A tousled head appeared a moment later and looked around sheepishly before a hand emerged and rubbed the grease-stained bump on one temple. The other hand appeared a moment later, holding something, in an even greasier rag, up to the light where he could get a good look at it.

A moment later a large splotch of hydraulic fluid hit him right across the bridge of the nose.

"Argh! Bloody thing!" he muttered.

"Evil car parts...should I get a stake?" An amused voice asked.

Giles rolled his eyes at the inevitable timing, then used his feet to push the mechanic's trolley he was lying on, out from under the BMW.

Buffy's eyes went a little wider and her mouth forgot to close. It was a warm California summer's day, and Giles must have been working on his car for some time because, apart from the streaks of grease and dust, he was glistening with sweat... lots of sweat... on lots of skin, which was rippling in the most... interesting... way in the light, as he got to his feet.

She finally closed her mouth to swallow. The jeans he was wearing were very old. A knee was ripped, and they were very faded and worn, some areas more than others. They were also tight, Buffy guessing that he'd had them since he was about half a size lighter than he was now.

"You..." she squeaked. "You left your glasses under the car."

Giles fixed a brilliant green gaze on her then cocked his mussed head to one side. "What makes you think that? They're on the dashboard," he gestured.

"Oh," she said lamely, and focused valiantly on the item in his hand. "You broke your car...?"

"What?" He looked down. "Oh, this? Not exactly; I discovered a leak in the power-steering..."

"Which... required punishing the power steering...?" she guessed.

He scowled in that exasperated way of his. "This is an actuating piston. I couldn't see any reason for the leak while I was under the car, so I brought it out into the light to see if I could find anything amiss."

"And is there... anything amiss? I-I mean, I never thought of you as the y'know, car-fixy type. You're more like the 'shake your head and call the garage' type."

He shook his head and started cleaning the part with the rag, which Buffy reckoned was a tad redundant, given the amount of grease already on the cloth.

"I'll have you know I've been fixing... in one sense or another... cars since I was sixteen. Don't assume you know a person when you've never been the least bit interested in anything about them."

"Hey," she objected, momentarily stung. "That's not true. I was always interested in... in what you were doing... a-about research... weapons... stakes, with the whittling... um, whether your head was better or not... I even worried about you at Christmas once... a-and sometimes I think about you jogging... sort of... with motorcycle magazines... which..." She paused, dazed.

Almost as dazed as Giles. Something was agitating his Slayer in the extreme.

"Is there anything wrong, Buffy? You seem... out of sorts." He stepped a little closer, so that Buffy could smell the faint male scent of him mixed with the remnants of the subtle cologne he always wore and the ever-nasty smell of the underside of cars.

"I'm fine," she said a little too quickly, watching a trickle of sweat track from the point of his throat down through his chest hair, then slow down even more before gradually wending its way down to the faint line of hair leading to his navel. "I-I just came over to-to... what did I come over for?"

"I believe you're telling this story," he drawled.

"Oh..." She frowned, trying hard to focus. " I... ah... oh yeah... I came to ask you if we could skip training tonight. Dawn wants me to stay in, so..."

"She's all right?"

"Oh... oh yeah. It's just, kinda, a little Slayer-sister bonding thing."

"Well, as long as there are no Fraternity houses involved," he deadpanned.

It took Buffy a moment then she grinned widely. "No snake demons, no Frat Boys. Just Mexican and chocolate ice-cream and old movies, I promise."

"Ah," he said, but it was clear they were both remembering better times. "In that case I should leave you to it and get on with tackling this job."

Buffy watched him half turn, enjoying the view, and the way the muscles in his back flexed as he twisted at the waist.

"Um... you know, if you don't have anything to do tonight, after you've finished punishing the car, there'll be enough tacos and burritos... we'll even throw in a gordita or two... and double chocolate, chocolate-chip ice cream... Dawn even got hot fudge sauce to go with..." Her voice trailed off as in her mind's eye another trickle of sweat became a trickle of chocolate sauce as it wended its way south. She cleared her throat, unaware that her cheeks were glowing like stoplights. "So...?"

Giles looked up from studying the now relatively cleaned part. "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the damned thing... hmm? Oh, yes, sorry. Mexican? Well, I am rather partial to those chalupa things...but won't I spoil your um... bonding?"

"Nah," Buffy grinned. "We can all bond together... there hasn't actually been much Watcher/Slayer bonding of late, either." Giles raised an eyebrow. "Okay, so not much of early, either... but that's about to change, right?"

He smiled. "All right. What time? I have to put this thing back and get cleaned up..."

Buffy's face dropped involuntarily. Somehow, the thought of Giles all spic and span again, hidden behind his glasses and his business clothes and his closer-than-close shaving, and... She sighed.

"How about seven? I don't think Dawn can hang out much longer than that. I don't know where all the food goes... but boy is that kid like Xander in a skirt..." Her face screwed up. "Did I really say that...? Forget I said that."

"Already done," he said pointedly, wiping his hands on the back of his jeans, accentuating how tight the denim was.

"Uh... and... uh... make it casual," she managed. "We like to veg on these kinda nights... so no suits, no ties... just... well... jeans are good." The last ended almost in a squeak but Giles didn't seem notice.

"Yes, fine. See you at seven then," he told her affably, a thousand-watt grin flashing in his grimy, unshaven face, then wiped his glistening brow with an equally glistening arm before turning and bending over to pull the trolley out a little further.

Buffy stopped breathing momentarily and just gaped at the perfectly shaped rear straining against denim that looked like it might split artfully at any moment, but didn't, much to her disappointment.

"S-seven..." She eventually managed, and moved off on autopilot, heading not toward Revello drive, but in the opposite direction. She'd gone several metres before she realised, about faced and hurried back in the other direction.

Once she was well past, Giles finally turned and watched her receding back, chuckling to himself.

"Round one to me," he smiled.

* * * * *

Giles walked across the lawn carrying a grocery sack and a bottle of wine. He was pleased that the BMW didn't seem to be leaking transmission fluid any more, but less than confident about his choice of attire for the evening, despite earlier events.

He'd never seen Buffy so disconcerted before and he'd enjoyed it immensely. Normally even if he'd had another head growing out of his chest, she'd wouldn't have noticed, always having been too preoccupied with such profundities of life as her next date, or her last one, or... He sighed. That wasn't entirely fair. Much of the last five years had been spent preoccupied equally by the omnipresent question of her mortality, the chaos of her life, and the welcome distraction... for her... of such normalities as boyfriends, fashions... even college. He knew that the impending fight with Glory was weighing more heavily on her than perhaps any other threat ever had, and that they both had an ominous sense of foreboding about the consequences of having the arrogance to believe they might be able to defeat a god.

The door opened just as he reached it.

"Great, now we can eat," Dawn grinned, stepping back to let him in, and watching his back as he passed. "Wow, Giles. New look? Not bad. What's in the bag?" she asked as she fell in beside him again.

"Thank you. And wait and see," he grinned as they headed into the kitchen. "Where's your sister?"

Dawn hovered while Giles put his bottle in the refrigerator. "Upstairs. She's been up there for an hour. I can't even go to the bathroom."

He turned, eyebrow raised. "Are you sure she's all right? That she's still actually in-?"

"Oh yeah, she's fine, just the usual Buffy. She just told me to hold it if I expect to get any ice cream. And she did say I could choose the first movie if I shut up about it."

Dawn's eyes narrowed as Giles turned slightly to get a mug from the cupboard and a silver hoop in his left ear caught the light.

"Something going on that I don't know about?" She asked, with the tactlessness of youth.

Giles straightened unaware of any undercurrents. "Um, no. Should there be?"

"I guess not, but Buffy's upstairs locked in the bathroom, and you're all..." She spread her hands and gestured at his clothes and the earring.

He turned to the sink and filled the kettle. "I'm all what?"

"You're all anti-Giles. What's with? I mean, okay with the suits and the old-guy sweaters..."

He continued to make his tea, faint amusement in his expression. "You've seen me in jeans before, Dawn."

She ran her eyes over the black jeans and open-necked grey designer shirt, earring and lack of glasses. "Yeah, but you didn't get those 501s from K-mart."

"There's something wrong with the way I look?"

"Yeah, it's scary."

He finally looked up from the tea. "Scary?"

She shrugged. "How good you look. There should be a law. Anyone over thirty-five shouldn't be allowed to look that good in anything. It's unnatural."

Giles' eyes danced, but he maintained his sober expression. "So you don't like the clothes? I rather like them, myself. Been too damned long, really."

Dawn's eyes widened. "This isn't...?"

He shook his head. "No, these aren't new, love. I just haven't had any reason to wear them for a very, very long time."

She sobered at the almost sad note in his voice. "You mean... because of us?"

Giles almost smiled then. Typical Summers woman. They all surprised him, not least this child who in the midst of a typical, annoying adolescence, could sometimes suddenly, for just a few moments, become wise beyond her years...

"Not exactly. Let's just say one generally reflects one's environment. Would you have had me work in the library or store, mooch around the flat, or go to business meetings dressed like this?"

She giggled. "Well, Snyder would have been way jealous and probably fired your butt... but Anya would've appreciated the view. Might have been a little restrictive for training with Buffy though... still, you could always take the shirt off, I guess."

Giles smirked at something over her shoulder.

Dawn turned. Buffy was standing in the doorway, looking very lovely but rather overdressed for what she termed a 'veg' night, it had to be said. She was also doing her guppy impression again, seemingly rather struck by what she'd just overheard.

He looked directly at her. "Perhaps, though I'm not sure your sister would approve."

Buffy stared back until she found her voice. "We-e-ll, it wouldn't very... uh... safe. The, uh, distraction I mean, no, I mean, the nak... the lack of protection... I mean, you could, um, get hurt... or-or..."

Dawn turned around to stare incredulously at her sister. Buffy's cheeks were flaming and she sounded like her... Dawn... at her last school dance, trying to sound cool in front of a guy she really... Her eyes went very wide again and she turned back to Giles, who was doing that thing that really hot, older movie stars do in the movies... the casual, but amused, totally together look, while he sipped his tea. At that point she decided she was probably going to be scarred for life, whatever happened next...

Giles quirked an eyebrow. "In that case perhaps I should stay with my unattractive but terribly protective sweats: the ones with the sword slash across the chest, the bloodstain on the right shoulder from that time you caught my brow with the quarterstaff, and the almost worn out knees from the number of times I've ended up spreadeagled on the floor..." He suggested, and took another draught of the tea.

Buffy nodded numbly. "M-might be a plan. W-whatever happened to those pads you used to use at school?"

Again, he looked directly at her, that sea-coloured gaze, unobstructed by glasses, making her internally squirm on the spot. "I was just as bruised with them, as without them. They seem to encourage you to carelessness, probably because you thought I wouldn't be hurt if I wore them... so I got rid of them."

"Oh," she said quietly, realizing how very right he was about those days. He looked so safe, and so dorky, in all that padding that it didn't occur to her that with her strength she could still hurt him while she was making fun of him... *Or at least, of the stuffy Watcher part of him*, she told herself unconvincingly.

At that point Giles decided to create a diversion, burrowing into the sack he'd brought, and withdrawing a very large box of popular chocolate candies for Dawn and a small ivory box with a clear lid, for Buffy. It contained a single, beautifully sculpted, half-open chocolate rose. It was almost too pretty to ever eat.

Bubbling at the selection she would have all to herself for once, Dawn finally looked up and saw what Buffy was holding and the look on her sister's face. She blinked. The earth had definitely tilted on its axis... or she'd fallen into another dimension... or Willow had cast another spell... or *something*.

She looked from one to the other, Buffy staring at her gift and Giles looking... well, how about: smug, and maybe a little worried... and what...? She rolled her eyes. <Oh, *so* don't go there...>

"Wow, thanks Giles," she announced far too perkily. "I'm just going to the bathroom now, and then I'm going into the living room to eat my candy and pretend that I'm back in my own dimension where all I have to worry about is evil and homework." She frowned, though not because no one was taking any notice of her ... because, well, that was no surprise. "Make that just evil. Homework is way more evil than stupid demons or snake monsters or bimbo gods," she babbled over her shoulder as she vanished.

"It's... it's so pretty." Buffy looked up slowly.

Giles smiled. "But quite edible."

She shook her head. "It's too... no, I couldn't." She seemed to pull herself together then. "Will you drive me to get dinner... I'm guessing the Tramp is operational again?"

"Tramp...? Oh, yes. Quite. Something must have worked loose. Since I've cleaned it all up and tightened everything, it's been fine."

"Cool. I'll tell Dawn and get my purse, and meet you at the front door."

Giles watched her go, her colour high, tension in her shoulders. He smiled again, and headed for the front door.

* * * * *

"Have you reconsidered getting a license? It would seem a logical thing to do, since you have the Jeep, which is costing you money to keep registered and insured, and you have responsibilities..."

"I already have a license. I'm just not sure why they gave it to me. Buffy and cars: still majorly unmixy things."

"I should think you'd make a fine driver, with your reflexes." Giles pulled the BMW over to the side of the road. "Why don't you drive? You're quite used to the night... and I'll be right here with you. Just remember to stay focused and don't let yourself get flustered."

"I'm so gonna get you for this," she muttered, opening her door, nonetheless.

Giles smiled to himself as she put the vehicle in gear and slid back out effortlessly into the traffic.

"No radio," he murmured when her hand snaked out toward it. "Focus."

"Focus," she muttered as she indicated and turned. "I haven't driven seriously in how long...? And now I'm supposed to not only drive this thing, but park it as well."

"If you can't park a car you shouldn't have been issued a license."

"I didn't say I couldn't. That was a hint that I'm more than a little rusty, not to mention that I'm driving someone else's expensive car... so not scratching, denting, folding, spindling or mutilating is going to be even more important than if I was in the Jeep."

"You're doing fine, Buffy. Automatic transmissions appear to suit you. You should perhaps consider adjusting the mirrors at some point, though."

Buffy looked up and rolled her eyes. She'd forgotten all about them. They were still set at Giles' height and she couldn't see a thing in any of them.

A few minutes later they turned into Taco Bell and Buffy took a just-vacated parking space some distance from the building.

"Not so terrible after all?" Giles smiled as she set the park brake.

She turned to him and smiled. "Nah. Actually, I could totally get used to this. I didn't even miss the stick shift. Things change, I guess. I've changed. A lot. I suppose part of that is all the time we've spent on focus and mediation this year... but mostly it's been, well, stuff. First Dawn, then Riley, then... mom..." Her voiced had dropped to a near whisper. "And this Glory thing... I'm really scared, Giles. Not like I was with the Master... all panic and hysterics... this time it's like there's this weight... it's like I know..." She shook her head. "It doesn't matter."

Giles swallowed. Hearing her put it into words made it real... too real.

"It matters to me."

She smiled at the quiet emphasis on the words. "I know. I also know that if we take too long getting this food, Dawn will eat everything that's in the refrigerator and then start on the cupboards."

It wasn't very busy at the counter, for which Buffy was grateful. She recited Dawn's order, added her own and turned to Giles, who added the items he'd selected from the colourful menus. When she went to open her purse, he put a hand over hers and handed the clerk a couple of twenty-dollar notes.

"You didn't have to do that," she told him as they headed toward the exit with the food a short time later.

"No, I didn't... but I wanted to. You know a gift graciously accepted, is as important as giving one."

She wrinkled her nose at him, but before she could reply a large youth dressed like a punk, down to the chains on his pockets, walked into her, dropping his meal.

"Now look what you've done, bitch. You're paying for that."

"You walked into me, butthead!" Buffy retorted irritably.

"Fuck you."

"Well, that's original," she drawled.

Giles moved forward. "I think you'd better leave the lady alone. Just pick up your food and go."

"Oh yeah, who do you think you are? Harrison Ford? Fuck you, too."

Giles raised an unfazed eyebrow. "It really is in your best interest to stop bothering the lady."

"Oh yeah? If she's such a lady what's she doing with a sugar daddy like y'all?"

Buffy took another step forward "Oh, you are so looking for a..." Giles touched her shoulder and she looked up at him. After a beat, she reluctantly subsided, allowing him to guide her out the door.

"What an asshole," she growled as they crossed the parking lot.

Halfway to the car they found themselves confronted by three more youths all looking like various-sized clones of the punk in the restaurant.

"We got 'em," one of them said into a cell phone.

"I wouldn't jump to conclusions if I were you," Giles said dryly as Buffy flipped the largest of the trio over her head before the young man even realised what was happening.

Immediately, the heavier youth with the phone lunged toward Giles, only to have the Watcher's swiftly raised knee bury itself in his solar plexus, before finishing him off with a couple of well placed blows. He turned just as Buffy was straightening. They both looked at their handiwork then grinned sheepishly at each other, particularly since both of them were mildly mussed, and both of them were still holding the, apparently quite undamaged, packages of food from the restaurant.

By then the third, and smallest, youth had turned and run, just as the punk from the restaurant arrived on the scene. He stared at the two men out cold on the ground and then at the relatively unscathed pair watching him, apparently without concern.

"Shit," he said, his mouth left to hang open.

"That about covers it," Buffy grinned as they turned and flicked a glance at the crushed package in his hand. "Enjoy your meal."

She was still smiling when she unlocked the car. "You didn't tell me you could fight like that," she said as they slid into the front seats.

Giles fastened his safety belt. "I taught you the rudiments of street fighting in our first year together."

"Yeah, taught... as in stood there and explained the moves and made me do them. Not the same thing..." Her voice trailed off a little as his last words sunk in. 'Our first year together.' *It sounded so intimate... like... like a marriage*. Her mind cast back over all of their time together... all the way back to that first day in the library... and she realized that it was exactly what it was like... the two of them working together, complimenting each other to the point of finishing each other's sentences at times...

Giles tilted his head, amused. "Not the same as what, exactly...?"

Buffy focused. "Oh... um... not the same as..." She stopped, stumped. How could she say: 'not the same as realizing how incredibly hot you looked when you knocked the stuffing out of that little creep'? "Not the same as seeing you in action, first hand," she finally managed. "Why didn't you fight more when we patrolled? You looked like you were actually enjoying it tonight."

He smiled. "I was. But whilst I was training you my job was to make certain you could handle yourself. You needed to believe in your own abilities and not in any way come to depend on back up from me."

Buffy finally smiled back. "Except, when it got real busy you just couldn't help yourself."

His smiled faded a little and his tone grew hoarse with emotion. "Only when there was a chance I could have lost you..." He reached out and touched her face. "I couldn't bear to lose you, Buffy... not ever."

As he spoke the words she realised that she couldn't bear to lose him either... not ever.

* * * * *

Dawn opened the front door before Buffy could put her key in the lock.

"'Bout time, you guys. I'm starving! Cool!" She burbled, relieving them of their packages as they stepped inside.

By the time they reached the kitchen everything was set out on plates and a soda had been poured. Two wineglasses were even sitting on top of the counter.

"So what are we watching first?"

"Why don't you choose?" Buffy suggested.

Dawn agreed happily and bounced off with her meal while Giles retrieved the bottle of chardonnay from the refrigerator and opened it.

He brought the glasses around the counter and handed one to Buffy, who looked up at him curiously.

He raised his own glass. "To us."

The blue-grey eyes searched his, trying to decipher the cryptic toast. After a beat she gave up and made her own silent interpretation before smiling and raising her glass.

"To us."

* * * * *

By the time they'd sat through American Pie and Something about Mary, everyone had finished their meal, and everyone, even Giles, had found something to laugh at, despite the girls shooting surreptitious looks at him periodically to see how he was handling the crude, often appallingly tasteless, humour.

For his part, Giles couldn't really quite believe anyone in their right mind would want to make such a film, though some particularly silly sequences, despite their crudity, pushed all the right buttons and made him laugh as much as Dawn and Buffy.

"Sorry," Buffy said softly, when Dawn went to change tapes again. "Dawn wanted something funny... she wanted to laugh... really laugh... so I said okay. Normally I wouldn't..."

He smiled reassuringly. "They are a little ribald for someone of Dawn's years, but given what she's already had to face since... coming to us... I don't think a little tasteless comedy is going to scar her for life."

Buffy looked relieved and visibly relaxed. The last film, she informed him, was also a comedy, but they didn't know much about it, only that they liked the title: 'Chocolat'.

The film was, in fact, the kind of clever social commentary and humour that Giles could thoroughly appreciate, along with the occasional silliness. At times too subtle for Dawn's youthful tastes, though she perked up considerably at the appearance of Johnny Depp as a gypsy some way into the film, it nonetheless held the attention of her companions until the final frame.

Dawn didn't want to go to bed despite the late hour, particularly since she didn't have to get up for school, but acquiesced when Giles promised to take them both to brunch if she would do as she was bid.

When they were gone, and the television had been switched off, the house seemed to fall silent. They'd been watching by lamplight, and without the harsh light from the TV screen, the room had fallen into soft shadows.

Giles watched Buffy return a short time later, wondering how much the relentlessly unhappy events of the past year were really affecting her. She rarely shared her pain, or grief, or hurt, with anyone, often resulting in all of those things eating away at her, making her more withdrawn and detached than ever.

He found himself missing the wisecracking, vivacious young woman from their early years, the one with the confidence, the fierce defiance of the circumstances thrust upon her and seemingly inextinguishable strength, all setting her apart and making her... extraordinary.

The woman settling next to him on the couch now was about as far removed from that girl as it was possible to be: too many scars, far too much pain... and so very little real joy to balance out the pressure... or the grief and the horror...

"Everything all right?"

She nodded. "Even the bathroom survived. All wet towels, wet floors... and other, well, girly things... taken care of, in case you, um, need to..."

He grinned. "Thank you. Very thoughtful of Dawn."

They both grinned. Like all teenagers, Dawn tended to leave the bathroom looking like a hurricane had been through, and like all teens, never remembered to tidy it afterward. They both knew who'd been through and cleaned it up.

Giles sobered first. "How are you both, really?"

Buffy shrugged. "She still has nightmares sometimes... mostly about mom... about when she tried to raise her again." She frowned. "The worst ones are where mom comes back wrong and she thinks it's her fault. Sometimes it's me, and that makes her even worse... cause hey... still here. It takes me hours, with hot chocolate and cookies and distracting girl talk to settle her back down again. Otherwise I think she's mostly dealing in her own way. I'm not saying it hasn't been tough... I'm not mom, and she really needs mom right now... we both do..."

"And you...?"

Buffy raised her eyes to meet his, the silence stretching for several seconds and the atmosphere growing almost tangibly more tense.

"I don't want to die, Giles."

He touched her shoulder. "And I don't want you to, either. What ever happens, we'll face it together. There has to be a way to fight Glory without losing anyone. I know that our ultimate duty is to this world, and protecting it from evil such as Glory, the Master, Angelus and the like... but if there is any way on this earth that we can do it this time, without sacrificing anyone, we will."

Buffy tried to look hopeful, but didn't succeed any more than he did. Instead she rested her head on his arm and sighed.

After a beat Giles slid the arm around her shoulders and drew her close. She closed her eyes and sighed again, before turning slightly and sliding her arm around his waist. They sat silently like that for a long time, then very slowly, Giles felt the tension leave her body and her breathing grow even and rhythmical. He looked down at the fair head and smiled contentedly, then tilted his own head back and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, he was alone. It took him a moment to un-kink his body before making his way to the kitchen. She wasn't there. Nor was she in the bathroom, or in Dawn's room, but it wasn't until he checked Buffy's own bedroom and saw Mister Gordo quite undisturbed in the middle of the quilt on her bed, that he began to worry.

Some things simply refused to change... All these years of knowing that she was better able to defend herself than almost anyone on earth, and he still couldn't let go of the protectiveness, the underlying panic of not knowing...

Outside, it was raining. He could hear the dull thrum, and the occasional patter on the window driven by a freshening breeze. Uncharacteristic weather for the time of year... and normally the kind he welcomed with open arms... but not with Buffy missing. Logic said that she was almost certainly out patrolling, but there was no way he could settle until she returned.

When she hadn't come back some twenty minutes later, Giles finally grabbed his car keys, thanking the deities that the top was up. He drove by five different cemeteries, following one of their old patrol routes, before he finally spotted Buffy in the halo of a solitary light pole, relief almost shaking him at the sight of her fair head in the distance.

Of all the places she might have been, she was sitting on a swing at the old playground, which had been a staple on one of their old patrol routes, getting wetter and wetter as it creaked backward and forward.

Silently cursing the fact that he had no umbrella with him, this being *California*, where it so rarely rained to any degree of note, Giles got out and walked into the playground. By the time he reached her, he was as drenched as she was.


She looked up from whatever far-off place she'd been in and blinked water from her lashes.

"Giles, what are you doing here? When I left, you were fast asleep."

He looked up into the darkness, rain falling into his eyes, face. "Nice night for a stroll."

"Dandy," Buffy agreed, rain streaming from her hair, and down her cheeks. "You should have stayed asleep. You're adorable, you know... when you're asleep."

He evinced surprise then peered at her throat jokingly. "No new bite marks on your neck?"

"Why? Because I actually noticed something?" She stood up. "Giles, all I've done since I saw you working on your car is *notice*. All I can think about is you... how different you look... how different I..." She reached out and touched his cheek. "How different everything feels now... and how much I want to..." She lifted her face to his, tentatively, her whole body asking the question.

Giles lowered his, his lips touching her forehead, brushing it tenderly before his smooth cheek rested against it and his arms slid around her saturated form.

Deliberately, she lifted her face again, so that she could kiss the rain from his chin before moving experimentally along his jaw. When he didn't appear to respond, she lifted her eyes to search his. The moment seemed to stretch out forever.

Then, finally, as though making a choice, he bent his head and covered her lips with his. At first the kiss was tentative, exploring, asking lingering, longing questions.

Each of them answered: Buffy leaning upwards into the strong male mouth and Giles trailing his fingers down her cheek as he responded equally as possessively. Eventually, both moved as one, fusing into a single form as the connection became a declaration, and the declaration a commitment.

Giles slowly lifted Buffy off the ground, her arms around his neck, as the kiss continued, moving into a slow, sensuous exploration of each other, both of them lost in a world of two, oblivious to the rain, the un-seasonal cold, even the first glow of the coming sunrise peeping over the horizon.

When they were both finally able to bear being parted, he set her gently on the ground and took her face in his hands. It was several seconds before he spoke.

"I have waited for you," he said softly.

She looked up at his face, wonder, and a little in awe in hers. "I never... I never knew... but I feel like I've been waiting for this... it's weird, but it's like I've been waiting for this forever." She reached up, more shyly than she'd ever felt before in her life, and traced the outline of his face, from his temple to his cheekbone. "Like a blurry picture just got un-blurred... like I know a million things now... Like: why I was so scared of losing you... why I was so certain I couldn't do it without you." She stopped and withdrew her hand reluctantly, closed her eyes. "Why other things... could never have worked out; why I didn't have it in me to make them work... because..." She opened them again, her face finally lighting up. "...Because you were always there. I'm such an idiot. It's always been you, even when I was so blind *I* would have smacked me for being that dense."

He couldn't help grinning back and chuckling a little. She would always be, well, *Buffy*...

"We've both hurt each other many times... but I never stopped loving you, Buffy. Disapproved rather severely on occasion..." He added, but he was smiling again.

The undeserved gentleness was almost her undoing.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered.

His expression grew tender and he nodded, before holding out his hand.

"Let's go home, before we catch our death."

They ran back to the car together, more to get home faster, than to get out of the rain, which was running off them now in mini torrents even though the downpour had slowed to a drizzle.

* * * * *

"I think I'm waterlogged," Buffy complained as Giles closed the door to the flat, which they'd decided was the better option, given that there were no dry clothes for Giles at Buffy's house, and this way Dawn's sleep would also remain undisturbed.

He looked down at the drips pooling at her feet, and his. "I think we both are," he agreed, frowning when he realized she was shivering. "I'm going upstairs to get us some dry clothes. You can't wait until you get home. You'll catch your death."

Buffy didn't argue.

Giles came back down with a sweatshirt and some dry blue jeans for himself and a fleecy-lined sweat and grey track-pants for Buffy over one arm. "They'll be rather large, but I can have your clothes dried in the dryer not too long after you shower."

"I'm showering... here?"

"Well, I intend to, and I'm not making you wait until I'm done. Ladies first."


He touched her cheek again with his free hand. "I'll still be here, afterward," he said perceptively. "Nothing will have changed... I promise."

She pressed her face into his fingers for a brief moment, then rolled her eyes up to meet his. "Is it... is it *real*?"

His handsome face creased into a gentle smile and he nodded. "And it will still be real when you're warm and dry again."

* * * * *

Buffy felt a little like Alice in Wonderland: a little lost and rather small as she set the shower going and stripped in Giles' bathroom, before climbing into the big tub amidst the clouds of steam. Her hair was already plastered to her head, so there was no point in worrying about getting it wet. She dove under the blissful stream of hot water and let the heat take the chill from her bones as her mind crept back to savour the moment in which her life had just changed... perhaps forever.

When she emerged, tired, but rosy and warm, her hair combed back and Giles' too-big clothes bundled on her, she looked young and vulnerable and as far from being the Chosen as Giles could possibly imagine.

"Better?" he asked, more to give himself a moment to collect his thoughts, than because it required an answer.

She nodded and smiled, trying not to notice that Giles had already shed his wet shirt, shoes and socks. An almost impossible proposition, given that the last time she saw him without a shirt was the first time she'd *really* seen him: the first time she'd looked at him and seen someone other than her Watcher; other than books and research, or training or... or a walking security blanket, she told herself honestly.

It excited and terrified her at the same time to look at him and feel both attraction and... desire. There... she'd actually let herself form the thought and her head hadn't exploded... nor for that matter, had any other bits... yet. At that point she finally made herself speak.

"You should go get warm and dry, yourself." It was then she noticed that his jeans were so wet they were clinging to everything. "Those pants are saturated. They're stick... er... stu... ah, you should get them off as soon as you can," she said quickly and then turned bright red.

He laughed softly. "You're probably right," he said affably and wandered off toward the bathroom.

When he finally returned, clad only in jeans, Buffy was curled up in his chair, one of his motorcycle magazines on her lap, and out to it like a light.

He finished towelling off his damp hair and pulled on the sweatshirt, rolling it down onto his hips before turning for the kitchen.

A little while later Buffy roused to the touch of a strong finger against her cheek. Her eyes came wide open when she realized that Giles was there, smiling at her. Little more than a beat later, she remembered where she was and why, and straightened in her chair, alert and aware again as was the wont of the Slayer, who had to be prepared for anything, though her face remained both rosy and sleepy.

Giles handed her a mug of hot chocolate from the coffee table and sat down on the couch next to her with a cup of tea, the aroma of which Buffy savoured as she sipped her own drink. It was one that went right back to their earliest days: something forever associated with him... after the books and the tweed, the Gilesmobile and the suspenders had come and gone, it was still the one thing that was irrevocably *Giles*.

When the silence went on too long and she couldn't stand it any longer, Buffy put down her cup and slid out of her chair.

At her movement, Giles put his down also and looked up at her curiously, saw her expression and immediately rose to face her, looking perhaps even more un-Giles like with his towelled, but damp hair, slim fitting jeans and for once, a fitted, collared sweatshirt instead of yet another one of his horrible baggy sweaters.

Wordlessly, Buffy slid her arms around his neck, gratified when he instinctively slid his own down her body and lifted her once again, enough so that her mouth was almost level with his and her slender body enfolded against him.

She kissed his chin, then his nose before sighing happily. "That's better."

"Mmm, so much better..." he agreed hoarsely, pulled her even closer, and bent his head.

It was a long time before either of them surfaced again. Neither really wanted to, but they both knew they had to get back to Revello drive before Dawn woke up and found the place empty.

Giles allowed Buffy to slide down to light gently on the floor, trying to ignore the delicious sensation of body slipping against body.

Buffy missed him almost immediately.

"Responsibility sucks," she grouched.

Giles agreed fervently but restricted himself to bending and brushing her lips again so that she finally favoured him with another smile.

"I'll get our clothes."

* * * * *

The early morning was surprisingly lovely, given that everything was wet. The front had passed and the sun was shining, making the moisture glisten and the air crisp. The drive back to Buffy's house was short, too short for the occupants of the BMW.

Dawn was in the shower when they crept in the front door and straight through to start breakfast.

Giles took charge of the coffee, tea and toast while Buffy busied herself with making pancakes, so that when Dawn came downstairs it seemed like a perfectly normal morning.

She sniffed. "Cool. We haven't had pancakes in weeks. So where were you guys?"

Both Giles and Buffy froze at the same moment, making a comical picture.

Dawn giggled. "I'm not twelve any more. Buffy's bed hasn't been slept in. That means patrol or trouble, neither of which you guys bothered to leave a note about."

"You weren't... worried?" Buffy asked tentatively.

"Sure I was worried, but c'mon, you're the Slayer. It's what you do. And Giles was either gonna be out with you or home. Either way he's gonna be safe, right?"

Both Giles and Buffy let out long sighs and their bodies visibly relaxed. As simplistic as it was, it was reassuring and made sense to Dawn, and that was all that mattered.

"In that case, have you decided where you'd like to go this afternoon?" Giles inquired as he placed a mug of hot chocolate in front of her.

"Oh." Dawn looked a little awkward. "Um, I talked to Janice about twenty minutes ago and she asked me to go roller-skating with her today. Nathan McAllister is going to be there. Can I go? Please?"

Buffy and Giles looked at each other for a long moment, then Giles opened his wallet, stepped around the counter and handed Dawn a twenty dollar note, making her eyes light up.

"Take your cell phone and make sure it's turned on," he told her. "And make sure at least some of that contributes to you a eating a nutritious lunch."

Dawn rolled her eyes but she was smiling. After a beat, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?" she asked, before bouncing back and grinning even more widely.

It was so unexpected that Giles blinked and forgot to close his mouth. Then he turned red and half-smiled. "Well, of course I love you too," he said gruffly. "Just be careful and don't lose that money."

Dawn giggled, too pleased to argue, even about being spoken to like a six year old. "I promise." She turned to her sister. "I'll call on the cell when I'm leaving to come home."

Buffy nodded. It was an unwritten Summers law, particularly if she was leaving after dark.

Breakfast was subsequently a rowdy, good-natured affair, with a lot of discussion about Nathan McAllister, the rain during the night, whether Giles could roller-skate and what kind of prehistoric skates he had as a boy, and an argument between the sisters about the merits of ice-skating versus roller-skating.

"Thanks," Buffy said quietly as she and Giles did the dishes.


"For breakfast, and the money... and making Dawn laugh."

He grinned boyishly. "She did rather enjoy the image of me flat on my arse."

She smiled. "I can't believe you went down a hill the first time you ever roller skated."

"I was ten. Ten year old boys are not particularly sane creatures," he said placidly.

"Did the baker get mad after you hit him?"

He chuckled. "I did more than hit him. I cannoned into him at high speed, bounced off his very large belly and ended up... as I told Dawn, flat on my arse. Didn't do his basket of bread much good either. I handed in my skate key after that."

Buffy giggled then grew thoughtful. "I bet little Giles was cute. Do you have any pictures?"

Giles finished washing the last bowl and pulled the plug. "A few."

"Will you show them to me some time?"

He nodded. "One day." He changed the subject. "Since we seem to have the whole day to ourselves now, is there something you'd like to do...?"

"Together? Us?"

"I can go home if you'd prefer..."

Buffy pulled it together then biffed him in the arm.


"Faker," she grinned.

He smiled back at her, before ducking his head and catching her soft lips again for a moment before replying. "There must be something you'd like to do."

Then they seemed to be staring at each other again. Buffy broke the silence first.

"W-what about you? W-what would you like to do with your day?" she asked, her colour high.

It was such an unexpected question, particularly from Buffy, combined with the flush of her cheeks and the look in her eyes, that Giles was momentarily at a loss for words.

"I should like very much to spend it with you," he said quietly and reached out to caress her hair with the backs of his fingers. "But I don't want to rush... us."

She nodded, not wanting anything to spoil this either. For the first time in her life she had a sense, not of walking into the unknown, or stepping off a blind cliff... but of coming home, of her heart finally being in a place that felt warm and secure and safe.

He smiled then. "So, what shall we do? Is there perhaps something special, something that you haven't done in a very long time, that we might do together?"

After a long moment Buffy's eyes lit up.

* * * * *

"Are you really certain about this? I could break a bone... at my age it might not..."

"Did you or did you not say you could do this? I heard you. You said every winter when you were a kid you couldn't wait for the ponds to freeze... whatever happened to 'just like riding a bicycle'?"

"One can break bones falling from one of those as well."

Buffy put her hands on her hips and waited for him to step out onto the smooth surface, half expecting a Jerry Lewis style performance and prepared to rush to his rescue to avoid broken or chipped bones, if necessary.

After a couple more unintelligible mutterings, Giles took the extra couple of ungainly steps from where he'd been sitting to put his skates on, and stepped onto the ice... without so much as a wobble.

When he pushed off and traced a lazy circle around her, before sliding to a smug halt, she rolled her eyes and slid easily across to 'stand' in front of him.

"Smart ass."

He smiled just as smugly. "Who me?" He took her hand and turned her so that they could push off together.

It was still very early, just on opening, and the rink was nearly empty. Fortunately it also seemed to have been recently refrozen, so that it was much smoother than the usual bumpy, chopped-up public surface, much to Buffy's satisfaction.

They skated fluidly around the perimeter, unhindered by the few children and neophytes pottering around the walls, or the small group of teenagers gathered right in the centre of the rink.

Buffy was astonished by Giles' grace and skill, given that he hadn't skated for years and was being asked to do so on pretty crappy rented blades. She was also revelling in his nearness and the way they seemed to be able to read each other when, on their second pass, they moved so that she was skating in the circle of his arm instead of linking fingers at arm's length.

When they eventually slid to a halt again, by silent assent, Buffy skated right up and leaned against his chest.

"I can't believe you're doing this for me."

He slid his arms around her and drew her into the warmth of the cream coloured, cable-knit wool sweater he'd worn for the occasion, over blue jeans.

"Believe it," he said softly. "You look beautiful in that thing."

"It's the last costume mom made for me," she said sadly, smoothing the pale, gossamer green fabric. Good thing I stopped growing by the time I was fourteen." She pirouetted away and began skating figure eights until she'd gained enough speed to do a few simple jumps and turns.

Giles watched appreciatively as her lithe body moved gracefully over the ice, enjoying the view and the performance for some while before pushing off again, himself. Unlike his adventures with roller-skates, his family had him on blades just about from the time he could walk. Skating and tobogganing were the great joys of winter during his childhood, going some way to make up for the dreariness, the cold and the restrictions it put on such sports as football and cricket, not to mention the usual outdoor boyhood mischief.

He didn't know any competition moves, but he had spent time at various intervals in his teens showing off to girlfriends.

Buffy smiled when she felt him slide up beside her and slip an arm easily around her waist. They skated lazy figure eights, swift, exhilarating circuits of the rink and made some ultimately giggling attempts at pairs manoeuvres, the only one actually looking good in execution being holding hands opposite each other and spinning in a circle. Other attempts resulted in first Giles, then Buffy, then both, flat on their backside on the ice and much laughter.

Giles gained his feet first, still chuckling, dug the toe of one of his blades in and extended a hand to her. "We're going to be sore... no, I'm going to be sore tomorrow," he said ruefully, not really regretting a single moment. "I think perhaps some morning tea is in order."

Buffy, well practised, took the hand, came lightly to her own feet and slid forward to curl her arms around his waist again, sighing with pleasure as his automatically wrapped around her and her face snuggled into his sweater.

Giles rested his chin on her hair. "If this is what I get for morning tea, perhaps I should be offering dinner at Alessandro's?" He teased.

Buffy lifted her head almost reluctantly, but grinned. "Alessandro's? God, I've dreamed of going there. Will and I used to make up endless 'Anywhere But Here' scenarios for that place because... hey... it wasn't like we were ever really going to be able to afford to go there." She looked bemused. "I had it bad for George Clooney in leather. For some reason Will really couldn't get past either John Cusack or Xander in a tux."

He chuckled. "I suppose there's some novelty in the formality of the place. I rather liked it."

Her eyes narrowed. "I don't remember you ever mentioning that you'd been there..."

Giles enjoyed the flash of jealousy in her eyes. "I don't ever recall an instance where you would have cared one way or the other," he pointed out, the light in his eyes softening the bluntness.

Her contented smile wavered and her colour rose. "Low blow," she retorted. "So who was the lucky girl?"

"Does it matter?"

Buffy's face puckered into a pout. "Well, no," she conceded, clearly wanting very badly to know.

His amusement increased. "Her name was Emma. We ate. We danced and eventually I took her home."

"And I never got to meet Emma because...?"

"Because you were far too busy making eyes at Riley, and besides, Emma had to go home to her husband. Our relationship was doomed from the start," he added mock melodramatically.

Buffy, whose eyes had gone like saucers, narrowed them and scowled at him, aware now that she was being got at.

He chuckled. "The owner of the Espresso Pump. Her husband was supposed to be there too, but he was called out of town... an executive of some sort... and he suggested that we carry on... uh... with the dinner engagement. A celebration of sorts, to mark my last performance."

"You rat. You let me think... anyway, what it's like?"

"What's what like?"

"Your singing? I never got to hear you..."

"I did wonder why I never saw you at a performance... even after the others found out," he said, turning her to guide her off the ice.

The following silence lasted until they reached the car.

Buffy hesitated at the passenger side door when Giles would have opened it for her.

"I'm sorry I didn't come." She shrugged. "Riley... mostly. And... and I kinda wigged," she admitted. "One minute you were my stuffy British Watcher, the next minute you're Giles Clapton... unplugged." she added as an apparent afterthought then shifted again, uncomfortably. "Will said you were really good, but I never did get to hear you. I was so busy trying to turn prince charming into a frog, among other things, I kinda forgot to grow up there for a long time... maybe not even until after mom..."

"It doesn't matter... about coming to see me sing," Giles said awkwardly. "I really didn't want any of you to see, anyway. What matters is that you have grown up... at last."

Buffy finally smiled, just a little. "I guess... I guess it's about time, anyway. I mean, with Glory and all... I may not have that much time to be..."

Giles covered her lips with his forefinger, then lifted it and brushed her lips with his, before smiling back at her with a kind of gentle ferocity.

"Not if I can help it. If I have my way, I promise you, you will have all the time in the world..."

* * * * *

Buffy came back into the living room with coffee, tea and cookies and found Giles hanging up the phone.


He looked up, blinked, and then shook his head. "Apart from suspecting that every muscle in my body is going to make me pay dearly for my showing off earlier today? No. Not a thing. Willow says hello."

She looked more closely at him. Something was up.

"And you were talking to Will today, because...?"

"I needed a favour," he said cryptically and took his cup of tea from the tray.

Buffy put the tray down, picked up her coffee and sat alongside him on the couch, half amused, half annoyed.

"Okay, none of my business. Getting that loud and clear."

Giles studied her profile for a moment. "As a matter of fact I rather hoped you might come out to dinner with me tonight. Willow has agreed to baby-sit, should you say yes," he finally confided, eyes dancing with amusement.

Her eyes widened then lit up. "Dinner...us?"

He nodded. "Willow is happy to baby-sit; Dawn has agreed, and reservations have been made... if you want to go."

"Do I...?" She deliberately put down her tea and turned to him. "As long as we're not going to Taco Bell. I'm about up to quota on moron punks for this year."

He laughed. "Not quite what I had in mind. Do you have an evening gown of any kind?"

Buffy frowned. "If you mean ultra-formal 'Cinderella-going-to-the-ball' gown, then nope."

"How about a 'Cinderella-going-to-Alessandro's-for-dinner' gown?" He asked gently.

"Alessandro's? Really? Oh my God... I've got nothing to wear! It's been so long since... I mean I-I've really never needed those kind of clothes, and..."

Giles rose and extended his hand.

Effectively silenced, a bewildered Buffy slid her fingers into his palm. Next thing she knew they were in the BMW.

And then, before it could all register, they were in Skye's... a designer eveningwear boutique in the mall. She had never been able to do more than press her nose against its window before.

Buffy was more than surprised when Giles stayed and more or less supervised her purchases, especially the dress, vetoing several outright and a couple after she modelled them. Yet another green, a red, and an ivory number later, they both fell for a lovely pale amethyst coloured creation. It was perfectly cut for Buffy's slender body, so that it moved with her and accentuated every curve as she modelled it, wearing the delicate silver evening sandals and carrying the matching purse brought by the assistant.

Giles was enchanted, and when she dreamily declared all of it beyond perfect, he ordered the lot wrapped and paid for it with a credit card.

When his wallet fell open as he was pulling the card out, she realised with a start that the small photo window had a picture of her in it, not recent. It took a moment to place, particularly since she was still dealing with the idea of Giles having a picture of her in his wallet in the first place. Then it came to her. She'd had dozens and dozens of the things laser-copied for her campaign against Cordelia for Prom Queen. Giles must have 'liberated' one of the smaller ones that were posted on the library noticeboard, at some point, without ever saying anything.

Dazedly, she watched him put the card back in his wallet and wondered how he was going to pay for it all. It gave her a small, but painful, pang to realize how little she'd truly gotten to know him... for all their time together over the years.

They were on their way out of the mall when Buffy realised that, owing to a lack of any kind of demonstrable social life, she didn't have a single pair of undamaged tights or stockings to her name.

Giles, wandering toward the exit slowly while she nipped back to buy some, pottered for a short while in the florist, then stopped to look at the display in a jeweller's window. It was a small one, not one of the ubiquitous chain stores with their windows bulging with mass-produced watches, chains and rings. This one even had a section for second-hand and antique pieces. When his eyes lighted on the delicate antique white-gold filigree setting with a blazingly intense teardrop amethyst the size and shape of a small pumpkin seed at its centre, he knew what he was going to do.

When Buffy returned she was too full of her new purchases, and speculating excitedly about what Alessandro's was going to be like, to notice the new packages in Giles' right hand.

* * * * *

"It's only me." Giles called, closing the front door against the cool of the evening.

"Good, because I'm not ready to come down there yet and there's no way I'm ruining this dress just to kick some stupid demon's butt... uh... you are still *you*, right?" Buffy called from somewhere upstairs.

He smiled to himself. "Last time I looked, yes."

When she finally reached the head of the stairs, Giles wasn't there.


"In the kitchen. Hang on."

He arrived bearing two champagne flutes in one hand, and looked up.

"Wow. You're going to be the belle of the ball," Buffy teased, eyeing his slim figure as she came down. He wasn't wearing his glasses, again, and he was in an immaculately cut, black tuxedo. Where the one at the prom had been rented, this one was tailored to fit his physique in beautiful lines, over a white linen shirt with razor sharp collar and cuffs, silver cufflinks and an elegant black bowtie.

By the time she was halfway down the stairs, she realised he was wearing a diamond stud in his left ear. And from the way it caught the hall light as he turned, she decided it definitely wasn't from the home shopping channel. He looked... amazing.


It was no more than a whisper but it roused Buffy from her appreciation of the sight before her, and made her focus on Giles' stunned expression as she halted, one step up, in front of him. Uncharacteristically self-conscious all of a sudden, she lifted her arms slightly in a 'so what do you think?' gesture.

"You like?"

Her hair was up in an intricate style and her makeup complimented the gown, which Giles had noticed still clung gloriously to every curve, yet moved quite freely as she'd descended.

He brushed her surprised mouth with his and handed her a glass. "More than I can find words to express." He raised his own. "To the future."

They stared at each other for a very long moment before an even more bemused, but glowing, Buffy raised hers and touched his with it. "To the future."

They both drank. Then, after a beat, Giles lifted his other hand, which had been nonchalantly tucked behind his right hip the whole time.

He was holding a single, utterly perfect, Sterling Silver rose, the elegant bloom trailing a fine, silver threaded ribbon from its long stem.

Buffy leaned forward to breathe its sweet perfume, then brushed her cheek against the petals before straightening and taking it her hands.

"It's beautiful. I've never seen a lavender rose before."

"Lavender," he explained gently, "for enchantment."

Cheeks even warmer, she looked up from sniffing the rose again, her pleasure obvious. "I'm not enchanting. Slayers aren't enchanting. Enchant-*ed* occasionally, but not-"

Giles leaned down and caught her lips with his, effectively silencing the babble. After a satisfyingly long interval, he lifted his head.

"Enchanting," he whispered, as though he hadn't heard her, and drew his other surprise from his pocket.

Buffy turned the velvet box around in her hands for a moment then looked up at him again.

"You've already given me so many beautiful things today..."

He smiled. "Then one more won't hurt." The smile faded. "All these years there's been so much ugliness in your life and I've not had the right..." He touched the rose. "Let me do this...?"

Buffy, lost in his eyes, nodded slowly. It was several more moments before she was able to tear her gaze away, to look down again.

When she opened the box, her breath caught. She looked up at him again, moisture cluttering her view for a moment.

"It's beautiful," she whispered, the word sounding like there was no greater superlative. She lifted the velvet box a little towards him. "Would you...?"

Giles' eyes shone with pleasure, his face lighting up as he lifted the piece by its delicate chain and moved behind her. When it was fastened he turned her slowly to face the hall mirror so that she could see the antique filigree nestled against her creamy throat, the lighter colour of her gown the perfect foil for the intensity of the stone.

"There, you see?" He dropped a kiss on her right temple. "Utterly enchanting..."

* * * * *

Buffy looked around her as they stepped into the restaurant, taking in the elegant decor, the bandstand and the actual dance floor, and smiled at the thought that sometimes dreams really could come true...

For the first time she also relaxed and stopped worrying about being overdressed. It was obvious that was the point of Alessandro's, and that Giles had known exactly what he was doing. She was surrounded by elegance. It was so totally a Giles kind of place... well ... except maybe for those funky sweaters of his... but still...

She looked up at him. He was scanning the room, waiting patiently for someone to seat them and...

She felt a shiver go up her spine and froze.

*God, did the air conditioning jump ten degrees...?* She shook herself, suddenly very, very warm. In profile, she could see the earring close up for the first time, and his jaw, his throat, even the way his hair curled around his ear and sat on his collar. He was shaved really close and his hair was done with casual elegance... in a word he looked: wow.

Okay, lame, she told herself. A million words you could pick... he gives you 'enchantment' and the best you can do is 'wow'?

A waiter in a white jacket, even whiter shirt and a peacock blue bowtie had arrived, and was talking quietly to Giles.

Buffy watched Giles' mobile mouth, the quick grin; the way he ducked his head slightly when the waiter remarked on what a handsome couple they were; even the way his Adam's apple moved as he spoke with an ease and a confidence she'd rarely seen in him. It occurred to her, dream or no dream, that if he swept her off her feet right now and carried her back to his apartment she wouldn't hate it at all. Another tremor ran up her spine as her eyes moved over his full length. Really, really wouldn't hate it at all....

Instead they moved to a quiet, candle-lit table next to a wall. Like everything else in Alessandro's... the real candlelight, tiny white roses in a slender vase, wineglasses and beautiful silver setting on a burgundy linen tablecloth, were about old-fashioned elegance.

Buffy gave a sigh of pleasure as Giles guided her seat in. For the first time in a very long time, everything: life, death, destiny and responsibility seemed very far away. The waiter had seated Giles, who was ordering French champagne. She loved the way the name of it sounded as it rolled off his tongue. Funny how long she'd been listening to his voice, without ever hearing it before... Well, no. That wasn't exactly true...

From the first time they ever really trained with meditation crystals, the sound of his voice had done things to her that she'd refused to contemplate then: relaxing, soothing... transporting her to a place so peaceful, yet of such clarity, that the lessons were always a complete success... as long as Dawn wasn't allowed to touch anything...

"Would you like something to drink now?"

The voice in question roused her from her reverie. "Oh. Um... you choose," she managed, not quite all the way back yet.

Giles spoke softly to the waiter, who then melted away, then raised an eyebrow.

"Penny for them?"


"Your thoughts. You seemed a very long way away just then."

"Oh... well, yeah. I was remembering something."

He was looking at her inquiringly, his clear green eyes vividly so, today, accentuating the tiny brown patch in the left one.

She suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. "I-I was remembering your voice... from the lessons with the meditation crystals."

Giles smiled slowly. "At least you were thinking of me."

It made everything all right: that smile, and his gentle good humour. Buffy grinned back. "Did anyone ever tell you how amazing your voice is? You could make audio books out of demonology texts... or... something. I think it's sexy as hell," she added impulsively then turned bright red. His eyebrows flew up, but Buffy suddenly grew bolder, parts of her still resonating from her earlier flush of heat. "I think *you're* as sexy as hell," she blurted.

It was Giles' turn to colour adorably, even though, apart from the eyebrows disappearing into his hairline, he seemed quite relaxed about it.

"Thank you. A much more bracing evaluation than 'eiwww' I must say," he teased.

Buffy, whose colour had almost returned to normal, flushed again. "Different times, different me. Dying a time or two will do that to you," she added and picked up one of the menus left by the waiter. Her eyes bulged at the prices for the meals, but a glance at Giles's expression as he followed her lead, found him seemingly unconcerned.

She buried herself in her menu again, even though she knew at a glance what she was going to have, despite many of the actual dishes being in French. Like, there was no way she was going to do anything but point to the delicious sounding scallop entree she wanted.

'Coquille Saint-Jacques a l'Amoricaine' was something she wanted to hear Giles' voice say aloud, a lot more than she wanted to listen to herself murdering every syllable.

When the waiter returned she listened happily to Giles' easy mixture of French and English as he ordered for both of them. He hadn't laughed or teased her about not wanting to pronounce the difficult French names, nor did he quibble about ordering for both of them.

Moments after the waiter left, soft music started to play. Buffy, who was facing the band, focused on them for the first time.

"Not exactly the top forty."

Giles turned and followed her gaze. "Part of the charm of this place is that it allows itself to be old fashioned. And part of the charm of being old-fashioned is that one can enjoy music and dancing without one's brains dribbling out of one's ears." He turned back and grinned at the look on her face.

She snorted. "You want to talk about melted brains? I never told you, but I made Willow find the Bay City Rollers on the Internet... pictures *and* music. *Tell me* you were kidding about-"

Giles closed his mouth and nodded sheepishly. "I was kidding. Tartan twits. I was taking out a girl back in those days, who was obsessed with them: squealing, sighing, scrapbooks, the whole lot," he mused then refocused. "I thought I was being clever. It didn't occur to me that you might never have heard of them."

"Thank God," she grinned, watching couples trickling out onto the dance floor for the first time. "What's that song?"

"Cole Porter...Begin the Beguine."

"It's pretty. Does it have words... and do I want to know what a 'beguine' is?"

"It's a type of dance and the music that goes with it." He smiled back. "And yes, it has words. Would you like to...?" He nodded toward the dance floor.

Her eyes lit up, giving him his answer. He stood and held out his hand once again.

As they glided onto the polished surface and Giles drew her into his arms, Buffy gave thanks for the very high heels she was wearing. She sighed happily as they automatically fitted together, swaying to the slow rhythm of the music. She couldn't remember the last time anything had felt so good... so right. Warmth spread through her body as her awareness of his, of the strong arm around her waist, suddenly grew.

And at that same moment another kind of awareness grew. Terrifying, exciting, shattering... and wonderful all in the same split second of recognition.

She was in love with Giles.

A wave of pure happiness washed over her and she snuggled into his chest. Less than a beat later she realised unequivocally that if this was true love, she was meeting it for the first time...

The arm that was around her waist shifted a little, and his hand rubbed small circles in the centre of her back, making Buffy realise her thoughts had made her tense, and Giles had felt it. She made herself relax again, still trying to put it all into perspective as they swung effortlessly past the band.

Giles leaned down and kissed her temple as they swayed before speaking softly in her ear.

"All right?"

It took some effort to lift her head and meet his eyes. She nodded. "More than all right," she whispered, her eyes luminous with emotion. "Nothing's ever been more right."

Despite the music, Giles must have understood, because a slow smile lit his face and he drew her against him again.

This time Buffy let go of his hand and slid both arms around him, leaning against him and closing her eyes, then sighing when he wrapped his large ones around her as they continued to sway. They remained that way through 'It Had To Be You', 'As Time Goes By', and 'Strangers In The Night' before Giles gently swung her off the dance floor as the band shifted seamlessly into Glen Miller's 'In The Mood'.

They returned, hand in hand, to their table, and settled just as their entrees arrived and the drinks waiter appeared from nowhere with an ice bucket stand and the wine Giles ordered.

"No brain melting yet?" Giles teased when they were finally alone again.

Buffy made a face but couldn't keep from smiling back at him and shaking her head just a little. "I didn't want to stop," she confided.

"Neither did I," he agreed and reached across to touch her fingers. "But I'm sure they'll play another bracket of slow numbers later on. Hungry?"

The meal was heaven and, transported by Giles' easy small talk as they meandered through it, Buffy was able to truly forget for a while that she was anything other than a woman out with the man she loved. The dessert menu proved a challenge. Buffy was determined to miss nothing, but was flagging considerably after an entree and a main course.

Giles' look of enquiry enticed her to turn the dessert menu to show him what she was looking at. He'd been going to skip straight to coffee himself, but it was obvious Buffy wanted the chocolate confection at the top of the list. It was equally obvious that she didn't want to eat it by herself.

"It sounds delicious," he agreed, sure it was, but equally sure he'd be far better off with a cappuccino and an after-dinner mint. "But there's rather a lot of it. Shall we share?"

Buffy agreed happily and a waiter's attention was attracted.

When it came, the 'Chocolate Tower' looked as impressive as its name: rich chocolate mouse moulded around a white chocolate lattice, drizzled with raspberry sauce which pooled artfully on the snowy white plate, and decorated with curled milk and dark chocolate shavings.

Giles' insides groaned, but even he was impressed, and the look on Buffy's face when it was set in the centre of the table was more than enough for him. So much pleasure in a simple thing like an explosion of chocolate on a plate. It made him realize just how little joy or simple pleasure there was in the life of a Slayer. For a moment his smile flickered, then she looked up at him and grinned impishly, and he couldn't help but smile back.

"Thanks," she said softly.

It wasn't quite what he was expecting. He let his smile widen, the laughter lines at the corners of his warm eyes grooving deeply, and nodded.

After a beat, he was again surprised when Buffy slid a spoon into the sweet confection and held it up to his lips, watching as he slid his mouth over it and drew the mousse and chocolate off. When he swallowed, she moved to dip her spoon in again but he gently stayed her hand.

She watched as he picked his own up and brought a portion of the dessert to her surprised lips. She took it, much as he had, her eyes fixed on his, watching him watching her. The atmosphere between them had grown almost palpable.

Then, as she took another turn with the spoon, a glob of mousse fell into her wine glass, and the spell was broken, both of them laughing easily.

They continued to share the dessert until Buffy called an amused, groaning halt and Giles, whose stomach had been in mild revolt for some time, breathed a silent sigh of relief.

"I'm so gonna regret this later," she sighed happily.

Giles observed ruefully to himself that she probably wasn't going to be alone. He ordered coffee and they drank it very slowly until, as he'd predicted, the upbeat tempo of the music finally gave way to the slower standards once more.

By mutual assent, they soon found themselves on the dance floor again. Drowsy from the wine, the good food and the long day, Buffy didn't bother with the formalities. She simply moved into Giles' willing arms, laying her head against his chest, before sliding her own around him and sighing blissfully as she felt herself enveloped once more.

Giles, too, felt a level of contentment he never believed possible, as they drifted around the dance floor, barely aware that there existed a world beyond the two of them.

Eventually, however, the band switched back to 'Chattanooga Choo Choo', bringing the two of them abruptly back to Earth. When they returned to their table, Giles signalled for the bill.

* * * * *

As the BMW purred quietly through the backstreets of Sunnydale, Buffy rested her head on a tuxedoed shoulder. As she began to drowse, something became very clear. She didn't want the night to end any time soon, and for once she was at a loss as to how make that happen...

When she stirred some time later she was aware of a couple of things: they should have been home by now, and they were close to the ocean... she could smell it. The last time she was near the sea was with the gang, on the beach... barbecuing. Giles had stayed away, probably because Riley was there, among other things. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and in a way it was... several lifetimes, in fact.

When the car stopped, she sat up slowly and blinked.

Giles shifted and smiled at her tenderly. "Hello, sleepy head."

"Is there evil?"

"Possibly," he deadpanned, then grinned at the look on her face and her suddenly very large eyes, and shook his head. "To be honest, I wasn't quite ready for the evening to end yet."

Buffy relaxed again then sat up straight again in the same moment and put a hand on his chest. "Giles... the dress... these shoes... they're so not going in the sand..."

"Don't worry," he said, bending his head, "they won't be."

When his mouth covered hers, Buffy forgot about shoes... forgot about everything. Her arms slid around his neck as the kiss deepened and they slowly fell into each other.

Bathed in moonlight that seemed to reach across the water from the horizon to the hills far behind them, they spent forever exploring, discovering joy both had waited far too long to know.

Much, much later, Giles spoke first, finally releasing the soft lips and stroking a stray lock from her temple with a not quite steady hand.

"I think perhaps we should take that walk after all."

Dazed and a little confused, Buffy looked into his desire-blurred eyes, her own smoky with passion. "My new shoes..."

"Take them off. I haven't walked barefoot in the sand since I was..." Giles trailed off, his breathing almost normal again and the flush of colour almost gone from his face. Then he produced a slightly self-conscious, lop-sided grin. "Do you mind very much...?"

Buffy touched his face. "It's okay," she reassured him softly, well aware of the reason he wanted a change of venue, and ran her fingers lightly over the contour of his trousers, making him draw an audible breath. "Besides, I think I'd like to walk in the moonlight with you." A memory split her face into a grin. "Maybe even frolic a little."

Giles grinned back, remembering. "Or perhaps even a little leaping..."

"Or possibly even cavorting?"

For a beat they continued to smile at each other, then Giles traced her cheekbone with the backs of his fingers.

"Lord, I love you," he whispered hoarsely.

Her eyes blazed the same sentiment back at him before her expression grew mischievous.

"But not in the back of a BMW," she teased, flicking a glance over the back seat. "I get it now. You don't want your feet to stick out the window."

Giles snorted. "When I love you it will not be fumbling about in the back of a car like a teenager," he said in a voice that made her bones melt. "When I love you it will be the two of us and all the time we want... not a mad, sweaty, juvenile dash to..." He snorted again, kicked off his shoes and got out of the vehicle, throwing his socks back in before coming around and opening her door. When she turned her legs toward him, he lifted them so he could remove first one, then the other, silver shoe.

"Stockings or tights?" He asked, his green eyes flashing tigerishly in the moonlight.

Buffy, dazed, eased her long dress up past her knees. "Stockings."

The smiled widened to a wolfish grin and he ran his hand up a silken thigh, making her gasp softly, to the fastenings of her garter belt and expertly flicking each of them undone. He eased the silk down and drew it off her foot, then repeated the process with the other one, Buffy barely able to breathe when he was done... the touch of his fingertips against the sensitive skin of her inner thighs sending bolts through her entire body.

Giles dropped the two bits of silk on the floor of the car and carefully smoothed down her dress before taking her hands and easing her from the vehicle and into his arms.

Except this time he didn't kiss her, instead setting her down and offering her his hand.

Together, they picked their way across the grass, Buffy holding up the hem of her dress as they stepped onto the sandy path to the beach.

When they reached the high water mark, Giles paused to hitch up the cuffs of his pants.

The water was cold and Buffy shrieked the first time it ran across her toes. They meandered up the beach, playing at the fringes of the rising tide and laughingly fleeing the occasional surge that threatened their clothes, until a particularly large wave roiled up the beach. It was clear that Buffy hadn't seen it in time.

She looked up at Giles' barked warning and shrieked.

Fortunately he'd already summed the situation up, and simply scooped her up in one smooth movement to save the dress, before striding up to the high water mark, the incoming wash rushing past until it was perilously close to the edges of his rolled up pants.

Once they were clear he stopped and set her down.

"Okay, that was way too close for comfort."

"The dress would probably be perfectly fine after a trip to the cleaners," he pointed out gently. "In any event, it's not damaged."

Buffy leaned her forehead against his chest. "I know... it's just..." She sighed and looked up again. "It's part of tonight and I don't want *anything* about tonight to be messed up. Does that make sense?"

"Strangely enough, perfect sense."

A slow smile lit her face, matching the one on his. "Why are we fooling around on the beach when there are so many other interesting things we could be doing right now?" She asked provocatively, sliding her arms around his neck.

"Going slowly," he told her. "If the rest of our lives must be a chaotic rush, then let 'us' be the one thing that isn't." He followed his last words with a bending of his head to hers again, simultaneously drawing her slender body against his own.

Both of them remained oblivious of the water that burbled up once again, and over Giles' feet and ankles, just missing Buffy's dangling toes as it rushed up the gentle bank of sand. The tide was still rising.

When they finally parted, Giles finally realised that his feet were no longer standing on dry sand and laughed as he scooped Buffy up again and marched towards the car.

* * * * *

When the car drew to a halt outside Giles' apartment building, they were both wide-awake, both more aware of each other than they had ever been before.

They sat quietly for a long moment after the engine was turned off. When they finally faced each other, almost at the same moment, both opened their mouths to speak then closed them again, eyes meeting and doing the talking for them.

Giles reached out and brushed a tender cheek with the backs of his fingers, somehow diffusing the overwhelming tension. In turn they finally smiled and looked a little sheepish, before opening their doors.

* * * * *

"I'm getting sand all over your floor."

Giles looked down at his own very sandy feet. "Don't worry about it, so did I," he called matter-of-factly from the kitchen, where he was putting the ubiquitous kettle on and trying hard to work out exactly why. "You're welcome to use the bathroom to rinse your feet, though, if you want."

A moment later Buffy halted in the archway to the kitchen and watched him with the cups, half-smiling and well aware that, for whatever reason, he was stalling.

"Very tempting... but even more tempting if I had company." Her tone was provocative and enticing, despite the barest hint of uncertainty behind the teasing.

Giles stopped rattling cups then and stared at her for a long moment, butterflies in his stomach, and an almost dread sense of looming precipice...

...And then he remembered that he knew, now. Knew why he'd stayed all these years; why she was the only thing in his world that made sense; that mattered a damn, and always would be...

He turned off the gas without even looking down, before sweeping her up and carrying her through to the bathroom across the hall.

Inside, he kicked the door closed and put her down so that she was facing him, took her face in his hands and kissed her until she wasn't sure what planet she was on, let alone which bathroom. Then he lifted his head and met her bemused smile with one of his own, before sliding his arms around her and finding the zipper of her dress.

Buffy's entire body went from superheated to on fire as the zipper slid down to the small of her back and he very carefully slid the gown off her shoulders and over her hips. When she stepped lightly out of it, he hung it on the robe hook on the back of the bathroom door with one hand, and without taking his eyes from the vision before him. She was wearing only a tiny, hi-cut trifle of white silk, and a matching suspender belt for the silk stockings still lying on the floor of the car.

Heart thundering in her ears, she waited.

Still without moving his gaze an inch, Giles removed his jacket and hung it over the gown.

A hand lifted to his tie, however, immediately brought her to life.

Wordlessly, Buffy stayed his hand and carefully untied the expensive black tie, which Giles pushed into the pocket of the jacket as she began on his shirt buttons. His breath caught as her fingers grazed his skin. Not so long ago he believed he would never know this moment, never know her touch, much less her heart.

When the white linen shirt was undone, she pushed it off his shoulders and watched as he let it fall. His chest was hard, but not buff. She wasn't sure what she expected, but it was still a pleasant surprise to go with her recent memories of the wide shoulders and very male chest, with the golden and, now she could see, one or three grey, hairs across it. It almost made her giggle: the realisation that she'd never actually been with anyone quite so... male... before.

At that point, however, she lost her train of thought. Large, tender hands were sliding over her skin, down her back to cup soft, sweet flesh, and lift her up to fit perfectly against him. And then she was drowning in the pleasure of a kiss that she never wanted to end; a kiss that was setting fire to the very edges of her soul.

Giles wasn't sure when he'd surrendered complete control. All he knew was that she was his, and she wanted him. The taste... the feel... the scent... the sheer power of her... was almost more than his senses could handle... heady, wild... free... freer than he'd felt in years... so *many* years.

Buffy felt him respond to her, felt the power in the lithe male body, the possessiveness of the arms that held her. She whimpered, before pressing herself even more hungrily against him.

And then he slowly stopped plundering her tender mouth and lifted his head.

She found herself carried to the big bathtub and set very gently on the side of it while Giles leaned over and started a tap running. A few moments later, when he lifted one of her feet, she realized what he was doing and was overwhelmed with unexpected pain...

His bent head, as he lovingly washed the sand off her feet, filled her with both humility and shame. This wasn't about servitude. This was a gift. She could feel the authority in his movements, the power in that body and she knew, as suddenly and as shockingly as if she'd been shot, that Rupert Giles bowed to no man, and never would... and yet for years he'd *given* her what he'd let no other take from him.

She looked down as he picked up her second foot. The pain of insight was far too deep for tears, instead etching regret, sorrow... grief, into the very depths of her soft grey-green eyes as her worldview shattered and reformed, and with it, her heart.

The weight of the knowledge of what she'd done to him, and how much he'd willingly tolerated for... for love of her, threatened to overwhelm her, made her want to run as fast and as far away as possible...

She reached out shaking fingers to caress the soft hair on his crown... but it was far too late to run; she'd run... or hidden... far too often.

He finished the foot and straightened at her touch, his contented countenance immediately transformed into concern when he saw her face. Before he could speak, however, she stood up and unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his pants, finding the normally troublesome inside hook with surprising ease, before sliding the zipper down and pushing them off.

When he stepped out of them uncertainly, Buffy moved forward immediately, to stand very close to him and look up into the face she loved. She reached up with a trembling hand and touched his face.

"I'm *so* sorry..." she whispered.

Giles didn't need an explanation. He was staring into her eyes, his own glistening and bright. He was about to tell her so, when her fingers moved to his mouth to quiet him instead.

Then she put her hands on his chest and traced all the contours, the curves, playing with the soft hair, and kissing his sternum before letting her fingers slide down his sides and inside the back of soft, close fitting boxer-briefs he was wearing. His indrawn breath was the only sound that echoed in the small bathroom as she cupped the surprisingly smooth curves beneath. A moment later she let her right hand slide around his whipcord hard hip and very deliberately stroked his length, feeling the shudder that went right through his body at the most intimate of touches.

Buffy stayed there for a moment longer, before kissing his chest again, slipping down to her knees, and picking up the damp cloth. Lovingly, she returned the favour... carefully removing the sand from his large, well-formed feet, before slowly straightening, without rising, and looking, once again, at the over-burdened briefs.

When her fingers reached out and touched the buttoned fly, Giles touched her hand, prompting her to look up again and to meet his concerned gaze. They lingered just long enough for him to again make the bathroom echo with the sound of his swiftly indrawn breath, recognising in her beautiful eyes the plain and simple truth.

She yielded.

Her fingers continued, easily undoing the buttons and slipping inside the briefs again, to capture the fiery heat of him, holding the strength of his passion, his need, in her hand as she drew him out.

The sheer pleasure of her touch... the ecstasy of it... was almost too much. Giles made a noise that caught between a shudder and a groan, and leaned into her hand. Then she took him and made him hers, his gasping cry echoing around the flat as her mouth, her body and her whole heart became his.

When Giles knew he couldn't take another moment of the glorious things she was doing to him, he bent and lifted her gently by the shoulders.

Buffy released him and came lightly to her feet only be kissed once again, this time slowly, gently, passionately, until her legs were almost jelly. At which point Giles swung her into the bathtub and stepped in after her, toeing the plug into the plughole, but setting the shower going, rather than running a bath.

A moment later they were kissing again, under a steaming torrent of blissfully hot water, Buffy groaning as Giles' hands wandered over her slender body, he answering with a groan of his own as she responded by arching hard against him. Then they were sharing the discovery, exploring each other, removing the last barriers and dropping them beside the tub, tasting, tracing, touching, all with an urgency that would not be brooked.

"Oh, God," he breathed, when her fingers closed around him again. He captured Buffy's mouth as her touch drove him once again to a height of arousal he hadn't known since... Since his misspent youth, he mused ruefully, between shudders.

Then, somehow, he drew her down so that he was sitting down under the torrent of water and Buffy was astride him, though their lips, tongues, mouths... remained firmly tangled.

Buffy felt Giles' strong hands slide over her soft skin and cup her breasts. She shivered at their heightened sensitivity as he stroked and caressed them, making small noises and pushing against his palms. Then, just as her small whimpers were getting more demanding, one almost painfully hardened nipple was left bereft of attention. The large fingers slid down Buffy's side, inside her thigh and trailed tormentingly along her hyper-sensitised groin, making her shudder and groan loudly enough to echo in the small bathroom. For a long, cruel moment the fingertips paused.

"Giles," she moaned and then bucked and cried out as they slipped into the soft folds, expertly caressing, stroking and exploring the warm, sensitised, buds of soft flesh, Giles revelling her vocal, writhing response.

And then, with slayer speed, he felt her shift and found himself poised, pressing against moist, willing flesh, about to... It was his turn to cry out as she pushed downwards so that his tip moved inside her, taken and closed upon by her hungry flesh.

"Buffy..." He hissed, groaning short groans both of pleasure and need as she held herself there for a moment.

Her hands cupped his head and she kissed his hair amid the cascading water from the shower, as her body travelled down his rigid length, sheathing him, owning him as he cried out her name again.

His hands closed on her soft buttocks as she began to move, he unable to stop himself reciprocating, their passion so demanding that their love making grew loud and wild and frantic, until it seemed almost as though they were fighting to get enough of each other.

Buffy opened herself even wider, greedy for him, demanding more of the incredibly hard length buried inside her, which in turn made Giles gasp and redouble his efforts to give her what she wanted, struggling to hold back his release as her channel spasmed with each new wave of pleasure.

And then, suddenly, there was no need to hold back.

Buffy made a strangled, gasping noise, and her movements became frantic. "Giles! Oh, God, Giles!" Her body shook and shuddered, cries wrenched from her as she writhed and plunged, the magnificence of her completion sending him spiralling after her, thrusting upwards as she rode him and echoing her cries as he spilled endlessly into her.

When the bathroom finally stopped echoing, Buffy turned off the shower and slid her arms slid around his neck, resting her face against his hair, so that his cheek lay contentedly against her tender bosom.

"God," she said softly. "What *was* that? Anyone would think the two of us haven't been getting any, or something," she added dryly.

He couldn't help but giggle, which naturally made her giggle too. When they quieted again, he said softly: "Are you all right?" And felt her nod against his hair. He continued. "Are... are you, um...?"

"Yes," she said, amusement in her voice as her chin moved against his crown. "Since Riley. The little foil packages... not my idea of romance." Giles' whole body relaxed a little bit more. Buffy smiled. "So how does it feel to be seventeen again?" she teased.

Giles shifted then, so that he could look at her. "Bloody good, actually," he grinned back sheepishly, then shook his head ruefully. "I can't believe I didn't even think of..." He looked up again. "Never mind, yes I can," he said, tenderly pushing wet hair out of her eyes. "After, quite literally, years of not even needing one, how could I think of anything, much less sodding prophylactics, when all of my dreams were again, quite literally, rushing at me... all in one tiny, beautiful, dynamo of a package?"

Buffy giggled again, put her arms around him and kissed him in a surprisingly tender show of affection, before dropping a last salute on the bridge of his nose.

"There were kind of a lotta dreams being bandied about in here. Don't go getting the idea that you cornered the market."

Giles snorted and shifted a little. "Not feeling seventeen anymore," he grumbled as his body made its feelings known about making love in a hard enamel tub.

That was a signal for more giggling and both of them tumbling out of the tub together, then without even really thinking about it, towelling each other off in turn, Buffy huffing when she couldn't reach to reciprocate his too-brisk towel-drying of her hair. He laughed and did his own, muttering about the foolhardiness of letting a vengeful Slayer attack one's wet head with a towel.

When they were done it became obvious that they hadn't exactly planned ahead.

"Nothing for it," he said. "The towels are wet and I'm not putting that suit back on, now.

Buffy's eyes widened and her cheeks flooded with colour. It wasn't as though she hadn't darted about at home in the all together on occasion. It just somehow seemed... well, it seemed kind of like streaking in the halls at school to be moving through Giles' flat, naked... with a naked Giles, no less. She swallowed. "What if...? Uh... well... I mean, you never lock the door..."

"Are you expecting anyone?" he teased. "Come on, fraidy cat. I'm starting to chill and there's a perfectly good, blissfully warm bed only yards away."

He was right. He was also feeling romantic again, sweeping her into his arms and carrying her out of the bathroom and down the hallway with ease.

"This is nice," she told him, snuggling into his damp chest. "You know, you're sexy as hell when you get all macho on me." The chest moved up and down as he chuckled and turned to cross to the stairs. "As you are when you allow yourself to be the woman you are," he said softly, then froze at the sound of a rattle.

"Crap!" Buffy exclaimed just as the front door swung open in the same time honoured, thoughtless way it had always done.

"Hey, Giles... oh... my... God," Xander managed in one, almost whimpering, breath.

"Oh, isn't that cute? Xander, why don't you ever carry me around like that?" Anya wriggled her fingers in a cheerful wave.

Still facing the stairs, Buffy and Giles continued to remain frozen, their heads turned to the door and their eyes wide. Gradually both of them nodded and Buffy half-heartedly waved back.

"Kinda...uh...busy, guys. Can it wait til later?" she finally managed, when it was obvious that Giles was beyond speech.

"Later," Xander squeaked. "Much, much later."

"I told you Giles wouldn't want to discuss your brilliant remodelling ideas at this time of night. We could have been home doing what they've obviously been doing," Anya scolded as they retreated, ignoring Xander's repeated, 'oh, *God*,' as his mind extended the connotations of the view before him.

"So, so not going there. Thinking pretty thoughts of apocalypses and other less traumatic events," he continued to whimper, hustling her back out the front door so fast it banged shut behind them.

Giles didn't move for several more moments, until Buffy reached up and kissed his chin.

"My hero. You made Anya jealous. You should be proud."

He growled low in his throat, his neck still a fine shade of mulberry. "Not how I was planning to continue our evening," he finally said through his teeth.

"No? In that case, maybe you should focus on showing me what you really had planned," she teased gently, trying to get him to relax again. His body felt like an oak tree in motion as they climbed the stairs.

Buffy frowned as he put her down on the bed and straightened. "Hey," she said. "It was only Xander and Anya. It could have been worse. It could have been Quentin and half the council."

Giles stopped looking grim and goggled at her.

For a split second Buffy thought she'd made it worse, then realised that his mouth was no longer set like a steel trap. Instead it seemed quite perturbed. So perturbed in fact that it finally crumbled and he started to giggle.

Buffy watched him lovingly. He was a fun giggler and she'd had a *lot* of fun today. She had to admit imagining the look on Quentin's face if he'd walked in that door, beat even the comically horrified, 'scarred for life' look on Xander's. At that point she found herself joining in.

This time their giggles became full-blown laughter, and somehow, it wasn't just about Xander or Quentin anymore. They were still giggling as they snuggled down under the quilt together and Giles' chest continued to shake periodically even when they quietened down.

"It wasn't that funny," Buffy, playing with his chest hair, admonished when he chuckled yet again at some thought or other.

He turned a little and kissed her temple. "Yes it is. Of all the examples you could have used, you chose the very symbol of my former existence to be confronted by us in all our defiant...naked...glory. I found that extremely amusing.

"Well yeah, when you put it like that," she agreed happily and slid her hand down over his belly, to caress him unexpectedly. "You wanna rebel a little more before we go to sleep, Ripper, old chap?"

It was supposed to be a proposition but Giles couldn't help but laugh at Buffy's fractured British accent.

"Not especially, with you invoking Quentin Travers and bloody Biggles," he snorted.


Giles rolled his eyes. "Never mind. I've changed my mind," he growled and rolled over to monster her neck playfully.

The flat reverberated with the sounds of giggling and girlish squeals followed by more subdued sounds of two people swiftly slipping into the throes of passion once again.

* * *