Bright Side of the Road
By Darcy Galvan

Title: Bright Side of the Road
Author: Darcy Galvan
E-mail: mscribe@angelfire.com
Rating: R (violence...little language)
Spoilers: Season 5
Summary: Buffy and Giles work some things out
Disclaimer: BTVS is Joss and Co. property, and "Bright Side of the Road" belongs to Van Morrison and Co.
Author Notes: (Another one I posted a long time ago and --much to my chagrin-- apparently never submitted to the BG Archive. My little angsty fic. The last "conversation" between Buffy and Giles was the scene that popped into my head and I kind of...worked outward from there. *G*
Feedback: will be shellacked and framed


From the dark end of street
To the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again
On the bright side of the road

Little darlin' come with me
Won't you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

Into this life we're born
Baby sometimes we don't know why
And time seems to go by so fast
In the twinkling of an eye

Let's enjoy it while we can
Won't you help me sing my song
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again
On the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again
On the bright side of the road
~ "Bright Side of The Road" by Van Morrison

***

Giles didn't quite know how he'd gotten into this situation. It certainly wasn't what he'd planned for the day, not by any stretch of the imagination...

***

The afternoon had begun wonderfully, he worked at the magic shop, sold a few things, a lovely conversation with 'the Scoobies,' then trained with Buffy. Of course, Dawn was tagging along. He had sighed in exasperation, still unaware of why Joyce didn't allow the teenager to stay home alone, she really was quite old enough. Giles didn't care for Dawn, but she was Buffy's sister, and she was unavoidable, so he did his best to cope.

While Giles and Buffy trained in the back of the store, Dawn sat out front slogging through a pile of homework due the next day. Buffy was warming up when they heard voices out front.

"What in the world? Giles muttered. "We're closed." Watcher and Slayer headed towards the door and the voices became clearer.

Dawn spoke. "You're not supposed to be here. Why did you come?"

"You said you'd have it by now."

"I haven't found it."

"You lying bitch, tell me where it is." Buffy's eyes widened and she and Giles looked at each other before stepping into the front.

"What's going on?" Buffy asked.

Dawn and the man whirled around. He was tall, almost painfully thin with a hawk nose, high cheekbones and unnervingly pale, white blue eyes against his dark brows and black hair. Dawn started to move towards Buffy when he grabbed her forearm, yanking her back to him. She gave him a look of pure shock and tried to pull her arm from his grip, but he only tightened the bony fingers until a look of pain crossed her face.

"Digger!" she yelled, tugging vainly against his hold. "Let go! What are you doing?"

"Hello, Slayer," he crowed in a high, whining voice. "Firey sister ya got here. Not exactly your real sister, but, she acted the part pretty good."

"Bastard!" Dawn hissed, looking pained, though it wasn't completely of the physical kind.

Buffy blinked in confusion before speaking. "Let go of her," Buffy ordered, advancing a step, "or..."

"Or what?" The thin man, Digger, asked, nudging his coat aside and slipping his hand around the grip of a gun. Buffy hid her shock.

"Listen, I don't know what your problem is, but, you apparently know who I am, and I'm going to give you a chance to do the smart thing."

"You want me to walk away? Not a chance. Not until I've got what Yavnai here promised me."

"Yav--okay, you've got bigger problems than I originally thought," Buffy said. "Her name is Dawn."

"That may be what she calls herself now, but, she's got a lot of explaining to do."

"You gave your word. I need more time, just go *away,*" Dawn ground out. "Buffy you have-"

"Shut up," Digger said, twisting her arm. Dawn gasped.

"Dawn, what is he talking about?" Giles asked calmly, inching his hand towards something to hurl at the man.

"Keep still, Watcher," Digger said, pulling the gun completely into the open, pressing it lightly against Dawn's side. Buffy tensed visibly, every muscle in her body pulling taut. "Now, Yavnai here, promised me the Star of Hyamen by July. That was two months ago! I've been patient, but can't wait any longer and she knows that. She made a deal. Now I've come to collect what's owed me."

"Dawn," Buffy said, her voice dangerously slow. "What is going on?"

"Go on, *Dawn,*" he said, pressing the gun harder into her side, making her wince. "Tell 'em what you really are. *Show* them...what you really are." She dropped her head forward and her long hair fell, covering her face. She shook her head slowly. "Show them!" Dawn looked up, jaw set, nostrils flaring. She closed her eyes and her skin seemed to be changing. Buffy's eyes widened progressively as her lips pressed thinner and thinner. When Dawn looked up, it was not the girl they knew. She appeared older, her hair now black, her skin the palest of grays, perfectly smooth and shiny with deeper blue striations, eyes a flat silver with no visible pupils.

"Buffy, I'm sorry, I didn't...I couldn't. I didn't want this to happen!" Her voice was deeper now as well, too smooth and low to belong to the teenager Buffy thought she knew.

"Dawn?" Buffy whispered, her voice cracking. Giles put a shaking hand on either side of her waist, gripping firmly.

"You want to tell them why you're here? Or should I?" Dawn didn't move. "So, Slayer, you think this is your sister? You don't *have* a sister. Never did. She's been lying to you, making you see things. Making you *remember* things. Like the day she was born, the time she broke the jewelry box your father gave you. Her existence. She came three months ago, insinuated herself in your little world. I chose her because she could create illusions and control thought patterns. She was supposed to find out where the Star was and get it for me. I guess she got a little too happy in her new cozy family. Didn't want to work for us anymore. She was going to drop me, but that's not going to happen."

"But I..."

"Made me see things? Think things?" he shook his head with a little giggle. "No. I protected myself against you before you could do anything. See, I don't trust easy. I'm getting the Star, and it's gonna be today." Buffy's breathing quickened. "What do you think of *that,* Slayer? Still wanna save Sissy?"

Dawn looked at her listlessly. Buffy shook herself and stepped forward. "Let her go." Dawn...or Yavnai, jerked her head up. Buffy wasn't giving up on her.

"Not until I get the Star!" Digger shrieked, spittle flying from his mouth. A car horn sounded sharply, breaking the spell for a moment. The man glanced to the side and Buffy leapt at him.

Digger's unnaturally fast reflexes saved him and doomed Buffy. He whipped his head and his gun forward. He pulled the trigger. The first bullet caught Buffy in the right shoulder, spinning her around. The next tore into her hip, the force of the impact slamming her to the ground. She hit the floor as Giles shouted her name and dropped down next to her. Dawn screamed, an unnatural, shrill shriek. Buffy lay gasping on the floor as Digger replaced the gun in Dawn's side. "You know what I'm looking for, Watcher?"

Giles looke up from his position crouched over Buffy. "Yes. Star of Hyamen, lends power to the wearer, renders them unkillable, inhumanly powerful, with the power to expel deadly energy bursts. It's also the key factor in a spell to invoke and control demons."

"Do your homework, eh? Well, I've done a little research of my own, and I hear that you've got it somewhere on hand. Why'd you have a thing like that around, huh? Planning a little fun with it?"

"Keeping it safe from the likes of you," Giles growled, stroking Buffy's hair as she bit her lip to keep from sobbing.

"Well, give it to me now, it's going to good hands."

"Don't do it Giles," Dawn called. "Whatever you do, *don't* *give* *it* *to* *him!*"

"Giles," Buffy grunted, gripping his wrist. "Dawn." His heart pounded painfully in his chest, his breath coming hard and fast.

"Don't, Giles! Don't! Please! You don't know what he is!" Dawn screamed.

"Give it to me Watcher!" Digger boomed.

Giles shook his head.

Digger shot.

***

The sounds and sights were imprinted forever in Giles mind and heart.

The shot, sharp, short, and horrifyingly loud. Dawn jerking, eyes wide. He let her go, leveled the gun at Giles. As he pulled the trigger, Dawn twisted his hand, falling.

Digger looked surprised when the bullet entered his chest. He dropped the gun on top of Dawn's body, glanced down at the rapidly spreading redness on his shirt. Fell. Giles and Buffy both jerked, a flash of pain through their heads, bright scenes, unfamiliar memories. Buffy screamed, rolled, trying to stand.

Giles sat down, staring sightlessly as Buffy dragged herself, sobbing, to her sister. She ran her hands over Dawn's face, her body, over the wound, through her hair, whispering her name.

< God. >

"She's dead!"

< I let her die. I killed her. I killed her. >

Buffy vomited.

Giles dropped his head.

< I killed her. >

***

Giles didn't remember calling 9-1-1, but the ambulances and the Police managed to arrive at the shop anyway. There were too many people and he wanted to scream at them to get out.

Scenes seemed to be playing themselves in Giles mind. Familiar scenarios, memories, but missing one important person.

The medics were shocked at the sight of Dawn and her slightly less than human appearance, but they covered her body respectfully, waiting for the photographers, police examiners. Digger was covered as well and Giles wondered why. The EMTs placed Buffy onto a stretcher, calling out injuries, vital signs, instructions. They loaded her into an ambulance as she called his name. He looked up. Didn't move.

A woman in a dark blue jacket knelt next to him and rested a hand on his arm.

"Excuse me, Sir? Mister Giles? Are you hurt?"

He glanced up at the use of his name. Red-blonde hair, soft blue eyes, a distinctive crooked nose crossed by a scar.

"Leslie." She graduated the year after Buffy had arrived in Sunnydale and she had been one of the few to visit the library, and the only one who'd introduced herself and been friendly to him. "Buffy."

"She's on her way to the hospital. Mr. Giles, are you hurt?"

"No," he said, placing a hand over hers. "Nothing you can fix." Her brow wrinkled.

"Can you answer some questions for us?"

"I have to call their mother." Leslie pursed her lips and nodded, pulling the phone off of the counter, handing it to him.

His hand shook as he took the receiver, had to try three times to dial the number. It rang once. It rang twice. Three times.

"Hello?" Giles opened his mouth, couldn't speak. "Is anyone there?"

"Joyce?"

"Yes? Giles?"

"Joyce, I'm so sorry."

"Mister Giles? What's the matter? What happened? It has to do with Dawn, doesn't it?"

"Dawn...and Buffy. How did you know?"

"I -- I'm seeing things. Dawn, things *without* Dawn. Giles," her voice tightened, fear creeping in. "What happened? Are my daughters okay?"

"B-Buffy is hurt, she's in the hospital. She was..was shot."

"Oh, God!"

"Joyce...Dawn is dead." The phone clattered loudly and he jerked the receiver away from his ear. Far away, hollow and echoing, he heard sobbing. Screaming.

"Joyce? Joyce?" Silence. Giles felt someone prying the phone gently, but forcefully from his hand.

"Mister Giles...Mister Giles, let go. Come on." He complied, looked at her.

"What do you want to know?"

***

Giles walked numbly into the hospital several hours later. Buffy had had surgery on her hip and her shoulder. He was searching for her, down halls, questioning nurses. When he finally reached his destination, Joyce didn't notice him at first. He spoke her name quietly and she looked up at him. Her face was blotched, unnaturally pale, her eyes and the skin of her nose red.

She spoke mournfully. "Why am I starting to remember things differently? Why do I remember a life without Dawn?"

He sat down next to her and she leaned into him, gripping the material of his shirt so tightly he feared it would rip. Giles placed his arms around her, closing his eyes. Suddenly she released him and shoved him away from her so powerfully he might have tumbled off of the bank of chairs.

"HOW!?" She shouted. "How did my baby die?! You could have saved her!" Her hands were wrapped in her hair, she pulled her head down toward her knees, her shoulders shaking. "You didn't save her!!" Giles stared at her in horror, lurching to his feet. Joyce kept sobbing quietly, "You didn't save her, you didn't save her." The Watcher backed up, bumped into a door and fumbled blindly for the handle, stumbling into the room, flashes from two summers ago tearing through his mind. Two summers ago when he was blamed for the loss of another daughter.

"Giles." He whirled. Buffy lay in a bed, hair plastered to her pale forehead. She watched him groggily. "Where were you? Weren't in the ambulance." He moved to her side and she stretched out her left hand. Giles hesitated and she shook her arm, wiggling her fingers in clumsy insistence. He took her hand slowly, but once he had it, his grip tightened almost painfully. Falling into a chair next to the bed, he dropped his head onto the blanket beside her, clenching his eyes shut, pressing his cheek against the soft material.

She spoke the same word softly, over and over. "Giles, Giles, Giles..."

***

Giles didn't visit Buffy in the hospital after that. She was only there for a few days because of blood loss and to recover from surgery, but he didn't return. Willow and Xander kept him informed, but he saw the sad, confused looks on their faces every time they asked him to come with them and he refused. He couldn't.

She would need a little physical therapy for her hip, it had been broken by the bullet, but Buffy had faith in her Slayer healing abilities, as did her friends, "Though it doesn't make it any less painful," she had complained.

She arrived home the day before Dawn's funeral and the first thing she did was call Giles.

"Hello?"

"Giles."

"Buffy?"

"I missed you, where have you been?" There were both accusation and hurt in her voice, thinly disguised.

"I...Buffy."

"Come over?"

"I don't know if I should."

"Mom's at the store. I want you to come over."

He did. He rang the bell and heard Buffy tell him that it was unlocked. Stepping inside, Giles blinked at the sudden change of light. When the room came into focus, he closed the door and stepped towards the sitting room on the left, where Buffy's voice had come from.

She lay on the couch in loose flannel pants and a tee shirt, propped up with her right arm resting across her chest, bandages causing lumps under the shoulder of her shirt.

"Dress for success," she said dryly. "Hi, Giles."

"Buffy." He stood somewhat uncomfortably in the middle of the room.

"Please, don't just stand there. You look so uncomfortable. You're not supposed to be uncomfortable around your Slayer," she said softly, fixing her eyes on his, face blank. Giles sat, folded his hands.

"How are you feeling?"

"You'd know if you'd come to visit me in the hospital."

"Buffy, that's not fair."

"It's *completely* fair! Giles, you were there. You were there when it happened, you've been there for me every time I got hurt, or anyone else did." Her mouth trembled. "You've never abandoned me before." He couldn't drop her gaze, much as he wanted to. His lips parted. "Why did you leave me this time, Giles? I was scared, my sister was dead, only she wasn't my sister and I was just starting to realize that. I started to remember..." she swallowed hard "remember life without her." Giles nodded, the same thing had happened to him. After that first painful flash and flood of memories, there had been nothing for approximately an hour after Dawn's death. Then memories began to filter back, as if one picture was dissolving to reveal a different one behind. One without Dawn. "My sister was dead, wasn't who I thought she was. Wasn't *what* I thought she was. I'd been shot and was all alone. Giles, I needed someone there. I needed *you* to be there." She bit her lower lip, holding it still between her teeth.

Giles clenched and unclenched his jaw, tightening his hands on each other.

"I'm sorry, Buffy, but I couldn't-couldn't come see you. You were lying there, and I would see Digger shooting you. Shooting Dawn. I let it happen. Didn't do anything." He chuckled obscenely. "We don't usually fight people with guns. Our villains usually aren't bright enough to bring any weapons." He cut the laugh off sharply. "Not that lucky this time."

"Giles, it wasn't your fault. You did the right thing. Dawn knew." A tear rolled down her cheek.

He looked at her and smiled. "The right thing?" She nodded, though it felt a little harder this time. She jerked her head, calling him over. He moved haltingly, knelt on the floor by her. "So you can tell me that you don't blame me?" Giles asked dully. Her eyes flicked to the side, turned her cheek slightly away. He let out his breath harshly, the headache that had been aggravating him the past few days returning.

Giles leaned back, turned to stand when Buffy's hand gripped his shoulder so hard he gritted his teeth against the sudden ache in his shoulder. And his heart. He turned back, looking at her mournfully.

"It's hard, Giles." Tears were rolling freely over her smooth face, now. She raised her hand, running it shakily across his forehead, his cheek, and he leaned into her touch. "It's hard, and confusing, and it hurts, Giles, hurts like hell, and I don't know what to do, but, I can't blame you, and I won't."

He leaned in towards her and asked gently, "But do, you, Buffy? Do you?" She met his eyes and did not flinch, shook her head.

"Never." Her hand had slipped to the back of his neck, her thumb moving slow circles across the skin. His insides clenched when he knew, the moment before their lips met. They separated, and he returned softly.

Giles pulled back first, and Buffy's eyes flew open. The hand moved from his neck to brush across his mouth, where some of her lip gloss shimmered, marking him. Her eyes searched his, but he wouldn't let anything show through. She frowned lightly, then her eyes shone with fear and sadness when he took her hand from his face, clasped it between his own ever so briefly, kissed it, and replaced it on her chest.

"Giles..?"

"It's all right, Buffy," he murmured.

"No, Giles, it...I..."

He stood up and brushed a lock of hair off of her forehead. "I'll stop by and see you tomorrow."

"Giles." He turned and walked away, out of the house. "Giles!!"

***

Intelligent though he was, and despite the books and Watcher journals he'd read over the years, battles fought and emotions dealt with, none of it had prepared him for the feeling of Buffy's soft mouth pressed to his. She had initiated it, she'd needed reassurance, both emotional and physical and so had acted out of need. So he had responded, and returned for a second encounter. He told himself that over and over that she had not wanted him, but needed the comfort he could give and which he had provided out of care, guilt, and duty.

Yet that theory would not allow the heady rush, the wild pounding of his heart, or the momentary blinding joy that had -- for a split second -- overridden the guilt and sadness.

He'd taken advantage of Buffy in an emotional and vulnerable time, and his gut twisted at the thought. He could think of only one other time he'd acted in a similar fashion and he shook his head in an attempt to destroy that thought, that memory. He wasn't quite sure how, but he managed to make it home without crashing his car.

Giles removed his glasses and lay on the couch, rubbing the bridge of his nose, mulling things over in his mind. Dawn's funeral was the next morning. He rolled over and fell asleep.

***

Buffy sat in a wheelchair through the event, Giles gripping the handlebars tightly, knuckles white. Joyce trembled throughout. Hank did not attend, he'd never known this 'daughter,' and had no knowledge of her. Xander held Anya, and Willow and Tara cried. They'd been close to Dawn, and Buffy ached inside, thinking that they probably had known her better than she had. She knew now that Dawn had not been a blood relation, they all did. Within a few days of the death, all the false memories had melted away, Dawn was Yavnai, a demon with the ability to create illusions. But it still hurt. She had acted as Buffy's sister, annoying as she was at times, had cared for her, and she, despite adamant protest, had loved her as well, she HAD been a part of the family, human or not. The past few months -- when Dawn had actually lived with the Summers -- were as real as anything, the memories still fresh.

Buffy threw an iris, Dawn's favorite, onto the grave. When she pulled back her trembling hand, Giles grabbed it and held fast.

The company moved to the Summers residence where they all sat quietly and nibbled at food, talking about Dawn. The others had left the room and Giles and Buffy were alone for a moment when she spoke.

"I have to know, Giles, I have see it." They were the first words Buffy had spoken to him all day and they startled him.

"What, Buffy?"

"The Star of Hyamen."

"Pardon?" he asked, utterly confused.

"When Digger was in the shop, he kept yelling about the Star of Hyamen. You said you had it," she said, looking into his eyes. "And I want to know what it is."

"Buffy, I don't know if that--"

"Giles, Dawn is dead, Digger wanted that star bad and I don't think he meant to use it as a decorative garden sun dial. Where is the Star and what is it? Because, if it was important enough to work this hard, go through three months of illusions just to find this...I have to." After a few seconds, he nodded.

"Later." She, in return, nodded her own consent. There was a breath of unadulterated silence before Buffy lifted her head.

"Giles, about yesterday..."

"Yes, Buffy, I'm sorry for the way that I behaved myself. I should have conducted myself more carefully, I took advantage of you--"

"Advantage?" Buffy said, disbelieving. "Giles, you so did not! I wanted that." Her voice dropped, "But *I'm* the one who's sorry...because *you* apparently didn't want it."

Giles laughed mirthlessly. "That's not necessarily true." Buffy's eyes widened and a sudden flash of hope stole across her features. "But it's not what you wanted." Her face fell. "You've lost someone very close and been injured, have gone through a very traumatic experience and merely needed some one to..."

"Someone to love."

"Buffy, that's not--"

"Don't tell me what I was doing or what I *needed,* Giles. You have no idea, you're not me. *I* know. I did need reassurance and comfort, and I was upset, but that had nothing to do with that kiss. I wanted *you,* Giles. I needed you and I needed, *wanted* your love and I have for a while now. So please don't try to ignore that fact just because...because you didn't."

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth when Joyce, Willow and Anya entered the room. He glanced at them, then back at Buffy's strained face. "I think we need a little more time to think," he said flatly. Buffy tapped her left hand on the arm of the wheelchair for a moment.

"Mom, will you roll me to the kitchen? I need some water." Joyce's mouth turned down slightly, glancing between her daughter and her Watcher before nodding and pushing Buffy from the room.

Giles stood motionless, then whirled, fist out as if to punch the wall. Willow and Anya started in shock. He paused, knuckles inches from the plaster before jerking his hand several times, torn, then dropping it limply to his side, running the other roughly through his hair.

"Damnit," he growled through gritted teeth.

"Giles?" He felt a soft hand on his wrist and turned, meeting Willow's deep, worried green eyes. "Are you okay?"

He pulled a grim smile before patting her hand and saying, "I'm not sure, Willow, I'm honestly not sure."

***

Xander drove Buffy to Giles' house the next day, helping her inside where Giles sat, waiting.

"Where's the Star?" Buffy asked calmly, settling herself on the couch. Giles shoved his glasses up his nose before turning for the bookcase. Buffy didn't see the pained expression on his face as he retrieved a slim gray volume from the shelf. He placed it on the table before the two young people and held a hand above the cover. He muttered a few phrases under his breath and waved his palm, making a quick, complicated gesture with his fingers. The book brightened for a moment and he opened it to a middle page, once again placed his hand above the book, and spoke a few more words. The page seemed to disappear and a thin, aged metallic disc the size of a person's palm glowed into existence.

Buffy reached out and pulled the coppery disc from the book and ran her hands over the five pointed star etched into the metal. It was unusually light for it's appearance, and there were several characters engraved upon the surface too. The back was rough and Buffy flipped it over in her hand. There seemed to be circles recessed in the material. An arm came across her vision, startling Buffy. Giles smiled tightly and pressed lightly upon the circles. There was a barely audible click and the three rings popped up loosely.

"You place your middle fingers and thumb through them."

"Energy bursts?"

"Yes, it's how it's worn."

"Okay, is anybody else thinking 'Stargate'?" Xander asked suddenly. Watcher and Slayer turned to him, eyebrows comically matched in an arch. "What!? Am I the only one who watches movies and syndicated television?" Silence. "I guess so." He pointed at them and shook his finger firmly. "But if MacGyver comes in here with a military team, I'm heading for the hills." He shook his head.

"This is what it was all for," Buffy murmured. "What are we going to do about this?"

"Well, I'm not exactly sure. This was your plan."

"Why do you even have this?" Xander asked. "Why didn't you ever send this to the Council? Wouldn't it be a little safer with them?"

"I...well, my father was in possession for as long as I can remember. It came to me after his death and I suppose that I just never thought to hand it off to anyone else. That might be the intelligent choice now." He shrugged. He did not look up at Buffy, knowing what he'd see in her eyes.

Buffy's hand tightened around the disc, the metal digging into her palm.

Xander sat between them, shifting uncomfortably, his gaze darting back and forth between the two. < No sudden movements, > he thought, the tension making him uneasy. < Slooooowly get up....Say you have to ah....use the... > "bathroom!" Buffy and Giles jumped, their gazes leaping to the dark haired boy who was suddenly on his feet. He glanced between them. "Um...bathroom comma I have to use the..." and sidled quickly out of the room. He closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned against the wood. "Barely escaped tension fest there. What is *with* those two?"

***

Giles was the first to speak. "Buffy--"

"Stop right there, Giles," Buffy said holding her hand out. "We've had this conversation before. Listen to me, Giles." She stretched her hand out to touch his, saw him flinch, but remain. She dropped hers to his. "Remember what I said? I'll never *never* blame you."

"That's rather hard to believe, Buffy...seeing as how even *I* can't do that."

"Yes, yes you can." She leaned around him, trying to catch his eye. He made a valiant attempt to avoid her, but she couldn't be evaded. She smiled at him and he responded weakly. "Maybe not right now, but you will. Or I'll *make* you." She licked her lips. "It's not your fault. Remember that." Giles nodded slowly. She patted his hand one more time for emphasis. "Remember that." His eyes were focused downward and he gingerly touched the hip that was still bandaged, sore, and a little stiff. Buffy reached her arm around his neck and pulled him down in an embrace so full of love that her physical grip was nearly painful.

"Thank you," Giles spoke, breath caressing her throat. She smiled against his hair, then called, "It's okay, Xander, you can come out of hiding, no one's dead!"

The door opened and he popped out. "Alright, as long as I'm not in any physical dan--WHOA!" He jerked back into the bathroom and his voice echoed down the hall. "Are you sure I shouldn't go back in and give you two some time? Witnessing Watcher-Slayer necking isn't my idea of a good night out."

Giles laughed and Buffy released him. "The necking is through."

"There was no necking."

They smiled at each other happily, but with an unsure thread of fear through it.

"Hey, let me tell it the way I want," Buffy said, the light tone with questioning, hopeful undercurrents making Giles shiver inside. He steeled his face against the emotion and Buffy pursed her lips together, turning them white. The guilt had been assuaged, but it wasn't what was holding him back. She'd thought...hoped...Now she was in the dark again. Back in the place she'd thought she was banishing when she'd held him against her. She pressed her eyes shut for a moment, and when she opened them the smile was back and Xander sat down again.

< You're being a cruel, heartless bastard, > Giles cursed himself. < No, you're doing the right thing. > He harbored no illusions that Buffy would thank him for this, nor that he was enjoying it. It killed him to refuse her, to remain silent when her whole form begged him to speak the words she wanted to hear. Yet this was for the best, they couldn't make any sort of a life together. It was the right thing to do. Somehow, though, he was having trouble believing.

***

The Star of Hyamen was sent to the Watcher's Council the next day and Buffy seemed to have some of the weight of the past days lifted off of her. She moved into her old room for a time, needing to be with Joyce, but knowing that her mother needed her more now than ever. The circumstances of Dawn's existence in Sunnydale had been explained, yet that did not make anything easier. A daughter had not only been lost for the future, but from the past. There were no memories to lean back on, to comfort. There were only holes, a feeling of loss as well as betrayal. They were coping though, and Buffy was healing physically.

Despite this progress, however, Willow, Xander, and the others sensed nothing but a decline between Buffy and Giles. Though Giles did not tiptoe around Buffy anymore, and though they spoke in friendly terms, something was not right.

"There's something they're not...saying!" Xander exploded one night when he, Willow, Anya and Tara had met for pizza. "It's like they're just wandering around, going about their business but..but..."

"They're holding something back?" Willow supplied.

Xander nodded and took a swig of his soda, leaning back into the booth's smooth, cool vinyl. Shaking his head, he spoke again. "I just don't get it. I mean, things were going so good, well, I mean, until Dawn..." he blinked, "or Yavnai, but I just don't think this has anything to do with her."

"They're avoiding something, pretending that it doesn't exist," Willow muttered, picking pepperoni pieces off of her pizza and flicking them onto Xander's.

Tara shrugged and shifted a little in her seat as if unsure she should speak. "It's not about Dawn, Xander's right."

"Well, then what do you think it's about? It's not an evil-to-be-slayed thing, they never do this with a dark forces issue. Besides, they'd tell us."

Tara shook her head. "I-I think it's more...personal than that. Have you seen the way Buffy looks at Giles when she thinks no one sees?"

"You mean that troubled gaze," Anya grumbled, swirling her straw in her soda glass. "It's so annoying, I've seen that look before."

"He tries to act normal, but he looks like it hurts him to look at Buffy."

"It's almost like he's running away from her," Willow said.

Tara spoke quietly. "I wonder what happened between them?"

"I think it's because they're afraid," Anya said.

"Afraid of what? Each other?" Xander asked.

"Yes. I told you that they loved each other." The other two girls swung their heads in Anya's direction and Xander rolled his eyes.

"Anya, honey, I thought I told you that that was just their Watcher/Slayer thing."

"I think you're just in denial," Anya said. "And I'm tired of you always calling me 'honey' or 'sweetie' or some other sickening name and then reminding me how wrong I am." She crossed her arms. "I know what I know. And I told you that I had seen those looks before. I may not be subtle or good with your 'private conversations,'" she said with exaggerated air quotes, "but I'm right on this." The four looked at each other in silence for a moment. Xander broke the moment. "Come on, guys, we sound like we're talking about Buffy and Giles. Together."

Willow shook her head. "No, we're not."

"Well, I know I am," Anya said. Willow looked at Tara who shrugged.

"Maybe you guys just don't see it because you've known them for so long," the blonde witch said. "I-I've thought about them a few times myself." She attempted a little smile. They sat in silent thought for a few more minutes before they all decided that it was time to call it a night.

Xander picked up the quarter of the pizza that was left. "Told the Buffster that I'd bring her something back. I'll stop by on my way home." They parted ways and Xander headed off to the Summers house, whistling on his way. Joyce answered and directed him up to Buffy's room where he found the Slayer on her bed writing in her journal.

"Any juicy secrets I can blackmail you with?" Xander asked, stepping into the room. Buffy jumped, then glared in good humor.

"I'd give you a good talking to about interrupting and scaring a girl, but you brought food." She slid the journal into her night table and greedily took the pizza.

"You're the Slayer, you don't scare easy." She grunted unintelligibly around a mouthful of pizza, humming happily over the snack. "So, how are things going?" he asked, flopping down next to her on the bed, causing her to bounce.

"Pretty good. They're better. We're dealing, but it's still weird, though." She swallowed and looked thoughtful.

"How are things with Giles?" he asked casually, deciding just to leap in head first and hoped he didn't end up in a personal conversation with the Slayer's fist. Buffy looked sharply at him.

"What do you mean?" she questioned cautiously.

"I mean, you and the G-man seem kinda...tense lately. I thought things were better after you guys sent me running to the bathroom" Buffy chuckled "but," he took a breath and shrugged with a little smile, "you guys don't seem the same." Buffy didn't reply, merely rolled her stiff shoulder a little. Xander angled himself around, resting his dark head lightly on her knee. "Buff, you can talk to me." She looked down at him and began playing with his hair.

"I know, Xand, it's just..."

"You usually talk with Willow?"

"Well yeah. No, I mean, I *do* usually talk with her, but that's not it. You're just as great a conversationalist as her, only...I'm not too sure I can talk to anyone about this." She glanced away and muttered, "Well, *almost* anyone."

"If you don't want to, you don't have to. I only want you to know, I'm ready for any dirt you're ready to give me." He gave her a rakish grin and she shoved his head off of her knee. Her smile turned serious and tight, though, and he sat up a little, leaning on his elbow, but never taking his eyes off of her.

"You're going to get all...weirded out," she said quietly after a little while.

He shook his head. "Nope, I'm totally stoic guy. Lay it on me, sister, I'm ready."

"It's just...Giles...I-I kissed him." Xander managed to suppress the surprised noise that rose in him. Buffy gauged his reaction and looked approvingly impressed. "After Dawn, when I got home from the hospital, he came over, and he was so guilty. He blamed himself for her death and...he couldn't even look at me. It's why he didn't come to visit me in the hospital after the first time. It's also why we freaked you out that one night," she said with a grin. "He came and...I kissed him. I'd wanted to for a long time," she began fiddling with a ring on her finger and so missed the eyebrow that snuck up his forehead and the expression that crossed his features. "I thought he did too. He told me that I just needed comfort," she twisted the ring savagely, "and and support, and that I didn't really love him." She ripped the piece of jewelry off of her finger and flung it across the room where it imbedded itself in her wall. "Then he just...walked out. Said it was all right. It's not all right. He keeps telling me and himself that it's not what I want or need. He knows that's not true, but he...he won't even give me the chance. I thought that it was the guilt. I mean, I really thought so. We worked it out. I, well...I thought so, anyway. He seemed fine and then...it was back. That...distance. I guess it wasn't the guilt. But then...what is it?" She shook her head and gave a little, jerking shrug. A small, lost and upset gesture.

Xander scooted forward and wrapped her small hand in his. "You gotta talk to him, Buff."

"I've tried. More than once," she said in a tight voice that betrayed her hurt. "I'm just going to get boring. I'm just repeating myself."

"You have to keep trying until he listens. You two...you belong together. I mean, hell, you're the freaking Watcher and Slayer. Ultimate team if I ever saw one. You can't keep going like this."

"What if he won't..." Buffy trailed off, looking at him.

"Doesn't matter. You have to work this out one way or another or I don't see how you can go for long." He tapped her hand a few times before sitting up. "Did I listen good?"

"Yeah, yeah you did, Xand, thanks."

***

Giles shifted nervously in the seat of his car as he drove toward UC Sunnydale. The sun was setting and a cool breeze whipped across his face. Why, oh why did he have to be the only one who could drive Buffy home. Weren't there plenty of students with cars at the college. He cursed.

< "You're not supposed to be uncomfortable around your Slayer." > Buffy's words had echoed through Giles brain ever since she'd uttered them and they dug deeper every time they resurfaced. It was true. He wasn't, yet he dreaded his meetings with the young woman. He knew that the moment she stepped into view, his heart would tighten, his breath come faster. He couldn't love her. Why did he have to love her when it hurt so much and he knew he couldn't do it? Yet there she would stand and the emotions would wash in and with them, the wall he put up.

Giles pulled into the parking lot that the Slayer had indicated and got out. Several students strolled past him, couples and individuals, large groups. The further he walked into campus, though, the fewer people he saw.

He paused, a few feet from her -- she didn't see him yet -- and leaned against a tree.

Buffy was sitting on a bench, gazing around the neatly manicured lawn. She pulled a light sweater on to ward of the chill that was beginning to creep over the land with the darkness. The setting sun cast a warm pink glow around her and he smiled. She turned her head a moment later and spotted him, then wiggled her fingers in a hello. Giles strolled over to her as she grabbed her crutches and rose.

"Hello, Buffy. Lovely sunset."

"Yeah, pretty. I don't look at them much," she said meditatively. "Don't know why, seeing as how evening is my time."

"Shall we?" They started towards the car in silence and halfway there, Buffy suddenly spoke up.

"Is it going to be like this forever?" He looked at her, startled. "Are we going to pretend that everything's okay? That I never kissed you?"

He stopped and turned to her. "Buffy--"

"No! Giles. You have to listen to me! I sure as hell thought that we were going to have to go on like this forever." She grinned a little, then. "But I got it from a very reliable source that we couldn't let that happen. And he was right. Giles, I don't want to just forget about it and try and go on, because that doesn't work." She shifted on her crutches. "I kissed you Giles, and I told you that I loved you. You told me that I didn't mean it, but I did, Giles. Damnit, I love you and you sure kissed me back like you did too. You can change your mind, though, and you can tell me that you don't love me, but we're going to end this. Somehow it's gonna stop. Say it to me, Giles. Say it!"

"Buffy, we can't do this."

"Don't tell me that!" She yelled. "Don't tell me what we can and cannot do. Fuck that! Tell me what you feel!"

He turned his head away.

"Damn you, Giles!" She shouted, a sob tearing at her voice. "Look at me and tell me that you don't love me." She stood, breathing hard for a moment. "What are you afraid of?!"

"You!" Giles could tell in the stunned silence that followed that she had not been expecting that answer by any stretch of the imagination. He was a bit stunned himself. He'd had no idea what he was going to say until the words were past his lips.

"What?" Buffy breathed in disbelief.

"You, Buffy, I'm afraid of you." He ducked his head, looking to the ground for answers. None appeared and he cursed the cold, useless cement. "You...you are the most...amazing, wonderful, bright, mercurial person I have ever met in all my days. Amazing and utterly terrifying." A small smirk took her features at his odd choice of words, but it was fleeting. "I'm afraid of you and your beauty and your youth and vitality. I'm afraid that one day, you'll wake up and not see the young man you want, but a...a stuffy old man. One day I fear I'll hurt you--"

"Then don't."

He smiled and his voice softened. "Or that one day you'll hurt me." The disbelieving look returned to her face. "Buffy, you have a great capacity to hurt me. Greater than anyone else ever has and I don't know that I could...if..how I would handle you leaving me." He drew a slow, controlled breath and suddenly, his face was held between her palms and he was being forced to look at her.

"I'm not going anywhere, because I don't see anyone or anything but you, Rupert Giles. The man I love, and the man who's taken care of me, helped me, fought with me...." she grinned "put up with me," and was rewarded with a slight quirk of his lips. "...and the man who loves me no matter what I do and no matter what he says." She chewed her lip, overcome with emotions. "I'm right here Giles, as long as you'll let me be."

Giles watched her for a while, not quite ready to accept this, believe it was true, that she loved him. She began nodding slowly, them more forcefully and her smile grew with each movement of her head. Then he reached up and covered her hands with his, gripping them tightly. Her mouth opened and she let out a relieved sigh. He cut the sigh short, covering her lips with his own, all the feelings he'd kept stamped down for so long flooding out in that contact.

Buffy's crutches dropped to the ground and her arms came around Giles as he pulled her to him so tightly she let out a delighted little squeak. He did it again and they laughed, their still connected mouths tingling.

"Oh, Buffy," he managed.

"Hey, do I get benefits now that you're my Watcher *AND* my boyfriend?"

"How's this for a benefit?" He kissed her soundly again, sliding his hands under her shirt to play along her smooth back and tickle up her spine.

She grinned against him. "I think I could get used to it." As she began twirling her fingers thoughtfully in his hair, Giles rested his forehead upon hers.

"Buffy, I'm sorry for the way I've acted. I feel like I was just--"

Buffy slapped a hand across his mouth, elicting a startled grunt from him. She glared without real anger. "You know, for a big Macho Watcher, you're awfully insecure."

He spoke dryly, "Grounds to require a refund?"

"Nope. It's an endearing insecurity." Her smile softened. "Giles?"

"Hmmm?"

"Are you sure about this? You're not going to turn around and be Doubt Man again, are you? Because I think we've had that conversation one too many times. I'm not in the mood to ever repeat it again." He looked into her eyes for a long while, causing her to catch her breath. Then he nodded, brushing his lips across her forehead and her eyelids and nodding once more. "Perfect. Now, if you'll retrieve my crutches, we can get out of here."

"Certainly," he said with a gallant bow. He stooped to retrieve the crutches as Buffy balanced against him, giggling as she tried to keep from falling over every time he shifted. When she was fully mobile, the two made their way to Giles car.

On their ride home, Buffy tilted her face up to the moonlight, smiling softly. Yavnai had given her life for the good of others, and she had saved Giles life, even as she was dying. The Slayer ran her tongue across her lips thoughtfully. She didn't know what she would have done if Yavnai hadn't stopped Digger from shooting Giles. She didn't want to even think about it. Reaching over suddenly, she rested her hand on top of Giles' on the gear shift. He glanced over at her and smiled broadly and she beamed back at him, silently thanking Yavnai. No....Dawn.

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THE END