Beyond Forever | Part Two

Buffy slid down the crypt wall breathing hard and trying not to think about the bruises she was going to have until Slayer healing kicked in. The demon had frightened her with both its power and its relentlessness. All the known forces of darkness were into the idea of killing the Slayer, but this creature had been on almost, like a crusade or something. She didn't understand the language it used either, or why it felt the need to chant at her before it tried to slice her open from throat to navel.

The chanting had been as unnerving and scary as the surprise attack itself. Its very alien-ness had frightened her, even repelled her, as it breathed its strange breath, spat its strange words at her and used its better than superhuman strength to almost kill her.

She'd let herself get distracted. All she could think about was Giles, alone, at home… about why he'd pushed her away and how she was going to live without him. The huge olive and grey creature had surprised her, knocking her to the ground before she had a chance to focus and almost gutting her with razor sharp talons, in the midst of its yowling chant.

Only quick thinking and a handful of soil from the rose garden the creature had knocked her into, had saved her. She was going to have nightmares about those gleaming ivory talons with their razor sharp edges and black tips…

While it was still blinded she'd finished it, driving Mister Pointy through its heart to make certain. To her surprise it vanished on point of death, a good in so far as not having to call Xander to bring shovels, but a definite bad in terms of breaking with expected demon behaviour.

Demons didn't normally de-materialize at the point of death. In fact demons were usually annoyingly inconvenient, their corpses stubbornly remaining and requiring clean up detail, usually provided these days by the Initiative, or by herself and Xander, though in the past it had often been Giles and Xander, or all three of them, working to dispose of the evidence before daybreak, protecting the rest of the world from the horrors of the night.

Buffy shifted, her whole body aching from the beating the creature had given her. Creepy thing it had been…definite nightmare material…a cross between momma Alien and some kind of muscle-bound monster action toy, its flesh like damp slithery leather and a mouth full of terrifyingly long, needle-like teeth.

She shivered. Language was the last thing she would have expected but its lisping, hissing chant still rang in her ears. It unnerved her. Normally she'd have gone straight to Giles and asked him to identify it. She closed her eyes. Yeah, identify it, and make it all right; he always made it all right, no matter how bad things were…but not any more…

Buffy put her head back, her eyes squeezed shut, unable to control the surge of grief that seized her, crushing her whole body like a vice, or the sobs that followed. For days, since Giles had sent her away, she'd been functioning on automatic, trying not to think, not to feel, anything. And now she couldn't stop...

It was some time before she was able to draw a steady breath and form cohesive thoughts. Her first one was about the demon. About telling Giles about the demon…

Her fists clenched and she pushed herself up the wall until she was standing. She had to know what it was, and why it was so intent on killing her…and whether it had any friends…

*******

“I'm sorry, Buffy. I don't have that many books, and my database isn't very big yet. It's hard work, with classes and study and everything, transcribing from Giles's books. It's not like I can just scan all the text into my laptop. Do you know how much space that would take up? The book has to be read and all the important details typed into the database.”

Buffy didn't speak for a moment. “Okay…what do I do? Try the public library? Call Los Angeles?”

“Well, there's still Giles,” Willow said quietly. “I guess I could go over there and research. I'm sure he'd understand…”

The Slayer closed her eyes, an almost undiscernible tremor going through her. “Good idea,” she said bleakly. “I've got to know what's going on, Will, but I can't…”

“I know,” Willow said softly.

The apartment was locked and there was no answer when she knocked. Willow went around the back and retrieved the spare key from its hiding place.

There were no lights on. Willow wondered if Giles was asleep. She certainly wished she was, but Buffy needed the information and Giles was a known night owl. His bed was, predictably, unslept in. The kettle was cold and nothing else was out of place in the kitchen either. That left the bathroom. There was no light under the door.

She tapped on it.

“What the hell…?” a muffled voice growled back.

Willow frowned. He sounded...weird.

“Giles, it's me. Are you okay?”

“What in God's name are you doing here at this time of night?”

“Research,” she shot back, hoping it might amuse him enough to take the edge out of his voice. “Giles, is everything okay?”

For a long moment there was only silence. “N-not exactly,” he said finally.

Willow forgot any concerns she had about what exactly she might have interrupted and opened the door. It was just as dark inside. She turned on the light.

Giles was wearing only his navy blue silk pyjama bottoms, sitting on the toilet, with its cover down, holding a bottle of pills.

She crossed to him swiftly, her hand automatically going to his shoulder. He covered it with his free one.

“My head,” he explained softly, his face drawn and his mouth pinched with pain. “But I can't read the bloody labels and I have so many bottles…”

“They didn't give you any new stuff?”

He sighed. “I was supposed to get a script filled. I…forgot.”

Willow's hand tightened. “Oh, Giles,” she said and took the bottle. “Good thing you didn't take these.” Her eyes continued to scan the label. “Wow, these are heavy. I don't remember you having to take sleeping pills before…?”

He didn't answer.

“Sorry,” she said softly. “I-I didn't mean to pry.”

Giles sighed heavily and stood up. “It was a long time ago. I should have thrown them away. As you can see I barely touched them anyway. I…I had too much to do to spend that summer in a drug induced stupor.”

Willow frowned. It took a moment, then a look of terrible sadness passed across the urchin features. She knew exactly which summer. He should have taken the pills… She went to the medicine cabinet and replaced the sleeping pills before choosing another bottle.

“Would some tea help?” she asked, taking his elbow.

A flicker of a smile lit his face for a fraction of a second. “It couldn't hurt,” he replied, real fondness in his voice.

They shared the tray in silence, Willow impressed with Giles's unsighted dexterity and quiet determination to keep things as normal as possible. She filled him in on the details of Buffy's demon and answered all his questions about how she was, and whether or not she was coping.

“This is crazy,” she said abruptly, in the middle of a sentence. “She's miserable without you. You're miserable without her. It's so wrong, Giles.”

His expression hardened. “It's none of your concern, Willow. Nothing has changed and I don't wish to talk about it any more.”

Willow blew out an annoyed breath, but resisted the urge to argue back. He was already hurting enough and it was obvious that his head really was bad. “I need to know what books to look in, or I could be here all night,” she muttered, hoping the pills wouldn't take too long to kick in.

Giles frowned for a moment then his annoyance melted away and he sagged.

“Hoffrichter's Diary; my new Guttenberg; the Black Chronicles, of course, and Lethbridge's Revised Index. The…um…fifth edition…it has more entries.”

He heard Willow get up and the sound of her footsteps as she went to find the volumes in question.

“Willow,” he called after her. “Where is Buffy now?”

“She went back out to make sure there weren't any more of them,” she said over her shoulder, pulling a large dusty volume down from a high shelf. “Riley's guys are out celebrating a twenty-first birthday. I mean, it's been pretty quiet, but until we know what we're dealing with…”

“Somebody has to monitor the situation,” Giles finished.

“Exactly,” Willow said darkly, stacking two more books on her pile and jumping as he barked a particularly vivid obscenity.

“I haven't heard you use that one before,” she pointed out dryly.

He was silent for a moment. “Sorry,” he said finally. “It's just…”

“Worry, frustration…fear?” she offered, heading for the bookcase on the landing.

“Something like that.”

A couple of minutes later she was back. He heard the thump of the pile of volumes on the coffee table and the corresponding rattle of the cups and spoons on their tea tray.

“Found everything?”

“All of them,” she confirmed and pulled a face. “Now for the fun part.”

It took over two hours for her to find something.

“Which book?” Giles asked immediately, emerging from the kitchen with another mug of tea, his head considerably clearer since the pills had kicked in.

“The Index,” she said absently. “It looks like these things are like the hit men of the demon world. They're called Fara-Raptors.”

“Fara-Raptors,” Giles repeated, picking his way gingerly back to her with his drink. “They're relentless, and vicious, but without subtlety. Their intelligence is limited. They were bred to hunt down and kill targets…without remorse, without faltering.”

“The claws Buffy mentioned…is that the raptor part?”

He nodded, allowing Willow to guide him to his chair. “And Fara…frighten, in Old High German.”

“They did sound kind of scary.”

“Indeed. And now someone is apparently sending them after Buffy.”

“Adam?”

Giles frowned. “Possible…but unlikely. We know he's using vampires. Why the sudden urgency?”

“Spike, then?”

He shook his head. “Spike has reserved that privilege for himself, should he ever free himself of his chip. Damn it, Willow, I can't just sit here…”

“Sure you can,” she said softly. “You—we all…have had a lot of practice.”

He snorted. “How does it say we kill them?”

Willow was silent for a moment, probably reading.

“They have poison,” her gentle voice said with a tremor. “That's why the claws have black tips. And you can only kill them if you recite an incantation before you cut off their heads.”

Giles' face screwed up in frustration. “Does it say why?” Silence again…and then pages rustling.

“Oh…um, it looks like they're kind of protected. Some big demon guy a long time ago put some kind of protection spell on them to make it almost impossible to stop them from carrying out their, um…assignments…but…”

“But what?” Giles demanded, frustrated at not being able to see her face.

“But Buffy already killed one.”

“Obviously the Slayer doesn't need incantations…only we mere mortals—”

“And maybe other mere demons and stuff,” Willow added dryly.

“Indeed,” Giles agreed. “Keep checking any references to Fara-Raptors. I want to know exactly why Buffy was able to kill that creature without the incantation.”

“There's nothing,” Willow announced an hour and a half later. “As far as all the texts are concerned these demons can't be killed unless the spell is lifted, Slayer or no Slayer. Funny thing is, I can't find a reference to them disappearing when they're killed, either.”

“What did you say?”

“Buffy said it went poof when she staked it,” Willow explained.

“Why didn't you tell me this earlier?” he demanded irritably.

“I didn't think it was important at the time…a-at least not until we found out what it was.”

“Demons don't go 'poof,'” Giles muttered. “Buffy shouldn't be out there alone until we find out exactly what the devil is going on.” He stood up and grimaced, making a strangled growling noise in his throat that spoke of frustration and impatience. “Bugger it!' he snapped.

“What? The demon?” Willow asked automatically then turned bright red. “Or…not. Maybe it's not really a Fara-Raptor demon…just something that's been made to look like one?” she offered sheepishly.

Giles half-turned, as though he wanted to look at her then wiped a harried hand over his face. “A possibility, though I think from the description that it is most certainly a Fara-Raptor, but equally as certainly not a standard issue one.” After a beat he sighed and sat down again. “Tell me again exactly what happened in the fight right up to the point at which the bloody thing went 'poof.'”

Willow recounted every detail Buffy had given her.

“…So it was blinded before she killed it?”

“Temporarily anyway. And staking isn't exactly decapitation,” Willow pointed out.

He grunted. “A lot of demons can be killed by piercing the heart. The issue at hand is how Buffy was able to kill it without breaking the protection spell first, and I rather think that throwing dirt in its face isn't quite enough to do the trick, either.”

Willow shrugged. “Maybe this Fara-raptor didn't get um…cursed? Whatever…”

Giles' head came up. “It's possible. Just because a centuries old book records a spell being cast over its antecedents doesn't mean this particular demon was one of them.”

Willow brightened. “You're right. The book only says that the demon lord Ru'altha had his best mage cast a protection spell on the Fara-Raptors he sent to kill his enemies. It might not have meant all Fara-Raptors…O-or it might not apply to any descendants of the sixteenth century versions…”

“Doesn't tell us why it went p…vanished, though.”

“Well, no. That part is totally weird,” she agreed. “The only things we know that go 'poof' when they're staked are vampires, and it definitely wasn't a vamp. And Buffy said its voice…oh.”

“Oh, what?” Giles demanded when she didn't continue.

“Oh…I forgot something else,” she said reluctantly. “Sorry, Giles.”

He sighed. “Well, let's have it.”

“Buffy said it chanted…like an incantation or something, before it tried to rip her guts out.”

Giles grimaced. “Glorious visual imagery,” he drawled. “But a not-so-bright demon possibly performing some kind of spell or ritual before a kill…stranger and stranger. It could be the key to this whole mystery.”


********

“How is he?”

Willow removed the toothbrush from her mouth for the third time. “He's coping. He's getting good at moving around the house without running into things, and he can make tea…”

“Will…!”

“Okay. Not too good. He misses you Buffy…and he's getting headaches. He's going to need someone soon, though. I mean, we made sure everything was stocked up, and he can have most anything he wants delivered…but like, last night, he can't read his pill bottles …he can't read at all…or even watch TV, now.”

Buffy looked into the mirror, her thinning face and the dark circles under her eyes making her look almost plain for the first time since Willow could remember.

“He's gonna hate it, Will. That brain of his will go nuts with nothing to do but drink tea or listen to old records…”

“Buffy, why don't you—?”

“No,” Buffy said swiftly. “I…I can't. And I know him. He's so noble even if I did go and see him he wouldn't back down. He thinks he's doing the right thing and there's nothing worse than a righteous Watcher.”

“He loves you so much,” Willow sighed.

Buffy closed her eyes. “Maybe even as much as I love him,” she whispered. “Is there something wrong with me, Will? Or maybe even Giles? Are the two of us allergic to the major happies or what? Every time either of us finds any real…joy…in our lives, bam! Badness happens.”

Willow looked away uncomfortably. “Did you see anything when you went back out last night?”

Buffy exhaled and opened her eyes again. “Nothing. Our very unattractive friend seems to have been working alone. Not that I think that'll last long when whoever sent it finds out that it's dust.”

“Giles thinks the chant might be the key. Do you remember any words…anything?”

Buffy frowned. “Some. I'm not good with that stuff, but Giles can usually translate me anyway. It repeated the same three or four lines so many times in that weird voice that I can still remember part of it. I think maybe it was whatever that was…you know…like when Giles was yelling at that demon that time my mom tried to burn us at the stake.”

“German,” Willow supplied. “I didn't take German at all, and I've kinda been concentrating on more interesting and romantic languages in my spare time…y'know, for the Wicca stuff and all. You may have to at least talk to Giles on the phone so he can translate whatever you can remember.”

Hurt creased Buffy's face. “I can't. I can't hear his voice and not be able to touch him, see him…”

“Then we go and see him right after Psych. There's no other choice, Buffy,” Willow announced, seizing on the tiny opportunity, and praying that some good would come of it.

Buffy rolled her eyes at her friend, exhaled heavily, jammed her own toothbrush back into her mouth again and began scrubbing with excessive vigour.

*******

It was a brilliant afternoon, beautiful sunshine, light breeze, perfect for their walk to the apartment from the bus stop in town.

This time the door wasn't locked. Willow pushed it open and stepped inside. Giles was singing, sitting in his favourite chair, his fingers wandering through a meandering, but romantic tune on the old guitar. Behind her, Buffy's already wan face lost more colour.

“Hi Giles,” the redhead called, to announce her arrival when he came to the end of it.

“Hello Willow,” he replied without missing a beat, looked up and frowned. “Don't forget to close the door. “Any news?”

“What was that you were playing?”

“Just doodling, really,” he said self-consciously. “Not a lot to do at the moment…or at least not a lot one can do.” His tone was light but Willow could feel the tension in him.

“Giles, we need your help.”

“We? Xander is here?”

“Um, no. I-I talked to Buffy about what we found out about the demon. It looks like the spell was in German.”

“German? Well, yes that would make sense…except that the chances of Buffy remembering anything intelligible of its…”

“Uh…Giles,” Willow interrupted. “She's here.”

Giles came to his feet in one movement almost dropping his guitar in the process. “Why didn't you…Buffy?

Buffy pushed the door wide open, flooding the darkened room with light, then closed it behind her.

“Here,” she said quietly. “I'm sorry to bother you, but Will thought it was important.”

“In…indeed,” he managed. “You do remember some of the incantation?”

Buffy nodded without realising what she was doing.

Giles seemed to know, and nodded in return. “Just do your best and I'll try and extrapolate anything you might er…mispronounce.”

Of the three sentences Buffy managed to repeat, irreparably massacring the German language in the process, Giles found about sixty percent intelligible enough to translate. While she was speaking he'd seated himself again, as though he didn't have the energy or the will to continue standing.

“It must have wanted you to kill it, Buffy,” Willow exclaimed when Giles had finished his translation.

“I believe so,” he agreed tightly. “The incantation was almost certainly to remove the protection spell.”

Buffy looked from one to the other. “I don't understand,” she said quietly, watching the handsome face, noting every line of sleeplessness, of strain, every etched groove of pain, trying not think about how angry she was with him, or much she wanted to be in those arms, how much she wanted to just feel him…to just love him again…

“It was going to gut me. No question. It was going to kill me. It was not a happy demon and it was not trying to be my friend.”

“Oh, I don't doubt it,” Giles said thoughtfully, “but for whatever reason our Fara-Raptor renounced its allegiance to whomever commissioned it to kill you by essentially sacrificing itself.”

“And I just killed it. How totally Faith of me,” Buffy said bitterly.

Giles' head came up. “Don't ever say that. There was no possible way you could know, love. It made its own choice. Let it go.”

But Buffy only heard one word. Willow looked from one to the other before silently withdrawing to the door and going out to the terrace as Buffy took a few unconscious steps towards the man she loved.

“How's the head?” she asked as casually as she could manage.

“Troublesome,” he said ruefully, though his clenched fists betrayed the piano-wire tension in his entire body. “As head injuries are wont to be.”

“You haven't got anyone in to help, yet?”

He shook the handsome head. “Can't bear the thought of anyone…strangers…” He stopped.

Buffy bit her lip. “There's Will…or Xander. Even Olivia…”

For a beat he just stared into the darkness, then closed his eyes, well aware what it would have cost her to say that.

Buffy, however, interpreted the body language in a different way. “Okay, not Olivia,” she went on, trying to be upbeat. “What about my mom? You guys were sort of friends…she could call after work, help—”

“No!” he said vehemently then forced himself to relax, his hands feeling for, and finding, his guitar again. “Thank you, but I can cope for the most part on my own. There are avenues I have yet to even explore…let it go.”

“I can't,” Buffy managed, struggling to control the emotion rising from the depths of her being. “I love you so much…I want to be with you so much…” Her voice trembled. “Why won't you let me be with you? Why does it always have to be like this? Can't anyone just love me…? What did I do that was so terrible that I have to keep being punished—?”

Giles rose again, leaving the guitar on the seat. “Buffy, don't. It has nothing to do with anything you've done. You're not being punished. I…I can't offer you a future…I can't even offer you…”

“I don't want to hear it,” she cut him off. “I've heard the whole damned speech before. First Angel. Now you. I don't care about the future. I don't care about any of it. The only future I want is with you. So just…don't,” she sobbed, not noticing that Giles had paled by several degrees or the horrified look of revelation on his face. “We both know I don't have a real future, no matter how much we play that game…you've always known…so why? Are you afraid of what I am? Is five years so much to ask?” Tears streaked the too-thin face. “I mean, you never know how many bonus ones we might get…God, I might even set records and make it to the big three-o!”

When only silence answered her, Buffy stopped yelling and focused on Giles. His eyes were closed again, his head bowed.

“Don't you have anything to say?” she demanded.

“I…I'm sorry,” he said finally, without moving.

Buffy stared in disbelief that he could be dismissing her again. “Then I should go,” she told him, achingly disappointed, and started to turn.

“I'm sorry,” he repeated, the tremor in his voice almost more than she could bear.

She froze, but didn't turn back. “Sorry doesn't help much,” she said. A moment later, she heard a long, jagged sigh and her shoulders dropped. Then she started to move again.

As the front door creaked open something deep inside Giles began to tear itself apart.

“Buffy…!” he called, unable to stop himself.

She turned, barely able to see him for the moisture in her eyes, but grasping at one last excuse to do so. He was standing still, but every part of him screamed his need to stride across the room.

“Didn't you…?” He cleared his throat, forced himself to at least try and get the words out. “Didn't you miss me, love? Even…even just a little?”

A tormented sound was torn from her then she was across the room in seconds, off the ground, her arms flung around his neck, his clamping her to him convulsively.

“My love,” he moaned, his arms shaking with the strength of his feelings.

Buffy couldn't answer for the moment, too overwhelmed to do anything but press her face into his neck, and to hold on as though she might be ripped away at any moment. Then she was drawing her head back and finding his lips, their kiss as desperate as their embrace.

Giles could barely think, his heart was beating so fast, his stomach so tight with fear and hope, dread and joy. He was being selfish. He knew it, but he didn't care. To hold her, to breathe her, to love her, even for just a few moments, was a temptation against which he'd been lost before he started.

Their mouths lingered, lips reluctant to surrender their prize, as though afraid to be parted again, until a pain lanced through Giles' head and he allowed Buffy to slide back down to her feet.

The blue eyes searched his face, alarmed. “What is it? Tell me!”

He felt for, and found her cheek. “It's all right…just my head. I've been having headaches. This one is just a little bit sudden, that's all.”

“Oh,” Buffy said, not sure if he was really all right or not. “You don't look so great.” She frowned, unsettled but just realising something. “Where'd Will go?

“Outside,” Giles said instinctively and heard Buffy's receding footsteps, then the door opening. A few moments later it closed and she came back.

“She's gone back to the campus. She left a note on the table,” she announced then her eyes suddenly went very wide. “Giles, how did you know where she went?”

“I heard…” He stopped, the soft green pools widening as Buffy's had. “No I saw…My God, I saw the light change in the room…” He frowned in thought. “Yes…and it was confirmed a few moments later by that billow of perfume from Mrs Beckwith's bloody jasmine that accompanies every opening and closing of that door at this time of year.”

Buffy's face lit up. “Giles, you saw?”

He put out a hand as though searching for her. She stepped into it, letting it draw her against him again. “Just a change in light, love…” he said unsteadily, trying not to let himself hope. “Not exactly cause for champagne.”

“Wait,” she exclaimed, and scurried away. Giles heard the excitement in her voice and worried. A moment later she was back.

“Stare straight ahead,” she ordered and hefted his big spelunking flashlight. “What do you see?” she demanded, aiming the powerful beam straight at his face.

He stared for a moment, turned away, then back.

“Light,” he answered, his face a picture of awe, delight and surprise. “Rather like looking at daylight through a heavy veil…hard to explain, but most definitely not the unrelenting darkness I was getting used to…”

His voice trailed off and Buffy looked up at him sharply.

“Do you…do you think…?”

“I'm not going to think about that until I've been examined,” he managed, withdrawn again.

“What?” Buffy demanded.

“Pardon?”

She put her hands on her hips. “You've gone all Watcher on me again. What's wrong?”

“N-Nothing,” he said, and navigated his way to the couch.

“Give, Rupert…”

He half smiled. “I like it when you call me that but it seems…”

“Weird?”

He laughed softly. “Weird,” he agreed. “Giles has somehow become more than my surname, especially…”

“…With us,” she finished. “I know. It's who you are. You're Giles. I like calling you Rupert too, but it's not who you are…at least not to me. To Ethan, and to Olivia, maybe…”

Giles shrugged. “A different lifetime; a very different me. That person wasn't 'Giles' just as I'm not really 'Rupert' any more. I think perhaps Olivia sensed that too.”

“So it wasn't just fear?”

He shook his head. “She's a very astute woman. She knew more than I did, in fact.”

Buffy frowned. “Back up, Mister. You're trying to distract me.”

“It worked,” Giles smirked, though his heart was heavy.

“What's wrong?” she repeated.

He sighed. “I …you have to go.”

Her eyes widened. “Leave? Now? But…”

He nodded. “Buffy, this is just a hiccup. It changes nothing. If this is the best it gets, and you heard that Jorgensen fellow say that the longer it takes the less likely the results will be worthwhile, I can't offer you any more than before.”

“But…” she began miserably. “Couldn't I just…let me stay tonight…Giles, please, couldn't we just worry about the 'now' for once?”

His eyes closed. “No…” he whispered. “Because if you stay, I'm too weak to ever let you go again.”

Buffy came to him, knelt between his open knees, put her arms around his neck. “Then I have to stay, because I never want to leave you again.”

He made a noise in his throat and pulled her into his arms. “You can't,” he said. “Whatever else I know, whatever, however I feel right now, I do know that I cannot…”

Buffy's mouth covered his and ended the speech. After a few moments his mouth softened and moulded to hers, at first tenderly, and then desperately, their kiss igniting like a forest fire, until Giles lifted her away.

“I can't, love,” he whispered. “Please…”

She sagged, and he drew her against him again, this time gently, lovingly and closed his eyes as she clung to him.

“I swear to you, if there's any way to make this right, any way for us to be together, I'll find it,” he promised, his face buried in her hair. “I swear…”


*******

“Let me go in with you.”

“I'm perfectly capable of listening to a doctor prattle on all by myself,” Giles muttered ill temperedly.

“But…won't there be more tests?”

Giles sighed. “Probably. I don't know. I don't have a medical degree. The x-rays and scans they did yesterday may be enough.”

Xander smiled a little, despite his concern for the older man. “I kinda thought you had a degree for everything, especially when I was younger.”

In spite of the tension Giles chuckled. “Could have fooled me.”

Xander turned his uncle's car after their seventh go-round and slid it into the slot that had just become vacant.

“Yeah, well,” he said self-consciously as he slid out of his seat. “Hero worship's pretty uncool as a high school activity.”

Before Giles could react he was around the other side of the vehicle, holding the door but letting the older man get out on his own volition, before extending an elbow.

“Elbow, nine o'clock.”

Giles found it easily and squeezed it meaningfully for a moment, before taking it and walking alongside the younger man to the hospital foyer.

It was over an hour before he emerged from the Specialist's office and Xander jumped up to cross and offer him an arm. He took it with fingers that held on a little too tightly and an expression that was shuttered and way too calm.

Not until they reached the car did Xander dare ask.

“They don't know,” Giles replied tightly.

“The x-rays and stuff?” Xander asked softly.

“Inconclusive. Apparently I must simply wait to see what, if any, improvement there will be.”

“But they like what they see so far, right? Like the light you can see means something…?”

“It means I can see some light,” Giles said irritably. “Start the car, Xander.”

They drove home in silence and Giles allowed Xander to guide him to the door.
When it opened the older man hesitated.

“I'll be fine from here…thank you…Xander.”

“Don't I even get a cookie?” The younger man teased.

The watcher exhaled a long, harried breath, then stepped into his apartment without answering, turned and counted the paces to the bottom of the stairs, put out his left hand and found them, turned again and made his way up them almost as easily as when he had his sight.

A moment later Xander shook his head, stepped into the room, and closed the still open front door behind him. Instead of following his friend, however, he went to the kitchen and filled a kettle, put it on to boil, got out the familiar tray and mugs.

He was sitting on the sofa in the living room when Giles came back down stairs, his suit exchanged for jeans and a sweater.

“In here,” Xander said quietly.

Giles stopped short for a moment, turned slightly and silently counted the paces to the table behind the sofa, found it and edged around to the front of the couch and sat down.

“You're getting pretty good.”

“I promised Buffy I'd try to find a way…” the older man said unexpectedly, trailing off as though regretting vocalizing the thought.

Xander brought Giles' fingers to the handle of the tea mug he was holding and he took it gratefully.

“You will,” he said firmly. “You don't need eyes to love someone.”

“If I could just find a way to continue my research…to help her find out what this creature is…”

“Oh, yeah. It's a major shame the Watcher's council never made any talking books,” Xander cracked, then coloured fiercely when he realized what he'd said. “Sorry,” he added contritely.

“It's all right. I'm not that thin skinned,” Giles chuckled. “Though, actually—”

“Why didn't I think of that before?” the younger man exclaimed, cutting him off, his face alight with his new epiphany. “Giles, we've been researching together for years, right? Why can't we keep doing that? You tell me what you want…which book, which section, which critter…whatever…and I read the text aloud.”

Giles had automatically started shaking his head. “No…” Then he stopped and his brow furrowed. “Actually it could work…”

“Sure it could,” Xander beamed. “I may not be College guy but I am Ace Research guy, you'll see.”

Several hours later they'd found a rhythm and flow in their efforts and Giles had forgotten any misgivings he had about the boy's attention span, articulation or enthusiasm. Xander read aloud without hesitation or stammering, in clear, calm fashion. His reading voice, unlike his social banter, was soothing and pleasant to the ear.

Between the stacks of books and the empty mugs and cookie plates on the coffee table were a growing pile of scratched out notes. It was the one area Xander knew he was going to need Willow for. He did his best to make notes of what Giles wanted written down but they were all going to have to be cleaned up, preferably by Willow and her trusty laptop.

“Xander, the Codex,” Giles said suddenly, halting him in the middle of a sentence.

“What's the matter? You don't like this one? I thought we were just getting to the good bit…you know where they tear the guy's liver out and toast it on sticks like marshmallows…?”

“Oh har, bloody har,” Giles muttered, obviously deep in thought. “Just get the Codex. You just might have found something with that reference to calling up the Deceivers.”

Xander pulled a dusty book from the bottom of one of the piles and watched with dismay as the other seven tumbled onto the floor.

“I did? That was two books ago…I mean…of course I did.”

“Pick them up later,” Giles growled.

Xander, bent, with his hand extended to start scooping them up, froze. “How did you do that?”

“I heard them fall. You bent over as you were speaking. Your voice changed as your diaphragm was squashed.”

“Smart Alec,” Xander retorted fondly. “Where am I going in the Codex, O oracle of knowledge?”

“Index. Let me think…I know…find a reference to the Déciperi.”

For a moment there was silence.

“Oh, here. They're on page…okay…this is the Fourth Prophecy. For those who actually care, its origin was a monastery in southern Europe. And the Déciperi…what is that anyway?”

“A colloquial corruption of the Latin origin of the word deceive,” Giles grunted.

Xander shook his head. “I had to ask. Okay, the Déciperi…or Deceivers, themselves, are supposed to be on…page…here we are…” His face grew grim as he skimmed silently. “Oh, man. Do you want the whole thing or just the salient points?”

“Read,” Giles commanded, “the whole prophecy.”

Xander finished the glass of water he'd been nursing since he'd started reading, and cleared his throat. It took forty minutes without rushing to read through the entire Prophecy. When they were done they both sat back.

“Twelfth century witches and warlocks who were turned into vampires?” Why am I not liking the new direction this mystery is taking?”

Giles ignored him, looking up sightlessly, to speak. “The prophecy states that they will rise again in answer to a call from the dark forces to help them defeat the Slayer,” he quoted.

Xander brightened. “Yeah, sure, but since the prophecy about the Master isn't until chapter eight I kinda thought that made all these other prophecies about whacking the Slayer pretty much redundant…”

Giles snorted. “That's not how it works. These Déciperi also have the power of dark magicks to help them. They convinced an entire village they were being visited by visions from heaven for several months…until over half the people had been killed, eaten or turned.”

“Yeah, well, anyone would start getting suspicious if…” Xander began facetiously only to be silenced by a scowl. “O-kay, shutting up now.”

“They have the ability to alter people's perceptions. The villagers actually saw Bordeaux demons as heavenly visions, and their loved ones ascending to heaven, thanks to the power the Déciperi possess to make them see what they were supposed to see.”

“And Buffy was supposed to see that raptor thing, right?”

Giles nodded.

“Are you saying it was something else entirely? Then why did it sacrifice itself?”

“That was only a surmise on my part, because of its history and what it appeared to be chanting, but Buffy's instincts told her it was definitely trying to kill her. What if it was told to recite that chant in order to entice her into making a mistake? Remember, our Miss Summers is not your average Slayer.”

“Amen to that,” Xander agreed fervently.

“And unlike her predecessors she hasn't the faintest idea what's in most of these volumes. A Slayer is supposed to be trained and versed in Slayer lore, including…” he waved a large hand in the vague direction of the books, “all of this.”

“So they were trying to get her to believe she was fighting a suicidal Fara-raptor, so she'd get sloppy and then…bam!”

“Essentially, yes.”

“But the Buffster doesn't get sloppy,” Xander summed up smugly.

“Not normally, no,” Giles replied quietly.

Xander didn't notice how quietly. “So this demon was probably really a vampire in disguise? Mystery solved, right?”

“Well, that part, perhaps. But there is still the question of who called the Déciperi and where we might find them before they send Buffy any more calling cards.”

“Spike?” Xander offered immediately. “How can we forget the Order of Taraka…and of course, the ever lovin' bug man…?”

“If he wasn't neutered, perhaps,” Giles mused, ignoring the sarcasm. “He isn't exactly a force in the dark world these days. He's probably laying about in a crypt somewhere crumbling Weetabix into his pig's blood.”

Did not need to hear that,” Xander objected, his face scrunching up. “And need I say: eiwww!”

“No but I almost did the first time he did it here,” Giles growled. “I think we can probably rule out Spike working alone while he's still chipped. He's far too cynical. If he eliminates us now who is he going to come whining back to next time he's in trouble or out of Weetabix?”

“Okay, so not Fangboy. There's always the biggie…”

“Adam? I hardly think so. He was created by the military and you know the Initiative's record when it comes to real research and things mystical, in general.”

Xander shrugged. “So they're just not book people, what can I say?” he mugged, and was gratified to hear a grudging snort from the Watcher before he continued. “So where does that leave us? According to Spike his ex-ho is a continent away making out with a drool demon or something, and last I heard dead b—Angel was still more or less of the good. And that leaves who exactly in the 'we hate Buffy' club, besides Faith?”

Giles shook his head. Almost every enemy Buffy had encountered she had dealt with terminally…leaving few lingering enemies…Spike and Drusilla, of course, Faith, and now Adam…

“Giles…” Xander said suddenly, his voice suddenly strikingly sober. “Buff doesn't know any of this yet…and she's out patrolling tonight, right?”

The older man stiffened.

“Oh Lord…”


*******


Buffy kicked the can again. It should never have been left on the ground, much less in a graveyard, but since it had, she'd kicked it all the way through the grounds of Restfield cemetery, the dents in it testament to her annoyance at Riley's childishness. She hadn't wanted to patrol alone, but he was still smarting from their break up and in typical male fashion had come up with seven different reasons why neither he nor any of the commandos could possibly patrol with her that night.

She sighed. Men…Well, boys, anyway…

And then that ache was back. The one that sat in the bottom of her stomach and made it hard to eat most of the time, harder to concentrate and almost impossible to sleep. It resolved itself in her mind's eye into the face she loved…the green eyes, the soft, tawny hair with the merest hint of grey, his wide, gorgeous laugh when she'd teased him about it…

Buffy shuddered jaggedly again. She loved the sound of his laughter. It was precious and new. They'd known each other for so long and she'd never once heard him laugh before that …giggle self-consciously a couple of times…but not truly laugh…mostly because of her. She wanted to hear him laugh again…

“This patrol sucks,” she told an owl, flushed from between the ramshackle tombstones in the pioneer section she was passing, a rat in its powerful claws. “Not that you care. Not that anyone cares any more,” she informed the night in general as it flapped away.

“I do.”

She wheeled. “Who…what are you?” she demanded, startled.

“Vengeance,” whispered the figure before her, “here to be visited upon you, Slayer.”

Buffy crouched and drew out her stake. She'd never seen a demon like it. It was sort of silvery and dark all at the same time, sort of translucent; half there, half not and it made her skin crawl.

“And what exactly is it that I'm supposed to have done to hack you off, Darkman?” she growled, irritated, not allowing even a hint of her very real fear to show.

“You exist,” it replied.

“Oh, great. A philosopher. And you probably don't even look anything like Liam Neeson. Okay, let's do it.”

“As you wissshh,” it hissed and turned in the moonlight.

Buffy's eyes bugged out. It was gone. And then it moved, and she saw the merest shimmer of silver before it vanished again.

“You could get real annoying, real fast,” she cracked, shifting quickly to guard her flanks and rear as much as possible, her heart rate soaring. Those horrible feelings all day about badness coming, weren't just indigestion after all…

A soft chuckle put the creature at seven o'clock. She turned.

“You're going to die, Slayer, and it's going to be slow and agonising…”

Buffy turned a hundred and eighty degrees. “You're big with the talk and small with the action, no-nuts. Since when do real demons have to hide from Slayers?”

It laughed again.

Irritated, Buffy turned again, this time less than a quarter turn. “Aren't you getting dizzy?” she snapped. “Enough with the games already.”

“Why? I was just beginning to enjoy myself. Why should slaying the Slayer be a grim task? You have no sense of fun.”

“Oh, you are so dead,” Buffy snorted and lunged in the direction of the voice.

When she contacted nothing but thin air, her momentum caused her to stumble, the creature's laughter ringing in her ears as she sprawled on the pathway. She scrambled up quickly, crouching, turning, and ignoring the sting of the cuts and grazes on her knees and legs.

“I hate hide-and-seek,” she snarled. “I hated it when I was a kid and I hate it even more now.”

A cold, moist touch slid across the back of her neck, her reaction almost simultaneous with the shiver of dread and revulsion that went down her back. The spin kick contacted something: something, hard, powerful. She lunged again, but there was only empty space.

“Not laughing now?” she panted raggedly, listening, turning, stretching out her Slayer senses the way Giles used to hassle her to do.

“Bitch!” It hissed, pain still in its voice.

“So you are a guy,” she smirked. “It's not like anyone can tell from your outfit or that 'I'm so scary' stage whisper of yours.”

It hissed again.

“Know anything about a really handsome dude with a death wish? About yay tall,” Buffy indicated in the direction of the hiss, “with a face like momma Alien, in really bad need of a manicure…and maybe a year's worth of flossing? You wouldn't be the one who sent it after me?

It didn't answer and she couldn't find any trace, any hint of movement to indicate its whereabouts. She started to turn again, concentrating.

“What's the matter? No more Mister wise-demon?”

Silence.

A shudder of inexplicable fear went up her spine and her heart, which had only just settled into her normal, heightened battle rhythm, exploded into an adrenaline-induced tattoo. She drew a deep breath as she continued to turn, trying not to think about the wetness of her palms, the pricking of her fingertips as she strained to hear, to see anything.


“Where are you?” she whispered.

“Right here,” it hissed, right next to her right ear, only this time before she could spin it had clamped two powerful arms around her, one of its hands closing around her throat, its reptile-like skin cold against the heat of her neck.

Buffy struggled, but they were evenly matched in strength and she was trapped, the fingers closing more and more tightly around her larynx until she couldn't even cry out, couldn't even gasp in enough air to keep thrashing and struggling.

Giles…!

*******


“My God, Giles!”

Giles' head came up listening for the direction Xander was running in. He followed, cursing as he went.

“Xander!” he called when he'd gone an interminable distance without making contact with anyone.

“Here!” Came a strangled cry.

Giles made a half turn, trusting that wherever they were, it was still on the path, and broke into an impatiently cautious trot.

“Xander?”

“S-seven o'c-clock…demon…Buf…”

“Xander!!”

But this time there was no answer, only the sound of struggling and blows, very, very close by; possibly just a few feet away.

Giles stopped and listened. He frowned worriedly. Xander was locked in battle with something.

He took several steps toward it and reached out in the direction of the distressed sounds the boy was making at intervals. He contacted warm clothing …Xander's…and reptile-like flesh…definitely not Xander's.

Terrified, but determined, he grasped what turned out to be an alien feeling shoulder, with both hands, and dragged it backwards. Whatever it was that had hold of the boy overbalanced, letting go of Xander as both of them fell. The younger man, whose gasping for air Giles could hear with relief in the still night air, rolled away.

The creature made an enraged sound and leaped at Giles, who threw his arms out wildly, grappling and heaving as they struggled. The Watcher knew the creature was too strong for him, knew it was impossible, but he continued to fight, hoping Xander would rally, that Buffy…

Dear God…Buffy…

A vice-like hand with three clawed fingers closed agonisingly around one of his biceps, while Giles gripped its…well he wasn't sure what, but probably a forearm…

All he knew was it felt like he had hold of the biggest lizard in creation, and no matter how he shifted his weight he didn't seem to be able to throw it off balance, only prevent it from setting itself and doing something worse to him.

Creation…

Something clicked in Giles' mind.

One of the creature's hands shifted, letting go of his shoulder and trying to clamp onto his throat. He immediately swung the free arm, fist closed, and made contact with something at about eye level.

The creature staggered, dragging him with it, its sheer strength pushing Giles' defiant chin out of the way so that its hand finally closed around his gullet. He thrashed violently as it tightened and they both fell backward.

Xander opened his eyes in time to see Buffy moving fast.

“Giles!” she cried.

Giles' heart leaped at the sound, but he couldn't answer. His head felt like it was going to explode and nothing he tried had been able to dislodge the weight on his body. It didn't even seem to care that his left hand was free, punching, dragging and clawing at the slippery flesh as his lungs began to scream.

Then suddenly Buffy was there, dragging at the creature, shifting its weight, giving him a chance to reach his pocket as the darkness that was his vision suddenly flooded with red. As she grunted and struggled to pull the weight off him, its grip tightened.

With his last, conscious effort, Giles plunged the stake into the torso now just inches above him.
A moment later his throat was released, and a moment after that a body fell against him, hard, as he was showered with dust. It sobbed. He wrapped his arms around it, crushing it to him.

“Buffy!”

“I thought it was going to kill you,” she snivelled.

“I thought you were dead,” he said roughly, hoarsely.

“I nearly was,” croaked a voice above them.

Buffy lifted her head. “Oh God, Xander…Giles…you guys saved my life.”

He…saved your life,” Xander said pointedly, indicating the extremely dishevelled ex-Watcher. “I just got my neck wrung like a turkey…not to mention the feasting that almost occurred…

But Buffy was focused only on one thing. “Giles, you can see?” she exclaimed.

“Nope,” Xander interjected before Giles could open his mouth, his throat still smarting from almost being strangled to death. “Just pure guts.”

She slid off him so they could both sit up, then brushed the dust from his cheek, pushed back the rumpled hair with trembling fingers.

“H-How did you guys know? What are you doing here?”

“Xander and I were we researching,” Giles rasped then cleared his throat, his hand going to it as he swallowed several times. “And when we called, Willow said you were only patrolling two cemeteries tonight.”

Buffy's fingers traced the outline of the bruising on his neck, barely visible in the moonlight, but already noticeable enough for her to see.

She nodded. “This one and Shady Hill, then...then I was coming to see you. You found something?” she asked, clearing her own painful throat and wondering how they were all staying so damned calm.

Giles nodded. “They're not demons. Not the Fara-raptor, and not this one…”

“They're vampires,” Xander couldn't help blurting. “We found out there's another prophecy—”

“Thank you, Xander,” Giles said gently and went on. “The Codex mentions an old order of vampires who were originally witches and warlocks before they were turned. They can make people see whatever they want them to see…”

“Like Drusilla? You mean it was all an illusion? Darkman was really just a smart-assed vamp?”

Giles half smiled, then grew serious as Buffy slid her hands into his and gripped them tightly. “Essentially, yes.”

Xander spoke again, his enthusiasm overcoming the discomfort of his bruised throat.

“But what we can't figure out is who called them up…who wants you dead this time…?”

Giles' head came up again.

“Uh...right…thank you, Xander,” the boy muttered before the Watcher could speak. “When you guys are ready, I'll have the car waiting at the front gate.”

“Xander—”

“Out of range,” Buffy told him. “But you guys were so great.”

“Yes, well, remember to tell Xander that when we get to the car. I'm sorry I hurt his feelings. He's been splendid.”

Buffy loosed her hands from his and put her arms around his neck.

“I mean it. You were magnificent.”

He chuckled. “Thank you, fair damsel. Pity we both sound like Sydney Greenstreet after all that throttling. I suppose that we should be thankful that none of us were actually bitten…”

“Sydney who?” Buffy croaked.

Giles laughed again then grew serious when the frustration of his dark world surged back.

“Are you really all right, love?” he asked, that despondent note back in his voice again.

They both grew still.

“There's only one way to find out,” she said softly, took his fingers and brought them to her temples, closing her eyes as his eager fingertips found her hair, traced her face, her nose, her cheeks, her chin, trailed down her throat, before stroking it oh, so gently. “It doesn't hurt that much,” she confided when she felt their trembling, and opened her eyes slowly as his hands returned to cup her face. “Not nearly as much as being away from you…”

Giles swallowed, the pain of not being able to see her now, of all times, almost a physical ache.

“For a few terrible moments I thought I'd lost you,” he whispered. “Then, when I heard your voice…Oh, love…”

His mouth found hers and her arms slid back around his neck.

“I'm here now,” she whispered when they parted, and hugged him tight, her cheek against his hair, his face buried in hers. “Take me home, Giles,” she begged as his arms tightened convulsively around her. “Please take me home…”


*******


“You can't be serious?”

“I think it bears investigation.”

“Here we are. The home of Giles.”

“But she wasn't…they weren't…”

Xander turned off the engine. “When you guys are done arguing, some of us would like to actually get some sleep tonight.”

Giles turned his head towards the boy's voice. “This is a serious matter, Xander.”

“Fine. Can't it be serious inside your apartment…you know, where the warm is? And the supper, hopefully...”

The ex-watcher snorted. “Yes, yes, all right, but I want you both to go back to Restfield tomorrow and search the area where I uh…”

“Got your brains bashed in?” Xander supplied and was smacked in the back of the head by a Slayer's open palm.

“Indeed,” Giles confirmed tersely. “You will go back and look for any evidence of what those vampires were up to, of what the significance was of that particular rising. We need to know if there was any connection to these attacks on Buffy.”

Giles slid his hand down until he found the keyhole and put his key in the door while Xander and Buffy compared throttle marks in the porch-light. Before he could turn it, however, the door opened.

“What the…?”

“Willow…?” The other two chorused.

“Hi guys. Tara and I finished early and I was worried about …” She took in their grubby, dishevelled states and the interesting array of bruises, cuts and scrapes all three were sporting. “Oh God, what happened? Something bad, I'm guessing?” she asked as they all moved inside.

“Demon almost killed me. The cavalry here came and saved me, but not until after we all got these decorations…uh, actually…it wasn't really a demon. It was a stupid vampire in a disappearing demon disguise.” Buffy looked up at Giles who was listening with a half amused look on his face. “I'm guessing he wasn't carrying weapons because they would have kinda ruined the invisibility thing, right?”

Giles turned his head as they stopped near the breakfast bar. The amused quirk widened into a smile. “Very likely. And he proved that in a one-on-one situation, which was obviously his original intent, the invisibility was quite enough of an advantage, even against a Slayer.”

Buffy stepped close and slid her arms around his waist. “You don't have to rub it in,” she pouted. “You'll just have to find a way for us to train against invisibility.”

“What I have to do is find out who called forth the Déciperi so that they could send these assassins after you,” he retorted gently, worry back in his voice, and kissed the top of the head now resting against his chest.

Willow looked from one to the other and then up to Xander, who nodded and smiled. She sighed and smiled back. “Xander can help me make supper. The kettle's already on,” she announced.

Xander rubbed his hands together. “My kinda work,” he grinned and followed Willow to the kitchen.

“Are they back together?” she asked as soon as the other pair moved away from the breakfast counter.

Xander shrugged. “Looking that way. I guess it meant a lot to the G-man to find out he's not as helpless as he thought he was.”

Willow scowled as she set out cups and saucers. “They should never have been separated in the first place. I saw him after he sent her away in the hospital. I know how much it hurt him.”

Xander frowned. “In the hospital? But why…I mean, that's when they would have needed each other the most. You know what Buffy was like while he was still in the coma…”

She paused, tea canister in one hand, measuring spoon in the other. “I know. I also know Mrs Summers was involved somehow. I can't believe she'd do anything to hurt Buffy though.”

“She would if she thought it was for her own good. Let us not forget how thrilled Buffy was to be grounded while Angel was trying to suck the world into hell and redefining the word for Giles…not to mention the driving…”

“Xander,” Willow growled. “But, yeah. I think she must have said something to Giles. You know how noble he is when it comes to doing the right thing, especially if it's about Buffy. And he was so vulnerable…”

A large hand slid onto her shoulder. “They're going to be fine now, Will. Don't worry about him. He's big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself, even against something as terrifyingly heinous as Buffy's mom in meddle mode.”

Willow giggled and poured scalding water on the tea she'd measured into the pot and into Buffy and Xander's coffee mugs.

“This is serious,” she managed. “If Buffy finds out her mom might be the one who caused all this there's going to be hell to pay…oh God…”

“What?” Xander demanded, alarmed, when Willow froze.

“If Mrs Summers was willing to hurt Buffy like this because she thought she was protecting her from a less than secure future with Giles, it might help explain something else that's been bugging me forever.”

Xander frowned as he opened the cookie jar, shrugged and put the whole thing on the tray.

“Something else like this? But the only other time someone broke up…” His eyes widened. “Oh God…”

Willow nodded. “They were just getting so happy again after…all that stuff…you know…that happened. Then, right before the prom…bam…Angel is suddenly noble, self-sacrificing guy and Buffy's so hurt…sound familiar?”

“If Buffy finds out…” Xander said darkly as he picked up the tray and turned.

“Buffy…” Willow swallowed, then gulped.

Buffy was standing at the door holding a bottle of Giles' pills.

“B-been to the bathroom?” Xander asked redundantly.

The Slayer stared at them, all colour drained from her face, her blue eyes even more blue against the pallor, looking at both of them with a mixture of rage and hurt.

“My mom did this?” she finally hissed.

“We don't know that for certain,” Willow yelped.

“But you saw her…?”

Willow looked down at her shoes. “I saw her go to Giles' room after you ran out of it and I saw her leave again. And I saw him afterward. He was hurting so bad, Buffy…”

“Why didn't you tell me?”

“Because it wasn't my place…I mean, Giles didn't say anything and all I knew for sure was that she went to see him. We still don't know anything for sure…I mean, I never would have believed she'd…”

Buffy about faced without another word and strode back to the living room.

Giles was sitting on the sofa with his eyes closed.

“Is it true?” she demanded when she stopped in front of him and put the pills in his hand.

He swallowed them then opened his eyes and raised his head. “Is what true?”

“I know you heard,” she said quietly. “This place is like a morgue without the TV or music going and there's nothing wrong with your ears.”

“I thought I was doing what was best…I thought I was giving you back your future,” he whispered.

“Then she did…?”

“Don't be too hard on her, Buffy,” he said slowly, resignedly. “She wants so much for you to have a real, normal life. It's her way of coping with the knowledge that your destiny is most likely to rob you of any future at all.”

Tears rolled down her face. Why did he have to be so damned good? Why couldn't he be angry…outraged…unreasonable, stubborn…even maddening. Something at least, that she could strike out at!

Instead of which all she wanted to do was hold him…

“Don't you care that she hurt us for nothing? Don't you understand that even if you were in an iron lung I still wouldn't leave you? Can't you ever understand how much I love you?” she demanded angrily.

The green eyes shimmered in the soft light. “I'm beginning to,” he whispered unsteadily.

“Good,” she growled in a watery voice, her body still trembling a little from the surge of rage at her mother combined with the unfulfilled need to lash out and the overwhelming desire to take him upstairs there and then and never come down again.

A throat was cleared behind her. Xander was holding the supper tray and Willow was behind him with a platter of sandwiches.

“Does that mean we can eat now? Wouldn't want to reheat everything, yet again.”

Buffy sniffed and smiled at the younger man. “Yeah, hero guy, we can eat now,” she told him. “And don't worry, my mother will probably survive this, but there's going to be a long talk and some ground rules set when it comes to my life.”

Willow smiled as Xander set his tray down and took the platter from her hands. “Gee, Buffy, I never thought you'd take it this well. I mean, I know if my mom did something like that, or…or scared Oz off before the Prom, I'd probably be so mad I'd turn her into a rat…or something.”

When silence suddenly fell, Giles stopped smiling.

“Angel? She talked to Angel?” Buffy's agitated voice finally broke it.

“Oh God, you didn't hear that part? I thought for sure you heard that part,” Willow babbled.

“Yeah, you were there, Buff,” Xander mumbled around a mouthful of sandwich and took an almighty swallow that almost choked him. “We don't know that for sure. It just…it fit, you know? Same MO…”

She closed her eyes. “Exactly the same,” she whispered, new tears sliding down the tracks that had dried in the dust on her face. “I…I can't believe she would do that to me…”

“Buffy,” Giles said quietly, recognising the extreme brittleness creeping into her voice, “what's done is done. You said yourself that what happened with Angel was ultimately for the best…”

“She had no right,” Buffy whispered, then louder: “She had no right!”

Giles heard the sound of her flight and for a split second his heart caught in his mouth, then he realised she was running up the stairs, not out the door. Relief flooded over him. He was up on his feet a moment later, working his way around the sofa then striding across the room.

Both his judgement and the length of his stride were a little off and he ran into the staircase with a thud, about two feet in from the end, swore and worked his way back around to where he could climb it swiftly.

“Should we go?” Willow asked in a small voice.

“I'm thinking we've done enough for one night,” Xander drawled. “So my answer of choice would be a big yes.” He grabbed a handful of cookies and stuffed them in his pocket, and then swiped a stack of sandwiches from the platter. “Come on, I'll give you a ride back to Tara's and tell you all about how Giles and me saved the day against the evil invisible demon guy. Maybe you can come up with some ideas about who or what is after the Buffster this time.”

Giles halted on the landing as the front door slammed. “For a moment there I thought matricide was a distinct possibility,” he said softly.

“It still is,” Buffy retorted.

He might not have been able to see her, but he could hear the misery in her voice, the hurt.

“Let it go, love, if not for your own sake, then for me. After all, if you can't forgive her, how can you forgive me for listening to her?” he added, forcing lightness into his voice.

“Don't try to make me laugh,” she warned, her own voice wobbly. “You won't like the consequences. Why do the men in my life have to be so damned noble?” Her voice broke again. “Why didn't you ever tell me what she said to you while I was in Los Angeles that summer?”

His head bowed. “Pain does terrible things to people, Buffy. She had so little real understanding of what she was saying I couldn't hold it against her…” His lip quirked a little but he didn't look up. “Well, not for too long, anyway…”

“But it hurt you,” she persisted. “I know you. I know what Xander told me about that summer. It wasn't true, you know. It was never, ever your fault. You know you could never have stopped me from seeing Angel. None of what happened was your fault. I made my own choices…some bad ones…but all mine. She had no right to say that to you. She knew about Miss Calendar and Xander told me she knew about you being in the hospital…after Angelus, and why. Why couldn't she understand? I told her…I told her I had to save the world…she saw…she saw the vamp get dusted. She heard Spike…she knew you were in danger…”

“Sometimes people don't think with their heads, Buffy,” he said softly. “Sometimes they simply react with their hearts. I don't think your mother was any more rational during that period than I was during…”

Buffy frowned and sat up. “Than you were, when…?”

“Than I was during your last birthday.”

She slid off the bed and came to him. “That was different. That was all my fault…”

His head came up when he realised how close she was. He shook it. “You…I thought you were being taken away from me…bloody Riley and the Initiative…even Maggie fu…um,” he coloured and corrected himself ruefully “Professor Walsh—”

Buffy smiled for the first time. “Bad Rupert,” she teased. “You really, really did hate her, didn't you?”

He nodded. “She guessed, you see…how I really felt about you, I mean. I suppose she was a gifted psychologist, but she absolutely knew, and furthermore, she knew all the right buttons to push. By the time she was done I walked out of there feeling old, useless and rather pitiful…under the homicidal rage, that is.”

Buffy giggled, despite the churning of her emotions, her stomach and her thoughts. “She was probably jealous,” she said lovingly. “Look at you. How many guys your age are this gorgeous, sexy…and smart?”

He gave an unexpected crack of laughter at the very idea. “You're impossibly biased,” he retorted. “I suck in my stomach like most men my age and I have legs like a seagull, as you very well know.”

Buffy looked down at her own legs, even thinner with the weight she'd lost during their weeks apart. “I don't think legs are an issue right now, and you have the sexiest thighs anyway, ” she told him dryly and slid her hands under his sweater to caress his stomach. “And this is just perfect the way it is. I notice you didn't mention your great shoulders, tight butt, gorgeous chest or your killer good looks.”

He chuckled. “Yes, well, those go without saying, don't they?” he quipped and squirmed when her tender caress turned into serious tickling, to which she knew he was particularly sensitive around the belly area.

“Pax!” he gasped when he realised she wasn't going to let him get away, and closed his arms tightly around her as their giggles subsided. “All right, I'm bloody gorgeous. Happy now?”

Buffy burrowed her face into his chest. “Blissed,” she sighed as his hands slid down her back and over her seat, then frowned as they slid back up her sides, over the points of her shoulders to her throat, but made no effort to caress her.

He lifted her away. “You're nothing but skin and bones. Are you ill? Why didn't you tell me?”

“I'm fine,” she said emphatically. “I just…missed you. A few weeks, a few mochas and some post-slayage ice cream feasts and I'll be the old me again in no time.”

“Buffy, I…” he began fiercely.

She stood on tiptoes and pulled his head down into a kiss. “We said no matricide, remember?” she reminded him when he lifted his head. “That kind of includes matricide-in-law.”

He took her face in his hands and rested his brow on hers, well aware that beneath the banter she was still as stressed as he. “We've wasted so much time…I've missed you so damned much.”

Her hands slid down his chest and over his jeans. “Not that much,” she said, amused, but with an edge of surprise.

Giles kissed her nose. “All that means is there have been more important things to think about…not to mention that I'm tired, dirty and every bone in my body aches…and I'm not seventeen any more…”

He stopped and closed his eyes as her fingers played and stroked and teased.

“You're way better than seventeen,” she purred as the denim became well and truly strained. “But you're right. We should get cleaned up and I should take a look at some of those cuts first.”

“Minx,” he growled. “But a bath would be bloody marvellous…”

It was. It was big tub, and Buffy was tiny, so that even with the water full to overflowing, they both fitted in, she between his legs, her slender body leaning back against his, her head in the crook of his shoulder as they soaked in the steaming hot water.

“How're those old bones now?” she asked after perhaps twenty to twenty five minutes of peaceful silence.

“Simmering nicely, thank you,” he murmured contentedly and slid his hands up to cup her soft breasts. “You have, presumably, almost healed by now?”

Buffy arched a little into his hands and smiled. “Yup. Gotta love that Slayer healing. She traced a long graze down his left arm. “I wish I could share.”

He kissed her temple. “Doesn't matter. They're only scratches and bruises. I've had far worse…” Buffy's hand closed almost too tightly around his forearm. Giles could have kicked himself. “I only meant that in a couple of days I should be right as rain. Stop worrying,” he chided.

After a beat, Buffy turned in his arms and straddled his lap, her knees either side of his legs, before kissing him hard. “I can't stop worrying. It comes with the territory,” she told him. “You didn't hurt your head? Jorgensen would probably have a fit if he knew what you've been doing.”

He found and mouthed a soft breast, smiling around it when she moaned. “No, I don't believe I did,” he said when he finally released it. “The medication didn't get rid of this bloody headache, but I think it's just from the exertion, overtiredness and perhaps the stress.”

“I'm sorry.” She trailed kisses across his brow to his hair, from his temple down to his chin, then caught his lips again and melted into an endless kiss. For the longest time only their mouths and hands spoke, and they in the most eloquent and erotic terms…

Then, by mutual assent, they parted and Buffy slid down into the water again and tucked her face into his neck. “When we get out I'll get you some more pills.”

“I don't think I need pills, love…just sleep,” he murmured, eyes half closed as he rubbed her rump lazily beneath the water, the warmth of the bath and the relentless insomnia of recent nights all catching up with him at once. Buffy growled with pleasure and snuggled closer.

Some considerable time later she started to move, raising her tail one last time. “Hold that thought, gorgeous one,” she told him lovingly as his hand automatically slid over it. “Time to go to bed, before we both fall asleep in here.”

He chuckled. “If only we didn't actually have to move.”

Buffy snorted and reluctantly lifted herself from his embrace before climbing out of the big tub.

“You shouldn't have any trouble if you take it slow,” she observed as he started to rise, and picked up the second of the big bath sheets they'd brought down with them.

He managed quite deftly.

“I knew you could do it,” she teased, grinning, and handed him the towel.

It was Giles' turn to snort. “All I did was climb out of the bath, Buffy. Anyone would think I just won the marathon.”

She deflated a little. “Sorry,” she said quietly.

Giles reached for her and she stepped into his slightly misdirected embrace. “No, I'm sorry,” he replied hoarsely, closing his arms tightly around her. “I didn't mean to snap.”

“I know,” she said softly. “It's just…I love you so much and I don't know how to help…and I want to…”

Giles kissed the top of her head. “I know you do…and you are, more than you can ever know, just by being here.” His voice had grown thick with emotion.

Buffy didn't have to lift her head to know that his eyes would be very bright.

“The best thing you can do is to let me muddle along as I am for now. If there are no further changes in the next few weeks I'll make enquiries about learning Braille and we'll begin to restructure things around my disability, so that we can put it behind us and get on with our lives.”

She tightened the circle of her arms. “I like the sound of 'getting on with our lives,' but there's one thing I've gotta tell you.”

“Oh?”

“You're still soaking wet, lover, and it's getting very cold down here…”

Giles' bed was heavenly after the night chill on their damp skin. It had taken several more minutes in the bathroom and some very interesting expressions on Giles' face, for Buffy to disinfect all of his grazes and cuts.

She wriggled down under the heavy quilt, snuggled into the chest she loved so dearly and sighed as his arm curled possessively around her.

“I should be molesting you severely right now,” she murmured sleepily and heard the rumbling chuckle beneath her ear.

“And it would be terribly appreciated,” he told her and nuzzled her rumpled hair. “If I had the energy to demonstrate that appreciation.”

She giggled and kissed the warm skin beneath her cheek. “When was the last time you actually slept?”

“For any length of time?”

“Mm.”

“While I was in the coma,” he answered dryly. “When was the last time you actually ate anything?”

“More than just what Will forced me to eat?”

“Mm.”

“That lunch we had…you know, in that little café run by those ex-pat Brits.”

Giles frowned without opening his eyes. “I don't remember,” he said softly.

A furrow appeared in Buffy's brow, but she didn't lift her head. “It was the day I went to see mom. We had lunch first. You knew the place, remember? They knew you…”

“Chadwicks,” he said suddenly. “We went to Chadwicks?”

“Yeah. I don't know why you can't remember. Must be something to do with you, you know, getting whacked.”

“Undoubtedly,” Giles agreed. “What did you have? You tend to be rather insulting about traditional British fare.”

“You had Guinness pie…with the Guinness in it,” she told him, wrinkling her nose, “and mushy peas. You said I was a wimp because I had fish and chips.”

“Wimp,” Giles repeated. “You could have at least sampled their steak and kidney pie. It's magnificent, as is their star-gazy pie. Not many outside of Cornwall can make a good star-gazy pie.”

Buffy's nose wrinkled even more. “Only you English would make a delicacy out of something that gross.”

Giles snorted. “Good solid fare. Nothing gross about it.”

“Yeah, well I'm not eating any pie that has fish looking at me in it.”

Giles suddenly rolled so that he was holding her in his arms.

“Giles!” she squeaked.

“Yes love?”

“I thought you were feeling all exhausted and bruised and ancient or something?” she teased, smiling up at him.

“All of the above,” he agreed, smiling back at the sound of amusement in her voice. “But I don't want to talk about food anymore.”

“You started it,” she objected.

He laughed. “So I did. I'll make you a proposition: I will sleep if you'll eat properly.”

“Done,” she agreed. “You're making breakfast in bed in the morning…unless of course we're talking midnight snacks, here?”

“You're hungry?”

Buffy smiled tenderly at him, a part of her hurting at the way his unfocused eyes were looking right past her.

“Only for you,” she whispered and touched his face.

He found hers with his fingertips and bent his head to capture her lips for a few moments before slipping back down alongside her, drawing her contentedly into his arms and brushing her temple with his lips.

She curled up tight against him and nestled her head until it rested comfortably in the crook of his arm, sighing as she felt the weight of it close possessively around her again.

For the first time since the accident she felt truly safe, truly content…

“I love you,” she whispered, her eyes closing and her words slurring as she spoke.

There was no answer, only the relaxed timbre of low snoring, joined very soon by a tiny, resonant feminine version, filling the room with the sounds of real peace and contentment.


*******

“And this is a great idea because…?”

Willow scowled. “Quit bitching, Xander. All you do is sleep all day Saturday anyway. It's not like you had somewhere to be.”

“And it's not like I got any sleep last night, either,” he retorted. “Whose idea was it to go for ice cream in the middle of the night…?”

“You went for ice cream without me?”

Xander swiftly put an arm around his girlfriend. “Yeah, we did, but it was only to talk about Buffy and Giles and who might be trying to kill her, okay? Nothing at all to worry your pretty head about. Tara's cool with it, right Tara?”

Tara nodded and smiled tentatively.

“Are you going to take me for ice cream, today?”

“Sure,” he agreed nervously. “Later, when we've finished here, okay?”

Anya's brow furrowed. “What were we looking for again?”

Willow snorted. “Anything that might help us to identify who or whatever is trying to kill Buffy. Anything that might have been left by the vamps she and Giles dusted, would be a start. Xander, why don't you and Anya go check out that whole area over there where most of the fight actually happened. Tara and I will try and find the grave the female vamp that attacked Giles rose from. Buffy was never real clear about that. They didn't exactly see it rise.”

Willow and Tara worked their way outwards from the scene of the fight in expanding circles, looking for recently disturbed earth, or a gravestone with a very recent burial date on it. When they met, eventually, some distance from where Xander and Anya were searching, Tara shrugged.

“There isn't even a damaged headstone or memorial.”

“I know,” Willow muttered. “It's weird. Let's go back and see if Xander found that chunk of marble.”

Anya was holding the item in question when they arrived and Xander produced a heavy silver ring.

“It was in the rose bushes,” he offered. “I really wasn't expecting to find anything good after all this time. People come through here all the time, but this was caught in that bush over here, kinda like someone threw their arm out as they were…maybe…turning to dust or something, and it flipped in there. On the other hand, somebody walking past could have lost it just as easily…”

Willow frowned. “I don't think so,” she said, studying it. “The inscription on the back isn't in any modern language.”

“Ooh, one for the Xandman.”

The redhead looked up. “Maybe, but what about the marbly rock? There aren't any broken headstones or monuments around here.”

He shrugged. “Then I guess we check the rest of the cemetery. The vamp chick might have come from further away than they thought.”

“Or she could have come from over there,” Anya said casually.

They all looked to where she was pointing, beyond the rose garden, beyond the big rose-covered archway down the path.

“That's new,” Willow yelped. “That wasn't there last time I patrolled here with Buffy.”

“And when exactly was that?” Xander asked as they moved off.

She shrugged. “Way long ago, before she got all GI-Buffy and all.”

“So someone important died in the last some several months. Not too many people get brand new crypts these days. I wonder if Spike knows it's here. It's probably like, you know, the vamp equivalent of a condo or something…”

“A condo with a locked door,” Willow pouted, turning after trying to open the ornate entrance to the low building.

“Well I'm all out of skeleton keys,” Xander cracked, but no one laughed, quickly wiping the silly grin from his face. “So how about you girls work some mojo on it, because there's no way you're gettin' me to break my shoulder on that baby…”

“I'm not a walking spell book, Xander,” Willow retorted, looking to her friend half-questioningly, her eyes widening when Tara nodded back self-consciously. A couple of minutes and some whispered instructions later, the two girls joined hands and closed their eyes.

Xander waited for the door to be torn off its hinges and deflated visibly when it eventually creaked slowly open.

“You're kidding? You guys picked the lock?”

“So? Did you want us to vandalize someone's memorial?” Willow snorted as they all filed slowly into the chilled room.

“Too late,” Xander observed.

The actual crypt was made of the same marble material as the piece Willow now held in her hand. What used to be its lid now lay on the floor, shattered at one corner, the obvious point of impact when it had fallen from the crypt.

He cleared his throat. “Okay, do we draw straws for who's actually going to go look in there?”

Anya rolled her eyes and stepped up to the ornate monument to look inside. “They used really nice red satin,” she offered.

Everyone else immediately crowded around. All that was left inside was an impressive red satin lining and the dead remnants of some white flowers.

“Well at least we know where the lady vamp came from now. There's gotta be a name here somewhere,” Willow proposed, already bending to study the lid of the tomb.

“Over here,” Tara said a few moments later, drawing Xander and Anya from their scrutiny of the sides of the tomb and Willow from fitting her piece of marble experimentally into the jagged pit in the corner of the lid.

A new, bronze looking plaque had been mounted on the wall by the door.

“Pretty crappy, considering how much this baby must have cost,” Xander observed, looking around the small mausoleum.

“Not so crappy,” Willow corrected, only inches from the shiny metal now. “This is gold plated…heavy gold plate. Anyone here ever heard of the Vaughn-Adamses? This is supposed to be Charlotte Vaughn-Adams' tomb. It says she died sixty years ago.”

Xander shifted nervously. “That's one slow baking vamp…and what's with the new tomb if she died back in the dark ages?”

Anya looked at Willow. “You think she was one of those Déciperi?”

Tara shook her head first. “Willow says Buffy killed it easily. The Déciperi are far too powerful to die so easily in battle.”

Xander frowned. “But we are talking about Buffy here…”

“Tara's right, Xander. It can't have been Déciperi, but it…Charlotte…was important to someone. What if someone was really mad because Buffy killed her…again?”

“You mean Spike and Drusilla obsessive, weirdo love kind of mad?”

It was Willow's turn to roll her eyes. “I don't know. It just seems to be the most logical explanation of how this all fits together,” she told him, looking at her chunk of marble. “And I think maybe if we could find out more about Charlotte, and about this guy,” she added pointing to the rest of the inscription on the plaque, “we might have a chance of finding some answers.”

“Tarquin Peveril. Wow, what a name,” Tara whispered, impressed. “He seems to have loved her very much.”

The others came to the end of the poetic dedication and looked up, almost together.

“Uh, bad thought guys,” Xander said suddenly. “Remember what I said about Spike and Dru? How about if it were a li-i-ttle more literal than I originally meant? Like, what if old Tarquin here is already a vamp and he wanted his lady love here to join him in eternal vampdom?”

“But…if she died sixty years ago?” Willow objected. “That's just not doable. The whole thing is just too weird.” She went back to the crypt and leaned into it. “Tara…”

Tara joined her, taking one of her hands and adding her other to the satin lining.

“I can feel it,” she said solemnly. “I-It's dark.”

“Okay…someone want to bring Anya and me into this conversation because I'm starting to get seriously wigged and I have no idea why…”

Willow blinked, then drew her hand out of the crypt and turned to Xander. “We can feel powerful magic…or a kind of imprint of it, anyway. Bad stuff, we think. Someone could have put a spell on the body to keep it from rising or…or at least to keep it from decomposing. But if you're right and Tarquin is a vamp, why wait all this time to raise his lady love?”

“Maybe he was busy,” Anya drawled disinterestedly.

They all looked at her.

“What?” she demanded.

Xander grinned. “You might have actually had a thought, my love. Be proud.”

Anya grinned back. “I did?”

He nodded. “So in your experience what keeps a vamp that busy for sixty years?”

She drew her shoulders back self-importantly. “Being sworn to a Master is a good one, or a healthy obsession with vengeance, or maybe even a little empire building. Male vampires who actually move past the drone phase and become independent entities…and possibly even eventually Masters in their own right…can be incredibly egocentric.”

“Tell me about it,” Willow muttered. “I think we should tell Giles what we found…but…not right now. They need some down time. We can go back to my place and use the laptop to do a records search for this Tarquin guy, and maybe even Charlotte herself.”

“Where?” Xander asked, bemused. “With a name like Tarquin, I'm thinking probably not a local boy…and Charlotte of the hyphenated name…how many hyphenated Charlottes do you see in California?”

“We have options,” she insisted as they filed out of the mausoleum. “If there's nothing in the register of births, deaths and marriages, then there's the police, the IRS and Immigration. I've hacked…” She stopped suddenly, but the others didn't even really seem interested in her less than legal activities, let alone surprised. “Um, never mind…just leave it to me,” she muttered.


* * *


Part Three