The Hero

“Do you really want to go out alone tonight?”

Buffy shrugged. “Done it plenty of times. And my dreams aren't always prophetic,” she offered half-heartedly.

“I thought Giles was going to start patrolling with you again, a-at least while Riley's away.”

“He has,” the Slayer finally grinned. “It's been fun going out together again. He's way looser than he used to be, and I forgot how much fun he can be, especially when it gets really quiet out there.”

“So…tonight?”

Buffy shook her head. “Had to go to Sacramento for something. He thought he might get back today, but he said not to expect him until tomorrow, late.”

Willow's eyes lit up. “Ooh, another book?”

The other girl smiled at the memory of the excitement on Giles' face as he told her he was going, even while bemoaning size of the tiny rental car he was taking.

“Probably. He sure was excited about something. Anyway, gotta go. The sooner I get out there the sooner I get to snooze. Toodles.”

Willow watched her go and knew she would probably be fine, but Buffy's description of her nightmare the previous night had unsettled her, and set off all her trouble alarms. So much so she fervently wished Giles wasn't going to be out of town…


*******

Buffy picked her way through the pioneer section of Heaven's Rest cemetery. Of the twelve in Sunnydale, Heaven's Rest was one of the oldest and least active, but tonight her Slayer senses were leading her through areas of town and graveyards she hadn't visited for months. Once again everything was eerily quiet. She sighed and made a face.

The night still felt like it was going to explode any minute, but it had been a total squib so far. The whole of Sunnydale was like…well…like…a cemetery. When she reached the street again, the sense of anti-climax was almost depressing. As consolation for the lack of action, she decided to take a detour through a place she and Giles always used to swing by on patrol in the old days.

The crematorium and the rolling, grass covered grounds looked like they always did, as they had since her fateful date with Owen Thurman, only larger. It took an hour to cover the entire grounds before returning to the actual crematorium and chapel. She came around the side of the building with her 'spidey' senses screaming, every nerve ready for trouble.

When it hit, it came in numbers. There seemed to be vampires everywhere for a moment, but when she stopped reacting and sized up the battle, she realized there were only seven of them. They'd come from the building, presumably having collected another newly risen goon.

Too many, too many, a part of her, one that sounded remarkably like her ex-Watcher, kept saying. Giles has always disapproved of her attempting to take on more than she could cope with when she was alone. It was one thing to fight endless numbers of vampires with the others to back her up, to, in fact, literally watch her back, but alone it was a very different proposition.

She was using one wall of the building as some kind of protection to secure her back and barely managing to hold her own, when she heard a god-awful roar down the street. She kicked and punched at the vampire lunging at her right at that moment, and threw a second to the ground using its own momentum. Two others tried for a third time to grab her simultaneously. She was getting tired and there was almost no opportunity to stake any of them.

The time it would take to pin one and stake it was all the time any of the other six would need to kill her. Temper got the better of her and she lunged at one of the pair with a stake just as the clangour reached a crescendo, a combination of roaring engine and squealing wheels.

Buffy failed to impale the vampire, who had leaped aside only to turn and grab her, with the help of his companion, a moment later and to slam her up against the wall. Then suddenly there were four holding her. One of them closed a vice-like hand around her throat and a fifth stepped up with a ceremonial blade that would have done Crocodile Dundee justice. As the razor sharp point of the blade began to draw blood, Buffy began to scream.

It couldn't be real! Her nightmares had suddenly come to life…but it couldn't happen now! Not now. Not like this…

…Not alone.

And then the world exploded. A huge black motorcycle slammed onto the paved area in front of the crematorium at speed and slid right up to the vampires, the stand coming down and its rider dismounting in moments.

The half-inch cut on her throat throbbing painfully, Buffy watched the tall, slim figure in heavy black leathers and a wicked looking helmet with a full-faced black visor, laying into those vampires who weren't busy holding her, thankful that her knife-wielding assailant had gone to join the fray.

Much as she appreciated the help, the Good Samaritan was going to get himself killed if he wasn't careful. Buffy struggled in the grip of the vampires who held her, blood trickling down into her bosom, but there were too many. She watched him throw one of them over his head and then reach for something on his back. It flashed in the moonlight and then the dark hero was slamming something down onto the prone vampire.

“Eieww,” she exclaimed distastefully, while at the same time admiring his butt through the flexed leather as he bent, and the wide shoulders and leather covered legs, even as its head rolled away before the whole corpse turned to dust.

He really was kind of magnificent. There were still two of them trying to take him, but he was too good with the sword and he moved with grace, feinting and sidestepping so that one of them was caught off balance and stumbled, only to lose his head in one, almost ballet-like, flourish of the stranger's hands.

When he became preoccupied with the other, one of Buffy's captors left her to try and outflank him.

“Behind you!” she screamed, and made a superhuman effort to break out of the hold on her left arm, now pinned by only one large vamp. She succeeded and despatched her three remaining captors in short order before turning back to her rescuer, who was still locked in battle.

The last vampire was huge. It had at least fifty pounds on the bike rider and had knocked the sword from his hand just as Buffy turned. She reached them just as the vamp finally knocked him violently to the ground with a sickening blow to the helmet, and was about to pick up the sword.

As it bent, Buffy ran forward and plunged Mister Pointy into its back with every ounce of Slayer strength she had. She watched the massive shower of dust with relief before kneeling alongside her saviour, a part of her already having romantic visions of the magnificent manhood under that crash helmet and all that leather, and debating the utter necessity of saying thank you with a kiss…

She touched her throat where it still throbbed, her fingers coming away sticky with blood. Well, maybe too icky for a kiss, she decided, wiping her fingers on a handkerchief and gingerly dabbing her throat with it as she studied her dark knight. In true Slayer fashion the bleeding had all but stemmed already.

There was something damned sexy about that heavy leather, waisted jacket, with its equally heavy zipper and metal fastening on the band; not to mention its signs of much wear at the elbows and around the fastening, like it had been a part of him for a long time. And then there were those tight leather pants, the equally worn motorcycle boots…

“Are you okay?” she asked as he continued to lay prone, finding, with difficulty, the fastening on the chin strap holding the very new, mean looking, black helmet on and helping him to get it off.

When it finally did come off, Buffy froze.

The rider blinked up at her from beneath tousled golden brown hair, a little shorter at the sides than usual, but the rest was curlier and more unruly than she could ever remember, a silver cross hanging from his left ear and a small trickle of blood running from his left temple, down the side of his face to his ear.

“GILES…!”

*****************************ROLL CREDITS! **************************

[Bonus scene for Karen and Tricia's birthday]


“Giles…?” Buffy finally managed, her mouth falling open as she looked from him to the big, immaculately kept motorcycle and back to the prone figure again. “You…and that…what is that?”

He started to sit up and scrunched his face up in pain. “It's a Black Shadow… vintage…British…I just bought…ow…”

Buffy stopped gaping and moved swiftly to help him sit up. “You are okay? Do you want me to get help?”

He leaned thankfully against the support she was offering, the back of his head resting against her shoulder and throbbing unpleasantly.

“No. Just give me a minute. I'll be fine. That last bugger was a brute.”

Which brought Buffy back to reality. Giles had almost gotten himself killed saving her life…again. She slid her arms around his shoulders, and squeezed gently. “Thanks,” she said softly, then grinned. “My knight in shining armour. I should have known I couldn't do it without you.”

“Of course you can't. We never train any more. It's a wonder more of them haven't kicked your arse,” he muttered, trying not to think too much about the impromptu embrace.

“Giles!” she objected, scowling and tilting her head enough to see his profile. He was grinning. She hit his arm. “Just because you're right doesn't mean you can gloat about it,” she pouted. “I want my Watcher back.”

Buffy felt him tense, but it was several moments before he spoke.

“You're certain that's what you want?”

Her arms slid back around him again. Giles' eyes registered surprise once again, but he said nothing.

“More than certain. If you want me, that is,” she added with a little less confidence. “I mean, after this last year…”

“What about Finn?”

“Riley isn't my Watcher…he's not…you,” she added, frowning, and resting her cheek against his hair absently, lost in thought.

“No he's not. He's younger, prettier and apparently far more useful than I ever was.”

Buffy's face cleared. “You're wrong,” she said softly. “I wanted him to be, so I wouldn't be alone. But he's never going to replace you, and I don't want him to.”

He sat up then, obviously more than a little bruised in a number of places, and turned gingerly to face her, his soft green eyes searching her face.

“You seriously want us…want me to…?”

She nodded. “I want…” She stopped, frowned again, then looked into his face, her troubled blue-grey eyes finding and holding his. “No. What I want isn't enough any more. It's more than that. But I would…I would like us to do this together. I want to be with you again.”

He grinned suddenly, looking almost boyish again. “There is nowhere I'd rather be,” he told her, still smiling, the warmth spreading from his eyes to his whole face.

Buffy's eyes grew very wide and very bright. “I'm sorry,” she whispered, and when, somehow, she found herself in his arms, she drew hers around his neck and held on. “I'm sorry I forgot who I really was, who we are.”

Giles moved a wide hand in a comforting arc across her back, his other arm holding her tight against him. So much had happened, so much had changed, even just since they'd done the unifying spell, and in his gut he knew so much was still to come...

“I know,” he whispered. “We both forgot a lot of things this past year. I've missed you terribly, you know.”

She pulled away to meet his gaze squarely for a long moment, before her courage wavered and she started to look down.

“Buffy…?”

The gentleness of his tone forced her head back up, and her heart to be driven almost into her throat with guilt, but she couldn't hold his gaze.

“I…I've had a lot of time to think about everything that's happened since…y'know …college and stuff,” she said quietly. “I know it was my fault…us…I was a bad friend, a worse…well, I was just bad.” She stopped and finally looked up at him. “I need you,” she said simply, unexpectedly. “I-I don't know why I was so dumb. I didn't want to hurt you, but I know I have...a lot. I just…” She exhaled heavily and looked right into his eyes. “…I need you, Giles.”

Giles swallowed and stared at her, though his eyes glowed with warmth. Then he struggled for a moment to say something, couldn't. Instead, it was his turn to look away, to look down.

“I rather thought you'd outgrown me,” he finally said, moved.

For a moment real plain flickered across the beautiful features, then Buffy smiled. “Oh please,” she teased gently. “You never outgrow your real heroes.” She touched his cheek. “At least, I never will…”

He finally looked up. “Then I supposed I'd better make certain that nothing will ever be able to kick your arse again,” he drawled, the humour in his voice belying the emotion in the eyes that met her equally luminous blue ones.

As he spoke, Buffy felt her entire body begin to relax, unaware of the tension that had previously built up in it in anticipation of the possibility of an entirely deserved rejection, and equally unaware of the glow the overwhelming relief had brought to her face.

After a few more beats, simply holding each other's gaze, she grinned self-consciously.

“So if I get into the leather gig, can I ride with you?

At that he laughed aloud, the moment and the tension broken. “You can't patrol on a motorcycle, Buffy,” he teased back.

She pouted for a moment then grinned again. “But we can ride between cemeteries, over to the docks, out to the fire demon nests at the beach,” she pointed out.

His smiled widened. “Well, I suppose you would look rather smashing in leather,” he conceded, with mock reluctance.

“Yay, me,” Buffy bubbled excitedly and helped him to his feet, trying not to contemplate her Watcher actually picturing her appreciatively in leather. “Did I tell you how totally awesome you look in that outfit?” she added mischievously as they dusted themselves off.

He paused mid brush and looked at her suspiciously.

She couldn't help but giggle again. “Actually, damned sexy is more like it,” she qualified even more audaciously, looking him up at down and watching the expected colour rise from his throat to the roots of his hair.

“Buffy, if you have a date, or you have to go, just—”

She shook her head to cut him off, her good humour dying a little.

He really didn't believe she could find him attractive. He was really so insecure about himself…about her… that he actually thought she was buttering him up to get something, just like their old high school days. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Instead, she bent to pick up his helmet and handed it to him, remembering. She opted for honesty.

“You know, before you took this off I was actually imagining how gorgeous my heroic rescuer was going to be, and thinking about how to…oh,” she stopped, remembering who she was talking to, and flushing vividly. “Never mind.”

Giles snorted. “Yes, and then the helmet came off,” he growled good-naturedly, retrieving his sword and sliding it back into the scabbard that was slung across his back, under the jacket. “Sorry you didn't find Sir Galahad under the armour, but I'm the best I could do at short notice.”

“You're not listening,” she said as they walked slowly back to the motorcycle. “I didn't want Sir…whoever, I wanted the guy in the leather, with the great butt, the shoulders, the…wow. I wanted…you.”

Giles stopped dead and turned his head slowly. “Not me,” he said quietly. “Just the leather-clad illusion.”

Buffy didn't answer right away. Her numb, shocked brain was still processing the last thing she'd said, vainly hoping she hadn't said it aloud, while the rest of her was shrieking internally that she had, and that her life was over…that he would be so terminally embarrassed he'd never want to patrol with her, much less train…much less…

A moment later she realised he was still waiting for her to say something, and strangely enough he wasn't blushing, or fidgeting, nor had his face turned into that inscrutable Englishman thing Giles was so good at. His soft green eyes were searching her face, looking for something, as though he was waiting for the sword to drop before he reacted one way or the other.

Buffy swallowed. Whatever she said next was going to possibly redefine their entire relationship.

Or destroy it.

She looked up at him slowly. “Giles, I…”

But, for the first time since the Gentlemen had come to town, she literally couldn't speak.

After a beat, his eyes grew bleak and he turned to reach for the handlebars of the Vincent.

That look, and the defeat in his shoulders, pierced something in Buffy, pulled the tiny straw that brought an entire wall of denial tumbling down. She stepped closer and touched his arm as the sudden clarity gripped her like a vice, stopping him before he could climb on the machine.

He looked over his shoulder, almost reluctantly, but turned quickly when he saw the paleness of her face.

“I'm okay,” she blurted before he could ask. “You…you need to know…I need to tell you…”

“You've changed your mind?” he asked very quietly. “I do quite understand, you know.”

A frown severely creased her brow. “No, I haven't changed my mind,” she cried angrily and surged forward. “Why do you do that? Why do you have to dump on yourself like that all the time?” she demanded.

He didn't speak.

Buffy's anger died. His eyes told her exactly why.

“Well, you're wrong,” she snapped. “I was trying to tell you…in my own, dysfunctional Buffy way…” Frustration suddenly welled up inside her and exploded. “Why is it so damned hard to tell you? I should have told you years ago,” she shouted, bursting into tears, the surge of emotion carrying her on. “Damn it…I love you, Giles.”

Embarrassed, humiliated, angry, she stormed away, to stop near the building. After a moment of dazed silence, Giles followed.

“You realize that sucking up like this won't get you out of training?” he asked tenderly, only inches from her back.

“Not even if I tell you I never want us to be apart again?” she asked softly.

“Good try,” he said, emotion thickening his voice.

She turned. “Or that I can't live without you?”

“I'd say you must have a very good reason for not wanting to train,” he barely managed to whisper.

She nodded without taking her eyes from his, her colour high. “I can think of several really good ones.”

Giles swallowed hard. “If…if you're absolutely certain. I-I think perhaps I could occasionally overlook…”

He sounded so much like the old Giles that Buffy was overwhelmed by a surge of love so strong it almost literally shook her.

“Giles,” she chided, a tremor in the otherwise exasperated, loving tone.

“Just tell me you love me, too.”

He stopped, stared, flushed even more deeply. “Well, of course I love you, you silly girl.”

Barely able to restrain the sudden desire to fly into his arms, Buffy grinned at him, everything shining unrestrainedly in her eyes.

“Then take me home, Sir Galahad.”

“Bloody old Lancelot, more like it,” he muttered self-consciously and put the helmet on her head with shaky hands, tightened the chinstrap, before lifting her bodily onto the back of the motorcycle and kicking the stand up. When he was settled, her felt her arms slide around his waist and her body fitting itself against his back.

“I could get used to this,” she purred and would have sworn she heard a chuckle, even through the helmet.

“You will,” he growled, and grinned when her embrace tightened appreciatively around him. A sudden zephyr lifted his curls and beneath them, the green eyes began to glisten as a look of pure happiness spread over his face.

“Time to go home, love…”

Buffy sighed with contentment, then felt a ripple of pleasure run down her spine at the last words he spoke, his head turned almost to face her, just before the machine roared to life and Giles opened the throttle, launching them into the night:

“…At last.”



* * *