Once and Forever

Buffy opened the door to her room, still thinking about Riley's last kiss, and his last words, before she went off patrol. She didn't expect that…that he would still have doubts about the depths of her feelings for him. She wasn't even sure what her feelings for him were exactly; hadn't been since the first moment they'd recognised some kind of attraction in each other.

All she knew was she wanted… needed someone, someone nice, reliable, someone warm and safe and strong. Bad had lost its charm…at last. She didn't want to be alone any more. All she'd known, ever since she'd been activated, was 'alone.' Even when she was with Angel, she was alone…so alone. Such brief moments of heaven…and such agonisingly long stretches of hell in which to pay for them…

She looked up. She was about to throw her jacket over Will's computer chair, and saw her friend sitting cross-legged on her bed, being watched closely by Amy-rat as she carefully wrapped something in silver and maroon diagonally striped paper.

“Nice wrapping,” she observed. “Whose birthday? Class like that would be wasted on Xander, you know.”

“Buffy, even you know Xander's birthday is in July,” Willow giggled and looked up, then frowned. “You do know whose birthday it is, right…tomorrow?”

Buffy shook her head. “Some professor? I know…your mom, right?”

Willow's scowl deepened. “You know, sometimes I really don't like you,” she said bluntly, and meant it.

Buffy stopped clowning and came and sat on the bed, stunned.

“What'd I do? What? I'm of the good. I don't kick puppies. I kill bad guys and I floss regularly,” she pointed out, trying to lighten the moment.

Willow finished wrapping her parcel and silently handed Buffy a large, colourful card with a motorcycle on it. The picture nudged something in her subconscious but she was too unnerved by Willow's reaction to work out exactly what. She opened it.

There was a very sweet verse about how much the recipient was cared for and meant to the giver and below it, in Willow's small, neat script were the words: To Giles, have a great birthday! Love, Willow…with kisses and hugs a la all the cards Willow had ever given her for her own birthdays.

She closed it again very slowly, not wanting to look up. There really wasn't anything she could say. In previous years they hadn't been rooming together, and Willow had spent way more time around Giles than she had, outside her training. Besides, he'd never mentioned his birthday, and she'd never asked.

Never asked


She sighed and looked up slowly. “So, I'm bad after all. I've had kind of a lot on my mind, Will,” she said unconvincingly.

“Buffy, don't you care?”

She was silent for a long moment then slid off the bed. “Care? I'm still here, aren't I? I'm still slaying, still not having a life…”

Buffy…”

She turned sharply and looked at the other girl. “I care,” she said defensively.

Willow scowled.

“You care,” she said finally. “You care about whether he's got the answers, whether he's there when you need him. You care if he'll let you mess up his apartment just so you can have Thanksgiving…Buffy, he has to get turned into a demon just to get more than hello out of you these days.”

“We talked,” Buffy said quietly, emotionlessly. “A lot. I told him I wouldn't keep anything from him any more.”

Willow made a noise in her throat. “Like that's gonna happen.”

The blue eyes darted to the witch-green ones.

Willow stared back at her, undaunted. “For three years I've watched him look out for you, take care of you, get hurt for you and all this time I've made excuses for why you don't do the same for him…why you don't even say thank you most of the time. I'm like Xander, Buffy, I just keep believing in you, even when you hurt us…when you hurt him. But I don't think I can do that any more.”

The colour drained from Buffy's face and her eyes hardened but her expression didn't change.

“Fine,” she said tightly. “Don't do it any more. I never asked anyone to believe in me, or to depend on me. All I ever wanted was to be a normal person and failing that, to just survive. I don't need the responsibility…for you, for him…for any of you. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of all of it, and I have been since way before the Ascension, so don't lay this on me now. I do my job…I'm still doing everything he expects me to do out there, and that's gonna have to be enough.”

She strode coldly from the room and slammed the door, leaving Willow staring after her. After a beat Amy-rat climbed onto her lap and sat patiently while she unconsciously stroked its rough fur, tears eventually rolling down over the angry red patches in the pale cheeks.

*******


Buffy wasn't sure where she was going. What she really wanted was a shower, a change of clothes and a warm bed, but that wasn't going to happen. Finishing patrol early had seemed like such a nice present to herself…

By the time she reached Restfield Cemetery, she knew she was looking for something to hit, something to hurt, but the night was peaceful. The stars were bright and the air clear and cold and she found herself in a spot she'd often used, to sit and wait for vamps to rise…a spot they'd often used…

She sat down and sighed. Those days were dead and gone. A lump formed somewhere near her liver and rose up to lodge just above her sternum and stayed there. She missed them. She missed his voice, telling her stories about England to pass the time, Xander moaning about being hungry, playing twenty questions with Will…Giles quizzing her on Slayer stuff, or helping her study for tests. She missed the times he offered a casual hand on those occasions when three or four vamps got a tad hectic, handing her stakes or warning her to watch her back, and his equally casual critiquing of her work afterwards. Maybe most of all she missed the library and the training sessions. He'd been so much fun to tease, to annoy, and he'd still taught her so much in so short a time…

It had been a God-awful long time since they'd done anything together, either training or patrolling. So much of last year had been taken up with Faith and Angel and fear and misery…And this year…

She closed her eyes and tried to remember when she'd started letting go. It was hard. Everything back then was Angel…He permeated every aspect of her life, from her dreams to her patrols…he was all there was to her existence…until he left. She pushed that oppressive wall of memories aside, and found Faith. She chuckled a little in spite of the shadows of their recent clash.

It was the old Faith, who'd thought Giles was sexy; who was supposed to be another like her, whom she was remembering now. She sobered. For such a little while she wasn't alone any more; wasn't the sole guardian/protector of the known world against the badness. For a little while they were two. And then the bigger badness that seemed to stalk her life like some kind of demon-monster, rose up and took Faith too, just when she thought ...

And yet through all of it, there was always Giles…

She closed her eyes even harder, as though she could squeeze the answer out. And began remembering things she'd long since shut out of her mind. Her fists clenched, remembering her return from L.A. and his face when he opened his door; his face when he'd found out that Angel had returned and that she'd lied to him about it. That had been the worst. She knew what it was doing to him, knew she'd failed him, and hadn't the first idea what to do about it, except to run from it. She was still running.

A father's love for the child

The horrible, obsequious sound of Traver's voice replaying in her head made her shiver and her fists clench in anger.

She could see the misery, the guilt, on Giles' face. The hurt. She hadn't cared at the time, not about how much he was hurting, or what it cost him to lose his position on the Council, to blow off over twenty years of his life in just one moment. All that had mattered was that needle. It still made her angry.

She opened her eyes. And that was it. That was the moment. Of course it still made her angry. And why was this the first time it had ever occurred to her that he did blow off over twenty years of his life for no other reason than…?

She swallowed and trembled a little, then straightened resolutely.

A father's love for the child

He shouldn't have done that to her. Not then. Not on her birthday. Not…Not when her emotional defences were already so far down a six-year-old linebacker could have taken her out. She put a hand to her forehead, pushed her hair back behind her ear and closed her eyes again. When Hank had let her down again, she couldn't go to her mother…or anyone else, but she found the courage to reach out to the one person she was certain would never hurt her. Giles almost never said no. He prevaricated a lot, but she could always count on him to say yes.

But he hadn't…

Tears escaped from under her lashes and trickled down her cheeks. In a way the Cruciamentum had been worse than Angel turning. She could rationalize a vampire going bad. She could even find it in her to kill him. Nothing on God's Earth could help her ever rationalize Giles turning on her. Nothing could salve the pain of that severance…that loss. Angel was her lover, her obsession, but Giles…

A father's love for the child…

Giles was more. From the moment he arrived he'd been more. And he'd never faltered, never left her side…never let her down. He'd saved her life, tried to sacrifice his for her, worked endlessly to support her at every turn and been there relentlessly for her no matter how many times she'd failed him…until the Cruciamentum. And even then, despite all those years of training, his sense of honour and respect for tradition, he had ultimately sacrificed even that…for her.

And yet they'd never talked about it. Why had it always been so hard? Why was it that whenever they got serious about anything, whenever they did more than just joke around or talk shop, she got tongue-tied, unable to say what she meant…or made dumb jokes or turned into a kid again? Why was so hard to even ask him how his day had been…how he was?

She opened her eyes again when she finally remembered something.

That was it: motorcycles

That day on his terrace, going through his mail…the magazine, just before she found out that he jogged. She half smiled to herself remembering how great he looked in sports gear and all sweaty, and how he'd had that typically Giles-gentle dig at her about not being the least bit interested in his life.

Interested…well, no, she didn't want to know if he jogged, or liked motorcycles or slept with beautiful fashion models, or ate blue cheese or moussaka at regular intervals…

Still…

She pulled herself to her feet, unable to sit any longer, and headed for the front gates, skirting the row of new and sort of recent tombstones she'd hoped would produce some activity.

Why hadn't she wanted that kind of closeness? Why did Willow know more about him than she did?

A father's love for the child…

No…

It came to her with such blinding force that she missed a step completely and toppled sideways, crashing into a large marble memorial and scattering vases, flowers, and photo frames in all directions.

When she sat up and pushed the wilted irises, roses and greenery off herself and shook the putrid water off her sleeves she realized that she'd cut herself and that she was bleeding pretty spectacularly. It would, she knew, heal quickly, but in the mean time it was making a huge mess of her clothes. It wasn't the movies, so there was no petticoat to rip, no shirt to shred, only her now ruined angora sweater and black jeans. She gave up and made an effort to put back everything that wasn't broken and to clean up the memorial as much as she could, despite the pain. It was new, and it wasn't fair for them to find it spoiled. She was sorry that she'd disturbed it at all, and broken the china vase that had cut her so badly…

She dumped the ruined flowers behind an old, untended headstone, pushed up her sleeve, clamped a hand over the now throbbing slice across her left forearm, and headed out of the cemetery.

It wasn't until she reached the street that she remembered why she'd fallen in the first place. Her heart pounded in her chest and she felt the blood rush to her cheeks.

Giles…

There was only one reason why she had made such an effort to distance herself from him, emotionally, all this time. It was the same reason she'd reached out to him after her father hurt her so badly on that fateful eighteenth birthday—just when she was getting over the pain of Angel turning, hurting her so badly—the same reason a part of her almost wanted to kill him when she found out about the Cruciamentum… and the same reason why it had hurt so damned much that day she'd discovered Olivia. Hurt so much all she'd wanted to do was hurt him…and she had.

Why…because he was Giles…and because she needed him, needed him so much, to be there, always, and yet she couldn't let herself be a part of his life…his real life. That couldn't happen, because she couldn't stand…couldn't survive…the possibility, the agony, of losing him again…Ever again…

Buffy looked up. She was miles from the college and just as far from her mother's place. Her hand was sticky and slick with blood, so she knew the bleeding hadn't stopped. Her head had started to pound and she felt a little sick in her stomach.

“God, Giles,” she said aloud. “If you were here you'd have me patched and bandaged, lectured to and stuffed in the car by now to go to the ER for stitches. But me…I can't even remember how to get to the ER from here,” she muttered aloud, her voice trembling and annoyed. “And you think I can take care of myself,” she added, throat voice punctuating the remark with a sob.

No…

Losing Angel had been agony…both times…but she'd survived, but losing Giles…even if it was just to someone else?

There was no surviving that…


********


Giles put down the Murder Mystery he was reading and took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose wearily. The tedium of his day had been relieved only by the boredom of his evening, he thought irritably. Forty-six tomorrow, and what the bloody hell do I have to show for it?

He got up and went to the kitchen, mostly from habit. He didn't know what he wanted when he got there or why he'd gone. He rested his backside against the counter in defeat and sighed.

This wasn't how he wanted his life to play out. Not like this…still alone, back where he started, a rebel, a failure, still chasing dreams…

He looked up at the ceiling. How his father would shake his head…and quite possibly gloat…well, after reminding him gleefully about his apparently omniscient predictions during his rebellious youth, that is.

“Got what you expected, didn't you, you old bastard?” he told the ceiling. “Even bloody Collins would have made a better heir than me. Looks like I have amounted to exactly nothing…in fact less than nothing, by your standards. No job, no prospects…unless I want to go and live in Buenos Ares or Sydney or somewhere equally bloody ridiculous…no wife, no family…no heirs of my own…”

All there was now, was here in Sunnydale: Willow, Xander and…Buffy…remnants of career, a life. He closed his eyes, remembering all that had gone before Sunnydale. There had been a full life, friends, a career, or two, and a purpose, but…

Now, somehow, he'd let it all get away. He hadn't made a single real friend his own age in Sunnydale…Christ, when had there been time…? If it wasn't the library, it was teaching duties, or rostered duties at the school, and if not that then research for Buffy, training for Buffy, patrolling with her, picking up the pieces behind her, the cleanups, the explanations, the stuff that someone had to do once the kids had all gone home to their warm beds…and when all that was done…there was the journal to be written, reports to be made to the Council, bills to be paid… He laughed aloud. That was it…the closest thing he'd had to a personal life until Olivia turned up on his doorstep: paying the bills and chatting with the regulars at his local supermarket when he found time to pick up groceries…oh…and his flourishing relationship with Mrs Garcia at the Laundromat… The woman had intimate knowledge of almost his entire wardrobe and had cheerfully kept him from all and every known laundry disaster for most of the last few years…

He pulled a bottle of imported beer from his refrigerator and trudged back into the living room wondering what had suddenly made him so morose.

The beer was deeply chilled and felt good going down. It didn't take long to empty the small bottle. He stood it by his chair and leaned his head back again. He shouldn't be doing so much thinking…it lead him to places he didn't ever want to go again.

He closed his eyes against visions of things that immediately and perversely popped into his head the moment that thought was formed. Montages of images from his youth blended amazingly artistically with flashes from his ordeal at Angelus' hands, his struggle for survival after Gwen Post almost killed him, and for some reason, his one meeting with Maggie Wash…and, worst of all…well, worst of all didn't bear thinking about, or remembering. Worst of all hurt deep down inside of him, made his heart ache as though cleaved, at times, and his soul mourn for what could never be…even in his dreams.

After a beat he banished the blue eyes haunting his thoughts and got up to turn out the lights. It was well after midnight, and if he couldn't think of anything more constructive to do he ought to go to bed. At least that was what he told himself. The reality was that he could no more escape his thoughts there than down here in his chair.

He was halfway across the living room, headed toward the switch, when there was a tap on his door, and then another, and then a rattle, as though someone had leaned or fallen against it. He crossed swiftly and looked through the security slot, then dragged the door open as quickly as he could unlock it.

“Buffy!”

She was leaning against the door, covered in blood and grime and smelled terrible. She looked up at him weakly and half smiled.

“S-Sorry,” she managed. “But I c-can't remember how to get…to the ER.”

He made a strangled noise, swept her off her feet and carried her to the sofa, kicking the door closed behind him.

“What the hell happened?” he demanded when she wouldn't release the grip on her arm. There was blood everywhere.

“Cut myself,” she said matter-of-factly.

Buffy!

“Did,” she argued blearily. “Needs antiseptic…big time.”

“All right,” he told her tightly. “Keep holding it while I get some, and the first aid kit and something to clean you up a little.”

“Mm,” was all she managed to reply to his departing back.

When he returned she watched him work, the warm, soapy cloth soothing as he pushed the sweater sleeves back, washed blood and grime from her hands, arms, face and neck. He was worried, and ticked off because he was worried. That furrow was grooved right above the bridge of his nose again, and that always meant one of two things…either she was in trouble or he was perplexed…

Once he'd patted everything dry, he asked her again to release the wound. She did, very slowly. They both exhaled when they realised that it had sealed itself, just. Slayer healing was finally doing its job, though blood still seeped from at least a couple of places along the deep gash.

He worked methodically, applying antiseptic cream and dressings and binding it almost professionally before attending the scratches and grazes she hadn't even noticed until they started stinging when he was bathing her. Most of them, too, were well on their way to healing.

Once the dressing was done and he'd cleared away, he looked more closely at her, surprising her. She didn't blink, even once, while those eyes were looking into hers. Since the demon incident she'd even dreamed about them sometimes…

“Are you all right?” he asked softly.

She nodded awkwardly. “I-I just didn't know how fast it would close and I was starting to feel sick and kinda weird.”

He nodded. “Probably more from the shock than anything to do with blood loss.” He regarded her spoiled clothes. “It looks atrocious, but you probably didn't lose very much in real terms.”

“Oh…great,” she said dryly then found herself smiling slowly. “Do I get orange juice and a cookie anyway…like at the blood bank?”

He half laughed and shook his head. “What was it this time? Demons? Vampires? Something new, perhaps?”

She froze. “Uh…” she managed eventually. “Actually, none of the above; I was kind of on my way home when I fell. There were vases and flowers and pictures…and I broke stuff.”

“A Memorial? And you had to pick a new one,” he sighed.

“I didn't do it on purpose,” she pouted. “I was…I tripped.”

Giles' eyes narrowed. “Buffy you never just trip.”

“Well, I did tonight,” she grumbled and shifted her aching arm.

“You aren't ill?”

She shook her head.

“You don't want to talk about it?”

“Can't.”

“Riley?”

She looked up far too swiftly. “God no. He's fine. Coming along nicely. I don't think anything's going to change Mister Iowa. He was born sweet and he'll die sweet,” she finished in a strange voice.

“School, then?”

She scowled. “You aren't going to leave this alone are you?”

He stared at her for a long moment. “Should I?” he asked softly.

The blue eyes rolled up to meet his. That was a helluva question, especially put the way he put it.

“I…I don't know,” she whispered. “I think…I think you're supposed to at least offer the victim tea to soothe their nerves,” she pointed out facetiously.

Giles stared a moment longer, then shook his head again and stood up. She watched him go to the kitchen and swallowed hard. If her heart rate climbed any higher her heartbeat would be echoing around the room. It was thumping in her ears, against her chest, and it had nothing to do her arm.

They shared the tray in almost comfortable silence…Buffy was only just beginning to relax as she breathed in the comforting aroma of his Earl Grey, which she'd never been able to stand herself, but which brought back memories of better times. Somehow, it was lulling her rampaging nerves back into some kind of calm…

And Giles was trying not too think too much at all, as he breathed the perfume she'd worn since the Prom. For all the perpetual hair and clothing changes, it remained, now, the one constant, the one thing that was truly…Buffy.

He saw so relatively little of her in the scheme of things these days that scent had become something of a signature, a herald of a possible brief period of brightness in his otherwise frequently tedious existence…and a reminder of how things used to be…

He put down his cup. Definitely getting too morose again

Are you going to tell me what so upset you that you could fall head over heels into a new memorial?” he asked unexpectedly.

Buffy spat coffee back into her mug in surprise, cleared her throat, and put the cup down.

She didn't look at him. She had promised not to lie, not to keep things from him…but she couldn't tell him…

“It's your birthday tomorrow,” she said softly.

He frowned.

“Yes, regrettably…and this is a problem because…?”

She still didn't look up. “…Because I didn't know. I never asked. Willow hates me.”

He suppressed amusement. “I seriously doubt that young Willow could truly hate anyone, let alone her best friend,” he observed quietly.

“She loves you, you know,” Buffy said, unexpectedly.

Giles' eyes softened. “Yes, I know,” he said gently.

“And Xander thinks you're like the original hero guy...”

“Buffy…?”

She shrugged. “Nothing. It's just…Willow says I don't care…” Her eyes widened and she swallowed. She hadn't really intended to say that.

Giles' face grew very serious, but she didn't see. She still hadn't looked up.

“And you think there is a possibility that she might be right?”

Buffy shook her head very slowly. God how had she got herself into this? She had to find a distraction …something…

“You…” She swallowed. “You never told me why you didn't recognise me…” she whispered, throwing up the only thing she could, to avoid having to lie to him again, “…when I was in Faith's body. But I knew you when you were…”

The green eyes seemed dazed for a moment. Somehow reality had shifted, from the edge of one precipice to the jaws of another. He looked down at his hands.

“Faith is an unparalleled liar,” he said quietly. “Though not a clever one. At first I was convinced it was she, trying to manipulate me…and then when I was faced with the evidence, I didn't want to believe it. It was a nightmare I was not prepared to accept consciously…until I had to.”

Buffy looked up at last, her self-consciousness forgotten, and stared at the bent head.

“Y-You hate Faith that much…?” she asked, her heart pounding so hard again it was almost battering itself to pieces against her chest.

He looked up, the soft green eyes meeting hers, defensive, wary. “No…” I love you that much…

He stopped suddenly, when he realised what he'd all but revealed, and closed his eyes, wondering how he'd managed to get himself into such a position.

Buffy stared at him. “Then…?” she croaked.

He stood up suddenly and crossed to the window, stared out of it for a long time.

She watched him, a little afraid, a little angry, and a lot confused. “You aren't usually at a loss for words,” she said eventually, her light tone revealing nothing of the turmoil going on inside her.

He sighed a long, frustrated sigh. “What do you want me to say?”

Buffy's eyes widened. Now there was a wide open question…

“Let's try something new for us,” she said softly, got up and walked over to within a couple of feet of him. “How about we talk about us for a change?”

His eyes flashed to hers, startled, and, she saw, unnerved.

“Scared?” she asked.

“Terrified.” His gaze lighted on her own trembling fingers.

“Me too,” she admitted, and actually found a smile. “And you don't even have the tufty ears any more.”

“The bloody tail was the worst part,” he muttered.

They both suddenly chuckled.

Then just as suddenly silence fell again.

“Should we make tea again?” Buffy asked dryly when neither of them had spoken for a good minute and a half.

“Scotch would be better,” he growled. “How is college?”

“Collegy. How's the car hunting?”

“It isn't,” he said gruffly. “I detest your second-hand car dealers.”

“We call them Used Car Salesmen, or crooks, for short,” she drawled, amused.
“What's wrong, Giles?”

He looked up, startled.

She stared back at him. “The old Giles, Mister totally organized—he of the immaculate phone and banking records—would have had a new job in a heartbeat, and another car, or even two, by now. Something's wrong. Something's changed…with you. And I don't like it much.”

His eyes narrowed and colour crept into his cheeks. “One could say the same about you,” he retorted. “Your mother never hears from you; you still keep things from me and you neglect your friends.”

Colour flashed in Buffy's cheeks too, then. “You mean I neglect you,” she snapped. “Well, I'm not sixteen any more and I can't come running to you with every little thing any more, remember? I'm a big girl now. I know because you told me so, and because my mother filled my room with junk a week after I moved out…and she didn't even ask me before she decided to go spend Thanksgiving at Aunt Darlene's. She told me and then she just…left,” she finished limply.

The flash went out of Giles' eyes and his expression softened. “I didn't leave,” he said gently.

“You tried to,” she retorted. “Mister 'Hugh Hefner, don't foul my nest, I have better things to do…Just grow up and go away, Buffy'!” She turned and stormed down the hallway to the back door.

Giles stared after her in amazement. Things were slowly to beginning to make a peculiar…and terrifying…kind of sense.

The back door slammed. It was his cue to move very fast…until he reached the door, where he stopped, took a deep breath and opened it.

She was sitting at the table he sometimes took his tea at, looking, at first glance, very calm, but on closer inspection, quivering with rage.

“I no longer have a relationship with Olivia,” he said quietly as he sat in the other chair.

She stared at him stonily. “Do I look like I care?”

“As a matter of fact…yes,” he said mildly. “Although, up until today I would have said emphatically not.”

She stared back. “Maybe I should go?” she asked, still stony.

“Perhaps,” he agreed, still mild. “It depends on how childish you intend to be at this point.”

Buffy swallowed renewed rage. “Childish? I bust my ass every night for you…over three years of no life, gut wrenching misery, and w-waiting to die…for what? To be told I'm childish? To be told: run along Buffy…solve your own problems Buffy; save the world on your own time. I'm too busy getting laid!”

Giles flushed to the roots of his hair, his brow blackening in a deeper anger than he'd known in years. The chair scraped on the paved surface as he stood up, his calves shoving it back.

When he wheeled and went inside without speaking, Buffy blinked, both at his response and at the anger she hadn't realised was still inside herself, then got up slowly and followed. He was pouring himself a Scotch, a large one.

“Don't,” she said softly as she emerged from the corridor. “Please…”

He put the glass down but didn't turn. “I've been here,” he said slowly. “Since that day I have done everything I possibly can to help you and you've done nothing but conceal things from me, lie to me and leave me holding the bag…or more often, the 'Xander', when you weren't altogether ignoring me. And when I've tried to…” He stopped, picked up the drink and drained it, wheeled and went to his chair, sat down hard and put a hand to his forehead.

In their time together, Buffy had seen Giles look many things before, including almost mad with grief, but she'd never seen him look totally defeated before.

Her rage seeped away. “I-I'm sorry,” she said hoarsely… “About that crack about you getting l…well, anyway, it was none of my business.” When he didn't stir her eyes grew bleak. “What happened to us?” she asked in a voice so uncharacteristically raw with emotion he finally did look at her again.

She swallowed at the hurt she saw in the gentle green eyes. The look was enough. She sort of hoped he'd leave it then, wanted to close her own when he did begin to speak, but couldn't because the green ones were holding hers…kind of like that cobra she'd seen on TV mesmerizing a mouse.

“We've grown apart. Up until this point I believed that you were simply spreading your wings, allowing yourself to be distracted by your new environment, new…freedoms,” he said carefully.

Buffy, translating silently, rolled her eyes. “But…? You…you have 'but…' face again,” she stammered when he paused and scowled.

The scowl vanished and he repressed amusement. “But I think perhaps I've been very wrong,” he said softly. “I think perhaps we did this to ourselves a long while ago.”

“The Cruciamentum…?” she asked softly, warily.

He closed his eyes and nodded slowly. “Perhaps even further back…”

She looked puzzled for a moment, working back through the bad things she'd done…things he'd been angry about or should have been angry about…

“A-Are you still mad at me about Angel…Angelus?”

He shook his head and looked at her with those hurt eyes again. “You still don't really understand do you?” he asked in a strange voice.

“Understand…?”

“Why I was so very angry…so very hurt,” he explained in a whisper that was more penetrating than the loudest shout.

“I did a bad thing,” she said slowly. “I know that. I wanted him back so much and I knew it was a risk…I knew you, and the others, would go ballistic…maybe make him go away…and I didn't want…I couldn't have stood it if he went away again. You…none of you…have any idea what it was like for me…after…”

Her eyes, which had been wandering, found his again. She froze.

“Is that truly what you think?” he asked bitterly. “That that's all it was…? That it was little more than an issue of discipline…? That I would be so petty…would actually resort to summary justice, in response to something so bloody complicated and…so important to you?”

Buffy stared.

His eyes narrowed, then grew sad. “I refuse to believe that you truly don't understand.” He got up and went to pour himself another drink.

Buffy bit her lip. “I'm not stupid,” she said quietly. “I know he hurt you. I saw you.”

He whipped around, stared at her.

“I couldn't leave without knowing. I watched you…at school. You…Xander…Willow still in her chair. Cordy and Oz looking lost.”

He had a strange look on his face. “Christ,” he hissed. “You…?” But he was bereft of words.

He picked up the drink and Buffy saw his hand tremble before he about-faced again and disappeared down the corridor.

Buffy froze, trying to swallow hurt and fear. The one thing she'd never talked to Angel about… couldn't talk about…was what happened to Giles that day. Not that Angel had ever really tried. It had been much easier for both of them to pretend that it was a dead issue; that rehashing the past wasn't going to accomplish anything. And everyone else had always assumed she knew it all…but she didn't. Giles had obviously been in pain that day outside the school, but he was in one piece and walking around…in better shape even than Willow was, she'd thought…

She frowned and went to his new phone. Xander sounded a little flustered when he answered but he focused quickly when she told him what she wanted and why.

“Are you sure?” his voice asked warily.

“I have to know, Xander. Not for me, for him, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, though Buffy could hear the concern in his voice. Not for her, she was sure, but for Giles, whom he worshipped even when he was doing his best to drive him nuts. He proceeded to tell her all that he knew, from the time that he found and rescued Giles from Crawford Street, until she returned from Los Angeles.

“Buffy…Buffy are you still there?” he asked after the silence began to stretch.

Buffy shifted the receiver to stop the moisture from trickling into it and scrubbed at her face, swallowed hard and cleared her throat before putting her mouth near it again.

“Y-Yeah, Xand, I'm here. Why…Why didn't someone tell me?”

It was his turn to be silent for a long moment. “You didn't ask,” he finally said bluntly then went on before she could speak. “And at first we didn't…I'm sorry, Buff, but at first we didn't think you deserved the truth, and then when Angel came back I guess we all assumed he told you, if Giles hadn't already.”

Buffy laughed bitterly. “Giles? Xander, the last really serious…and I mean intimate… conversation I had with him was…was after I turned Ang…after Angelus tried to kill Willow…when Giles took me home. Do you know how long ago that was?”

Xander was silent again, as though considering his words. “Maybe…maybe you should really consider why that is,” he said carefully. “Look, Buffy, it nearly killed him when you left. And then last year…”

“Yeah, I know,” she told him. “When mayhem wasn't happening around us it was happening to us. And yeah, I know…Angel, Faith, way too much Buffy Badness…”

Xander cleared his throat. “Big day for revelations, huh, Buff?”

“Way big,” she said softly, wondering what more was yet to come. “Xand…”

“Yeah, Buff?”

“I'm sorry.”

Again the line went silent, or almost silent. After a time she heard him clear his throat. “W-What about him?” he asked tremulously.

She swallowed a lump. “It's okay. I'm going to make it okay,” she told him. “If he'll let me.”

“Do...Do you need me?”

She smiled at the phone, wishing she could just hug him. “No. I can handle it. I love you, Xander. Tell Anya I'm sorry for interrupting,” she added and heard the surprised breath and then his soft laugh as she hung up.

She stood for a long moment, actually contemplating Giles' whisky bottle. She sighed. Whisky was gross anyway. God, why was anyone still talking to her? Why was he…? And why was she scared of the answer to that question? She turned and went down the hallway to the door at the far end then stopped again.

Her whole body was trembling, despite her resolute calm. She was losing the battle to stop Xander's voice from replaying itself in her mind, to stop the images from besieging her. She hadn't known that Xander been to see Angel not more than a few days after Gwen Post was toasted. Angel had never mentioned it. Nor had he ever mentioned what he'd done to Giles. And now she knew why…

She shivered. Maybe it would be better to go talk it over with Will, make sure he was in a better mood, make sure that…

Coward, she told herself. You don't know what to do. You don't know how. And you want to run…again. Well, you're not going to. Not this time. This time you're going to stay here and get it right, or screw up honestly, but you aren't going to run again. You owe him that.

Well, she'd stopped trembling at least. She pushed open the door. He was sitting at the table, lit only by the security light.

For a long moment she stared at him. He looked so alone, sitting forward, elbows on knees, rattling the ice still in his glass while he stared off into some unknown realm.

She bit her lip. For the first time she wondered how often he'd sat just like that since the Mayor's Ascension. Strange, that she'd always imagined him to be so efficient, so unaffected, so…not like this.

Suddenly the urge to run away was almost overwhelming, almost as overwhelming the one to run to him. Her eyes widened like a startled deer. She stepped back silently and closed the door, leaned against it.

What had Xander said? 'Big day for revelations, Buff?'

She closed her eyes. Everything was so confused, one moment she was wishing she could run to Angel, when it should have been Riley, the next wanting to run to Giles, to be held by him, to hold him…

Buffy swallowed. The revelation in the cemetery that she still needed him… more than ever…had been more than the re-awakening of old knowledge. More than just the overwhelming reaffirmation that he was central to her universe…had always been. This…

She tried to focus on Angel… No, Riley, she corrected herself savagely…but the gentle farm-boy features melted away, leaving not the devastatingly dark looks of the vampire, but the green eyes she'd been dreaming about, that smile…the one that had been only for her at the Prom…and the one that told her they would be all right, when the Gentlemen almost brought their world down around them…

It shook her to her core, almost as much as Xander's revelations had. She was lost, and afraid. Almost in a daze, she took herself to the kitchen and made a tray. The action was so familiar that it was soothing in its own way. When she was done she picked it up and held it in front of her like a shield. It was also something she could hide behind…

Giles looked up when the door opened roughly and Buffy closed it one-handed, balancing a tea tray on the other. He watched her cross to the table and slide the tray onto it carefully, then push the other chair close to his.

“I…I thought you might need this.”

He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded and reached for the teapot.

Buffy exhaled with relief and sat down, so that they were facing each other, and waited quietly while he poured a cup and raised it to his lips, sipped and then rested his arm on the table.

“Please don't hate me,” she whispered when his eyes finally lifted to hers again.

He frowned. “I could never hate you, Buffy,” he said wearily, almost tonelessly.

Somehow it hurt far more than his anger would have.

“I had to know…I knew what I was doing was wrong…but I had to get away…I-I couldn't deal…couldn't think…Angel, Kendra, you…God, even Willow and Xander, all because of me. And then mom…I only waited because I couldn't go without knowing if you were all okay…”

She resisted an overwhelming need to close her eyes then, knowing now exactly how not okay Giles had been.

“I should never have left,” she whispered.

He watched her, aware that something had changed, something important. “Buffy…?”

“I talked to Xander…a little while ago, on the phone,” she admitted.

“Then it's true. You honestly didn't know?”

She shook her head very slowly. “Only what I saw. Even the hospital would only tell me you were going to be okay. I said I was your daughter, but they said you didn't list any next of kin.”

Giles lifted the teacup again, this time not quite steadily and took another sip. “I didn't think I had any…at least not here.”

Buffy's skin turned to alabaster in the nightlight and Travers' words came back to haunt her. “I guess not,” she agreed when she could form words again.

He concentrated on the tea. “It was a difficult time for everybody,” he said finally, after a long silence and several sips.

The blue eyes searched the averted face trying to find something to tell her whether he was angry or just hurt, or both…but she was out of her depth.

What had happened to him was terrible, unforgivable, and he shouldn't have had to face those first terrible weeks, afterward…alone. She bit her lip to stop it trembling. Now was not the time. They had both faced nightmares and demons and horror in those same weeks, but he hadn't run, hadn't deserted anyone. He'd stayed, and waited.

She made a small noise when a surge of pain tried and failed to escape her lips.

He looked up, his eyes widening a little at the sight of her pale, wide-eyed face, the normally mobile lips pressed into a flat, controlling line.

“Buffy…?” he said softly.

But she couldn't open her mouth; not then, not without unleashing something she wasn't sure she could control.

Her eyes flickered in the diffuse light and the taut mouth tried to pull into a half smile, but rather than reassure, it only confirmed that something was wrong.

Buffy…?” he repeated.

She leaned forward and a small, trembling hand reached out and stroked the hair at his temple, soft fingers trailing down until a warm palm lay against his cheek.

He sat very still, their eyes locked, but Buffy couldn't make herself speak.

“I won't bite,” he said very gently.

He saw her swallow, felt her tremble. Then suddenly she took a large, jagged breath. “I-I didn't mean to hurt you.” The words tumbled out, a jumble of sorrow and determination. “S-Saying sorry isn't enough, and I don't know how else…”

She stopped as his large hand closed around her warm one.

“Shh.”

She took another breath and grew still.

He took the hand between both of his. “Being here, now, is enough.”

But it wasn't enough. She could smell his familiar cologne, even his whisky tainted breath, but it was the feel of his hair, his five o'clock shadow, and now the warmth of his fingers that burned into her soul, rocked her to her very core.

Even a day ago she would have laughed if someone had said she could be attracted to him, could…want him. A day ago she would still have been denying what her heart had been trying to tell her since the Cruciamentum…that she couldn't live without him because she loved him with every fibre of her being, every cell in her body…

“N-No…no it's not,” she whispered and watched the question form in the gentle green eyes as she withdrew her hand.

Giles watched her, his heart hammering in his chest despite the almost impassive expression on his face. She was trying desperately to tell him something and it terrified him. He didn't know what she was trying to find the courage to say, but given their mutual inability to articulate feelings, to reveal themselves to others, he knew it was going to be serious…one way or the other. Fear intermingled with hope.

It must have shown in his eyes because she reached out again, laying the backs of her fingers against his cheek for a moment.

He searched her tense face. “You've never done that before,” he whispered, clenching his fists to keep his hands steady. The truth was neither of them had. There had always been a kind of barrier between them when it came to contact…even the simplest kind. And he was just beginning to realise why…

Buffy's eyes filled. “Truth?”

He nodded very slightly against her fingers.

“I-I never wanted to before.” She heard his sharply indrawn breath. “I want to now.”

His eyes grew very tender, his face suffused with colour.

“Why…?” he prompted, very gently.

Buffy swallowed, but there was a light in her eyes. “Because Travers was a horse's ass.”
And when Giles couldn't help but chuckle and smile, the light of it caught her and took her breath.

“Granted, but I don't—?”

Her fingers touched his lips before he could continue and at once the air became charged, as though a current had suddenly surged between them and was growing by the moment.

And then, when Buffy lifted herself out of her chair, Giles stopped breathing, the face of his dreams, his hopes, bending to his…soft, sweet lips touching his…

It wasn't in him to stop it, or even to want to stop it. Instead he gave himself to the utter magic of the moment, his arms drawing her to him, pulling her gently onto his lap as he took over and returned her searching salute with a tenderness he hoped would tell her more than any words could.

For a long time they remained locked together, eyes closed, blocking out the world, whilst their mouths continued to merge in a tender, erotic give and take neither wanted to end.

When, eventually, they did part and Buffy drew herself up to eye level, though making no effort to leave his lap, they looked at each other with the same rabbit-in-the-headlights look they'd exchanged earlier, inside, by the window.

“Scared?” she whispered, but it came out as a cracked sort of hiss.

He nodded. “Terrified,” he replied hoarsely.

“I-I didn't know.”

“Didn't know what?” Giles asked gently, finding his voice.

“That I've been in love with you for so long…” She looked away, embarrassed, but he drew her face back to look at him. “That you were the only reason I survived Angel leaving…” Her eyes glistened with pain as she thought of something else. “I'm sorry about Olivia, Giles,” she said softly. “I-Is she coming back?”

He sighed and pushed blonde locks behind her ear. “I honestly don't know. She's afraid…and I think perhaps she knew that I couldn't be all that she needed me to be.”

Buffy stilled and looked at him with those eyes. “Could you…could you be all that I need you to be…?”

The green eyes widened and grew alarmingly bright. “I don't know,” he whispered, “unless you tell me what it is that you need…”

Buffy's insides officially disintegrated and slid down the inside of her legs to rest in an oozing heap in her feet. It was far too late to turn back now, and in any case, not one cell in her body wanted to. She slid her arms around his neck and looked deep into those green eyes, took a deep breath.

“I need you to love me…to…” She rested her brow against his, struggling again to find the courage to say what she wanted to say. “…To want me as much as I want you…” she finally managed. “To let me take care of you from now on, because if you think Willow's guilt trip was major…”

They both chuckled and his arms slid supportively around her.

“And I need you to believe me…” she finished seriously. “Maybe that more than anything…I need you to forget what Travers said and to believe that I love you more than anything or anyone I've ever known. I need you to believe it for both of us.”

“Oh God…” he whispered and pulled her hard against him. Buffy held on to him with equal fervour, as though it might make up for the countless times they'd denied each other over the years.

When she felt his hold loosen a little, Buffy lifted her head from his shoulder and kissed his temple, his cheek, then brushed his mouth with hers. “I don't think we should bring him into it, do you?” she teased. “Unless you're taking the fifth, in which case it'd be my turn to…”

He took her lips again then, his mouth hungry, seeking, and finding hers even hungrier.
When he lifted his head they were both breathless. “I'm British,” he told her, his eyes dancing. “I'm not allowed to take the fifth.”

She giggled and nodded, then slid her hands up to touch his hair again.

For a beat they simply drank each other in. Then, finally, Buffy spoke.

“Are we really okay?” she asked, almost timidly.

He smiled back at her then and she could see that okay was way too inadequate a word for it. There was a glowing joy she'd never seen in his eyes, his face before, kind of shining out of him. After a beat she realised what it was.

He touched her face, her damp lashes, concerned. It had been a long, long time since he'd seen Buffy weep. “What…?”

“I just…I've just realised that I've never seen you truly happy before,” she told him tremulously, obviously shaken.

He chuckled ruefully. “It's all right, love. I am now, and that's all that matters.

She smiled again. “God, are we mushy or what?”

“Insufferably,” he agreed, his fingers moving irresistibly to her hair.

She grinned at him. “You love it, don't you?”

He nodded contentedly and took her face in his hands.

“You understand that there are a thousand different, probably insurmountable, problems before us if we are to proceed with this…?” he asked softly.

She nodded into the warmth and firmness of his fingers then smiled again, her eyes dancing. “Nothing compared to vampires and demons, though. You and me together…nothing can beat us,” she told him, and meant it.

He grinned back at her then and lowered his head. This time they met in equal need, the kiss swiftly shifting and changing to something far more urgent, more powerful, so that when they finally parted both were breathing heavily, their colour high, their eyes blurred with desire.

Eventually Buffy cleared her throat. “Giles is…is this weirding you out?”

“Weird…? Oh…” He looked a little crestfallen. “I suppose I'm never going to be twenty again,” he said quietly. “I'm sorry…”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, God…no. Giles, I don't want…that's not what I meant… well, maybe a little…” She stopped, flustered, annoyed with herself and desperate to make him understand. Then she drew a deep breath and took his face in her hands. “If it mattered, I wouldn't be here, silly. I know I've been a pain about it in the past, but I didn't know I was in love with you then…so much in love with you that I had to shut you out just to survive. D-Didn't you ever wonder why it hurt so bad…why I was such a bitch…about that stupid test…even after…?”

“Of course I wondered, but I understood what you were going through, how betrayed you felt. Those were the worst few days I've spent in my entire life, bar none.”

Buffy stared into the green eyes. She knew he meant it, but she also knew now by what standards he was measuring them and that moved her almost to tears again.

“I don't deserve you,” she whispered, her tone such that there was no doubt that she meant each word.

“Nor I, you,” he replied gently, “but I think we were meant to be…perhaps for the same reason we've come so far as Watcher and Slayer…”

“Because we belong together…to each other,” she finished, wonderingly.

He nodded, moved, and they both fell silent again for several seconds. Then he twinkled. “Of course it goes without saying that we're still being insufferably mushy,” he teased and rocked in his chair when she shoved him playfully.

“You ruined the moment.”

“Sorry,” he laughed, relaxing just a little. He didn't want 'the moment' to end either, but was painfully aware of the time, and the day. He made himself look at his watch. “I should take you back before Willow sends out a search party,” he said reluctantly.

Buffy's face dropped and she slid reluctantly off his lap. It wasn't what she expected, but if he needed her to go, she'd go. Suddenly the world had turned on its ear. Suddenly the most important thing in the world was the happiness she'd seen in his eyes, his face. Now nothing mattered, nothing, except keeping it there…

“I can walk,” she said quietly. “Maybe even jog…I could use the workout.”

Giles frowned and rose. “Buffy, I'm just thinking of your classes tomorrow…and Willow…”

She looked up at him speculatively, searching his face, his eyes, for evidence that he might not want to be alone after all.

“People miss classes sometimes…and we can call Willow,” she pointed out softly, experimentally, and enjoyed the momentarily stunned expression on his face before the colour ran back up into it again.

“Y-Yes, we can,” he stammered.

“If you don't want to, it's okay,” she added, the gleam back in her eyes as she watched him war with himself, losing at least part of the battle before he'd even started.

“Buffy…”

She relented then, dragged her eyes back above his belt, and went to him, leaned against him. “Don't make me go,” she said, nestling into the new black shirt and the comforting scent that was Giles. She could hear his heart racing, feel his chest rising and falling in a slightly accelerated rhythm as the silence lengthened and his arms tightened around her.

“I don't want you to go,” he confirmed.

She drew back a little and looked up at him. “I know that,” she said surprisingly gently and slid her hand down to rest against the evidence of his veracity. Her own body suffused with heat and sudden need as her fingers traced his powerful response. She felt the tremor that went through him, then the instant tensing of his whole body against his desire.

She withdrew her hand and took one of his in hers.

“It scares you that much…?” she asked, then frowned. “…Or just grosses you out?”

He looked down at her, the desire warring with concern in his eyes, and shook his head. “It's just…I've had to separate this part of me from who I needed to be for you, for so long…”

Buffy released his hand and slid hers back down to its previous resting place, causing Giles to shudder again and to groan audibly—just—this time, sending a shiver through her own body. She knew that he couldn't make the first move, wouldn't, but…

“Well, you don't have to any more…and I know you aren't shy,” she teased, finally eliciting another smile, this time almost a silly grin, from him.

“I don't think I was ever shy,” he said softly. “Abashed, occasionally.”

“Like now?”

“Like now,” he agreed, his voice cracking as her hand started to move provocatively over the denim fabric again. “And when…” He stopped to take some breaths. “And when Jenny was alive. I'd never met anyone I would have considered marrying, before her.”

Buffy stopped again to look at him. “You would have married her?”

“I have no idea,” he told her honestly, “but at the time, for the first time, it was what I wanted…”

Her eyes flickered with pain as she recalled the circumstances of that courtship and its traumatic conclusion.

“My fault too,” she whispered. “God, Giles, I've hurt you so much…you can't…you can't love me…”

“Cant I?” he asked hoarsely as she started to withdraw from his embrace.

Suddenly she was swept off her feet and carried, locked in his great arms, across the terrace to the door, which he opened so expertly she barely noticed, slipped through it and kicked it closed behind him, as he had the front one earlier in the evening.

Buffy was so entranced she forgot everything except how strong, how large and how warm he was. Never had she felt so protected, so wanted, so loved before.

When they reached the loft, they both looked at each other at the same moment, whether for reassurance, or confirmation or just simply because they wanted to, Buffy was never quite sure. The only thing she was sure of was that it was exactly where she wanted to be and the man holding her was the only one she wanted to be with…once and forever.

Giles put her down slowly. Despite the purpose with which he'd climbed the stairs, he was hesitating and he wasn't sure why, except that now that he seemed to have been handed happiness on plate, he was terrified of losing it…of taking the fragile new thing that they were and smashing it to smithereens before it had a chance to thrive.

Buffy saw and tried to relieve some of the tension. “Giles? Hey, what happened to Hugh Hefner?” she asked softly.

He closed his eyes. “Buffy, this isn't…we aren't…”

“I'm not Olivia, and this isn't a hot date?” she guessed, still bantering.

“Oh God.” He sat down slowly on the bed.

“You're big with the invocation of deity tonight,” she teased. “You must be seriously wigged.”

He looked up at her ruefully. “Seriously.”

She went and sat by him. “It's okay, really. I've been making a habit of rushing into things lately. Maybe slower is of the good.”

Giles sighed. “I'm sorry.”

She frowned then rested her head against his shoulder. “Don't be. I'm kind of glad in a way. You…you're you: the 'you' I care about. I'm not sure I could go with that whole Ripper deal. I don't care what anyone says, that's not you…definitely not my Giles, anyway.”

He turned to look at her curiously. “Oh? I was under the impression that you like your men with…uh…teeth. I would have thought that Ripper was far more your speed than I.”

“He had a cute smile and the earring was kinda cool,” she mused, giving him pause momentarily. Then she looked up at him, her fingers deliberately sliding between the buttons of his shirt, which, under pressure, popped open of their own accord. “But he wasn't you…I mean he was, but without the part that makes you…you, if that makes any sense.”

Her fingers were idly stroking his chest hair, playing with it as she spoke.

Giles closed his eyes. “I—You never showed any…any interest in me or my life before. I-I didn't realize you'd ever even thought about it...or me.”

The hand stilled for a moment. “And if I had?” she asked, very quietly. “Do you really think I could have done what I had to these last couple of years if I let myself feel then even a fraction of what I'm feeling right now? Through everything you were the one thing that kept me sane…no matter how bad it got with Angelus, how bad I was, you were there, even when…. Well, you just were…always there. No matter how bad Buffy was or how stupid, or how mad at me everyone else was, there was always Giles, waiting for me.”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. “Waiting for you…” he whispered. “Yes, I suppose, in a way, I was…but I never truly believed…”

Buffy understood immediately. Her fingers shook as she began undoing his buttons. “I can't take back the past, or all my stupidity, but I can try to make today and all the tomorrows that come after it, worth the wait.”

Giles heard the pain behind the bantering tone. “I thought you wanted to take things slowly,” he teased as she eased the shirt from his jeans.

She hesitated and looked up at him. “Past tense,” she said hoarsely. Their eyes held; both blue and green equally blurred by desire, until she reached for his belt. His hand intercepted hers gently.

“Why?”

“They don't have Sex Ed' in British schools?”

Buffy,” he growled.

She sighed and looked down at their hands. “Okay, okay. Why? Because everything about you is making me want you right now, okay? The sound of your voice…the way you felt when I touched you…just the way you smell, even…” She looked up, just four words left to say.

“Giles, I love you.”

Giles let go of the hand. She had never looked at him like that before: hungrily, greedily, and with the kind of longing he had never even dared dream he would see in her eyes.

He trailed his fingers down her cheek, just savouring the softness of her skin, the freedom to do it, and most of all the way her eyes closed and her face pressed against the touch. Then he was lifting her, drawing her to lie alongside him on the bed.

She opened her eyes again to find him looking down at her, that same hunger, that same love, in his beautiful green eyes. She was awed. His shirt was gone, and his fingers were gently undoing the buttons on her battered top. She shuddered as he parted the two edges of the powder blue angora sweater and caressed the curves of her breasts before lowering his head and brushing the spot between them with his lips.

She shuddered again a moment later, when her sport bra slid off. No one had ever done this to her…not even Angel. No one had so electrified her senses, made it so difficult to even think, to remember to breathe…just with a touch…a kiss. And then the velvety lips were trailing across a soft peak, Buffy unable to stop a cry of pleasure as they covered and drew in the tender flesh. As he continued she groaned again, and again, senses reeling, wanting to touch him, feel him and at the same time never wanting him to stop…

Giles let his lips trail across to the other breast, each of her cries like a small bolt of pleasure shooting through him, and let his fingers slide down the soft, warm flesh of her sides until they reached her jeans. As they slid inside, near the button, Buffy arched demandingly. He lifted his head to undo it, to slide the zipper down. In a blink he'd removed her platform shoes and let the jeans fall on the floor.

Before he could turn back, however, she'd moved up onto her knees, so that when he turned, her arms slid around his neck and the small breasts pressed against his bare chest. His own arms wrapped themselves around her, their kiss igniting like a forest fire, urgent, seeking, intense and when, this time, her hands went to his belt again he pushed back against them and kissed her even harder.

Waves and waves of desire shook Buffy as she fought to get the belt, and then his button undone, then finally, to slide the zipper down. Then, after a beat, she drew back a little, both of them opening their eyes, hers deliberately finding and holding his as her fingertips slid inside the denim fabric for the first time.

There was something intensely erotic about watching each other as she moved them down to the hard bulge, felt the tremor that went through him, heard the indrawn breath.

He held her gaze too, as she slipped the questing fingers inside the fabric of his briefs, watching her as she watched him, watching the blue eyes burn with hunger as she found and caressed his hardened flesh until he couldn't help but shudder and groan.

Then, as she continued, a large, gentle hand began to caress her breasts again. Giles watched her eyes close just before her hand locked around him, causing his own to close and his head to tilt back in ecstasy. The delicate ballet continued until neither could bear it any longer, Buffy withdrawing her hand and pushing the jeans down over his hips. He finished the task, kicking off shoes and socks and tossing the pants onto the floor.

Buffy had stretched out again and was looking up at him appreciatively when he straightened. He smiled and was about to slide his black ribbed briefs off when she spoke unexpectedly.

“Not yet,” she whispered, and smiled when he looked at her quizzically, let her eyes wander greedily to the strained black stretch fabric. “I like them…a lot.”

He drank the sight of her in then, her soft white flesh, the small pink nipples that telegraphed her desire for him and the tiny slip of pale, semi transparent pale blue silk that tapered from her hips to a slender, flimsy covering of her womanhood.

He grinned. “I like yours too, but I can think of better places for them to be right now.”

In reply she hooked her thumbs into the hips and wriggled out of them without taking her eyes off him, then held them out without sitting up, grinning back mischievously at him. They joined the rest of their clothes on the floor.

Then Giles watched her slowly draw one leg up until her left foot rested on the sheet.

“Oh…lord,” he breathed.

Buffy giggled. “C'mere,” she said softly and shifted so that he could move over her, allowing her to put her arms around his neck and draw his head down into another breathtaking kiss.

When he finally raised his head again they were both smiling, despite their shortened breaths and flushed faces.

“God, I love you,” she whispered and watched his slow, jubilant grin before curling her legs around his hips and finding his straining arousal with her softness. “I've changed my mind. I think you can lose the shorts now.”

Giles looked at her in wonder, amazed both at her…and at how good they already were together. He stopped moving against her long enough to push himself up with his arms, to sit up on his knees to slide the briefs down, enjoying her covetous reaction to seeing all of him for the first time. A few moments later they'd been tossed on the floor and he was stretching out alongside her.

Buffy watched him settle. He was…extraordinary. Not what she'd expected at all. His body was still smooth and firm, his chest lightly covered in, she admitted to herself, sexy, soft brown and grey hairs that tapered to his navel in the most provocative way, and his hips were lean, though not boyishly narrow, above still hard, lean thighs. In the midst of those was his unexpectedly …expansive…and now impressively aroused…manhood. Going only by what she knew: Angel, Parker, Riley…she anticipated less than Riley, perhaps even less than Angel…but Giles was made to surprise her. She smiled. And what a surprise…her hand moved almost hypnotically to caress him again, to hold him, appreciating his low moan as another bolt of pleasure rifled through her.

“Do you have a license for this?” she teased, moaning a little herself as his expert hands began roaming her own curves at will, slowly caressing and teasing every inch of her flesh.

He chuckled and pushed a little against her hand. “Why? Are you complaining?”

Her hand closed tightly around his heavy length. “Does it feel like I'm complaining?”

He groaned and shook his head ruefully as she began to move the hand in a stroking motion.

“You knew exactly what I meant,” she pointed out dryly. “Talk about hidden assets.”

Giles' eyes had closed and his mouth was a little open but he managed a half choked chuckle between groans. “G-glad you approve,” he growled.

“Absolutely,” she giggled, shifted position and slid her hand down so that she could appreciate his assets even more.

When he felt the soft, moist mouth close around him he jolted and gasped, opening his eyes and trying to sit up at the same time.

Buffy lifted her head again and looked at him, half amused, half concerned.

“B-Buffy,” he said weakly.

Her head tilted to one side. “I've had a sex-life…of sorts…for some time, in case you hadn't noticed,” she chided. “I know what I'm doing, what I like and what I don't, okay?” When he hadn't spoken after a couple more seconds she smiled slowly, reassuringly at him.

For a moment he just looked at her, then Buffy glowed at the adoring smile she was given in return before he lay back and closed his eyes again. It was some time before she raised her head again, electrified by the sounds of his pleasure, and her own need, drawing herself over him, fitting her small body against his and staring into the soft, loving green eyes that opened to look at her.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” he grinned.

“Like that?”

“Mm,” he replied appreciatively. “I take it you want something?”

“Mm.” She replied, moving slowly against him.

“Now?”

She growled under breath. “Now would be good,” she said huskily.

He rolled expertly so that he held her in his arms, brushed her lips with his and smiled before taking them again, for some considerable time. Then he trailed his mouth down the side of her neck, enjoying her small whimpers of pleasure, before meandering down across the soft breasts again, so that the whimpers became demands. In response, he slid back a little to reach the soft flesh below her navel, her breaths turning to short rasps as his mouth trailed provocatively down the inside of her thigh, then back, without going any further.

“Torturer,” she hissed playfully and then gasped when his mouth deliberately found its mark, warm lips caressing soft flesh, turning her moans to shudders, then cries…then back to whimpers until, eventually, she cried out his name in a shameless, gasping plea.

In response he moved smoothly back over her again, kissed her as her arms slid possessively around his neck again and her hips raised themselves to his. And then, almost unbelievably, he was taking her, barely able to control himself in the midst of her whimpering cries of pleasure…and his own. Then their eyes locked again, both of them almost overwhelmed by the intensity of their need for each other, the sensual rapture that radiated from the merging of their two fleshes.

When they were one Giles paused, aware that they were both barely in control. He pushed rumpled lengths of blond hair off her face, studied it lovingly, before caressing her cheek and kissing her again, very tenderly.

“I love you so much…” he whispered.

Buffy looked up at him with desire-blurred eyes, smiled with a contentment he'd never seen in her before, and touched his face, her smile widening a moment later, and a small groan escaping her lips when he shifted slightly inside her.

“Now, Rupert…” she begged.

Giles' eyes widened, the green growing almost smoky, then glittering luminously in the soft light of the room. His name had never sounded quite so wonderful before…

As he started to move, Buffy's hips curled upward, demanding, his deliberate strokes accelerating in response until they were both straining to each other, need, passion and pleasure colliding in a maelstrom of ecstasy until they found themselves calling each other's names, locked together in one final explosion of pleasure, neither able to do more than revel in the other's completion in the midst of their own.

When it was finally over Giles rested his brow gently against Buffy's for a moment, breathing heavily, feeling her breast heaving just as heavily. There were no words, just a silent communion between them.

Her fingers stroked his hair lovingly; his drew her even closer, until he finally lifted his head and kissed her gently, a slow, adoring salute, then paused when Buffy's lips moved across his cheek, up to his right eye, then his left, then the tip of his nose, the point of his chin and back to his mouth again.

Forty minutes later they stirred, still locked in each other's arms, curled up together as though afraid to let go. The phone shrilled again, reiterating the fact that they'd fallen asleep where they lay.

Giles shook his head hard and stretched out a long arm to the extension on the side table, fumbled it to his ear.

“Yes…?” he said hoarsely. “Um…yes, she's here,” he stammered.

Buffy watched the colour rise from his throat to the roots of his hair as he handed her the phone.

“Buffy...? I was worried about you. You…you didn't call…a-and you were so mad.”

“I'm not mad any more, Will,” she said gently, still trying to focus.

“I-Is Giles okay…?”

Buffy turned slightly to look at him and smiled lovingly. “Oh yeah,” she said mischievously. “Very okay.”

There was a pause at the other end of the phone. “Are you coming home tonight?” Willow finally asked.

Buffy smiled at the receiver. “Um…no I'm not,” she admitted, shifting to snuggle into the crook of Giles' arm again.

“Oh? Something wrong? Another patrol?”

“Um no…” Buffy admitted then lost the phone to a large hand.

“Willow?”

“Giles?”

“Buffy is staying here tonight.”

“But…classes… There? She's staying there?”

Buffy watched Giles laughing silently and thumped his chest, held out her hand for the receiver.

“Yes here,” he confirmed. “It's a long story, love, and we'll tell it to you tomorrow. Sufficed to say I believe we owe you a great deal.”

Buffy took the phone. “What he said,” she added.

We?” Willow demanded.

“We,” Buffy confirmed as Giles' fingers idly traced the contours of a tender breast. “I'll talk to you tomorrow, Will.” She slapped the fingers only to have them move to another location. “Right now I have to go.”

“Buffy? Is there something you aren't telling me? What's going on there? Is Giles really okay?”

Buffy grinned. “Yeah, Will. He's really okay. More than okay. We both are, th-thanks to you.” She stopped to slap his wandering hand again. “He really liked my birthday present.”

“Buffy you didn't have a birthday pres…” The other end of the phone went silent again, except for a strangled squeak. Eventually, Willow cleared her throat. “Um…this is a really bad time, isn't it?” she croaked.

Buffy giggled, then caught and silently kissed his fingers as they traced her jaw. “Depends on your perspective. From this end it's kind of more like unbelievably wonderful. I'm not coming to classes at all tomorr…um…today.”

“N-No, I guess not,” Willow replied, bemused. “Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“Is it real?”

Buffy turned to look into the eyes of the man she loved, to touch the beloved face that watched over her as she spoke, to return his silly grin.

“More than real,” she whispered. “I think maybe it's the only thing in my crazy life that is real...”

There was a long exhalation of breath at the other end. “Then tell Giles I love you both and I'll see you tomorrow. Sh-Should I tell Xander?”

“I think he kinda knows. There were things…things I had to know. I called him…Will?”

“Yeah, Buffy?”

“I'm sorry.”

Giles' large hand moved to hold her free one.

There was another tremulous breath. “I know.”

“I love you, Will.”

“I love you too, Buffy,” she said softly. There was a small pause. When she started to speak again Buffy could almost hear her grin. “Hey, how am I supposed to compete with just a whisky decanter?”

Buffy giggled again. “He'll love it. And let's face it,” she added mischievously. “He's going to be in a such a great mood tomorrow…uh…today…later…”

Giles rolled his eyes and snatched the receiver out of her hand. “I love you too, Willow…and thank you,” he told her.

Buffy watched him grin broadly, shake his head, and then hang up the phone.

“What?” she demanded.

He grinned again. “Nothing. Willow just wished me a very happy birthday…and many more…gifts.”

“She did not.”

“Well, all right, she wished me a happy birthday and all the happiness I could stand. …Same thing I would have thought.”

Buffy lifted herself up to kiss his chin again. “In that case I'll see what I can do about the presents,” she told him, and grinned suggestively.

“Splendid,” he chuckled, and proceeded to kiss her very thoroughly.



* * *