The Only

“Buffy, is that you?”

“Yeah, kiddo, I'm home. What are you doing up so late?”

“It's Friday night,” came the dry reply. “There's a letter from England.”

“England?” Buffy came into the kitchen and found Dawn busily over-filling a bowl with cereal.

“That is not snack food,” she drawled.

Dawn made a face. “You don't buy snack food and I'm hungry. C'mon, I want to know what's in the letter.”

Buffy picked it up off the bench. “Since when are you so interested in Giles?”

The girl's expression grew more serious. “I miss him.”

She looked up, her eyes widening in surprise.

Dawn stared back, no hint of facetiousness in her expression. “I miss him,” she repeated.

Buffy shrugged. “I miss him too, but he has to do what he has to do.”

“What kind of crap is that?” she growled. “He came back for you, and then he left again. And nobody ever explained why. If he didn't care, why did he come back? And if he did, why did he leave again?”

Buffy was shocked at her tone. “I don't understand why this is so important to you. Giles isn't your… I mean, you were never that close. All you ever did was complain about him telling you what to do and make fun of his age.”

Dawn watched her carefully, noting the sheen that had formed in her sister's eyes with her first words, and the tension in her voice as she continued to speak, which was probably the most honest emotion she'd seen in it since Giles had first returned from England.

“Sure I did. He was bossy and stuffy and he never let me get away with anything. She half smiled. “He was also funny and silly and he made it not so bad.” Buffy's expression shifted to puzzlement. “Mom,” Dawn explained in one word. “After…after everything, when everyone sort of got back to…things…you know, and you didn't want to talk about it…he let me…he talked about mom, and he listened.”

The other girl remained silent, the combination of surprise and perhaps even jealousy, evident only in nuance and the fleeting glistening of an eye.

Dawn cleared her throat, memories and emotions suddenly caught in it. “I didn't want him to leave.”

“Dawn, I'm always here for you,” Buffy whispered.

“I know. It's not that. It's just…it was better when he was here. You were better when he was here.”

“I don't understand?”

“You're different,” Dawn said defensively. “I'm not sure I can explain it. It's like…it's like there's part of you missing. It's not as weird as it sounds. I mean…you just…you're not you any more.”

“Dawn, I kind of died a little,” Buffy said quietly. “It changes people.”

“Yeah, well, you weren't so different after he came back. No big. You were just starting to feel like …Buffy…again. You even laughed once or twice. But since he went away again you don't laugh, you don't smile. Not even when you went out with that college guy Willow set you up with. You didn't even give him a chance…Roy or Leroy or something. And then there's the Spike thing.”

“Troy,” Buffy supplied, ignoring the Spike reference. “He wasn't my type.”

“Willow thought he was. He reminded me a lot of Riley.”

“I rest my case,” Buffy muttered. “Forget Troy. I have. Why didn't you tell me how you felt about Giles leaving? Why didn't you at least tell him?”

Dawn shrugged again. “It would have just been sappy.”

There was nothing Buffy could say to that. Neither she nor Giles had ever been any good at talking, or emotional stuff, either. Emotional retards, Xander had labelled them once, when trying unsuccessfully to get them to talk to each other about the fallout after the return of Angel and the visit by Gwendolyn Post.

Instead she opened the envelope and started to read the enclosed letter, not in Giles' neat script, but typed by persons unknown.

“Buffy, what's wrong?” Dawn demanded when the colour drained from her sister's face.

“Giles is in trouble,” she managed, staring at the paper in her hand.


*******

Buffy paced while Willow and Tara researched. One of the few good things to happen in the last couple of months was the reunion of the two lovers after Willow's downward spiral into magic addiction.

“Buffy this is not a fun place you're talking about here. I'm not sure it's a good idea to go charging in there. You might just make things worse. Cordelia was telling me about this demon dimension they went to…it sounded horrible. A-and there were was that one you told me about…like hell, sorta. You can't just go opening portals and jumping into any old dimension…”

“Willow, I know this isn't easy for you, but I need you to find me a way that doesn't involve Keys of any kind, to get into Jemm'rahai and bring Giles back. I don't care what it takes, or if I have to kill every Jemm'ra demon there to do it.”

Willow turned to her lover, who nodded reassuringly. “I'll try,” she said uncomfortably. “But the rules are different there. A-and I don't understand what Giles was doing hunting demons without a Slayer. I thought he was going home to try and make a normal life for himself.”

“The letter says he was trying to help someone.”

Xander looked bleak. “Sounds like Giles.”

“Who…who is this Phillip Trentham and why hasn't Giles ever mentioned him and how does he know about you?” Willow demanded in one long breath. “And if he knows about us why didn't he just call?”

“Oh yeah, like we're going to believe a strange phone call way more than a letter on personalised stationery with a return address and phone number,” Xander drawled.

“Will, he's an ex-watcher. Giles never mentioned him, but I called and asked Wesley about him. He says they used to be best friends before Giles came over here to train me. He quit on principal when they fired Giles, so I guess he is a good friend. He says he wrote because he can't be certain his phone is safe. He doesn't trust the Council.”

Xander frowned. “Why would the Council be a problem? Don't they want their Watcher back?”

“Trentham thinks the Council sold Giles out to keep him from finding out the truth. He says the husband of the woman Giles was trying to help was 'liquidated' by the Council and the death made to look like a Jemm'ra did it. It wouldn't be too hard to do. They favour the barbeque method.”

“So they're bad guys?”

Buffy paused. “I don't think so, at least not this time. Just framed to um…take the heat off the Council. This Trentham guy will be here tomorrow, anyway. I don't think these demons usually leave their own dimension. They've come up in Giles' research before. I remember him saying they're kind of Xenophobic and they don't believe anywhere else beats home.”

“Why?” Tara asked unexpectedly. “I mean, why is he coming here? I mean, if Giles went missing over there…”

“Good point,” Xander nodded, without being entirely sure why.

“I'm not a mind-reader,” Buffy muttered, strain evident in her features. “But I'm guessing it's because to get Giles back, we have to open a portal of our own, and he wants to help.”

“But if the Jemm'ra are the victims here, why would they hurt…I mean take…Giles? Un…less whatever Giles was chasing was working for the council…”

At Tara's words a sobriety overtook the group, the weight of the possibility they'd all been try not to contemplate…that something bad might have happened to their friend…falling hard on hearts and spirits.

Buffy shifted uncomfortably. “We're going to find him. Willow, Tara, find a way to open that portal.”

*******

Phillip Trentham was about the same age as Giles, and looked to at least two of the women greeting him to be physically reminiscent of one of their favourite actors, Jeremy Irons.

“I came as quickly as I could,” he told them after Buffy introduced everyone.

“Long flight?” Dawn asked.

“Concorde,” Xander supplied, putting down the man's luggage. “If you guys don't need me any more I have to go take Anya to the mall to make up for not taking her to lunch.”

“No…go,” Buffy said uncomfortably. “We'll be fine.”

“So you're a friend of Giles?” Willow asked.

Trentham nodded and watched Xander go before turning and slowly absorbing the group before him, his gaze coming to rest on the small blonde. They were so young, so alive. The antithesis, in fact, of his and Rupert's lives before Rupert had been sent across the Atlantic to rectify the 'problem' Merrick had left behind.

And now the 'problem' was staring up at him with the most beautiful eyes, despite their being filled with a combination of reserve and underlying bleakness so well concealed only his experienced eye might have recognized it.

“Why did you come?” she asked quietly.

“Because Rupert is my friend, and because it may be my fault that he's in trouble. I brought Celeste to him because I thought he could help her. He always had the most extraordinary ability to extract information from those old volumes of his.”

“I thought all Watchers had a library,” Willow said, a hint of suspicion in her tone.

“Copies of diaries, some standard works supplied by the Council, the real diaries if you were training the active Slayer. Rupert's library is his own, accumulated and handed down through countless generations.”

“What can you tell me about where Ru—Giles is?” Buffy asked, already impatient about the momentary diversion.

Trentham focused his autumn hazel eyes on her, their corners crinkling a little with a combination of amusement and approval. “He told me he had found evidence that a Jemm'ra demon might have been responsible for the death of Celeste's husband and that he had information about a sighting. My inquiries have revealed that he was almost certainly tracking…something…when he disappeared.”

“Then…then you don't really know if he's in Jemm'rahai or not?” Tara asked, her despondent tone reflecting the expression on all their faces.

“I know he was tracking one of them and that Celeste saw him chase a Jemm'ra demon through a portal, which—”

“No,” Willow objected angrily. “We know the Jemm'ra are xenophobic, that they don't leave their own dimension. Something is weird here. Are you really Giles' friend or did the Council send you here?”

Trentham held up his hands, long fingers splayed in self-defence. “I have been adrift from the Council for as long as Rupert has.”

Buffy frowned. “Then you didn't know that Giles was reinstated?”

Trentham's eyes widened. “How…?”

“Long story,” Buffy drawled. “You seriously didn't know?”

“I'm afraid that lately, with all the changes in the Council, even old comrades are not at liberty to, nor willing to discuss anything pertaining to the active Slayer and Rupert didn't mention it when we met again in London. In fact the impression I was given, very
strongly I might add, was that he felt that you had no further need of him. In fact he felt he no longer served any useful purpose in your life; that it was time for him to find his own…niche.”

The colour drained from Buffy's face. “He said that?”

Trentham shook his elegant head. “In every way but the words,” he told her, his eyes meeting hers again. “There were a lot of things I didn't understand…until now. I came here because I want to help my friend and I knew I couldn't do it alone. He told me about you and your group.” Their eyes continued to hold.

“Where is he?” Dawn asked suddenly, the strength, and the strain of her voice cutting across the room.

The Englishman tore his gaze from Buffy's and stared for a long moment at the child before flicking his gaze back to the others.

“The demon he thought was a Jemm'ra was paid by the Council to disguise itself as one. My contact has since informed me it was a Kobi demon and my understanding from Celeste is that Rupert chased it into a portal, which closed behind them.”

“So what is this Kobi demon going to do with him?” Willow asked.

Trentham looked away. “The Kobi as a species are not known to be aggressive or to keep slaves, but the one he was following wasn't like the others. It had been here for some time, apparently a fugitive from it's own species.

“So the Kobi's resident psycho has Giles?” Dawn surmised darkly, startling the others.

The older man's eyes slid to his boots. “Highly astute of you, my dear. I rather suspect that Travers hired him to prevent Rupert from finding out any more about what really happened to Celeste's husband.”

“Then why not just kill him?” Tara asked darkly.

Trentham did not look up.

“I'm guessing the overwhelming non-response there means he could already be dead,” Dawn said acidly, turned and flew up the stairs.

“Way to go, English,” Buffy growled and flicked a glance at the witches. “And you guys. Big help.”

“We're helping right now,” Willow said uncomfortably. “Portal to the Kobi dimension coming up.”

Buffy looked thunderous before following Dawn upstairs.

She was back down a short time later but without Dawn. In anticipation of more hours of research, Buffy guided her visitor into the kitchen to make coffee and tea, only to have to respond a short time after that to a call from the living room.

“This is way better,” Willow announced as they filed back in. “This dimension isn't nearly as confusing or dangerous as the Jemm'ra world. The Kobi one is a lot like here, except with demons,” she finished self-consciously, her voice slipping back into the childlike quality it took on when Willow was uncomfortable.

“Okay, do whatever you have to do,” Buffy told her. “I'm going in alone.”

Everyone objected, Trentham loudest of all.

“You are the Slayer,” he objected. “You cannot just leave this world to its own devices while you go off on some crusade in another dimension! You don't even know for certain which one he's in!”

“Yeah, I'm the Slayer, but if something happens to me they'll call a new one. No big. I'm more replaceable than car parts these days.”

Trentham snorted. “I'm not just talking about death, girl,” he said as she passed him. “You are no longer involved in the succession. Unfortunately that now falls to your rather disturbed counterpart. I'm talking about being trapped, just as Rupert is, wherever Rupert is. Whatever happens there will be no new Slayer called. Killed or missing, without you this world is lost.”

“Yeah, well, it's not like it would be the first time,” Buffy said darkly. “All I care about right now is getting Giles back. The guys will patrol while I'm gone.” She turned back to Trentham. “You can help them if you want, but I have to do this and neither you, nor the Council are going to stop me. Right now I'm going to see a man about a Kobi demon.”


*******

“I told you last time you were here, my establishment has been on the up and up for some time. I don't do that stuff any more.”

Buffy snorted impatiently. “I didn't ask you for a list. I just want to know if there are any Kobi demons in town.”

“Oh. Short answer: yes,” Willy offered helpfully.

“Long answer?” Buffy hissed menacingly.

“One family unit. West side, Blue Surf apartments…I've done some business with the father,” he explained. “Nothin' illegal, exactly. Just…well, there's a market for some of their…herbal medications.”

Buffy's eyes narrowed. She could imagine what kind of 'herbal' medications.

“Name…?” she growled.

*******

When the door opened, Buffy wasn't sure what she was expecting but the human-looking child who answered it wasn't it.

“Hello,” she said carefully, smiling at the little girl. “Is your mother or father home?”

“Mommy!”

The yell was piercing, but produced the desired result.

The middle-aged, chestnut-haired woman looked Buffy up and down. “If you're selling anything we don't want any.”

“N-no. I'm not selling anything,” Buffy said uncomfortably. It would have been a lot easier if they were mean, ugly hostile demons she could beat up. “I um, I need some information and I was hoping you could help me. A friend of mine is in trouble and um, I'm told you might be the only people in Sunnydale who could tell me about the last person he was seen with.”

The woman tensed and her eyes hardened without disguising her fear. “Who are you?”

“My name is Buffy Summers,” she said without hesitation. “My friend is missing and I have to get him back,” Buffy repeated, but the woman was unmoved. “Okay,” she decided, meeting the woman's gaze. “You want the truth? My Watcher was last seen chasing a Kobi demon into a portal. I'm told the Kobi are a peaceful people and I'm also told that your family are the only Kobi in Sunnydale.”

The woman's eyes widened. “Watcher? You're the Slayer?” she demanded, looking Buffy up and down with visible scepticism.

“The one and only. Will you help me? I just want to know what happened to my Watcher.”

The woman opened her door wider and Buffy slipped in. The home wasn't any different to a thousand other homes, except for the distinctly herbal and musk scented air.

“We are a peaceful people,” the woman said. “My name, here, is Elizabeth. Why would your Watcher be chasing one of us?”

Buffy bit her lip. “This person was working for someone…someone i-in London, and the information I have indicates that this particular demon might have been um…unstable, kinda not like other Kobi.

The woman closed her eyes. “Do you have a name?”

“N-no. Only that it was a guy and he was disguised to look like a Jemm'ra demon.”

“We have been here for months,” she said, looking up at Buffy again. “Looking for our son. We didn't know where in this world he went, only that he came here about six of your months ago, to escape punishment in our own world, through a portal. It simply opened spontaneously one day, and was captured by one of our Mages. It has never been done before—capturing a portal, and so far this end of it seems to be far less unpredictable than the one which opens into our home world.”

“Punishment for what?” Buffy asked then hesitated. “I-if that's not too personal.”

“Jaif is sick. He needs help. He has been sick since he fell from a cliff two years ago during his initiation ritual. It took months for him to recover and he was never able to complete the ritual.”

“So the fall changed him?”

She nodded. “He's never been the same since. Jaif has done things…he is not our son anymore,” she added sadly. “We must get him home. There are ways to make him well again…if we can just get him home…”

“And I'm guessing he's not too happy about not getting initiated either? Guys really hate that.”

The woman nodded. “He has become obsessed with his failure to reach adulthood with his peers.”

“So do you think he went back to your world when he went through that portal?”

“I don't know, but my husband is there now. He went to see if Jaif has returned, and to bring back supplies.”

“So when are you expecting him back?”

“He was supposed to return this morning,” the woman disclosed reluctantly. “The portal usually doesn't stay open more than twenty-four hours.”

“How do you know it'll open here?”

“To protect our world, the Mage used magic that would link only our people…so that the portal could only open where a traveller from our world had exited it, or entered it. Would you like some coffee?”

Buffy sighed silently. She didn't want coffee, but it was as good a way as any to stall for time to see if the woman's husband would show. She nodded.

They had been talking sporadically for two hours about everything from vampires to child rearing, from the cost of living to life in the woman…Kaela's…world, when someone finally came through the front door.

“Frae!” Kaela cried, jumping up and rushing to the big man, who was flinging the door closed behind him.

“There was a storm. The portal wouldn't function until it was over,” Frae explained as his wife fussed. “It's been even more erratic than usual. The Bandral has been severe this past season, but no more so than right now, and it's making things bad.”

“But…” Buffy protested, then subsided when the big man turned to her, slipping into his demon features, leonine and unthreatening, despite the momentary fire that flashed in his topaz eyes. “Um, hi,” she said uncomfortably.

“There may have been a sighting,” Kaela explained. “This one is the Slayer. She says her Watcher chased a Kobi into a portal. He has not returned.”

“The Slayer? Here?” Frae growled, his face returning to its bland, bearded, human form.

“I just want to find my friend,” Buffy told him. “I'm sorry if I'm intruding, but I didn't know what else to do.”

Frae sighed. “Kaevar alone knows where they went. If the storm on my world disrupted the portal, the other opening could have been deflected just about any where.”

Buffy's eyes widened in shock and grew very bright. “Anywhere?” she whispered.

Any where,” he confirmed.

*******

Dawn arrived in a blood red bath of warm light. Giles opened his eyes and sighed. He was still there. The pleasant dream, in which he was in his own flat, admittedly yelling at Spike to leave Buffy alone, but still blessedly home, was just that. A dream.

He crawled out of the lean-to with its crudely woven leaf-roof and squinted at the horizon. So early…again. He didn't seem to be able to sleep past sunrise in this sodding world. If it wasn't the light from the huge sodding red sun, it was the roaring of whatever lived deep in the forest or the incessant morning cacophony of the bird-life greeting the dawn, or each other, or something…

The walk down to the stream took ten minutes. It had taken ten minutes each morning and evening since he'd arrived, almost without variation. It might not have been so bad, if his expanding square search of the place had revealed anything but more forest, more strange birds and creatures and an utter lack of any evidence of civilization. There had been neither plane, nor distant sounds, nor even a discarded wrapper or bottle cap to hint at the presence of sentient life. Not only that but not one of the creatures or plants he'd so far encountered were recognizable from any of his books.

He washed slowly, since he had nowhere to be, and knew that apart from widening his search until the sun grew too hot and the forest too humid, that there wasn't likely to be anything to do.

This was still the best time of day. There was already a sting in the sun's rays, but the air was cool and the water cold, clear and sweet. He threw some over his hair and rubbed his scalp before straightening again. His shirt hung open where the buttons had been ripped off by the demon he'd almost, but not quite, subdued before it knocked him cold, and his jeans were torn in one knee and filthy dirty. He'd washed his underwear a number of times, willing to go commando while waiting for them to dry in the interminably humid air of the forest, but hadn't been able to bring himself to do the reverse. Denim would take forever to dry anyway, and he didn't fancy meeting his always-possible demise in boxer shorts.

Bloody creature could have at least taken him prisoner or something, instead of just abandoning him in this forsaken place when the portal opened again, while they were fighting.

The last thing Giles could remember was seeing it begin to open. After that there was blackness, and then waking with a smashing headache and a veritable herd of tiny livestock crawling over his body as he lay in the rotting leaves and assorted plant matter on the forest floor.

It had taken three days for the weals from the bites to go down, but at least he hadn't been poisoned or developed any infections. And in all the time since then there had been no sign of another portal or another living being.

As he squinted up at the rising sun, his stomach rumbled. His glasses had vanished during the fight, not to be found again no matter how hard he'd looked in the deep carpet of humus and leaves where they had grappled. He supposed he would have to find himself some breakfast. Eating was a kind of Russian roulette, with no way to know what fruits or nut-like seeds were going to be edible or toxic to Humans. He'd found one new, palatable looking food each day since he'd arrived, but he'd only had the courage to test three beyond the basic sniff, scratch, lick test. He hadn't dropped dead yet, but the second one, rather like a purplish-blue plum, had given him a right old bellyache for hours and other…consequences…for most of the next day.

Today he would try the grain-sized grass seed he'd found in one of the clearings. It looked nothing like wheat or barley…probably more like miniature maize, except the cobs were white, tiny and the grain hard rather than soft and sweet. He pottered in the stream for another hour looking for suitable stones to grind with before heading off to collect enough of the seed heads to try an experiment.

When he'd finished his practise grind next to the stream, he was less than impressed with the results. Instead of fine white flour he had a flat river stone covered in crumbled seed, half-crushed stalks and the little flour-like substance he'd been able to produce had been severely reduced by the zephyr that had blown up while he was working, to flick most of it off in a mischievous puff of wind.

With a sigh he shifted until his back was to the wind, used a sharp pointed stick to scrape as many grains from the rest of the cigar thin, cob-like stalks onto his stone, until he had a big enough pile for his purposes. Soon he had a small pile of very sad looking flour, but at least this time it did look like rather crumbly flour, or meal, more or less. The next step was to mix it with a little water and to form what he optimistically hoped would be a kind of dough.

It worked, more or less. The smell made him hungry. Not quite something from home, but good after the relative carbohydrate starvation…as long as it didn't kill him. It took some time to make a small fire with the cigarette lighter he always carried. A former smoker, he'd never got out of the habit of having it in his pocket and it had stood him in good stead many times over the years…

The next problem was how to cook his small loaf. There was the possibility that the fumes from the material he was burning could just as equally poison him or the food, but he was using the same material with which he'd cooked the first thing he tried…a handful of small, flat, white mussel-like molluscs from the creek. He hadn't been ill, or perished from that experience, so with luck he would survive this too. In the end he opted for waiting for hot coals to accumulate enough to scrape out a hole in them with a stick
and bury the loaf in them. Not the most palatable option, but tried and true.

The aroma soon became mouth-watering. It almost smelled like bread. Almost. More perhaps like buckwheat pancakes intermixed with the smell of toasted-to-the-point-of-singeing sesame seed. Still, it was heavenly after days and days of either the bland shellfish or the other fruit he'd found, which could, with a little imagination, perhaps be called a poor man's passionfruit, despite the lime green colour of its equally tough shell. The pulp inside, when scraped out, had proved sweet and rich and enjoyable, but after days without starch, nothing filled him or stuck to his rather despairing insides.

His plan had been to have a couple of bites of his bread, and then wait to see what effect it might have on him, thus lessening the chance of fatal poisoning and at the same time hoarding the treat. By the time he'd finished the second mouthful, however, he was lost, consuming the whole dinner roll-sized flat loaf in moments. As cinder-encrusted and dry as it was, as different as the nutty, almost sesame flavour was, it seemed like the most wonderful thing he'd ever tasted as he devoured it.

Giles was still thinking about his breakfast an hour later as he reached one of his many perimeter markers, telling him exactly how far out he'd extended his search the previous day. Starting at it, he paced out approximately another ten metres and blazed a rough mark in the smooth trunk of a large, twisted tree, or what passed for one in his strange, fairytale forest, using a sharp stick, before setting off to see whether the day would bring anything new, or just more of the same.

By sunset he knew. All he had accomplished was to explore another thirty-foot wide corridor of forest around his campsite and expose himself far too much to the sun and heat. He hadn't even discovered anything new to eat or drink, or to look at. Just the same flowers, the same birds, the same rocks, and pretty much the same everything else, including another bloody no-show on the portal front.

The only thing he made sure to do was to pick another shirt-full of seed to mill. The shirt made a far better collection basket and when he returned, a few huge, flat green leaves from one of the forest palms twisted into a cone, made a fine, if temporary, storage device, wedged between two rocks and slightly off the ground, even though the slightly bruised parts gave off a faint aroma that reminded him of lemon.

If he were alive in the morning, he would have another filling breakfast and perhaps even convince himself to go stumbling around in the mud again looking for more of those shellfish for his lunch. He was tired of being hungry all the time, tired of the bites and scratches, the itching and the not being clean. His scalp felt like it had two inches of dirt on it despite his morning washes, his beard was beginning to itch, and he wasn't used to stinking quite so abominably. It irritated him that he felt such things quite so acutely. It wasn't terribly macho or manly.

He sighed. Of course neither was the overwhelming need to see her face again

He would just have to pull himself together. It wasn't like he'd been there for years, nor he hoped, was he likely to be. He had no desire to play Robinson bloody Crusoe in a lost demon dimension for the rest of his life.

He went to sleep in the nest he had made himself as the red-gold glow of the forest slipped into a pale blue-blackness, made eerie by the strange geometry of shadows created by the light of two moons.

In the morning he ground seed and cooked and ate his bread, but he didn't go back to the stream to wash and he didn't extend his search. Instead he stayed in camp and brooded. On his way back from his evening drink, he decided that there was something to be said for brooding as an exercise in dealing, or not dealing, with things, and that Angel might actually have had something.

The mood lasted until mid morning the following day, when hunger and thirst outweighed self-pity and he set off to visit the stream before finding something halfway decent to fill his stomach.

He was halfway through expanding his exploration of the area by another thirty metres when he encountered his first real carnivore.

The creature's eyes glittered like pale emerald gems, sending a shiver down his spine as they studied him lazily. For a few moments he contemplated sentience behind that seemingly arrogant expression, then dismissed the idea. It was summing up its options, no more, no less.

Giles summed up his. Tree climbing had never been a particular forte of his and neither had sprinting.

“Hello,” he said finally.

It blinked.

“You are a fine looking chap. You'd give your Earthly cousins a run for their money with that magnificent coat…”

It blew out an impatient breath, mesmerized by the temerity of its prey.

Giles swallowed. The giant cat was red-gold, with pale lemon flecking and a black mask around its eyes and down its elegant nose. Its ears were tufted and tiny on its jaguar-like head, and its tail long and expressive, with its almost constant movement.

It made a guttural sound that made Giles jump in adrenaline-fed fright, then took a couple of steps forward, muscles rippling under the tiger-sized hide.

“You don't want to eat me,” Giles continued, knowing that his verbalisations and failure to take flight were confusing the creature. “I'm all sinew and gristle. Yes, tough and wiry and probably quite tasteless, given that I've barely eaten for the last couple of weeks,” he babbled.

It snorted again, obviously growing impatient, and provoked by what Giles guessed was the very strong smell both of his fear, and his relatively unwashed person. Washing in mountain streams was all very well, but in terms of body odour, accomplished very little without accompanying soap or shampoo, or clean laundry for that matter…

His heart was thumping in his chest and the adrenaline was pumping so hard his fingertips actually pricked with physical pain. Only his intellect kept him from turning and running for his life.

Finally, just as the animal's body began to crouch, ready to spring, he launched himself at it, waving his arms and unleashing a blood-curdling cry. His scream was the scream of the mortally terrified, repeated over and over as he rushed towards what he firmly believed was going to be his doom, a flailing missile of rage, terror, and unexpected aggression.

Unprepared and startled, the creature cringed for a moment, then roared before leaping in a magnificent arc through the air, at right angles to his seemingly insane assailant, and disappearing into the bowels of the forest.

Giles collapsed on the forest floor, weak from the aftermath of his terror and the subsiding adrenaline, and feeling every absent calorie from the past couple of weeks. When he stopped shaking he pulled himself to his feet again. For all the demons, vampires and evil he had faced, none had ever been as terrifying or inspired such an incredibly primal response as the magnificent feline regarding him much like a tiger contemplating lunch.

There was a temptation to retreat back to his base camp, but he resisted it, pushing on, a little more briskly it had to be said, searching for food, signs of sentient life or of the portal itself. He wanted also to find a new water source, so that he could move camp and push into a new area without the need to track back so far each evening. The expanding square search was a legitimate, proven device, oft used by the military. It was, however, painfully slow, and his patience was finally showing signs of fraying, exacerbated by hunger, solitude and the lack of any tangible progress.

He didn't find any more streams or pools but he did stumble across a palm he hadn't seen before, loaded with what looked a lot like ripe, translucent dates. His shirt, which had more or less become his swag, was already filled with more seed heads and quite ruined, so he resorted to stripping one of the great palm leaves and curling it into another cone shape.

Armed with his prizes, he continued, absently identifying and in some cases, giving names to a number of plant species, trees and insects he'd seen almost every day since his arrival. By the time he returned to his camp, he was carrying not only the dates and seeds, but a bundle of long stems with which to make string, several wide, flat leaves to use as plates, and a beautiful pink flower he'd picked from a vine loaded with them.

Once he'd set them all down by his fire-pit, and decorated the lean-to with the flower, he drew his greatest prize from his jeans pocket. The large, wedge-shaped piece of flint-like stone had a natural edge and meant the difference between cutting the stems and going without them. He made it his first job to sit down with one of his grinding stones and very slowly chip the sharp edge of his new tool until it was as fine as he could make it.

The finished product was crude and probably wouldn't even have passed a boy scout's field test, he decided ruefully, but it would be invaluable, nevertheless, for use in even the simplest of those tasks that were beyond his bare hands.

The string making passed the time, crushing and splitting the stems and separating the fibre strands to braid later, the kind of mindless task that ate up the hours. By morning he had his first, simple length of twine. Once again it wasn't pretty, but it was strong and infinitely useful.

He chose not to go out again, since the weather had closed in and rain seemed the most probable result. He had also survived grazing on the dates on his way back the day before, and was pleased to add them to his small inventory of non-toxic edible plant matter.

After he had made more bread, more string and tried roasting some of the dates on stick, a relative failure, since without sugar they were so tart when heated they almost left his mouth in a permanent pucker, he decided that he was overdue for a bath. There was also the unfulfilled need to find something to carry and store water in. The forest wasn't exactly brimming with analogues to gourds or any other kind of plant that could be hollowed out to provide vessels. Not only that but his limited knowledge of the flora meant the very real possibility of tainting the water with anything he did use.

The stream was less inviting without the dapple of the sun on it. He stopped at the edge and popped one of several dates in his hand into his mouth. The normally clear water seemed inky and dark in the dull light of the overcast day. On previous occasions he'd explored it for more than five miles in each direction, as near as he could guess, without finding any sign of sentient life or any significantly better places to camp. In fact upstream it became vastly less hospitable, cut much deeper into the ground, with high banks, overgrowths of reeds and in some cases vast brambles, making it hard to even get to the water's edge. Downstream was more accessible, but unremarkable.

He reached the butt end of the date and screwed up his face. The first bitter one he'd eaten. He spat it into his hand, pit and all, and threw it into the water, only to jump back when something seemed to lunge from under the overhang of the opposite bank. It broke the surface in a flash of silver before taking the floating date, with its pit still embedded.

Intrigued, he moved closer to the water and broke up another date. By the time he'd pitched four pieces to the same area, he had seen enough to know that it was definitely some kind of fish and that the silver was a reflection off some glorious scales.

The very thought of grilled fish made his mouth water, but his expression grew rueful as he again reflected on the reality that he was no frontiersman, nor likely to give the Swiss Family Robinson any competition in the improvisation stakes.

Still musing about ways to catch the monster, Giles took off his clothes, uncaring now, in his depression, about squatting naked by the creek to wash them out. For a brief moment he considered the presence of the stream's newly discovered inhabitant, and then decided that if it hadn't already attacked him while he was wallowing around looking for stones and then mussels, it wasn't likely to now.

He alternated between rubbing his shorts and shirt and beating them on the large volcanic rock he'd set at the water's edge for the purpose until he was satisfied he'd done all he could in the name of hygiene, without resources. Sick of stinking, he was now even washing the jeans, which were almost done when a final bash on the rock tore loose the ripped leg.

He swore when he realised it was still attached only by the most meagre strands of fabric. Back at the camp, boxers hanging by the fire, he used his new tool to finish removing the leg and to hack off the other one, leaving him with denim cut-offs instead of trousers. The spare fabric from the legs was not wasted. With the ripped ends tied with pieces of his new string, they became small denim sacks for carrying food.

He surveyed his collection of supplies and usefuls and looked at the sky again. His lean-to wasn't going to be much protection against the rain, despite his best efforts to emulate designs from every documentary he'd ever seen about primitive rainforest peoples.

With his half-dry boxers back on, he organised the camp as best he could, ready for any downpour. He even rigged a small lean-to over his fire, which he'd banked with fuel,
hoping it might survive the rain, so as to save the fuel in his lighter. The palm leaves used to make the small canopy gave off a citrus-like aroma as they heated up, despite the distance he'd set them above ground from the pit.

When it came, it came hard. Giles sat under his reinforced lean-to, experimenting with his collection of string, fibres and stems and trying to ignore the inevitable drips. Within a few hours it had become obvious that his twine was never going to have the breaking strain to make a useful fishing line, despite its inherent strength when he platted the long threads together. The same went for half-executed plans for nets or fish traps to catch the great brute beneath the overhanging bank. The experimental fish trap he'd tried to make would, however, come in handy for hanging to store fruits or vegetables in.

Eventually he gave up and lay back, trying to come up with a different plan but his mind had other ideas, drifting back to Sunnydale and his old flat, the aroma of tea and warmed up blueberry muffins, a hot shower, a soft bed…

He sighed and wondered why he hadn't thought of his new flat in Bath. It was everything the tiny apartment was not, and yet the small Sunnydale flat continued to be the only real place his heart called home.

The faces of the others floated in his thoughts. He wondered how Xander and Anya were handling their new life together, if Willow and Tara would survive Willow's changing nature and values, and whether or not Dawn had settled down to school. He closed his eyes, oblivious of the clamping down of his mouth as he finally thought about Buffy. No matter what any of them had said, he had indeed followed his Watcher's training to its horrible conclusion, just like his father before him, and untold Watchers before that…

All of them eventually allowed a young girl to go to her death to save the world, unable to do a damn thing to shield or protect her and, in his case at least, never once able to tell her how he truly felt…

He closed his eyes tighter. She had been his whole life for five long years and in all that time he'd never once allowed himself or his heart, to be revealed to her. He'd always appreciated the irony that his Slayer's nature was so very like his own, that Buffy was no more capable of articulating her feelings than he. It made it that much easier for him to withhold his from her. It also made it infinitely more painful when a word or a smile, or the smallest acknowledgement from her might have meant the difference between taking, or not taking, that first drink last year…

Soon his mind was wandering back, as all minds were wont to do in idleness or in that place between waking and dreams, to all the most painful moments, reliving them, reviewing them, until he felt so wretched that he deliberately tried to focus his mind on the huge feline predator he'd encountered earlier in the day.

It worked for a few minutes, until, suddenly, he was thinking about Buffy again, and their last conversation before she died. He remembered what they'd said to each other word for word, even to the shouting. And he remembered that she hadn't answered when he observed that she must hate him. There had been so much pain between them that day; so much…and they hadn't spoken of it, even after her return, and his.

The rain started to ease and he shifted a little, uncomfortable about where his thoughts had gone from there. Vivid in his mind were her wide, beautiful eyes, the way they picked up the colours around her, shifting from soft grey, to blue, to the softest grey-green depending on her mood, and the tender, full lips, soft skin and even softer hair, the feel of her body as he had held her that day, feeling for the first time, the full unspoken strength of her need of him. Even if she had almost crushed every rib in his body…

He cleared his throat and shifted again. He'd known since Angel had left her that his feelings for her had changed into something much more difficult to hide. Known and buried them. He wasn't sure why they had surfaced right now.

She was young and beautiful and deserved the freedom and passion of youth, even with Riley, if he had truly been her choice. He had even come close to liking the lad, an infinite improvement over vampires and opportunistic louts like young Abrams. He'd certainly come close…but had never quite conquered the lurking jealousy that watching the commando with Buffy engendered, in equal strength to that which he felt watching her with Angel and later contemplating her experiences with the lamentable Abrams idiot.

Ashamed as he was of the knowledge, a part of him knew that on some level he'd always been jealous of any man who'd been close to her. From the omni-present Angel to the boy, Owen, his successor Scott something, to bloody Spike and his obsession, Giles had known jealousy and passionate dislike of all of them at one point or another.

Yet for how long had those tumultuous feelings been left deliberately undefined?

Too long…

He knew now the answer was all too simple: on some unspoken level she was his and they were usurpers, all. He would have stood by her until hell froze and beyond, and still would, if he thought it was what she wanted.

Choosing to leave again was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and the most necessary.

He had been willing to sacrifice Dawn in the fight against Glory, in order to keep Buffy from having to sacrifice herself. It was then that he knew that not only did he love her more than he'd ever loved anyone or anything, there was more, so much more. Living without her had been close to unbearable. But seeing her again, only to find her even more closed off than before her death, even less in need of him for anything other than a security blanket than ever before, was a pain…a heart ache, with which he could no longer deal.

So he'd run. Taken himself back to bloody England, to a lonely flat, a solitary life, and the beckoning of an equally empty, lonely future. Characteristically, Buffy had tried to stop him, evoked protestations from the past…

No. No longer could he heed the cries that she couldn't do it without him, without hurting her even more in the longer term…

He paused to blink away moisture, as his heart constricted painfully. Soon there were no more thoughts, just the pain. Finally, he made an angry sound and picked himself up impatiently, emerging from the shelter to find that the downpour had completely stopped.

The sun was out, and only the dripping from the trees and the roof of the shelter still sounded liking drizzling raindrops. The fire was very low, but still flickering. He drew fuel from his covered store and stoked it before his mind started to wander, looking to return to earlier thoughts. He stared at the rising flames, watching the tongues of green and blue, yellow and orange dancing on the various types of fuel and growing with every new degree of heat generated. When Buffy's beautiful face and tender bosom floated again in his thoughts he growled and stood up.

No more self-pity, no more. Instead, he picked up his stone blade, snatched his damp shorts from where he'd hung them in the lean-to, put them on, and collected his denim pouches before striking out towards the south, or what he'd designated the south, of his camp. On one of the few occasions he'd actually climbed a tree, he'd seen a rock formation in that direction, well beyond where he'd explored so far. He needed to do something, and what better time to do what he'd been putting off now for several days…?

He reached the open ground about twenty minutes after he'd blazed his last marker. He blinked. The area around the rocky tor was grassland. Not huge, but sufficiently different to the forest to make him blink again. He'd seen this phenomenon before. The Congo, which had died back and reclaimed it's territory a number of times, had the same cut off stretches of grassland in the midst of its endless forest.

Several of the grazing animals were entirely new to him, and for the first time he spied primates in some of the trees. Something was also moving on the rocks of the tor. After another longing gaze at the venison on the hoof, with care and much vigilance he made his way across the open area to the outcrop. The movements became scurrying and hopping. Small, shaggy four-legged creatures with horns bounded from rocky ledge to rocky ledge, and even smaller smooth, furry creatures hopped on their hind legs, their trilling cries obvious warnings to the rest of their clan on the granite-like tor. He wondered in passing what they would taste like, and if he would ever find a way to make himself a decent hunting weapon.

It took him two hours to climb to the top. He was glad of his residual fitness from training Buffy when he finally got there, blowing hard and feeling his muscles scream from the relentless exertion.

The view was sobering. In all directions, as far as he could see, was a carpet of dense forest bordered on one side by mountains, on another by what appeared to be ocean, while in all other directions the green carpet extended all the way to the horizon…

There still wasn't a single sign, not a plane in the air, nor tower or any kind of structure on the mountains, no light or beacon to be seen that might indicate that he was not alone in this forsaken place.

Giles sat down on a granite-like boulder to contemplate that. Spending the rest of his life, however long or short that might be, here in this place pretending he could make a passable Tarzan, Daniel Boone or even that idiot crocodile fellow, was beyond contemplating. He covered his face with his hands and sighed heavily.

Bloody typical…

The Powers That Be were never, ever going to stop making him pay for his youthful transgressions into Chaos and darkness...

*******

Dawn watched Buffy flipping channels on the television, sometimes so fast she couldn't have been taking notice of what was on the screen. The younger girl shook her head. It was wiggy enough that her sister had returned in such a depressed and listless state. It wasn't like the new Buffy had ever actually qualified at any point as 'cheerful'.

Since coming home she had said very little aside from the fact that it was going to be almost impossible to find Giles.

Anya had volunteered as much information as she could on demon dimensions and the Kobi world in particular, but it had been of little value without knowing where the portal Giles had gone through had opened.

Phillip Trentham had settled himself in a hotel and came and went in a rental car, with information gleaned from countless phone calls to England, as frustrated as the rest of them about the results of Buffy's inquiries. There had been no word of Jaif resurfacing in Britain, from Trentham's meagre demon and Council contacts, nor could his friend Celeste, now herself safely hidden from the Watcher's Council, add anything to what she had already reported witnessing.

“You want something to eat?”

“No,” Buffy said without looking up.

Dawn frowned. It was too early for Buffy to patrol, and there was little the Slayer could do to help Willow research, but it was obvious to the schoolgirl that her sister needed to be doing something.

“Suit yourself. I'm starving.”

Buffy did not look up from the miracle hair removal infomercial playing on the television.

With a sigh, Dawn turned to go and call…

She stopped, tears filling her eyes. Her first impulse had been to call Giles. Instead, she sniffed hard and went to call Xander.

She was on the kitchen extension when the back door opened.

“Niblet.”

“Call you back,” she told Xander swiftly and hung up.

“Spike. What are you doing here? You know how Buffy feels. You know what Giles said about coming to the house.”

“Yeah, well, the wanker isn't here, is he? Gave up the right to give orders when he picked up and went home to sulk.”

“Shut up, Spike,” Dawn growled.

Spike paused, surprised by the vehemence and emotion in her voice. She was genuinely upset about the old bugger.

“What's wrong? What's going on?” he demanded.

“Giles is missing.”

“Too bloody right he's missing—”

Dawn sniffed again. “No, I mean he's really missing. He chased a demon through a portal and now he's lost somewhere and there's no way to know what dimension he's stuck in.”

Not what the vampire expected to hear. “Bloody hell. So what's your sister doing about it?”

“Nothing,” she growled.

Again Spike was surprised. “Now that's not like the Slayer. Don't tell me none of you are doing anything?”

“Of course we're doing stuff,” Dawn retorted angrily. “Buffy went to see some Kobi demons a-and Willow's been researching like crazy and Anya helped and…”

“You don't have a damn thing,” he finished.

Dawn turned away and pulled out some coffee mugs and the cocoa. “No,” she admitted reluctantly.

“Kobi demons, you say?”

She nodded.

“Never seen one m'self. Heard of them. They've got quite the range of, well, 'recreational' substances, if you know what I mean. Nothing special to them, except as herbal medicine, but plenty of fun for the rest of us. So what did she find out?”

“That the one Giles was chasing is insane and that the portal they went through is unstable. There was a storm where it was supposed to open. The Kobi say the storm might have disrupted the portal. He could be literally…anywhere.”

Spike thought about that for a moment. “So where's the bugger he was chasing?”

Dawn shrugged. “Nobody knows, not even his family.”

“Yeah? His family?”

“Um, yeah. That's who Buffy went to see. They're the only Kobi demons in Sunnydale.”

“Is that right?” Spike lit a cigarette. “Where's your sister now?”

“In the living room. You better put that out,” she added.

Spike straightened and rolled his eyes before moving to the kitchen sink to butt the cigarette.

Dawn watched sombrely as his back disappeared through the door. In her current mood, Buffy would probably punch him on the nose…or do him on the living room floor. Her face screwed up.

“So…that looks intellectually stimulatin'.”

Buffy clicked off the demonstration of a stain remover. “What do you want, Spike?” she asked, picking up a cross from the coffee table, without looking up.

He stared at the top of the fair head. Her voice was flat and emotionless and she was behaving exactly as she had before their little interlude.

“You know, you never showed this much emotion about the blighter when he was ali—here, which is probably one of the reasons he left.”

Buffy looked up very slowly and blinked. It was clear that she was trying to process what he'd just said.

It amused him, because he didn't intend it to provoke any kind of real thought, only to annoy her. He long had more than a mild suspicion that the Slayer was more than just fond of her Watcher, even if the silly bint didn't know it yet. Not that he actually wanted her to realise it any time soon…

“He's not dead,” she said slowly, vehemently.

“Didn't say he was. So what are you going to do about it?”

“I can't do anything until I know where he is.”

“Really? Have you been to the Kobi homeworld, then?”

“No. Giles isn't there.”

“Oh, right, a demon tells you something and you believe it right off. Is anyone watching the family in case psycho-boy gets homesick?”

“What do you think?” Buffy muttered irritably.

“I think you should stop wallowing in whatever it is that you're wallowing in and start thinking with both sides of that tiny little brain of yours. In your limited experience, where do disturbed young individuals such as your favourite hair-gel, poofy boy in his natural state, first go to express themselves and their newfound penchant for sadistic violence?”

Buffy's eyes flashed with annoyance. “You think Jaif will go home?”

“That his name, is it? Couldn't say for certain, but if he hasn't already, it's as good a chance as any, and as predictable a reaction as any for your average self-respectin' creature of darkness.”

She sighed. “The only other place he might go is the Council, to get whatever they paid him to masquerade as a Jemm'ra demon, but he hasn't been back there either, as far as we know.”

“So get someone to watch the family, then you'll have everything covered.”

The blue-grey eyes focused on him.

“Oh no, no way,” he said quickly. “I'm just offering some common sense, not hours of mind-numbing boredom chasing down leads to find a poncy great wanker who begrudges me even a bowl of Weetabix, let alone proximity to either his precious Slayer or her kid bloody sister.”

The wide eyes grew larger and even bleaker. “Please,” she asked, so completely out of character that he said yes before he even realised what he was doing.


*******

“He hasn't been sighted.”

Buffy stared at the older, taller man. He looked jaded and tired but there was a comfortable familiarity about him that made it easy to listen to him.

“If he was around, somewhere, wouldn't he have reported in by now?”

Phillip Trentham rolled his eyes. “You would think so, wouldn't you? All I can tell you is that my most trusted contact assures me that the Council are just as interested in Jaif's whereabouts as we are.”

“Great,” Buffy growled then relented a little at the bleak look on her companion's face.
“It's not your fault. You couldn't know any more than Giles could, that a portal was going to open. I mean…I still don't really get how Giles ended up going through it. It's not like he was like, in a runaway car or something, you know? How hard is it to stop running when you see something that weird?”

Trentham half smiled before his face became sombre. “I believe there was a struggle.”

“Oh,” Buffy said softly, imagining for the first time a wounded, disabled, or worse Giles lying somewhere with no one and no way to get to him.

“We'll find him,” Phillip said immediately, surprised at the intensity with which she was radiating distress without as much as a tear or a single tremble of her soft lips.

“We will find him,” Buffy repeated vehemently. “I don't know how yet, but there has to be a way. Could there be some kind of locator spell for missing Watchers? Or people lost in other dimensions…or…?” She looked up suddenly. “Watchers and Slayers!
Giles and me…we're connected. Giles said it…when I was communing with my inner spirit guide-thingy, back before…well, anyway, he said he had to hand over his um…what was it? I know: his guardianship of me, for a while. There has to be a way to use that connection, maybe with magic, a spell, or something, so I can maybe even talk to him, find out where he is. You know, like me going on another one of those spirit journey thingies, but looking for Giles this time,” she babbled.

Trentham almost chuckled, but his eyes were bleak despite the amusement in them.

“You Americans watch far too much television. The bond you're talking about doesn't work like that. I wish it was that easy. I truly do.”

Hearts in their shoes, they both looked up as the front door flew open.

“Spike!” Buffy exclaimed as a blanket covered figure stumbled in, smoke rising from several different points as it straightened, and threw off the tartan rug.

“In the flesh, so to speak,” he grinned. “I notice nobody came to relieve me up at demon central,” he pointed out, miffed.

“Sorry,” Buffy said vaguely, not terribly sincere in her contrition.

Trentham was still looking more than a little incredulously at the smoking figure standing in front of them.

Spike tilted his head and stared back. “Council sent another bloody Watcher already? Name's not Wyndham-Pryce, is it?”

“Spike, this is Phillip. Phillip, Spike,” Buffy said uncomfortably, as Spike surveyed the tall, tweed-clad figure next to her. “Phillip is a friend of Giles'. He's the one who told us what happened. He's been helping.”

“Oh yeah,” the vampire drawled, turning to the other man. “What's in it for you, then?”

“Would you like me to kill it for you?” Trentham drawled as he eyed the bleached figure in front of him.

Buffy looked painfully self-conscious but covered it with humour. “No…no, that's okay. We've actually learned to tolerate him. He's kind of neutered, but not really housebroken.”

Spike was mildly outraged. “Oh very funny, Sweets. Tell the world about my problem why don't you? You know, anybody else would have asked me why I'm here by now. Are you sure you really want to find—?”

Buffy leaped up and thrust him back against the front door. “Don't push me, Spike,” she said between her teeth. “If you know anything you should have said so when you walked in, and if you do you'd better spit it out while you still can!”

“Oh that's gratitude for you,” he complained. “Drag my sorry arse all the way across to watch that bleedin' house for you lot and then spend days bored out of my mind, watching perfectly good meals go by while I get hungrier and hungrier, and what do I get from you?”

Buffy threatened very convincingly, to get rough.

Spike capitulated. “All right, all right. This Jaif character turned up a few hours ago. I wasn't sure until the door opened and the whole family seemed to get more than a little excited, all of them switching in and out of demon face until my head hurt, kids bouncing and squealing and carryin' on. It was some reunion. I don't speak the language, so I have no idea what was said but they were deliriously happy to see him.”

She let go of him and backed up a couple of paces. “You came all the way here to tell us you didn't find out anything?

“Now did I say that?” Spike drawled. “I had a little talk with him later, in my own time, my own way. He was very co-operative.”

Buffy shook her head. “It can't be that simple.”

“It isn't…yet,” he told her, unimpressed. “He is certifiably insane, this Jaif, but I spoke to him in the kind of language we all understand…beat him senseless, actually…well, not quite senseless… and I told him I'd off his family if he didn't spill the information,” the vampire added when Buffy looked at him suspiciously.

“And…?”

“Watcherboy has been in the Kobi home dimension all along. The storm disrupted the portal, causing it to open in a wilderness area, according to our boy. They were fighting. Jaif thinks he either knocked out or ki…well, anyway, he left the Watcher there in a hurry when the portal started to close.

The colour left Buffy's face.

Spike shifted uncomfortably. “Ay, this is supposed to be good news. If you're not careful you'll get stuck like that and everyone'll think you're a vampire.”

“How do we find this wilderness area?” she demanded, not reacting to his teasing.

“I think the real question is: how do we find a portal?” Spike drawled. “I think it's time to talk to the wicked wiccan and her sidekick.”

“I can't lose him,” she said softly, almost to herself. “I can't do this without him. I can't do any of it without him…”

Spike frowned, as much to cover the sudden sadness in his eyes as anything. Then, instead of replying, he lit a cigarette, much to Buffy's annoyance. He took a drag on it before looking up again, his expression now nearly blank. “Well, done my bit. I'll leave it to you, now,” he announced unexpectedly, drew the tartan rug over his head and was gone before Buffy could even raise her voice to him.

She blinked. Spike could be so weird sometimes.

Trentham, who was sitting quietly, finally spoke. “You must be the first Slayer to have a tame vampire,” he said incredulously.

“Actually,” Buffy said absently, “two. First one, there was the whole deal with the soul and the gypsy curse and the off again on again goodness. Second one: chipped and neutered very conveniently by the Initiative.” Continuing self-consciousness prompted her to go on, not quite truthfully: “God knows where his good intentions come from, though. It's not like they gave him a soul. Not so long ago he wanted my entrails on a stick. It's also not like he hasn't already killed two Slayers. But now? Now, he's…he's…well, he helps,” she finished awkwardly.


*******

Giles emerged from his lean-to as the red sun spread its dappled rays through the forest canopy.

Today he would find something decent to eat. That was his goal. Tomorrow he would scout a new campsite, but today was for finding some solid sustenance, to stop him from feeling any more lethargic than he already did. The fruit was upsetting his stomach more and more, but he had persevered with it in the knowledge that he required the nutritional value of them regardless of the…after-effects.

He pulled on the shorts but didn't worry about much else except his shoes, which were vital, as were his dedicated efforts to preserve his socks for as long as possible. Mobility was vital to his survival, which meant taking care of both his feet and their only protection.

Breakfast was another miniature loaf and water from the stream. As he drank, the monster fish broke the surface of the water as though taunting him then disappeared just as quickly.

He sighed at the thought of fried fish then sat up when there was another splash. He sat for long moments peering into the crystalline waters around the area of the noise, and eventually realised that he hadn't even thought about the possibility of smaller fish in the stream.

With the most excitement he'd been able to muster in days, he went upstream a little to dig some of the shellfish, then raced back to camp to snatch up his experimental fish-trap. He tied several opened shellfish inside, added a length of his homemade twine to haul it in with and happily set it in the stream near the reeds, before heading off on his quest for new food sources.

He passed many more examples of the fruit he'd been eating, and filled his sacks with seed, but even a couple of hours later had not sighted anything even remotely resembling a deer or a rabbit or even a decent rat. They were probably all in that grassland to the south…

There were also precious few birds around. He wondered if his scent or even just his presence had frightened them all away. After all he'd seen more than a few feathers on the forest floor, some of them quite beautiful…

Hunger and thirst were becoming an issue when he eventually decided to stop and find a place to drink at the stream. The undergrowth was much thicker this far downstream. A fact he had thought would enhance his chances of finding suitable poultry or game. Eventually, he decided to simply tromp through the narrowest section of reeds, since there didn't seem to be a single inch of bank that wasn't swallowed up by bramble-like overgrowth or reeds or thick, tall ferns.

He was about halfway through the reeds, which reached higher than his head, when a commotion of fluttering and bizarre half honking, half shrieking calls startled him. A bird that looked like a cross between a cape-barren goose and a vulture was racing at his lower body with a very nasty looking beak wide open in apparent temper.

He dodged it several times, trying to work out how he could despatch it, his mouth watering at the idea of roast goose, but it unfortunately proved that it was more than capable of flight the moment he lunged toward it, leaving him face down in the marsh water. Crestfallen, he hauled himself up and continued forward to almost stumble over a nest only moments later.

There were twelve large, blue eggs dappled all over with black flecks. He lifted a few of them and tested their weight, held them up to the light to check the contents. Finally he packed the six freshest ones in the seed in his pouches to keep them safe, and continued down to the stream's edge for his drink. He knew that if the bird was anything like it's Terran counterpart it would simply continue to lay until it felt it had produced its quota, and no harm would have been done. He sighed again. Roast goose…or whatever it was…would have been heavenly…if only he had a decent weapon…

He was almost back onto solid ground when he saw it. Another of the feline predators was sauntering down to the water either for a morning drink, or to perhaps find itself a goose breakfast.

Giles froze, but only for a couple of minutes, because it's magnificent head, nose raised to the almost non-existent breeze, had detected something. It turned its pale emerald eyes in his direction, making his heart beat an almost painful tattoo. With great care he slowly lowered his pouches to the dry bank and started to move very, very slowly towards the nearest trees.

The cat shook its huge head and snorted. Giles froze again and thrust a hand into his left pocket. At all times he kept three small but sharp rocks in it for just such a purpose. When it took its eye off him again to bite its own shoulder rather like a housecat, he took more steps toward the trees.

There were a lot of trees, but the majority were not climbable. They had lived too long and their lowest branches were far too high for him to reach. His only hope was a multi-limbed monstrosity that had branches, if they could be called that, all the way down to the ground. Getting to it, however, was going to take some artistic footwork and a modicum of luck, particularly since his companion was now fully focused, its head lowered and it's body coiled in preparation to strike as it stalked towards him.

This time even the more stunning beauty of the creature at such close quarters wasn't enough to stop him from turning and sprinting to save his skin.

Giles made it to the tree, just, and couldn't remember how he got about ten feet up it in just moments. For a long while he simply clung to the trunk trying to catch his breath and hoping he wasn't going to have a heart attack, while his hapless pursuer paced in frustration around his refuge.

A couple of hours later his companion was still contemplating its dinner, fortunately without any clue as to how to get it. Giles thanked God the branches of his tree were so numerous and so close together that it would be almost impossible for the huge cat to climb it the way many of its Terran analogues might have. He also added an irritable word or two about how stiff he was getting from not being able to move and having to hold on for dear life, not to mention a rider about the slowly growing need to pee.

Again he considered the rocks in his pocket. The first one missed. The second hit the beast in the shoulder, making it flinch and stop, startled. Giles aimed the third one and prayed. It hit the creature, not between the eyes, where he was aiming, but on the sensitive end of its nose. It roared in pain, and rage, and sprang off into the forest. Giles prudently decided to give it at least another twenty minutes to change its mind before giving up the high ground.

To pass the time he moved out on the branches enough to pick one of the flowers growing on a sort of strangler vine dangling from the canopy, almost to the ground. He'd been catching a scent the whole time he was up there and, as he suspected, it was from the flowers. The bloom was large, white and waxy with a purple flush at its centre and bright pink stamens. It looked vaguely like an orchid, but the back of the flower was bulbous and the perfume was far too strong.

Its scent was a cross between vanilla and honey, far too pungent up close for Giles' taste, but provocative at a distance. He guessed probably more so for the insects required to cross-pollinate them. When he finally let it go, he discovered his fingers were covered with a sticky sap-like substance. They smelled like the flower. He touched his tongue to them and felt his jaw prick quite painfully at the first really sweet taste he'd experienced since being lost.

The taste wasn't quite as overpowering as the smell. There was that hint of vanilla, but mostly, Giles decided, it was rather like particularly aromatic, though thin, honey. By the time he'd picked and dropped a dozen blooms, enough time had elapsed to be fairly certain the big cat wasn't lurking near by, especially since the bird had returned to its nest and a couple of ground birds, blue and brown, small and fat and partridge-like, had wandered down to the water's edge looking for moisture.

He made the ground as quietly as possible and crept back to his pouches, adding the flowers to them and slinging them over his shoulder, tied together as they were by more of his homemade string. In the process he inadvertently flushed the partridges, watching longingly and hungrily as they flew out of the undergrowth and back into the forest, before heading off to finish his expedition.

The only accessible protein he'd found so far on this trip were the eggs, which might or might not be edible, and he wasn't letting himself get too optimistic about the fish-trap. He craved something solid to eat, something that would allow him to sleep peacefully, instead of lying awake for hours listening to his stomach rumble.

It irked him that he hadn't been able to improve his weapons status. He knew enough from his museum days to at least be able to string a primitive but useful hunting bow, given the right materials, but neither his crudely made twine nor the type of timber in the area were conducive to amateur efforts to produce even the most primitive weapons.

After an hour of hiking he decided that he'd gone far enough. He'd picked fruit to stave off his hunger and thirst as he walked, but they didn't provide the kind of energy required for sustained marching after his little interlude earlier with the king of this particular jungle. Rather than cover the same ground, he chose to go back a different route to the camp, ever hopeful of finding something else to add to his larder on the way.

By the time he was just a half hour from his base, he'd filled another palm-leaf cone with a new fruit and for the first time, some promising-looking nuts, and was resigned to the fact he wasn't going to accomplish any more that day. Nor was he until he stumbled across a shrub he hadn't seen before. It wasn't its tiny yellow flowers, or long, slender fronds that caught his attention. It was the woody, pumpkin-sized base of the plant.

When he finally reached the creek near his camp and put down his booty to wade in and wash, he was filthy, stiff and tired. Half an hour later he had a fire going and had exchanged his cut-offs for his dry boxers before making another small loaf and burying it in the coals to cook.

The new fruit appeared to be edible, it's dark skin hiding golden, juicy flesh. One of the nuts when crushed smelled bitter enough to decide him to discard them immediately. The other reminded him of Brazil nuts, which were not a favourite, but seemed as though they were safe enough. He hoped so, he mused ruefully, spitting out the half he'd chewed up as a test.

Next he considered the cooking of his eggs. He'd have given anything for a frying pan or even a small saucepan. In the end he settled for setting one of his grinding stones in the middle of the hot coals and letting it heat up. Selected in the first place for the small hollow at its centre, it held one egg…just…provided he paid attention and, using a mussel shell as a scraper, didn't let it run.

Giles watched the pinkish 'white' of the egg solidify around its reddish yoke and wondered if he was expecting too much, though it smelled fine, along with his almost cooked seed meal.

Two eggs tasting rather like rich duck egg and old cheese, a seed meal cake sweetened this time with honey from the 'vanilla' blooms, and several 'passionfruit' later, he sat back contentedly. A few weeks ago he would have found the motley, strange-tasting, cinder and grit-embedded meal fairly appalling, but tonight it was a feast. Provided the eggs didn't make him sick later, he had found another source of protein, besides the interminable and boring mussels, and, judging by his current level of contentment, he would sleep very well for the first time since his arrival. First, though, he needed to go down to the stream to drink and to wash up.

The water looked almost blood red, in one of the most vivid sunsets yet, as he drank his fill and washed his face and hands. He was about to rise when he realised that despite a lack of breeze, a significant section of the stand of reeds nearby were waving about furiously. It took a moment for him to realise why.

Within moments he was hauling his little fish trap in. The mussels inside had been stripped clean but at least one of the feasters remained to reward him for his efforts.

The sleek silver three-pounder, though similar to its Terran fellows, was unlike any fish he'd ever seen before. It was, however, with its row of black lateral markings and dusky pink underbelly, a handsome beast. It had been prevented from escaping through the hole that had already appeared in his handiwork, probably through the weight and efforts of it, and other small fish or creatures caught in the net that had since escaped. Giles' prize had inadvertently gilled itself on the cords, due to its larger size. He took both trap and fish back to his camp, inordinately pleased with himself. He would have his fish for breakfast after all, if he could keep it fresh enough until then.

The answer, he hoped, was gutting it, wrapping it tightly in wet palm leaves and burying it in the cool earth under the layers of forest debris.

When he woke in the morning his first thought, as always, was about home, and his second, as he watched the sun free itself of the horizon, was about Buffy. The momentary memory of her face, of her voice teasing him while they were training, made him smile, but only momentarily. As he walked to the stream his eyes grew bright and the lines in his face seemed a little deeper.

It wasn't until he rebuilt his fire that he remembered the fish. It was still fresh, if a little tainted by the citrus tang of the bruised palm leaves, but he had no way to fillet or fry it. Finally, it got the same treatment as his bread.

When it was done he retrieved it and pulled the flesh off the spine, discarding the cinder coated skin. The firm white flesh would have been heaven lightly fried in butter, but he savoured every mouthful, amused that for once something there tasted about the way it looked…like very good trout with a touch of lemon/lime.

When he was done he actually felt over full, but it was a good feeling. He followed it with a decision that made him feel equally good. He would not go out today. He would stay in camp and rest. He had food, and he needed to turn the plant he'd found the day before, with the bulbous base, into some kind of vessel, if it proved safe enough. If it contained white sap, or alkaloids, he'd have to throw it away. He fervently hoped that wasn't the case. He desperately wanted something with which to keep water in the camp, and, if the experiment worked, something to mix things in, to eat his meals from, and to make decent storage vessels for the grain, fruit or nuts he collected.

He sighed to himself. He really was turning into an old woman…

And with that thought, Giles snorted…and did something he hadn't done since arriving in this endless green prison: he went back to bed.


*******

“We can open a portal,” Willow confirmed. “But we can't guarantee where in the Kobi homeworld it'll open. I…I mean we…I mean we're good, but not that good.”

Phillip sat down quietly, and dropped his hands between his knees. Spike rolled his eyes and Buffy turned to prowl the room.

“It doesn't matter,” she growled. “As long as I can get there, I'll find him.”

“You're not going alone!” Spike objected in chorus with Xander and Dawn.

“Why not?” Anya asked ingenuously.

“What about g-getting back?” Tara asked, a little unnerved by Willow's silence. “I mean, how will we find you to bring you back?”

“I think I can take that one,” Buffy said slowly. “Jaif's portal doesn't stay open any more than 24 hours, pretty much. And a Kobi Mage used magic so that the portal would only link Kobi demons…so where they enter or exit is where it will open or close…unless something destabilises the entrance, that is,” she added uncomfortably.

“Then I guess it depends if we can make our own portal, or if we're just opening the existing one,” Tara mused.

Willow frowned. “I think this spell just finds one that's already there. I don't think it's powerful enough to actually create one. I don't think we're powerful enough to do that…yet,” she added almost inaudibly.

“But the Slayer isn't a Kobi demon,” Spike pointed out. “And if the portal works at all for her, she'll still have to be back at the entrance within 24 hours, to go through before it closes, or she might never find it again.” He stared back at them when they all looked at him, wide-eyed. “Well it's not like she can bloody-well phone home if she's lost, now is it?”

That snapped everyone out of their daze.

Buffy focused on Willow and Tara. “I-I know how hard this is for you guys, but I have to do this,” she told the two witches. “It's Giles. Make it happen.” She turned to the others. “There are too many risks to take anyone with me. It's not like I'm actually helpless here, guys. Slay-girl, remember? Besides, I've already been dead twice,” she said dryly, though without a smile in her eyes. “Three times would just be tacky.”


*******

Buffy dodged the quarterstaff expertly, her hair flying in a blonde cloud as she spun out of the way. In moments she was lunging at him with her own weapon, a sheen of sweat across her bosom slightly adhering the sheer white blouse she was wearing to her curves. It was a favourite, both of hers…and his, but he hadn't seen her wear it in a very long time…

“Hey!” she laughed. “You're supposed to be concentrating, Watcher-guy.”

Giles dodged the thrust and parried her downwards stroke as he focused again. The battle continued for several more minutes, his eyes continuing to wander. It was difficult for them not to. For a start they were in his library, yet Buffy looked, if anything, even more of a woman than the last time he saw her…and she was happy. He couldn't remember the last time she was happy, only that he missed that part of her terribly. Hearing her laugh and tease like this, and watching her grey eyes dance, made his chest tighten and his throat hurt.

Finally, after another flurry, she swept his legs, though for once unexpectedly careful not to bruise, and seated herself on his chest after he hit the ground.

From his new perspective he watched the tender, firm curves heave breathlessly, aware for the first time that she wasn't wearing anything under the silky blouse.

“So, I win again. Do you give up?” she asked gleefully.

“I'm thinking about it,” he told her, smiling in spite of himself, unable to resist the radiance of her joy.

Her eyes danced. “You sure you're not enjoying this way too much?”

His mirrored hers. “I think perhaps I am,” he said softly.

“Me too,” she told him, trailing her fingers down his cheek.

The touch electrified his skin, made his breath catch in his throat.

He stared into her eyes. “Buffy…” he croaked when he saw the light in them…for him.

She smiled tenderly. “Giles,” she mimicked playfully, then let her expression grow more serious. “Giles…”

He woke with a violent start just as her lips caressed his.

It was not yet dawn. The air was cool and something in his bed of leaves was sticking in his back.

Even as he sat up and touched his fingers to his mouth, he could still feel her breath on his face, the warm velvet touch of her lips against his. Most shattering of all, he could still hear her voice...

He stared desolately at the burnt-out fire, emptiness echoing inside him, until he felt nauseous. In all his dreams or nightmares about Buffy, there had only ever been endless metaphors for losing her. Whether violent or fantasy, abstract or exaggeration, it was always about losing her…

But until now he'd never dreamed…never even imagined that she could ever…that he might…

He closed his eyes for a long moment, hearing her say his name over and over in a way he could never, ever hope to hear in life, never even let himself imagine…

And then he was out of the lean-to, moving to his morning chores with deliberation, mechanically starting a fire, eating a fruit for the moisture, grinding meal, going to the stream. When he returned he chose not to eat breakfast, setting to work instead on the job of making himself a vessel. With only his stone tool as an implement he knew it was going to be long, tedious and difficult… which was exactly what he needed to occupy his mind for a time.

Several hours passed before he moved again. His plant had been trimmed of all growth, a small circle cut out of the top of the bulbous section and a few centimetres hollowed out inside. It had been even slower going than he expected. The core was more woody than pulpy. The small good news was that the little sap to be seen was clear and probably safe enough. With luck he would, eventually, have his own bowl, even if it took a week or two to finish it…

A week or two…

Suddenly he got to his feet, threw the plant across the camp and his stone knife into a nearby tree trunk, taking a piece out of it before the rock dropped to the ground. Unrepentant, he stared at it for a few moments before wheeling and striding back to his lean-to.

He sat and brooded miserably over his lot and ignored his own disapproval of the wave of self-pity that surged through him at the idea of even another day in this place, much less another week, year…lifetime. Lord knew how much time had passed back on Earth since he'd left…

Without warning his heart constricted into a little ball, pain shooting through his body and closing his throat. The very concept that all he loved…all that he held dear…might already be dead and gone…that he might have lost her again before he could even look one more time into those eyes, beyond bearing…


*******

“No, I'm telling you, they don't know. Just wilderness. The sodding demon said it could only be one of two places, because of what was growing there. If the portal doesn't open in the right place, you'll just have to use those delightful powers of persuasion of yours to convince the locals to tell you how to get to them.”

“You said I only have 24 hours. What if it opens, like, thousands of miles away?”

“Then you'll have to come straight back, pet, because you sure as hell won't be able to do anything for him on that trip. If we can get you back, we can try again. Any stupid stuff, and we lose both you. Understand me?” Spike shook his head. “Be careful,” he added, and left without another word.

Buffy turned to the two witches. “Can you use whatever bond there is between Giles and me to do something…I don't know…anything that'll make the portal open where Giles is, one more time?”

“Buffy…what you're asking…” Willow said doubtfully, but Tara looked thoughtful.

“When we did that location spell…you know, the one I messed up when I was scared…that book…it had other spells: 'finding' spells.”

“I don't know if that book is powerful enough…I mean I didn't get it from Gi…uh…”

“Does every spell you want to do have to be some bad-ass mojo from another off-limits book you swiped from Giles?” Xander demanded, for once out of patience with his friend. “Been there done that, look what it got you. What if Tara's right?”

Willow went to find the book. When she returned, however, it was to dump the book in her lover's lap and scowl ferociously at Xander before returning to her preparations to conjure the portal.

Tara began to search immediately, Buffy looking over one shoulder, Xander the other.

“It's gotta be that one,” Xander announced less than half an hour later.

“Let me finish,” Tara told him absently, in a voice with more authority than any of them had heard before.

“Yeah, let her finish,” Buffy teased, but her eyes were riveted to the page. It was a spell designed to reunite lost lovers, but it was the only one so far that even vaguely fit their parameters, and, according to the index, the last two chapters were almost entirely devoted to the location of lost objects and specific items, from precious metals or stones, to water and sources of mystical energy.

Xander, however, was persistent. “I mean, lovers can also be people who love each other, right? And you guys kinda love each other, right? I mean, we know the G-man must love you…I mean who else would have stayed around that long…ah…I didn't mean that the way it sounded…”

“Yes you did,” Buffy chided, amused, despite the momentary clouding of her eyes. “Dying gives clarity to a great many things, not least my gruesome past. Look-it, I saw everything I was, everything I did, when I was dying. I know now that a lot of what I hated…or regretted…most about me, wasn't my fault. On the other hand, I'm also starting…finally…to understand all the things I should have known, should have done, should have understood…and didn't...”

She looked away when she realised how uncomfortable everyone looked.

“I always loved him,” she said softly. “He's a part of me. I just didn't know how to do everything else, be what I had to be, and love him too. Everything I love leaves me, or dies…I couldn't lose him…do you understand?” Her voice broke at the last. “I can't lose him.”

Tara, watching her face, nodded. “I think the spell will work.”

Willow looked up from the herbs she was mixing. “You'll have to do it before the portal is open, so that Buffy's energy directs it to where Giles is.”

Buffy watched her friend quietly. “Will? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Sure. I'm fine,” she said a little too brightly.

“She's mad at me,” Xander clowned and dropped into a professorial tone. “Which is a state in which I've become used to existing in periodically over the last fifteen years or so.”

Willow ignored him. “I'm okay,” she repeated, despite the hunted look in her eyes. “Tara won't let me…you know. And oh…I'm ready.”

Tara spoke up then, smiling reassuringly at her lover. “Um…this spell needs a part of Giles and a part of Buffy…”

“You mean like body parts…?” Dawn asked, screwing up her face.

“No, the usual clichés would do…hair, fingernails, drops of blood,” Willow said almost bitterly, lighting candles, one at a time.

“Uh…you're forgetting one thing, guys. Giles isn't here. Not only that but he doesn't even live here any more,” Xander pointed out, disappointment making his sarcasm sharper than was actually intended.

“No!” Buffy jumped up, agitated. “There has to be something…!”

“I don't know,” he shrugged. “In the movies they get hair from combs and brushes, blood on a handkerchief from some kind of wound…”

“This isn't a movie,” Tara muttered, her mind racing. “Buffy, do you have anything of his? Did he leave anything?”

Buffy shook her head slowly. Then her eyes widened and she flew up the stairs. Moments later she was back with a pale blue blouse.

“I've had to throw away a lot of clothes after fights and stuff, but I like this blouse too much to get rid of it. It has a mark…see…here…” She pointed to a pale stain the size of a penny on the shoulder where it would be hidden by her hair.

“Blood?” Tara guessed.

“Hah!” Xander exclaimed. “I knew it.”

Buffy nodded slowly. “We were training. There was a problem and I was being obnoxious girl with the sparring, and Giles was taking it all, like always. I was mad about something and I got madder and rougher when he didn't respond. In the end I kinda got carried away and he zigged when he should have zagged, and got a bloody nose.” She handed the piece of clothing to the girl.

“It'll have to do,” the young witch said, again sounding more self-assured than any of them remembered. “But it would be better if yours was flowing,” she added, looking pointedly up at Buffy. “Xander, get a knife from the kitchen.”

On his return, Xander handed the carving blade reluctantly to Buffy. “Be careful,” he admonished awkwardly.

She smiled back just as awkwardly.

Tara handed back the blouse. “When I tell you to, press Giles' blood to your own and repeat everything I say after that,” she instructed. “Willow?”

“Ready,” Willow confirmed.

At that Buffy drew a deep breath and slid the knife blade purposefully across her wrist.

“Ready,” she said.

*******

It was mid afternoon when Giles finally stirred himself again. He'd done a lot of thinking while he was lying there, before the warmth of the morning had lulled him into dozing off.

It had been logical up to now to make himself a base where he knew there would be food and water, and very close to where the portal had last opened, but he couldn't stay there forever. Not if he wanted to preserve any shred of real sanity, or reasonable physical condition. He'd already lost several kilos, not that he was missing any he needed yet, but it was only a matter of time…

No, the time was coming when he was going to have to start down stream, to try and walk out of the jungle-like forest. Even if it took months, the dense growth did, inevitably, have to end. And if there were going to be signs of settlement, or any kind of sentient life, they were going to be near the water. Pity the stream was little more than a creek, or he'd have made a small raft and floated down. His forays along its banks had already made it clear that he'd be spending more time dragging a raft than riding it.

He sighed and swallowed, then scowled, his throat dry from thirst. Until he could find a way to store water in his camp, he was always going to be frustratingly thirsty between trips to the stream.

Camping any closer to the water, however, was out of the question. The insects were appalling, and there was the ever-present danger of carnivores coming down to the stream in the early morning and late afternoon, both to drink and to hunt whatever else might be thirsty…

On the way through, Giles kicked the plant he'd started carving. The bloody thing was so woody and dense it was going to take an eternity with his stone knife to hollow out. Pity real life wasn't like the cinema, or even the classics. The Swiss Family Robinson wouldn't have had any trouble finding gourds growing, or giant clamshells, coconuts or conveniently shaped giant bamboo segments to store, gather and cook their food in. He'd loved the book as a small boy, despite its imaginative rewriting of known geographical and zoological detail to suit the breadth of the adventure. Right at that moment, however, he would have thoroughly enjoyed cuffing the author in the ear with a, preferably hefty, volume of his own book.

His stomach rumbled as he bent to drink, and he cursed his own inefficiency for not having his fish trap repaired and set again. Somehow his enthusiasm for ash-encrusted, tasteless lumps of baked seed meal, tart fruit and oily nuts had waned considerably.

He would give his right arm for a cup of tea, a jelly donut…and a hot shower…

Giles took his time over his morning bath, soaking and scrubbing the grime from his body and his hair. After despairing for a time, he'd gotten very good at it, and felt rather good when he waded out and picked up the wet boxers he'd already rinsed and decided in an act of petulant defiance, not to put them on while they were still dripping. The warmth of the morning sun soon warmed up his cool flesh as he made his way back to the camp.

Halfway there, however, things went awry. An enormous surge of power flung him off his feet and into a tangle of undergrowth, blue light and crashing electrical energy swamping the whole area. His second last conscious thought was that he'd been struck by lightning while naked.

And his last was: bloody typical


*******

Buffy pressed the bloodstain into her bleeding wrist until the pain was palpable and repeated each phrase as Tara chanted. Every word felt like a heartbeat, faster and faster until her wrist was throbbing, the connection blossoming into an overwhelming, searing presence.

“Giles…” she whimpered softly when the last words were uttered and Willow gave the command.

Reality faltered, and the room became a blinding blue entity, without form, without substance…only amorphous surges of energy grasping and enveloping her. For a moment she struggled and then, between breaths, she wasn't.

And then she was…and the world had turned green.

Buffy blinked and shook her head, turned in panic, then exhaled heavily. Behind her, the portal had contracted to a small blue pulse of light, but it was still there.

Relieved, she reached out experimentally and grazed the light with her fingertips, watching, fascinated, as blue tendrils flared and embraced her whole hand. She pulled back quickly, and turned, cradling her throbbing wrist, her heart dropping as she realised that Giles was still missing.

He should have been there. A part of her had harboured the hope that the portal would open and he would be there, look up and see her…and smile. And they would go home together.

Instead the place looked like something out of a Tarzan movie and there was no sign of Giles, or of anything other than jungle and creepy crawlies and…more creepy crawlies.
After a few steps her wrist began to burn and the throb turned to pounding. She rubbed it and looked around.

But there was nothing…

Several yards away she found what looked like the remnants of a campsite. There wasn't anything to say definitively that Giles had been there…except…just maybe the torn pants-leg tied at the bottom, hanging on the side of the lean-to. She went straight to it. Pity he no longer wore tweed. Would have made it much easier to identify in these days of so many demons spending so much time on Earth, living like Humans, wearing Human clothes…

Then she touched it.

Her arm throbbed and that connection flared. Her eyes widened at the strength of it.

Definitely his…

She looked around, unable to shake the thought that he wasn't in them, and trying desperately to block any thought of losing him…of never being able to tell him.

There was only one other path out of the small clearing and it looked well used. Buffy followed it to a pretty stream and didn't try to hide her disappointment when he wasn't there either. Still blinking away moisture, she hiked some distance upstream without finding anything, then the same distance in the other direction before returning to the campsite dejectedly.

She heard it just as she was about to pick up a strange, vandalized plant.

The big cat stared at her through the undergrowth, two large emerald eyes flashing in the filtered sunlight.

“Uh-oh.” She straightened and backed away. “Nice kitty.”

It shrugged its way out of the bushes and padded into the open without taking its eyes off her.

Buffy backed up a little more. “You…you aren't a nice kitty, are you?”

It growled low in its throat, as though agreeing with her, and continued to stalk toward her.

Only a few yards away, Giles stirred at last, groaning as his head throbbed, then freezing when he heard the low growl. He was on his feet and staggering towards his camp on adrenaline-autopilot, before he realized what he was doing. Another growl pinpointed the beast's location. He stopped at the edge of his campsite, stunned.

“Oh God, Buffy!”

She turned and gasped. Giles! Alive! Naked, bearded Giles…but alive…!

The cat turned towards him and sprang. Buffy moved almost instantly, intercepting it in mid-air, much to the horror of the barely functional Watcher.

“Buffy!” The cry was torn from him again.

But she was too busy, arms and legs wrapped around the huge, muscled body until they both hit the ground, then her hands were clutching its head desperately, trying to prevent it from wrapping its great jaws around her throat.

Buffy used all her strength, and one foot as a lever, to roll them both so that she was on top. As it thrashed she squeezed her knees together with all her Slayer strength.

Frantic, Giles scrambled across the camp to find his stone knife and ran unsteadily back to where Buffy and the cat still struggled, the Slayer's back slashed through her shirt now from the feline's frantic back legs trying to dislodge her and her arms locked straight, trying to keep it from tearing her jugular out.

Then he heard the crunch. The cat let out a horrifying howl of agony and its back legs went limp.

Buffy sobbed and twisted the helpless animal's neck swiftly, so that it didn't suffer any more than necessary.

Only a couple of feet away, Giles dropped to his knees then collapsed in slow motion.

She made a desperate sound. She had missed him so very much, even before he'd gone missing. Nothing had been the same without him. She slid to her knees beside him, unheeding of her own wounds.

Dawn was right. A part of her had been missing. A big part of her…

Buffy frowned as she looked him over, unconsciously shaking her arm to relieve the agonizing pounding in her wrist, the searing of the skin. And then it registered. She raised it very slowly to stare at it, the first flicker of real recognition flaring in the grey-green eyes before they widened in stunned shock. How could she have been so incredibly blind all this time? And why the hell did Spike, even when he was being a total creep, always see things so much more clearly than everyone else?

All this time…! her mind echoed accusingly.

His body was warm to her touch and his breath tickled the spit-dampened fingers she held under his nostrils for a moment.

Frantically, she stroked his face, his brow, pushed his hair out of his eyes so that she could see them, all the while talking to him softly, calling to him. He didn't rouse.

“Giles!” she called more loudly and lifted him by his shoulders. His hidden, stubble-covered cheek was scratched, and there were more scratches and grazes on his chest as she turned him. He was still damp, including his hair. That was why he was naked. He must have been bathing when the portal opened. She called his name again as she tried to prise his boxer shorts from his hand and tried not to think about the other.

Beneath their lids, his eyes began to move and the fingers tightened on the shorts.

“Giles…Rupert!” Buffy called again, willing him to wake up, hoping the shock of hearing his name on her lips might jolt him somehow. It had certainly jolted her…

Finally, his eyes flickered open.

Giles blinked. He had a headache that would fell an elephant, and the light hurt. He squinted.

“Giles?”

His breath caught, adrenaline shooting through him. He was still hallucinating. He had to be. It wasn't possible. He wasn't even in the right country…er…whatever. Perhaps he was concussed again…

He focused. “Buffy…?” he breathed, his fingers reaching out unconsciously to touch her cheek for a moment. “My God…how…?”

“Long story,” she said tenderly. “I've missed you so much.”

For a long, long time Giles simply stared. A part of him wanted to reach out and drag her to him, to cry out with joy, but it couldn't be. He had to be hallucinating or concussed or worse.

Buffy saw the doubt in his eyes and slid her hand into his.

He started to smile. Then colour flooded into his lean, pale face and the smile faded. He lifted her hand to look at it, carefully tracing the scarring on her knuckles with a trembling finger before letting go.

She watched him visibly withdraw, at a loss to understand why.

In turn he watched her grey-green eyes grow shuttered and cool.

The silence grew into a long and painful thing.

“I missed you,” she repeated finally, unable to bear it any longer.

The green eyes flicked warily up to hers. “And I you.”

Buffy shrugged. “And here we are.”

He closed his eyes. “And here we are,” he repeated.

“Giles…?”

He searched her face, the hurt in her eyes, the confusion. How could he ever tell her the real reason he left…?

He looked away again, then frowned and looked down at himself. His eyes widened and the colour drained from his face once more.

“Good lord!” he exclaimed, mortified, and rolled onto his stomach again, groaning loudly when the movement made his head hurt more.

“You wouldn't let go of your shorts,” she told him ruefully.

“Should've got dressed. Damn stupid thing to do,” he muttered.

When he closed his eyes she stared for a long moment, then found herself stroking his hair again. “It doesn't matter. Let it go,” she said softly.

He lifted his head again, surprised, and turned it to look at her curiously.

She smiled self-consciously at him, remembering her reply to Spike, a part of her wanting to snatch her fingers away. “I can't believe I found you. It seemed so impossible.”

“Nor can I,” he agreed, warmth returning to his eyes in spite of himself. She was so much more alive than he remembered. “I just wish I'd been better dressed for the occasion.”

“I don't know,” she teased, finally pulling herself together. “Looking pretty good there, well, except maybe for the beard and the…um…soapless-ness. Are you feeling well enough to put those shorts on so I can help you out of here?”

He nodded sheepishly. He would have said yes even if he'd been about to pass out.

Buffy withdrew a little and turned around.

After considerable rustling and some muffled swearing she turned back. He had the damp shorts on but he was on one knee, breathing heavily and looking decidedly green.

Without thinking, she went straight to him, knelt, and felt right through his hair from his temples to the back of his neck, looking for a bump.

“Are you concussed again?” she asked, worried.

Giles, whose eyes had closed again, not from pain this time, shook his head very gingerly. “I'll be fine. I was just knocked out earlier. Nothing lasting, just another bloody headache.”

She withdrew her fingers, trying not to think about the intimacy of the contact or their nearness to each other.

He, too, grew awkward, looking down at the ground, clearing his throat and looking up again, endearingly reluctantly.

Buffy smiled again, unaware both of the radiance lighting her face, or the warmth in her eyes. She had missed him so very, very, much…and her heart was beating so very, very fast…

Headache subsiding at last, Giles stared, too mesmerized to smile back.

“Oh, Buffy…”

He was barely aware that he'd spoken aloud, but she heard the wistfulness, the need in those two words, even as she felt the pounding of her wound redouble, her skin burning like fire as warmth spread right through her. Blood trickled down her arm.

Impulsively, perhaps instinctively, she reached out and laid the bleeding wrist against a deep scratch at the base of his throat.

Giles gasped as the fire spread to his skin, the pounding like drums against his chest.

“Dear God!” he managed before the sudden, extraordinary connection finally subsided to a vibrant, yet infinitely comforting presence.

Buffy shook her head then hesitated, as though a little frightened of her own actions.

“Dear Giles,” she corrected softly and whispered, “I knew it was going to hurt when you left. I just didn't know how much,” before laying her cheek against his rough one.

There were no words. If he were dreaming, then let his life be a dream. Nothing on Earth could make him let her go again. He slid his arms around her and crushed her to him as her embrace became fiercer.

A few moments later he chuckled.

“What?” she asked warily.

“You remembered. Last time you didn't know your own strength.”

“Last time I was so glad to see you I'd have gladly curled up in your arms and stayed there, forever. I didn't get it then, but I do now, finally. Giles, I don't want to live without you any more.”

Giles stiffened a little and lifted her away, missing the feel of her against him almost immediately.

“I'm not sure I understand,” he said slowly, carefully.

Her eyes met his and held them, open, clear, and at last, honest…and, for the first time in a very long time, truly vulnerable.

“Oh…” he whispered, staring back at them almost in wonderment, his fingers extending to caress her cheek once again, as though to confirm the reality of her.

“Oh,” she confirmed in a trembling voice. “Big 'oh.'”

“Very big,” he agreed, still finding his equilibrium while lost in the sea of soft grey-green.

Buffy drew herself up so that she was only inches from his face, terrified of what she was about to do, but wanting it more than she'd ever wanted anything. Nothing had ever felt more right…

“Can we try for an even bigger one?” she teased, very gently.

His eyes flashed and his face changed from amazed bemusement to resolve and purpose. Buffy couldn't know, but his heart was almost smashing itself out of his chest, which was being crushed by bands of sheer terror. Nothing could have prepared him, no amount of dreaming or yearning prepared one for the reality…the point at which you reach out and touch your dreams…and risk shattering them into a million pieces.

Giles lowered his head very slowly as her face lifted to his, hesitated millimetres from the tender mouth, in one last, painful moment of apprehension, before the point of no return was passed and he kissed her for the first time.
.
As they merged into one, the connection between them flared again and embraced them so overwhelmingly that not even the hovering arachnid, nor the slithering creature sliding past them, inches from their knees, penetrated it.

When they eventually, reluctantly, separated, they each searched the other's face, as though afraid it wasn't real.

“It was real,” Buffy told him, as though she could read his thoughts and not just his emotions. “I have the whisker burns to prove it,” she added whimsically then grew serious again. “Are you scared?”

Giles shook his head, unable to keep the glow from his eyes. “When did you get so old?”

“Sometime between you asking me if I hated you and coming back from…coming back to find you gone and finding out you were leaving, again.”

Giles' eyes grew very bright. “I'm sorry…about all of it,” he said softly.

Buffy understood immediately what he meant. “They couldn't know…any more than I could ever hate you.”

He smiled then in a way that melted her heart. “I am selfish enough to be glad you're back, regardless,” he admitted, emotion flooding his face. “So very, very glad.”

She traced his jaw. “So am I,” she whispered. “Until now I never thought I would ever say that. But…” she brushed his lips with hers. “So am I.” She smiled again. “We should go home.”

Giles' grin widened almost beatifically. “Home,” he repeated reverently then looked down at himself. “After we find my pants,” he added ruefully.

Buffy giggled and got to her feet, lent her Slayer strength to help him to his, and steadied him while he found his balance.

They walked to his lean-to together and he slipped on his cut down shorts while Buffy inspected his digs properly.

“I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner.”

Giles halted alongside her and looked down at the broken fish-trap she was standing over.

“Well, you're here now,” he said wryly. “How long have I been gone?”

She frowned. “About six days in normal time,” she guessed and looked him up and down. “You?”

“Over two weeks.”

“At least time in this dimension passes only a little faster than ours. God knows how long I really lost in that fun demon dimension I managed to spend part of my last summer in high school in.”

“Old history,” Giles told her. “I think it's time to go home and plan some new history of our own.”

When they stepped through the portal, the first face they saw was Dawn's, but to Buffy's surprise, she didn't come forward. She could see how excited and relieved she was, could see the tears in her eyes, but the girl stood back quietly while the others greeted Giles, all except Willow embracing him and joking about his general un-Giles-like state of dishevelment, malodorousness and undress.

Buffy watched with interest as Phillip and Giles shook hands. It was obvious that they had a history, and that they were good friends. They spoke for several minutes while the others quizzed her about the rescue.

And then they were all gone, just as swiftly. Xander and Anya took Willow and Tara home when Willow made it clear that she wanted to go, and Phillip returned to his hotel with a promise from Giles to meet him there the following day for lunch.

Buffy turned, grinning, to Giles, sitting wearily in an armchair and now wearing the oversized Hockey T-Shirt Buffy sometimes used as a night shirt, over his grubby shorts.

“What do you want first? The shower or the food?”

He smiled back, about to answer, when Dawn reappeared carrying a mug, and handed it to him. He breathed in the aroma blissfully. “Tea,” he sighed. “You are a wonder, young Dawn,” he told her with great affection, holding her gaze with warm eyes before succumbing and savouring the long-dreamed-about beverage.

When he was done he put the cup down, rose, and smiled at the younger girl again. “Thank you,” he said softly, his eyebrows rising as her eyes filled with tears.

Moments later she was in his arms.

He laughed and held her close as she wept. “What's this?” he asked gently. “The Summers tough-guy wetting my shirt front?”
.
Dawn giggled into the shirt soggily and looked up. “I missed you. I didn't think Buffy would find you. Don't go away again.”

Giles touched her face. “You don't need me, love,” he told her, and looked up at Buffy, “but I'm not going anywhere.”

At that Dawn seemed to relax. “Make sure you don't,” she admonished, straightening and wiping her face with the back of her sleeve. “God, you smell bad. I have to go and see Melinda.”

Buffy watched her go, bemused. “She loves you, you know.”

“I know,” Giles said softly. “I didn't want to leave her, but I…I simply couldn't stay here any longer, and I knew Willow and Tara would care for her. And of course the last time, you were…”

“Yeah, well, I really don't think it was that simple. Still, I think I'll let you be guilt guy about that one.”

“Well, thank you very much. About that shower…”

Buffy grinned. “C'mon, I'll find you a towel.”

“Right, yes. Bloody generous of you,” he muttered.

She found him the most luxurious bath sheet in the house. “Only the best. You need to be spoiled a little,” she told him, pressing it into his hands outside the bathroom door.

“Oh, I've needed to be spoiled for a very long time,” he told her humorously, but his green eyes were burning with something that sent a shiver down her spine.

Buffy's breath caught. Not only because she was stunned to find herself wanting to kiss him again, but from the realisation that there truly hadn't been anybody to spoil Giles in a very, very long time.

Even though she knew he was teasing, a rock formed in the pit of her stomach, mostly from the knowledge that it had never even occurred to her in the past. He had been in Sunnydale for what seemed like forever, and yet, except for Jenny, whom she'd managed to get killed, he'd had no-one, least of all her, to 'spoil' him. Olivia she refused to count, since a waving a few days out of a whole year at him, then announcing that his life was too much for her, seemed more like torment than spoilage.

“Knock yourself out,” she said hoarsely. “T-take a bath if you want. I'll…I'll make you some f-food.”

Giles watched her go wondering what could have caused the distressed look on her face and whether or not he should ask. Eventually he looked at the towel in his hands and sighed. Then he turned to the shower. After a beat the perplexed look on his was softened by the hint of a grin.

The mains pressure hot water blasted blissfully onto his back and the soap cut through every millimetre of grime. Even Buffy's shampoo felt like a decadent pleasure. Shaving with a lady's shaver, even with a new blade to replace the extremely suspect looking object that was already in it, was an experience. Between the roughness of his beard and the unfamiliar action of the razor it took far longer than usual, but he was more than pleased with the result.

When he emerged, much, much later, with the bottle green bath sheet tucked around his waist, Buffy was waiting with an armful of clothes and there were delicious smells in the air. So much so his stomach was threatening to make a dash for the kitchen without him.

“Xander came back,” she explained. “He figured you'd be needing some clothes, so they picked some up from the mall.”

There were jeans and a shirt, a sweater, and both socks and underwear still in their packages.

Giles eyed the larger plastic package doubtfully.

“I think Anya said they were a gift,” Buffy offered.

When the package was opened she started to giggle. It was quite obviously something Anya would like for Xander. Giles held up the black lycra g-string and sighed when the giggling increased. He had gotten quite used to going commando. One more day wouldn't hurt…

Buffy smiled approvingly when he re-emerged from the bathroom. It was obvious that Willow and Tara must have helped with the clothes, because he looked beyond good in open-necked black silk shirt and black jeans. Both were a little loose on his slimmer frame.

She looked down at his bare feet, a size and a half bigger than Xander's, and frowned. “I guess the guys didn't have your size. We'll have to buy you some shoes tomorrow.”

“Most certainly,” he agreed. “And I'll have to come up with a plausible reason why I'm in the country illegally, and without a passport.”

“Or we could call Angel Investigations and they could find you some papers and a passage of some kind back to, well, England…if you want…” she trailed off.

Giles could almost hear her withdrawing again and sighed inwardly. It was too much to hope that the rush of blood back in the forest might mean anything more than just that.

He reached out and touched her cheek. “That would be one option,” he agreed and watched her begin to smile again. Then he turned red when the tender moment was interrupted by an almighty rumble from his stomach.

Buffy giggled again, a sound he hadn't heard in far, far too long. “Come on Jungle-dude, your body is mutinying from lack of food. I made some stuff.”

By the time Giles had worked his way through eggs, bacon, toast, an entire pot of tea and a stack of pancakes, it was obvious that he was getting sleepy.

She cleared away as he sipped at some previously untouched orange juice, feeling more content than she had since before her mother's death. Normally Buffy and cooking were truly un-mixy things. It surprised her how much she wanted to do that for him, and how much she had enjoyed it, not to mention the look on his face when he saw the food.

“Lord, I've been a glutton,” he said good-humouredly a while later, stretched and rubbed his midriff.

“You lost weight,” Buffy said quietly, eyeing his stretched out form. “I thought you had when I first saw you, but now, here, it's more real, y'know?”

He nodded. “It's nothing. I shall very likely end up fat, now that my body thinks its in survival mode.”

“What did you eat?” she asked, soothed by the sound of his voice and still trying desperately to understand what was happening to her…to them.

He chuckled. “At first some raw mussels that tasted rather like rubbery squid. Then, gradually, I discovered a few fruits, some nuts, seeds. Just before you came I even managed to find some eggs and to catch my first fish.”

She smiled back, trying to ignore the desire to just go to him. “Wow. Not only majorly smart and good with the weapons and the Slayer teaching-ness, but a major survival guy too. Maybe you should go on one of those TV shows?”

Giles snorted. “Not likely. I've never seen such voyeuristic rubbish. I don't know what society is coming—”

Buffy had raised her hand in smiling self-defence. “And we don't care,” she pointed out, in over-enunciated syllables.

Her smile grew wider as he ducked his head a little again. He was so very much the Giles she remembered, the one from before all the relentless badness that had paraded through their lives since high school, that she was tempted to just throw herself back into his arms.

“Were you…were you alone before you came to Sunnydale?” she asked unexpectedly.

Giles regarded her with those perceptive green eyes of his. “You are wondering whether I gave anything up for you. Yes I did. I gave up that life for this one. Do I regret it? Never. Did I miss it? Like hell, sometimes. One does, when one's entire social life is a school library, jelly donuts and copious demon research…oh…” he smiled, “and let's not forget the periodic bangs on the head.”

“But…you had us,” she said quietly, remembering so many times when they were all together, researching, fighting, training…

He nodded. “And I still went home to an empty flat, and—”

“An empty life?”

He nodded again, and then his eyes burned into hers.

“Every moment without you in it.”

Buffy shivered. It should have been hokey and melodramatic, but the way he said it, so calmly and with such a dark undertone, made it a truth, a curse and an indictment rolled into one. She wanted to drop her eyes, to look away, but she couldn't.

Not for one more moment could she deny what was in the green fire holding her in thrall, any more than she could deny the need to feel the mouth she'd never realised was so sensuous before, against hers once again.

“About wh-what happened, back in the jungle…” she began nervously, at a loss as to how to recapture that moment now.

Giles' eyes widened, and Buffy suddenly saw withdrawal and even hurt in them. “Yes?” he said quietly.

Her heart dropped. He thought she was pulling away…probably even expecting a patented Buffy 'eiww' for good measure…

She rose and went to him then, slid her arms around his shoulders and lowered her head before he could open his mouth to protest.

The kiss began tentatively, but within seconds the residue of the link between them throbbed to life and with it the flames both had been holding in check since that moment in the jungle.

Giles pulled away suddenly. “Buffy…I…”

She sat back and bit her lip, a part of her wanting to curl up and die. “Was I wrong?” she asked quietly.

“W-wrong?”

She held up her wrist then silently traced the wound at his throat without taking her eyes from his.

“No…” he whispered, and closed his eyes for a moment. “But you…we…you never…”

Buffy struggled against the instinctive urge to withdraw as the hurt of his continued doubts washed over her. A part of her knew it was her own fault, that she had made him this way but…

She knew now what she wanted…whom she wanted and was determined not to be the one who did the hurting this time.

“No, I never…not even after you left, not right away. Even then I couldn't admit it, even to myself. All that pain…I just let it…be about people leaving me…but this time wasn't about that, not really…it was about you, about…us.”

He looked at her wonderingly.

“There's this, too,” she said, holding up her wrist. “It's a spell to locate a lost lover. Kind of hard to ignore that when your arm is burning up and pounding like a rock band just because you're close to this guy you've been crying yourself to sleep over periodically ever since he walked out of your life…”

Giles half-smiled, almost sadly. “I think we both know I had to go…but it's nice to know one wasn't entirely alone.”

Buffy felt her eyes prick at the very idea of Giles being as miserable as she had been, and was unable to stop the moisture that sprang into them.

“Not entirely,” she agreed, remembering the nights she'd cast herself into bed after patrol, after pretending everything was okay, that she could cope with the house, the Slaying, Dawn…and cried herself to sleep knowing he wasn't there, that he wasn't going to be there to train her, joke with her, that he might never again be there to speak softly, as only he could, to her, when her heart most needed it…

Why had it taken her so long to understand why they were able to hurt each other so much…?

The silence stretched, the air as taut as piano wire.

Eventually Buffy couldn't bear it any longer. “S-so what does a girl have to do to get the guy she loves to say something?” she said awkwardly.

Giles' eyes grew wide, his heart pounding again, but he watched her warily. “I think you already know that,” he told her softly.

“Me? Know? Giles…Rupert…” She paused, and smiled a little at how that sounded. “I'm the most clueless person on the face of the planet. Spike even tried to tell me…and way before that Xander told me there was someone waiting for me…but I could never see…well, except maybe that time you came back from England and I almost busted three of your ribs. Sorry about that, by the way,” she added sheepishly, and added, summarizing: “You should know by now that I don't know diddly,” but held his gaze, afraid to lose him again.

He looked crestfallen but continued to watch her.

It was obvious she was searching for words. Then she frowned, frustrated. “What's wrong with us?” she demanded. “In the jungle…we …we both felt it, so why is this so hard?”

Giles seemed to turn inwards for a moment. “Perhaps it's the fact that in your life I've always been more than a little invisible, perhaps even a little too old…or there's the wacky notion that you've always appeared to prefer pretty much any young man, even vampire, who payed the slightest attention to you, to spending even the briefest time with me.”

Buffy stared at him, swallowing the rising hurt.

Too much of what he said hit home. She tried to shut out the memories of Parker, the extreme mental gymnastics she went through to convince herself to go out with Riley, the unhealthy experiment with Spike…but she couldn't. Then…Angel's face supplanted the rest. She considered it for the longest time, the initial pleasure of it gradually overwhelmed by the realisation that she had, finally, outgrown even the memory of him. It was kind of scary to realise that the once great passion of her life was now little more than the memory of a schoolgirl's first love. And the rest…the rest…

“I-I didn't know,” she managed.

“You didn't know?” he prompted, when she continued to stare at him, lips parted, eyes stunned.

“You,” she said simply. “It…it didn't just happen. I didn't know that none of the others were ever going to work…because you were always…”

He half stepped towards her without realising it. “I was always…?”

The blue-grey eyes held his. “It was you,” she said, astonished.

The green ones stared back at her, disbelief warring with equal astonishment.

“Angel,” he whispered, hating even the sound of it on his lips, but unable to let it go.

Buffy nodded. “I'm not gonna lie to you. He was the first…” She went to him, swallowed as she gathered all her courage to look up at him again. “But you…God, Giles, you're the only…”

The words hung in the air for an endless moment.

Then, unexpectedly, he turned away.

For a moment Buffy was devastated. Then she saw the hunch of his shoulders, the tenseness of his body just as she was hit by a surge of roiling emotion through the link that had been forgotten in all the excitement. She could feel his joy, the stunning power of his love for her, his desire, and most of all his fear: fear that after all this time, and all that life—and she—had done to him, that if he were to reach out for happiness with both hands, he would be slapped down, yet again.

With all her strength, and with her heart wide open, she concentrated on showing him through the link, what, in the context of her history of stupidity where he was concerned, she could never convince him of with words alone.

Buffy heard his quiet gasp, saw his fists clench, and wondered if she had made things worse.

Then he turned slowly and it was her turn to gasp low in her throat. No one had ever looked at her like that before…not even Angel.

Giles couldn't quite believe that the look in her eyes, the expression on her face, matched the love…the passion he'd felt through that magic-induced link. He reached out with an unsteady hand to touch it, letting his forefinger brush the moisture in her lashes, trace the outline of her eye socket, the curve of her rose-flushed cheek, the softness of her slightly parted lips.

Buffy trembled and something in them finally broke. Both moved, bodies fusing together with liquid grace as she pushed herself off the ground, her arms locking around his neck, and Giles held her against him, their mouths finding, discovering each other again.

He revelled in the soft mouth melting into his, the sweet, demanding body and fought to stop himself from carrying her upstairs then and there.

She couldn't get close enough to him…she wanted to be inside his skin, inside his head, his heart. Instead she returned his plundering of her mouth three-fold, feeling his body respond to her exploration of his, her willing offering of hers. For a long time they were lost in the sensuality of such new intimacy, barely aware of the world around them, or the passage of time, neither wanting it to ever end.

It was the sound of Buffy groaning that finally parted them, Giles lifting his head almost reflexively, letting her slide down, as though slammed back to reality.

“Buffy…I…”

But she was looking up at him and smiling.

She was a vision. No secrets, no pain, no heartache or regret. She glowed with the intensity and the conviction of her feelings and it was achingly clear that the blazing desire in her eyes, the throbbing of the link, was all for him.

He swallowed, humbled by the knowledge that it was really true.

'The only,' she'd said…

He smiled back at her and they came together again, the kiss this time one of triumph and reward. They lingered for a long time before Giles swept her up as he'd been longing to do, and her arms wound around his neck as he moved silently up the stairs.

He hesitated in the doorway of her room, a part of him sorrowing that he was not taking her to his own bed, and another somehow awkward about her childhood refuge.

Buffy touched his arm and shifted, so that he put her down. “It's no good,” she said, tracing his slightly brooding mouth. “I can't. Not here…not after…”

The confusion in Giles' eyes lasted only a moment, before he remembered. “Oh,” he said sombrely. “Does it matter?”

Buffy stared for a long moment before shaking her head. Then she tilted it. “Does it?” she returned.

He closed his eyes for a moment remembering the moment he found out about Buffy's new boyfriend, the commando. “It did,” he said, and caressed her cheek, “but not any more.”

The bleak look on her face faded and was replaced by a slow smile. “I'm glad…but I wish…I wish we had our own place. I wish…I wish you still had your apartment.”

Giles finally smiled back. “Actually the flat hasn't been rented yet. Sunnydale is rather a depressed market when it comes to real estate.”

“Then we could—” she began, sparkling.

His expression grew rueful. “It's not furnished. The only thing I left was the…bed.”

Buffy's smile grew wider. “I can live with that. And mom's car is still behind the house…”

His eyes grew very bright when he realised what she was saying.

When the door of the flat swung open less than half an hour later, both of them entered in subdued silence.

After several beats Buffy turned to Giles. “Empty. Like me. It's not the same without you, either. We both need you, so much…”

His brows drew together.

Buffy touched the divot between them. “Not like that.” She looked around the room. “This old place and I…we need you to make us complete, to make us whole.”

There was nothing he could say to that. Instead he bent and kissed her tenderly, then picked her up again and carried her to his bed.

Buffy was breathing heavily when he laid her on it and looked down at her.

She was almost too lovely, that hair spilling everywhere, her eyes bright with desire, breast heaving rather like the heroine in a tacky romance novel. He was entranced and a little afraid. She was glorious, and he was…

Slowly, he removed her shoes, grinning when she held one sneaker and then the other aloft with ballerina-like grace for him to undo them, and her jeans, before slowly taking off her blouse, stunned to find that she wasn't wearing anything under it.

And then she was sitting up, taking his breath in her hi-cut, fuchsia lace panties, tiny silver crucifix, and nothing else. “My turn,” she told him in a husky voice, and began to unbutton the shirt. She was pushing it off his shoulders when she saw the apprehension he couldn't hide, in his face.

She smiled gently. “Hey, been there, seen that,” she reminded him as the shirt fell to the bed. “And I still want to go back.” Her fingers trailed down his throat and into the soft golden brown hair sprinkled across his chest. She looked up. “Wow,” she grinned. “ I didn't know chest hair could be sexy. I like it…even the grey ones.”

“'Ay,” he objected, eyes dancing. “Do I tease you about your roots?”

“Now that's below the belt,” she retorted, unbuckling his and effectively silencing him.

She watched his face and his smouldering eyes as she undid it and unbuttoned his pants before sliding the zipper down.

“And so is that,” he managed to whisper hoarsely as her fingers slid inside and made him shudder. Then he shifted to lift her back and lay her against the pillows, before moving over her and kissing her senseless.

At least that was how Buffy described it to herself as she lost herself in their passion, arching as his hands raked her body, expertly divesting her of her pretty underwear and finding every sensitive curve and fold until she was almost ready to explode. He was making her crazy and he wasn't even undressed yet. Taking things into her own hands, she used her slayer strength to reverse their positions.

“Take them off,” she demanded, sitting astride his hips.

He grinned mischievously. “I drove over here in bare feet for you. You want them off, you take them off.”

Buffy made a noise in her throat, shifted and used her slayer strength to pull his jeans off, tossing them on the floor.

When she looked around again, she swallowed. Once, when she and Willow were having a truly insane discussion about male assets, they had speculated about Giles, just for a moment, ranking him, between eiews, in order among their male friends, boyfriends and favoured entertainment idols of the time. It hadn't occurred to either of them that he might be other than…regulation.

“You know, in romance novels it's really cliché for the hero to be majorly…uh … endowed,” she teased, eyeing his assets as he propped himself on one elbow and glared at her.

“If you are complaining, we can always settle for a good night's sleep,” he drawled, a twinkle returning to his eye.

She smiled. “Who me? Not complaining, no way.”

“Good,” he growled, moved swiftly, pinned her to the bed and kissed her hard before trailing his mouth down her arched throat to linger at the soft, creamy flesh below it. When she made a small noise in her throat he continued, exploring every soft curve of her lovely breasts, teasing their peaks and smiling to himself when her groans and whimpers became demanding. He let his left hand slide down her hip, trail across her groin and brush her soft core, exhilarated when she in turn arched to him, then dragged his head up to hers and kissed him fiercely.

“You are a tease,” she breathed.

“Am I?” he grinned, allowing his left index finger to slip on its side, down between the soft folds, to move gently back and forth across the swollen evidence of her desire.

She writhed and moaned, her hips chasing his teasing digit. “Giles!” she gasped when he stopped.

“Yes?”

“I think I hate you,” she growled, though her eyes danced.

He smiled back and began to slide down. “Can't have that, now can we?”

If there had been anyone one in the flat they would have heard her cries reverberate through all the rooms. For all her time with Riley, he had never done what Giles was doing to her now. It simply wasn't in his macho-military lexicon, though he seemed not to have any problem with the reverse… nor had Angel done this on that fateful night, and she doubted Parker or Spike even knew how.

She clutched at the sheets as the man she loved drove her to sensual heights she'd never experienced before, only stopping when she began to press, her cries loud and urgent.

Suddenly she was in his arms.

Buffy searched his smiling face. “Rupert…” she sighed, the name growing on her more and more each time she said it aloud.

“Yes, my love,” he whispered, settling between her soft thighs and smiling even more when her legs curled around him and her tender heat ground against his.

He took her hips in his hands and lifted them, bringing himself to her and closing his eyes momentarily as he pushed into the soft heat of her.

Buffy gasped and lifted herself even higher. “Oh God, yes…!” she moaned as he slid all the way home.

“Buffy…” he croaked in a low, hoarse voice, overwhelmed for a moment by the enormity of what he was doing, the pure eroticism of the moment, and kissed her with a ferocity that was still only a shadow of what he was really feeling.

And then they were moving together, faster and faster, deeper and deeper, Buffy calling to him, Giles straining to her, glorying in her as they raced towards the completion for which their bodies were screaming. Both of them exploded within moments of each other, holding each other as they rode the waves of their respective climaxes to their lingering end.

As they came down Giles kissed her tenderly, gathered her and rolled sideways, so that she was curled in the crook of his arm. For a long time they lay in warm silence, content to hold each other.

Buffy was playing with a stray white hair among the golden ones on Giles' chest, when he kissed her hair contentedly. She looked up at the ceiling and smiled.

“No breakage. No evil. And you're still awake,” she observed whimsically and sighed, the smile fading. “Giles, I'm not much of a catch. I know Dawn wrote you about Spike when she found out. What she probably didn't say was that I was pretty slutty. Are you sure you want to be with me?”

He shifted so that he was looking down at her, his soft green eyes reproachful.

“You would have to do rather more to even approach the depths of my youth,” he pointed out quietly. “Though Spike is pushing it rather beyond the pale…forgive the pun,” he added sheepishly.

They smiled at each other, chuckling a little, despite the small strain in both their eyes, at both the pun and the foolishness of Buffy's choices.

Then Giles sobered again. “I have done far worse than you, for far less reason, Buffy. Are you sure you still want to be with me?

Despite her best attempts, Buffy's eyes grew overbright, her lashes damp. “Forever,” she told him. “However long that might be.”

Giles' heart constricted a little, but he refused to think about her mortality today. She had been given back to him twice already, and saved from near misses God knew how many times. Slayer, or no, she was extraordinary. He had always been hers, and now she was his…

He cupped her face as he had once before. “Forever is a modest estimate,” he said softly. “You are still a miracle.”

“Nah,” she replied, smiling and touching his face. “You're the miracle. You're here and you're mine.” Her bright eyes sought and held his and her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “I love you so much…”

He smiled in a way that made her breath catch in her throat, bent his head and kissed her again. When they parted he looked down at her rosily flushed face and chuckled.

“I suppose now I shall have to move back in,” he observed, glancing around at the starkly empty loft.

“I suppose we will,” she agreed, grinning widely. “Willow and Tara are almost out of money. I'll tell them it's okay to move back in to the house.”

Once again Giles drew her into his arms and rolled so that they were curled up together, his cheek resting against her hair. “As long as you don't shirk your responsibility to your sister.”

“Already with the bossiness again?” she teased, snuggling close to his chest and brushing his wound gently with her lips. “I took responsibility...eventually. 'Responsibility Girl', me. I just think we're both kind of overdue for some real happies, don't you? Unless of course you want me to live full time in the house and only see you to research and train…you know, with the sweatiness, the store and Anya and stuff…”

“Lord no,” he interceded in mock horror. “I like your plan just fine.”

Buffy turned her face up and caught his mouth with hers. “Good,” she said, love in her voice, her eyes; her face. “Because it would be way hard to spoil you from all the way over at Ravello drive…and I so want to spoil you…”

He chuckled softly and kissed her again, very slowly, lifting his head only long enough to look down at her with mischievous eyes.

“In that case, do you think we could start now?”

The little apartment reverberated to two sets of happy, unselfconscious giggles before settling down to a sensual, passion filled silence, like its owners, no longer empty…or alone…


* * *