A Rocky Halloween

“You promise you won't wear that sombrero again?”

Giles sighed. “You don't have to keep repeating yourself, Buffy. I got the message. No more sombrero, all right? Bloody thing was only rented, anyway.”

“Good. If you must wear a costume, fine, but try to at least look like a grown up this year.”

Giles had the greatest difficulty not grinning. “Most certainly,” he agreed, “Although I'm working All Hollow's eve this year, right after our patrol, in fact. Actually, I might have to leave early.”

“Working? The store? You're staying open late for Halloween? Why?”

“Well, yes. Anya and Xander are working, for double time, because what better time is there for…but that's not what I meant.”

“You're moonlighting?” she guessed, grinning

“Not exactly. Just a couple of numbers at the Espresso pump, to keep my hand in,” he added casually.

She frowned. “I thought the 'Pump was doing a big Halloween thing this year. What are you going to sing?” She had a sudden thought and her eyes went wide. “Tell me you are NOT going to go as Dracula,” she squeaked.

“I am NOT going to go as Dracula,” he assured her, deadpanned.

“Good. Well, unless you want to go over this fencing routine for the hundredth time, I guess I'd better be going. I need to do some heavy duty study tonight and I've gotta go patrol first.”

“Buffy,” he said softly. “Don't push yourself so hard. You'll need all the reserves you've got for whatever is coming. What you've told me about Dawn…it's…the possibilities are terrifying.”

She half smiled, the fear still evident in her eyes. “I know. It's just not quite so terrifying now that I've talked to you about it.”

He smiled back. It had been a long time…too long. “Be careful,” he said, as she rose and dropped the hand towel that was around her neck.

“I will,” she said. “Hey, you didn't tell me what you were wearing for Halloween!”

“Later!” he called as she disappeared, then smiled to himself again. With any luck all of them would be far too busy with their own projects, parties, the magic shop and such to come anywhere near the Espresso Pump…


*******


The trunk was old and dusty, and the catch quite obviously hadn't been unlocked in years. Giles wiped it with a dust-cloth and brushed the cobwebs away. Then he hesitated. He'd avoided this particular Pandora's box of memories for an extraordinarily long time. There was as much pain and heartache as there were good memories, inside it.

And then it was open. Everything inside was exactly as it had been the last time he looked, just as it should have been. He lifted out the books of poetry and classics that had been his father's, including the volume he'd loaned Jenny once, long, long, ago, and picked up a picture frame.

He stared at it for a long time. He hadn't seen his mother's face in too many years. After a beat he swallowed hard and blinked quickly, then put the picture with the books. Next, there was a jewellery case, containing most of the earrings and other jewellery he'd bought, been given, and in the case of some of the more tacky items, stolen, over the years. He chuckled at the pewter skull necklace. They'd been about sixteen, the group he ran with. The vendor had chased them for three streets before giving up.

He shook his head. So much of his youth wasted in such small, futile rebellions…

Giles closed the box before the other trinkets triggered any more memories. There were so many of them…

He took out some old hats, a folder full of photographs, some so old they'd faded, others a potted version of the last twenty years of his life…of the life he'd led before coming to Sunnydale, anyway. There were some rather tattered black and white strips from cheap photographic booths as well. He only looked at them for a moment before closing the folder with a trembling hand.

They were all gone now, the whole group, Deirdre, Phillip, Randall…all of them…except Ethan…

He sighed jaggedly and continued to remove items from the trunk until he found what he was looking for.

First, the jacket, then the flimsier items: the wig, the deliberately damaged lace stockings and the black lingerie, the theatrical make up set with his name still scratched on the lid, and the heels. He laughed aloud, but there was no humour in it…where did all those bloody years go?

When he'd laid everything out, he just sat and looked at it for a long while. They were the remnants of a Rupert Giles he thought he'd lost…the rebellious young man who, once upon a time, still remembered who he was, and what he really wanted from life.

He ran his fingers over the soft leather of the jacket. That young man had finally relinquished his hold to the Watcher's Council, and had sat out, unhappily, the last many years of Rupert Giles' pre-destined life…

Giles wondered what the gang would had made of that boy…

He had memories of the one time Buffy had been confronted by Ripper…but that had been an aberration of Ethan's magic, combining the influence of his adult experiences, with an unleashed amalgam of the worst aspects of his adolescence and youth to create a hybrid, amoral version of Ripper, bearing very little resemblance to the complicated, unhappy young man he'd really been all those years ago.

Xander had once teased him, too, about the photograph they'd found around the time Eyghon had returned.

It was a picture of him performing in the group he'd formed briefly, before Ethan had more or less taken over his life, and the pursuit of pleasure…or more correctly the flight from his destiny…had become all consuming, and utterly destructive…

Before Ethan, however, there had been a time…a little while when he had known the pure joy of being exactly who he wanted to be…and revelled in it.

And the memory of it still hurt…

He picked up the jacket. It still smelled very vaguely of cigarette smoke and perfume, and made him laugh again, but the olfactory trigger also set off a stream of memories.

There were so many. The band, the gig near the theatre, partying til dawn with the resident Players after their respective performances were over, or sometimes just winding down together at the pub…clouds of cigarette smoke, beer, faceless girls, and lots of talking, joking, lies, bravado, and ultimately truth…about who he was, what he wanted to be…

It was at the pub that he'd been challenged to audition for the newly vacated lead role in the little regional production of a hit show that had already achieved cult status, even then. The lead had come to work drunk, promptly fell off the stage during rehearsal and broke both his left arm and hip before being sacked on the spot and carted off to hospital.

Ripper's mates in the band had always bagged him mercilessly about his lack of inhibition on stage during their performances. It had been little more than an outpouring of passion, of real joy in what he was doing, but they happily challenged his intellect, his sexuality and his parentage during their rowdy taunts.

None of them had believed for a moment that he'd actually do it…actually accept the challenge…

Which, of course, is exactly why he had…

He picked up the wig and smiled again. The first time he'd stepped out on stage, he'd been terrified. It had been worse than being naked. You could cover your nakedness…but there was no hiding Frank, or the part of himself that became Frank.

By the third performance, he knew he'd fallen in love with acting, with performing …and by the twentieth he knew he loved it far more than touring his small, struggling band in pubs and clubs…

Giles laughed softly. His band would have made Oz's Dingoes look like Pink Floyd…

He would have gone on doing the role until the season was over, and, if necessary, found new roles to play, to carve a life for himself doing what he loved…anything but going back to Oxford and a life he never chose...

…That was, until the word had come about his father's passing…

And not too long after that both the Council and Ethan Rayne, stepped back into his life…and everything that was good somehow got swept aside in the blur that was his time with Ethan, the escape that was Ethan…until Randall happened…and it had all ended, forever.

Destiny had won…

He shook his head, packed everything else back in the trunk and locked it before gathering up the costume and make up.

Bringing it out of the storeroom, and into the living part of his apartment some how made what he was about to do seem starkly, and frighteningly, real: he'd actually committed himself to appear in public, in these bold remants of his past.

Giles shook his head at his folly and contemplated a drink, then shook his head again. He'd promised himself, after the year he'd had, not to mention what his drinking after Spike's visit might have cost Buffy, and himself, if events had moved any faster…that he would restrict his consumption of alcohol to social drinking only, from then on.

He rubbed his face with his hands then rested it in his palms. *Could he really do it again? Could he ever, really hope to capture the magic of that short, precious, time again, especially here in bloody Sunnydale, of all places…?*

After a few more moments of indulging the pre-performance jitters, he dropped his hands. *More like pre-performance _terror_* he thought ruefully.

Still, when it came right down to it, he didn't really give a damn what anyone outside of Buffy and the gang, thought…

Nobody had given a damn about his sudden need to sing again, nor had anyone objected to his performances, his clothes or even the nostalgic earring he'd worn to celebrate his small return to the one true passion of his life. Even Buffy and Xander had ceased their carping, eventually, even if Buffy had yet to actually make it to make it to one of his performances…and he strongly suspected that Willow and Tara, self professed fans, had bullied Xander into his revision of his original reaction…disclosed to himself, without subtlety, one day, by an annoyed Anya.

With a sigh he reached out and picked up the jacket again. He was still in his shirtsleeves. On impulse, he drew it on. It still fit, as he anticipated it would. Once he'd reached his mid twenties, he'd filled out and grown into his body, and had more or less retained the same broad build ever since, give or take a few pounds around the hips.

His guitar was still alongside his chair.

He settled with it and ran through his habitual tuning routine. It was comforting, and helped soothe away the residual nerves. When he was done he closed his eyes and began to pick out the notes of 'Going Home,' one of his sentimental favourites from the production. By the time it was done and he opened his soft green eyes, moisture crowded his lashes.

For a long moment he sat and stared into nothing, unable or unwilling to come back from the best, most pure moments of joy he known in his long, battle-scarred life.

Then, suddenly, he snapped out of it and put down the guitar in brisk, Watcher-like fashion, jumped up and went to the kitchen to make tea, which he did with a minimum of fuss, before taking the steaming mug and climbing the stairs by twos to the loft, and his bed.


*******

“Are you sure you don't want to come with us?”

“Yes, Willow, I'm sure. But thank you for asking.”

“Yeah, Will, I told you he has to work, tonight,” Buffy said absently, all her senses stretched to their limit, actively seeking trouble as they wandered through the crematorium grounds.

“Okay. I remember. It's just, well, sometimes you say you're going to be doing things just because you don't want to, you know, get in the way, and then we find out you were home alone all the time.”

Giles looked down at his young friend. “This time I really do have to be somewhere, Willow. I'm not expecting to be home until after midnight, actually. I shall be out until well after the witching hour, in fact,” he grinned.

Buffy, watching them both for a moment, whilst contemplating the disturbance in what she now facetiously called 'the force', and it's location near the front gates of the crematorium, thought that he looked almost unnaturally pleased with himself. A moment later her smile vanished. He hadn't looked like that since just before his last real date with Jenny Calendar…

And then her mind, and her body, were elsewhere, tearing along the path as the ripple in her awareness consolidated into the knowledge that there were three vamps trying to break into the back entrance of the crematorium, probably to reach the morgue.

Willow and Giles scrambled to a halt minutes later to witness Buffy despatching the last of them as it burst through the crematorium doors. Newly risen, no doubt.

“So much for them having better things to do tonight,” she drawled. “Unlike some of us. Giles, don't you have to go?”

He looked at his watch. “Damn, yes, I mean…do you want a ride back to the Bronze…or home…or…”

Willow grinned and Buffy smiled tolerantly at him. “Go,” she said. “I'm going to hit Restfield and the brand new one…”

“Winchester Reserve?”

“Yeah, that one. What kind of stupid name is that for a cemetery?”

“A privately owned one,” Willow drawled.

“Well, whatever. We're going to check it out anyway, and that will put us back near Willow's house, where we plan to change into our Halloween costumes, thence to
par-tee,” she finished in her silly voice, before frowning and turning to Giles. “Thence? That's got to be one of yours. What is that? Osmosis?” she grinned.

“One can only hope,” he smiled back. “Enjoy your Halloween.”

“You too!” they both called after him, as he continued past the building and out to where his new car stood waiting.

When he was out of sight, Buffy turned to Willow. “Something's up,” she said bluntly.

Willow nodded. “You too? I don't think it's anything bad, though. He seems too…happy…but nervous too, you know?”

“I know,” Buffy confirmed, less confidence in her voice. “I don't like it.”

“Maybe we're just overreacting because we're not used to Giles being…well…”

“Happy?” Buffy supplied.

“Not exactly…but yeah,” Willow replied. “It's like…he's just there, most of the time…just, well, you know, Giles. Now it's like there's a part of him we don't know anything about, all excited in a little boy, I'm-not-telling-you, kind of way and trying really hard to hide it.”

Buffy's eyes flashed with amusement. “Wow, Will, you must really have listened in Professor Walsh's classes last year.”

Willow chuckled. “Well…yeah, but…not really. I just care about him, Buffy.”

There was a momentary silence.

“Well, it may not always be obvious, but so do I, and whatever it is that's got him more excited than when brought that car home from the lot, has me worried. I don't want him to get hurt again…not *ever* again.”

Willow's eyes widened. She'd pretty much given up on getting Buffy to be more aware of anything go on outside of the Slaying and possibly Riley, but…

“Don't look like that,” Buffy shot back. “I know I haven't exactly been 'with it' girl for the last year or so and I'm trying to do better, but trust me, even if I don't show it, I care…about all of you…especially him.”

“More than me?” Willow pouted momentarily.

Buffy grinned. “Will, you're still my best friend in the world, okay? But Giles…he's…. well, I don't need to put it into words for you after all this time, do I? He's Giles.”

Willow watched Buffy stoop to pick up her stake, and followed with a goofy grin on her face. She had missed this Buffy…the real Buffy…terribly over the last months. She wondered if the best of Buffy was back because she was training with Giles again…or if it had to do with the increasingly rocky relationship with Riley. Whatever the cause, their Buffy was slowly coming back from the long lunch she'd been out to for so long.


********


They piled out into the street, laughing and giggling, to find themselves awash in late night revellers dressed in bizarre costumes of all kinds.

“Wow,” Xander commented as something that seemed to be wearing its intestines on the outside, sauntered past, and an eerily perfect Edward Scissor hands went by with a life-like Narn. “There are some weird things on the street tonight. Is it me or is it less fun when the kiddies have gone to bed?”

Willow watched a pair of perfectly matched Borg cross the street, and yet another Headless, horseless, horseman, come out of the Bronze smoking through its collar.

“You're right. It's majorly weird,” she added. “At least when the kids are around it's fun to watch their faces when they get treated and to see what costumes are in fashion this year.”

“Yeah,” Xander agreed less enthusiastically. “Anyone else into serious Pokemon overload, here?”

Tara giggled.

“So where to next?” Buffy asked.

Xander straightened, suddenly filling out his Zorro costume rather well, complimented nicely by Anya's vivid flamenco outfit.

“Wanna go trick or treating just to annoy people?” he suggested.

The girls rolled their eyes.

“Will we get treats?” Anya asked.

“We should go get some ice cream,” Willow suggested.

“On Halloween? There's a movie marathon…anyone here *not* want to see every Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth movie ever made?”

Everyone socked Xander at the same time. “Okay, that's out,” he sulked, rubbing his bruised biceps.

“Coffee,” Tara said suddenly. “I vote we make plans over mochas.”

Buffy's eyes widened. “Giles is at the 'Pump tonight. Do you think we should bother him?”

The others looked at her. “You really think he's going to care if we're drinking Mochas?” Anya demanded. “I vote for coffee.”

As they approached the small café, it was obvious that a lot of the noise spilling onto the street was coming from there.

“Hey, they've got a band this year,” Xander said gleefully. “This should be good…except…wait…I'm remembering something.” He turned to Anya. “Hon, don't I remember Halloween posters on the walls last time we were there?”

Anya nodded, disinterested. “They're having some kind of tribute to some ancient musical show. Everyone was supposed to dress up as characters from the show. There were going to be prizes.”

Buffy and Willow groaned.

“As long as it's not Grease or something,” Willow muttered. “Oh, my God, if Giles is there tonight, what's he dressed as?”

“Danny Zuco?” Tara offered, nonplussed.

Xander guffawed. “…And Giles with a ducktail?” He did a mock shudder.

“No…not Grease. I like Grease,” Anya growled pointedly at her boyfriend. “Something about Rocks…or Rocky…or something.”

“Yeah, well, Giles as Sylvester Stallone doesn't do it for me either,” Xander cracked snidely then his eyes went like saucers. “Oh God, not Rocky 'The Italian Stallion' Rocky. Rocky as in 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' Rocky.”

Everyone stopped in their tracks.

“Oh…my God,” Buffy exclaimed in staccato fashion. “He's only going to watch, right? He can wear all black and blend right in…right?”

A particularly spectacular version of Frank-N-Futer wandered by with a Brad on one arm and a Janet on the other.

Willow, Buffy and Xander looked at each other. “No,” they said simultaneously.

“Not possible,” Xander declared, beginning to walk back and forth in small circles.

“Fundamentally incapable of…” Buffy trailed off, remembering the Wizard's costume. “Oh, God,” she said again.

“You guys don't think he's actually…performing…tonight, do you?” Willow asked feebly.

“Oh God,” they all said in unison.

“I vote we go in…we need the caffeine now…I need the caffeine now…and I for one am not going to sleep at all tonight unless I know for sure,” Xander declared. “And then I'm not going to sleep anyway because I'll be wired on caffeine…”

By consensus they continued on, to where people spilled out of the café onto the street, almost all of them spectacularly costumed in authentic reproductions of the stage costumes from the musical itself.

Buffy looked at her own sentimentally chosen skating outfit and Willow and Tara's leather-and-lots-of-leg outfits, and decided that she was just always going to be hopelessly out of step, rolling her eyes at thoughts of the previous year's recycled Red Riding Hood costume.

At that point a rather large wedge of mildly inebriated people detached themselves from the throng and staggered out into the night. By the time they'd all installed themselves in positions where they could actually see what was happening, they were well aware that the whole café had more or less been converted into stage and props. Lights, music and a band had been brought in, and the whole thing felt like a tiny theatre. Costumed patrons…or participants…thronged the whole area. There was no sign of Giles, though several spectacularly costumed patrons came away from the inner throng bearing prizes.

Then the band began to play and the din coalesced into the beginning of the presentation, silence falling as the music rose.

The musical flourish rose to a crescendo, then a voice breathed into a microphone and uttered the words:

'I see you've met my faithful…handy man…”

And the crowd parted.

Willow squeaked.

Xander said a word the girls had never heard pass his lips before.

Tara whispered, “Wow!”

And Anya demanded that Xander should dress like that for her one night.

They all looked at Buffy, who stood transfixed, like a deer in a spotlight, almost catatonic, as the figure on stage continued his number, singing to a hand picked Brad and Janet with all the sensual and sexual menace of the original character.

“Oh…my…God…” Buffy stammered eventually as Giles turned, revealing the length of leg in the black lace stockings, the height of his authentic heels, and how well he moved in them.

“Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” she said under breath, almost like a mantra.

Xander said that word again.

“Me too,” Willow barely managed, “And…wow!”

He wasn't wearing a wig, but his face was authentically made up in true theatrical style, his hair looked stunning, and he wore the sexiest leather jacket with its collar standing, and underneath…nothing but a black teddy, lace tights and some kind of garter or something…along with the two inch heels.

“Uh-huh,” Tara agreed, not quite steadily. “Wow…”

Giles touched the face of the girl playing Janet as he sang, and Anya whimpered, then turned to Xander and whispered loudly “I want one.”

Resigned, he made a mental note to ask Giles if he could borrow the outfit later.

“Oh God,” Buffy said again, until Willow gave her a small shove, like moving the stylus on a stuck record. “It's Giles!” she exclaimed.

“Nooo,” Xander shot back. “Really?”

“H-h-he promised to wear something good this year. H-h-he promised not to wear the sombero,” she protested dazedly.

“Does anyone here have a problem with that outfit as a Halloween costume?” Xander asked, turning to each of them in turn. Everyone gave him an emphatic shake of the head, all eyes still as wide as saucers.

“It's…it's…I don't feel well,” Buffy said weakly, watching him sway as he sang, then pirouette on one heel, letting the jacket fall wide open as he approached the handsome young man playing Brad.

“Oh-h-h,” Willow whimpered as he leaned forward.

“Oh God,” Xander managed in a strangled voice. “I can't look.”

Anya grinned.

Tara stared.

Buffy swallowed hard and, when 'Brad' and 'Janet' finished their lines, and Giles let his mouth brush the young man's more than willing lips, she repeated the word Xander had said earlier, her face alternately violently red, and white as a sheet.

At that point Giles pivoted again, and his voice moved into a provocative falsetto as he repeated the chorus of Sweet Transvestite. This time he was looking directly at her.

She saw his double take, tiny as it was, and his momentary panic as his eyes darted from one Scooby to another.

Then he seemed to make a decision, all in a split second, and his voice firmed and became, if anything, even more emphatic than it was before.

The green eyes flashed and glittered in the single, hand controlled spotlight, as he insinuated himself toward her.

Around Buffy, all the girls groaned.

“This is very bad,” Xander whimpered.

Giles leaned forward until he was only inches from her mouth. He spoke in a voice that sent chills down her spine and drew more moans from the other women.

“Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab…I see you shiver with antici…”

The room fell deathly silent as he held the note back.



….pation…” he finished in a breathless seduction that made Buffy swallow again, the feel of his breath on her face sending tremors through her entire body as she stared into the wicked green eyes, so close that she could see the shape of the small brown patch in the left one.

And then his voice rose again in song: “But maybe the rain is really to blame

…so I'll remove the cause…”

He leaned even closer, until he was almost brushing her mouth with his and continued in a sensuous, sinewy whisper:

“…but not the symptom…”

Buffy's mouth fell open as his lips finally…barely…caressed hers.

It was over.

The crowd erupted into cheering, whistles and foot stomping, none of which she heard as she continued to stare into those eyes.

Then he grinned, a grin she'd never seen before…filled with devilment, satisfaction, amusement, but most of all pure joy.

Finally, she breathed again, and found herself grinning back.

As soon as she did, he spun away, taking his bows and laughing, still in character and seemingly enjoying every moment, until the lights dimmed a little and he moved into position to sing again.

Willow moved up alongside her.

“W-What was that?” Buffy whispered as the band began a considerably quieter intro.

“I don't know,” Willow said, still in awe, “but Giles better not find himself alone with Anya in the magic shop any time soon, or he could be in real trouble.”

Tara giggled and turned it into a cough, but Buffy continued to stare, oblivious. A small distance away Anya and Xander were bickering in low voices.

“She wants him in lace, he says no way,” Willow explained when Buffy turned her head just enough to see what Xander's strangled 'what!' was about.

“Oh…and eieww,” Buffy said dazedly, turning as Giles began to sing Going Home, and the audience quieted again.

By the time he was half way through Buffy and Willow were holding hands, and Xander had come to stand with them.

It wasn't so much the words as the way he was singing them…emotion and power…and a haunting quality that touched something real inside all three of them, something they'd always known about Giles, filed somewhere deep inside each of them, where they hadn't had to think about it, or do anything about it.

By the time his voice rose powerfully to the conclusion of the song, there were tears in Willow's eyes and pain in Buffy's.

Xander turned away, and muttered that word again.

“What?” Anya demanded only to be ignored by everyone.

Buffy turned to Willow as the crowd finally erupted again, closing in this time and swamping the star.

“We should go,” she said quietly. “We don't want to embarrass him.”

“Why would we?” Willow asked, wiping her eyes. “He wouldn't have done it if he didn't want to. You saw…he loved every minute of it.”

“I saw,” Buffy replied, as the din began to die back to a dull rumble of voices. “I saw why he rebelled when he was a kid. I saw how unhappy he must have been when he gave…this…up to be a Watcher. No wonder he drinks.”

Willow frowned. Buffy wasn't usually so deep, lately. It was unnerving. “You didn't like it?” she asked, lost.

Buffy shook her head. “It was…incredible. It's just…he was so…alive, so happy.”

Willow was catching up fast. “It's not your fault, Buffy. He's got a destiny, same as you. He chose to be a Watcher, and to be here. A-and he chose to stay after they fired him, then last year and again this…oh.”

Buffy took a moment to process that. “What do you mean again this year?” she demanded.

“I wasn't supposed to tell,” Willow said piteously. “He's going to be mad at me.”

“Too late,” Buffy said, not unkindly. “You have to tell me now, Will.”

“He was going ho…” Willow winced and looked across to where only Giles' head was visible above the melee, smiling and laughing with the crowd. “I mean, back to England, back around the time Dracula showed up. He didn't want you to know.”

Buffy's eyes followed Willow's glance. “Why didn't he go?” she whispered.

“Because you asked him to stay,” Willow said softly.

They looked at each other, and Willow nodded as Buffy's eyes finally began to fill.

“Is…do you think he's really okay?” she asked in a small voice.

Willow nodded. “He'd be even more okay if he knew you asked that question,” she pointed out. “I told you way back when Kendra came, Buffy. You're his favourite. No one could ever take your place. He won't leave you while he really believes you need him. He loves you, Buffy.”

Buffy's fingers tightened almost painfully around her friend's and Willow squeaked just a little, causing the Slayer to let go altogether.

“Sorry,” she said awkwardly.

Willow shook her hand to get the circulation going again and grinned lopsidedly.

“S'okay. A-are you…?”

Buffy nodded and made an effort to smile back just as Xander and Anya arrived.

“What are we going to do?” Xander asked. “How do we deal with this?”

“We don't,” Willow said definitively. “Didn't you see how happy he was?”

Xander shrugged. “Not really. I was too busy negotiating my way out of spending every night for the next six months in women's lingerie and leather,” he drawled, “but I draw the line at the heels…a-and the stupid garter thing.”

The café was emptying around them, and a gap in the wall of people revealed Tara holding a table she had found for them.

By the time they were installed, the place was quiet, almost back to the usual number of late night customers, the rest of the revellers having moved on variously to the Bronze, the local bar and a dance party somewhere near the docks, if the snippets of conversation between the bodies passing the table were anything to go by.

A waiter delivered Tara's order as Buffy watched Giles packing his equipment, and his heels, into a large sport bag. He took a pair of blue jeans from it and pulled them on over his costume, followed by his running shoes which he didn't bother to lace before picking up his guitar, the bag, and a few gifts from the audience and heading for the side exit.

“I thought you said he wouldn't mind us being here?” Buffy said tensely.

Willow stared at the receding back and shrugged unhappily. “I don't know. Maybe he just went out to the car. I mean, that's where the parking lot is, right?”

For several minutes the group sat in stony silence drinking their mochas, until the waiter brought another tray.

Tara shrugged. “I-I ordered tea…for Giles…I didn't know,” she said apologetically, relaxing only when everyone smiled kindly, appreciating the thought, and contemplating the fact that it hadn't occurred to any of them to do it.

Moments later, a tall figure came back into the café, through the front.

“Hello you lot,” Giles said quietly. “Thank you for coming.”

Buffy and Willow looked up almost as one, surprised, and perhaps even a little disappointed, to see that he'd removed every trace of make up, and pulled on a blue shirt, though it wasn't buttoned through, over the costume under the leather jacket.

“You were great, Giles,” Willow said, cheeks glowing.

“You made us all want to have sex…a lot,” Anya declared, sending Tara into a fit of giggles after a moment of stunned surprise. The others soon followed.

“What?” Anya demanded, clueless as ever.

“You just got an F in subtlety, my dear,” Xander sighed.

“But an A in honesty,” Giles told her, and winked.

Anya grinned widely and winked back as the others finally got control of themselves.

“Tara got tea for you,” Buffy pointed out as she sobered, and shifted around the horseshoe shaped booth to make room.

“Thank you, all of you, but I really should be getting home. This blasted costume is cutting into my…uh…the inside of my legs,” he substituted awkwardly.

“Xander wants to borrow it,” Anya told him between gulps of mocha.

Giles guffawed before he could stop himself and looked at Xander's now very bent head.

“Tell Xander there are at least three lingerie stores in Sunnydale,” he said dryly. “He can find his own. I paid you two enough to work tonight.”

Anya nudged her boyfriend. “You're taking me shopping, tomorrow.”

“Joy…” Xander muttered and let his brow hit the table with a clunk.

“Giles, how do you know about the lingerie shops?” Willow asked suddenly.

“That's for me to know, and you to enjoy sleepless nights pondering,” he teased and started to turn.

“Giles…?”

He turned back, found Buffy's gaze for the first time.

After a beat she smiled slowly, and he couldn't help but smile back.

“Great costume,” she said softly, far more left unspoken in the blue-grey eyes that held his.

His smile widened and he nodded, his own growing warm and bright with emotion.

“Don't be late for training, tomorrow,” he said finally, hoarsely, turned and headed for his car.

Anya looked from one to the other, and around the table during the ensuing silence, then settled finally on Buffy again, her voice plaintive.

“Can I come…?”


* * *