Muffin

Rupert Giles pulled the navy blue polo shirt over his head and looked at himself in the dressing mirror on the inside of his closet door.

Oh lord, he thought. Heat or no heat, I can't take those legs out in public.

The mirrored reflection was one of a wide shouldered, long-legged body in a new dark blue polo shirt and black running shorts, short running socks and new high quality black running shoes.

Giles stared at his pale arms, well-muscled thighs and long calves. He felt half-naked, but he'd had enough of pounding the pavement wrapped up like a mummy. He had finally decided to do his run an hour earlier in the mornings when there would be fewer people about, and to make the concession to the relentless Californian summer and wear running shorts.

Now that he was ready to leave, however, he wasn't sure he wanted to go. He looked at his legs again and sighed. What was the point of worrying about what anyone might think, at his age? He sighed again. There was none, provided Buffy and the others didn't decide to come visiting. That, he didn't think he could live down.

Five thirty in the morning and already there was a sting in the sun. It picked up the golden brown highlights in his hair as he jogged. These days he moved smoothly and easily. He smiled to himself as he remembered his first runs after he decided to get fit. Broken down old bastard, gasping and wheezing around the block

He extended his stride easily as his muscles warmed up and his skin glistened with sweat.

It felt good…both the effort and the ease of it, and the slight breeze that flicked his hair and cooled his sweat-damp chest as he pounded along.

He was mentally working on a new arrangement for a song he wanted to sing at the Espresso Pump, when he heard it. He stopped and listened. It was a high-pitched whimpering sound; the sound made by an animal, a dog or something, in pain. He frowned and parted the shrubbery near the sidewalk to find a small dog looking decidedly the worse for wear.

He knelt down on one knee and experimentally extended a hand toward the soft grey fur. It watched him with pitiful eyes, white showing as they followed the movement of the hand back to where one of its back legs lay lifelessly.

“Are you going to let me do this?” he asked softly. “I promise I won't hurt you, so I'd appreciate it you could leave me at least some fingers for later use.”

In reply a large pink tongue rolled out and licked the aforementioned fingers as they slid down the affected leg.

In spite of himself, Giles smiled and scratched behind a small, dark, velvety ear before going back to the task at hand.

He couldn't tell if the leg was broken or not, and he didn't want to move it, not only because he didn't want to cause the animal any further distress, but because he knew well enough from experience that the animal's first reflex would be to stop him.

“We're going to have to get you some professional help,” he said softly and slid his large hands gently under the solid little body. “And wouldn't it be clever of old Giles to be carrying a cellular phone?” he asked the little beast and snorted to himself. “Pity he's not very clever…”

It was heavier than he expected, a great bundle of soft black, grey and silver fur covering a small, solidly muscled body, judging by the strain it had begun to place on his arms by the time he reached the end of the street. By the time he reached his apartment not only his arms, but also all the muscles in his back, were screaming.

He laid his new friend carefully on couch and went to find a phone book. A few minutes later he was back to find his visitor had barely moved, preferring instead to lie still and tend it's own wound.

“Won't be long old chap…er…whatever,” he told it. “Turns out Sunnydale does have a veterinarian. I've called us a cab.”

They were back rather sooner than Giles expected, the dislocated leg expertly slipped back into place by the vet, with instructions not to allow the little creature to walk on it for a least a couple of days.

He was bent over, convincing it to stay still, when the front door opened quietly and the two women came into the living room. They stood in silence for several long moments, just staring at the black fabric-covered butt and the expanse of legs extending out of the currently rather stretched running shorts.

“Wow,” Willow said softly.

Buffy stared mesmerically. “It's a hallucination. It has to be. Giles doesn't wear shorts. Even his robe is humungous. It's not our Giles, that's it…there has to be a demon in this somewhere…”

The figure in question straightened and turned, his hands moving to his hips. “If you two don't mind…?”

Willow swallowed.

Buffy continued to stare.

Over the years Giles had made almost a fetish out of covering himself even in the worst heat. Neither girl had ever seen him looking quite so…exposed…before…or so emphatically good.

Giles tilted his head to one side. “Go on, get it over with,” he said dryly.

“Ge…wha…?” Willow muttered, still not quite focusing.

“What?” Buffy said lightly, ignoring her own fierce colour and slightly higher than normal pitch. “You know you look great. Who knew you had such great buns under all that corduroy and tweed, huh? I can't believe you've been covering that body up all this time.” She turned to Willow. “At least now we finally know why he gets chased by jet-setting supermodels.”

Giles made a face. “Oh very funny.” He stepped aside to reveal the bundle of fur on his couch. “Both of you can be of assistance. In case you haven't noticed, I have a guest.”

At that point Willow snapped back into the real world and Buffy melted. In seconds they were both kneeling by the sofa, fussing and cooing over Giles' small visitor.

He went to the breakfast counter and picked up his wallet. “The pair of you can go to the mall and find some dog food, a bowl and a collar and leash,” he told them, handing Willow some notes as the small creature looked up at him as though asking to be rescued.

“Now…!”

The two women scooted without further argument, already discussing what kind of collar and what colour it should be.

Giles shook his head and sat down alongside the small animal, which had revealed itself to be a female.

“Why do I have a feeling I'm going to be seeing a lot of those two?” he muttered.

In response the dog lifted its head and began to pant, looking for all the world as though it was grinning at him.

“I suppose you think it's funny,” he said, “but you have no idea.” He scratched the animal behind the ear again. “I wonder what you are…I don't think I've come across anything quite like you before.”

The pink tongue reappeared and curled around to slurp his hand again. The moisture prompted him to realise that the dog hadn't had a drink since he found it, and for heaven knew how long before that.

It drank gratefully from the cool water Giles brought in one of his good soup bowls, while he tried not to notice how much of it was being flicked all over the couch. He would have to find it a comfortable spot of its own shortly, but for the time being he decided to move the now almost empty bowl, and change his clothes before the girls returned.

When the two of them crashed through the front door with their parcels, Giles was making tea, dressed in dark jeans and a beautifully cut, soft, collarless, smoke blue, short-sleeved shirt that opened at the neck, with all three buttons undone. The visitor was now happily ensconced on the floor on a blanket and a couple of pair of Giles' old sweat-pants that had seen better days. It woke from a light doze and barked at them before realizing there was no danger and breaking into a happy pant again.

“Hey good lookin'” Willow grinned as Giles emerged with the tray.

“Wow Giles, new look for you. Very hot,” Buffy agreed, more than half seriously, despite the teasing tone.

Giles flushed red. “I made afternoon tea. I thought you two were about due back. Our small friend seems very comfortable. It even managed a trip to the bathroom about half an hour ago.”

Buffy looked from the little beast to its new guardian. “What did you do, carry it?”

“Yes, actually. It's not supposed to walk on the dislocated leg for at least two or three days.”

Willow scowled. “You guys can't keep calling her 'it'. We have to think of a name.”

“I'm not sure that's a very good idea,” Giles said gruffly. “I'm going to have to advertise it shortly. I believe its some kind of purebred, and probably valuable. Someone will be looking for it.”

Willow went over and stroked its head, giggling as it tried to wash her hands and arms. “You can't just keep calling her it,” she said in a crooning voice. “She's too gorgeous to be an 'it'.”

“Actually I was going to try and find out exactly what it, um, she…is, but my encyclopaedias are packed away to make room for the other books.”

“She's a Keeshond,” Willow said absently.

“A what?” Buffy and Giles said together.

“Keeshond. One of about twelve different kinds of gorgeous puppies I drooled over when I was trying to talk my parents into buying me one a-and they were trying just as hard to ignore me. They're um…you know, a Spitz, like Samoyeds and Akitas and stuff, just little and fluffy…and so cute. You should see how cute the puppies are…”

“Well, it is Giles' dog, so what about—?”

“It isnot my dog,” he growled as he poured the tea.

“Meanie,” Willow muttered, turning to scowl at Giles' bent head, then back to her small companion. “And you are his dog right now, so we'll call you something English.”

“Tweed,” Buffy offered helpfully, “or Brosnan—”

“He's a bloody Irishman,” Giles snorted, picking up his cup and half an English muffin spread with marmalade.

Willow's eyes widened. “That's it: Muffin.” She turned back to the little dog. “It's kinda corny, I know, but it's not your real name. What do you think?”

The Keeshond blinked its boot-button eyes at the redhead without lifting its head.

“Good enough for me.” Willow turned to the others. “Well, will it do?”

Buffy giggled.

“Please yourself,” Giles sighed. “It's only here until it recuperates or someone claims it, so don't get any ideas.”

“So Muffy, you want some of Giles' afternoon tea?” Willow said playfully, eliciting another blink from her companion.

“You are not feeding my tea to the dog. Where are the provisions you bought for the little beast?”

“Her name is Muffin,” Willow pouted and went to the kitchen to get some of the extra doggy treats they'd spent Giles' money on.

When they had all finished their tea and Muffin had demolished a handful of the dried titbits, the girls regretfully departed to meet the others at the Bronze.

“Well, don't look at me like that.” Giles put down fresh water and a small bowl of dog food for his visitor. “I didn't make them leave, and I'm not giving you any more treats. You'll have your dinner and be happy.”

Muffin blew out a breath that could have meant anything and rested her head on one of her front feet, looking fairly uncomfortable, with her bad leg strapped to her body to stop her from using it while it healed.

“Please yourself,” Giles told her gruffly. “I'm going to bed.” He'd made it all the way across to the bottom of the stairs before he stopped and looked back.

She was watching him and when she saw him turn, her small tail, curled over her rump in the fashion of all Spitz breeds, tried to wag.

He smiled in spite of himself. It had been a lot of years since he was a small boy yearning after a puppy. Then, before she attempted to come after him, he turned and headed for bed.

As had become his habit, Giles woke with the sunrise and trundled downstairs in his pyjama bottoms, rubbing sleep from his eyes, only to half jump out of his skin when Muffin barked at his approach.

“Oh for God's sake,” he growled. “It's just me. Wonderful guard dog you are. If it was a vampire you'd probably lick him to death.”

Muffin barked again for good measure. Giles studiously ignored her and continued on just as sleepily to his morning ablutions.

When he returned, however, it was obvious that his friend wanted to tend her own ablutions.

Giles carried her out the back door into the already very warm morning sunshine, robe forgotten, and waited while she made the best of her awkward situation, and then carried her back in again, refilled her water and took away the empty food bowl.

Some time later, still in his silk pyjama bottoms, he went and made himself breakfast. He was hungry after missing dinner the night before, and added eggs and bacon to his usual coffee and English muffin for breakfast. He'd only just settled in the living room with the tray when he was barked at again.

Muffin seemed please to have gotten his attention and barked again for good measure.

“Not a hope,” Giles told her. “This for me.”

She made whiffling noises as he cut egg and bacon and put the fork in his mouth then when the second helping looked like going the same way, she barked again.

He put the fork down with a bang.

No, I told you. And I'm not going to say it again,” he said defiantly, picked up a muffin and jammed it in his mouth as the whiffling began again and she tried to stand up.

He put the mug down quickly as she made it onto three feet, went swiftly across the room and scooped her up, brought her back and deposited her carefully on the couch next to him, so that her bad leg was comfortable.

“Happy now? You're worse than those girls,” he growled as she wriggled closer and sniffed his arm. “Don't think just because I've got you where I can keep an eye on that leg, that you're getting any of my breakfast.”

He cut some more egg and bacon and raised the fork to his mouth, swallowed it pointedly when Muffin made another begging noise, then picked up the other half of his toasted English muffin.

It was halfway to his mouth when a small paw patted his thigh.

He stopped and rolled his eyes. “Feminine wiles,” he muttered, and raised the buttered muffin to his mouth again only to have a small head rest on his thigh, small dark eyes looking up at him dolefully.

“Oh for pity sake,” he growled and broke off part of it. “Here.”

It was taken daintily and consumed rather less delicately while Giles finished the rest and picked up his knife and fork again. By the time he was ready to finish the bacon still on his plate, the small head was back on his thigh again, the expressive eyes gazing at him.
He looked down and was lost. He waved his fork at her as he chuckled.

“You're incorrigible.” There was noise and the front door swung open. He paused mid-shake and sighed. “And I should have locked that damned door…”

“Uh…Giles?”

He looked up. “Hello,” he said matter-of-factly, ignoring the dog barking happily alongside him, his startling state of undress and the more than slightly bemused looks on their faces.

Buffy resisted the temptation to make an observation about half-naked watchers in favour of enjoying the view while Willow simply stared.

“Hi, Giles. New look for you?”

“Oh, very funny,” he growled at the grinning Slayer, trying a little too hard to appear unfazed. “Why are you two here so early? Haven't you got better things to do?”

“Oh, we did them already,” Willow said non-sensically, “and we wanted to see Muffin again. Besides, Buffy killed a new kind of demon on the way home last night.”

Giles straightened, all else forgotten. “Describe it.”

“Large, pale green, having a really bad hair day…oh, and nifty little spiral horns…two of them, on top of its head.”

“Feet?”

“Two.”

Giles scowled.

“Okay, cloven,” Buffy conceded, scratching the dog's head as she spoke. “And he smelled bad.”

“Bad how?”

“Bad like Xander's sneakers bad.”

“Xhorrn Demon.”

“A who?”

“The word is from an ancient demon dialect. It means…well…in plain terms…stink demon,” Giles explained sheepishly. “The smell is produced by dedicated glands in the creature's throat. You were lucky you didn't give it the chance to produce the toxic version of that odour before you killed it. Apart from the fact that it would kill you if you continued to breathe it in, it has the most appalling stench.”

“But it was a bad guy, right?” Buffy asked doubtfully.

“Oh most certainly,” Giles agreed, unconsciously feeding the last of his bacon to Muffin, who had rested a paw on his lap again. “They're more than partial to a nice young liver, preferably still warm...”

Willow went a little green. “Oh, eieww, Giles.”

“What? We've encountered worse. Just be thankful Buffy disposed of it…um, you did dispose of it…er…afterward?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Took it to the Rosewood Crematorium. Did I ever mention how much I hate carrying stinky dead demons?” She watched Giles absently scratching the little dog's ear and smiled. “So you guys really are into the bonding thing?”

Giles pulled his hand away. “Don't you two have somewhere to be?”

The two girls looked at each other.

“You mean some place that's else?” Willow asked.

“That's the general idea.”

“Grump,” Buffy teased. “No classes today, but since you don't want the pleasure of our company, we'll be heading into town to the big end of season sales. She looked his surprisingly stunning physique up and down mischievously. “Anything you want us to get you? New robe? Pyjamas, maybe?”

Giles snorted. “Not a thing, but you can do something for me. Place an ad in the newspaper describing the dog and asking if anyone has lost her.”

Willow patted the soft fur. “Won't you miss her, even a little bit?”

Giles looked down at his companion, which, as soon as it caught his eye, was up and wriggling with excitement, snuffling and pushing her nose under his arm, stretching up to catch his ear with that errant tongue, and depositing a huge lick on his jaw almost in the same movement.

He physically restrained her to keep the leg from moving too much.

“No,” he said as the Keeshond wriggled in his arms, put her head back and caught him under the chin again with her overactive tongue. “Place the advertisement. The sooner this nuisance goes home, the better.”

“Oh yeah, she's just a total nightmare,” Buffy agreed dryly as they headed for the front door. “Later…”

As soon as the front door closed, Muffin settled again happily.

“So that's how it is.” Giles made a disparaging noise. “If you think competing with them is going to get you anywhere…” But he didn't finish the sentence. The small, curled tail was wagging ridiculously. He chuckled instead.

“Fine, have it your own way. I'm going to put some clothes on before anyone else comes through that bloody door.”



Three days later there had been no answer to the advertisement in the newspaper, or to any of their inquiries, including the doorknock Giles and Xander had conducted in the area where Muffin was found.

The radio alarm clock Buffy and Willow had given him for his birthday burst into life, jolting Giles awake. He blinked and stretched out to turn it off, then shifted uncomfortably, trying to dislodge a heavy weight leaning against him.

He turned. Muffin was lying on the quilt, stretched out against his back. She had been disturbed by the noise but wasn't inclined to move. Her bandage was nowhere to be seen. It had been slipping and she had been worrying it almost constantly for the previous forty eight hours, so he wasn't surprised that it was gone, or at least not nearly as surprised as he was to find that she'd climbed the stairs to the loft and managed to get up onto the bed.

“Bloody cheek,” he muttered grumpily then swore loudly when his companion responded to the apparent greeting by scrambling to her feet and crawling onto his chest to lick his face enthusiastically. “Get off!” he growled, trying to push the powerful little body off only to have her wriggle out of his grasp and attack his ear with gusto.

Between the tickling of his ear, the wriggling and the general absurdity of it all, Giles couldn't help laughing as he tried valiantly to push the little beast away.

“Get…off…you little…terror!” He tried to be fierce but failed dismally. “Sit!” he commanded out of desperation. Muffin immediately backed off and sat alongside him.

Giles sat up and slid out of bed, Muffin watching him curiously but dutifully continuing to sit, as ordered. Halfway through pulling on his jeans, he looked up to meet the animal's quizzical gaze.

“What? Trained?” he said, surprised. “Drop,” he commanded experimentally.

The dog complied.

“Impressive,” Giles said softly, then: “Heel.”

It blinked at him but didn't move.

“Not quite so perfect, then? Amateur trainer, perhaps…”

He finished tucking in his shirt and zipping up his jeans before trying another tack.

“Here, girl.”

Muffin jumped happily off the bed and deposited herself at his feet.

“Good girl,” he said in a surprisingly gentle voice and ruffled the scruff of her neck. “Now stay, while I finish getting dressed.”

Giles stepped around her to get his socks and boots, sat on the bed to put them on while Muffin sat and watched, occasionally breaking into a happy pant, but remaining obedient to the command.

Once he'd pulled the last boot on, Giles stood up. “All right, you can move now,” he told her, but she remained where she sat. He rolled his eyes. “Here girl,” he repeated, wishing suddenly that he knew what she was really called.

Muffin immediately exploded into a frenzied ball of excitement, jumping up and down as they went downstairs, her bad leg seemingly none the worse for wear.

He regretted that she wasn't resting it more. He knew how difficult dislocations could be and how much damage she could be doing, even if she wasn't showing any signs of discomfort now, but there wasn't a lot he could do about it short of tying her, or the leg, down again.

When they reached the front door he commanded her to sit again. “We're going to approach this in a civilized manner,” he told her. “Now where did Willow put that bloody leash…?”

Ten minutes later they were on the street, enjoying the very early morning sunshine and still-fresh air. It wasn't jogging, but Giles enjoyed it none the less. The leisurely walk gave him more opportunity to enjoy his surroundings, and the scents and sounds of this, the loveliest part of a summer's day.

For once he forgot everything else and just opened himself to the pure pleasure of being alive, while his small companion did the same, investigating every possible nook, cranny and scent along their path, the retractable leash performing beautifully.

Willow and Buffy were looking out for them as the unlikely pair came up the street some considerable time later. Giles was talking to his companion and chuckling as she responded by jumping up and wagging her silly tail. He looked relaxed and happy in a way that neither girl could ever remember seeing before.

“I told you he needed a pet,” Buffy muttered.

For a moment Willow looked nonplussed then giggled. “Buffy, that was so long ago…but he does look…happy.”

“And what's scary is I don't think I've ever seen him look like that before,” the Slayer said softly.

“Well, maybe once or twice, with Miss Calendar.”

Buffy frowned. “Maybe, in the hall, just before Eyghon put in an appearance…the twosome of cuteness…” she quoted almost absently.

Willow nodded as the pair crossed the grass. “Yeah, and in the library after Ted…”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don't remind me.”

“Hi, Giles.”

“Hello you two,” he said easily, smiling at Willow, who was grinning from ear to ear. “What have I done to deserve this visit?”

“Oh, nothing much,” she said, still beaming. “We've got classes later so we thought we'd come and see Muffin then go for breakfast in town.”

Giles snorted. “I see,” he said in mock outrage. “You never come to see me, unless there's something wrong, but you haunt the place to see the bloody dog.”

Reacting to his raised voice, Muffin barked agreement.

Both girls had the good grace to flush until they glowed. “You want us to go?” Buffy asked in a very small voice.

“Yes…go make some breakfast. For four,” he said gruffly.

They were halfway through the multi-course breakfast Willow and Buffy had whipped up, when the phone rang. Giles put down the toast he was about to offer his companion and went to answer it.

The two women watched his face fall as he listened.

“Yes, exactly like that. Yes, she does have a remarkable appetite. Kasha? It's a lovely name.” He looked up for a moment. “Kasha!” he called experimentally.

Muffin, who had been devotedly guarding his breakfast, leapt up and tore across to where he was standing, rose on her hind legs and put her front ones on his thigh.

“Looks as though we have her, all right. Twelve thirty? Certainly. Right, I'll see you then. Bye.”

He scratched the dog behind the ear as he hung up. “We've found Muf—Kasha's real owners. They're picking her up this afternoon. Apparently the little girl who owns her has been pining terribly.”

Buffy looked pointedly at Muffin, whose tail was trying to wag again, and whose adoration of Giles was only too apparent. “Doesn't look like Kasha's doing too much pining…”

Giles looked up swiftly. “Yes, well, she's recovering from an injury. I'm sure she'll be delighted to see her rightful owners again.”

Willow's eyes narrowed and Buffy's head tilted to one side, a furrow in her creamy brow.

“Maybe we'll stick around until they come,” she said softly. “Tara takes good notes, doesn't she?”

Willow nodded.

Giles looked from one to the other and sighed. “If you're going to stay, you might as well do some more research on Buffy's Xhorrn demon, just in case it wasn't the only one in the area.”

“I thought you knew all about them?” Willow was surprised into saying.

“I know of them,” Giles corrected, “but I'm not a walking bloody demon encyclopaedia. We need details, or Buffy might not be quite so lucky next time.”

Buffy and Willow were deep in Giles' books and bored senseless, when the door-knocker finally sounded some time after midday.

The sharp rap woke Giles, who had been dozing in his armchair, dog spreadeagled at his feet. It also stirred and started to bark when the tapping sounded again.

Willow was the first one to the door, followed closely by Kasha.

When she opened it Kasha started to bark and leap and turn frenzied circles of excitement. By the time the woman the dark haired child were inside and Willow had closed the door again, the Keeshond was in ecstasy greeting her small owner.

Giles, out of his chair now and standing behind Buffy, watched the reunion silently, a small, perhaps rueful, smile on his lips. When the noise and the excitement subsided a little he stepped forward and extended a hand to the woman.

“Hello. Rupert Giles,” he said pleasantly. “They seem pleased to see each other.”

The woman smiled back. “Katrina Todd. Thank you, Mister Giles. You don't know how traumatic it has been for Lisa these last few days. In the two years we've had Kasha, they've never been separated by more than a normal school day.”

Giles smiled again as Lisa sat down on the floor and Kasha continued to snuffle and lick her face happily. “How did she come to be so far from home?'

“She vanished from the backyard even though the gate was still closed. There was no way she could have gotten out on her own and it couldn't have been Lisa, because she was at school.”

“Then it will remain a mystery,” Giles mused, “but I must say, given the distance involved, it is likely that she was taken by someone who fancied an unusual pet, perhaps, and driven from your suburb to this one. Presumably she escaped, probably when the car door was opened. She may even have dislocated her leg during the attempt.”

Mrs Todd frowned as Lisa scrambled to her feet again. “It would be very difficult for a passer-by to see Kasha in the backyard, but Lisa does have a number of friends who live over here, as do my husband and I. We'll have to make some inquiries, but we can't thank you enough for your kindness, Mister Giles.”

“Quite all right,” he replied gruffly, scratching Kasha's head. “Would you like to stay to tea?”

“That's very kind of you, but we really do have to go.”

Giles nodded and watched young Lisa slip a choker chain over Muffin—no, Kasha's—head and remove the red leather collar the girl had purchased. The little dog looked up at him and burst into a smiling pant before responding to the leash and the child's voice.

Buffy watched his handsome profile as he watched Willow see them to the door, pause in conversation and then wave goodbye.

“You didn't say goodbye,” Buffy said softly when the door closed.

“It's just a bloody dog,” he said gruffly. “Tea in ten.”

Willow came back to Buffy's side and watched him in the kitchen. “He's going to miss her, isn't he?”

Buffy nodded. “I never thought about it much before…how alone Giles is…at least not since, you know, after that birthday…Miss Calendar…”

“Well he is,” Willow said equally softly. “I guess none of us have thought about it much. Funny, how we've always worried about each other…”

“And our own messed up love lives and assorted chaos,” Buffy added. “How come we never worried about his?”

Willow shrugged. “He was the grown up.”

“Yeah, well, so are we now, and he's just a guy…” Buffy's voice trailed off, as though that was something that really hadn't occurred to her before.

Willow, to whom it had occurred, simply nodded. “A lonely, sometimes unhappy guy.”

Buffy turned to look at her. “Am I missing something here? I know we were all mad at each other before we fought Adam, but...unhappy?”

Willow nodded. “With all the Slaying and Riley and stuff, you missed a lot, Buffy. “You could have been a lot better friend…”

I could have been…?” Buffy hissed. “What about you guys? I haven't seen either you or Xander doing the best buddy thing with Giles.”

Willow had the good grace to colour deeply. “Well, no. I had…I had stuff going on and Xander…there was Anya...”

Buffy rolled her eyes.

Willow swallowed. “A-And I guess you did too. First Angel leaving, then college and eiww…Parker and, well, slaying and…God, Faith—y-your body…and well, Angel again…and then the Initiative and Riley, and, and…Adam and…”

Buffy's indignant look turned to a giggle.

Willow stopped, stared for a moment then giggled as well. “We all had issues and we were all at fault,” she summarised when they sobered again, “but it's easy to forget your stuff, because most of it doesn't happen around the rest of us…a-and you keep most of it to yourself.”

Buffy shrugged. “Can't solve anything by making a lot of noise; can't concentrate on slaying if I'm falling to pieces.”

After a beat to contemplate that, Willow looked into the small kitchen again, watching the handsome head, bent to the task of refilling the big cookie jar.

He needs us as much as we need him,” she said quietly. “I wish Muffin didn't have to go. He needs to not be so alone.”

Buffy's eyes grew shadowed with too many memories, and not a little guilt. It was too easy to think of Giles as fireproof, independent, grown up, the ultimate problem solver. How much harder to contemplate the idea that he might be no different than all of them; that in all time they'd been together, he could have been going through as much hurt, heartache and loneliness as the rest of them…but all alone…

When Giles returned with the tea they each sat, instinctively, either side of him on the couch, and when he sat back with his tea and a cookie, they both curled up in their respective corners and sipped on their own.

“How did the research go?” he asked a little while later, around a half of a blueberry muffin.

“Lots of good stuff, some not-so-good,” Willow reported.

“They hunt alone,” Buffy added, “and they're real territorial, so I don't think I'll be seeing another one any time soon, but if I do, the Chronicles were pretty specific about how to deal with one.”

“Same as you did last time?”

“Nah, all she needs to do is carry sugar,” Willow contributed.

“Now, there, you see, I didn't know they were susceptible to sugar,” Giles pointed out.

Willow giggled. “It doesn't hurt them. They love it. If Buffy puts sugar down for it, it won't be able to resist, and the rest is a piece of cake.”

Giles made a noise in his throat. “Well, there you are. I told you I don't know it all.”

“Yeah,” Buffy said in that casual voice of hers, so that Willow snapped a look at her that she didn't see, “but you know way more than anyone else, and that's enough for us.”

For a moment Giles just stared. The slow reaction fooled both girls, but not the colour that rose from his throat, or the shine that came into his eyes before he turned to take another sip of tea.

“You're coffee's getting cold,” he said gruffly.

The impulse to hug him was clearly written on both women's faces for the briefest of moments, and the overwhelming affection in their eyes remained as they finished their supper together.

When they finally departed, Giles closed the door with a small smile and a half shake of his head, turned, and headed upstairs.
.



Willow piled books on the coffee table. It had been several weeks since Muffin had gone home and all three of them, Buffy, Xander and herself had made an effort to be better friends to the man each of them had come to consider an indispensable part of their lives, without even realising it. It was a quiet Friday night. Xander had saved enough money to take Anya to Disneyland and Tara had gone somewhere vague and ill-defined, but out of town, with the promise that she would return by Sunday afternoon so they could spend some time together.

Giles didn't see her look up at the window, or the small smile that followed.

“Giles, I'm beginning to think there's no such thing as a scaly six-legged demon with horns,” she grumbled.

“I could have told you that,” he muttered, engrossed in a reference to archaic demon languages he'd forgotten existed until he stumbled across it just half an hour earlier.

“I'm tired of dead ends. I'm going out to get us some food.”

He looked up as she reached the door. “More jelly donuts!” he called after her. “There're only two left.”

“Check,” came the response as the door closed.

Not more than a couple of moments later, it opened again and before Giles even realised anything was happening a blur shot across the room and into his lap, on top of his book.

“Jesus!” he yelled, surfacing from his world of ancient demon language and symbols, to reel back as his face was besieged by a warm, wet tongue.

Through the window, Buffy and Willow watched as Giles finally got control of his companion and said a laughing, and, they could see, emotional hello.

“You're back, you bloody nuisance,” Giles was saying, the pleasure vibrant in his voice as he continued to be worshipped by his small, frenetic companion.

The two women didn't re-enter the apartment for several more minutes, giving a clearly moved Giles time to enjoy the reunion, and to compose himself before announcing themselves.

When they did enter, Giles was sitting on the couch sharing a cookie with Kasha.

“You two…?” he asked as they settled on the other side of the coffee table.

“I told Lisa that if she ever needed a babysitter to just give me a call,” Willow admitted. “Her family have gone to visit her grandmother in Fresno for the weekend, and Lisa knows the old lady doesn't like Kasha, so voila, you're dog-sitting until Monday morning.”

“Am I to understand that this is going to be something of a regular occurrence?”

“Well…depending on how often Lisa's family want to do stuff without Kasha…could be,” Willow grinned, looking pleased with herself.

Giles looked down at his companion, who looked up and panted happily. “Bloody nuisance,” he repeated fondly and received a slurping salute across his jaw that made both women giggle.

“This is all your fault,” he muttered, looking up ruefully at them again and wiping his face. When he was done, he looked at each of them in turn, his eyes bright with affection.

“Thank you…”

Buffy and Willow smiled back at him.

“Gotta go slay,” Buffy finally said, when she'd once again fought off the urge to hug him hard, and rose.

“Yeah…me…with her,” Willow added, keeping to their earlier plans and following Buffy out. “Maybe we'll see that six-legged thing Jonathan swears he saw going into the sewer.”

“Six?!” Buffy exclaimed as they headed for the door.

“Six,” Willow confirmed, “and buggy.”

“You're kidding…we'd better not…and eiewww.”

Giles rolled his eyes as the door closed, as it often had in the past, only this time there was a difference. He looked down at his companion, now lying across his lap, and still panting happily.

“Well, the bad news is that there won't be any more donuts. The good news is that we get the last two,” he told her matter-of-factly.

Naturally, hearing the tone as an invitation, Kasha immediately sat up and caught him with another major swipe of her wet tongue across his chin.

Giles pushed her unceremoniously off the couch.

“I'll take that as an enthused yes,” he chuckled, as she sat up on her very square bottom and waved her front paws meaningfully at him.

After a beat to shake his head at her ruefully, he headed for the kitchen, the tea and their donuts, his companion bouncing enthusiastically at his side…


* * *