Times Two

Anya bided her time, hovering near Michael's locker, waiting for him to appear. Today she would ask him to help her, after they studied together. She knew he was going to. She'd been preparing the way for weeks, even making a friendship spell for him.

It had to work this time. It had to…

It was easier than she could have imagined. The friendship spell had worked almost too well, but there was nothing she wouldn't do to get her powers back.

The necklace was almost within reach…


*******

Rupert Giles closed his mouth. He'd been going to scream but he couldn't remember why, any more than he knew why he was on his hands and knees, or…

He blinked, then got up slowly, looking at the item in his left hand before slipping it in his pocket and looking around.

She was gone. The demon was gone. He found the light and turned it on, then swallowed. He was home…but…

It was just past twilight outside, but the streets were not empty. There were cars, the occasional person coming and going in ordinary clothes, doing ordinary things. In a sort of daze he pulled the door closed behind him, but didn't lock it.

The main street of town was just as mystifying. More cars, people laughing, garishly dressed young people headed toward the Bronze, shops open after dark.

He was almost at the Bronze when some young men brushed by him. He recognised one carrying a guitar case immediately.

“Oz! It is you…isn't it? Why aren't you out patrolling?”

The younger man turned. “Giles?” He looked at the unshaven face, lack of glasses and his clothes up and down as if puzzled. “Are you okay?”

“No, no I am not okay. I don't understand what's going on—”

Oz raised his hand. “Wait a sec.” He handed the guitar case to his friend, took the Watcher by the arm and turned him around. “Giles, what's going on? Something's wrong—”

Giles stopped again. “You're damned right there's something wrong and I need to find out what it is!”

“I think we should find Buffy. Whatever the problem is, she's gonna be a lot more help than me…”

The older man turned to look him right in the eye. “Buffy…the Slayer? She survived? You know where she is?”

Oz paled. “Giles, I think we'd better get you home first, then we'll get Buffy and the others. They'll know how to help—”

“Oz, did something happen tonight? Did you see it, feel it? What happened to all the vampires?” Giles demanded, looking around him again, almost as though in wonder.

“Yeah, sure Giles,” he said quietly and took the older man's arm. “We'll talk about it over tea, at your place, okay?”

Giles looked down at him. “At my place?”

Oz seized his opportunity and began walking the apparently disoriented librarian back towards his apartment and couldn't believe his good luck when they ran into Buffy and Xander heading for the Bronze.

“Where's Willow?” he demanded instinctively.

“She's coming. Some family thing happening first. Her mom's birthday or something,” Xander told him, looking at Giles. “Hey, nice outfit, Giles. Great to see the casual for a change.”

“Giles?” Buffy said quietly, “Is there something wrong? You should sit down a minute. You look—”

Xander caught the older man as he swayed. He'd lost most of his colour and his hands were trembling. He was looking at Xander with mortal horror on his face, replaced by utter astonishment.

“You're warm!”

“Well, a little…”

Giles freed himself and straightened again. “Damn it, you're alive.” He turned to Buffy. “And you're here. She was right. Cordelia was right. It was better when you were here.” He closed his eyes and swayed again. “My God…It's going to work. I actually did it…”

“Is anyone else just the teensiest bit creeped out here?” Xander asked nervously. There was a show of hands. “Thought so. I vote we get him out of here before the guys in the white suits turn up.”

Buffy was at Giles' side now. “We'll take you home, Giles. It's okay. We're going to find out who did this to you, and why.”

The Watcher looked down and scanned her face, surprised by the intensity of the concern in her voice, the emotion in her eyes. For a brief moment their gazes locked and it was as if he could see into her soul and she his.

Buffy stepped back, the colour drained from her cheeks. “Something's happened. This isn't Giles. I don't know who or what it is, or if something's taken him over, but it's not Giles.”

He stared at her. “Don't be ridiculous. Of course I'm me…oh my God—”

“What's up, guys?” Willow approached them in a pink angora sweater and a soft blue skirt.

“It can't be,” Giles whispered and pulled the crucifix he never went anywhere without from his jacket and thrust it at Willow.

She scowled. “Hey, that's not funny. I thought we were over all the bad Willow jokes. I'm surprised at you, Giles, letting them lead you astray like this.” She took the cross and stuffed it in her bag. “I'll give it back when you guys play nice.”

Astonished, Giles reached out and touched her cheek. “Not dead.” He started to laugh. “You're not dead either?” He sagged and Willow and Buffy were there to catch him.

“Is anybody else here thinking nervous breakdown?” Xander cracked, but there was fear in his voice.

They moved as a group along the street until they reached Xander's uncle's car, on loan again while Xander tried his hand at part time work. It didn't take long to reach Buffy's house, the nearest and the most convenient, since Buffy's mother was at a college reunion interstate for the next several days.

When Giles came around he blinked, expecting to see his bedroom ceiling, but he didn't know this place. And when several faces leaned over him, he gasped and jumped.

They were still there: the Slayer, Willow and Xander…and Oz.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Passed out,” Oz said simply.

“That's ridiculous, I don't faint,” he said, sitting up. “It must have something to do with the spell…”

Buffy's eyes narrowed. “Spell? Now we're getting somewhere. Where's our Giles?”

“Your--? My name is Rupert Giles. That's all I can tell you. This has to be Cordelia's reality,” he muttered absently. “Stupid, stupid child wishing it all away…”

Xander smirked. “I'm beginning to like him.”

“What do you mean 'wishing' it all away?” Buffy asked suspiciously.

Giles found himself looking into those eyes again. There was something magnetic about them, about her. She was nothing like the Buffy Summers he'd summoned. Strong, yes, but not cold or methodical, no killing machine, this one.

“She did. Wish it all away, I mean. She wished that you had never come to Sunnydale. And a demon answered her wish.”

“Holy crap,” Xander breathed. He turned to Willow. “You know those bad Willow jokes…?”

But Willow was more concerned about Giles, who was still too pale, still displaced and disoriented. She knelt in front of him and put her hand on his sleeve.

“Giles, you're scaring us. None of this makes much sense to any of us.”

Giles swallowed. “I'm sorry…er, Willow, but it is going to take some time to adjust to the idea of you being Human—” he looked up at Xander, “both of you.”

Xander swallowed. “Uh-oh…déjà vu.”

They all looked at each other then Willow turned to Giles. “Um you wouldn't happen to know a skanky, dominatrix, gay kind of me, would you?”

He nodded slowly.

“Oh, God,” Buffy said. “Then Cordelia created bad Willow's reality? But why would she wish I didn't come here?” she scowled. “I wasn't the one who kissed Xander…”

Willow looked hurt but said nothing.

“Because you're the key,” Giles and Xander said simultaneously.

Xander continued. “Because if you hadn't come to Sunnydale she and I probably would never have got together. I wasn't exactly Mister Cool. She was just being Cordelia, thinking only of Cordelia again. No consequences no second thoughts. Just jump right in.”

Buffy faced the alternate Giles. “But if that reality doesn't exist anymore, how is it you're here? And how was the visit from Willow the vampire possible, even with magic?”

He stared at her. “I have no idea,” he said slowly, “but I think it all revolves around this.” He drew the necklace from his pocket. “I took it from the demon. I was about to destroy it when I found myself here. It's her power centre.”

“You mean Anya?” Willow asked, trying to imagine how he could have survived the kind of hell she'd seen during Anya's spell. “She's mortal now.”

“Anya…Anyanka. Yes.” He nodded. “She grants wishes to scorned women.”

Xander had the good grace to crimson and Willow suddenly looked like she wanted to crawl under something. Instead she pointed to the pendant.

“I know that necklace. It's the one Anya was trying to get back when we did that spell, the one that brought that other me here. She must have tried folding time again, but if it's not destroyed, how come we aren't you know…poof…not here anymore?”

Giles shook his head. “I wish I knew.”

“You're here. It's here. You took it, and its power, out of that other reality. It has to be. Giles…our Giles…will know. We just have to make sure Anya doesn't get her claws on it again,” Buffy told him.

“I should destroy it now,” Giles declared, picked up the table lamp and brought it down with force, only to find his arm halted by a stronger one. Buffy's.

“You can't do that until we figure out what destroying it here will do.” She turned troubled eyes to him. “What if it's the only thing keeping you from disappearing too?”

“As you pointed out, I'm not your Giles,” he said softly. “And I have apparently done what I set out to do. I won't see it all undone just to maintain my own existence.”

“It won't,” she promised him. “I know someone who can hold this for us. Somewhere she won't find it. And we have to talk to Giles, soon. He's still at the library isn't he?”

Xander nodded. “Inventory. He's saddling up to do battle for the next book budget with Snyder.” He turned to the other Giles. “And what are you, a used car salesman?” he speculated airily.

“Is he always like this?” Giles asked the group in general. They all nodded.

“Xander, think about it,” Buffy said, taking pity on him. “Reality changed because I didn't come to Sunnydale. When did I come to Sunnydale?”

“Couple years ago,” he replied diffidently. So?”

“So…?” Buffy prompted.

Xander's brows came together. “So I just made a complete ass of myself because up until your no-show he was our Giles,” he said uncomfortably.

“Just so,” Giles agreed.

“So I have a question,” Oz asked. “If he's not our Giles, what are we going to do with him?”

Buffy nodded. “Oz is right. We can't just go and say hey Giles, meet Giles.”

“I don't know. I'm not sure you're being fair to Giles. I mean, seeing my double didn't freak me out…too much,” Willow pointed out.

“It's not just that,” Buffy added, “it's Anya, and the necklace. She's going to be looking for it—”

“And a double Giles act would be a dead give away,” Xander finished.

“Exactly.” Buffy turned to the alternate Giles. “You can stay here tonight. Xander will get you a change of clothes. Sorry we can't do much about the specs'.”

“Ah, Buffy,” Oz said quietly, “this isn't our Giles. You don't know this guy from—”

Buffy was still looking up at the alternate Watcher. “Yes I do,” she said simply.

Long after Willow and Xander had gone to fetch clothes, and Oz had returned to his gig at the Bronze, Buffy and Giles were still talking. He wanted to know everything about the reality he'd restored, as if he needed to be reassured that he'd done the right thing.

“It really scares you doesn't it?”

He nodded, surprised by her perspicacity. “Terrifies me. What gave me the right to change people's lives? I literally decided who lives and who dies.”

Buffy looked sombre. “I know that feeling,” she said softly.

Giles was preoccupied and didn't hear. He thought of something. “Is Cordelia still alive in your reality?”

Buffy frowned. “Of course, why? Oh, wait…she died in your reality?”

He nodded slowly. “Xander and Willow. Right in front of me. I was locked in the book cage.”

“Poor Cordy.” Something occurred to her. “Giles, why didn't I come to Sunnydale? And why were you there, if I wasn't?”

“The same reason I'm here in this reality. To be your Watcher.”

“And something happened to change that?”

“I believe your parents were going to divorce, then reconciled unexpectedly. Plans were changed. You and your mother went to Cleveland with your father.”

“And you stayed in Sunnydale why?”

“Because I was stationed here. You didn't come. Then Master rose and Sunnydale became hell on Earth. I couldn't just leave all these people to their fate. We organised a kind of guerrilla group to fight them, to rescue as many people as we could,” he said softly. “But it was a hopeless battle. So many deaths…”

Buffy could see the lines at the corners of his mouth, his eyes that weren't there before. There was disillusionment and weariness of spirit in both and a hard set in his jaw that wasn't part of her Giles, either. It spoke of a relentless determination to hold together, to prevail over hopelessness, when it would be so easy to let go.

She shook herself mentally, wondering what prompted her to such close scrutiny of someone she barely knew.

He ran a hand over his face and sat back against the sofa.

“Mom's got some tea back there somewhere. Can I get you some?”

He smiled wryly. “Tea? Yes, I suppose.”

Buffy got up and started toward the kitchen, then turned sheepishly. “Uh, Giles, it's not teabags and I um, don't know how to make tea.”

He lifted himself from the chair shaking his head, and followed her. “Americans,” he muttered.

*******

Willow and Xander returned with the jeans and sweater they'd 'borrowed' from Giles' apartment. Willow's choice, since they'd be items Giles was least likely to miss, since they'd never seen him in them.

“Giles still not home?”

“Not before we left,” Xander confirmed. “Oh, and we locked the door.”

“Then I'd better go to the library and talk to him. Stay here with…Giles…until I get back.” She turned to the other man. “Give me the necklace and I'll take it to Angel.”

“Angel?” Giles asked as Buffy disappeared out the door.

Willow and Xander looked at each other, bemused. Then Xander turned to him. “Ah, that might take a little bit of explaining.”

The school appeared deserted but, as was often the case, the library lights were on. Giles was at the study table, among a sea of book catalogues and invoices, drinking tea and working on a pocket calculator.

Buffy smiled to herself and sat quietly alongside him. “Hi.”

“Hello, Buffy. What brings you here at this hour?”

“Something I have to talk to you about,” she said reluctantly. “Something that's happened.”

Giles dropped the calculator. “Angel…?” he asked, facing her.

Buffy put her hands up. “No, hey, calm down. It's nothing that serious…well it is serious, but not that scary…okay well, maybe a little scary—”

“Buffy!”

Buffy swallowed. “Anya has been at it again.”

“Oh no. She didn't succeed?”

“Depends on your definition of success.”

He retrieved the calculator. “I'm not going to like this, am I?

“Not really. The necklace is here now, in tact. And somebody came with it.”

“It's here? That's not possible—”

“You wouldn't think so, would you? I said you'd probably know why we're still here. Maybe something to do with removing the demon's power source from the other reality, maybe…?”

“Perhaps. You dealt with whatever came through with it, I take it?”

Buffy squirmed. “Sorta. There's a problem. It's not a vampire this time.”

“Oh? Demon, monster…school principal?”

“Giles, it's you.”

Giles sat up straight and contemplated that statement for a moment. “It's me? Not a vampire…but—what?”

“You did it Giles. You were the one. You saved this reality. Now you—he's here, and he's not you. And he has the necklace.”

Giles tilted his head to one side and gave Buffy his 'please explain' look.

“He's been fighting the Master and his minions pretty much alone for the last three years. No Slayer, no real help; just a bunch of ordinary kids helping him fight and rescue people. Then Cordelia told him I was supposed to be there, before she was killed by Willow and Xander, and Giles—the other Giles—found out that the necklace she was wearing was some kind of Anyanka thingy. He brought forth the demon and took her power source—the necklace. He was about to destroy it when Anya's latest spell brought him here. He was going to sacrifice his own existence…”

Giles was looking dazed. Then he snapped out of it. “Anyanka? Is that Anya's demon? Something to do with wishes and women scorned, I think…”

“Cordelia.”

“Yes, Cord—wait a minute,” he looked up. “Did you say Cordelia was dead?”

“Not here,” Buffy explained impatiently. “In the wish universe. The vampire Xander and Willow killed her.”

“Sounds like a particularly bad movie.”

“Giles.”

“Yes, yes, all right. I suppose I'd better try and find out why our reality survived Anya's latest spell.”

“And I have to go see Angel. You aren't at all curious about your other self?”

Giles looked bemused. “Of course I am. You like him, don't you?”

She frowned, then nodded. “Yeah, I guess I do.” She smiled mischievously as she turned to go.

“He is kinda sexy.”

The calculator clattered on the floor.


*******

Angel was training. Buffy watched him for several minutes before making her presence known. Beauty was not a word Buffy normally associated with men, but Angel was…beautiful. There was no other word for it. Firelight flickered on the wide, smooth torso as it turned, bent and stretched, making it glisten in the diffused glow of the room.

Buffy exhaled. “Hormones, at ease,” she muttered and finished her descent into the room.

Angel stopped and picked up his shirt. It slid on almost as sensually as the light slid off the smooth, taut skin.

Buffy shuffled uncomfortably then looked down at her body. “Stop it.”

Angel looked up. “Hey, Buffy. Did you say something?”

“No, no, not me. I just didn't want to interrupt.”

He smiled. “You're up to something. I can always tell when you're up to something.”

Buffy smiled back wryly. “Well, not so much up to something, as have a favour to ask. Same effect, I guess.”

Angel shook his head. “What do you want me to do?”

Buffy held the necklace up. “Take care of this. Don't let any Anyankas near it. Or any Anyas, for that matter, and we might have a chance of preserving this reality for a little longer.”

Angel stared at the piece of jewellery. “How did you get this? This is a demon gift. Do you know how powerful the demon who was given this would have been?”

“Powerful enough to change history so I didn't come to Sunnydale, so that the Master ruled. So far we know that Cordelia, Xander and Willow didn't make it in that reality, and that Oz and Giles were hanging in, just. I don't…like…that reality very much.”

“No. Neither do I,” Angel agreed sombrely. “Don't worry, I'll take care of this. You just be careful. Losing something like this is apt to make for one very hacked off demon.”

Buffy nodded. It was still hard. She blew out a breath. It was going to be hard forever. “I'd better get home. There's another problem with all this. A guest from the other reality.”

Angel looked startled. “Not…like Willow?”

“Nope, not like Willow. This one's a little more comfort zone: Giles.”

“Giles? He is still human?”

Buffy nodded. “Very. It was him, you know. He's the one who figured out how to stop Anyanka. We're all still here because of him.”

“Sounds like Giles. So what does he think about having a twin?”

“He's kinda distracted by Anyanka—and his book allocation—at the moment, but it'll probably hit him eventually and he'll come around to take a look. Should be interesting.”

“Come around? This guy is at your house?”

“With Xander and Willow currently, which reminds me, I'd better go. He hasn't had Xander shots.”

Angel chuckled and grinned. A spontaneous, brilliant thing, quickly gone.

The sight almost brought Buffy to tears. “I'll see you,” she said quickly and was half way up the stairs before Angel realised she was going.

“Buffy?”

“Tomorrow,” she said over her shoulder and vanished.

Angel stood staring at the stairs for some time after she was gone.


*******

When Buffy let herself in she found a peaceful scene. Xander was fast asleep on the sofa, snoring softly. Willow was curled in a chair reading one of Joyce's book club books and Giles, damp-haired, was sitting the other chair engrossed, squinting at one of a number of old newspapers, most of which were scattered around his feet. He'd obviously showered, but not shaved, and was wearing the heavy cream cable-knit sweater and old blue jeans the guys had brought back.

“Everything okay?” she asked softly. Willow lifted her nose from the book. “Oh, sure. It's been real peaceful and quiet.”

“Xander slept right through, huh?”

Willow looked across at her dozing friend and smiled.

“No problems?” Giles asked. It was so strange, and unsettling, to have those soft green eyes staring back, unobscured by spectacles.

“You even sound like a Watcher,” Buffy told him. “No problems. No vamps, no wigging from Giles, and the necklace is real safe now.”

“With this 'Angel' fellow?”

“You know Angel?”

“Well, not really. I didn't know he existed until you mentioned him on the way out, and Xander was kind enough to explain—”

Willow bit her lip and Buffy looked stormy.

“What exactly did he tell you?”

Giles watch her colour rise, surprised at how attractive he found it. “Enough,” he replied quietly. “Little that would constitute an invasion of privacy,” he added, as if sensing a need. “I would never have believed it possible. A vampire with a soul…”

“Believe it,” Buffy told him as Willow shook Xander awake.

“What did I miss?” Xander demanded, blinking sleep and looking very mussed.

“The entire evening,” Giles drawled.

Willow giggled.

Buffy walked them to the door and let them out. “I'll see you guys at school tomorrow, and thanks.”

“No problem,” Xander replied, still blinking away sleep and scratching his head.

“He's nice,” Willow added. “But quiet.”

Giles looked up when the door closed. Buffy was pulling her hair out of its ponytail as she came back. She was a beautiful young woman, warm and intelligent and alive. He suddenly felt very sad for the other Buffy Summers.

Buffy flopped into one of the chairs and sighed. “What a day.”
        
“Agreed. Your version of me didn't come back with you? I might be able to help…”

She shook her head. “He's right into this Anyanka thing. You know yourself when you get into research mode. We—Xander, Willow, Oz and I…and Cordelia used to…well, anyway, we usually help with the research. There's Faith too, but she's sort of on vacation…”

“Oh,” he said softly, envying his alter ego on many levels. “And tonight he doesn't have any of you with him?”

“Nope, but he'll be fine. Xander calls him 'Super Librarian'.”

He couldn't stop himself. “And what do you call him?”

She looked into his eyes. “Giles,” she said glibly.

He blinked once and sat back. “My name is Rupert. It would be much easier if you called me that, to differentiate between the two of us.”

Buffy was piqued that he ignored her lip, but not enough to stop her from noting that he was way cooler than Giles about it. Too cool: she liked annoying Giles.

Rupert stretched out his long legs. “Where do you want me to sleep, tonight? The couch? I'll make it up if you provide some linen and blankets. A pillow, perhaps?”

“Don't bother. You can sleep in my bed—” She paused at his raised eyebrows. “I'm going to be sleeping in my mother's room,” she added pointedly, “if I can sleep. I didn't patrol tonight, and that makes me jumpy.”

He nodded, the lines in his face a little deeper for his tiredness, his drying hair tousled and his beard shadow getting darker. “If you would show me the way—?”

Buffy stood up, unsettled by how attractive, and how un-Giles-like he looked, despite the tiredness. Even the clothes made him look different. And he was leaner, more taut than Giles, surer in his step and in his speech.

When he was settled, Buffy went to her mother's room, but for whatever reason, sleep was illusive. It was three a.m. and she was in the kitchen waiting for milk to heat in the microwave when she heard movement.

When Rupert crept into the kitchen, dressed again but shoeless, he came close to being impaled by a vandalised wooden spoon.

“Don't scare me like that,” she snapped.

“Sorry,” he drawled back and took her by surprise by disarming her and throwing the offending utensil in the sink.

Buffy flopped down in a chair, rubbing her shoulder.

Rupert was immediately contrite. “Did I hurt you? I didn't mean—”

Buffy shook her head. “Old muscle thing. Not your problem.” But he was behind her, his hands on her shoulders.

“It's been a lot of years since I've done this, but it should help,” he added matter-of-factly and smiled to himself when he felt some of the tension go out of her.

It did help. In fact his hands were so soothing, so gentle and relaxing, that she almost went to sleep…but not quite.

Something else was happening.

He'd stopped and was quite still. Then he was taking his hands away. Buffy drew a quick breath when she realised that she hadn't wanted him to.

Before there was a chance to feel awkward, however, he had her hot milk out of the microwave and was stirring a teaspoon of honey from the pot she'd left on the cupboard, into it. He put it on the table in front of her and went to fill the kettle.

A few minutes later they were sipping tea and milk and sharing chocolate chip cookies raided from her mother's secret stash.

“So how come you couldn't sleep?”

Rupert looked at her over his tea mug. “I was, but I heard someone moving around…”

Buffy put her cookie down. “That jumpy, huh? I knows how that feels.” She looked closely at him then. “It's like this all the time for you, isn't it?”

“You know too much, Buffy Summers,” he said softly. “But yes, at least for the last few years, it's all there has been. I'm tired of burying friends, incinerating bodies.”

“You could stay here, in this reality.”

He looked into the now rosy face, the beautiful eyes. “Yes I could, but it might not be a very good idea.”

A ripple went down Buffy's spine. She stood up quickly. “We'd better try and get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

Rupert watched her go, wry amusement warming his weary eyes, then put his hand on the teapot, which was cold.

“Bugger,” he said, and went to fill it again.

*******

When Buffy dragged herself into the kitchen in the morning she found Rupert already awake and dressed, scrambling eggs and making toast. He looked tired but alert, like a soldier who'd been in battle too long: ever ready to react, but way weary and kind of shell-shocked.

“No eggs for me, thanks, at least not without a caffeine fix first.”

Rupert looked up and grinned slowly. She was still rosy from the shower, wearing a plain blue shirt over black pants and boots, but she looked like a small, tousled child straight out of bed. He pointed to the percolator, whose aroma was only just beginning to waft around the room.

“Two minutes,” he told her. “I thought you might be tired this morning.”

Buffy took the cooked toast out of the toaster and put two pop tarts in. “Tired isn't the word,” she sighed. “But I'm used to it.” A few moments later the barely heated pop tarts popped up.

“You're not really going to eat those revolting things?” Rupert asked, scraping perfect scrambled egg onto the toast.

Buffy, drinking coffee, waved one at him, then bit into it. “Carbing up for another day of schooling, socialising, slaying…”

He sat down at the table and started on his breakfast. “Isn't there some way I could be of assistance?” he asked between mouthfuls. “I don't think I can just sit here all day twiddling my thumbs.”

Buffy was about to reply when there was a tap on the back door. She opened it.

“Angel?”

The visitor closed the kitchen curtains and drew back the heavy black hood he was wearing. “I was hoping I'd catch you. There's trouble.”

Rupert watched the big, panther-like figure cross the kitchen and felt an immediate, unreasoning antipathy. He resolved to repress it until he knew whether there was any justification for it, aside from the unnerving sensation of being in close proximity to a vampire…

“The infamous Angel, I take it?”

Angel studied him. “You are different,” he said at length. “Anyanka knows you found the key to destroying her power?”

Rupert nodded. “She knows I was going to destroy the necklace. She doesn't like me very much, I'm afraid.”

“Then we have to move you somewhere safer. She knows you're here. Word is that Anya—Anyanka—has enlisted some major demonic help to get her power source back. My contacts think they want her to restore his world,” he nodded at Giles, “and to destroy this one. It makes sense. It would be about the only way, as a mortal, that she could convince any demon to ally with her, since the Demon ruler of the lesser beings already refused to help, once.”

“Okay, but where? He can't be seen anywhere near Giles, so that leaves out the library, and Giles' apartment, and you obviously don't think this is secure enough…”

Angel looked at her. “It's not,” he said with finality. “Anyanka will come. Giles is the key.”

Buffy frowned. “No, the necklace is the key.”

Angel shook his head, but Rupert spoke first.

“No, he's right. The fact that the necklace is here, and this reality survived, means that it's no longer the key. I am—or at least my intention to destroy it—is. Time is, if you will, hanging on my next move. I'm afraid temporal and dimensional physics are rather bent out of shape by magic. Even if Anyanka gets the necklace back, she won't be able to reinstate my reality and appease her allies without first getting rid of me. ”

They were all silent for a moment.

“But that's just a theory, right?”

Rupert smiled just a little and shook his head at her.

“I think I'd better take him with me.”

Rupert looked up at that and fixed a defiant glare on the vampire. “I'm not sure I want to go anywhere with you.”

Buffy looked from one to the other. “C'mon, Rupert. Angel doesn't bite. Ripper Giles wouldn't think twice about it.”

Rupert's head whipped around, his eyes startled. “Y—you know about…that? And you're still…your…he's still…?”

Buffy held the worried eyes calmly. “Sure. We've met, actually. Big magic, bad guys, long story. All I can say is if he'd told me to sod off one more time, or kissed my mother again—”

“I've never told anyone,” Rupert whispered.

Buffy's eyes softened. “I know. It was hard for him, too. I know about Eyghon too. He visited.”

At that Rupert's face lost its colour. “Here? My God. In my reality Ethan Rayne became a vampire two years ago and methodically killed everyone in our group, except me. Then Eyghon took him, and deposed his original demon, and when he came for me, I had to kill him. It was a near thing.”

“Eyghon pretty much did the killing here, except for Ethan, which is okay because I so want to kill him myself. So you kicked its butt?”

Rupert couldn't help smiling. “Not actually. We were struggling and I was losing rather badly, when we overbalanced and Ethan fell on the broken leg of a chair we'd overturned earlier.”

Buffy grinned back. “I like it.”

“We should go,” Angel said quietly. “Buffy, school.”

Buffy looked at her watch. “Crap, I'm not going to make biology and there's a test in second period. Rupert, trust Angel. He won't let anything happen to you,” she admonished, and flew out the door, pop tart still in hand.

She didn't see the desolate look that crossed Angel's face, but Rupert did.

“I take it we have a history?” he asked perceptively.

Angel turned the haunted eyes on him for a moment, then raised his hood. “We have to go,” he repeated.

“You know that thing isn't going to protect you for any distance in broad daylight, don't you?” Giles asked as he followed the be-robed vampire out into the sunshine.

“I know.”

“Then how do we—?”

Angel opened a manhole cover out in the middle of the street with a gloved hand.

Rupert sighed. “Never mind.”

*******



Buffy came into the library at lunch to find Giles working alone re-shelving returned books.

“Where is everyone?”

Giles looked up. “Ah, Buffy. Willow and Xander are keeping an eye on Anya and I'm told Oz is doing detention for not handing in an assignment due three weeks ago.”

“Okay. But shouldn't you be working on this Anyanka thing?” she asked irritably.

Giles looked down his nose for a moment. “Buffy, I do have a job to do here,” he told her curtly and put the books down. When he came to a halt in front of her she could see how tired he was, despite his usual immaculate appearance.

“You didn't get much sleep, either, did you?” she asked contritely. “I'm sorry. I'm tired, I didn't patrol last night, and I'm not at all sure that I passed the bio test this morning.”

“You didn't patrol? Then why—?”

“Couldn't sleep.”

“Oh? And how is he?”

“Angel came this morning. He says Anya has allies now, and that trouble is coming, big time. He took Rup—the other Giles with him.”

Buffy watched various emotions flicker across Giles' face. “He says…Rupert,” she decided to just say it, “is the key now, not the necklace. He's safer with Angel.”

“Q—Quite. Does he know?”

She shook her head. “He knows Angel is a vampire, and that he won't hurt him, but that's all.”

Giles nodded, but the suddenly haunted look in his eyes remained.

Buffy found and held them, her own speaking to them in volumes. “I won't let anyone hurt…him. I'll kill them first—”

The doors burst open and several freshman students crashed in complaining about assignments and boredom and libraries in general.

Giles silenced them with a glare and saw to their needs as quickly as possible. Buffy busied herself putting away more books from the abandoned trolley.

“You didn't have to do that,” Giles told her when they were gone.

Buffy shrugged. “It passed the time. I've got classes in about an hour, so if you've found anything we can use?”

He nodded. “And, Buffy—” he began.

Her eyes softened. “I know.”

They spent the next hour poring over the references Giles had found the day before, including the main text about Anyanka's power source, before Buffy flew out the door, late for her next class.

*******

Rupert watched Angel doing his Tai Chi exercises with a mixture of curiosity and reservation. He was struggling with the idea of vampires and redemption in the same sentence, not to mention being unarmed in the same room with one.

He was rather beginning to wish that whatever was going to happen, would, and be done with it.

Angel finished the last movement and reached for his shirt. “Are you sure you don't want anything to eat? I can—”

Rupert held up a hand. “Thank you, no. I'm not hungry. There is something you could do for me, though. Our um…history—I'd like to know more, but I had the distinct impression that if I'd asked Buffy she might have struck me.”

Angel half smiled. “Good guess. Look, Giles—”

“Rupert. It makes it easier to distinguish…”

Angel nodded. “Look, Rupert, there's a lot, more than a lot. I'm not sure…” He turned away, then turned back, decided. “Two hundred years ago I became a vampire. Not just a vampire, but the worst kind of evil you can think of, and I wasn't stopped until I destroyed part of a gypsy clan. They cursed me with my own soul. A human heart, a human soul. Regret, guilt, remorse. I lived with that for nearly a hundred years…”

Giles cleared his throat when he saw the surge of emotion in Angel's eyes. “I…I don't quite know what I was expecting, but I think this is too personal, too painful—“

“No,” Angel said quickly. “It's better said, and Giles knows everything…almost everything. I came here, to Sunnydale, because of Buffy. I wanted to help, to make something of myself. I wanted to help her.”

“You love her,” Giles guessed.

Angel looked squarely at him. “And I almost destroyed her. The curse is broken only by one moment of pure happiness—”

“And you broke it?”

“It was…broken. I became the thing I was before. I killed. I tried to destroy them all, especially Buffy…but I came closest to destroying Giles.”

Angel stopped and walked away.

When he didn't return Rupert got up and went across to where he was standing, amazed that he felt no fear of him any more.

“Angel, you are obviously not that demon now, and if there is anything I have learned in the last three years, it is that 'now' is very important.”

Angel turned back to him, his dark eyes glistening. “I owe him everything, and I took everything from him. I tried to kill his friends, his slayers. I killed his Jenny, and I took him, and I tortured him.”

Rupert closed his eyes. It was rather a lot to digest, not least the experience of seeing a vampire weep. For all their Giles had been blessed with…this world; the slayer; all that support, and even, apparently, female companionship, it seemed that he had suffered perhaps even more.

“And he continues as Buffy's watcher?” he asked softly, incredulously.

“He's strong. I don't think even he realises how strong,” Angel said quietly. “And he cares for Buffy too much to leave her alone.”

There was a clatter on the stairs. Willow, Xander, and Buffy came to a scrambling halt in the middle of the room, Xander with a large weapons bag slung over one shoulder.

Buffy spoke first. “They've got Giles.”

“We lost Anya between trig and chemistry. We looked everywhere for him. Then we looked everywhere again,” Xander added agitatedly.

“Then we went back to his office,” Willow added breathlessly. “And there was blood.”

Buffy reclaimed the conversation. “There were some drops of blood on Giles' desk. We think someone might have taken him from behind.”

Rupert turned to Angel. “Do they think he's me, or are they using him as a weapon?”

Angel looked as though he could kill. “They know who he is. They want the necklace. If they know about you, they'd also know that he's the best chance they have of flushing you out. We have to find him, now.”

Buffy looked up at Rupert, but spoke to Angel. “We have to find him…before they hurt him again.” Anguish twisted her face for a moment, then receded to lie in her eyes.

Rupert touched her arm. “Did Giles' research give any clue where Anyanka, or Anya, might be doing her spells?”

Willow lit up. “Ooh, I think I know that one. When Anya asked me to help her, the first time, she said her parents were really straight and that she did most of her magic in the old bakery on George Street. It's been closed down for months. I had to get home to do someone's—I mean, to do my homework, and I didn't want to go all that way, so we didn't go there.”

Xander looked at her and then at the others. “It couldn't be that easy, could it?”

“It has to be,” Buffy said and started toward the stairs.

They were all out in the cool evening air when Angel stopped and turned to Rupert.

“You should stay. It's safe here.”

Rupert shook his head. “I can't. Not this time. My being here is responsible for all of this. I intend to be there to help put things right.”

Buffy turned. “Rupert, we can handle it. I don't know if I can deal with both of you being in danger…”

“Hopefully you won't have to. But I am coming. Now, we're wasting time…”

********

Giles woke with a force ten headache. “Not again,” he muttered irritably, tremulously. “Another one and I'll need a bloody cat-scan to prove I'm still alive.”

There was also a searing pain in his chest and stinging across his nose and cheek. He was trying hard to ignore them, and the trembling of his hands in their bindings and the moisture still in his eyes, the grief in his throat. He had to.

He was tied to a dormant conveyer with electrical cable around his wrists, his jacket, waistcoat and tie gone, and his shirt torn open, many of the buttons ripped out. There was an ugly six- inch burn across his chest, deep, blistered, and agonisingly painful.

He'd been king-hit in his office and brought to this place, God knows how much earlier, where he'd roused from unconsciousness the first time. He shivered as he remembered what was waiting for him when he opened his eyes.

There were three vampires, a demon, which seemed to be in charge, and something grey and slimy he couldn't quite identify. The concussion had made it difficult to concentrate, let alone focus on detail without his glasses, which were back on his desk in the library. The vampires had held him down and stripped away his suit, one of them coming perilously close to sampling the merchandise before being cuffed by the demon.

Giles took a deep breath, which hurt like hell, and tried to relax, memories of Angelus, his voice, his scent, his touch haunting him each time he remembered that vampire's face. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest as he remembered the demon's first words.

“We want the necklace. You will tell us where it is, or you will die…very slowly.” It had grinned horribly, leaning down, close enough to smell its foetid mouth whether it breathed or not. He'd also smelled something else: fire.

“What makes you think I'd know, you prat?” Giles had responded, rage suddenly interlacing with fear. Rage at fate's dirty trick. One would have thought that being tortured once was a lifetime experience, but not for old Giles. “If you had half a brain you'd realise I am the last person they'd tell, because I'm one of the first people you'd go after,” he improvised.

One of the vampires had backhanded him then. He could still feel the split in the corner of his bottom lip. The demon had persisted, and Giles had wondered where Anya was.

“Enough talk!” the red behemoth had raged after another ten minutes of threats, back-handers and shots to the midriff. “'Don't damage the goods' she says. Well, the goods aren't going to talk without real incentive. Aaden, the blade…"

Giles had felt every nerve in his body seize with fear. Angelus had broken his fingers, his arm, so that he could manipulate them to cause agonising pain, but he hadn't the opportunity to cut him. It was one of the few times the librarian cursed his education, especially his watcher's education. He knew a hundred different excruciating uses for a blade…

But none quite as terrifying, in theory, as the reality of the glowing red-orange tip of the demon sword.

“Now you will tell me all that I want to know,” he'd growled and Giles had watched in growing terror as the point had moved toward his torso until he could feel the heat radiating from it, smell the hot metal. It had been his worst moment, worse than the unending cruelty of Angelus' play with his broken fingers, worse than having his arm sadistically broken. Worst, because this time he was losing control. He could feel it, could taste it, but he couldn't stop it.

The demon had toyed with him, watching him strain against his bonds, frantic with panic. It had laughed as it watched him cower away from the hovering point, gloated over his screams of agony as it touched his chest, the smell of his own flesh burning, reeking in his nostrils.

By then the demon's face had become Angelus' face. The heat had been intense enough to burn horribly despite the brevity of the contact. Seizing on the one thing he could focus clearly on: Buffy's face, and the knowledge that she would come, Giles refused to say anything, in spite of the pain, the terror. Held out, in spite of the sound of his own sobs as he tried to shrink from the sword's fiery, taunting edge.

Giles shifted and swallowed a muffled sob as he remembered. As he remembered the demon's rage, the red face blurring and becoming Angelus' face; remembered being mesmerised, despite the agony, by the colours of the burning tip of the blade as the demon's arm was raised again in frustrated rage.

Remembered the glowing metal point suspended above his eyes…and then, God, it was coming down…and the blind panic, the urge to urinate, to defecate, to cry, to call for his mother…

He'd been going to tell them, tell them anything…

And then there was the scream, a scream of pure, feral rage. “Dorakis!”

The point stopped within centimetres of his face, the heat scorching his skin by its sheer proximity. Then it was withdrawn, and he'd wept like a child while Anya berated the demon like a demented harpy for disobeying orders.

When Anya was finished with Dorakis, and had turned on her heel, the demon had leaned over him again and cursed him, and then everything had gone black for a second time…

Giles tried his bonds again. He wondered anxiously where his captors were, tried to focus on Buffy's face again, but nothing could block out the horror or the shame of those memories.

What the watcher couldn't know was that Anya had ordered him captured, not for information, but as bait.

Anya had stationed her cohorts and a number of their friends around the building to ambush his anticipated rescuers, before going to complete the preparations for the folding spell.

No one had noticed the dark figure who'd been staring down from the skylight, or the depth-less rage twisting his face.

******

Buffy watched as Angel crossed the roof, stealthily climbed down a drainpipe on the darkest corner and easily slid by the two vampire guards at the glass doors, which were the entrance to the bankrupt business.

She drew a sharp breath though, when she looked up to speak to him and discovered him transformed. A moment later his face was human again, though his eyes still glittered with rage.

“Angel?” she asked, afraid. “You were gone a long time.”

“There's a lot of them. They've got Giles.” He looked away. “They're torturing him.”

Buffy made an anguished sound. “Then let's go! We have to—”

Angel caught her arm. “Not yet. Anya stopped it for some reason.” He didn't tell them how close he came to smashing through the skylight, or how close Giles came to being killed. “He was knocked out so I waited to see if he came around. He was out for a least half an hour. My guess is she wants him as bait.”

“How can you know that?” Xander demanded.

Angel looked him square in the eye. “Because it's what I'd do.”

Xander shrugged and subsided.

“But we are going to get him out of there, soon, aren't we?” Willow asked, distress making her brown eyes like huge, moist saucers.

Angel nodded. “We have to have a distraction, a rescue plan, and a way of stopping Anya from completing her spell.”

Buffy drew out her stake. “Well this is a start.”

Rupert stepped forward. “And you have your distraction.”

“No, Rupert—” Buffy and Angel objected simultaneously.

He raised a hand. “I'll be far more of a distraction on my own, just by showing my face, than the lot of you even if you were having a rousing bacchanal in the alley,” he told them pointedly.

Xander raised a hand. “Can I vote for the second option?”

Angel stepped in. “Xander and Willow will follow Buffy and me all the way in. You don't go forward until we've cleared the way, and when it's safe to do so, you go find Anya. She'll still be mortal, because I have the necklace, but watch yourselves anyway.” He turned to Rupert. “Buffy and I are going to be right with you. Don't do anything brave, because brave will only get you killed and hold things up. Understand?”

Rupert nodded, satisfied to be included. They shared out the weapons, everyone but Buffy taking stakes, Xander bottles of Holy Water, Willow a cross and the advance guard all taking the swords swiped from Giles' personal collection.

The vampires on the doors recognised Rupert immediately and were easily drawn into the alley, where Buffy and Angel dispensed with them in short order, Rupert holding one while Buffy staked it, and watching, amazed, as Angel despatched the other.

He slipped into the reception area of the bakery, moving forward with caution. The look of confusion, when they saw him, on the faces of the three demons lurking by the entry doors to the bake-house, were enough to convince him that Giles was close by. He stepped into the open and waved to them cheerily before turning on his heel and sprinting back through the swinging rubber doors.

The demons burst through them at full tilt, the two in the lead running straight onto Buffy and Angel's swords. The third knocked Buffy to the floor and was about to try and knock her head off when Rupert swung his sword swiftly and expertly, sending the ugly green head skittering across the floor.

Inside the bake-house much of the equipment, ovens and work areas had been stripped or shut down, but the two biggest ovens remained, and the production line where the bread was sliced, bagged and packed. Angel and Buffy now flanked Rupert protectively, moving between machinery and ovens with speed and stealth.

Buffy rounded a corner when two vampires stepped out in front of her. Angel was about to join the fray, as she sailed into them, when another large demon appeared. It jumped over a bench and tried to knock him into next week.

Rupert swung his sword again but the creature was too fast, the blade sinking into its biceps and splattering demon blood all over the place, but doing little to slow its attack.

Behind them Buffy was battling the two vampires, with only one goal in mind, to get through them to Giles. Her heart, her mind, had both been focused on only one thing since Xander had told her Giles was missing:

She had failed him again.

One of the vampires finally opened up enough for Buffy to stake him, but the other managed to get behind her. She swung around, stake in hand, but was saved from another long battle by the deft swing of Rupert's sword.

“You fight like Giles,” Buffy told him tremulously as Angel's battle with the blue demon came closer.

Angel had lost his sword as they wrestled and the demon appeared even stronger than the vampire. Both Rupert and Buffy plunged in to help, unable to use their swords because of the intensity of the struggle. There was too much danger of striking Angel.

“Should we help?” Willow asked worriedly, watching from their hiding place behind the second oven.

Xander swallowed. “I think they're doing pretty well, don't you? We were told to wait for the all clear, remember? Besides, three against one is pretty good odds, especially when the three are a vampire, a slayer and a complimentary watcher.”

Between the three of them they had eventually wrestled it to the floor and Buffy was about to try and cut its head off, when another huge demon arrived. It lifted Buffy bodily off the ground, slammed her head against the wall and dragged her away, her sword clattering on the tiled floor and coming to a halt near the other two. The demon on the floor lunged trying to throw the other two off, but Rupert, closest, in desperation toed the sword into the air, grabbed it and ran it through the blue beast's heart.

Then he was running after Buffy, Angel on his heels. They passed three more approaching vampires without stopping, chasing the huge, red wheal covered creature as he strode through the complex to the conveyer belts.

Behind them, unseen, Willow held the pursuing vampires at bay with her cross while Xander unleashed two full bottles of holy water, sending them into an agonised frenzy. He grabbed one after the other as they staggered around, burning, and Willow staked them. They looked around, above and behind them for other signs of activity, but no more demons or vampires appeared, and no more were following Angel and Rupert.

“Xander, I want to help Buffy too,” Willow cried when Xander changed direction.

“Our orders were to find Anya. Look, Will', I'm scared for Buffy and Giles too, but Angel and Rupert will handle it. Anya is the wild card. Who knows what she's going to do next, what she might come up with if we don't stop her, besides, Angel will kick my ass if I put you in danger, and Buffy will kick both our butts if we let Anya get away.”

Frightened as she was, Willow knew that Xander was just as scared, and that he was right, but she stilled wanted to find Giles and Buffy.

“Okay,” she said despondently, and followed him.

Breathing hard, Rupert came to an abrupt halt as the demon turned, swinging Buffy's limp body like a doll. Angel was at his elbow a microsecond later.

“Stay back, or she will die,” the demon warned.

“Dorakis, no!” A weak voice protested.

Angel and Rupert looked at each other. Giles.

Dorakis didn't turn. “Snivel, you piece of refuse. I don't need her or you, now that the other one is here.”

Angel saw Buffy's body tense and her eyes open, just before Dorakis took hold of her by the throat and started to squeeze.

Both men leaped forward at the same time, only to be confronted by the trap that had been set. Three vampires and a grey, slimy thing, and Anya herself, stood between them and Dorakis.

“You can't let him kill her!” Rupert cried, “For the love of God, let her go and I'll do whatever you want.”

“Rupert—”

“Dorakis! We haven't got the necklace yet!” Anya roared.

Dorakis reluctantly let go, holding Buffy by an arm as she sagged, barely conscious.

Rupert leaned toward Angel. “Get them out of here safely. You know what you have to do with the jewel,” he said softly and when Angel would have objected, smiled, more brilliantly than Angel could ever remember Giles smiling. “Diversion, remember?”

“Enough whispering!” Anya snapped. “He comes with me. Nobody leaves here, or the other two die, right now. I want that necklace.”

Rupert stepped forward, carefully placing himself between Anya and the demon. Buffy saw what he was doing and marshalled all her remaining strength to lunge forward. Rupert leaped sideways. She couldn't escape the vice-like grip but it did pull the creature off balance and he fell forward, crushing Buffy beneath him.
Angel grabbed his head and broke his neck before the other vampires had time to even react.

But react they did, to Anya's enraged screams as she backed away.

One of them threw itself at Angel before he could do anything about Buffy. Rupert was caught between the other two vampires, torn between helping Buffy, stopping Anya from hurting Giles, and protecting Angel's back. Then he saw what Anya was doing.

Suddenly Xander was there and the two vampires were holding their burning faces and howling in pain. “I love Holy Water,” he said gleefully and grabbed one, which Rupert staked almost without stopping, on his way to stop Anya.

Xander looked around. “Where's Buffy?” he asked, swinging at the second's back and watching it turn to dust at the end of his stake, at almost the same moment as Angel's foe vanished.

“Here,” Angel said urgently, rolling the dead demon off her. She was conscious but dazed. They helped her up, all turning with the same purpose, but Rupert and Willow were already there.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. They saw Anya raise the blade, and Willow throwing herself across Giles' body. Then there was a blur as Rupert seized the hysterical Anya and hauled her away just as the sword point touched Willow's blouse. They heard their friend's scream, and Giles' strangled 'No!'

Then Buffy was running. She wrenched the sword from Anya's hand and threw it, punched her in the face and knocked her flat on the floor, and out cold.

“Rupert you did it!” she began, turning to Giles and Willow.


“Buffy, no!” He cried, lunging towards her, lifting her and swinging her around. Then it felt like a bus hit them.

Rupert screamed as they staggered.

Buffy caught him in her arms as he sagged.

There were simultaneous cries of 'no-o!' from Angel and Xander, then they were attacking. Xander had picked up her sword. Both men's faces looked carved from granite, rage glinting like bloodlust in their eyes as they cut the strange looking, slimy demon to ribbons without blinking, the bloodied, sizzling sword clattering to the ground as its carcass fell.

Buffy lowered an agonised Rupert to the floor, taking his head and shoulders in her lap, supporting his head with the crook of her elbow.

Angel rushed to Giles, and Willow, who had passed out. An obviously concussed Giles looked up at him with eyes he couldn't meet.

It took all of Giles' courage to speak to the vampire. “Is it bad?”

Angel picked her up like a child and laid her further down the conveyer. “Her blouse is melted, there's a nasty burn and some blistering, but it's not deep. I think she passed out from the shock.” He broke Giles' bonds, still without meeting his eyes.

Anya roused, and moved to get up. Xander, almost at Willow's side, changed direction. He grabbed Anya by the back of the neck, dragging her roughly to her feet, his knuckles blanched white as he restrained her.

The moment he was freed Giles tried to get up, but shrank from Angel's touch when he tried to help. Angel stepped back, his eyes glittering with distress, and watched his former friend struggle to a sitting position, then pause, trembling, breathing heavily, all colour drained from his face except for the scorch mark.

There was a small moan. Willow had come around. Angel helped her to her feet. She was also pale and drawn, the acute pain of her wound evident in her face, but her only immediate concern was Giles. He was barely keeping himself upright, his hands still trembling and his face haunted as he stared at the scene unfolding on the floor.

Tears welled up in the tender brown eyes. Not again…

She went and sat gingerly beside him. Instinctively, she slid her arm around his back and felt his lift and slide around her shoulders, his fingers warm against her arm despite their trembling.

It was only then that she saw the drama on the floor and gasped, then sobbed. Giles' arm tightened supportively.

Buffy was holding Rupert as he struggled for breath; struggled to hold on to life just a little bit longer. Blood was seeping through the front of the white cable sweater now as well as from the gaping hole in the back.

“You must destroy the necklace, now, before I die,” he rasped, finally managing to find the strength to get the words out.

“No-o!” Anya screamed as Angel came forward and took it from his jacket.

Xander put his other hand around her throat. “Shut up!” he roared, his voice trembling with both tears and rage.

“Giles,” Buffy sobbed. “I'm sorry.”

Rupert opened heavy lids again, smiled just a little and lifted trembling fingers to the face bent close to his and brushed the moisture from her cheek.

“You see. Not for me,” he whispered. “For him.”

Buffy choked on a sob and nodded then took his fingers in her hand, held them against her face, her eyes locked with his. It was there again, despite the pain and the suffering in his eyes. The connection was almost palpable.

“For you too,” she whispered, and saw an answering light in his eyes. After a beat she bent and covered his trembling lips gently with her own and felt them respond and return the pressure, then he was fighting the pain again, and struggling for breath.

When she drew back he looked at her, in terrible pain now, and smiled again.

“Now,” he whispered.

Buffy sobbed.

Angel threw the necklace on the floor and smashed his boot down on it, shattering the stone.

There was an earth-shattering roar and overwhelming blue-white light filled the room.

In the same instant Rupert vanished and Buffy's scream of 'no' echoed through the building, Xander found himself holding an unconscious Anya. All the other demon remains disappeared leaving everyone bewildered and dazed.

Buffy scrambled up first, her face white with shock and grief.

Angel took a step toward her, then stopped when he realised she wasn't looking for him.

When Giles moved toward Buffy suddenly, Willow helped him to stand, ignoring the excruciating pain of her wound, waited while he steadied himself, then drew away.

She turned unsteadily and found Xander right there. It wasn't clear who took whom in their arms, only that they didn't hurt quite so much while they were holding each other and that they were both alive.

Buffy halted in front of Giles, her desolate eyes vivid against the chalk white of her face. “I lost you,” she whispered, a hand reaching out, then dropping to her side. “I failed both of you. I didn't keep my promise.”

Giles closed his eyes for a moment, then sought the old eyes in the young face. “You couldn't have known,” he said softly.

Buffy searched his, looking beyond the shock and the trauma that haunted them, for any sign of condemnation. Her mouth trembled and she blinked quickly. She had found none. Again.

“Giles, I'm sorry,” She reached up to touch his scorched cheek. “I'm so sorry.” For a moment there was silence. He had no words, and she was beyond speech. Then, at length, his strength gave out.

Angel moved swiftly to catch him as he passed out. Buffy stepped back wordlessly as he lifted the librarian before following with the others as Angel carried him through the bakery and out into the night.

*******

Buffy stood over the sink holding the china teapot under the hot tap, her mind far away from the running water. The visit to ER at the hospital had passed in a blur, but the taxi ride back to Giles' apartment had passed in painful slow motion. The hot water overflowed and ran onto her fingers, making her jump and drop the pot in the sink. Fortunately it didn't break.

But part of her did. Giles hadn't spoken a word to her since he'd come around in the hospital. He hadn't spoken to any of them. Buffy's eyes glittered with unshed tears. She scrubbed at them briefly before rescuing the now warmed teapot and proceeding with the tea making process, until she completed the aromatic brew and replaced the small china lid.

There was a noise behind her. Xander.

“You don't suppose there's some hot chocolate in here somewhere?”

Buffy opened one of the cupboards and handed him the jar without turning.

“He's gonna be okay,” he said softly. “I mean, you're even here this time,” he added and immediately wished the words unsaid. Buffy's shoulders had hunched and her hands were gripping the sink. He rushed on.

“The doctor said if he keeps the dressing on and goes back for follow up treatment there won't even be much of a scar, and Willow probably won't have one at all.” His brows drew together. “Actually, she's not that happy about it. Who knew she'd be into battle scars?”

Buffy turned then. “Have you talked to him?”

Xander's face dropped and his eyes lost their forced amusement. Buffy looked terrible. “No. He's asleep now. Willow's still sitting with him, but he hasn't talked to anyone.”

He didn't know what else to do or say. He'd never seen Buffy so fragile, so lost, and it scared him how different Giles was. There had never been much in Xander Harris' life that he could count on, except for Will' …until Buffy and Giles came to Sunnydale.

Up 'til now the two them had always been so…tough. They wavered sometimes, turned inside out once or twice...but they didn't fall apart. They endured.

His shoulders slumped, remembering all that had happened to both of them in the last year or so.

God, they endured…

“I'll give her a break soon. He might want some tea if he wakes up,” Buffy told him in a despondent, toneless voice.

Xander focused and nodded then thought of something. “Did Angel say anything before he left the hospital? He didn't look too good last time I saw him.”

“If he wants to, he'll be around,” Buffy replied, unwilling to discuss the torment that was eating Angel. His guilt and remorse about Giles was as deep and as lasting as the pain of his guilt about Buffy herself.

When Xander realised that was all she was going to say he placed the jar of hot chocolate mix on the cupboard unopened and went back to the sitting room.

Willow shifted, trying fruitlessly to ease the pain of her wound. She couldn't get the image of Rupert dying out of her head, or the terror of almost losing Buffy, then Giles as well.

Giles was still asleep, resting on his back to ease the burn on his chest, which though dressed and sealed was still horribly painful.

'Don't leave him alone…' had been Angel's parting words to her before he was dismissed from the ER after carrying Giles in.

Willow bit her lip remembering the silent taxi ride back, Giles staring out the window all the way, and the look on Buffy's face when she put her hand on his arm as a gesture of comfort and he didn't move even a muscle, like she wasn't even there.

Only Willow, watching them both, had seen glimpses of his reflection in the car window, seen the torment in his face. They'd gone with him to the apartment, waited until he unlocked the door, but no invitation was forthcoming. Xander had shrugged and turned for home and Buffy had looked hurt, but Willow simply went in with him and the others had followed.

Giles had gone straight to his bedroom, leaving them to a sombre supper and a decision about whether or not they should stay.

Xander thought they should leave him in peace, a sentiment that only made Buffy look more haunted than she already did. Willow had glared him into silence and left the room.

They were all grieving for Rupert. She didn't feel much like talking, but she knew that if Giles had truly wanted to be alone he would have locked them out in the first place.

Don't leave him alone…

Her mobile features had crumpled a little then and she'd made a decision.

Willow had slipped up to the bedroom door, resolved but scared, and knocked softly. When there was no answer she'd opened it timidly.

Giles was in bed, his ruined shirt, shoes and socks strewn on the floor. He hadn't bothered to take his pants off. He was lying on his back in the dark, on top of the blankets. His face was toward the wall. The only illumination was the moonlight from the window, dappled brightly across the bed.

When he didn't stir or tell her to go away, Willow had discovered she was neither afraid nor nervous any more. She moved a chair next to the bed and sat down on it.

She was just beginning to think he'd gone to sleep, when she heard a single, jagged sigh and the big hand closest to her had curled into a fist.

It hurt. None of them had ever wanted to see him that hurt again after Miss Calendar's death, and now...

Instinctively Willow covered the fist with her fingers and felt it trembling.

After a few moments the hand relaxed a little. Instinctively she slid hers into it and squeezed. Eventually it had stopped trembling and Willow had felt an answering pressure. It had continued until she could tell from the steady rhythm of his breathing that he was asleep. Somehow, though, she couldn't bring herself to leave him alone just yet.

Xander had found her, head resting on the edge of the bed, her hand still in his, fast asleep. He'd wakened her silently. She had refused to leave and he'd withdrawn. It had been the quietest argument they'd ever had...

The sound of the doorknob turning again roused Willow from her troubled thoughts. She uncurled herself from the chair she'd been sitting in for so long and eased her fingers from the now open hand. When she turned it was to find Buffy watching her, a laden tea tray in her hands.

Finally
, she thought with satisfaction, and looked over her shoulder to check on Giles one last time. Then she silently took the tea tray out of Buffy's hands and left.

Buffy blinked, looked at her hands and then at the door. “O—kay,” she mouthed silently, then forgot everything when her eyes rested on the sleeping figure.

In the half-light it could have been either of them.

She swallowed a surge of grief and moved to the bedside. Willow's chair was still warm. Giles had turned his head in his sleep, so that Buffy was able to see his face clearly in the moonlight. He was a little restless now, as though he was dreaming about something. She watched the tiny movements of his hands and eyes for a long time, content just to know he was safe.

Then the dreams seemed to blossom into nightmares. Buffy tried to catch his hands as he thrashed but couldn't reach. She climbed onto the bed as he cried out unintelligibly in anguish and pinned his shoulders down before he tore his wound open.

The only word that she could understand was 'pillock'.

“Giles! Giles, it's me. You're safe,” she repeated several times, until he stopped struggling and opened his eyes slowly.

They dilated with terror and he gasped.

“Giles?”

“Jenny?” he whispered. He was still breathing heavily. “No…” he said, horrified, then turned his head away.

Buffy didn't move. “It was a just a nightmare,” she told him, unaccountably hurt by his withdrawal.

When he didn't speak she let go of his shoulders and straightened. “I'm not leaving,” she said. “So you'd better talk to me. I can't help you if you just lie there.”

The silence lengthened and the hurt blossomed into anger. “Giles, don't do this to me,” she begged. “I know I've failed you so many times, but I can't do….” She stopped. “No, that's not true. I can do it without you,” she choked, refusing to cry, “I just don't want to. I can't lose you, not again.”

There was a movement. Buffy's hopes rose, but he was pulling away, trying to curl up in a ball, grunting in pain and swearing in frustration when prevented by the burn.

Buffy's eyes flashed with anger. She'd seen him give in to hopelessness and despair once before and she didn't like it then either. She took hold of his arm and pulled him roughly from his side, back onto his back, not caring if it hurt him or not.

“Stop it!” she shouted. “You can't…”

She stopped as his eyes finally met hers. One thing she hadn't expected to see in them was fear. No, not fear: terror.

“Giles, what is it?”

“Buffy?” he rasped. “Earlier…for a moment I thought…”

She waited.

“I thought…I thought you were...Drusilla,” he sighed jaggedly. “I don't know what's happening to me.”

But Buffy thought she knew.

How long did the nightmares go on last time? Oh, Giles

“You're going to be fine,” she said tremulously, taking his fingers in hers. “It's just delayed shock.”

“Delayed shock?” he repeated and his voice trembled. He drew his hand away. “Don't be ridiculous, Buffy.”

“Just because you're a stuffy Englishman doesn't mean you can't have delayed shock,” she retorted, her voice wobbling again, “or get scared. Or feel things. You've been trying to make up for Ripper for so long you've forgotten how to be Rupert.”

“I can't afford the luxury of being Rupert,” he said quietly. “I let it happen once, and she died. I can't let it happen again.”

“It wasn't Rupert who gave me those injections.” The words were out before she could stop them.

Giles' eyes widened in surprise and hurt then closed in affirmation. Then they opened again. “I can't be Rupert, Buffy,” he said self-consciously. “I don't know how any more…”

“Yes you do. You already did, and got fired for it,” she reminded him. “And did I say thank you? No.” Her lips trembled. “I seem to have spent a lot of time doing that. After…after Angel—Angelus, I just…I never thought—I mean grown ups just seem to get over things, and I didn't think I was going to survive let alone…okay, I'm babbling, do you want to stop me now?”

Affection lit his eyes. “Not particularly,” he answered lightly, the effect marred by the catch in his voice. “I th—thought you were doing rather well, actually.”

“No I'm not,” she said softly, fighting the urge to cry again. “I'm not doing very well at all. I ran away. Everyone else was so angry with me. You should have been angrier than any one and you weren't. You were…”

“…A fool.”

Buffy shook her head, her eyes glittering. “…Giles.”

At that Giles raised himself painfully onto one elbow, the exertion telling, the lines in his face etched harshly in the moonlight. “I thought I'd lost you. Everything else was irrelevant.”

For a moment they were both silent, then he made a sound that told Buffy that he was hurting, a lot.

She slid off the bed. “I'll get you something for the pain,” she said, too quickly. “And there's tea. Do you want tea?”

“Tea? When did you learn to make tea?” he teased, then saw her face and knew exactly when.

She shrugged. “It's easy. Pointless, but easy.” It sounded like Buffy, but her eyes were bleak and her hands were trembling. She turned for the door, her back rigid.

“I'm sorry I'm not him,” he said softly. “Truly sorry.”

Buffy froze, her hand on the doorknob. She was doing it again. Running…again. She closed the door and turned.

“It was never him,” she said quietly. “He taught me that. Oh…I loved him. It was easy…because part of him was you. But he wasn't...you.”

She came back to the chair with the painkillers Giles had thrown on the bureau.

Giles' green eyes flashed with emotion, vivid against his pallor, as he looked up at her grieving face, but before he could speak they closed again and he grimaced.

The pain of holding himself upright was intense. The painkillers from the hospital had completely worn off and he was still feeling the effects of the emotional roller coaster he'd been on for the last twenty-four hours.

Then Buffy was there, easing him carefully back onto the pillow, pulling the quilt over him and handing him the pills.

He took them and watched her as she lowered herself into the chair. She looked so fragile and her hands weren't quite steady.

“You should get some rest.”

Her eyes met his again and held them for a long moment. “So should you.”

He laughed bitterly. “To sleep…perchance to dream.”

“No,” she said, reaching across and taking one of his hands in hers. “No dreams. Slayer on duty.”

In spite of himself, he chuckled. “Now I shall dream of you impaling vampires all night,” he said softly, still amused, and closed his eyes, the tension draining away, the pain slowly abating.

Buffy, watching his ravaged face finally beginning to relax, found Rupert's floating in her mind's eye, found herself remembering the soft green eyes, the feel of his hands on her shoulders…

She shivered and looked down at the familiar contours of Giles' face, felt the tears wet her lashes and didn't stop them this time. The hard ball of grief in her chest was disintegrating into a million tiny pieces, all flooding into her eyes.

It was eerie how different they were, how much difference three years of hell and loneliness could make to a man…eerie how easy it was to love them both.

A sob escaped her throat, and she let go of Giles' hand, trying not to disturb his hard-won peace, struggled to contain the next and failed.

Giles, floating in the half-sleep of painkillers, heard. He wanted to leap up, to help, to take the pain away…

“Damn…” he whispered.

But Buffy heard. She raised her tear-stained face, concern over-riding grief.

“Giles? What is it?”

He opened his eyes, turned his head toward her and tried to focus drowsily. “Want to be Rupert,” he murmured. “…Can't reach.”

Buffy half laughed, half sobbed, took his hand, held it tightly between both of hers.

“You don't need to be Rupert,” she told him tenderly. “You're way too busy just being Giles.”

*******

The door opened very slowly. Giles was resting quietly, and Buffy was fast asleep, her head and shoulders resting peacefully on the side of the bed.

Willow listened to the slow rhythm of their breathing, watched the rise and fall of Giles' damaged chest with satisfaction, then let her gaze rest on his hand, resting, still and relaxed, on Buffy's hair.

She turned to Xander. “I think we can go home now,” she whispered, smiling. “I think they're both going to be okay...”



* * *