Heartbeat

Xander scrambled out from where he'd been thrown and then rolled, beating at his clothes as he got up, trying to get the bugs and leaves and anything else gross that might have been under the bushes with him, off.

He looked up expecting to see Giles breathing hard, stake in hand, and probably looking pleased with himself. Instead he saw the older man struggling as he was being held by two of their attackers, while a third leaned in toward his exposed neck.

Xander's stake and cross were long gone. He looked around frantically for a branch or even a strong twig, and ended up snapping one off a tree with the strength of panic, before hurtling towards the group.

He had raised his arm and was almost close enough to the drinker's back to stake him, when everything went black. When he woke again it was still dark and his head was throbbing. There was no sign of Giles.

He looked frantically, eventually covering almost the whole park, but there was no sign…until he found the bent spectacles under one of the bushes back where they had been attacked.

He didn't even try to stifle the sob that rose in his throat as he picked them up. After a beat he slid them into his breast pocket, turned and forced himself to go and find Buffy.

She, however, wasn't in the least pleased at being interrupted by the loud knock on Riley's door. Their snatched night together had already suffered a series of interruptions.

“If that's Forrest with yet another reason why you should be somewhere else…” she growled wearily and rolled away from her lover.

Riley shrugged and slid out of bed, trying desperately to think of unpleasant things that would take his mind, and therefore his hormones, off the ample evidence of his enjoyment of being with Buffy. A terrifying childhood memory of being caught in a severe storm and watching his favourite chickens spinning bizarrely away in the wind as his sister screamed, was enough. It always was. He found his pants and answered the door.

Forrest was certainly there, clad only in his shorts and an open robe, but he had someone with him.

Xander shouldered his way into the room. Riley nodded tightly and Forrest withdrew.

Buffy had never seen Xander look so terrible, not even when either Willow or Cordelia had been hurt so badly…or when Jenny Calendar died.

The blood drained from her face and her heart began to pound. By the time she'd grabbed her shirt her hands were shaking.

“Giles…?” she managed as Riley silently retrieved the rest of her clothes and put them in reach.

“He…ah…he…Buffy…he's…vampires…” Xander stammered, his mouth not quite functioning the way he wanted and his voice wobbling. “They…they drank him.”

“Then where…what did you do with him?” Buffy asked, her colour almost grey, her eyes glistening even as her expression hardened.

“They knocked me out,” Xander muttered reluctantly. “When I came to they…there was nothing. They were all gone.”

Buffy closed her eyes, only a barely discernable tremble betraying her true feelings.

“Then they've turned him,” she said finally, her voice so harsh Riley barely recognised it, pulled on her jeans, swung out of the bed and slid her feet into her totally unsuitable shoes. 'Let's go.”

Xander fell in beside her and Riley moved to follow. Buffy swung back as they reached the door and looked him square in the eye, her face white, her mouth pinched and bloodless.

“Not you,” she rasped, wheeled and was gone.


********

Willow looked up from the book Giles had recently given her for her nineteenth birthday—one of his books...one from the filing cabinet. She knew what it meant and he'd acknowledged as much good-naturedly when she'd thrown her arms around his neck with delight and hugged him hard. That was almost as good as the book…something she'd wanted to do almost as long as she'd known him…and had never felt she had either the right…or the courage before.

She frowned. Xander and Buffy had come into the room, not with Riley or Giles or even Anya, just Xander and Buffy. She scrambled to her feet and stepped out of her small spell circle. Amyrat scampered up onto the bed out of the way of careless feet.

One look at their faces sent a cold shiver down her spine and turned her legs to water.

“What?” she demanded. “What's happened? Who—?” She stopped when Xander couldn't stifle another small sob, despite his manufactured air of male detachment, his hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders hunched. “Oh, God…!”

Buffy looked at Xander and then at Willow. “Xander saw them drink him,” she said softly, not needing a name. “It was while they were patrolling, f-for me. A bunch of them jumped them and Xander got knocked out trying to stop it.”

Willow slid bonelessly down onto her bed. “He can't be dead,” she whispered. “He…he can't.”

“Will…” Xander began softly, sitting beside her, but stopped when her face crumpled as she drew the broken spectacles from his pocket. He struggled hard not to lose it when she started to tremble and caught her up as she began to weep.

“No,” she keened as she clung to her friend, the glasses still clutched in her hand. “No…!

Buffy watched them with eyes that were now as hard as blue diamonds, her heart as dead and cold and empty as a long extinguished hearth. Even her mouth tasted like cinders. They would have to do all her grieving for her…for now…

“I have to find him,” she said quietly. “Wait here, and if you haven't heard from me by dawn, come looking…but not before.”

Xander drew Willow more tightly against him and looked up. “No…Buffy…!” He sniffed unceremoniously. “I should go with you…I have to—”

Buffy shook her head with finality. “This is my job, and mine alone,” she told him, in a voice that brooked not one word of defiance. “I have to do it alone…or I won't be able to…to…”

And then she was gone before Xander managed to get another word out. It somehow focused his ragged nerves and numb body, stirred his mind to rational thought. There were still people who needed to be told…


********

Buffy smashed her way into Spike's new crypt, not caring what the vampire thought.

“'Ay, that's ENOUGH!” he shouted, uncurling from his dusty corner, the bean chair squeaking as he climbed out of it and threw his blanket aside. “What the hell do you want, Slayer? That bloody Watcher send you here to pester me into—?”

“Shut up!” she screamed, almost unnaturally.

Spike shut up.

“Where are they? Where are your moron friends?”

He rolled his eyes. “Which moron friends? In case you hadn't noticed there aren't too many vampires who qualify for Mensa.”

Buffy lunged forward and grabbed him by the throat. “The morons who turned my Watcher, you asshole.”

Spike, who didn't need to breathe anyway, stopped struggling and stared at her pale, pinched face. “Giles is dead?”

The almost stunned tone of his slightly restricted voice was so unexpected that Buffy let go.

“Xander saw them drink him. He got knocked out and they were all gone when he woke up.”

Spike's face screwed up. “Idiot. Now I remember why I don't want anything to do with you lot again. Fancy having him guarding your back in a pinch.” He started to pace. “Who says he's been turned? They could have just been hungr—”

He stopped. He hated her; he hated all of them, but also he'd seen and felt the bond between the two of them, and for some reason he didn't feel the need to rub in the possibility that the Watcher might have simply made a nice doggy bag for later.

“What do you care?” he yelled suddenly, as angry with himself for the sudden surge of sentiment as he was at the self-absorbed young woman standing before him. “You don't need a bloody Watcher any more. Treated 'im like shit you have. Serve you right if he has been turned. He'll take over this town if he has. And I'll be right there beside him. Being a vampire might give him the balls to go with all those brains and all that wasted power of his. Might even find a way to get this bloody chip out of my bleedin' head.”

Buffy made a tortured noise and lunged at him again, but this time he was prepared and stepped clear of her blind tackle.

“Wasting time, ducks,” he said as she turned on him again. “If they've turned him who do you think he's going to look up first?”

“You bastard, Spike,” she choked. “Where is he? Who's got him?”

“How the bloody-hell should I know? I'm the domesticated one, remember? None of the other puppies want to play with Spike any more. I meant what I said. If he's turned you're wasting time here.”

“No,” she whispered then straightened, her face hardening again. “If I find out you lied to me, I'll kill you,” she hissed through her teeth, wheeled and was gone.

Spike watched her go and blinked. It was a right bloody bastard not being able to smack her around…or even better, to take her bleedin' head off. He shook his head. He was getting way too sentimental in his old age and enforced infirmity. *Chaos forbid…he was actually in danger of turning into Angel…*

In temper he picked up one of his discarded boots and flung it against a wall.

*What are you going to do, lick me to death?*

The memory stopped him dead in his tracks. His roar of frustration echoed around the crypt. He was a vampire. *He wasn't supposed to have feelings for the stupid bastard…he wasn't supposed to have feelings for anyone.* He grabbed his duster and kicked his new stereo violently into the side of the tomb, barely aware of how much he was going to regret that later, and stormed out into the night.

He checked over a dozen known haunts, places he knew vampires favoured, places he'd used himself, to hide, to feed, to party…

By the time he'd started on places he and Dru used to go, way back when, he knew he was running out of options. A part of him was amused at his own persistence. What if bloody Giles *had* been turned? Then he was wasting his time and the bloody Slayer and her annoying little pals were dust…probably. He shrugged and withdrew from the old building, careful not to catch his duster on the broken timbers.

He'd reached the alley when a trashcan rattled and fell. He turned and stared into the face of Umberto, a particularly annoying alpha-wannabe vamp. Somebody should have staked him long ago…except he was too bloody big…

“Evening,” Spike said affably.

“Spike.”

“Last time I looked.”

“What brings you out of your hole? Killing demons again?”

“Who me? Nah, I just heard a rumour that someone scored a big feed tonight. Brit, like me'self.”

Umberto's eyes narrowed. “Don't play me for a fool, soldier's toy. We know you were living with the Watcher, and we know you helped the Slayer.”

Spike wasn't sure what to be more insulted by. “Bugger you,” he shouted, drew a stake from beneath his duster and lunged at Umberto, who threw him unceremoniously into the trashcans.

When he struggled clear he found himself next to an unconscious Watcher with a nasty bruise on his head and three pairs of bite marks on one side of his neck. He looked up. And found himself flanked by three extremely pissed looking vamps.

He cocked his head toward Giles. “Supper, I take it?” he drawled, then spun away and got up before they could grab him.

His blood was singing and the smell of a fight actually made him grin. The two henchmen were a piece of cake. Newly risen, or near new, they made a good fight but Spike toyed with them. He'd lost count of the number of fighting styles he'd bothered to learn in the last hundred years, some from boredom, so from necessity…but all making him a formidable opponent.

When the second one turned to dust, showering all over the inert body of the Watcher, Spike wheeled to face Umberto, who was standing with his arms crossed looking for all the world like a man whose dinner had been spoiled.

“What's the deal?” Spike demanded. “Snacks? We *kill*. We don't save happy snacks for later,” he yelled, forgetting for a moment that he wasn't actually one of them any more, and further, that he didn't actually want the Watcher dead...sort of…

“*We* kill,” Umberto drawled. “You get spoon fed. Since I'm going to kill you anyway, I'll tell you what's going to happen to your boyfriend. He's alive, because our orders were to bring him to Adam alive.”

Spike made a noise of disgust. “So you got peckish and all took high tea out of the poor bastard for the fun of it? That bloody mutant will tear your dicks…” He looked around at the scattered ash. “Sorry…dick…off. He's mad, that bastard. Thought about joining up with him me'self.”

Umberto half smiled. “I remember a time when that would have been the most terrifying prospect this dump has ever known.”

For a moment Spike smiled back, remembering…remembering when everyone was afraid of him, even other vampires. Now he was reduced to nurse-maiding a has-been ex-Watcher with a penchant for Weet-a-bix™ and reasonably good taste in music…

“Time to kill you now, little Watcher's puppy,” drawled the big vampire, enjoying the outraged look on Spike's face.

“Not on your best day, you big ponce,” he snarled and leaped over the inert form, another stake, stolen from Giles' apartment before he got kicked out, drawn from the inside breast pocket of his duster…


********

Buffy reached the dormitory breathing hard. By the time she reached the room she shared with Willow she thought her heart was going to explode. The door flew open and she ran into the room…to find Willow and Xander, Tara and Amyrat all sitting in Willow's spell circle.

She stopped dead. “You're all okay? What are you doing?” she rasped, still trying to catch her breath.

“Giles?” Willow demanded urgently. “You found him?”

Buffy shook her head, bent and put her hands on her knees. “I saw Spike. He pointed out that if Giles was turned…the first thing he'd do was come after us…after you guys.”

“Buffy…not just us,” Willow said, her voice cracking again. “Anyone you care about.”

Buffy's eyes widened. “Mom…Riley…Oh, God…”

“We…we thought with all three of us we might be able to work a location spell,” Tara ventured. “But we can't focus it.” She couldn't help but slide a glance to Xander, who flushed and got up quickly.

“This time I am coming,” he said harshly. “They don't need me here, and I have to do something—”

“Mom's first,” Buffy muttered, her heart torn.

“I'll call Riley and warn him,” Willow offered. “If—”

But Buffy was already on the phone, too intent to berate herself for not thinking of it earlier. A moment later she put it down again.

“Riley's out with the guys. They aren't due back until dawn. He's safe. Let's go.”

They arrived at the Summers house to find everything peaceful and seemingly undisturbed. A light was on in her mother's bedroom but the rest of the house was in darkness.

Buffy frowned. “Looks normal. Door's not broken down. I'd better go check anyway.”

She was halfway across the grass when a shout from Xander made her turn.

Giles and Spike were coming towards them.

“Stay back,” Buffy warned. “Xander, no!” she cried as he very nearly launched into to a run.

He stopped dead.

“Giles?” he asked weakly, hopefully.

“It's me, Xander,” Giles said, wincing from the movement of the heavy bruise on his temple, and none too steady on his feet.

“Yeah, Slayer, we figured you'd be here, checking on mummy. And besides, it was the closest place I could think of with wheels for the walking wounded, here.” Spike smirked. “And Joyce likes me...”

Xander ignored him, desperately wanting to go to Giles. “Buffy?”

“No, Xander,” she rasped. “Look at his neck.”

He looked and swallowed hard, fell back behind Buffy.

”Don't be daft, you stupid cow,” Spike snarled, the pretty reunion picture he'd conjured to amuse himself now going to hell rapidly. “I saved his arse…”

“That's…” Giles swayed. “That's right, he did.”

Xander again had to restrain himself from going to his friend.

“It's a trick,” Buffy said vehemently, her eyes haunted. “It's a trick. He'll make you believe it's him…make you care, and then…” Her voice hardened again. “Stay back, Xander. Spike said if Giles was turned he'd join up with him.”

“Oh bloody hell, I give up,” Spike snapped disgustedly. Since the Initiative had smashed his TV he'd missed his soaps terribly, and had actually convinced himself that a bit of real life melodrama would make a nice bit of entertainment on an otherwise dead night…and now the stupid trollop had even managed to spoil that. He threw his hands in the air and strode off.

“Spike, tell them,” Giles demanded. “Bugger you, get back here!” He turned back to Buffy. “It's me, Buffy. You recognised me once before, surely you can—”

But he didn't get a chance to get another word out before he had the wind knocked out of him, then the stuffing, as he landed on his back several feet from where Buffy had taken his legs out from under him.

He never had a hope. She had him pinned in moments.

Xander lunged when saw Mister Pointy swing up over her head.

Buffy made a strangled noise when her downward stroke was halted. She could have thrown the boy five yards, but she didn't. Instead, weakly, she let him restrain the hand and the stake.

Giles exhaled and stopped struggling beneath her, his heart almost exploding from the adrenaline rush.

She looked down at him and met eyes that were so filled with hurt she had to look away.

He took hold of her other hand and she looked back, startled. His fingers were as cold as ice.

She started to pull away, but he gripped tighter and his eyes held hers again. Xander had confiscated Mister Pointy and was hovering close with it, just in case.

Giles pulled open the black shirt under his brown leather jacket, the first few buttons flying in all directions, and thrust her hand under it, and over his heart.

For long seconds there was only silence, and then Buffy started to cry…and then to shake, her trembling hand moving from his beating heart to his wounds, to his cheek.

“Giles…” she whispered as the green eyes stared back at her, no less hurt now than before. “How?”

“Apparently I…I was being delivered,” he managed hoarsely. “They couldn't kill me, or risk me dying, but Adam's errand boys were hungry.”

“Why would Adam want you?” Xander ventured, wiping his eyes with his sleeve and leaning down to help Giles to his feet when Buffy slid numbly off him.

Giles allowed Xander to put an arm around him and steady him, and again looked at Buffy, his expression this time unreadable. “He wanted a weapon he could use against the Slayer.”

Xander frowned. “Why you? Why not her mom, or Willow, or…?”

“Because we're the Chosen,” Buffy said slowly, returning Giles' gaze, trying to deal with the enormity of what she'd almost done. “Because, somehow, he knows…he knows…I'd…”

*…Die for him, and he for me…that I would do anything to save him…*

For a beat the revelation froze her, then her face crumpled and she ran.

Giles made a small noise and swayed, Xander staggering a little trying to steady his weight until he found his legs again. After a few moments he pulled away from the boy and gathered himself.

“She thought you'd been turned. We all did,” Xander told him, white-faced, his voice shaking as the moisture surged again. “We…we thought we'd lost you.”

Giles finally looked at him. Xander wanted to look away, look anywhere but into those despairing depths, but he couldn't.

“I'm sorry,” Giles whispered, and swayed again.

Xander moved in to take an arm, but found himself trembling as the impact of what had just happened overwhelmed him. If he hadn't been there, Buffy would have killed Giles, for real. He withdrew his shaking hand and took a step back.

The older man saw, and understood. His eyes softened and he reached out to draw his young friend into the first embrace they'd ever shared, holding the boy as he wept, accepting Xander's almost convulsive bear-hug in return.

The moment was over quickly, Xander pulling back self-consciously, wiping his face again with his sleeve and sniffing unceremoniously as Giles steadied himself.

“Willow—she thinks you're dead. We have to tell her...”

Giles nodded. “What about you? Are you all right?”

Xander nodded as the front security light came on. “You're alive,” he said simply.

“Xander Harris, is that you…and Mister Giles?”

Giles smiled slowly, his eyes glistening brightly in the moonlight, and Xander smiled back.

When they reached the dormitory after Mrs Summers agreed, with some serious reservations, to drive them there because Willow's phone was busy, Xander was all but carrying his friend. Giles had refused to go to hospital, saying that one bite was difficult enough to explain, but three was ridiculous. It was also he who'd convinced Joyce to go home and wait for Buffy, just in case.

Xander pounded on the door and rolled his eyes at Willow's instinctive 'come in.'

“Open the door, Will!” he yelled, not nicely.

It opened an inch then it was flung open.

“Oh, God, Oh God,” Willow cried, taking the opposite side to Xander and helping Giles to sit down on Buffy's bed. She stared at the bite marks as she sat beside him. “Three? And you're still alive?”

Giles turned to her, half smiled. “Snacks,” he said dryly. His colour was terrible and the crinkles she so loved at the corners of his eyes when he smiled, stood out horribly now against the pallor, almost as much as the vile coloured bruise on his temple.

The smile vanished as he watched the tears well up and flood the huge witch-green eyes.

“I'm all right, love,” he said softly and closed his eyes when she put her arms around his neck and held him, not desperately, as Xander had, but with relief, with tenderness…with love. He rubbed her back a little until they both stopped shaking then enfolded her with both arms for a few moments before she drew away.

“Your phone was busy. Where's Tara?” Xander asked as Willow helped Giles swing his legs on to Buffy's bed and to lie down.

She looked over her shoulder. “When the spell didn't work she decided to go study for a test we're having in advanced calc tomorrow. And the phone…it was stupid, but I-I tried Giles' apartment a few times,” she admitted.

Xander's expression softened in understanding.

Giles groaned softly.

Willow squeezed his arm comfortingly. “Xander, in the refrigerator…get Giles the rest of my tomato juice. Oh, and I think there's a new bottle of sports formula. It's not much, but he needs fluids, electrolytes and…in the box on top there's cookies…*not for you*,” she added with asperity.

Xander dragged his eyes away from the obviously in-pain watcher to look at Willow quizzically as he headed for the fridge. “*Sports*…formula?”

She shrugged. “No big. Buffy brought it home. Riley's guys drink stuff like that all the time. It's not like I just took up Tae Bo or somethin'…” She frowned. “Except I can if I want.”

“Sure you can, Will,” he agreed, stuffing a cookie into his mouth and sounding a little more like his old self, “but why would you WANT to?”

Willow smiled in spite of herself, and Giles, drowsing now on Buffy's bed, his right hand still held fast by one of hers, opened his eyes briefly and his mouth curled upward just a little, before he drifted back into a fugue-like haze from the concussion and the blood loss.

Eventually he managed a small glass of tomato juice, a cookie or two and all of the sport drink, with Willow supporting his head and shoulders and waiting patiently as he drifted in and out.

When he woke again, still in the girls' dorm room, he didn't know it, but eight hours had passed. He thought he was alone when he finally opened his eyes. He felt terrible. No one was holding his hand now, and he was under the blankets…and the sheet. A few seconds later he frowned and shifted, then frowned again, despite his throbbing head.

He was under the sheet…without pants, without shoes and without shirt. He cleared his throat.

The sound made Buffy jump and wake from the fitful sleep she'd fallen into only a couple of hours earlier, curled up, fully dressed, on top of Willow's bed, with Amyrat tucked in, fast asleep, behind one bent knee. The rat vanished before Buffy could even sit up. She blinked and swung around.

He was awake…

Willow had gone to classes and Xander had gone home, shortly after Giles went to sleep, to let Anya know where he was, secure in the knowledge that someone was watching over his friend.

Eventually the familiar head turned and his green eyes widened a little. “Buffy,” he said, instinctively clutching his sheets a little tighter.

She saw the colour rise from his throat. “It's okay,” she said dryly. “Xander put you to bed before he left.”

He barely nodded then looked away again.

Buffy swallowed. He hadn't looked so hurt, so lost, since he learned Angel had returned. And it was her fault *…again…*

She came to the side of her bed, knelt alongside it. “I'm sorry I ran,” she whispered. “You were so…I almost killed you…again.”

“You did the right thing,” he said flatly then sighed. “If such a thing *were* to happen, you must never hesitate. *Never*,” he added vehemently, but his voice cracked.

“I should have known. I should have checked…Giles, I would have *killed* you…”

Giles didn't speak. When the silence began to stretch Buffy bit her lip, her heart jolting when his voice finally broke the silence.

“I told you, you did well,” he repeated flatly, but she could hear the hurt, the withdrawal in his voice.

She moved around the other side of the bed. “Then why are you so angry?” she demanded tremulously. “Tell me!” she cried as he moved to turn away again.

He stopped, looked at her, finally. “*Why…?*

Buffy half shook her head, her eyes searching his, trying to fathom what he wanted from her.

At her utter lack of understanding he closed his eyes again. He looked so alone, beneath the uncharacteristically rumpled hair, the vile bruise; his ghostly pallor…

Her own eyes grew very large, but she refused to bow to her own misery. “I'm sorry,” she repeated helplessly.

“I know.”

Buffy stared at him. Never before had she felt so helpless, so lost. Only he could do this to her. If it was Riley she'd have flounced off in a huff by now leaving him to sulk and to stew in his own juices until he was ready to behave…

*But this wasn't Riley. It was Giles…she'd almost lost…almost killed…the most important person in her life…again…*

She drew a sharp breath, continued to stare at the turned head. Then, slowly, she reached out and ran her fingertips over the ruffled hair around his ear.

“I-I know I've hurt you, but I don't know what to do, this time,” she said softly. “Tell me what to do, Giles.”

He opened his eyes slowly and studied her. Then, as though he had to move, he drew himself painstakingly into a sitting position. Buffy darted across, grabbed Willow's pillows and brought them to prop him up. When she was satisfied, she helped him lean back against them.

Somehow the bruise looked even worse sitting up and the bites stood out lividly on his neck where they'd begun to scab over.

Buffy unconsciously touched her own neck, remembering, then shivered violently, not at the memory of what Angel had done to her, or why…but at the memory of that day…of something she'd long forgotten. She closed her eyes against another sickening realisation.

How could she have been so stupid? Even with Faith, and Angel, and all that was going on…how could she have asked him to do that? It was a stupid, stupid, cruel thing to do…

Her eyes narrowed suddenly, then widened as comprehension dawned, and she looked at him. He was watching her with those immeasurably hurt eyes, probably unaware how much of his soul was showing in them.

“I couldn't kill him,” she whispered.

“Nor Willow's doppelganger…” he confirmed bitterly.

She got up and moved away from the bed. “I couldn't kill them…whatever they were, they wore the same face. It would have been like killing Willow…or Angel. I…I just couldn't.”

“But you were willing to kill me…without hesitation,” he reminded her, very quietly, too quietly.

She swung back to face him. “No…*you don't understand…!* It took you away from me. Y-you were *dead!*” she cried. The trembling started again, far worse than the last time. “I couldn't let the thing that took you from me go on wearing your face, making a mockery of what you are, who you are. I—I…”

Giles stared at her, his eyes wide with surprise, his colour high. “Buffy…?”

Her eyes flew to his then. “I couldn't let it live…not after what it did to you…I wanted it to die…and then you were you and I was so stupid…and…”

“*Buffy*,” he said again, this time very gently.

She halted and blinked, her damp blue eyes searching his, finding another part of his soul revealed in them now.

Her face crumpled and she came to the bed, where his hand stretched out toward her. She sat down and pulled herself up close to him, before resting her head in the crook of his neck.

After a beat Giles curled his arm around her, his hand rubbing her upper arm comfortingly for a moment, before the long fingers closed loosely around her forearm and rested there.

“I almost lost you again,” she whispered. “You can't leave me…”

The arm tightened and Giles swallowed. Buffy had said almost exactly the same thing once before…and yet…

“I'm not going anywhere without my pants,” he teased and chuckled a little in spite of the rock in the pit of his stomach.

She finally smiled, just a little. She liked the feel of his chest moving as he laughed, and his jaw as he spoke, against her crown, the way his voice kind of vibrated through him as he spoke…and she liked the smell of him; how incredibly secure and safe she felt right there…

It frightened her that she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt like that; that there wasn't a single moment with Angel or Riley that even came close…

It took several more moments to find even one in her memory. Her first instinct had been to think about her childhood…but while they'd been fun when they were together, before the fighting, her parents never had been of the warm, or the fuzzy…

No…that one single moment out of a lifetime of memories was so fleeting she'd had to dig for it. When she found it, it took her breath.

*She could still see his face when the door opened; remember how terrified she was, and how ready for his well-deserved anger, or rejection…*

Instead, his eyes had got that tender Giles look in them and he'd embraced her with a simple sentence…and made everything okay…

Even in the midst of hell…he had made it okay…

And then, suddenly, she knew why...

Perhaps she'd always known. Maybe he'd been so much a part of her she hadn't noticed…*when she'd started loving him…*

She turned a little more toward him, and he let go of her forearm. She stretched that arm up, curled her fingers around his neck and sighed beneath his chin, felt his lips press against her hair and smiled.

“Nice,” she said softly.

The hand of the arm still around her moved and he brushed her cheek with the backs of his knuckles, his expression moving from contentment to delight, to a frown of consternation.

“All right…?” he asked near her ear.

She nodded into his neck. “Now. No go without the pants. I got it. Giles…?”

“Yes, love?”

“Mmm,” she sighed, enjoying the first real endearment he'd ever used for her. “Exactly.”

“Exactly what?” he asked quizzically. She half-smiled, visualizing the divot in his brow.

“Exactly how much I love you too,” she managed, despite the wobble in her voice.

She heard his sharp intake of breath, felt the tightening of his arm, and eventually, his cheek resting on her crown.

His voice was very gentle, his tone measured, as though he was talking to a child. “And I love you,” he whispered.

Buffy drew back and looked up at him then, searched his face, not sure what she wanted, but damned sure she didn't get it.

“That's nice,” she muttered, and unexpectedly slid off the bed.

Giles made to go after her then stopped, hamstrung by the distance between the bed and his pants. The short-legged, black satin boxers he had on, a gift from Olivia, were probably as decent as a swimming costume, but the idea of being in Buffy's room, alone with her, in his underwear, still gave him pause on a number of levels.

He looked at her again, pulling fresh clothes from the closet now, along with boots and a jacket.

He made a small, frustrated noise under his breath, threw the blankets back and got up to stride over to his pants; a gesture that lasted only for the first couple of steps. By the time he reached the chair over which the shirt and jeans had been laid, his equilibrium was shot and he had lost most of his remaining colour. He snatched them up regardless, and clutched them against his body as he tried to steady himself.

Buffy had turned at the first sounds of movement and now crossed swiftly to his side, trying not to notice how unnervingly spectacular he looked in nothing but his shorts. It wasn't exactly a sight she'd ever anticipated seeing. Seeing his chest earlier had been enough. Enough for her to pretend she hadn't noticed…

“You shouldn't be up,” she chided. “If you won't got to hospital at least wait until you're stronger. That wasn't exactly the blood bank you gave to last night. It's going to take more than just Willow's cookies…”

Giles snorted. “Don't you think I know that?” he said darkly. His face grew bleak. “You almost died…”

Torn between a desire to help him, and a desire to hurt, Buffy stared at him for a moment then turned away again, gathered up the clothes. “But I didn't. I'm going to take a shower. Go back to bed, Giles,” she said wearily.

“I don't understand,” he whispered.

She shrugged, still not sure why she was so angry, and picked up the rest of her stuff. “Neither do I.”

When the door closed a moment later he closed his eyes for a long moment, seized by a another sudden lurch in his equilibrium, then realised that he was either going to have to find a bucket or make it to a bathroom, himself. The wastebasket was wire. Useless…

His stomach continued to roil and the room began to spin as he staggered toward the door and opened it.

“Buffy…” he managed as he stumbled into the corridor.

A few yards down the hall, she turned, startled. Only her Slayer speed enabled her to catch him before he fell.

“B-bathroom,” he moaned, keeping his eyes closed to reduce the motion sickness as Buffy held his sagging form against her own body. They only just made it in time.

When he was done throwing up she took him to the showers. “You'll feel better,” she reassured him, beginning to wonder if they should have taken him to the hospital after all.

He was steadying himself against the wall, trying not to think about the fact that he was in a women's communal bathroom with Buffy, in his underwear. It was, fortunately,
Blessedly quiet, as was to be expected, given the time of day.

“So?” Buffy prompted, making a shooing motion with her hands when he still hadn't moved moments later.

He cocked his head and glared at her wavering form through half glazed eyes.

Her eyes automatically slid to the black boxers. “Oh,” she said and turned around. A moment later the shorts landed next to her and the water started. A moment after that Buffy looked at the toiletries bag still in her hand and grinned wickedly.

Giles was making the most of the soothing, powerful jet of hot water, his eyes closed as it tumbled over him. Not having any soap was annoying, but there was no way he was going to ask Buffy, and this was the best…or at least the least bad, he'd felt since Spike had rescued him.

“Soap?” An obviously amused voice said alongside him.

He jumped and turned too fast, then turned back too fast, stumbling and swearing. “Buffy!”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You haven't got anything I haven't seen before, Giles,” she teased. “Here, you'll feel a lot better if you use this.”

He scowled and snatched it from her hand without turning his hips again.

“Oh come on, Giles,” Buffy cajoled when she realised he really wasn't amused. “You have a great butt, and I've never known you to be truly shy.”

“Yes, well, try reversing the roles, and see how you like it,” he muttered. “Now, if you don't mind…”

Buffy shrugged and turned away, then heard the bathroom door open. It took a couple of moments to invent a story and get rid of the late riser, a full mental image of the reverse situation unnerving her as she returned to the showers, where Giles was now leaning against the wall using both arms, soap still locked in his right hand.

“Giles?”

“I—I think I'm going to be ill again,” he managed without moving. “It'll pass…if only the bloody room would stop spinning.”

But it didn't. Three times he opened his eyes to try and make the effort to move, or even just to shut off the water, but he couldn't…the dizziness was simply too severe. And then, suddenly, the soap was removed from his hand and someone was washing his back, making soothing circles with what felt like a loofah or some such. It slid over his shoulders and under his arms, around his middle and lathered his chest, all without him moving a muscle.

“God,” he said eventually, when the loofah had finished its work, not knowing if he wanted to sit down, stand up, throw up or scream at the insanity of it all.

“Giles, it's okay,” Buffy said softly, ignoring her own chaotic reaction to what she was doing, and turned off the faucets. For a moment everything was silent, then he heard her footsteps as she returned and started to dry him with a large, soft towel. When she was done she slid the bath sheet around his hips and secured it tightly.

“Ready?”

“Buffy, I—”

“Not now,” she admonished and wedged her shoulder under one of his arms, and he, knowing her strength, allowed her to take most of his weight. He finally managed to open his eyes. It wasn't the most comfortable of exercises, but at least the room had abandoned its insane spinning and was now just doing a passable imitation of a ship at sea. He looked down at her and almost wished he'd kept them closed. She now also wearing nothing but a towel, and her hair was saturated. The implications didn't bear thinking about and neither did his body's instant response to them…

They only made it to the middle of the bathroom before someone came in…in fact several people.

Buffy looked from one Senior to another and half smiled. “Sorry. Heavy night. Didn't think anyone would be around,” she improvised, and heard the strangled noise Giles made, either from trying not to laugh, or trying not to barf.

When they reached her room again, Buffy lowered him to her bed and threw her stuff on Willow's.

Giles sighed with relief. “You're going to have to call Xander and ask him to arrange transport so that we can get me out of your room and home to my own bed.”

“We don't need Xander,” Buffy told him, picking up the phone. “I can call a cab, and go with you. We'll put a plaster or something on the bites so nobody sees, but we're stopping at the ER on the way, to get you checked out. And no arguing,” she added pointedly when he opened his mouth to do just that.

He clamped it shut again and rolled his eyes.

Satisfied that she'd won, Buffy made the call and left a note for Willow, turned and collected his clothes. When she turned back to him, Giles' eyes widened.

“Thank you,” he said warily when she laid them on the bed. “I can take it from here.”

“Sure you can,” she drawled, but left him, nevertheless, and dressed herself in the clothes she'd selected earlier. When she turned, eventually, Giles was lying flat on his back, still clad only in his towel, breathing heavily. His eyes were closed.

“Giles?” Buffy crossed swiftly to his side, put her hand on his brow.

“Somebody told the room to start spinning again,” he muttered.

She shook her head and picked up his shirt. “Okay, so we do this together…”

Between the two of them she was able to support his torso while he kept his eyes shut, help him into the shirt and lay him back down on the bed before buttoning it right through. She pretended not to notice the change in the rhythm of his breathing or the tension in his body as her fingers grazed his skin.

“This is ridiculous.”

“You're telling me?” Buffy said dryly as she picked up the boxers. They were soft and silky and kind of sexy. She cleared her throat.

Giles eased his eyes open, and saw the shorts. “No,” he growled and snatched the offending item from her hand before closing them again and groaning miserably. “I can do it, my—”

Buffy snatched them back and in moments had them hiked up to his knees, all the while listening to Giles swearing like a trooper because he couldn't raise his head by himself more than ten or twelve inches without wanting to throw up. It took a superhuman effort on his part to reach down enough, when she got them past his knees, to take over and hike them up under the towel, of which Buffy then promptly relieved him.

“'Ay!”

“Hiding your light under a bushel, huh, Giles?” she teased, picking up the jeans. He managed another glare, but had to lie back down again a moment later. This time he did little more than lift his hips as Buffy drew the pants up.

When, however, he felt her drawing the fly together his hands went immediately to stop her. He was human. Having to endure Buffy doing up his button-through fly was more even than he could endure.

She drew her hands away then shifted so she could stroke his damp brow. “Don't go all virginal on me, Giles. I haven't been innocent for a very long time…and you're…” She frowned. “You're not well,” she improvised.

He harrumphed. “You shouldn't be doing this,” he said gruffly. “It isn't right.”

“How can it not be right? This is us, Giles…deal with it.” There was an edge in her voice as she drew him, rigid but unresisting, to a sitting position again, ignoring his rumbling, nauseated groan. She started to tuck, continuing even when she reached the front, until the whole shirt was tucked into the blue jeans.

When she eased him back down to the sheets, however, Giles' colour was high and he was obviously embarrassed.

Buffy scowled. “For a grown man you're such a baby,” she muttered, and moved defiantly to do up the errant fly buttons, but stopped when she saw his semi-aroused state. It was her turn to colour violently, but only for a moment.

Giles opened his eyes when the bed moved next to him. Buffy was lying alongside him, looking at him, not with disgust, but with tenderness and amusement.

“Hey,” she said softly.

“You see what a nuisance you are?” he said gruffly.

“I am, aren't I?” she agreed then grew serious. “Have I…Have I been a nuisance for very long?”

His green eyes met hers. “Long enough,” he admitted softly. “Are you…?”

“Grossed out? Mad? Incredibly turned on?”

Giles' glance flew to her face again. Her eyes were dancing, and there was no revulsion in her expression, no blame. He half-smiled self-consciously.

“I thought you might be more inclined to do me an injury than to be amused.”

Buffy sobered again. They were getting into deeper and deeper water here and she wasn't sure they weren't going to end up way out of their depth. The truth was she was incredibly turned on, unnervingly so. Part of it could be attributed to unresolved tension from all the interruptions while she was with Riley…but she knew in her heart now that it wasn't the main reason.

She bent and did up the buttons in a swift, business-like fashion to avoid answering for a few more moments, as aware as he was that by the third one there wasn't any more 'semi' about his being aroused. She finished by doing up the stud and the belt buckle, but continued to stare for a moment.

“I do have feelings for Riley,” she finally said, and frowned. “I really do. I just didn't know why they were such wimpy ones…why it took so long for us to warm up…” She looked up and held his gaze with her own. “Until now.”

Giles' eyes were wary. “Buffy, this is an extraordinary circumstance…”

She shook her head. “No, Giles, this is us…you and me. I'm only just realising that it always has been…that pretty much everything since my eighteenth birthday has been about us. I just wasn't looking…or listening. I'm kinda challenged that way…and way too easily distracted by sweet talking and a pretty face…”

He looked at her ruefully. “You'll get no argument from me there.”

Buffy snorted. “You don't have to rub it in…” Then her face dropped. “Giles, what are we going to do?”

He sighed. “Hopefully we're going to get a cab to the ER, where we will get rid of this vile equilibrium problem, and then I intend to go home to my bed.”

She made an irritated noise then suddenly shifted, bending her head and covering his lips with her own. For the longest time there was no response, then Giles' large hands clasped her shoulders and lifted her away.

“Buffy,” he rasped, “what are you doing?”

She sighed. “An experiment, but I'm guessing it didn't work.”

He cleared his throat and took his hands away. “That Bloody cab is taking its time.”

Buffy stared at his face, drinking it in as though she hadn't seen it a thousand times before, and sighed again before turning to pick up his socks. She halted mid-stretch, her eyes on the once-again disrupted line of the soft blue denim. Or maybe it did…

Her eyes lit up slowly and she turned back.

“So, Mister self-control, 'behave yourself, Buffy',” she admonished in her best Oxford imitation, leaning backwards and letting her hand slide over his shirt and down past his belt buckle. “You aren't interested?” Her hand found its mark and caressed.

He shuddered then closed his eyes again. “Buffy, please,” he said unhappily.

She immediately removed the hand, straightened and picked up one of his instead, consternation in her eyes. “It's okay, Giles. Really, it is. I wouldn't tease you if I didn't mean it.”

“It isn't that,” he said, without opening his eyes. There was a long moment of tense silence.

“Giles?”

He finally sighed a long sigh and looked up at her.

“I…I do love you, dearly, Buffy, but…” he sighed again. “Quite frankly, until today you haven't shown the slightest interest in me…a-as a man.”

Buffy's chest constricted and she opened her mouth to speak, just as someone pounded on the door.

“Cab for Summers,” a bored male voice yelled.

With one last, unhappy, look at Giles, she went to answer it.


*******

The ER had barely changed since the last time Buffy was there, which was to get a demon claw, conveniently described as bear, removed from Xander's thigh. The last time she'd been in the ER at the same time as Giles had been a few weeks past her eighteenth birthday. At the time they were all walking wounded, after her Watcher had basically saved Angel, and the world, by fighting the Hellmouth demon and closing the demon portal…again.

As expected, they wanted to keep Giles for observation because of the dizziness, but since everything else checked out okay, he refused. Dosed and armed with anti-nausea medication and instructions not to exert himself for the next couple of days, he grudgingly allowed an orderly to be take him out to another cab in a wheelchair, to save Buffy having to support him.

“So what did they say?” Buffy demanded once the cab was moving again.

Giles leaned his head back and forced his eyes open, knowing that keeping them closed while the car was moving was only going to make things worse.

“They confirmed that I have a concussion, and that my blood-pressure is somewhat …low, however the X-Ray revealed that there was no fracture, nor any other discernable complications.” He made a dismissive noise and peeled the plaster off his neck, where it had been pulling irritatingly since Buffy put it on just before they left. “I've been hit harder before.”

“Yeah, but you've never been like this before,” Buffy said warily. “Didn't they want to keep you or anything…you know, to watch you?”

“For observation,” Giles supplied. “And no, they…well, they did, but I refused. There was no substantial reason for me to stay, only vague possibilities of complications that will, in all likelihood, never arise.”

Buffy frowned. “So they couldn't find anything wrong that we didn't already know about, but they wanted to be sure anyway?”

“Essentially, yes. It's their duty to be thorough, else they leave themselves open to rather serious litigation in the event they miss something.”

“Did they give you something for the pukies?”

Giles chuckled in spite of himself. “First thing I asked for. There are also scripts for headache tablets and the inevitable notes for my personal physician.”

“Giles, you don't have a personal physician.”

He shrugged. “I saw no reason to interfere with their set procedures.”

Buffy's eyes narrowed. “You mean if you told them that, they wouldn't have let you go?”

He had the good grace to look sheepish. “Find some money to pay the driver. My wallet is in the inside pocket of my jacket. There's a good girl.”

Buffy snorted and slid her hand inside the dark brown leather jacket. “Watch it, buster. I'm a grown woman, not a poodle.”

“Ah, yes, of course, a grown woman,” Giles muttered, settling back against the seat. “A grown woman still playing with toy soldiers… Oof…Ow!” he muttered, rubbing his chest where she'd whacked it with the wallet.

Buffy sat back, satisfied. “And as far as being grown up goes, we won't even discuss Halloween, will we?” she added sarcastically. “You still haven't told me where you got that chainsaw from…”


*******

The apartment was dark and uninviting when Buffy opened the door. She flipped on the light and guided him to the stairs.

“Ready?”

“Only one way to find out,” he muttered, wondering when this bizarre day would ever end, refusing to acknowledge the fact that a part of him was hoping vainly that it wouldn't…

The climb was surprisingly easy. The anti-nausea medication was working. He sank to the bed, breathing hard.

“Giles,” Buffy said quietly.

He looked up. “Yes?”

“Are you really okay? You…you didn't lie to them about anything else?”

He frowned, “No, why?

She half turned away. “No big. I just almost killed you when you were already way hurt …and you never took this long to get better after a whack on the head, before…except maybe after Gwen Post…” A momentary bleakness chased across her face at the memories that name carried with it.

“Buffy,” he said sternly and watched her turn back again, reluctantly. “What's wrong?”

She shrugged. “Witness Buffy Summers actually noticing stuff. Scary, isn't it?” She didn't look up. “Must be something wrong with me today,” she added acidly, playing with a broken nail.

For once the universe came quite sharply in focus, and his stomach seemed, at last, to be behaving itself in an almost civilized fashion. He watched her for a moment, enjoying her rare moment of revelation and discomfiture then smiled tenderly.

“Come here,” he said softly.

She looked up, startled, and blinked at the unexpected understanding in his eyes. She needed no second invitation, meeting him as he struggled to his feet, sighing as his arms circled her and held her close.

“I really do love you,” she sighed into the breast of his shirt.

A tremor went through him and he drew her even closer before dropping a kiss on her hair and resting his chin against it.

“You can't love me,” he pointed out reasonably, doing a wonderful imitation of calm. “There's still that rather large Nancy-boy comm—”

Giles…”

“All right, boyfriend, of yours, who isn't going to be worrying about grey hairs or middle-aged spread for a very long time.”

Buffy looked up at him, more than a little reluctant to let go. “You really think I give a damn about any of that?”

He looked down at her, ran a finger down a soft cheek. “I honestly don't know, love,” he told her and raised a rueful eyebrow. “If I remember correctly your last specific comment regarding my age went something along the lines of: '…you're really, really old and it's gross,'” he mimicked mercilessly.

She winced. “I said that, didn't I?”

He nodded.

Her eyes grew very bright. “I'm sorry. I just wanted to hurt you—”

For a moment his eyes narrowed, puzzled, then widened as the implications of her statement sank in.

“Olivia? You…you were jealous of Olivia?”

“I wanted to scratch her eyes out,” she muttered. “But I didn't know why. Now it's obvious. I mean, there you were, looking hotter than…well, never mind, and there was me, not to mention school hell and vamp trouble…” She shook herself and took a deep breath. “And she had to be there.”

Amused, he drew her against him again, as though he missed the feel of her being there.

“Olivia is my friend,” he said softly. “And I'm only human. We enjoy each other's company a great deal. I even thought, perhaps…” His voice trailed off, as though he'd changed his mind about revealing the thought.

“You thought she'd stay,” Buffy finished.

“Something like that.”

Buffy frowned, going over their last meeting when the Gentlemen were in town, thinking about the wistful tone in Giles' voice. “You thought you two—?” she ventured.

He sighed. “I have been alone for a very long time, Buffy. It so happens that it meant a great deal to me to have her here.”

“But you're not…?”

He shook his head slowly above hers. “It was a rather a shock for her…finding out what my life was really like. She…she wanted me to go back to England.”

A shiver went down Buffy's spine. “But she left…you didn't go…you didn't even mention it.”

Giles held her a little away and his green eyes found and held hers. “I couldn't,” he said softly.

Her blue ones searched his face. “Because you promised?”

He took her face in his hands. “Because I couldn't,” he said hoarsely.

After a moment's shocked silence she beamed with pleasure, her eyes glowing as they both slowly smiled.

Her eyes moved to his lips. “Now…?” she whispered, and ran her hands up his chest to hold his face too, with her fingertips.

“Now…” he agreed, not quite steadily.

A tremor of pleasure rocked Buffy as their lips met, such as she'd never experienced before.

Giles enfolded her in his arms and allowed himself, finally, to love her as he'd wanted to love her ever since she'd come to him to tell him Angel was finally out of her life. That sweet moment of realisation, of joy, had been so painfully brief…his accumulated hopes and dreams dashed after an evening of unbearable anticipation at the Prom, by the unexpected arrival of the vampire at the eleventh hour.

As the merging of their mouths became a tender, yet demanding, give and take, he forgot to think and gave himself over to the heady joy of her hunger for him. For the longest time they ceased to exist in the same space-time as the rest of humanity, locked in a world of two, of each other.

When they finally drew apart both were breathing hard, neither wanting to let go. It was only when Giles swayed unexpectedly that the spell was broken and Buffy remembered why they were there. She immediately helped him to sit down again.

“I'm fine,” he growled, drawing her down with him, pulling her close. “Don't fuss, love. It's just the after-effects of the blood loss and that blasted concussion. I think perhaps I really have had one too many knocks on the head.”

A look of consternation came over Buffy's face. “No more,” she decreed, turning in to his body, sliding her arms around his neck. “No more patrols. It's too dangerous. I can't…I won't lose you. Last night…last night was worse than my worst nightmare…”

Giles closed his eyes and drew his arms tightly around her. “But it all turned out for the best.”

Buffy shook her head a little against his cheek. “Y-You were dead…worse than dead. Nothing,” she said, pulling back and looking into his eyes for emphasis, “nothing in my life has ever felt that bad.” Her fingers trembled as they traced his jaw. “I love you, Giles…I can't lose you again.”

“Don't ask me not to watch over you,” he whispered, her words making his heart thump violently. “I could no more do that, than I could cease to breathe.”

Her fingers moved to his lips. “You already do that…you've always done that, even when you're not with me,” she reminded him. A tiny light came back into her eyes. “Besides, you can't argue with me. I'm the Slayer.”

“Is that so?” he chuckled. “Well, Council or no, for better or worse, I'm still your Watcher…so we'll call it a tie.”

“Oh we will, will we?” she replied, sliding her hands down to the top of his ruined shirt, open where the buttons had been torn off, and slipping both inside. A tremor went through her when he shivered and drew a sharp breath. Then she found his heart again, felt its strong, thumping beat.

The memory of that moment, that instant in which she knew he was alive, that she hadn't lost him, was burned into her soul. Only then he had looked at her with such hurt…

Now those same green eyes were filled with love…and more.

She stared into them. “I feel you. Your heart's beating like crazy,” she said very softly. “Is mine…?”

The amusement in the green depths transmuted into an intensity that held her gaze riveted. For a long moment he was frozen. Then his unsteady fingers reached out very slowly, and carefully undid the first three buttons on her blouse, their touch sending tremors of electricity through her. Finally, he rested them against her heart. After several more unbearably tense moments he nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Frantically,” he whispered. “Buffy—”

She leaned up then and kissed the beautifully cut mouth with its sensuously turned up corners.

“Buffy,” he breathed when they finally parted. “This isn't—”

She kissed him again, this time with all the passion, all the desire that burned in her. And then he was kissing her back, unable to deny any longer the need he'd so mercilessly repressed for so long.

When, eventually, they surfaced for air, Giles seemed jubilant, yet almost astonished, and awfully pale, considering how flushed she was.

Buffy frowned and pushed him, unresisting, back onto the bed. When he shifted gingerly to his pillow she crawled into the crook of his arm, leaned her head against his shoulder and kissed his chin. In reply he half turned and drew her into the circle of his arms.

“You okay?” she asked, kissing his chest where the shirt was open.

“Mmm? Fine, in a seasick sort of way,” he murmured wearily, kissing her hair, her brow, and when she finally lifted her head, her mouth again. “It's been rather a rough twenty-four hours.”

She kissed him back. “So maybe between us we can find a way to smooth it out…?” she teased, making him smile.

When he closed his eyes again for a moment, she rested her head in the hollow of his shoulder, only to feel a wave of tiredness wash over her, reminding her how little sleep she'd had.


*******

Spike let himself in and threw his steaming duster on the breakfast counter. Everything was silent. *Bloody hell…if he'd made the trip for nothing…*

In actual fact he wasn't quite sure why he'd made the trip, except that he was bored… well more than bored…and if there was one thing he really hated, it was being in on a story and not knowing how it finished. Bad enough when it was one of his soaps, but today…

He looked in the kitchen, the bathroom, outside the back door, onto the terrace, before coming back in and going to the refrigerator. There wasn't much in it, but he could always count on Giles for a decent beer…

With that he finally climbed the stairs. Not because he thought anyone would be asleep at that hour of the day, but because Giles had looked none to good when he left him, and probably needed a good lie down until his blood volume returned to somewhere near normal.

When he reached the landing, he peered into the loft and almost choked on his beer. The Watcher was resting all right. He was fast asleep, as was his Slayer, in his arms, all wound together as though they couldn't bear to let each other go, even in sleep.

A slow smile spread across his face. Better even than Passions…his smile widened. *Hadn't he told the little cow what for last night? Why, he was probably the one who got them together*. He took another swig of beer and watched them for a moment longer. It was going to be well worth hanging about for the next few days at least…just to watch it hit the fan when all the others found out. His smile stretched into a grin and he chuckled softly to himself. Joyce was going to go spare…

When Buffy shifted slightly in her sleep they seemed to curl even closer, reminding him of other times, better days. His nostrils pinched and the amusement drained away. *He really was getting soft…*

Dark eyes and dark hair floated in his vision, and he knew the truth was he'd always been soft…or a least one small corner of him had.

With one last look at the sleeping pair, and a frown when he suddenly realised that both of them still being dressed spoiled his fun, rather, he turned and went back down to the kitchen.

Joyce might well go spare, but in a strange kind of way it made sense, the way he and Dru made sense. The two of them were destined to be together. Even he could see that Giles had never stopped being her Watcher, never would, while she still lived....

“Could have helped you there, mate,” he muttered, opening another beer, “if I didn't have this thing in my bloody head.”

********

“Did you hear something?”

Giles shifted slightly, opened his eyes and looked down. A combination of joy and terror overwhelmed him.

“Buffy…is…is everything…?” he managed helplessly.

She looked up into his worried face and grinned, her face framed by her rumpled golden hair. “Perfect,” she said softly and touched his clenched jaw. “I think maybe we fell asleep.”

At that he seemed to relax a little. “You heard something?” he croaked.

She frowned. “I think so. It took me a while to wake up, but something disturbed me. Maybe it was just my Slayer-senses, or a bad dream…but I think I'd better go look around.”

“We,” he corrected. “We will go and look around.”

“But—”

The green eyes flashed dangerously.

“Okay, we,” Buffy conceded, knowing she couldn't win short of knocking him out again, and that just wasn't an option any more…

Giles cocked an ear. “Downstairs,” he growled.

She nodded and went ahead, looking as rumpled and 'slept in' as he did, but stopped dead at the bottom. Giles joined her.

“What the bloody hell?”

Spike looked over the settee as they stormed towards it. “Finished shagging, have we?”

“What are you doing here?” Giles roared.

“And how long have you been here?” Buffy added with alarm.

Spike smirked. “Not that long…had you worried, didn't I? What am I doing? Claiming my reward for saving your bloody life. I've had bugger all thanks from you lot.”

Giles sighed. “He's got a point.”

“Giles!”

“Well he has. He did put himself at considerable risk to save me from Adam's henchmen.”

“Yeah, Slayer. Listen to your paramour.”

“You're just asking for it,” Buffy growled. “And he's…he's…” She turned to Giles and smiled, letting herself fall into the beautiful, soft green of his eyes. “He's not a para-whatsit…he's the man I love.”

“Oh yeah, what happened to GI bloody Joe?” Spike growled.

“Who…?” Buffy asked absently then saw Giles' eyes dance with amusement. Hers widened and she wheeled back to the vampire. “That's none of your business!”

Spike's gaze flicked to Giles. “Looks like you're in, mate,” he drawled, amused.

Giles stifled a grin, lest Buffy see it. “In light of your rather…invaluable…help today, you can stay here tonight…and use the television set, but tomorrow you're on your own, understood?”

Spike took another swig of beer. “Very noble of you, Squire, but I'm the one holding the aces here. I'm sure Joyce just can't wait to congratulate the two of you on your… uh… union.” He snickered and Giles restrained Buffy from lunging at him.

Instead he stepped forward, unplugged the television set.

“Oy!” Spike yelled. “What do you think you're doing?”

Giles looked down his nose. “Cleaning out the refuse,” he drawled and hauled the vampire up by his collar.

“I'll tell 'er, you'll see,” he yowled.

“You'll tell her nothing,” Giles told him through his teeth. “Because there isn't anything to tell…and if you do I'll make bloody Adam look like a choir boy by comparison.”

Spike made a disparaging face. “Oh, big scary Watcher,” he drawled.

“Oh you are so gonna get it, Spike,” Buffy said, behind them, amused.

“Wouldn't mind if you were going to give it to me, Slayer,” he leered, only to be yanked off his feet by Giles, who dragged him to the front door and flung him through it, so that he landed on his back, Buffy sending his duster sailing after him. It was followed by half a bottle of beer, which hit him square in the chest as he sat up…upside down…and ran into his pants before he could stop it.

“Owww…bloody hell!” he yowled, shaking out the moisture then scrambling when he started to smoke, snatching up his duster and covering himself clumsily.

“After everything I've done for you two! Ungrateful, sodding pair! I hope you forgot your bleedin' rubber, Watcher. Serve you right!”

Giles watched with a flinty eye as the vampire disappeared from view. When he was gone he kicked the door closed and turned sheepishly to Buffy.

She shook her head before he got his mouth open. “It's okay. Just Spike being Spike…and I guess he did save your life.”

“For which I was willing to show my gratitude…smarmy little pissant.”

Buffy grinned. “Hey, what happened to that Oxford vocabulary of yours?”

“Packed away under three years of relentless corruption from this side of the Atlantic.”

“Had to happen sooner or later, I guess. Hey…hungry?”

Giles paused for a moment then frowned. “Good lord…I think starving would be a better word for it.” He put a hand to his temple and winced as he made contact with the now technicoloured bruise. “I seem to have overcome the worst effects of the blow and the blood-loss rather nicely, though.”

Buffy couldn't help stepping towards him again. “Looking good, big guy,” she agreed, wanting to touch him…to hold him again, but unsure of him, of everything. Her body language, however, spoke for itself.

Giles reached out and caressed her cheek, surprised by his own reaction when she rubbed her face against his fingertips rather like a cat and closed her eyes.

“Hello,” he said softly.

“Hi, yourself,” she breathed and let herself slip into his arms, shivering at the intensity of her response to his nearness, his warmth. After a beat her racing pulse started to slow and the comfort of his strength began to relax her. She turned her face into the bare skin where his shirt was open and breathed in the warm, male scent of him.

Giles closed his eyes, her nearness, her face, and her breath against his skin almost more than his senses could cope with. Never had he loved anything the way he loved her…never had he the patience before to wait, as he had waited for her…to grow up, to love him…to need him the same way he needed her…

She smiled. “I liked 'sleeping' with you,” she said mischievously and heard both his rough intake of breath and the noise Willow always claimed he made when he was annoyed or flustered about something. Her smiled widened as his arms tightened.

“I liked 'sleeping' with you too,” he managed after a beat. “Even if I did actually sleep through most…well, all of it.”

Buffy pulled back and looked up at him. “It's not a dream is it? Us…I mean…what I feel…in here…?” She took his hand and placed it against her chest again, between her breasts. “You feel it too?”

“Every bit as much as you, love,” he breathed, trying to contain his body's reaction to the warm silkiness beneath his fingers. “And it's not a dream…unless…”

“It's not a dream,” she said quickly. “I love you, Giles. Not just for today…but for yesterday, today and tomorrow…I don't know exactly when it started…and I know it will never end…but I can't remember a time when you weren't one of the most important things in my life.”

His eyes challenged her, reminding her of all that had passed through both their lives in the last three years.

Buffy held his gaze. “Wanting and loving aren't always the same thing. I wanted Angel for a long time, but I've never truly had him.” She frowned. “I think I just borrowed him for a while…or something…from whatever it was that brought him back. He was never truly meant for me…”

He waited.

She reached up and touched his face. “All…all that time, even when he was hurting me, when I was hurting you, you were there. You've always been there, Giles…when it hurt, when it was scary, when I needed someone…”

“And…Riley…?” he asked doubtfully.

Buffy sighed. “Riley was my answer to the pain…after Angel, and then Parker…I needed to prove something to myself…and I needed to find something… someone I could love…who wouldn't hurt me…”

Giles tensed. “I could never hurt you.”

Her eyes came back to his. “You've always been able to hurt me; more even than Angel…maybe more than anyone. You did once…”

He looked away, the memories of that time still unbearable.

“Don't,” she said softly. “It's done with, past…” Her expression grew bleak and she struggled not to look away, herself. “And the truth is I've hurt you a thousand times… before and since.”

He wouldn't look back. “Regardless, it was the worst mistake I ever made, tradition be damned. You must believe me, Buffy. Since I came here nothing has been more important to me than you, nothing…It was just…I had spent my whole life believing in the Council…or at least in the calling, itself…”

She shook her head and made herself face her own looming ghosts.

“I'll see your worst mistake and raise you Angelus, Miss Calendar, Kendra,” she looked directly at his half-turned profile, “torture…” and swallowed, “Los Angeles, Angel's return, the Mayor's Assistant …Parker…should I keep going?”

He finally turned back and looked searchingly at her, shook his head and warmed at her slow, tentative smile.

“I fold,” he said softly, and drew her into his arms as she stepped toward him, closed them lovingly around her as she returned the embrace with ferocity.

Moments later the door rattled and opened.

“Uh…guys,” Xander's voice stammered.

Giles and Buffy parted, colour high, but otherwise remarkably composed.

“Hi guys.”

“You're feeling better?” Willow asked Giles, wide eyed.

He nodded. “A long sleep has done me the world of good…not that I'll be ready to run a marathon any time soon, however,” he added and touched his bruised temple.

Xander cleared his throat. “Does one dare ask what happened to you two? You look like somebody slept in you.” Willow elbowed him. “Well they do,” he added, rubbing his ribs.

Buffy shrugged. “Long story, but the short version is: we fell asleep...” Her eyes widened and she looked down at her half open top then at Giles' damaged shirt and hastily buttoned the blouse.

“Asleep. Right,” Xander drawled, then caught sight of the scowl on Giles' face.

“Um…something is going on, right?” Willow asked tentatively. “Something we should know about?”

Buffy and Giles looked at each other. “Yes,” Buffy said simply.

Giles smiled at her. “Yes,” he agreed.

“Oh.”

Xander frowned, looking from one to the other, then to Willow and the expression on her face. His eyes widened and his mouth moved into an 'O' shape.

“Oh…oh, God…who…when…how? I think I need to sit down…”

Buffy and Giles turned almost simultaneously. “I think you can answer almost all those questions for yourself,” Giles said quietly.

Xander collected himself. “Sure I can…but c'mon, Giles…you and…what about Olivia…and Buffy and soldier boy…not to mention Buffy not exactly noticing you even existed there for a big long while…no offence, Buff.”

Buffy scowled. “It's not like it was personal. Like did I notice that any of you existed there for a while?” she pointed out uncomfortably.

Xander opened his mouth and raised a finger to make a point, then stopped. “Well, actually, no,” he said instead. “You did kinda share the joy around…me, Giles, Willow…I'm guessing your mom…And it was kinda horrible the way you dumped Giles for the bitch-monster from hell and the rest of us for Action Man and his bud— ”

Buffy's frowned deepened. “You better quit while you're ahead,” she muttered ominously.

He swallowed. “Quitting now.”

“Yeah. We're going now,” Willow said, looking pointedly at Xander as she took hold of his arm, then from Giles to Buffy's drawn face. “Are you guys really okay?”

Giles nodded. “Better than either of us has been in a very long time. Thank you, Willow.”

Willow half-smiled, obviously self-conscious, and let her glance shift to her friend.

Buffy smiled back, two licks of colour coming into her cheeks. “We're fine,” she agreed. “Who knew you were right all this time about actually talking, Will?”

Willow's grinned widened. “You guys actually talked?

Giles cleared his throat.

“Oh, right, sure,” Willow jumped. “Bye Giles. Later, Buffy,” she added meaningfully before dragging the still stunned Xander backwards out the door.

Giles locked it the moment it closed. “Why do I have the impression that I am going to be the inevitable topic of giggling female conversation at some future point?

“Stuffy,” Buffy teased. “And besides, how do you know you haven't been before…lots of times?”

Giles glared, then spluttered when he realised she was serious. “What in God's name could the two of you have had to talk about?”

Buffy grinned. “In the early days it was mostly about how you needed a girlfriend and what you'd look like out of the tweed. Once we even talked about what kind of a kisser you were…and then there was Ethan…”

“I get the picture,” Giles muttered. “Though why on earth the two of you would be interested in my…um…kissing ability…”

“You're a guy, Giles…and in a way more guy way than Xander, or any of the boys back in high school. We saw you kissing Miss Calendar and even though it was majorly eiew at the time, it raised a few questions.”

“You saw…?”

She nodded. “In the library. Willow thought you were pretty good, and I uh…well, I kind of, well…I mean I wasn't exactly having the best week anyway…what with Ted and everything…I thought it was…well, just ick.”

He put his hands on his hips. “Oh you did, did you?”

“Well, yeah,” she admitted and walked up to him. “But I wasn't exactly ready to appreciate…things…back then. Too much going on…too much really not wanting to be the Slayer, too much consorting with a certain vampire who shall remain nameless…” Her hands slid up his chest and her arms curled around his neck. “I wasn't looking…then. I only knew I couldn't do any of it without you, that the thought of losing you…after… Miss Calendar…didn't just make me angry…it scared me to death.... ”

He ran a large hand up her back as she fitted her body against his. “And now?” he whispered, still needing to be sure of her.

“And now I need you more than ever…”

He tensed, his face suddenly shuttered again. “*You need me*?”

She nodded. “To want me as much as I want you.”

He let her go again. “Want you?” he said roughly, both their gazes arriving at the same place at the same time. He snorted and looked up at her again. “Of course I want you. The question is: what do you *really* want? I can't remember the last time you truly needed…*or wanted*…me, for anything. Buffy, this isn't a game, and I'm not a lovesick college boy you can pick up and discard at whim.”

She stared, her blue eyes growing very wide and glistening with rage and hurt.

It was all he could do not to waver, but he had to know…

“I was wrong,” she said slowly, almost harshly, wanting to lash out, but unable to find it in herself to hurt him again. “*I don't need you any more.* You taught me that when I started college, didn't you? This isn't about needing at all. It's about loving someone… about discovering that you can love someone so much it hurts…and still not let yourself see it until it's right in front of you.”

Giles' eyes grew very bright as they stared back at her but he didn't speak.

“I want you, Rupert,” she whispered, her voice trembling as his name passed her lips for the first time. “I want to make love to you, to hold you and to be with you…I feel it, I know it and I want it with every fibre of my being. Nothing…No one else…matters.” She touched his face. “I think maybe it never did…”

The silence stretched between them.

“Giles…?” she pleaded.

He made a noise in his throat and opened his arms, catching and enveloping her as she flew into them. For a long time they didn't need words but when, at length, they finally did part, it was only to look at each other.

Giles used his fingertips to brush the golden hair back from her brow. “I have loved you,” he whispered, “since the first time I saw you. And I have wanted you from the first moment I saw you walk onto that dance floor, last year. You were so very beautiful…so very much mine…and yet still not. There was nothing I could do…”

Buffy's face lit up and her eyes glowed with contentment. “Things change,” she whispered and let her hand trail down the inside of his thigh, “and there are lots of things you can do now…”

His eyes flashed with amusement, even as a responding tremor rippled through him.

“God, yes,” he chuckled and suddenly swept her off her feet, “and since I'm feeling so much better I think I'll start with this.”

“Good choice,” Buffy agreed, sliding her arms around his neck as he started to climb the stairs, and tucking her golden head in under his chin. “I bet I'm going to like the rest even more.”

Above her head Giles grinned contentedly, taking the last of the stairs by twos. “I certainly hope so,” he said softly.

“Because I intend to spend the rest of my life finding out…”



* * *