Passion Rules Us All

Buffy moved edgily through the park, trying to concentrate on her patrol. It was an extraordinarily quiet night. Wimps, she thought. Vampires and Demons really didn't favour wet, drizzly nights.

“But I'm out here, you wusses!” she yelled at the night air. They had been back from San Francisco for nearly a week. It was Friday night…and she was patrolling.

Again.

It was only the third time that week anyway. Most of her time had been taken up with classes, assignments, keeping Dawn out of her mother's hair, and worrying about both of them. What it did mean was that she and Giles had barely been able to see each other, let alone talk…let alone…

A bird fluttered through a nearby tree as she passed, making her jump almost out of her skin with anticipation. She scowled, and looked around her as though checking to see if anyone might have seen her looking ridiculous.

She missed him terribly, but he had been busy with the shop and with the research he was doing with the books he'd gotten from Albert…and there just hadn't been time to even talk more than a couple of times on the phone…and awkwardly at that, with Dawn hovering about like a wraith, mostly because she was stressed about Joyce, but nonetheless still a monumental pest…


*******

Giles threw the book of chronicles he was reading back onto the coffee table and stretched his back. He missed Buffy more than he thought possible, and it had been less than a week…

He shook his head and got up to go and make tea. Not so long ago he had gone, unhappily it had to be said, for weeks at time without laying eyes on her…now he found himself unable to concentrate, irritable and restless, after just days without her.

Memories of their weekend together jumped unbidden to his mind and within seconds he had an erection like granite. The third one that day…

He snorted and reached for the kettle, banging it down on the stove with extra feeling, slopping water out of the spout, before proceeding to make himself supper, with added violence in every movement, as he worked. When it was done he was a little more comfortable, but only marginally. She was there, in the back of his thoughts…all he wanted…all he cared about…


By the time he carried the tray back out he was rigid again. And still was when he'd finished the light meal.

He shook his head. It was obvious that Buffy was needed at home, but there had to be some way that they could see each other more than once or twice a week outside of training.

A rap on his door made him start badly. He got up shaking his head and thanking the fates that he'd locked it. When he opened it, he was holding one of his sweaters in the most casual way possible, in just the right position in front of his pants.

“Hi.”

His heart rate bounced into overdrive. “Buffy? Is something amiss?”

“Hi,” she said again, her eyes glowing.

“Hello,” he said softly, and grinned back at her, opening the door wide for her to come in and tossing the sweater away before locking it again.

“I wasn't expecting to see you.”

Buffy looked at the impossible bow in his cord pants. “Thinking about me though, I hope,” she chuckled.

“Well, yes, very much so.” He grinned sheepishly again. “ I'm sorry about that. I…there isn't anything wrong, is there?”

She shook her head, trying to stay calm while every nerve in her body was screaming.

“I was out patrolling…nothing happening…no action…”

“And you're a little bit…jumpy?”

She nodded. “I've been missing you so much. I hate not being able to see you. I feel like with mom sick, and Dawn, and you being the most important thing in my life now, that I should just ditch college this year and concentrate on the important things. I am the Slayer, after all, and it's not like I'm actually going to do anything with my education…”

“No,” he said categorically. “You mustn't think like that. We'll sort something out. There has to be a way… Is your mother still working?”

Buffy shook her head. “She hasn't been well enough. And Dawn's freaking. It's all I can do to keep her from making mom freak too, half the time.”

Giles took off his glasses and shoved them in a pocket while rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“If we could find somewhere for Dawn to stay for a while…?”

Buffy's eyes widened. “Xander's. I mean…it'd be okay. Anya is kind of moving in with him. I guess they could keep their hands off each other for a few days at least. And Dawn pretty much has a thing for Xander, so she's not going to be difficult about it.”

“It might work,” Giles mused. “Even if it's just for weekends, to take her mind off your mother's illness, and give Joyce some peace.”

Buffy nodded. “It could. I'll make sure mom's cell phone is turned on and next to her, when I have to leave her alone.”

“A sound idea,” he agreed.

“Giles?”

“Buffy?”

“Kiss me.”

In seconds he'd swept her into his arms and was kissing her with a hunger that matched her own. Buffy drew her legs up as the kiss continued, wrapping them around him and positioning herself so that she fitted perfectly against the once again straining bulge in the brown corduroy.

“God, I missed you,” she moaned, moving again as her skirt rode up, turned on by the muffled growling sounds he was making.

“I missed you too,” he groaned, kissing her again, without gentleness this time.

When they parted, Buffy slid down, breathing hard, and pulled open the pants, shoving them down and shuddering with desire when she realised he wasn't wearing any underwear, his erection almost touching his belly when it sprang free.

Before Giles could speak, he gasped instead.

“Buffy!” he growled as her hand closed hard around him and her warm mouth covered him. Within just a few minutes he was so close he had to pull away, lifting her instead and carrying her to the couch, where at her silent invitation, he removed her skirt and tore off her underwear as she moaned with anticipation.

“Do it!” she whimpered and cried out as he buried his mouth in her sweet centre, her scent driving him to sensual distraction as he made her whimper and writhe once again, with pleasure.

“Giles…oh God, Giles…!” She screamed again as he let his tongue slide down and spear into her, not surprised when her body twisted and shuddered and she gave a strangled, continuous whimper as she orgasmed. When she came down, he sat back and removed her top, allowing the firm, tender breasts to tumble free so that he could run his hands over her entire body.

At first she relaxed, immersed in the pleasure of it as he massaged, stroked and caressed, but soon his expert hands had brought the soft peaks to life again, electrified nerve endings, excited her almost as much as the sight of his own overwhelming need.

“Do you want to go upstairs?” he asked hoarsely. “It might be more comfortable…”

Buffy rose and put her arms around his neck, used her slayer strength to lift herself until her legs closed around his hips again, her moist heat slipping against his aching hardness, making him groan loudly and pull her hips possessively to his.

The erotic roughness of it, and the incredibly hard feel of him, sent Buffy into a passionate, writhing frenzy, which in turn drove Giles almost to distraction with desire.

Suddenly, he kissed her again, hard, both of them claiming the other as Giles cupped her tender buttocks and carried her with surprising ease to the nearest wall, pressed her against it and lifted her hips enough to enter her, taking her in one powerful movement as they kissed.

Buffy broke free and screamed with exhilarated abandon as she was penetrated, bracing herself against Giles' shoulders and taking as much of him as possible.

“More!” She demanded, tilting her hips even more and growling deep in her throat as he held her, and slid even deeper into her.

Still she whimpered in frustration and wriggled against him.

“Not enough?” he growled, swung their locked bodies around and moved back to the couch, still inside her, lowered her onto it, withdrew and turned her onto her knees.

It was a new sensation for Buffy and wild enough to inflame her slayer senses to almost breaking point. The open vulnerability of her throbbing centre as she waited for his return, her legs apart, and damp with her need for him, made her whimper with anticipation.

Giles heard her and felt himself arch even higher as he took the beautiful bottom in his hands and slid into her tender heat again, crying out just as loudly, as she moaned at the sheer ecstasy of the invasion.

“What do you want?” he asked again, his voice descending into dark Ripper tones as she arched her back and ground herself into him.

“I want you,” she begged and opened herself wider, screaming and pushing as he plunged into her, over and over, his control wavering as she continued to thrust and grind against him with every lunge.

“Oh God, yes! Do it!” Buffy rasped as he responded by riding her faster and faster, unable to contain his own vocalizations any more. She matched him thrust for thrust, their combined cries echoing through the apartment as their orgasm built, spiralling up until Buffy's exploded, her butt slamming back against him, her cries turning to screams as he thrust into her again and again, pushing her orgasm into a tidal wave of sensual pleasure. Another thrust into the now violently clenching channel and Giles followed, his own strangled cries sending another wave of stimulation through Buffy, who took all he could give until she exploded again, her second orgasm following his down until they both stopped, spent.

Within seconds Giles had shifted to allow her to move.

Buffy turned, exhilarated and incredibly alive, stood up, and paused when she saw his withdrawal.

“What is it?” she asked tremulously. “Was it me?”

Giles turned back, his eyes still glowing with passion.

“Oh, no. There's nothing…It's just…I've missed you so bloody much. I just didn't want…”

So…that was it. Buffy put her arms around him and kissed his sternum. “Stop being so…so Giles. I was so ready to throw you down and have my wicked way even before I got to your door. Besides, I think I got in some fairly wicked ravishing there, anyway.”

Giles slid his arms around her. “Majorly wicked,” he agreed, deliberately mimicking one of her own expressions in his impossibly British accent, and making her giggle. “Just thinking about you does the most terrible things to one. I seem to have lost all inhibition when it comes to loving you…”

Buffy lifted her face to his searching kiss and let her mouth melt into his. The loving salute went on for a long time before she rested her face against his warm chest again. “Maybe you didn't lose a stuffy librarian,” she teased gently. “Maybe you just found your inner Ripper again?”

He laughed. “You're more than a match for my inner Ripper, love. And this stuffy librarian adores you every bit as much as he does.”

For that Buffy kissed him again, and then made a small noise. “I don't want to go. Can't I stay, and tell mom I was researching? She's used to me not coming home. As long as I leave a message on her voicemail, so she knows I'm okay, she'll be fine.”

Giles considered the options, and the fact that he would rather have his fingernails removed than let her go again, and nodded. Joyce was not alone, and Buffy was right. It was no different than any of the hundreds of times she'd stayed out all night due to the slaying, or research, or simply falling asleep on his couch in the middle of telling him about some new demon or creature or other, or frenzied swotting for a forgotten test, after being on patrol until four in the morning…on top of study all day and Angel or the Bronze all evening…

“Don't go,” he said hoarsely.

Buffy nodded lovingly then made a face. “Bathroom first.”

She was back in minutes, her hair damp, and redolent of his herbal soap.

He slid his arm around her when she came to him, heading by mutual assent, for the loft.

When they reached the doorway, Buffy stopped.

“Love…?” Giles drew his arm away.

Buffy shrugged. “This is your room…this place, it's you. I-I've never actually been in all the way in here…it's like the one, last, little piece of you…” She turned to him, her eyes bright. “I love you so much,” she whispered.

He returned her gaze with eyes that shone fiercely with emotion. “It was me. Now it's us. Everything is us.”

The bed she and Willow had helped him choose in the weeks after that terrible day, and Xander had helped him haul up the stairs so long ago, was soft and comfortable and the heavy eiderdown quilt blissfully warm.

By the time they had curled up in each other's arms and Buffy had sighed in blissful contentment, they were both fast asleep.

Giles was woken in the morning by a number of things, not least his unerring time sense telling him he'd massively overslept. He sniffed. There were marvellous smells coming from somewhere. Alongside him, the covers were thrown back and Buffy was gone. He sniffed again, appreciatively, and smiled before sliding out of bed. He grabbed his robe, pulling it tight to try and disguise his morning erection then tying it even more tightly.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he realised Buffy was in the kitchen cooking breakfast without a stitch on. He growled appreciatively, at the same time hoping she wouldn't burn anything sensitive, before crossing to the hallway, rubbing his head and yawning as he went.

“Morning, sleepy head,” Buffy grinned when he stuck his head around the corner of the archway. “Eggs, bacon, toast, French pastries and Colombian coffee,” she listed. And at Giles' startled look added: “I woke up early…and I wanted to do something special. I like that little grocery store a couple of streets over. Is there anything they don't have?”

Giles nodded, bemused. “Blueberry scones and Orange Spice tea. I must…uh…the bathroom, you know.”

Buffy made a dismissive motion. “Go, go…I already took my shower when I got back…but go back to bed afterward, or you'll spoil everything.”

When Giles passed the kitchen again there was a vaguely disquieting hint of burnt toast in the air, but he refrained from comment and took himself back to bed, as instructed.
Minutes later Buffy appeared with his largest tray loaded with her much laboured over surprise.

He grinned. She looked so beautiful and so ridiculous standing there as nature intended, looking at him over his only coffee pot.

“Hungry?”

He nodded. “For many things,” he added meaningfully as she handed him the tray.

The blue eyes flashed up to his, mischief and promise in them. “Later,” she growled before crawling into bed with him and joining him in devouring the huge breakfast.

There was no sign of whatever it was that had been sacrificed to the feast earlier. The scrambled egg was utterly perfect, still shiny and moist and the bacon hot, the toast on the tray in remarkably golden condition, so that there was very little left when they were finished.

Giles chuckled as Buffy demolished the last pastry with gusto and finished her second cup of coffee.

“I was always of the impression that you ate like a sparrow…outside of my jelly donuts, anyway. This is the second time I've seen you polish off a meal fit for a football team,” he teased.

Buffy made a face. “Slayers need their energy. I used to worry…worry girl, me…but since…well, lately, I've found that feeding the ol' Id sometimes isn't such a bad thing.”

Giles leaned across and kissed the top of her head laughingly. “I'm assuming there's actually some logic in there somewhere. Don't worry, I'll find it eventually.”

“I feel a blonde joke coming on,” she said and looked down with a grin, “which you really, really know is redundant now.”

“Buffy!” Giles said instinctively, then laughed. “Well all right, I'll grant you the 'really, really know' part.”

“Giles!” she retorted, giggling.

“What happened to 'Rupert'?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Rupert is your name. Giles is who you are. It's going to take a while.”

Giles focused on the task of getting the very last out of the coffee pot without filling his cup with dregs.

“Rupert?”

He grinned in an exasperated, amused way. “What?” he asked, without looking up.

“What are we going to do?”

He sighed, growing serious again. “For the time being there's nothing we can do. The last thing your mother needs is a bombshell about us while she's dealing with this illness…on top of which, you simply don't have the time…”

“Neither do you,” she said unhappily as he sipped his coffee.

“I would make the time,” he told her, and meant it. “You, on the other hand, have very little choice, currently. We can train together more often. You can implement your plan to have Xander and Anya take Dawn occasionally, and I will promote Anya to junior manager. The additional wages alone will be incentive enough for her to be more than willing to work the extra hours. And if you like, we could patrol together more often.”

Buffy sighed. “I like. And we'll do all that stuff, but it's going to be so hard, waiting,
wanting to be with you. I hate that it took us so long to realise. We could have had all last year…”

Giles put the tray on his side table and slid down into the bed, so that Buffy could curl up against him.

“What's done is done. We have the rest our lives to be together. There's no rush.”

“That's not what you said last night,” she teased. “Speaking of which…last night… Row-w-w-r.”

“Translation?”

“Translation: I can't get enough of you, Rupert Giles, you stallion, you,” she giggled and rolled on top of him, still chuckling as she bent to capture his lips with her own.

His hand slid into her hair and pulled her head down harder, the kiss deepening into a passionate reminder of the night before.

Buffy slid her hips back until her warm, soft centre found his now granite arousal, and settled over it. He groaned against her mouth.

“We…we don't have time,” he growled. “And you aren't going to get much from me after last night…”

Buffy started to slide back and forth, growing more and more moist as she slipped up and down his hard length.

He moaned again. “Sweetheart, I don't have Slayer strength, nor am I a machine.”

“You were last night…and last week…” she pointed out, shifting and wriggling down the bed.

“Ohhh…Oh, dear lord!” Giles gasped as Buffy proceeded to prove him well and truly wrong.

Several minutes later she drew herself back up alongside of him, smiling at his still slightly shortened breaths.

“Tell me you're not totally the machine, now, Bookguy,” she growled.

Giles arched his back appreciatively. “I can see a coronary coming on,” he said gruffly.

Buffy slid a leg over his hips again. “Sooner, rather than later,” she agreed dryly, and easily took him in one movement, grinning as he gasped, the sound metamorphosing straight into a long, low, groan of pleasure.

He held her, each of his hands just above her thighs as she rode him, growing more wild and demanding with every stroke. Every fibre of his being was attuned to her, wanted her, needed her, but he wasn't going to orgasm easily. He wasn't twenty any more. It gave him a little bit of freedom, however. He would be able to give her everything she needed without worrying about himself at all.

In seconds he'd rolled her onto her back and was enjoying the abandon with which she was reaching for him, straining to him as he made love to her. Buffy was groaning with need and pulling his hips into hers almost painfully, when she suddenly shifted. He followed her lead and sat back a little on his heels while she drew her supple legs up and rested her heels on his shoulders.

“Take me,” she demanded, with a kittenish grin and vixen eyes.

Giles made a noise in his throat at the sight of her at that angle, the invitation in her voice, and slid his fingers over her soft warmth just to touch her, enjoying the jolt of her hips and the whimpering noises she made as the direct stimulation sent bolts of electricity through her.

He felt himself crossing the line from simply being aroused by the woman he loved, to a demand to be sated, aching with lust for the beautiful body being presented so provocatively to him.

“Sorceress,” he whispered. “Only you could make a man so damned crazy so soon after…”

“The crazier the better,” she breathed. “I want you…” she reminded him, barely above a whisper, and yet as much of a demand as the loudest shout.

He leaned into the back of her legs, pushing them toward her and moving himself to her, just she was pushing herself toward him.

And then he was pushing into her, and she thrusting herself up to him, her lusty scream setting off an even more primal reaction in his now fired loins. She had completely subjugated her body to his, trusting him in this most vulnerable of positions, and now was opening herself even more, thrusting into his thrusts, rising to his lunges, noisy, demanding groans and screams filling the air and electrifying every nerve ending in his body.

“Give it to me!” she screamed, and he knew it was as much the Slayer as it was Buffy.

Giles more than rose to her demands, shrugging off her legs and moving over her, their frenzied, powerful re-coupling looking violent and primitive to the outsider, yet to the lovers joyous and wild and ecstatic…

“Oh, God, yes!” Buffy screamed, lunging even more powerfully, as though struggling for something. She was flushed and beautiful, her breasts heaving and her eyes glowing. She threw her head back and turned it, exposing her throat as he responded by accelerating suddenly.

And then she made a noise of sheer primal pleasure.

Before he realised what he was doing, Giles had leaned down and covered the scar on her neck with his mouth. A long, sensual moan from Buffy inspired him to continue, arching so that her hips tilted upward, allowing him to plunge even deeper as he bit down on the scar.

Buffy exploded, a screaming, gasping contortion of limbs and body, her thighs locking like iron around his hips and her hips arching them both almost off the bed.

The animal intensity of her orgasm swept Giles along with it, racing into his own shattering climax and roaring an exclamation that was half ecstasy, half incredulity.

For several minutes they rocked and shook and finally subsided into quiet, exhausted trembling.

“What…what on God's earth?” Giles breathed when he was able to form words.

Buffy, still breathing heavily, opened shining eyes. “You tell me,” she told him, still breathless. “I've always liked…you know…but it's never…I've never…it has to be us, Giles.”

He slid off her and rolled, spent, to her side.

“I want you like that all the time,” she admitted. “I've never wanted anyone like that. Even with…well, it just wasn't. We even did the bunny thing under that spell, but it wasn't…” She frowned. It was harder than she thought to talk about her past sex life, and the fact that it didn't involve the man she loved more than life. “I didn't want him like that. Half the time I didn't want him at all. It was wrong, but I so just needed not to be alone…”

“And it's different with us?” he prompted gently, hoping she would come back to the point.

Her frown cleared and she moved up against his side, resting her head just under his chin.

“Way,” she said simply. “When we're not together I want you so badly…and when we are…wow…”

He chuckled, and drew her closer. “Indeed…wow. You know, of course, that a lot of it is simply a reflection of how much we love each other…?”

Buffy's fingers trailed across his chest. “I know…I know I've never loved anyone as much as I love you…there's always been this part of me that I couldn't share with anyone…the part that's still scared that now you know how much I love you, something's going to happen to you too. Something always happens…”


“Nothing's going to happen,” he said tenderly. “Nobody has a better bodyguard than I do.”

“Who—?” Buffy demanded, then stopped and giggled, smacking him lightly on the chest. “You're just a big tease. But you're right. I'll never let anything happen to you.”

A look of something akin to pain crossed Giles' face and he turned a little, gathered her close to him, as though shielding them both from the world. “Nor shall I ever allow anything to take you from me…not for as long as I draw breath…”

Buffy swallowed emotionally. “Th-then I better keep you drawing breath,” she teased, her voice filled with love. She knew that he meant every word, and more, that he would keep his. It felt like a great veil had been lifted from her life.

For the first time since she was called, the darkness that had held her, the despair she kept locked inside, lifted. For the first time a future actually beckoned…

“Buffy…love?” Giles crooned when he realised she was weeping into his chest. “What is it?”

She giggled damply, but didn't stop bawling. “Ignore me. It's happy stuff,” she told him, and burrowed even more tightly into his arms.

After a nonplussed moment he chuckled too. “You are the daftest creature. It's a good thing I love you to distraction.”

“Distraction is right,” she sniffed. “People are going to be wondering where I am, soon.”

“Damn,” he muttered, the intrusion of harsh reality into their small world not a welcome one. “All we need is the others to come crashing through the front door—bloody hell!”

They both froze as the front door dutifully crashed open.

“I know I locked that bloody thing,” he muttered.

“Ssh. If you're not down there, maybe they'll go away. There isn't anything else we can do,” she whispered.

There was movement, and the murmur of voices. Then Anya's strident tones rose above the rest.

“They aren't here. I have to open the store in half an hour. I haven't got time for this. What could possibly happen to them, for God's sake? She's the Slayer.”

“Go Anya!” Buffy whispered and giggled silently when Giles snorted near her ear.

“Yeah, well it's not normal. Something's wrong. The Buff wouldn't worry her mother like this. Not now. And she would've called you guys if there was any bad happening…”

“Xander's right,” Willow's unhappy voice chimed in. “I was just mad because I thought something was going down and we weren't invited. Now it's like last year, when Giles got turned into a demon…only…only the door isn't broken and the phone's still working and…”

“Okay Will, we get the picture. The Giles-mobile is still here, which is entirely wiggy, but at least the place doesn't look like a war zone. Maybe we should go check all the cemeteries? Something could have happened on patrol…if they were patrolling together…?”

“Or we could, um, check to see if Mister Giles is asleep, upstairs?” Tara offered, looking up to where the curtains were drawn across the exposed wall of the loft.

“Duh,” Xander muttered. “Giles never sleeps…like he'd still be up there at this time of the day…”

“Unless he's been drinking,” Willow said in her unhappy voice.

“He wouldn't,” Anya announced.

“Thank you,” Giles muttered under his breath.

“He's not like that any more. That was all Buffy's fault anyway and she's not like that any more, either.”

“Not like what?” Willow demanded.

“Blind,” Anya replied blithely. “She hasn't got a clue how much he loves her. Any fool can see he worships her, and she trampled all over that last year.”

Giles could feel how tense Buffy was in his arms, and wished there was a way to stop the conversation before things got out of hand…but short of announcing their presence, there just wasn't any other solution.

“I knew that,” Willow retorted sulkily. “You should have seen him when Cathy was sucking her brain. A-and just a little while ago, when Dracula showed up here…he was even going back to…oh….I'm not supposed to talk about that. You didn't hear that.”

“Didn't hear what?” Xander said dumbly.

Buffy struggled out of Giles' arms, pushing herself up to a sitting position, the same question written all over her face.

“Sorry, my lips are sealed…or they are now,” Willow told him uncomfortably.

“Come on, Will. It's just us. Even if he is up there, he must be asleep or he'd have been yelling at us by now for coming in without knocking. Give. Going where?”

Behind Buffy, Giles looked up at the ceiling and prayed, then mouthed the word 'shit' with vehemence when Willow's voice spoke again.

“He was going home…b-back to England. You can't tell Buffy, though. He was going to tell her…except she asked him to stay first a-and now nobody knows, except me.”

Buffy turned to look silently at Giles.

He looked unwaveringly into the hurt blue-grey eyes, his own now an open portal to his oft-battered heart.

The shock, accusation and disappointment slowly faded from her expression and her eyes grew very bright. A moment later she was in his arms, holding him as tightly as he was holding her.

“And all of us,” Xander said pointedly. “This is a biggie, Will. You shouldn't have told us.”

“That's not fair!” she squeaked. “You told me to tell you.”

“Which is natural when we don't know what you're not telling us,” Anya retorted.

Upstairs, Buffy and Giles released each other, curling up together and continuing, helplessly, to listen to the unfolding drama downstairs.

“Well, as long as Buffy doesn't know, no harm done,” Xander soothed, as though Willow looked like she might explode any minute.

“We should go,” Tara said quietly. “Mrs Summers might have heard something by now.”

“Tara's right,” Xander replied, and the sounds of shuffling feet moved toward the door.

“Oh, wait. We didn't check upstairs,” Anya pointed out. “If a demon did rip out his guts in his sleep, he could be up there.”

Buffy closed her eyes and Giles said another rude word, but only one set of feet could be heard on the stairs.

Anya stopped in the doorway and stared at them.

They stared back, like rabbits caught in a spotlight.

Then, very slowly, the ex-demon started to grin.

It was infectious. They both smiled back.

Anya nodded with an expression of amused approval and Giles nodded back, his one of quiet gratitude and even a little affection.

“There's nothing up here!” she yelled at the top of her voice. “We should go over to Buffy's mom's and take the kid some donuts. They're sure to turn up soon.”

She looked to Giles again for confirmation. Again, he nodded, then grinned when she did a little dance of conspiratorial glee and waved a silent goodbye before leaving again.

Downstairs, they heard Xander complaining about their lack of consideration and Anya's drawling: “They're big kids now, Xander. They're allowed to play on their own like everyone else.”

“Oh hah, hah,” Xander's voice faded as the door closed and the place fell silent again.

After a beat the two of them looked at each other, their expressions part horror, part dazed, and their eyes completely losing it. A moment later they were both collapsed in a giggling heap.

It was some time before either of them had enough breath to speak, but before Giles opened his mouth, Buffy kissed him.

“What was that for?” he blinked.

“Just because,” she told him tenderly, then relented. “I've never heard you really laugh before. Those weird noises you've made a couple of times, when Xander was being ridiculous, don't count after that…”

“Don't,” Giles whispered, when her eyes grew very bright. “What's this for…?”

“Nothing,” she said hoarsely and threw her arms around his neck, Giles automatically closing his around her slender body.

“Buffy, love?”

“I love you so much,” she said vehemently into his neck.

“And I you,” he told her with equal feeling. “It's wonderful, crazy and breathtaking, but it's not something to cry about. You know, if we move quickly, we can drive across to Revello drive long before the rest of them can get there, if they're going to get donuts first.”

She stopped snivelling and looked up at him with a red nose. “I hate when you get all logical while I'm snivelling like a-a girl…again.”

Giles chuckled.

“Oh-h.” Buffy shifted uncomfortably and made a face. “Before we do anything else, we have to shower again, Watcher dear,” she told him whimsically. “I've got first dibs.”

“I don't think so,” he retorted and a mad scramble ensued, both of them reaching the first landing together, off balance and tumbling into the wall, and each other, giggling, though not losing their feet in the process. The mirror rattled on the wall and they almost knocked the bookcase over, but came to rest relatively unscathed and still giggling.

“Compromise,” Giles said, straightening and clearing his throat to try and stop chuckling. “Let's try this, instead.”

Buffy squealed as he picked her up, threw her over his shoulder in an extremely undignified fireman's carry and headed for the bathroom.

“Giles, put me down. Giles, I'm the Slayer. Do you really want to piss me off?
Gi-iles…!”

He toed open the bathroom door and put Buffy down in the tub.

“Bully,” she said mock sulkily.

“And you loved every minute,” he teased back, busy turning faucets. Buffy was out of the bath in seconds, while he adjusted the freezing water.

“Except that one,” she growled, caressing his long body as he stretched across to the faucets.

“There,” he said finally, dipping his fingers in the blast of steaming water, before turning to lift her effortlessly back into the tub. “In you go.” He climbed in after her and stepped under the shower, close enough for Buffy to lean back against him and lift her face to the powerful spray. She liked being taken care of, even if it was just a game. They stayed like that for some time, until Giles reached for soap and a large yellow sponge.

Buffy opened her eyes as the soapy sponge slowly washed her back and groaned with pleasure.

In response, it slid over her shoulders and made tender circles around her breasts. When she arched, growling, it continuing downwards, where it swept over every curve and contour, until it reached her thighs. Then it slid between them and moved ever so slowly back and forth, with just enough pressure to part her soft folds and make her legs wobble just a little. She moaned and leaned back against Giles even more, letting her thighs relax completely and the sponge continue its slow worship of her body.

His other hand cupped a soft breast and his lips caressed her ear as he continued to tease her warmth and make her moan with stolen pleasure.

“Oh, Go-d-d,” she groaned when his other hand finally moved from her breast to slide inside her right thigh, his long fingers slipping over soft, heated flesh. It was followed by another stroke of the sponge. He continued, in turn, to focus on her tiny, throbbing arousal until she was flailing her head backwards and forwards. Then she went rigid against him and gave a strangled gasp, before going limp, heaving with short, laboured breaths.

“'God!' Is right,” she moaned, still quivering. “You are one. Put it in a bottle and sell it, and you wouldn't need the magic shop.”

She turned after a beat and looked up at him speculatively. He was standing so that his back was taking the brunt of the shower, and his head was just clear, though dripping with water.

“No,” he said categorically, reading her like a book. “And I'm disappointed you should even think such a thing,” he said in his best 'miffed librarian' voice.

Buffy looked down. “Oh,” she said, staring at his distinctly not aroused member. “Just for me, then?”

He looked down his nose and gave her 'the look'.

“Just for me,” she realised. “But it was a compliment, really. Look it, if I thought it was so good it had to be magic, that's a major compliment, right?” she offered hopefully. “Besides, I already said you were a God.”

She took him in her hand and stroked him, eliciting a sigh of pleasure from him, despite the fact that there was little visible response.

“Downtime?” she asked, kissing his chest through the rivulets of water, and leaning against him.

“Downtime,” he confirmed. “Miracles have already been had. It's fresh out…uh… temporarily,” he added huskily as her fingers continued to explore in the most pleasant ways, despite his lack of arousal.

“Okay,” she said finally and ran her hands up his chest, rose on tiptoes and kissed him passionately.

When they parted and he smiled at her, she shrugged and smiled back.

“I can wait, lover. Right now though, I guess we'd better get over to the house.”


*******

They made it with thirty minutes to spare before the others came ambling in. Dawn had been uncharacteristically glad to see them. Joyce was napping, yet again. Both of them had been more than a little worried, despite Buffy's messages to the voicemail, about how long she was gone.

Only when Dawn had demanded an explanation and details, did Giles and Buffy realise they hadn't concocted one yet.

“I spent the night over at Giles' place,” Buffy said suddenly, breaking their stunned silence. “I was tired after patrol and I fell asleep. Simple as that.”

Dawn looked from one to the other, aware that something was up, but not quite able to put it together.

“So there was no big bad?” she asked, almost disappointed.

“No bad, not even a little one,” Buffy confirmed. “One of the reasons I was tired. It was a long, long, boring patrol, after a long boring day of my most un-fun classes for the week.”

Dawn frowned. “Aren't Fridays supposed to be the best days of the week?”

“Not mine,” Buffy said, keeping a straight face. “You try staying perky through Professor Glochman's droning monotone and endless Yeats, followed by intense note taking and unending factoids about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.”

“You mean like Julius Caesar?” Dawn asked without real interest.

“At the moment? Caligula,” Buffy deadpanned. “And you so don't want to go there. I so didn't want to go there.”

At that point a knock at the door had saved her from any further explanation.

The others seemed amazed, but relieved, to see them there.

Anya handed Dawn a large box of donuts which she duly opened while the others quizzed Buffy and Giles.

The same story repeated, with embellishments about where they were when the gang was over at the apartment, namely shopping for breakfast supplies, got short shrift from the team.

“We were worried sick,” Willow chided.

“You should have woken her up,” Xander added. “You've got your shiny new car to drive her home in now, Big G.”

“Enough, all of you,” Giles growled. “We appreciate your concern, but it really isn't any of your business what Buffy does or does not do on her own time. She left messages for her mother and Dawn and behaved in a responsible manner. His eyes flicked from Xander to Willow and back again. Neither of you is in a position to take the moral high ground when it comes to confiding in people,” he pointed out testily. “I don't want to hear any more about it.”

They subsided, half from surprise at his tone, half in the knowledge that he was right. Willow stuck out a pouting lip before going to the kitchen with Dawn and Tara to make tea and coffee. Anya rolled her eyes as she watched them go, turned to Xander's back and scowled at him too, before pointing out to him that if she didn't open the store soon she was going to get fired.

“I'll put in a good word with the management for you,” Giles said with a twinkle in his eye, as they headed for the door.

Anya looked over her shoulder and grinned at them both. “Next time, call,” she told them, and disappeared through the closing door.

“She has a point,” Giles conceded.

“Boy you're really getting Anya-whipped,” Buffy teased. “Not so long ago, you couldn't stand the sight of her.”

“People change,” he said gruffly. “And she has yet to learn to be anything other than direct and honest. I have discovered that I find that rather refreshing, when she isn't being entirely insulting.”

“Do I need to be jealous?”

He looked down at her, startled, then realised she was only teasing.

“Terribly,” he teased back and, with a quick glance around first, bent and crushed her lips with his for several long beats. “You see how very disinterested I am?” he growled when he lifted his head.

“Oh, yeah, it's so over,” she giggled.

“What's over?” a voice asked, making them jump.

Willow brought a tray of mugs into the living room.

“N-nothing,” Giles answered. “Buffy was making a joke.”

Willow looked from one to the other, taking in their flushed cheeks and general discomfiture and wondered exactly when they were going to be told what the heck was going on.

“Coffee or tea?” she asked, not willing to ask, but annoyed at being out of the loop.

“Tea, thank you.”

“Coffee.”

Dawn and Tara arrived a moment later, Dawn with the donuts arranged on a plate and cookies on another, Tara with a teapot in one hand and the coffeepot in the other.

“I'm going to check on mom again,” Dawn announced.

“Quietly,” Buffy admonished.

Dawn rolled her eyes, grabbed a chocolate iced donut and headed for the stairs.

“So,” Willow said without preamble, looking from one to the other, “what's going on?”

“Well, uh, we haven't made any progress with the problem of identifying our new resident evil, there were no demons or-or vampires out for Buffy to fight last night, and…well, my car is almost due for its first service.”

Willow's eyes narrowed. “Wow, Giles, and I thought it was just something going on with you and Buffy,” she said sarcastically.

For a moment he looked away self-consciously, then, before Buffy could speak, he turned back to the young Wiccan, a look on his face that defied description. A dozen things…hurt, defiance, defensiveness, passion and anger among them, merged into one fierce expression, his green eyes flashing. `

“Thank you for noticing,” he said in a calm voice that still could have peeled paint. “And for your consideration of our privacy,” he added, flicking a glance to Tara. “So thoughtful of you to remove the need for us to make our own decision about telling everyone.”

Willow blinked, her cheeks suddenly a violent red. Rarely had she ever upset Giles. His tolerance, patience and forgiveness in the past had been without measure. Crossing the line was not something she ever expected to experience.

“N…no…I'm sorry,” she stammered. “I didn't mean…I just…we all always talk to each other…tell each other stuff,” she said plaintively.

Giles' gaze slid pointedly to her companion and Tara smiled self-consciously, possibly even a little frightened. After a beat, he realized he was scowling and smiled at her reassuringly, before sobering and turning back to Willow.

She had the good grace to look ashamed. “I'm sorry, Giles,” she said softly. “I-I love you…both of you, and I was wigged.”

“And are you still wigged?” he asked quietly as Buffy's hand slid into his and squeezed tight. “Too wigged?”

Willow looked from one to the other and down at their hands. “Really?” she squeaked. “Really, finally, you guys?”

“Wha'd'ya mean, finally?” Buffy demanded.

“Finally…you know, like, it took you long enough…cause…like…we've known forever that you…”

Giles and Buffy looked at each other.

Willow's eyes widened. “You guys never knew? All this time it was because you were too stu…uh…blind to realise you should um…be together?”

Two sets of eyes turned to face her.

“You really didn't know…” Willow repeated, amazed. “I figured that was why it didn't work out with Riley, why the two of them were so not setting the world alight with their non-chemistry.”

“Willow!”

Willow looked at Buffy. “C'mon, Buffy. Riley was a nice guy, but most of the time you didn't even know he was alive, even when you were with him. You went through the motions but…”

Buffy looked up at Giles. “But my heart wasn't in it,” she finished. “No it wasn't. My heart was already taken. I just didn't know it yet. All I knew was that I was alone…that Riley wanted me…a-and that he was what I was supposed to want. Angel was supposed to be this big bad, no future guy…a-and then there's Riley…Mister all-American, all alive, everyone likes him, kinda guy. I really tried…I gave him everything except what he wanted most; everything except the one thing I didn't have…because it already belonged to Rupert…”

Willow smiled suddenly at Giles. “It sounds nice…your name…when Buffy says it.”

Giles smiled back at her. “You know, you're perfectly entitled to call me by name too, if you want,” he reminded her.

“Rupert,” Willow said experimentally. “I like it…but…” She looked up at him. “It isn't you…you know?”

“It's okay, Will. I said the same thing, myself. Rupert is his name, and it really is kinda cute when you get used to it…but Giles is who he is.”

Giles nodded. “It's all right. I'm perfectly content to be Giles. I just wanted you to know that I consider all of you close enough to use my name…my given name, whenever you feel it appropriate.”

Buffy chuckled. “Which is my darling Watcher's way of saying he loves you all and you're not kids any more, so go for it, if you want, but 'Giles' is just fine too.”

“I thought that was what I said…more or less.”

Buffy patted his hand. “In British. I just translated it to Scooby for you.”

All three girls giggled.

“So very kind of you,” he said dryly and picked up the mug of tea Willow had poured for him.

“So when are you moving in?” Willow asked several minutes later, when they were all engrossed in demolishing the donuts and drinking their tea and coffee.

Giles almost choked on some blackberry jelly, Buffy put her empty cup down with a thud and Tara squeaked as a little slop of hot tea escaped her mug and splashed on her thigh.

“You really didn't take your tact pills today, did you, Will?” Buffy asked, amused. “We haven't got that far yet. There's mom for a start, Dawn, Glory, college, the slaying…” It's not so easy to just pick up and move over there.”

“Why not?” demanded the irrepressible redheaded Wiccan. “I mean, your mom is in recovery, Dawn's not six years old. She and your mom did fine last year when we roomed at the dorm. A-and Glory and slayage don't count, cos that's what you do…both of you. Now you can do it together…” Willow stopped, beet red. “That didn't quite finish the way…”

Tara smiled in sympathy, Buffy giggled and even Giles' eyes danced.

“Forget it,” Buffy told her. “We've already got it covered anyway. She couldn't mention the real problem with leaving Dawn unguarded, and Giles was insistent about college anyway, so as good as her friend's arguments were, Buffy sighed.

“I wish it was that easy,” she said wistfully. “Maybe if you could convince Rupert that college isn't…” She stopped, staring into the intelligent, college-loving green eyes of her friend. “Okay, that's so not gonna work.”

“Indeed,” Giles said softly. “Don't worry, Willow, we'll sort it out eventually, hopefully in the least stressful way possible. There is also still the question of Buffy's mother, and of course Dawn…”

“What about me?”

They all looked up, or turned, startled. Dawn and Joyce were standing in the doorway.

Giles was the first to gather his wits. He cleared his throat.

“Um…Hello. Have you been standing there very long?”

“Long enough to know you're having doubts about college,” Joyce said quietly to her daughter, “and that you called Mister Giles, Rupert,” she added in an unmistakeable tone.

Giles blinked. “Um, Willow, Tara…would you mind?”

They scattered faster than marbles on a hard floor, taking a loudly objecting Dawn with them.

“Please,” Giles said softly. “Sit down, Joyce.”

She came into the room slowly and sat in one the arm chairs, her eyes moving from one to the other in deliberate assessment.

“When?” she asked before he could speak again.

“Um…” Buffy squeaked. “It's more complicated than that.”

“Oh?” Joyce managed, terrified suddenly that she was going to be told something far worse.

“Yeah, you see, we only discovered in San Francisco that we've both…I mean…he…and I…”

Giles closed his eyes for a moment, and covered Buffy's hand with his own. “What Buffy is trying to say is that while we have both had strong feelings for each other for a long time, we only discovered in San Francisco how strong they were, and that they were mutual. Our…relationship has since changed from one of friendship and comrades-in-arms to one of…of…”

“Love,” Buffy finished firmly, but with her heart burning fiercely in her eyes. “I love him, mom. And he loves me, more than life. We were waiting until you were stronger. We haven't even been seeing each other since we got back…e-except, well, last night. It was my fault. I couldn't stay away,” she said, looking up at him apologetically.

Joyce blinked and looked at each of them again, as though trying to see through a fog.

“How long…no, you said San Francisco, didn't you? But how long have each of you…known?”

“Prom night.”

“Buffy's school dance.”

They both said in unison, their responses unmistakeably spontaneous.

Joyce's eyes widened with surprise. “Angel?” she whispered, still struggling to assimilate what she'd already been told.

Buffy shrugged. “He was the love of my seventeen year old life. He wasn't the other half of me…how could he be? He's dead.” She looked up at Giles' profile. “I didn't know it at the time, but my life was right in front of me, there for me, always. We didn't even get to dance together.”

“A-and you wanted to?” Joyce asked and then mentally kicked herself for the stupidity of the question.

“Yes.”

“N-not then, maybe.”

The answers again were simultaneous. They looked at each other.

“Angel came,” Buffy said softly. “And I wasn't ready yet. I wasn't good enough for you yet,” she explained.

“Wasn't old enough,” Joyce's voice interjected, harsh over the tenderness in Buffy's voice.

They both looked back at her.

“Have you thought about that? He's not some dashing, exciting boy, like Angel. This is serious, Buffy.” She turned to face him. “And you're old enough to know better. “I thought I knew you. I thought I could trust you.”

“Mom!” Buffy was mortified, and her eyes flashed with rage. “That's not fair. Do you know how many times Giles has saved my life? Do you know what I've put him through in the last five years? My God, if you don't, someone should have told you. Trust? Rupert is the only thing that has stood between me and chaos for so long…without Giles I would be…would be…”

“A normal girl?” Joyce said sarcastically.

“Faith…!” Buffy said almost at the same time. “Is that what you would have preferred? I was lost to you before I was even born, mom. I was never going to be normal. What I am now, I am because of Giles…because he was there…because he loved me.”

“Faith came from a broken home…”

“And I didn't? Mom, please. You don't know how much alike Faith and I are, how close I came to being her.” She looked up at her lover. “But I had one thing she didn't have.”

“Joyce, I'm truly sorry you had to find out like this,” Giles interceded. “But Buffy is virtually twenty, and able to make her own decisions. Neither of us would have even contemplated a future together six months…even six weeks ago. What we have is new, and wonderful and yet it seems that each of us has known, perhaps forever, that it would be this way.”

For a moment Joyce sat silently. “You don't have a life ahead of you,” she finally told Giles. You're not Riley, with it all still to do, with the years to give her…”

Buffy's eyes grew very bright. “No, mom,” she said gently. “I don't have the years to give Riley or anyone else. Rupert knows that.”

Joyce swallowed, her lip trembling. “So you w-wouldn't do it to Riley…but you would to M-Mister Giles? And you say you love him?”

Giles' hand tightened on Buffy's. “You said it yourself,” he told her with quiet steel. “Riley has his whole life ahead of him, the potential for other relationships, a future, complete with children, career, mortgages…He should have a real chance at that.” He sighed. “And I…I can only give her everything I have, for as long as she needs me.”

“How do you know…?”

Giles looked directly into her eyes. “Because there is only Buffy. She is my life, my love, and my reason for opening my eyes in the morning. I have led a less than sterling life, Joyce. There have been few truly happy moments in it, and a great many unpleasant and painful ones. Since I came to Sunnydale, just two things have given me joy, kept me from self-destructing, in fact…”

“Jenny,” Buffy guessed.

Giles looked at her and smiled tenderly before nodding. “And this woman. Someone once mocked me for calling her a girl, but she was a girl…a slip of a girl with more courage, more strength of character in one tiny finger than I have shown in my entire lifetime. And now she's grown into the woman I love…the woman I have, perhaps, waited for her to become.”

Joyce snorted, angry with herself for being caught up in his words, his gentle voice. “This is not a hearts and flowers romance novel,” she growled. “This is my daughter, entrusted to your care, to your honourable care. How dare you do this to us? To me?”

Buffy's head flew up. “To you?” She wanted it to stop. She wanted to soothe her mother and for her to rest before she made herself ill, but things had gone too far. She closed her eyes and struggled to regroup, to not say things they would all regret. “This isn't some dirty little affair, mom,” she said quietly. “This is two people who love each other, who were never meant to be with anyone but each other. Don't take that away from us, please?”

Giles moved to put his arm around her, aware that she was trembling with the strength of her feelings.

“Contrary to what you might believe, I do understand, completely,” Giles told Joyce as Buffy turned her face into his chest. “If another chap my age had shown any interest in Buffy at any time since my arrival in Sunnydale, I would, in all likelihood, have separated the pillock from his head.”

Buffy lifted her troubled face and looked up at him. “You wanted to do that to Angel. I know you did.”

“Many, many times,” he admitted ruefully.

“But you didn't,” she smiled damply.

“Because I couldn't bear to see you unhappy, love, even for a moment. That evening, in the car, after…when I told you that you'd always have my respect, and my support…”

“You wanted to kill him, didn't you?”

“More than I wanted to breathe,” he admitted.

“What night?” Joyce asked dumbly.

Buffy turned to her reluctantly. “My seventeenth birthday. That was the day after I slept with Angel…the day he turned. I made him evil and he hurt me so badly I thought I would die…except…”

Joyce looked from one to the other, reluctant recognition in her eyes. They were talking about the man…the thing…that had killed the woman Giles had once loved, and yet, to her knowledge, he had never once blamed Buffy, or taken his grief out on her.

“I want my daughter to have a future…I don't want her to die,” she said helplessly.

Buffy went to her and put her arms around her. “I'm not going to die any time soon, mom,” she soothed. “Not when I have Rupert to watch my back…and the guys to help me. I'm sorry I said that to you…but I have to live with that truth…I'm the Slayer and after twenty-five it's like frontier time, in Slayer history. I don't want to face that alone. Hell, I don't want to face it at all…but I have to, and if I can do it with the man I love, and who loves me, beside me, maybe we can beat history together.”

Buffy heard Giles' throat catch.

“And we will,” she said vehemently. “We will.”

Giles came over to them both and laid a hand on Buffy's back. She turned into his chest again, just leaning for a moment.

He looked down at Joyce with troubled eyes as he enfolded his love in his arms.

“Will you please…trust me once more…? I love Buffy more than could ever put into words…beyond reason, even…I will protect her and adore her until the day I die…and beyond, if I could.”

Joyce looked tired, and ill. There was hurt in her eyes, but also the knowledge that what he was saying was the truth, that if anything were to happen to her, her daughter would never be alone.

The air grew strained. They both swallowed.

Then Joyce nodded and closed her eyes.

Giles exhaled and Buffy lifted her head slowly.

She looked at her mother, sitting silently with her eyes closed, and up at Giles, who nodded.

Buffy went and knelt in front of her, took her hands. “Mom, it's okay. For the first time since I was called, it's really okay. I'll still be there for you and Dawn. That won't change. I just…this is right, mom. For the first time in my life I really know who I am, what I want. I am Rupert's, and he is mine…and a part of me knows now that it was never really meant to be any other way.”

Joyce placed a hand either side of the blonde head and rested her brow on Buffy's crown. “I want so much for you to be happy, Buffy. I've watched you suffer. I've watched you being so terribly alone…but are you sure this is the answer? Are you s—?”

Buffy tilted her head in her mother's hands and covered them with her own. “I love him,” she repeated in a voice that stilled the room. “Mom, this is that once in a lifetime kind of love. The kind I thought was for other people…the kind where you aren't whole if you're not together…You told me once, there's only one kind of real love…the forever kind.” She drew back, keeping hold of her mother's right hand, and turned to Giles. “Rupert is forever...”

Giles stared back at her, his heart in his eyes, then smiled very slowly.

After a beat, Joyce loosed her hand and straightened, then sighed heavily. “What's that expression you and your friends have? Wigged, is it? Well, you're going to have to let me be wigged for just a little while,” she told them ruefully. “I've survived you being a Slayer. I've survived a two hundred and forty year old vampire lover turned psychopathic killer and I've survived you leaving. I think I can survive this too…”

Both Buffy and Giles looked closely at her. Buffy rose as Giles came to his feet, and they both stood in front of Joyce.

“Thank you,” Giles said quietly. “We knew it was going to be difficult, but we both hoped that somehow you would understand. I am sorry that it is not what you wanted for her, but I promise you she will be happy.” He looked down at the woman by his side. “And she will be more loved than you can possibly imagine.”

Joyce looked up, her eyes very full. “I know,” she said softly. “I think I've known for a long while, but I didn't want to think about it. It…you…it's too much a part of a world I'll never belong in…like the slaying, the vampires…the damned d-destiny.”

Both Giles and Buffy bent to put comforting hands on the distressed Joyce's shoulders.

“I know,” Giles said hoarsely. “Thrice damned…and the price we pay to keep the world free. I will take care of her, Joyce, I promise you. She will never be alone.”

Flanked by them both, Joyce bowed her head a little and rested her brow on his shoulder. “I'm so tired, Rupert, and it's all so unfair.”

There was a moment's silence while both Giles and Buffy struggled to contain their emotions. Then Joyce lifted her head and looked him in the eye.

“Keep all your promises, or I swear I will tell Hank. He may not be Arnold Schwarzeneggar, but he loves his daughter, and his legal staff are sharks of the man-eating variety,” she warned, only half joking.

The tension defused, Buffy looked her lover up and down. “Dad versus Giles…no wonder you think he'll need the lawyers,” she said dryly.

Joyce actually chuckled. The idea of her ex-husband tackling Ripper Giles and coming out of it any other way than the police officer had, was suddenly as ludicrous as Buffy's tone made it sound.

“Are you guys finished in there yet?”

They all parted, Buffy and Giles backing to the couch and sitting down. “Yes, yes, quite,” Giles muttered.

“Dawn, what have I told you about interrupting private conversations?”

“You guys are up to something and Tara and Willow are acting weird. I'm not stupid,” she pouted.

“Come here,” Joyce said softly, but with the kind of steel even Buffy didn't dare disobey.

Dawn inched into the room and slunk to her mother's side.

“Buffy and Giles have something to tell you.”

Two large eyes fixed on them both. “Well? Don't tell me: the world's going to end. No? Okay, you have to go to England to show the Council who's boss? I know…Riley's coming back!” she burbled.

Buffy, who'd been about to fill her in, suddenly slumped and exhaled. Giles squeezed her hand.

“Dawn, sit down, please.”

Strangely enough, at the sound of his tone, Dawn obeyed immediately.

“What your mother means is that the relationship between Buffy and me has undergone something of a change…”

“You're not her Watcher any more…again?”

Buffy closed her eyes. Giles continued patiently.

“The two of us have discovered that we mean a great deal more to each other than either of us realised. We—”

“Oh…my…God,” Dawn exclaimed melodramatically. “My sister and…and…George Clooney? My friends will die. I'll die. I'll never be able to go to school again.”

“Dawn, what are you talking about?” Joyce managed.

“Mom, he's old enough to be my…my…teacher, my Principal even. This is Giles…he knows words that came out of the Ark!”

“Dawn, listen to me,” Buffy said with commendable calm. “At your age anyone over twenty five is old. In the real world Giles is still in his prime. Can't you just be happy for me? We're happy…isn't that enough?”

Dawn blinked. She was silent for a long moment. Only when she realised that she couldn't remember the last time she saw Buffy truly happy, did she speak again.

“If...if you really are, then yeah, I could deal,” she admitted quietly and watched her sister look at the man she loved, the way their eyes seemed to melt into each other, the way he held her hand, even the way Buffy leaned into him slightly. “It is, isn't it?” she sighed fatalistically. “Real…I mean. Damn…I mean, uh…congratulations. Is it okay if I tell the kids at school that my future brother-in-law is a musician?” she asked, eyeing Giles' hoop earring for the first time.

Giles' gaze pulled away from Buffy's and met Dawn's. “I would prefer you told the truth, but I suppose, strictly speaking, you're not actually being dishonest.”

“Yay!” Dawn grinned. “Am I excused, now? I'm hungry.”

They all smiled, and Joyce nodded, watched her bounce away before looking back at the other two.

“Brother-in-law…?” she said dryly.

The Watcher smiled gently. “Sometimes the young see things more simply and more clearly than any adults.”

The two women stared at him, Joyce with a combination of bemusement and wariness, while Buffy's eyes glowed.


********

“I'm glad that's over. Do you think mom is going to handle it?” Buffy called as Giles headed down the hallway to the bathroom and she dumped the hastily packed overnighter on the floor.

“I believe so,” he called back, then halted and turned to face her. “As I said in the car, Dawn has already adapted to the situation, and your mother can see that you are happy. It will take some time, but I think she will come to terms with it. Joyce is an intelligent, rational woman, but she is also your mother. She knows full well the fate of the Slayer, but that doesn't mean she has to embrace it. She also knows that we love each other, but neither does she have to immediately embrace what is, to her, an aberration.”

“Hey, I don't want to be an aberration,” Buffy objected, following when he started to move again. “Vampires and demons are aberrations.” A look of distaste crossed her face. “Parker Abrahms was an aberration. We're…well, we're meant to be…” She turned into the kitchen and heard him grunt as the bathroom door closed. “Well, we are!” she pouted and opened the refrigerator.

She was drinking from his orange juice container when he returned.

“Do I have to ask you ag—?”

She put it down and screwed the cap back on. “Nope, Slayer's prerogative. I've got to do all the fun things and the naughty things while I can,” she pointed out facetiously.

But the smile was wiped from Giles' face.

“I won't let anything happen to you,” he said darkly, his voice haunted, and his words a promise.

Buffy reached up and touched his face. “I know,” she whispered. “I won't let anything happen to you, either.”

He leaned his cheek into her palm in a way that was both vulnerable and weary. “About earlier…I didn't want to go home…to England. I just…I couldn't bear to watch you any longer, with him…and I'm afraid I was feeling somewhat obsolete and rather unnecessary. I feel rather stupid about last year, now. Trying to prove I was still young enough, that I still had a right to…”

“Don't,” she said, stood on tiptoes and caught his lips with hers. The kiss deepened and grew passionate, but tender. “If we're talking stupid, you aren't going to take any prizes away from me,” she reminded him. “And I can think of way better things to do than talking…”

Her fingers slid down to massage his groin provocatively. He made a noise under his breath.

“You are insatiable,” he growled.

“I'm the Slayer. Comes with the territory. Ask Faith,” she growled back, then smiled. “It's okay, lover. I'm just teasing. I know you guys need your recharging time.”

“So you're a tease now, are you?” he drawled, pushing into her still open palm. She still didn't quite realize how easily she could arouse him. “We'll just have to see about that.”

Buffy squealed as he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder.

“Giles…what are you doing?” she growled under her breath as she was carried across to the stairs. “Giles! Oh…at least you're going in the right direction,” she observed brightly, irritation subsiding as each step came into view, then yelped when she received a sharp, but well pulled, rap on the tail.

“Of course I'm going in exactly the right direction,” he agreed, reached the loft and sat on the bed, putting her over his knee.

Buffy's veins coursed with a combination of excitement and anticipation. She didn't know what he was going to do next, didn't know he could be like this. His hands slid around her hips and undid her stud and zipper before working her pants down to her knees.

“What are you going to do, Watcher mine?” she demanded, both nervous and playful as his hand roved over her soft, round buttocks.

“I'm going to do something I should have done a long time ago,” he said with entirely too much satisfaction.

Buffy knew a split second of alarm, until his fingers slid reassuringly between her thighs, finding and caressing the soft heat there, making her shudder before he drew the hand away again.

“Now, your punishment,” he said with a flourish when he felt her relax, and knew he had her trust.

The first slap smarted, but the aftermath brought a surge of desire that made her wriggle in his lap. It also caused her to notice for the first time that he wasn't exactly remaining…impassive…either.

Several more, well timed, well directed smacks made her groan and writhe even more, her centre now pulsing with wild desire. Her cheeks smarted, but he hadn't struck her hard enough to do more than heighten the sensitivity of her nerve-endings and provoke her sense of the erotic with the decadence of what he was doing to her.

“Have you learned your lesson yet?” he asked, rubbing the redness until she moaned with need.

“No, not yet,” she shot back, amazed by the sensuality of it and her sudden desire for more, the fingers of her right hand slipping under her groin to find and lower his own zipper. Once they found their prize, she lifted her body enough to draw him free of both his briefs and his pants.

He felt granite-hard and hot in her hand, and his groan told her that he was not going to need any down time after all. She pulled her hand free and repositioned herself so that her heat was pushing against him.

Giles shuddered and moved his hips a little to feel the hot velvet slide against him before describing a gentle arc with his palm to connect again with a soft, tender buttock, the stroke making her moan vividly as she pushed against him at the same time. He could feel the sudden wetness of her as he did it again.

“Are you going to behave?” he growled, continuing the game.

“No,” Buffy breathed, opening her legs a little wider and whimpering as his roaming fingers dipped into her again.

“No?” he repeated, smiling to himself. She was enjoying it entirely too much. The next slap was harder. Not much, but enough to make a much sharper contact noise and to draw a small gasp of surprise from her.

She waited for the smarting to subside as her core pulsed, then ground her exponentially more aroused self impatiently against his impressive erection, moisture making them both slippery now. She didn't know how much longer she could wait, but he didn't seem to have any intention of letting her off easily.

This time when his fingers dipped into her, she pushed back against them, groaning and breathing fast.

A few moments later, Giles peeled her jeans off her legs completely, and realised for the first time that she had not been wearing underwear at all. She'd already dropped her shoes somewhere along the line. As soon as her legs were free, Buffy moved. He found himself flat on his back on the bed, his engorged member sliding into the ravenous heat of his ladylove, who grinned down at him, flushed and sparkling with wanton desire.

“You're not playing properly,” he said grumpily, but Buffy saw right through him.

“Okay,” she acquiesced entirely too quickly, Giles clasping her hips as she moved to dismount his.

“Never mind,” he moaned as she slid down again, hard, and began to ride him.

“God, Rupert, you're so…” Buffy moved her hips up and down, feeling the swelling of him inside her, stretching her, forcing his way deep into her, touching her cervix with his rigid tip as she took him. She spread her legs even more, drawing him deeper, until he was rapping against it and she was gasping with pleasure with each stroke.

Giles slid his hands up to her bobbing breasts, trying to take his mind off the sensations within her, the pleasure that was coursing through him, pulsing in his groin. He stroked and caressed them as Buffy's cries and whimpers of pleasure grew louder and her pace more frenetic. She'd leaned forward a little and, he was fairly certain, had shifted the angle enough for him to be striking her g-spot over and over. He bit his lip as she started to yell, his own orgasm not far away.

“God, oh God, oh God! Giles, Gi-i-iles!” she screamed as she plunged frantically on the ramrod shaft he was now thrusting back up into her.

He let go and followed her, crying out, himself, as his previously repressed orgasm broke free and almost turned him inside out with the intensity of the explosion. His breathing came in short rasping gasps as she continued to ride him until they were both sated.

They lay together in jubilant but peaceful silence for some time, before gravity brought its own discomforts and Buffy slowly rolled to the side with a grumpy sigh. Without being asked, Giles opened a side drawer, where he kept a box of tissues, handy both for nose-blowing at inconvenient hours and for cleaning glasses when he was reading in bed, drew out several and handed them to her.

“This is getting scary,” she said softly, lying back after disposing of the tissues.

“Scary?”

“Mm. I'm not used to a batting average like this. It's scary, being this good. What if we can't keep—?”

Giles put a finger on her lips. “Stop worrying,” he said softly. “Whatever it is, I don't want it to stop, either. I've never loved anyone the way I love you, Buffy. If I'm behaving like an eighteen year old—”

“An eighteen year old stevedore,” Buffy amended cheekily, and at his raised eyebrow: “I looked it up…and put two and two together.”

Giles looked dazed for split second then chuckled good-naturedly. “Yes, well, I may have always had something of a talent in the area, but I'm most definitely not eighteen any more and there is no magic involved…just sheer and utter passion and desire for the most lovely creature in the world,” he teased.

She giggled. “I could say the same for you, except I think you'd prefer the description 'most gorgeous and studly creature in the world.' Somehow I don't picture you as a 'lovely young thing.'

Giles smirked. “I played Frank-n-futer in a workshop production, for a few months, when I was at Oxford,” he said smugly. “I've already been a 'lovely young thing,' according to at least one village newspaper review.”

Buffy giggled even more loudly. “You're kidding? You in a college production about a transvestite mad scientist?”

“It was a village workshop for the local youth…in a small community theatre. Oxford isn't exactly one of your American colleges.”

She stopped giggling, her eyes wide with curiosity. “And you liked it?”

His smiled widened and he nodded. “Why so surprised? I have always craved new experiences, new challenges. It's what got me into so much trouble with Ethan, when it comes right down to it. Rebellion against my destiny and my lot in general, might have triggered it, but insatiable curiosity and a need to experience risk were the real cause.”

The blue-grey eyes widened even more and her lips parted. “You would have had to wear…”

He nodded.

“But didn't you…wasn't it embarrassing?”

“Dreadfully, on the first night,” he agreed, grinning at the memory. “But I discovered that once I was on stage and in character, the costume was, in fact, incredibly liberating. I remember throwing the wig into the audience at the end of the Sweet Transvestite number and I never wore it again. It became my trademark.”

“So did you…did you wear it all?”

He chuckled again. “Fishnet tights, black lace teddy…with, um…tight black bikini briefs underneath to…um…keep things in, um…order…if you know what I mean, a black corset to distract the eye from my rather masculine size, and two inch heels.”

“Wigging here,” Buffy teased, not willing to acknowledge the stirring in her loins at the vision he was creating. She didn't understand it, and didn't really want to, except that she loved him so much everything about him turned her on. It did, however, remind her of something else. “I'd like to hear you sing,” she said softly.

Giles' grin faltered a little, and his eyes grew pleased and bright.

Buffy watched him turn and stretch down to open the drawer of his bedside table and pull out an old, battered, English chocolate tin, a rectangular one.

“Not really hungry,” she offered contentedly.

He prised the lid off.

It was full of photographs, Buffy noted with some surprise. Lots of photographs, some coloured, some old and black and white, some quite obviously out of booths. He picked through them and finally handed her coloured shot.

It was a slender young man, wide shouldered and sparkling eyed, with legs that went on forever, encased in artfully torn fishnets, his slim waist equally encased in teddy and corset. He was in full voice, his mouth open a little, his face lit with the pleasure of what he was doing.

“You look so happy,” she said very softly.

Giles stared at her for a moment, then allowed his features to soften into a smile.

“Yes.”

She looked up. “Could you ever be this happy again? Without…you know?”

His smiled widened. “I already am.”

Buffy looked at the picture again, then up at his beaming face, the eyes shining in it, for her, and grinned back at him, her own face glowing with emotion.

“Is this the only picture you have?”

“Of that particular role,” he confirmed. “Though there are some clippings somewhere from the local paper. My mother used to save them.”

Buffy looked up at him swiftly. It was the first time, outside the discussion about what he wanted to be when he grew up, that Giles had mentioned his life before Eyghon.

“What was her name?”

The green eyes met hers, held them. “Sophie,” he said very softly. “I loved her dearly.”

A shadow crossed Buffy's face. “Is she…?”

He shook his head. “Had she lived I might never have run away from Oxford or fallen in with Ethan and the others…”

“I'm sorry,” Buffy whispered.

“Don't be,” he told her, smiling a little and stroking her cheek with a forefinger. “You would have loved her.

Buffy's eyes caught his and she nodded. “She was your mother,” she said simply, then frowned. “I wonder what she would have thought of you and me. If she was anything like my mom…”

Giles thought for a moment then shook his head slowly. “The British, as a rule, are far less judgemental about these things. My mother would have taken me aside and made absolutely certain I was doing this…us, I mean…for exactly the right reasons…and then she would have loved you as much as I do.”

“I think I would have really liked her,” she said softly. “I mean, above and beyond the fact that she had you. Why haven't we ever talked about her…or your family before?”

“Actually, it isn't as though the subject ever came up,” he pointed out, until she rolled her eyes. He sighed. “I'm not proud of my past, nor of much of my family's history, particularly where it involves the council. It's easier not to talk about them.”

“A-are you alone, now?” Buffy asked, as though the possibility had only just struck her.

His eyes grew very bright as their gaze enveloped her in his love.

“Not any more.”

*******


“I'm okay with it, really,” Willow said for the third time.

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure. It has to be that one.”

Buffy turned slowly, looking at herself in the mirror. “You really think he'll like it?”

Willow grinned mischievously. “Think, Buffy. Gay, remember? I'm actually overqualified to give an opinion, now.”

The blue-grey eyes flicked up to the emerald green ones, amused but uncertain.

“You…um…like?”

Willow nodded, still smiling, her eyes travelling over Buffy's curves, encased so perfectly in the high cut, white silk and lace teddy. The lace in the vee shaped bodice seemed to caress and cling to her full breasts and the whole effect, with Buffy's loose hairstyle, was one of sensuality and innocence. A silly contradiction Willow commented upon, when she'd dragged her mind away from the temporary visual distraction, only to have them both giggling.

Buffy managed to straighten first. “Buffy and innocence have been un-mixy things all the way back to L.A.,” she pointed out. “And especially not since…well, you know… Parker …and that whole Slutty the vampire slayer thing last year.”

Willow giggled again. “Yeah, well in this you get to be a little of both. He's going to love it, Buffy.”

“So you really are okay with Giles and me now?”

Willow's cheeks flushed. “Sometimes my mouth engages before my brain is in gear,” she said sheepishly. “There's a wig factor, but you knew that. I can deal…see me dealing… but I always looked up to Giles…he was the grumpy pants guy, the one who made the rules for me to break. Makes it kind of hard to think of him as your boyfriend.”

Buffy, who was busy putting on her own clothes again, stopped and looked at her friend.

“Boyfriend? I never thought of Giles like that.” A divot appeared in her brow. “Course I never thought of you having a girlfriend, either. I guess what Giles and I have is too forever for me to think about in dating terms.” Her eyes cleared and she grinned suddenly. “Forever has a nice ring to it.”

Too forever? You mean like…married?”

Buffy shrugged. “Why not? If it's what he wants, I mean. It's more than that, though. It's like we're joined, somehow. We were, even when Jenny was around, but I didn't know then why it hurt so much to see him so lonely, so unhappy when...”

“That's why you told her to make it up with him.”

Buffy stomped into the last boot and finished buttoning her top before nodding.

“It doesn't scare you…how much older he is?”

Her head tilted a little and she looked at the redhead wryly. “Can anything be scarier than knowing you aren't going to live past twenty five? I mean I've pretty much done scary, Will. Finding out I'm the Slayer…facing the Master…let's not forget the major thrill of finding out I'm going to die at sixteen, followed by Angelus as a main course…”

“The Mayor,” Willow added helpfully.

“No, actually, whenever I think of him, I just have an insane desire to laugh,” Buffy confided dryly. “He never scared me. The terror was Faith,” she added in a much darker tone. “If things had gone even just a teeny little bit differently…if Angel hadn't been there, or had been a few minutes later, Xander would have died. If Wesley had his way, you'd be filet-au-Faith. If I hadn't…” She touched her neck self-consciously, “Angel would be dead. She was going to torture me, you know.”

The soft eyes rolled up despite the slight dropping of her head. “She took something from me. Something I'll never get back.”

“Your body?”

A flicker of a smile touched Buffy's lips, but she shook her head. “My soul. From the moment I used that knife, I lost a part of me that I can never get back…”

“But—!”

“It's true,” Buffy said softly as they left the cubicle. “If it wasn't for Giles being there for me, I would have become *her*.”

“So that's why you're always so angry when anyone talks about her. I mean, we knew, like the stuff that she did…but not…”

“I know,” Buffy smiled as they reached a service counter. “Bottom line is, when it comes to scary, loving Giles is…” Her smiled widened. “Well…neutered Spike is scarier. Giles has always been a part of me…like, he was always meant to be there. Now I understand why. I think I've always loved him, somewhere in my soul.”

“But you always said…” Willow began as they left the small boutique.

“I know what I said,” Buffy admitted wryly. “And in the beginning I sorta meant it. All I could see was Angel…you know…dark and gorgeous and mine. Any comparisons by my tiny teenage mind were not going to favour the Tweed guy. And trust me, there were comparisons all the time. I didn't know why I kept doing that either, except that I wanted to scratch Kendraa's eyes out when he liked her so much, and when Faith came.”

Willow snickered. “Yeah, Buffy. Very grown up of you.”

“Well, she was putting moves on my guy. What would you do?”

“Well, a hearty eieww is not the first thing that comes to mind,” the redhead confided, still grinning.

“You know what I was thinking? It was like: she was younger than me. She was supposed be the one saying 'eieww'. She wasn't supposed to be making time with my Watcher.”

“Your guy,” Willow corrected.

Buffy nodded. “On some level, I guess, yeah, even then.”

“Only there was still Angel.”

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “And look how that turned out. I guess I knew from the moment I saw Giles' face after he found out Angel was back, but I couldn't admit it to myself. I still wanted the dream…the whole nine yards…and I thought I wanted it with Angel.”

Willow looked a little troubled as they approached the Espresso Pump. “Buffy, the whole nine yards…isn't that what you have with Giles?”

Buffy found a booth and slid into it, smiled sadly at Willow and shook her head. “That was fantasy…having a guy and growing old with him…picket fences and puppies… babies and mortgages and someone to hold you at night…”

Her friend's meanderings were giving the red-headed Wiccan a headache. She put her hand to her brow.

“So what's the reality?”

“The reality is that when Giles is holding me none of those other things matter a damn. When I'm with Rupert it doesn't matter if I live to be 22 or 102, as long as it's with him...”

Willow dropped her hand and a slow grin lit her gamin features.


*******


Buffy emerged from the bathroom with her hair washed and styled so that it fell to her shoulders in a blonde cascade, and her makeup just a little…more sexy, more provocative than her usual natural look. It made her eyes large and sultry and her face the very image of Willow's opinion of the Teddy. She was pleased with it, and the lingerie.

Giles had left very early to go to the store. They'd both agreed to try and catch up a little with their own lives, while Buffy had classes and he had responsibilities. She hadn't seen him now for almost thirteen hours. It seemed like forever. She snickered a little. After being alone for so long, and emotionally solo since the day she'd knelt beside Merrick's broken body, Buffy wondered at the cosmic joke that turned her emotional black hole into a sun of such magnitude that she found it hard to get through a day without being touched by its brightness.

She grinned to herself as she climbed the stairs. She was getting poetic in her old age. And that was probably Giles' fault too.

The loft was untidy. Her fault. She was the last out and she hadn't made the bed or picked up her towel and pyjamas from their resting place on the floor at the foot of the bed. She sighed and set about making it perfect again. When she was done, she slipped into the new lingerie and added some 'Arpege' perfume, before drawing her old grey track pants and a faded pink sweat on, over Giles' surprise.

She was about to go downstairs and fix him some dinner when her eyes lighted on the bedside cupboard he had taken his tin box of photos from. The temptation was too great. She stole them out and sat cross-legged on the bed, handling each picture as though it were the most fragile porcelain.

Some of them were of places, some obviously in England, some anonymous, but the ones that interested her most were the ones with Giles in various states of growth and dress and attitude. She was fascinated to see the transition from small serious boy with appalling haircut to small serious public school boy with serious haircut, to hellion youth, with hellion hair, in the spread of pictures and ages.

Ripper was embodied in the long, lean youth in the last one, cigarette in his fingers, hair barely combed, tight black pin-cord pants, big ripple-soled boots and tight, sleeveless black shirt. He was standing with an equally skanky group of young men and girls. No Ethan yet, she mused. Buffy smiled at the effort they were all putting into trying to look cool. One of the girls had even rested her fingers on the inside of young Ripper's thigh as she pouted for the camera. Buffy decided from the self-satisfied look on his face that young Giles didn't mind one bit.

She picked up another picture, this time a glossy black and white with a narrow white border. Her mother had the same kind of old photos, from her own childhood. Buffy stared at the woman in it for a long time. She looked a little younger than Joyce, but even in black and white it was obvious that her colouring favoured her son. She had the same eyes, the same forehead, but her features were fine and elegant and her hands remarkably small.

She turned the picture over. In someone's large, heavy script on the back it said: Sophie Giles, nineteen sixty-four. Buffy wondered if the writing were his father's. She poked through the pictures looking for one of Mister Giles, or possibly even Ethan as a boy, but by the time she'd sorted them into piles of unidentified people, Giles' hoodlum friends, Giles and school friends, show friends, scenery, motorbikes and Giles' field trips as an archaeologist, those with his adult friends, even a house, possibly a townhouse in London, probably where he used to live, she was getting frustrated.

No family portraits, no Mister Giles, no Ethan. She didn't even know if Giles had any brothers or sisters.

All that was left in the bottom of the tin was newspaper clippings. She smiled. Most were faded village reviews of Giles' shows. Then she picked up one that was folded many times, and fragile on those folds. She opened it very carefully until she was able to lay it flat on the bed. A smaller clipping had fallen from it as she opened it: a small obituary, for Mister Giles, but not just the senior Giles.

Buffy read it softly to herself. “Mrs Sophie Louisa Giles and her surviving son Rupert wish to report the passing of their beloved husband and father Thomas Edwin Giles and his ward, Rhiannon Catherine Morgan, aged sixteen, both found savaged by unidentified wild dogs in the town cemetery.” Well, they had canine teeth, but that's about as close as they would have gotten to being wild dogs, she thought bitterly. It went on to detail the funeral arrangements. The large clipping was a headline article about the discovery of the bodies.

Buffy packed everything back in the tin, closed it and put it back in the cupboard. . It could so easily have been the two of them turned into vampire food in one of Sunnydale's cemeteries. And 'surviving son'? Rupert had lost a brother too…?

She swallowed and scuffed at her left eye before blowing out a long breath and running down the stairs as though she could run the sadness from her system. By the time she'd found enough makings to produce one of the few things she was good at cooking, she was almost relaxed again.

When Giles let himself into the apartment he sniffed appreciatively. “Whatever that is, it smells bloody good,” he called as he trotted up to the loft to get rid of his formal shoes and suit.

When he came down again in his oldest, most comfy blue jeans, a little shrunk from the wash, but soft and snug, and his new favourite sweater since Buffy had mercilessly disposed of his stretched and moth-holed, old favourite. The new oatmeal coloured, rib-knit one, it had to be said, had achieved favourite status from being worn about the house by Buffy with little or nothing else under it, that very morning in fact, when it proved chilly after they ventured from the warmth of their bed. It still carried lingering traces of her perfume.

When he wandered in to the kitchen, Buffy turned from the counter and grinned at him.

He tilted his head a little and smiled at her. It was good to be home. “You've done something with your hair,” he said, amused.

“Oh yeah,” she said, regretting not getting out of her sweats earlier. “Just a little something I cooked up. I'll show you the rest later,” she told him provocatively.

His grin widened and grew deliberately lascivious. “I take it I'm going to like it a lot?” he asked in an accent that ran closer to Ripper than Giles.

“You might,” she teased, and handed him a plate with a napkin and a knife and fork.

They ate together on the couch, in silence, Giles finishing first.

“God, that was wonderful. I'd forgotten what it was like to come home to a cooked meal. One gets heartily sick of one's own cooking no matter how creative.”

“You can brag about your cooking later and I'll take notes,” Buffy teased. “We've gotta get a dining table for this place. And I'm not talking about the behemoth you dragged out for Thanksgiving, either.”

Giles made a face. “I rented it, smarty pants. I suppose I could finance a nice breakfast table. Damned if I know where we'd put it, though.”

Buffy slid her empty plate onto the coffee table next to his. “Don't worry. I'll make room. I've always wanted to rearrange this place.”

Giles looked particularly uncomfortable with the idea. Buffy and projects of any kind were usually the stuff of chaos and disaster.

Buffy watched the telltale expressions flitting across his handsome features and read every one.

“It's okay, tact guy,” she said fondly. “I can take even a silent hint. This place is you. I wouldn't want to change that. I'd still like us to have somewhere to sit and eat together, though, besides the breakfast counter. I don't like eating like I'm in a bar and grill.”

He chuckled. “Neither do I, actually, but the place wasn't designed for more than one or two people. I'm sure we can fit one in, somewhere, though.”

“Mom called earlier. She says Dawn wants that picture of you with the guitar to take to school.”

Giles' eyes widened. “What picture?”

“The one Xander blabbed about…from your ill-gotten youth,” she quoted.

Giles rolled his eyes. “That one. It's in a carton somewhere, from the move out of the library. I daresay it's keeping company with a dozen other things I've been looking for since then. I'd forgotten all about that box of personal effects. Lord knows what else is actually in it.”

“I thought you were cute.”

He chuckled again. “Want me to grow my hair, do you, and start singing seventies tunes around the house?”

Buffy shifted so that she could slide her fingers through his soft hair. “I like it like this,” she said softly as he closed his eyes against the pleasure of her touch. “You were a cute young guy, but you're beyond sexy now.”

The green eyes opened again and stared into hers. Buffy drank them in, every fleck, every jade hue, and the unusual brown splash in the left one that was her favourite, simply because it was uniquely him.

“You're a damned sexy woman yourself, Ms Summers,” he said very softly.

Buffy giggled. “Not in these clothes, I'm not.”

Giles watched her stand up and draw the pink sweatshirt over her head, his breath catching as she immediately bent to push the pants off her hips before stepping out of them.

“Oh my,” he whispered when she straightened and caught his eye again.

“You like?” she asked, her cheeks flushed a little and her eyes bright with anticipation.

“Oh yes,” he crooned, drinking in her beauty, the way the high-cut silk followed the inner curves of her groin, hugged her slender waist and the way the soft lace bodice almost seemed to cup her firm, round breasts.

With that she crooked a finger and scooped up their plates with her other hand. “We have to pick up a couple of things,” she smiled, and headed for the kitchen.

The plates were shoved unceremoniously on the sink before Buffy opened the refrigerator, bending low to retrieve the bottle of chardonnay and chilled glasses, well aware that Giles was enjoying the view.

He felt himself tighten and swell with desire as he watched the slip of silk stretch and slip up between the soft round globes as Buffy bent. The semi-opacity of the fabric became almost transparency as the white silk pulled taut against her soft heat while she dallied to collect the lemons she'd dislodged with the bottle, from the floor at her feet, and arrange them once again on their shelf.

“Shall I help?” he asked as a recalcitrant lemon rolled off the shelf again and bounced on her foot, his hand slipping over the smooth fabric and his fingers sliding down to the glorious softness between her thighs.

Buffy moaned and impaled the lemon on the lid of a beer bottle so that it would never move again, before moving slowly against his hand.

“Too much helping,” she groaned appreciatively as he drew his fingernails teasingly over her tender mound. “I'm not going to make love in the refrigerator, even for you.”

Giles laughed and turned her into his body so that she could feel his desire when her hips arched automatically into his. Their kiss was blatant and sensual and Buffy stood on tiptoes to rub herself against him.

When he heard her growl low in her throat, Giles knew exactly what it meant. He kicked the fridge closed and cupped her seat with his hands, lifting her until her damp centre was exactly where she wanted it to be.

He pulled her closer and pushed harder against her while his fingers slid up, under the silk and kneaded her soft cheeks.

Buffy lifted her head from another burning kiss and groaned again as he covered a warm breast through the lace with his mouth, and swung her around to sit her slowly on the breakfast counter.

Her head tilted back as he enjoyed her sweet curves, the feel of his hot breath, probing tongue and massaging lips causing her to groan with anticipation. Moments later he pushed the lace down and lifted a warm bosom from its snug resting place.

She made a small, strangled noise as his tongue slid around the rigid peak before his mouth closed over the soft, creamy flesh. Her fingers slid into his hair as he continued, his stroking her thighs until they were wide apart.

When Buffy's groans turned to demanding whimpers, his mouth travelled down, leaving a trail of hot breath through the silky fabric, until it reached it's destination, Giles nipping the soft mound just enough to make her shudder and cry out as bolts of pleasure shot through her.

He smiled as her hips thrust instinctively towards him, and drew his tongue very slowly over the slip of silk from her opening to her already swollen core, smiling again at the sound of the groan torn from Buffy's depths and the short, panting breaths as he continued to nip and mouth the quivering heat through the damp cloth.

“Tease,” she groaned, lying back on the counter as his tongue again drew provocatively along each edge of the silk.

“Who's doing all the work here?” he asked in an amused but desire roughened voice, caressing her at the same time with an expert fingertip to make her shudder and moan.

“Work harder!” she gasped, making him laugh again as he bent to his 'work'.

Just when she thought he couldn't torment her any more, she felt the cool air as one of his fingers hooked the edge of the fabric and pulled it back. She held her breath and then gasped as his tormenting tongue finally slid into her soft folds, writhing and shuddering as wave after wave of pleasure rocked her. He sought out every tender crevice, stroked teasingly from beneath her swollen centre to her moist opening and back again until she sounded as though she couldn't last another moment. At that exact moment he slid his index finger across the over-sensitised flesh and down to her aching channel, and pushed into it's hungry heat, his mouth covering her throbbing nub.

Buffy's scream was half in surprise, half-ecstasy. By the time he'd fully penetrated her while his tongue explored the ferocity of her desire, she was gasping and clamping furiously on the finger, and arching into his smiling mouth.

He straightened and caressed her softly as she came down, until finally she opened her eyes and smiled goofily at him.

“You do great work,” she said breathlessly and looked down at the damp spot on his jeans at the end of the great bow in them. “But I think it's time we went up stairs.”

When they reached the loft Buffy knew she wanted him again, but she also needed time for that cataclysmic orgasm to well and truly fade from her loins. Before he could undo his pants, she stopped him and bent to run her teeth along the bow, deliberately breathing hot air onto the soft fabric.

Giles groaned and twitched. The taste, scent and sound of Buffy's passion had been enough to keep him aroused and painfully hard almost the whole time he'd been pleasuring her but he was overdue for some stimulation of his own. He moaned again when she massaged him with the ball of her hand, finding his tip with her fingertips and playing with it as the hard part of her palm dragged up and down its length.

He started to breathe hard and Buffy used her other hand to undo his belt and his zipper. He smelled good, his maleness accentuated by the day at work. She could feel the pheromones doing their work, her own loins tightening again and beginning to quiver with the anticipation of having him inside her.

As she pushed the jeans away, Giles slid the fingers of one hand into the hair above her ear and cradled her head in his palm. Buffy liked it. Each of the other men she'd been with this way: Parker and Riley, both insisted on holding her head still with both hands when they were highly aroused, as though there was some kind of unconscious ritual or need to dominate, to be in control. Always aware that she was the one ultimately in control, she had allowed them their moment without ever enjoying it.

Now Giles' very instinct for tenderness turned her on tenfold. Her mouth trailed over his boxers, nibbling, biting, sucking, until he groaned in a half growl, half plea, again.

Buffy couldn't wait any longer, either, pulling the boxers down and freeing his straining member…straining for her touch and almost touching his belly, so aroused was he.

Instinctively she closed gentle fingers around it and massaged with the firmness she knew he enjoyed.

“Yes,” he whispered, closing his eyes, shuddering when her tender lips touched his tip. As she took him in her mouth, Buffy let her tongue slide down the underside of his shaft, and struggled not to giggle when he swore in surprised appreciation and shuddered again. Continuing to pump rhythmically with her right hand, she let her tongue dance up and down his length, tasting, probing, exploring as never before the uniqueness and novelty of an uncircumcised male. It was obvious from his reaction that his tip was way more sensitive, as her tongue slid in and out of the slit and massaged the sensitive spot on the underside of the head that men thought women didn't know about…

When the unexpected stimulation made him moan loudly and arch into her mouth, Buffy increased the speed of her pumping and closed her mouth around him again so that he could thrust into the hot wetness, grunting and moaning as she drove him insane with pleasure.

Just when she thought he might go all the way, his fingers slipped from her hair and touched her face, their signal, and she stopped, drawing herself to her feet again.

His eyes glowing with desire, Giles smiled at her and slipped his fingers over her once again aroused centre, searching for the fastenings, found the press-studs and pulled. As he bent and took her mouth with his, his fingers sensuously kneaded, caressed, and rubbed her still swollen core until she was moist and groaning.

In a beat he'd lowered her to the bed and moved over her.

Buffy opened her thighs and welcomed him, her legs locking around his waist as his rigid shaft found it's mark, then groaned as he rubbed his tip over her soft heat in a moment of teasing, then kissed her again, gently this time.

When he lifted his head it was obvious that she was more than ready for him. “I want it now, Rupert…take me!” she demanded, half steel, half whimper.

“Hussy,” he breathed, still swinging his hips as he enjoyed the sweetness of her scent, her hot flesh.

“Please!” she amended, lifting her own hips so that the teasing shaft slipped down to the opening that was so very ready for him.

Giles paused for just a beat to look down at her. Her eyes were glowing, hair asunder, her nipples rigid peaks on soft breasts still showing signs of his earlier attentions. As he drank her in, he gave silent thanks for the joy of her, of them, of life.

And then the vision, and the insistence of her wet entrance pushing against his sensitive tip, claimed him.

Buffy lifted her legs even higher and made a purely animalistic sound of utter pleasure as he finally entered her, sliding deep into the tight channel and stretching it once again as he found his way home.

“Oh God…yes,” she moaned as he immediately began to stroke, too aroused, too close to resist the overpowering stimulation of her. This was what she craved. This was the ultimate…being joined, fused, to the man she adored. As she tilted her hips just a little more and opened herself even wider, the feeling rolled over her entire body. She was his, mind, body and soul, and at this moment, he was hers, in exactly the same way.

She rose as she felt him getting closer and claimed him, her hips thrusting back as hungrily as his, their coupling growing wilder and wilder as they both grew more insistent, more demanding, until Giles started to shudder and cry out while still moving for her benefit. Close behind, Buffy ground herself against him as he bucked and gasped, matching thrust for thrust until, finally, she exploded again.

Giles grunted with satisfaction and stopped as she spasmed around his spent member, almost smiling as she rocked on it, except that he was so sensitive that it was all he could do not to jump each time he slid into her again.

When she finally came to rest and opened her eyes, he reached out and gently brushed the hair from her face.

“I rather think that one wasn't quite up to the standard you were aspiring to earlier,” he offered ruefully.

She grinned back at him lovingly. “They're all perfect when I'm with you, Sexy Guy. You, on the other hand, looked pretty happy from down here.”

“Mm,” he grinned as the afterglow of pure contentment stole over his body. “Blissfully,” he added playfully, and rolled to lie alongside her, smiling when Buffy did the honours with the tissues before drawing the quilt, nearly kicked off the bed during their lovemaking, over both of them. “Is something worrying you?”

She pushed herself up on to one elbow, and absently stroked his chest hair while she spoke. “I'm scared,” she said unexpectedly. “Not 'world's going to end tomorrow' scared or 'what happened to my voice' scared. Just…Giles, I love you *so* much, and when I love someone, badness happens. I don't want you to get hurt because of us…I don't want something to happen to you b-because of us.”

Giles sat up and took her face in his hands. “It's all right,” he whispered. “I'm not going to try to deny the truth of what you're saying…we've both always seemingly been destined to be alone, to somehow be punished for being who…what…we are. Don't you think I have the same terror, the same doubts? I adore you, Buffy, and in my heart I know that could kill us both as surely as any demon or vampire,” he admitted tremulously.

Buffy moved into his arms and rested her face against the reassuring steadiness of his chest. “I wont let anything hurt us, I promise,” she told him sleepily. “I love you, Rupert.”

Giles wrapped his arms around her and drew her back down, so that he was curled around her, on his side.

“And I you,” he whispered. “And you have the same promise from me. If neither of us was meant to find happiness anywhere else, perhaps it was because we were always meant for each other…” After a moment for his words to sink in, he felt Buffy's tense body relax into his.

“You're right,” she told him sleepily. “I think I was always meant for you. I think I've been yours since the first time I truly saw you…when you saved me from that spell Amy's mother did.”

Surprised, Giles kissed her temple and half frowned, half smiled. “Surely not? You were little more than a child back then.”

“I was a hormonal overload waiting to happen,” she told him, trailing her lips over the warm skin of his chest. “And child? Definitely. I thought Angel was my knight, my forever.” She trailed up to his throat and kissed his chin. “But the truth was, the one person I always needed, the one person I couldn't survive without, was you. It took me all this time to realise why, but it was always there.”

He laughed. “Even when I was very, very old, and it was gross?”

She giggled. “God, especially then. You never got it, did you?”

“Got what?” he demanded, curious.

“I was so jealous…and then you didn't even want me any more. I wanted to scratch her eyes out and feed her to Lurconis's second cousin,” she said roughly.

Giles stroked her nape with gentle fingers. “I didn't know,” he said softly. “I'm afraid I thought you were just being yourself…as per your 'raise your hand if eiwww' and such.”

“You're not old,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument and drew herself up to slide her arms around his neck. “Except when you were wearing those stupid suspenders. I thought you were fashioned challenged when the tweed was at its worst, but I swear you were actually trying to look old with those. You even cut your hair like a…a…well, I don't know, but don't ever do it again,” she pouted, stroking the soft length of his golden-brown hair, noticing the fine featherings of grey starting to appear in it.

He brushed her lips with his. “Never again,” he agreed lightly

But Buffy could hear something in his tone. “Giles?”

“I would prefer to forget that year ever happened,” he admitted.

Buffy frowned, all of the badness of that period washing over her, both hers and his. Now, however, she was old enough to step away from her own hurts and to see his clearly for perhaps the first time. She looked down as moments came back to her and she saw them with a clarity so painful her lips trembled and a hard lump formed in her gorge.

Her brow slowly came to rest just below his throat, and she cleared hers with difficulty.

“I-I've always thought of that year as 'Buffy Hell Year',” she told him hoarsely. “This is the first time I've really, truly seen it through…through your eyes.”

He found her chin and lifted her face very gently, so that he could see her eyes, his green ones searching them with concern, curiosity and something else.

The emotion Buffy had controlled until then, wavered and fractured under that tender scrutiny.

“Don't look at me like that,” she whispered. “I think about what happened to you…what I did…I don't know what to say…it was all so…and I couldn't see anything but what was happening to me…and th-things just kept on happening,” she added in a rush.

He rested a finger on her lips. “It's over, done with. And it truly was 'Buffy Hell Year', thanks in no small part to the Council and my own stupidity.” I don't know how you survived, but you did. And made me so terribly proud of you. As to the rest, I forgave you a long time ago.”

“Yeah, well, it's going to take me a little longer,” she sniffed. “Everyone always talks about moments of perfect clarity. Nobody said how much they sucked.”

Giles laughed a full, open laugh and Buffy watched him, wide-eyed, before succumbing and laughing along with him until he stopped and caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“Why do you think I love you so terribly?” he asked her.

She grew very still then grinned. “Great body? Winning smile…killer right cross?”

Giles smiled placidly. “All of those things,” he agreed, “but most of all it's because of who you are. Even when you were a child, you were full of courage and determination. You never wanted this fight, but you've never walked away from it. Even after Angelus…Angel…you came back. I'd spent hours, days…weeks…wanting to shake you, to rant, to rave, and yet when I saw you standing there looking up at me, I was so proud of you, words simply became irrelevant.”

“Proud?” Buffy frowned. “What was to be proud of? I left. I-I left you after... I wasn't there when you needed me. I sucked in the worst way. If I was you I'd have slammed the door in my face.”

“That was an option,” he said a little ruefully. “Perhaps it would be easier for you to remember that whatever you did, I did worse in my own youth, with worse consequences, and more importantly, where I had to be driven back to my destiny, you came home to yours. I saw *more courage in you from that first day*…when you as good as told me to shove my book up my arse, than in any ten grown men…and then, when push came to shove, you, a sixteen year old child, made a choice that I was still struggling with at twenty five.”

“You keep calling me a child, I'm going to get seriously wigged about your intentions, Mister Giles,” she teased.

He only half smiled. “I was speaking only of the biological fact at that time. I have never treated you like a child, because I have never known you as one. Sending you out to fight has never been my choice…but do you honestly think I would have told a child all those things about my time with Eyghon…? And yet I told you. Do you think I could have allowed Angel to so much as touch you, if I truly believed you were still a child and not capable of using your own best judgement?”

Buffy looked away. “No,” she whispered.

I couldn't help but love you, Buffy. It was hell waiting for you to grow up, knowing that you would probably never even notice I was alive, and all the while having to watch you get hurt, watch you search for something I knew I could give you if only…”

“If only I would open my eyes and see what was there in front of me, all the time,” Buffy finished, turning back to him. “The worst thing is…a part of me has always known, but the age thing…the whole 'not wanting' thing with the destiny…I couldn't see…couldn't feel it, except when I thought I was going to lose you.”

Giles chuckled. “I seem to remember feeling something quite violently the first time you thought I was going to…”

“I remember,” Buffy grinned. “Killer right cross. You went down like a sack of wheat.”

He looked down a little self-consciously. “Indeed. It was also one of those times you surprised me, delighted me, made me furiously angry and utterly terrified at the same time.”

“You were scared of me?” she teased.

He looked up enough for her to see his eyes. “Not of you…for you. If you had died…”

Buffy coughed meaningfully.

“Oh…yes, well, you know what I mean,” he said stuffily.

A rush of love moved her forward and she wrapped her arms around his neck, his automatically curling around her. She kissed his ear.

“I know,” she whispered near it. “Remember that feeling, and that I'll be the one feeling it if you ever do anything stupid like that, or going after Angelus, again. Just remember I may not be there next time…” Her arms tightened.

“There will be no next times like those for either of us,” he said, his hand rubbing her back slowly. “If we don't go together, we don't go at all.”

“Sounds fair,” she said, nuzzling into his neck as he drew them both back down under the covers.

“Early night?” her muffled voice enquired from somewhere under the quilt.

“Something like that,” his growled, his arm reaching out to turn out the light.

The next sound was a long, slow, feminine groan.


*******


Buffy paced impatiently. The past two weeks had been the most wonderful and content of her short life, and she wasn't good at waiting for, or being separated from the man who was responsible for her new happiness. Even patrolling had become an exercise to get over with as quickly as possible when he was too busy to go with her…

He was already twenty minutes late.

Giles was never late.

After an hour, irritation turned to consternation, then after a few more minutes, worry, and finally, fear. She went into the lobby of the restaurant and called the store on the payphone. He'd left there almost two hours before. The apartment phone rang out. Neither Xander nor Willow had heard anything.

Her fear grew, taking on a life of its own. Where the hell did she start looking? She decided to go home. If the apartment wasn't ransacked and the car was gone, he was probably okay. It was somewhere to start. She could also follow his most likely route in case he was broken down somewhere…

But he wasn't. Nor was the apartment in a shambles, but there were no notes or messages. The car was not there, which was perhaps the only reassuring thing. A cold shiver went down her spine and she reached for the phone to dial the switchboard number for the hospital from memory.

No one named Rupert Giles had been brought in or admitted.

She sighed and decided she'd better head back to the restaurant in case he was simply running late.

Buffy followed two couples inside and rubbernecked until she'd made certain he wasn't already seated in there somewhere. Anxiety and frustration were almost suffocating her. It was crazy. Giles was never, ever, this tardy. Not for anything. Not without calling someone, somehow.

She sat down on the hard vinyl seat in the lobby and put her head in her hands. Did she start checking cemeteries? Sewers? The police?”

A hand on her back a few minutes later made her jump like a scared cat.

“You are Ms Summers, yes?”

Buffy looked up at the young French waiter and blinked. “Yes,” she agreed dazedly, then focused. “Oh, yes, what…why?”

“There is a telephone call,” he explained, gesturing toward the desk.

Buffy ran.

“Giles?”

“Hello, love. I'm afraid I'm going to be rather late. I'm sorry I couldn't call sooner. I'm going to have to get a bloody cell phone. I had some trouble with the car, and before that one of the errands I was running took far longer than I anticipated. In the meantime I've had to buy a new battery and it will take me a little while to walk back to the car and install it. Taxi drivers are rather fussy about lead acid batteries being carried in their vehicles.”

“Your car?” Buffy exclaimed with a hint of hysteria. “I'm going out of my mind with worry, and your car is broken down?”

“Buffy are you all right?” he asked, startled.

“No,” she said in a small voice. “I was scared. Where are you? I'll come to you.”

“But our dinner…your evening will be completely spoilt,” he objected.

“No it won't. You're okay, which means it's entirely *not* spoiled.”

He chuckled. “All right, but I'm sorry about the meal. The car is parked in front of the furniture store on Delroy. Remember, on the south side of town, not far from where you killed that orange thing with the platform shoes? You can't miss it.”

Buffy reached the vehicle in time to see his back bent over the innards of his car, busy with a spanner. Her whole body relaxed at the site of him, the confirmation that he was indeed, safe.

When she got close enough she realised he wasn't in his usual business clothes from the store. He'd already changed into an open-necked black silk shirt, beautifully cut, black pants and soft leather boots under the pants.

Buffy was still admiring the cut of the pants, particularly the way they clung to a certain portion of his anatomy, when he finally straightened, wiping greasy hands on a cloth and flinging the spanner into the toolbox at his feet.

“Hello love,” he said wearily.

“Is it fixed?” she asked.

He nodded, closed the hood and picked up the toolbox. “Should be. Shall we try it?”

It turned over perfectly and Giles sighed heavily. “Thank God,” he said fervently. “Perhaps my days of all things mechanical being allergic to me are finally over.”

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked quietly, sensing the strange mood he was in. The whole drama had been strange to the max. It still wasn't like Giles to run an errand when he had an appointment. And he still hadn't explained what he was doing. Stubbornly, she refused to ask.

He nodded silently as they pulled away from the kerb. She didn't say anything, either, when they stopped again a short time later and he excused himself to disappear into the mall without inviting her. Buffy acquiesced rather dazedly after everything that had happened, flipping on the radio and sitting back grumpily when she realized she was alone yet again.

Fifteen odd minutes later he returned with one or two sacks and no explanation as to their contents, though one was clearly holding a bottle.

Buffy was glad to see the apartment again. She was feeling thoroughly wigged by Giles' behaviour, and still not over the momentary terror of losing him. Their home, however, soothed her with its familiarity, its intimate sense of being their own private world.

Giles was in the kitchenette with his back to her, once again not explaining, just excusing himself the moment they walked in the door, and taking his sacks with him.

She decided the best scenario involved him surprising her with something really good to eat…like blackberry jelly donuts or chocolate mud cake. Other explanations for his sudden eccentricities and secrecy didn't bear contemplation.

“I'm going to change,” she announced, receiving little more than a grunt in reply. She wanted out of the short black dress, silk stockings and very high heels. Somehow they'd lost their novelty.

Then again, when she'd removed the dress and hung it in the tallboy, she caught a look at herself in the mirror on the inside of the cupboard door.

She smiled mischievously. It hadn't occurred to her how she might look in just the black lace half cup, black g-string, the garter belt that had been annoying her, silk stockings and the sling-back evening shoes with the two and a half inch heels she'd bought especially to go with the dress.

When she went back downstairs again, he was wiping his now clean hands on a cloth and lost in thought.

“I hope that brain strain is something to do with me,” she said, standing on the last step.

Giles looked up absently, his eyes coming to rest on the vision before him. His mouth opened slightly and his head tilted a little.

Buffy liked it when his eyes lit up like that and his so-sexy mouth curled up ever so slowly, as though he was both amused and pleased about something. A little tremor went through her. It took so little for him to turn her on so badly…

“Very nice,” he murmured.

She smiled. “And it would have been even nicer for you to find out by yourself after dinner and wine. I figured it to be right about the time you couldn't keep you hands off me any longer, maybe while we were parking somewhere,” she teased.

His eyes widened a little, as they were wont to do when he was surprised or amused.

“This was under that modest little black evening dress?”

Her own eyes flashed and she nodded. “I thought you'd like to see what you missed.”

“Oh,” he said softly. “Like that, is it?”

She nodded again.

“Then you won't want any dinner, or any of this…” He produced a bottle of expensive champagne and two crystal tulip glasses from behind his back.

Buffy's body tingled again and she moved towards him. “We could negotiate,” she purred when she reached him and his arms spread enough for her to walk into them.

Giles chuckled, appreciating the lovely form pressing against him, and slightly frustrated by his full hands.

“I think we just did,” he observed as she undid the top buttons of the black shirt and kissed his chest, then grunted as her right hand slid down and discovered just how much he appreciated the view.

“Depends. I may not complete the transaction if I'm not happy with the merchandise,” she teased.

“Oh really?” he growled, then laughed when she squealed and leaped out of his arms, icy condensation still trickling down her back where he'd quite deliberately laid the champagne bottle against it.

“Oh, that's it, Mister,” she half-laughed, half warned. “You are in big trouble now.”

Giles started to back away as the Slayer began to stalk him. “No, Buffy, seriously,” he laughed. “I…we…I've got dinner…Buffy!”

She reached him and started to tickle so that his laughter turned into involuntary giggles and gasps, until the glasses clinked together with a ringing chime. Buffy relented.

“You still haven't told me why you were over on Delroy instead of meeting me for dinner,” she growled, nipping his chin playfully before releasing him completely.

“Rendezvous with an old flame,” he offered, eyes dancing.

She knew he was kidding, but a part of her reacted violently to the thought of anyone else touching him, kissing him, being with him…

“Not if you want them to live,” she growled.

Giles heard the seriousness behind her jest, and smiled his satisfaction. After the years of jealousy of her various beaus, it felt good to have the shoe on the other foot for once, even just for a moment.

“In that case, I shall have to tell Mrs DiMarco that we'll have to call it off.”

Buffy frowned for a moment, trying to place the name, then collapsed into giggles. “Mama DiMarco from Il Pescatore? The hussy!” she managed.

Giles chuckled. The 'hussy' was sixty if she was a day and about two hundred and fifty pounds of larger than life, big-hearted Italian grandmother.

Something clicked and Buffy managed to stop giggling. “Italian. We're having Italian…here?”

He nodded. “Rosa promised it would be delivered in about an hour from now.”

“I didn't know they did home delivery.”

“They don't,” he deadpanned. “I helped Rosa's son when he was planning a holiday in England, some time ago. Now she's helping me.” At Buffy's surprised look he tilted his head once again, this time in mild exasperation. “I have been here for almost five years now. With your schedule I don't normally find time to cook very often, therefore I've frequently had to pick up meals on the way home, or simply eat out. Rosa and her family have been friends of mine for a very long time. Il Pescatore is about the only decent restaurant in this town willing to stay open after eleven at night.”

Buffy coloured. He'd gone to so much trouble after all that hassle with the car. She would have ended up a useless, irritable frazzle, and got nothing done. Still, something still didn't fit, and it worried her, even while she tried to ignore it.

When the knock eventually came at the door, Buffy took her unclothed self back up to the loft until Giles called her down again. She decided, in the meantime, that she wanted to look as nice for him as she did when they were going to eat out, and carefully dressed again.

“You can come down, now, love,” his voice called some time later.

The room was darkened and delicious smells were emanating from it. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she realized that he'd arranged more than just some food.

Her eyes filled in the half-light of the candles on the small table Giles was standing alongside.

His writing desk had been moved to where the old mahogany table used to stand with all its bits of Giles' favourite junk. It took her a moment to realise she hadn't even noticed it was missing when they came in, but it was.

When she reached the new table, he seated her and took the chair opposite, in silence. Buffy had to bite her lip to restrain her sudden emotion at the true extent of the trouble he'd gone to.

There were not only candles, but also linen and the real silverware that she'd seen only once, when he told her she couldn't use it for Thanksgiving…not with their record for disastrous celebrations. Not even pouting had changed his mind. This was an antique, and, she suspected now, probably his mother's.

There were her favourite dishes, and continental bread and of course, the champagne.

“It's beautiful,” she said softly, for fear that her voice would wobble if she let it get any louder.

Giles smiled as he poured the champagne and handed her a glass. “Not quite the surprise I originally envisioned,” he said ruefully, “but I'm glad you like it.”

By the time Buffy had pushed back her plate and drained her third glass of champagne, she was feeling at peace with the world, her face was glowing, and Giles was starting to look relaxed, finally. There was definitely still some tension, however. She could feel it, see it in the way he was sitting, the way he was hardly talking.

She watched him set his glass down and push his own plate back. “So, spill Giles. What's wrong?”

“Pardon?” he said after a beat, as though coming back from a long way away.

“Something's bugging you,” she said softly.

“Oh,” he grinned sheepishly. “Not at all. Not 'bugging' me, that is.”

He didn't say any more for the longest time, only refilled the glasses with the last mouthful of the champagne.

“What?” she demanded when she couldn't stand it any longer.

The green eyes, sparkling in the candlelight, flicked up and regarded her for long moment. Then he reached across and set a small box in front of her.

“A present? I get presents too?”

Giles smiled placidly, but the tension was still there. “Open it.”

Inside the small gold gift box was a very old looking, heavy ring box. Buffy lifted it out almost reverently and set it on the table in front of her.

Giles watched as she carefully opened it, watched her eyes glitter with moisture in the candlelight, then shine brilliantly as she picked up her gift, turning it in the soft glow.

“Rupert, it's so beautiful,” she whispered.

The antique band was small and beautiful, like its new owner. It was crafted from heavy silver, engraved with an intricate design not seen in the relentlessly plain modern pieces of today, and inlaid with what Buffy knew instinctively were real, precious emeralds at intervals across the top curve.

She looked up slowly.

“They were the colour of her eyes,” he said softly.

“And yours,” Buffy added. “I love it.” Doubt flitted across her fine features then. “It's a wedding band. A-are you…are you sure? She was a real lady…and I'm just…I'm…”

“You are the woman I love more than life itself,” he finished. “And you are every bit the lady she was, and more. For all your flaws…” He smiled when her eyes flashed irritably, in spite of her doubts. “For all your flaws,” he repeated deliberately, mischief suddenly in his own, “and we know they are myriad… Owww!”

“Myriad,” she agreed sweetly, drawing her foot back from where it had connected with his shin.

“Myriad,” he repeated, rubbing his leg. “You always were and always will be…Buffy. You give and you give, even when things…people…try to tear you down. Even when you were entitled to walk away…when we've all let you down…you have continued to give.”

Obviously moved, Buffy handed him the ring. “And you could just be a little biased. I think we'll just leave that debate open for now,” she added tremulously and smiled lopsidedly. “Your mother was the same size as me?”

He took the band and held it up in the candle light, shaking his head.

“This is the real reason I was late. I was going to give this to you at the restaurant tonight, but the bloody car had to break down. I was picking it up from being polished and resized. It was easy to, um…borrow…one of your dress rings, for a size,” he added when her brows drew together. “Rosa simply came to my rescue when I trundled in there, looking for a phone and exuding temper and according to her, not a little pathos.”

He looked down at the spread. “Fortunately I'd already seen this table and placed deposit on it during my lunch break earlier in the day, to surprise you, not realising how soon we'd actually need it. Young Dominic collected it for me and brought it in the delivery van with the food. Good thing it's so small.”

Buffy sat in silence, watching his handsome face in the candlelight, trying not to cry, because, well, it was soppy and she knew it made him uncomfortable. When he picked up her hand, however, raising her ring finger gently with his one of his own, she was lost.

“Will you…will you do me the honour of becoming my wife, Buffy?” he asked, a mixture of anticipation, fear and passion in the eyes that held hers, eyes that matched the stones flashing in the candlelight, dancing on the silver ring.

She struggled for a moment then smiled. “I think y-you've got that backwards,” she managed, and meant it. “I'm already yours. I always will be…” she grinned through the now free flowing moisture. “But yes, si, oui, da, hai! Yes of course I'll marry you!!!”

“And multilingual too,” he teased, his own voice thick with emotion as he slid the band onto her slender finger.

Buffy giggled. “Too much TV,” she confessed then grew serious when she looked down at her hand and reality overwhelmed her again. “Giles, I'm not good enough for you. Ask anyone. They'll tell you…even Xander and Will. You deserve better. I'm not smart and funny like Jenny…and I'm lousy at the empathy stuff. I—”

“Buffy, look at me,” he said quietly, but firmly.

She closed her mouth and did as she was told.

“I loved Jenny for who she was, as a person, just I as I love you for who you are. Anything else is irrelevant. You speak as though I were some kind of Saint, whereas the reality is that none of us are. There were times in the past when I was far less aware of or interested in the welfare and feelings of those around me than you could ever be. Despite the fact that we are painfully alike in our inability to share our real feelings with others, you are able to articulate yours with a glance.” He paused ruefully. “I still have trouble just saying hello. I know you better than I know myself, and I don't need others to tell me who or what you are. I'm asking you to love me, Buffy, not save my soul.”

Buffy found herself unable to continue to look at him. Her eyes dropped to the table.

His softened, crinkled tenderly at the corners. “It was saved the day the Council gave you to me…”

It was some time before she looked up, slowly, serenity finally in her chameleon eyes.

“I love you, Giles,” she confirmed in voice that took hold of his heart. “Not…not just… making love, not just the sweetness of…” She smiled a little as she looked at the table then grew serious again, her tone growing increasingly more intense. “I love you…I-I want you…more than I every thought it was possible to want anyone.” She touched her chest. “I live with you inside me, all the time. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, you're there. I never knew it could be like that…”

They stared at each other for a long moment.

“Just promise me forever, Rupert,” she whispered, “whether it's five minutes or fifty years…as long as it's with you.”

Giles rose from his seat in a kind of pregnant silence and moved to her chair, extended his hand, managing a reassuring smile when she took it and he drew her to her feet.

When they broke from the kiss Buffy had her answer. She fitted herself against his body as though she'd always belonged there and they walked slowly to the loft together in silence.

Their lovemaking was slow and sensuous and completely unhurried. Even their climax seemed to go on forever, the two of them locked in joyous silence, without any of the explosive animal passion of their previous couplings, and yet this time was more intense, more heady and more loving than any of them.

And afterward they bathed together, still communicating primarily with a smile or a touch, washing each other with slow, tender care and finishing with her slender body resting between his legs, leaning back against his chest and playing with the fingers he was resting on her stomach.

“You have great hands,” she said softly, idly tracing each digit with her eyes closed. “But…fingers…a tad rough…bumpy, even…not exactly your usual Librar—”

She stopped dead, the pinkness in her face from the hot water draining away. She'd been going to tease him about having labourer's hands…but of course that wasn't what it was. He'd always had beautiful, well looked after hands. Even she'd noticed them…

She opened her eyes and very slowly gathered up the one she'd been playing with, and brought it to her mouth, kissing each finger in turn before holding them against her breasts and closing her eyes again, not one sound uttered that might tell him that she was weeping.

Above her head, Giles watched her touch her lips to each pathetic digit, felt their tender warmth, and knew…

He closed his eyes as she pressed his scarred and often arthritic fingers to her soft breasts and held them there, no sound passing his lips to give any indication of the droplets seeping through the long lashes that rested on his bath-reddened cheeks.

Forever…

Her heart said, beating so hard beneath his palm.

Yes…

His pounding heart replied, its reassuring rhythm drumming its tattoo through her back and into her soul.


* * *