Past Revisited

“I don't know why I let you talk me into this.”

“Because I think you need to confront your past…and because I haven't been to Disneyland since Captain Eo debuted.”

“Captain what?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Never mind.”

They moved forward in the queue and Buffy purchased their tickets.

On the promenade on the other side, Goofy was entertaining a clutch of children and people were wandering both ways.

“Where to first?” Giles asked dubiously as they walked on.

“Well, your friend Stephen isn't expecting us at the restaurant until one thirty, so we have four hours to look around.”

Giles was again dressed in dark jeans, black t-shirt, leather boots, leather jacket and his earring, his glasses in a jacket pocket at Buffy's behest. She had also advised him not to shave.

“Pick one,” Buffy said suddenly, pointing to the castle some distance ahead of them, when they came to a halt next to a churro stand.

“One what?” Giles was examining the contents of the glass case on the small cart and sniffing appreciatively.

“Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, Adventure Land or Frontier Land. Didn't you ever watch Disney when you were a kid?”

“Reruns of Annette Funicello in mouse ears? I have vague, black and white memories of such things. I must have been about six or seven. And that Disney fellow introducing his own show…I remember being entranced as a small child when they managed to have him talk to the duck…”

“Donald,” Buffy filled in, amused.

Giles nodded absently, his mind back on a long forgotten childhood. “ I remember I rather liked Davy Crockett…well, another fellow in the show…a reprobate named Mike Fink, actually. Remarkable that I should be able to remember such drivel when I have trouble remembering where I left my keys.”

Buffy giggled. “Giles, those shows were all made even before even you were old enough to watch them.”

“I'm well aware of that,” he retorted. “It just so happens that other countries took a little longer to become obsessed with the box than you lot did, hence your outdated programs being eaten up half a generation later by unsuspecting British children.”

“In that case, do you still have your Captain Midnight decoder ring?”

“Captain what?” Giles asked, paying for several piping hot churros. “And if these programs are all so bloody old, how is it that you know so much about them?” he added, biting into one of the donut-textured sticks.

“Never mind,” Buffy growled, helping herself to one. “Have you decided?”

“Frontier Land,” he said decisively, then smiled. “If we're going to do this, let's go and see if we can find old Mike…provided he hasn't dropped dead of whatever any self-respecting nonagenarian might have by now.”

“Giles, you're being weird,” she told him as they set off, still eating, towards the obvious entrance to Frontier Land.

They both enjoyed the leisurely spin on the paddle steamer, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine more than taking too much notice of the elaborate displays on either shore, or the rafts going to Sawyer Island. Giles was only just beginning to look sour after the fifth time “Mark Twain” had been half-called, half yodelled on the intercom. Fortunately shortly after that the boat docked and they wandered off again, Giles disposing of the now empty churro wrapper in the first trash can that they passed. They stopped at 'Big Thunder' and watched the cars loaded with parents and children moving through the 'mountain'.

“I don't think so,” he said, looking down his nose.

“Me either,” she agreed, as though taking pity on him, then grinned. “It doesn't allow anyone who might have a heart attack.”

Giles rolled his eyes.

“Pirates of the Caribbean is more your speed, old guy,” she pronounced playfully, sliding an arm through his when he snorted. “Come on.”

As they swished around in their gondola, cutting quietly through the water that surrounded the displays elaborately constructed inside the large building, and enjoyed the various Animatronic sequences, Buffy caught Giles smiling at least two or three times. He looked relaxed and boyish, sitting there, amused by the childish fantasy of it all.

She rested her head on his arm and smiled when he automatically curled it around her, so that she fitted perfectly into the crook of his shoulder, the warmth of his embrace nice against the sudden coolness of the air coming off the water. She didn't notice much of the ride. She was too busy enjoying the perfect contentment of simply being with him.

For this one moment they were just man and woman, together, in love. No Slaying, no Watching, no evil, no destiny. Just themselves and this little make believe world. She closed her eyes and snuggled her cheek into his breast, felt his hot breath as he bent to kiss her hair.

She sighed aloud and felt the slight movement of his chest as he chuckled.

“Pirates not exciting enough for you?” he asked softly.

She made a noise that spoke of extreme contentment. “Not exciting enough to distract me from you,” she told him without moving.

He squeezed a little tighter, enjoying the warmth of her against him. “I'm afraid you're going to have to be, soon. It's almost over.”

He chuckled again when she made a disapproving noise and burrowed deeper, not moving until their ride came to a bumping halt and they were required to disembark.

They wandered through New Orleans Square, stopping to look at the Haunted House. At Buffy's speculative look, Giles shook his head definitively and they moved on to Adventure Land.

When they finally emerged from the Indiana Jones ride, Buffy seemed a little subdued.

“Still not exciting enough for you?” he asked, amused. In comparison with her daily life as the Slayer, everything so far had been cheerfully tame and childishly unreal. The smile faded. It gave him a moment of real regret…to have taken so much from one so young.

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “It needs something…like Harrison Ford's actual bod' around one of the corners,” she decided playfully. “My turn this time. Let's do the Happiest Kingdom next. I kind of missed that part of growing up.”

Giles frowned. She hadn't been called until the age of fifteen, so he wasn't sure exactly what she was referring to.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he prompted, finally, when she hadn't spoken for a few minutes.

“Uh? Oh…not really. I'm probably exaggerating anyway…I mean I had the Ice Shows every year with my dad…and my skating.”

“I don't think I understand,” Giles told her. “I have always been of the impression that you had a rather normal childhood.”

“Well, yeah. A normal, American, 'both parents obsessing about their careers and fighting about who was going to spend quality time with Buffy,' kind of childhood. Yeah,” she decided eventually. “It was normal. I had all the normal stuff, birthdays, school, skating, music, my first pimple, the first day of my first ever…well, never mind that one…my first date. It's just…I guess it was the combination of not having any brothers and sisters and mom and dad both having careers…not to mention both of them falling out of love for several years before the split. I don't remember much little kid stuff…like helping mom make cookies or riding on my dad's shoulders, or going to places like this, except for once, with Dawn, or storybooks.”

“But you do have the Ice Shows, and you told me your mother made all your costumes for your skating competitions,” Giles said gently. “They did love you, very much. Everyone has their own way of expressing these things.”

Buffy looked up at him sideways. “Yeah,” she smiled tenderly. “They do. So who watched Mike Fink with you?”

Giles looked away, watching a duck wander past, surrounded by devoted children, as though he was actually interested.

“That dubious pleasure was had by me alone,” he said quietly. “My mother disapproved of American television in general.” A half smile played around his lips. “Of course she also disapproved of British programming equally as fiercely…except for the BBC news. And my father was simply never there. Even when he was, my mother, and research for his Slayer, had priority over the trivial needs of a small boy.”

Buffy made a noise, which in her own expressive way said exactly what she thought of that notion.

“You spent a lot of time alone?” she asked, sliding her hand into his and squeezing.

He looked down at her and smiled affectionately. “I developed a healthy imagination. I was the best damned fighter pilot in the South of England by the time I was nine,” he chuckled. “And a budding grocer, complete with the most salubrious cash register imaginable. Gold plated, I think, or perhaps silver.”

“What happened to it…your imagination?”

He looked up at the azure sky, his eyes following the outline of several puffy cotton clouds, out of place in all the blue.

“It was put away with all other childhood things, when I turned ten and discovered my real place in the world.”

A great hurt for him passed through her. In their earlier years she'd always thought of him as unimaginative, stuffy, too practical to even contemplate dreaming, or imagination or fantasy. Still, the idea of Giles watching Star Wars, or trying to find shapes in clouds, or being entranced by animated lion cubs singing with a jovial warthog and a wise-assed meercat was one she couldn't imagine, but suddenly wanted very badly to see. She wanted him to be whole again.

She wanted them both to be whole again…

Buffy grabbed his hand. “Come on. Fantasy Land. Little kid land. So we'll be little kids.”

Giles allowed himself to be pulled along, not least because it was Buffy, and he wasn't sure there was anywhere he wouldn't go with her, but also because it did him good to see her so seemingly normal for once.

There were, predictably, small children everywhere, and childish rides, teacups and flying elephants, and Snow White and her Prince smiling and looking suitably fairytale-like for the occasion.

“This one,” Buffy announced, stopping at Peter Pan's Flight.

“Do I really want to know?” Giles asked resignedly.

“Nothing embarrassing,” she grinned. “We're going flying, but if I remember right it's really quiet…actually I think I was kinda bored the last time.”

It turned out to be a mock recreation of the rooftops of nineteenth century England, travelled overhead in soothing darkness, followed by a visit to Never Land. It became apparent very quickly that Buffy had something else in mind as they moved through the display, her fingers sliding inside his shirt and playing with the hairs on his chest.

He kissed the blonde head that rested on his shoulder. “Bored again?” he asked.

“Nah. Just in Watcher withdrawal,” she told him playfully.

“Well, perhaps there's something we can do about that,” he growled, lifting her chin and covering her lips with his, smiling as her hands moved and her arms curled around his neck. The kiss lasted until almost the end of the ride, each of them content to be immersed and enveloped in the other's adoration.

They straightened abruptly when the ride finally ended, red-faced and trying not to notice the startled looks of the harried parents waiting to load their offspring onto the cars, the disapproving scowls of one or three grandparents and nauseated looks of several teenagers stuck with younger siblings.

Hand in hand they skipped, Buffy giggling and Giles clearing his throat loudly, down the steps and out into the crowd.

She was still giggling when they found a quiet spot in which to collect themselves. Giles snorted, then smiled reluctantly.

“You'll have me arrested,” he growled.

“I'm not sixteen anymore, Giles. They can all go to hell,” she said with some feeling.

He chuckled. “Which is rather where those grandparents were wishing me earlier. What do you want to do now?”

“Look in the store. Back near the entrance,” she announced. “I want to buy something for Dawn.”

Giles watched Buffy playing with various soft toys and smiling to herself, perhaps at childhood memories, or possibly just at the silly faces on the things, and wondered if he should have been arrested after all. He sighed, suddenly feeling very, very old.

A few moments later he realised she was still holding the same toy, smiling this time with something more than a passing fancy at its dopey expression. Then the smile faded and she put the toy down and moved on, picking up one of the first items she'd looked at: a quite large rendition of something that looked like a warthog, complete with soft toy insect in its mouth.

“Is she really going to like that…that…?” he asked when they emerged again into the light.

“Pumbah,” Buffy filled in. “From the Lion King. I can see your education is sadly lacking. Dawn loved the movie and she thought this guy was the coolest.”

“Ah…so it's a recent release?”

Buffy shook her head and frowned, calculating. “She was, I don't know, like about seven, I think.” The frown deepened when she realised which history she was remembering.

“And you don't think she might have outgrown stuffed pigs by now?” he asked, distracting her, as they passed the Dumbo ride and the Mad Tea Party teacups, and turned up towards the canal boats.

Buffy kissed Pumbah on the nose and looked up at Giles with a mock scowl. “It's a warthog and that's not the point. It's what she remembers when she looks at him,” she told him, smiling at the toy again. “Kind of like Mister Gordo.”

Giles knew Mister Gordo. He'd been at the Summers' house for dinner the first time he 'met' Mister Gordo. All out war had broken out because Buffy was convinced Dawn had taken the toy from her room. Eventually it was discovered that Dawn had in fact hidden it in the top of Buffy's closet, thereby ruining her sister's case for grand theft, but in no way lessening the rowdy enmity between the two girls.

At that point he had wished Joyce joy of the pair of them. All that idiotic bickering had turned out to be a result of Dawn's pique because Buffy had refused to allow her to wear some item of clothing or other of hers to some teenage party.

What he remembered most was how distressed Buffy had been about the toy. At the time he'd considered it out of all proportion to the value of the worn, tattered object that was eventually revealed. Now, as he watched her, he realised that she wasn't mourning the absence of fabric, stitching and plastic eyes. She was mourning the memories it took with it.

He halted at the refreshment area near the Fantasyland Theatre. “Why don't you get us some cold drinks and find a table?” he suggested. “I won't be long. Need to find a men's room.”

Buffy nodded, frowning a moment later when she turned toward the food vendors and spied a sign pointing to rest rooms in the other direction. She shrugged. He was a big boy. He'd work it out.

When he finally came back he didn't sit down immediately, despite the can of iced tea sitting in his place opposite Buffy, the sweat now trickling down his temples from the heat of the day and an obviously hurried return.

“Giles?” Buffy was out of her chair and in front of him in moments.

He half smiled, looking somewhere between sheepish and embarrassed, a tinge of colour rising from his collar. After a beat he finally convinced himself to move and drew his arm from behind his back, handing Buffy the small blue toy.

Her face was all the reward he could have hoped for.

“How did you know?”

“I saw you looking at it in the store.”

Buffy's eyes grew very bright. “I-I wanted one of these…more than anything…more than Mister Gordo, but my father said it was overpriced and Dawn was crying and…” She closed her eyes. “No she wasn't.” She closed her eyes tighter, concentrating on her real memories. “Mom had a headache. We went to get her something to drink so she could take some Tylenol or something and we didn't go back to the store.” She finally opened her eyes, a ghost of a smile on her lips. “She must have known how much I wanted it, though. A couple of days later Mister Gordo appeared on my bed.”

Buffy wrapped her arms around the little blue donkey. “Thank you.”

He trailed his fingers down her cheek, pushed long strands of golden hair behind her left ear.

“You're welcome,” he said softly, bent his head very slowly, and brushed her waiting lips with his own.

When he lifted his head Buffy put one hand to his face for a moment and grinned at him, before going back to her seat.

“You know you're adorable when you do things like this,” she told him over her root beer.

He settled in the other chair and picked up the iced tea before smiling sheepishly again. “Might have something to do with how adorable you are all the time,” he said gruffly.

Buffy watched him down much of his can of drink. “Might even make someone love you even more,” she added.

Giles lowered the can and looked at her for long moment before smiling self-consciously again.

“Where to, next?”

“Well we could do some serious smooching on the It's a Small World ride, or we could do Tomorrow Land. We haven't got much time left before we have to be at the restaurant.”

Giles chuckled and gave her his best 'really, Buffy' look. “I think perhaps we'd better move on, as attractive as kissing you again sounds right now.”

Buffy wrinkled her noise. “Spoilsport.”

They emerged from the Star Wars ride, both blinking.

“Clever.”

“Freaky,” Buffy agreed. “I liked it. You saw Star Wars?”

Giles shook his head, amused. “I was twenty-four when it came out, Buffy. What do you think?”

“I think you probably saw it and wondered what all the fuss was about,” she guessed.

He blew out a breath, nodded, and smiled ruefully. “It was terribly clever for its time, but it was, after all, a simple fairy tale.”

“Which your life was not, exactly, at the time.”

They headed toward Space Mountain, Giles turning his head to look down at his love.

“No,” he agreed. “Rather the reverse.”

“A lot of people like fairy stories and fluff when things are bad,” she pointed out, “like during the depression. Mom said movies flourished back then, even though there was no money, because people needed to escape…”

“Some people,” he agreed. “And some of us weren't allowed to escape, even briefly.”

“I thought Ethan…and, you know, stuff, was escaping?”

“I suppose you could say that…though perhaps escaping from one hell to another isn't quite what you had in mind.”

Buffy slid an arm through his and leaned her head against his bicep. “No,” she said, subdued. “It's definitely not. Did Stephen and the others know about your destiny?”

“Not likely,” Giles replied rather fervently, deliberately letting his accent slip into the more working class intonation of his youthful self, and succeeding in making Buffy smile.

“Can you talk like that whenever you want?”

“Course I bloody can,” he said playfully, in that alien sounding voice. “Those tossers wouldn't tolerate anything else back then, would they? Why? D'ya like it?”

Buffy thought about it for a moment then shook her head. “It's not you. Not any more. The man I fell in love with is more…much more than 'band candy boy' could ever be. If I wanted a thug I could have had Spike. Actually Spike and Ripper would have been perfect for each other…”

Giles snorted. “That wasn't really me. Bloody candy and bloody Ethan and his spells. The truth is I was a gormless, witless public schoolboy at sixteen, doing as I was told and hating every minute. The streets came much later in my life…my real life.”

“Wow, and I thought you were totally of the bad when you were that age.”

He sighed heavily and hung his head a little. “I was never truly 'of the bad' love. I played the game, followed where it lead me, and got Randall killed, as I told you know…got everybody killed in the end, except for Ethan, but it was never truly me. Until I started to work with you nothing about my life, since my childhood, has been truly me.”

Buffy frowned as they walked up to the queue for Space Mountain. “I thought the, like, archaeology stuff and cross-referencing, fencing, the mouldy books…all that stuff was really you.”

He curled an arm around her and squeezed reassuringly before nodding. “The archaeological interest was all mine,” he confirmed. “I loved it all…studying, the digs, the museum, but like everything else that's ever been important to me, it had to take second place to…”

“Me,” she said glumly.

“No, love…to our destinies; to the destiny I was consigned to before I was born. It isn't your fault, any more than it was mine.”

Neither of them were really aware of what they were doing until it was their turn to be seated for the ride.

“Giles…” Buffy said helplessly as the car slid away.

He closed his hand around hers and squeezed.

“Dark?” she muttered. “Now I know why mom wouldn't let us take this ride last time. Whoever heard of riding a roller coaster in the pitch dark?”

“Frightened?” Giles asked, amused, but aware of the tension in Buffy's body as he shifted his arm to close it around her again.

“I'm the Slayer, remember?” she growled.

Giles exhaled loudly. “You are Buffy first and foremost. Just because you are stronger and your reflexes are more finely honed than any ordinary Human doesn't mean you are immune to fear, irrational or otherwise, or dread.”

In the midst of the darkness, lasers and the rumbling sound of the cars hurtling around, Buffy tried to remain calm, but her fingers dug into Giles' arm and her body was as rigid as a board.

Giles made his body an anchor for her, aware that the flying corners bothered her the most, far more than the sudden descents. He supposed it was the feeling that one could go flying out of the car at any moment, into oblivion, on each of the high-speed bends, but he'd barely raised an eyebrow, let alone his heart rate or a sweat. He was rather fond of roller coasters.

In truth he found the idea of Buffy being afraid of anything, much less something so benign by her standards, a little disquieting. There was something reassuring about her fearlessness that had made it easier to send her out again and again into danger over the years, to do what had to be done. To know that there were, in fact, things that terrified her and that she might be confronted with them at any time, out there, alone, while he was home, safe, was as painful as knowing that on any of those nights she might not come home at all…

When the cars finally slid to a halt, Buffy was the first out, leaving Giles to grab their packages and hustle to catch up.

Out in the sunlight he could see how pale, even slightly green, she was, despite her best efforts to appear unruffled.

“I'm sorry,” he said softly.

She shrugged. “Not your fault. I just like to see danger when I have to face it. Stupid, I know, but I can't help it.”

“Is that why you were so hesitant about the blindfold for Travers' test?”

“Blindfolds aren't so bad,” she said quietly. “Besides, you were there. But, yeah, I don't like them very much.”

Giles suppressed a smile at the knowledge that she was reassured that much by his presence, even then.

“Is there anything that scares you?” she asked suddenly.

For a long moment, Giles didn't answer, but his eyes spoke volumes, and hers saw.

“Oh,” she said softly, remembering the day she'd brought up the question of her mortality, and how badly both of them had dealt with it.

It appeared that he remembered too. Then he dragged his eyes away to look at his watch. “We'd better start back for that restaurant, or we'll be late.”

Buffy nodded, still not completely relaxed, and moved off.

For a moment Giles watched her tense back moving away, then caught up in a couple of strides and put an arm around her so that she leaned into him as they walked.

The restaurant was crowded when they reached it, far more than either of them cared for. They separated, content to keep their fingers linked as Giles made his way through the crowded tables looking for the others.

When they finally found them, Giles sighed. They were deep in conversation and hadn't seen him at all yet.

Buffy watched them for a long moment. The very large man had hard eyes and a perpetually bored look in them as he listened to his companion speaking quite animatedly about something. The woman with him seemed to have little to say, and no inclination to join in. It wasn't that she was aloof, Buffy realised. She was timid.. The other woman, large, florid and loud was contributing enough for both of them. Mostly, it seemed, at the expense of her male companion.

They stepped a little closer and Buffy felt Giles suddenly let go of her fingers, before speaking.

“Hello Stephen,” he said quietly.

They all turned at the same moment, the larger man's eyes widening for a fleeting moment, before his face settled back into its previous look of boredom and disdain.

“Ripper,” he replied, rising slowly and extending a hand.

“Cheers, Rupert,” the other man said with a deal more warmth. “Long time no see.”

Giles took the extended hand and shook it. “Hello, Bob.”

“You remember Judy?” Stephen indicated his companion.

Giles looked down at the deep blue eyes, something deep and painful flickering in his before he smiled for the first time. “Judy! What on earth are you doing with these two reprobates? And what happened to all that hair? I didn't recognise you.”

The shy woman ran a hand over the layered permanent at the back of her head. “I got too old, Rupert,” she said very softly, her eyes flicking up nervously to the other man. “Steve thought I would look more my age with a style. He thought it was taking up too much of my time, taking care of waist length hair at my age.”

Giles' eyes flashed, but he kept his expression gentle for the for former girlfriend he'd failed to recognise, no longer the laughing, long-legged girl he remembered, with the most incredible red hair all the way down to her then voluptuous bottom.

“Your daughter, Rupert?” the other woman asked in her loud, Liverpuddlian accent. “She must look like 'er mother.”

Buffy stepped up alongside Giles. “I am like my mother,” she agreed, “but I also take after my dad. Too bad he couldn't be here for you to meet him,” she drawled.

Giles repressed a smile.

Stephen's eyes narrowed. “Why don't the two of you sit down,” he invited. “You must be starving.”

It was a circular table, and the two empty chairs were between Willis and Seaton.

Giles seated Buffy, unfortunately next to Willis, and settled in the chair next to her.

“Now, some formal intro's for young Buffy, 'ere,” Stephen continued in what Buffy would have described as patronizing false cheer. “Bob Seaton, Doris Bradford, Judy Kirkwood and,” he finally pointed to himself, “Stephen Willis.”

“Stitch,” Buffy nodded, smiling and turned to the other, “and Bacchus. Tough nickname to live up to.”

Bob Seaton had the good grace to colour but he smiled. “Tried,” he conceded.

Giles chuckled. “Bacchus was a wild man when he was on his game.”

Stephen made a grunting noise. “Spent most of 'is time 'ungover or gettin' that way. I don't think our Bacchus remembers much at all before 'seventy five.”

Giles flashed him a look of dislike. “This is Buffy Summers,” he said, touching the fingers of the hand Buffy had rested on the table. “I'm pleased to meet you, Doris. I hope Bac-Bob is better behaved these days.”

Doris smiled. “'E is if 'e knows wot's good for 'im,” she agreed. “Still too fond of the pub and the dogs, is our Bob…and those bloody…”

“Spurs,” Giles, Judy and Stephen finished as one.

“Spurs?” Buffy squeaked, alarmed.

Giles touched her hand. “Tottenham Hotspur. Football…um…soccer team.”

“Oh,” she said, colouring nicely at her momentary image of Doris, and Bob Seaton in cowboy's spurs.

Her lover watched her knowingly and grinned back. At which point she knew she was going to get teased mercilessly at some point. After another beat they reluctantly turned their attention back to their hosts.

“You like dogs?” she asked Seaton, trying to recoup her mistake, and found the whole table chuckling at her.

“Only if the little bleeders 'ave a decent turn o' speed, luv. Not worth two bob if they can't bring a spot 'o joy to an honest punter.”

“Don't be fooled, Buffy,” Giles told her lightly. “The words 'honest punter' have never in my experience been associated with Bacchus Seaton.”

Seaton laughed, his nut-brown eyes dancing. “With my Doris around, you'd be surprised,” he said ruefully. “Isn't that right, darlin'?”

“So what brings you to California?” Giles ventured casually, hoping that the lack of questions or discussion about Buffy would continue.

“That was Stitch's idea,” Seaton explained. “Judy won the pools…well, a share with a few other punters, and 'e thought it'd be a great lark if we all 'ad an 'oliday together and looked up old Ripper while we were at it.”

“You chose California just because I was here?” Giles asked, surprised.

At that point it clicked in Buffy's mind that Giles had pointedly not reverted to the old, feigned accent. She approved, her eyes telling him so, even though he couldn't see them.

Stitch shrugged. “The girls wanted to see 'ollywood and such, and o' course Disneyland. Day after te'morr'er we're going out on a boat to watch bleedin' whales.”

“Sounds like a pretty full schedule. I don't envy you.”

“What are you doing with yourself these days, Rupert?” Judy asked softly.

Giles turned to her, aware that Stephen was suddenly paying extremely close attention.

“I have a store, actually,” he said. “Though before I left England I was curator of the National Museum, and I was a school librarian in Sunnydale until the school was destroyed, I'm actually rather enjoying my new career in retail. Takes me back to old childhood ambitions.”

“Museum? Shopkeeping? And Ripper Giles, a school librarian?” Willis drawled, and laughed. “Isn't that a bit like Ronald Biggs becoming a Sunday school teacher?”

Judy flashed almost angry eyes at her partner, then back to Giles. “You look good, Rupert,” she told him defiantly.

Giles smiled. “Thank you,” he said gently, turning his gaze to Buffy. “Retail can be far more exciting than you give it credit for, Stephen,” he said dryly. “Just ask Buffy, here. She'll tell you how colourful it can be.”

“Yeah…colourful,” Buffy agreed helpfully. “I mean, i-it's not like cash registers vanish everyday, or the store gets trashed by a huge…” She stopped momentarily, eyes widening as she realised what she'd almost said, then continued. “A huge…um…bikie…with an axe…yeah, a bikie, with a real attitude. A-and then there was the time…”

“Yes, all right, Buffy. I think they get the picture,” Giles said in a semi-strangled voice before forcing a smile at everyone. “We've had a few spots of bad luck, but it's a lucrative business, so we've withstood the few losses we've sustained, thus far, with ease.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “He means we've had mondo breakages that weren't his fault, but he's making a bundle with the mail-order thingy and Anya there to annoy…I mean…assist…the customers.”

“Anya would be the one who spoke to us on the telephone?” Stephen asked silkily.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Stevie boy, but that was me,” Buffy said sweetly, before Giles could answer. “Anya is spoken for, and not Rupert's type at all.”

The table fell silent when they realised that Stitch was staring, his eyes glittering unpleasantly, with blunt disbelief.

At that point Judy rose hastily and prompted the others to order. They fell to with such gusto that it took two notebook pages to write down. When she told them the choices, Giles settled for the casserole and Buffy for pasta, though neither of them was really in the mood to eat anymore.

When Judy had gone, taking Doris to help carry it all, the men turned to Giles and Buffy.

“When were you going to tell us?” Seaton asked, amused at the pique he could read like a book, in Willis's face despite the fact that it had turned to stone.

Giles regarded the pair of them with something not too far from disgust, particularly considering that Buffy was sitting right there, alongside him.

“We weren't,” Buffy interjected. “Like it's any of your business what our relationship is.”

“And you're in love with Ripper, darlin,' are you?” Stitch drawled. “Sure he didn't just borrow you from that school of his? Does your mother know where you are?”

For a split second Buffy's face froze in pain, then it was gone, replaced by an angry flush.

“She knows. She knows Rupert is a good, decent, loving man and if she were here, now, she'd smack your face, hard.”

Giles lay a hand on Buffy's arm, partly in support, partly to stop himself tearing Willis's head off.

“He isn't worth it, love,” he said softly. “Are you, Stephen?”

Fierce green eyes met slightly rheumy pale blue ones and bore into them for several long moments.

“Yeah, all right, I didn't mean nothin' by it, luv. Just pulling old Ripper's chain. Thought 'e was pulling ours, y'know, showing up with a bit of all right like y'self.” Willis' body language was defiant, even as his mouth deferred to the superior force.

“That's the difference between you and Giles,” Buffy told him. “You thought that because that's what you'd do. You're only back with Judy to annoy G-Rupert, right? Because you took her away from him once before?”

Willis looked taken aback for a moment then grinned with a combination of bravado, discomfort and irritation.

“Smart kid.”

“Intelligent woman,” Giles corrected.

Buffy smiled at him before turning back to Willis. “He's right. And I'm smart enough to know what I want…who I want. And smart enough to know that he deserves better friends and better memories than this.” She turned back to Giles. “I'm not in the mood for pasta anymore. How 'bout we go and make some memories of our own?”

Giles smiled then turned to the thus far silent Seaton.

“I think that sounds like a very good idea,” he said quietly, but in such a way that the other man simply nodded. Then he turned back to his old nemesis. “Make our apologies to the ladies, would you,” he added almost disdainfully, dropping notes on the table that would easily cover the entire bill, as he rose. “It has been…interesting…to see you both again…and Judy. Ironically it was Buffy who convinced me to come here, against my better judgement. I should have known better.”

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked when they reached the steps of City Hall.

Giles sat down on the top one. “Funnily enough, yes,” he said. “I'd still like to tear the bastard's head off, but the feeling will pass…eventually.”

She sat alongside him. “It wasn't such a good idea, was it?”

“Hm?”

“Convincing you to see them. I thought…I thought…”

“You thought I should confront my enemy,” he guessed.

“Well no. It's kind of more like me seeing how great you look, knowing how much better than that jerk that you are and wanting you to see it too. I thought if you saw them you'd know it too, instead of having all those stupid doubts about yourself.”

“You knew I still had doubts, even after we walked away from them at the hotel?”

Buffy looked at him sideways and grinned impishly. “Yeah, I knew. I don't know what happened to make you doubt yourself so much, but I love you, Rupert Giles, and that makes you as transparent as glass to me.”

He tilted his head, his eyes bright with affection, and grinned back lopsidedly. “I love you too, Buffy Summers,” he said softly, then added: “Smart Alec,” in a gruff voice, and caught her lips with his.

The kiss deepened into one, less of passion, than of deep-seated affirmation of how much they loved each other.

Neither of them saw Judy some yards away, halting in her approach to watch them, before deciding that her intended apology for the behaviour of the others was an intrusion that wasn't needed. She smiled as she turned back for the Plaza Inn. She was going to really enjoy making somebody eat crow when she got back…

When Giles finally lifted his head, Buffy wrinkled her nose at him, her eyes glowing with love. “I'm starving. How about Cajun or Creole?”

His twinkled back. “Sounds appetizing, but Louisiana is a long way away.”

“Now who's a smart Alec?”

*******

Buffy, who adored Cajun and Creole food, watched Giles regarding the soup that had been placed in front of him with something approaching alarm.

“Buffy?”

“Crawfish Bisque. Trust me,” she smiled.

“I don't see any craw…” he stopped as his spoon lifted from the dark soup, replete with rice and what seemed to be the body of a crustacean. He looked at it, then at Buffy over his glasses.

She giggled. “Don't panic. It's just the shell stuffed with bread and crawfish tail dressing. You scoop it out when you've finished the soup. You'll love it. Trust me.”

He sighed. “I knew I should have picked my own when I saw that bloody menu. Serves me right for going to the men's room and leaving you to it, I suppose.”

“Quit grumbling and try it before you sulk.”

He snorted and carefully sampled the soup and rice. And then cleared his throat. “I-It certainly has…character.”

“Spicy,” Buffy guessed, grinning, and offered him her soda, since he'd finished his imported beer.

“Not that spicy,” he said gruffly, and set to, having found Buffy's taste to be rather better than he expected.

Buffy grinned again and went back to her own crab-corn soup.

The late evening atmosphere was very soothing, despite the boats periodically slipping by on their slow journey through 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. It wasn't too busy so late in the afternoon, and it was pleasantly cool.

Giles sat back after filling his glass again with the new bottle of Beck's. “That was most enjoyable, if a little…unusual. I dread to think what you've ordered for a main course, but as long as it isn't looking back at me, I daresay I'll survive.”

Buffy put down her spoon and picked up her wine. “I daresay you will too. You get to choose where we eat next time, okay?”

He smiled. “Next time…I like the sound of that.”

Her eyes sparkled. “So do I.” Her brow furrowed prettily. “So does this mean we're going steady?”

He laughed aloud then sobered, though his own eyes still danced.

“What do you want it to mean?” he asked softly.

Buffy dragged her gaze away from his face to gather her wits.

What did she want…?

She sneaked another look at him. He'd taken the glasses off again to rub his eyes, casting them on the table and sitting back in his chair. It was kind of weird, thinking words like 'forever' about Giles, but even as she watched his long fingers fall to his side and his beautiful eyes open again, she knew.

She knew from the rattling of her heart almost into a crescendo, the way her palms had grown damp again, despite the cool air rising from the waterway nearby. She knew, too, from the way her body grew warm and demanding every time she remembered their night together.

“What do you want?” she asked, afraid to speak her own feelings out loud, so strong were they.

Giles straightened and stared at her, taking in her cheeks, flushed not just from the hot food now, and the way her hands were knotted together.

“Truth?”

She nodded.

He spoke very softly. “I want to hold you and love you until my last breath. I want to take you somewhere you'll be safe always, and no demon, no vampire…nothing…can ever hurt you again…can ever take you from me.”

Buffy stared, transfixed. “We…I-I can't,” she barely managed to whisper.

“I know,” he said, a raw, almost mourning note beneath his otherwise calm tone. “And I'm sorry. Buffy, I can only offer you my love, my heart and everything that I am. I can promise to care for you, to try to protect you and to do everything in my power to make you happy…but…”

The blue-grey eyes glistened in the subtle light. “ But there are no guarantees. We've always known that. She reached out to cover the fist he'd clenched on the table.

“You asked me what I wanted it to mean…us…I mean…”

Giles held his breath. She looked so damned serious…almost frightened. His fist clenched tighter.

“Giles, I want us to mean forever. I want us to be a team in every way that counts…I love you so much…” She stopped after the vehemence of that statement then went on. “I want…I want to be with you…all the time.” Her eyes grew bleak. “Everything is so complicated now. There's Dawn…I mean, I can't believe that if this had happened even a year ago, I'd be moving into your apartment faster than you can say 'Fire demon!' Now I've got someone to take care of…and I can't just go, no matter how much I want to.”

He turned the clenched fist, opened it, and took her hand in his. “I know. And I will support you every step of the way, but I want you in my life, Buffy, not just on the back of a motorcycle, or snatching moments here and there…”

“We have to find a way,” she said simply.

He lifted her palm and kissed it. “We will,” he said, as the next course arrived.

They both sat back and Buffy watched Giles' face as the plate was placed in front of him.

The look of trepidation slowly transmuted into one of interest, then as he sniffed the appetizing aroma, appreciation.

“I took pity,” she said, amused. “I figured the crawfish would be enough 'brave new world' for you for one day. “It's a rib-eye steak with garlic-mushroom sauce. Still part of the cuisine, but not too exotic for the old British guy.”

Giles cut through the meat like butter with his steak knife, then gave her one of his patented 'oh, very funny' looks over his replaced glasses.

“And what exactly is it that you ordered?” he asked eyeing the green-filled shells on her plate.

“Oysters Rockerfeller,” she told him, while scooping one out with her fork.

“How can you smother a good oyster in something as prosaic as Spinach?”

Buffy rolled her eyes and lifted the contents of a shell to his mouth with her fork.
He eyed it as though it was poisonous, then her, then the food again, before gingerly opening his mouth and slipping it from the fork.

Amused, she watched him eat, the scrunch fading until he looked sheepishly surprised.

“It is rather good,” he agreed.

Buffy grinned. “My brave hero.”

“I make a very fine Texas chilli, I'll have you know,” he huffed. “It just seemed a travesty to cover good oysters with soggy spinach.”

“Well now you know better.”

He grunted. “Your turn will come.”

“To try your chilli?”

Giles grinned. “Among other things.”


*******

“No.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“Bugger.”

Buffy grinned and pulled him after her waving at the roving photographer to follow. They were taking a last, leisurely tour around the park, in reverse, when Buffy had spotted Pooh Corner as they made their way, finally, back to Frontier and Adventure Lands.

Giles found himself enveloped by Winnie the Pooh, his glasses almost knocked off before he stuffed them into his pocket again and Buffy was caught up by the bear's other arm. The photograph was snapped and Giles hastily disentangled himself from the Disney icon, much to Buffy's amusement. They were about to go back and pay for the picture when Giles spied a couple more of the characters hovering close by, entertaining some small children.

“Buffy, one more,” he said.

She turned, surprised, and about to tell him off for teasing her, but stopped. He didn't look like he was teasing. He turned a little and pointed.

Buffy followed his finger, and felt a rush of moisture clutter her eyes.

“You big softie.”

Giles extricated Eeyore from the grip of the children and a happy Buffy buried herself in the giant soft toy version of her childhood favourite, which obligingly cuddled back.

The photographer smiled as he handed her the second instant picture and saw her happy grin, his own widening when she rushed into her companion's arms, to kiss and be kissed soundly.

“Where to, now?” Giles asked contentedly when they had paid the photographer, Buffy's arm around his waist, his around her shoulder, the other hand carrying her packages.

Buffy leaned her head into his chest. “I want to go back to the hotel,” she told him. “I have this overwhelming need to commune with my Watcher on many and various levels.”

He laughed. “I think something can be arranged.”

As they headed back through Frontier Land they were too engrossed in each other, and their plans for the evening, to notice who was manning the Davy Crockett canoe slowly making its way through the water.

A disgruntled Stitch stopped paddling and watched the pair, along with the others, when they followed his gaze and realized what was distracting him.

A red-faced Doris beamed as she dug her consort in the ribs. “See, didn't she tell the pair of you? Good for them, I say.”

“Shut up,” growled a voice in front of her. Doris hit him in the back with her wet paddle.

“Cow!”

Doris hit him again.

“Serves you right,” Seaton managed, roaring with laughter.

“Oh…isn't that romantic,” Judy sighed, watching the tall figure stop and bend as though listening, to have the smaller figure wind her arms around his neck. He slid his around her slender body and lifted until her face was at the same level as his. The kiss lingered for the longest time.

“Sickening. She's half his age.”

Judy hit him with her handbag. “If you know what's good for you you'll shut up, or you'll be finding your own room tonight, Stephen Willis.”

Seaton roared with laughter again. “Not likely that Old Ripper'll be sleeping alone tonight 'eh?”

Willis suddenly developed an interest in paddling again, pulling too much and splashing, annoying the people in front of him.

“Can't this thing go any faster?”

He was greeted with more laughter from his friends and murmurs of 'idiot' and other less polite terms from the rest of the canoe.

Giles let Buffy slide down slowly.

“If I'd known how productive it was going to be, I'd have had my picture taken with the blue monstr—um fellow, myself,” he chuckled.

“Your smoochie credits are going to run out real fast if you keep calling Eeyore a monstrosity,” Buffy retorted, letting her hand slide down his back to slap his butt playfully.

“Buffy!” he growled.

“What? You're shy?”

“You wait until we get back to the hotel. I'll show you who's shy.”

Buffy giggled and rested the errant hand on his left buttock. “So, you're not shy?”

“Never been shy in my life,” he said, and slid his own hand down to cover one red-leather covered cheek.

“Giles!”

It was his turn to laugh, but he obligingly moved the hand back around her shoulders.

“That's better,” she growled. “But only until we get out of the park.”

He kissed the top of her head and moved his lips close to her ear to whisper something as they made their way out of Frontier Land and back up Main Street to the gate.

Buffy turned beet red but her eyes flashed with desire and amusement. “You really aren't shy, are you?” she told him, flustered.

He nibbled her ear for a moment then straightened. “Not in the least. There's simply a time and place for everything,” he said, amused.

“Uh-huh, this from the guy we caught kissing in the school library,” she pointed out dryly.

“Caught kissing…who?” he demanded, flustered.

Buffy's eyes widened and her face lit with laughter. “There's been more than one? Mister Giles, I didn't know you had it in you!”

It was Giles' turn to have his cheeks turn beet red. “Ah…oh, you saw that. Well, there were circumstances,” he huffed.

“Uh-huh,” Buffy agreed, enjoying herself. “It's not every day you get shot in the butt by your lady-love.”

“And no there hasn't been anyone else. I'll have you know you all but turned me into a monk for three years,” he added snappily. “And you were the one who shot me in the…er…buttock, if you care to remember. The crossbow bolt was in my back.”

“I thought Olivia was taking care of…things,” Buffy teased, ignoring the tranquillizer gun reference, and half hoping to get some answers about that particular enigma.

Giles sighed and let go of Buffy to fish out his glasses and put them back on.

Buffy watched him with a combination of love and exasperation, only too well aware of the meaning of that trademark tic.

“I have known Olivia for many years and you know it. She only came back into my life during the last weeks of that summer after you graduated. I can't say I wasn't pleased to see her, nor can I say I didn't enjoy her company when she was here. Contrary to popular belief I am a man, Buffy, with a man's needs and Human Being's tendency to get terribly lonely at times, without a companion, or even modest company.”

“Hey,” Buffy protested. “Weren't we modest company? Didn't we provide companionship?”

He smiled at her umbrage. “No,” he said softly. “You didn't.”

Buffy took a moment to think about that while he went on.

“You were all like family to me, but whilst you, yourself, were beyond your years in many ways, and good company when we trained, you were still young and preoccupied with your own affairs, as were the others. Annoyingly so at times.”

“We were annoying?” Buffy repeated, surprised.

Giles tilted his head to one side and gave her 'the look.'

“Okay, so you didn't like my taste in aerobics music…or men,” she grinned. “What about the others? I thought Xand was your man, and Willow was like your total research girl?”

He took the glasses off and stopped, turning to face her. “You were all teenagers. I was a grown man. Xander…I care a great deal for all of you, but Xander was as exasperating and frustrating as any teenage boy, and Willow, while closer at hand…was in general as preoccupied with her affairs as you were.”

“Xander and Oz,” Buffy guessed, not sure she wasn't a little jealous of Willow, and even less sure why. “And Xander, jonesing for me and then Cordelia, then Willow, and then Cordy again…not to mention my endless saga with Angel and incarnations thereof…”

“I understood that you were all growing up and finding yourselves,” he pointed out, but I needed…well I…I needed someone who needed me…not the Watcher, not the Librarian nor the custodian of the weapons and the books. Just me…”

“Miss Calendar,” Buffy said quietly. “You were actually happy…for just a little while, anyway.”

His gaze lingered a moment on her face and then he nodded. “For a time. Happiness is a precious thing, Buffy, as you well know, and sometimes we pay a terrible price even for the smallest taste…”

Buffy swallowed, her eyes suddenly mirrors to another time, and nodded, her expression intense. “I…I know,” she confirmed.

The green eyes searched her face intently.

A-are you…are you happy…now, Giles?” she asked, genuinely uncertain of his reply, and painfully aware of his scrutiny.

After a moment's uncomfortable silence he reached out and brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“More than I could have ever dreamed,” he whispered. “I've always believed I would have to watch you walk away from me one day, perhaps even force myself to be content to see you in another man's arms because it made you happy, but nothing could have prepared me for…”

He stopped suddenly, but was lost, because he had no glasses on to whip off and clean, his hands finally falling to his sides in frustration as he struggled with unaccustomed emotion.

For a moment Buffy was frozen, past and present colliding and exploding in a maelstrom of memories, regrets and hurts.

“No more than anything could have prepared me,” she said finally, hoarsely. “Take me home, Giles.”

He looked up, startled, then saw the passion in her eyes, the expression on her face. “It's not far to the hotel.”

Buffy shook her head. “Home,” she repeated. “With its funny little kitchen and its old furniture, its cute little loft…and even cuter owner.”
The tension broke.

Giles grinned sheepishly. “Cute? I'm cute, now? I thought cute was a word reserved for the striplings that pass for leading men these days, or the stars of those interminable music videos on the cable channels.”

“The cutest,” Buffy said in a voice that said a great many things.

His smiled widened as the warm connection between them flared into an almost palpable entity. Finally Buffy spoke again.

“So how fast can this motorcycle of yours go?”


*******

Giles unlocked the apartment door and they both moved to go in, both hesitated.

They looked at each other, then into the familiar room, aware, perhaps for the first time, of the irrevocable step they'd taken.

Then, silently, Giles slid an arm behind Buffy's knees and lifted her, backpack and all, into his arms.

“The cute guy suddenly turns into my handsome prince,” she said contentedly, trailing her lips over his throat. “So glad you bypassed the frog part.”

He looked down then, amused, and captured her lips with his own. “As am I,” he said huskily, kicking the door closed behind him. “Let's bypass a few other things, shall we?”

“Mm,” Buffy agreed as he moved swiftly up the stairs.


*******

Giles stirred in sleepy contentment from a deep sleep. He felt bloody wonderful…

Then he frowned as his conscious thoughts unjumbled themselves.

“Buffy,” he whispered, refusing to believe his own mind, turned, and found the place beside him empty. He sat up, his heat racing, and frowned.

The combination television set and VCR he had finally relented and bought to replace his ancient one, had been carried upstairs and set on a chair at the foot of the bed.

“Buffy?” he called tentatively.

A moment later there were footsteps bounding up the stairs and a body landing on the bed.

“You're awake!” she cried cheerfully, sliding her arms around his neck and kissing him soundly.

“Very,” he croaked, subsiding back into the contented glow he'd woken in. “Where did you go? Is everything—?”

Buffy kissed him again. “Everything's fine, worry guy. I just couldn't bear to wake you up after last night. You have no idea how adorable you look when you're asleep, do you?”

“Well, it's been rather a long time since…” he started earnestly.

“Never mind,” she grinned. “Trust me. Adorable.”

He reddened and smiled with his usual self-consciousness.

“I bought you something at Disneyland.”

“Churros?” Giles asked automatically.

“No, silly. Always thinking with your stomach.”

“If it's Pooh Bear, I don't care what you say, he will reside in the chest of charms and amulets and not be seen in public…” he growled.

Buffy giggled. “Poor Hunny bear, but nope. Not even close.”

She picked up the remote she'd thrown on the bed on her arrival and turned the set on before picking up an empty tape cover and handing it to him.

Even without his glasses he could see the figure on the front. He stayed very silent while she climbed under the covers and snuggled up against him as the theme music rose, and Fess Parker strode onto the screen.

“Somebody should have watched it with you,” she said softly, not surprised when he didn't look at her. Instead, she handed him the remote, yawning widely.

“We didn't get very much sleep last night did we?”

“Not much. As I recall you kept me rather busy,” Giles pointed out, unable to entirely hide the emotion in his matter-of-fact tone.

“Like you're complaining,” she teased. “So, does Crockett kick Mike Fink's butt?”

“Watch the show and find out,” he told her, grunting when she reached up and kissed him long and passionately.

“Bookmark,” she explained when they parted again.


*******

“Are you sure it's okay? I mean, Giles isn't here…we shouldn't…”

“No we shouldn't,” Tara agreed. “It can wait.”

Willow looked at both of them. “I want to finish their surprise, and can't do it without that book. We have to…”

“Why couldn't it be at the Magic Box like all the others?” Xander growled.

“Because it was his grandmother's. It's special.”

“And you're even thinking about touching it, why?” he demanded, surprised and annoyed.

“Because it's important,” Willow retorted. “This spell is to protect both of them. I-it's going to give them both power over darkness.”

“Willow?” Tara's voice was alarmed.

“I can do this,” Willow insisted, annoyed. “Why does everybody assume I'm going to fail?”

“Um, because you always—”

Xander clapped a hand over his girlfriend's mouth. “Because we worry about you, Will. This isn't a good idea. It's wrong and it's not fair to Giles.”

“I don't care. You just think I'm going to mess up again. I'm going to get the book and do the spell and…and…”

Willow had unlocked the door with the spare key from under the planter, and stumbled into the apartment before she ran out of steam.

Everything was still and quiet. Before Tara or Xander could stop her, Willow had started up the stairs. By the time she reached the landing they were all behind her and all almost cannoned into her when she stopped dead.
The television had long since run to static and the occupants of the bed were asleep sitting up, Buffy curled up against Giles.

Willow made a frustrated face then half smiled at the sleeping pair before turning. Most of the others followed.

For a long moment Xander remained, the instinctively grossed-out look on his face giving way to amusement. Then he was smiling to himself, his eyes very bright as he watched two of the loneliest people he knew not being lonely any more.

“Finally,” he whispered

After another moment he turned to follow the others.


* * *