Ever Aftering

“Where are we going?”

“It's a surprise.”

Buffy sighed but there was contentment in the sound. “Giles and surprises…not something people usually put in the same sentence,” she observed, affection in her voice.

He smiled as he turned his new car into a familiar street. “Rupert and Buffy…not something people usually put in the same sentence, either,” he pointed out good-naturedly.

A look of smug satisfaction lit Buffy's face as she slid a hand over his jeans-covered thigh. “Well, they'd better get used to it, because I have.”

The car slowed and pulled over. Buffy looked out the window. For most of the trip, her attention had either been wholly for her new lover or lost in remembering the joy and contentment of the last few weeks. Now she focused and made a small noise of surprise.

“Giles?”

“Come on,” he said, climbing out of the classic MG. Buffy waited for him to come around the car, taking the hand Giles extended as they walked into the apartment complex together, the atmosphere between them growing more and more charged as they retraced nostalgic, comforting steps. They stopped at the even more familiar door and Buffy turned into his arms, leaning her cheek against his chest.

“You don't know how much I missed this place. After…after you left me the first time, I kept ending up here when I was patrolling. Part of me knew you were gone, but I kept feeling like I should just be able to open that door and you'd be there…waiting…”

He kissed the top of her head and drew his arms more tightly around her. “I was waiting. I just wasn't here,” he told her. “I'm sorry.”

Buffy straightened and smiled at him. “Let's not,” she said softly. “You know I always win when we play the 'who's a bad person' game.”

“Yes, but you cheat,” he teased.

Buffy punched his arm. “So why are we here? Trip down memory lane?”

He shook his head and drew his car keys from the pocket of his leather jacket. To Buffy's surprise, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. After a beat for her to catch up, they stepped inside.

Buffy looked around. Everything was back. It was almost exactly the way she remembered it. Even the same smells, though mixed some with cleaning products and a little too much fresh air.

Giles was watching her profile, aware that she was stunned, and extremely moved. She wandered around, touching the lamps and various items that had graced the apartment for as long as they'd known each other. Finally, she stopped to admire a silver ice bucket, lifting its contents to read the impressive label before letting it go again and running her fingers along the counter.

She seemed to be lost in memories and didn't turn. Instead he went to her, slid his hands onto her shoulders and squeezed gently.

Buffy covered the one on her left shoulder with one of her own. “I can't believe you got it back.”

Giles bent his head and kissed her throat. “I never put it on the market. My tenant was on a six month contract, or I'd have arranged this much sooner. Xander was the only one who knew. He helped me move in.”

“There are so many memories here,” she whispered, “good and bad. It's like we're a part of this place…or it's a part of us.”

“A little of both, I think,” he said softly, staring at the cupboard behind the stools, remembering how he'd opened up his soul to her after Eyghon had almost killed him. He hadn't talked about any of it, to anyone, for more years than he could count…and yet he'd been able to tell her almost all of it, self consciously, but without regret.

Buffy turned into his arms and lifted her face for his kiss. It was slow and possessive, both of them needing to reassert the present over the sudden rush of memories.

When they finally parted, Buffy played with the chest hair in the 'V' of his black shirt, looked up at the loft and added mischievously: “you know there are still some parts of this apartment where no Slayer has gone before…”

“Well, that's a state of affairs which really ought to be rectified,” he growled in a low, sensual voice. “How about we start right about now?”

Buffy squealed in surprise as he swept her off her feet and threw her over his right shoulder, deftly plucking the bottle from the ice bucket and hooking the stems of the two glasses alongside it as he turned. He was half way up the stairs before she started pummelling playfully on his back.

“Who gave you beer?” she demanded between giggles, still beating on his back as he continued to take the steps by twos.

Moments later he put down the wine and swung her down onto the bed, both of them still giggling: “I don't need beer,” he said brusquely. “I only need you.”

Their lovemaking was passionate and energetic without hurrying. Both of them revelled as much in the closeness and the union as they did in the pleasure of the act. At times it became almost a competition to see who could pleasure whom the most, until finally they came together and merged into one, the final release, as it often was, simultaneous and ecstatic, before they fell back into each others arms.

They stirred much later in a darkened room, each wandering back to consciousness and reaching for the other. The kiss was tender and loving and Giles' stroking caresses of her bare back as she lay pressed against him, made Buffy stretch like a cat, before kissing his nose and snuggling contentedly back down in the crook of his arm.

“Letting Dawn go visit Aunt Carol was the best decision I've made in a long time,” she sighed.

“Oi!” Giles objected, mock grumpily. “Whose decision? Who was it who had to nursemaid you through all the concerns and worries about her being out of your sight and beyond your protection for more than five minutes?”

Buffy snorted into his chest. “Yeah, right. And who had the longest hug at the airport? Who got the good-bye kiss and the new cell phone?”

“Jealous,” Giles rejoined, only to be poked in the ribs by his Slayer, now used to his unexpected turns of deadpan teasing and humour.

She pushed up on one elbow. “Am not…well, not much. You're just a big softie. You never gave *me* a 'pink pearl' coloured cell phone of my own…I had to buy my own and it's just a plain, sensibly *cheapo* clunky one…and boy could I have used any kind of a one a few times, back then: Hello, Giles? Any chance you could bring your best bad-ass sword to Third and Riverston, so I don't have to decapitate this three hundred and ninety pound demon with a road sign…and can you come, like, *now*?” she mugged.

Giles rolled his eyes. “Yes and I'm sure your mother would have been thrilled to know the school librarian was buying you cell phones.”

Buffy giggled. “Kinda creepy,” she agreed. “But do you really think that would have bugged her more than knowing her daughter was sleeping with a two hundred and forty year old dead guy whose alter-ego just happened to be a sadistic homicidal psychopath?”

He chuckled. “Yes, well, I don't know how she managed. Had I been one of your parents I rather think I'd have staked him first and asked questions later. She was a remarkable woman, your mother.”

Buffy felt a rush of affection. Her mother hadn't always been kind to Giles and yet he was always able to be gracious. She leaned forward and kissed his surprised mouth. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

“Yesterday, about two forty five, I think,” he replied facetiously, wondering what he'd done right.

She chuckled and kissed him again. “Well, that's way too long.” Somebody's stomach rumbled, both sets of eyebrows rising. “Sounds like at least one of us is hungry.”

“Yes, well, we haven't had any lunch, and I daresay we've missed dinner. I was planning to take you somewhere…”

“Mmm…well, nice as that would have been, I liked how we spent the afternoon even better,” she purred then looked bemused when a second gurgle was heard. “I think that one was me…definitely major emptiness happening down there.”

Giles played with a long strand of blonde hair. “Would you like to go somewhere now?”

Buffy looked around the room. “I kinda like it here. You done the grocery thing yet?”

“The grocery…? Oh…um…yes. I thought…well, much as I enjoy being…”

She smiled widely at his discomfiture. “It's okay, old guy. I figured out over a week ago that you were starting to get kinda edgy about living in the house. Not so easy to suddenly have a family of your own twenty-four seven after being 'batchelor guy' for so long? What was it…the fights over the bathroom or girlie things *in* the bathroom? Oh, I know: empty milk cartons…or empty cereal boxes? Then there's Dawn's taste in music…too much MTV, maybe?”

He rolled his eyes again. “All of the above,” he growled, then smiled. “No, strangely enough I was beginning to cope reasonably well with living in a women's dormitory. It was simply that it wasn't…” He sighed and just said it. “It wasn't my home. I needed…I need to feel some sense of belonging. I don't know if you can understand…”

Buffy searched his face for a long time. “I understand,” she said softly, trailing a finger along his jaw. “All I've ever wanted was to feel like I belonged. But I never have…until now. These last few weeks have been the first time…so what you're trying to tell me is
you want to move back in here?”

“Would you be terribly disappointed?”

She was very still for a moment, struggling with that disappointment. “Yes,” she managed, finally, choosing honesty because somehow, now, for him nothing less would do. “But that doesn't mean you shouldn't. If it weren't for Dawn I'd move here with you in a heartbeat, but…”

“You have responsibilities,” he filled in, his voice empathetic. “We shall just have to make the best of it. After patrols, in between job hunting and such, and on weekends, we can certainly see plenty of each other. We shall just have to encourage Dawn to help Janice more often with her Algebra…”

They both giggled and then kissed again, long and luxuriously. “It's not going to be the same,” she said sadly, when they parted. “Waking up alone is suddenly something I really, really don't want to do…I've been spoiled, waking up alongside the man I love every morning…”

Giles' eyes clouded a little before he spoke. “I know,” he said softly. “I will miss watching you sleep…listening to you sing off-key to the radio while you're making breakfast.” He dropped his voice a couple of octaves and his eyes danced for a moment. “And of course I shall miss bathing and showering together…but, perhaps most of all, I will miss you being the last thing I see, hear, smell and taste before I go to sleep each night.” He drew her down and kissed her again, before wrapping his arms around her when she laid her head on his left breast.

They remained so, quietly holding each other for a long time.

…Until a remarkably loud stomach rumble shattered the tranquil silence. For another couple of beats neither spoke then both started to giggle.

“That wasn't me,” Buffy finally managed between gasps for air as the giggling got further and further out of control.

“Must have been the fairies then,” Giles proposed, before succumbing again.

Buffy ran a hand down and rubbed his stomach until it made another quite audible noise that sounded very much like a sink drain emptying, setting them both off again. “So who's a big fairy?” she teased.

“Hussy,” he growled, rolling her over and settling between her thighs amid the laughter. “I'll have you know it's been years since I was a fairy.”

Buffy paused and looked at him speculatively. “Why does it seriously disturb me to think of you ever being a fairy?”

Giles laughed and kissed her throat. “Probably because I'd look damned silly with wings,” he suggested, well aware of what she really meant. “I played Oberon in a school play when I was seventeen,” he explained as he trailed his lips down to her breasts and began tracing their curves with his mouth, by which time Buffy had forgotten all about fairies and food…

An hour and a half later they were submerged in steaming hot water in Giles' bathtub, sipping their not quite so cold Veuve Cliquot, the foam from the abundance of bubble bath Buffy had enthusiastically tipped into the water, overflowing every now and then and plopping onto the floor tiles.

“I'm not sure I ever want to get out of here,” Buffy sighed contentedly.

Giles smiled and kissed the top of her head as she leaned back against his chest, set his glass and hers down on the floor, and slid his large hands from her shoulders, down the outside of her arms to her hands to close them together, inside his own.

“Nor I,” he rumbled from somewhere down deep and kissed the curve of her ear.

Buffy shivered luxuriously and slipped a bit further down into the hot water, so that she ended up with foam stuck to the end of her nose, her chin and her neck. She blew at them between giggles and wriggled a little until Giles realised what was going on. He released a hand so that he could gently wipe the bubbles away. When he was done, she turned her face up to look at him and they held each other's gaze for a long moment, before he leaned down to kiss the tender lips he'd just been brushing with his fingertips.

When he lifted his head, Buffy used a forefinger to put a chunk of foam on his nose, a mistake, because the moment she started to giggle about it, his hands slid down to her waist and large fingers began to tickle her ribs. Amid shrieks, demented wriggling and laughter, water and bubbles were thrown all over the bathroom. Finally, Buffy used her slayer strength to slip from his grasp, turn and put her arms around his neck. The game ended as it had begun, with a long, unhurried kiss.

When they finally decided to get out, hunger getting the better of them, Buffy looked around, crestfallen, at the mess and sighed. “Looks like the bathroom at home after Dawn's finished with it. And I'm starving.” That gave her an idea. “I know,” she said suspiciously perkily. “You can clean this up while I make us some dinner. Deal?”

Giles gave her 'the look,' but he was too content to argue. “Fine. Do your worst. Just make certain none of it involves using the telephone. One thing I didn't miss was the vast amounts of fast food I was forced to consume while I was living here and working with you lot. Xander is the only person I've ever met who knew all the delivery numbers off by heart.”

“Guessing they've probably been really handy lately,” she said quietly. “I really hope they can figure things out. They seemed so happy until…”

“Indeed,” he agreed, equally subdued. “Give them time. From what each of you have told me since I first returned, I think perhaps Anya will eventually realise that, rightly or wrongly, Xander thought he was saving her, rather than rejecting her. I don't doubt that in terms of judgement he's as stupid as the rest of you, but I'm sure he was quite terrified of committing the woman he loves…and himself…to a life not unlike that of his parents. He was quite wrong, and perhaps he'd have realised that, if he'd talked to someone about it, but he believed he was doing the right thing.”

“I know,” Buffy said quietly. “But it was dumb, the way he did it. I wish you'd been here. He would have talked to you.”

Giles looked up from towelling his long legs and flipped the towel, one end in each hand, over his head and let it slide down to dry his butt as he talked.

“So do I, but it wasn't to be. They are all, with the exception of Dawn, adults: all by definition able to vote, drive, have sex, drink and to merrily die for their country if required to do so by your government. Eventually they all have to be able to run their own lives with or without me, you, or anyone else to help.”

Buffy towelled her chest dry, watching him and enjoying the view, but surprised that Giles was still so vehement about their independence after mentioning several times how much he regretted not being there for all their catastrophes during the year.

“You wanted everyone to grow up and be independent, but you still wish you'd been here to help?”

He grinned as he rubbed his chest and the tops of his shoulders. “I care about all of you a great deal. Intellectually I knew what you needed, and I knew what I did was right, but of course, emotionally, it almost killed me to abandon you like that. Regardless of how right it might have been, in my heart I feel as though a great deal of heartache, and lot of problems, could have been avoided if we had all been as close knit as we were in the old days.”

“The old days…” she repeated, memories resurfacing in quick succession. “You're right. Whatever else was going on, we were at least together…you saving me from Catherine Madison, all of us saving Willow from Moloch, not to mention Xander and Praying Mantis lady. And it wasn't just being in trouble. I mean, you with the books and the research, Willow making with the computer magic to help us fight the bad guys, and Xander being, well…Xander, while you helped Oz deal with full moons, and we all had to deal with Cordelia…like a real family.”

“Oh Lord, yes…Cordelia,” he muttered, caught up in her reminiscences. “Cordelia Speak…the stuff of nightmares…and migraines.”

Buffy laughed aloud. “I didn't think you noticed stuff back then.”

He balled up the towel and threw it at her. “You all thought I was a doddering old fool. I was forty bloody two not seventy two,” he told her indignantly.

“Not all of us,” Buffy confided, throwing the towel back. “Willow had the hots for you until Oz came along…and Faith thought you were pretty cute.”

He made a face at her. “Rather like a cobra finding me appetizing,” he observed gruffly, “but at least she recognised that I was, in fact, a man, and not some Tweed covered, geriatric eunuch there for the convenience of the rest of you.”

Buffy blinked and looked at him, standing there, his slim body still firm and mostly toned, the hair on his chest running sexily down to his navel and the rest of him proving that he was indeed still a very impressive specimen of manhood.

“Where did that come from? Okay, so I know I took a long time to grow up, especially with Angel around. It bugged you that much…my spectacular stupidity?” She dropped her towel and went to him, sliding her arms loosely around his waist. “I wish stuff didn't matter so much, like age differences and all that junk. If we'd been together back then so much bad stuff wouldn't have happened…to either of us. I can't believe I was so blind…”

“Nor can I,” he rejoined dryly.

“Ouch,” she complained. “Well, maybe not entirely blind. Even when I didn't know why I needed you, I wanted you close by…I wanted to know you were there and that I could see you and be with you. I couldn't imagine a world without you in it, but being a kid, I thought it was just because you were my Watcher, my anchor, my safe harbour.” She kissed the spot at the base of his throat. “I didn't know my terror of losing you was about a whole lot more than having to find a new Watcher.” He growled meaningfully and she smiled into his chest. “You know, Spike even knew. Remember how he always knew things about all of us…like he knew Willow was still hurting about Oz, and he was so good at manipulating everyone when he was working for Adam…?”

Giles remembered only too well. He murmured an affirmative and closed his eyes as she continued.

“Well, while you were away, he said he'd always wondered about us. He saw it, even when I was still blind. Even then I kept thinking he was crazy, that I just wanted you back…that the empty, ripped open feeling when you left was just because we'd been through so much together, because I needed my Watcher…my best friend.”

Into the silence came not a moving response from Giles, but the sound of a very empty stomach objecting violently to being so mistreated.

Buffy straightened and rolled her eyes as he tried valiantly not to chuckle. “Well that sorta puts things in perspective.”

“Indeed,” he said softly, when he'd gotten control of his smiley muscles. “The past is exactly that…past.” He trailed his fingers through the hair she'd released from the loosely tied knot she'd put in it to bathe. “All we have to worry about is now…and where we go from here.”

They stopped and looked at each other.

“No singing,” Buffy warned.

“Not a note,” Giles agreed, a twinkle in his eye. “Clothes. Food.” He looked her lovely form and tender curves up and down. “I'm absolutely ravenous and you look almost good enough to eat…”

“Fine,” she agreed, getting into the spirit of things. “Mop, clean…while I forage for sustenance to feed the inner Giles.”

“Typical,” he muttered as she pulled on the shirt he'd discarded and wandered off leaving the rest of the clothes and shoes in a soggy pile on the floor, and, after a beat, followed her, completely nude, out into the hallway to go to the broom cupboard and retrieve the mop.

“What kind of television station is this?” Buffy's voice called from the living room. “I can't find the remote.”

“The only one I watch these days,” he rumbled over his shoulder. “And it got lost somewhere between going into storage and coming back.”

“It's English TV,” she muttered disparagingly. “Even your cable is stuffy.”

Buffy looked around the kitchen. It was almost exactly the same, except he'd invested in a new refrigerator and a microwave, and there was no alcohol on the breakfast counter anymore. By the time she'd opened and closed every cupboard door and explored the entire refrigerator, she knew two things. First, Giles' idea of provisioning was uniquely Giles'. And second, it was going to be a really weird meal.

She gradually made a little stockpile on the cupboard of things she thought she might be able to turn into a meal. The most unexpected was the can of mushy peas. Who knew they put the stuff in cans? When she finally opened it, it was Buffy's express opinion that that was where it should have stayed.

At that point something caught her attention on the television, which she'd been happily ignoring until then. A woman had baled a man up against a stable wall. Buffy looked twice at the man, then made her way over to the screen in time to see the woman plunge her hand inside the man's pants while she was yelling at him about getting it up.

“You guys sure aren't shy about what you put on television,” she yelled. “Have you got a hunky relative in the acting business, by any chance?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Giles called back stuffily, finally emerging from the bathroom. He padded across the living area in nothing but a damp towel, turning to the screen merely as an afterthought, just in time to see a woman pushing a tall chap to the ground and straddling him.

He continued to watch for several moments longer, enjoying the inviting smells and the sound of sizzling that had begun to emanate from the kitchen. With a last look at Buffy, who was cracking eggs into a frying pan, and another at the fellow on the screen, now looking very pleased with himself on the stable floor, Giles smiled to himself and took the stairs by twos.

When he came back down in grey sweat pants and a black Harry Potter t-shirt Buffy had bought him as a joke on a very silly mall outing, because she'd decided that Harry looked exactly like Giles would have at the same age, there was an array of food on the breakfast counter and the smells were making his stomach rebel furiously against its currently 'empty' status.

“It looks rather like breakfast,” he joked, surveying the bacon, egg, toasted English muffins, donuts, milk and juice.

Buffy turned from the stove and brought another dish with her.

His face lit up like a little boy. “You found them. I brought those tins from England, but I didn't expect to use them any time soon.”

“You didn't? Then why did you buy them?” she asked, perplexed, and added the now steamy porridge of mushy peas to the other food.

“Last time we discussed mushy peas you rather implied that you weren't fond of them. I thought I'd probably have to eat them for supper one night while you were off patrolling.”

Buffy smiled fondly. “Except we mostly patrol together and we usually have dinner before I go, or supper together when I come back. I don't know if I like mushy peas or not. Everybody was making me crazy that day and you and your mushy peas weren't helping. You were so cute in your apron though. It was the best day…”

“Does that include the nice Indians and all the damage to my apartment…?” he drawled.

She repressed a giggle. “Um, no. I didn't mean that part. I was thinking about us making dinner …doing things together that didn't involve weapons or spells or ickiness of any kind. It was…nice...while it lasted.”

He smiled again. “Yes it was, though I've never met anyone with less natural guile when it came to getting what you wanted, which was me to clean up all the mess after you had your Thanksgiving.”

Buffy frowned. “Translate?”

“You weren't very good at being sneaky,” he said gently. “I daresay it's not in your nature.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, well aware that being sneaky wasn't the only thing she wasn't good at, especially that year. “I guess there has to be a plus in there somewhere. Do you usually put anything on this green stuff?”

Giles looked at his peas. “Salt, freshly ground pepper…and a little Worcestershire sauce. It's in the cupboard above the refrigerator. Do you know that Australians put a hot meat pie in a large bowl of mushy peas and serve the lot with tomato sauce, er…ketchup? They call it a pie floater,” he added, obviously enamoured of the idea.

Buffy looked up from assembling the earlier listed items. “You've been all the way to Australia?” she asked, trying not to think about the gastronomic nightmare he'd just happily conjured.

“Unfortunately, no,” he admitted. “But there was a girl, a number of years ago…I learned a great deal about the place from her. One of these days I'll take you there, and we'll both have a pie floater somewhere.”

“As long as it doesn't involve crocodiles or that weird guy who chases them,” she said, picking up the plates and carrying them to the coffee table in the living room.

Giles followed with the glasses and the peas.

They ate in relative silence, only really discovering how hungry they were as everything disappeared apace.

When Buffy finally sat back after bringing Giles tea and coffee for herself, to sip at the steaming mug, she finally noticed his old guitar across the room, standing alongside his arm chair.

“Do you still sing in public?”

Giles looked up from the orange juice he was demolishing. “No. I…I…um, the need to reassert that part of myself has been quenched, so to speak. I do like to stay in practise, though.” He frowned. “Though not of late.”

“Could I see you play? I mean…I've never heard you sing. Willow thought you were pretty cool, though,” she added lamely.

“Really?” He was trying to look annoyed but was unable to keep the gleam of amusement from his eyes. “I rather imagined that it would…what was that appalling expression of yours…freak you lot out…was that it?”

“Wig us out,” she supplied, wanting to giggle but going redder and redder as she remembered how accurate his imagination had been. “And yeah, it did…me, I mean. I thought it was scary.” She looked up at him, and into the eyes she loved so much. “You used to hide who you really were, at first behind major tweediness and big glasses and stuttering and acting like you were ten years older than you really were. Later, you just seemed to forget you weren't old. I mean, whoever heard of a gorgeous forty-something guy having a midlife crisis? That's something guys who think they're past it do to prove they're not.”

“It wasn't that kind of midlife crisis,” he pointed out touchily. “I wasn't having problems with my libido or my masculinity. I was, however, horribly adrift and uncertain where my future, if any, lay. The past seemed so much more reassuring and solid. You were, rightly, my whole life…my work, my career…my…my love…” he added, reddening sweetly, “then the Council took almost all of it away…except you. And then, suddenly, for a time you weren't there, either.”

Buffy watched the flash of real anger and hurt in his eyes, realising exactly how painful that period, and her ignorance, must have been for him.

“Play for me,” she said softly.

The flashing subsided and he searched her now too-bright eyes. After a small, but loud silence, he got up and retrieved the instrument, paused, then sat in the armchair to tune it.

Watching him, Buffy thought how perfect it felt, to be here, with him, in this place, enjoying the small silly sounds he was making with the guitar while he was trying to get it to sound the way he wanted. Just watching the handsome head, listening, bent over the battered instrument and knowing he was hers…and she his, made her stomach tighten at the wonderful enormity of what had happened to them, and how very precious it was…

Finally, Giles looked up. “It's as good as it's going to get. I think I need a couple of new strings. It's been in storage for far too long.” He caressed his fingers over the patina of the well-loved instrument. “I've missed the old girl.”

“Your guitar is a girl? All that touching…I'm jealous,” she teased gently.

He grinned back, Buffy's heart flip-flopping and swelling alarmingly, as it was occasionally wont to do when he smiled like that: like the sun just came up in his eyes. It always hit her in the tear ducts, because it always reminded her that in all their time together over the years, she'd never seen him truly happy. She swallowed hard, not sure she'd ever forgive herself for her part in that.

“I think I can arrange to make it up to you afterward, if you like?” he teased back in his best lecher's voice, looking her lithe body up and down mischievously.

“Promise?” she managed, only just keeping the wobble from hers.

“Promise,” he vowed, grinning wolfishly again, and started to play.

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind Blue Eyes

No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely…


Buffy didn't know the song, but she sat entranced by his voice, and the words, their meaning slowly seeping into her soul and dragging her back to a past in which he truly had been one of the loneliest people she knew. In all the time they'd known each other, she'd never seen him have personal visitors at his apartment, and apart from Jenny, Ethan, Olivia and some guy who found books for him, there didn't seem to have been anyone else in his life. She shivered, and refocused, seeking the comfort of his face, his voice, and letting the last chorus of his song wash over her.

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind Blue Eyes…

Giles looked up from the fading echoes of his last caress of the strings and realised that Buffy's eyes were glistening from more than just the light of the room.

“It wasn't that good,” he told her, a little self-consciously, despite the reassuring tone.

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, it was. And so are you. You love it, don't you?”

“Pardon?”

She gestured toward the instrument. “Music…singing…”

“Oh, yes, I suppose I do. I always have, really…paths not taken and all that.”

“Like flying planes and being a grocer?” she teased gently, still willing her tear ducts to behave.

He smiled back. “Rather like that,” he agreed. “I was about your age the last time I seriously entertained ideas of being a performer…it seemed so much more…human… than all that relentless training, essentially to guide an adolescent girl to her inevitable death.”

They were both quiet for several moments.

“Do you have a favourite?” Buffy finally broke the silence and the tension.

“Uh…? Oh, this?” he grinned, touching the guitar. “Several,” he admitted, “but although I like quite a lot of what's around now, I'm afraid I haven't learned to play most of them.”

She smiled. “Like who…?”

He shrugged. “The Goo Goo Dolls have done some good stuff. I like a lot of Sarah McLaughlin's work…Little Feat…”

Buffy chuckled. “Almost into the twenty-first century. There's hope for you yet. What was that song called? The one you just played?”

His smile faded. “It's an older one: Behind Blue Eyes. It's the song Willow and the others heard.”

“I wish I'd heard it back then,” she said wistfully. “But I wasn't ready for what you were trying to tell me, was I?”

He looked at her curiously then shook his head.

“I guess that's why it was so easy for Spike. He knew I wasn't just blind, but stupid as well, and what it was doing to you.”

Giles snorted. “Pillock.”

“You say that a lot.”

“I do not.”

“Yeah, you do,” Buffy teased. “Especially about Spike. But you also said it about the last three people I had job interviews with and that boy who wanted to take Dawn to the Bronze.”

“It was a perfectly accurate description…in every case,” he defended.

Buffy snorted. “I'll give you Spike, and Flynn was just being sixteen, except with…really…bad…hair and the eyebrow ring with the chain going to the nose thing…and chin tattoos…not exactly a fashion statement, I grant you…but the others had good reasons for not giving me a job. The real estate guy…was it really so unfair that he got upset when I accidentally formatted his hard-drive? I mean I was supposed to be trying to prove I knew how to work a computer,” she pointed out sheepishly. “Or…or the book store guy…I mean it's not his fault that there was a vamp in the crime section. How was he to know why the books fell and where all the dust came from? And my best chance so far…the guy in the flower shop…he really liked me and he didn't mind that I didn't know what a streth…strel…”

“Strelitzia,” Giles filled in.

“Strelitzia was,” Buffy repeated. “Anyway I like 'Bird of Paradise' much better…or what a lobelia, was, or that baby's breath isn't just something that comes out of a rugrat's mouth. It would have been a nice job, with the flowers and everything, and he was kinda cute.”

“He was a pillock,” Giles growled, remembering the way the young man's tongue was almost hanging out in anticipation of working alone in the store with Buffy.

Buffy shrugged. “I'm the Slayer. It's not like he was going to get a chance to try anything funny.”

Giles blinked. “You knew he was…well…you *knew?*

She stared back at him for a moment, amused disbelief in her eyes then burst out laughing. “Of course I knew. If he'd been any more obvious I'd have had to wipe the drool off the counter.” She wandered over to his chair, took the guitar, stood it by the arm, and slid onto his lap. “He was harmless, but you looked positively dangerous…like you do when you're mad at Ethan. I don't think you should come to any more interviews.”

Giles curled his arms around her. “As long as you promise that you'll wait until you find something with a little dignity, something you can enjoy and which, preferably, does not come with the possibility that you might have to stake the boss at some future date.”

“Promise,” she purred, nibbling an ear. “Did I ever tell you how hot your bad boy side makes me?” she growled.

He made a low noise in his throat as she explored the shape of his ear with her tongue. “No, I don't believe you have,” he managed to murmur.

“I like it,” she told him. “When I remember that time in the library…when you had Ethan by the throat…I knew then why Ethan called you Ripper.”

“You liked it even then?” he asked, surprised.

She shook her head. “I was scared of it then. Now…now it's just hot. You were lucky I waited until we got home that night after the flower shop…”

Giles stopped to remember the events of that day. They'd gone home after the interview and things had been a little tense on the way, he was certain, because he'd ruined her chances of getting the job by intimidating the little snot out of offering it to her. It wasn't until they'd reached the house and he'd gone to take a shower that Buffy had appeared to forgive him, joining him there moments after he'd stepped into the water. He felt a stirring in his loins as he remembered the searing passion of their lovemaking in the shower, perhaps the most erotic and powerful he'd ever known, leaving them both exhausted and drained when they were done, not to mention with one or two bruises from their exuberance against walls, in the tub, on the tiled floor…

Buffy shifted a little, then grinned and moved so that she was straddling his lap. “I see you remember that night,” she purred, moving provocatively against his straining crotch.

He groaned. “You're going to be the death of me.”

“Maybe,” she grinned, moving even more erotically and pulling back to look at his face. “But what a way to go.”

Giles' features transformed, his eyes narrowing, his mouth pulling into an ironic line, the feral power so intense Buffy shivered just watching that mouth curl upward into an enigmatic grin.

…And then shivered again as his fingers slipped inside her thigh and found their target, making her gasp and moan as they were drawn over the damp fabric, before a finger slid along the edge of the lace and pulled hard, snapping the narrow hip strap and allowing him, in one or two deft moves, to clear all obstacles, and to guide her to him, almost snarling when she felt his body's insistent query and groaned, before plunging herself onto him.

Buffy vocalised her pleasure, caught up in the animal intensity of the coupling, beautiful and wild as she matched his male dominance with Slayer need, both of them becoming more and more aroused by the power of their passion and the unfettered physicality of what they were doing.

And when Giles finally stood up and carried her to the living room wall, lifted her by the buttocks, her legs still curled loosely around him, and looked up at her, they acknowledged both the adoration and the lust in each other's eyes…before he thrust himself into her again and she threw back her head, roaring her exaltation, wrapping her arms around his neck and driving herself onto him as he took her.

Soon their vocalisations grew more urgent, speeding up as their coupling became more and more frenzied…until they both cried out, rattling the rafters with their shouts as their bodies exploded, writhing together as waves and waves of ecstasy broke over them, seemingly not willing to end.

When they finally grew quiet, Giles withdrew. When she slid down, he lifted her silently into his arms, carrying her to their bed and quietly cleaning them both before sliding under the covers to take her in his arms.

They held each other for a long time before Buffy turned in his arms and raised herself enough to look at him, her eyes searching his…and found his just as unsure, just as concerned.

She reached out and traced his jaw, followed by his sexy mouth…and then bent down and kissed him very tenderly.

“I love you so much,” she whispered.

The green eyes widened, then grew very bright as he slid his fingers into her hair, his palm cupping her cheek.

“It doesn't frighten you?” he whispered, surprising her.

“You…Ripper? Not for a long time,” she replied softly, shaking her head in his hand. “Does it frighten you…what I am?”

He caressed her hair and shook his own head. “You were magnificent…breathtaking, just as you were the last time…”

She smiled a little more confidently. “It's a little scary, even for me…that part of me. So much past badness…but when you're all Ripper,” she added, her eyes lighting up, “I just want to…well, you know…”

Giles nodded, watching the delightful flush of pink in her cheeks. “I know.”

Buffy answered the nod, having heard the unspoken words, the tension leaving her as she bent to meet his lips in a tender, loving kiss that continued for some time.

“Dessert,” Buffy announced apropos of nothing, when they finally lifted their heads.

Giles laughed involuntarily. “What…?”

She grinned. “We didn't have dessert. Is there anything sweet in the place? I so need some sugar.”

He slapped her rump just loudly enough to make a noise. “You need a lot more than sugar…you've wasted away to a shadow.”

“Hey, there's been no wasting. I'm perfectly fine for my little bones,” she pouted.

He snorted. “Little bones. Next you'll be telling me it's normal for a woman to have the waist measurement of a man's head.”

Buffy started to look genuinely concerned. “You don't like the way I look?”

Giles suppressed a smile. “You are beautiful, and you know it, but I don't have to be happy with you starving yourself to conform to some artificial value system in the name of fashion. You used to have the most wonderful curves…”

Buffy didn't know whether to be happy about the beautiful comment, or bereft because he didn't like what she'd done to her body, since his tone told her that he was equally sincere about both.

“Curves are made of fat,” she muttered. “And Slayers have fast metabolisms.”

“Curves are what make you a woman, Buffy. They have done since the beginning of time and no wealthy, effete fashion mogul or greedy, manipulative advertising executive should be dictating the health and well being of thousands and thousands of women. Do you know how much long term damage you're doing to yourself with this wasting?”

“I'm not wasting,” she objected strenuously. “I just…don't eat very much.”

He gave her 'the look' again. “When your calorific intake is vastly below what is required for your energy needs and for the good health of your body, the term is 'wasting',” he growled.

“Are we fighting?” she asked carefully.

He blinked. “We're having a discussion,” he said brusquely.

Buffy considered that one for a moment then grinned. “As long as we're not fighting.
'Cause I'd much rather jump your bones again than spoil our day.”

He gave a shout of laughter. “I'm good, but not that good,” he growled and changed the subject back to food. If he could get her to eat more, so much the better… “The only sweet things I have in the place are what little I laid in for future visits by Xander and Dawn. And we've eaten the donuts.”

“I saw chocolate fudge sauce,” she said suddenly. “I know I saw it, with a packet of peanuts, little marshmallows and an unopened package of glacé cherries.”

“Well at least your observation training seems to still be in tact,” he drawled.

Buffy made a face. “So when were the banana splits supposed to happen?”

He tilted his head endearingly. “Dawn is particularly fond of creating them. And somehow I expect to be babysitting quite regularly.”

“Good point,” she agreed. “So…you want?”

It seemed absurd to be contemplating dessert when all he really wanted to do was to go back to sleep with his love in his arms.

“Yes, all right,” he conceded in spite of himself. “Not too much, mind…”

Buffy surveyed her treasure, spread out as it was on the breakfast counter. Chocolate fudge sauce, peanuts, marshmallows, glacé cherries, a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream obviously meant for Dawn, whose favourite it was, and a can of whipped cream, found wedged, lying down, behind the imported beer, with the bottle of capers and the package of cracked pepper pate.

Giles was dozing when Buffy returned with her tray. She slid it on the side table and crawled into the bed, swimming in the Harry Potter T-shirt, and kissed him first on the lips, then the nose.

“I'm back.”

“Apparently,” he rumbled without opening his eyes. “Was your hunt for sweetness a success?”

“Sorta. You forgot to buy fruit of any kind, so it's kinda splits without the bananas.”

“Wonderful…in that case can I just stay asleep?”

“No,” she objected and kissed him again. “I made it. Now you have to eat it with me.”

He felt her get off the bed again, heard spoons tinkling against glass and then felt Buffy climbing back into the bed. Reluctantly, he opened one eye, then the other.

“Good Lord!”

Buffy looked at him then at her creation then scowled at him. “I think it's pretty.”

She had used a cut glass salad bowl, filling it with a mountainous concoction of ice cream scoops, great whorls of whipped cream, crushed nuts, cherries, marshmallows, and rivers of chocolate sauce. He groaned.

“I thought you didn't eat much?” he complained gruffly.

“I thought you wanted me to eat more? Remember that Slayer metabolism I was telling you about…now do you believe me?”

He pulled himself to a sitting position and shoved a pillow or two into the small of his back.

“Do I have a choice?”

Buffy handed him the bowl. “Share,” she commanded and wriggled up to sit beside him, leaning against his shoulder.

Giles took the long handled spoon, but instead of trying the nightmarish confection himself, dipped the spoon into it and brought it to Buffy's lips.

“Don't think I don't know what you're up to, Mister,” she growled, then opened her mouth and slipped the glob of ice cream, cream, chocolate and nuts off the cold spoon.
When the bowl was about half-empty they took a break and Buffy commandeered the spoon. “I know I'm not the sharpest sword in your collection, but I did happen to notice that I was getting three or four spoonfuls to your one, Rupert sweetie,” she pointed out in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

He kissed the top of her head. “You may be able to deal with blood that's eighty-five percent sugar, love. I'm having enough trouble with your dessert mixing with the peas and all the other rubbish we've eaten. Lord alone knows what my digestion is going to make of the avalanche of sugar on top of them, and the greasy…” He suddenly realised that his tact meter was bottoming out. “…But delicious bacon and eggs.”

“You forgot the donuts,” Buffy pointed out grumpily.

Giles started to feel queasy. “I'd like to,” he grumbled and closed his eyes when Buffy started on the second half of her dessert, more to make him feel worse than because she really wanted it.

“Wimp,” she jeered around a mouthful of ice cream.

He opened his eyes again, stuck his fingers in a small reservoir of chocolate sauce pooling on the quarried-out side of the bowl and painted her surprised face and nose with them.

“I rather thought I'd already provided my decidedly non wimpy credentials today,” he pointed out while she was still blinking in surprise.

Buffy roused and dove her fingers into the now half-melted confection.

“Multiple orgasms makes you a stud…a *wimpy* stud,” she retorted and took hold of something with her cold, sticky hand that made Giles shriek like a girl. “See,” she giggled, then dived out of the way, but not before his latest handful of dessert hit her in the face, leaving whipped cream and ice cream in her hair, and chocolate sauce tricking decoratively down her forehead and over her nose.

“You…you…librarian!!!” she wailed, using his good sheet to unsuccessfully wipe the mess away.

He made a disapproving face. “Oh, good show. Now we've got to change the bed.”

Buffy opened her mouth to tell him what he could do with his bed and found it stuffed full of more dessert. Her eyes got very round and her cheeks very bright, then caught the self-satisfied look on his face and started to laugh, or at least to try not to choke on the food as she swallowed and giggled at the same time. By the time the giggling had won out there was cream, chocolate sauce and bits of cherry and nuts everywhere on her and on the bed. She grabbed a handful of cream and threw it at him just because. Then both of them dove for the bowl at the same time and in fits of laughter each strove to be the one who did the best job of body painting on the other.

They were on their way across the living room, hair and face plastered with Buffy's dessert, carrying all of the spoiled bedclothes to the laundry and taking their almost unrecognisable, chocolate and cream streaked, naked selves to the shower, when the front door rattled open.

Too late to run, both of them froze on the spot, making futile attempts to hide behind their armfuls of sheets, blankets and pillowcases.

“Um…Hi Xander…”



* * *