Don't Give Your Heart | Part Two

Buffy opened her eyes. She was in a strange house, in a strange bed…a small, single bed.

It squeaked when she moved and it was narrow. When she slid out of it, the floor was exceedingly cold under foot. There was frost on the window. She was in flannel pyjamas. Boy's flannel pyjamas. She pushed her feet into the plain brown slippers beside the bed and studied everything around her. There was a bureau with a small wooden chess set on it, and a study desk. There were insects in glass cases on the wall, and a glass case of war medals. On a shelf bolted to the wall was a carefully laid out rock collection and on another a collection of bird's eggs.

Buffy frowned, trying to work out where she was and how she got there. The ceilings were high and ornate and the room large and draughty. A fireplace, long since extinct as a working object, still resided in one wall and above it on the mantle was a display with school awards mixed with a single rugby trophy for participation, a plastic cup with a picture of the young Beatles on it, several scale models of World War Two fighter aircraft set at jaunty angles on their plastic stands and one of, ironically, a vampire jet aircraft, beautifully assembled and painted.

She studied all of the things in the room, opening and closing schoolbooks on the desk, smiling at the neat but childish hand that had written in them; the sketches that were so much more advanced than the handwriting.

Eventually, she padded across the room, the slippers making a scuffing sound as she went, to the tiny bathroom adjoining it. There was nothing luxurious about it. A very old fashioned toilet with a pull chain and a tiny, cracked ceramic hand-basin shaped like a flattened out wineglass and stem, with a mirror above it.

She looked into the mirror instinctively and jumped when she saw the reflection in it. The boy couldn't have been more than ten, and small for his age. He had a high forehead and soft, pale golden brown hair cut severely into an old short-back-and-sides style, parted one side naturally but this morning sticking up all over the place at the back. The image tilted its head as Buffy tilted hers, big, intelligent green eyes looking back into her own.

Her breath caught when she saw the small brown patch in the left one. Her fingers came up to her cheek and she saw the boy's own smallish hand do the same.

“Rupert, do hurry up or you'll be late for school!” a voice called from the bowels of the house.

Buffy swallowed and turned, wondering about clothes, only to suddenly find herself in a dark wood-panelled study, exactly like the kind she'd seen in the movies with the stuffy Anthony Hopkins type standing worriedly by the fireplace or sipping port in an impossibly expensive leather chair.

Only this time she was sitting in a chair, her feet not quite reaching the ground for some unknown reason, and a middle-aged man was glaring at her.

“Rupert,” he barked irritably. “I won't tell you again to concentrate. Your manners are abominable.”

“Yes, father,” Buffy heard herself say, only it wasn't her voice, and, she realised, she was no longer in control.

“Rupert, you have to stop these endless daydreams. The majority of your school reports cite exemplary results in your studies, but complain pointedly about your inattention, distraction and failure to focus on the issues at hand.”

“I'm sorry, father.”

“Is there a problem with school? Is there anything I should know about?”

“No, father.”

“In that case you will cease to draw, sketch, model or daydream about aeroplanes and flying. You are almost twelve. You have a responsibility to prepare for the future for which you, like myself, and your grandmother before you, were destined. You are not Douglas Bader or Guy Gibson. You cannot be. Not now, not ever. So let us make an end of it, as of this moment.”

“But father, Guy Gi—”

The older man shook his head. “It's no good, Rupert. Shortly you must go away to boarding school and I have to know that you are going to give only your very best. I must have your word…”

“B-boarding school?” Buffy heard the boy say, feeling tears desperately converging in his throat, his eyes, yet amazingly, not falling.

The man nodded his head, his hairline remarkably like Giles', except that his hair was brown and his eyes were blue, and filled with black flecks. They were also hard as sapphires as they regarded her.

“You are about to turn twelve, are you not? I told you when we had our man-to-man talk on your tenth birthday, that the day would come when you would take on board not only your regular schoolwork, but also a new and exciting curriculum to help you prepare for the day you embark on your Watcher training.”

“But I want to go to school with my mates. We're going to play rugger together and get selected for the Lions one day. Andy Mainwaring says our school has produced five test players and—”

“I don't give a tinker's damn about football!” the older Giles roared. “Attend, Rupert. You are not like those other boys. You are not one of them. You will never be one of them. The sooner you understand that the better. Your destiny makes you special. Never forget that…and never forget that nothing else matters except that destiny.”

Buffy felt his lip quiver and a shiver go down his spine but still no tears fell.

“Yes, father,” the small voice said solemnly and slid out of the chair. “May I go? Mother wants me to read my history assignment to her.”

“Yes, go. Your mother cossets you too much. Boarding school will be the making of you, boy.”

“Yes, father,” he whispered, and fled the room…for Buffy to find herself sitting at a hard wooden desk in a classroom full of impeccably uniformed, pubescent boys.

Before she could even begin to work out what the class was for, a bell sounded somewhere. The aged male teacher instructed the class to rise.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

“Good afternoon, Mister Jamison,” they chanted back without interest.

She found herself filing out, single file, as each row systematically followed the last.

Reality shifted again.

She blinked in the sunlight. Somehow she was lying on the ground. Her mouth hurt, and her knee was stinging. Several larger boys were looking down at her.

“It's true. I have to go! Being a Watcher is terribly important. One day I shall probably help save the world, you'll see!”

Buffy almost giggled, though no sound came from her lips.

“You're such a liar, Giles.”

“Go and join the girls' tennis team if you're not man enough for Rugger.”

The other boys walked away, leaving one tow-headed boy staring down at him.

“Andy? You believe me, don't you? It's true. My father is making me go.”

“I thought we were best friends. I thought we swore.”

“We are,” Rupert protested miserably.

But Buffy watched the other boy's face harden, his eyes bright with disappointment and hurt.

“You're leaving,” he said simply, and walked away.

The utter, wretched loneliness of the little boy lying in the schoolyard mourning the effective end of his childhood, almost broke Buffy's heart.

“Giles!”

Buffy jumped, adrenaline pumping at the volume and ferocity of the shout. She didn't know where she was. Again.

“Yes, sir?”

“You're wanted in the office.”

Buffy felt the ripple of panic, the confusion because he hadn't done anything wrong.

“On my way,” he said. Giles' voice had changed again, less childish, more adult.

He stopped at a display case, along a route that seemed all too familiar to the young man. She looked at his reflection as he stared at the Rugby trophy and shield.

A boy in the first bloom of manhood swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing as his so- familiar eyes now stared back at her. His hair was longer and had developed a curl. The attempt to keep it under control seemed to have been in vain. The childish face had lost its puppy fat and in its place were all planes and angles and the first hint of the man to come. The man Buffy knew.

The office was as intimidating as the walk up to it.

A long, thin man in a three piece suit more stuffy than anything Giles had ever worn stood behind a huge oak desk, his hands behind his back.

“Mister Giles, please sit down.”

He sat without a word.

“I'm sorry to say there has been some bad news, Rupert.”

Buffy felt Rupert's blood go cold. Calling one by their given name here was a familiarity so rare that the news could only be of the most horrible kind.

“Sir?”

“I…I'm afraid it's your mother, Giles. Heart, they said. I believe your father is not contactable at this juncture. We will, of course, do everything we can, but until your father can be contacted for permission, nothing can be done about getting you home.”

For several long moments there was no Buffy. For several more she thought he was going to be violently ill. But there was only pain, shock, grief, the distant sound of the other man's voice quietly recounting the circumstances of Catherine Giles' passing and the preliminary arrangements they had made in the hope that his father would surface from whatever council business had taken him away.

“…It is to be hoped that you will be able to attend the funeral…” The voice suddenly seemed much louder.

“Hoped?” Giles repeated in the boy's pleasant timbre, coloured this time by grief and leashed rage. “There is no question, sir. Regardless of what my father does or does not choose to do, I shall be at my mother's funeral.”

The older man looked away. His instinct had been to put the young whelp in his place, but in the circumstances and knowing how rarely this particular boy had been visited, or travelled home, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Particularly not when the depth of the boy's pain glistened with such crystal clarity in his wide, expressive eyes.

“We will do everything we can to contact your father. Your Housemaster will keep you informed. You may go, Giles,” he said quietly.

As he wheeled, seething with anger and aching with grief, Buffy wondered why Giles had never mentioned his mother. He had loved her so much, and yet not one word had he ever spoken about her…

He strode through the door and reality changed again.

The sun was shining brilliantly and a half-rainbow was showing in front of a bank of clouds. Light drizzle continued to fall in direct contradiction to the bright sunshine as the minister's voice continued the relentless service.

Rupert stood apart from the rest of the funeral party. His suit was uncomfortable and his shoes new and tight, but it was the pain in his heart, the rock in his stomach that shook her to her core. A zephyr blew up, and she felt the wetness of the tears on his face as the white coffin was lowered. A wave of grief crashed over him.

She sobbed, not only for his pain, but for the loneliness…the terrible, terrible loneliness of the boy Giles.

The service concluded and the mourners began to move away, only a small knot of, presumably, family members, huddling closer. Twice the tall figure of his father looked her way, but did not leave the group.

Buffy willed him to come to his son, to do something for the boy she wished she could put her arms around and just hold. When it didn't happen, she felt Rupert walk forward, but reality changed again.

Music assaulted her senses. Heavy metal, only marginally less bludgeoning than the pall of pungent fumes, marijuana, incense, burned sage, sweat, vomit, the musk of sex in the air and the reek of alcohol…

She looked around: empty beer bottles, several half-empty vodka bottles, women's clothes, discarded food, shoes…and people in various states of inebriation, most more or less sitting in a marked out circle.

She drew a sharp breath when she recognised the slim, tender faced youth opposite her. She had always believed that Ethan had been spawned, not born. It was almost impossible to accept that this boy would become the shell of a man, she knew.

Without thinking, she acted on an impulse to speak to him, but the only voice she heard was the familiar tones of Giles' speaking voice, lighter, younger, reading a spell, not in that rough street accent she disliked so much, but just as he might have last week in his apartment, or three years ago to save her life.

The others joined in.

Buffy knew a moment of panic. She didn't want to know what it was like to channel Eyghon, didn't want to know how debauched Giles had been capable of being…but the spell went on regardless, in the youthful version of the rich, deep voice she knew.

Strangely, Ethan, alone, seemed to go into some kind of catatonic state, his eyes closed, his body incredibly still despite the fact that he was still sitting up.

It was not Giles who was possessed. It was Ethan, slowly consumed by an evil that was now palpable, throbbing and pulsating in rhythm with the relentless music. Buffy felt the young Ripper's arousal as the possessed Ethan selected a willing, stoned young woman and proceeded to take her in front of the entire room. The music seemed to get louder as the pair reached their climax.

The moment they did, however, it was over.

Buffy's eyes flicked around the room as the slender Rayne's pale body collapsed on his partner.

Another of the group was sitting in the same meditative posture, still, and beyond the rest of the room. She gasped with shock when his head snapped back with enough violence to break his neck, then it righted itself. The normally powder-blue eyes snapped open, the burning blood red gaze almost too difficult to hold for any length of time.

“God, yes!” he cried, exulted, energy coursing through his entire body.

Again Buffy felt the rush through Ripper's body, the excitement, as the younger man experienced his first possession. Everyone in the room was ecstatic, yelling encouragement and accelerating to their own highs. The possessed boy got up to stagger towards a willowy girl draped over a cushion, dressed in little more than baby-doll pyjamas.

The cheers got louder…until they realised that he was morphing with each step.

For the first time the older members of the group saw the real face of what they'd been playing with, saw the reality of their dangerous game.

“Randall!” Buffy heard Giles cry in a terrified voice, perhaps the only one who knew the seriousness of what was happening. “Fight, Randall! Don't let him take you!”

The others were immediately silenced, watching in fascinated horror as their friend struggled to reassert control of the entity he had invited into his body.

“Ripper…! Giles, do something!” Ethan called as Buffy scrambled to her feet, finding herself racing for a small pile of books next to a sleeping bag in one corner of the room.

The search was frantic…page after page of information in languages she didn't understand or in terms for which she had no reference or understanding. She could feel Giles' heart pounding in his chest, the adrenaline seizing his entire body with both panic and the desire to run and run, but he fought it and kept at the books as Ethan arrived.

“It's got him. It's not Randall any more. What happened? Why couldn't he do it the same as the rest of us?”

“I don't know,” Giles breathed, his voice very young, very distressed. “Let me look.”

“We don't have time!” Ethan cried as Randall/Eyghon moved towards the slender girl, now scrambling, terrified, across the floor to escape him. Phillip leaped to her defence.

“Go to Rupert, Deirdre! Go now!” he cried, grappling with the grotesque demon. Ethan joined him and they fought together, alternately gaining and losing holds on it before it threw them both off.

“Here!” Ripper cried and began chanting the spell he was sure would drive the demon back to its own dimension. He roared the words over and over, making Randall entity stagger and scream with rage. Over and over, with more and more vehemence he chanted, until Buffy felt hoarse and exhausted by the desperation and intensity of Ripper's spell.

Finally, Randall collapsed in a heap and everyone clustered around him, until Ripper got there and they parted just as quickly to allow him access.

The demon flesh morphed swiftly back to pink human tissue, leaving Randall sprawled on the floor, his beautiful blue eyes fixed and staring.

“Oh God, oh God!” Giles cried, falling to his knees. “Randall!” He felt frantically for a pulse, anything. When he found none, he pulled the body into a position for CPR and started to work on it frantically. For several long minutes the others watched in macabre fascination, until, finally, Ethan tried to pull him away.

“No!” he screamed, ripping his arm out of Ethan's grasp, and resuming his rhythm of breaths and pumping. “He's got to come back! He was fine. His heart has stopped. We have to get it going again! Help me, you bastard! Help me!”

For another ten minutes both men worked on Randall, until Ethan sat back on his heels and shook his head.

“Ripper…Rupert! Enough. Let the poor bastard lie. He's not coming back.”

Buffy felt the guilt, the rage, the fear, as Giles sobbed and lashed out. “We killed him! I killed him!” he screamed then dropped back to sit on his calves, weeping in great heaving sobs. “I killed him,” he cried. “I killed him!”

The words faded and Buffy opened her eyes. And immediately recognised the man sitting opposite her.

Travers.

“I'm going where?”

“Los Angeles. Someone has to take over Merrick's Slayer. The Council has come to the conclusion that this is a unique situation requiring a unique solution.”

“You mean you have an untrained, unwilling, headache rather than a useful Slayer and the only fool you are willing to send to baby-sit her until she gets her fool neck broken is me. You don't expect her to survive and it would suit you perfectly to see me fail again. The ideal opportunity to rid yourself of me and what I represent, once and for all.”

Buffy fumed as the discussion continued.

Travers smiled obsequiously. “No other Watcher would be so unenthused about being given an active Slayer. You've been demanding an opportunity since you were moved to Wet Works after Thomas died. Now you have it. It isn't as though you were worth a damn in Wet Works anyway.”

Giles looked away. Buffy felt the combination of shame, guilt and indignation. Giles had been shafted. The mention of “Thomas” had been painful, but only in passing, though she was aware of a dull ache under his sternum as Giles argued back angrily. She wondered who he was.

“I never wanted fucking Wet Works! I was trained to be a Watcher. No graduate has achieved higher results in the last 63 years,” he snarled. “The only reason you sent me to Wet Works is because you hated my father and you knew what he wanted more than anything else, was for me to carry on the family tradition and train an active Slayer.”

Thomas, Buffy realised, feeling Giles' chest tighten at the mention of his father.

“For someone who hated their job, you were incredibly good at it.”

“You just said I wasn't worth a damn,” Giles pointed out angrily.

“You weren't worth a damn when it came to following orders, but I never saw anyone more coldly efficient at doing what had to be done when you were forced to it. Your problem was how often you wouldn't do it. There is something incredibly tacky about an assassin weeping for his victim,” Travers finished nastily.

Buffy looked away, seething with the same rage as Giles was, feeling the same humiliation mixed with the same sense of achievement as she realised just how many innocent, of the Council's intended victims, he'd actually saved instead of killed.

“If you feel that way, you do this Slayer a disservice she doesn't deserve, to send me to her. You've written her off already,” he said pointedly.

Travers shrugged. “Sometimes we just have to face reality. We always knew an American Slayer was going to be a difficult proposition…not only a colonial, but an untrained, undisciplined one into the bargain. We sent the best we had…Merrick…and you saw what that cost us. You will go to Los Angeles and you will train this Slayer…or you will go to Los Angeles and you will dispose of this problem. It's your choice…either Watcher or assassin. Those are your options.”

Buffy tried to open her mouth to abuse the older man and found herself in the school library. Reality had flipped out again.

She frowned, a rush of feelings of her own washing over and colliding head on with those of Giles, himself. Nostalgia, emotion, excitement at seeing the old place again when she never believed she would, was tempered by the knowledge that it was nothing but memories.

It didn't lessen the pleasure as Giles moved to continue his research. Buffy finally focused on the book in her hands. A tremor went down her spine, or perhaps his.

The Codex.

The book Angel had provided so long ago. The one with the bullet-proof prophecies; the one that had foretold her death. He was translating swiftly, reading passages, frantically trying to put a number of things together, when he found it.

She felt her blood run cold, felt his stunned shock at the implication of the prophecy; his pain at the realisation of what he was required to do. He slumped into a chair, barely able to face the knowledge that he was expected to send an innocent girl to her death.

It rocked Buffy to feel the intensity of his hurt, even then. At the time she'd thought him hard, rigid, bound by council rules, not wracked by the shocking guilt now holding him in silent misery.

She blinked, things shifted, and there was Angel.

The vampire was talking quietly about the prophecy. Giles was on edge, still miserable, but with a jumble of new emotions to pound at Buffy's temples. It took a little time, but eventually Buffy realised that there was a natural antipathy between the Watcher and the Vampire, even then, an undefined tension that was making Giles' gut feel like a clenched fist. She frowned inwardly.

They looked up suddenly at the sound of a woman's laugh, a slightly hysterical laugh.

Buffy was stunned. It was her…sixteen-year-old Buffy hovering just this side of hysteria.

The reaction from Giles was immediate. She felt his overwhelming surge of protectiveness, his need to shield and to comfort, and she felt his desolation at having neither the right nor the mandate to do either.

His feelings about the Council's hold on him, and the requirement that he send an innocent to her death in the name of Prophecy, bordered on homicidal. For the first time Buffy understood just how much it had cost him to bow to family tradition and become a Watcher.

He stepped forward. He wanted to tell her, to go to her, to make her understand that he couldn't change the existence of the prophecy, or the destiny of the slayer…but that if there was a way, he would gladly give his life for hers to make it so.

The younger Buffy was jeering about the Slayer, about one dying and the next one being called.

Buffy's first thought was: 'drama queen, much' but her flippancy was overridden by Giles' reaction to Angel trying to hold and comfort her.

The jag of hostility, resentment…even jealously…was unmistakable.

She was still trying to make sense of that when the girl she was, demanded to know when he was going to tell her about the prophecy. Renewed pain washed over him.

“I was hoping that I wouldn't have to…that there was...some way around it. I...”

Buffy almost laughed when she heard herself quitting. Would have, if she hadn't wanted so badly to cry, and if she'd actually been in her own body…

How many times in the last few years had she wanted to do the exact same thing?

Then her attention was diverted by Giles' reaction. Through the pain there was something else…overwhelming relief. He was shocked, yes, that she would choose to walk away when so much was at stake, but, Buffy realised, close to weeping, the single most important thing to him at that moment was that she had given him a way out for her.

She was shamed, deeply and to her soul, to realise how much Giles had loved her, even then. She remembered the intensity of her resentment, even hatred, of the man at that moment, and knew what a fool she had been; knew even more when her child self grew even more histrionic and Giles had to duck a flying book as he tried to explain about the signs, about there not being a real choice.

The young Buffy was like a wounded, terrified creature trapped in a corner, with no way out.

Buffy felt Giles' heart go out to her, the almost suffocating need to go to her, to comfort her, his Herculean effort to control it, and his disappointment and sadness at her belief that he was cold enough to calmly send her to her death without feeling anything.

Then Angel was speaking to the girl and she was reiterating her decision to quit. Giles offered a few words about the Master, but the young Buffy simply cast her crucifix on the floor and walked out.

When she was gone, Giles turned slowly to face the vampire, their eyes meeting only briefly, connected by their mutual concern for her, before he stepped across to scoop up the necklace and she found herself wheeling and striding back to the library office.

Giles sat down hard in his chair, the crucifix clutched in a clenched fist, numb with hollow despair.

“Oh, Buffy…” he whispered tremulously.

And reality changed again.

She was walking up to the door of his apartment. He was zinging with anticipation, excitement, happiness, despite his sedate exterior.

*Yay!* Buffy thought wryly,*finally, a happy for the poor guy. Enough already with the heartache…!*

Then she saw it.

Giles' pulse rate accelerated and she could feel a hot flush of arousal, even a giddy sense of anticipation that she never would have guessed Giles to be capable of…

Except…

There was that.

Giles sniffed the red rose and slid it out of the knocker.

The scent got into Buffy's nostrils, as they went into the flat to find roses everywhere and champagne chilling in a bucket as Puccini's “La Boheme” filled the room.

She did everything she could to will him a warning, to turn him around, to stop the inevitable from happening, but he simply continued to smile, to become even more aroused, to radiate happiness as he picked up the sheet of paper on his desk.

Buffy choked when she saw the handwriting and the word: *upstairs.* She wanted out, and she wanted it right then. She called to Willow but there was no answer, nothing.

Giles picked up the wine and started up the stairs, Buffy's misery making a stark contrast to the vibrancy of his joy as he climbed and the music swelled.

His hopes and dreams flooded over Buffy. She had no idea just how much this woman had meant to him. For all her mistakes, Giles had obviously loved Jenny terribly, and, Buffy could now feel, had harboured silent hopes, even before Eyghon's return, that she would one day be his…that perhaps, finally, he would no longer be alone.

She redoubled her efforts to try and make him turn around, to not…

The bottle crashed to the floor and Buffy struggled to breathe.

The jag of shock, horror, pain and incredulity from him crashed over her, slicing through the simmering heat of his desire and the bright, but tragically brief, aura of real joy, to leave nothing…

Hollow, empty, sickening…

Nothing.

It took him several minutes to move from the spot, to walk forward and touch the pale cheek with the trembling backs of his fingers, the small choking noise as he closed her eyes, expressing more grief than the loudest wail.

Buffy's heart wept for him as he made himself back away, turn and go downstairs. He stopped at the bottom and she held her breath. Giles had never spoken of this time and she had never asked. She didn't know what he would do next.

Suddenly he was moving again, ripping the record from the turntable and hurling it across the room, the vinyl bouncing off the wall and landing on the chess table, leaving stark silence to settle over them.

God, Giles, she thought sadly as he staggered back to the table and the telephone. He dialled, and reality changed again…

Buffy would have held her head, if she'd had the wherewithal to do so, overwhelmed by this journey into the depths of Giles' thoughts and memories. Nobody had told her that it would be like this…

She had imagined some kind of surreal vista with physical representations of both of them, a tangible Giles for her to play hide and seek with until he was ready to come back. Instead she was spinning from an all-too-real roller coaster ride the like of which no one should ever have had to witness, let alone experience…

Over the sound of her own thoughts came Willow's voice. She was dismissing a Sunnydale High class...computers by the look of it.

By the time Buffy had focused, the class was gone and Giles was talking to her. It almost made her want to smile. Willow was so cute as a kid…adorable, even. She did half-smile to herself then, until the conversation turned to Jenny Calendar.

Giles' heart suddenly went from warm affection for the redhead, to a walnut-sized ball of pain again.

Buffy's breath caught in her throat when Willow produced a cord necklace with a single pink stone in it, and handed it to him. The memory of him turning it over and over in his ravaged fingers blurred with the elegant, smooth fingers taking it so easily from Willow's hand.

If she could have closed her eyes, she would have. A lot of things were beginning to make sense now…

She breathed hard and looked around. Being Giles, yet not, was getting way too confusing, she decided, realising that it was he who was breathing hard, not her. She ached for him, but it was he who was in physical distress at that moment.

She felt the pain in his head, the fear he was controlling and the intense stress levels as he looked up at the vampire standing over him.

Angelus seemed almost gleeful about the prospect of torturing him.

Buffy shivered mentally. She hated that voice and everything it touched in her, everything it echoed from her past.

“Why are you doing this to me!” she screamed.

But no one answered. No one could hear her. She was a mute passenger on a tour of Giles' life and she didn't know how to get off.

And she wanted desperately to get off. She didn't want to see what Angelus was capable of doing, didn't want to be in this terrible room for even one more moment. The mixture of Giles' physical distress and silent fear, and the pain of her own memories, made her desperate to escape.

Giles had staggered to his feet and was watching Angelus prattle about Acathla. Buffy's overwhelming desire was to kick the crap out of the bastard, even while beset by memories of what she had done to him, but Giles was maintaining his dignity, and waiting for his head to clear.

Buffy could feel his contempt. She blinked, and time shifted.

And all she could feel was pain. On and on it went, until she was exhausted, both from the agony, and the sound of his silent screams…until all that was left was their sobbing.

Angelus stood over his work, grinning.

Giles lifted his head, bloodshot green eyes staring with utter hatred at his tormentor.

“You cannot have me and you cannot…have…her,” he spat.

Angelus smirked. “Wrong on both counts. I've had her, and I've got you. Wanna play some more? You've still got two good fingers left on that hand and they make such a cool noise when they break.” His expression turned sour as he picked up Giles' left hand. “Pity you don't make a cool noise. You know, torturing someone is hardly any fun when they don't make a noise.”

A part of Buffy screamed for him, as Giles' index finger snapped like a twig and the agony shot through her body. But the Watcher made not a sound other than the tortured, gasping breath that followed the break.

Angelus turned, strode away, wheeled, came back. “What's it going to take to get some entertainment outta you, old man? Maybe I should send a message to Buffy to come get her old man before I kill him. Might be more fun to play with the little Slayer after all. Wanna watch?”

Giles was trembling with shock and pain from the latest break. He made an effort to lift his head and spit at the vampire.

When the spittle hit Angelus' shirt and dribbled down it, the vampire lost it for a moment and punched the Watcher in the mouth so hard he fell backwards. Then he knelt alongside him, pulled open his shirt and used one panel of it too wipe the saliva from his own.

Giles was too consumed with the pain still echoing through him from the jarring of his mangled hand, to object.

In that moment Buffy wanted to die…almost as much as she wanted to stake Angelus.

Angelus inclined his head and a couple of minions dragged Giles back onto the chair he'd been knocked off.

Buffy felt him silently screaming in pain from their manhandling, but he still refused to make a sound.

“Are you still playing with that wanker?” Spike rolled his chair into the room. “You're supposed to be interrogating the bugger, not crocheting his fingers.”

“Piss off, Sit'n'spin. This is my game. Was a time when you were as good at this as me. Drusilla snatch that pair of yours when you weren't looking, did she? Or did the Slayer get them when she dropped that wall on you?”

Spike's nostrils flared angrily. “All I'm saying is the bloody world is never going to end if you keep fart-arsing around with book-boy there.”

“He won't talk,” Angelus said sulkily. “He won't even groan for me. Not even a real whimper.” He backhanded Giles across the mouth. “Isn't that right?”

Giles' eyes rolled up to stare with hatred at his enemy, but he said nothing.

Spike looked from one to the other, aware suddenly that there was a great deal more going on here than psycho-boy was ever going to realise.

“Fine,” he said. “Just make sure there's enough left to do the talking when you're done. I'm not hanging around here just to watch you picking up bits of Watcher and snivelling about not being able to open the portal, and neither is Dru.”

Buffy, trying to deal with Giles' pain, struggled to make sense of what Spike was doing. The Spike she knew should have been gleefully helping Angelus, not reasoning with him.

“I told you to piss off.”

Spike's expression was contemptuous. “Fine. Do what you like. I'm going out. I've had enough of this whole bloody thing. Make him talk, don't make him talk…but do it without me.”

Buffy watched the chair roll out, her stomach doing flip-flops. Somehow, she knew Spike was going to find her.

Suddenly she was aware of a despairing wave of sadness from Giles. Angelus was still looking at the doorway and didn't see the abject misery that passed across the Watcher's battered face as he watched the fair vampire exit.

Giles was thinking about her, wondering where she was, if she was safe. He had been so sure she would come for him, so certain… He let no tears fall for Angelus to see, but Buffy was not protected from the silent weeping of his heart.

Frustrated and annoyed, the vampire turned and scowled at his prisoner. “I need tools,” he muttered and glared at a minion who scampered off to find them.

“No!” Buffy cried into the void of her nether existence, between worlds, frustrated beyond measure that she could not stop it. She had seen those tools. She never wanted to see them again.

When the minion returned it was with a tray almost exactly the same as the one Faith had intended to use on her. She shivered again, watching through Giles' red-rimmed eyes as Angelus gleefully picked through until he'd found what he wanted.

Buffy felt Giles' terror when he saw it, but again he made no sound, nor did he flinch as the vampire brought it to his cheek and traced his bony jaw with it.

“Isn't this the coolest?” he asked. “Multi-purpose tool. What shall I do with it? Pop an eye…that can be entertaining…if messy…” He looked at the long, needle-like shaft. “I know! How do you feel about body piercing? Eyebrow…no, nose…no, bottom lip,” he prattled gleefully. “Navel? Or maybe you have a preference for something a bit more exotic?” he suggested, trailing the point down Giles' chest to his crotch.

Giles spat again, hard, and turned away.

Enraged, Angelus lashed out, driving the stiletto-like blade deep into his left shoulder blade, making Giles' jaw open so far it was almost overextended in a silent scream of agony.

Buffy, reeling from the pain, marvelled at the strength of will that saw the Watcher maintain his silence, despite his treatment, and redouble that effort when Angelus spitefully pulled the weapon back out without even blinking.

“Tell me what I have to do, old man, before I perforate something that can't be fixed!” he snarled and laid the bloody tip against Giles' lower right eyelid. Buffy could feel the discomfort from the pressing point.

Giles finally spoke. “You…y-you must get yourself another of these…and…and…”

“And?” Angelus demanded.

“And knit yourself a sack for your dust, you prat!” he hissed and tensed for the loss of his eye.

Angelus was incensed, leaping up and throwing his head back, letting out a bellow of rage.

Buffy figuratively exhaled, almost paralysed with fear at the prospect of what that stiletto might have done…then she realised it was Giles' fear. She already knew from history itself that Giles' eyes wouldn't be touched.

When the vampire swung back again it was to beat on the helpless Watcher in a frenzy of enraged blows, Buffy learning for the first time what it was like to be on the fighting end of one of her own attacks. In his haste to protect himself from the rib splintering-blows, Giles used his bad hand to shield himself and almost cried out in mindless agony when Angelus struck it hard.

The red flush of Giles' face, the blood vessels standing out in his temples and the saliva running from the corners of his mouth told Angel all he need to know. He grinned sadistically.

“Now there's a game we can play,” he cackled gleefully and took hold of the broken hand.

Buffy felt the vampire's cold fingers close around one of Giles' broken ones, almost passing out as Angelus twisted it bone-crunchingly and waited for his toy to cry out in agony.

Giles' body jolted and his head flew back, his mouth again open in silent pain, but he did not cry out.

“Another?” Angelus asked and twisted it back the other way.

Waves and waves of nausea and sickening pain hit Buffy in an endless barrage as Giles retched and heaved and turned his head enough to vomit on the floor.

Irritated, Angelus motioned impatiently to a minion to clean up.

“How do I activate Acathla?” he demanded, grabbing another finger and bending it backwards until it fractured a second time.

When he had recovered enough to remember his name, Giles stared the vampire in the eye, his eyes bulging, his nose and mouth running and his face almost beet-red with strain.

“Say 'pretty please' he hissed and looked away, still retching.

Buffy begged whatever mechanism, whatever powers were doing this, to move them on, to blink time again, anything to stop Giles' agony…but to no avail.

The torture continued relentlessly for hours, Buffy helpless to do anything but suffer with him, until Angelus bade a minion hand him the shirt he'd removed. He slid it over the bloodied arms and back of his victim and did it up in a parody of motherly solicitousness, as though dressing a child.

“There ya go, Rupert, love. All dressed. God forbid anyone see that you're a human being under all that tweed…outta shape, but all human. Don't you English guys ever even think about taking care of yourselves? You've got potential there, but it's wasted… well, I mean it's wasted, anyway, because I kinda spoiled your fun there a bit, a while back,” he said immodestly, grinning like a naughty child. “Thing is you can't expect any woman to look at you if you don't take care of yourself…I mean you never did get to make time with the gypsy, huh? Oh, right, I forgot. You don't have to worry about women looking at you. Your job is to be alone, isn't it Rupert?” he smirked. “You're just her Watcher…her little Alfred…” The smirk widened. “Her whipping boy. Pity she's too busy to care if you're alive or dead, huh?”

Buffy felt Giles close his eyes as outrage, humiliation, grief, radiated out from him. His whole body trembled and a single sob issued from him, before he gathered himself and stiffened against the small breakdown.

“Poor Rupert,” Angelus crooned and picked up the broken hand.

Buffy, shaking, thought an obscenity, and time shifted.

Her first thought was 'eiewww' as someone pulled away from a kiss. Her next was that he was still in incredible pain, but that an inexplicable joy was washing over him, one so powerful and so ecstatic that it made her feel like her eyes were pricking with tears. And then she realised why.

He had never told them. Never said a word.

“Jenny…?”

Buffy watched in transfixed horror as he looked at the woman he loved with such joy that, for just a moment, the pain he was in faded to nothingness. This was impossible. Buffy knew it was, but Giles' whole body had bought the illusion without question.

Again, she tried to reach him, call out to his subconscious, anything, to stop it all happening again, to not have to know what she had left him to all that time. She squidged as the apparition of Jenny worked on him for information, and strained to block out both his response and the joy ringing in him at seeing the other woman again.

Then Spike spoke and Jenny lifted her head…only it wasn't Jenny.

Buffy was disgusted, but it was overridden by the power of Giles' horror hitting her in the stomach. If it was possible, his heartbreak in that single moment was more horrible even than the tragic, Puccini-drenched time when all his dreams had ended.

Buffy wanted him out of there. Wanted them both out of his head. She wanted them both back, where she could take care of him, tell him…tell him what…?

Except that no matter what she did, Willow seemed to be inaccessible. She wondered fleetingly if she was going to be stuck there forever. Was this actually the darkness to which Edof had referred? Buffy shuddered at the thought as Drusilla spoke and time shifted yet again.

“Where have you been?”

God, Buffy thought. Xander looks so young. They all do.

Giles put down his overnight bag and sighed mentally. “St Louis. No luck, I'm afraid.”

Willow slumped. Cordelia rolled her eyes and picked up the magazine she'd been reading, again.

Xander frowned. “That's three plane tickets in the last two weeks, big G. You think maybe it might be better to wait until she—?”

Buffy felt the anger, resentment and self-consciousness in Giles as he spoke. “It was a good lead. It just happened that whilst there were plenty of vampires, there was no…no Slayer.”

“Giles, she'll come back. You know she will.”

He looked at Willow for a long moment then nodded slowly. “We must hope,” he agreed, but Buffy could feel how lost he was, the despair percolating at the edge of his consciousness, in direct contrast to his carefully calm demeanour.

She'd always thought Xander's remonstrations about how hard Giles tried to find her, were about her being the Slayer and him obsessing about being responsible for her as her Watcher. And about the fact that Mister I'm-so-smart-Watcher-guy had lost his charge and had been driven to find her, to bring her back into line, probably including a lot of yelling, if he'd managed to find her.

Now, as Giles walked to his office and slumped in his chair, letting himself be engulfed by its soothing familiarity, she realised how wrong she'd been

…And found herself outside his apartment again.

He opened the door and let himself in, dropped the grip just inside the door and locked it solidly.

Buffy frowned mentally. Giles and locks were un-mixy things, but he'd done that like one of those sort of people who get robbed or mugged and live with twelve locks on their doors, always terrified of being…

Oh, God, she thought, miserably. Oh, God…

He crossed the room slowly, Buffy realising for the first time that, as small as his apartment was, it seemed huge with just him in it, and silent, as he padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on. For the first time, she imagined almost five years of living like this, or perhaps even a lifetime, of coming home to silence and emptiness, with only the sound of your own thoughts for company, no matter how wretched they might be.

At that moment she realised he had just arrived home from yet another trip. He was thinking about where he'd been, what a failure it was, and he was hurting, but in an 'if I think about making tea instead I shall be perfectly fine,' Giles sort of way.

Something was very wrong. He was sort of stiff and rigid, and really into the 'pretending it was all irrelevant and being incredibly British', even though he was all alone, with no one to see…

She waited as he brought the cup of tea into the sitting room and sat down on the couch, put it down on the table, and sat back.

Then he dragged a hand over his tired face. At that point, Buffy realised that he had started to heal from his ordeal. There were no dressings on the hand, but it was painfully obvious that the still-ugly fingers were stiff, sore and still giving him trouble.

She was shaken to find that she wanted to warm them, kiss them, and tell him how sorry she was, but the hand dropped to his side as he tried to focus on the tea again, his mind replaying the events of the day.

She drew a sharp breath when she realised he'd been to her house, seen her mother, that this was what he was trying not to think about, despite an ache in his soul that Buffy could feel reverberating down to her bones.

Deliberately and purposefully he picked up the tea and started to sip it as the exchange replayed itself in his mind.

At first Buffy was glad to see her mother's face, to see something reassuring after being lost for so long in the seemingly endless montage of Giles' memories.

She felt how much Giles wanted to help, how much he wanted to try and alleviate the other woman's pain. And how incredibly disappointed and harsh he was on himself for not having anything to tell her. She felt a swell of love and pride and gratitude as he broke character completely to try and reach out in his own way to comfort her mom.

The other woman's voice reverberated around the room.

“I don't blame myself. I blame you…”

Buffy didn't know which of them felt more punched in the stomach as they both reeled back, emotionally.

She knew what it had cost him to reach out like that, and she could feel the lacerations her mother's words had left as the images faded until all that was left was the ghost of her own face and the spectre of his regret.

Moved, she fought the urge to burst into tears, then realised with shock that it wasn't just her.

Giles had picked up his teacup again, and was mechanically sipping at it, but he was not all right.

She had not come home. He hadn't been able to find her…even Joyce Summers had confirmed his failure.

Buffy heard one single, lonely, despondent thought follow the others.

Why…?

The teacup clunked on the table and his head dropped, his shoulders beginning to shake, overwhelming Buffy with his sudden, suffocating despair. Somewhere, somehow she choked and burst into silent tears.

“…You should have told me he was alive. You didn't. You have no respect for me or for the job I perform…”

Buffy jumped and shook her head. The sudden changes were beginning to give her an angry headache to go with the now constant pain in her heart.

Giles was staring at her younger self again. He was trembling with cold rage and intense hurt as he turned silently back to sit down in his office chair.

Again she had the sense of a ball of tears in her throat, only this time they were hers, not his.

Why couldn't she have understood? Why did she always have to be so blind? Her Angel-obsessed, high school self was standing there in shock. She could remember that day as clearly as if it was yesterday. All she had been able to think of at the time was what she'd been through, how much she loved the vampire and how hard it had been for her…and on top of it, how unfair it was to have Giles mad at her, too…

Mad at her…God, she'd been so stupid, she thought angrily, remembering her own words: “I'm gonna try and kill this Lagos guy. Peace offering to Giles…” Peace offering! She thought, filled with self-loathing.

She could feel the longing in him for her to show some sign, some…any…recognition of what it had cost him to stand by her in her relationship with Angel; what it was costing him to not go straight out with Xander and stake the bastard then and there.

Oh, Giles…

Music crashed into her thoughts and she realised they'd skipped again. The place was familiar, if loud, the lights bright and the crowd…

Giles was agitated, staring toward the entrance, worried, but for once, Buffy sighed with relief…no real badness was happening.

Suddenly she knew what this was.

Prom night.

Giles again turned to the door and Buffy was deluged with his concern…jags of apprehension interlaced with his commonsense telling him not to be silly.

She wanted to chuckle, but there was something about his edginess, a quality she couldn't quite grasp, until he saw her.

Buffy held her breath as her younger self came into the room and paused to find him in the crowd.

Delight was spreading through him, and relief so exquisite it made her tingle…as though a great load had been lifted. His smile widened to match hers and he nodded just slightly, no sign of the disappointment that lanced through him when she turned to look for the others, showing on his face. He turned away and the room shifted.

A familiar song was playing. Shivers went up Buffy's spine, wherever that particular organ was located currently.

That song.

Giles was moving through the crowd, fast. There was a level of contentment, overlayed by concern for her, especially now, when he knew she would be feeling it most, and over that, anticipation, almost excitement.

The conversation went as she remembered it, but emotionally Giles was all over the place, nothing like the relaxed, placid Watcher she remembered from that night.

He was about ready to burst with anticipation and more than a little apprehension. She could feel him about to ask her other self something and wondered what the hell it could be.

Then he looked up and Angel was there. First there was a moment of real fear, then a jag of revulsion quickly suppressed, and finally, and most confusingly, crashing, painful disappointment, as he turned his charge to see her surprise.

Standing alone in the crowd, he watched them, only his eyes betraying the sadness Buffy could feel in his heart as he watched the two former lovers dance.

For a brief moment Buffy was entranced by the illusion. They looked so perfect together …in fact, exactly as they did in all her young dreams…the ones where they would have been together forever…

Then Angel turned slowly and his contented face came into full view.

Even before she felt Giles' poignantly reflexive flinch at the sight of that dark visage, anger flooded into her own heart. Anger at what she had caused, what the vampire had done to him, and worst of all, what no one, least of all her, had done for him since…

As he watched them, touching Buffy with his genuine pleasure in the knowledge that she was, for at least that little time, happy, she began to understand how truly alone he was.

After a beat, he finally let himself think about what he'd just been going to ask her...and the tender image of his intentions caught Buffy by the throat, just as time winked again.

She swore. She hadn't wanted to tear herself from that sweet image in Giles' mind. For one brief, shining moment, even if only in his imagination, everything had been all right.

She didn't want to do this any more.

“Giles!” she cried, “Giles, where are you?”

But all she could see was a room full of college students. Giles was talking about his school days. Buffy snorted in irritation when Anya cut him off, then smiled inwardly when Xander gave her a lesson in manners, which the guileless ex-demon promptly spoiled.

Giles' silent amusement, when he dismissed them, was mixed with irritation and vague unhappiness.

For a long while he remained alone, watching with varying degrees of boredom, self-consciousness and discomfort, the various goings on in the room: Kel Bennett kissing Neely Lehmann; Xander and Anya pretending they weren't making out in a quiet corner; Willow circumnavigating the room and making sure everyone else was having a good time; the fact that the ceiling was full of cracks and needed filling and painting…

Mostly, though, despite his discomfort, he was just content that she was, for a little while at least, safe, and that her birthday seemed not to be poised to explode in their faces, yet again.

Buffy watched her younger self, talking animatedly to a group from the Initiative, and felt a wave of shame.

Why did he always have to be so alone…?

He remained alone for some time. Finally, Willow returned, just as Buffy was about to go nuts from sheer boredom, both his and hers, and growing irritation with her younger self.

Giles accepted a plate of cake awkwardly as Willow asked him if he was having a good time. Again, Buffy found herself doing the equivalent of looking away, embarrassed, despite Giles bravely continuing the conversation.

And lying through your teeth, she thought dryly as her birthday self approached with Riley.

Giles radiated pleasure at the site of her…and love, she realised. There was also, once again, a happy sense of anticipation.

“Hi, Giles.”

“Buffy. Happy Birthday.”

She felt the love swell in him as he balanced his plate and cup to let her hug him. She felt a new stab of shame that she didn't even remember doing it.

“Thank you.”

Giles beamed. “Nineteen. It's hard to believe, isn't it?

He wanted so badly to say something. Buffy willed her other self to shut up and listen, fruitlessly, once again.

“There's somebody here I want you to meet. Uh, this is Riley Finn…my boyfriend.”

The older man's spirits went through his shoes. As always, he showed nothing, save discomfort, at the turn of events but his distress, his loss, was palpable and painful.

It grew worse with Riley's clumsy gaffes. Nor did 'birthday' Buffy's attempt to guide the conversation, or her eventual effort to send the boy away, help at all.

Buffy listened to her own witless and ever increasingly painful blunders until she was ready to scream. Worse, Giles' hurt was washing over her, amid his disappointment and irritation, and the residual embarrassment. And at the mention of Maggie Walsh, and Buffy's artless mention of the woman's age: humiliation and withdrawal.

Riley returned with the cake, capping off the moment, and, Buffy noticed, eliciting not only flaring irritation, but a sharp spike of something else from Giles. She recognized it, because it almost exactly matched the Watcher's response to Angel on a number of occasions: jealousy and possessiveness…so well controlled no one would ever know.

As he watched her younger self wander off again with her beau, Giles' shoulders slumped and he sighed a long sigh. Finally, he got rid of the cake and slipped quietly away, unseen and unmarked…and, as always…solitary and alone.

Buffy blinked, her headache worsening as things went sideways again.

Giles was singing. She'd never heard him sing…except it was weird to be on the guitar-playing, singing side of the music for once. He was kind of down, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

She had the ability to do neither and made no bones about it. She liked his voice, and was just beginning to really enjoy the moment, soothed by the peace and pleasure he was increasingly feeling as he played, as much as he was, when Spike suddenly interrupted, frightening him out of six month's growth and not doing anything for her nerves either.

The vampire went straight to the kitchen, helping himself from the refrigerator.

“What do you want?” Giles demanded, irritated.

Buffy wondered what the hell was going on and would have rolled her eyes if she could have, when Spike put a bag of blood in the microwave.
“Buffy around?”

“Why?” Giles asked suspiciously.

“I need to speak to the lady of the house. Hey, be a pet and give her a message for me, would you? Tell her I just might have something she just might want.”

Giles tensed at the words 'lady of the house', but Buffy could feel his anticipation of a possible lead.

“And what might that "something" be?”

“Information. Highly classified. Not cheap word-on-the-street prattle either. I'm talking about the good stuff now.”

Giles was not impressed. He sat down on one of his stools and folded his arms.

“Thrill me.”

Buffy snorted inwardly. Giles being stuffy to someone else was actually kinda fun.

“It's nothing I know. What, you think I'd come running over saying: "I've got a secret, beat me till I talk? There are files in the Initiative. I'm pretty sure I know where.”

Giles straightened. “Files?”

Spike removed his blood from the microwave. “Yeah. Secrets. Mission statements. Design schematics. All of Maggie Walsh's dirty laundry, which I guess would include lots of tidbits about—”

Giles removed his glasses again. “Adam.”

“Well, yeah. Say someone were to risk his life and limb --well, limb anyway-- to obtain said files. It might be worth a little something?”

Spike drained his mug of blood.

Giles' eyes narrowed and suspicion replaced anticipation. “A-at…this point a cynical person might think that you're offering just what we need when we need it most.”

“That person'ed be right, Rupert…supply and demand. And it won't be cheap this time.”

“What do you want?”

'Yeah,' Buffy thought. What do you really want? Giles had never mentioned this conversation. There had to be a reason why.

“Hmm, year's supply of blood, guaranteed protection, merry bushels of cash, and, most important . . . a guarantee that I'm not to be in any way slain.”

Giles put his glasses back on. “Done,” he said, taking Buffy a little by surprise, though she could feel that he considered the urgency of their need for information more of a priority than worrying about Spike's petty motives.

“With a smile and a nod from you? Sorry. Not close to good enough. This deal's with the Slayer.”

Buffy felt Giles' recoil, and wondered why. She was expecting him to give as good as he got. Since when was Giles ever 'not good enough' to act as proxy for her? Especially with Spike…and especially after all those weeks of those two being Weetabix buds.

“I'll tell her,” Giles said flatly.

Buffy figuratively glared at the vampire. Giles was buying…no, was agreeing…she paused, confused. Giles already thought he wasn't…?

“Oh, you'll tell her! Great comfort, that. What makes you think she'll listen to you?” Spike demanded snidely.

Pain and real depression washed over the older man. “Because...”

“Very convincing.”

He tried again, irritated that the vampire kept scoring bulls-eyes.

“I'm her Watcher.”

“I think you're neglecting the past-tense there, Rupert. Besides, she barely listened to you when you were in charge. I've seen the way she treats you.”

Buffy knew then that Spike was playing games with Giles' head. That, somehow, he knew that the Watcher was already depressed, that he already half-believed the things Spike was saying. She could feel, now, the emptiness in Giles' heart, and his overwhelming feeling of irrelevance…as though nothing he did would really be of any consequence anyway.

Giles grabbed a bottle off the bar and poured himself a drink.

“Oh, yes? And how's that?” he finally replied, working at calm while his insides were in chaos.

“Very much like a retired librarian.”

Buffy wanted to stake the little weasel then and there.

Giles, however, remained silent and continued to pour.

Buffy knew that was a bad thing…as bad as when he found out about Eyghon. And it had taken more than just the demon to drive Giles to this kind of depression, even then. It took history, death, mayhem, guilt…

Then she realised the truth. It took Eyghon and all his attendant baggage last time to make him raise a glass again in self-defense; this time…it was about her. A rock formed in her gut.

“Look, I've got what she wants, as long as she has what I want.” Spike started to leave, pausing as he passed Giles. “Spread the word. She knows where to find me.”

Giles stared at his glass with studied indifference, but the distorted reflection stared back at Buffy with eyes more desolate than she could bear.

“I'll think about it,” he growled under his breath and brought the glass to his lips as Spike slipped away.

He drank without haste, but steadily. It haunted Buffy, the way he sat in the lonely apartment in silence, staring into nothingness, the only real movement the occasional swirling of the contents of the glass in his hand.

She wished that someone would come, someone would help, but she knew now that they were all too stupidly preoccupied with their own little worlds, especially her, the Adam issue not withstanding, to even call, let alone actually drop by, just because…

Eventually he got up. The half-bottle was empty. She was surprised to see him walk in a straight line to the kitchen, his mind a flat line of muted depression. He was resolutely not thinking about anything other than the objective…which was to completely obliterate the ache the vampire had so carefully reawakened.

He dropped the bottle in the trash and took another from a high cupboard, where it sat among bits and pieces for entertaining…glass tumblers, packets of nuts, popcorn, chips, some mixers, a packet of playing cards, unopened, an unopened bottle of tequila and another of something called Angostura Bitters.

Buffy found herself close to tears again, without being sure why. There was simply something incredibly sad about knowing someone so long and yet having no clue about the stark loneliness of their existence, of knowing, somehow, that she was a party to it… a seemingly willing accomplice to such terrible isolation.

Time blinked as she felt herself begin to tremble, wherever the hell her physical body was, and she found herself in the midst of something she did remember.

Giles was stumbling upstairs and removing his shirts, far more inebriated now, and thinking outrageous thoughts to mute the hurt simmering below the surface. He made it to the bed before he got his pants and t-shirt off and collapsed on top of it without pulling the covers back.

Initially, he lay there silently in just his shorts, his pickled brain wandering into thoughts of endless, terrible puns inspired by his current unhappiness, and back to the conversation downstairs. They hadn't really noticed he was there…at least no more than a familiar standard lamp… or a bloody cocker spaniel…he thought, with a whimsy that choked Buffy. He snorted. Or perhaps he was more of a golden retriever? His tipsy musings continued: always steadfast, loyal, quietly subservient to events and never a complaint. I'd make a smashing retriever! he decided smugly.

Buffy giggled wetly as the voices rose downstairs and it was revealed that Willow was in a gay relationship.

Giles' response was surprise, followed by amusement, followed by disbelief.

“Bloody hell!” he exclaimed loudly, making Buffy giggle wetly.

The conversation downstairs dropped back to a murmur and Giles settled further on the bed, still bemused by the turn of events, and allowing himself a little satisfaction, through the haze of his fractured, ethanol-induced logic, in his exit…that for once he hadn't been the one left behind…that for once he'd left Buffy standing…

And as if on cue, Buffy's voice rose again from downstairs:

“ No! No, you said you wanted to go. So let's go! All of us! We'll walk into that cave with you two attacking me and the funny drunk drooling on my shoe!”

Giles froze. After a few moments, his fists clenched, and he curled up into a tight, silent ball, all whimsy snuffed out, all thoughts submerged in abject misery.

“Hey! Hey, maybe that's the secret way of killing Adam?!”

He cringed even further.

“Buffy…” Xander's voice began what sounded like a feeble attempt to put things right.

“Is that it?” her other self demanded, sounding perilously close to cracking. “Is that how you can help?”

Giles made a tiny, deliberately strangled, noise in his throat, in the following silence.

“You're not answering me! How can you possibly help?”

The silence throbbed with almost palpable hurt.

“So . . . I guess I'm starting to understand why there's no ancient prophecy about a Chosen One…and her friends,” Buffy finally said, her voice coldly calm, yet lashing out with the bitter hostility of one whose world has suddenly come crashing down yet again, without rhyme or reason.

There was no answer to that, and she was given none. A moment later she spoke again, even more coldly.

“If I need help, I'll go to someone I can count on.”

Giles jolted when the door slammed moments after that, but didn't move. Buffy felt him curl up even tighter, realised how much he was trembling, and that it wasn't entirely the booze. When he started to weep softly, choking in his efforts to stop it, and swearing under his breath when he was unable to halt the tide, Buffy expected to wink out again.

This time, however, she was left to ride it out with him, to remain silently with him until he fell into a shallow sleep.

Time seemed to turn very slowly then, as though she was falling into a dream.

When, at last, some kind of reality asserted itself again, she was separate, sitting on the side of the bed, watching him sleep.

“Willow?” she ventured without speaking, then: “Willow!” aloud. No answer.

The silence was almost claustrophobic, and unnatural. After a beat she realised that there was no sound. No creak, no rattle of the window frame, not even the sound of his breath.

After a beat to assimilate that, she reached out and touched his shoulder. He remained unnaturally still, in exactly the same distressed foetal position he'd been in before he went to sleep. With a deep breath, she tried shaking him, but to no avail. He simply curled back into the same position.

“Giles,” she whispered. “It's okay. It's only me. Ethan's gone. We escaped. You can come out now…”

It sounded feeble, even to her ears.

“Giles…?” she repeated, helplessly, no idea what to do next.

Frustrated tears pricked her eyes as she moved closer to him and traced her fingers along a stubbled jaw, the faint scent of alcohol still in the air. None of this was real…and yet he felt so real…

She continued to explore the familiar contours and crags of his face, unaware that, gradually, a half smile had softened the grim line of her mouth.

“You need a shave,” she said softly, barely able to control the trembling of her lips, and brushed the hair around his ear with her fingertips. “They said…they said if someone loved you enough, you might want to come back.” Her hand stopped moving and dropped away.

“I…I need you to know…I can't do this without you. You…there's nothing without you,” she told him as calmly as she could. He remained as still as the dead. She threw her head back, her mouth clamping in a straight line and her eyes rolling in frustration.

An idiotic thought occurred to her; something a six year old might try, but there was nothing else.

Slowly, she leaned forward, and pecked him on the cheek with all the enthusiasm of one forced to kiss the frog. When, inevitably, nothing happened, emotion choked her and she frowned.

It would be just too weird to really kiss him…wouldn't it…?

After a couple of minutes of staring at his face, his mouth, she finally lowered her head again.

His lips were soft, but cool now. There was no joy in the kiss, and he tasted vaguely of whiskey still, but she found herself making it as loving and tender as she could, without being exactly sure why. When she straightened, it was with the childish hope that he might open the sea-green eyes and smile at her foolishness.

Nothing.

She stared at his closed eyes, the silent, almost sculpted, features cutting through her, forcing a small sob from her throat when they remained unmoved, as she knew they would.

Buffy picked up a large hand, drew it to her, covered it with her other hand.

“Giles, please, come back to me!” she begged tremulously. “ It's safe now. I'm safe now. I need you, Giles! Can you hear me? I need you so much!”

Silence answered her.

She could hear her own words echoing in her mind, each an indictment of her horrible record as a friend and worse one as…

Buffy stopped, realizing where that thought had been headed, unbidden, but going there, nevertheless. She swallowed. It had been instinctive, true, not even a speculation…but… She swallowed again, scarcely believing her own senses.

Instead of further thought, she leaned down and kissed his brow tenderly before pulling away, her eyes alight with the discovery.

How could she have not known?

And then it came to her.

Willow, she thought, frantically, her mind full of images. Willow…you have to put me back…!

Everything spun hard and spiraled into something else entirely.

The music rose and Buffy flushed, mustering her courage when she realised that Willow had heard, or read her avalanche of thoughts, somehow, and had succeeded.

This time she scanned the room as she had so long ago…a million years ago, it felt like…and searched it for the figure she knew would be weaving through the crowd on his way to her side.

She turned as he reached her and smiled at him.

“You did good work tonight, Buffy,” he said, a little more self-consciously than the last time.

“And I got a little toy surprise,” she replied, just as she had then.

“I had no idea that children en masse could be gracious,” he offered bemusedly.

“Every now and then, people surprise you,” she added softly, but this time with profound feeling.

His eyes widened and searched hers, as though trying to understand everything she had so pointedly left unsaid. Then his eyes shifted, flickered, and his face fell.

“Every now and then,” he agreed flatly, took her umbrella and turned her.

For a long moment Buffy watched the figure who'd held such a mortgage over her life, her heart, her soul, for so long…then she turned back to the man behind her.

“Every now and then,” she repeated dryly, seeking his rather surprised, soft green eyes.
“Dance with me…?”

For a moment the green pools focused sharply and gazed piercingly into hers. She almost thought she could see him…the real him…for a moment, in those jade depths. Then she watched him grin, this time absorbing and delighting in the joy in them, the love.

She walked forward slowly, watching that grin widen, and took a deep breath as he handed the umbrella to a surprised Julie Welsh from her history class, took her in his arms, and, with one last glance over her shoulder, swept her onto the dance floor.

Across the room, Angel stood like a statue, watching them float away, with an expression carved from stone.

Buffy, stealing a single glance as they turned, felt a twinge of pity, but did not look back again.

Giles danced like a dream. The lessons her mother had insisted on in the misguided belief that her only daughter might someday actually make her debut, had not been entirely for nothing, after all…

After two slow turns around the room they slowed to the same non-pace as the other couples on the floor, swaying slightly to the music as Buffy, ignoring Giles' very proper and respectful hold of her, let go of his hand and slid both arms around his waist, nestling her cheek into the breast of his tuxedo.

After momentary hesitation, she felt his arms close around her.

Their strength, their warmth, enveloped her. Buffy closed her eyes as the sensations washed over her, one after another. His body, his scent, the overwhelming aura of his unspoken love all served to make her forget everything except why she was there.

She tightened her hold as they moved slowly to the haunting music…music she would never again hear with that old ache in her soul. From this moment on she knew she would feel exactly as she did now…as though, for the first time in her life, the world felt exactly…perfectly…right, every time she heard it.

After a few moments, Giles held her away from him, his eyes searching, questioning.

Buffy's heart leaped with hope at the urgency in them. Slowly, warily, she allowed her gaze to fully lock with his curious one.

She swallowed, trembling, but mustered every ounce of courage, every ounce of truth in her soul.

“I never told you,” she stumbled. “I never told you how much…” She stopped to swallow a choke. “I'm the biggest idiot known to man. I didn't tell you. I didn't even know at first…Oh, God, Giles…I—”

“Buffy…?” he whispered, and it sounded like it came from miles and miles away.

“I love you so much,” she told him in a trembling, but determined, voice. “I love you, Giles. Could—Can you bear to let me love you…even after everything…?”

Giles removed his glasses and slid them into his jacket pocket before looking down at her again.

Can you possibly know what you're saying…?” he asked very slowly, his seemingly detached voice increasing the weight of intonation with every word. He didn't sound nearly as far away this time.

Buffy nodded slowly and reached up to cup his face with slender hands. When she lifted her gaze and smiled at him, everything…all of it…was shining in her soft, grey-green eyes. She drew his stunned head down, catching his lips with hers.

For agonizingly long moments, hers was the only movement. Though his lips had automatically softened and accepted hers, he did not kiss her back.

Bolts of adrenaline shot through Buffy when she realised this was it: he was so close that the next few seconds, or minutes, could be the difference between getting him back …and unthinkable failure.

She lifted her eyes and searched his beloved face, trying to find the words to convince him, growing more and more frightened, more and more panicked when the right ones would not come.

Against her will, frustrated tears flicked out of her lashes and rolled down the soft cheeks.

“Please…” she whispered. “I won't leave you. Not again. I'll stay here, with you, if I have to. I can't live out there, not without you! Not any more…!”

“Buffy!”

The shrill cry reverberated in her head like the clanging of a bell. When she opened her mouth to swear, something…happened.

And then she was looking up at a sea of concerned faces.

“What?”

“You've been gone for hours,” Willow said plaintively. “I-I know stuff was happening, but we had to pull you out. We have to go, now. Ethan's been to the college trying to find us. Someone gave him this address. Xander is my backup guy, for phone calls and emergencies a-and stuff,” she explained uncomfortably. “Anyway, they're coming here, like, in about ten minutes, so we have to move…”

“So you just yanked me out?” Buffy snapped. “Do you know how close I was? If we lose him now, Ethan is going to die for this,” she muttered darkly, unaware of Edof's silent scrutiny. She scuffed angrily at her face and turned to take the hand of the still figure on the bed again. After a beat, her shoulders sagged.

“If I lose him now, nothing matters any more…”


* * *


Part Three