About how Lulubelle made him feel. He was happy, happier than he had ever been, and it felt wonderful to express his joy to another person.

Only one event marred the evening for Giles. As it neared 11:30, an old woman at the bar suddenly raised her loud and abrasive voice. "Well, what's that on the television?"

Her companion, a rather masculine looking woman in an old housecoat answered, "It looks like a penguin."

Giles' eyes were automatically drawn to the television, and there he saw his beloved. He only saw her for a moment, however, before the camera swung to a plastic blonde beauty. Clearly a reporter. "At 10:45 this morning, the peace of this lovely enclosure was shattered by a madman. Rupert Giles of—"

"What?!?" Giles wasn't sure if it was more shocking to hear his name on the news, or to hear himself described as a madman.

"Ignore her, mate," Ethan quietly advised him. "Everyone knows that the media never bothers to get the entire story."

"—Camden district broke into the penguin pool and brutally assaulted one of the denizens."

Giles gasped in outrage and would have defended himself to the shadow on the television, but Ethan silently shook his head at the accused man.

"The motive in this attack is somewhat hazy, but personnel at the zoo report that Mr. Giles has exhibited an unhealthy interest in the assaulted penguin's mate for some time now."

"She's not—" Ethan stopped Giles' impending diatribe by putting a hand upon his shoulder and shaking his head again.

The camera now focussed upon Ralph Hobson, the docent that Giles had met on his visit to the zoo. "When I first met him, I thought he was a nice enough chap, but actually he's quite bonkers. See that bird over there?" The camera panned over towards Lulubelle, and Giles felt his heart skip a beat. God, she was beautiful! "He called her a goddess. Not like a patron who admires penguins though, but like a man madly in love." Ah, so Ralph was more observant than he seemed. Although Giles was annoyed with the docent for talking to that blasted reporter, he did wonder whether he had misjudged the old man. "I have been telling security for weeks now that they should keep an eye on Mr. Giles, but nobody paid me much mind until today." That bloody bastard! Giles made up his mind to give the blighter a good thrashing the next time they crossed paths.

The camera once again showed the reporter, standing in front of Lulubelle's cement home. "Zoo veterinarians report that the victim of this morning's attack is suffering from a broken wing and a mild concussion, but is otherwise unharmed. My sources in the police department tell me that the suspect had a guitar and a bag stuffed with books about penguin mating practices at the time of his arrest. Reporting from the London zoo, this is Cynthia Jones of Sky One news. Now, back to the studio."

A smug middle-aged man sitting behind a desk now filled the screen. He forced out a chuckle and said, "Penguin smut? Now I've heard everything! That's all the news for now; good night."

As Giles stared stonily at the closing credits, he found himself remembering a ridiculous cartoon that he had watched with Dawn, in which a character had gotten so angry that smoke came out of his ears. That visual gag had fallen flat for Giles, but he now found himself wondering when fumes were going to start coming out of his own auditory apparati. He had never imagined that he could become this angry. A second later, he discovered that it was possible for him to become even angrier.

A man at the next table smirked at his friend. "I'm going to email that story to Berke Breathed. Penguin lust!"

His companion threw his head up in an overly dramatic fashion and giggled, "Seeeeen any?"

Giles stood up suddenly, noisily knocking his chair down. "Sodding ponces! You will learn to keep a civil tongue in your mouth or I'll bloody well rip—"

"Steady on, Ripper," Ethan said anxiously. "They only know what they heard on the telly; no reason to give them additional ammunition. Sit down. Finish your black and tan. I'm going to call us a cab; I don't think either of us are in any state to walk home."

"Why are you doing this, Ethan," Giles asked suspiciously.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Ethan said in his usual shifty fashion.

Giles sighed. "Why did you bail me out of jail this evening? Why did you bring me here and listen to me carry on for hours? And why are you being my much needed voice of reason instead of egging me on as is your custom?"

"I bailed you out because I heard that exact same story during the four o'clock news and I wanted to see if for myself." That piece of yellow journalism had aired twice today? Giles winced at that bit of information, causing Ethan to grin wickedly. "The idea of you attacking penguins at random and reading penguin smut seemed a little chaotic even for my tastes ... so of course I had to see it for myself! By the way, can I see your collection of penguin pornography?"

Giles flushed red from the top of his scalp to the tips of his toes. "No, you bloody well can not!"

Ethan's eyes twinkled with lecherous amusement. "Why, are they spoilt?"

Although some part of Giles knew that Ethan was just trying to get a rise out of him, he responded heatedly, "I have a few scholarly books about water fowl and their mating practices. They are *not*--" Giles petered out as he heard his old friend's lewd chuckle. "Fuck you, Ethan," he said with a sour look.

"Are you sure, Rupert? You rather gave me the impression that you were no longer on the market. I don't want to come between you and Lulubelle..."

Giles glared at Ethan for a moment, then burst into laughter. "As if you could!" He threw some money down upon the bar and went outside to wait for the cab, still giggling like the madman that Cynthia Jones had called him.

* * * * *

Giles woke up the next morning to a pounding headache, which was exacerbated by the pounding on his door. His landlord, the arsehole who was so intolerant about his choice of fragrance, was standing at his doorstep. Judging by the blighter's demeanor, Giles assumed that he had caught his tenant's appearance on television, and had come to discuss the issue. The next fifteen minutes were rather unpleasant, and ultimately resulted in Giles' eviction. The pillock gave him an hour to clear out and refused to return his cleaning deposit. Giles told him that he wasn't giving up on his deposit, but his landlord laughed derisively.

Giles quickly gathered his books, clothes, frozen seafood, and bathroom items into two large bags and abandoned the rest. He still had some time left of his hour, but he had no desire to make engage in any further conversation with the officious berk.

Although he was anxious to get to the zoo, Giles made a detour to the real estate agent's office first. To his shock, the lazy cow who had found him his first apartment refused to help him. She claimed that the strong fishy odor hanging about the flat violated his lease. Moreover, she assured him that he would find it very difficult to let another flat with such a poor reference. If he had been any less hungover, he would have demanded to see her manager; as it was, he simply glared at the woman and stalked out of the office.

As Giles headed towards the zoo, his rage slowly melted away. He was going to see Lulubelle. A few hours in her balming presence and he would be back to his normal self. Once he got to the zoo, however, he received his third shock of the day, the worst one yet: he was denied entry.

Giles vaguely recalled Herr Schneider threatening to have his zoo membership revoked, but he hadn't thought that she would go this far. His picture was hung up by each of the gates with a harshly worded exhortation to the guards that he was not to be granted admittance to the zoo under any circumstances. Like a tyrannical queen from some fairy tale, the ancient ornithologist had locked up his love. Although he wasn't comfortable seeing himself as the prince in that analogy, there was no doubt that Lulubelle was his princess.

Giles wandered aimlessly around Regent's Park, eventually winding up in a secluded corner. It was badly overgrown, but Giles craved the solitude that the tall weeds seemed to be offering. Unfortunately, the solitude was illusory, for there was a homeless man sleeping under a bush. Giles thought about finding another spot, but decided that he was too tired to do so. The previous night's excesses with Ethan were catching up with him, and the fact that he had been carrying around the sum total of his worldly possessions all morning wasn't helping. Taking his cue from the homeless man, he turned his bags into pillows and laid down in the shade.

The first problem he needed to solve was Lulubelle. After his arrest yesterday morning, she was probably worried sick about him. Well, that was easy enough: if he couldn't get into the zoo by day, then he would obviously have to break in at night. He had kept all the fruits of a misspent youth, and was quite certain that the locks on the gates would pose little challenge for him. He wondered what that said about him, that he felt so little guilt about his decision to enter the zoo illegally from now on.

The other two problems were related. He had no place to sleep, and his funds were starting to run low. Another security deposit would be difficult to acquire, but his lack of references meant that a large deposit would almost certainly be requisite for another lease. He might be able to scrape enough cash together, but he would be forced to get a job or give up eating. Unfortunately, a full-time job would make it difficult for him to adopt the nocturnal lifestyle that he would need in order to break into the zoo every night.

He supposed he could crash with Ethan for a few days, but he hated to put himself any further into the sorcerer's debt. He already owed Ethan more than he could afford to repay for bailing him out of jail the day before. Now that had been a surprise, Ethan coming to his rescue with no obvious benefit to himself. His claim that he had helped Giles out of curiosity was highly suspect; after all, the police harassed people every day. That reporter may have painted him in the worst light possible, but his run-in with the law actually wasn't extraordinary enough to have genuinely piqued the sorcerer's interest. So why had he done it? Giles supposed that he would never know.

Thinking about Ethan tickled an old memory for Giles. The last time he had found himself without a place to stay, he had decided to live on the streets with Ethan so that they could save their money for narcotics and magic supplies. He wasn't into anything so unsavory these days, but he would like to be able to afford more books about waterfowl, and he always preferred to bring Lulubelle some fresh fish whenever he visited her. His money would be far better spent on those items than on rent.

The more Giles considered the issue, the more he liked the idea of remaining homeless. There was no real reason for him to go anywhere during the day, not when he had such a nice resting spot right now. He hoped that the anonymous man sleeping under the lilac bush wouldn't mind sharing the glade with him. Giles wasn't worried in any case; the other man was smaller than him and appeared to be unwell. Giles briefly wondered how his own health would withstand life on the streets before deciding that he wasn't worried about that either. Instead, he closed his eyes and dreamt of Lulubelle.

* * * * *

Love on the rocks
Ain't no surprise


Thus began a new rhythm to Giles' life. Life on the streets was difficult, but it was also liberating. Instead of fretting about Slayers and Watchers and Scoobies, he only needed to concern himself with his own welfare. (And Lulubelle's, of course. That went without saying.) He knew there were still demons and impending apocalypses, but they were no longer his problems. Finding a place to sleep every morning and eluding zoo personnel at night were the only dark clouds in his idyllic life, and those obstacles were easily overcome.

Just pour me a drink
And I'll tell you some lies


He slept from sunrise to late afternoon, and then counted the minutes until the zoo closed. This was always the most difficult part of his day, finding ways to occupy himself until he could see his love. Usually he wandered through the fish market, looking for treats that he might bring to Lulubelle, but sometimes he puttered about in used book stores. (He would have preferred to spend those free hours in the library, but that refuge was taken from him soon after that damning news story aired. Thanks to Cynthia Jones's insinuating report, the librarian had taken away his library card. The civil servant's outrageous innuendoes about penguin smut left Giles sputtering with incoherent rage and a strong resolve to keep the books that he had already checked out. Sometimes he felt guilty about those unreturned books—he was an ex-librarian, after all—but mostly he felt unjustly maligned by the petty bureaucrats that controlled the London library system. Bloody Puritans!)

Ain't got nothing to lose
So you just sing the blues
All the time


The last zookeepers were usually gone by 7:45, but Giles always made himself wait until 8:30 before jumping the gate, just to be safe. He wasn't the only homeless person who broke into the zoo at night, but his fellow transients were just looking for shelter and always left him alone. Every one of them knew to stay far away from the penguin pool; that was *his* domain, and he didn't welcome any spying eyes.

Gave you my heart
Gave you my soul


One good thing about his unorthodox entry: he no longer saw any reason to refrain from entering the penguin enclosure, since he was already breaking into the zoo illegally. This meant that he was now free to be with Lulubelle in every way. He was able to touch her beautiful face and run his hands down her oil-slick back. They made love on top of the rocks, and they cuddled together for much of the night in their old rendezvous spot. Giles talked and sang to Lulubelle for hours on end, and he delighted in the long stretches of comfortable silence that fell between them in the dark hours before dawn.

You left me alone here
With nothing to hold


As each day passed, time became more and more meaningless. Days and weeks bled into each other, inseparable and interchangeable. Giles only truly came alive at night, when he was with his love. If the days were indistinguishable, each night was unique and transcended the night that had preceded it. Lulubelle completed him, made him whole in a way that he had never been before. She made him into a better man, far superior to the person he had been before he met her. More than that, Lulubelle made him happy. Giles had believed himself happy when he first met her, but touching Lulubelle taught him the true meaning of contentment. As far as Giles was concerned, his life was as close to perfect as it could ever come.

Yesterday's gone
Now all I want is a smile


The only source of discontent for Lulubelle and Giles was their inability to have children. As other couples mated, Lulubelle began to fret over the fact that she could not produce an egg. This infertility also cut at Giles. He watched penguin fathers (who did *not* improve upon closer acquaintance) tend the eggs that were given into their care, and he was filled with longing. He didn't have a warm pouch over his feet in which he could tuck an egg (nor would an egg be safe there in any case, given his higher center of gravity), and he felt this lack keenly. More than that, the knowledge that he was genetically incompatible with his soul mate stung bitterly. He tried to tell himself that it was just as well, given his dislike of penguins as a whole, but deep down he knew that Lulubelle's children were certain to have her sweet nature and that he would love them dearly. Still, many couples were unable to conceive children and yet had long and loving partnerships. Giles had no doubt that his relationship with Lulubelle could survive their childlessness and any other obstacle that fate might throw their way.

You need what you need
You can say what you want
Not much you can do when the feeling is gone


Unfortunately, fate had two curveballs heading his way that Giles would not be able to escape: incipient pneumonia and Bluto's relentless desire for revenge.

Maybe blue skies above
It's cold when you're love's on the rocks


Giles loved the freedom that life on the streets afforded him, but it wasn't good for him. He was too blissful to notice, but his health was starting to deteriorate at an alarming speed. Part of the reason for this was his decision to sleep during the day, as this limited the number of shelters that were available to him. He was usually forced to sleep out in the open, or in abandoned buildings that offered little protection from the elements. Moreover, Giles was also losing weight because he was so focused on Lulubelle that he often forgot to eat. The lack of proper nutrition and adequate shelter weren't the primary reasons for his hacking cough and general malaise, however. The primary factor in his declining health was Giles' midnight swims with Lulubelle in near-freezing waters. He did realize that these ablutions were deleterious to his health, but Lulubelle enjoyed them immensely, and he refused to give them up.

First they say they want you
Believe how they really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in a storm


Giles may have had some vague awareness that his health was slipping—though he refused to acknowledge the full extent of the problem—but he was completely oblivious to the threat posed by Bluto. If Giles thought about the large penguin at all, which was rare, it was with a certain amount of smugness. Despite Bluto's unusual size, he had been defeated easily and obviously posed no threat to the happy lovers. What Giles failed to realize was that the malevolent fowl was busily recruiting allies to help him in his battle against the human interloper ... and they were watching Giles' failing health quite closely.

And when they know they have you
Then they really have you
Nothing you can do or say
You've got to leave just get away
We all know the song


One night when Giles' was feeling particularly run down, the evil creatures made their move. Giles and Lulubelle had gone for a swim, as was their custom, and then made love upon their favorite boulder. Giles drifted into sleep soon after, only to be awoken by a small flock of penguins pecking at him. Under normal circumstances, the stalwart Watcher would be more than a match for a score of emperor penguins... but a month of privation, inadequate rest, and continual illness had all combined to take their toll. Added to Giles' general debility was his exhaustion from vigorous penguin sex. Bluto and his henchmen managed to back him into the pool and then worked together to keep his head under the water. Giles struggled valiantly, but he was weakened and greatly outnumbered. After several minutes of desperate fighting, he failed to come back up.

Love on the rocks
Ain't no big surprise


When the zookeepers found Giles' lifeless body the next morning, there was nothing among his possessions that would suggest who they should call. Eventually the police tracked down Ethan, using the paperwork that the sorcerer had filled out when he had bailed Giles out of jail the month before. Ethan grieved for his old friend, but mostly he celebrated the fact that Giles had found happiness at last before his death. What did that say about the man, that Giles had had to fall under a vengeance spell before he could find contentment? The ex-Watcher was a strange man, and Ethan would miss him dearly.

Just pour me a drink
And I'll tell you my lies


Ethan supposed that he should call the Slayer and tell her about her Watcher's death, but it was close to midnight in California. Unbeknownst to him, it was far too late to inform the Scoobies about Giles' death ... and not just because of the advanced hour. Tara and Buffy had been shot that afternoon (minutes after Giles' murder, in fact), and Willow was in the process of flaying their shooter even as Ethan was thinking about her. A chain of events had been set in place the moment that Tara died, and there was no longer anyone around to stop it.

Yesterday's gone
Now all that I want is just a smile


* * * * *

Epilogue

Willow was smiling, though no happiness showed in her dead black eyes. "Buffy ... I gotta tell ya ... I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn't about the violence. It's about the power."

The true Slayer was silent as she continued circling the witch. Despite her vigilance, Buffy wasn't swift enough to duck a bolt of magic when Willow finally made her move. The bolt threw the petite blonde over a desk and onto the floor, where she lay groaning and hanging onto consciousness with every bit of her willpower. Truth be told, Willow was happier that Buffy was still able to listen to her gloat. "And there's no one in the world with the power to stop me now." That thought finally gave Buffy the strength to stand, but Willow quickly knocked her down, thus proving her theory correct. There was no one to challenge her, and Willow liked that feeling very much.

As soon as Buffy was unconscious, Willow soaked up all the dark magicks in the Shop. After a moment's hesitation, Willow shrugged and drained the Slayer of her life force as well. Willow was surprised at how little guilt she felt about this. Once she was filled with as much power as her mortal frame could carry, Willow resolutely strode out of the shop.

Willow had intended to use her power to flay Jonathan and Andrew, but once she was loaded up, they just didn't seem worth the effort. Nothing seemed worth the effort. Nothing in life seemed to be worth living. Life was nothing but pain and agony; it was just too much. Aloud, Willow whispered, "Oh, you poor bastards! Your suffering has to end." With that, she teleported herself to the temple of Proserpexa, on Kingman's Bluff. Once there, Willow began chanting over and over again, "Proserpexa ... let the cleansing fires from the depths burn away the suffering souls and bring sweet death."

Willow's ritual was nearly complete when Xander suddenly appeared. He gave her a nonchalant smile and quipped, "Hey, black-eyed girl. Whatcha doin'?"

Willow was not in the mood to deal with her oldest friend. "Get out of here," she growled at him.

"Ah, no," Xander stubbornly disagreed. "You're not the only one with powers, you know. You may be a hopped-up uber-witch, but ... this carpenter can dry-wall you into the next century."

Willow considered telling Xander that she wasn't joking and that he had better get out of her way, but decided that she just didn't care enough to do so. She was too cut off from the world and human emotions to remember the love and friendship she had once felt for Xander. Casually, she threw lightning bolts at him until he stopped staggering to his feet. Willow idly wondered whether she had killed him, but she couldn't be bothered to bend down and find out.

Once she had dealt with the distraction that was Xander, Willow was free to concentrate upon ending her pain. On ending everyone's pain. She began draining the planet's life force, so she could funnel its energy through Proserpexa's effigy and burn the Earth to a cinder. It took about ten minutes, and she spent that time sending early deaths to Dawn and Anya. She was still considering the best method of getting to Giles, who was several thousand miles away, when Proserpexa's statue began to glow with a blinding ferocity.

At that moment, the world fell down and went boom.

END